Saturday, September 29, 2007




AP, LANSING, Mich. - A state forensics scientist who said she tested DNA
in her husband's underwear to find out whether he was cheating could be
disciplined if investigators determine she violated the use of state
equipment. Ann Chamberlain-Gordon of Okemos testified in a March 7
divorce hearing that she ran the test in September on the underwear of
Charles Gordon Jr. Asked by his attorney what she found, she answered:
"Another female. It wasn't me." She also said during a May 25 hearing in
Ingham County Family Court that she ran the test on her own time with
chemicals that were set to be thrown away.


[50 years ago last summer, your editor covered his first story in
Washington. Throughout the year, the Review will exhume some of his


SAM SMITH, 2004 - It is now almost three years since the World Trade
Center attack. During this period we have invaded two Muslim countries
and moved far closer to the apartheid regime of Ariel Sharon. We have
not taken a single important step to reduce hatred of the U.S., respond
to justified complaints of the Muslim world, or create forums where
current conflicts can be explored instead of explode.

In short, with psychotic consistency, our leaders have made matter
worse, more dangerous, and more complicated to resolve.

To reduce the constituency of the most extreme one must respond to the
concerns of the most rational. Our refusal to do so has left us in grave
and unnecessary danger.

This is not poor policy, it is madness. It is criminally reckless and
negligent and threatens not only those we blame but those we profess to

Our leaders in both parties have condemned Americans to live in
perpetual fear in no small part because they are unwilling to make
amends for a foreign policy that for more half a century has regarded
Arabs and other Muslims much as our south once regarded black Americans.

In the end there are two primary ways to deal with conflict: fight about
it or talk about it. It is long past time for the latter. If you fight
about it you are going to win, lose, just keep fighting, or grow tired
of the whole business. There is no chance, given our current policies,
that we can win the war we have chosen to fight and while we may not
lose it, we have, in our reaction to 9/11, already lost much of what we
are or strove to be as Americans.

The most likely outcome is that we will continue the war at ever
increasing cost until we just can't take it any more. At which point, as
in Vietnam, we will do what we should have done years earlier, namely to
talk and work our way of the situation.

Some might call such a result appeasement, but was it appeasement when
Henry Kissinger negotiated with the Vietcong? Today's appeasement is
tomorrow's settlement.

Howard Zinn has pointed out that despite all the talk about Muslims
hating America for its belief in democracy, Osama bin Laden managed to
tolerate it well enough as long as he was getting American funds for his
battle against the Soviet Union. It was the change in our foreign policy
he couldn't stand.

Usually in a hostage situation - and we are the hostage in this
situation - there is considerable curiosity as to the hostage-takers'
demands. In this case, however, the media and politicians have blithely
ignored the issue almost entirely. Thus many have forgotten what
Al-Queda's early anger was about including, most prominently, the
Israeli-Palestine situation, the American presence in Saudi Arabia, and
the brutal sanctions against Iraq that had cost somewhere in the
neighborhood of one million lives.

Looked at out of the context of 9/11 but within the context of the
history of international disputes, these are not insurmountable crises.
What was insurmountable was the unwillingness of either side to sit down
honestly and deal with them.

The cost of our reaction since 9/11, including planetary endangerment as
well as damage to our constitution, safety, and economy, bears little
relationship to the underlying disputes. What gives them their awesome
power is not their intrinsic nature but what they have perversely
nurtured in the souls of the antagonists. This includes, in the case of
bin Laden, seeing oneself no longer as a mere guerilla but as a holy
emperor in waiting.

Shibley Telhami, who teaches peace and development at the University of
Maryland, wrote in the Baltimore Sun:

"It's true that many in the Middle East have often criticized US foreign
policy in the past 30 years. But in general, their notion of US aims has
been largely focused not on profound animosity but on a sense of
conflict in strategic interests and domestic politics over oil and
Israel. Today, an increasing number of Muslims and Arabs believe that
the United States is simply aiming to attack Muslims."

America is not only destroying itself but is destroying its ability to
work its way of the situation. The contempt that the elite, including
the media, have for this country's anti-war minority - despite its
concordance with the views of much of the rest of the world -
illustrates the miasma into which America's leaders have fallen.

Finding the right forums and solutions will be extremely difficult but
the choice is either to discover some way to reduce the hatred of others
in the world or to live in fear and danger all our lives. The
progressive movement, in particular, needs to turn its sights from past
wrongs to future possibilities.

And it may not be as hopeless as it seems. Of a Zogby survey, the Post
wrote: "Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden tied for fourth place on a
list of most admired world leaders. Jacques Chirac of France was first
on that list. . ."

