Monday, July 28, 2003

A few months ago, our local paper, ran an self-promotional thing talking about how accurate and unbiased they were. Except it appears that the self-promotion on accuracy was... inaccurate. A friend of mine sent the following letter to the paper pointing this out and expounding his views on the media. But the newspaper refused to publish it; they said that the letter trashed them really bad. I was really surprised by the newspaper's defensiveness since they frequently publish letters that are far more incendiary (and critical of the paper) than this one. After many exchanges with my friend, the newspaper has allegedly now agreed to run the letter some time in the future. But in the interim, since they've been giving him the runaround for a couple of months, I will publish the letter here. The letter's contents are strictly the view of its author and is republished , er published, with his permission.

Dear Editor:
Our press has become increasingly inaccurate and biased. It’s an obvious problem. Perhaps in response to the Jayson Blair debacle or the new FCC rulings, the Post-Star ran a clever defensive ad in today’s paper. A glass containing water is shown. The print reads, “Some people say the glass is half empty. Some people say the glass is half full. We say it’s 4 ounces of water in an 8 ounce glass. That’s fair. That’s accurate. That’s unbiased.”

I have to confess that I laughed out loud upon reading the ad. The glass in question isn't cylindrical. It’s a typical water glass, wider at the top, tapered at the bottom. After some measuring and a quick experiment at home, I found that the average tapered glass, as expected, only holds about 1/3 of the total possible volume in its bottom “half”. An accurate reporting of this picture, without the prideful and editorial boast of non-bias, would have read, “We say it’s 2 1/3 ounces of water in an 8 ounce glass.” Anyone with their thinking cap on can see that this ad promoting accuracy, is ... INACCURATE!

Most Americans recognize that their media is overrun with bias. When media defends itself, it often mistakenly assumes that the angry info-consumer is speaking of a right- or left-wing bias. Most of us who read are sophisticated enough to see that true media bias exists in the SELECTION of what is newsworthy, and not necessarily any individual bias. The people who decide which news will make the paper and which news won't can horribly pervert and warp our world view by denying us access to news that is entirely relevant.

What is more important to the average American; Monica Lewinsky or the passing of NAFTA? Bush’s Fighter Jet photo-op or his imperialist Pax Americana? Palestinian suicide bombings or Israeli occupation and brutality? Mass media shows its true colors by choosing to UNDERREPORT news that is not in line with the ideologies of its corporate parents. It regularly parrots what it is “fed” by wire service, government, corporate and military sources alike, without any fact checking at all! The “nouveau press” rarely investigates anything! How can the Post-Star boast about non-bias when it can't even use a ruler and a measuring cup to prop up its own claims of accuracy? I love you guys, but ... Give me a break!


Matt Funiciello
Exchange on the show Face the Nation between host Bob Shieffer of CBS News and Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of war and one of the main architects of the invasion of Iraq.

SHIEFFER: But have you found, at this point, any new connections to al Qaeda that you didn't know about?

WOLFOWITZ: Bob, this is in the hands, very capable hands of the CIA, led out there by David Kay and assisted by Keith
Dayton and major general...

SHIEFFER: But you'd know if we had, would you not?

WOLFOWITZ: You know, first of all, I wouldn't necessarily. I mean, we've encouraged them to dig in, to get their facts
straight, to cross-check things, not to send the first rumor up the chain and flying into Washington and people get
breathlessly excited about it. These things need to be checked carefully. [sic!!!]

SHIEFFER: But you know, obviously, the reason I'm asking this is because this is one of the justifications and, as you well
know, the line your critics are taking is that you went after Saddam because you couldn't find Osama bin Laden. How do
you respond to that?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, look, as -- if you go back to October, George Tenet's classified testimony to the Intelligence Committee
details what we thought we knew and what we didn't know about the links to terrorism. His public letter, which was
published in The New York Times, talks about a number of known links to al Qaeda. Is this a murky picture? Yes, it's murky.
Information about terrorism in inevitably murky because terrorists hide and because you get an awful lot of information that's
simply not true. But stop and think about what the 9/11 report is saying. It's saying we should have connected these murky dots ahead of time. Well, you can't have it both ways. If you wait until you have absolute certainty about terrorism, you're really saying
we'll wait until after the fact and deal with it, and I thought the lesson of September 11th is that approach doesn't work any
more. We can't deal with terrorism after the fact.

From: CBS

I found this admission extremely disturbing. Not just that Mr. Wolfowitz admits to acting hastily on intelligence of questionable veracity, but that he sees nothing wrong with it as policy. Given the dubious new Bush doctrine of pre-emptive whatever-euphemism-they-want-to-use, it seems that this doctrine FUNDAMENTALLY DEPENDS on strong intelligence. If the president is going to be the self-annointed savoir of humanity and civilization, or whatever self-serving justification he wants to use, then he better make darn sure he's pre-empting on solid intelligence. If the president is going to send other people's sons and daughters into battle conquering another country, he better do so based on something very substantive.

I've yet to see any strong evidence that 9/11 could've been prevented. Sen. Bob Graham's criticism of the intelligence services' alleged lack of "creative" analysis is nothing more than the convenient hindsight of a candidate running for president who wants to criticize the incumbent.

Contrary to what to extremism promoted by Mr. Wolfowitz, the lesson of 9/11 and Iraq isn't that we should rush into wars based on "murky" foreign intelligence. The lesson is that we need better foreign intelligence.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

On Sunday, NPR did a piece on something called The Mob Project. Basically, someone in New York city decides to organize these things. Someone sends out an email saying "Meet here at this time" and instructing recipients to forward it to their friends who live in the city. ( has a more elegant explanation)

Then they meet at the pre-arranged place and... that's it. They just hang around for a few minutes and then leave. No really! That's it. It's like some sociological experiment or performance art or whatever euphemism they attach to pretend it's high-minded when it's really just an act of self-indulgence for people with, apparently, nothing better to do.

I used to think I was missing out on lots of vibrancy and excitement by not living in a big city. If this is one of the highlights of urban life, the height of metropolitan sophistication, I'm content here in my little 14,000-person town in "the boonies" (as the NYCers would probably describe it). And city-denizens say WE're boring?
From: ABC News

Asked Monday if he believed the [9/11] attacks could have been prevented, [Sen Bob] Graham (D-Florida) gave "a conditional yes.It would have required several things to have happened, which in fact did not occur."

