Friday, July 30, 2004


Just a quick thought on Demme's new film, which I haven't seen yet, but plan to. I think audiences are instinctively, and correctly, suspicious of remakes of classics, but John Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate" is so evocative of a time and place in American political history that Demme's new version has quite a bit more to overcome than, say, "Planet of the Apes." Among other changes made to update the story for the 21st century, the remake trades Communist brainwashing for corporate mind-control.

Now, it strikes me as wholly optimistic to think that corporations would find it necessary to install "subcutaneous chips" in the brains of politicians in order to control their actions. Rather than spending billions of dollars developing such technology, wouldn't it be much easier, not to mention a lot cheaper, simply to find and fund some half-bright, uncurious, political scion who, having never had reason or inclination to question his own political beliefs, would do the corporate bidding of his own free will?

That seems scarier than computer chips in the brain to me.

Thursday, July 29, 2004


Thanks to NRO's Jed Babbin for demonstrating the peculiar, persistent psychosis which afflicts conservatives regarding the war on terrorism. In a post commenting on John Shalikashvili's convention speech, Babbin writes:

While chairman of the Joint Chiefs, [Shalikashvili] encouraged the development of the joint operations doctrine that we now call "network centric warfare." On the modern battlefield, all our forces--air, land, sea and space--are combined at the strategic and tactical levels, enabling the application of firepower more quickly and more intensely than the world has ever seen before. It's that "jointness" in strategy, equipment and tactics that enables us to win so quickly, with so few casualties. Last night, he bought into the Clintonian theme of the convention: We can't win this fight alone.

Two things are wrong with that. First, we can. If we have the political will to do what needs to be done, we can win the war against terrorists and the nations that support them. It won't be easy, quick or cheap, but we can. Shalikashvili knows that. Second, he's swallowed whole the biggest fib that is the cornerstone of the Kerry campaign: that Kerry will pluck his magic twanger and all our old allies will suddenly come running back to our side to join the fight. Shalikashvili said, "I stand before you this evening because I believe that no one will be more resolute in defending America nor in pursuing terrorists than John Kerry. And that no one will be more skilled in bringing allies back to our side..."

Has Babbin read a newspaper in the past two years? The issue isn't whether or not the U.S. can win a stand-up fight against a conventional enemy, it's whether or not the U.S. can, by itself, conduct a long term global battle against an unconventional enemy which operates in shadow. I think it's become rather obvious to rational observers that the U.S. simply cannot win such a fight without the engaged cooperation of our allies and the broader international community.

Given how overextended U.S. forces are right now, it's hard to understand how Babbin can continue to so vigorously hump the same unilateralist chair-leg...oh, that's right, National Review.

Alarms go off when I see the term "political will" used as Babbin does here. Prepare yourselves for a variation on the "stabbed in the back by the media" canard, as conservatives will begin to attribute U.S. failure in Iraq to a lack of "political will" caused by those lily-livered, terrorist-appeasing liberals and their whining toadies in the press, and certainly not caused by an almost complete lack of post-war planning on the part of the Bush administration. Never that.


Two great tastes that go great together, or something. Here's the transcript. Few things are more entertaining than watching two millionaires try and out-populist each other.

Moore's relentless "Would you send your child...?" questions were a perfect example of the transparent sanctimony which makes him occasionally so repulsive. O'Reilly's insistence that we went to war to remove "a brutal dictator who himself killed hundreds of thousands of people" exemplified the worst tendencies of hidebound Bush partisans. I think the two of them should take it on the road.

Moore continues to insist that Bush lied, a weak claim considering that Bush, like all politicians, is surrounded by people who make sure that he never says anything which could conclusively be demonstrated as such. I think there's a case to be made that the administration cultivated bad information making it known, in no uncertain terms, exactly what type of intelligence they'd like to see, that is, intelligence which supported their conclusions, but that's different than lying.

Moore should stay with the 'incompetence' charge, which is easily demonstrated. At almost every step, the Bush gang ignored the advice of military, regional, and diplomatic specialists and followed instead the dictates of their ideology. The upside to this is that they've conclusively demonstrated that their ideology was, and is, bollocks.

Incompetence in this regard is also an especially effective charge against Republicans, given that "national security" and warmaking were about the only things left that Republicans could have claimed to have been any good at. They certainly can't claim fiscal responsibility anymore.

UPDATE: I'm really jazzed about the idea of Moore and O'Reilly taking a show on the road together, maybe a series of movies a la Crosby and Hope, or Martin and Lewis. I'm working on a script.


I haven't been paying too much attention to the Democratic Convention, which means that I've constantly had it on in the background and only watch it every few minutes. I thought Barack Obama's speech was quite good, although this

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.

Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.

indicates that Obama and John "Two Americas" Edwards should consider comparing notes next time. To be fair, in his speech Edwards did talk about the need to "build one America," but the reason that makes rhetorical sense is because he's spent the last year or so pointing out that we are, in many ways, a divided country.

Good post on Obama from Scott over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money.

