Friday, September 16, 2005

Watch Hitchens and Galloway

The Hitchens/Galloway debate is available for viewing online at a place called Democracy Now. It was also reviewed today on by Kimberly Strassel. Says Strasssel:

But this was no debate. A debate, by definition, requires two people to defend their convictions. Mr. Galloway has no obvious convictions, or at least none that are defensible. This is a man who is antiwar, yet supports those who fight war against us. He accuses America of supporting dictators, yet in July traveled to Syria to praise its tyrant, Bashar al-Assad. He claims to have known that Saddam massacred his own people in 1988, yet went to Baghdad six years later to "salute" the monster for his "courage" and "strength."

Nor is Mr. Galloway in any way a debater. His talent--if that's what you'd call it--is in whipping mindless crowds into furious hysteria over perceived bogeymen. There are historical precedents here, and let's just say that as the waves of Galloway outrage and anger ripped across the auditorium I half-expected his acolytes to break into a "Heil!" or two.

I generally think that allusive references to Hitler in order to demonize one's ideological opponents is an over-used and usually unthinking tactic. However, having seen Galloway in action in the past, I must say that Strassel's observation seems pretty appropriate to me.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The madness of John Berger

At the bottom of his commentary today in The Guardian, John Berger is described as “a novelist and a critic”. Not mentioned is that, judging by his own standards, he is also apparently in the throes of madness.

In the article, titled Ignorance and abdication that amounts to madness, Berger attempts to argue that Bush and company are, in a word, insane.
Is it possible that this administration is mad? Let us try to define the variant of madness, for it may be that it has never occurred before. It has very little to do, for example, with Nero when he fiddled while Rome burned. Any madness, however, implies a severe disconnection with reality, or, to put it more precisely, with the existent.
If a “severe disconnection with reality” is indicative of madness, then Berger himself should be on the lookout for the men in white coats. After all, he speaks of…
…the systematic cutting of [US] government investment in public institutions
In the real world, with which Berger seems unfamiliar, US discretionary spending has in fact increased annually over the last five years by an average of 11.7%. Spending on Medicaid has nearly doubled since 1994. Federal spending on education has gone up by an average of 9.1% per year since 2000. Indeed, even adjusting for inflation and excluding expenditures on defense and homeland security, President Bush has been (regrettably, in my view) the most profligate Oval Office spender of any in the last 30 years. Systematic cutting? What was that about a “severe disconnection with reality”?

Berger also claims that:
40 million Americans live without any aid if they fall ill
Presumably this derives from the infamous “40 million Americans without insurance” sound bite that we so often here about. As deceptive as it is, the claim about insurance does have the benefit of having at least some referent to reality. Berger’s claim, on the other hand, does not. Not only does Medicaid provide aid for many of those 40 million uninsured, but federal regulations actually prohibit hospitals from turning away sick patients, regardless of their ability to pay. And there is a network of so-called Safety Net Providers, some legally mandated and others voluntary organizations, whose very mission is to “organize and deliver a significant level of health care and other health-related services to uninsured, Medicaid, and other vulnerable patients” and to “maintain an "open door," offering access to services to patients regardless of their ability to pay.”

Without any aid? Again, more delusions.

Berger speaks of the “as-yet-innumerable dead” victims of Katrina. For those of us not inhabiting a fantasy world, “as-yet-innumerable” can be taken to mean “as-yet-640”. He carries on about America’s “dire poverty”, ie that poverty in which 97% of households have a TV and 72% have a VCR/DVD player. He says that in the US “black people are typically treated as unwanted second-class citizens,” a fact which was apparently confirmed to him by the scenes from a couple of weeks ago of typical black people living their typical lives in the midst of a typically calamitous natural disaster.

Perhaps most revealing, however, is this remarkable statement:
Katrina was allowed to produce the worst natural disaster in US history
Allowed? What, was Bush supposed to hop into a phone booth, don his cape, and blow the hurricane back across the Atlantic? Natural disasters are not “allowed” to happen by the president or by anyone. They happen all on their own. That is precisely what makes them natural disasters.

