Thursday, August 05, 2004


By “original,” I’m not actually claiming to have had an original thought. I just mean that it launches a topic, rather than expanding on one. The so-called original thought occurred to me on the way to work today, when I stepped out into the road to wait for traffic to die down before crossing the street. A car stopped for me.

This has been happening a lot lately. Sometimes, even when I purposefully stand facing away from traffic -- signaling my unreadiness to and disinterest in crossing -- a car will stop and wait for me to walk to the opposite sidewalk, although its driver could have gone all the way to the stop sign in front of it, even through the green light overhead.

It’s unlikely that I’m causing nervousness, and thus stopping traffic, by being in the road. Boston and Cambridge traffic can flow on when there’s enough people in the street to qualify for a civil rights march. It’s also unlikely drivers just want to see me cross in front of them. My stomach is bigger than my chest, my ass is undistinguished and I haven’t worn a miniskirt in years. (Thirty-five years, in fact.)

So what’s going on here? It’s odd behavior coming from the same drivers who’ll risk high-speed death to prevent a driver using his directionals from getting in front of them.


Tuesday’s post on how drug makers deal with our captive market was not intended to be the final word on the matter. It certainly wasn’t, as one reader pointed out. I was merely trying to take one bite-sized chunk of the issue, chew on it a bit, spit it out and see what it looked like.


Sorry for that metaphor.


The part of Monday’s post dealing with Christopher Hitchens could also stand some qualification. His piece on Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” was not completely without merit, mainly in the section in which he points out that Saddam Hussein was not such a nice guy, and that Moore’s film could have played that up to provide some context for our decision to attack.

But Moore is less obliged to do so because the Bush administration relied mainly on other arguments to justify its war. Hussein had been a bastard all along, making that apparently not a strong enough base from which to launch a war, so instead we got claims of stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, nuclear capabilities within months of readiness, assertions of Al Qaeda support and intimations of complicity in 9/11.

In an argument, it’s nice if the other side makes your point for you, but it’s not required. All that can reasonably be expected is that the other side will respond to your points. The other side is also allowed to bring up points of their own, to which you can respond. That’s how it works.

But Hitchens doesn’t know how to argue fairly any more than President Bush knows how to legitimize a war. Neither can bring themselves to tackle an issue on its merits. They smear and spin instead.

Monday’s point was that it’s unfair for Hitchens to insist Moore can’t criticize the specifics of a policy he doesn’t support in general. Hitchens also:

... says Moore’s movie is incoherent, when actually all it’s doing is reflecting the contradictions of politics, which makes records of what is said and done unreliable from day to day or room to room. Hitchens complains that “Either the Saudis run U.S. policy (through family ties or overwhelming economic interest), or they do not. As allies and patrons of the Taliban regime, they either opposed Bush’s removal of it, or they did not.” President Bush could be accused of incoherence, too, since he, for instance, opposed the creation of a 9/11 panel, then claimed it as an accomplishment, then said he was adopting its conclusions, even though the adoption is taking place in a way opposite of what’s prescribed. That’s politics, baby.

... acts as though he’s skewering Moore when all he’s doing is bringing up irrelevancies. For example: chiding Moore for pointing out that Afghanistan, part of the “coalition of the willing” that invaded Iraq, could contribute only our own soldiers rather than Afghan soldiers, “we discover that there is an emerging Afghan army, that the country is now a joint NATO responsibility and thus under the protection of the broadest military alliance in history, that it has a new constitution and is preparing against hellish odds to hold a general election, and that at least a million and a half of its former refugees have opted to return.” These are not facts “deliberately left out,” as Hitchens says, but facts that have nothing to do with what Moore is talking about.

... and pretends there are definitive answers to what Moore sees as mysteries. He notes that on the flights that took Saudis out of the United States when no one else could fly, Richard Clarke, once the Bush administration’s counterterrorism chief, took the blame -- “another bust for this windy and bloated cinematic ‘key to all mythologies’ ... a film that bases itself on a big lie and a big misrepresentation.” (Who said it was the “key to all mythologies” is a mystery on its own, and Hitchens description of the film is ridiculously unfair. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is hardly based on any one or two discrete points. Indeed, Hitchens himself says it uses “discrepant scatter shots [that] do not cohere.”) But Hitchens fails to acknowledge that the story he links to as proof shows Clarke’s admission contradicts Clarke’s own testimony and says that “Instead of putting the issue to rest, Clarke’s testimony fueled speculation among Democrats that someone higher up in the administration, perhaps White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, approved the flights.”

Noting contradictions, Moore is “incoherent.” Making a contradiction, Clarke provides a killing blow. Is that how it works?

Regardless, it’s not that Hitchens has nothing valuable to say. It’s just that it’s all but lost in rant and rhetoric.

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