Also, re: Obama, this bit of nincompoopery from Roger Clegg over at NRO:

Barack Obama gave a fine speech, but it was not a speech that reflects the current Democratic Party. It celebrated America as "a magical place"; it did not bemoan our racism and imperialism. It professed that this black man "owe[d] a debt to those who came before" him; it did not call for reparations. It spoke of an "awesome God"; it did not banish Him from public discourse. It admitted that black parents, and black culture, need to change the way black children are raised; it did not blame or even mention racism. It quoted "E pluribus unum" and translated it correctly as "Out of many, one"; it did not misquote it, as Al Gore infamously did, as "Many out of one." Most of all, the speech celebrated one America, "one people," and rejected the notion of a black America, a white America, a Latino America, and an Asian America--a notion completely foreign to the multiculturalism that now dominates the Democratic Party.

Translation: "No fair! His speech didn't match my strawman!" HI-larious.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Continuing her mad scamper down the media food chain, Ann Coulter has been dumped by USA Today. Apparently the quality of her "reporting" from the Democratic Convention failed to meet even USA Today's standards. Here's a link to the column that got her the boot, including editor's notes. I expect that soon Coulter will be hired and fired by the Weekly World News for failing to meet their standards of accuracy, after which she will finally accept her true calling and become a guard at a women's prison.

Part of me has always believed that Ann is a brilliant leftist performance artist, sort of a conservative, blonde Ali G, sending up American conservatism by taking it to its logical, hateful extremes. And even if she hasn't done it intentionally, she's served that purpose quite well.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


You may have noticed a conservative meme floating around which could eventually develop into a full-blown rationalization of Bush's defeat. It goes something like this: "He fought the war against terrorism so well and so successfully, we can now go back to normal life. Thank you, George W. Bush, thank you. You're our Churchill." (Hack, gag)

Andrew Sullivan:
The paradox of the war against terrorism is that the more the president succeeds, the more politically vulnerable he gets. The fewer the terrorist incidents, the more remote the fear, the less necessary the war seems and the more dispensable the war-president appears. If the president responds to this by insisting that the enemy is still powerful and dangerous, he runs the risk of seeming to concede he hasn't managed to curtail the threat. Or, worse perhaps, he seems as if he's whipping up fear and panic for his own electoral advantage. And after the failures of intelligence with respect to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, his credibility on unknown threats is already eroded. After a while, if no new terrorist incidents occur, it's lose-lose for a war-president.

...That's the conservative nightmare. Bush wins the war. The Democrats win what looks like a post-war election. The government stays big; but taxes are raised to pay for it. Maybe it won't happen. But if it does, one man will be responsible. George W. Bush: architect of a liberal take-over.

Dick Morris:

The key question in this election is whether we want a wartime or a peacetime president. In this respect, the contest most closely resembles the Winston Churchill-Clement Atlee battle of 1945. With World War II just recently won in Europe but still raging in the Pacific, British voters opted to back a candidate they trusted on healthcare, jobs and social services rather than on Churchill whose wartime leadership they valued highly.

Events, more than anything else, will determine which issue has priority in our minds. The ironies abound.

If Bush succeeds too well in quelling international terrorism, he could do himself out of a job, encouraging voters to assign higher value to domestic and economic issues and hence to the Kerry candidacy.

Peggy Noonan (yay!):

Here is my fear: that the American people, liking and respecting President Bush, and knowing he's a straight shooter with guts, will still feel a great temptation to turn to the boring and disingenuous John Kerry. He'll never do anything exciting. He doesn't have the guts to be exciting. And as he doesn't stand for anything, he won't have to take hard stands. He'll do things like go to France and talk French and they'll love it. He'll say he's the man who accompanied Teresa Heinz to Paris, only this time he'll say it in French and perfectly accented and they'll all go "ooh la la!"

The American people may come to feel that George W. Bush did the job history sent him to do. He handled 9/11, turned the economy around, went into Afghanistan, captured and removed Saddam Hussein. And now let's hire someone who'll just by his presence function as an emollient. A big greasy one but an emollient nonetheless.

I just have a feeling this sort of thing may have some impact this year. "A return to normalcy," with Mr. Kerry as the normal guy.

I find it encouraging that conservatives are developing such a rationale for Bush's defeat, but can we please avoid slandering Churchill by putting him in the same company?


George W. Bush, yesterday:

"I want to be the peace president... The next four years will be peaceful years."

The president then smoked a big doobie, pulled out a guitar and gave the crowd a meandering, slightly off-key rendition of the Youngbloods' Get Together. Then he wandered into the audience and began shaking babies' hands and kissing men on the mouth until the secret service led him back to his car and to his hotel, where he spent the rest of the night making a fort on his bed and giggling at "Three's Company" reruns.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


The Committee on the Present Danger has "reactivated"! You've got to love the battle jargon of these types. REACTIVATED! They make it sound like they met secretly in their heavily guarded underground sanctum to intone the spells of making and spank some livestock, when in reality they probably just got together to knock out some op-eds and took up a collection to hire some stoner to punch up their website.

Josh Marshall has the reason for this "reactivation":

Because no one had come up with a list yet of the people most responsible for the Iraq mess, so why not?

Gold, Jerry, gold.


You can almost feel the spittle coming off Dennis Prager's little conniption of a column condemning the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church for it's new policy of divestment from Israel to protest Israel's occupation of Palestine.

It takes a particularly virulent strain of moral idiocy and meanness to single out Israel, not Arafat's Palestinian Authority, or terror-supporting, death-fatwa-issuing Iran, or women-subjugating Saudi Arabia, for condemnation and economic ruin. One of the most decent societies, one of the most liberal democracies in the world, is fighting for its life against Islamic fascists who praise the Holocaust and publicly call for the annihilation of Israel -- and the Presbyterian Church calls for strangling Israel!

