September 09, 2003

Time to Stop Reading Slate?

Time to stop reading Slate? Perhaps:

Don't Commemorate Sept. 11, by Christopher Hitchens

I don't see any reason why I would want to read such a headline.

Posted by DeLong at September 9, 2003 08:52 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Wow - surprised to see that kind of ostrich-with-head-in-sand attitude from Brad. It's a column by *Christopher Hitchens* for cryin' out loud. It's *supposed* to be inflammatory. And it is, though not in the way the headline suggests. The gist is to urge the reader not to engage in an empty, or merley superficial, gesture of "commemoration," but rather to vigilantly pursue justice (or what Hitchens views as justice). Agree or disagree with Hitchens' view of Sept. 11, or the war in Iraw, etc., but he's got a point.

Posted by: Semi-Daily Reader on September 9, 2003 09:19 PM

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Wow - surprised to see that kind of ostrich-with-head-in-sand attitude from Brad. It's a column by *Christopher Hitchens* for cryin' out loud. It's *supposed* to be inflammatory. And it is, though not in the way the headline suggests. The gist is to urge the reader not to engage in an empty, or merley superficial, gesture of "commemoration," but rather to vigilantly pursue justice (or what Hitchens views as justice). Agree or disagree with Hitchens' view of Sept. 11, or the war in Iraw, etc., but he's got a point.

Posted by: Semi-Daily Reader on September 9, 2003 09:20 PM

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>>It's a column by *Christopher Hitchens* for cryin' out loud. It's *supposed* to be inflammatory.<<

But why am I "supposed" to read it? I don't have to do things that annoy me.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on September 9, 2003 09:38 PM

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Brad:

You should have stopped reading Hitchens long ago (if you ever read him in the first place). Although he may make good points sometimes (who doesn't?) most of the time he is an obnoxious clown.

Posted by: nameless on September 9, 2003 10:09 PM

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Wow. I had never read slate, and based on the merit and content of that article, most likely will never start. It sounds as if Mr. Hitchens has always lacked the same feeling of pride and loss that caused people to hang flags up in the first place, and as such, has invented a way in order to live with his guilt/sense of inferiority by saying that it is a bad idea to have ever felt it in the first place.

His efforts to convince me that hanging a flag was a bad idea years ago, because it would be neglected now weren't very persuasive. All the same, I'm liking your journal, I may make it a daily read.

Posted by: David on September 9, 2003 11:25 PM

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I love Slate. I hate Hitchens.

But I bet he generates a lot of page views.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on September 10, 2003 02:11 AM

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In the right-wing blogosphere, there was some cheering when the UN building was blown up, followed by some apology and some not, but lots of agreement that the UN is bad, and has been supporting terrorists, and refused US security support...

But the war is not over. Should Pearl Harbor have been commemorated in 1943, or 1944? That's a good question Hutchins almost asks.

Cheering victory is OK. Remembering loss is also important, and good -- so I think Hutchins is exactly wrong, here. And he should have had a flag out, for awhile; and not worry when it is put away. Hopefully for a much longer while.

Posted by: Tom Grey on September 10, 2003 05:25 AM

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But Brad, if you read it, you could learn that "Leave aside the glaring and germane fact that Saddam was and is in partnership with the forces of jihad..."

I think Keith M Ellis has it right: "But I bet he generates a lot of page views."

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on September 10, 2003 06:06 AM

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Well, anyone who debunked Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa can't be all bad.

Posted by: Matt on September 10, 2003 06:10 AM

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Brad - I'm not sure which is annoying to you -- the headline itself or the story beneath it. And I'm not sure of the particular way in which one or the other (or both) is annoying to you. My point was that Hitchens' commentary is invariably inflammatory, and often insightful (not quite as often, but often). As an incendiary left-winger, a Trotskyist, he was "annoying" to the right (and to many on the left) for years. He "annoyed" (or alienated, or provoked to blind rage) god-knows-how-many Catholics with his book on Mother Teresa. His venomous attacks on Clinton were, I suspect, particularly "annoying" to you (as they were to me). But buried within his Fox-News-style invective against the President (and former friends of Hitchens like Sid Blumenthal) during the Monica Years were valid criticisms -- most notably, of the previous administration's bombing of the Sudanese "chemical" factory.

The current Hitchens essay, by comparison, seems relatively uncontroversial. It stakes out the point of view that the perpetrators of Sept. 11 were evil, and their attacks were evil acts. But it makes the point that we are not finished with the larger "war" these acts provoked (and he seems not to mean the specific "wars" in Iraq or Afghanistan): "The time to commemorate the fallen is, or always has been, after the war is over. This war has barely begun. The printing of crayon daubs by upset schoolchildren and the tussle over who gets what from the compensation slush fund are strictly irrelevant and possibly distracting." This is the view of the attacks as attacks on civil society, and not just the individuals killed and injured in the attacks themselves."

