Friday, October 29, 2004

You'll take your liberation and you'll like it!

No weapons of mass destruction? Dubious al-Qaeda ties? Oh well, at least Iraqis are better off now than under Saddam Hussein. Except for the estimated 100,000 who've been killed during the war and occupation, according to The Lancet*. We have to rely on estimated counts because no one's kept an actual count.

(*-The Lancet is not a partisan political rag but Britain's most respected medical journal)

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The next number retired is 1918

Ladies and gentlemen, news reports indicate that Hell has officially frozen over. Yankee fans need not worry. The complex reserved for them in Hades was not affected by the ice, according to the complex's owner George Steinbrenner.

Posting here will be suspended for Thursday as I seek treatment for the several heart attacks I had during Wednesday's World Series Game 4, for the after-effects of several innings without breathing and for the condition of hyper-euphoria attained following said game.

Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball Champions: 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918 and 2004.

OH MY [CURSES DELETED]: WE FINALLY WON. AHHHH!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The art of persuasion

Mother Jones has an interesting interview entitled How to Talk Like a Conservative (If You Must).

The key, [George Lakoff] says, is not to shift rightward politically, but to lift a few moves from the right’s linguistic playbook. Lakoff is trying to teach liberals what conservatives have known for years: the skill of defining, or “framing,” issues in a way that makes it next to impossible for the other side to contradict you. By consciously and cleverly framing the terms used in the debate, you define the debate itself.

Apparently the recent nostalgia with George Orwell's private life obscured the fact that the use of language to persuade people was central to so much of his work. Hysterical screaming, fist-pounding and chest thumping, while red meat for the True Believers, usually put others on guard. But patiently crafting the terms of the debate in a way favorable to your cause if far more effective in PERSUADING those not already decided.

Crime, drug trade and other elements of civic pride

The upstate New York theme NYCO blog points out that hideous attempts at spin are hardly the exclusive province of national politicians.

WOKR in Rochester, NY, reports that: According to the FBI, one of every 330 people in our community [Rochester] became victims of violent crime in 2003; that's up about 5 percent from 2002. While crime rates dropped in other large upstate New York cities like Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany.

This might be seen as slightly less than desirable, but not according to Rochester's mayor Bill Johnson. Hizzoner beamed with pride, “It reflects the fact that Rochester is still the most affluent city in upstate New York. It’s one of the reasons we have rampant drug trade here, and where drugs are, you find a high degree of murder."

I swear this is NOT from The Onion.

With friends like this...

The British newspaper The Guardian decided to launch a campaign. Their objective was to have readers throughout Europe send letters to a county in the swing-state Ohio sharing their thoughts on the presidential race.

As someone who strongly opposes President Bush's policies and fervently hopes he does not serve four more years, I was appalled by this campaign. The sheer presumptuousness of it is much closer to the European caricature of Americans than of itself.

It's clear that the folks at The Guardian don't have the slightest idea of the mentality of the area they're targeting. Most places in the United States, especially Middle America, don't like being told what to do by foreigners. Most people in America would react to this campaign with the phrase: "Mind your own [expletive] business."

Of course, the result of the election is Europe's business. And Asia's. And the Middle East's. And maybe Africa's. The US government's policies affect the whole world. Be it Washington's missionary work spreading the gospel of (sort of) free trade and privatization above all else. Be it invading random countries for dubious reasons. Be it demanding free and fair elections every where but here.

So yes, the result of the election is the rest of the world's business. But the rest of the world doesn't have a vote.

While The Guardian and its readers are free to have opinions, they're better off limiting them to the pages of its newspaper. I'm sure most The Guardian's readers wish my government would mind its own business. I'd heartily agree with them. But unless their objective is purely pedantic, then the point isn't simply to be right.

Their letter-writing campaign, essentially trying to convince Ohioans to vote for John Kerry, is sure to do more harm than good. It will be seized upon by the right to "prove" that those who don't have America's best interests at heart (or their perverse interpretation thereof) oppose Bush. Therefore, by implication, Bush must be the right choice. No matter how "courteous and sensitive" the letter, it's still a foreigner giving unsolicited advice on our politics. Americans don't like that.

I don't doubt that Americans should listen to the rest of the world, for once, even though they won't like it. But is this the right time? Will it achieve the result the campaigners hope? I doubt it.

US neo-conservatives are accused of not having a clue about the culture of countries they hope to invade and occupy. Similarly, if The Guardian's editors think this campaign will be a net benefit for the cause of defeating Bush, then it's clear that they don't have a clue about American culture. I give them the same advice I'd give our government in Washington: don't mess with what you don't understand.

The Guardian's noble, but wickedly counterproductive effort, reminds me of the admonition in Graham Greene's brilliant novel The Quiet American: "I've never met someone with such good intentions for all the trouble he causes."

In that case, it was the world-weary but wise European journalist admonishing the well-intentioned but naive American. How the tables have turned.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Reverance for the democratic process

I'm not a big fan of Z Net. It's a website that advocates every far left cause you can think of and them some. Mumia Abu Jamal? Saints Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Hugo Chavez? Elogies to freedom fighters who kidnap and torture aid workers in Iraq or do suicide bombings in Tel Aviv? They're all there. I don't read Z Net much, because I find it very predictable and with the intellectual rigor of The O'Reilly Factor; I don't like tedious, flimsy essays even if I agree with the jist. But people who swear by Noam Chomsky or Michael Moore tend to love the site.

It purports to be an "alternative" site. Edgy. With loads of stuff you can't get in the mainstream or "corporate" media. But it can lapse into the same old, same old. When push comes to shove, much like The Nation, it can abandon its so-called edge and adopt the same tone as the Democratic establishment it normally loves to assail.

Take this screed by Stephen Shalom. It begins with the usual rant about stolen elections and the like, conveniently forgetting that both Democrats and Republicans tried to steal the 2000 election; only one could be successful.

The essay talks about alleged illegal disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida by Republicans. But then Shalom uses this ridiculous analogy: The hypothetical defense of Republican behavior in Florida is the actual defense used by Nader supporters to absolve themselves of responsibility for the outcome of the 2000 election. Of course, there is a world of difference between stealing votes and legally contesting an election, but the logic in the two situations is the same.

Of course, there's a world of difference between alleged illegal activity and a candidate fairly participating in the democratic process. Except that it's the same.

No wonder I don't waste my time on the site.

Kerry: different from FDR and Truman

One of the Bush campaign's tactics is to portray John Kerry as an old-fashioned liberal. They love to refer to him as "a Senator from Massachussetts" because they think the mere fact of geography implies how liberal he allegedly is.

Thus my surprise that President Bush told supporters in Onalaska [Wisconsin] that Mr Kerry's career in the Senate showed he was not part of the Democratic Party of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F Kennedy.
"With that record, he stands in opposition not just to me, but to the great tradition of the Democratic Party," he said.