It takes a particularly infantile mentality to assert that the shortcomings of Israel's neighbors somehow excuse Israel's own crimes. Yes, Saudi Arabia is a nightmarish totalitarian-theocratic state, and Arafat's P.A. is a nepotistic kleptocracy, but do these facts negate Israel's occupation and oppression of the Palestinians? Of course not. Only a child, or an ideologically hidebound radio pundit, would say so.

What's interesting is that, even though the PCA's policy of divestment is clearly morally correct, this Presbyterian Church USA "Israel Facts" website contains much of the same demonstrably false pro-Israel spin that we here in the U.S. are inundated with on a daily basis, including this thoroughly debunked bit of propaganda:

Following the United Nations action, five Arab armies attacked Israel. Arab radio broadcasts urged the Arabs living in that area to leave so they would not be harmed by the invading armies. They were told they could soon return and take over all the land, not just that allocated to them by the United Nations action.

No one, NO ONE, has ever produced evidence of such radio broadcasts. In fact, the opposite is true. Knowing that the Zionist program involved the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and land, the Arab broadcasts encouraged Palestinians to stay where they were.

I've put in a call to some of my Presbyterian friends to clear up this discrepancy.


I take Kathryn Jean Lopez's political views about as seriously as I do Linda Ronstadt's, but the base moral equivalency, to say nothing of the stone foolishness, of this post on the Corner is worth pointing out.

The Marshall Islands

Yes, and the 150 countries that voted to condemn Israel's blatant land grab obviously just love terrorism. Thank you, K-Lo, for breaking the code.

THE NEW BOSS, cont'd

The Los Angeles Times has an update on the Allawi-as-summary-executioner story.

Such apparent urban myths are particularly potent in a society frayed by violence and divided over whether democracy or dictatorship will best deliver the life people desire. They are also a product of a society stripped of any frame of reference for leadership other than a system that relies on the fear of violence.

"It is totally untrue, but regrettably the political culture in Iraq has come to equate strength with force," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. "In a developed society, strength would come with the rule of law."

A sampling of Iraqis interviewed in Baghdad tea shops and Internet cafes and on street corners found few who had not heard some variant of the rumor, but their reactions varied widely. The image of the prime minister as judge and executioner is seen alternately as a vicious effort to destroy his reputation, a sign of his strength or simply a rumor that people want to believe.

The third sentiment was by far the most common.

"It is not true, but I wish it were," said Abu Zaid, a partner in a Baghdad teahouse.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Informative article by Chris Caldwell.

Europe's leaders and Europe's public don't see eye to eye on Turkey. Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer is now finishing a brief for Turkish E.U. membership, in which he will argue that globalization will foster jihad unless moderate alternatives can be found. Turkish admission has become one of the rare issues on which French president Jacques Chirac is unwilling to compromise: He wants Turkey in. And Tony Blair wants Turkey in, too, largely for reasons of human rights and ecumenism (although Blair's continental foes smell an English plan to dilute the E.U.'s cultural pretensions). Washington has been slow, even after Turkey's dramatic refusal to host the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in the run-up to the Iraq war, to accept just how deeply Turkish public opinion has turned against the United States since the Cold War. (Opposition to the Iraq war ran well over 90 percent.) At the Istanbul summit, George W. Bush even goaded the Europeans to admit Turkey--prompting Chirac to tell him to butt out. Among Western politicians, only two have taken an unambiguous stand against membership: former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Germany's Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel, who made her case forcefully during a week-long tour of Turkey in February.

Majorities of the public in all E.U. states oppose Turkish entry into the union. Their reasons are numerous and considerably more specific than those of Europe's political leaders. There are four main ones:

...There is, finally, the question of Islam. Turkish Islam is indeed in many ways the moderate construction that people say it is. Not until the 1980s did a Turkish president--Turgut Özal--make the hajj to Mecca (although after Erdogan the hajj may become a requirement for national politicians). Only about one of every 30 Turkish Muslims supports a radical agenda (sharia law, Koranic punishment, and so on), according to the Istanbul think tank TESEV, and even extremely conservative politicians will shake hands with female foreign correspondents. Matters are made more confusing by the fact that one of the most dangerous Islamist groups--Turkish Hezbollah--was consolidated by the secularist state as a paramilitary force useful against the Kurdish nationalist PKK movement. Sunni Islam is the official creed of the national religious authorities, but Turkey's Islam is also marked by "alevi" currents of Central Asian shamanism and by the so-called fethullahci. Their modern, communitarian Islam, with its emphasis on education and citizenship, is present in the AK party's stated goal that it seeks "not an Islamic state but a state run by Islamic people," or Erdogan's avowal, "In the office I'm a democrat; at home I'm a Muslim."

George W. Bush could learn a little from Erdogan, I think.

Monday, July 19, 2004


Martha Stewart
coming to grips with her upcoming stay in the federal pen:

In an interview with [Barbara] Walters before her trial, Stewart had said she was afraid of going to prison. In today's interview she said she had prepared herself for the possibility, but said she hasn't given much thought to what life might actually be like in a federal prison.

When asked how she would handle prison food, fellow inmates and strip searches, she said, "I could do it … I'm a really good camper. I can sleep on the ground.… If it is looming ahead of me, I'm going to have to face it, and take it and do it and get it over with. And there's many other people that have gone to prison. Look at Nelson Mandela."

