Thursday, June 02, 2005

I was going to talk about The Gulag Archipelago but got distracted...

Man, when these Amnesty International guys decided to jump the shark, they went for the moon, didn't they? Wow.

Okay, look, obviously the charge is grotesque to any person who knows even the slightest smidgeon of truth about the gulags, much less than to persons such as myself who have read Solzhenitsyn's Архипелаг ГУЛАГ, which is to say, The Gulag Archipelago. And most especially it is absurd and grossly insulting to those who, like my friends Marina and Yessengeli, originally read the thing in samizdat while living in a remote town on a forty-degree-below-zero steppe surrounded by "too many camps to count" (as Yessengeli told me a little while before introducing me to his mother, a former political prisoner under Stalin).

But I have to agree with Glenn Reynolds, who says, "[Amnesty seems] to have joined the rather lengthy list of those suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. Bush's ability to induce that state in his critics, and thereby cause them to blow their own credibility, is astonishing, and surely one of his greatest strengths."

You know, that really is true, though I'd never really thought of it that way before. As I've explained to my kids many times, hate makes you weak and stupid. And it has been a long, long time since there was any President who inspired more mouth-frothing, brain-destroying hatred in his opponents than does George Bush. Here is a man whose policies, especially domestic, are eminently open to rational criticism -- but the Almighty Himself couldn't keep most of Bush's critics rational.

Look, I thought Republicans lost their mental grip over Clinton. I mean, Clinton certainly was the very embodiment of "rich white trash" and somebody I'd go to considerable lengths to keep away from my children or other impressionable persons, and I have nothing but contempt for the man's character. But hey, I don't fantasize about his death, and I think there were at least a few Arkansas men who died without his having a hand in it or Arkansas women who were molested without his having a, um, part in it, shall we say. And I'm not sure some of the Republicans I knew would be able to stay with me on those last few points.

But now I understand that before The W Years, I only thought I'd seen politically motivated hatred. The Shrub could be beaten by any decently competent mainstream candidate, should in fact have been beated in '04 -- but by the time his enemies are through convincing any remotely middle-of-the-road person that they are clinically insane, they've alienated just enough swing voters for him to come sailing triumphantly through.

The man gets to run against first Al Gore and then John Kerry, two of the worst candidates since...well, come to think of it, since Michael Dukakis; and Kerry's most viable primary opponent was the even-more-impossible-to-take-seriously Howard Dean; so maybe this is a fundamental Democratic Party problem. Can we get a new opposition party, please? One with grown-ups in its positions of leadership? There's too much I dislike about party-line Republicanism for me to be comfortable with elections like the last one, in which for the first time in my life I found myself voting for W instead of against him. Something has to be done...and something tells me Howard Dean and Markos Zúniga aren't too likely to be moving the Dems toward rationalism and civility anytime soon.



At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Jim Raff... said...


OK, you are showing your colors here. Clinton lied, nobody died. Bush lied, thousands died. Repubs impeached Clinton for lying about having sex. Bush lied about WMDs and an imminent threat.

Regarding the Gulag comments. Since I have never been to a gulag, in Kaz, or in Cuba, I can't say whether Guanto is a gulag. But I suspect what AI is saying is that torture is torture, keeping political prisoners without representation is wrong. I think it hurts American credibility when we ignore our own laws around prisoners and criminals by not letting them have legal representation.

By the way, nice commentary on Solzhenitsyn.

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Ken Pierce said...


Glad you like the Solzhenitsyn stuff.

The problem with the whole "Bush lied, people died" thing is that I don't know whether Bush lied or not. It's entirely possible that he was clueless; he seems to spend quite a bit of time in that state, or else I don't know what the explanation for the No Child Left Behind lunacy could be. (Satanic possession, maybe...there has to be some sort of explanation.) I'd say Bush's foes are still a long way from being able to say that, in trusting the CIA (granted, that's generally a poor decisions), Bush was being outright dishonest rather than just stupid. If somebody does prove he was outright lying, I'll have no more use for him than I have for Clinton.

But Clinton lied through his teeth and under oath; even his defenders can do no better than, "When he lied under oath, it was about something that wasn't important." (I do happen to think that lying under oath is an impeachable offense, even if it's about stealing a pack of chewing gum. But then I grew up where the reliability of a man's word was still the single most important guage of his character.) At any rate, I don't think he ought to be in jail (unless he really did rape Juanita whats-her-name); he's not President any more and he's been disbarred and there's no danger he'll significantly influence my children, so, hey, good luck to him. But he's still a pitiful excuse for a least by the standards I grew up with and to which I'm still loyal.