Thus Hitchens argues "One must be firm in insisting that these unfortunates, or rather their survivors, have no claim to ownership. They stand symbolically, as making the point that theocratic terrorism murders without distinction. But that's it." I don't agree -- certainly the survivors of those lost on Sept. 11 have a claim of "ownership" on the memories and the remembrance of their loved ones, and no one can or should deny them that. But agree or disagree, Hitchens puts forth a valid argument that for the rest of "us" (those who didn't lose loved ones on Sept. 11), it is too early to focus narrowly on commemorating the date itself, or those who perished *on that day*, and doing do distracts "us" from the larger task at hand.

So Hitchens may have a point: It's near impossible to *forget* the attacks, on *any* day. Let those who lost loved ones perform the ritual of commemoration on Sept. 11, 2003. But let those whose injury was less tangible (the fraying of our sense of security, the blow to civil society, the loss of "innocence," to use the cliche) focus on repairing the damage of that day, and preventing another such day. For the rest of us to spend the anniversary (and the other days, too) working toward justice for those attacks might be a better act of commemoration than solemn speeches and bagpipes.

Just a thought.

Posted by: Semi-Daily Reader on September 10, 2003 06:13 AM

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Well, when somebody uses arguments like: "Leave aside the glaring and germane fact that Saddam was and is in partnership with the forces of jihad;..." how should we judge him?

Posted by: Barry on September 10, 2003 06:36 AM

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Well, when somebody uses arguments like: "Leave aside the glaring and germane fact that Saddam was and is in partnership with the forces of jihad;..." how should we judge him?

Posted by: Barry on September 10, 2003 06:41 AM

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I dislike professional contrarians such as Hitchens, and think they're the journalistic equivalent of snake oil salesmen. While the spiel may sound grand and at times even seem profound, the actual intent is to draw the reader's attention and nothing more. Bah!

(Incidentally, when *isn't* the pursuit of justice a Good Thing? See what I mean?... ;-)

Posted by: David W. on September 10, 2003 06:59 AM

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Hmm, I found most satisfying the audible "thunk" of a malt-soaked head hitting the brass foot rail - somewhere shortly after the concluding paragraph began. But then I always try to find the good....

Posted by: -Tater on September 10, 2003 07:34 AM

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I agree with the overall conclusion of the column, but I don't agree with many of the specifics. I've never been a flag waving patriotic type anyhow.

I have a tendency to regard that sort of behavior as just another exhibitionist outlet, like streakers and flashers. People agrrandizing themselves by attempting to impress other people with the depths of their despair and grief in a sad attempt to get 15 seconds of fame.

September 11th was a personal tradgedy for a great many people, including some of my family members, but nationalization of personal grief is one of the more disgusting forms of politics, in my opinion, and I refuse to be part of it, especially given that it's just another line in a march to war.

The real national tradgedy of September 11th is the turning of our government resources on citizens and residents of the United States through surveilance, detention, and what amounts to conscription (extended tours of duty for guard members who signed up to protect the United States, not to take a political holy war to the people of the middle east).

Posted by: J.Goodwin on September 10, 2003 07:36 AM

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The headline in question is unusual for Slate in that it is a straightforward description of the argument in the article. I.e. not a Kinsleyesque, maliciously cute teaser. But how did everyone like:

" If our Congress or our executive mansion had been immolated that morning, would some people still be talking as if there was a moral equivalence between the United States and the Taliban? Would they still be prattling as if the whole thing was an oblique revenge for the Florida recount? Of course they would. They don't know any other way to talk or think. "

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on September 10, 2003 08:08 AM

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Never read Slate before, never will again. The article is bizarre tripe [tripe bizarre]. Yuch.

Posted by: lise on September 10, 2003 08:50 AM

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Don't give up on Slate because of Hitchens. Just give up on Hitchens. They occasionally have a few gems like the Neocons vs Supply Siders by Noah:

http://slate.msn.com/id/2088122/

Posted by: bakho on September 10, 2003 09:01 AM

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I don't know if I'd dignify Hitchens' views with the not-terribly-dignified term contrarian. Even by those vitiated standards, he falls pitifully short.

Who exactly is he standing bravely against? The press, which has fought so hard against this war? Hardly. The party in power? He'd have to loosen the remora-like grip on their asses he's maintained since Clinton (and there was a stance you didn't hear a lot the last ten years or so - right wing Clinton outrage). The people who hire him? Nah, as long as people keep showing up to be outraged by him he'll have a safe berth at such cutting-edge journals of hip outrage buzz as Salon, Slate and Vanity Fair.