Allowed Katrina to happen, indeed. Is Berger, um, mad?

Separation of church and state

Paul Reynolds takes a minor swipe today at the US, in an article about the results of an annual Gallup poll on the opinion of various populations with regard to their own respective governments. One question the poll apparently asked was “Who would you like to give more power to in your country?” one of the possible answers to which was “religious leaders”. Reynolds says that “Only in some areas do a majority think that religious figures should have more power” and goes on to report that one of those areas, by a “narrow” majority, is North America. He then asks parenthetically, in an obvious jab at the US, “what happened to the separation of church and state?” At first glance this might raise a bit of a chuckle, but anyone actually familiar with the provenance of the phrase will know that it is a rather unthinking dose of sarcasm.

First of all, given the other choices offered as answers to the question (academics, journalists, sports stars, musicians), it seems clear that the "power" to which the question refers is not necessarily meant to be understood as political power. But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that it does. The notion of the separation of church and state was written into the Constitution via the Bill of Rights, specifically the 1st amendment, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In other words, the notion of separation of church and state, at least as regards America, actually anticipates what Reynolds claims to have found, ie the existence of a majority of people who might wish to impose their religion on the rest of the country via democratic means. And it is designed to prevent them from doing so. If it was to be expected that no such majority would ever materialize, then there would be no need for the clause to have been written into the Bill of Rights in the first place. Far from raising doubts about “where” the notion has gone, if anything the poll results (if true: see below) simply validate the need for it.

A far more sensible parenthetical than the one Reynolds provided would have been “Thank goodness for separation of church and state!”

But is it true, in any event, that the poll shows that a majority of Americans (or, rather, North Americans) want to give more power to religious leaders? Reynolds says so, but a link attached to a graphic in the middle of his article which says “Selection of facts and figures from the global survey” brings us to another series of graphs, one of which (#4) shows that less than 40% wanted to give more power to religious leaders. Less than 40% is, obviously, not a majority, narrow or otherwise.

However, the information in the link is said to be from a “BBC poll of global opinion”. There is no mention of Gallup. Is this a different poll to the Gallup poll Reynolds was writing about? If so, why did the BBC link to it within Reynolds’ piece, as if it were the same information, and what good is the information if the same question can produce such disparate results? If not, then either Reynolds or the graph is simply wrong, and the BBC is claiming credit for a poll done by someone else.

Ultimately, I don't want to make that big a deal about this. But it does, I think, give us some insight into a) how sloppy the BBC can be at times and b) how its inclination to take a shot at the US trumps a clear headed understanding of the US.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Busy day

My apologies for the lack of output today. I did write some responses to a few comments which you might find interesting. They are hidden down near the bottom of the comments for this post.

Two way street

On the back of my Hitchens/Galloway post from yesterday, I was gently prodded by a friend to point out that, just as Brits are often presented with a warped view of what Americans think, so too it is apparent that Americans are capable of presenting a warped view of what the British think. Hence, in the Baruch College notice about tonight's debate, George Galloway is described as a "highly respected Member of Parliament".

Yes, this seems to be a good example of American ignorance of the political atmosphere in the UK. Many things come to mind when speaking of Galloway, but "highly respected" is certainly not one of them.

Consider the point noted, Mark.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Not to be missed

Now this would be a debate on Iraq worth seeing.

Christopher Hitchens vs George Galloway

It will apparently be broadcast on radio via the internet tomorrow night, although it will make for a late night here in the UK. Hitchens says it will be on TV as well. If someone back home catches it and can tape it, I'd love to see it. The fireworks promise to be big.

Americans unfamiliar with Galloway (few sentient Brits could possibly be unfamiliar with him) can get a feel for just how loathsome a character he is at Hitchens' website.

