Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A Short Good-Bye

Got this in my work mailbox today. Hand delivered.

----- Newspaper policy on personal Web sites and Web logs (blogs)

Editorial staffers (editors, reporters, and photographers) may operate personal Web sites, Web logs (blogs) or chat rooms only with the prior approval of their editor. Such Web sites, blogs and chat rooms may not contain content dealing in any way with the subject areas that the employees cover or reasonably might be expected to cover. The editor may withdraw approval of an editorial staffer's operation of a Web site, blog or chat room at any time.

It is especially important that editorial staffers do not express personal opinions - on their Web sites or in their blogs or chat rooms - on news subjects or issues that they cover. Such publication of personal opinion casts doubt on their impartiality, ultimately calling into question the newspaper's commitment to fairness.

Editorial staffers who operate their own Web sites, blogs or chat rooms may not use ----- Newspaper computers or other office facilities for that purpose. They may not work on their Web sites, blogs or chat rooms during office work hours.

Editorial staffers who operate their own Web sites, blogs or chat rooms are not permitted to trade on their newspaper positions. They may not lingk their personal sites, blogs or chat rooms to the ----- Newspapers' Web site nor to ------ Newspapers' articles. Personal Web sites, blogs or chat rooms may not use column names or any other identifying information or wording that connects the writer to ----- Newspapers.

Editorial staffers who have their own Web sites, blogs or chat rooms must notify their newspaper editor of the existence and the address of these Web publications. Staff members and correspondents agree that ----- Newspapers can access and review these personal Web sites, blogs or chat rooms at any time. Editorial staffers will, when requested to do so, provide reasonable assistance to ----- Newspapers in retrieving any archived or deleted materials from such Web sites, blogs or chat rooms.

An editorial staffer who violates this policy will face disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

Well, that's the end of the line for me. Since I often sit at the wire desk and make decisions about which national and international news stories get published in the next day's edition of the ------ ------, the line about "may not contain content dealing in any way with the subject areas that the employees cover or reasonably might be expected to cover" precludes me from writing about current events in any form.

Of course, this is the same organization that allows extended dinner breaks to my peers (some of whom also work the wire desk) so they can attend anti-war rallies or protest local appearances by Bush. It's hard to point a camera at a local pro-Kerry rally without catching two or three of our staff, and they're not standing off to the side taking notes.

It's been nice knowing you all.

Rugrats Politics

This was excerpted on one of the big-deal anti-war/anti-Bush blogs. It comes from a like-minded blogger whose site has "bushlies" as part of its URL. It described the blogger's advice to a Kerry staffer about Iraq:

On a Washington street corner, he now asked me how he had done. You have a tough job, I responded. The Bush campaign has succeeded in convincing the mainstream media that the key question is, what is Kerry's plan for Iraq? Not, say, what is Bush's plan for Iraq?

Notice how the election has three components: Bush, Kerry, media. People -- voters -- are just passive observers. Both sides may do that, but I hate it. But notice, too, how the whole thing starts to look like that old TV commercial about two little kids arguing over which one is going to eat the "cereal that's supposed to be good for you." Does this person really think that if I want to know Kerry's plans for Iraq, that means I don't care what Bush's are?

If Kerry is so fortunate to win on November 2, he won't take office until January 20, and the situation in Iraq could be dramatically different. Any specific plan he tossed out now could be--and probably would be--totally irrelevant at that point.

Yes, we know the calendar. And most of us out here in passive voter land are smart enough to understand that the situation could change. But we'd still like to know just a teensy bit about what your candidate might do if confronted with the present situation. We promise to take it in the spirit of a hypothetical situation, OK? Because Iraq might be totally different in a few months. Or it might not.

Or Kerry could pick some moment in the past year and say, with hindsight, in general terms, "this is what I would have done different in setting up an Iraqi government," or "this is how I would have handled the Fallujah problem."

Instead, Kerry always seems to stop at the water's edge of the decision to topple Saddam. He'll tell us what he would have done at that point -- which is to overthrow Saddam ... or maybe not -- but nothing more. So if I have a choice between the current bungling and someone who won't even give me a hint what kind of bungler he might be, I'm sticking with the evil I know.

Yet Republicans and echo-chamber reporters keep asking Kerry to state precisely how he would undo Bush's mess.

Ah, bingo. "Bush's mess." That "little kid" attitude again. "I didn't do it. It's not my fault." That's exactly what I don't want in a leader, and exactly what I fear about Kerry, whatever he may say. This war isn't his legacy. If he succeeds in Iraq, he'll just be polishing Dubya's image for history, at the cost of time and effort he could have devoted to building a legacy of his own. Men who get themselves nominated to the presidency have enormous vanity.

The kid stuff continues:

"I have two young daughters at home," I said to this Kerry aide. "If one takes a glass jar and throws it on the ground of their bedroom and smashes it into thousands of pieces, I don't point my finger at the other one and say, 'Okay, what's your plan for cleaning this up.' "

Nope. You take the one who "didn't do it" out of the room, and you keep the one who "did it" in charge of the situation till the mess is cleaned up.

Good strategy, guy.

Boy Who Cried Wolfowitz

In the past six months I've probably seen a dozen pieces saying essentially the same thing as this article in Tuesday's International Herald Trib.

Once upon a time the U.S. secretary of state went to the UN Security Council and cried, "Wolf!" He said that the evil Saddam Hussein had been building weapons of mass destruction and posed an immediate threat to the United States and the world. Over 1,000 American deaths later, there are no WMDs to be found.

Wrong, of course, but let it pass. From there the article recites the usual litany. The 2003 State of the Union uranium claim, "exposed as phony early on." Wrong, too, but let that pass.

The United States cried wolf, and the world shuddered and watched as the most powerful country threw its weight around and took over Iraq and all of its resources, including its future.

There were no weapons of mass destruction, but there was oil and the possibility of redrawing the map of the Middle East to suit the narrow interests of the few. The few who cried wolf in the name of the American republic. The world wondered if it could ever believe the United States again.