I particularly enjoyed the passage where he equated his experience of not quite being in a place where something bad might have happened on 9/11 except that it didn't with the experience of the survivors and the dead.

Very nice.

Contrarian my ass. Hitchens has attached himself to the right as a voice of bellicose denial (which he seems to have some experience at) and the only way his writing tracks is to accept as a basic premise "This must be wrong, because it pisses me off." The conventional wisdom he rails against is (with numbing consistency and convenience) both the polar opposite of the latest Republican talking points and completely unsourced by anything other than his flat assertion that someone of the left believes it.

He's a fool.

Posted by: julia on September 10, 2003 09:21 AM

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Time is a scarce resource. Knowledge is a good that some who read wish to purchase with the time spent. Do those who are looking to increase their knowledge get better value for time spent by reading things they like or dislike? by things they agree with or disagree with? What is a good filter to determine what to read? It took me about a minute or two to read Hitchens piece. Did I learn anything? Not much. But, unfortunately, buyers remorse is a common response in a consumer society. See The Futile Pursuit of Happiness by Jon Gertner in this weeks NY Times Magazine at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/magazine/07HAPPINESS.html

Posted by: David on September 10, 2003 09:42 AM

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"In the right-wing blogosphere, there was some cheering when the UN building was blown up,..."

Do you have some examples?

"But the war is not over."

The war has not started. The United States is not at war. The United States hasn't been at war since 1945.

"Should Pearl Harbor have been commemorated in 1943, or 1944?"

Since Pearl Harbor was an act of war that led to a U.S. declaration of war, the September 11 attacks aren't analogous. The September 11 attacks were attacks by criminals, not soldiers.

It's a mistake to raise the 19 pieces of criminal scum that carried out the September 11 crimes to the status of soldiers.


Posted by: Mark Bahner on September 10, 2003 10:01 AM

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'"In the right-wing blogosphere, there was some cheering when the UN building was blown up,..."

Do you have some examples?'

Misha at the anti-idiotarian rottweiler.

http://www.nicedoggie.net/archives/2003_08.html

Scroll down to "Auspicious Beginnings". Of the bombing, he said:

"I heard this on the news this morning and had almost popped the cork off of a bottle of sparkly when I heard that it was the U.N. HQ in Baghdad."

Posted by: Tom on September 10, 2003 10:29 AM

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Buncha crap; not worth the trouble to read. The point about flag waving might have been the kernel of a decent column, but once he got sidetracked into jingoism and started issuing blatant falsehoods about Iraq and about the left, he pretty much demonstrated that he has nothing to say.

Posted by: PaulB on September 10, 2003 12:21 PM

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Hitchens got awfully kooky in the Clinton years (Sid's book points this out), but 9/11 seems to have driven him insane.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on September 10, 2003 01:42 PM

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I'm not much in favor of annual 9/11 commemorations that are all show (as they tend to be), and suspect there might sometimes be ridiculous grandstanding similar to that of the Alabama 10 commandments fiasco.

It's one thing to raise a toast with friends. It's another thing entirely to wallow in it.

The way that 9/11 commemoration often means "a chance to market tchotchkes and other junk" doesn't exactly lead me to favor the practice.

Posted by: Jon H on September 10, 2003 02:42 PM

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>> Do you have some examples?

Instafuckwit had a chortle as well.

http://www.instapundit.com/archives/011066.php

"Maybe the bomb was planted by environmentalists, angry at the U.N.'s complicity in ecological devastation under Saddam"

then

"This event seems to be inducing an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance in lefty antiwar bloggers, who are responding -- as always -- by blaming the messenger. I guess it's like the Hitler/Stalin pact all over again, or something."

The only cognitive dissonance was the sound of Glenn Reynolds' voice echoing in his own rectal canal.

As for Hitch: Johnnie Walker had better get that endorsement deal sorted out soon.

Posted by: nick sweeney on September 10, 2003 02:47 PM

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Are you aware that opinion writers usually don't select their own headlines? I objected to a good 10 or 15% of the ones that were selected for my column by my editor, this also may be the case for Slate since I notice they have fairly uniform headline policy where the articles headlines are often misleading and more provocitive than the article itself.

Posted by: Lola on September 10, 2003 04:24 PM

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Are you aware that opinion writers usually don't select their own headlines? I objected to a good 10 or 15% of the ones that were selected for my column by my editor, this also may be the case for Slate since I notice they have fairly uniform headline policy where the articles headlines are often misleading and more provocitive than the article itself.

