Tag Archives: Christopher Hitchens

Superfly, No Fly, The Fly, Fly Girls, Fly The Friendly Skies

Eliot Spitzer at Slate:

From the spokesman for the new provisional Libyan government formed in Benghazi to the resistance fighter holed up in her apartment in Tripoli, the message from anti-Qaddafi Libyans to the West—and the United States in particular—is uniform: Help us!

Qaddafi is not Hosni Mubarak. The Libyan forces arrayed against the insurgency, unlike the Egyptian army, will show no restraint. This will be, indeed has already become, a bloody fight to the finish involving mercenaries and soldiers whose loyalty to the Qaddafi family is based on money and brute force.

Saif Qaddafi predicted “rivers of blood,” and we are now seeing them flowing from the streets of Tripoli to Libya’s other key coastal cities.

Yet the White House has offered little but antiseptic words, followed up by nothing meaningful.

However, the spectrum of options—both multilateral and unilateral—is quite broad, ranging from the creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone, to targeted attacks to take out what little remains of the Qaddafi air force, to covert efforts to keep the Qaddafi air force on the ground, to the provision of communication infrastructure to the resistance, to the provision of armaments so that they can fight on an equal footing.

Not only would our actual assistance be of great actual help, but the emotional impact of our intervention could sway many who remain with Qaddafi and bring them over to the side of the resistance.

Christopher Hitchens at Slate:

Far from being brutalized by four decades of domination by a theatrical madman, the Libyan people appear fairly determined not to sink to his level and to be done with him and his horrible kin. They also seem, at the time of writing, to want this achievement to represent their own unaided effort. Admirable as this is, it doesn’t excuse us from responsibility. The wealth that Qaddafi is squandering is the by-product of decades of collusion with foreign contractors. The weapons that he is employing against civilians were not made in Libya; they were sold to him by sophisticated nations. Other kinds of weaponry have been deployed by Qaddafi in the past against civil aviation and to supply a panoply of nihilistic groups as far away as Ireland and the Philippines. This, too, gives us a different kind of stake in the outcome. Even if Qaddafi basked in the unanimous adoration of his people, he would not be entitled to the export of violence. Moreover, his indiscriminate barbarism, and the effect of its subsequent refugee crisis on neighboring countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, ipso facto constitutes an intervention in the internal affairs of others and a threat to peace in the region. In arguing that he no longer possesses legal sovereignty over “his” country, and that he should relinquish such power as remains to him, we are almost spoiled for choice as to legal and moral pretexts.

And yet there is a palpable reluctance, especially on the part of the Obama administration, to look these things in the face. Even after decades of enmity with this evil creep, our military and intelligence services turn out not even to have had a contingency plan. So it seems we must improvise. But does one have to go over all the arguments again, as if Rwanda and Bosnia and Kurdistan had never happened? It seems, especially when faced with the adamancy for drift and the resolve to be irresolute of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that one does. Very well, then. Doing nothing is not the absence of a policy; it is, in fact, the adoption of one. “Neutrality” favors the side with the biggest arsenal. “Nonintervention” is a form of interference. If you will the end—and President Barack Obama has finally said that Qaddafi should indeed go—then to that extent you will the means.

Libya is a country with barely 6 million inhabitants. By any computation, however cold and actuarial, the regime of its present dictator cannot possibly last very much longer. As a matter of pure realism, the post-Qaddafi epoch is upon us whether we choose to welcome the fact or not. The immediate task is therefore to limit the amount of damage Qaddafi can do and sharply minimize the number of people he can murder. Whatever the character of the successor system turns out to be, it can hardly be worsened if we show it positive signs of friendship and solidarity. But the pilots of Qaddafi’s own air force, who flew their planes to Malta rather than let themselves be used against civilians, have demonstrated more courage and principle than the entire U.S. Sixth Fleet.

There’s another consequence to our continuing passivity. I am sure I am not alone in feeling rather queasy about being forced to watch the fires in Tripoli and Benghazi as if I were an impotent spectator. Indifference of this kind to the lives of others can have a coarsening effect. It can lower one’s threshold of sympathy. If protracted unduly, it might even become brutalizing.

Thomas Ricks at Foreign Policy:

To help the president nudge the JCS in the ensuing discussion, here are the options he should ask to be put on his desk:

1. Best option: Give the Libyan rebels the aid they need to win. This may be no more than some secure communications gear and a couple of thousand rocket-propelled grenades to deter Qaddafi’s tanks and SUVs. (This may be already happening in some form.) Can we start flying discreet charter flights of stuff into some airports in the east? This needs to be ready to go ASAP — like yesterday.

2. More aggressive, riskier option: It is not in the interests of the United States, or the Libyan people, to see Qaddafi put down the rebels. So if Option 1 doesn’t work, what more do we need to do? I think here we want to think about direct action: Using Special Operations troops to corner and then capture or (if he insists) kill Col. Qaddafi. You do need tactical air on tap for this, both to finish off Qaddafi if he holes up and also to cover the extraction helicopters. This needs to be ready to kick off in 72 hours.

3. Third: And yeah, sure, let’s look at what a no-fly zone would look like. This is my least favorite option, because it is a half measure — which by definition is an act that is enough to get us involved but by itself is not enough to promise to determine the outcome. Still, is there any way to do it quickly and with less risk? I’ve heard things like stating “you fly, you die,” and not conducting extensive air strikes, just popping whoever flies. I am doubtful of this. Sen. Kerry’s simplistic “cratering” of runways is a non-starter — it is very easy to quickly fill in holes. Imposition of an American-led no-fly zone effectively would be a promise to the Libyan people, and it should not be an empty promise that allows Qaddafi to get aircraft in the air even occasionally to bomb rebellious cities. But it might be worthwhile to throw up a no-fly zone if only as a cover for Option 2, because it would have the effect of throwing sand in Qaddafi’s eyes. So the NFZ also needs to be ready to go in 72 hours.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

This is what a worst case scenario looks like: Qaddafi is ramping up the use of airpower against the rebels, increasingly confident that NATO and the U.S. won’t intervene. Actually, this is a next-to-worst case scenario: the real horror would be if Qaddafi breaks out the mustard gas. Either way, we have the spectacle of the Obama Administration standing by as freedom fighters are slaughtered from the air–prime fodder for shoot-first John McCain (yet again, and still, the headliner on a Sunday morning talk show–will wonders never cease?), Mitch McConnell and even for John Kerry.

There are several problems with the conventional wisdom. The biggest problem is that we have no idea whether the rebels in Libya are freedom fighters at all. Some are, especially the English-speaking, western-educated young people who are prime targets for visiting journalists. But how relevant are they to the real power struggle? Who are the non-English-speaking tribal elders? Are they democracy loving freedom fighters…or just Qaddafis-in-waiting? It’s a question to be asked not only in Libya, but also in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain. One hopes for the best–especially in Egypt, where there are signs that the Army is allowing at least a partial transition away from autocracy. But who knows, really? Even Iraq’s democracy is looking shaky these days as Nouri al-Maliki seems intent on consolidating his power.

Only a sociopath would have any sympathy for Qaddafi. And we should do what we can to calm the situation down…but I have this growing fear that the tribal/civil war in Libya may be as representative of what’s happening in the Middle East as the exhilarating people-power revolution in Egypt. This is truly a diplomatic conundrum: we can’t continue to support the autocrats in power…but by opposing them, we may be aiding and abetting the birth of a more chaotic, brutal Middle East. Those who express vast confidence about one side or the other–or who want to shoot first, as the inevitable McCain does–shouldn’t inspire much confidence. We should provide what humanitarian help we can; we should try to mediate, if possible…but we should think twice–no, three times–before taking any sort of military action.

David Frum at CNN:

Let’s do a quick tally of the Middle East’s nondemocratic leaders.

America’s friend Hosni Mubarak? Gone.

America’s friend Zine El Abidine Ben Ali? Gone.

America’s friend the king of Bahrain? Wobbling.

America’s friend the king of Jordan? Shaken.

On the other side of the ledger:

America’s enemy, the Iranian theocracy? The mullahs unleashed ferocious repression against democratic protesters in the summer of 2009 and kept power.

Hezbollah? It brought down the Lebanese government to forestall a U.N. investigation into the terrorist murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hamas? Last month it banned male hairdressers in Gaza from cutting women’s hair, the latest zany ordinance from the self-described Islamic movement.

If Gadhafi and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still rule territory in a month’s time, and if Hezbollah and Hamas continue to rely on their armed presence to back up the militant policies they impose, the promises of Middle Eastern democracy will look very hollow. And the incentive structure of the Middle East will acquire a sinister new look.

Gadhafi’s departure from power in other words is not just a requirement of humanity and decency. It’s not only justice to the people of Libya. It is also essential to American credibility and the stability of the Middle East region.

Obama already has said that Gadhafi “must” go. Gadhafi is not cooperating — and to date, the insurgents have lacked the strength to force him.

