The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

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How YOU DO IT
Even when it became commonplace for people to declare themsleves outsiders, when L'Etranger became high-school reading, Bob Dylan stayed an outsider. (From his new book: "Elvis had never even been introduced like that. 'Take him, he's yours!' What a crazy thing to say! Screw that. As far as I knew, I didn't belong to anybody then or now. I had a wife and children whom I loved more than anything else in the world. I was trying to provide for them, keep out of trouble, but the big bugs in the press kept promoting me as the mouthpiece, spokesman, or even conscience of a generation. That was funny. All I'd ever done was sing songs that were dead straight and expressed powerful new realities. I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of. I'd left my hometown only ten years earlier, wasn't vociferating the opinions of anybody. My destiny lay down the road with whatever life invited, had nothing to do with representing any kind of civilization. Being true to yourself, that was the thing. I was more a cowpuncher than a Pied Piper." When you think you know Bob Dylan he goes electric. When you think you know Bob Dylan he goes evangelical Christian. When you think you know Bob Dylan he does Victoria Secrets commercials. He belongs to no one because he's never let the world have the faintest idea who he is, while being interesting enough to make the world desperate to know.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

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Parts FOR THE CENTRIFUGE, WHICH I HAD BURIED UNDER A TREE IN MY GARDEN
MAHDI OBEIDI, who comes across as an Iraqi Strangelove, has the best, simplest, broadest answer I know to the hard question of why Saddam behaved as if he had WMD when he didn't and when not having WMDs could have avoided his self-incarceration in a hole in the ground followed by American incarcetation.
By 1998, when Saddam Hussein evicted the weapons inspectors from Iraq, all that was left was the dangerous knowledge of hundreds of scientists and the blueprints and prototype parts for the centrifuge, which I had buried under a tree in my garden. [...]
Another factor in the mothballing of the program was that Saddam Hussein was profiting handsomely from the United Nations oil-for-food program, building palaces around the country with the money he skimmed. I think he didn't want to risk losing this revenue stream by trying to restart a secret weapons program. [...]
Even to those of us who knew better, it's fairly easy to see how observers got the wrong impression. First, there was Saddam Hussein's history. He had demonstrated his desire for nuclear weapons since the late 1970's, when Iraqi scientists began making progress on a nuclear reactor. He had used chemical weapons against his own people and against Iran during the 1980's. After the 1991 war, he had tried to hide his programs in weapons of mass destruction for as long as possible (he even kept my identity secret from weapons inspectors until 1995). It would have been hard not to suspect him of trying to develop such weapons again.
The Western intelligence services and policy makers, however, overlooked some obvious clues. One was the defection and death of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who was in charge of the unconventional weapons programs in the 1980's.
As my boss, Mr. Kamel was a brutal taskmaster who forced us to work under impossible deadlines and was the motivating force for our nuclear effort. The drive for nuclear weapons began in earnest when he rose to a position of power in 1987. He placed a detail of 20 fearsome security men on the premises of our centrifuge lab, and my staff and I worked wonders just to stay out of his dungeons. But after he defected to Jordan in 1995, and then returned months later only to be assassinated by his father-in-law's henchmen, the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs lost their top promoter.
In addition, the West never understood the delusional nature of Saddam Hussein's mind. By 2002, when the United States and Britain were threatening war, he had lost touch with the reality of his diminished military might. By that time I had been promoted to director of projects for the country's entire military-industrial complex, and I witnessed firsthand the fantasy world in which he was living. He backed mythic but hopeless projects like one for a long-range missile that was completely unrealistic considering the constraints of international sanctions. The director of another struggling missile project, when called upon to give a progress report, recited a poem in the dictator's honor instead. Not only did he not go to prison, Saddam Hussein applauded him. [...]
By 2003, as the American invasion loomed, the tyrant was alternately working on his next trashy novel and giving lunatic orders like burning oil around Baghdad to "hide" the city from bombing attacks. Unbelievably, one of my final assignments was to prepare a 10-year plan for military-industrial works, even as tens of thousands of troops were gathering for invasion.
To the end, Saddam Hussein kept alive the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, staffed by junior scientists involved in research completely unrelated to nuclear weapons, just so he could maintain the illusion in his mind that he had a nuclear program. Sort of like the emperor with no clothes, he fooled himself into believing he was armed and dangerous. But unlike that fairy-tale ruler, Saddam Hussein fooled the rest of the world as well.
I wish I had centrifuge plans under my tree. We all do.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

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For THE FIRST TIME IN 2004 HISTORY IT'S REALLY RAINING ON BELGIAN MEN
And so, given the shittiness of the weather and the general gloom: here's something that always cheers me up: the thought of a universe where the 1604 Quarto is the only work of Shakespeare to survive and so this dire, dire travesty becomes the most famous speech in Western literatire:
Ham. To be, or not to be, I there's the point, [1710]
To Die, to sleepe, is that all? I all:
No, to sleepe, to dreame, I mary there it goes,
For in that dreame of death, when wee awake, [1720]
And borne before an euerlasting Iudge,
From whence no passenger euer retur'nd,
The vndiscouered country, at whose sight
The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.
But for this, the ioyfull hope of this,
Whol'd beare the scornes and flattery of the world,
Scorned by the right rich, the rich curssed of the poore?
The widow being oppressed, the orphan wrong'd,
The taste of hunger, or a tirants raigne,
And thousand more calamities besides,
To grunt and sweate vnder this weary life,
When that he may his full Quietus make,
With a bare bodkin, who would this indure, [1730]
But for a hope of something after death?
Which pusles the braine, and doth confound the sence,
Which makes vs rather beare those euilles we haue,
Than flie to others that we know not of.
I that, O this conscience makes cowardes of vs all,
Lady in thy orizons, be all my sinnes remembred.
Aye, there's the point.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

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Michael Winterbottom in the Telegraph: "'I think cinema is incredibly prudish about sex,' he says. 'I'd been interested in filming a very sexually explicit book - Platform by Michel Houellebecq. Reading it reminded me that literature can deal with sex just as well as any other subject. Cinema should be where it's easiest to deal with physical relationships. But, with the majority of films, when you tell a love story, the sex is avoided - because you know it's all fake, everyone watching knows it's fake, and you don't have any real belief in it. Cinema should be where it's easiest to deal with physical relationships So my idea was, let's go to the opposite extreme. Let's start with two people in bed, film them making love as honestly and intimately as possible, and see if we can't engage with people, tell the couple's story through that.'"

