For those who need to understand how the Web is transforming the way businesses work, yada yada yada
The Rationality of Laughter: Jokes make
sense of the senseless. Especially these days.
Shortly before September 11 I was working on a gigantic normal issue of JOHO. I had a lot of catching up to do since I'd been dilatory about publishing over the summer, what with a book to finish and all. Now I find myself with a bunch of timely material, mainly from y'all, so here's a second Special Issue in a row. The next issue we'll get back to our usual self ... with special Wildly Out of Date Content as an added bonus.
Special UnSub Issue!
You are certain not to like much of what I say in this issue. So, here's how to unsubscribe: send an email to [email protected]. Make sure you send it from the email address you want unsubscribed.
If you have any problems unsubscribing,
or simply want to yell at me for being a terrorist-loving Jewboy, the
It's a JOHO World After All
National Public Radio ran a commentary of mine on how the Web behaved on 9/11. You can hear it here.
Also, the Jewish World Review has started running some of my articles simply because I have a Jewish last name and look Jewish and am Jewish. Damn anti-Semites! You can read it here: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/david/weinberger.html
My cousin Roger always has a joke ready when he sees me. "Hey," he said recently, "didja hear about the dyslexic who called the FBI and told them to go to Filene's department store? Y'see, he heard that they had Bed Linen there." It's a funny enough joke, and it's too linguistic to be offensive. (Y'see, "bed Linen" is a rough transposition of "Bin Laden.") But for the same reason, it's essentially trivial.
Not The Onion, maybe the funniest site on the Web. It stayed silent during the two weeks after the September 11 mass murder. But on September 27, it came out with an issue devoted to the attack. The Onion is peculiarly well-suited to getting laughs out of this tragedy. It's a fake news 'zine that sometimes gets laughs by shining too sharp a light on the mundane ("Employee Of The Month Sad It's Already The 19th," "Nation's Dog Owners Demand To Know Who's A Good Boy") but other times finds the blindspot in our national vision. For example, the headlines of the September 27 issue (http://www.theonion.com/onion3734/index.html) included:
U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With
Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell:
'We Expected Eternal Paradise For This,' Say Suicide Bombers
Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake
God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule
Judging from the unusual sluggishness of The Onion's servers on the day they published this new issue, it seems that lots of people were waiting to laugh. In fact, the next day The Boston Globe ran an article about the issue, claiming that it heralded the return of humor.
Was the relationship of thinking and laughing ever so clear? If we are ready to laugh again — real laughs about the event that don't diminish the event — then we are beginning to rise above the senselessness of the destruction, above the raw pain and anger we all feel. In laughing, we are at last able to adopt a point of view. Laughter is a requirement for reasoned but engaged thinking, for trying outthe story we will tell ourselves about this event.
PS: The current issue of The Onion has a piece called "A Shattered Nation Longs to Care about Stupid Bullshit Again." (http://www.theonion.com/onion3735/a_shattered_nation.html) The only question is whether The Onion will win a Pulitzer this year or next.
I'm a card carrying civil libertarian, a paid-up member of the ACLU. And, by the power vested in me as an unauthorized spokesperson for the entire civil liberties crowd, I hereby surrender.
When Sun Microsystems' Scott McNealy said "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it," he was simply drawing the conclusion from his statement a decade earlier that "the network is the computer." Once the inter-network of networks punched through the wall that kept computing systems apart, the merging of disparate information about ourselves was technologically feasible and thus politically and commercially inevitable. Information doesn't just want to be free, it wants to take over.
Because we have entered a world in which only law and social graces keep people from learning everything they want about us, we have to shift our model of privacy from that of the fort to that of that Japanese paper shoji wall. Fort walls stop cannonballs. Shoji (or fusuma) walls let you hear everything that's going on in the next room, so you simply are not allowed to listen. You hear but what you learn cannot be absorbed into your mindset, and it is the height of rudeness to act on it.
This type of hearing-not-hearing has always been typical of our social interactions. Our attention is pulled this way and that, but we have a set of rules around what we're allowed to notice. Some of the rules are quite explicit: It's rude to mention the fart I just cut, staring at the penis of the man next to me at a urinal is considered odd, and if the people behind me on the plane are talking about their sex life, I can't go up to them on the way out and ask them to explain the part about the snow cone. The shoji walls work pretty well.
The exceptions will be governed by law. The feds will be allowed to listen if they have cause. And if they catch someone who's trying to kill me, my kids, and my neighbors, more power to 'em. If this power is constrained properly (a gigantic and implausible "if"), it doesn't have to have a chilling effect. In fact, it could do the opposite. Maybe we'll better come to grips with the fact that we all have too much to hide, from the porno site that we've visited too often for it to be a mistyped url, to the times we've tried to get information on untraceable poisons for that mystery story we were writing, to the fact that we seem to have a mild obsession with the films of Mitzi Gaynor. There are so many of us stupid-ass humans, each with her or his own peccadilloes, that we will have to face the fact that what looked like sins and failings are in fact just what we humans are like.
The line between the public and the private has already been redrawn so that once was private now is public. But, more important, the nature of the line has changed. It is no longer a 12 foot high cement fortification with razor wire on the top. It's as thin as translucent paper and exists only because we, as a society, choose to pretend it's there.
Even now as the bombs — and token meals — are falling, I'm confused about what we should do. I'm not alone. It seems even our government is doing a bit of the ol' "First We'll Bomb 'Em" improvisation. But I'm not looking to come up with a grand plan. That's not my job. All I want is a good bumpersticker I can get behind without ambivalence.
A lot of people are using the American flag that way, but it makes me nervous. For many people it actually means not just that they're proud to be American, but that they agree with the Administration's approach, and I don't entirely. At least not yet.
