June 5th, 2005

[SHWI] WI No Nixon?

I'm indebted to one_serious_cat for bringing my attention to Peggy Noonan's column in which she condemned Mark Felt for betraying President Richard Nixon.

Even if Mr. Felt had mixed motives, even if he did not choose the most courageous path in attempting to spread what he thought was the truth, his actions might be judged by their fruits. The Washington Post said yesterday that Mr. Felt's information allowed them to continue their probe. That probe brought down a president. Ben Stein is angry but not incorrect: What Mr. Felt helped produce was a weakened president who was a serious president at a serious time. Nixon's ruin led to a cascade of catastrophic events--the crude and humiliating abandonment of Vietnam and the Vietnamese, the rise of a monster named Pol Pot, and millions--millions--killed in his genocide. America lost confidence; the Soviet Union gained brazenness. What a terrible time. Is it terrible when an American president lies and surrounds himself by dirty tricksters? Yes, it is. How about the butchering of children in the South China Sea. Is that worse? Yes. Infinitely, unforgettably and forever.

John J. Reilly, over at the Long View (entry of 3 June 2005), disagrees.

Would the Republic of South Vietnam have survived if Richard Nixon had remained in office? Maybe, but I would not bet on Cambodia. And the Nixon Administration would have been perfectly capable of trying to prop up the Portuguese empire in Africa, which collapsed the year South Vietnam did. We should also remember that there would have been no conservative revival in the United States if NIxon had remained in office. Nixon brought the liberal wing of his party down with him; only the eclipse of the Rockefeller Republicans made room for the Reagan Revolution. If Richard Nixon had not resigned, in fact, the political landscape in America would look much more like that of Europe.

Reilly is a conservative, so for him, the Europeanization of American politics is a bad thing. I'm undecided. I'm also skeptical that the world would have lasted that long since, if you credit Anthony Summers' controversial Nixon biography The Arrogance of Power, while hepped up on amphetamines Nixon was speculating about distracting the electorate from short-term problems by starting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Kissinger, Summers reported, made sure that the Joint Chiefs of Staff would check with him before launching nuclear weapons.

[REVIEW] Jon Ronson, Them

The "extremists" referred to in the title of Jon Ronson's book Them: Adventures With Extremists are the various individuals, groups, religious sects, and political movements which adhere to conspiratorial worldviews. Sometimes it's the Jews; sometimes it's the electronic media; sometimes it's the Catholic Church and the European Union; quite frequently it's the Bilderburgers. Always it's some sort of secret network that runs the world, into the ground more often than not, for some illicit and likely dangerous end.

Ronson is the perfect sort of author for this book. He has an inexhaustible sense of humour; he feels empathy even for the most repulsive people; he's unobtrusively skeptical. I was rather surprised to read about his mostly pleasant experiences with Omar Bakri Mohammed and that man's tragicomic efforts to organize an Islamic Republic of Britain. Ronson goes on to become acquainted with a remarkable number of people: the survivors of the Ruby Ridge incident; Ian Paisley making a missionary excursion to Cameroon; meeting with the leaders of rival factions of the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas; accompanying David Icke on a publicity tour in Vancouver. Ronson is polite to these people, almost excessively kind, and authentically sympathetic. He doesn't have to confront his subjects with their mistaken perceptions or their moral shortsightedness or their simple incompetence. He lets them demonstrate this himself.

Them's genius is that it isn't a simple debunking of conspiracy theories. It's more skeptical than that. Ronson isn't comfortable with glib dismissals of conspiracies or claims of grand malfeasance, as his sympathetic treatment of the unnecessary victims of Ruby Ridge demonstrates. More interestingly, perhaps, is Ronson's success in showing how most of the people he interviews--Muslim fundamentalists, American racial fundamentalists, cracked former British sports commentators--believe in the Bilderbergers and their quiet world hegemony. As Jonathan Duffy wrote for BBC Online back in June 2004, the discussion forum founded as a place for powerful political and economic figures to talk about world problems is commonly identified as a secret world government. It is true that the Bilderbergers have achieved one remarkable achievement, if you credit one of Ronson's anonymous sources.

I remember when I invited Margaret Thatcher back in '75. She wasn't worldly. She'd probably never even been to America. Well, she was there for the first two days and didn't say a thing. People started grumbling. A senator came up to me on the Friday night, Senator Mathias of Maryland. He said, 'This lady you invited, she hasn't said a word. You really ought to say something to her.' So I had a quiet word with her at dinner. She was embarrassed. Well, she obviously thought about it overnight because the next day she suddenly stood up and launched into a three-minute Thatcher special. I can't remember the topic, but you can imagine. The room was stunned. Here's something for your conspiracy theorists. As a result of that speech, David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger and the other Americans fell in love with her. They brought her over to America, took her around in limousines, and introduced her to everyone (291-292).