MacLamity just knows that Nine Songs is going to obsess him as much as The Passion did last year. This movie's going to be good and controversial; people are going to have to play their A Game to write about it without sounding like hacks who can't tell between honest and sensationalist religious fervor depicitons of sex. See also B.S. Johnson's Trawl for a sense of why I think I have a sense of how this movie's going to turn out.

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IMPOSSIBLE






Why are you washing the dead man?

Give up.

No one can light up

the darkness of the night.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

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If only Steven Glass had waited 10 years he'd not have had to resign:
A German teenager accused of creating the Sasser worm that infected millions of computers around the world is being taught to become a security software programmer, the company that hired him said.
Eighteen-year-old Sven Jaschan has been taken on by the Securepoint computer firm based in Lueneburg, northern Germany and is being trained to make firewalls, which stop suspect files from entering computer systems.
"He has a certain know-how in this field," a company spokesman said.
Jaschan has been charged with computer sabotage, data manipulation and disruption of public systems for allegedly hatching the Sasser worm.
Securepoint director Lutz Hausmann said the teenager had told him during a job interview that he only became really aware of the consequences of his actions after it was too late.
"He deserves a chance," Hausmann said.
This matches the story that brought Glass down to the point where truth is plagiarizing Glass's fraud:
Forbes Digital Tool unearthed a completely fabricated story in The New Republic about teenage hackers extorting money from corporations.
The story, "Hack Heaven," by Associate Editor Stephen Glass, tells how Ian Restil, a 15-year-old computer hacker, broke into the databases of a "big-time software firm," Jukt Micronics, and then demanded money, porn magazines and a sports car from the company.
The colorful story, which was published in the May 18 issue, also described how hackers were even hiring agents to broker lucrative deals while government agencies sat on the sidelines, powerless.
Glass should seek damages from reality. And for no other reason, here's the best thing written on Glass, written by a young staffer at a Syracuse business paper who got so pissed off at place of employment that he invented not just stories for the paper, but writers as well:
When I heard about The New Republic fabulist Stephen Glass, I thought I had found a co-conspirator. Here, maybe, was someone else who understood the restrictions of journalism and bristled against them. I earnestly wrote him an e-mail care of his last-known fake company. I described my project as a series of necessary counterfeits and expressed the sincere hope that he too had a satirist's motives. At magazines and newspapers, meanwhile, the hand-wringing and soul-searching went into high gear. Presses all along the Eastern seaboard turned out one disingenuous apology after another. Forgive us, readers. This won't happen again. Contrite tenders of the journalistic flame suggested that perhaps young writers should be kept from writing articles with unnamed sources, a signature of Glass's style. They're not old enough to use the power tools.

After spending most of a weekend reading Glass's collected works, however, I decided that his writing was not so much satiric as sarcastic. Not a single article tweaked readers' expectations or questioned received opinion. He only made the conventionally wise seem that much wiser. Glass, it appeared, was nothing more than a master of journalism's simple forms, a kind of superfreelancer. Men's magazines, policy magazines--to Glass they were all just outlets. His writing carefully mimicked the style and form of each one, bowing obsequiously to everything its editors valued. The articles hit all the right targets and confirmed all the right stereotypes. Ever think stockbrokers pay too much attention to Alan Greenspan's every utterance? A Glass article confirms what you suspected, inventing an investment company where the traders kneel before a photograph of Chairman Al. Stay up late fretting over the vast right-wing conspiracy to get the president? Glass reports on one so literal it should have been called "The Right-Wing Conspiracy."

Glass's articles were, as commentator after commentator wrote, too good to be true, but that hardly explains why they were published. Editors didn't judge them to be good articles because they were well-written or moving. They ran Glass's writing, I think, because it did everything that good writing in The New Republic is expected to do. A Glass article told you that what you assumed was, in fact, true--young Republicans are visigothic--and it slyly congratulated you on the intelligence of your suspicions. The combination of colorful tales buttressing cherished assumptions was so potent that everyone who came into contact with his stories desperately wanted them to be true, and so printed them.

The Business Journal approaches stories with exactly the same logic. News stories, for instance, follow several hardened formulas, each affiliated with a popular fictional genre: the merger and acquisition article (best written using the techniques of a romance novel, with the central metaphor of a wedding); the company under investigation (refer to John Grisham's legal thrillers, casting the company as an innocent yet scrappy underdog); the CEO with an unlikely or non-traditional background (fairy tale); quarterly report disclosing surprisingly strong/weak earnings (the vignette, tuned to frequencies of sweetness or sadness, as appropriate); bankruptcy (a real tragedy, mournfully rehearsing the standard business verity that a marketing budget is not to be trifled with); profile of an eccentric (screwball comedy, starring a renegade businessman who walked away from his six-figure salary as a vice president of marketing only to turn to manufacturing decorative mailboxes and--would you believe?--marketing them through mail-order catalogs).

A fictional expert like Carl S. Grimm, who began writing columns for The Business Journal in January 1998, seems like any other dispenser of corporate advice. He follows the rules of the genre. He is casually confident, yet serious. He professes bold, counter-intuitive ideas, but remains well-versed in the deployment of clichés. His background mixes equal parts intrigue and prestige: "A former official with both the State Department and CIA, Grimm frequently speaks at overseas engagements for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andersen Consulting, and the American Federation of Independent Businesses." He's independent. He's successful. He has a book contract with HarperCollins.