It would be much easier to come up with a bumpersticker if I felt an urge for revenge. But, I don't. I've been depressed ever since the attack, barely able to look people in the eye, but thinking about killing the people who did this horrible thing just doesn't bring me any comfort at all. And that rules out a whole range of bumperstickers.
If the revenge mottos don't work for me, the peacenik bumperstickers are no good at all. Take "Justice not War." Americans who favor responding with massive military retaliation think it's exactly war that's going to bring justice. So the slogan "Justice not War" only shows that many peace activists are too convinced of their own moral superiority to deign to understand what their opponents are thinking.
Despite the fact that I have throughout my life viewed myself fundamentally as a peacenik, I find I have no compunction about our government hunting down and killing terrorists. They're trying to kill me and my kids. But I don't want a tit for tat attack, because the tat will mean more attacks on Americans. And I can't accept killing civilians and their kids as a tactic. Hunt down terrorists? Absolutely. Bomb population centers? No, we're better than that.
And that leads me, at last, to my bumpersticker, the one that I would proudly put on the back of my car. It says two words:
Gordon Mohr feeds our jones for anagrams.
... Bunch of INFINITE JUSTICE anagrams, not necessarily tasteful:
IN NIECE, I JUT FIST abuse IF I ENTICE SIN, JUT righteousness IF IN TUNIS, I EJECT wrong target IT EJECT US IN FINI uh-oh NICE JESUIT FIT IN they think in centuries, after all IS IT JUNE? I INFECT biowar next summer? I JUST FIT ICE NINE does Osama have a vonnegutian superweapon? INJUSTICE: FINE IT! probably not harsh enough I FIT IN NICE US JET unfortunately FIT IN JET CUISINE how the knives got on the planes I INCITE JUST FINE thankyouverymuch INCITE JET IF IN US Al Quada standing orders? NICE JET IF I IS NUT known controls
All culled from: http://www.wordsmith.org/anagram/anagram.cgi?anagram=infinite+justice
Of course, now that the operation has been changed to Enduring Freedom (after the misstep of briefly retitling it "Operation Generalized Anti-Moslem Hatred"), those anagrams are obsolete. The following are the new ones. Please be sure to replace the old ones in your three-ring binders. Thank you.
MORE GREED IN FUND
MODERN ID: FREE GUN
MODERN FINGER DUE
FIEND MERE GROUND
MURDER FIEND GONE
DEMO DIRE NERF GUN
RUDE FINGER DEMON
(By the way, no auto-anagramming site is ever used here at JOHO. We instead use a little home-brewed utility that lets us rearrange the letters but has no integrated dictionary. Automation is, after all, for wussies.)
Holier than Thou
Like you, I was emailed multiple versions of the following suggestion about what to do with Osama bin Laden:
Killing him will only create a martyr. "Holding him prisoner will inspire his comrades to take hostages to demand his release. Therefore, I suggest we do neither.
Let the SAS, Seals or whatever, covertly capture him, fly him to an undisclosed hospital and have surgeons quickly perform a complete sex change operation. Then we return 'her' to Afghanistan to live as a woman under the Taliban.
I laughed at first, but it later struck me that this really gets it backwards.
Here's what the Taliban says about its treatment of women:
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is fully committed to the social, cultural and economic development of women. The government has been able to protect the honor, life and property of Afghan women. Contrary to the situation before Taliban women can now be outside their houses safely without the fear of being kidnapped, violated or looted. They no longer fear conditions that were common before...
...After the communists took over in Kabul, they began to exploit women for the purpose of advancing their political and social agendas. In spite of war condition in the country and with no work in the offices, the communist regime forced a large number of women to attend government offices only for their amusement. The Islamic Emirate decided to pay the salaries of these women at their homes, so that they could stay home and take care of their families and children. The purpose of this policy is to help revive the Afghan family and household, as the foundation of the Afghan society, a foundation that was intentionally destroyed by the communist regime. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is determined to provide educational and employment opportunities for the women of Afghanistan, as soon as the security and financial circumstances under which the Islamic Emirate operates allow such a step to be taken...
This and other propaganda can be found at http://www.albalagh.net/current_affairs/taliban_women.shtml. (There's more on women at http://www.albalagh.net/women/) For example,towards the end of an article on how the Taliban supports religious tolerance is the following:
Recently some people declared that the demolition of Buddhist statues in a country with no Buddhist minority violated Islam's teachings on religious tolerance. They forgot that religious tolerance means accommodation to religious minorities; it does not mean undermining the majority.
A state that thinks the existence of ancient statues threatens the religious rights of the majority is wound just a tad too tight, wouldn't you say?
Short of outright slavery and genital mutilation, the Taliban could not do much more to oppress women. But, they and Osama bin Laden are quite likely convinced that their version of Islam honors women and that Westerners treat women as sex objects: our women flaunt themselves half-naked, etc. etc. etc. Other Islamic societies point to the high rate of rape in the West. Of course, to us the Taliban's treatment of women looks like a type of slow and continuous rape. And there is evidence that the Taliban routinely abduct and rape women from the groups who oppose them. But at least some of the Taliban undoubtedly believe that they are honoring women by keeping them in their divinely ordained place. Therefore, if we're going to punish bin Laden by changing his sex, we should probably give him gigantic breast implants and make him work as a stripper at a club in the surburbs of Baltimore. We have enough reasons to hate bin Laden without needing to claim that he's a hypocrite.
There is a time for hatred. This is one. We should hate bin Laden and we should hate the Taliban. But hatred is so dangerous to the hater as well as to the hated that we have an obligation to hate our enemies for precisely the right right reasons. This dumbass email joke gets it wrong.