In other words:

Roosevelt, architect of The New Deal

Truman, the first president to advocate national health care

Kennedy, created the Peace Corps (dismissed as a 'bleeding heart' initiative and 'kiddie corps' by critics) and was a... uh... Senator from Masschussetts

I didn't know that Bush admired all of these liberal presidents, let alone that he though the Democratic Party had a "great tradition." But does Bush really intend to CONTRAST Kerry to these presidents who advocated such liberal policies?

Things Falling Apart

Legendary Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe recently caused a firestorm by rejecting the country's second highest award. The Commander of the Federal Republic honor was awarded to him by President Olesegun Obasanjo. Achebe rejected the award while criticizing the country's "dangerous state of affairs" and hoped that his action would serve as a "wake up call."

"The situation is getting worse and worse," he told the BBC, saying that President Olusegun Obasanjo bears primary responsibility. "Nigeria is a country that does not work," he said: "Schools, universities, roads, hospitals, water, the economy, security, life."

Achebe is author of many excellent works including the classic Things Fall Apart (which I'd highly recommend). His criticism was dismissed by an advisor to President Obasanjo who claimed that Achebe was unaware of the alleged progress made in the last five years because he lives and teaches in New York.

Following the Achebe controversy, BBC Online asked: Do you think intellectuals who live abroad have a right to comment so publicly on the countries they left behind? How much do they really know about ordinary life there? Or, with the modern, global media, are they just as well informed as people back home?

Such people absolutely have the right to comment. Achebe may be a Nigerian who lives abroad, like millions of others, but that does not make him a former Nigerian. In many cases, ex-patriates are the ONLY people who can speak out about incidents in their countries because of repression and censorship back home.

Let's face it: relatively few people choose to leave countries that are politically, economically and culturally vibrant. It's a natural human instinct to want to live in familiar surroundings and be around people who are like you. I'd be willing to bet that most Africans of the diaspora would rather be living back home, if conditions were more favorable.

In other words, ex-pats who criticize the goings on in their country do so rarely out of spite or arrogance. They typically do so because they want things to improve in their country. Almost all ex-pats have family still living in their home country. So to suggest that they have no stake in the fortunes of their country and should therefore just shut up is absurd.

Many BBC readers expressed that attitude that if Achebe thinks he's so smart, he should run for president of Nigeria himself. Unfortunately, this is a smokescreen that does nothing to address the real issues. If running for president were a pre-requisite for criticizing the president, then there'd be tens of millions of Americans on next month's ballot.

A BBC reader from Manchester (UK) took particular exception to Achebe's comment: I think Chinua Achebe has his reason's for refusing national honour but to say that Nigeria doesn't work I'm afraid is not only inaccurate but ignorant particularly of a man of his calibre. If the schools in Nigeria are so dysfunctional, then I wonder how Achebe himself got enough education to write a classic like 'Things Fall Apart' if we all took that attitude, how will things ever change for Africa?

I'm not sure how any ingenuous person COULD say that things run smoothly in Nigeria. Even amongst other West Africans, Nigeria is infamous for its permanent chaos. And West Africans know a little something about disorder.

Furthermore, the reader clearly doesn't understand basic Engilsh grammar. 'The schools in Nigeria are dysfunctional' is present tense. Achebe studied in schools in Nigeria over half a century ago. Unfortunately, it's the reader who takes the wrong attitude. Burying one's head in the sand and refusing to confront real problems is not the way to make things move forward in Africa.

Monday, October 25, 2004

High explosives! Get your red hot high explosives!

Let's be honest: we don't want our politicians to be honest. We want politicians to tell us what we want to hear. There's a reason that if the kids were the electorate, moms would never be elected president. No one wants to be told to eat their vegetables. No voter wants to be told that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Politicians who are frank are usually lauded by the press and public as "plain spoken" or "straight shooters." These politicians do not get elected. Much like for good TV shows such as Arrested Development or Freaks and Geeks, press approval is usually the death knell for a "straight talker."

Take for example, John Kerry's comment that he'd like to go back to the days when terrorism was merely a "nuisance." Now, this seems like a reasonable enough suggestion. Most people don't like the current state of terror many people chose to put themselves in... though people who benefit politically from such hysteria don't mind. But most people would like to go back to those days. Getting struck by lighting is a nuisance. I don't worry about it much unless I see bolts when I'm in the swimming pool: in other words, maybe twice a year.

But the Bush campaign used this to make Kerry seem out of touch: a "pre-9/11" guy, as the hysteria peddlers would have it.

Now given the Republicans' frothing at the mouth reaction to Kerry's comments, it's a bit surprising President Bush's recent admission. The president said it is "up in the air" whether the US can ever be fully safe from terrorism.

In reality, I can't argue with Bush's candor. We will probably never be fully safe against terrorism. We can no more immunize ourselves 100% from terrorism than we can immunize ourselves from other killers like traffic accidents and medical malpractice. We can only minimize the risks... though it's hard to see how the president's foreign policy does anything but increase the risks.

Though I can't argue with the president's frankness, candor is bad politics. The admission, however truthful, makes him seem soft on terrorism. And he wants to convince Americans that Kerry, not he, is soft on terrorism. He's based his campaign on his steadiness and never changing his mind facts be darned in contrast to his opponent's flip flopping and sending mixed messages.

His surrogates, in typical fashion, deflected criticism by accusing Kerry of having the support of the French.

The president also claimed that US security was "much better" despite revelations that hundreds of tons of high explosives are missing in Iraq.

Wenger to be best man at Fergie's wedding, and other tall tales

Arsenal boss Arsène Wenger and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson are the two greatest mangerial rivals in English soccer. They've show a genuine disdain for each other both through the media and on the pitch. Yet Jose Mourinho recently insisted that despite the apparent bitterness, the two are actually bosom buddies. "We all know each other but they have a very good relationship and respect each other. They are good friends," claimed the Chelsea gaffer.

I can buy the argument that the two respect each other. But good friends?

I think they are as likely to feature on each other's Christmas card list as Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy.

Speaking of the sport, Arsenal's English record 49-match unbeaten streak came to an end yesterday at the hands of Manchester United and "good friend" Ferguson. Though it's worth noting that the Gunners weren't even halfway to the world record unbeaten streak. Ivorian giants ASEC Mimomas from Abidjan went 108 consecutive matches without defeat between 1989 and 1994, a streak which also included domestic cups (Arsenal's streak only included league matches).

However, much like the English champions, ASEC failed to achieve earn continental glory during their long streak. Though they were finally crowned African champions in 1998.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The amazing adventures of Beavis and Buttman

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the state's Governor George Pataki are notorious for spending more time during budget battles sniping at each other through the media. These tactics outrage most New Yorkers since with a late budget each of the last 20 years, the leaders should be talking to each other and doing the business they're paid to do.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow are apparently the National Hockey League's equivalent of New York's Tom and Jerry duo. The NHL has locked out the players because they want a new collective bargaining agreement. The owners are mad because someone's apparently holding a gun to their head to give mediocre, washed-up players $3 million a year contracts. The owners want an agreement that saves them from themselves. The players think the owners should try a little self-restraint rather than imposing a socialist salary cap on all team owners.