The United States paid a heavy price for encouraging Iraqis to rebel against Saddam Hussein in 1991, then standing by as the Iraqi leader slaughtered rebels from the air. We still pay that price, for the memory of the slaughter is a crucial element in the distrust that so many ordinary Iraqis felt for the United States after Hussein’s ouster in 2003.

The president must not repeat that mistake. He’s already committed himself. Now the only choice he faces is whether his words will be seen to have meaning — or to lack it.

Daniel Larison:

The argument that we need to intervene in Libya for the sake of protesters elsewhere isn’t remotely credible, not least because no one is proposing that the U.S. make armed intervention against internal crackdowns a standing policy to be applied in all cases. If intervention in Libya were to deter other unfriendly governments from trying to crush protest movements with violence, Washington would have to make these governments believe that it was prepared and willing to do the same thing to them. Pushing unnecessary war with Libya is bad enough, but if it were just the first in a series of unnecessary wars it becomes even more undesirable.

The U.S. can lend assistance to Tunisia and Egypt in coping with refugees from Libya, and it is appropriate to provide humanitarian aid for the civilian population in Libya where it is possible to deliver it, but there is no reason to become more involved than that.

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Get Yr Water Boiling: Hitchens V. Ono

Caitlin Dickson at The Atlantic with the round-up.

Yoko Ono at The New York Times:

JOHN and I are in our Dakota kitchen in the middle of the night. Three cats — Sasha, Micha and Charo — are looking up at John, who is making tea for us two.

Sasha is all white, Micha is all black. They are both gorgeous, classy Persian cats. Charo, on the other hand, is a mutt. John used to have a special love for Charo. “You’ve got a funny face, Charo!” he would say, and pat her.

“Yoko, Yoko, you’re supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water.” John took the role of the tea maker, for being English. So I gave up doing it.

It was nice to be up in the middle of the night, when there was no sound in the house, and sip the tea John would make. One night, however, John said: “I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, but …”

“So all this time, we were doing it wrong?”

“Yeah …”

We both cracked up. That was in 1980. Neither of us knew that it was to be the last year of our life together.

Christopher Hitchens at Slate:

I simply hate to think of the harm that might result from this. It is already virtually impossible in the United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it ought to. It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate. The drink itself is then best thrown away, though if swallowed, it will have about the same effect on morale as a reading of the memoirs of President James Earl Carter

Now, imagine that tea, like coffee, came without a bag (as it used to do—and still does if you buy a proper tin of it). Would you consider, in either case, pouring the hot water, letting it sit for a bit, and then throwing the grounds or the leaves on top? I thought not. Try it once, and you will never repeat the experience, even if you have a good strainer to hand. In the case of coffee, it might just work if you are quick enough, though where would be the point? But ground beans are heavier and denser, and in any case many good coffees require water that is just fractionally off the boil. Whereas tea is a herb (or an herb if you insist) that has been thoroughly dried. In order for it to release its innate qualities, it requires to be infused. And an infusion, by definition, needs the water to be boiling when it hits the tea. Grasp only this, and you hold the root of the matter.

[…]

If you use a pot at all, make sure it is pre-warmed. (I would add that you should do the same thing even if you are only using a cup or a mug.) Stir the tea before letting it steep. But this above all: “[O]ne should take the teapot to the kettle, and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours.” This isn’t hard to do, even if you are using electricity rather than gas, once you have brought all the makings to the same scene of operations right next to the kettle.

It’s not quite over yet. If you use milk, use the least creamy type or the tea will acquire a sickly taste. And do not put the milk in the cup first—family feuds have lasted generations over this—because you will almost certainly put in too much. Add it later, and be very careful when you pour. Finally, a decent cylindrical mug will preserve the needful heat and flavor for longer than will a shallow and wide-mouthed—how often those attributes seem to go together—teacup. Orwell thought that sugar overwhelmed the taste, but brown sugar or honey are, I believe, permissible and sometimes necessary.

Patrick Kingsley at The Guardian:

As Hitchens himself acknowledges, his analysis places him within a canon of tea-based literature that dates back to George Orwell. But though Hitch is broadly in agreement with Orwell’s take on tea, the pair do deviate on some crucial matters. Hitch feels that Orwell’s preference for china teapots and “Indian or Ceylonese” tealeaf is outmoded. And while Orwell argues that it is “misguided” to add sugar, for Hitch, “brown sugar or honey are, I believe, permissible and sometimes necessary”.

But Hitch’s closing remarks are ones that Orwell would surely not quibble with. “Next time you are in a Starbucks or its equivalent and want some tea,” he writes, “don’t be afraid to decline that hasty cup of hot water with added bag. It’s NOT what you asked for.”

Andrew Sullivan:

Starbucks’ London Fog or Earl Grey Tea Latte unsweetened is the best approximation of my mother’s cup of cha that I have been able to find. Except she would proceed to add three teaspoons of sugar and one artificial sweetener.

Nate Freeman at The New York Observer:

When Chistopher Hitchens pontificates on the subject of beverage, it’s a safe bet to assume it’s concerning alcohol. Up until his diagnosis with cancer and subsequent chemo, Hitch would consume no less than a bottle of wine and few gulps of whiskey per day, he wrote in Hitch-22. And tales of larger excess are out there, even encouraged by the man. But we are greeted in Slate today by a tempered Hitch, one who simply wants to share with his readers the proper way to make tea. And no, spiking it with liquor is not part of the recipe (though feel free to make an amendment or two!).

Tom Scocca at Slate:

I applaud Christopher Hitchens’ tea-making instructions, including his tactful decision to give Yoko Ono a grace period before correcting the misinformation she had published in the New York Times in John Lennon’s name. Tea goes in first.

Please do not allow Hitchens’ contrarian reputation, Englishness, ideological fervor, or disparagement of teabags to distract you from his essential message: the water must be boiling.

This is not about being finicky or snobbish. The boiling-water rule applies at every level of quality. A cheapo Lipton teabag needs and deserves fully boiling water every bit as much as a handful of top-grade single-plantation Assam does. A cup of black tea made with less-than-boiling water is like a hamburger that’s still cold in the middle. Whether it’s a McDonald’s burger or a gourmet burger is beside the point.

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Barack, Bibi, And The Bomber Boys

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic:

It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran “unacceptable,” will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.

But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)

In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.

When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.

If a strike does succeed in crippling the Iranian nuclear program, however, Israel, in addition to possibly generating some combination of the various catastrophes outlined above, will have removed from its list of existential worries the immediate specter of nuclear-weaponized, theologically driven, eliminationist anti-Semitism; it may derive for itself the secret thanks (though the public condemnation) of the Middle East’s moderate Arab regimes, all of which fear an Iranian bomb with an intensity that in some instances matches Israel’s; and it will have succeeded in countering, in militant fashion, the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which is, not irrelevantly, a prime goal of the enthusiastic counter-proliferator who currently occupies the White House.

Steve Clemons at the Washington Note:

In an important article titled “The Point of No Return” to be published in The Atlantic tomorrow, national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg recounts something many people didn’t realize at the time and still have a hard time believing. President George W. Bush knocked back Dick Cheney’s wing of the foreign policy establishment – both inside and out of his administration – that wanted to launch a bombing campaign against Iran. In a snippet I had not seen before, Bush mockingly referred to bombing advocates Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer as “the bomber boys.”

George W. Bush was showing his inner realist not allowing his own trigger-happy Curtis LeMays pile on to the national security messes the US already owned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that was several years ago. Today, there is a new US President, more Iranian centrifuges, and a different Israeli Prime Minister – and Bibi Netanyahu seems closer to a Curtis LeMay, John Bolton or Frank Gaffney than he does to the more containment-oriented Eisenhowers and George Kennans who in their day forged a global equilibrium out of superpower rivalry and hatred.

Goldberg, after conducting dozens of interviews with senior members of Israel’s national security establishment as well as many top personalities in the Obama White House, concludes in his must-read piece that the likelihood of Israel unilaterally bombing Iran to curtail a potential nuclear weapon breakout capacity is north of 50-50.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

I’m not sure I miss Bush’s penchant for nicknames (mine was “Joe Boy”): it was far too frat boy by a lot. But occasionally the President struck gold, as Jeff Goldberg reports in a new piece previewed by Steve Clemons today: he called Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer “the bomber boys,” after their obsession with going to war with Iran–an obsession Bush eschewed in his more reasonable second term, when he retrieved his foreign policy from the Cheney Cult.

In the end, Bush was completely overmatched by the presidency. His time in office–the tax cuts, the Iraq war, the torture, the slipshod governance, the spending on programs like Medicare prescription drugs without paying for them, the deficits, the failure to foresee the housing bubble–was ruinous for the country. But I’ve got to say that “Bomber Boys” is a keeper. Kristol and Krauthammer are hereby branded for life.

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary:

It is more likely that the president and his advisers are more worried about validating the Bush doctrine that a preemptive strike is justified when the threat of a rogue regime getting hold of a weapon of mass destruction is on the table. Everything this administration has done seems to indicate that it sees a potential strike on Iran as more of a threat to the world than the Iranian bomb itself. Since Obama is almost certainly more afraid of another Iraq than he is of a genocidal threat to Israel’s existence, it is difficult to believe that he will take Hitchens’s advice.

