Archives for September, 2002

Weapons of Mass Hysteria

There’s an interesting discussion about what counts as a “Weapon of Mass Destruction” going on in blogdom, sparked by Gregg, brother of Frank, Easterbrook’s recent New Republic piece. Easterbrook comes to the same conclusion Jim Henley did some time back: chemical weapons are not WMD, only some biological agents count (e.g., smallpox), and nukes certainly make the grade. Yet the phrase has taken on a life of its own, being used to refer to things like mustard gas for God’s sake, and seems to be serving as justification for Orwell’s dictum that “[political use of] language can corrupt thought.” (Take that, Andrew Sullivan!). (Gary Farber has an attempted de-debunking of WMD hysteria here (would that be a rebunking?) and Jim Henley responds here).

The upshot of all this is that certain agents that typically get identified as WMD–nerve gas, anthrax–are not appreciably more dangerous than conventional munitions. Thus, when Brink writes:

What if Hussein convinces himself that Iraqi anthrax, nerve gas, or nukes could be used against the United States by terrorist intermediaries without being traceable back to him? That’s the nightmare scenario that makes action against Iraq now — before it has nukes — a national-security and moral imperative.

…he’s identified one nightmare scenario, and two that are nightmare scenarios only to roughly the same degree that Hussein passing off large amounts of conventional explosive to terrorist groups is a nightmare scenario. Chemweapons and anthrax don’t add much at all to the case for getting rid of Hussein.

Even the issue of nukes deserves a more sober assessment than it’s been getting. As Michael O’Hanlon notes in Slate:

Saddam probably could not hurt the United States directly with a bomb even if he had one. Even if he overcomes his most serious obstacle by obtaining fissile material on the black market, he would probably be able to build only a few nuclear weapons, and they would be big. That would make it hard to transport such weapons to give to terrorists or his own foreign-based operatives for use against a U.S. city. He might be able to sneak a bomb into Kuwait or another neighboring state with a low-flying aircraft, but the plane might well also get shot down. He probably does not have a missile big enough to carry what would be a fairly primitive and thus large nuclear warhead.

Perhaps the Sum of All Fears scenario–i.e. delivery by cargo ship–is a possibility with such a weapon, but the idea that such a delivery method wouldn’t have a “return address” seems implausible.

I’m starting to suspect that the real nightmare scenario for the Bush Administration is the one outlined by Eugene Volokh–inability to impose a Pax Americana on the Middle East. Those of us who urge long-term disengagement from the region are less inclined to find that frightening.

Posted on Sep 30, 2002 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Culinary Progress, Commie-Style

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Tum Neang, a 28-year-old spider seller, shows one of his live tarantulas in Skuon, 40 miles east of Phnom Penh, August 25, 2002. Spiders, which were first eaten by desperate refugees under the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s, have since become a national delicacy.

Posted on Sep 30, 2002 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

More Shrinks and Sopranos

Psychiatry, in my blinkered and perhaps underinformed and prejudiced view, has been from the start a war against the concept of guilt. An effort to find out why the patient feels and acts the way he does, rather than an effort to make him think and act differently. As such, Melfi’s aggressively nonjudgmental treatment of Tony has been an utter failure. It’s a brilliant dramatic device that allows the writers to explore Tony’s character. But as far as making him a better and justifiably happier person, it’s been totally useless and probably counterproductive.

It strikes me that the line that closes episode two of this season underscores that theme. Carmela’s soaking in the tub, exhausted from fighting with Meadow. Tony’s getting ready for bed. As he looks in the mirror, her voice echoes “You’ve got nothing to feel guilty about…” It’s the same line of bullshit he’s been fed in his weekly therapy sessions for four years. The look on his face–a mixture of weariness and dread–shows that he knows how false it is.

Posted on Sep 29, 2002 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Blogwatch

Buddy Jerry Brito is back up and running. Check out his site, argue with him in the comments section, and distract him from law school homework.

Radley’s updated his blogroll, putting me in the coveted “Blood on the Tracks” category, his favorite Dylan album and mine. Thanks Radley. I like his scheme of blog categories far better than that chosen by Vodkapundit, who I suspect is the kind of guy who gets loud and slurry on one V and T.

Radley adds Alina Stefanescu to the roll. She’s a hard-core libertarian with eclectic influences ranging from Chomsky to the paleos. Check her site out as well.

Someday soon, I’ll get around to putting up my favorite sites…

Posted on Sep 29, 2002 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Right On!

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Email from a friend:

As much as I hate the cops, when I see them in battle gear getting ready to round up these annoying, patchouli-smelling, vegan, white shithead protestors, a little fascist part of my heart beats with joy.

Jesse Walker has a slightly different take

Posted on Sep 29, 2002 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Progress…

So I gave a little talk at the founding meeting of the American University Libertarian Club last week. Here, more or less, is how I started it:

Twelve years ago, as a sophomore at Georgetown University, I founded the Georgetown Libertarians. I did it because I wasn’t satisfied with the political climate on campus, or in the world at large. Government was getting bigger and more intrusive, and nobody in either party seemed willing to do much about it. George Bush was president, and he was about to start a war with Iraq.