But rather than talking to each other, Beavis and Buttman attack each other through the media. The two haven't met once since the previous agreement ended over a month ago.

St Louis Blues' player Chris Pronger thinks both sides should stop the fruitless PR nonsense. The CBC reported that Pronger told the Peterborough Examiner on Thursday that players and owners who earn millions of dollars each year will never win public sympathy, and that the public relations battle is getting in the way of finding a solution to the labour dispute.

"If all the energy we've seen being wasted on public relations could be spent negotiating a deal, we could probably be halfway done a deal," said Pronger, who is also the Blues' NHL Players' Association representative. "Realistically, who cares whose side you are on, neither one of us looks good."

Ok, so Pronger is intelligent to realize that the fans, who pay through the nose for tickets (the most important source of revenue for NHL clubs), aren't going to have much sympathy for the petty squabbles of millionaires vs billionaires.

I'm glad somebody in this mess has a clue.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Hooray for small government!

I live in a very right-wing area. Republicans outnumber Democrats some 3 to 1. In some local races, the Conservative Party candidate outpolls the Democratic Party candidate. The letters to the editor page is filled with readers whining about the evils of big government, businessmen complaining about taxes and bemoaning how liberal Democrats are killing business.

A story from the front page of my local paper this morning began: City officials have reached the point in their effort to attract the Boscov’s department store chain to downtown that they are discussing potential financial assistance with state officials. Representatives of Empire State Development Corp. — the state’s economic development agency — met Wednesday with [Republican] Mayor Robert Regan and [Republican] state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward to discuss ways the state could help the city attract Boscov’s....

Hooray for small government!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Two items you won't believe!

An astonishing report from Transparency International. The anti-corruption group claims that oil wealth 'can cause corruption.'

The report estimates that billions of dollars are lost to bribery in public purchasing, citing the oil sector in many nations as a particular problem, adds the BBC. Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen all had low scores.

TI's chief Peter Eigen notes that in the worst affected countries, "public contracting in the oil sector is plagued by revenues vanishing into the pockets of Western oil executives, middlemen and local officials."

Corruption and the oil industry?

Oil revenues not trickling down to benefit the lives of ordinary people?

It strains credulity!

Speaking of unbelievable reports, an audit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo revealed that managers of state companies earn up to $25,000 a month. A BBC correspondent in the capital, Kinshasa, says that most workers earn about $50 a month and many have not been paid for up to three years.

Corruption? In what was until recently Mobutu's Zaire?

You don't say!

On Monday, the foreign minister of Belgium, the former colonial power, said that he doubted whether DR Congo's political class were capable of ending corruption and organising elections due next year.

The foreign minister is really going out on a limb here, wouldn't you say?

Yankee fans: who's your Papi?

"The Indians win it. The Indians win it. Oh my God, the Indians win it." -Bob Uecker's character from the movie Major League.

A variation of which everyone in New England has exclaimed at some point in the last 8 1/2 hours.

Four more wins for a perfect season. Let's go Red Sox!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

'Canonize the troops' movement takes a pause

War provokes very passionnate, often hyperdefensive, reactions from people. It's clear the state of American society is very hypersensitive. It's clear that 'shoot the messenger' is the predominant mentality. Especially by supporters of the present administration.

First, there was the Abu Ghraib scandal. While many in the general public expressed disgust at the crimes, many conservatives reserved their ire not for those who committed the atrocities, but for reporter Seymour Hersch, whose articles revealed them. To them, it was Hersch (the messenger) who dishonored America by reporting these incidents, rather than the apparent war criminals who committed those atrocities.

Now, there's the case of the reservist supply unit who refused orders in Iraq to go on what they considered a suicide mission. They are being attacked by conservatives for treason; I've heard them called modern-day Benedict Arnolds. Apparently, the right has taken a brief pause from their 'canonize the troops' movement to launch their vitriol toward these soldiers.

You'll notice a pattern. The 'canonize the troops' movement is always suspended when the troops in question disagree with the president's insane plans or otherwise does or says something that might conceivably be construed as embarassing the president or the administration. John Kerry's war record was being smeared. Max Cleland's patriotism was smeared. Two political opponents of the president, coincidentally.

But the soldiers who said Don Rumsfeld should resign were also smeared. Soldiers who refused to follow orders to go on a suicide mission are being smeared by right-wing yapping heads.

The AP reported, that the platoon of 17 soldiers refused to go on a fuel supply mission Wednesday because their vehicles were in poor shape and they did not have a capable armed escort.

In fact, it was the commanders who betrayed the soldiers, not vice versa. The commanders who betrayed the soldiers by ordering them into battle without maximum protection.

A National Guardsman from the armory in my town was killed in Iraq earlier this year because the vehicle he was using did not have any protection. So if I don't blame that platoon from refusing suicidal orders, you'll have to excuse me.

The members of that platoon should not get a free pass, nor should they be condemned to prison with a hearing. They should be forced to explain their decision before military justice and that justice should decide if their actions violate or not the Uniform Military Code of Justice. The rule of law should apply here just as it should be applied concerning Abu Ghraib.

I suspect the soldiers did not take their decision lightly. Those who rush to condemn the soldiers as traitors should ask why they would've taken such a decision, even though they knew it meant there was a strong possibility they might do prison time as a result. To me, the dramatic nature of their action shows how suicidal they thought the mission was and how ill-prepared they felt for it. Why else would they risk prison time?

The 'shoot the messenger' smokescreen allows people to ignore the central question: WHY were they so grossly unprepared?

When I first saw this story, I was furious. Not at them, but at the Pentagon. I'm sure someone will try to blame this all on Bill Clinton, even though Republicans controlled the budget-approving Congress for almost all of his tenure.

I was furious because I didn't understand how could you send soldiers into combat zone without giving them as much protection as possible. While death and injuries are inevitable in any war, how can you send soldiers into combat zone without reducing their risk as much as humanly possible? If we're spending hundreds of billions of dollars on this war and occupation and soldiers still don't have basic stuff like armor-plated vehicles, then where in God's name is all the money going? Maybe it's all being wasted on Star Wars and other high-tech toys. Who knows?

And that, my friends, is the real outrage.

The soldiers' mistake was not understanding something. They were under the delusion that 'support our troops' was something more than an empty phrase mouthed to show your alleged patriotism. They were under the delusion that 'support our troops' was something more than wearing yellow ribbons on your lapel. They thought that 'support our troops' meant that we actually supported our troops in, gasp, a SUBSTANTIVE WAY rather than via shallow platitudes.