Instapundit:

I think some people in Washington — and elsewhere — have been letting the Israelis twist in the wind in the hopes that Israel will solve our Iran problems for us, and take the blame. I don’t think these “leaders” will like the outcome, and if I were the Israelis I wouldn’t be trying too hard to make it pleasant. Irresponsibility can be expensive.

Rick Moran:

Goldberg notes that with success, the Israelis will buy time (probably putting the Iranian program back 3-5 years), earn the secret thanks of most of the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East, and will have stopped potential proliferation to terrorist groups in its tracks.

Is that worth initiating a strike that could lead to World War III?

What will the Russians do if the Israeli’s hit Bushehr? It is likely they will kill Russian technicians in such a strike since they are building the facility under contract with Tehran. Will Vladmir Putin take the death of Russian scientists and technicians lying down? What if he retaliates against Israel? What would be the American response to that?

August, 1914?

Unleashing Hezb’allah against the western world, stirring up trouble in Iraq by ordering the Shia militias into the streets, not to mention a missile campaign against Israel that could kill thousands (at which point Israel may decide that to save its people, it must expand its own bombing campaign, escalating the conflict to the next level) – this alone could ratchet up tensions causing the world to start choosing up sides.

And no America with the will or the self-confidence to step in and assist the world in standing down.

Obama’s foreign policy is not anti-American, unpatriotic, or designed to favor Muslims. It’s just weak. The president has made the conscious decision that the US is too powerful and needs to defer to supra-national organizations like the UN, or regional line ups like NATO or the Arab League when conflict is threatened. “First among equals” is not rhetoric to Obama. He means it. He has been thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea that most of the world’s troubles have been caused by a too-powerful United States and hence, only deliberately eschewing the promotion of American interests can redress this sin.

This will be the first world crisis since the end of World War II where American power and prestige will not be used to intervene in order to prevent catastrophe. Obama is betting the farm that his worldview will be more conducive to defusing a crisis than the more realpolitik and pragmatic point of view that has dominated American foreign policy for 65 years.

We are shortly going to find out whether good intentions really matter in international affairs

Allah Pundit:

Somehow it manages to be both harrowing and mundane: No matter what Obama and Netanyahu end up doing or not doing, the Middle East is sure to be a more dangerous place in a year or two than it is even now — and yet we’ve been headed towards that Catch-22 for years, dating well back into the Bush administration. As dire as they are, the strategic calculations have become sufficiently familiar — a bombing run might not disable the program, might only postpone it for a year or two, might touch off a regional war with America in the middle — that I bet most readers will either glance at the piece or pass on it entirely as old news. The Iranian program is like having a bomb in your lap knowing that any wire you cut will detonate it, so you sit there and fidget with it in hopes that it’ll just sort of fizzle out on its own. Sit there long enough and even a situation as dangerous as that will start to seem boring. Until the bomb goes off.

Doug Mataconis:

I honestly don’t know what the answer to the Iranian nuclear question is.

The prospect of the likes of the Islamic Republic possession nuclear weapons is not something I look forward to. Then again, I’m still not all that comfortable with the idea of Pakistan having nuclear weapons, and don’t get me started about North Korea. Nonetheless, Pakistan has had those weapons for more than a decade now and they haven’t used them. Even same goes for North Korea. Both countries, of course, have engaged in nuclear proliferation, and that may be the greatest danger of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, not that they’d use them, but that they’d teach others how to make them.  It’s entirely possible, then, that a nuclear-armed, or nuclear-capable, Iran, may not end up being as much of a threat as we fear.

Israel, however, doesn’t seem to be inclined to wait to find out how things will turn out. Their current leadership views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to Israel and, whether or not that is actually true, they’re likely to act accordingly. Unfortunately, their actions are likely to have consequences that we’ll all have to deal with.

UPDATE: Fred Kaplan at Slate

Glenn Greenwald

Jonathan Schwarz

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Robin Wright at The Atlantic

Christopher Hitchens in Slate

UPDATE #3: Elliott Abrams at The Atlantic

Greg Scoblete

Dave Schuler

UPDATE #4: Marc Lynch at The Atlantic

UPDATE #5: Heather Hurlburt and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

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There Are Cordoba Guitars And Cordoba Houses, Part II

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

The Anti-Defamation League, which describes itself as “the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry,” released a statment this morning opposing the building of the 13-story mosque near Ground Zero.

“In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right,” says the ADL. Full statement here:

We regard freedom of religion as a cornerstone of the American democracy, and that freedom must include the right of all Americans – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths – to build community centers and houses of worship.

We categorically reject appeals to bigotry on the basis of religion, and condemn those whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry.

However, there are understandably strong passions and keen sensitivities surrounding the World Trade Center site.  We are ever mindful of the tragedy which befell our nation there, the pain we all still feel – and especially the anguish of the families and friends of those who were killed on September 11, 2001.

The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process.  Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found.

Marc Tracy at Tablet:

The Anti-Defamation League has issued a statement opposing the construction of the Islamic community center a couple blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. (Earlier this week, a community board recommended that the Landmarks Preservation Commission allow the project to go through.) The release goes out of its way to grant Cordoba House’s organizers good intentions and to condemn the bigotry of some who oppose it. So what is the problem? “The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location,” the ADL argues, “is counterproductive to the healing process.”

It adds:

Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.

Founded in 1913, the ADL, in its words, “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.” Except when it does the precise opposite.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I have explained my support for the Lower Manhattan mosque project before, but let me restate two points:

1) The organization behind the project, the Cordoba Initiative, is a moderate group interested in advancing cross-cultural understanding. It is very far from being a Wahhabist organization;

2) This is a strange war we’re fighting against Islamist terrorism. We must fight the terrorists with alacrity, but at the same time we must understand that what the terrorists seek is a clash of civilizations. We must do everything possible to avoid giving them propaganda victories in their attempt to create a cosmic war between Judeo-Christian civilization and Muslim civilization. The fight is not between the West and Islam; it is between modernists of all monotheist faiths, on the one hand, and the advocates of a specific strain of medievalist Islam, on the other. If we as a society punish Muslims of good faith, Muslims of good faith will join the other side. It’s not that hard to understand. I’m disappointed that the ADL doesn’t understand this.

Greg Sargent:

This is basically a concession that some of the opposition to the mosque is grounded in bigotry, and that those arguing that the mosque builders harbor ill intent are misguided. Yet ADL is opposing the construction of the mosque anyway, on the grounds that it will cause 9/11 victims unnecessary “pain.”

But look: The foes of this mosque whose opposition is rooted in bigotry are the ones who are trying to stoke victims’ pain here, for transparent political purposes. Their opposition to this mosque appears to be all about insidiously linking the mosque builders with the 9/11 attackers, and by extension, to revive passions surrounding 9/11. To oppose the mosque is to capitulate to — and validate — this program.

On this one, you’re either with the bigots or you’re against them. And ADL has in effect sided with them.

Paul Krugman:

So let’s try some comparable cases, OK? It causes some people pain to see Jews operating small businesses in non-Jewish neighborhoods; it causes some people pain to see Jews writing for national publications (as I learn from my mailbox most weeks); it causes some people pain to see Jews on the Supreme Court. So would ADL agree that we should ban Jews from these activities, so as to spare these people pain? No? What’s the difference?

One thing I thought Jews were supposed to understand is that they need to be advocates of universal rights, not just rights for their particular group — because it’s the right thing to do, but also because, ahem, there aren’t enough of us. We can’t afford to live in a tribal world.

But ADL has apparently forgotten all that. Shameful — and stupid.

Update: Times staff briefly removed the link to the ADL statement, because it seemed to be dead — but it was apparently just a case of an overloaded server, and I’ve put it back.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

Humorist Will Rogers once said about the repeal of Prohibition, “Repeal is all right, but the wrong people are for it.” In this case, the wrong people are against Park51, and if Abe Foxman and the ADL can’t keep their personal feelings out of the issue, they should have just kept quiet instead of handing the Bigot Brigade a public relations gift. What a disgrace.

Adam Serwer at American Prospect:

Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this, the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a nonpartisan organization.

I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.

J Street:

Today, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement:

The principle at stake in the Cordoba House controversy goes to the heart of American democracy and the value we place on freedom of religion. Should one religious group in this country be treated differently than another? We believe the answer is no.

As Mayor Bloomberg has said, proposing a church or a synagogue for that site would raise no questions. The Muslim community has an equal right to build a community center wherever it is legal to do so. We would hope the American Jewish community would be at the forefront of standing up for the freedom and equality of a religious minority looking to exercise its legal rights in the United States, rather than casting aspersions on its funders and giving in to the fear-mongerers and pandering politicians urging it to relocate.

