I’m taking a road trip, and my sons have convinced me to leave the laptop behind and unplug for a week. I can do it…sure!

So I’ll be offline. As usual, please don’t kill each other or blow anything up while I’m gone.

In The “Some Things Speak For Themselves” Department…

An Egyptian painter, who as Minister of Culture defended himself against charges of being soft on Israel by claiming that he’d “personally burn any Israeli book he found in Egypt’s famed Library of Alexandria,” was defeated as a candidate for head of UNESCO.

His response?

“It was clear by the end of the competition that there was a conspiracy against me,” Hosny told reporters at the airport upon his return from Paris.

“There are a group of the world’s Jews who had a major influence in the elections who were a serious threat to Egypt taking this position,” he said.

And Obama wonders why it is that the Middle East is at an impasse??

Maybe Values Are Slowly Changing

A friend just sent me to a blog called ‘Downturn Living.’ I’ve been lucky so far this recession; no huge income hits. But we clearly don’t manage our finances with the degree of ardor that’s really called for in this kind of a climate, and much of our net worth is (was) in out home and 401k portfolios (I have two or three other investments that ought to help over time).

Physical and fiscal fitness are both hard, and at this stage of life, quite necessary…

We Rabble Are Absolutely At The Gates

I’ve known Matt Burden – Blackfive, of www.blackfive.net, one of the original milblogs – pretty much since I’ve started blogging.

He’s a vet, and a tech guy, and a dad – and someone who’s always stuck me as smart, honest, energetic, and most of all, practical.

So even though our politics don’t exactly line up (remember, he’s a Republican and I’m the Armed Liberal), I was thrilled when he told me that he was thinking about running for office. I may have even made encouraging noises – possibly loud encouraging noises.

Imagine my surprise to discover this post at Blackfive. The crazy SOB is doing it. He’s running for the Illinois State Legislature.

And I think he can win. And more, that he should.

To do that, he needs your help. He needs 10,000 people (specifically, 10,000 U.S. citizens) to go to his campaign site give him at least $10. I’m in for $100. Step up, step up – and do the right thing.

Because I have this wildly optimistic idea that a whole new cohort of people are about to enter politics. People who are smart, honest, energetic, and most of all, practical. I’m hopeful that a decent number of them will be Democrats. But you know what? I’ll support them when I see them, because I’m about being in the Party of the Practical. And I’ll ask you – as strongly as I know how – to do the same thing.

Because my sons’ Republic depends on it.

9/11 Balanced Somehow

So tonight between chores, we watched a film,’Man on Wire,’ and it was wonderful, and funny and moving.

And somehow, I can’t explain how exactly, but in it – in the image of Phillip Petit kneeling on the wire between the Towers – something in me shifted. It is difficult to say this, but that image is just the antidote I need to neutralize the image of the Falling Man which I carry with me every year at about this time.

We are species of horror and brutality, to be sure.

But we are also a species of wonder and joy. And sometimes those happen at the exact same place.

If, like me, the image of the WTC curtainwall brings you directly to 9/11, watch this film. It won’t make it go away – nothing ever will. But it will – forgive me for this – balance it.

OK, Someone’s Been Reading Too Much ‘Snow Crash’…

A Johns Hopkins University student armed with a samurai sword killed a man who broke into the garage of his off-campus residence early Tuesday, a Baltimore police spokesman said.

According to preliminary reports, a resident of the 300 block of E. University Parkway called police about a suspicious person, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. An off-duty officer responded about 1:20 a.m. to the area with university security, according to Guglielmi. They heard shouts and screams from a neighboring house and found the suspected burglar suffering from a nearly severed hand and laceration to his upper body, he said.

Jim Carroll, RIP

Athlete – Addict – Poet – Hustler – Punk Jim Carroll died yesterday in New York City.

He played high school ball with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; partied with Andy Warhol, and had his cab stolen by Salvador Dali.

I walked into my neighborhood bar in Berkeley in 1982, and there was this wild Irish apparition declaiming onstage to a 4/4 punk beat. We had a beer afterward, and I was a fan.

Basketball Diaries was an entertaining history of a crazy period in American culture…his poetry was more hit-or-miss for me.

Breaking and Entering, his later memoir, was entertaining and fascinating as an account of a man wrestling with his own moral shortcomings and desire for transcendence and normalcy.