Yes, it can get much worse
Ever-vigilant reader Chip Yost points out that we have not ruled out the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons in Afghanistan ... in effect, "I see your tit and raise you a gazillion tats." http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,47319,00.html
Conspiracy Hypothesis #1: Woody Allen
Woody Allen said in an interview recently:
If George W. is sincere about wanting to hunt down and kill the people responsible for Osama Bin Laden, he might as well start with his father. It was the Reagan/Bush CIA, after all, that made Bin Laden what he is today. Everybody knows this but nobody mentions it, partly because it's so inconvenient, and partly because we're so embarrassed by the obvious Freudian implications of it all, and the thought that thousands and thousands of people may be about to die for what boils down to a rivalry over the sexual favors of Barbara Bush.
Ah, yes, when it comes to Freudian relationships among parents and children, isn't asking the Woodman's opinion a bit like asking Oedipus whether he loves his mommy?
Conspiracy Hypothesis #2: Bert
Forwarded from the Net:
Either someone is hacking pictures all over the place:
(Look carefully at the poster in the background)
or Bert really is Evil (http://www.fractalcow.com/bert/bert.htm)[See Below]
I you look very carefully at the poster, you'll see Bert the Muppet posing with Osama. [Update: Fractal Cow has closed its site. For an explanation, go to http://www.fractalcow.com/bert/]
My own conspiracy theory is that someone copied Bert in so that we have an opportunity to use the following Spoonerism (= transposition of initial consonants): Bert is Bin Laden's evil Muppet paster. (For more serious analysis: http://www.lindqvist.com/bert.php.)
Conspiracy Hypothesis #3: Do It Yourself
Use these links to build your own conspiracy theory about why we have gone from attacking terrorism to "nation building" in Afghanistan despite Bush's repeated disavowal of the same.
The central Asian republics have oil and gas reserves of about $3 trillion. Afghanistan itself has about 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The West remains vitally interested in building a pipeline to get at Caspian oil. Of the two feasible routes, one goes through Iran and the other through Afghanistan.
In 1999, the US government agreed to participate in a project to recreate the "Great Silk Road," but this time to deliver Caspian oil to the West.
Unocal, an American oil company, cooperated with the Taliban in order to build the Central Asia Gas (CentGas) pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan.  Unocal says they ended this relationship after the US embassy bombings in August, 1998. 
in March 2000, UNOCAL negotiated with the Taliban to restart the project.
Enron wants to get oil and gas to India. It had proposed an underwater pipeline, but withdrew that idea.
The Dolphin Project is intended to link up the gas infrastructures of Qatar, the UAE, and Oman. Enron is a major equity holder and will build the pipeline. Enron plans on building a link to Pakistan beginning in 2005.
The Bush administration is well-connected to the Enron corporation. Ken Lay, the head of Enron, is one of the "Bush Pioneers" who raised at least $100,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign.
Enron and its executives were the largest contributors to the Bush campaign.
Senator Phil Gramm is still blocking efforts to track terrorist money laundering.  His wife, Wendy Gramm, is on Enron's board of directors. 
The Elder Bush is part of the UNOCAL crowd. For example, his Secretary of the Air Force was appointed to the UNOCAL Board in December, 1998. And his buddy, Nicholas Brady, helped block a hostile take-over of UNOCAL in 1985. 
What do I have to do for you folks? Hand you a smoking gun and photographs of the young Maureen Dean?
Actually, when you figure something out, would please let me know? Thank you.
And, although I hesitate to open the floodgates of Hell, the mini-Bogus Contest is now accepting your bid for Best Conspiracy Theory. The rules: They must be brief and documented somewhere or somehow. No submissions will be accepted that are longer than 250 words, including links to the documentation. And, please, no stalking me with your heartfelt paranoia. I've got plenty of my own: one email on the topic, no followups, no scary rantings and no packages with "evidence" soaked in bodily fluids.
(We will count Chip Yost as an early entrant with an article in the Baltimore Chronicle about the mysterious Carlyle Group http://baltimorechronicle.com/media3_oct01.shtml. Chip also recommends http://www.truthout.com/0662.Bush.Saudi.htm.)
Bob Dorin points us to a New Yorker report the week after Pearl Harbor: http://www.newyorker.com/FROM_THE_ARCHIVE/ARCHIVES/?010924fr_archive01
Dave Rogers has a blog that not only says something nice about JOHO but has the type of reflection that we here at JOHO appreciate (namely, reflection that says something nice about JOHO): http://dave_blog.blogspot.com/. For example, the September 24 issue quotes an insightful paragraph from Arthur Schlesinger on what we should be learning from the Europeans about the difficulty of wiping out terrorist organizations:
The Basque terrorists live in a relatively confined space in northwestern Spain, but Spanish governments have tried and failed for 25 years to stop their outrages. The Corsican terrorists live on an island, but they continue to defy all efforts by the French authorities to stamp them out. The British could not stop Irish Republican Army bombings in England; nor, now that the IRA has abandoned terrorism, can they stop bombings by the thugs who style themselves the "Real IRA." There is no knock-out blow against terrorism.
Gary Stock sends us to a deeply offensive page, www.BettyBowers.com ("America's Best Christian"). It's not as funny as, well, TheOnion — or as funny as Gary Stock, for that matter — but it has its moments, including a report on Bush's support for a "National Demon Defense Shield that will protect Americans from the threat of foreign-launched incoming evil spirits" http://bettybowers.com/newsdemons.html
By the way, you can find Gary's intermittent reflections at http://unblinking.com/. It's not all fun and games, though. For example, Gary meticulously scoured the Web to compile a list of 560 companies with offices in the World Trade Center.
James Montgomery writes about my comparison of terrorist networks and the Internet:
Did you see Eric Norlin's screed over in TDCRC, about how terrorist networks are similar to Internet/network nodes — both in terms of effectiveness and how they can be defeated? Interesting read...
Yeah, I saw the little weasel's attempt to reverse-plagiarize me by publishing his stuff first. I should probably have linked to him. Here it is: http://www.tdcrc.com. (It stands for "Titanic Deck Chair Rearrangement Company.")
