The Sanctimony Factor

I saw Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and am struck by the conceit of the left, right and center commentators who lambaste the film for every reason they can grab. It reminds me of the controversy that erupted around John Lennon’s comment that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ, when the Bible Belt erupted in flames fed by Beatles records. Lennon’s comment was a critique of the church and world, he felt it was absurd that the Beatles had the influence over the young they did, suggesting there were many institutions that should have greater influence than the Beatles did in society—Lennon was saying the Beatles weren’t important. Likewise, Moore’s anti-war film, which ends on a solemn and patriotic statement that acknowledges the great patriotism of U.S. soldiers and asks that we not send them into harm’s way for no good reason, is not an attack as much as a lament.

Jeff Jarvis points at the stupidity of one of his fellow audience members, who admonished a black man outside the theater not to sign up as evidence that Moore’s movie reduces the public discourse. In fact, it’s just stupid of the woman who said “Don’t you sign up, now!” to the first black she saw, not a reflection on the film.

Jarvis also says, and Doc affirms with links, that Moore assumes Bush & Co. are venal, suggesting Moore is no better than Bill O’Reilly or the people who mercilessly attacked Bill Clinton for any shred of a reason. Jarvis writes:

Moore’s assumption is venality. He assumes that President Bush and his confreres are venal, that their motives are black, that they are out to do no good, only bad, and that the only choices they make in life are between greed and power.

That’s inevitably a bad analysis. It’s the exact same analysis Bill Clinton’s enemies made of him. If they were wrong about Clinton, well then, Michael Moore is wrong about Bush. Life is never that simple, never that obvious, unless you’re a propagandist or one who believes propaganda.

Jarvis’ conclusion is simpler still, obliterating any notion of a public discourse in which contrasting views of broad swaths of life are discussed based on the making of connections between different events. The point Moore makes, very broadly, is that America is no longer a shining city that can provide light to the world. The move toward empire as the foundation of American policy, following a very questionable election, obliterated the fine points of public debate and, Moore, acknowledging that, engages in a blunt force attack on the blunt arguments of an administration bent on war.

Granted, the film is not comprehensive in its facts nor is it entirely accurate. Christopher Hitchens says Moore has committed a kind of journalistic crime that has deflated since Fahrenheit 9/11 won Cannes because, for example, Richard Clarke has taken responsibility for allowing the bin Laden family members to leave the country—without also acknowledging that Clarke is the only former administration member to apologize for screwing up in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

However, with a quarter billion dollars of Bush re-election funding, the Fox News Channel and a pandering press that fails to ask a follow-up question (how many times has President Bush called on “Stretch” for a question to bail himself out of a follow-up question that could embarrass him?), why not present an alternative view of the administration that can acknowledge no wrong?

Doc says Jeff Jarvis advocates “civility and civilization, with honest dialogue, with partisanship subordinated to open-mindedness. In other words, to the best of what we try to build here in the blogosphere.” With warbloggers, partisans, crackpots and the wise all lumped together in blogspace and across the Web (lest we forget the rest of the media world—if the blogosphere is the be-all and end-all of communication, that’s a form of fetishization, too), in short, a human dialogue full of all sorts of voices, there is no room for attacks on Michael Moore for simply speaking his mind in the time available for a feature-length film.

People should see this film. The bloody scenes are things we haven’t seen, and we need to see this war and all war with complete candor, not the sanitized version presented through television, so that we can judge it for what it is. Moore does not mock soldiers, he portrays their confusion and, in some cases, the sickness that overcomes people in war, but all it is war, which is sickening.

Beheading and barbarity

It’s a terrible thing that happened to the Korean translator, Kim Sun-il, this week and to Americans Paul Johnson and Nicholas Berg in previous weeks, but the repeated characterization of these beheadings but not those committed by, for example, the Saudi government, as “barbaric” really underscores how far from understanding the situation on the ground in the Middle East Americans are.

The Saudi government executes convicted murderers by decapitating them. Is that barbaric? I think so, but a needle that snuffs a life is no less barbarous if you ask me. Why? Because the death penalty is an irrevocable sentence that is applied accidentally to the innocent far more often than anyone believes.

The method of execution in Saudi Arabia and used by terrorists in Iraq and Saudi Arabia is a reflection of the culture of the region, and if one beheading is barbarous any other beheading must be, as well. In Saudi Arabia, where beheadings are performed publicly, 79 people were executed in 2001, 13 more than the United States, despite the fact that Saudi has about 1/9th the population.

The United States should be putting pressure on the Saudis to get their criminal justice system, which severs hands from thieves, as well, out of the Middle Ages. By doing so, by setting a higher standard, the Saudi government would place shame on the terrorists in the Arab world when they committed such acts.

As it stands, only the reasons for these murders are barbarous. The method of execution should be isolated by a civilized world in order to completely separate Arab, Islamic and all other cultures from the acts of terrorists, so that citizens of all countries can deplore them wholeheartedly, which is impossible when those citizens can see the same act committed by their governments in a public square.

When Americans decry decapitation as “barbaric,” as though that makes these murders worse, they fail to acknowledge that beheading is the norm in the region and betrays the people of the Middle East to those who would keep them in feudal subservience.

He may be crazy after all these lies….

With a Nixonian flair for irreality, President George W. Bush today denied the findings of the September 11 Commission that there was no contact between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda prior to 9/11, that, in fact, the well known differences between Baathism and Islamic fundamentalism undermined any possible connection between the two. During an exchange with the press at the conclusion of a Cabinet meeting, Mr. Bush said, well, here’s the exchange:

Q Mr. President, why does the administration continue to insist that Saddam had a relationship with al Qaeda, when even you have denied any connection between Saddam and September 11th. And now the September 11th Commission says that there was no collaborative relationship at all.

