Saturday, September 30, 2006

Leila Abu-Saba has lost her father

Leila at Dove's Eye View says goodbye to her father in a tribute to his life. Very much worth a moment of your time to read. He comes across as an old-fashioned liberal who lived the values in which he believed, a true citizen of the world.

...all people must be appreciated for their merits and achievements, not for their family background or religion. He was proud of his Arab heritage and his Lebanese identity; he appreciated his Melchite Catholic cultural inheritance. But he did not believe that these identities were superior to others. He reached out to people from every culture on the planet. He loved meeting new people, gabbing to them about his Lebanese identity, learning their languages, participating in their rituals, finding out about their history. He kept copies of the Koran and the Torah in his home, read them, and enjoyed discussing theology with rabbis, sheikhs and priests.
***
After getting a Ph.D. in engineering at VPI, Dad taught at a traditionally Black university in North Carolina for over twenty years (North Carolina A&T State University). His love of teaching and his determination to help others succeed made him a popular professor. I left out the part about my mother's civil rights work in college - he completely supported her when she got herself arrested for trying to integrate a lunch counter in Lynchburg, Va., in 1960. She went to jail for a month during her senior year, and he was 100% behind her. Teaching at a traditionally Black university in the South was Elias' way of solving the problems of racial injustice in this country. He identified with Black struggle, because of his own critique of colonialist subjugation of the Arab world.

As part of my father's passion for ideals of the Arab awakening, he became a strong supporter of women's rights early on. He lived those ideals by urging his parents to educate his sisters; by educating his nieces; and by supporting my mother in accomplishing all her professional goals. When we were small, Dad took care of us and did housework so Mom could get a Ph.D. Once they became a two-Ph.D. household, he continued to take part in all aspects of our upbringing, including the laundry and cooking. He and Mom made their career and financial decisions jointly, cooperatively. In 1993, when she was appointed professor of Psychology at the American University of Beirut, he retired early from his teaching position in North Carolina to be with her in Lebanon. For the next eight years, he was the chief cook and househusband, devoting himself to my mother's comfort while she worked hard at the university.

Lots more at the link, but you get the idea.

When I hear people painting whole populations with broad-brush evidence of their own profound ignorance I don't quite know where to begin talking with them. Leila and her family beautifully illustrate a rich heritage of cultural sophistication and educational achievement that most people only dream about.

Leila's blog is one of the treasures of my list.
The Dove's father is a Lebanese Christian immigrant, with relatives spread out from Lebanon to Australia. Her mother is a Southern WASP whose family lives in Virginia, Texas and other parts. The Dove's father's Christian Lebanese village is right next door to a Muslim Palestinian refugee camp, built on what was once our family farmland. The Dove is married to a wonderful man who does bear a Scottish surname but is halachically Jewish, via his lovely mother, who has a large and supportive family. The Dove herself grew up in the Midwest and South, but spent many long summers and one school year in Lebanon as a child; also lived in Cairo, Egypt for a junior year in college. Full disclosure: a 4 year marriage to a Muslim Egyptian in her 20s gave her an inside view into upper class Cairene families, and an appreciation for secular modern Muslims and their relationship to Islam.

You get that?
All of it?

Friday, September 29, 2006

geriatric 1927 update -- Peter also writes

In addition to vlogging, Peter also writes.

Dad eased the car to a halt. A bomb from last night’s air raid had demolished most of the shops and offices on the right hand side of the street ahead. Fire engines were still fighting the flames of some of the buildings. The flashing lights of the ambulances and police cars created an illusion of a fairground ride as they bounced over the hoses and rubble. Then, suddenly a crashing noise from a collapsing roof sent sparks and debris high into the air as it imploded into the shell of the building adding fireworks to the illusion. A policeman, whose uniform was covered in a fine grey dust, patrolled the entrance to the street. Dad wound down the window.

‘Where are you trying to get to Sir?’

‘The railway station’.

‘It’s a bugger isn’t it, I don’t know what to tell you, I’ve been here since dawn and it looks like all the incendiary fires in the next streets are out now but I’ve no idea what debris there is. I think that if you turn left here and try one of the streets on the right you’ll find a way through.

Dad thanked him and drove on as instructed.


It's bound to happen. This story has all the marks of a future Hallmark production although the man seems not to know it. In the same vein as Reds, Titantic, Fried Green Tomatoes and a host of other films framed through the lens of an old person telling his story -- this is yet another. Those of us who watch it unfold will be well ahead of the crowd. And no matter who writes the script or plays the parts or directs the final production there will always be a lack of authentecity that we are able to know now, as it happens in real time.

Peter at seventy-nine makes it good to be alive. His story is his gift to the world. And a fine story it seems to be. He is for many the grandparent they never had or a role model they desparately need. Thanks to him uncounted numbers of young people have a chance to get it right.

hilzoy on the torture bill

Lots of commentary on the Torture Bill.
I'm too tired to blog much. This says it all.

This is one of those times, like the Red Scare or the internment of the Japanese, which we will look back on with shame and horror. But it is by no means the worst thing that we have ever done as a country, nor is it the most complete betrayal of our values. That would be slavery. Neither the Red Scare nor slavery just ended all by themselves. They ended because people worked very hard to end them. In the case of slavery, they worked for decades, and then for another century after that to get anything approaching equal rights for African-Americans.

More at the links. And for the record, I'm not "looking back" with shame and horror. I'm already looking around me and shaking my head.
What have we done?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Peter's next story is up.

geriatric 1927 groupies note: the next video came up yesterday afternoon.
Telling it all #22.
Everybody else, do some homework.

I'm no longer a disinterested observer. I have no way to know if a newcomer to this man's series will be moved the same as I. But for me, these little snips seem to be getting better with each release.

Peak Oil -- something else to be in denial about

This analysis of an easy to understand, easy to deny, energy trend has been around for several years now. In a nutshell, it takes energy to produce energy. Therefore at the point that the energy invested equals the energy produced it is no longer feasible to continue production. (This is the reason that there can be no such thing as a perpetual motion machine.) Or as this writer so elegantly puts it:

If it takes the energy of a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil, then further extraction is pointless.