What an amazing life Grimm seems to lead. To crisscross borders and time zones in solitary pursuit of accumulating the most money possible is certainly close to the unacknowledged dreams of many readers of The Business Journal. Were they not regrettably bound to this earth and these flabby bodies, to mortgaged homes and long-term leases on Sevilles, they could surely follow in Grimm's footsteps. Failing that, readers can cozy up to his columns, turning to the warm words of an accomplished expert for the moral instruction and diversion traditionally found in genre fiction.
Carl S. Grimm, "Toward a Life of Pure, 100% Liquidity," The Business Journal, July 6, 1998.

Carl S. Grimm is the author of Living Liquidly: How Being More Like Money Pays Off, which will be published by HarperCollins in fall 1999. Grimm is a consultant specializing in currency and trade opportunity analysis, foreign risk assessment, industry informational surveys, and market-share projection specification programs. He can be contacted at csg1137@altavista.net.

I suppose the day was like any other, really. I found myself on the helicopter from LaGuardia to Kennedy, endeavoring to bypass the traffic by flying over the city instead of fighting my way through it. With total lapsed time well shy of 10 minutes, the cloudless skies of postcards, and no symptoms of incipient motion-sickness, I was, I must admit, making quite a success of it.

Along for the ride--in addition to the pilot whose name I forget--was my new friend, whom I'll call Marvin. Poor "Marvin." As Manhattan heaved into sight off to our left, I was commiserating with Marvin, who confided in me how he found himself completely unable to live on $450,000 per year. He had, he claimed, done everything right: educated at a private prep school in Connecticut where the halls are decorated with portraits of past students who became presidents and the classes are attended by young presidents to-be; graduated Harvard with honors and Harvard Law at the very top of his class; been offered a position in more Wall Street firms than he had fingers to count; and been made partner and then senior partner sooner even than his ambitious life-schedule had stipulated. Yet here he was, he said, flat broke and bumming a ride on my helicopter. Strangely, I knew exactly what he meant.

It was later that same day, as the more memorable pieces of my conversation with Marvin bounced and rolled around inside my head like so many shiny coins tossed by well-wishers into a public fountain, that I vowed to achieve a life of pure 100-percent liquidity in order to avoid the fate of "Marvin" and that wretched existence of his. To do so, I had only to make over myself in the image and essential character of money.

On my flight to Jakarta, a few people sat haloed by the harsh dome lights, studying FEER, the Far Eastern Economic Review, and the recently collected reports of the International Monetary Fund. While most everyone else in first-class curled up with The Financial Times or rested behind sleep masks, I found the think time to revise my long-term goals, rearranging and reprioritizing. I added one more: Be as liberated as capital itself.

What is the liquid life?

We all know what we mean when we talk of money or capital as liquid wealth; its properties allow it to be applied anywhere for any purpose by anyone who has it. It was Adam Smith, the economist and proto-warrior for free trade, who so presciently wrote, "The practiced accumulation of capital is the topmost taper on the golden candelabrum of existence." Capital, Smith knew, is easily transferable and more widely accepted than a Visa card. The liquid life has in common with money this freedom of movement. The purely liquid among us are always already willing to move--and move quickly. Liquid-lifers find work instead of allowing work to find them. It's a way of traveling light, acting fast, and staying one step ahead.

People of pure liquid move to where it suits them best, they relentlessly seek their level.

Readers may recall my last letter ["Stock Tip: Invest in Welfare," The Business Journal, Jan. 19, 1998], which projected handsome profits in the welfare-management industry, what I called the welfare of welfare. When I wrote that letter five months ago, I was living in Philadelphia. Now I'm in Chicago and in between I've probably lived in three or four more places besides. Perhaps "lived" is not the proper word for what I do, because I stay in luxury hotels, the sort of places where the televisions are not chained to the floor, places at which my arrival is eagerly anticipated, my needs met. Really, I light from assignment to assignment, providing billable advice as I go. I move from hotel to hotel, from Hilton to Holiday Dome to Radisson to Adam's Mark to Hilton again.

The liquid life is a state of mind, really. Sure there are modest costs--e.g., take the wife, who didn't feel she wanted to accompany me on my quest to obtain the liquid life, though she did try it for a while (one month, not to her liking).

An example should bring the liquid state of mind into sharper focus. Follow the money in this quote from The Financial Times: "The return of the capital that fled after Beijing's missile tests in the Taiwan Straits in March last year, a relatively accommodating liquidity policy by the central bank and active buying by government controlled funds have brought doubled share values in little more than a year." First of all, congratulations are in order--way to go, Taiwan. But let's follow the money, shall we?

The money was afraid of political fall-out from Chinese missile tests. Fair enough, money fled. Money went elsewhere. Money canceled lucrative but tentative deals. Money hopped jets with departing business people or rode electronic wires and flew, trailing more zeroes than you or maybe I can imagine through the money-sphere. But then, you can see what happened next. There's a happy ending here. Money returned. Money marched back into Taiwan like conquering soldiers. Money came home to Mom.

"So what's this all mean?" you ask. When I speak of the liquid life, I speak of a life that abides by the rules of money. If you can do better, be better, and achieve more elsewhere, why then, by gosh, be there, go there, now.

Karl Marx had it only partially right. Labor and capital do obey two unique sets of rules. But Marx could not have foreseen the likes of me and the few people like me. He could not have imagined the way we make airports our living rooms, and their long, glassed-in concourses our entryways. That's us on the phone, conducting business on our laps. That's us playing solitaire on color laptop computers, or taking a chance on the video poker machines that lean down over bars. We go where the money goes, to the new lands of opportunity and investment, looking for financial milk and honey.

Here again is Smith, north star to any thinking economist, "Opportunity is the hearty, weathered sailor on the tumultuous seas of loss and gain." We liquid types go how money goes, by air, at cruising altitudes of 12,000 feet or more, and in first class. Be fearless, be quick, be liquid. Who are we? We are the willfully and meaningfully and lucratively transient, living by silence, exile, cunning--and so on. We always shop duty-free.