All the usual paranoid nonsense. The same people who have said all their adult lives that the U.S. can never be trusted, is never worth trusting, the same people who can recite chapter and verse on Chile and Nicaragua and Vietnam and Wounded Knee, now claim that the U.S. squandered a vast reserve of "moral authority" that they always denied it ever had. They've told anyone who would listen that the U.S. is a greedy criminal hyper-violent corporate-ruled empire. But it's a scandal -- and George W. Bush's fault -- that the world actually believes them.

In this case, the old double standard is put to service in the interest of blaming the suffering in Darfur on the Americans.

Yes, you read that right. Arab militias, backed by an Islamic fundamentalist government which has a major arms deal with Russia, perpetrate the massacres. The U.S. presses the U.N. to act, but the French and Chinese, with huge investments in Sudan's oil industry, keep pulling the teeth of any resolution that reaches the Security Council. Both China and Russia, meanwhile, want to reserve the right to handle their own restive ethnic minorities the way the Sudanese are. Temporary Security Council members like Pakistan and Algeria won't break with the Arab League, which wants to downplay the whole matter and prevent anything that looks like an intervention.

In this crazy world we inhabit, that is America's fault. Because, you see, "the people of Darfur cannot count on the international community to save them from genocide because the country most outspoken against Khartoum is a country that lost its credibility because it cried wolf."

What's depressing is that this nuttiness isn't spewing from some aloof Euro-intelligensia type or a conspiracy-mad "Asia Times" columnist; it's written by the "executive director of Africa Action, the oldest Africa advocacy organization in the United States." So, theoretically, this is someone who has long-term firsthand knowledge of the spirit and complexity of the American people and political scene, as well as a someone whose first mission is to help Africans. Yet all that goes out the window for the sake of a fixation with the "Boy Who Cried Wolf."

The trouble with the boy who cried wolf fable is that it presents a world where "the boy" has all the power. The sheep are, well, they're sheep. Even the wolf is obeying his natural instincts and is blameless. The people in the village do nothing until the boy sounds the alarm. They're presumably baking muffins or playing two-deck canasta, or doing whatever it is villagers in fairy tales do when they're off-camera.

Those stories they told you in Sunday school are homilies. They're morality tales for 50-year-olds. They do not stand in for a mentally muscular geopolitical vision.
There's one power, and one villain, and they unite in the boy. That's the world-view of a lot of people. The odd part is, this false fable-world is claimed by people who also claim not to want to live in that world.

Yet I think I understand that. There's a great convenience in a world haunted by a monster. Hrothgar's great hall in "Beowulf" is dreary and deteriorated. His men -- some blame-shifters and idle boasters like Unferth -- have been sleeping in outbuildings for 12 years: wise men brooding and helpless while the monster reigns. By the time the hero arrives to kill the beast not everyone in Denmark is glad to see him. Everything is simple when all failures are fault of the monster. People who like simple worlds, but are daunted by the complexity and tragedy of living in this real one, can play at being villagers in The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

"Any of the 135 states that are signatories to the 1948 Convention on Genocide could demand international intervention."

But, apparently, only one of them is capable of doing it. I thought that the unilateral world was the nightmare of the anti-Americans. So do something about it, you one-hundred-thirty-four others. Push America off to the sidelines, sit us in the time-out chair and get off your butts and solve a damn problem on your own for once. We won't stop you. France? Germany? Kofi Annan? Go get 'em, tiger. I hope it works out better than it did in Somalia and Rwanda and Bosnia, but go for it.

Oh, and thanks to the author for reminding us all of the better rationale for the legal war against Saddam Hussein. The U.S. government didn't go the "human rights" route for whatever reason, no doubt in part because of the embarrassing truth that it neglected to topple Saddam long ago, and actively propped him for years.

I think that was a mistake. I thought so, and said so, ever since I met Kurdish refugees in Germany in 1979. Plenty of people in the U.S. were calling Saddam a killer all along and denouncing the Western administrations that played ball with him. I seem to be the only one in my acquaintance who is still saying that. To the rest, the only thing worse than the U.S. backing Saddam is the U.S. not backing Saddam. It upsets the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" world.

I'd have said, suck up the humiliation of admitting we were wrong, or that we made a really ugly choice out of necessity. If you've done wrong, don't wallow in it; get up and do right instead. And it would be fair to expect people to understand that 9/11 was, among other things, a great growing-up moment for this country. Like in the other fairy tales, the more complex ones, where the protagonist learns through loss and the weak boy emerges as a man in full.

Having made a mistake for years doesn't require you to keep making it -- unless you're the world's designated Boy Who Cried Wolf. If he stops being the villain, there's no more fable. Then outside America people have to think. And sometimes act.

"But the Security Council procrastinated, preoccupied as it was with Iraq."

Oh, fer chrissakes. The Security Council was done with Iraq in April 2003, after it failed to stop the U.S. and its allies from going to war. That's about the time Darfur moved up the agenda. In the year and a half since then, the U.N. has been incapable of doing anything about Sudan? I never knew preventing the Americans and their allies from overthrowing a dictator was so exhausting. It seems the rest of the world had to take a pill and go lie down for a few years.

Honestly, if the Security Council can't handle more than one issue at a time, it really is as lame as its worst critics say.

Once upon a time, Washington could have exercised its clout as the most powerful nation in the world and handily won over the support of these recalcitrant members. But now, the country that cried wolf has lost the moral authority it needs to rally its global neighbors to real action against genocide in Darfur.

Wait a minute. You "win over" other nations with "clout"? You "rally" them with "power"? And "clout" + "power" = "moral authority"? There are a number of ways to understand this paragraph, but they don't reflect well on the author. Perhaps he thinks bullying equals "moral authority."

Or perhaps he wrote himself into a spot where he had to offer a glowing vision of America as a nation with freedoms worth admiring, a force for good in the world (only for one clause, just long enough to say, "and then it threw it all away") but he just can't bring himself to write anything so positive. He wouldn't be the first, gods know. So the farthest he can go toward expressing America's "virtues" is to write in terms of naked power.

And is genocide really something that the rest of the world won't care about unless the Americans do?