That included having a single person with the job of reviewing all the information collected by different organizations, "a creative mind that would have seen the pieces of this puzzle start to form a plot that would have triggered a law-enforcement response."

I also heard these comments by Sen. Graham, a Democratic presidential candidate, on CNN last night. There, he mentioned the part about eliminating (or diminishing) turf wars between agencies. He said that plus the puzzle piecing together plus a little bit of luck might've prevented 9/11.

The part that really left my stupefied was "a creative mind." Frankly, I thought this was a b.s. observation. To me Graham's "a creative mind" remark is nothing more than Senator-ese (or more likely Candidate-ese) for 20/20 hindsight! In retrospect, everything seems so obvious, clear as the nose on our face. Now, we know which intelligence was important and which was not. That's the benefit of hindsight. If Sen. Graham is such a visionary that he can see as well into the future as he so obviously can into the past, perhaps he should become CIA director.

It seems to me the problem is not lack of the ephemeral "creative mind," but rather the sheer avalanche of intelligence the CIA and company surely receive every day. How does a finite staff analyze a nearly infinite amount of information? More "creative minds" won't help if they don't know where to begin.

It's perfectly reasonable to analyze what mistakes were made and how they can be avoided in the future. The critique about addressing turf wars, although a difficult challenge, is emminently fair. It's entirely another thing to engage in unreasonable hindsight finger-pointing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Below is a letter I sent to the journal Foreign Policy in response to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s article against the State Department. My letter will probably make more sense if you read Gingrich’s piece, entitled ‘Rogue State Department’, which you can do by clicking here. I enjoy Foreign Policy because its articles tend to be readable enough for the non-specialist without being dumbed down or unnuanced.

Newt Gingrich’s attack on the State Department (FP, July/August 2003) made some interesting points but was significantly off the mark on others.

Gingrich is on the money when he says that “we can no longer accept a culture that props up dictators, coddles the corrupt, and ignores secret police forces.” In fact, the “left-wing nongovernmental organizations” he derides elsewhere in the piece have been calling for these changes for years, only to be told by the right that such appeasement was necessary for various ephemeral reasons. It’s heartening to see a conservative like Gingrich be won over to this progressive position.

He mentions a classified report by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research that allegedly contradicts the president’s view that democracy will easily take hold in Iraq. According to Gingrich, this demonstrates how the State Department is “out of sync” with the president’s vision.

This assertion is quite shocking. Is Gingrich seriously suggesting that intelligence should be manipulated to fit the president’s pre-arranged conclusions? Some think this mentality is already too prevalent in the White House, as the Iraq-Niger controversy might suggest. Too man ‘Yes Men’ are already spoiling the administration’s pot. Surely the new Bush doctrine of pre-emptive intervention relies upon the kind solid, unbiased analyses that the Gingrich disparages.

The former House speaker puts great emphasis on improving the State Department’s communications with the rest of the world. While fine in theory, this ignores that we communicate as much by what we do as by what we say.

Gingrich might state, “we can no longer accept a culture that props up dictators, coddles the corrupt, and ignores secret police forces.” But does he oppose our present alliance with a dictatorship like Pakistan, an alliance which President Bush has actively cultivated? How many countries antithetical to the culture Gingrich condemns took part in the “coalition of the willing”?

Will a Malian cotton farmer be convinced by American moralizing on the virtue of the free market capitalism, when American-subsidized cotton is driving him into further poverty?

Such dichtomies feed resentment of America far more than any lack of a communication stategy.

Actions really do speak much louder than words. Right now, many foreigners, including our closest allies, believe that “American values” are military adventurism, bullying and belligerence. This may not be the message Gingrich or any other American wants to present, but it’s the message that’s being received. And only a fundamental rethink and coordination of all aspects our foreign policy, not some slick public relations campaign, is going to change that perception. The best way we can transmit our values is to act on them. And not just when it’s convenient.


I was reading an article yesterday about the Tour de France. On Monday, Lance Armstrong (whose won the last four Tours) crashed briefly when his handlebars got caught on a spectator's bag. I guess that shows how closely the crowd is to the cyclists.

Anyways, Jan Ullrich (who won the '97 Tour), who was in front at that point in that particular stage, decided to not attack the course until Armstrong was back on his bike. This, according to numerous newspaper reports, was considered "the convention" in cycling. Nevertheless, I was heartened by Ullrich's decision. And it seems Armstrong made a similar gesture two years ago when Ullrich crashed.

Sportsmanship isn't exactly in vogue, today. It's increasingly dismissed as "the way of the loser." The media celebrates chumps like Allen Iversen and Bobby Knight just because they flap their gums. Players and coaches who are really good but act don't act like idiots on the court/field, Grant Hill comes to mind, are dismissed as boring. Sorry, Pete Sampras, you're not obnoxious (like Lleyton Hewitt or Greg Rudseski). You just collect Grand Slam titles like other people collect Magic cards and conduct yourself like an adult. Sampras must be a "loser" too.

What's even more impressive about Ullrich's gesture is that it might cost him the Tour. As of today, he was in 2nd place overall, only 67 seconds behind Armstrong going into the last few days. If he'd pressed the attack even for that brief period Armstrong was on the ground, he'd be even closer, perhaps even ahead. But he was a sportsman even though it might rob him of final victory. And that's what makes Ullrich's decision even classier. It's one thing to be magnanimous when you're so far ahead it won't matter or when you're so far behind you have no hope of catching up. But that brief period literally might be the difference between first and second for Ullrich.

Sportsmanship is nothing more than good manners. Fred Astaire once said, "The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any." As a coach, I agree. Young athletes today aren't exactly swamped with role models who combine high achievement and decent behavior. Sports are, by definition, competitive. They are hard fought and typically intense. You want to win. And if you win, then the other side necessarily will not.