What's the opposite of the liquid life?

Four words: routine, attachment, sedentary, and home-body, or R.A.S.H. The opposite of the liquid life is a solid one, and solidity is produced by the above four behaviors and worst of all, solidity causes a rash. A real specter is haunting America at the end of the millennium--the specter of solidity. Remember: solidity is the nightmare from which we are trying to awake. But what happened to Marvin? you ask. Marvin did not live the right life. Poor Marvin. He was too heavy and entirely too solid. Regrettably, his occupation--law--drew him back to earth. The law is fundamentally concerned with representing the legal considerations of bodies, people or corporations. The law is by definition a material pursuit, uses material means to achieve material remedies. Far better to be like money, I say, and trade in information.

Poor Marvin, he couldn't move like money moves. He didn't even seem to recognize himself in my description of the law. When last I saw him, in Kennedy, he merely looked fed-up and annoyed, no doubt angry with himself. Clearly, he appreciated the wisdom in everything I had so unselfishly shared with him about the liquid life, while both on the helicopter and the ground, during the hour or so after that I walked around after him wherever he went.

Marvin was not and would never be liquid, but he at least was aware of the liquid life. He said to me, "Carl S. Grimm, I wish I never asked you for a ride."
I've often wondered what it would be like to encounter Gulliver's Travels without having any prior knowledge about the book or its author. What if it could be published as a guidebook and shelved in the travel section among all the Fodor's and Lonely Planets? Tear off the prefaces by the editors, take away the inevitable essay by Allan Bloom, peel back the thin slices of footnotes, and you'd be left with a book that not only fits the form of the travel guide, but that fiendishly parodies it as well. The book's first two editions tellingly carried Gulliver as its author. Swift was absent from the title page.

Monday, September 20, 2004

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Cloughucius SAY
Brian Clough, who just died, like Confucius and like Wilde, didn't say anything that someone else could say.:
On the importance of passing to feet: "If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he'd have put grass up there."

On the influx of foreign players in the British game: "I can't even spell spaghetti never mind talk Italian. How could I tell an Italian to get the ball? He might grab mine."

On dealing with Roy Keane: "I only ever hit Roy the once. He got up so I couldn't have hit him very hard."

On dealing with a player who disagrees: "We talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right."
Reuters ran the cloud/grass line without explaining what Clough was talking about. Stripped of its context "If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he'd have put grass up there" has the same terrifying quality that Pavement lyrics do: it makes no sense but sounds true.

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Snake CONTROL
When you ban guns you force criminals to become more entertaining. Nowhere in America would you find a man so desperate for hostile weapons that he had to resort to attack cops by wirelding two live cobras. I don't know who wins between the gangsta with the Gatt and the Austrian returning fire by throwing a large serpent, but I know who wins my respect through imagination and futility.

Friday, September 17, 2004

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MacLamity OUTSOURCES TO NEW YORK
MacLamity's take on this review of "Wimbledon," written by a 27-year-old sweat shop laborer in mid-town Manhattan:
[Best line in the review:]'The easily abashed Englishman gets to bat his eyes and deliver farcical lies very badly, and the American female celebrity is tantalizing and elusive - just like America is to some Brits'

second best line...

'Wimbledon is a bit of a philosophical muddle, but the climactic tennis scenes are galvanically convincing, with some long, nerve-racking volleys'

WTF?

long volleys? or long rallies?

a romantic comedy as a bit of a philosophical muddle? who would've thunk it[?]

(if you want to just take this whole thing and paste it on to
Maclamity, no charge, buddy...)"
Free of charge, my riend, is another way of saying it's compulsory as far as us journalists are concerned.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

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Don't buy property in Siberia.

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What I've just finished reading, with superb annotations from Brian Boyd.

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For a while I've been subscribing to the Dick Tracy daily comic and I recommend you do the same. The less you know the plot, the better they are. Take today's for example: PANEL ONE: Newspaper with the headline FIEND STALKS CITY U. CAMPUS COED SLAIN. PANEL TWO: A voice rises from the door of the medical examiner's office: "The body was of a much older woman, Tracy, not a student. PANEL THREE: Medical examiner (CTD.): The stab wounds were inflicted post mortem, and the blood is goat blood.

Monday, September 13, 2004

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What IF BLOBS IN ARCHITECTURE ARE AS SILLY AS BLOBS EVERYWHERE ELSE?
From the Guardian:
So much of the new computer-gone-haywire architecture is silly and redundant that it seemed a pleasure, at first, to stroll into the biennale gardens and come across the show on display in the Belgian national pavilion. This looks, in film mostly, at the city of Kinshasa in the Congo. Here, colonial Belgian architecture has yielded to later generations of tin sheds and mud compounds and buildings. The horror, the horror, an architect might say, but not the Belgians curating this show. What they appear to be saying is that a city may well be able to get by without any of our conventional notions of architecture, whether Palladian, modern movement or computer-generated whoopee.
After a bout of visual indigestion brought on by all that digital metamorphosis, it was tempting to go with the Belgian flow. Sadly, a few key sentences in the accompanying text dampened my enthusiasm. Kinshasa is essentially architecture free, I was told, not because its people live in great poverty, but because they believe in 'building their bodies into a state of beauty and perfection' instead. 'Indentity is expressed corporeally, through dress and dance' and the 'physical body with its specific rhythms thus determines the rhythms of the city's social body and generates the relational networks through which urban space is shaped'. Whoever wrote this seems to be saying that these African chappies have a natural sense of rhythm that's great for dancing and drumming, but God forbid the idea of them training to be anything as sophisticated as an architect.