Juan Cole Fact-Challenged Again

In a comical farce worthy of Feydeau, fact-challenged professor Juan Cole today slams Cong. Joe Wilson by comparing him (unfavorably) to Amb. Joe Wilson. He depicts Congressman Joe:

Joe Wilson, whom the Health Industry lobby has given $244,196 in campaign contributions, was of course himself lying when he implied that President Obama’s plan will cover illegal immigrants. It will not.

and contrasts him with Ambassador Joe:

On July 6, 2003 another Joe Wilson called a president a liar, in an opinion essay for the New York Times. This Joe Wilson had bravely stared down Saddam Hussein in fall, 1990 as acting ambassador in Baghdad and been commended for his courage by George H. W. Bush.

Now, I’ll roll past the fact that Ambassador Joe was deeply partisan Democrat – which ought to be noted in the same style as Congressman Joe’s political donations, if we’re going to maintain a pretense of honesty.

I’ll roll past the fact that while the current healthcare bill disallows funding for illegal immigrants, it also has no funding or mechanism for enforcement of this provision (and I say this as someone who believes that – for both humanitarian and public health reasons, it’s crazy not to offer some baseline care to illegal immigrants). Or that the Senate just (after Congressman Joe’s outburst) moved to fix the bill.

But you know, one thing I can’t roll past is Cole claiming this:

George W. Bush had falsely alleged in his State of the Union Speech that Iraq had recently bought yellowcake uranium from the West African country of Niger.

Here’s the cite from the CNN transcript of the SOTU speech:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Now if Professor Cole has a problem with the difference between sought and bought – I mean, they do sound alike – I’d say that’s something he ought to work on. I mean, I sought a classic Ferrari Testarossa (not the tacky ’80’s ones) at a recent luxury car auction, but, sadly, my $10 bid wasn’t enough for me to have bought it.

Now just as an added fillip on this issue, Ambassador Joe himself reported that Iraqi agents had sought yellowcake in Niger. If you read the actual report of his trip cited in the Senate report – as I did before I did this post in 2005 – you’ll find this paragraph on page 43:

The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerian President Ibrahaim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997 – 1999) or Foreign Minister (1996 – 1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999, [redacted] businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted “expanding commercial relations” to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that “although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq.”

(emphasis added)

Then we go to Ambassador Joe’s oped:

In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a ”white paper” asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq’s attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them.

So between Bush and Ambassador Wilson – who’s lying?

And is there any – even generous – interpretation of these facts in which Professor Cole isn’t?

Breaking The Tyranny of Evil Men; 9/11/09

I sat down to write about 9/11 and this is what happened.

It’s the eighth anniversary of 9/11, and it’s my fervent wish that when I open my laptop tomorrow I’m spared the rhetoric of it as “the tragedy of 9/11”.

To be sure, our stories about 9/11 are tragedies, in the Aristotelian sense:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.

(Poetics, Part 6)

But in today’s vernacular, a tragedy is something different. It’s impersonal; free of malice. It is a hurricane, an earthquake, a massive landslide that buries a school and kills hundreds of children.

Our 9/11 was not one of those things. The buildings did not fall because of designer’s error or nature’s caprice. Human malice brought them down and murdered the people who died that day.

And that’s the striking thing about 9/11. To me (to many, I believe) Pearl Harbor or the Blitz are more understandable. The movement from international contention to conflict seems a part of our history that makes sense, and we can look at the actors today – at a Von Braun or a Yamamoto – with the emotion of the moment faded away – and see in them something we understand and maybe even admire. After the war, we could have a drink. At Christmas, we could call a truce and play soccer. They were injurious, but not malevolent. And yes, I know about the racist propaganda and actions at the time – I’m talking about looking back; I cannot imagine a world in which a Clint Eastwood makes a respectful film about the torture chambers of Fallujah.

And to a large extent, that was the world of 9/10, a world in which many of us felt that people’s actions were injurious, but not malevolent.

But there is something about 9/11 that reeks to me still of malice and evil. There’s something Mansonesque about it, something that reminds us that we live in a world where some snarks are boojums. That some people kill because it just somehow makes sense of their lives and it plain feels good.

I think that’s the division in my friends here in America today; between those who see the world as one where malice can crush you to your component atoms in one unspeakably terrifying moment, and one where motivations are understandable, rationalizable, ultimately negotiatible.

I think that my friends to the right of me on this issue see the world in terms of vast malevolence; I think my friends on the left refuse to see it as anything significant.

I sometimes do both, which I deeply believe is accurate – it reflects how the world really is. And yet I do envy the clarity of my friends on both sides.

Why do lions eat zebras? Stephen Pastis, in his comic “Pearls before Swine” has the zebras write an aggrieved note to the lions, asking them the root of their hostility. The lions replied “…because you taste good.

And then I think about my man Jules Winfield, Samuel Jackson in ‘Pulp Fiction’ who leaves the film saying “But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.

…and I somehow have hope that we can all become shepherds. That we spend today thinking about how hard it is to do so, and how worthwhile.