Just a little ray of Morning-in-America, Reaganite optimism, that’s me…

Posted on Sep 29, 2002 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Would a Real Anarchist Shave Her Armpits?

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Talk about internalizing the values of the patriarchy…

Posted on Sep 28, 2002 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Feeling Politically Homeless

Looked at the new issue of National Review today, and found myself irked by several of the items therein. First–a minor point–there’s a John Derbyshire review of Tim Pat Coogan’s new book on the Easter Rising of 1916; in the review, Derbyshire condemns all variants of the “physical force tradition” in Irish republicanism–including the just-war form practised by Michael Collins–as green fascism. Collins died fighting the kind of thugs that today make up the “Real IRA,” and to compare him and Pearse to Nazis (Easter 1916 as the Irish “beer hall putsch”) is a repugnant use of the reductio ad hitlerum.

Second, there’s a snarky response to an intelligent letter to the editor that rightly condemns the NR staff for their ad hominem attacks on war skeptic and Vietnam vet Chuck Hagel “(R.-France)” as NR puts it. Hagel won two purple hearts in Vietnam, mind you, and if I might get ad hominem myself for a second, it’s pretty rich for the laptop bombardiers on the NR staff to insinuate that he’s a wuss.

Finally, Ramesh Ponnuru writes about the factionalization of the libertarian movement over Iraq. Ponnuru is generally more evenhanded in such matters than Jonah Goldberg, but not this time. He looks down his nose at Ivan Eland’s argument that interventionism breeds terror and that America should learn “not to meddle gratuitously in disputes that don’t concern [us].” “That is not a serious thought,” writes Ponnuru.

Well, I don’t know about that. For years Eland’s been making sober, serious arguments about the national security dangers posed by promiscuous interventionism in an age of weapons of mass destruction. He looks pretty damned prescient to me. It would be nice if Ponnuru could respond with something more than a sneer.

Posted on Sep 27, 2002 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Uncle O-Sam-A

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“Go ahead. Send me a new generation of recruits. Your bombs will fuel their hatred of America and their desire for revenge. Americans won’t be safe anywhere. Please, attack Iraq. Distract yourself from fighting Al Qaeda. Divide the international community. Go ahead. Destabilize the region. Maybe Pakistan will fall — we want its nuclear weapons. Give Saddam a reason to strike first. He might draw Israel into a fight. Perfect! So please — invade Iraq. Make my day.”

Courtesy of the folks at TomPaine.com

Posted on Sep 25, 2002 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Libertarian Cheesecake

Rachael Mills, Libertarian Party candidate for a House seat in North Carolina, is selling a Libertarian Ladies in Lingerie calendar. Will it be better than G. Gordon Liddy’s “Stacked and Packed” calendar featuring half-naked right-wing housewives and the guns they love? I don’t know. Click here to order and find out.

Posted on Sep 25, 2002 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

SLATE’S SHRINKS

Here’s the irony in having a quartet of psychiatrists review each episode of the Sopranos: near as I can tell, one of the principal themes of the show is that psychiatry is bullshit. Right now, Slate’s team of therapist-commentators is in a tizzy over Dr. Wendy Kobler, the therapist that Melfi recommended for Meadow, and that Meadow saw in the last episode. The Slate crew is calling Kobler a “clichÃ?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?©-ridden parody of a psychotherapist.”

It’s true that the Sopranos writers lay it on a little thick–Kobler asks Meadow whether her father or mother have ever molested her and tells her, essentially, screw college: get a Eurail pass and go find yourself–but the Slate Shrinks’ impression that the show portrays their profession positively is tough to swallow. From Tony’s encounter with jargon-armed school administrators who tell him A.J.’s got ADD (“what would be appropriate fidgeting?” he growls) to Melfi’s loading a mob boss up with Prozac and turning him on to Sun Tzu, the psychiatric perspective is portrayed as one of the things that’s wrong with the world in the world of the Sopranos.

The main reason the Slate Shrinks have that view is that they don’t understand the show. And they’re not alone in this. In the intro to the book The New York Times on the Sopranos, critic Stephen Holden writes:

the closest Tony comes to admitting evil is during a therapy session in which he offers the lame excuse that what he does is no worse than a businessman illegally dumping toxic waste. But isn’t that how we all get by in life without tearing ourselves to pieces? For aren’t all values relative?

Well, no, they’re not. In fact, the show’s perspective is close to the opposite of what Dr. Melfi’s ex-husband calls “the cheesy moral relativism” offered by psychotherapy. One of the many things that makes David Chase a genius is that for the first two seasons he let the audience develop affection for the motley cast of mobsters–and then in the third season, he rubs our face in it. Through the first two seasons, we come to know and love Tony’s crew, with all their quirky little habits. Look: Paulie Walnuts, tough hit man that he is, is a connoisseur of hand creams; isn’t that cute?