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But MOTHER THEY TRIED TO KILL ME BY POURING A BOTTLE OF BOURBON INTO ME AND MAKING ME DRIVE A CAR... NO ... NO THEY DIDN'T GIVE ME A CHASER, MOTHER
Hard to believe how good Daniel Libeskind is at describing how good North by Northwest is. (Guardian) But he is very good, much better than the structuralists of the 60s who pointed out the Freudian qualities of the tiny lady's razor that Cary Grant must shave with and that the play Eva Saint-Marie claims to have left can only have been Hamlet: "North by Northwest perfectly communicates the vastness of the American canvas and the drama of its images - everything that is beautiful, dramatic and exciting. The integration of Mount Rushmore into the final climax symbolises the idea that in the US gods actually come down to earth, human beings become part of the landscape and the landscape becomes heroic. "

Sunday, September 12, 2004

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It BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN
"They rent a house out in the countryside, and after about their fifth conversation with a plumber named Lud, they feel that they know the rural psyche," said Tom Wolfe about those urban emigrants to the Iowa Writer's Workshop. And here's a fantastic post-Iowa-graduation realization that this is not the case:
"The narrative principles that propel the plot [of Bollywood movies] are alien to those of, say, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where I spent two years studying fiction writing. When I propose an idea that departs from the standard Hindi film formula, Vinod thinks about it. 'We can't do it because if we put it in the film the audience will burn down the theater,' he replies. 'They will rip out the seats and burn down the theater.'"
From The Boston Globe

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Wearing WELL
John Boorman makes an extraordinary statement in this Friday's WSJ Europe:
Do you find any traces at today's festival of its origins as part of Mossolini's plan for cultural propaganda?
Architecturally it's still pure fascism. You can see the Mussolini influence in the buildings, and they're rather good, I have to say. Fascist architecture has worn rather well.
I have to say the same as well. I hate that. We can at least definitely say that Mussolini's buildings have worn better than the Palace of the Republic in Berlin, which will be knocked down and replaced by the 18th century Prussian palace that it knocked down and replaced. Some say the Palace should stand. And either way the choice here is between Communism and Divine monarchy, which is a nice abstract choice when it comes to buildings, but a vile choice when it comes to politics. Why is liberal democracy so poor at building? Ground Zero, and this review in the Times,
give us some of the answer:
''In many ways,'' he writes, ''the story of rebuilding ground zero has been a story of the struggle of a certain kind of idealism against the pressures both of money and of time.'' He makes his point even more firmly in his final sentence: ''Idealism met cynicism at ground zero, and so far they have battled to a draw.''
The hardest realities were clear from the start: the land was owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, but the destroyed buildings had been leased a few weeks before Sept. 11 to a real estate man named Larry Silverstein. Each had more power over the future of the site than the mayor of New York. Each was more important than the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (L.M.D.C.), formed in November 2001 by Gov. George Pataki and Rudolph Giuliani, then the mayor, to oversee the project. Those Republican politicians chose as chairman of the development corporation a Republican elder statesman named John Whitehead. ''The L.M.D.C. was intended not to replace the Port Authority, Silverstein and the city, but to work with them,'' Goldberger writes. And early on, Whitehead showed that some problems could be eased or managed by common sense and impeccable manners. They could not be solved. [...]
Silverstein has been losing his legal battle against the insurance companies (he wanted the destruction of each tower to be considered a separate event). But he won the brutal power struggle with Libeskind. A few weeks later came the invasion of Iraq, which does not figure in Goldberger's account. After that, New Yorkers worried less about rebirth and more about future terrorist spectacles, more buildings and neighborhoods reduced to rubble, more horror to be memorialized. It was hard to remain passionate about buildings that would not become real for many years. The war ground on and so did the process. When the symbolic cornerstone of the Freedom Tower was laid on July 4, 2004, the city yawned. Within days, Libeskind sued Silverstein for $843,750 for work he claims to have done. Silverstein, who at 73 is in the third year of his 99-year lease, has demanded time sheets.

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Nazi SEES BUTTERFLY = DOG BITES MAN
From the Boston Globe: "An account by the psychiatrist Douglas Kelley of his administration of the test to the Nazi leaders awaiting trial at Nuremberg in 1946[:] Looking at one blot, Rudolf Hess saw 'two men talking about a crime, blood is on their minds.' Robert Ley, formerly head of the German Labor Front, saw a bear. 'You can see the head and teeth with terrific legs,' he said. 'It has shadows and peculiar arms. It is alive and represents Bolshevism overrunning Europe.'"

Thursday, September 09, 2004

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Grayden Carter remains Toby Young's best inspiration, just as Stalinism was for Milan Kundera. Young on any subject amuses. Young writing about Graydon Carter is to be convinced that Carter is the person we have to uderstand if we are to understand anything about the world.
Far more interesting than the book itself is the question of why Graydon has written it - or, at any rate, put his name to it. Why has this inveterate player of angles, a man who prides himself on never having made an uncalculated move, suddenly made a show of aligning himself with the forces ranged against President Bush?
A brief perusal of Vanity Fair's back issues, including the February 2002 issue in which Mr. Bush and his team were given the full Annie Leibovitz treatment, indicates that this is a fairly recent conversion. One of the central planks of Graydon's case against Mr. Bush - a charge repeated again and again in "What We've Lost" is that he 'deceived the American people' about the extent of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. As evidence, he cites a Los Angeles Times poll in December 2002 which showed that 90 percent of the respondents did not doubt that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Alarming stuff, but I fear the percentage of Vanity Fair readers who believed this may have been even higher: The magazine ran an article in the May 2002 issue documenting Saddam Hussein's plans to acquire a long-range ballistic-missile system and identifying sites inside Iraq where chemical and biological weapons were designed, manufactured and tested. The article -- by the British journalist David Rose -- was based on a series of interviews with Mohamed Harith, a high-level Iraqi defector.
Graydon was still bragging about this scoop almost a year later. In March 2003, he gave an interview to Adweek in which he claimed that this and other, similar articles by David Rose in Vanity Fair had 'certainly affected the British government's decision.' The interviewer didn[t ask him to specify what 'decision' he had in mind, but he must have been referring to the fact that the British govgovernment elected to throw in its lot with America in the war against Iraq.