Michael O'Connor Clarke writes about David Letterman's return to the air:
Whatever you think about David Letterman, Monday night was clearly his finest moment.
(click on "A Time To Move Forward" — requires RealPlayer plug in).
If only America had a President who could speak as directly, as powerfully, as movingly or even, God knows, as competently as this.
I happen to be a Letterman fan but I can comment no further. I am responsible for his habit of slapping the back of one hand into the palm of another in order to make an ironic point. I introduced this gesture in 1988 and spread it under the name "The Gesture of the Nineties." My lawyers are currently in negotiation with Mr. Letterman's representatives.
(The link is a bit flaky. You're looking for the Sept. 24 monologue.)
From another mailing list comes a link to a very funny screed that begins:
To those extremists that perpetrated this crime against our nation, I have a warning for you. There are those of us who look at your actions as irrational, twisted, and completely inhuman. By all measures, what you have done can only be seen as insane. I have news for you. We're more nuts than you, and it should scare you s***less.
Christopher "RageBoy" Locke, star of Gonzo Marketing, points to a site useful for searching for articles we know we read somewhere: http://www.findarticles.com
Rob de Jonge sends us this splendid link. It consists of a set of dynamic mappings of various corporate interrelationships. (Warning: It's not for the presbyopic among us.) http://theyrule.orgo.org/
While we're talking about do-it-yourself tools for your inner conspiracy theorist, don't forget the Center for Responsible Politics' site that lets you look up donors to the political parties: http://www.opensecrets.org/indivs/.
Bill Zoellick sends us to an article by Naomi Wolf. She writes, among other things:
...the true symbol of America is not, in fact, the WTC towers... The real symbol of America - that which the terrorists really wanted to kill, as the King of Jordan astutely noted - is rather within the interfaith services that sprung up in every neighbourhood; the imam, rabbi, priest, minister, Buddhist and Hindu monks asking a mass of humanity to join in prayer on the Washington mall.
Here are some links that don't work any more.
Gary Stock had sent us to http://www.oddcast.com/vhost/bush/ where you could apparently dress Bush up. That site is now down.
www.BushorChimp.com that ran side-by-side photos of Bush and chimps has closed.
And the NY Times has announced that it is not announcing the results of its Florida recount at this time. This strikes me as irresponsible journalism. And it also gives us a hint about the results of their hand count of the ballots.
In the light of our new demand for unity and loyalty, it's important, I believe, that we dissent as loudly as our Constitution permits. No, don't give away military secrets, and I have no stomach for jokes that make light of the 6,000 deaths. But that leaves a lot of room for visible disagreement.
If you don't live in the US, you might be surprised by the degree to which our open society has been closing down:
When full-of-himself comic Bill Maher said that the terrorist attack wasn't cowardly but that our dropping bombs (in Bosnia, presumably) from several miles up is cowardly, he lost sponsors and received a whack on the knuckles from presidential flack Ari Fleischer who said that we need "to watch what we say." Especially, apparently, if it's the plain truth. (No, this doesn't make our soldiers cowards; they're carrying out orders.)
I have started receiving forwards from people I respect saying, implicitly or explicitly, "Love it or leave it."
The Senate passed the missile defense initiative days after the attack. The Democrats were afraid to appear disloyal even though if there's one thing the attack teaches us, it's that the threat isn't from "rogue states" whom we could annihilate in a counterattack. Shame on the Senate for being so gutless, and shame on the Bush administration for pushing it through in the heat of the day.
So, it is important now to surface our disagreements and doubts; whatever comfort it brings to our enemies (yeah, like they understand what makes us strong) is more than offset by the benefit of debate and the reminder of what we're fighting for. So, let me state for the record that in my opinion:
The focus on military action with no long-term policies for raising up the oppressed of the world is foolish.
Our focus on Osama bin Laden is childish and obscures the breadth and depth of the threat.
Bush's repeated reference to the terrorists as "evil" over-simplifies a complex situation and makes it harder for us to know our enemy.
Bush's promise to "eliminate terrorism" cannot be fulfilled. We can reduce the amount of terrorism, but this talk of "victory" raises expectations that not only will disappoint us but which will be used to justify wrong-headed policies internally and externally.
We should flat-out denounce our impulse for revenge as the type of urge against which civilization guards
I accept the loss of some of my civil conveniences, but the anti-terrorism bill put together by Attorney General Ashcroft reads like a right-wing extremist's agenda. And that's exactly what it is.
I do not agree that we are blameless in the world. The perception of much of the world, even of many of our allies, that our nation is selfish and shortsighted has merit. It isn't the whole truth but we ought to be taking it seriously. (Does that justify terrorism? Don't be stupid.)
"Homeland Security"? What whore of a propagandist came up with that moniker?
I assume you disagree with some or all of the above. Excellent. I also assume you will support my right to argue any side of these issues without being told that I am disloyal. Loyalty requires debate. Spirited conversation is always the way to wisdom. That's baked right into our Constitution.
I dissent, I dissent, I dissent.
A bunch of mail came in response to the previous issue, especially the fake "Generation Alpha" speech. And a high proportion came from non-US citizens.
Gary Lawrence Murphy writes:
... I hope you are already familiar with the works of Bucky Fuller and especially the WorldGame. ... [W]hen I participated in a WorldGame in 1990, we were told that the price to give everyone on the planet the same basic healthcare, education, housing and nutrition as is enjoyed by the North American middle class would cost less than 3% of the annual _profits_ of the world's insurance companies.
It boggles the imagination: A simple 3% tax on insurance company profits would buy universal economic equality. To put other and more recent things into this perspective, this same level of universal "livingry" (as distinct from "weaponry") would take /25%/ of the 1990 world total military expenditures.