Some will do anything to win. Others will follow just the letter of the rules. But some decide that they will not chuck their moral code or conscience or sense of fair play at the door of their particular event. Class is not sporadic, it's not circumstantial. Either you have it or you don't. And Ullrich does. I tip my cap to him.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

I was reading an interesting article at today. It spoke of how, "in an embarrassing rebuke to the White House, a group of Republican and Democratic governors is embracing the Kyoto accords on global warming."

Specifically, a group of northeastern governors (Democrats and Republicans) are planning to announce an agreement that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and implement CO2 limits and a trade regime within the region. This would be an important leap forward in the fight against global warming, and particularly courageous on the part of Republican governors who reportedly have faced heavy pressure from the White House not to participate.

Rather than wait for the president's joke of an energy plan, they've decided to do things themselves. It's federalism the way it's supposed to be. But not surprisingly, some conservatives don't like it; states' rights is only supposed to allow states to resist 'liberal' federal policies. These GOP governors aren't reading the script apparently.

Although it's only a handful of states, it's still very important. First, New England, New York and New Jersey, as a nation, would be the world's 8th largest greenhouse gas emitter, according to the article. New York state, alone, would be the world's 8th largest economy. If these states can successfully pull this off, it will be a terrible rebuke to the fossils in the administration and their fossil fuel allies. But it would relieve our dependance on foreign oil.

Furthermore, it would rubbish the anti-Kyoto argument that reducing pollution will destroy the economy. In fact, those that embrace the reductions would benefit by getting a head start on developing CO2 reduction technologies. The article added, "Best of all, those who implement these sustainable technologies are likely to reap huge economic dividends -- in innovative corporate startups, increased jobs and improvement in quality of life."

Some will counter that China's and India's apparent exemption from Kyoto means we shouldn't be involved either. While substantially smaller polluters than the US, we shouldn't ignore them totally. But we can worry about them later. I don't live in China or India. I do live in New York state. I breathe New York state's air. Let's set the example ourselves. Let's show that what's good for the environment is not only good for our physical health, but also for our economic health.

Again, the excellent article can be found by clicking here.

Monday, July 21, 2003

I had one of those TV call in shows on in the background as I was getting dressed this morning. A caller complained that every day now, the headline is US soldier killed in Iraq. And this is becoming an increasing complaint heard in the American population that was once so gung-ho about the invasion and conquest ("liberation", if you must). And I'm really stupefied. WHAT DID THEY EXPECT?!

I’ve it countless times both before the war and since: empire is messy and costly. I'm neither a political science genius nor a visionary nor a fortune teller. But I do know a little bit about history. Empire is a messy and costly business. That's why the Europeans got out of that business. Why did my countrymen think we'd be exempt from history?

The answer is because Americans are an supremely self-confident people. We believe we can do anything. That history doesn't apply to us. That it’s up to us to invent our own history. This is why we became a great country. But just like great people, great countries typically contain the seeds of their own self-destruction. The seeds are usually found in the same qualities which made them great in the first place. That's the irony of greatness. Self-confidence is good. Arrogance is bad. There's an extremely fine line between the two. Arrogance frequently leads to recklessness, to overreach.

Because Americans are so optimistic, we believed the Iraq conquest would be quick, easy and relatively painless. Sure, we knew intellectually that people (ie: our soldiers) would die but we accepted that... when we thought it would be quick.

But our supreme self-confidence led to unrealistic expectations. It was NEVER going to be quick. Sure, the war itself was always likely to end in a short-period of time. But the occupation and re-building of Iraq was always going to be troublesome, complicated and messy. Now, we're finding out just how much so and we don't like it. The initial unrealistic expectations has led to quick disappointment, frustration and anger.

Still, the situation we (ie: American troops) are in now was entirely foreseable. It's just that before, the American people didn't want to see it. We wanted to believe the best. An admirable trait, but not always a wise one.

One of the reasons teenagers often do foolish things is because they are stubborn and believe they're invulnerable. Americans tend to be the same way, because in terms of military strength, no one else is in the same galaxy. But teenagers learn they're not indestructible when they go too fast and crash their car. And Americans are learning about limits too, that not everything can be solved by explosives, rolling columns of tanks and "smart bombs." Some problems require more subtle, complex solutions. We Americans not only aren't good at subtlety but don't see any value in it. Maybe we should.

Friday, July 18, 2003

I was at Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network website looking for something else when I saw this. According to Roberston, Liberia's indicted war criminal dictator Charles Taylor may or may not be great but at least he's Christian, unlike the Muslim rebels who are trying to overthrow him.


Pat Robertson Explains His Position on Liberia and President Charles Taylor
July 16, 2003
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA -- As you may know, Liberia was founded by the United States as a homeland for freed African slaves. The word Liberia is a derivation of the Latin for "free" or "freedom," and the capital, Monrovia, was named after President James Monroe.

Liberia had as its first president a Baptist minister from Norfolk, Virginia. It modeled its constitution after the United States and attempted to follow us in establishing its government. Liberia considers itself a "little brother" of the United States, and has always looked to the United States as its founder, friend, ally, and protector.

In the early 1980s, there was a military coup in Liberia led by Master Sergeant Doe. The Liberian President Tolbert was hacked to pieces by machetes. Then all of the top members of his government were taken from the capital city and butchered. Doe began a reign of terror in Liberia, which resulted in civil war. Among those who fought Doe was Charles Taylor whose militia ultimately defeated Doe. Subsequently, Taylor was elected president of Liberia in what I understand to be a free election.
Shortly thereafter, a rebellion broke out in neighboring Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor backed the rebels, whose teenage soldiers were guilty of extreme brutality. Since Sierra Leone was a former British colony, first the United Nations and then the British sent troops in to establish order and put down the rebellion. From all I can gather, they were successful.

Because of Taylor’s role in assisting the rebels of Sierra Leone, the State Department of Bill Clinton urged the United Nations to place economic sanctions on Liberia. The government of Charles Taylor denied any further involvement with the rebels in Sierra Leone, but to no avail. As a result of the pressure brought on by the United States through the United Nations, Liberia was squeezed unbearably and the people suffered.

With Taylor weakened, a group of rebels, who were principally Muslim, began a civil war using neighboring Guinea as a staging area. The United States gave $3 million to help the army of Guinea, and I have on good authority that at least two containers of arms were sent by the United States to the port of Monrovia in Liberia to be used by the rebels against Taylor.

