Monday, May 16, 2005

'A Fundamental Coarsening of Public Life'

My hood is off to Tony Blair: just a few days into his third prime ministerial term, and he and his Labor Party are already knee deep in the brave work of 'halting the march of disrespect.' But the Guardian deserves even more congratulations; this article must break any existing word-count record for articles about how teenagers sometimes like to get rowdy. Though I would draw the line at 'happy slapping.'

The kids are alright.

Hangin' Ten on the 'Democratization Wave'

This Weekly Standard piece on the May 13 anti-state uprising Andijan, Uzbekistan is a good example of what is good, bad, and ugly about the magazine. The revolt, which some commentators have been quick to declaim as a destabilizing event in the war on terror, has evidently perplexed the hell out of the mainstream media (I refuse the acronym), so much that I can scarcely find a major network TV or national newspaper article to have covered it at all. While it is too early to tell whether this revolt was the work of reactionary jihadism or a loose aggregate of disgruntled anti-state interests, I'm leaning toward the latter - the charge that the detained businessmen are in fact operatives for Hizbut-Tehrir seems too convenient for the challenged authorities, and given that this is the only official source for the charge, I'm skeptical of it. As far as deceitful jihadist rallying points go, "unjust taxation" is a relatively novel one, and particularly as a rallying point in the relatively infertile ground of Uzbekistan. On the other hand, Schwartz's immediate dismissal of the claims against the imprisoned businessmen - that they were instead members of "a spiritual and charitable circle" - is unnerving. It seems more likely that they actually are neo-Wahabbists in disposition, just with a legitimate day job. In any case, this populist strike against a tyranny located in neighborhood of both Arab radicalism and leftover Stalinism shouldn't go unnoticed. The money quote from Schwartz:

"The appeal of radical Islam in Uzbekistan is highly overrated; the resentment of local bazaar merchants against unjust taxation and other abuses in the Ferghana Valley is not."

Gauging the Newsweek Effect

Such moments of chaos as we've seen in the outbreak of violence following the incendiary May 9 Newsweek article on internment practices in Afghanistan invite broad questions and vague insights into the nature of wartime 'unknown unknowns.' It is in such times especially that commitment to a priori principles matters most, even more than prudent apprehension.

That the administration has responded to the Newsweek story only with contempt for the possible overstatement of its own semi-covert policies in Afghanistan and elsewhere reflects a slew of long-developing vices, of which a polite contempt for a free media and a tight-lipped ambivalence toward the bloody chaos wrought by some rotten American soldier-torturers (however few) are the most obvious. It is well past time for a scrupulous inquiry into media organs' methods and standards in employing anonymous sources. Those for whom the liberty of the media in transmitting potentially dangerous information in the midst of global war nullifies demands for either factual accuracy or regard for life-threatening outcomes should of course be taken with more than one grain of salt. But the constant tension between the virtue of freedom and the perils of the unknown is no more likely to be sorted out in newsrooms or editors' offices than in the edifices of Congress or anywhere else in political society. This is, it seems to me, an irreducible and permanent conundrum. The frenetic pace of calling for a heavy-handed remedy and assigning blame is a greater danger than the apparently misguided information-gathering by Newsweek. If some demonstrable breach of standards in information-gathering turns up, it should be quickly decried and corrected at the immediate personnel source. As Andrew Sullivan notes though, it seems a little implausible that the claim of Koranic desecration, in the midst of the other amoral and puerile abuses surfacing from interrogation centers, is a pure concoction of a subversive media. Whenever the truth of this debacle sees the light of day, we must hope that the administration quickly shuts up and turns inward in rethinking the policy of extreme interrogation methods and rendition standards. Because if Newsweek took a single disastrous step in the wrong direction with this article, the step comes at the end of a long and painstaking path toward reality. When it becomes apparent that the export of American detainees to Uzbek prisons has been halted, when news agencies no longer turn up photos of piled-up corpses outstretched beside gleeful Western interrogators, I'll calm down about the administration's reflexive preference for secrecy and its hostility toward purported media histrionics. I'll calm down even more when the folks at National Review (part of the media, I am assured) hurl themselves into the media flagellation binge without resorting to multiple NRO references to "Newsweak." Leave the awful puns to Michelle Malkin, guys. You're better than that.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Weekly Standard Gets Soft On The Evildoers

I was only half-surprised to see a well-known PNAC/AEI scholar writing in the Weekly Standard against the administration's self-evident, self-contradicting, and self-defeating ambivalence toward the liberalization and exportation of official torture to such nations as Egypt and Uzbekistan. My first reaction is that such outcry from neoconservative quarters may be too late, and it will take a herculean political effort to rid ourselves of the strange fruit borne of the government's present posture. But it still delivers powerful medicine to the moral psyche of those, among whom I include myself, with relatively hawkish proclivities. The article's recommendations do not venture into what now seems the dismal reality - that the covert, extreme policies practiced in countries which, we have it on President Bush's assurance, "say they are not going to torture people" are now the long-term political and moral province of the State and Defense Departments. Not a comforting scenario, to say the least.

Monday, May 02, 2005

So Intense

Dead horse-beating isn't a favorite activity of mine, but here goes: Boy, some Hollywood celebrities sure are stupid. Take a gander at this Slate article if you are a skeptic on this salient matter (hat tip to Gene Healy):

Why someone like Drew Barrymore is unattached is beyond me, what with her restless spirit and affinity for important endeavors such as tree-touching.