But none of that matters, because the writer is just hurrying past that fleeting vision of a decent America to get to the happy reality that the rest of the world is now off the hook for anything bad that will occur anywhere from now till doomsday.

Thus the war in Iraq has now claimed another 50,000 victims -- this time in Sudan. ... In the tale of the boy who cried wolf, it was the boy himself who suffered the consequences of his actions. This time, it's two million people in Darfur.

The author of this article wants action, swift and sure, to stem the genocide, and he wanted it yesterday. I understand that; Darfur is a crime. Yet he won't leave the comforting myth-world of the "Boy Who Cried Wolf." He wants to be able to kick the Americans for doing nothing, and at the same time scold them for losing their power to do something, and at the same time absolve the rest of the world of any responsibility for itself, and at the same time damn the United States for thinking the rest of the world can't take care of itself.

In the end, to this Africa advocate, the slaughtered Africans of Darfur are just sheep in a story that is all about the boy.

Memo to Mike

These are Minutemen ...

And these are terrorists ...

Any questions?

Not Evil, Just Misunderstood

Banagor answers the burning question: "Why don't we just give Osama what he wants?"

Our Front Page Tomorrow

Big 48-point headline in the lede story position (upper righthand corner): "Kerry Attacks Bush on Iraq." The New York Times version of the story. It celebrates Kerry's "stinging critique" of Bush's "colossal failures of judgment." The fact that Kerry said (this time) he wouldn't have overthrown Saddam is blurred into the text and not explicit anywhere in the top of the story. Bush's reaction -- even the fact that Bush had a reaction -- is buried deeper than CBS's reputation. It doesn't appear until well into the jump -- well after most people will have stopped reading.

Down below the fold, at about 30 point, is the CBS apology story. New York Times version, again. Highly sympathetic to CBS, compared to what might have been written.

Oh, and way down in the lower lefthand corner, in a headline about 18 points high, "American hostage beheaded in Iraq." It's not even a story. Just a little teaser to a story inside, stacked up on top of the weather icon (going to be foggy here tomorrow) and a blurb about interest rates.

That's the world my co-workers inhabit. That's their image of what matters, and how much it matters. I'm sure many of you will say, "what's wrong with that?" That's because it's your view, too, of the relative weight of things, the proper spin.

But for a big swath of America, that's not the world we live in. We've never thought of ourselves as a people of consensus. But the last four years have fractured the illusion of a coherent worldview of the American people. There at least used to be a "center" here, among the fringes. And the mass media both inhabited and buttressed that.

Now the erosion of newspaper readers and viewers who only see network TV news has worn away the center. Everytime we run an obituary, we lose a reader. There are no young newspaper subscribers. The network news for years has subsisted on ads for senior citizen projects. Poli-Grip, Depends, insurance. They know who's watching. America's consensus is a bundle of broken mirrors.

The news media in America sees its purpose as a check against the power of the administration in the White House. Being generally liberal in outlook, reporters and editors will find themselves in a more contrarian position to a GOP administration than to a Democratic one. This will happen even when there is no deliberate attempt to politicize the media.

Local yokel newspaper editorial writers are harder on the county commissioners than they are on street gang criminals. That makes sense, to a point. But only to a point. Just so, in the U.S. media world-view, Muslim fundamentalists are a secondary issue; they don't read newspaper editorials. They don't wither from bad press. As one of my fellow editors said after another Iraq beheading, "terrorism-schmerrorism; it's all Bush's fault."

But to a lot of Americans, the Islamist who slit the throats of "Christian dogs," not George W. Bush, are their enemy, their focus, their fear. And our page 1 that people unfold at their breakfast tables tomorrow will look, to a lot of them, upside down.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Chomskyite Co-Worker Quote of the Day

Raving about "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the Clarke book:

"I know what I feel. I like to read the facts that support that."

Runner up: Boasting about finding a "triumphant" looking picture of Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia to put on page 1 to "rub the faces" of the readers in the fact that the Europeans defeated the Americans in the Ryder Cup. The Spain element was important to him, for some reason; because they bailed out on us in Iraq, I suppose.

Now, people tell me that strident anti-war politicians and entertainment figures are true patriots, with a love of country in their hearts. But I have to judge the ones I don't know in terms of the ones I do.

Sayonara, Iraq?

Robert Novak lays out a depressing (to me) vision of the U.S. abandoning Iraq, even if Bush wins re-election.

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.

This prospective policy is based on Iraq's national elections in late January, but not predicated on ending the insurgency or reaching a national political settlement. Getting out of Iraq would end the neoconservative dream of building democracy in the Arab world. The United States would be content having saved the world from Saddam Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction.


The end product would be an imperfect Iraq, probably dominated by Shia Muslims seeking revenge over long oppression by the Sunni-controlled Baathist Party. The Kurds would remain in their current semi-autonomous state. Iraq would not be divided, reassuring neighboring countries -- especially Turkey -- that are apprehensive about ethnically divided nations.

Victor Davis Hanson, on the other hand, makes the case for why this would be a terrible idea.

We have already done something like that before — many times. What rippled out afterwards was not pretty. American helicopters flying off the embassy roof in Saigon in 1975 gave us the climate for the Soviets in Afghanistan, Communists in Central America, and embassy hostage-taking in Tehran. Ignoring murders in Lebanon, New York, East Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, or lobbing an occasional cruise missile as tit-for-tat payback when terrorists harvested one too many expendable Americans abroad, ensured us September 11. In our loony world, losing credible deterrence (and we would) is an invitation for disaster — as bin Laden himself illustrated when he logically thought that the toppling of the World Trade Center would be followed by another Black Hawk Down American pullback.


We also have a moral stake in Iraq, whose people have suffered from 30 years of Baathist state terror and terrible fatalities in three losing wars. Our defeat of Iraq in 1991, our subsequent abandonment of the Kurds and Shiites to a wounded Saddam Hussein, twelve years of occupying Iraqi airspace, the corrupt U.N. embargo, and the recent final defeat of the Baathists brought untold misery to the Iraqi people.