Well, yes.
But it is surprising how few people have ever thought such a thing. I have, of course, because I have spent my life in the food business. Cooking in all its forms has been my life. And when I first read a description of how oil is "refined" I saw it as nothing more than a big cooking project. No one needs to tell me about how important gas and electric bills are. I got it the first time.

The recent whiplash of gas prices got a lot of attention. Radio talk show host Neal Boortz got a sarcastic bunch of mileage a few days ago by saying that according to some source I didn't hear mentioned forty-two percent of Americans believe that gas prices are now going down because the president is causing it to happen. The thinking is supposedly that lower gas prices will be politically helpful to Republicans in upcoming elections. He was inviting listeners to call in to explain the mechanism -- exactly HOW George Bush makes gas prices decline...

The lunacy never stops, does it? Prices are determined by market forces, and the forces behind the current dip in prices are not too different now than before the retail price of gas spiked (Hullo. Spiked. Get it?) and is now returning to "normal." But the new normal is (Surprise...) a bit higher than the previous "normal." And so it goes. Back to the point.
Of the 65 largest oil producing countries in the world, up to 54 have past their peak of production and are now in decline, including the USA (in 1970/71) and the North Sea (in 2001). Hubbert's methods, and variations on them, have been used to make various projections about the global oil peak, with results ranging from 'already peaked', to the very optimistic 2035. Many of the official sources of data used to model oil peak such as OPEC figures, oil company reports, and the USGS discovery projections, upon which the international energy agencies base their own reports, can be shown to be very unreliable. Several notable scientists have attempted independent studies, most notably Colin Campbell and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO).

This link-filled article is worth a look. Lots of reading. A lot of educated guessing, with the emphasis more on education than guessing. But in the end, the trends are not hard to figure. Thanks again to 3 Quarks for the heads up.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Four of my friends were killed by a huge double roadside bomb..."

Via Salam Adil, this powerful account from an Iraqi college student. The first comment indicates it was also featured in NY Times Select.

When I look at the calendar, the blackest day of my year is June 11.

It is quite ironic that my personal tragedy bears more than a passing resemblance to the more collective one, all it takes is to turn the 6 upside down.

This post was published in a slightly modified version in my last New York Times group blog, I consider it one of my best posts to date.

In the movie “Syriana,” George Clooney labels the first Arab dude to appear in the film - a terrorist, naturally - as “son of a goat.” I have heard this “nickname” in other forms enough to assume it is more than a passing oddity. Since I am an Arab and proud of it, I am also a son of the goat, however, today I am allowed my right to speak. This is what I say:

Four of my friends were killed by a huge double roadside bomb that exploded in Karada on Sunday June 11. That’s right, four, count them … that is, if you can identify their bodies. Forever gone — can you imagine that? Since you are all comfy in your air-conditioned rooms sitting on armchairs, sipping Pepsi or Kool-Aid or whatever it is that you care to sip while your sons and daughters go safely to colleges and your spouses sleep in bedrooms million miles away from here, I’d like to take the opportunity to offer what it feels like to be insane amidst the apocryphal hell of Iraq, both weather-wise and people-wise.

I wish I could fill the rest of my article with expletives, but since I am writing for The New York Times, I can’t. So be it.

They were the best of people. Two of them, my best friends, were Shiites; another was Sunni and the other was Christian — an example of unity that can never be portrayed in a million years by the hypocritical fake advertisements they numb us with on TV. Three of them lived in the internal hostel because their families were abroad, and each one’s story is sadder than the other.

Ninos, the Christian, was perhaps the kindest person I ever met, the type that fills you with a warm glow when you speak with him … you connected to a forgotten fountain of happiness that was spurred by his natural do-goodness. He had just two weeks until he would have finished his final exams and returned forever to the safety of Kurdistan, where his Assyrian family resides.

Yahya was a Sunni from Mosul, also a nice guy: He could not even hurt the ground he stepped on. (He and Ninos were roommates, and were called “the saints” by their neighbors.) His family had moved to Egypt after being threatened. He had one week until he was to leave for home, and on top of that, get married. The girl in question is in our academic department. She is now in a state of paralysis.

The third, Hobi, was a Shiite of Turkish descent from Karbala. He was my best friend. The day before, I asked him if we could take a picture together since this was the last year of college and I would probably never see him again after he set off for Spain, where his mother lives. Little did I know I would get that picture, and that it would be a picture of his grave.

I remember precisely the moment when I got the phone call at 10:30 p.m. telling me that three of them were dead.* The time went very slowly. The room, just a minute earlier moist and extremely hot, became sullen and cold. In the living room Nancy Ajram was loudly assuring us of her undying joy and devotion, strangely out of context.

I went upstairs and wept alone. I wept all day, frequently looking at the mirror and gesturing incoherently … Robert DeNiro would’ve been ashamed …

The next day, while I was walking in the protest in which the three coffins were held up high and marched around the college courtyards, everyone was crying, everyone was shouting — it was a terrible sight. But when I heard the shouts “No! No to Terrorism!” up ahead, I didn’t feel a thing. They were exploiting us, we the people, we the good people of Iraq who never looked at our good friends as Sunni, Shia and Christian — these divisions did not exist. We cried for them together. We prayed the Islamic funeral prayer over all three of them, even though it is supposed to be unacceptable in Islam to pray for the Christian dead. I didn’t feel that I wanted vengeance towards Zarqawi in particular. I didn’t know why then, but I think I do now: because it is not only Zarqawi who is to blame.

My world has not been the same since that day. Everywhere I go there are small marks that bear their faces or actions of the past (like when England wins in the World Cup, of which Hobi was a great fan), and the lectures that Ninos used to make clear to us less-gifted students, and the countless pictures, tokens of a better time that I cannot bear to look at again. Even when I close my eyes to sleep, nightmares creep in and welcome me. Yesterday I dreamt I was killed by marines; before that I was abducted by militias … it goes on and on.

And there you sit, comfortable in your ignorance, sipping on your Pepsi and choking on your Burger King while I tell you the a story of one of those statistical body counts. You are to blame. Your ignorance was a major cause of all this.