By Season Three, if you’re paying attention, you’re starting to feel a little guilty about the sympathy for the devil syndrome you’ve bought into. Paulie, after all, is an amoral wretch who makes it his mission to emasculate Christopher–sniffing Adriana’s panties in plain sight, forcing Chrissy to drop trou, and standing ready to sell him out at the drop of a dime. Christopher’s assessment in the Pine Barrens episode–that Paulie would kill him in his sleep if he could benefit by it–is accurate. Nor is Tony all that different than Ralph Cifarretto, the “hooor”-killing thug whose idea of a relaxing evening is watching Faces of Death. At this point in the show, to name just a few offenses, Tony’s engineered the murder of his best friend’s son (Jackie Jr.), killed one of his best friends (Pussy), and terrorized Pussy’s widow for the heinous crime of complaining to Carmela about her rough financial straits. (I’ve had more than one Sopranos fan tell me, no, Tony’s a good guy because he didn’t beat Angie Bompansero’s dog to death after he smashed her car windows with a baseball bat.)

Here’s the point of the Sopranos, to the extent a show as rich and multifaceted as it is can have “a point.” The show is about an evil man with some vestigial traces of a conscience making his way in a world that has decided that feeling warm and fuzzy about yourself is more important than being a decent person. And everywhere Tony Soprano goes–Jennifer Melfi’s office included–he finds people willing to indulge that view. His depression, which is palpable, is largely a result of that conscience. He knows he’s a reprehensible person, and he’s half crying out to hear it from someone.

Case in point: in Season Two: Tony’s just offered Meadow her high school classmate’s car, a car he secured from the kid’s dad, “a degenerate gambler,” in Tony’s words, who gives the car up in lieu of having his legs broken. Knowing that his daughter would know whose car it is–she’d been driven to school in it in the same episode after all, Tony gives it to Meadow. Of course, Meadow recognizes the car and refuses it, prompting a high-decibel fight about what Tony does for a living. In therapy, Tony tells the tale, and Melfi comments that he must have been trying to teach his daughter an important lesson about life. “Wait a minute,” says Tony, “I rub my little girl’s face in shit, and you’re trying to tell me I did something noble?”

One of the few times Melfi’s gotten really animated (outside of when Tony’s physically threatened her) is when last season he accused her of judging him. “I’ve never judged your sex life!” Well, why the hell not? He’s a grown man with two kids “sticking [his] dick into anything with a pulse,” as Carmela puts it, including an obsessive Mercedes dealer who might have caused serious trouble had Tony not been in a position to threaten her with death.

Out of all the shrinks portrayed on the Sopranos, Dr. Kobler isn’t the hardest one to buy as a character. Dr. Krakower is. You remember Dr. Krakower? Carmela goes to see him in Season Three, after marital therapy turns out to be a bust. Dr. Krakower hasn’t adopted the cant typical of his profession; for him, the point isn’t feeling good about yourself, feeling carefree–it’s being a responsible adult. (He’s also the character that comes closest to expressing Chase’s views on Tony et al. Myles Kantor has the goods on this.) The dimunitive shrink tells Carmela to leave her criminal husband. Crying, she responds, “so, you’re saying I should define my boundaries better, not internalize as much.”

Krakower: “You’re not listening. What did I say?”

Carmela: “Leave him?”

Krakower: “Take only the children, what’s left of them.”

Carmela: I thought psychiatrists weren’t supposed to be judgmental.

Dr. Krakower: Many patients want to be excused for their current predicament because of events that occurred in their childhood. That’s what psychiatry has become in America. Visit any shopping mall or ethnic pride parade to witness the results.

On top of that, Krakower refuses her money. And Slate’s Shrinks think Dr. Kobler is unbelievable?

Posted on Sep 24, 2002 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Help me. Help meeeee…

I agree with Al Gore. And especially with Paul Krugman.

Posted on Sep 24, 2002 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Silent Bob Solo

Jason Mewes, Jay of Jay and Silent Bob, has been missing for 10 months

Mewes News Update: He’s been found. Thanks to Radley for the link.

Posted on Sep 22, 2002 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Blogorama Redux

Finally got to meet Jim Henley at last week’s Occasional D.C. Blogfest at the Rendezvous Lounge, where we chatted about antiwarblogging, Israel/Palestine, and Ultimate Fighting, among other topics. Jim’s got a list of new blogs to watch over at his site. I think he should get a new subtitle for highclearing.com: “Non-evil since October 2001!”

Posted on Sep 21, 2002 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

No Respect At All

Seen on the signboard outside the Canaan Baptist Church in my neighborhood, Mount Pleasant:

Christ doesn’t need lawyers. He needs witnesses!

Posted on Sep 20, 2002 in Uncategorized | Comments Off