Okay, looking at Mandela, looking at Mandela...looking back at Martha...nope, doesn't help.

In other news, can someone, anyone, explain to me what the big deal is about the Laci Peterson murder case? I don't mean to be insensitive, her murder is if course a tragedy, but what exactly about the case merits the hours upon hours of TV coverage it's getting? Please help me understand.


Wow, things are really cooking in Gaza. Armed militants control the streets, Arafat is more and more isolated, and settlers continue to pour into the Gaza Strip in defiance of Sharon's withdrawal initiative. I enjoyed this bit of verbal kung-fu:

A spokesman for the Settlers' Council, quoted by Associated Press, denied the settler leadership was trying to torpedo the disengagement plan by increasing settlement numbers.

It is about "strengthening the ideological core" of the settlement movement, he said.

Mmm, yes, that's just what we need at this point: strengthened ideologies. Lord knows they've been far too weak up until now.
Meanwhile, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Arafat still enjoys majority support among Palestinians, no other leader comes close to his numbers, though Hamas and other Islamist groups are gaining more support all the time.

Much of the blame for the situation goes to Arafat, who, in addition to being your basic authoritarian kleptocrat,has jealously guarded his status as sole representative of the aspirations of the Palestinian people and consistently undercut any perceived rivals. But there's no denying that Sharon has exacerbated the problem by trying to delegitimize Arafat. Rather than producing any kind of moderate Palestinian alternative, Sharon has, with Bush's help, only strengthened the position of Islamist militant groups in relation to the Palestinian Authority. It's hard for me to understant how Sharon could have imagined a different result. (It's also hard for me to imagine that Bush thought about it very much one way or the other.)

The irony here is that Israel allowed Islamist groups such as Hamas to flourish in the occupied territories in the hope that they would cut into Arafat and the PLO's support.

Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization)," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies. 

Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official.

According to documents United Press International obtained from the Israel-based Institute for Counter Terrorism, Hamas evolved from cells of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928. Islamic movements in Israel and Palestine were "weak and dormant" until after the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel scored a stunning victory over its Arab enemies.

After 1967, a great part of the success of the Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood was due to their activities among the refugees of the Gaza Strip. The cornerstone of the Islamic movements success was an impressive social, religious, educational and cultural infrastructure, called Da'wah, that worked to ease the hardship of large numbers of Palestinian refugees, confined to camps, and many who were living on the edge.

"Social influence grew into political influence," first in the Gaza Strip, then on the West Bank, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ah, the agony of unintended consequences. The essence of what Israeli hardliners, Sharon in particular, have been trying to achieve has been termed "politicide" by the Israeli writer Baruch Kimmerling. Essentially, the goal was to make a Palestinian State impossible both by using settlements to expropriate Palestinian land, and by diluting Palestinian nationalism with an Islamic alternative. Now, as head of the Israeli government, Sharon is having to deal with the consequences of his faction's succesful attempts to frustrate the development of Palestinian political institutions. It would be funny if it weren't so damn tragic.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


It's always interesting watching meme complexes being erected, such as is being done now by Israeli hardliners in response to the ICJ’s ruling against the security barrier.

Steve North(via Andrew Sullivan):

“It seems to me that most of the British coverage I’ve seen of this story is inordinately focused on the inconveniences suffered by the Palestinians due to this fence, as opposed to the Israeli lives it is apparently saving. Why might that be?” I wondered.
Benjamin Netanyahu in the New York Times last week:

Instead of placing Palestinian terrorists and those who send them on trial, the United Nations-sponsored international court placed the Jewish state in the dock, on the charge that Israel is harming the Palestinians' quality of life. But saving lives is more important than preserving the quality of life. Quality of life is always amenable to improvement. Death is permanent. The Palestinians complain that their children are late to school because of the fence. But too many of our children never get to school — they are blown to pieces by terrorists who pass into Israel where there is still no fence.

Charles Krauthammer:

Yes, the fence causes some hardship to Palestinians. Some are separated from their fields, some schoolchildren have to walk much farther to class. This is unfortunate. On any scale of human decency, however, it is far more unfortunate that 1,000 Israelis are dead from Palestinian terrorism, and thousands more horribly maimed, including Israeli schoolchildren with nails and bolts and shrapnel lodged in their brains and spines who will never be walking to school again. Yes, the fence causes some hardship to Palestinians. Some are separated from their fields, some schoolchildren have to walk much farther to class. This is unfortunate. On any scale of human decency, however, it is far more unfortunate that 1,000 Israelis are dead from Palestinian terrorism, and thousands more horribly maimed, including Israeli schoolchildren with nails and bolts and shrapnel lodged in their brains and spines who will never be walking to school again.

The argument that these guys are attempting to set up is that it’s a choice between Palestinian property, or "inconvenience," and Israeli lives, which is obviously false. Even if it were merely a question of property, it’s not as if the land that Israel has expropriated from Palestinians simply means that they’ll have to make do with smaller patios, what we are talking about here is precious (precious because it’s scarce) farmland, tended for generations and shared among many families for whom it is often their primary source of sustenance, given that the occupation makes travel extremely difficult. Regarding the issue of civilian deaths, at least twice as many Palestinian civilians as Israeli civilians have been killed since the start of the Al Aqsa Intifada, to say nothing of the thousands of people who have been made homeless through Israel's policy of collective punishment and house demolitions.