I remember back in 2003, when the Americans were still treated as curious aliens. Children of all sorts walked to the American soldier, the proud, brave liberator … Strangely, he was Mexican in origin and the first question that he asked was, Sunni or Shiite? See what I mean? In my past three articles, you can clearly see that I went with the sectarian trend of my times, but now I see my grave mistake — it was a trend undoubtedly ignited, encouraged and adopted by the ignorant anti-terrorist-pro-divide-&-conquer U.S. liberals. It was with difficulty that I identified my friends today, my dearly loved friends, as “Shiite” and “Sunni” and “Christian.” I will never do that again.

Later that night, I printed out a glorious color picture of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the flag of Iran, and the American star-spangled banner, put them one on top of the other in the backyard, the American flag on top of all, and set them all to flame … I didn’t feel a goddamn thing. I don’t consider my actions in the above paragraph justified, even morally correct. I apologize for that, but it’s the truth. Heck, I’m going to write to Bono to ask him if he can do a song about my friends, but I’m not hoping for much.
**
I said that four people were killed, but only talked about three. The last person, Saif, survived the explosion and was hospitalized with third-degree burns. I visited Saif that first day; his face was completely unrecognizable. He kept asking me about the fate of the three others, tears stuck at the corner of his eye. I told him they were fine.

Five days later, I had a dream where I met Sayoofi on the streets. He looked much healthier but somehow out of touch. I woke up giddy and expectant that day; He died that afternoon.I did visit him on that last day and he told me the story of the explosion. It contained some interesting details :

Saif: “When the explosion occurred, the four of us were walking hand in hand. All of a sudden I felt myself hurled 50 meters in the air, and felt a severe burning all over my body. I wore a t-shirt which eased the pain on my arms; not so for my legs. All around me people were burning and moaning horribly; the stench was unbearable. I could still walk and I crossed the street, calling for anyone I saw for help. When I reached the other side, I flung myself in a pool of mud and water — people came and started throwing cold water on me. I had barely settled when a second larger explosion rocked the streets. I looked behind me and saw the building set to flames, Ninos [the Christian] was beside me: his face was white and something had entered his stomach.”

Here Saif stops with tears running down his face to ask me for the zillionth time about the other three. I tell him that they are resting just as he is.

As for the second explosion: that explains why the body of Yahya (the guy from Mosul) was so unrecognizable. When we saw him at the morgue, he was a big piece of coal. It’s likely that he did not have the luxury of walking away from the second explosion.

Saif: “Afterwards, a police vehicle came and picked both of us up; he drove a short distance before throwing us back on the streets, saying that he did not know the route! A passenger bus picked us up next. Ninos fainted and became very white [we now know that his lung was destroyed], then another police car picked us up. He dropped us at Ibn al-Nafees hospital, where they separated me from Ninos. They ignored me for half an hour and let me burn silently until I barricaded the nearest doctor I could find. My uncle worked in the hospital and he managed to transfer me to the Italian hospital [which is where we were now].”

Two important points: The first policeman was probably in on the explosion, which occurred near a jewelry store; he probably left my injured friends there to guarantee his share of the loot. Second, nothing works in Iraq except by connections (which got Saif into a better hospital). Even if Ninos’s injuries had been treatable, he probably would have died just the same because of negligence and the dirty conditions in the hospital.
***
The last time I felt genuinely happy was ten days before the explosion, on Graduation Party day. When I look at the pictures now, they seem to be from a blurry and distant past. Many students from our class are packing up and leaving. I was a strong supporter of staying in Iraq before these events, because (a) call me stupid, but I loved my country, and living abroad sucked for a variety of reasons, and (b) unlike Zeyad, a rare case of someone who became a popular blogger and got accepted to journalism school in the U.S., I can only afford to work or study here in Iraq (in Amman, where my family resides, jobs are hard to find and school is expensive.) The truth is that even after the explosion, I was still undecided, but a story a friend told me the other day — a horrible, Hollywood-like experience that is too long to be told here — changed my mind permanently.

I am sorry, but nobody of sane mind can live here … We Iraqis have been so used to being kicked and dragged through the mud that we did not recognize the abyss in which we found ourselves. But there comes a time when you look around see your world for what it is and cannot take any more of it. I hate to be a whiner, but I tell you nothing but the absolute truth. Iraqis today are strange, sorry creatures — confused, constantly paranoid, and filled with distrust and hatred.

I wish I could tell you how can we fix this. Although the Americans had the upper hand, in my opinion, they no longer do — it’s been a lost in a sea of blood. When I return to our area these days from college, I come into a real-life “Vanilla Sky” ghost town — streets are vacant, some shops are open but their doors are near-shut and people with guns stand at the door. Shiite purging has finally reached us and it did not manifest in small ways: there is a dried pool of blood about 100 meters away from my house.

The only solution I can think of comes from an old Soundgarden song:

Black Hole Sun, won’t you come and wash away the rain

Deborah White on the Clinton-Wallace "dust-up"

Here is Deborah White's take on Bill Clinton's Fox appearance.

I've been repeatedly asked my opinion of Bill Clinton's angry tirade on FOX Newstwo days ago when asked by interviewer Chris Wallace about charges that Mr. Clinton was inattentive during his administration to the threat posed by Osama bin Laden...

So here's my response, in a nutshell:

First, I don't feel one-bit sorry for Bill Clinton. He's bright, witty and articulate, and should be able to handle himself during any interview. Partisanship and rough questions are the name of the political game these days. Has he watched any of the tough stuff lobbed lately to President Bush during news conferences?

Second, what's wrong with a little anger? It becomes President Clinton to work up a bit of ire if it causes him to blurt the hard truth, rather than continue his bipartisan lovefest with the Bush family during this urgent election season.

Word has it Bill Clinton yachts with Bush-41, and takes private lunches with Bush-43. He even hand-picked Laura Bush as keynote speaker last week for his Clinton Global Initiative Conference, which raised $7.3 billion for global projects.

With all due respect, Mr. Clinton, what did you expect? These people are not your political friends. They aim to rewrite history to blame it all on you. Of course! And by tarnishing your record, they aim to denigrate all Democrats.