Guinea is a Muslim country ruled by a capricious and ruthless dictator. If the Taylor government falls, the Muslim rebels are hoping to overrun Liberia, which is a predominantly Christian nation. If they do so, it is feared that a vicious civil war will result, leaving the nation bleeding and in chaos.

My question to the United States State Department is very simple, "If you are successful in taking down the government of Charles Taylor, what plan do you have to establish stability in Liberia, the rule of law, free elections, and representative government? What appropriation has been made by the United States Congress to back up the actions that you have taken to bring down the freely elected government of a sovereign and friendly nation?"

These questions and my concern in no way indicated that I was supporting Charles Taylor. I merely asked the State Department how much African blood would have to be spilled before they were satisfied.

The Christian nations of Africa are right now under assault by Muslims funded either by Saudi Arabia or Libya. This fact is well known to the CIA. Regrettably, the State Department seems to be indifferent to this emerging tragedy.

I regret that my sentiments in support of the suffering Liberian people were misinterpreted by The Washington Post as unqualified support for Charles Taylor, a man who I have never met, and about whose actions a decade ago I have no firsthand knowledge.

Thank you for writing, I remain…

Cordially yours,
Pat Robertson

Some of what Roberston said is true, especially in the dry historical part of the beginning. He also rightly points out the nefarious activities of Saudi Arabia and Libya in sub-Saharan Africa. Though there's little evidence to suggest that the State Department (the new favorite scapegoat of conservatives) is indifferent to this.

Guinea is indeed a predominantly (85%) Muslim country ruled by a capricious and ruthless dictator (General Lansana Conté). But Charles Taylor makes Gen. Conté look like Santa Claus! Conté actually allows opposition, he actually allows civil society and his government doesn't harass Christians (as such) at all. Muslims and Christians pretty much get along in Guinea... probably because none of them watch Roberston's show.

Furthermore, to say that Charles Taylor's government was "freely elected" is a bit like saying Saddam Hussein or the Supreme Soviet were "freely elected." No one dared do otherwise.

Robertson fears that in the case of a rebel victory, "it is feared that a vicious civil war will result, leaving the nation bleeding and in chaos."

NEWSFLASH: Liberia IS in the midst of a vicious civil war that has left the nation bleeding and in chaos.

If Roberston is, by his own admission, ignorant of Charles Taylor's history, perhaps he should inform himself so as to make himself look less foolish. To cite Taylor's alleged Christianity as somehow proof of virtue is an insult to those of us Christians who believe things like murder and rape are wrong. Is his next piece going to be entitled "Adolf Hitler: Misunderstood Christian"?

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Recent events surely have not done wonders for President Bush's already minimal international credibility. Hasn't built much trust domestically either. You can tell a lot about a leader's character by how he (in this case) handles adversity. When the going gets tough, does he say 'I'm in charge, it was my decision' or does he blame underlings?

The flap over the misinformation the president presented in his state of the union address is revealing. The moment the administration realized the tiff wasn't going to disappear overnight and they needed a fall guy. The first time I heard National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice say that if the CIA director had said don't include this information, the information wouldn't have been included, it was clear to me that the scapegoat was going to be George Tenet. Tenet was originally a Clinton appointee. But he's also a loyal soldier who isn't going to turn on his boss. Tenet is thus the perfect guy to push on to his sword.

By sacrificing Tenet to the political gods, the administration thus hopes to avoid the larger, and more important, question. Was there so much pressure within the administration to find information to fit the pre-arranged conclusion that dubious information was part of the dossier against Iraq? And if so, how much more dubious information was there? In other words, are there too many 'yes' men in the White House?
To wit, an Associated Press article reported, "Tenet told members of Congress a White House official insisted that President Bush's State of the Union address include an assertion about Saddam Hussein's nuclear intentions that had not been verified, a Senate Intelligence Committee member [Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin] said Thursday."
According to the report, Durbin told Good Morning America, "[Tenet] certainly told us who the person was who was insistent on putting this language in which the CIA knew to be incredible, this language about the uranium shipment from Africa," and added, "The more important question is who is it in the White House who was hellbent on misleading the American people and why are they still there."

On Friday, Tenet issued a statement accepting responsibility. His immediate superior (Rice) continues to deflect all blame from the president to her subordinate, Tenet. As does the big boss (Bush himself). At least Tenet's showing leadership.

Almost as bad, they are pointing fingers at (perhaps overly) loyal allies the Brits. They're saying "Well, the information shouldn't have been included but it's not the our fault because the Brits were the one who thought this." When the Brits passed it on, I wonder if it was intended for public consumption. I wonder if it what degree of credibility the Brits themselves ascribed to the report. Either way, Prime Minister Tony Blair is caught in the middle. He's under fire at home for allying himself too closely with a president derided abroad as a reckless cowboy. Now, his intelligence service is one of the scapegoats feeling the heat from conservatives eager to make sure anyone but the president is blamed, despite the hawks' earlier canonization of Blair.

There is no good way out for the president. Either he told a baldface lie to the American people (which I seriously doubt) or he was badly served by his subordinates. Either way, it seriously damages his credibility. Even if he didn't consciously lie, the next time he talks about some supposed imminent or distant threat to our national security, can we trust what he's saying? Will we wonder if the information he's using is accurate or made to fit whatever course of action he wants to support or simply out of date?

At best, even if our perception of the president's personal integrity isn't damaged by this scandal, our faith in his judgement will be.

Monday, July 14, 2003

I was reading an article in today's paper about the 30th anniversary of Title IX, the legislation that basically mandates equal treatment for boys' and girls' sports, so I was thinking about society's perception of gender roles. Did you ever notice how gender equality is really a one-sided equation?

Society tells girls "you can do anything you set your mind to." It may not be 100 percent true and it may bely the barriers females will face when they go into certain professions, but this is the goal, this is the ideal, this is what we teach our kids. If a girl plays with trucks, it's no big deal. If she wants to be an engineer or if she wants to play soccer, we encourage her. If she wants to become a firefighter or construction worker, our brains may doubt her, but our hearts are pulling for her to succeed, to prove herself.