They were naive.

And they may spend time in prison for their naivete.

Snobbery and rubes?

Frank McGahon, over at Internet Commentator, points to an interesting story. Javier Zanetti, captain of the Italian soccer giants Inter Milan, convinced his teammates to donate 5000 Euros (US$6300), an ambulance and the captain's No 4 black and blue team shirt to one of the last strongholds of the ragtag Zapatista army in a gesture of solidarity for the indigenous people of Chiapas in southern Mexico, reports The Guardian. The Argentine also talked his club into donating its changing room fines for late arrival or using mobile phones to help villagers rebuild after the village of Zinacantán was reportedly attacked by government military forces in April.

One of Frank's objections is a justification made by Zanetti, "We believe in a better world, in an unglobalised world, enriched by the cultural differences and customs of all the people." Frank rightly points out the absurdity of an Argentine playing in Italy on the same team as Brazilians, Serbs, Uruguayans, a Paraguayan, a Dutchman, a Nigerian, a Greek and a Turk complaining about the evils of globalization.

However, Frank goes a little overboard when he bemoans those soccer players who suffer from the same delusion as academics and Hollywood celebrities who imagine that their prominence in one field confers a wisdom on affairs in another unrelated field which eludes the rest of us poor rubes.

Zanetti believes in this cause, however misguided Frank may think it is. He convinced his teammates to support that cause. How is this arrogant or presumptuous?
I donate money to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a mentoring organization which I also volunteer for. My academic training is in mathematics, not social services. Does this mean I'm under the delusion that my prominence in math confers wisdom on affairs in social services which eludes the rest of you poor rubes merely because I donate my time and money to this cause?

I understand Frank's contempt of celebrities backing "trendy" causes like Tibet, when it seems there are far more urgent causes that could benefit from star power. I'm pretty skeptical of trendy causes myself. But silly rhetoric aside, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with Zanetti's action. He convinced his teammates to donate money to rebuild a destroyed village. The actual cause aside, Frank's complaint seemingly would have it so no one ever donated money or took any interest in any cause outside their specific area of training.

Do he object to Liberian soccer great George Weah's work with War Child, a group that works with demobilized child soldiers in Africa?

Views on sportsmanship

The English soccer press will rue the day when Sir Alex Ferguson eventually retires. He is one of the great quotes left in the sport.

Recently, the long-time Manchester United boss said that he thought Arsenal's behaviour after Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a penalty with the final kick of the game at Old Trafford last season was "the worst thing I've seen in sport."

After the miss, several Gunners players surrounded van Nistelrooy and taunted the Dutchman. A photo of then Arsenal defender Martin Keown, face red and neck veins bulging to near bursting, taunting van Nistelrooy was plastered all over the press. The lack of grace was appalling.

Yet, Ferguson's comments were rich with hyperbole, as they so often are. Arsenal's lack of sportsmanship was worse than Eric Cantona flying into the stands to karate kick a fan? It was worse than when his resident goon, Roy Keane, seriously injured Manchester City's Alf-Inge Haaland with an atrocious above-the-knee tackle? An attack so savage it prompted a police investigation and one that Keane claimed was pre-meditated.

Anyone who follows English soccer knows to take Fergie's comments with a grain of salt. Apparently this one requires a pound of HCl.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

'If this isn't genocide, then what is?'

Some people insist that the crisis in Darfur, eastern Sudan, really isn't really genocide. Or that it isn't really a big deal. Or that it's a legitimate counter-insurgency method. Or that it's being exaggerated by the Bush administration to appeal to its Crusading supporters in the theocracy brigade. The Independent, arguably the British daily the most critical of President Bush over Iraq, ran an opinion column on Darfur entitled: "'If this isn't genocide, then what on Earth is?'"

The quote was taken from Lord Alton, a member of the upper house of the British parliament, visited refugee camps in the region and reported his findings to the country's prime minister Tony Blair. He described that report as a catalogue of systematic violence driven by ethnic hatred and aided by the Sudanese regime.

Lord Alton continued: Three months ago, the UN described the situation in Darfur as "the world's worst humanitarian crisis". On my two-day visit, I found that nothing much has changed. The government of Sudan has reneged on its promise to disarm the Janjaweed. Their campaign has the sole objective of eradicating the black tribes and installing the Arabs in their place. If this isn't genocide, then it's difficult to imagine what on earth is... An immeasurable problem will be the impact of so many babies born due to rape. While the women eventually opened up about the attacks by the militias, they would not even discuss what the future holds for the children. "They want to dilute our blood," one woman said. "They hate black people." A traumatised, helpless mood of resignation simmers in the camps. Sometimes it boils over, as, for instance, at Otash camp, near Nyala, where a policeman was lynched. A woman had recognised him as one of those who massacred her family.

Unfortunately, the American and British governments are not in a position to directly intervene militarily. Their credibility is in tatters after the invasion of Iraq. Any western intervention would necessarily be seen as an imperial one, as yet another Crusade against a Muslim country. Sure, the Janjaweed militias' victims are also Muslim, but such distinctions are immaterial to those with a gigantic chip on their shoulder. It's easier to blame the West for all one's problems than to look in the mirror. It's easier to bemoan the lot of the Palestinians (who are oppressed by Westerners) than to shed a tear for the lot of Darfurians (who are oppressed by Arabs), because this more conveniently fits the 'Westerners hate Islam' world view.

Is this fair? No. But you can not ignore perception. And more importantly, you can not ignore the impact of perception on the probability of successfully achieving your objective.

The intervention in Darfur must be done by African Union forces. Not because I object to the use of American troops for humanitarian purposes in the most extreme causes. But because the use of American troops would cause more problems than it would solve, in this particular case. First, do no harm.

However, African Union (AU) forces are ready to do the job; the US should offer any logistical assistance they require. The main impediment, however, is the resistance of the Khartoum regime to those AU forces. This is hardly surprising: considering what they're sponsoring in Darfur, they don't want witnesses.

Pressure must be exerted on Sudan to allow an AU mission. Since the US has little leverage itself on Khartoum, the administration must pressure countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to, in turn, pressure Sudan on this front. America's Arab "allies" have been criminally silent on the Darfur genocide, which is hardly surprising considering their own lamentable human rights' records.

AU chief Alpha Oumar Konaré wants the AU to have a different tradition from its sclerotic predecessor: the Organization for African Unity (OAU). The OAU placed national sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs as its motto. Despite Konaré's wishes, there's precious little to suggest the AU will adopt a more relevant approach to dealing with Darfur than the OAU would have.

It appears that "Rwanda: never again" has become as empty a slogan as "The Holocaust: never again."

Polls don't matter (part 255)

I've written several essays on why I object to the media's overreliance on polls, particularly as a substitute for actual reporting. I don't think an article based on a poll should ever be on the front page, certainly not a poll concerning an election for office.