Have you not been watching how they use and then routinely trash people who used to be their political allies? And you, sir, were never an ally...

Third, Democrats, let's be honest: Bill Clinton WAS somewhat distracted by Monica (and others, I assume) and his marital woes, and then was incredibly distracted by the Republican's mean-spirited impeachment trial for his affair with Monica.

But as Clinton rightfully shouted on Sunday, he DID search for Osama bin Laden. He tried and failed, but at least he tried.

For eight months of his presidency, George Bush and cronies didn't do a damn thing about Osama bin Laden, apparently because they were too distracted by their own apoplexy over Saddam Hussein.

George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice did absolutely nothing, even when faced with an August 6, 2001 classified report entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US."

In summary, what does this mean? Nothing. The Bill Clinton-Chris Wallace dustup means nothing and solves nothing. It's just media obsession over another meaningless case of fake outrage

I'm hoping, though, that this nasty little contretemps wakes Bill Clinton up to the reality of the Bushies.

And I fervently pray that he once again becomes a passionate Democrat 100% in the corner of other Democrats, and stops spending valuable pre-election time hobnobbing with the Bushies. I mean... what's that all about, anyway?

I found it interesting to take a closer look at the transcript. Bill Clinton is very fast on his feet. Not a bad quality for someone in high office. Maybe some day we'll get another one with the same quality in his skill-set.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fox. Henhouse. Oops, wrong hen!

Bill Clinton's in-his-face comebacks to Chris Wallace have received wide media coverage. A quick look at ledes and headlines turns up spinwords such as temper, finger-wagging, meltdown, boast, retort, deception, whitewash, smackdown and so on.

I didn't watch the interview but I did watch the clip, edited with little flash-bulb flickers stringing together the juicy parts, and what I saw was a text-book example of righteous indignation. I've often referred to that most basic of all human impulses simply because I witnessed it so frequently during my years serving the public. Serving a thousand meals a day gives one ample opportunity to see human behavior in all its manifestations. And I can assure you -- and I trained my staff to watch carefully for the signs in order to stay out of trouble -- that when you see evidence of righteous indignation the prudent response is to step back, listen, try to show empathy and wait for the moment to pass. There is a time for argument and a time for reconciliation. And righteous indignation calls for the latter.

So much for the rules of engagement in a one-on-one situation. At some level the same principle applies at the group level. I see the Pope felt a need to invite a group of Muslim notables to the Vatican following an exhibition of the same phenomenon in response to his "misunderstood" remarks about their faith. I don't expect anything of the kind will be forthcoming from any quarter aimed at helping Bill Clinton calm down, but maybe that is not a bad development. Sarah Robinson, over at Dave Neiwert's Place, makes some very interesting comments that may indicate a fundamental shift in political protocol. We have to wait and see, but if she's correct political arguments may get hotter but closer to facts.

I have worked in both kinds of environments and dealt with a good many instances of conflict resolution. One approach looks hard and long at uncomfortble facts that make you want to die, and another that tip-toes around embarrassing or uncomfortable facts in a prissy, don't-ask-don't-tell kind of way. I have learned to perform in both places, both as actor and mediator, but given the option, I would rather put all the cards on the table, have a confrontation, settle the matter and move on. The alternative is poisonous. Sometimes problems do go away with time. Heck, an adversary can move or die at any time and the conflict vanishes. But that is not very satisfying. One always has that "what if?" grain of sand in your shoe.

Conflict resolution in an election is done at the polls. Studio interviews, talking heads and stump speeches are the prologue, and the voting ends the debate. With that in mind, go read what Sarah Robinson has to say about the symbolic importance of what Bill Clinton did Sunday.

It's tremendously important that Clinton argued back on the facts, and made them stick, even when Wallace kept trying to deflect him. But, in showing us his teeth -- and the white-hot fury that would no longer hold still for the bipartisan date-rape promised so long ago by Grover Norquist, and delivered daily ever since -- the Big Dog also took the whole country to school, and taught us a few things that we all need to remember going forward. Among the lessons:

1. We can debate Republicans on the merits -- but we should not let the facts alone carry the message. In a time of strong political passions, passion often carries the day.

2. We can argue with terrifying force -- and still not yell.

3. The media cannot count on rolling over on supine Democrats any more.

4. Fighting back does not cost us respect. It increases it -- especially when truth, honor, and American values are on the line.
***
In the past year or so, we've started to see the re-emergence of the Fighting Dem -- but Clinton's performance on Sunday was a breakthrough. Because of who he is, FOX couldn't reduce it to a few loony soundbites, or cut the interview short, or pretend it never happened. And so the country got to see what real liberal outrage can be -- elegant, adult, brilliant, furious, and compelling.

Monday, September 25, 2006

GWOT quote -- slacktivist

Tight, on point.

You would expect, if these people were even slightly capable of shame or reflection, or even slightly patriotic, that their overweening gall would be mitigated somewhat by the knowledge that they have seriously wounded the very country they are sworn to serve. But this does not seem to be the case. Their brazen, reflexive self-justification isn't hampered by any such mitigating factors.

Unmitigated gall. Still a cliche, but inescapably apt nonetheless.

Suzanne Nossel -- 10 Lessons for Progressives

Moving right along...
Now that the yawning public is waking up to some embarrassing facts about the much-ballyhooed GWOT and all that (stuff a lot of prople have been saying for a year or two...news it ain't), Suzanne Nossel ticks off ten (count them -- ten...) more or less obvious conclusions we hope have been grasped by now. She calls them lessons for Progressives after Bush, but I think they would be better called Lessons for Anyone who can read, write and think, no matter what their political inclinations. H/T Huffpo.

1. The U.S. must remain at the forefront of promoting democracy worldwide - The hangover of the Bush years will lead many to urge retreat from efforts to advance democracy in farflung places, on grounds that such work is costly, dangerous, and bound to fail. While the impulse is understandable, this would be a huge mistake. America's role in fostering democracy and aiding democrats the world over helped fuel us to superpowerdom during the first half the twentieth century, and keep us there during the second. This drive was behind many of America's greatest contributions to the international system - including the creation of the multilateral order and the rise of great democracies on all continents. We cannot throw the baby of democracy promotion out with the bathwater of Bush Administration policies.