What better ammunition to feed the Osama bin Ladens of the world and their claim of anti-Muslim bias in the United States as they seek to whip up global jihad than to hold this proposal for a Muslim religious center to a different and tougher standard than other religious institutions would be.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

During the high-tide of anti-semitism, and then again during the civil-rights movement, and often since, the Anti-Defamation League transcended its Jewish origins to stand as a courageous American voice against prejudice. But now, it’s making a mockery of its original mission and, in the process, it has sullied American Judaism’s intense tradition of tolerance and inclusion.  I miss the old ADL and so does America. Foxman should be fired immediately. (Meanwhile, hooray yet again for Michael Bloomberg.)

Peter Beinart at Daily Beast:

Had the ADL genuinely tried to apply its universalistic mandate to the Jewish state, it would have become something like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) or B’Tselem (full disclosure: I’m on B’Tselem’s American board): Israeli human rights organizations that struggle against all forms of bigotry, and thus end up spending a lot of time defending Muslims and Christian Palestinians against discrimination by Jews. But the ADL hasn’t done that. Instead it has become, in essence, two organizations. In the United States, it still links the struggle against anti-Semitism to the struggle against bigotry against non-Jews. In Israel, by contrast, it largely pretends that government-sponsored bigotry against non-Jews does not exist. When Arizona passes a law that encourages police to harass Latinos, the ADL expresses outrage. But when Israel builds 170 kilometers of roads in the West Bank for the convenience of Jewish settlers, from which Palestinians are wholly or partially banned, the ADL takes out advertisements declaring, “The Problem Isn’t Settlements.”

For a long time now, the ADL seems to have assumed that it could exempt Israel from the principles in its charter and yet remain just as faithful to that charter inside the United States. But now the chickens are coming back home to America to roost. The ADL’s rationale for opposing the Ground Zero mosque is that “building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain—unnecessarily—and that is not right.” Huh? What if white victims of African-American crime protested the building of a black church in their neighborhood? Or gentile victims of Bernie Madoff protested the building of a synagogue? Would the ADL for one second suggest that sensitivity toward people victimized by members of a certain religion or race justifies discriminating against other, completely innocent, members of that religion or race? Of course not. But when it comes to Muslims, the standards are different. They are different in Israel, and now, it is clear, they are different in the United States, too.

More Goldberg

Mark Thompson at The League:

I don’t have any real problem with those who take offense at the decision to build this project a few blocks from Ground Zero, and particularly those who take such offense having had deep ties to New York on 9/11/01.

What I do have a problem with is those who have determined that this is an appropriate issue for political activism, and particularly those supposed advocates of “small government” who view it as appropriate that government would step in here to restrict the property rights of a private organization.  What I do have a problem with is those who claim to advocate for “states rights” and federalism insisting that it is the job of the federal government to make sure that what is effectively a zoning decision of the New York City government is overruled.  What I do have a problem with is those who are using this proposed building to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment by branding it a “9/11 Victory Mosque,” and who presume to know more about Muslims than Muslims themselves and in the process create an “inescable trap” wherein all Muslims are either lying about not being jihadi terrorists or are just “bad Muslims.”

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

The left continues to feign confusion (it is hard to believe its pundits are really this muddled) as to the reasons why conservatives (and a majority of fellow citizens) oppose the Ground Zero mosque. No, it’s not about “religious freedom” — we’re talking about the location of the mosque on the ash-strewn site of 3,000 dead Americans. The J Street crowd and the liberal defenders of the mosque seem very bent out of shape when Americans want to defend the sensibilities of their fellow citizens and when they look askance at an imam whose funding appears to come from those whose goal is anything but religious reconciliation. Again, no one is telling Muslims not to build or pray in mosques; we on the right are simply asking them not to do it in the location where Islam was the inspiration for mass murder.

It is interesting that the word mosque is not employed by those excoriating the mosque opponents. As a smart reader highlights, why is it described as a “cultural center”? Pretty dicey to articulate exactly what position the left clings to — namely, that we must allow a mosque at Ground Zero. Well, when you are that precise, it does highlight the vast gulf between the left’s perspective and that of average Americans.  (And for the record, my objections to J Street obviously aren’t limited to the Ground Zero mosque. And I certainly do believe “you are either for us or you are for them” — when it comes to Israel and to America. That this notion disturbs the left tells you precisely why it is estranged from the vast majority of Israelis and Americans.)

Dan Senor is not confused in the least. He pens an open letter to the Ground Zero mosque imam, which gets to the heart of the matter. Recalling the 9/11 attack “committed in the name of Islam,” he explains:

We applaud and thank every Muslim throughout the world who has rejected and denounced this association. But the fact remains that in the minds of many who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the Cordoba House will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a Muslim monument erected on the site of a great Muslim “military” victory—a milestone on the path to the further spread of Islam throughout the world. …

Rather than furthering cross-cultural and interfaith understanding, a Cordoba House located near Ground Zero would undermine them. Rather that serving as a bridge between Muslim and non-Muslim peoples, it would function as a divide. Your expressed hopes for the center not only would never be realized, they would be undermined from the start. Insisting on this particular site on Park Place can only reinforce this counterproductive dynamic.

This is not some right-wing, extremist view. It represents the views of a large majority of Americans and of mainstream Jewish leaders like Malcolm Hoenlein — as well as Juan Williams. But the left – which has become obsessed with universalism and finds particularism and nationalism noxious – thinks it unseemly for Americans to look after the interests of Americans, and Jews to look after Jews (as to the latter, we can only be grateful that so many pro-Zionist Christians do as well).

Peter Wehner at Commentary

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Joe Lieberman comes out against building an Islamic Center in lower Manhattan:

“I’ve also read some things about some of the people involved that make me wonder about their motivations. So I don’t know enough to reach a conclusion, but I know enough to say that this thing is only going to create more division in our society, and somebody ought to put the brakes on it,” he said. “Give these people a chance to come out and explain who they are, where their money’s coming from.”

Sounds like he’s deeply troubled by the hilariously elongated chain of guilt-by-association constructed by critics.

Meanwhile, former Bushie Dan Senor writes:

9/11 remains a deep wound for Americans—especially those who experienced it directly in some way. They understandably see the area as sacred ground. Nearly all of them also reject the equation of Islam with terrorism and do not blame the attacks on Muslims generally or on the Muslim faith. But many believe that Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials to the event itself and to its victims. They do not understand why of all possible locations in the city, Cordoba House must be sited so near to there.

A couple things are striking about this argument. First, Senor claims that “Ground Zero should be reserved for memorials.” But the Muslim center is not being built on Ground Zero. It’s being built two blocks away, in a site that doesn’t feel especially connected to Ground Zero. Senor is suggesting that nothing but memorials should be built within (at least) a two block radius of Ground Zero. Forgive me for feeling skeptical that such a standard is being applied to any other proposed construction.

Second, there’s a very weaselly relativism at work here in his not-prejudiced plea to relocate the center. Senor is arguing, I support freedom of religion, and I believe that your group doesn’t support terrorism, but other Americans don’t feel this way. Of course this is an argument for caving in to any popular prejudice or social phobia whatsoever. Hey, I’m happy to let a black family move into the neighborhood, but other people here think you’re probably crackheads who spray random gunfire at night, so in order to prevent racial strife you should probably live somewhere else.

Justin Elliott at Salon:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has emerged as the unlikely but passionate defender of the planned Muslim community center near ground zero, today traveled to Governors Island off the tip of Lower Manhattan to deliver a stirring plea for sanity in what he called “[as] important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes.”

The Daily News’ Adam Lisberg reports that Bloomberg choked up at one point as he delivered the speech surrounded by religious leaders of different faiths, with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Rather than attack the bigotry of the opponents of the so-called “ground zero mosque,” Bloomberg made several positive arguments for building the center. He traced the struggle for religious freedom in New York and affirmed the rights of citizens to do as they please with their private property:

The simple fact is, this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship, and the government has no right whatsoever to deny that right. And if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.

It’s worth noting that three Jewish leaders  — Rabbi Bob Kaplan from the Jewish Community Council, Rabbi Irwin Kula from the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and Cara Berkowitz from the UJA Federation — were present with Bloomberg during the speech, despite the Anti-Defamation League’s opposition to the project

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

Few events in recent memory have called up the resonant ideological debates of 9/11 as forcefully as the mosque being planned near the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. It appears these are debates we will keep having, as New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted to let the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement proceed with their plans. Along with those plans will come more discussion of religious freedom, taste, and the specter of a Western/Muslim cultural World War

Ann Althouse:

Writes the NYT, reporting the city’s 9-0 vote against designating the building on the site a landmark. Now, as a matter of freedom of religion, it really was crucial not to let religion (or political ideology) affect the question whether that building should be classified under the law as a landmark, thus limiting the property rights of the owner. The requirement of neutrality in decisionmaking like that is fundamental to the rule of law.

One by one, members of the commission debated the aesthetic significance of the building, designed in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style by an unknown architect.

That is clearly the way it had to be done. But what should not be lost, in understanding that, is that the owner’s freedom means that the owner has a choice. The owner is certainly not required to build a Muslim center and mosque on that site. Because it is a choice, it’s not wrong for the community to ask: Why are you making this choice? Why are you doing something that feels so painful to us? The community isn’t wrong to plead with the owner to choose to do something else with that property. It’s not enough of an answer to say we are doing it because we have a right to do it.