This is a good thing. Society is much stronger in that we no longer exclude half the population from some important roles. But what about other roles? In math, anything you do to one side of an equation, you do the same thing to the other side of the equation. Otherwise the equation becomes unbalanced.

But if a boy wants to do ballet or figure skating, we assume he's gay, or at least latently so. If he wants to be a hairdresser or likes fashion, we take him to a shrink. Even the most liberal-minded parents would likely get a tinge of concern if, after a certain age, their son played with Barbies. If a man wants to teach Head Start or elementary school, he's quite possibly a pedophile. If he wants to stay home and raise his kids, he must be a loser too unqualified to get a real job.

In other words, it's ok for women to be strong, but caring men are seen as weak. Men can be a little sensitive but, and this is key, not too much so. Lest it arouse suspiscion or contempt. In some places, being a gay man is not a big deal... so long as he doesn't ACT gay, so long as his gayness is not "obvious." Some people are outright homophobes but for others, being gay is not the problem, it's the overt PERCEPTION of one being gay that is the problem. Straight-acting gay men don't bother some people, but "sissy" acting ones do. I admit to being uncomfortable around guys who act "like girls"; I try to be polite, to not let the discomfort show, but it's there. I wish it weren't, but it is.

Basically, modern gender equality means is about women becoming "more like men" but vice versa is still very much taboo. I don't know what we can do about it but I guess we should at least be aware.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Most Americans remember media coverage of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, an American prisoner of war in Iraq. Her rescue, conveniently captured on camera, was one of the enduring images of the war.

Of course, The Toronto Star and other foreign media outlets later reported that Pvt. Lynch was actually treated well by the Iraqi doctors, contrary to that which was implied in the domestic media. “She was assigned the only specialist bed in the hospital and one of only two nurses on the floor,” according to the BBC.

Now, the BBC is revealing that she was not shot or stabbed, according to a Pentagon report on the topic, which also concluded that her injuries were the result of an auto accident. (thank god for the BBC or else I’d never know anything about what was going on)

The BBC added, “the US military knew there were no Iraqi forces guarding the hospital, and quoted a local doctor saying that the troops used blank rounds to ‘make a show’ of the operation. Dr Anmar Uday, who worked at the hospital, said: ‘It was like a Hollywood film. They cried: 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital - action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan.’ But the Pentagon denied that blanks were used, and said all the procedures used were consistent with normal operations when there is a threat of encountering hostile forces.”

They say truth is the first casuality of war. Ain’t that the, uh, truth!

I am increasingly convinced that the Jayson Blair scandal let the news media off the hook. The media has a lot of problems, the least of which is reporters outright fabricating stories. That’s certainly the most egregious sin a journalist can commit, but it’s hardly the most pervasive. Manipulation by the powers that be, that is arguably the greatest challenge facing the news media today.

This is a surprising development for a news media that has always rated skepticism as its greatest virtue, boasted of its fearlessness, of its willingness to take on anyone. Woodward and Bernstein may not have invented the watchdog media, but they made its legend.

Now, the journalists, especially national reporters, are most concerned about access. They want to be in the high-profile position of asking questions of the president, even if those questions are softballs. Better to be able to ask the question than to actually reveal something important with the question. While individual journalists might not care if their reporting pisses off advertisers, they are but a cog in a giant machine; publishers have bottom lines to consider and stockholders to report to.

Reporters are their most malleable on foreign policy issues. Again, it’s all about access. No one wants to be accused of being unpatriotic, especially a journalist or a corporate news bureau whose work would be seriously undermined by such an allegation. Because war correspondents are inherently vulernable in the field, it makes it even harder for them to take risks to get the real story. If they “embed” themselves with a military unit, they will be safer, but their objectivity will surely be compromised. Not because these journalists are bad or corruptible people, but because when you rely on a group for your personal security, your relationship with them necessarily changes. I don’t condemn these journalists for not wanting to become martyrs. But we must take their work for what it is: the best they could do under the circumstances, but to be taken with a grain of salt.

This is why the mainstream press swallowed the Pvt. Lynch story hook, line and sinker. It was a great story and simple to present: good vs. evil, black vs. white, small town girl vs. Saddam’s henchmen. They WANTED to believe it was true.

Why does this manipulation of the media by the powers that be occur? Because it’s a symbiotic relationship. The government (not just this particular administration) uses the media to push its agenda. The media uses to government as a crutch. It’s much easier for CNN to play a clip of Donald Rumsfeld’s comments and then have a Democrat spouting the “standard liberal” line and a Republican parroting the administration’s line than it is for CNN to do some actual reporting on the content of Rumsfeld’s remarks. It’s much easier for ABC to air a group of yapping heads yacking on for 20 minutes about “who’s hot” and “who’s not” in the Washington political GAME than it is for ABC to use that 20 minutes to report on Social Security or health care or military spending. It’s easier for even NPR to commission a poll and then spend time analyzing it as though it’s real news than it is for them to report on actual real news. All this while solemnly swearing that they “don’t make news, just report it.” It’s lazy journalism, and it’s barely journalism at all.

The Jayson Blair scandal let the media off the hook. Any right thinking journalist (or person) was always going to condemn Blair. Some said it was the result of The New York Times’ diversity policy, even though no one cited such things when a white Boston Globe reporter was fired for the same offense. Other media people simply dismissed Blair as a phenomenon unique to the Times, because, according to them, it could never happen at their paper. Most deplored that this one bad seed seemed to sap the credibility of the entire media profession. But few in the media urged their colleagues to stop, think and take a good look in the mirror. They allowed the Blair scandal to paper over these other, more structural, problems.

I commend the special operations forces who rescued Pvt. Lynch. Their job was to save their comrade and they did it well. I only wish the media adhered to such high standards.

At last, some of the doo-doo appears to be sticking on the administration. The claims that Iraq bought uranium from the West African state of Niger were shown some time ago to have been bogus and based on forged documents. (For those of you running to your maps, Niger is a large Sahelian country located between Libya and Nigeria). But now, a CIA official is saying that the falseness of this claim had been expressed in March 2002 by a former US diplomat sent to investigate it. The conclusion, that the Iraq-Niger-uranium claim was false, was passed along to the White House well before the president included it in the State of the Union address.