2. Democracy is not the same as pro-Americanism - One of the rationales behind American support for democracy is the idea that Democratic regimes are more inclined to support the US. While this is true in the long term, the effect is neither immediate nor universal, as we've learned the hard way in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and - arguably - Iran. Where there are longstanding grievances, immediate resentments, and/or political elements who rally support based on anti-Western and anti-American agendas, the democracy won't necessarily temper these sentiments. Americans need to understand that fostering democracies around the world will benefit US interests over time, and not to expect immediate gratification in the form of pro-US governments.

3. Democracy delayed will be seen as democracy denied - The US cannot afford to take the position that where democratic elections may result in the rise of extremist or anti-US elements, such elections should be indefinitely postponed. If there are reasons to believe feasible, relatively quick steps can be taken to foster more free and fair elections, there may be nothing wrong with advocating that those happen first. But a position that only once US-friendly parties are poised for victory does a population deserve to elect its own government will be seen as self-serving and hypocritical.

4. Elections are necessary but not sufficient for democracy - Rather than downplaying the importance of elections, US policymakers should place more emphasis on dimensions like the development of democratic institutions; the building of an independent judiciary; freedom of the press and of expression; civic education; a firm state monopoly on the use of force, and more. These get short shrift because they take more money and time, and don't provide the same photo ops as peasants waving ink-stained fingers in the air. In Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the US, other Western governments and international bodies have gained experience promoting a full range of democratic accouterments. We need to get to work as energetically in these areas as we do in the business of holding elections.

5. Pro-democracy and anti-corruption must go hand-in-hand - The big lesson of Hamas' victory is not that elections were a bad idea, but that West's erred glaringly in failure to ensure that the previous Fatah-led government provided adequate levels of law and order and social services to sustain its hold on power. By most accounts, Hamas' win reflected less popular extremism than abject frustration with the corruption and ineptitude of the Fatah regime. Similar tendencies are reportedly behind Hezbollah's popularity in Lebanon. It is no surprise, and is laudable, that voters prize competence and reject corruption. The West needs to do what it can to ensure that they don't need to vote in violent extremists in order to get them.

6. Democracy must be seen as homegrown - It seems obvious that a system of self-rule cannot be imposed from the outside, though evidently not so to team Bush. [Ed. symantic quibble here. Democracy must not only be SEEN as home-grown, it must BE home-grown. All one can do from outside is plant and water the seeds. Not defoliate the landscape. And I'm not talking about plants here. For the dim reader, "defoliate the landscape" is a figure of speech.] Democratization processes that start with invasions and occupations risk tainting the gift of the democracy as something that's being rammed down a society's throat. The challenge, admittedly, lies in situations where local democratic advocates are so weak and/or repressed that there are few avenues for channeling aid and support to engender democratic progress under an existing regime.

7. You can't eat political freedom, nor hide behind it - Populations that are hungry, destitute, or terrorized by violence may well have priorities that come before political freedom. If democratization fails to address people's most basic needs, they will be miserable and restive irrespective of the sanctity of their right to vote. If those promoting democracy, including the US, are oblivious to issues of popular welfare, their political agenda will be suspect. This is not to say they are worse off because of democracy, but rather that irrespective of the indicia of democracy, their political system and social fabric will remain deeply vulnerable until these fundamental needs are met. This is why President Bush's constant mantra about the march of democracy in Iraq rings so hollow.

8. Democracy must coexist with, not trump, cultural and religious heritage - Tricky but true, if democracy is seen as overriding deeply-held cultural and religious beliefs, it will be rejected in many quarters. In places ranging from South Africa to Afghanistan, clever innovations have been developed to envelop tribal and religious leaders into democratic governance structures, so that democracy is viewed as compatible with traditional beliefs. By showing that we understand this, we can make American-supported pro democracy efforts better accepted.

9. Populations that resist authoritarianism at home will reject it on the world stage as well - The same instincts that lead populations to overthrow dictators and demand a say over their affairs cause them to resent American policy diktats in the global arena, and to insist on more multilateral approaches. The rise of democracy around the world, and the importance of the US being seen at the vanguard of spreading democracy mandate corresponding shifts in our foreign policy. For more on that, read this.

10. Proponents of democracy will see their own democracies held up to scrutiny - Ever since the US began assertively promoting the spread of democracy, skeptics around the world have pointed to flaws in our own system. This happened during the Eisenhower era when American policies on race were exposed as an affront to our own professed values, and more recently in the scandals that have surrounded Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Hurricane Katrina. To serve as a beacon for democracy around the globe, the US must be prepared to hold itself to a higher standard at home. Fortunately, most Americans would prefer to hold to such a standard anyway.

I really hate dedicating blog space and time to posts like this. I feel like I'm teaching a toddler his colors or how to recognize the alphabet on little wooden blocks. Wait...I did that yesterday afternoon and it was kinda fun. it gives me hope that he will learn better than those we have put into office. (Gulp! We did that to ourselves, didn't we? Maybe this democracy stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be....) In the dim shadow of this most recent report on security (this NON-news that many of us have been prating about for a year or two) entirely too many people still don't get it...

Oh, well. Let the post-mortem begin. Frankly, I like best the shorter version at Duck of Minerva. That's what I call cutting to the chase.

Nasrallah, the morning after

Via Totten, this is good reading. Now that the sparkle of "victory" has faded, Nasrallah seems to be more circumspect. Someone in Totten's comments thread said it looksed like psyops, but I don't think so. Totten's two other links underscore the same points. (The name of Nabbi Berri is mentioned. Hmm....Where have we heard that before? Please excuse. Skip these last immodest links if you want, they are nothing more than hubris on my part.)

Nasrallah is now forced to rely more than he would like on his partner/rival in the Shiite sector, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a sleek and shrewd politician who heads the more secular “Amal.” Nasrallah has suddenly taken to calling Berri “my big brother,” and is advising all the other actors in the Lebanese arena to accept the aid of Berri’s “infinite wisdom.” All this smacks of Nasrallah conceding his seniority, if only temporarily, in the Shiite leadership.