Eighteen months later, Graydon no longer seems so eager to take credit for influencing British foreign policy. In What We’ve Lost, he writes: "Prime Minister Tony Blair’s credibility as well as his political reputation and aspirations have been severely diminished by his support of Bush’s unilateral invasion." (Given that British forces participated in the invasion, that’s an idiosyncratic use of the word "unilateral.")
The first sign that Graydon was having doubts about Dubya’s leadership in the war on terror was the "Editor’s Letter" that appeared in the May 2003 issue, presumably written by him. "You really have to work at it to create a situation in which Saddam Hussein is looked upon as less of a threat to world peace than the U.S. president," he wrote. "In his little more than two years on the job, George W. Bush has proved himself to be more than up to the task."
This volte-face must have been fairly sudden, since in that very same issue there was another David Rose piece, this one based on interviews with a series of Iraqi defectors, in which he detailed the appalling crimes committed by Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, including torture, rape and murder.
Amnesia is the handmaiden of hypocrisy, as Francis Wheen put it better than I've actually quoted him here.

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Band OF BROTHERS OR BUNDYS?
Ron Rosenbaum in his column.:
At first I resisted the relevance of refighting Vietnam, but watching the Boston convention's retrospective sentimentalization of Vietnam, watching The Fog of War again and rethinking Robert McNamara's somewhat disingenuous Vietnam mea culpa, and reading John Kerry's 1971 we-committed-atrocities-and-war-crimes-in-Vietnam testimony, left me feeling that in some important way, I don't know who John Kerry is: He is still a mystery to me, to all of us, if we can't figure out what he really, in his heart of hearts, thinks about all this now.
Does he in fact think that Vietnam was as noble a cause as the fight against Hitler, as the appropriation of the 'band of brothers' from its Spielbergian World War II hagiography implies? Does Mr. Kerry now think Vietnam was a 'just war'? Does he then repudiate his own repudiation of it in 1971? Should he? Or is his position more complex, more nuanced, now? Does he take Mr. McNamara's position that the ends (stopping communist police-state expansion) were just, but the means were not?" [...]
McNamara tells us in The Fog of War that two to three times as many bombs were dropped on Vietnam than on all of Western Europe during World War II. It was waged with murderously criminal stupidity by the "best and brightest" (David Halberstam’s sardonic phrase for Robert McNamara’s Band of Bundys), in ways that profoundly undermined the larger just cause of resistance to the spread of police-state totalitarianism. Shouldn’t John Kerry, justly celebrated for his wartime courage, have the political courage to say something critical about Vietnam—if not as critical as Mr. Kerry was in 1971, perhaps as critical as McNamara was in 2003, at least—rather than merely exploit it for self-promotion?
(By the way, Rosenbaum is someone who really does possess nuance, and shows what nuance can do for a thinker. He could nuance a pint of milk and make it all some worthwhile.

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Would YOU LIKE SOME POISION IN YOUR TEA?
"We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it's total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial - whatever our special services, Putin's guard dogs, see fit." Putin behaves in ways which make it impossible to over react to him. The best possible gloss on his actions is that he sees democracy as subordinate to ideals of strength and security. Which is one explanation for why his agents allegedly poisoned a journalist to stop her reaching School Number One.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

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Even if the study was conducted in England and Le Monde is piggy-backing The Independent I can't think of a more French headline than this one.

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MacLAmity: PUNCHING UP THE NUANCE
"Kerry no longer wants to be the thoughtful candidate of nuance. Like President Bush, he's discovered the virtues of moral clarity...Kerry no longer brags about being complicated, as he did in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention. He's now as simple as Bush." So, in answer to all those people in the commentary section who said I was some crazed anti-Kerry maniac when I said that nuance is nowhere near as good as moral clarity: Kerry agrees with ME.

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Dole KERRY ELECTION
When I ask if Kerry's going to win this election, if he can win this election, I try to filter out my biases and prejudices by asking what biases and prejudices a Dole voter would have had in 1996. This is hard. I was not right wing. I didn't care about the election. I was nineteen. The stakes in that election were lower. But something about this election reminds me a lot of that election, with the parties switched. Dole supporters are like Kerry supporters in that they can't understand why a sizeable part of their country supports someone who, to them, is a Dragon pillaging the country's morals, breathing fire eveywhere, terrorising villagers, raping maidens, and lying, lying, lying constantly, to everyone, but especially, to the American people. At the same time, while the Dragon marauds their candidate isn't a knight. He says a lot against his rival. His rival is pure evil. But he can't say much for himself. Quick, can you remember any of Dole's positions? A big tax cut or something, wasn't it? It's much easier to remember the ways Dole's supporters loathed Clinton: Clinton the liar, the fat-ass, the adulterer, the mocker of the presidency, the salesman of the nation to the Chinese, the slow jogger, the hamburger eater, the pantless husband, and the socializer of medicine. Businessweek has a chart which compares the two elections much more cleverly: with economic statistics, and without recourse to weird Dragon imagery.
Unemployment rate
JULY 1996: 5.5%
JULY 2004: 5.5%