So it appears one of three conclusions can be drawn:

a) The president had been informed that the claim was false but included it anyway in the speech. Personally, I think this is pretty unlikely. The president had enough other reasons that backed up, at least in his own mind, the case for war that it is unlikely he would consciously include something he knew to be repudiated by his own team.

b) The White House was informed of the diplomat's findings but didn't think it was important enough to pass along to the president. Perhaps people in the White House were deluged with so many intelligence reports that this particular one didn't stand out. At the time, the conquest of Iraq was only a twinkle in Richard Perle's and Paul Wolfowitz's eyes so perhaps they didn't think it was any consequence. By the time the march to war became obvious, perhaps they'd forgotten about the refutation or they didn't think the president would include the Iraq-Niger link in his speech.

c) The White House was informed of the diplomat's findings but never passed it along to the president because of the culture in the White House. At a certain point, it became clear the administration was resolved to conquer Iraq come hell or high water. In such a situation, people tend to find facts to fit their opinion rather than the more logical course of letting facts shape their opinion. Maybe the diplomat's findings were brushed aside because they didn't jive with the script.

Personally, my suspicion is that it's mostly c with a little of b sprinkled in. I don't hold the president in high regard but I think it's unlikely he would be brazen enough to tell such a bald-face lie before the nation and the world; the stakes were so high and the downside of getting caught wouldn't have been worth the risk. But carelessness and/or the institutional culture of the yes men seem to be more plausible explanations.

Even so, it's a troubling development. Even if the president didn't overtly lie to us, it means there was a big screw up in the intelligence/institutional processes that caused the president to state something, in his most high-profile speech of the year, that those under him knew to be untrue.

Some will say that it's irrelevant. We got rid of Saddam, so the rest doesn't matter. That it doesn't matter if the president sent other people's sons and daughters into battle based on wrong information. Others, like Sen. Rick Santorum, say that the administration admitted the Iraq-Niger claim was wrong along time ago so we should just forget about it and keep smiling and waving our flags.

Yesterday, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfled testified before Congress that the coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. We acted because we saw the evidence in a dramatic new light - through the prism of our experience on 9/11.

So we launched our pre-emptive invasion based on old evidence. Perhaps this is why senior sources in the British bureaucracy have "virtually ruled out the possibility of finding the weapons [of mass destruction]," according to the BBC. The senior officials "believe they did exist - but were hidden or destroyed by Saddam Hussein before the war."

This is certainly plausible in the light of Rumsfeld's admission about the lack of compelling NEW intelligence. If the weapons were destroyed or put "beyond use," then they hardly constituted a threat to national security, the prime justification for the invasion.

Why does this matter? Ari Fleischer says we got rid of Saddam and it's up to the administration's critics to prove that Saddam really didn't have WMDs (a nice reversal of the burden of proof).

Here's why. First, we can't account for the weapons of mass destruction that were, we'd been assured, as common as sand in Iraq; this was the centerpiece of the case for war. Then, the Iraq-Niger claim fell apart. Then senior officials believe the WMDs will never be found because they were destroyed or hidden before the war, thus undermining their destructive potential. Now, we know the Iraq-Niger claim had been debunked long before the president included it in the State of the Union. At what point does the house of cards collapse?

Even if everything was done in good faith, even if you give the president and his entourage the benefit of every doubt, it's still not reassuring. The administration has made "pre-emptive" conquest of random countries for arbitrary reasons (or whatever euphemism they want to use) into our new national "defense" strategy. It seems that such a strategy absolutely demands sound intelligence and effective communications as its bases.

Everyone is happy that Saddam Hussein is gone. But if the president is stating things known to be untrue, even if unintentionally, if he doesn't know what his intelligence people know, then how can we trust him the next time he wants to make the case for a pre-emptive invasion?

Monday, July 07, 2003

In the face of international pressure, some sort of American involvement seems increasingly likely in Liberia. It's interesting to note public reaction to this potential intervention. In contrast to the run up to the invasion of Iraq, there is no organized opposition, no gigantic marches, no worldwide condemnation of President Bush. Why?

The fundamental differences between the Iraq and Liberia are motives and process.

The invasion of Iraq was widely perceived, both internationally and (albeit less so) domestically, to be about economics: Washington wanted to expand American economic influence in the Middle East.

Additionally, the path followed by Washington did not inspire widespread confidence. The administration followed the UN path only grudingly and then, when it couldn't get exactly what it wanted the instant it wanted it, it tooks its ball and stomped off home. There's a fine line between leadership and bullying; Washington was on the wrong side of that line.

And these two fed off each other. Washington's refusal to play by the rules of the international game cast even more doubt on the sincerity of the motives. The anger provoked by that doubt pushed the administration to be even more intransigent.

Yet such doubts don't really surround the case for American intervention in Liberia. The United States does not have a large economic interest in Liberia or West Africa. And the administration is working with, not against, the United Nations and countries in the region. Basically, most of the world seems to believe that a Liberia intervention would be the right thing done for the right reason.

Large stocks of weapons of mass destruction haven't been found in Iraq, but hawks dismiss this fact noting "at least Iraqis are free of a brutal dictator." If a good thing is the result, do dubious motive and process matter? Does the end justify the means? Why do motive and process matter so much?

Motive matters because it speaks to credibility. Credibility speaks to leadership. The difference between leadership and bullying is the difference between having widespread support (and lots of help in sharing the burden) and having widespread opposition.

If you are going to justify an intervention by saying "we're powerful, we can do whatever we want," then the motive is clear and unambiguous. But if you are going to use righteous propaganda to justify an intervention, then you are relying on an argument that goes beyond the law of the strongest. Especially in a supposed humanitarian intervention, having unquestioned motives is useful in gaining the trust and cooperation of the locals, of those who you are supposedly saving.

Process matters because it speaks to motive. The more widespread consultations are, the broader the consensus, the more credible the intervention becomes. While process shouldn't hold one hostage in the most urgent situations, it shouldn't be disregarded casually and regularly. The American government followed the right process in Afghanistan and, as a result, it had widespread international support. The opposite was true in Iraq and international support was accordingly minimal.

