Tuesday, February 21, 2006

David Irving Stinks. Now Cut Him Loose.

The Globe and Mail gets it right. David Irving is "a Holocaust-denier, an anti-Semite and a racist," whose grotesque ravings include the claims that "Anne Frank could not have written her famous diary, that Hitler never gave an order to exterminate the Jews and that 'Auschwitz is a legend, just like the Turin Shroud.' " Although they don't say it, Irving is by any civilized standard a creep, a jerk and a buffoon.

But he doesn't belong in prison.

It does not take a genius to see that the German and Austrian laws against Holocaust denial are powerful symbols of the damage that Nazism did to, and through, those nations. They are a powerful sign of the commitment those nations made to acknowledge the crimes of their own citizens and governments, and to brook no neo-fascist foolishness.

But the laws are wrong.

Freedom of speech is not an option for a free society. It is a requirement. It cannot be dispensed with simply because the person speaking, or the things he says, are wicked. Irving's madness has made him a contemptible laughginstock among historians. But -- even if he has incidentally given comfort to the most wretched remainders of a justly defeated ideology -- he has not incited violence or given away national security information. (The question of whether he has slandered anybody is a bit dicier, but can surely be dealth with by a nation's usual laws).

If we are going to be repelled by Islamofascist fatwas against offensive Danish cartooning, we have little choice but to be equally repelled by Austrian imprisonment of a man for the presentation of offensive (and patently false) historical claims. And it is no contradiction to find Irving no less repellant than the laws which have convicted him.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Yowza -- Cheney Takes Responsibility!!!

In his interview with (who else?) Fox News, the Veep took complete responsibility for shooting a guy in the face. He disavowed, in particular, any effort to "make it Harry's fault." (Are you listening, Pudgie McClellan?)

For a moment, we at the Egg were thrilled by all this. Wow, we thought. Cheney's really standing up here. He's admitting he made a mistake.

And then our heart sank. This shouldn't be such a big deal. Most of us learned the lesson in grade school, when Dad marched us back to the candy store to apologize for filching that Hershey bar. It shouldn't surprise us when our elected officials take responsibility for their mistakes. The fact that it does come as a surprise -- and a relief -- only shows how conditioned we have been by decades of executive lying. From "I am not a crook" to "I did not have sex with that woman," we have come to take for granted that Presidents will lie to us.

Still, let's be clear: when it comes to evading responsibility, the Bush Administration achieves new levels of shamelessness. Yellow-cake, Plamegate, WMDs, torture and secret prisons, warrantless wiretapping, you name it.

And it's not just about lying and evading responsibility, but about blaming other people for their own screwups. The Administration, and "movement" Republicans generally, continue to blame the CIA for "intelligence failures," even though it is pretty obvious that the warmakers rejected outright any intelligence that wasn't flawed the way they needed it to be. (Don't believe me? Click here.)

By the way, we love Chuck Hagel's comment: "If [Cheney'd] been in the military, he would have learned gun safety."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

So the guy Cheney shot had a heart attack. Well, I would too, if somebody shot me in the face, neck and chest. And I'd feel damn lucky to still have a heart that could be attacked.

Here's my question: if Harry Whittington dies, does that make the Veep a murderer? Or anyway, a manslaughterer? I'm not kidding. There are laws about this sort of thing.

Or don't our laws govern the Executive Branch anymore?

Dear Dick

Dear Mr. Cheney,

The National Rifle Association is a group dedicated to gun safety. I think they also do some advocacy work on the side. Perhaps you've heard of them?

Anyway, they have a pamphlet with some rules for staying safe. I thought you might be interested in Rule # 1:

1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.

Boy, does this sound like a great idea! Bet you wish you'd thought of it before you tried to take off Harry Whittington's head with birdshot the other day, huh?

They even teach courses in this stuff. There aren't any in the District of Columbia, where you live, but maybe you could take a class in Virginia. Here's the list of classes. After all the embarrassment you've caused him, I'll bet your boss would pay for it. Or maybe Mr. Whittington would. Or maybe the Senate Democrats, now that know what you're capable of.