Incredibly, each of these authors also completely ignores the occupation, the daily brutality and inhumanity of which I find hard to communicate. Here are some accounts from IDF soldiers, reporting their own experiences as defenders of the occupation. Trying to dismiss this as mere "inconvenience" is despicable.

Something else I found interesting in the Steve North piece:

...Martin said, “I could turn the question around. Why is there no coverage in America given to the root causes of terrorism? We try to understand why Palestinian people feel driven to take such extreme measures as suicide bombings. I understand why Israel is building a wall to stop terror, but terrorists only flourish if they have grievances to exploit.”

“Grievances? You know, I’m from New York,” I said. “Should I try to understand the grievances of the terrorists who flew into the World Trade Center?”

“Well, yes,” answered Martin. “I think bin Laden tapped into grievances.”

Harriet chimed in, “Do you think they just did it for fun? They have reasons.”

Our conversation was over.

The reflexive resistance to any analysis of motives or grievances on the part of terrorists exemplified by North's response is quite common among both Israeli and American hardliners, and is, I think, a real line of division between observers of the war, more even than the question of whether it is in fact a war, surely more than simplistic “Red-state/Blue state” divisions. The conservative side of this argument, carried on by National Review, Andrew Sullivan, and the general flag-humping warblogger community, essentially maintains that any attempt to understand why those 19 men did what they did on Sept. 11 is tantamount to rationalizing or excusing what they did. They did it because they are evil, and they hate freedom, end of story, now go to bed. These folks have developed the "innocence" narrative, in which the U.S. (or Israel)is cast as little Maria, sitting there smelling flowers by the pond, minding her own business, when the Jihadi Frankenstein’s monster creeps up and drowns her. Why waste time examining motives? Grab your pitchforks and torches and let's kill the beast!

Needless to say, I find this position both infantile and irresponsible. Any rational response to 9/11 must necessarily include an attempt to understand what makes people into mass murderers. Applying Western standards of "rationality" to the jihadi mindset may not prove fruitful, but that's no reason to dismiss such attempts out of hand, and certainly not to condemn them as "appeasement," as is often done.

Friday, July 16, 2004


This could be very bad:
Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, has been accused of shooting seven Iraqi insurgents, killing six of them, in the week leading up to the handover of power from the US last month. Two unnamed people alleged to have seen the shootings have told Australian journalist

Paul McGeough that Dr Allawi shot the insurgents in a courtyard adjacent to a maximum security cell in Baghdad.

Dr Allawi's office has denied the claims.

I hope this turns out to be just a rumor.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


Rumors that George W. might be dumping Dick Cheney from the ticket? About as likely as Curious George firing the Man with the Yellow Hat.


Here'a a great item from al Jazeera discussing Middle East reform.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004


(Nelson Muntz) HA ha! (/Nelson Muntz)


In addition to our primary mission of stripping the War on Terrorism naked and pointing a flashlight up its bum, What is the War? will occasionally recommend fine entertainments for our readers. Lately we've been stoked by:

The Office
Maybe you've heard the hype on this BBC series. Believe the hype. It's hilarious, tragic, and often very profound.

House of Sand and Fog
In the mood for a light-hearted romp? Then avoid this film. Apart from the hours spent in my room listening to Smiths records as a teenager, I don't think I've ever enjoyed being so depressed as when I watched this film. It works a spell on you. Great script, great performances from Ben Kingsley and Shohreh Aghdashloo as his wife. The story kind of reminded me of "In the Bedroom," later I found out that the author of the novel "House of Sand and Fog" is the son of the author of "In the Bedroom." That family must be a barrel of laughs.

Kris Kristofferson, Kristofferson
One of the founding documents of outlaw country. A Rhodes scholar and then U.S. Army captain, Kristofferson turned down a chance to teach at West Point to go to Nashville and become a songwriter, eventually hitting the big time after Janis Joplin covered "Me and Bobby McGee" and Johnny Cash covered "Sunday Morning Coming Down," both of which (Kristofferson's versions) are on this record.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Here's Benjamin Netanyahu doing damage control after the International Court of Justice's ruling against Israel's security barrier. Netanyahu deserves as much blame as anybody for the current sorry state of affairs, given that he made it his goal to undercut and frustrate the implementation of Oslo Accords, thus strengthening both the anti-peace settler movement within Israel, and the hardline Palestinian militants who claimed that negotiotation with Israel was pointless and that armed struggle was the only way to achieve a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu's claim that the West Bank is not occupied but "disputed" territory can be dismissed immediately, given that even Ariel Sharon, to say nothing of the rest of the civilized world, has recognized the fact of the occupation. The only people who "dispute" the Palestinian claim to the occupied land are hard-line Greater Israel types such as Netanyahu, and their useful idiots in the U.S.

Here's an equally egregious bit of nonsense from Dick Morris, of all people, who cannily draws this lesson from Israel's experience with terrorism:

The Israeli action also holds important lessons for the United States. In effect, Israel is saying that neither negotiation nor military raids can destroy the Palestinian terror organization. But technology, by putting Israeli civilians out of reach, can do so.

So, Dick, should we just build a wall around the United States? Even if we did, I think Mexico and Canada would have a legitimate gripe if we built our wall several miles over their borders, destroying homes and farmland and making thousands homeless in the process.