Both Saddam Hussein and Liberia's Charles Taylor were ruthless dictators and brutish thugs reviled by their populations and despised by their neighbors. Yet the run-up to intervention in both countries provoked wildly different reactions both from Americans and the rest of the international community.

Is it because the American left and Europeans were huge fans of Saddam? Is it because indicted war criminal Charles Taylor is ten times the monster Saddam was? Did the international community get a sudden crush on President Bush? Is it because anti-war protesters were tired out by the Iraq demonstrations? Perhaps that fatigue caused them to confuse President Bush with Ralph Nader? What explains this dichotomy?

No. It is because the motive for intervention in Liberia is widely seen to be honorable. And because the process followed is seen to be without haste but without willful foot dragging, without contempt for the international institutions important to so many countries and appropriately consulting other countries in that region and nuturing their support. The administration is seen as wanting to do something to help the situation in Liberia but does not appear to have an unseemly desire to flex its military muscle for its own sake. It's a blueprint for the way things SHOULD be done.
I also just read an opinion column in The Washington Post. “The Toll on American Innocence” spoke the effects the Iraq occupation is sure to have on the American national psyche.

The author spoke of his friend who, “likened the Bush administration's implacable march into Iraq to Britain's mobilization for the deadly morass of World War I and America's self-inflicted wounds in Vietnam.”

“I am sorry for America," the author’s friend continued. "You are stuck. You have become a country of the Middle East. America will never change Iraq, but Iraq will change America. To survive, you will have to develop a sense of irony."

Now, we hear of almost daily attacks on American troops in Iraq. It is so sad the horribly difficult position the president is putting our troops in. I understand they didn’t enlist in the military to play tiddleywinks, but defending OUR country was probably high on the list for many of them.

Our soldiers are an occupation force in a country where the people, as much as they may have hated Saddam, clearly want the soldiers to leave sooner rather than later. They have to “win the hearts and minds” despite being in an unfamiliar climate, in an unfamiliar culture, where they don’t speak the language, where they weren't invited and apparently not especially welcome.

Given all the problems they’re having restoring even basic services, it’s almost as though the Pentagon brass prepared for every eventuality except quick success! Such things are always difficult but when you come in as self-appointed liberators, high expectations accompany you. Iraqis may have hated Saddam but they liked drinking water. Most people aren’t keen on chaos.

And then you’ve got the macho taunts President “Bring It On” Bush uses. How reckless can the alleged leader of the free world be? If they do indeed “bring it on”, it’s not the president whose butt is going to be on the firing line. How gallant of the president to have other people’s sons and daughters back up his tough guy bluster!

But perhaps I should say WHEN they bring it on, not if. Because the risks faced by American troops won’t go away any time soon. Empires have a lot of unpleasantries associated with them. The Brits and French learned how hard and complicated they were to maintain. The Brits and French didn’t give up their empires because they were militarily defeated in India, Algeria or sub-Saharan Africa; they did so because their publics back home wouldn’t support prolonged wars of attrition. Eventually, both discovered that empires just weren’t worth the hassle. But it took the deaths of countless people in far away lands before they had this epiphany. If President “Bring It On” doesn’t see this light, I hope he at least maintains enough prudence to keep his mouth shut when doing otherwise involves risking the lives of other people’s sons and daughters.
Today, I was reading an article in Le Monde entitled “The second ‘pacification’ of Africa.” The article included a comment from a recent speech by French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. In it, he stated, “The fall of the Berlin Wall, opening the doors for a new world, did not bring about the expected pacification” of Africa.

Mr. de Villepin is clearly implying that the wars and general instability in Africa from the era of independances (late 50s/early 60s) until the collapse of the Soviet bloc (late 80s/early 90s) was due to the struggle between the USSR and USA. While no one can be sure how the newly independent African nations would’ve turned out otherwise, clearly the meddling of the West and of the communist bloc destroyed any hope the continent had of a good jump out of the starting blocks, so to speak.

Yet the expectation expressed by Mr. de Villepin displayed either a willful ignorance or a shocking naivete. For 30 years, foreign countries undermined harmony throughout the continent, supported or actively implemented coups d’Etat, intervened militarily to protect their economic interests and funded government armies or rebellions. To expect that three decades of instability would simply end just because the Soviet Union collapsed is to ignore that such conflicts inevitably generate momentum of their own. Mr. de Villepin is like the parent who gives his kid a ton of candy after dinner and then reacts with anger when the kid won’t go to sleep.

I suspect the foreign minister’s comments were based more on willful ignorance, as a way to brush off French complicity in helping create the mess that is sub-Saharan Africa. Certainly Britain,and to a lesser extent the Soviets, Belgium and the US, played their part but France’s culpability is by far the greatest.

Political alliances, particularly those with autocratic regimes, are almost always based on perceived short-term interests without regard to unintended long-term consequences. This should serve as (yet another) warning about opening such Pandora’s boxes.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

The United States suspended military aid to about 35 countries in a dispute over the International Criminal Court (ICC). The countries failed to exempt American troops from prosecution in the ICC, which Washington fears will target American troops in politically motivated prosecutions, despite the numerous safeguards which make such an eventuality almost impossible.

Others fear that the ICC will undermine the jurisdiction of national courts, yet this fear is unfounded. The ICC will only be relevant when national authorities are unwilling or unable to deal with accusations. The NGO CICC notes:

14. Will the International Criminal Court infringe on the jurisdiction of national courts?

No. The International Criminal Court will complement, not supercede, the jurisdiction of national courts. National courts will continue to have priority in investigating and prosecuting crimes within their jurisdiction. Under the principle of complementarity, the International Criminal Court will act only when national courts are unable or unwilling to exercise jurisdiction. If a national court is willing and able to exercise jurisdiction, the International Criminal Court cannot intervene and no nationals of that State can be brought before it. The grounds for admitting a case to the Court are specified in the [Rome]Statute and the circumstances that govern inability and unwillingness are carefully defined so as to avoid arbitrary decisions. In addition, the accused and interested States, whether they are parties to the Statute or not, may challenge the jurisdiction of the Court or admissibility of the case. They also have a right to appeal any related decision.