Cheney Bags Lawyer

The headline, a new classic, is courtesy of the Herald of Glasgow. But the link gets you to the WashPost, for a nice, thorough description of the Darth Cheney shooting incident. Highlights include:

Cheney was hunting illegally. At least technically: he lacked a $7 dollar out-of-state hunter's credential that Texas requires. No big deal, really. So do lots of people who hunt birds in Texas; but they aren't (a) multi-gazillionaire war profiteers; and (b) Number 2 in the Executive Branch.

Catch the spin: Yes, accidents will happen, and that's all part of the sport. We get it. But Scott "Pudgie" McClellan is going one step further, and trying to blame the victim: "The protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying the others that he was there."

We prefer the response from a lawyer at the National Shooting Sports Foundation: "You're hunting together; you need to know where everyone is." Or from another Texas quail-hunter: "If you pull the trigger, you're responsible for it, no matter what…. In hunting, the shooter is responsible for knowing where the shot is going. That's the bottom line."

The White House delayed about more than 18 hours before talking about this, and would have kept silent altogether if it hadn't been reported in a local paper. Great PR move, guys. If they don't think we deserve to know about hunting accidents, of course they don't think we deserve to know about wiretapping, torture and secret prisons.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Homage to Peter Zenger

If Zenger means nothing to you, check the link. Meanwhile: I'm sorry, but I can't let go of the Cartoon Riots. First, they are getting worse -- deaths in Afghanistan today.

Second, and more important, I am troubled by the fuzzy thinking that surrounds them.

I am troubled by the apparent conviction that, because Muslims do not draw pictures of Muhammad, neither should anybody else. I am troubled by the implication that non-Muslims ought to obey the strictures of Islamic law. As Sullivan said today, I don't ask atheists to genuflect in front of a church. Or, more to the point: polygamy is against the law in every Western nation. It is legal, and not uncommon, under Shariah. So Muslims violate the Western sense of decency on a daily basis, but you don't see us rioting.

I am troubled that after decades of routinely publishing cartoons that depict Jews as hook-nosed devils, Muslims worldwide suddenly develop a passion for cultural sensitivity.

I am troubled by the number of Western governments, religious organizations and news outlets that seem willing to accept the idea that free speech shouldn't hurt anybody's feelings. The idea is nonsense, of course. Worse, it plays into the hands of those Western powers -- the Bush and Blair administrations, the Vatican
and now South Africa -- who have their own political reasons to put limits on free expression.

I am troubled that when
a Hizbullah official says that "If any Muslim had carried out the fatwa [against] Salman Rushdie, those despicable people would not have dared to insult the Prophet Muhammad - not in Denmark, not in Norway, and not in France," there are still Western governments and press organizations which ignore the danger of going wobbly on free speech. He is arguing that murder is the right way to shut up the people he disagrees with.

And I am troubled by how few of the news reports seem to acknowledge what is surely obvious: the rage of the rioters isn't really about perceived blasphemy per se. A drawing of the Prophet is at most the spark that lit the fuse. They may not like it, but other representations of the same man (such as the one at the
Supreme Court) have provoked letters and petitions, not mobs and torches. The rioters are enraged because the cartoons -- at least the one most widely reported -- draw a connection between Muhammad and violence.

Whether such a connection is fair or not seems to be, at the very least, open for debate. Unlike Jesus or the Buddha, Muhammad led troops in battle. While Christianity and Buddhism both have plenty of violence in their histories, of these three faiths only Islam has as its central historic figure a person who voluntarily engaged in combat. Not metaphorical battle, not spiritual warfare, but actual swords-and-bloodshed fighting. This doesn't translate into something simple-minded on the order of "all Muslims are violent." The evidence is clear that most are not. But it does leave open the possibility that for many adherents of the religion he preached, the example of Muhammad may seem to validate and even demand religious violence.

And no, I don't imagine it is very pleasant to be reminded of the fact. But don't blame the messenger. Or burn down his embassy.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Suddenly, I'm in Bed with the Conservatives

Sullivan is all over this like a cheap suit. Good on yer, Andy. (The passage from Beaumarchais is especially apt.)

Michelle Malkin's blog has a
scary photo essay. "Freedom go to Hell" pretty much says it all.

Vatican Chokes.

We almost used a stronger word. While Muslim mobs burn the Danish embassy in anger over cartoon representations of Mohammad, the Roman hierarchy comes across with gems like this: "Freedom of the press, including satire, must stop where religious belief begins."