What’s more, Nasrallah fears rising tensions between the Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon. He is trying with all his might to avoid open confrontation, but Sunni public opinion, under the leadership of the Hariri family and its loyalists, has turned largely against him. Hizballah is now forced to rely on second echelon Sunni elements in Tripoli and other places, but at this stage, he has squandered any opportunity of getting the central pillars of the Sunni minority to identify with his positions.

Surprisingly, Nasrallah’s standing among the Christians is somewhat better for now. That is because of the alliance he struck before the war with the strongest Maronite, Gen. Michel Aoun....

Nasrallah has apparently come to the conclusion that he was too hasty in pulling the trigger on July 12, and admits that he did not expect so strong an Israeli reaction. From his perspective, the war did not end with the cease-fire, and the results will only become clear once the dust kicked up by the internal wrestling in Lebanon has dispersed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reuel Marc Gerecht and praktike

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a fellow of the AEI. His WSJ Opinion piece is this week's must-read. In a civil, adult manner he basically says the Pope was doing his job last week and those who are taking him to task for doing so are out of line. (I recall how many people seemed disappointed when he became Pope that he was actually Catholic at all. Popular ignorance to the contrary notwithstanding, it's easy to forget that the Pope is, after all, a Catholic.)

...Even if one is not a believer in any revealed faith, or has some memory of the conflict, daily cruelty and forced conversion meted out by representatives of Rome's bishops, or has some skepticism about the church's commitment to defending the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment, one can be thankful that the pope sees Christianity as a vehicle of peace and tries to explain why he thinks this is so. And by extension why Islam is so often today the loudly proclaimed faith of men who define their relationship to God through violence. Joseph Ratzinger's explanation, as befits a former professor of theology and philosophy, is an abstract one, but it is in the broadest sense undeniably true.
***
...We might not be able to put our finger precisely on it--the problems of a radicalized British Muslim of Pakistani ancestry are not the same as a Sunni Iraqi suicide bomber who blows up Jordanian and Palestinian women and children--but we know there is something wrong within Islam's global house, something that cannot be blamed exclusively on Western prejudice, bigotry, military actions or colonialism.

Many Muslims know it too, even if they are not inclined to say so publicly--it's often dangerous and always enormously difficult for believing and nonbelieving Muslims to aggressively critique their own when they know non-Muslims are listening. Self-described Muslim intellectuals (often meaning the traditionally devout, clerics) really have a hard time engaging in self-criticism that fortifies non-Muslim critiques of Islamic society.
***
We need to stop treating Muslims like children, and viewing our public diplomacy with Islamic countries as popularity contests. Given what's happened since 9/11, a dialogue of civilizations is certainly in order. To his credit, Benedict has at least tried to approach the invidious issues that will define any helpful discussion.

Solid piece of work.

*** ***
***

Praktike is the screen name for one of the most durable, informed and prolific progressive voices on the net. He is in Egypt and has been for some time, studying and learning the language. His observations are a cut above the average traveler or journalist. And he was a critic of the Iraq adventure long before it was fashionable.

His response to this piece is a good illustration of how "being there" can have an impact on one's point of view. I dare say that the realities of daily life in Egypt has opened his ears and eyes in a way that toiling away in the Yale library never could. He offers a measured endorsement of Gerecht's piece, tacking on a coda regarding US Palestine-Israel policy and the damage it has done and continues to do to the "dialogue" that Gerecht is promoting.
Yesterday I went to Al-Azhar mosque to watch Friday prayers, where, to be frank, Iexpected to see several thousand angry Muslims chanting angry slogans about the Pope, perhaps clashing with security forces violently in the process.
The sermon itself was fairly ordinary; while I didn't understand all of it by any means, it was mostly about the duties of Muslims during the month of Ramadan, which begins at dawn tomorrow here.

After the group prayer that follows the sermon, however, several crowds of people rushed to prepare for the political speeches that would follow. A small crowd of about 40 women came out of the women's area on the right-hand side of the courtyard, chanting "bi roh, bi damm, nafdeek ya Islam" or "With spirit, with blood, we sacrifice for you O Islam." Inside the mosque itself, the green banners with the crossed swords of the MB had come out, and youth wearing green headbands denoting them as Muslim Brothers had taken over the minbar (standing at the pulpit is an act symbolizing the seizure of power).
***
I would be lying if I said that I felt comfortable and at peace during this event (both the sermon and the demonstration afterwards). I would also be lying if I said that I didn't have enormous problems with the dominant Islamic views on women, clothing, and a host of other issues. Living in Egypt for more than a year now, I been uncomfortable on many occasions having religious discussions where I needed to fend off attempts at conversion, or where I was told point blank that I was going to hell (my stock response is "we'll just have to wait and see"). I have had to clench my fists and set my jaw to keep from flying off the handle at the behavior of guys on the street towards my girlfriend. This is not to say that I haven't met many kind people; in fact, on numerous occasions I have had deep and meaningful discussions about religion with Muslims, and through working at an Egyptian NGO I have made great
friendships.

Still I have to admit, too, that I read Reuel Marc Gerecht's WSJ op-ed with a receptive mind...
***
I tend to be leery of embracing this position without putting in my caveats, because I've seen this argument used to make the case that America doesn't really need to pressure the Israelis to get out of the Palestinian territories, that the Iraq war was a good idea, that the entire Arab world needs to democratize before Israel can pull out of the West Bank, or that political Islamists should be thrown in jail rather than being integrated into the political system peacefully.

But Gerecht is right, if you phrase it this way: there is something about the way Islam is used in politics that seems unhealthy. I would differ with Gerecht in that I don't think Western lecturing is liable to be productive.

He writes, "If we withdraw from this civilizational debate, the decent men and women of the Middle East, most of whom are faithful Muslims, will have a very hard time defeating those who have brutalized and coarsened their culture and religion."