One way of putting it, therefore, is that the metaphorical distance we
have to travel is only that from George Bush and John Kerry to that of
Jacque Chirac. With the will, spirit, and patience, it is not an
insurmountable trip and at the end we will be and feel far better for



SAM SMITH, 1989 - In pre-revolutionary Connecticut, being a common scold
was a felony. Despite the currently overcrowded conditions of our
prisons there is much to be said for reviving this offense, for few
characteristics of our time have been more burdensome than the noisy
priggishness that has come over the land.

For some years we had a woman in our neighborhood who had the
disconcerting habit of standing on her front porch heaping opprobrium on
passing children. It didn't particularly bother the children, because
the very young are blissfully immune to priggishness, knowing that
anyone who behaves in such a manner properly belongs in an asylum.

The problem for adult America is that we increasingly seem to be taking
such people seriously. We have elected a remarkable number to office,
with the inevitable result that prigs are now taking over appointive
positions as well - most disastrously on the Supreme Court which now has
its first prig majority in many decades.

Worse, prigs are in ascendancy in places where they have previously been
disqualified. For example, prigs, while long allowed in the editorial
offices of newspapers, were largely banned from newsrooms. Prigs in show
business were limited to such activities as the Morman Tabernacle Choir,
Up With People and the Lawrence Welk Show. Now we even have priggish
rock stars, engaged, among other things, in pelvic proselytizing against
drugs. Prigs have even infiltrated the left.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. To some readers, the word may seem a
bit arcane so a definition is in order. I like that of Webster's Third,
in part because the definer clearly doesn't care for prigs, priggishness
or priggism, perhaps because some prig is always trying to keep certain
words out of dictionaries.

A prig, according to Webster's is, among other things,"one who offends
or irritates by obvious or rigid observance of the proprieties: one
self-sufficient in virtue, culture or propriety often in a pointed
manner or to an obnoxious degree."

Being priggish is "marked by overvaluing oneself or one's ideas, habits,
notions, by precise or inhibited adherence to them."

And priggism "is self-conscious propriety of conduct; stilted
correctness of behavior; prim adherence to conventionality."

Woodrow Wilson, one of the few politicians who actually dealt with the
prig problem, told a crowd in Pittsburgh in October 1914:" If you will
think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will
take care of itself. Character is a byproduct, and any man who devotes
himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig."

The emphasis on salvation in isolation that is so central to current
evangelicalism (not to mention certain strains of psychotherapy and
contemporary self-help literature) is an ideal breeding ground for the
prig. One can note, in fact, some correlation between the presumed level
of God's direct notice and intervention in personal matters and the
level of priggishness a religion encourages.

But whatever the cause, the relative priggishness of a religion becomes
a matter of critical importance when theology spills over, as it has
with a vengeance, into national politics. For when politicians and
Supreme Court Justices talk and think about God they are not talking of
the God of the deist, the 11th Commandment ecologist, the Unitarian, the
Quaker, the liberal Catholic, the low Episcopalian, the Seventh Day
Agnostic or even the ancient god of the Jew. It is patently clear from
their language that they are describing The Great Prig In the Sky --
lord, master and protector of the unctuous, the self-righteous and the
ostentatiously saved.

Creeping propriety has even affected institutions that should, by their
nature, be immune, including many of a progressive bent. This is perhaps
the inevitable result of a politics which has changed from an emphasis
on coalitions to a politics of the most precise special interest. Having
moved vigorously in recent decades from such simplistic divisions as
labor and capital, farmers and ranchers, and liberal and conservative,
we now find ourselves atomized into acronyms. The organizations bearing
these acronyms carry out their purported purposes, but they also
increasingly define and restrict us.

The problem with over-specialized self-definitions is, firstly, that
one's politics can become as prissy as the dress of the dandy and,
secondly, that eventually it causes one to act on the belief that the
explanation is true and complete, making one seem less a real human and
more a bumper sticker.

The recent self-conscious effort to upgrade the status of blacks by
calling them African-Americans demonstrates well the problems involved
in excessive concern with self-definition. One need only think of how
black history might have been different if a publisher had been asked to
consider a book called African-American Like Me or if Fats Waller had
written, "What did I do to be so African- American and blue?" But the
determinedly pious don't sing.

I tend to stay away from political prigs even when I am in sympathy with
their cause. I can smell piety a mile away and prefer the company of
sinners just trying to do better to those who leave the strong
impression that you're not really good enough to join them. Besides they
might catch me eating a Big Mac.

Fortunately, there is plenty of activism that doesn't ask too many
questions or demand that we save ourselves before, together, we try to
mitigate the damage that clearly faces all of us. Besides, the prigs
never attain the perfection they pretend. They not only irritate others
and deceive themselves, they miss that of the mystery of life which lies
in its contradictions and inconsistencies. The sinners know, in their
hearts, that they have more fun. Furthermore, as the poet William
Stafford pointed out, "If you purify the pond, the lilies die."


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