UPDATE: Will Wilkinson

Allah Pundit

Greg Sargent

William Kristol at The Weekly Standard

UPDATE #2: Dorothy Rabinowitz at WSJ

Alan Jacobs at The American Scene

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene

Joshua Cohen and Jim Pinkerton at Bloggingheads

Mark Schmitt and Rich Lowry at Bloggingheads

David Weigel and Dan Foster at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #3: Alex Massie here and here

UPDATE #4: Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek, his letter to Foxman

Abe Foxman writes a letter to Zakaria

Steve Clemons

UPDATE #5: Christopher Hitchens at Slate

Eugene Volokh

UPDATE #6: Jillian Rayfield at Talking Points Memo

UPDATE #7: Charles Krauthammer at WaPo

Jonathan Chait at TNR

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

UPDATE #8: Joe Klein on Krauthammer

Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic on Krauthammer

UPDATE #9: More Krauthammer

Kinsley responds

UPDATE #10: Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place

Steve Benen

2 Comments

Filed under Religion

The Passion Of The Gibson

Radar Online:

WARNING: This audio may not be reproduced or republished.

It is the audio tape that could destroy Mel Gibson.

The Hollywood star is accused by Oksana Grigorieva of hitting her and their infant daughter in an explosive argument recorded on tape, obtained and released exclusively by RadarOnline.com.

“You hit me, and you hit her (Lucia) while she was in my hands! Mel, you’re losing your mind. You need medication,” Oksana tells him on the newly released tape.

And Mel, raging at Oksana, is caught on audio telling her: “I want my child, and no one will believe you.”

PHOTOS: Celebrity Racist Rants

It may be the most damaging tape against Mel yet. RadarOnline.com has released five other audio portions with Mel spewing vile, racist rants, threatening Oksana and telling her she “f*cking deserved it” after she complained that he hit her.

But this, the sixth excerpt released exclusively by RadarOnline.com, may have the most serious consequences for Gibson, as a criminal investigation has been launched against him while he and Oksana battle in court for custody of their eight-month-old daughter Lucia. An investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services is also ongoing.

PHOTOS: Oksana Through The Years

In the crucial part of the newly released tape, Oksana refers to January 6, the night she alleges Mel punched her in the face and damaged her two upper front teeth.

RadarOnline.com was first to report that Oksana told law enforcement authorities she was holding Lucia, who was two months old, when Mel punched her. And RadarOnline.com broke the news on Thursday that Oksana says she has a photograph of the baby with a bruise on her face after the incident.

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: See The First Photos of Mel and Oksana In a Passionate Embrace On The Beach

In this new tape, Oksana refers to that incident and tells Mel that there is something wrong with him and he needs medication. This is the recorded dialogue after she says that:

Oksana: You cannot raise the child with these symptoms.

Mel: What?

Oksana: You’re acting as a crazy man right now and you have been for many, many months. And you hit me, and you hit her (Lucia) while she was in my hands! Mel, you’re losing your mind. You need medication.”

Mel: You need a f*cking kick up the a** for being a b*tch, c*nt, gold digging whore! With a p*ssy son! And I want my child, and no one will believe you! So f*ck you!”

PHOTOS: Celebrity Death Threats

While there is cross talk as Oksana and Mel argue, Oksana’s team views it as an admission that Mel hit the baby when he punched Oksana and damaged her front teeth, the source close to the situation told RadarOnline.com exclusively.

Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon:

When RadarOnline began releasing the violent, racist, horrifying audio clips, purportedly of Mel Gibson raging at estranged girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, it was a harrowing glimpse into an apparently deeply disturbed mind. And as the shocking clips just kept coming, it also became a field day for jokesters.

On Monday, comic Michael Ian Black took to Craig Ferguson’s couch to pitch himself, “now that Mel has imploded,” as the world’s new favorite Australian. Letterman, meanwhile, offered Gibson’s “Top Ten Excuses.” “Number one: Wanted to show the Jews I’m an equal opportunity offender.” There was the inevitable YouTube “phone fight” pitting rage-a-holic Mel against anger poster-child Christian Bale, along with the so of-the-moment-it-hurts mashup featuring that seriously emo double rainbow guy.  And in a stroke of twisted genius, Buzzfeed went for the win with a choice collection of Gibson’s most colorful quotes set in Hallmark card doodly fonts and accompanied by photos of adorable wide-eyed kittens. Why? Because “mentally deprived idiot” just doesn’t seem so bad coming from a baby animal in a meadow. In my own home, Gibson’s furious “You make me wanna smoke!” has quickly replaced BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back” as my new favorite expression of exasperation.

David Brooks in NYT:

The story line seems to be pretty simple. Gibson was the great Hollywood celebrity who left his wife to link with the beautiful young acolyte. Her beauty would not only reflect well on his virility, but he would also work to mold her, Pygmalion-like, into a pop star.

After a time, she apparently grew tired of being a supporting actor in the drama of his self-magnification and tried to go her own way. This act of separation was perceived as an assault on his status and thus a venal betrayal of the true faith.

It is fruitless to analyze her end of the phone conversations because she knows she is taping them. But the voice on the other end is primal and searing.

That man is like a boxer unleashing one verbal barrage after another. His breathing is heavy. His vocal muscles are clenched. His guttural sounds burst out like hammer blows.

He pummels her honor, her intelligence, her womanhood, her maternal skills and everything else. Imagine every crude and derogatory word you’ve ever heard. They come out in waves. He’s not really arguing with her, just trying to pulverize her into nothingness, like some corruption that has intertwined itself into his being and now must be expunged.

It is striking how morally righteous he is, without ever bothering to explain what exactly she has done wrong. It is striking how quickly he reverts to the vocabulary of purity and disgust. It is striking how much he believes he deserves. It is striking how much he seems to derive satisfaction from his own righteous indignation.

Rage was the original subject of Western literature. It was the opening theme of Homer’s “Iliad.” Back then, anger was perceived as a source of pleasure. “Sweeter wrath is by far than the honeycomb dripping with sweetener,” Homer declared. And the man on the other end of Grigorieva’s phone seems to derive some vengeful satisfaction from asserting his power and from purging his frustration — from the sheer act of domination.

And the sad fact is that Gibson is not alone. There can’t be many people at once who live in a celebrity environment so perfectly designed to inflate self-love. Even so, a surprising number of people share the trait. A study conducted at the National Institutes of Health suggested that 6.2 percent of Americans had suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, along with 9.4 percent of people in their 20s.

In their book, “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an “important person.” Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.

That doesn’t make them narcissists in the Gibson mold, but it does suggest that we’ve entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline.

Every week brings a new assignment in our study of self-love. And at the top of the heap, the Valentino of all self-lovers, there is the former Braveheart. If he really were that great, he’d have figured out that the lady probably owns a tape recorder.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

For starters, I think it’s all unseemly. I don’t think this is the kind of thing that should be spilled out for the public no matter who it is. I think Gibson is clearly troubled and despite his well-documented paranoia, there are many long knives out with his name on them. I think it is grotesque for his wife to release tapes like this (assuming she is the culprit).

Hypocrisy sleuths will note that I took a similar position on Alec Baldwin, of all people.

But I’m much less inclined to buy this conventional wisdom that he’s a mainstream conservative of some kind. I know he’s a committed old school Catholic, or so he says. I know he made a film about Jesus that was very warmly received by many conservatives and criticized by many others. But I’ve seen interviews with him where he could be a commenter on Daily Kos.  The most recent movie I saw him in, Edge of Darkness,  hinged on an absolutely asinine attack on the U.S. government in general and the Bush administration in particular.

My point isn’t to say he’s no conservative because he’s so clearly troubled. Conservatives are, like all other kinds of humans, perfectly capable of mental breakdowns and other tragic maladies. I guess what I object to is the idea that somehow anyone should treat this situation differently because of the man’s  political allegiances, real or alleged. This is a sad situation made all the sadder because there’s such a huge market for it.

Julian Sanchez on Goldberg:

Can we review? The manifestation of Mel Gibson’s “tragic malady” in this instance is that he repeatedly roared threats to kill his estranged ex and burn down her house. And these aren’t exactly idle threats, because in what I can only assume was a terrifying exchange, he alludes to having earlier hit her hard enough to break several of her teeth—something he claims she “deserved.”  I suppose it’s accurate, in a sense, to say he’s “troubled”—there’s obviously something very badly wrong with the guy—though also unusually fortunate in that he’d have ample resources to discreetly seek counseling.

But this is, shall we say, not the usual emphasis of conservatives when discussing people who commit violent crimes. Some unemployable inner city junkie who resorts to theft can expect a lecture on personal responsibility—not sympathy for how “unseemly” it is for his crime to be publicly exposed.  But a multi-millionaire who beats up women and then threatens murder?  He sounds an awful lot like a Victim of Society in Goldberg’s account.