Where I would have written: "If we don't find a solution to the Palestinian question that Arabs and Muslims view as legitimate, and if we keep backing disasters like Iraq and the recent Israeli war in Lebanon, the decent men and women of the Middle East, most of whom are faithful Muslims, will have a very hard time defeating those who have brutalized and coarsened their culture and religion."

He didn't bring it up, but I will add that the use of the word Islamofascism also has to be counterproductive to any civil discussion. And the president's use of the word is, from a diplomatic standpoint, obscene. It is the equivalent of a white bigot using the N-word while trying to reach agreement with a black adversary.

Video -- Giant Girl Puppet

Five minutes of video/dreamy music...

The little girl giant woke up one morning, got a shower from the Sultan's elephant, and wondered off to play in the park...

A lot of people have too much time on their hands. But it sure beats television or hanging in bars.
That was a Google vdeo link.
YouTube also has the clip.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Best. Story. Yet.

Telling it all 21

It has taken a long time, but Peter is coming into his own with this most recent video.
He was fourteen when the War came. At first he was able to push it away from everyday consciousness because it wasn't real. But it finally came, that first terrible day when there was an all-night air raid, when the reality of war was seared forever into his memory.

I suppose if I were very clever I could describe the event in graphic details, but I'm not that clever. I can only tell you that in the middle of the night there was tremendous explosions and vibrations of the house and my mother and father were shouting to us to "Get out" and get out into the shelter, which, of course, we did. So we went into this cold, dark, damp place and -- I don't know again how to describe it -- I think the best thing I could get you to imagine is that I was just shit-scared -- cold, shit-scared and frightened.

Now nearly eighty, one can tell from watching and listening that his experience as a boy is as vivid and moving today as it was in 1941. When they emerged from the shelter his first concern was for their dog, a near-feral little outdoor creature which he had never before even held but which was still, like all pets, a valued part of the family.

The music at the end is a historic treasure, transcribed to digital format from an old vinyl record.
As I listened I recalled the same melody from another time and place long, long ago...
It brought me to tears.

Don't miss this one.

How are airplanes like nursing homes?

Seriously. I came across an interesting site that raises that and some other provocative ideas worth thinking about.

RED has been researching what life is like in care homes for the elderly. Have you ever noticed how flying long distance is a bit similar to living in a nursing home?

RED has been researching what life is like in care homes for the elderly. Have you ever noticed how flying long distance is a bit similar to living in a nursing home?

Your meals are brought to you. You are told to stay seated most of the time. Staff do everything for you. You sit in rows of identical chairs. They switch the lights off at bedtime. The TV is always there to keep you quiet. And the more money you can afford to pay the more tolerable the whole unpleasant experience becomes.

Which got us wondering - what would care homes be like if they were designed by Virgin or BA?

I can think of a couple of differences right away, including how to handle bedpans, dementia, prescription meds, sanitation and safety for a fragile, at-risk population, and the distance from emergency medical care. It's a long way between an airline seat and a hospital.

Of course he's not suggesting that residents should be in airplanes but that the services and management of people that airlines use may have something to bring to the nursing home environment which already has those features. I would reverse the question and ask how flying might be made more appealing if airlines took a good look at how nursing home residents are handled.

That part about "the more you can afford to pay the more tolerable the whole unpleasant experience becomes" is also telling. The correlation between fares and flights falls apart pretty quick when the person on one side paid about half what you did because of some "deal" and someone on the other side paid nothing out of his own pocket because he was on an expense account.

So much for the bait.

Here is the switch:

The site that linked to RED is World Changing. All you conservative-type readers hold your noses and go take a look. It's shot through with all kinds of environmental concerns, the kind that card-carrying tree-huggers just love. I happen to be open to that kind of thinking, however, because I have spent three decades serving the public and watching them eat. Don't get me started.

This link is one that has real possibilities. Be sure to watch the video.
What do they do all day?

The Sunlight Network is offering payment to activists and bloggers who persuade Members of Congress to share their daily schedules with the public by putting them on the Internet. In the meantime, we have to speculate as to how they spend their time.

Mix and match the video and audio sound tracks provided and add your own text to create a 30 second video explaining what you think members of congress do with their time. Make as many videos as you want, watch other user-created videos, share them with your friends, and share it with your Member of Congress when you ask him or her to open up their schedule.

Show them that being open is better than leaving us to guess.

The best mix and match video -- the one that the community decides is the most fun, funny, and effective -- (see terms and conditions) wins a $5,000 prize.

Enjoy!

"...U.S. prisons may be a particularly fertile breeding ground for Islamic radicalism."

This report from CFR suggests the threat of terrorist extremists may be greater from within the country than from abroad.

Richard A. Falkenrath, New York City’s deputy police commissioner for counterterrorism, recently warned Congress, “The possibility of a ‘homegrown’ terrorist attack against New York City or any other American city is real and is worsening with time” (PDF). He is just one of many experts in recent months to warn about the danger of homegrown terrorism in the United States. In a discussion at a recent CFR symposium, counterterrorism expert R.P. Eddy said America’s next attackers will likely be “a lot closer to the Columbine killers,” than traditional jihadis.

Though it has produced relatively few terrorists to date, much discussion over the homegrown threat focuses on the American Muslim community. As a new
Backgrounder explains, this group of Americans is one of the country’s greatest assets for foiling homegrown Islamist terrorists. The diversity of this group, a fact not widely understood outside Muslim-American circles, also plays a role. Arab-Americans, for instance, may hail from Morocco or Iraq, Egypt or the West Bank. Muslims could come from further afield - India to Indonesia, Tanzania to Trinidad. These factors help prevent the segregation of Muslim communities in America typical of European cities, and thus the homegrown attacks that hit Madrid in 2003 and London in 2004. Peter Skerry, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, credits
American society’s more thorough assimilation of Muslims as essential to making them
less prone to radicalism than their European counterparts.

But CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon warns this could soon change. He recently told Congress that an increasing sense of alienation among American Muslims “could produce a ‘
rejectionist generation.’” Media stereotyping of Arabs as "terrorists" regularly brings complaints from watchdog groups, whether in Disney's animated movie Alladin or the popular television series 24. A new report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations notes that incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States rose 30 percent from 2004 to 2005 (PDF). In a tirade against “Islam-haters,” New York Post columnist Ralph Peters writes, “Bigotry is bigotry—even when disguised as patriotism.”