In contrast, for the last year and a half, the United States has paid a high price to ensure the Iraqis a chance for the first humane and civilized government in the entire Arab Middle East. If it was callous to abandon the Shiites and Kurds in 1991, it is certainly right now to ensure that Saddam's gulag is not superseded by either a Taliban theocracy or a Lebanon-like cesspool.


For all these reasons and more, something like "See ya, wouldn't want to be ya" is the absolute worst prescription for Iraq — both for America and those Iraqis who are counting on us in their historic efforts to reclaim their country from barbarism. Amid the daily car bombings in Iraq, murder in Russia, and slaughter in the Middle East, we cannot see much hope — but it is there, and we are winning on a variety of fronts as the world continues to shrink for the Islamic fascist and those who would abet him.

Zeyad, at "Healing Iraq," also has a grim, but probably essentially accurate, vision of what would happen if America left in the near future.

All three groups [Sunni extremists/Ba'athists, foreign fighters, and Sadr's Al-Mahdi militia] have a common enemy at the moment, but each has a different goal in mind. The first two groups watch the actions of the third with growing concern, which I think is the reason they postpone their activities when Al-Mahdi take up arms. It is in their best interest that Sadr is neutralised, otherwise he would prove a powerful adversary in the future.

The most likely scenario in the event of a premature withdrawal of occuppation forces is this: Sadr will move to gain control of the south and most of Baghdad, other Shi'ites will submit by intimidation. The Marji'iya will have no power to intervene unless they are willing to allow a violent civil war between the various Shi'ite factions. Iran is likely to interfere, but perhaps not directly.

At the same time, Sunni elements will move to consolidate their power over their areas. The fundamental foreign and Salafi constituent would be too weak to control any area. Each town would be virtually independent until the strongest (and most ruthless) group can control the Sunni areas north of Baghdad. The Kurdish region would break off the rest of Iraq and the Peshmerga would move to control oil fields in Kirkuk. Later, there would be a bloody confrontation between the different groups until one subjugates the others and controls the country, this would probably take years and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would die, many more would try to leave Iraq.

"Fahrenheit 1941"

Many people loathe Michael Moore's America-mocking "Fahrenheit 9/11." I'm one of them. But to simply dismiss it and insult the filmmaker's girth is to miss the depth of the depraved genius in it. The movie is a very capable bit of propaganda. It is right out of the school of Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" films from World War II.

Yet the nefarious irony in that comparison is that while Capra's depictions were meant to rally Americans to uphold the torch of freedom and overcome latent isolationism in the name of civilization, Moore's modern equivalent is propaganda made here at home for the benefit of the enemy. The religious authorities in Iran, for instance, scrapped the scheduled program at the Farabi Cinema complex in Tehran to put Moore's masterpiece on display. "This film unmasks the Great Satan America," a spokesman said. "It tells Muslim people why they are right in hating America. It is the duty of every believer to see [this film] and learn the truth."

"Prelude to War" won the Academy Award for best documentary of 1942. Moore wants his to win best picture of 2004. How ironic is it that the most significant piece of Hollywood propaganda produced in this war is lauded by the people who would burn Hollywood to ash and sow its soil with salt if they had the chance?

Yet he fed it to us, and we ate it up.

Capra's propaganda films began as orientation pieces for U.S. troops. At Roosevelt's urging, they were released in public theaters as well. Capra's bright idea was to damn the enemy with his own work. Instead of shooting new film, he picked out snippets of existing footage and pasted them together in a way that presented a grotesque vision of the Axis.

Capra's raw material was millions of feet of confiscated or captured newsreels and propaganda films; he even used Japanese samurai movies and domestic dramas from the 1930s. With his legendary cutting-room skills and his eye for bold juxtapositions he made America and her allies shine (including the murderous Soviet Union), and showed off the Axis -- not just its leaders but the whole people of Italy, Germany, and Japan -- as demonic: regimented nations of ruthless killers, blindly devoted to their leaders. The enemies' menace contrasted with the freedoms and accomplishments of the Americans and their allies; the free world and the fascists; the Allied "way of life" vs. the Axis "way of death."

Like Capra, Moore mostly used footage shot by others when he cobbled together "Fahrenheit 9/11." The IMDB "cast" list for the film names 40 public figures; of these, 37 are credited as from "archival footage." Even the common soldiers portrayed often weren't filmed by Moore. Some are from an Australian documentary, "Soundtrack to War," and were used despite the objection of film-maker George Gittoes.

"I was concerned of course for my soldiers because their interviews were taken out of context," Gittoes told the Nine Network. "There are about 17 scenes from my documentary in his film. I wouldn't go so far as to say he lifted (them). Michael got access to my stuff and assumed that I would be happy for it to be in 9/11. I would actually have been quite happy for it not to be in 9/11." Gittoes said he had no idea his work was in "Fahrenheit 9/11" until it was screened at the Cannes film festival.

Moore's archival footage of Baghdad before the invasion shows the kind of happy glow Capra might have given to the American hearth: "a place filled with nothing but happy, smiling, giggly, overjoyed Baghdadis. No pain and suffering there. No rape, murder, gassing, imprisoning, silencing of the citizens in these scenes." [Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine weblog] And where Capra showed the devastated cities of China strewn with civilian corpses, Moore gives us a U.S. military campaign in Iraq that seems to have killed only women and children.

Even when he does use his own footage, Moore edits it mercilessly to make it say what he insists is true. Rep. Mark Kennedy, one of the lawmakers buttonholed by Moore and asked why he won't send his children to fight in Iraq, ends up on the screen looking "bewildered and defensive." It was such a good few seconds that Moore put it in his trailer. But that was the initial shock of the accosting. The rest of the exchange, as transcribed on Moore's own Web site goes, in part, like this:

Moore: Is there any way you could help me with that?

Kennedy: How would I help you?

Moore: Pass it out to other members of Congress.

Kennedy: I’d be happy to — especially those who voted for the war. I have a nephew on his way to Afghanistan.

But that, of course, ends up on the cutting room floor. Meanwhile, another Congressman among those Moore says would not "sacrifice their children" in Iraq is Mike Castle of Delaware, who has no children.