Bush fails again

From a post on National Review's blog The Corner, by Warren Bell (who is that rarest of species: a Hollywood conservative), on yesterday's brief blackout in LA:
We just got power back after a hellish ninety minutes. Apparently the power is/was out over most of the city. I took a leadership role in calming the many stranded entertainment industry people here because I was able to get TV updates in my car. The urge to begin looting swept through the crowd, but Jim Belushi's Mercedes was too heavy to tip over. I think calm has been restored now. Where the hell are the troops? Clearly George Bush hates tan, fit people.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Contra BBC/Guardian

Jack Kelly, quoting some people who should presumably know, bucks the received wisdom on Katrina disaster relief:

Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.

So they libel as a "national disgrace" the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history.

Worth a read.

(form Powerline)

Congratulations, England!

England have, for the first time in 18 years, won the Ashes from Australia. (That would be cricket, for you American readers.) I did, in fact, watch much of it and I must confess that, despite my untrained and relatively uninformed eye, I actually got a bit hooked on it.

That said, I must say that there is something fundamentally wrong with a sporting event in which a best-of-five series can end 2-1. (This will, I don't doubt, be dismissed by cricket aficionados as a typically crass American thing to say.) And I have just one, embarrassingly obvious, suggestion to obviate the 19th century need for a "bad light" rule: this new invention called "lights".

Still, congratulations, England.

BBC cliches

The BBC is celebrating 50 years of its From Our Own Correspondent feature in which we are treated to “personal reflections by BBC correspondents around the world.” As part of this celebration, some previous contributing reporters have apparently been asked to pontificate on what makes the feature so great. Typifying the BBC’s modesty and absence of self-regard, World Affairs correspondent Fergal Keane says:
It is quite simply the best programme we have in news. It seeks out the thoughtful and literate and sets them apart from the cliche-spouting, whiny-voiced clones that abound in today's news environment.
Which I guess just proves that Fergal himself doesn’t pay too close attention to “the best program we have in news.” How else does one reconcile Keane’s claim with the fact that Justin Webb features so regularly as a contributor to the program?

Webb, of course, will be well known to TAE readers as having produced such “thoughtful” FOOC gems as uncovering the “revelation” that honest and reasonable debate occurs in the US…even amongst Republicans and religious people!

But that barely scratches the surface. As far as clichés go, one barely knows where to begin.

There was, of course, the FOOC feature in which Webb informed us that “Americans know they have short attention spans, but they cannot concentrate for long enough to work out what to do about it.”

Not long after, Webb was pontificating on that non-cliché of American prudery, (mis-) informing his audience that the phrase “Oh my God” is “unacceptable blasphemy” in America. (How one of the most popular shows in American television history had a recurring character whose signature line was a shouted “OH – MY – GOD!” goes unexplained.) He then went on to report, with relieved happiness, that American squeamishness about all things sexual did not intrude upon the birth of his American-born daughter, thanks to the “gloriously un-American” hospital staff.

Just a couple weeks ago Webb had a go at describing Texans, who are, he says “not sophisticated thinkers on world affairs,” although “they are at home with guns.” No cliché in that, is there?

And of course Webb could not miss out on using what seems to be the one of the most used clichés amongst BBC staff, that being the notion that “America is fast becoming a nation of faith not fact.” (Becoming? However religious Americans may be, the notion that they are “becoming” more so than in the past is absurd.)

Webb can’t even resist clichés that are a decade out of date, portraying the first President Bush as an out-of-touch patrician by peddling a long-since debunked myth about Bush and grocery store technology as a fact.

Webb is, on the other hand, honest enough to let us know when one of his long held clichés turns out to be false. Thus, after his visit to Mississippi, FOOC gave us his “thoughtful” reflections in which he revealed to a no doubt disbelieving world – certainly he was astonished - that there actually are white people and black people in America who got along with each other! And, equally astonishing to Webb, religious people are not all charlatans. Some of them actually do good works. Who would have believed it?

Fergal Keane – and the BBC – would have you believe that From Our Own Correspondent is set apart from the normal “cliche-spouting” journalism of today’s news by the “thoughtful” reporters asked to contribute. If that is so, then the BBC needs to explain why Justin Webb features so regularly on it.