Andrew Sullivan:

I agree that much of this is unseemly to be aired in public, but grotesque? When the woman involved is clearly fearful for her safety? Gibson, in the passage above, is clearly threatening violence against his girlfriend and admits in this passage to a previous brutal assault, saying that a woman “fucking deserved” to have her face punched in and teeth broken. When you listen to the audio, his voice operates as a kind of lethal weapon, a vocal expression of brute violence. It’s terrifying. Jonah Goldberg, perhaps sensing vulnerability as an editor at a magazine that championed Gibson as a religious genius and a, yes, feminist, pivots:

I’m much less inclined to buy this conventional wisdom that [Gibson]’s a mainstream conservative of some kind. I know he’s a committed old school Catholic, or so he says. I know he made a film about Jesus that was very warmly received by many conservatives and criticized by many others. But I’ve seen interviews with him where he could be a commenter on Daily Kos.

Yes, the man who viewed John Paul II as too liberal is actually a lefty. But what we see in this dialogue is deeply revealing, it seems to me, about Gibson’s mindset and the fundamentalist psyche that is undergirding politics and culture the world over.

He is a deeply disturbed man whose “spirituality” is wrapped up in extreme violence and fascist imagery. What motivates him is clearly power – heterosexual white male power – imposed on others by raw violence or the threat of violence. He is a fascist in temperament – which is why racism and anti-Semitism and murderous hatred of gay people come naturally to him. And this is how he sees himself as a Christian.

Will we read any revisions to the encomiums to his disgusting attack on the Christianity of the Gospels in “The Passion”, his depiction of Jesus as a human being killed dozens of times by hook-nosed Jews as a literal expiation for the sins of humanity? Will the right wing now revisit its elevation of this deranged thug as a Christian exemplar? Will Lopez actually revise her view of a man who wishes that the mother of his child be “raped by a pack of niggers”, who uses the c-word liberally, who punches a woman in the face … as a feminist worth revering along with that protector of thousands of child-rapists, John Paul II? Or will we read more posts, like Goldberg’s, suggesting that Gibson is actually a creature of the hard left?

Or will, at some point, the cognitive dissonance actually break? What, one wonders, would it take? What event, what fact, what data could ever undermine the mad certainty of these perverse fanatics?

Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

Every time Mel Gibson unburdens himself of a tirade against Jews or “n______s” or uncooperative females, there are commentators on hand to create a mystery where none exists. When he produced The Passion of the Christ, which lovingly and in detail recycled the bloody myth that all Jews are historically and collectively responsible for the murder of Jesus, it was argued by many mainstream Christians that his zeal for the faith might be a touch lurid but that the film itself was mainly devotional. When he was arrested on the Malibu freeway and screamed abuse at a police officer to the effect that Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world, pundits convened on page and screen to speculate whether our Mel had too much to drink that evening. Not long ago, I watched him go completely bug-eyed on television at a Jewish interviewer who asked him about the latter incident. “You’ve got a dog in this fight, haven’t you?” he hissed. And now, in the wake of a Niagara of cloacal abuse directed at the mother of his youngest child, in which we were spared nothing by way of obscenity and menace and nothing by way of paranoid and sexualized racism, there have been those who diagnose Gibson’s problem as a lack of anger management skills, combined perhaps with a touch of narcissistic personality disorder.

This is extraordinary. We live in a culture where the terms fascist and racist are thrown about, if anything, too easily and too frequently. Yet here is a man whose every word and deed is easily explicable once you know the single essential thing about him: He is a member of a fascist splinter group that believes it is the salvation of the Catholic Church.

[…]

It would be highly surprising if a person marinated in the doctrines of this ideology did not display all sorts of symptoms that were also sexually distraught. Racism very often clusters with sexual revulsion, and Gibson’s rants are horribly larded with this element. His obsessive loathing of homosexuality—so seldom a healthy sign—is also well-known. Less well-remembered, perhaps, is the interview in which he announced that his wife of many years and the mother of his children would not, alas, be able to join him in paradise. It was not a matter of her moral character. It was simply that she had not seen fit to join the one true church. Her condemnation, then, was “a pronouncement from the chair.”

Gibson has now traded in this long-suffering lady—hopelessly rupturing his sacred marriage vows—for another, younger one, who, to phrase it delicately, was almost certainly not picked for her salient Catholic virtues. In doing this, he must have had a consciousness, however dim, of having endangered his immortal soul. Not only that, but also of having parted with a sensational quantity of worldly goods by way of a divorce settlement. And after all that, the new girl won’t do as he says; won’t defer; won’t assume the desired position at a single snap of his fingers. A true gauleiter feels entitled to a bit more by way of luxurious subservience. No wonder, then, that Gibson walks around with neon lights behind his staring eyes, flashing the slogan “Contents Under Pressure.”

Yet I still saw a report the other day about a fan site where the members were just beginning to ask, “What’s with him?” Why is there this reluctance to call something by its right name? It’s not as if Gibson was issuing a cry for help. On the contrary, what he is issuing is the distilled violence, cruelty, and bigotry—and sexual hypocrisy—that stretches from the Crusades through the Inquisition to the “concordats” between the church and Hitler and Mussolini. Yet he’s still reporting for work. When will Hollywood, and the wider society, finally decide to shun and spurn him utterly, both for what he is and for what he represents?

E.D. Kain at The League:

Perhaps this stems from my admiration of Mel Gibson the filmmaker or perhaps it is simply because I hate to see a piling-on when someone is so obviously in such a dire straits, but I feel compelled to come to Gibson’s defense. Obviously, the things Gibson said to his girlfriend were horrible, and if he did hit her then that is even more indefensible. But I think it is also quite obvious at this point that Gibson has a serious addiction problem and quite likely serious mental problems as well. If he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, this may account for quite a few of his demons, including his inability to stay on the wagon or to his faith. It may also account, to some degree, for his creative brilliance.

I suppose Gibson is at his best when navigating the straight and narrow of his Catholic teaching (and that he belongs to a traditionalist catholic church is, as far as I can tell, immaterial here). When he falls off that wagon he falls off all the rest. He has admitted that his divorce was his fault, plain and simple. He is now likely at the very bottom of whatever pit he has dug for himself. Guilt over his failed marriage, his drinking problem – it is all converging. And standing at the center of this convergence is the woman he wrecked his marriage upon, like some hideous reminder of all his failings.

Furthermore, these sorts of people – at once rich and creative and hugely vulnerable to bad influences – are like flames to the worst sort of moths. At their worst they are manipulated and taken advantage of and used up. I suspect Oksana Grigorieva is one of these moths – perhaps if Gibson had taped her without her knowledge a broader picture of their relationship would have emerged. I suspect there is much more to the story.

This certainly doesn’t make the things Gibson said any less awful. Then again anger, mental illness, alcoholism, despair – these are powerful and poisonous and anyone has been through any of this – through addiction, despair, divorce, etc. knows that we all say things we don’t mean. (Even those who haven’t had addiction problems or marriage problems have likely been to these dark places inside themselves.) We lash out. We suddenly use the language of our fathers – of a past we thought we’d buried deep. Certainly Gibson was not raised in a home that looked favorably upon minorities. One doesn’t need to be a racist to have that impulse rise up like bile in moments of despair.

I’ve certainly said things I’ve regretted in darker times in my own life. I’m certainly not without my own grave errors, my own hateful words. I can’t imagine being taped during such a painful time as this, in the middle of a hideous fight at the end of a crumbling relationship.

In the end, we have only a few details, only a scrap or shred of the truth, and yet we all rush as quickly as we can to judgment. That’s a wagon we can all easily stay upon and never fall off.

Rufus F. at The League on Kain:

Certainly, me and my wife have had what she calls “kitchen sink fights” before. And couples must fight, as the man said. And, absolutely, the pain of a collapsing romantic relationship can lead people to say terrible things. I’d never want my private life in the depths of its worst moments to be made public that way, and especially not recordings of those kitchen sink fights.

But, here’s the thing: I don’t fight that way. And I’d imagine you don’t either. What disturbs me about those tapes isn’t the language; it’s the level of misogyny. Me and my wife fight about all sorts of things, most of which are fairly stupid. But the way she dresses doesn’t “hurt” me. It doesn’t “humiliate me” if other men find her attractive. Because, ultimately, on some level, I realize that it’s none of my damn business. Whether or not other people find her attractive isn’t something I expect her to control for my sake or me to control for her sake. This isn’t Saudi Arabia, and her autonomy isn’t something she’s done to me. It’s a fact- and a good one.