A scene that has been re-enacted at least a dozen times in my hearing by the denizens of my newsroom is the one where Bush speaks to a tuxedoed audience and says, "I call you the haves and the have-mores. Some call you the elite; I call you my base."

The joke follows several segments in which Bush is accused of having started the Iraq war to enrich big corporations. Juxtaposition, juxtaposition, juxtaposition. The speech actually comes from the Oct. 19, 2000, Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. Bush and Gore were the co-guests of honor at the event, and they followed the dinner's tradition of speakers poking fun at themselves. So far from raking in plutocrat gold, Bush was speaking at an annual dinner that raises money for Catholic hospital charities in New York City.

Another big laugh-line is the one where Condoleezza Rice says, "Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11." Here is what Rice really said on the CBS Early Show, Nov. 28, 2003:

Oh, indeed there is a tie between Iraq and what happened on 9/11. It’s not
that Saddam Hussein was somehow himself and his regime involved in 9/11, but, if you think about what caused 9/11, it is the rise of ideologies of hatred that lead people to drive airplanes into buildings in New York. This is a great terrorist, international terrorist network that is determined to defeat freedom. It has perverted Islam from a peaceful religion into one in which they call on it for violence. And they're all linked. And Iraq is a central front because, if and when, and we will, we change the nature of Iraq to a place that is peaceful and democratic and prosperous in the heart of the Middle East, you will begin to change the Middle East ....

Capra didn't want to be a propagandist at first. When Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall approached him with the idea, he demurred, saying he'd never made a documentary before. Marshall told him, "Capra, I have never been Chief of Staff before. Thousands of young Americans have never had their legs shot off before. Boys are commanding ships today who a year ago had never seen the ocean before." Capra apologized and signed on to make "the best damned documentary films ever made." After he began the project he said that all he had to do was let the enemy be himself on film, "and our fighting men will know why they are in uniform."

Michael Moore doesn't have to be talked into propaganda. He wallows in it. And just like Capra, he knows very clearly who the enemy is, who the heroes are, what he hates, and why:

"The motivation for war is simple. The U.S. government started the war with Iraq in order to make it easy for U.S. corporations to do business in other countries. They intend to use cheap labor in those countries, which will make Americans rich."


"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win."

He fed it to us, and we ate it up. The modern-day Capra is working for the benefit of the new Nazis. He's so powerful John Kerry is afraid to speak his name. Yet the most rabid Kerry backers in my precinct chant it like a mantra to one another.

My blowhard Chomskyite co-workers think he's the most important man alive. One dismissed the attrocities of Sherman's march through Georgia in 1864 as of no moral importance, saying, "That was OK because we did it to ourselves." The same person's reaction to our banner headline coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks was, "don't you think we're going overboard about this?"

I recognized the same voice, and the same mentality, when I read Ed Koch's account of a post-9/11 conversation with Moore, in which the filmmaker said, "I don't know why we are making so much of an act of terror. It is three times more likely that you will be struck by lightning than die from an act of terror."

Like a lot of people in this election, I find myself preparing to cast a negative vote. I'm not "for" George Bush. I'm for "anyone but Michael Moore."

Sunday, September 19, 2004

As a Matter of Fact ...

...he does "hate us for our freedoms" (among other things).

Some samples from Bin Laden's 'Letter to America' for the benefit of those who think his objections to America are purely responses to "specific policies."

The second thing we call you to, is to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you.

We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling's, and trading with interest. We call you to all of this that you may be freed from that which you have become caught up in; that you may be freed from the deceptive lies that you are a great nation, that your leaders spread amongst you to conceal from you the despicable state to which you have reached.

It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind:

You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator. ...

You are a nation that permits the production, trading and usage of intoxicants. You also permit drugs, and only forbid the trade of them, even though your nation is the largest consumer of them.

You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom. You have continued to sink down this abyss from level to level until incest has spread amongst you, in the face of which neither your sense of honour nor your laws object.

Who can forget your President Clinton's immoral acts committed in the official Oval office? After that you did not even bring him to account, other than that he 'made a mistake', after which everything passed with no punishment. Is there a worse kind of event for which your name will go down in history and remembered by nations?

You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.

You are a nation that practices the trade of sex in all its forms, directly and indirectly. Giant corporations and establishments are established on this, under the name of art, entertainment, tourism and freedom, and other deceptive names you attribute to it.

And because of all this, you have been described in history as a nation that spreads diseases that were unknown to man in the past. Go ahead and boast to the nations of man, that you brought them AIDS as a Satanic American Invention.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

An Immutable Law

Britain had ruled Egypt for 24 years when Gertrude Bell, travelling in Syria and seeing the local leaders chafing under Ottoman misrule, wrote this:

"Nevertheless, the moral is obvious: all over Syria and even in the desert, whenever a man is ground down by injustice or mastered by his own incompetence, he wishes he were under the rule that has given wealth to Egypt, and our occupation of that country, which did so much at first to alienate from us the sympathies of Mohammedans, has proved the finest advertisement of English methods of government."

To which, editing the manuscript, she added this footnote, addressing the rebellion which had erupted in Egypt in June 1906. It began when peasants, mistaking the gunfire as hostile, attacked British soldiers who were shooting pigeons, killing one, and the British governor ordered harsh reprisals.

"The present unrest in Egypt may seem to throw a doubt upon the truth of these observations, but I do not believe this to be the case. The Egyptians have forgotten the miseries from which our administration rescued them, the Syrians and the people of the desert are still labouring under them, and in their eyes the position of their neighbours is one of unalloyed and enviable ease. But when once the wolf is driven from the door, the restraints imposed by an immutable law eat into the temper of a restless, unstable population accustomed to reckon with misrule and to profit by the frequent laxity and occasional opportunities of undeserved advancement which characterise it. Justice is a capital thing when it guards your legal rights, but most damnable when you wish to usurp the rights of others."