For those who prefer their analysis rational, here are Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher over at Bitterlemons.

Monday, July 12, 2004


And now we turn to the battle against our own home-grown religious nuts. It's probably because of the fact that I live in the wonderful liberal oasis of Seattle, Washington that I find the whole debate over gay marriage so stupid, and consider its eventual recognition a foregone conclusion. The Senate debate would be a waste of the public's precious time even if the FMA had the slightest chance of passing. As it stands, it does not, so this whole charade is just a chance for Republicans to dress their bigotry up as principle while motivating the base. In a word: disgusting.

The legal case for gay marriage is open and shut: to the extent that marriage is administered by the government, the government cannot discriminate between homos and heteros.

The idea that we need to "defend" marriage from gays is nonsense. Gays don't want to destroy marriage, they want to share in it, and why shouldn't this be encouraged? The argument that the right is making, that if gays are permitted to marry it will somehow "weaken" or "profane" the sacred institution of marriage, is obviously preposterous. We heterosexuals have been profaning the sacred institution of marriage just fine by ourselves, thank you very much. Newt Gingrich, to name but one offender, certainly did his part to weaken and profane the institution when he traded up to wife number three. I mean, if you did a head count of all the Republican Congresspersons who oppose gay marriage, I’m sure a good third, probably more, are on at least spouse number two. Let’s protect marriage from those people.


Interesting piece in last week's New Yorker.


In reference to this story in the Washington Post

The armed wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement has called for a comprehensive campaign against corruption in the Palestinian Authority, recommending that Arafat relinquish some of his powers and that militant groups -- including Islamic organizations -- be granted a formal governing voice, according to a report obtained by The Washington Post.

The proposal presented to senior Palestinian officials by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is the first formal attempt by an armed resistance group to seek a political role in the Palestinian Authority since the current uprising against Israel began nearly four years ago.

Eric Alterman writes

This story demonstrates a central fallacy in the Bush/Neocon argument for war that has never really been addressed by anyone. The fact is, the more democratic Arab nations become, the more anti-American/anti-Israeli/pro-terrorist they become. You have to choose. Arafat is more moderate than the Palestinians who would replace him in a true democratic election and so, too, are most of the corrupt leaders of places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Never been addressed by anyone? Try Fareed Zakaria or Tom Friedman, to name only two of the most prominent. Alterman may not agree with their conclusions, but they've been writing about little else for the past three or so years.

Regarding Alterman's claim that "you have to choose" between Arab democracy and stability, this is essentially the same argument against democracy in the developing world that authoritarian conservatives made for most of the 20th century (how far the liberal have fallen!), and it's as weak and self-serving coming from him as it was coming from them. The reason why Arafat and the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are more moderate than their opposition is not because they've applied democracy, rather it's because they've jealously and systematically used government power to undercut, frustrate, and even outlaw any credible moderate democratic political alternatives to their continued rule, and in doing do have strengthened the most radical religious-political factions. They can stamp out political opposition, and they mostly have, but they can't destroy the mosques, which is where all opposition has gravitated.

Were elections to be held immediately in those countries, Alterman is right that anti-American anti-Israel pro-Islamist factions would probably do quite well, but this is mostly a result of the anti-democratic nature of those regimes up until now, not because of any genuine attempts to create democracy. That's not to suggest that elections should be held immediately, or that elections in and of themselves equal democracy, only that maintaining the status-quo, "stability" as realists fetishize it, has proved a quite unrealistic strategy for genuine security, at least in the Middle East.

The U.S. spent the latter half of the 20th century propping up authoritarian regimes in the name of stability, taking corrupt regimes at their word that they were slowly but surely reforming, which they were not. It's true that this was done in the broader context of the Cold War, but it's hard to deny that that policy has, in the long run, created greater security problems for the United States. We need to try something different.


I don't expect the ICJ's ruling condemning Israel's security wall to change anyone's mind about anything. It has only reinforced the siege mentality of Israel and Israel's partisans, and confirmed Israel's villainy for its critics, which is unfortunate.

Debates about the wall, like most debates concerning Israel, usually break down with both sides sticking hard to their exclusive premises, and refusing to hear anything else. In this case, the wall's proponents claim that the wall is needed to protect Israel from suicide bombers, and they are right. The wall's opponents claim that the wall is a land grab, and they, too, area right. The reason that I tend to sympathize with the anti-wall side of this debate (which includes many Israeli groups) is that I doubt there would be much controversy over the wall if Israel would just, you know, stop building it on someone else's land. The reason Israel has to build this fence inside Palestinian territory is to encircle the Jewish settlements which have been built there since 1967, and the stated purpose of the settlements was to facilitate precisely the annexation of West Bank land which is now happening.

Don't let anyone kid you, the settlements, and the continued military occupation which they make necessary, are currently the single most significant obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. That isn't to say that if the occupation and settlements were gone tomorrow there wouldn't still be Palestinians advocating the destruction of Israel, but it would mean that there would be far fewer young men and women who would be willing to answer the call to martyrdom.


