Charlotte’s Web and Wesley Clark

by Ted on January 14, 2004

In the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, a spider saves the life of Wilbur, a pig bound for slaughter, by spinning webs in English that say that Wilbur was an amazing, special creature. The humans believe anything that they read, and ignore the evidence of their senses that says that Wilbur is just another pig.

As a kid, I enjoyed this book very much, but I didn’t believe that people would be that dumb. As it turns out, I should have trusted E.B. White.

In case you missed it, Slate’s Chris Suellentrop wrote a short piece about Wesley Clark on the campaign trail. He picked a handful of campaign rhetoric from Clark, and labelled each quote as if it was an outrageous accusation. Right-wingers (including Andrew Sullivan, Instapundit, and lots of others) took this piece as evidence that Clark was a big ol’ loon, and left-wingers (Mark Kleiman, Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum) argued that Clark was being sharply misrepresented.

It turns out that Sullentrop intended to satirically make the point that Clark wasn’t being covered like Dean. Unlike Dean, his statements were less likely to be distorted and blown out of proportion. No one (including myself) realized that it was intended as satire.

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by Harry on January 14, 2004

Via Laura at Apartment 11D I got to this post about Barbie by Tim Burke. His main complaint is that Barbie is inflexible, doesn’t stand up alone, and is in general less interesting than boy’s toys. Fair enough, though I suspect that these features all serve her rather well as a fantasy toy. Barbie is, mercifully, no longer part of my life. My elder daughter (7) went through a 3-week Barbie phase, and refers to her less subtle friends (descriptively, not dismissively) as ‘Barbie girls’. My younger (2) occasionally gets the elder’s Barbies out to play with, but is going through a jigsaw puzzle obsession at the moment, and anyway prefers tea-sets and playing with her sister (who is more flexible, and more tolerant, than Barbie). But when Barbie was more of an issue I noted that in my (admittedly quirky) circle, fathers expressed enormous hostility to Barbie; whereas mothers tended to be much less judgemental (presumably on the ‘well, I played with her and she never did me any harm’ principle, though its not clear to me why they think they are the best judges of that). In the same circle, by the way, hostility to Britney Spears is entirely gender neutral (and extreme). I don’t share the hostility to Britney, largely because my elder is so clueless that she believed Britney to be a basketball player until last month. Anyway, is the gendered nature of the hostility to Barbie a general phenomenon?

Maher Arar (Again)

by Brian on January 14, 2004

I’m not sure if anyone reads updates at the bottom of the page, so I thought I’d link to Katherine’s three latest posts on Maher Arar (seven eight nine). Three quick points about these.

  1. The circumstantial evidence is starting to mount that Arar really was tortured, and really is innocent of all charges. Katherine found a quote from a US official admitting that Arar was tortured, something the US has later denied. (Though the denials are based solely on the say-so of the Syrian government.) Arar on the other hand has told a consistent story from day one.
  2. Any newspaper or newsmagazine editor out there who wants a serious investigative report on on this could do much worse than getting in touch with Katherine. She really is all over this story, and if she had a chance to interview the principals I’m sure she could produce a remarkable story.
  3. I apologise for my snarkiness towards right-wing bloggers in my original post on this. All the commentary I’ve seen from across the spectrum has been quite properly condemning the US’s handling of this. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of conservatives are not pro-torturing innocents. I just wish that group had slightly more influence in the Attorney-General’s Office when Arar’s case came up.

An important distinction

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2004

I quoted from the now notorious “Benny Morris interview”: yesterday. Norman Geras has now “posted some of his thoughts”: on the matters raised by the interview.

Perle and Frum

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2004

The Christian Science Monitor has “a helpful summary”: of the main propositions advanced by Richard Perle and David Frum in a new book:

# France is really more an enemy than an ally of the US and that European nations must be forced to choose between Paris and Washington
# Muslims living in the US must be given special scrutiny by US law enforcement and other Americans
# The US must overthrow the regimes in Iran and Syria, and impose a blockade on North Korea
# Palestinians must not be allowed to have a state
# All Americans must carry a government issued identity card
# The US must explicitly reject the jurisdiction of the United Nations Charter.

It is reassuring to know that such lunatics could never achieve positions of power and influence.

Making an example out of them

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2004

Slate has a round-table entitled “Liberal Hawks Reconsider the War”: with Jacob Weisberg, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth M. Pollack, and Fareed Zakaria. It is definitely worth a look, though some of them are clearly smarter or more honest than others. Some of the reasons they advance for war are also better than others (with the human rights argument the strongest of all — whether conclusive or not). Thomas Friedman’s reasons, though, are indefensible, indeed criminal:

bq. The real reason for this war—which was never stated—was to burst what I would call the “terrorism bubble,” which had built up during the 1990s. This bubble was a dangerous fantasy, believed by way too many people in the Middle East. This bubble said that it was OK to plow airplanes into the World Trade Center, commit suicide in Israeli pizza parlors, praise people who do these things as “martyrs,” and donate money to them through religious charities. This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something—to let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it’s not very diplomatic—it’s not in the rule book—but everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could—period. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.

If I read that paragraph correctly, Friedman is advocating that a state kill people (including innocent people) for demonstrative purposes. He thereby shows complete disregard for the humanity and individuality of those who have died. It is a peculiar way to demonstrate the impermissibility of the very acts he deplores.

Name that product

by Eszter Hargittai on January 14, 2004

Sometimes I wonder how companies come up with names for their products. I just noticed that the shower knob in my bathroom is called Monitor. (I just moved so most things at my place are new to me.) I guess that may seem innocent enough, but not after having just watched this episode of The Practice. In it, one of the characters finds out that her superintendent has been making video tapes of her in the shower (using a hidden camera in the vent) and has been posting these online. As if this wasn’t bad enough, we find out that there is nothing illegal about such videotaping as potentially relevant laws only apply to audio recordings. So it’s not that I’m overly paranoid, but I would’ve probably preferred a name with less meaning on my shower knob (except who runs around thinking about shower knob name preferences?!;).


by Brian on January 14, 2004

Every spring my main hobby is working out my travel plans for the summer. Right now I’m seriously considering a travel plan that involves, among other things, the following.

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