["The Desert and the Sown," 1907]

Friday, September 17, 2004

Truth and Propaganda

Atop a grieving Statue of Libery, the demonic-looking U.S. president waves a banner reading "democracy," but in his other fist he clutches the club of "dictatorship." Around him, on the statue's crown points, a young woman hangs in fetters, "anti-war" soldiers carouse, U.S. workers protest, and a clown in a dunce cap emblazoned with the Star of David inflates a stars-and-stripes balloon.

The latest from Ted Rall or Michael Moore? Something from the Middle Eastern press or "Le Monde?" No, the president caricatured is Roosevelt, and the image is by the great Japanese illustrator Ono Saseo, and it graced the pages of the January 1942 issue of the Japanese magazine "Manga."

When John W. Dower's "War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War" was published, in 1986, the book was reviewed and analized in terms of the current economic war between the U.S. and Japan. That conflict frames his concluding chapter. But reading the book now, in the light of the U.S. war on Islamist terror, the examples of World War II offer a template to current events.

If that was "The Good War," then the one we're fighting now, in Iraq and elsewhere, is so much "better."

Despite what you've been told. Because of the closing of the World War II generation in these years, we are saluting the veterans of that war with reverence. The current battle is held up, on the other hand, in many quarters, as a shabby and cruel excuse for a real fair fight, a stark contrast to America's great war.

Yet the care taken in Afghanistan and Iraq to avoid killing innocents; the care taken by our people to avoid crude caricatures of the enemy's culture (instead we seem intent on making crude caricatures of ourselves); and the differentiation of the mass of "good" people in the enemy lands, whom we are trying to help, from the handful of "evil" ones, is something utterly alien to the U.S., British, and Australian war against the Japanese. So is the mere possibility of considering that those who attacked us had, on some level, legitimate grievances.

As international geo-political experiences, the War with Japan and the War on Islamism can't be compared. Bin Laden and the Islamists lack a nation, a navy (though they do have kamikaze pilots), a capital, a land, a people. But on the clash of civilizations level, these things are not the defining qualities of a conflict. They affect tactics and strategies, but they are not essentials.

The Islamists can bully governments like Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, and (formerly) Afghanistan to get the land they need, when they need it. They can strong-arm cowardly dictators like the Saudis when they need cash. Their "people" is dispersed throughout the Islamic world, from which they draw what they need for their military operations, which, being mostly of a smash-and-grab nature, rarely require concentrated forces. And as for weapons, who needs a carrier fleet when one man can sink a destroyer with a balsa wood raft or deliver Hell in the back of a rented van?

The war the U.S. and Japan waged in the Pacific in 1941-45 was incalculably more intense in brutality, mutual racist loathing, and sheer killing power than that waged by the U.S. against Germany and Italy in North Africa and Europe. It was felt to be so at the time, and this was borne out by statistics accumulated later. For instance, of the U.S. and U.K. men captured by the Germans and Italians, all but 4 percent survived captivity, while among Japan's Anglo-American POWs, 27 percent died.

Dower emphasizes the role of propaganda in all this, but he also points out the degree to which the horror stories from the battlefield didn't have to be invented. Genuine atrocities hardened the two sides against one another. Despite censorship and a media that seemed positively Stone Age by today's standards, images and inflamatory speeches found their way across the ocean and galvanized opinion in both nations.

A "Life" magazine photo of a U.S. tank decorated with a Japanese skull, grinning fleshlessly under its helmet, might have done as much as anything to instill in the Japanese soldier the certainty that it was better to die than to surrender to these barbarians.

In the U.S. media, the caricatures against the European Axis powers centered on Hitler and Mussolini. There were "good Germans" in the Western press. The enemies were "fascists" and "Nazis." In the Pacific, the enemy was "the Jap." They were denied even the grammatical multiplicity that would hint at individualism.

To the Japanese, the image of the hated West was stunningly similar to that put forth by Bin Laden and his ilk: decadent, materialistic, racist, bent on world domination. The Japanese felt they were a divine race, with a destiny to lead the world. Yet they felt pressed and weakened by the West, which they perceived as bent on world domination and direct economic strangulation of the Japanese civilization. The Japanese chafed under the disrespect shown in the West toward their civilization's power and glorious history; this situation was an inversion of the divine order. They also held specific and general grievances against the West, some of them more or less legitimate.

Japan told itself it had lashed out in the name of survival against an enemy bent on hegemony and economic control of crucial resources (oil, rubber, and tin in East Asia). What Americans saw as the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor was, in Japan, "the counteroffensive of the Oriental races against Occidental aggression."

And Dower writes that each combatant wove out of the other's reality, and of the other's self image, the grotesque parodies of propaganda:

"In everyday words, this first kind of stereotyping could be summed up in the statement: you are the opposite of what you say you are and the opposite of us, not peaceful but warlike, not good but bad. ... In the second form of stereotyping, the formula ran more like this: you are what you say you are, but that is itself reprehensible. On the part of the Japanese, this involved singling out the emphasis placed on individualism and profit making in the Western tradition, and presenting this as proof positive that Westerners were fundamentally selfish and greedy, devoted to self-aggrandizement at the expense of the community and the nation as a whole. Westerners, in turn, accepted Japanese emphasis on the primacy of the group or collectivity at face value, and used this as prima facie evidence that the Japanese were closer to cattle or robots than to themselves. One side's idealized virtues easily fed the other side's racial prejudices."

The propaganda proved tremendously malleable. In the early months of the war, the Japanese rolled up easy victories, and this proved the flabbiness and cowardly nature of the West. When the Allies struck back, their fierce fighting and bombing raids proved to the Japanese that their foes were inhuman savages.

"Why Do They Hate Us?" (Another Try)

That was the Sept. 11 question, and it got two answers: "they hate us for our freedoms" and "they hate us for our policies." (Discounting the common Euro-elitist answer of, "Because everyone hates fat stupid Americans, of course.") People tended to accept one, scorn the other, and act accordingly. Is it possible that both are right?

Many in the Muslim world were furiously resentful of America before the terrorist attacks -- the dancing in the streets of Cairo as the people fell to their death from the towers certainly hints at that. And opinion polls bear it out. They have grown moreso since Sept. 11. Anger at and hatred of America is what unites the Islamist fanatics and the average Sunni Muslim Arabs who form their active and passive supporters.