I think I hear something different than you do in those Gibson tapes. I hear men from my family who try to control the women in their lives. I hear the possessive, always wounded, always manipulative and controlling, insecure creeps whose wives come to my wife for therapy. I hear someone who’s entitled to sex, entitled to tell his partner how to dress and behave, and who ultimately relates all of the choices she makes in her own life to his personal happiness. I hear the man I might have been, if I hadn’t had the extreme good fortune to be sexually attracted, from a young age, to the sort of smart, independent women who wouldn’t take my crap. Acting like that was simply not an option. And it’s totally freeing to accept that your loved ones will think, act, dress, and be whatever way they want to in their own lives without it hurting you or feeling you need to control them.*

Nevertheless, celebrities are not known for surrounding themselves with people who won’t take their crap. And men, or women, who behave this way are often excused because “everyone gets jealous” or “it’s none of our business”. And, of course, none of us can do anything to change how someone else acts in their own personal relationship. But for society to say in a forthright way that men, or women, who treat their loved ones this way need to stop doing so- that doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. Since this is a site that’s leaning libertarian as of late, I think it’s also very healthy to reflect on the ways that bullying individuals can limit the autonomy of others in their private lives, and how often this impacts women. In terms of casting stones, it’s worth remembering that the specific context of Christ’s comment was a city stoning a woman to death out of rage at her sexual choices.

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Zelig With A Scotch And Perrier

Christopher Hitchens memoir, Hitch-22

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic with the round-up

Michael Totten at Instapundit’s place:

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS’ new book Hitch-22: A Memoir wasn’t supposed to be released until June, but my copy from Amazon.com arrived today. He sent me an uncorrected advance reader copy a few weeks ago, and it’s terrific.

Excerpt in Vanity Fair

Excerpt from Hitchens in Slate:

The fictions and cartoons of Nigel Molesworth, of Paul Pennyfeather in Waugh’s Decline and Fall, and numberless other chapters of English literary folklore have somehow made all this mania and ritual appear “normal,” even praiseworthy. Did we suspect our schoolmasters—​not to mention their weirdly etiolated female companions or “wives,” when they had any—​of being in any way “odd,” not to say queer? We had scarcely the equipment with which to express the idea, and anyway what would this awful thought make of our parents, who were paying—​as we were so often reminded—​a princely sum for our privileged existences? The word “privilege” was indeed employed without stint. Yes, I think that must have been it. If we had not been certain that we were better off than the oafs and jerks who lived on housing estates and went to state-run day schools, we might have asked more questions about being robbed of all privacy, encouraged to inform on one another, taught how to fawn upon authority and turn upon the vulnerable outsider, and subjected at all times to rules which it was not always possible to understand, let alone to obey.

I think it was that last point which impressed itself upon me most, and which made me shudder with recognition when I read Auden’s otherwise overwrought comparison of the English boarding school to a totalitarian regime. The conventional word that is employed to describe tyranny is “systematic.” The true essence of a dictatorship is in fact not its regularity but its unpredictability and caprice; those who live under it must never be able to relax, must never be quite sure if they have followed the rules correctly or not. (The only rule of thumb was: whatever is not compulsory is forbidden.) Thus, the ruled can always be found to be in the wrong. The ability to run such a “system” is among the greatest pleasures of arbitrary authority, and I count myself lucky, if that’s the word, to have worked this out by the time I was ten. Later in life I came up with the term “micro-megalomaniac” to describe those who are content to maintain absolute domination of a small sphere. I know what the germ of the idea was, all right. “Hitchens, take that look off your face!” Near-instant panic. I hadn’t realized I was wearing a “look.” (Face-crime!) “Hitchens, report yourself at once to the study!” “Report myself for what, sir?” “Don’t make it worse for yourself, Hitchens, you know perfectly well.” But I didn’t. And then: “Hitchens, it’s not just that you have let the whole school down. You have let yourself down.” To myself I was frantically muttering: Now what? It turned out to be some dormitory sex-game from which—​though the fools in charge didn’t know it—​I had in fact been excluded. But a protestation of my innocence would have been, as in any inquisition, an additional proof of guilt.

There were other manifestations, too. There was nowhere to hide. The lavatory doors sometimes had no bolts. One was always subject to invigilation, waking and sleeping. Collective punishment was something I learned about swiftly: “Until the offender confesses in public,” a giant voice would intone, “all your ‘privileges’ will be withdrawn.” There were curfews, where we were kept at our desks or in our dormitories under a cloud of threats while officialdom prowled the corridors in search of unspecified crimes and criminals. Again I stress the matter of sheer scale: the teachers were enormous compared to us and this lent a Brobdingnagian aspect to the scene. In seeming contrast, but in fact as reinforcement, there would be long and “jolly” periods where masters and boys would join in scenes of compulsory enthusiasm—​usually over the achievements of a sports team—​and would celebrate great moments of victory over lesser and smaller schools. I remember years later reading about Stalin that the intimates of his inner circle were always at their most nervous when he was in a “good” mood, and understanding instantly what was meant by that.

Diana McLellan at WaPo:

Hitch-22” (ghastly title) is a fat and juicy memoir of a fat and juicy life, topping 400 pages. As you plunge in for your Zelig-like wallow in the past century’s zeitgeist, you begin to shiver: My God, didn’t this guy leave anything out? Here’s the terrible and tragic 1973 suicide of his beloved Mummy, via pills, in an Athens hotel room with her dreary defrocked-vicar lover, violently dead by his own hand. Here’s a cuddle with a beau at boarding school. Here’s a dab of introspection on what some call his “bromance” with Amis. (Of course, he began to hate Martin’s father, the great author Kingsley Amis, when Kingsley got old and boring. Good thing that won’t happen to him!) Here’s his charmless admission that he prefers American girls to English ones because they put out without a lot of upfront argle-bargle. Here are the sophomoric word games played with his very highest-brow cronies, such as substituting the f-word for “love” in song titles.

His artless self-revelations convey a certain careless elan: “I find now that I can more or less acquit myself on any charge of having desired Martin [Amis] carnally. (My looks by then had in any case declined to the point where only women would go to bed with me.)”

But the truth is, for the memoir of a Trotskyite George Orwell worshiper, “Hitch-22” (ugh) has a humongous memory hole. Where’s his wife of eight years, Eleni Meleagrou? He dumped her in 1989, when she was pregnant with their second child, for the elegant Carol Blue, whom he’d met at an airport. Where’s his old Washington soulmate, former New Yorker writer and Clinton confidante “Cousin” Sidney Blumenthal, whom he accused of lying during the Clinton impeachment trial?

It’s been said by unkind people that an honest politician is one who, once bought, stays bought. So is an honest journalist one who, once bamboozled, stays bamboozled? Call me naive — please! — but I’m floored that the great dirt-digger still clings to the certainty, peddled by Paul Wolfowitz and Ahmed Chalabi and long since discredited, that the late Saddam Hussein was unseated for his tyranny and his possession of weapons of mass destruction. Tyranny? Has Hitchens seen what we’re still sucking up to? Most tyrants, of course, aren’t squatting atop a quarter of the world’s known oil reserves. Even Alan Greenspan wrote in his 2007 memoir that it was “politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil.”

Maybe now that Hitchens is 60-something and says he drinks “relatively carefully,” he’ll run this one through his little gray cells one more time. By the way, “relatively carefully” to him is terribly spartan: just a Scotch and Perrier at lunchtime, followed by half a bottle of wine, and then the same again every evening.

“Alcohol makes other people less tedious,” he observes. It does. Pour yourself a stiff one, fasten your seat belt and enjoy this bumpy but never boring ride.

Andrew Sullivan at The Times:

In fact, the blunt Brit is now almost a stock figure. Last week saw the final American Idol featuring Simon Cowell as a judge. Cowell is better known in America than, say, the Supreme Court’s chief justice or three-quarters of Barack Obama’s cabinet. At some point in a distant Wildean past, a British musical judge might be expected to be wittier than his peers. Cowell is witless, inexpert, inarticulate and touchy. He just possesses a series of ugly prejudices and crude hunches and the ability to tell someone to their face that they’re rubbish. In Britain, who really cares? In America he’s a legend.

Or contrast Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant reality show in America with the British version. In the US, he’s far ruder and the recipients of his bile much less socially prepared for it. And so the Brits have found a niche in fostering embarrassment among Americans by saying things Americans in general are far too polite to bring up.

Christopher Hitchens cannot be reduced to this. His first common identity in America was leftism, just as mine was conservatism. He seems to have read everything and met everyone, as his addictive new memoir, Hitch-22, proves. His prose is almost as enjoyable as his company. But he only reached his apotheosis in American culture by attacking the one thing Americans have historically shied from attacking: God. Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Princess Diana were not enough. He needed the Big One to become the Loved One.

The best in this genre occurs when the sentiment is genuine. Hitch really does believe that religion poisons everything. It’s not an act. His visceral, furious response to 9/11, like my own, had not a scintilla of inauthenticity about it. What he has, apart from real skill and extraordinary discipline (drink only makes him work harder), is the courage of his own curiosity.

The Economist:

The nostalgia is sometimes fetid. On his favourite high horse, Mr Hitchens might dismiss another writer’s coy tales of long- ago gay flings at Oxford with future Conservative cabinet ministers as “kiss and hint” writing. The boozy Friday lunches in London with his clever friends, and their shared fondness for puerile, obscene word games, will leave most readers bored and mystified. Mr Hitchens admits that it was funnier at the time (and probably funnier still for those robbed of their critical faculties by copious amounts of alcohol).