Posted by: Lola on September 10, 2003 04:24 PM

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Are you aware that opinion writers usually don't select their own headlines? I objected to a good 10 or 15% of the ones that were selected for my column by my editor, this also may be the case for Slate since I notice they have fairly uniform headline policy where the articles headlines are often misleading and more provocitive than the article itself.

Posted by: Lola on September 10, 2003 04:30 PM

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JULIA accuses Hitchens of parroting republican taling points. I take it she missed Hitchen's broadside against Daniel Pipes, one of the Rights curent darlings.

Hitchens is a Trot. He dislikes everybody. He is a venemous sod. But I find him fun to read.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on September 10, 2003 04:36 PM

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Yeah, I missed that. He also allowed as how brainless theocracy is a bad idea except when Bush does it in a recent Vanity Fair.

But mostly, yes, I think he parrots. Or maybe he's just pining for the fjords.

Posted by: julia on September 10, 2003 05:23 PM

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You really should read "Slate". You could learn some economics from Steve Landsburg.

Posted by: Scot on September 10, 2003 06:13 PM

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I don't think the parrot charge quite holds water. Hitchens was hardly the only leftist to lambast Clinton. I watched a CBC panel discussion composed of assorted Canadian lefties and when the subject of Prez Clilnton came up the mildest term used was "disreputable". I think that Hitchens has decided that Islamic reactionaries are The Enemy and must be destroyed. Since the right is pursuing The Enemy more vigorously than the left, the left comes in for an increasing share of his venom. And lordy, does he drip with venom.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on September 10, 2003 06:42 PM

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No, I'm sorry. I'm totally OK with people disapproving of Clinton - on balance I don't, but I can understand it.

Hitchens hopped in bed with so many dogs around the time of the impeachment that the fleas have to work in shifts.

Posted by: julia on September 10, 2003 09:48 PM

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Steven Rogers "Since the right is pursuing The Enemy [Islamofascists] more vigorously than the left..."

Huh? The Right's only goal in the US is to smash the welfare state, allow the wealthy to continue collecting economic rents, and slash civil liberties. They don't really give a hoot about defeating terrorism; it's just a way to garner political support.

If they *did* care, then why did (a) Bush not budget a dime (yes, not a dime) for Afghan reconstruction, and (b) why didn't Bush take the political risk (ie, US soldiers in body bags) of using more US soldiers (instead of Pashtun proxies) when bin Laden might have been had at Tora Bora, (c) why doesn't Bush spend more on border defense (port inspections, etc).

Hitchens is an idiot. I had no love of Clinton, either, but the entire scandal *was* a vast right-wing conspiracy. And Hitchens' willing complicity in the Saddam-and-al-Queda-are-the-same lie (see my post above) disqualifies him as a serious commentator.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on September 11, 2003 07:58 AM

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From Hitchens' perspective the Right is indeed pursuing Hitch's enemy du jour more vigorously.

I never said that Hitchens was a serious commntator, just that he was fun to read. I do think he is a marvelously entertaining loose cannon, careening around the decks of the Good Ship Punditry, smashing into whatever/whoever draws his bile at the moment.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on September 11, 2003 03:24 PM

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Hitchens is one of the few leftists who understands that this war is a war to the death of civilization against fascism. His point is that this is a struggle of the entire civilized world including people of many nationalities, and not just the US and Britain.

Here is a key passage:

"There were other reasons to oppose flagification. (Very many of the immediate victims were not American, for example, and most of those murdered and enslaved by Islamic fascists have themselves been Muslims.) I was glad for similar reasons when the order was announced that “coalition” flags would not be flown in Iraq. What is required is a steady, unostentatious stoicism, made up out of absolute, cold hatred and contempt for the aggressors, and complete determination that their defeat will be utter and shameful. This doesn’t require drum rolls or bagpipes or banners. The French had a saying during the period when the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were lost to them: “Always think of it. Never speak of it.” (Yes, Virginia, we can learn things from the French, even if not from Monsieur Chirac.)"

That is beautifully said. "What is required is a steady, unostentatious stoicism, made up out of absolute, cold hatred and contempt for the aggressors, and complete determination that their defeat will be utter and shameful." Put that in your pipe and smoke it, you "peace" lovers.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on September 11, 2003 07:26 PM

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Well, that's sweet, Joe, but that war needs competent leaders to run it and we don't have them and Hitchens knows it.

Posted by: julia on September 12, 2003 01:03 PM

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I search for forum like this long time.You website is very good!I will come next time !

Posted by: HGH SPRAY on January 7, 2004 05:06 PM

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