And so the two answers converge: Islamist preachers rail against our freedoms and values, which they regard as decadent and irreligious, while our foreign policies and our dominant position in the world irritate many millions of people who otherwise accept and even embrace our "freedoms" (while denying that we actually embody those values).

Yet it is not a clear case of one answer from the Islamists, another from the people. In the section of the 9/11 Commission report titled "Bin Ladin’s Worldview," the authors outline the way Islamists tap in to some natural human instincts -- such as the yearning for order, the desire to be personally important, the dream of a lost golden age, the sense of the importance of one's own group.

Despite his claims to universal leadership, Bin Ladin offers an extreme view of Islamic history designed to appeal mainly to Arabs and Sunnis. He draws on fundamentalists who blame the eventual destruction of the Caliphate on leaders who abandoned the pure path of religious devotion. He repeatedly calls on his followers to embrace martyrdom since 'the walls of oppression and humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets.' For those yearning for a lost sense of order in an older, more tranquil world, he offers his 'Caliphate' as an imagined alternative to today’s uncertainty. For others, he offers simplistic conspiracies to explain their world.

Like the German Nazis, the Islamists exploit and pervert genuine situations (the Islamic civilization's current poverty and defeat, and its exaggerated remembrance of its past glory) and leaven them with the poison of a people's willingness to blame its problems on outsiders.

And the Middle Eastern resentment is not simply about specific policies of the U.S. government; down at its roots it also is about the fact that there is a West, flourishing and powerful, while the Islamic religion and civilization remain weak, divided and impoverished.

And here is where Islam itself presents a special problem. Because the religion, like most others but in a more intense degree, is embedded with a sense of its own specialness. It lacks a back-down position in conflict with the outside world. Such a result can be created or imposed on it, but it is artificial to anyone who takes the religion literally and seriously, as a great many of its adherents do.

Furthermore, despite the universality of Islam (which is genuine and scriptural) it always has retained a strong Arab-centered quality. It is a universal religion, but it is the core of the civilization of the Arabs. It can be adopted readily to nationalist purposes in the Middle East the way it cannot in, say, Indonesia or Chechnya. Hence the easy shift of 1950s secular Arab Nationalism into 1990s Islamism.

The presumption that Islam ought to be the dominant religion, and that Arab-led caliphate ought to hold power in the world, creates an intricate carpet-weave of religious fervor and racist nationalism. "Others" are wrong or inferior. Christianity, Judaism, and secularism are held in contempt, either benign or malicious. And the pre-eminence of Islam is continually asserted.

This has the advantage over the pure Arab Nationalism, because it hitches the same movement to God's natural order for the world, and frees it from the ultimately Western and non-Islamic rhetoric of Marxism and anti-colonialism.

So we're told by some that it is our policies that enflame the Arab world, and this has nothing to do with their religion. It merely forces them into the arms of Islamists whom they otherwise would object. But what policies? The answer there usually boils down to two: We encourage or allow repressive dictatorships in the Arab world, and we support the "Zionist entity," a thing so criminal and perverse in their eyes that they cannot even bear to name it.

The fixation with "corrupt rulers" is an immediate response to the anger of Arabs and Muslims who want a better life for themselves and their children. It is a legitimate grievance, and ought to be a source of shame to the United States, though many of the most brutish secular regimes -- Syria, Libya, Saddam's Iraq -- came to power without our intention and often persisted in spite of our opposition.

But this political objection is not divorced from Islam. The "corrupt rulers" theme is central in Islamist rhetoric and the Bin Laden version of history. "The extreme Islamist version of history blames the decline from Islam’s golden age on the rulers and people who turned away from the true path of their religion, thereby leaving Islam vulnerable to encroaching foreign powers eager to steal their land, wealth, and even their souls." [9-11 Commission]

It is true that many moderate Arab Muslims wish to live in peace and equality with other peoples and faiths. But it also is true that a great many others have imbued the promise made to them by their own God, in his own words, that they were destined to be the apex of creation, and that the world was meant to submit to the message they were given and told to spread.

So what of the other objection? Why do the Arabs hate Israel? It is a sliver of a country, that does no direct harm to 99 percent of the world's Muslims, but those in Mindanao talk of its destruction as fervently as those who live in the shadow of the separation fence in the West Bank.

It is an artificial creation of the 20th century. Well, so is Iraq, so is Jordan. It is built on land that once was owned and ruled by another people. Well, take that up with the Sudeten Germans or the Liberian natives or the Sioux or the Celto-Britons. Many Muslims prosper inside Israel; synagogues are car-bombed in Istanbul and no Jew is tolerated to even set foot, except a diplomat, briefly, in Saudi Arabia.

I think Israel is so hated because it, more than anything, symbolizes Islamic/Arab impotence. They did not want this nation to happen, but they could not stop it. They have tried repeatedly to crush it out of existence, but it has only grown stronger, and their arms were humiliated by it. And it is a nation built by the very people their scripture gives them the right and authority to rule and render subservient.

One of the central truths of the Qu'ran is that Islam is the final revelation, the completion of God's plan. If there is one consequence of that, it is that the older, imperfect religions in this tradition, such as Judaism, ought not to call the shots for the ultimate one.


Both sides in the American Civil War passionately believed God was on their side. The South, perhaps moreso than the North, held this conviction. Religious revivals swept the Confederate camps in 1863 and 1864, and the people of the South believed that their piety and the Scriptural basis of their social order would bring them divine assistance.

Yet when their cause failed and their armies were defeated, their religion taught them to accept this as a chastisement. They saw the many failings in their leaders and themselves, and they turned inward for repentance and reform. This was based in their religion; Christianity encourages such humility.

In Japan, after 1945, the same cultural and religious forces that had driven the nation into war served it in the transition to peace and acceptance of defeat. The emperor, the descendant of a goddess, was a key player. "Purity" during the war had meant purging Japan and Asia of Western decadent influences and hegemony. After defeat, it served the cause of purifying Japan of militarism and corrupt feudalism. During the war, the Shinto concept of "proper place" had encouraged a racist vision of Japanese superiority in the world; but it allowed the nation, after defeat, to embrace the "place" of being a good loser.