Using polls as news tells nothing about the candidates' positions on the issues. It tells nothing about their character. It tells nothing of their record. It merely illustrates the perceptions of a tiny handfuls of individuals. Would Sports Illustrated ever waste space with weekly articles on what percentage of baseball fans like the Yankees vs the Red Sox vs the Cubs?

Polls as a substitute for news is an attempt to make news rather than report it, something most in the news media swear up and down journalists never do.

The USA Today's front page top headline yesterday was Poll: Bush leads Kerry by 8 points, 52-44%. The Washington Post has Bush up by 3, TIME has Bush by 2. Who's right?

They all are. The reason these polls are often widely divergent is that they each sample different tiny handfuls of individuals.

The real question is why voters should pay attention to them in the first place. If you need a poll to decide who to vote for, should you really be voting at all? Should the commander-in-chief be chosen by voters who stick their finger in the wind? Sadly, this will probably be the case again this year.

But what makes the intense media focus on these national polls even more inane is their utter irrelevance.

If you accept that Bush is really ahead nationally by 2 or 8 points, it still doesn't matter in the least. Because of the absurd Electoral College, the real question is how his 52% [or whatever mythical figure you accept] is distributed.

The total number of AMERICANS who vote for a presidential candidate doesn't matter at all (and polling and voting aren't even the same thing, as many people forget). In the most extreme case, a candidate could theoretically receive 19 popular votes for president and be elected.

Even if people were asleep in high school social studies class, you'd think 2000 would've reminded the press and everyone else that the national popular vote doesn't matter.

But I guess you'd be wrong.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Selective anger, selective compassion

Conservatives are making a big to-do about John Kerry mentioning Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter.

The question asked of Kerry and President Bush was: "Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?"

Kerry's answer began: "We're all God's children, Bob. And I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as."

Conservatives' motives aside for a moment, Kerry probably had two intentions by bringing up Mary Cheney. Appealing to moderates and using Mary Cheney to demonstrate the Bush administration's hypocrisy.

He points out that it's not just immoral/amoral types who are gay. It's not just free love leftist hippies who are gay. Sometimes gays are, gasp, Republican. Sometimes they're children of conservatives. Sometimes they're children of people who've made their careers out of trumpeting "traditional values." If a "normal" family can "produce" a gay child, then perhaps homosexuality and normality shouldn't be seen opposites.

Kerry points out that gay bashing hurts these Republicans too. It hurts the daughter of no less than the conservative vice-president.

The effect of Kerry's comment is to humanize the debate. It's really easy to bash gays in general. It's a lot harder to bash them individually. The effect was to take the vitriol out of the realm of the abstract. To remind people that when you're bashing gays, you're bashing not just liberals and people of loose morals, but also the Republican vice-president's daughter.

The intent was to appeal to moderates.

I'm sure the other intent was to try to drive a wedge between the president (Mary Cheney's father's boss) and those supporters of his who are homophobic. These folks think that homosexuality is either genetic or the result of a choice. By bringing this up, Kerry's forcing the homophobes to confront their own prejudices. If they refuse to, which is likely, they're essentially admitting that either the vice-president and Mrs. Cheney gave their daughter defective genes or the Cheneys did a crappy job instilling their daughter with the "proper" morality.

It is unusual for a campaign to mention the family members of the opponents. Unless of course that family member happened to be named Hillary Clinton (and at least Kerry didn't savagely attack Mary Cheney). However, he did not invade her privacy. Her lesbianism has been a matter of public record for several years. In fact, she once served as Coors emissary to the gay community. Though I wish I could remember where, I've read that the Cheney parents even brought up her lesbianism during the 2000 campaign.

The Cheney parents were reportedly steamed at Kerry's comments. The vice-president called himself "an angry father" while his wife referred to it as "a cheap and tawdry political trick."

Yet when conservative firebrand Alan Keyes, a Republican US Senate candidate in Illinois, branded Mary Cheney as "a selfish hedonist" because of her lesbianism, Dick Cheney wasn't "an angry father" then. Lynne Cheney didn't call that "a cheap and tawdry political trick."

Perhaps their anger is as selective and Kerry's "compassion."

Essentially, the only way the reference to Mary Cheney can be considered an insult to her or her family is if you consider her homosexuality to be something awful. John Edwards' wife hit the nail on the head when she said that Mrs. Cheney "overreacted to this and treated it as if it's shameful to have this discussion" adding that "I think that it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences,"

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bush to seek flu vaccine from "socialist" Canada?

I'm a little bit confused.

The Bush administration insists that we shouldn't be able to import medication from Canada. Nor should people be allowed to go to Canada to get drugs that cost fewer than 3 arms and 2 legs.

So I was thus surprised to read an article on the shortage of flu vaccine which reported that President George W. Bush said Wednesday night that the U.S. is working with Canada to replace flu vaccine that could not be supplied by a British factory.

Canada?

CANADA?

Great America calling on "socialist" Canada for health care assistance? That's like Zimbabwe, the breadbasket of Southern Africa, needing international food assistance. It's inconceivable.

A cycnic might think the anti-drug importation campaign is lead by big pharamceutical companies.

Not so, say officials.

The purported logic against drug importation is that American authorities can not assure the safety of drugs coming from other countries, especially ones which have the obviously inferior system of [insert ominous music]... SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.

Listening to conservatives, I'd thought anything medical coming from Canada should be dealt with like radioactive waste, because Canada's health care system (singular, according to them) is so bad that it's worse than the health care systems in Africa or Liberia.

Besides, it's not like Canada has anything that could possibly be of superior or even equal quality to what we Yanks (who can afford it) can get.

I'd rather die of the flu than benefit, even indirectly, from [dun dun dun]... SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.

Sheesh!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Troop morale

It's always struck me as the height of demagogic arrogance to suggest that critcizing the war or its handling hurts troops' morale.

The soldiers should know we live in a democracy and that in a democracy, a segment of the population (sometimes small, sometimes large) will always disagree with government policy.

If soldiers don't know this or don't accept this, they aren't fit to wear the uniform anyway.

We've given ourselves the sacred mission of educating the heathens and "giving" them democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. What sort of message are we sending our supposed proteges when we say "you can't criticize government lunacy if it might hurt one soldier's feelings"?

Sending that message does more to undermine our alleged mission civilisatrice in those countries than anything critics of the war or the president say.

"Socialism" cripples competitiveness

The consensus here is that "socialism" (a catch all term used for systems as divergent as communism, Stalinism, socialism and social democracy) is ruinous to a country's economy. That's why we need fewer regulations, or none at all. Laissez-faire capitalism means a competitive economy. Any sort of regulations or social programs will necessarily create an economic disaster, drive businesses away and plunge the country into a deep recession or depression.