Gary points us to some impressive statistics about how to finance globe-scale changes: http://www.worldgame.org/wwwproject/index.shtml
Lourens Ackermann asks from an offshore perspective:
Is there introspection in mid-America? Will the true test be 1) the next presidential election will be fought on foreign policy issues 2) the quality of that debate, ie, does the US turn inward or outward?
Fear and rage hardly provide the climate for introspection. By the time of the next election, I think the real question won't be whether we're facing inwards our outwards but whether we are capable of engaging in self-criticism.
Eric Bender writes:
... wouldn't it be nice if (after the necessary police action) we started dropping food and medicine on Afghanistan and Iraq?
Kudos to the Bush administration. (Yes, you heard me right!) We are dropping food actually during the bombing. Of course, we dropped 37,500 meals while there are over 1.5 million refugees, and 7.5 million people (about 25% of the population) depend on food handouts. And our bombing campaign has disrupted the scheduled delivery of tons of food by relief organizations. Still, it's an admirable symbolic act.
David Forrester airlifts in some actual facts, always in short supply here at JOHO
I, too, would love to hear a politician give the speech you wrote. One thing that is nagging me though. Until 9/11, there had been many people working in Afghanistan trying to help. The World Food Program was providing four million people the nourishment they needed to simply survive. The World Health Org was there trying to provide medical training programs for both men and women. US humanitarian aid has expanded to help meet the Afghan people's increasing needs, with special attention to women's issues. the US FY 1999 total rose to over $70 million (out of around $200 million in worldwide official assistance to Afghanistan). Over half the U.S. contribution ($44 million) was in the form of wheat or flour distributed through UN programs to all needy Afghans. Of the cash component, a significant amount (over $3 million) was for educational and other programs specifically targeted for women and girls.
And yet here we are. What would the people of Earth do if Bush, instead of talking of crusades and wanted posters, came out and said something like the speech you wrote? "We have to try harder to help the people of Afghanistan. The reason 6,000 people died is that we haven't succeeded in making life better for the people of Afghanistan."
I'd have someone wordsmith the last sentence since we Americans can't hear anything that could even remotely be twisted into resembling a justification of the WTC bombing — and these days, understanding something is taken as justifying it. Other than that, I think the world and the US are ready to hear what you've written.
Dylan Barrell, citizen of the world, writes:
...I agree that the obligation of the strong is to help the weak. Isn't this what we teach our kids? It is certainly what I teach my kids. It is also what Jesus preached - turn the other cheek. Shouldn't the (arguably) most religious country in the world heed the advice of one of its most widely worshipped religious figures?
There is only one way to combat a faith-based lie (which is what Islamic militism is) and that is by outing the lie. What better way to out the lie of America being the "great evil", than for the reaction to be not one of war, but one of self-reflection and of peace.
Believe me - I am not saying we should accept or condone these acts and others like them. I believe we have to work very hard to do our very best to ensure that they do not get repeated. But these firm (and sometimes necessarily violent) acts need to be covert, measured, purposeful and private acts combined with a very public and visible reaching out to the downtrodden of this world.
We have a new cliché in this country: What would Jesus do? I don't know that it's obvious what he would do here — and not just because as a Jew I don't have a lot of standing when it comes to speaking for Jesus — because church history is, obviously, quite mixed on the question of violence and pacifism. After all, it was two guys whose first names were "Saint" that gave us Just War theory which accepts war as sometimes justifiable. (Of course, your suggestion really boils down to assassins, not bombs, paired with a visible peace effort — more Sean Connery and less Schwarzenegger.)
Just War Theory links
Dave Paolini writes from Canada about this very issue:
Buoyed by my natural Irish-Italian belligerence, I was storming around the house a few weeks back, bellowing about how our American neighbours would bomb Mr. OBL and all his Taliban sycophants back to the stone age, and God speed them. At that point my daughters Laura and Sarah started spouting off about hurting the innocent, two wrongs not making a right, and other nonsensical pacifist mutterings. I started to educate them on the difference between revenge and justice, when my 11-yr. old son Daniel piped up; "...but Dad, aren't we as Christians supposed to turn the other cheek and be peacemakers?."
(Yah, that shut me up. Bring kids to church every day for the past 16 years, let them listen to the Beatitudes and how do they repay you? By actually taking it all in and believing it. I was tempted to say that there's a peacenik strain that runs through Judaism, starting with the ben josephs and ben davids - Christ himself - as evidenced by even my good friend Weinberger, witness his latest JOHO ravings, but I was kinda lost for words).
Your eloquent piece in JOHO about the peace meetings struck a cord. We have to defend ourselves - even Thomas Aquinas and Augustine on my half of the theological road struggled with defining a just war - but that doesn't mean shooting first and asking questions later. Next time you have peace rally let me know. If the kids are willing to get in to a plane from Toronto to Boston, I might even bring them down... (But don't get in to the vegetarianism stuff...my wife's grandfather was a butcher and I don't need to offend the inlaws any more than I already have :)
I ain't no stinking pacifist any more. I am happy to have us kill as many terrorists as we can. I'm even willing to accept some civilian deaths as "collateral damage," so long as we stick by the Just War thinking about this. My fake speech assumed that we'd already engaged the bad guys militarily.
I do, however, pledge to remain a vegetarian, unless the Congress, acting on the basis of the new motto from The National Pork Council — "The Other White Meat Salutes Our Brave Firefighters!" — makes eating meat a patriotic duty.
Paul Flanagan from Germany writes about Generation Alpha:
It's hard to argue with the goals. The basic ideas could be from the UN charter, major religions or even - dare I say it - communism.
The problems start with conflicts of interest and the gap between ideals and behaviour once you get down to specifics (e.g. a proposal to increase tax for education and health, ratify the Kyoto treaty or any kind of redistribution of wealth).
Right now many people are willing to pay a heavy price to defend their freedom. But this is an unusually clearcut situation (at least superficially). In the future, willingness to support less clear and personally relevant but nonetheless pressing world issues may fade.