Consumer inflation over previous year
JULY 1996: 3%
JULY 2004: 3%

New unemployment claims (4-week average)*
JULY 1996: 329,000
JULY 2004: 337,000

Number of states losing jobs over previous month
JULY 1996: 25
JULY 2004: 22

Consumer confidence index
JULY 1996: 107
JULY 2004: 106.1

Housing affordability index**
JULY 1996: 1.237
JULY 2004: 1.244
The BusinessWeek chart shows where Bush was stronger and weaker than Clinton (Gas was way cheaper and college grads got more jobs in 1996; in 2004, real GDP (percent growth in GDP minus inflation in the same period) is growing way faster than in Clinton's time, as is the growth of real disposable income per person) but it's the similarities that strike me. The main difference is the war, OF COURSE. But, ceteris paribus, if that economy was not bad enough to beat Clinton, I don't see how it can be bad enough to beat Bush. The deficit will have to be the issue of the 2008 presidential election, but for now Bush seems to have convinced people that the deficit's paying mainly for the war, and not for nice gold railings the tich so love on their nice white yachts. Like Dole, Kerry did his bit, and an important bit, in Washington long enough to get a shot at the presidency but did very little else. They don't see, just as Dole's supporters didn't see in Clinton, Bush's qualities (which are, at the very least, charm, loud Christian faith, the promise of money, and the uncomplicated kicking of evil's ass). They see no redeeming features in their opponent, and so think they don't need any in their candidate. All they need do is spell out clearly the badness of Bush. It didn't work for Dole. I have this feeling, and the above is simply my attempt to give reason to this feeling, that, sadly, it's not going to work for Kerry.

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Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM PAINTING
NY Times
He sold one of his unabashedly pro-Bush works - a painting called 'Have Faith,' which shows the president astride a horse, carrying the flag in one hand and the severed head of Osama bin Laden in the other - for $2,800 at the Tribute Gallery on lower Broadway.
'I'm a Republican, and I wear it proudly,' said Mr. LoBaido, whose other paintings include one showing Mr. Bush standing triumphant over the filmmaker Michael Moore after knocking him out in the boxing ring, and another called 'Peace Through Strength' showing an F-16 fighter jet 'fully loaded and coming at you.'
The message is easy to fathom. Although the desire to look at this on your wall is a desire i find hard to fathom. Especially as, late at night my Freshman year, i sat below murals which were so satisfied with their politics, that they were blind to their aesthetic flatness, lack of fun, and, most important of all, (the dreaded) LACK OF NUANCE. One showed an old indian woman, a black woman (i think), and a pink silhouette. The sequel to Planet of the Apes said WHITE WOMEN ARE FACELESS raised the issue much better when it the psychic council member removed her plastic face to reveal that her head had no face underneath.

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Democracy IN AFGHANISTAN
From the WaPo:
Mr. Pedram suggested at a women's forum that the issue of divorce "ought to be debated" and said that it was "impossible" for a husband to treat four wives equitably.
Mr. Pedram's comments, taped and then aired on state television, touched on issues that are culturally taboo in traditional Muslim society and politically explosive in a country just emerging from a decade of violent rule by Islamic militias.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court, an elderly religious cleric, sent a letter to the government election commission, as well as to the U.N. political mission here, demanding that Mr. Pedram, 41 years old, be expelled from the race. The court's chief clerk, Waheed Mojhda, explained that the justices had "received many calls from people saying a candidate was speaking against Islam.
"There was an urgent meeting, and the justices watched those parts of the tape 15 times. They decided he had questioned the Koran and spoken against [Islamic law], and therefore he should be prosecuted and struck from the list of candidates."
Several official sources said that the court's letter had no legal validity and that the issue might be solved informally. So far, neither the election commission nor the prosecutor's office has taken any formal action against Pedram. As of Monday, he was still one of 17 candidates registered to challenge Hamid Karzai, the interim president, in Afghanistan's first national election, set for Oct. 9.
"What I said was not against religion or Islamic law," Pedram said. "I was just expressing an opinion about women's rights. This is only happening because the fundamentalists want to sabotage my campaign."
See later in the story, for the quotes from female politicians agreeing with the religious scholars. This probably the most darkly foreboding story on Islamic fundamentalism's struggle with liberal society since the one I read on the airport in Spain, about how you can't take duty free booze into Pakistan any more.

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Democracy IN AFGHANISTAN
From the WaPo:
Mr. Pedram suggested at a women's forum that the issue of divorce "ought to be debated" and said that it was "impossible" for a husband to treat four wives equitably.
Mr. Pedram's comments, taped and then aired on state television, touched on issues that are culturally taboo in traditional Muslim society and politically explosive in a country just emerging from a decade of violent rule by Islamic militias.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court, an elderly religious cleric, sent a letter to the government election commission, as well as to the U.N. political mission here, demanding that Mr. Pedram, 41 years old, be expelled from the race. The court's chief clerk, Waheed Mojhda, explained that the justices had "received many calls from people saying a candidate was speaking against Islam.
"There was an urgent meeting, and the justices watched those parts of the tape 15 times. They decided he had questioned the Koran and spoken against [Islamic law], and therefore he should be prosecuted and struck from the list of candidates."
Several official sources said that the court's letter had no legal validity and that the issue might be solved informally. So far, neither the election commission nor the prosecutor's office has taken any formal action against Pedram. As of Monday, he was still one of 17 candidates registered to challenge Hamid Karzai, the interim president, in Afghanistan's first national election, set for Oct. 9.
"What I said was not against religion or Islamic law," Pedram said. "I was just expressing an opinion about women's rights. This is only happening because the fundamentalists want to sabotage my campaign."
See later in the story, for the quotes from female politicians agreeing with the religious scholars. This probably the most darkly foreboding story on Islamic fundamentalism's struggle with liberal society since the one I read on the airport in Spain, about how you can't take duty free booze into Pakistan any more.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

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Give ME BLACK AND WHITE
What's so great about nuance that it's the only thing some of us want to see? Joe Klein in Time on Giuliani:
A major show of strength, but not much nuance and not much detail.
The Washington Post on its own investigation, and then on Bush's decision-making techniques
But a close examination of Bush's operating style, based on interviews with former administration officials, Bush friends and outside experts, offers a more nuanced picture.
Kristof in the NT Times, and this is the one which sent me off:
The paramount lesson in Shakespeare's plays is that the world is full of nuances and uncertainties, and that leaders self-destruct when they are too rigid, too sure of themselves or - Mr. President, lend me your ears - too intoxicated by moral clarity.
You see Shakespeare's passion for nuance in the way he portrays Henry V himself (you also see his prurience, for "Henry V" is Shakespeare's most obscene play, laced with X-rated double-entendres that make it an attractive introduction to the Bard for teenagers).
Shakespeare admires Henry, who, like Mr. Bush, is strong, decisive and funny to be around, as well as a victor in overseas battles that help soothe doubts about his legitimacy. Thus for several hundred years, the play "Henry V" was regarded as a celebration of Henry's invasions of France, and for that reason George Bernard Shaw and other liberal critics recoiled from it.
The world might not be black and white. Things might be more complicated than that. But if nuance was as good as is claimed above, it would be all we need. It's not. Nor am I sure that the Democrats or these writers possess true nuance, for all their celebration of it. Especially since they apparently make it a virtue that is the opposite to the apparent vice of moral certainty.