The new Iraq is here (almost, not quite), and they want their domain name

Saturday, July 10, 2004


As obnoxious a git as I think James Lileks usually is, this is worth a read.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Guess what! Al Qaeda is intent on attacking America again. Surprised? No? Well, the Dept. of Homeland Security just wanted to remind us, I guess, to keep us on our toes. There's "increased chatter" or something, though apparently not enough to raise the terror threat level from yellow to orange. Come on now, Ridge, you can't talk shit like this without changing colors. How about orangey-yellow? Yellowy-orange?

It's clear that the primary colors just aren't working for us, as they don't communicate what are apparently very nuanced levels of threat. May I suggest a Terror Threat Tinted Color Wheel?

"Uh oh, looks like the terror threat is at "Orange #ffbb00" today. Better stay home."


Interesting piece in the New York Times.

The Israel Debate, to a Beat
It was a standard enough hip-hop salute: "Peace!" But then came the response: "Justice!"

For the handful of Israeli M.C.'s who performed at the Prospect Park Band Shell last Thursday in a concert called the Unity Sessions, the two concepts go together: no peace in the Holy Land without justice. "You can never say let's live together and then have this thing called occupation," shouted T. N., a Palestinian from the town of Lod, near Tel Aviv. "They call it democracy," he added to growing jeers from the crowd. "It's democracy for Jews and Zionism for Arabs."

T. N. — a k a Tamer Nafar, a wiry 25-year-old who raps in quick torrents of Arabic — is part of the growing Israeli hip-hop scene, which barely existed a decade ago but has become one of the most potent forms of pop culture in the Middle East.

With beats borrowed from Gang Starr and a Tribe Called Quest and lyrics inspired by the Beastie Boys and Tupac Shakur, Israeli rappers express a political urgency not often heard in hip-hop, whether in New York or any of the other corners of the world to which the music has spread.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


George W. Bush is questioning whether John Edwards has sufficient experience to be president. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


On NRO's the Corner:

It is not the Ms. Magazine Post-Election Cruise. Who would you rather sail the Caribbean with? Martha Burk, Eleanor Smeal and Carol Moseley Braun ("Feminist land excursions"!), etc. or Victor Davis Hanson, Rich Lowry, and Michelle Malkin, etc.? Sign up for the NR cruise here.

I'll choose C: Sail the Caribbean while having my intestines chewed out by badgers.

Monday, July 05, 2004


I was impressed, 11:30 am matinee on a Monday, a week after the film has been out, and the theater was still half full. Uncommon, in my experience.

The one point that I think the film drove home with strength: As president, George W. Bush is quite simply a man out of his depth. The most devastating moments in the film were those where Moore just let the tape run, such as the footage of Bush sitting in that Florida classroom after he’s been informed that America is under attack. Bush sits frozen, shifty eyed, scared shitless as he realizes that this job will require some work after all, and he won’t be able to coast through like he’s coasted through his entire life. As an anti-Bush tract, the film was excellent, and badly needed.

And the bit with Ashcroft singing “Let the Eagle Soar” was pure gold.

Apart from the Bush-as-schlep stuff, the film raises some important questions about the 9/11 attacks, the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, and the U.S.-Saudi relationship, but rather than attempt to answer them in any serious way, Moore basically says “kind of makes you go hmm…” and leaves it at that. I was put off by some of Moore’s chickenshit rhetorical constructions, such as “Is it unreasonable to wonder if when the Bushes wake up in the morning, they’re thinking of what’s good for the Saudis, not for America?” which reminded me immediately of the conspiratorial writings of Pat Robertson and David Horowitz, which are full of such devices (If you have to ask why I’ve actually read Robertson and Horowitz, my answer is that it’s for the same reason I always read Peggy Noonan: I feel that the best comedy is unintentional).

I had a hard time with Moore's use of footage of pre-war Iraq, of shiny happy people sitting in cafes, shiny happy children flying kites, the implication (again) being that Iraqi life was just grand before the Americans came in to spoil everything, which is so goofy it doesn’t deserve a response. For some reason, Moore chose not to include footage of shiny happy wives being raped and murdered in front of their shiny happy husbands, or of shiny happy political dissidents being dropped into shiny happy plastic-shredders, but maybe there just wasn’t time for that. It’s true that war is a horrible thing, as Moore’s collected combat footage shows in aching detail, but it’s not the worst thing.

Moore’s obvious implication throughout the film, and implication and innuendo, rather than assertion and substantiation, are his weapons of choice, is that Bush and his gang just don’t love America as you and I do, and are more interested in making money for their friends than they are in providing a better life for Americans. That may be true, but Moore doesn’t come close to demonstrating it. He does demonstrate, however, that there are uncomfortably close ties between the Bush Administration, the Saudis, Halliburton, and the Carlyle Group, ties which should be much better reported on and examined by the U.S. media.

Much as I probably agree with most of Moore’s liberal principles, I don’t enjoy that he trades in the same sort of pseudo-conspiratorial populism as Limbaugh and other conservative effluviators. The Right’s bogeymen are left-wing cultural elites and non-straight non-whites, whereas Moore’s are right-wing economic elites and multinational corporations, and though Moore certainly isn’t guilty of the same divisive, hateful speech as his conservative counterparts, he is, like them, guilty of encouraging his viewers to indulge their worst assumptions about the other side. That Moore might actually believe what he’s saying (or implying) where Limbaugh et al recognize that they are merely entertainers, strikes me as a weak defense, even if true.