But we have no choice. The world is an increasingly small place. Our survival depends on freedom, equality and justice for all mankind, founded on education, pluralism and tolerance. Recent events turn this from an idealistic cause into a matter of simple self-preservation.
Agreeing on common goals for all of mankind for the next century is necessary but will be very difficult, given the differences - many mutually incompatible - in beliefs, approaches, visions.
Individually, we could make a start if everyone - using their own definition - thought how they as individuals could make the world a better place, every single day, and acted accordingly. [As Dave Eggers wrote, you are who you are when you start every day with nothing, end every day with nothing, and in between change the world for good.] Some kind of reward system for 'good' behaviour at all levels of society would be helpful.
Maybe it's time to replace the American Dream with a New-World Dream.
I agree, but I wonder if we really need to decide on goals on the order of pluralism, freedom, etc. I thought we could skip the centuries of debate that would entail by addressing smaller, more particular issues: give kids a hot meal every day, teach everyone who wants to learn how to read, etc. And if they have some reason why they don't want their kids to eat or their citizens to learn, then no one's going to make them. At least starving to death in the perpetual night of ignorance would be a matter of choice (at the governmental level anyway).
Mike O'Dell writes:
As a non-US citizen, your presidential candidate's jingoism is hard to take (seriously), though familiar. I hope that in the future, US presidential speeches will not have to sound like that. As Francis Fukyama wrote recently in the Financial Times, this is an opportunity for the US to end isolationism, find its proper place as an equal partner in the international community and understand the effects of its use of power on the global population. Until now, this has been lacking. [Sound of flame-suit being zipped up]
We are certainly far less isolationist than we were at the beginning of the Bush administration. It's hard to be isolationist when you need help. But, I'm afraid, we are just as self-centered. (Quick example: Does our pledge to rid the world of terrorism mean that we're going to fight the Tamil Tigers? The IRA?)
For the opposite point of view, we turn to Kerry Nitz who writes:
... You may be interested to know that a lot of the discussion amongst my friends here in New Zealand has tended to revert back to the statement "everyone hates americans". This is not literally true - it would be more accurate that many non-americans despise aspects of the US's influence on them, particularly US foreign policy. Frankly, in the absence of a major world threat (as during WWI, WWII and later in the cold war) the US should really stick to an isolationist foreign policy - it would be the best way to avoid creating anti-american hatred.
... PS Your example with the mini-bogus contest suggests to me that I have been right all along in thinking that "Information wants to be free" doesn't seem to me to mean anything.
The information truism is just an attitude, dude! (Sorry, I mean "dood.") Attitudes don't have to mean anything.
Kevin Stokes writes:
I read your Generation Alpha speech.
Yes, America is the greatest country in the world. But I think that this country didn't get so rich because of an accident of nature or a lottery. The United States became a great country because we have freedom to trade, a just legal system, and reasonably low taxation. In order to attain the goals you mention by direct intervention would require changing everything about the way we do things. And when you changed the way we operate, you would kill the golden goose, and very quickly we would have to scale down our goals, and eventually give them up because we no longer had the resources.
I think the best way to help other countries is to help them emulate our success. If Japan can rise up out of nothing with hardly any natural resources but her people, so can other countries. Lobby them to eliminate corruption, make a legal system which is fair to all, and urge them to do minimal regulation and taxation. Eventually the human spirit will take hold and they will flourish.
I'm in favor of these things, but we've been "lobbying" the world for a hundred years. In fact, we've given them convincing evidence that our way brings about the greatest wealth and freedom. I don't think more lobbying is going to do much, and when you get past lobbying you move into politically and morally dicey realms.
If you just pop into countries and start feeding them and schooling them and doctoring them, then you just make them dependent on you. They will resent it, and it will end up to be a very unhealthy relationship. And if you take over the feeding, schooling, and medicine of a country, you all of the sudden have great power over them. It is likely to end in abuse and great disharmony.
Suppose we were to teach them how to doctor themselves? Purify their own water? Oxfam I think has an admirable record in helping villages learn how to provide for themselves. That's the sort of thing I have in mind, not handouts.
I believe what has made America great is her people all working as individuals towards their personal goals. The actions and the goals of the politicians has had little to do with our success. This is why we cannot bring success to the rest of the world through the President deciding to use our resources to force it to happen.
Maybe. But it's impossible to imagine we could organize a 20 year effort to help raise up the world without the organizational powers of the government and the inspirational powers of a true leader.
Susan Scherer writes:
Re: your immodest proposal protospeech, it warms my geezer heart that the revolution hasn't died completely. Though firmly entrenched in the capitalist society I trashed (because I was steadfastly naive) during my 60's college days, my heart responds to the purity of yours. Sadly ... it's the multinational corporations that swing true power. ... I believe that impassioned rhetoric sways the patriotically-inclined, but what about investors and the profit motive? Especially when investors - and employees - come from everywhere across the world? Doesn't a global corp. balance the demands of all of its constituencies ... so it can maximize profit? I'm not sure where I'm ultimately going here. It just saddens me that I can't take pleasure in constraining my view to the simple, and pure vision I wish I could support.
Also ... more bad poetry. I wrote this on 9/12 also. I live in the Phila. area, but the tragedy came much too close for me. My daughter lives in Brooklyn & was on her way to class at NYU on the subway. Her train was stopped at the Cortland St. station (directly underneath WTC) just as the 2nd plane hit. She's physically fine, but emotionally not so great. Nor am I.
Privilege, pleasure, power, prestige.
Our rights, our goals
For ourselves and, by extension, our nation.
We focus on our orbits, our children.
They focus on our culture, their children.
In our complacency, their opportunity.
They planned. We preened. Posed.
"Look at us."
"No," they said, "look at us."
And we had no other choice,
Looking, terrified by our inability to see before,
At what all children will see afterwards.