But amid the dregs are shards of brilliant, piercing writing. The account of his uncovered Jewish ancestry (concealed by his lively, miserable mother, who killed herself in a hotel room in Athens, with her lover) is more than poignant. His willingness to go to the barricades to defend his friend Salman Rushdie after the fatwa in 1989, and his beloved America after September 11th 2001, is unaffected and appealing. Having lambasted bourgeois values such as freedom and tolerance, Hitch now (a bit late in the day, some might think) understands why they matter.

The ardour is not always matched by insight. In particular, the smoke of incinerated straw men obscures any serious discussion of religion (superstition practised by hypocrites, in his view). And for what is meant to be a no-holds-barred memoir, the author goes lightly on some of his failings. Broken ideals get plenty of self-satisfied scrutiny; broken hearts and marriages rate barely a mention. The impression left is of a writer frozen in a precocious teenagery, whose ability to tease and provoke the grown-ups is entertaining but ultimately tiresome. If Mr Hitchens can stay off the booze and do some serious thinking, his real autobiography, in 20 years’ time or so, should be a corker.

Allen Barra at Salon:

In place of revelation, there is lots and lots of gossip. Hitchens, to take him by his own accounts, is the Zelig of modern Anglo-American letters; he seems to have been everywhere, talked to everyone and made friends in every corner of the world, whether or not anyone else was there to record the conversation.

People seem to want to tell Christopher Hitchens their secrets; like Nick Carraway, he is “privy to the secret of wild, unknown men.” Also some that are very well known: Gore Vidal, we learn, would take “rugged young men recruited from the Via Veneto … from the rear” where they were then taken into the next room where “Tom [Driberg, the journalist] would suck them dry.” (We are not told whether this occurred while Hitchens was still in his Oxford phase.)

Name-dropping, which has become a distressing trait in Hitchens’ work in recent years, is now approaching critical mass. Long stretches of “Hitch-22” read like literary bouquets to Hitch gathered by himself. He names and quotes the usual suspects — Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, long ago identified by Hitchens as partisans. Joining their ranks are “my Argentine anti-fascist friend, Jacobo Timerman,” “my Kurdish friends,” Susan Sontag’s son “my dear friend David,” “my dear friend and colleague Jeff Goldberg [who] said to my face over a table at La Tomate …,” “my friend and ally Richard Dawkins,” “my beloved friend James Fenton,” and “my then friend Noam Chomsky” (even former friends with well-known names make Hitch’s cut). Regrettably, the late great Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James didn’t quite make the list; he passed shortly after Hitchens arrived at his deathbed.

When he isn’t writing about his friends in “Hitch-22,” he is usually writing about how proud he is to have such friends. He was “proud” to be mentioned several times in Martin Amis’ memoir and “absurdly proud” to have a poem by James Fenton dedicated to him. He is, however, “offended” at the idea that he might have been Tom Wolfe’s model for the English journalist in “Bonfire of the Vanities” — in which case he shouldn’t have mentioned it or I would never have known there was such a rumor.

Willa Paskin at New York Magazine:

Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens have been close friends since the seventies, but their relationship is having a moment, thanks to both simultaneously publishing work celebrating the other. Amis’s novel The Pregnant Widow contains a big-brother character modeled on Hitchens; the Hitch’s memoir, Hitch-22, contains a chapter about Amis. This long-term bromance has been fruitful for both men, emotionally and intellectually — but not, perhaps, comedically! Both books refer to a game Amis and Hitch play “that involves substituting phrases like ‘hysterical sex’ for ‘love’ in the titles of movies, songs, and novels.” Some of the results of this word game include “Stop in the Name of Hysterical Sex,” Hysterical Sex Story, and A Fool for Hysterical Sex — exactly the type of not-very-funny pun that might make you laugh hard, but only if “you’d been there.” Amis and Hitchens, hugely accomplished authors, but, also, just like us!

David Frum and Hitchens do a podcast at FrumForum

UPDATE: Hitchens announces that he has cancer at Vanity Fair

Allah Pundit

UPDATE #2: David Brooks in NYT

Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE #3: Hugh Hewitt

Ross Douthat

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I Don’t Know Where I’m A Gonna Go When The Volcano Blow

Erik Klemetti at Science Blogs:

The fissure vent eruption on Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland on March 21, 2010.

The big news this morning is the eruption that started last night at Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland, producing a 1-km fissure vent. The pictures and videos I’ve seen so far have been quite impressive, with the classic look of a “curtain of fire”, where basaltic lava erupts explosively from a linear array of vents – you can see the geometry in the image from the BBC/AP (above). Especially clear is the dual nature of the eruption, with both the explosive fire fountains and the effusive (passive) lava flows from the root of the curtain of fire. In many “curtain of fire” eruptions on Hawai`i, the curtain (see below) eventually coalesces into a single fire fountain, sometimes producing fountains that can reach a few kilometers in height. This will be something to watch for in the coming days if the eruption continues.

Here is some video taken last night of the fissure eruption – impressive stuff!


Daylight image of the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull.

Airspace over Iceland is closed for the moment, although these style of eruptions don’t produce much of volcanic ash – although there is likely significant fine droplets of lava forming some ash fragments, Pele’s tears and Pele’s hair (all basaltic volcanic products). However, eruptions like this can emit a lot of volcanic gases like carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide – much like this eruptions distant relative, the Laki eruption of 1783. And even though the eruption is explosive, the hazard to surrounding communities is relatively low unless the lava flows encroach on populated areas or there is significant ice/snow melt to produce lahars or a jokulhlaup. However, Icelandic authorities have evacuated hundreds of people from the region near the eruption as a precaution (with text messages no less!)

Jim Andrews at AccuWeather:

The eruption reportedly began beneath glacial ice, a potentially serious situation wherein water can burst out of the glacier to inundate areas down stream. The lava fissure was later said to have established outside, albeit next to, the glacier, suggesting a reduced flood threat.

Iceland’s volcanos are primarily basaltic volcanos. As such, the tend to yield hot, fluid lava flows. Major explosions are the exception, but can happen when lava meets ground water.

The highest volcanos of Iceland are capped by major ice sheets, as they effectively capture moisture from frequent North Atlantic storms. Historically, extreme glacial outburst floods have burst from these glaciers and swept to the south coast of the island.

Dennis Bodzash at The Examiner:

For this volcano, this is the first eruption since 1821. Scientists admit that there was little warning of an eruption, all the more proof that one can never be too complacent with nature.

As this is a major event from the area, cameras were undoubtedly rolling. However, since the story continues to break, photos so far are few. Undoubtedly more photos will appear as the day goes on, so stay tuned.

Galleries/videos:
Google Images
Youtube 1
Youtube 2

For a look back, here is rare video of Iceland’s famous eruptions during the 1970s:
Youtube

Volcanoes in general:
Volcanoes.com
Live Science
The Smithsonian Institute

And for some news on the Cleveland front:
Buzzard Day is here!

Iceland Review Online:

Geophysicist Páll Einarsson said all known eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull have been in connection with eruptions in the neighboring volcano Katla underneath the Mýrdalsjökull icecap. Now that Eyjafjallajökull has started to erupt, Katla might follow.

[…]

“Katla is of a completely different kind […] but they seem to be connected, because all known eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull were related to Katla eruptions and therefore it seems that they might a prelude to eruptions in Katla,” Einarsson said.

“Eyjafjallajökull might to a certain extent work as a detonator for a dynamite explosion,” the geophysicist added. “If it goes off it is like Katla can’t resist it and also wants to join in. Those eruptions can be big and cause extensive damage.”

Sydney Morning Herald:

Almost all of the 600 people evacuated following a volcanic eruption in southern Iceland have been allowed to return home and all flights resumed in the Nordic island country, authorities say.

“We are allowing almost all of the 600 inhabitants to return to their homes, with the exception of the residents of 14 farms who are not allowed to return,” local police chief Kjartan Thorkelsson said at 1730 GMT on Saturday (0430 AEDT on Sunday).

“All roads have now been opened, but we encourage people not to drive unless it is necessary,” he said. “There is still an official situation of danger because of the volcanic eruption.”

Hjordis Gudmundsdottir of the Icelandic airport authority meanwhile said all domestic flights had resumed about 1600 GMT on Saturday (0300 AEDT on Sunday).

After being halted following the eruption, traffic in and out of Iceland started up again about 1100 GMT (2200 AEDT), but most international flights suffered serious delays.

“There are no problems getting to Iceland and domestic flights have now resumed, but of course there are delays,” Gudmundsdottir said.

She said air traffic was still barred from a small area, “but it’s not a big area, and it’s OK to fly (in the area) if it’s above 5000 feet (1524 metres).”

“The problem with (volcanic) ashes wasn’t as bad as we thought it could be,” she said.

UPDATE: Read that last line again. And then read Nicola Clark and Liz Robbins in NYT

Ryan Avent at Free Exchange at The Economist

Denis Boyles at The Corner

Doug J.

UPDATE #2: Anne Applebaum in Slate

Christopher Hitchens in Slate

UPDATE #3: Graeme Wood at The Atlantic

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