To inform yourself further on how the ICC will actually operate, go to for more facts.

Anyway, the US has decided to cease military aid to several dozen countries. Among the countries are: South Africa, Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro (former Yugoslavia), Malawi, Mali and Zambia. Considering that all of these countries are valliantly taking steps to recover from a recent history which included ruthless dictatorship, massive human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing and/or rampant corruption, do we really want to punish them for upholding the rule of law and send them the message that immunity/impunity is not only acceptable but imperative?

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

With the devastating civil war raging in Liberia and rebels closing in on the capital of that West African country, there is now talk of a UN-led intervention force in Liberia; the Bush administration is under some pressure to contribute American troops. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times ran editorials today in favor of intervention. Much to my surprise, the question leaves me feeling very ambivalent.

Anyone who has read my recent writings knows my feelings toward evil Charles Taylor, the dictator and indicted war criminal who the rebels are sworn to overthrow. More explicitly, I can’t think of another human being on the planet who I despise more than Charles Taylor. I would support nearly anything that I believed would remove this blight on humanity who has done nothing but reek havoc, chaos, displacement and murder which has affected tens of millions of West Africans, not just his own countrymen.

I am not opposed to internationally-authorized humanitarian intervention on prinicple. In fact, I tend to support it if it will help. But just as I don’t oppose it on ideological grounds, I don’t support it reflexively either. While no one can guarantee 100% success in peacekeeping, the Hippocratic oath applies: first, do no harm. I am not convinced that an international intervention would do no harm.

I must clairify for emphasis. I do not mean that American or international troops would be committing atrocities. But rather, the objective of such an intervention would be to bring the war toward its conclusion, rather than prolonging it. I am not confident that this would happen.

Conceive, for a moment, what would happen if an American or international force went to Liberia, even upon the ostensible invitation of Taylor and the rebels. What would it do? Likely, it would act as a buffer between Taylor’s men and the two rebel groups. Since Taylor wants to cling desperately to power and since the rebel groups’ sole stated objective is to get rid of Taylor, it is difficult to imagine what sort of negotations could occur. The intervention force would simply be allowing the two groups to bide time and re-arm themselves. You don’t need me to elaborate what would probably happen next. Allowing warring groups to catch their breath and re-arm, to participate in even bloodier and longer-lasting battles, would this be doing no harm or would it be prolonging the agony?

As someone who’s lived in one of Liberia’s neighbors and who knew several Liberians, I bring perhaps a different perspective to the debate. This perspective explains my passion for Liberia and the depth of my hatred of Taylor, but it also offers gave me a historical understanding of the country and region.

Liberia’s first civil war (1989-97) offers a cautionary tale to the present situation. Just as Taylor’s troops were rolling through the country and were on the verge of capturing Monrovia (the capital) in 1990, the West African Economic Community decided to send a “peacekeeping” force, called ECOMOG, to protect Monrovia’s civilians. This is similiar to what is being proposed now for the UN and/or US.

ECOMOG comprised mostly Nigerian troops but also men from Guinea, Ghana and other West African countries. All the groups hated ECOMOG, because it was perceived as a barrier to any of them gaining absolute power. ECOMOG quickly became seen as a warring faction just like the others and was targeted as such. It really didn’t end up doing much except enriching Nigerian generals.

Some have argued that ECOMOG’s intevention was actually WORSE than doing nothing because it prolonged the war and its atrocities by over 6 years. Without ECOMOG, Taylor’s troops likely would’ve captured Monrovia by 1991 and the hostilities would’ve mostly ended then. And Taylor, whose ascession to power ECOMOG was designed to prevent, ended up becoming leader anyway.

If the US and/or UN were to intervene, I don’t expect the corruption problem. The force would be enthusiastically welcomed by the civilian population (who demonstrated in front of the American embassy in Monrovia for intervention), much the same way Sierra Leonians welcomed the British intervention a few years ago. But the force would surely be treated hostily by the three warring factions, once they re-armed. It would get extremely messy.

I don’t think we should militarily intervene just for the sake of intervening (ie: for the sake of falsely assuaging our consciences). The ECOMOG example serves as a cautionary tale in that regard. We should also make our intended course clear and unamiguous. Rwanda and Srebenica are two examples of how giving false hope is more cruel than remaining silent.

The international community has few non-military options left. There’s already an arms embargo on Liberia and, I believe, timber and diamond embargoes as well. I think Taylor, who is believed to have links with al-Qaeda via the blood diamond trade, is banned from travelling to the US or the EU. That combined with his indictment for war crimes limits the options pretty tightly.

What should we (ie: the US and Europe) do? We should certainly be prepared to send humanitarian aid and assistance as soon as is practicable. We should hope the rebels take power quickly and that Taylor’s troops offer little resistance, although that hasn’t happened so far. If the rebels do take power, we should work with them to help stabilize the country, encourage them to implement the rule of law and use any leverage we have to make sure they don’t screw up; in general, they’re not an especially savory bunch either so we should keep an eye on them.

If the West Africans want to send their own intervention force, the US doesn’t need to commit our own troops but we should be willing to offer any technical assistance they may require. Leaders like Thabo Mbeki often talk “African solutions to African problems.” We should encourage this and offer any ancilary help necessary.

Something simple like this might have abated the Rwandan genocide. East African countries wanted to intervene in Rwanda, but the Clinton administration refused to LEASE them military equipment their armies needed to stop the slaughter.

Too often, reacting to such a crisis is seen as an all (we must send our own troops) or nothing (we must turn our heads away and pretend it doesn’t exist) affair. We must realize there are many different ways of reacting to such a crisis other than this simplistic dichotomy.

Otherwise, I think we should let the war play itself out, hope the rebels win quickly and be prepared to help out civilians after that happens. This is not a very satisfactory thing for me to write. It does not sound very compassionate, especially considering it affects people from a country to which I have ties. But it’s precisely because of these ties that I recognize the difficult nuances of this situation. Letting the war play itself out may sound cruel, but prolonging the agony is even crueler. Well-intentioned people must realize that this is one of those heartwrenching disasters where no solution is good. Only one that is least agonizing.

First, do no harm.