The pseudo-speech glosses over the hard part — what would we do and how much would it cost — because the *only* way to be realistic in an environment so clouded by self-interest, greed and cynicism is to start with the commitment and then head for the facts. Otherwise you are destined to end up with facts that support pessimism. That's where my idealism is, but I believe it's a practical idealism (and that its opposite is not only negative but literally unrealistic). We have to end the tyranny of reality if we're going to get anywhere at all.
So, do I think there's a chance that something like what the pseudo-speech proposes could actually be adopted? No, of course not.
Mark Petrovic was disturbed by my end-note saying I don't expect anyone to give this speech, but I'd be happy if there were five minutes of national dialogue about how we can raise up the world.
I'm sort of a simple guy, and am somewhat confused by the 5-minute national dialogue line, followed by what appears to be cynicism. I agree with the ideas in the 'speech' and the notion that great nations help others. That is not to say, however, there is no place for firearms in life. As far as the people I tend to mingle with, I haven't found anyone who really wants or thinks wholesale blood letting in south Asia is a good solution. Maybe I'm just living a sheltered life, but the time is now to spread American values of tolerance and liberty. And as far as what we see on CNN goes, well, just turn the channel to something where some small measure of sobriety still exists.
Are there any higher thinkers in Washington to whom we can write and encourage? I cannot bear to think that their number is zero, but I am not particularly plugged in to national politics and who thinks what on that level.
I'm in favor of tolerance and liberty, but I worry about how we go about spreading them to people who maybe don't want them. That's why I was focusing on non-political values.
As to the mood of the country: yeah, it's hard to gauge, but Bush got a 90% approval rating for a bloodcurdling (IMO) speech. On the other hand, I just took a 6-city tour through the Midwest and found no one who wants massive bombing or revenge on the Afghani people.
Who in DC is reasonable? Beats me.
Jonathan Schull, founder of SoftLock (www.softlock.com), writes:
Implementation of your "presidential address" would probably cost less than what we have already spent, and will spend, on this calamity, so I have no problem with practicalities or with the sentiment. But I think the cultural imperialism is a little too blatant to not backfire.
The most practical how-to-help-thing I've been able to come up with (and I haven't gotten anywhere with it) is that its a great time for outreach from American Jews to American Arabs in common cause against hate crimes. This "merely domestic" activity could, in the mid- and long-run, have global consequences, and in any case, makes the right message. My inquiries to the Arab American Institute and such like have gotten no response. And the jews (can you believe it) are taking off for the high holidays!
... I've actually been impressed with the Body Politic and the <gulp> the administration...so far. Prominent positive action commensurate with the event is going to be required. I have the impression the America, and the world, and perhaps even the Administration would be receptive to out-of-the-box, non-wimp approaches, but I don't expect the government to come up with them, and they're going to do some damn thing sometime soon.
Well, it looks like we've got our prominent, positive action. Results to follow ... as will, presumably, an explanation of what constitutes victory.
Joachim Vansteelant writes from Belgium:
Question: do you think there would be such pointless global terrorist actions if there wouldn't be world covering media? Something that's puzzling me ... or is this the same as asking if there would be drunks if there wouldn't be any advertisement for alcoholic drinks?
If you attack symbols like the WTC and the Pentagon, then certainly you're depending on the news media to let people know. But blowing up the WTC would be a little hard not to cover, don't you think? Tourists to NYC would notice its absence within days.
Bryant Duhon writes:
I think any politician with the balls to give the speech you've outlined would get a hugely positive response. Like you, I have a great fear that US policymakers will finally get frustrated and lash out only with the blunt object that is the military, though to their credit they've been saying mostly the right things. You want to get pissed, read Krauthammer's editorial in the Washington Post today, it's exactly the kind of response calibrated to maintain the status quo leading to continued insecurity. Actually, on a second reading, I actually agree with his initial steps — the US has to swing the hammer. However, his prescription that the war on terrorism will be over with some "regime changes" is idiotic — hello poverty, Palestinians in camps for 50 years; those are the swamps that need to be drained. Another thing to get pissed about — no talk of alternative energy. Oh yes, I'm sure Bush and Cheney are neither one influenced by the oil industry. Jesus, we can put man on the moon, but not figure out a cost-effective way to lessen reliance on fossil fuels for energy. I ain't drinking that Kool-aid.
Surely you're not suggesting that our response was determined in part so that Enron can gulp thirstily at the black-stained teat! Talk about cynical!
Valdis Krebs comments on our twisting of Internet truisms into terrorist maybe-truisms. I wrote "The terrorist network routes around disruption." Valdis replies:
Yes, they try to minimize redundancy in their network, but do not eliminate it... they need to be operable if one of them is arrested or compromised.
I wrote: "Terrorist network time is 7 times regular time."
Don't know what you mean here, but terrorists trade efficiency for secrecy in building their networks. If they were not worried about being discovered they would have much more efficient networks, such as 'small-world' networks and normal social networks. But since they are afraid of discovery, they limit the links in their network and therefore loose some efficiency — the average path length between any two nodes increases. As you know, the longer the path between any two people/nodes the longer it takes for information to arrive and the more distorted it is when it arrives [this is generally not true with bits on the net].
I wrote: "Metcalfe's Terrorism Law: The utility of a terrorist network equals the square of the number of terrorists."
Metcalfe's law stands up well when all nodes are, or can be, connected to all others. In the real world there is network congestion, broken links, and firewalls [human and silicon and code]. In a network you CAN'T always reach the node you want to. And since terrorists limit the connectivity in their network Metcalfe's law sputters even more.
Thank you, Valdis, for taking this more seriously than I did. Networks make us smarter.
