Friday, February 21, 2003

Foreign Policy, Free Speech, and Unintended Consequences: Well, reports seem to indicate that Iraq's compliance with the weapons-inspections regime has dropped off in the wake of anti-war protests, which some people believe emboldened Saddam by making war less likely. Since, of course, Bush is not likely to care what British college kids think, war is actually more likely now. That is a sad irony indeed, even for someone like me, who supports the idea of regime change in Iraq.

But this isn't just another post on unintended consequences--it's about the challenge of conducting foreign policy in an era of free speech and global communications.

The reason the President was given most of the foreign policy power in the Consitution was simple: it is important that the nation speak with a single voice when dealing with foreign powers. It's a lot like parents and children: it is important for parents to avoid undermining each other's disciplinary authority, lest a child sucessfully set parents against one another. In like fashion, it is essential that a foreign country not be permitted to divide--and thus to weaken--our government and population.

It is of course also essential that the population be able to criticize the government, and that the various members of the government have the freedom to fulfil their duties--e.g., that senators be able to dissent from the President's Iraq policy. The problem in 2003 is that such dissent is immediatly broadcast around the globe--and can end up providing comfort and propaganda to our enemies. It may also lead our enemies, who often lack a thorough understanding of our culture and government, to disasterously miscalculate.

Saddam's apparent belief that the anti-war protests will stop war is one example of such miscalculation. There may be similar problems with North Korea as we speak. I personally regard Kim Jong Il's nuclear program as a major and frightening crisis, but the Bush administration has been very cool in public. This may be part of a deliberate strategy, akin to ignoring a child who misbehaves to get attention. Obviously no one can say that in public, so I can't be sure.

But every time I read an op-ed calling for Bush to drop Iraq and pay attention to Korea, I wonder if Kim is also reading, and is encouraged that someone is paying attention to his antics (a guy who runs an Stalinist state would be more likely to think that the NYT is a Bush mouthpiece). I also wonder if the writer has even bothered to consider that perhaps Bush is paying attention ot Korea--but not in public, for sound policy reasons.

I'm certainly NOT suggesting censorship, but do think that it would be well for pundits and protesters to consider carefully both why the government does what it does, given that public pronoucements will often not reflect policy reality, and also how their words might play overseas. It seems odd to say it, but it is possible that some minor editorial writer could end up undermining the policy of the President--and, if the results of the anti-war protests are any indication, the result could be exactly the opposite of what the writer wants.

Scary: The "classic rock" station in Seattle played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" today.

I must be getting old.

Not, however, as old as the Armed Liberal, who, by my reckoning, must be exactly twice as old as I am.

Music and Sex: There's an interesting contrast between the music played in the auto parts store where I work and the music I pick for myself when I'm out in the truck making deliveries. In the store, it's mostly top-40, and out on the road, I mostly like oldies and classic rock. Today, I heard a hip-hop song which was quite disgustingly explicit in its description of sex acts; I found it repulsive, though not for any moral reason--there was nothing described which I wouldn't be willing to do myself. Rather, I simply didn't want to be invited to anybody else's play date.

On the other hand, I love the suggestive sound of the original "Son of a Preacher Man" (I'm fudging the title because I don't actually know it), which mixes a bass line suggestive of heart-pounding experimentation with brassy overtones evoking superficial conversation. I'm left with the impression of young lovers hiding their nervousness--and guilt--with banter.

A more explicitly raunchy-sounding (but not raunchy) song is "Little Red Riding Hood" ("you're everything a big bad wolf could want!"), which features a big bad wolf who desperately hides his true self to impress a girl. His intentions--and worldliness--are not in doubt, but his behavior is still gentlemanly.

I'm frankly not brilliant at romance; I couldn't sweep anyone off her feet with a broom. I understand the male fantasy of easy, hot sex with beautiful women. But somehow, I find the gently suggestive description of romantic seduction far more interesting, exciting, and pleasant to listen to than the hottest sex. Even if we reject moral strictures on what we say and do in public, could we perhaps accept such strictures on the basis that it makes for better music?