A nuance like that is a nuance that Hollywood likes. It is not the nuance Shakespeare practised. It's the nuance that would show, as prologue or flash-back, the bullying of little Richard, pre-III, a mere child, the cruel anti-hunchism of his school fellows, names like humpy, the bloody incision in an unnecessary and botched surgery, tears everywhere, Richard's mother crying, Richard's father telling her that it's for the best. And so later, Richard III destroys society for a crown. But the audience knows that it was society's anti-hunchism that created Richard III. It's everyone's fault, really, so it's unfair to single out Richard. The ethical dimension to Richard's actions vanishes but damn good battle scenes stay.

Shakespeare's skill is different. Certainly, Richard III is evil. Crucially, he is not horrible. Richard says he's going to persuade a widow to have sex with him, at the funeral of her husband, whom Richard has killed. That's obviously appalling. But it's great to watch. The audience is on Richard's side, they want him to succeed, just because it would be so astonishing if he did. That's nuance. The audience, like the characters, must struggle to find moral clarity in a civil war that destroys all the normal points of moral navigation. But moral clarity is there and it is in fact what defeats Richard III, as each character after the acquires it too late to save the Princes or slake their guilt, but early enough to save the country from Richard's charm.

"Unless Mr. Bush learns to see nuance and act less rashly, he will be the Coriolanus of our age," concludes Kristoff. If he's read the Coriolanus I've read, he means that voters will vote W. out. W. will join al-Qaeda. And then Kristoff will send Laura to a meet W. in a desert camp so that she can beg W. not to destroy America. Like most lessons drawn from summaries of Shakespeare's plots, rather than the substance of his plays, this doesn't seem like much of a lesson to me. Or maybe I'm missing a nuance.

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Speaking OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN CONTINENTAL EUROPE
From BixWeek:
Across the channel, it's hard for women even to initiate litigation. For a person to sue for sexual harassment in France, he or she would have to prove that it resulted in some form of professional or emotional damage, says Marie-Helene Fournier-Gobert, an employment lawyer at Barthelemy et Associes in Paris. 'An isolated attempt to kiss someone or a sexist comment would not be considered sexual harassment,' she says. Americans find such distinctions disturbing. 'The French definition of sexual harassment is what we Americans would call assault and battery,' says Michael Rubenstein, co-editor of the Equal Opportunities Review in London, who wrote the European Commission's code of practice on measures to combat sexual harassment at work.

One of the biggest sexual-discrimination awards in France went to a man. After allegedly groping two female colleagues on a business trip, a male employee of an Internet security company lost his job. He then sued his employer for unfair dismissal and won $616,000 in 2003. Compare that to Florence Buscail, who took IBM France to court for sexual discrimination that same year. The technician, who claimed she had been passed over for promotion and was being paid 30% less than her male colleagues, was awarded $37,000. IBM France declined comment."It's a similar situation in Germany, even though legislation banning sexual harassment in the workplace has been on the books since 1994. "There is little awareness of the law," says Kathrin Zippel, an assistant professor at Northeastern University in Boston who is writing a book on sexual harassment in the EU. "Some 80% of the few hundred sexual-harassment cases that have been filed in German labor courts have been filed by men." These are the very men who have been accused of sexual harassment and punished by their employers. Their cases are usually about claiming back pay or getting reinstated. Most German women take their employers to court only after losing their job, Zippel says. "Women don't trust their employers, the male-dominated unions, or the courts to be sympathetic to their claims," she adds.

It's easy to see why. Of the paltry number of cases brought by women in Germany, few have been successful -- and for those that were, the awards rarely justified the hassle of filing a claim. According to Zippel, a woman whose breasts were groped by her boss in front of a witness in 1995 won $616. In 2000 a woman whose boss grabbed her between the legs and fondled her breasts got $3,700.

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Well, Kerry has the German vote locked up. I wonder if the 11% who wouldn't vote for Kerry or Bush would refuse because of their doisgust of U.S. politics or becayse they have nothing to do with U.S. politics?

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I COULD HAVE TOLD CHANNEL 4 THIS 4 YEARS AGO
No one's interested in the problems of people conducting trans-Atlantic relationships.

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Give US FREE
One proof that European anti-Americanism takes a lot of its cues from America are the ways that stories about the encroachment of civil liberties in the U.S. get written. I can't remember in which article, but a Guardian columnist recently criticized the Patriot Act for being unconstitutional. Every law in the U.K. is unconstitutional. Or rather, the U.K.'s constitution is simply its every law. the columnist, to my knowledge had never complained about this. Similarly Le Monde writes sadly about a millionaire who can't fly from California without producing a piece of ID, as if it was possible to fly around France without an ID. Le Monde complains about the U.S. Patriot Act but complains when the Wall Street Journal compares the U.S.'s use of Guantanamo Bay with France's expulsion of legal immigrants for reasons of "national emergency." Europeans, everybody, should criticise the encroachments on civil liberty in America. But a lot of the measures which America adopts now, European states adopted a few decades ago. In condemning a law for being against the U.S. constitution, the Guardian columnist should recognise the full implications that come with such tacit approval for the U.S.'s constitution and the U.K.'s failure to have the equivalent.