A View From The Handbasket

Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Are you not entertained?
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:48 PM

Lots to catch up on as it seems Blogger is done feasting on posts. (The one from this weekend on the AFA calling the shots at NBC might be gone for good -- I wasn't thrilled with it anyway. If you missed it, you missed a killer Britney Spears photo. Your loss.)

The theme for today is bread and circuses. Or at least circuses.

1) Silly Pictures, Part One

What began as a perhaps ill-advised experiment at a small Danish newspaper now has a body count. A bunch of not-so-great cartoons depicting Muhammad have become the flash point of a series of riots across the world, with people dead and injured.

(I won't link to them, though they're not hard to find. More on why in a bit.)

I passionately believe in free speech. Freedom of speech is absolutely fundamental to a "free" society, and it is not open to a vote.

A quick diversion: most people in the US don't understand the Constitution, and specifically the Bill of Rights. They think it's there to protect people from the government, which isn't exactly true. It's there to protect people from the tyranny of the majority. In other words, the primary function of the Bill of Rights is to put a check on the power of democracy itself. Even if 99% of the voters support an infringement on free speech, or free worship, or freedom from unwarranted searches, it doesn't matter. Bill of Rights protections can't be undone except through a purposely torturous process. The Founders recognized that the voting public isn't infallible, and decided certain things were above a mere show of hands.

So, in other words, in one sense, in a uniquely American sense, it doesn't matter how mad the Muslims get. People can print silly pictures of Muhammad. People can rip up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. People can even, as the lunatics in Iran are encouraging, print silly pictures about the Holocaust. There is no right not to be offended in a free society.

And that's why the State Department is a bunch of sissies:

'These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims,' State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said. 'We all fully recognise and respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable.'

Not acceptable? Bullshit. Not sensitive? Sure. Not a good idea? Probably. Praiseworthy? Nah. There's nothing noble or heroic about insulting someone's religion with a drawing (which is why I'm not linking), but for a government to call expressing even juvenile views "not acceptable" is totally antithetical to the "freedom" our President repeatedly extols emptily. The State Department is obviously just trying a "See, we don't hate Muslims" move here. In doing so, they place the right not to be offended above the right to offend, and that is never acceptable.

Which brings us to the rioting itself. It's all a big show, put on by the usual suspects to rile up the masses and gain cheap points with the "Arab street." Most Muslim countries (and many Muslim populations in non-Muslim countries) are wracked with povery and thus susceptible to outrage. People aren't rioting over cartoons -- they're rioting because the West sends all their money to the emirs and sheikhs for oil, leaving them with hunger and misery. Those looking to make a name for themselves as "men of the people" are fueling the riots, filling people up with anti-Western rage and turning them loose. If the rioters would actually *think* about what they're doing instead of being led around, they'd realize that the riots aren't about offense to Islam (what the hell good is a faith that crumples before a smart-ass Dane's scribblings?), but rather about gaining power for various Islamist demagogues.

It's just like (for example) how the AFA doesn't really care about Will And Grace in and of itself. But it finds Will And Grace useful as a tool to rile up moralist evangelicals, keep the donations flowing in, and flexing their muscles in the halls of power. Surely Donald Wildmon doesn't intend to give up on Jesus because NBC aired The Book Of Daniel, he just finds it a good attraction for his circus.

In a particularly noteworthy irony, the AFA, on their web site full of whining about insults to Christians, is supporting printing the cartoons and calling the riots a much-needed "wake up call" to Europe about the dangers of Islam. Wow. Pot, meet kettle.

2) Silly Pictures, Part Two

Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that a recent Tom Toles cartoon was offensive in its own way. This one I'll print:

Anyone with a brain can see that the target of the cartoon is Rumsfeld, who recently insisted that the grinding casualties in Iraq have had the positive effect of making the remaining troops "battle hardened." Yet the Joint Chiefs adopted the administration strategy of equating criticism of the war and its planners with criticism of the soldiers on the ground:

While you or some of your readers may not agree with the war or its conduct, we believe you owe the men and women and their families who so selflessly serve our country the decency to not make light of their tremendous physical sacrifices.

That cartoon does not make light of "tremendous physical sacrifices." It uses the sad fact of those sacrifices to make a pointed criticism of Rumsfeld's pathetic bluster. The Joint Chiefs are creating a circus to intimidate those who disagree with the administration.

However, this is without question making light of tremendous physical sacrifice:

The last time 1st Lt. William “Eddie” Rebrook IV saw his body armor, he was lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered and covered in blood.

A field medic tied a tourniquet around Rebrook’s right arm to stanch the bleeding from shrapnel wounds. Soldiers yanked off his blood-soaked body armor. He never saw it again.

But last week, Rebrook was forced to pay $700 for that body armor, blown up by a roadside bomb more than a year ago.

He was leaving the Army for good because of his injuries. He turned in his gear at his base in Fort Hood, Texas. He was informed there was no record that the body armor had been stripped from him in battle.

He was told to pay nearly $700 or face not being discharged for weeks, perhaps months.

I respectfully suggest the Joint Chiefs clean up their own damn house before lecturing Toles on proper respect for servicemen.

3) The President Will Never Break The Law Because Nothing The President Does Is Illegal

The biggest circus of the past few days, though, must be the questioning (pointedly not under oath) of Attorney General Gonzales yesterday in the Senate. Far from an attempt to shed light on the activities of the administration, it quickly became obvious that the purpose of this little entertainment was to give Gonzales a stage from which to spew talking points for later replay on the news shows. In this way, the theme of "Democrats don't want to spy on bin Laden" will be reinforced, making sure it's assimilated into the mass consciousness in time for the midterm elections.

I must tip my hat to the White House for the way they can turn a hideous abuse of power into a talking point to make the left look weak on terror.

Probably the most interesting part of the hearing came when Gonzales insisted that his statements (to the effect that the Bush White House would never covertly undermine or bypass existing law) at his confirmation hearing to Russ Feingold were in fact truthful, because he doesn't think Bush violated FISA. This is, to put it mildly, rather nervy, since it's nearly impossible to conclude that Bush did not violate FISA -- the question is only whether or not he had the authority to violate FISA. In essence, Gonzales was arguing that Bush simply cannot violate the law, since anything he does is by definition legal.

In other words, Bush could walk out on Pennsylvania Avenue, grab some homeless guy and shoot him in the head live on Fox News, claim that he had "darn good intelligence" (which of course he can't share) that the guy was an al Qaeda agent, and be immune from any consequences.

Not that anyone was paying attention, of course. All you'll hear from the media is how "Gonzales defended the terrorist surveillance program" or some such mush.

Other highlights:

President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale.

This is hilarious in two ways. The first is obvious, but the second is a little more subtle -- FISA was passed in 1978 (in response to the excesses of the Nixon administration), so none of those Presidents were bound by it.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

General, how has this revelation damaged the program?

I'm almost confused by it but, I mean, it seems to presuppose that these very sophisticated Al Qaida folks didn't think we were intercepting their phone calls.

I mean, I'm a little confused. How did it damage this?

GONZALES: Well, Senator, I would first refer to the experts in the Intel Committee who are making that statement, first of all. I'm just the lawyer.

And so, when the director of the CIA says this should really damage our intel capabilities, I would defer to that statement. I think, based on my experience, it is true -- you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance.

But if they're not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.

It's a new kind of treason, giving aid, comfort and reminders to the enemy.

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