THE PRESIDENT: The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. For example, Iraqi intelligence officers met with bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, in the Sudan. There’s numerous contacts between the two.

I always said that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was a threat because he had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. He was a threat because he was a sworn enemy to the United States of America, just like al Qaeda. He was a threat because he had terrorist connections — not only al Qaeda connections, but other connections to terrorist organizations; Abu Nidal was one. He was a threat because he provided safe-haven for a terrorist like Zarqawi, who is still killing innocent inside of Iraq.

No, he was a threat, and the world is better off and America is more secure without Saddam Hussein in power.

Of course, there was no follow up saying that Abu Nidal was not associated with al Qaeda or that there is no evidence Zarqawi was in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion made the country a front in the war with al Qaeda.

In short, the lies seem to be eating away at his judgment at an alarming rate. The pathological inability to acknowledge mistakes make it impossible for the nation to learn how to fight this war more effectively. Any rational person would, confronted with overwhelming evidence, accept the truth, but for Mr. Bush it is a matter of faith and preventing any questions about that faith in his own perception that prevents him from acknowledging the reality, that his policies have amplified the threat to the United States by a magnitude of order.


The lights are on, but is anyone home?

The King’s English

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking about the use of language in print. The ongoing debate about whether blogging will change journalism or if it even can be journalism; the questions about whether a blog posting should be edited or restructured to resemble a news story if it appears in a “publication”; the whole issue of whether the lack of linguistic precision that does characterize blog postings is bad for the language.

Then, it occurred to me as I was walking around a trade show yesterday listening to the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK on my iPod that Mick Jagger has been knighted by the Queen of England. The condemnation of bloggers’ writing style by “professional journalists,” amongst whom I am numbered, sounds suspiciously like the conceit of the English aristocracy at the mongrelization of its language by the masses, by people represented by folks like Sir Mick, who had sympathy for the devil, danced with Mr. D. and made some great songs out of the phrase “Doo doo doo doo doo.”

We—that is, the people—should thumb our nose at anyone who claims to be entitled by training to set the public debate about the the value of culture, the value of issues to be debated, or the right to participate in that debate. It’s our world, all of us, not just the people holding certain titles. If blogging breaks down the barriers to contribution to the public discourse, more power will flow to the network’s edge and to the many edges of society shut out of public debates today.

Blogging may introduce more informality into debate, but that also sweeps more people into the debate. If bloggers pursue the same low-minded discourse as, say, Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, then it will be for nought. However, if they add to the reasoned discourse in coarse language, more power to them.

Seriously, this is the dream that woke me up last night

Maybe it’s that I saw The Prisoner of Azkaban twice this weekend or that I’m reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to the kids for the fourth or fifth time, but after going to sleep thinking about starting a blog about being a liberal capitalist, I woke with a start this morning from the following dream, which tied the whole advocacy thing I was thinking about with the fiction I’ve been submersed in for several years…..

Lord Voldemort, disguised as an innocent wizard, has sued Harry Potter for having horribly burned his face when a spell went tragically wrong. Peter Pettigrew, known as “Wormtail” and the wizard who betrayed Harry’s parents, pushes Voldemort around in a wheel chair. Voldemort always has his face heavily bandanged—it all feels like an I Love Lucy episode where a shyster is pulling a scam, claiming he hurt his neck on the dance floor to win the club from Ricky Ricardo.

If he loses the case, Harry will be expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I am Harry Potter’s lawyer.

Voldemort’s initial testimony takes place while his head is enclosed in a jack-in-the-box’s head that teeters horribly on his shoulders. I accuse Voldemort of being He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, which he is, but he claims he isn’t the feared wizard, just embarrassed at the extensive damage caused by Harry’s wand. The court accepts this argument, allowing him to continue disguised this way, because that’s the kind of eccentric thing wizards do in all the books.

Of course, if I can prove Voldemort is Voldemort, I’ll win the case and Harry will be free to return to school. So, I devise a clever ruse involving appearing at Voldemort’s home to catch him in the act of being himself. Harry, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and I knock on the door and execute a complex misdirection to demonstrate that the reason Voldemort always has his face covered is that anyone would recognize his snakelike face if he were to go out in public undisguised.

We prevail, Voldemort is caught red-handed and we capture the whole thing using a DV camera, a handy muggle bit of magic that amazes all, including Voldemort, with its high-resolution images. But, Voldemort, angry that his deception has been uncovered, rises and in his coldest, snakiest voice pronounces the Avada Kedavra curse that kills instantly, flourishing his wand and sending a blast of green light at my chest.

The curse bounces off me harmlessly. Voldemort is dumbfounded.

“You fool,” I say to him boldly. “You can’t kill me with the Avada Kedavra, I’m a lawyer!”

That was my dream.

Recent stuff

My blog vacation here is over, as you can probably tell…. What have I been doing all that time? Well, there are all these Red Herring postings, to mention just a little bit.

Can hardware be free?

Sun gives it away

Make or break for Nokia

Shopping for IT security

Truth in online advertising

Bill Gates’ blog strategy

Nokia to the rescue

Red Herring Spring: Experience counting

Nasdaq’s new reality

The Red Herring Spring conference begins

And many more at The Future blog on Red Herring’s site.