Why We Fight

It’s no Kony 2012!

I’m enough of a cynic to know that no one learns anything from the past, at least Eugene Jarecki can sleep well knowing he was right.

While Jarecki’s documentary “Why We Fight” was released in 2005, it (sadly) seems just as fresh as it did seven years ago. Featuring: John McCain, the late Chalmers Johnson, Richard Perle, William Kristol, Gore Vidal, Joseph Cirincione, Karen Kwiatkowski and the family of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(Hat tip to Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich)

Dear Department of Justice: Please Investigate Your Old Boss for Material Support of Terrorism!

Dear Department of Justice and Department of Treasury Officials:

We might have just helped you bag another material supporter of terrorism this week! And you’ll never believe who the culprit is! We were even able to tape record some of his own damning admissions! (That’s the reason for my calls last week to your duty attorneys and media offices.)
Continue reading “Dear Department of Justice: Please Investigate Your Old Boss for Material Support of Terrorism!”

Our Language Cops Are
a Bunch of Barney Fifes

Andrew Sullivan:

I’ve touched slightly on the term ‘Israel-Firster’ – a shorthand that has an ugly neo-Nazi provenance, which is why I don’t use it…

As Justin Raimondo pointed out Monday, that etymology is false: the term was first used no later than 1953 by Alfred M. Lilienthal, a Jewish American. Not that that fact will change anything. I expect no correction from Sullivan, and I couldn’t care less about his source, Spencer Ackerman, whose views on intellectual honesty you can read for yourself.

But let’s assume that, for once, they weren’t bullshitting and the term was coined by an asshole. And? Does a sorry origin taint a word or phrase for all eternity, even if the term — as Sullivan effectively admits in the aforementioned post — is accurate and useful in certain cases?

Just for kicks, I searched Sullivan’s blog and Tablet magazine, where Ackerman acted out his latest “plate-glass window” fantasy, for “highbrow,” “middlebrow,” and “lowbrow.” It won’t surprise you to learn that the searches turned up plenty of hits. It may surprise you to learn where those words come from:

Highbrow/lowbrow

“Highbrow,” first used in the 1880s to describe intellectual or aesthetic superiority, and “lowbrow,” first used shortly after 1900 to mean someone or something neither “highly intellectual” or “aesthetically refined,” were derived from the phrenological terms “highbrowed” and “lowbrowed,” which were prominently featured in the nineteenth-century practice of determining racial types and intelligence by measuring cranial shapes and capacities. A familiar illustration of the period depicted the distinctions between the lowbrowed ape and the increasingly higher brows of the “Human Idiot,” the “Bushman,” the “Uncultivated,” the “Improved,” the “Civilized,” the “Enlightened,” and, finally, the “Caucasian,” with the highest brow of all.

– Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (1988)

The original Attackerman

Ugly, huh? You can find similar histories for several other commonly used terms (though “rule of thumb,” contrary to a popular myth, isn’t one of them). Will Sullivan and Tablet‘s writers ban the -brows? I doubt it, and really, why should they? If they found those adjectives useful before and had no intention of endorsing phrenology or “scientific racism,” then there’s no reason for us to presume evil motives now.

None of which is to say that some words aren’t overused or shouldn’t be used more carefully. But if “Israel-firster” is one of those terms, then “anti-Semite” is a thousand times more so. You have your work cut out for you, deputies.

David Frum’s Fatal Conceit

I know it’s bad form to follow up on my own post so quickly, but I fear that I may have shortchanged the enormity of the assertion that “For an Iraqi, there was no price too high to pay to rid the country of Saddam Hussein.” Allow me to riff a bit, with a nod to some of the commenters.

Christmas is right around the corner!

Let’s say that, in an instant, America — no, the whole world — could be magically remade into David Frum’s utopia. I don’t want to imagine what that would be like, and I probably wouldn’t live long enough to see much of it, but whatever. All the evils that Frum deplores could be scrubbed from the planet, and for a relatively small price in the grand scheme of things: his wife and three kids. (This is not just some far-fetched philosophy-class hypothetical; numerous Iraqis have lost their entire families in the last eight years.) Would Frum pay that price?

I don’t want to speak for him, but I strongly suspect that he would not. He’s not a robot, after all. He surely has normal human feelings for his own family. Faced with the prospect of any harm coming to them, he would likely accept the persistence of “evil” in the world and forgo Frumtopia. (He’s free to correct me on this in comments.)

But Frum doesn’t hesitate to declare the lives of up to 30 million other people an acceptable price. He doesn’t even linger over the matter: 18 words and he’s on to the next issue. Thirty million people. But he means well.

“Sociopath” was far too vague a term for Frum. How about “genocidal maniac with a heart of gold”?

Come on Down to Deranged Dave’s, Where No Price Is Too High

Last week, David Frum, of “Unpatriotic Conservatives” and “axis of evil” fame, wrote the following as part of a foreign policy Q&A:

Iraq: Knowing everything you know now, if you had been in Congress in 2002, would you have voted to authorize force against Saddam Hussein, yes or no?

No. For an Iraqi, there was no price too high to pay to rid the country of Saddam Hussein. For Americans, the issue was not Saddam’s badness, but his nuclear weapons program. Knowing that the nuclear program was not a real threat, the invasion was too large a commitment. The world is a better place without Saddam, but as with everything, the question is one of costs and benefits. The costs to the U.S. were too high, the benefits to the U.S. too few.

Some praised Frum for his gutsy rethinking of a now-unpopular policy that he fiercely advocated when it mattered. Andrew Sullivan — of course — nominated Frum for the Yglesias Award (in Sullivan’s world, it’s high praise to compare someone to Matthew Yglesias but a grave insult to compare someone to Nicholas Von Hoffman).

"I've got that price list somewhere."

But re-read this sentence: “For an Iraqi, there was no price too high to pay to rid the country of Saddam Hussein.” This may be the most appalling thing David Frum has ever written, and that’s saying something. If it doesn’t knock the wind out of you, then drink a cup of coffee, rummage around for your soul, and read it again. I wonder whether Frum paused for even a nanosecond before proclaiming — on behalf of the 30 million or so residents of Iraq – that “there was no price too high to pay to rid the country of Saddam Hussein.” We need not list the specific “prices” millions of Iraqis have paid in dead children, dead parents, destroyed homes, lost arms and legs, etc., to recognize this as the nonchalance of a sociopath.

The David Frums may update their packaging from time to time, but inside, they’re the same poison.