That's Ersilio Cardinal Tonini, erstwhile archbishop opf Ravenna. Cardinal Silvestrini, head of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, offers a similar gem: "We, too, here in Europe, should rebel against the idea of mocking religious symbols," Silvestrini said. "Freedom to satirize which offends other people's feelings becomes prevarication."

What's wrong with this picture? Well, apart from the fact that either Silvestrini or his translator doesn't know what "prevarication" means, there's the fact that these remarks are sheer nonsense. Undemocratic, tyrannical, pre-Enlightenment nonsense. I invite Tonini to make his point to the ghosts of Diderot and Voltaire, or even Erasmus. (Not to mention Monty Python and the Simpsons).
And I invite Silvestrini to find any examples of satire properly so called that do not offend somebody's feelings. He certainly won't find them in Juvenal or St. Jerome.

There is more to this than the Vatican's well-documented history of affection for certain kinds of tyranny, both intellectual and political. Rome shows signs of joining the frightened governments of Western Europe (yes,
Mister Blair, this does mean you) in limiting free speech. The motivations may be different -- the governments are afraid of riots; Rome is probably trying to prepare a case against the next Andres Serrano. But the point is that both impulses are wrong. Even if well-intentioned, they are steps away from liberty and toward an accommodation with tyranny.

Of course there are limits to free speech. Mischief-makers can't shout "fire" in a crowded theatre. Embedded reporters can't broadcast troop positions (thank you, Geraldo). Burning a flag is pure symbolism; burning a building is arson and sometimes murder. There are limits -- but nasty cartoons, foolish displays of tasteless museum art, public exposure of persons and ideas whose folly needs to be exposed -- these are not things that a free society can with justice limit. Because then it is not free.

Angry Muslims Burn Stuff.

I'm sure they threw rocks, fired shots in the air, and tried to recruit a few suicide bombers as well. We get the idea, guys.

And the idea that the Islamofascists want us to get is this: "Hey, West. Abandon your principles. Abandon your commitment to free press, free speech, the free exchange of ideas, even offensive ones. Replace all this with a society in which Islamic laws (such as those which forbid depictions of the Prophet) are respected even by non-Muslims, and in which Muslims themselves are judged only by Muslim courts. In other words, let us slowly cripple your legal systems, and exempt ourselves from them entirely. We'll call this 'respect.'

"And if you 'respect' us, we won't burn your stuff. You know, your flags, your buildings, your people who work in those buildings. That kind of stuff."

Here's something noteworthy, though. The mobs have been angry at the Danes over some cartoons lately (see below). So, as angry mobs will, they set fire to something -- the Danish embassy in Damascus. (The picture is from the AP). And wouldn't you know: the same building houses the Swedish and Chilean embassies. Which gets to the real point: " 'Respect' us, or every aspect of your societies -- those which offend us and those which do not -- will be burned."

To be fair, the American military (which has torched an embassy or two itself) has a similar doctrine. They call it collateral damage.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Muslims Outraged. Again.

Ho-hum. Muslims worldwide -- for which read "radical Islamists and those they have suckered with their demogogic divel" -- are up in arms over some cartoons in the European press. Tasteless, silly cartoons that included caricatures of Muhammad.

They want Denmark to apologize. That is, they want the government to apologize for what appears in the press. They want this, of course, because as subjects of the world's worst totalitarian regimes, they can't imagine anything appearing in a newspaper that hadn't been approved by the government.

(I waited years for the Nixon Administration to apologize for leaking the Watergate story.)

They want Denmark to apologize, as well, because they know that there is a symbolic war being waged between their Islamofascism and the ideals of an open society. Now, Western governments don't always do a great job of upholding those ideals (see above, under "Watergate;" or latterly, headings for Gitmo, Gonzales, Abu Ghraib and Wiretapping), but still, we are the only game in town. As often as Islamofascism can make the West apologize, it can make itself out to be the offended party, the victim rather than the aggressor. As often as it can achieve that goal, it can pull otherwise decent, loving and humane Muslims into its clutches.

(Yeah. And Southerners still call their attack of Fort Sumter the fuse that lit the "War of Northern Aggression." Go figure.)

But here's the part that really burns our britches at the Egg. They are ticked off over a newspaper caricature of Muhammad? Christians in the West have been forced to spend years listening to Pat Robertson's caricature of Jesus. Do you hear us complaining?

(And if not, why not?)