Bud Simpson writes:
The best therapy I've had in two weeks was last Saturday - I went alone to Kansas City's downtown City Market - it was more subdued, almost somber, but life was going on more or less as usual. The remarkable mix of humanity in this little burg was reassuring. The market is in what is now a regentrified loft district, but borders a predominantly Vietnamese neighborhood, and there were all manner of people in all shapes and colors - including Muslims - buying fresh produce, flowers and barbecue and just generally going about their lives. A local character, who goes by the handle of "Johnny Wonderful" set up his electronic keyboard at one corner of the market and played and sang for tips without even the most casual regard for lyrics or melody.
Kids danced in front of him.
David, we can't let them take away our ability to dance like kids — to look forward to waking up in the morning and facing whatever challenges life throws at us — to know that everything's just going to be all right. Maybe we've already lost a lot of that — wanton boys we may be — but dammit, I refuse to give up.
I love the day you describe. But here's the piece of glass stuck in my hand: In Boston, when Attorney General Ashcroft called our mayor to say there was "credible evident" of an imminent attack, the streets emptied and I took the kids to western Mass. Thinking there's credible evidence that your next breath may include anthrax germs sort of dampens one's ability to enjoy the streets. And they have taken that from me. I don't know if we'll get it back.
Straddling poetry and prose, Laurie Kalmanson writes:
Today, the church bells still ring. The traffic lights still change. But there is a hole in the sky. And 6,453 people are missing from this city's daily life.
To understand the latest official total — 6,453 people missing — I try to count those people, one daily life at a time. But it is very hard to imagine that many people not doing these everyday things:
Not waiting for the subway, not hailing a cab, not getting on a bus.
Not shopping for groceries.
Not feeding a cat, not changing the water in the fish tank.
Not hugging a husband, not kissing a wife.
Not sitting and watching TV with a friend, a roommate, lover, a partner.
Not kissing a child good night.
Small pieces of news have been making the fact that 6,453 people are missing a little easier to comprehend, at the rate of one life at a time.
Here is one:
Many children of single-parent families have lost their single parent.
Here is another one:
The commuter train lines that carry people between the city and the suburbs have many abandoned cars in their parking lots. The cars belong to some of those 6,453 people who are missing.
The newspapers have been publishing profiles of missing people, provided by their families There are photos . . . of men in tuxedoes attending weddings, of couples,of people with children.
The people who have lost one of the 6,453 missing people speak about their missing person with the everyday details of their lives:
What they liked to eat.
What TV shows they liked.
What books they read.
What hopes they had.
What plans they made.
And then the details blur together into blank and overwhelming tragedy.
Here is one way I tried to make each missing person seem real to me, one life at a time — I thought about how many people live in my apartment building, and how many buildings like mine it would take to hold the lives of 6,453 people.
My building has 36 units, and the building has about 100 people — families, couples and single people. The 6,453 people who are gone would fill 67 buildings like this one.
Here is one another:
6,453 people missing would be like my high school losing its graduating class for more than 8 years. And that was a a big, New York City, factory-style school that ran on double sessions at the end of the baby boom — and graduated about 800 people back when I was in 12th grade.
There's the church bell again … it's noon.
I've wondered what it would be like if our newspapers were to publish the bios of all the "collateral damage" our own expeditions in foreign lands have caused. I understand that accidental, unintended killing is way different from cold, calculated murder, but death is death and life is life. There's a scene in "An American President" where the President's staff is pumping their fists because he's ordered a strike on a building in a distant country. He hushes them by reminding them that in that building is a night watchman who probably has a wife and children.
You know, reality is just too damn hard.
Nelson Jenstad writes:
I thought I was a pacifist. If we get rid of terrorism, can I get back to pacifism again? ... this is like declaring a "war" against dust. ...
I was a pacifist, too. And I still think that's the right impulse even when you have to do something else; pacifism has the virtue of reminding us of the human consequences of what we're doing and of helping us break the habit of thinking that violence must *always* be met with violence. But, no, we can't get rid of terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic adopted by people who can't afford armies, so they fight real dirty. In that sense it's more like crime: it is the inevitable consequence of the unequal distribution of wealth. (Obviously, I'm not saying that this justifies crime or terrorism! And why do I have to keep saying that?)
We're all basket cases. At least we're all in the same basket together.
Our mini-Bogus Contest asked you to come up with Internet truisms that can be twisted to say something about terrorism.
Lipman's Law "The privacy and security of a given terrorist network is n raised to the minus 2." While every extra node of the terrorist network increases the value, it also makes it more vulnerable.
...Guaranteed unoriginal: Drop Butter Not Bombs.
Then there's Drop Poland Springs Not Bombs; just about anything to eat or drink except Drop Spam Not Bombs ( or Drop Budweiser...).
"Everything we do must show we have a better way".
<this needs work, but I think its the essential principle, if we are to make things better.>
How about "Bombing for Freedom is Like Screwing for Chastity."
"Kill with kindness - Feed the Afghans."
"Rise Above Revenge"
Make War on War
Hate is a state of mind - change your mind
What would Buddha do? (or Ghandi, for that matter)
It's not much of a slogan, but how about "Some people just need killin'." That may be from a movie. Hell, I'm from Louisiana, I could've picked that up from one of my relatives. I don't know how you turn this into a slogan, but we need some sort of combination of a worldwide Marshall Plan and Sherman's March to the Sea. Come to think of it, this may just be too fucking complicated for a slogan.
Interesting, Garth Brooks has a song, "We Shall Be Free" that encapsulates a lot of what you said. That's what I get for watching VH1 Country.
Terrorists Get Off this Planet!
Denial is Terrible, This is Worse!
I think that my favorite bumper sticker slogan may not be what you're looking for, but here it is: War is not Injustice.
And that is the question, isn't it? War is worse than hell. It's just no damn fun. So:
We'd better be sure that there is no other way.
We better not think that all we need to do is win.
We'd better teach our children to greet victory with as much grief as rejoicing. Otherwise, we've lied to them.
Peace, friends. We all deserve it.
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