Did Thatcher's political career get a jump start thanks to the Bilderbergers? Quite possibly. Was this the result of a conspiracy? No. I recognize what this anonymous person did for Thatcher, because I've been reading a fair number of books describing how to do this sort of thing, and I've been trying to work up the nerve to do more of this. What did this person do? He wasn't leading a conspiracy. He was helping Thatcher network. Even though there are some differences between the Toronto job market and world politics, I don't think that the change in scale is enough to justify a wholesale reclassification.

There are exceptions, of course. I think particularly of the revelations surrounding Italy's Propaganda Due, which was linked to the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in 1982 and the subsequent mysterious death of its president Roberto Calvi, shortly after a series of terrorist outrages including the assassination of Aldo Moro and the 1980 bombing of a Bologna train station. Sometimes there are real conspiracies about. (Maybe.) But only sometimes. Arthur Lyons was right to point out in his Satan Wants You that vast conspiracies with vaster plans aren't very cohesive by their very nature. Are maniacs conspiring together to achieve an unspeakable world dominion really going to have that much impulse control?

Conspiracies, Ronson concludes, are attempts to simplify overly complex realities, to try to explain those complex patterns of society which are likely beyond explanation. Conspiracies seek to essentialize people and groups, to impose clear and restrictive definitions on fuzzy objects. He encountered this himself in a conversation that he had with Omar Bakri.

"You are ashamed to be a Jew?" said Omar. "You deny it?"

"No," I said.

"I am not offended that you are a Jew," said Omar. "We are all Semites. If you were Israeli, if you were Zionist, that is a different matter. But what offends me is that you hide it. You assimilate. That you have no pride.

"I am proud," I said, unconvincingly.

Of course, Omar was right. I should have told him.

"Assimilation," tutted Omar. "Integration. That is the worst thing of all. Be a Jew!" (60-61).

Bakri seems to have liked Ronson as an individual, if one goes by Them. Bakri also seems to have wanted to be able to put Ronson in a tight little non-threatening category, something suitable for a simpler time, an epoch before (or, hopefully, after) the great threatening Them intruded. I can't help but be reminded of some lines from Tony Kushner's great flawed play Angels in America.

This is just you [. . .] afraid of what's coming, afraid of time. But see that's just not how it goes, the world doesn't spin backwards. Listen to the world, to how fast it goes.

That's [. . .] the sound of energy, the sound of time. Even if you're hurting, it can't go back.
  • Current Music
    Shakespear's Sister, "The Trouble With Andre"


I met up with schizmatic for CFTAG. We first had coffee at the Yonge-Wellesley Starbucks, and later adjourned to the shaded patio of Caffè Volo for a couple of beers.

The usual eclectic variety of topics was discussed, from the likely messy ending to a no-Watergate Nixon's second term and the outcome of a Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge hung on for a few more years to the successes and failures of Spanish and French nation-building in each state's portion of the Occitano-Catalan space to the emergence of vernaculars in late 1st millennium Europe. Gay sex demons were raised as a topic of conversation, in connection to the excesses of fundamentalism. (Yes, the God of the Book of Job does only make sense if you believe that all humans are damned and deserve even indiscriminate destruction. This is disappointing.)

One very enjoyable conversation that we had was about the problems with science fiction and the requirements of good fiction in general. I hope to blog on this in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, go read his excellent post on the necessary mutability of mythology.
  • Current Mood

[BRIEF NOTE] A Paean to this Saturday's The Globe and Mail

I have always been a big fan of The Globe and Mail, back to when I was just emerging from adolescence and looked forward to picking up the latest bulky missive from Toronto at Bookmark. So much news from away!

It's only gotten better since then. In the main section, Michael Valpy examines same-sex marriage in Belgium and the Netherlands while Mark MacKinnon takes a look at Egyptian publishing company AK Comics' new line of superhero comics. In Business, Eric Reguly composes Lord Conrad Black's living will, the Sports section features an article on Jacques Doucet, the only French-language radio voice of Major League Baseball, now unemployed by the southwards move of the Expos. Peter Cheney describes the authentically pathetic help that can be given to the city's mentally ill in the Toronto section, while Lynn Crosbie adroitly links the curious story of Princess Diana's kidney to the cult of celebrity relics in the Weekend Review. The Focus section is fantastic, with articles covering Dubya's planned Mars missions, the remnant German population in Poland in the context of the post-Second World War population exchanges, the difficulties imposed on prospective Canadian parents by new laws banning the sale of semen and ova, growing discontent withy the Mubarak regime among young Egyptians, and the ingenuous recovery of Aristotle's Protrepticus.

My only major issue with yesterday's issue is that Karla Homolka's staring eyes feature on the front page, in all their low-resolution glory. Did we need that, again?
  • Current Music
    Shakespear's Sister, "Stay"