I don't know what goes on at Gitmo; I would imagine that in general the prisoners are well treated, but that occasionally (especially in the first few months) people have been known to get out of hand. Certainly, however, there are a hundred countries in the world whose prison systems are routinely much worse than Gitmo; it's hard to explain why AI singled the U.S. out so scathingly. As far as the principle of legal representation: it's a more or less unprecedented situation we're in and I haven't thought my own position out on that one yet. What other rights would giving them legal representation imply? (I'm guessing you know more about that than I do; so any light you can shed would be appreciated.)

I think probably AI was trying to say that torture is something we need to not do. But public spokesmen need to be able to say what they mean, not what they don't mean to mean. And what they managed to do was to imply at least a rhetorical equivalence between Gitmo and the gulags, which (to anybody who knows what the gulags were like) is obscene. If they were genuinely trying to say that torture is torture -- in the sense that all torture is morally equivalent -- then that's absurd. If it's not as bad as that, and they were merely trying to make a point by rhetorical hyperbole, then somebody needs to explain gently to them that if you go too far with the hyperbole then instead of emphasizing your point, you blow your own case right out of the water.

What I mean is this. When I was at Princeton, I was a Residential Advisor, and one of the things we were working on was trying to convince incoming college freshmen that it was important to treat women with respect because that helps to set an atmosphere that is not conducive to sexual abuse. Now, I believe that very firmly and thought it was an important point to make. But then the Princeton Women's Center (which during the late '80's was utterly under the sway of angry feminists who went beyond the worst stereotypes Rush Limbaugh could have ever dreamed up) decided they were going to help out. And so they ran a classified ad in the Daily Princetonian saying, "If you laugh at a sexist joke" -- which everybody on campus knew included, in those ladies' minds, even the most inocuous joke involving a mother-in-law -- "you give every man present permission to commit rape."

Look, I know what they were trying (in their incompetent and mentally unbalanced way) to say, and I agreed with them -- and that's what was really enraging. I mean, once they had pulled that stunt, the next week somebody else ran an ad saying, "If you laugh at a joke about nuclear holocaust, you give everyone present permission to annihilate mankind." And it turned out that at one stroke the Women's Center had killed all serious discussion of the topic -- if you tried to suggest to a freshman that he might need to think more carefully about his actions, he would instantly draw himself up, say, "I forbid you to commit rape," and everybody in the room would start laughing and you were just done.

That's exactly what AI has done with this gulag thing. Bush now has a perfect excuse to completely dismiss out of hand anything AI says from now on; any constructive role they might have played in influencing either this administration or the Republican in the street is as done as a twenty-minute egg. The more you care about serious discussion of change at Gitmo, the more upset you ought to be with AI.

At least, that's how it seems to me.


P.S. Just hide and watch how fast rank-and-file Republicans suddenly become experts on the horrors of the least A.I. has done us a favor in that respect.

At 1:46 PM, Anonymous jim raff said...


I find it very interesting that the US uses AI to fit their own agenda. As long as AI condemns Cuba, China, Iran, N. Korea, etc, then all is good. As soon as AI criticizes the US then AI is just another blatant anti-American organization that favors terrorism.

Jim raff

At 6:58 PM, Blogger Ken Pierce said...

Yeah, it'll be interesting to see whether Shrub & Co. cite AI in the future. My guess is that AI has just gone radioactive as far as this administration is concerned.

That'll leave open three possible interpretations of Bush & Co's use of AI:

1. You could think that they used to listen to AI to figure out what was going on in other countries, but now they have suddenly realized that AI is not reliable. Of course that's not what the Administration will be doing (since they don't need AI to tell them what's going on in North Korea unless the CIA is even worse off than we thought). But a lot of well-meaning conservatives will fall in this category, and will no longer trust AI as a source of information for what's going on in the world. Which is too bad.

2. The Administration forms its opinions on where torture is taking place without reference to AI, and has appealed to AI's authority when trying to convince people they know won't believe the American government, because the Administration assumed AI was well-meaning and reasonably honest. But they won't anymore because now they know that AI is a bunch of lying SOB's. That's the interpretation most conservatives will apply to the Administration's refusal to pay any further attention to AI after appealing to them up until now.

3. The Bush crew cynically used AI as long as it suited their purposes, but now that AI is shedding light on the nefarious plots of the Bushies, it suits Dr. Evil and his cohorts to bash AI and try to destroy their credibility. This will be the Bush-haters' interpretation -- though they'll have to admit that AI couldn't have played into Rove's hands more beautifully.

I don't know whether #2 or #3 is more accurate...but I betcha either way you don't hear Republicans citing AI reports from now on.


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