That said, we need Moore. I’m surprised and glad that his film has been embraced by the liberal mainstream, and thrilled and entertained by the right-wing rage that the film’s success has induced. Is it good art? I don't think so, but it's great agitprop. It savages the government as much as any political theater I've seen, and does so with impunity. More important than the strengths or weaknesses of the film itself, though, are the questions which the film's success have made okay to ask, which I think was Moore's intention. In any case, I think he's performed a service to America with this film.

Friday, July 02, 2004


The identity of the author of Imperial Hubris is revealed.

And here I thought it was Joe Klein.

MARLON BRANDO, 1924-2004

There is a small handful of artists in the modern era who truly revolutionized their craft, artists who, at the moment they emerged, made everything else seem old. Picasso, Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan, Truffaut, a few others. And Marlon Brando.

The first thing I ever saw Brando in was as Jor-El in the first Superman film. I remember hearing that he got a lot of money to be in the film, and that he took all his lines on cue cards. There was a strange reverence with which people spoke of him that I didn’t quite yet understand. He wasn’t slumming by being in a superhero picture, rather his presence raised the quality of the movie.

Eventually I made my way back through his catalog, Apocalypse Now (“The harah, the harah…”), One-Eyed Jacks (“Raisins? I got raisins…”), The Godfather (which I studiously watch at least once a year), but it wasn’t until I got around to On the Waterfront that I really got Brando, really understood what it was all about. In a career filled with amazing, true portrayals, his portrayal of Terry Malloy stands out. It’s a jewel, a treasure. It moved me as much as anything I’ve ever seen in films, or experienced in art, period.

Mr. Brando, thank you very much.

Thursday, July 01, 2004


Great article by Tamara Wittes.

Dovetailing american interventions to domestic Arab demands will insulate us (if only somewhat) from charges of imposing imperial diktats on the region. It will also improve the effectiveness of our interventions and improve as well the fortunes of those Arab liberals who, we hope, will eventually emerge as viable political candidates and leaders who can drown out the tired autocrats, the populist Islamists, and the leftist national socialists who retain some loyalty in certain countries. So we must pay heed to what Arab liberals are saying.

And Arab liberals, especially since the overthrow of Saddam, are increasingly willing to speak their minds. Most recently, in March 2004, a conference in Alexandria, Egypt, of activists from across the region produced a document of surprising ambition, which defined their goal as "a system where freedom is [the] paramount value that ensures actual sovereignty of the people and government by the people through political pluralism, leading to transfer of power." The Alexandria document, while acknowledging the need to resolve festering regional conflicts, also called for the elimination of all emergency laws; the dissolution of all special security courts (used to punish dissenters out of the public eye and beyond the rule of law); and constitutional reforms including term limits, shifting power away from the executive branch, and affirming the sovereignty of law over even the best-intentioned political leader.

...We should not ask or expect to be embraced as saviors by Arab liberals—even those, like Saad Eddin Ibrahim, whom we help to free from prison. In the current context of U.S.-Arab relations, many liberals still vehemently disagree with U.S. policies in Iraq, Israel, and the war on terrorism. They voice resentment of America's overweening influence in their region and will continue to do so. But we should support them anyway. Enabling their success while not claiming it as our own is the most important thing we can do now to help liberals gain credibility in their own societies and to repair our credibility with them.

In the final analysis, the sincerity of America's intentions can only be demonstrated over time, through a credible pro-democracy strategy that is honest about the difficult choices it requires both from us and from our erstwhile Arab allies and that invests America's considerable resources in making those choices correctly. If America tries to hedge its bets against Islamists by acquiescing in the regimes' attempt to forestall their peoples' inevitable and just demands, it will produce only backsliding and the added bitterness of promises betrayed. A sustainable and successful policy is robust support of the emerging Arab liberals and the alternative future they represent.

For all of the (many) downsides resulting from Bush's mishandling of the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, it's clear that the end of Saddam's regime removed a significant impediment to reform in the region. Unfortunately, the major impediment, the Israel-Palestine conflict, remains as intractable as it's ever been. Any serious effort by the U.S. to cultivate Middle East reform must address that, but unfortunately on this issue Bush is hamstrung both by his advisers and by his dependance on the nutball Christian Zionist vote.


A little background on John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Question: Is having past experience covering up human rights violations now some sort of requirement for a Middle East appointment? Or is it experience as a bullshitter that's the important thing?


In addition to having hands-down the worst haircut of any world leader, Kim Jong Il is apparently quite a gourmand.

An institute in Pyongyang, staffed by some of North Korea's best-trained doctors, is devoted to ensuring that he eats not only the most delectable, but also the most healthy foods, all the more important for the 1.53m Mr Kim, whose weight once pushed 90kg.

'The purpose of the institute is 100 per cent to prolong the life of Kim Jong Il,' said Dr Seok Young Hwan, a physician who worked there and later defected to South Korea. He said 200 professionals were working just in the division that handled Mr Kim's diet.

So insistent is he on eating the best of everything that he sends trusted couriers on shopping missions around the world.

His sushi-chef-turned-author, who writes under the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, revealed that he made trips to Iran and Uzbekistan to buy caviar, to Denmark to buy pork, to western China to buy grapes and to Thailand for mangoes and papayas.

Once, on a whim, Mr Kim sent him to Tokyo to pick up a particular herb-scented rice cake. Mr Fujimoto calculated that each bite-size cake ended up costing about US$120 (S$205).

This while his starving people are literally eating tree bark.