Even the caricatures of the Americans as demons and beast-monsters of Japanese folklore allowed a transition to accepting American military protection; the archetypal folklore demon (like the faeries of Europe) always had two aspects, destructive, but also potentially instructive and tutelary.

But where in Islam is this quality? Where is its ability to stop fighting, to accept that there will be no world caliphate? We are offered the hadith about "lesser jihad" and "greater jihad," but that does not negate the call to religious war.

As if we needed reminders after Sept. 11, the Islamist movement is not an internal matter for Muslim nations only. An isolationist America or Europe can say it is no business of ours if Middle Eastern or North African countries embrace female circumcision, beheading, denial of basic rights to religious minorities (though I have a hard time calling such isolationists "liberals"). But there is an international relations component to this religious movement.

In a world where the most deadly weapons slowly ooze out of their containers, a region festering with petulance and paranoia has to be dealt with, now, not later. It's not a good time to tell ourselves convenient lies about what motivates those who would kill us.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Exhaustive Evidence

of the CBS Bush memo hoax. Anyone still care to claim these puppies are legit? Loser posts naked self-pics on his/her blog?

That's a scary thought, win or lose. Here's why, and evidence of where I've been the first half of this week. Did you miss me? I though so.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Russian Roulette

Consider Putin's dilemma after Beslan:

He can strike back at the Chechans; but the worst he can do is kill more of them, and that will harden the survivors. The ones who killed his children are beyond reach of his revenge now, and they already had embraced the cult of death. More violence against that people likely will breed more "black widows," who will go scuttling off into Russia with bombs strapped to their bodies.

But could he do nothing? That response seems to me inhuman. They kill your babies, and you just shrug and keep on walking? Passive resistance is a loving weapon of the strong against the weak; it is the way of an adult who suffers a child's rage. The victims of terror feel neither love nor strength in the presence of their killers. Even Gandhi advised, "It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of non-violence to cover impotence."

Doing nothing would foster nihilism in Putin's own land as the thousands of grieving find neither justice nor peace while across the border the supporters of the vicious killers gloat. The perception of weakness, among an enemy who despises weakness, grows.

Or he can attempt to negotiate a settlement to the Chechen war. That would mean admitting, at least tacitly, that the past was a train of erring policies and over-reactions on Russia's part. But how can he now make the least concession to moderate Chechens (the majority, I read constantly, do not accept the Islamist rule) without the obvious appearance of caving in to terrorists?

If no concession was made before the hundreds of dead children in Beslan, and concession is made after, what else could be the reason? What but the staggering blow against the innocents will have changed the Kremlin and benefitted the Chechens?

If Russia buys its peace that way, even if it's a good peace brokered with honest people, it will have killed countless other innocents. Its example would teach death cult cells everywhere that, if you kill enough school children, you get your way in the end. You'll be the martyr hero of your people. This would do worse than the horrible example of Spain after March 11, and the Philippines in Iraq.

Consider Putin's dilemma, because, in spite of many differences of particulars, it also remains America's, on the fourth anniversary of 9-11.

The Great Big Newsroom

I'm enjoying the sight of Dan Rather picked to pieces by bloggers over CBS's claim to have damning evidence of Bush's dereliction of duty in the Vietnam years.

Hugh Hewitt has a good wrap here, linking to the major publications so far, laying out the issues, and meditating on new media vs. old media.

Lord Thomson's dictum about a newsroom having a duty to "provide a refuge and a home for the largest number of salaried eccentrics" was more than just a statement of social obligation. Those people will save your journalistic neck sometimes.

A typical U.S. newspaper newsroom is a staff of, say, 20 or 30 people all of whom write or edit for a living. But they also ought to have expertises beyond writing. One might be a backyard astronomer, another might have spent a decade knocking around Asia in the Merchant Marine, another might be fluent in Homeric Greek. (I've worked with all three over the years).

Add them all together, and you've got Sherlock Holmes. Someone, among all of that crowd, might know that, say, the U.S. minted no half-dollars in the year 1926, or that Key Largo in Florida is named for the John Huston movie, not the other way around, or that a full moon rises the exact time the sun sets.

And just once in the lifetime of a great news institution, that sliver of knowledge could rise from trivial to essential. It might not be the obvious point of some story, but it might be the little red flag, which opens up a suspicion that turns a whole story on its head.

If CBS had had any staffers who had fiddled around with typefaces and fonts in the course of their lives, they might have noticed some of the problems in the supposed Bush memos, which jumped out to some bloggers with Web design skills. A modern word processing program has or does as a matter of course some functions which were missing in typewriters in 1971 or '72 (supposed date of the Bush evidence) -- proportional spacing, superscripts, kerning.

And so Dan Rather ends up egg-faced, and the blogosphere puts another notch in its pistol handle. Because as big media newsrooms have shrunk, and grown more conformist, they know less and less, collectively.

The blogosphere is a great big sprawling newsroom in the old style. Somewhere, out here, there is someone who knows more about any one topic than all the j-school graduates in the nation do. And that person now can publish what he knows.

Odd thing is, in the real old days of newspapers there was a class of men (almost always men) who worked in the back shops, who remembered hot lead and stick-and-rule typesetting, and they would have spotted problems in these CBS letters. I doubt there ever were any such men at CBS, however, and there are none left at newspapers now.

Instead, journalism has changed from a collection of salaried eccentrics with eclectic interests, drinking problems, and half-written novels in their desk drawers, to a "profession." You go to a certain college right out of high school, and you study on a journalism track, and you graduate with a degree that will get you hired in any newsroom in America, but you don't know boo about anything except what's behind that piece of paper. You haven't lived much.

Newsrooms increasingly are made up of people from the same background, the same religion (or lack of it), the same political drift, the same education, the same limited experience of life. Artificial introductions of diversity, like Jayson Blair at the New York Times, often are disasters.