This dogma is beyond question, at least here in the United States. Scandinavia is widely seen as the heart of social democracy. One would expect to read of their economies being crippled by such "socialistic" policies like universal health care and the higher taxation that pays for it.

Needless to say, I was surprised to read of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) ranking of the most competitive economies. While the United States was ranked #2, Finland topped the charts. Sweden (whose economy one of my readers vehemently insists is "on the verge of collapse") is #3. Denmark and Norway are 5th and 6th respectively.

The lead story on the WEF's website is entitled: Nordic Economies Most Competitive In the World.

Crippled, indeed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Egg on various faces

Speaking of the media, it's amusing how when CBS had to retract the story about President Bush's National Guard stint, conservatives clucked with glee about CBS getting egg on its face.

But when the administration's two main justifications for the Iraq war (WMDs, al-Qaeda links) were shown to be equally unfounded by the president's own appointees, there was hemming and hawing and desperate attempts to change the subject.

At least when CBS got it wrong, it admitted it was wrong.

More tales from the "liberal media"

Remember the Sinclair Broadcasting Group? They own a number of television stations across the country. Sinclair gained notoriety earlier this year when Nightline aired a program reading off the names of the 721 US soldiers who'd been killed up to that point. Sinclair ordered its stations not to show that episode of Nightline, a decision blasted by Sen. John McCain as "deeply offensive" and "unpatriotic."

Sinclair, who donated the maximum allowed amount to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, justified its decision by stating: Mr. Koppel and 'Nightline' are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.

Just to prove that the Nightline affair wasn't an isolated incident, now they're forcing their stations to air anti-John Kerry film days before the election, pre-empting regular network programming. Most appallingly, The Los Angeles Times says Sinclair had told them it planned to classify the program as news, where the [equal time] rules don't apply.

If a group of stations pre-empted regular network programming to air Fahrenheit 9/11 days before the election and classified it as news, you can be sure conservatives would be screaming bloody murder.


[Addendum: Just to clarify, I have no problem with Sinclair running the attack film. I object to them classifying it as news. And I wanted to point out the fact that if another station ran an overtly anti-Bush attack film, conservatives would be screaming bloody murder.

It's their stations and they can run what they want, just as this is my blog and I can write what I want. I think it would be better if ALL media outlets weren't so afraid of running controversial, "out of the box" work.]

Monday, October 11, 2004

Thank you Micky Adams

I was disappointed to read of the resignation of Micky Adams, manager of the English soccer club Leicester City (my team).

Adams had an eventful 2 1/2 years in charge of the club. His first full season saw the club plunged into administration (receivership) for financial problems that long pre-dated his reign. The club's very survival was in jeopardy. The club was eventually saved but Adams could not sign new players that season to strengthen his squad, even after the club left administration. Nevertheless, he guided the team to 2nd place in the old 1st Division and promotion to the Premier League.

Back in England's top flight, Leicester struggled to get wins (which they did only 5 times in 36 tries). But despite the lack of results, the team was very competitive, earning credible draws against top competition like Newcastle United, Liverpool and undefeated champions Arsenal. Off-the-field incidents hampered Adams' mangerial efforts once again, as several Leicester players were accused of rape during a training camp in Spain (known as the La Manga Affair). The players were jailed for a while but eventually cleared; despite the huge distraction, Adams' side nearly avoided relegation.

Back in the second-flight (now euphemistically known as The Championship), Leicester has struggled to find cohesion and consistency, despite being one of the favorites for promotion. This is not surprising since the manager brought in nearly a dozen new players. While they've travelled well, their home form has been abysmal, earning only 5 points from 6 matches at the Walkers' Stadium. Most worryingly, they've scored only 4 times at home all season.

After a pair of dubious non-wins against Preston (league draw, cup loss), the resignation was not a shock. Adams hinted at a departure after the draw and didn't speak to the media after the loss. A loss in an exhibition friendly against a lower-division opponent appears to have been the last straw.

Unlike some sections of the supporters, I am disappointed by his departure. I thought he was a good manager and I appreciated his frankness in talking to the media. Adams said he was a Leicester City employee and would his best for the club as long as he worked for them. He didn't pretend to bleed Leicester blue and then jump as soon a bigger opportunity presented itself. In an era where loyalty in sports is non-existent but the pretense remains, Adams' candor was refreshing.

But it seems clear that for all his mangerial skills, the current crop of players didn't seem to be responding to him. It probably was time for a change.

I thank him for the success he brought to the club, for re-injecting some financial sanity and for steering the club through two of the most traumatic periods in its history.

I wish him well.

World Cup qualifying surprises!

The French soccer site Football 365 had an interesting article entitled L'Europe perd ses repères (Europe loses its bearings). After Greece's stunning win in the recent European Championships, Saturday's World Cup qualifying matches had several surprises. France was held to a scoreless draw at home by the Republic of Ireland. But that was nothing compared to Portugal's 2-2 draw at minnows Liechtenstein. That was after the European vice-champions held a 2-0 advantage at halftime. Italy lost 1-0 in Slovenia and the Netherlands could only manage a 2-2 result in Macedonia.

But this is not limited to Europe. North American champions Mexico could only manage a 1-0 away victory at St. Vincent and the Grenadines, despite the hosts playing with 10 men for the entire second half (the reverse fixture, last week, went 7-0 to Mexico). Though CONCACAF is certainly going more to form than other regions.

The biggest turmoil is certainly in Africa, where nearly every group favorite is struggling. Senegal is top of their group on tiebreakers, but are even on points with minnows Togo and surprising Zambia. Co-favorites Mali, African semifinalists earlier this year, have only 2 points from 5 qualifiers. South Africa are top of their group, but only a point ahead of Ghana and the DR Congo and merely 2 ahead of... Cape Verde! Even Burkina Faso are only one win behind the leaders. Bafana Bafana have lost 2 of their 5 matches.

Cameroon and Egypt were the fancied teams from Group 3 but they are both behind undefeated Côte d'Ivoire and surprising Libya! Cameroon needed a late equalizer this weekend to scrape a draw away to bottom-feeders Sudan. Angola moved to the top of Group 4 with a win against Zimbabwe. They are a point ahead of continental power Nigeria.

Group 5 contains 2004 African champions Tunisia and runners-up Morocco. But the group is headed by my adopted country Guinea, who have 8 points after their home draw against Morocco (6 pts); though Guinea typically struggles in away from home, they haven't lost a competitive match at home in some 10 years. Tunisia are a further point behind after their draw away to Malawi.

A one-man debate in NY?

You'll notice that the televised presidential debates only have two candidates participating even though there are a number of other national candidates.

The debates are run by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which is a bipartisan (not non-partisan) organization. Its two co-chairs are a former Democratic National Committee Chairman and a former Republican National Committee Chairman. Its sole honorary chairmen are the three living former presidents.