Monday, February 17, 2003

Best Documentary: Today, two blog posts from 60 minutes. CBS claims that Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine is in the lead for a Best Documentary Oscar. This leads naturally to the question: what if Moore's film is full of untruths? (I didn't say "lies" because I want to allow for the possibility of error rather than deception.) Spinsanity and Forbes have both claimed to uncover distortions in Moore's work, and--though I haven't seen the film, and thus hesitate to criticize it directly--one of my good friends came away with a seriously distorted impression of Canada's gun laws. He's an extremely smart liberal, and a guy I trust--and he also said that Moore had essentially no point.

That was on display during the interview last night, too, as Moore blamed our "fear of the Other" for the US murder rate--and then blamed the NRA.

So there are two questions here: should a documentary win an Oscar if it contains lots of untruths, distortions, or omissions, and: should it win if it is incoherent and self-contradictory?

On the upside though, I should point out that Moore was unusually honest in one element of his movie--CBS showed a clip in which Moore compared gun deaths in various countries. He didn't control for population, which was bad, and he didn't discuss other murder weapons, which would have been nice. But he DID talk only about murders rather than lumping sucides and accidents into the same catagory of "gun deaths." That was a surprising bit of honesty for which Moore deserves more credit than he has gotten from gunbloggers.

A little media commentary: CBS did a terrible job, never once raising the question of Moore's veracity, although those questions were raised shortly after the movie appeared in the US. Also, they used the irritating phrase "America's love affair with guns." I don't love my guns. I love the sport of shooting, no question. I love freedom, and I regard my guns as important tools for its preservation. I love my life, and my wife even more, and I definitely consider my guns key parts of a be-prepared survival strategy.

I resent the sordid implication that I, or anyone else, has a "love affair" with guns. I also would like to know why one never hears, for instance, of "America's love affair with free speech" in a story about Holocaust deniers, who are literally jailed in Europe. If you were wondering why some people consider the media to be biased to the left, the "love affair with guns" line is a classic example.

If I seem unnervingly fierce in my defense of gun rights, I can only hope that the members of the media will be similarly fierce in defense of their right to be free from censorship, should censorship ever threaten them the way the gun control threatens me. Hell, if censorship ever becomes a real threat, I'll be on the barricades with the reporters, and it makes me sad that they won't return the favor in advance.

Andy Rooney on France: Andy Rooney had an absoultely hilarious screed against the French and their opposition to war in Iraq. Basically, he said that the French have no right to comment on the US's doings, since the US has bailed France out of trouble so many times. He was focused on his own experiences in WWII, but of course there are many more examples.

I was doubled over laughing the whole time, and my wife and I cheered when he was through. Still, I find his argument unconvincing, and indeed a little distasteful. I am especially turned off by the use of the white crosses at Normandy to browbeat the French; it seems exploitative. Those boys didn't die to buy us French gratitude or servility, they died because defeating Hitler was the right thing to do, regardless of what might happen later. Virtue is and will always be its own reward; that's doubly true when you're talking about a saving a culture as vainglorious as that of the anchor of "old Europe."

The reason to ignore the French is that their arguments and ideas stink [insert cheese joke here]. It doesn't matter what they "owe" us--disagreement might well be fitting repayment for the biggest of all debts, just as true love sometimes requires one to say "no." I quite literally wouldn't be here if not for my parents; that doesn't mean I agree with them all the time, or do what they say. But the French elites' intentional obtuseness, their stupid suggestions, their shockingly offensive insinuations, their hypocricy (they're at war in Cote d'Ivoire right now, for crying out loud), and their absurd superciliousness do not add up to a serious diplomatic operation. If they don't take us--or Saddam--seriously, there's no reason for us to take them seriously.