The commission only invites candidates to the debates who are constitutionally eligible to be president and who are on enough ballots for it to be mathematically possible to win. Some of these candidates are Ralph Nader, Michael Badnarik and David Cobb.

But the reason those non-Democratic, non-Republican candidates are glossed over by this bipartisan commission is because of the third criteria, which limits participation to candidates who have demonstrated a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate, as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations' most recent publicly-reported results. (From: CPD website)

Strangely enough, the US Senate candidates in my state will also debate. The participants will be Democratic incumbent Chuck Schumer, Republican Howard Mills and Conservative Marilyn O'Grady. It's a good thing that the arbitrary 15% in the mythical polls rule doesn't apply here in New York, because it wouldn't be much of a debate. Mills is at 13% in the most prominent poll and O'Grady at 9%.

I wonder how they'll manage. The yapping heads insist that a debate with more than two candidates necessarily leads to chaos (which must come as a surprise to voters in nearly every other country where party leaders' debates are held). The chattering class insists that any more than two candidates is "a distraction."

In reality, they think voters, who somehow manage to choose between 20 different brands of white bread at the supermarket, aren't mature enough to have more than two political choices pre-selected for them by the punditocracy.

If the sky doesn't collapse with the three-person NY US Senate debate, imagine the possibilities for presidential politics.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Spare us the nonsense

Is there anything more pointless than the post-debate fluff on the networks and, especially the cable 'news' channels? Which is saying something since cable 'news' channels are pretty much expert peddlers of pointless fluff.

On Larry King following the 2nd Bush-Kerry face off, they had Ann Coulter (a conservative so incoherent that she apparently hasn't been innoculated against rabies) and Paul Begala (a liberal yapping head who was one of Bill Clinton's spinmeisters). Immediately before that, Wolf Blitzer interviewed John Kerry's campaign manager and also Karen Hughes, who was one of Bush's top aides.

What happened will astonish you.

Begala and Kerry's campaign manager said Kerry did a fantastic job and clearly won the debate. Coulter and Hughes said Bush cleaned his opponent's clock. Both pairs used the appropriate phrases as though they were (ahem) reading out of a playbook.

The Bushies spoke of their man's resolve and clarity. The Kerryites spoke of multilateralism and healtheducationjobs (a single word for Democrats).

Yes, the Republicans said Bush won and the Democrats said Kerry won.

I'll wait a moment to let the shock wear off...

It's worth asking why the heck does CNN and the others even waste our time with this.

Get Karen Hughes to say John Kerry is an honorable patriot and crushed Bush like he'll crush al-Qaeda, and then it might be news. Until then, spare us the nonsense.

Basically, each campaign got long infomercials on the cable networks under the guise of 'analysis' and reaction. And the supposedly independent channels were complicit in this ruse, probably because they feared offending the tyranny of neutrality.

Instead of letting viewers digest what they just heard, the channels instantly bombarded viewers with people telling them how they should think, how they should interpret what they just heard, what candidate insta-polls definitively insist 'won' the debate. And the day after, all media outlets will be citing polls to 'prove' who won the debate.

We know politicians don't like citizens to think for themselves. Now we know the television media doesn't either.

Working 'day and night' on critical issues

News from Cambodia is that its ailing monarch, King Norodom Sihanouk is to abdicate.

The country's controversial prime minister Hun Sen responded that lawmakers should work "day and night to prevent the country becoming a republic."

It's good to know that Cambodia's in such good shape that legislators' main pre-occupation is a kingdom-republic debate.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bush admits Iraq sanctions were working

I'd much rather have a guy who changes his mind when the facts render it necessary than a self-rigtheous guy with a Messiah Complex who never changes his mind even in the face of a reality so undeniable to everyone else. Even so, it's clear the president is a flip flopper; he just doesn't have the grace to admit he messed up.

For example, it's now clear, even by the president's own logic, that weapons' inspections in Saddam's Iraq were working.

Before the invasion, President Bush spoke of how Saddam HAD weapons of mass destruction.

Yesterday, he flip flopped. The president spoke of Saddam's "intent and capability to develop weapons."

He also mentioned Saddam's "intent of restarting his weapons program, once the world looked away."

Yet. if Saddam had his weapons program on hold, as the president suggests, then it means sanctions and inspections were working.

First Saddam had WMDs, then he might possibly have sought them. First he was a threat, then he possibly would have eventually become a threat. Bush needs to stop his ex post facto flip flops and just admit he was wrong.

It means that we invaded a country who had no WMDs (according to Bush's own chief weapons inspector) and had no apparent links to al-Qaeda (according to Bush's own secretary of war).

In other words, we invaded a country that clearly was no threat to the United States or its allies.

But you already knew that.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Recap

So to recap the events of the last few days...

Saddam Hussein's regime had no weapons of mass destruction, according to the top US weapons inspector in Iraq.

Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld said he'd seen 'no hard evidence' of a link between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

The tyranny of Saddam has been replaced by the tyranny of chaos, insecurity and daily car bombings.

So could someone remind me why exactly we conquered this country again?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

"Oops, my bad. Give me another term anyway!"

Saddam Hussein's regime had no weapons of mass destruction. Now, this might be about as surprising to ordinary Americans as saying the sun rises in the east or that an hour has 60 minutes.

But it's another embarassing indictment of the Bush administration's incompetence because of who made this conclusion: not Noam Chomsky or Michael Moore, John Kerry or some other easily demonizable "liberal". It was the top American weapons inspector in Iraq.

On the VP debate

I actually listened to about half the vice-presidential debate last night. The main advantage is that it did not include the infuriating voice of George W. Bush. At least Cheney knows what he's talking about, even if he's dead wrong. It was a good debate. An actual debate. I liked the occasional sarcasm between the two candidates. Opponents aren't supposed to like each other, but when they criticize each other, mild sarcasm is much more effective than losing your temper. Nearly every question's first 'response' began with: "Before I answer that I'd like to answer what [the other guy] just said." But in fairness, they both did a better job actually answering the moderator's questions than Bush did in the first debate. Staying "on message" is one thing but it loses its effectiveness if you sound like a robot.

Vice-President Cheney came across as a paternal figure (the real brains of the administration). GOP attempts to paint Sen. Edwards as a sleazy trial lawyer were undermined by the senator's demeanor. It's hard to portrary a guy as having devil horns when he says 'thank you' every time the moderator addresses him and stubbornly refers to his opponent as 'sir.' People forget that trial lawyers have to be good actors. That's why they make good politicians.

Cheney said that debate was the first time he'd met Edwards. Democrats put out a photo of the two shaking hands. There's also a transcript floating around of Cheney's comments to a prayer breakfast where he explicitly thanks Sen. Edwards. It's one thing to stretch the truth or distort, but if you're going to outright lie about something as ancilliary as this, how can you be trusted on bigger stuff?

Cheney's apparent bald faced lie aside, I think both candidates got what they wanted out of this debate. Cheney showed that yes, there is someone in the administration's highest levels who might possibly know what he's doing. Edwards hammered home the theme that vast experience does not necessarily translate into good judgement.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More on the media's "liberal bias"

As I mentioned in my previous essay, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld said he'd seen "no hard evidence" of any Saddam-al Qaeda link. He also noted that, "It turns out that we have not found weapons of mass destruction." Those were the two main reasons cited by the administration for invading Iraq in the first place.

So to me, Rumsfeld's comments seemed like a pretty big deal to me. But some members of the "liberal" media didn't seem to think so.

The headlines for the main article on the front page of the following websites, news organizations labelled "liberal" by many, were:

The New York Times: Poll results show race for president is again a dead heat
The Washington Post: Bush has five point lead over Kerry in new poll
CBS News: CBS poll, Kerry bounces back

There was nothing, anywhere on these front pages, on Rumsfeld's admission.

Thank goodness for the BBC or I might never have heard about this.


[On a related note, I'm sick of hearing how President Bush makes "tough decisions." I'd rather start seeing some GOOD decisions on critical issues. Or at least non-catastrophic ones.]

Monday, October 04, 2004

No 'hard evidence' of al-Qaeda/Saddam link

Who said today concerning Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaeda,

"To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."

a) John Kerry
b) Kofi Annan
c) Michael Moore
d) Jacques Chirac

The correct answer is, of course, not any of those men who some conservatives dismiss as Bush-hating, terrorist loving, anti-American ideologues. It was Donald Rumsfeld, the flip flopper who serves as US secretary of war.

"It turns out that we have not found weapons of mass destruction," the secretary of war added.

Thus rubbishing the two main justifications for convincing Americans to support the Iraq war.

So why is it they deserve to have their employment renewed for another four years?

Genocide in Darfur: an invention of Washington?

The Observer is one of at least a few to report claims that downplay the extent of the crisis in Darfur, eastern Sudan. American warnings that Darfur is heading for an apocalyptic humanitarian catastrophe have been widely exaggerated by administration officials, it is alleged by international aid workers in Sudan. Washington's desire for a regime change in Khartoum has biased their reports, it is claimed, writes the British paper.

This is odd since most humanitarian aid organizations have been screaming at the top of their lungs to sensitize people to the disaster in Darfur.

It's part of the knee-jerk mentality of some people that whatever the US government advocates is automatically wrong. I'm as critical of the Bush administration as anyone but in this particular case, they happen to be right. Right to condemn genocide. Right to denounce ethnic cleansing. Right to try to help avert a famine. Right to deplore a man-made humanitarian catastrophe.

Some people hate President Bush so much that, in their minds, agreeing with him on anything is tantamount to endorsing his election bid. But I don't see how any self-described progressive could have a problem with condemning any of those things. Especially since it's usually progressives most voiceferously trying to bring attention to those things.

And even if you mistrust the intentions of the Bush administration, how do you explain the findings of the United Nations (with whom the Bush administration has had strained relations)? The UN called it "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" not long ago. How do you explain Amnesty International's findings? How do you explain Human Rights Watch's findings? What about The International Crisis Group? The BBC found an aid worker who came to different conclusions then the ones cited by The Observer.

Maybe they're all in collusion.

Or maybe the BBC news department wants Sudan's oil too!

Or maybe you should instead ask yourself how these diverse organizations, who rarely agree on anything, came to the same conclusions on Darfur.

The Observer continued: The nutritional survey of Sudan's Darfur region, by the UN World Food Programme, says that although there are still high levels of malnutrition among under-fives in some areas, the crisis is being brought under control. 'It's not disastrous,' said one of those involved in the WFP survey, 'although it certainly was a disaster earlier this year, and if humanitarian assistance declines, this will have very serious negative consequences.'

If the crisis is indeed being brought under control, then perhaps it's precisely BECAUSE of drum beating by Washington, the UN, HRW and many others. Should an entity be criticized because its screaming may have prevented an even greater catastrophe? I think not.

If you think the genocide in Darfur and resulting man-made humanitarian crisis might be an invention of Washington, click here.

"Marriage made easy"

People often deplore the decline in "traditional values" in the United States or the West. But I was reading the Indian paper The Hindu today and one of the pop-up ads promoted "Marriage made easy" (TamilMatrimony.com). Not dating made easy. Marriage made easy.

Of course, allowing gays to marry each other is the number one threat to the sanctity of the institution of marriage.

Graham Greene centenary

This weekend was the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the 20th century's great writers Graham Greene.

I've only read two of Greene's novels, The Power and the Glory and The Quiet American (as relevant now as it's ever been), but I'm certain I'll read more. I could barely put those two books down. Greene was a master of characterization. His characters were nuanced and flawed and often maddening; he rarely let them take the easy, pat way out for the sake of convenience or ideology.

Some of his other famous works include: Our Man in Havana, The End of the Affair and Journey Without Maps.

I can't recommend him highly enough.

A few resources on Greene's centenary:

The BBC
NPR
San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday, October 02, 2004

On the Bush-Kerry joint press conference

All other political-minded wags are commenting about the Bush-Kerry joint press conference so I'm sure some are wondering why this political-minded wag hasn't.

The answer is simple: I didn't watch it.

I can hardly tolerate the sound of President Bush's voice in the 30 second soundbites that appear in the TV reports. Being forced to hear him for an hour and a half would be unbearable. After just 10 minutes of his press conference with Iraq's Iyad Allawi, I was trying to rip my ears off.

And it didn't include most of the candidates with a mathematical chance of winning. Basically, none of the candidates I'd consider voting for were present so I exercised my choice as a consumer to do something else.

I did stop by PBS for a minute or two every once in a while. Kerry looked fine when I saw him; not inspiring, not incompetent. Bush reminded me why he scares the crap out of me. I wasn't sure if he was desperately trying to prove to everyone ekse that he knew what he was talking about or if he was desperately trying to prove it to himself.

The post-press conference period was filled with the usual spin and instant "analysis." TV news and newspapers seem to think the most important thing is who "won" the debate according to insta-polling, rather than what either said. As soon as the press conference was done, the yapping heads were telling people what to think instead of letting them digest what they heard. (The same journalists who solemnly swear they don't make news, just report it)

It shows how little debates are about issues. The most famous incidents in TV debate history have to do with perceptions and one-liners. Nixon's 5 o'clock shadow. "There you go again." "You're no Jack Kennedy." Bush Sr. looking at his watch. Al Gore's sighs and eye rolling. Bush Jr's little pouty face. Only Ford's infamous gaffe insisting Eastern Europe wasn't under Soviet domination had anything to do with substance.

I hope anyone who subjected themselves to the press conference actually learned something about either or both men. Though I imagine most viewers will say it reinforced their adoration for their particular candidate.