While American Muslims generally exhibit a willingness to come forward and report suspicious behavior, experts familiar with the community say that willingness could diminish if the suspects they single out receive unfair treatment. The Justice Department has already taken criticism for its handling of some domestic terror cases, including that of Hamid Hayat, a U.S.-born Pakistani who currently awaits sentencing after conviction on what the Los Angeles Times portrays as
trumped up charges. In the “Detroit sleeper cell” case, the conviction on terror charges of a group of Detroit Muslims was quickly overturned after the revelation that prosecutors withheld evidence and gave misleading testimony (WashPost). Even Iyman Faris, the Ohio truck driver who confessed to plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, attempted to rescind his plea on the grounds that he was the target of warrantless wiretaps (CNN).

Studies suggest U.S. prisons may be a particularly fertile breeding ground for Islamic radicalism. A special report from the George Washington University and the University of Virginia found a shortage of Muslim religious leaders to serve the demands of U.S. inmates, which allows extremist Muslims to more effectively
recruit among the vulnerable prison population (PDF). One of the authors of the report, Frank J. Cilluffo, told a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security that prisons worldwide often lead to the radicalization of future terrorists (PDF), including such well-known figures as shoe-bomber Richard Reid and the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The interesting part is that when it happens -- the next instance of terrorism in America -- more energy and attention will be paid to who was to blame than how to remedy the problem. If the last five years illustrates nothing else, that much is clear.

It is easier to look back than to look ahead. When we examine forensic evidence we are dealing with evidence we can see, even if we cannot understand why it is there. It is clearly more challenging to look to the future and argue about this or than policy because expediency gets in the way. Besides, part of the remedy to this threat will involve constructive and meaningful engagement of American Muslims. Few people are willing in today's social climate to be seen as "soft" on terrorism. And the words terrorist and Muslim have become almost synonymous in the vocabulary of many, if not most Americans.

Those who seek dialogue with Muslims are becoming the new nigger-lovers. That's a term I haven't heard used or quoted for long time because the N-word has become so volatile that no one dare use it, even to make a point that would argue in the right direction. When we point the finger of hypocracy at inflamed, insulted Muslims it would be prudent to first examine hypersensitivity to blind spots of our own.

Anyone who doesn't think that language can have an inflammatory effect on ordinary people is simply in denial about the everyday use of language. Whether or not we admit it, we are bound by language constraints all the time. We watch movies and hear entertainers use abusive language all the time and conclude that because of that we are all free from the devastating impact of language on one another. We point with satisfaction to abusive talk-show hosts and politicians who push the envelope in speeches and congratulate ourselves that we believe in "free speech." We hear profanity and worse used in public and preen at how tolerant we have become in our modern thinking. The lyrics of rap music are a case in point.

The next time someone gets in your way at work, say "Get your fat butt out of the way, you pig, and quit looking at me like a moron." There may be places where such language is considered playful, but with the right timing and tone of voice those words will get you fired, quickly in most organizations. Anyone looked lately at the concept of "hostile work environment" and measured that exquisite standard against the everyday casual bigotry of the public square? Not since I heard reference to Blacks needing to "know their place" have I heard such a proliferation of prejudiced language against a targeted group.

I hear regularly the use of the phrase "religion of peace" as a sarcastic reversal. It is considered cute to make a joke about "Call me violent one more time and I'll punch you in the nose." And of course that vile neologism Islamofascist has become so much a part of the language that even the president uses it. I would like to think he is trying to make a point, but since the same point has been made in so many other ways I have to conclude that when he sinks to that level he is instead appealing to the lowest common political, moral and social common denominator. Such corruptions of the language set the bar of principle lower, not higher.

Rather than focus on a common goal, growing numbers of people are marching in lock-step to an ever-widening polarization that plays directly into the hands of those who would use terrorist tactics to divide and conquer. A bedrock population of patriotic Conservatives with roots reaching all the way back to Goldwater days and before can read their marching orders from places like Discover the Network. Not to be outdone, another growing group who are at best well-meaning in their ignorance, are collecting at the other end of the political and social spedtrum at places such as Right Web, encouraged and blessed by a growing list of notables.

Such broad-brush approaches to politics and social institutions do nothing but inflame their constituencies. I see the same trends in churches, believe it or not. I am in the camp that sees this new movie Jesus Camp as frightening and my wife is among friends who might very well find the movie inspirational....And here is the kicker: neither of us has even seen the film yet! How much closer to home can this trend come?

Getting back to the CFR reports, I have not drilled into the links as I should. I'm sure there are informative and important points to be found there, but I don't want to miss the importance of the biggest point of all, that before we climb into the nose-bleed reaches of high-level policy, we all need to get real about broad-brush extremism in our everyday life.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thai cameo

hilzoy was so impressed with an extended comment regarding Thailand that she made it into a post. So was I.

There was a coup in Thailand this week.
Publius was on top of it and seems to have it figured out.
The story was picked up at Obsidian Wings.
hilzoy caught the post comments by dr ngo and posted them.

If you read all these links and the comments that accompany them you will know more about Thailand and Thai politics than anyone in your peer group.
I did and I do.

I also left a comment and was pleased to have it recognized and left without elaboration by the erudite dr ngo, whoever he or she may be.

This comment by someone else caught my eye:



I was in Bangkok in 1992 during the last coup. A fair number of people were killed (there were accusations afterwards that many more simply disappeared) by the army as they protested and rioted. Some government buildings were torched as well. It was somewhat surreal to walk down an Khao San Road (the centre of Bangkok's backpacker district), be allowed to pass by a military "checkpoint" where the soldiers ignored foreigners entirely and then walk the block or so the the main square where several hundred Thais, led by monks, were marching and chanting under the guns of hundreds of troops positioned behind coils of razor wire.

As Dr. Ngo mentioned, the king summoned the two main political opponenents, a very recently retired top general and his populist opponent, to an audience. Protocol required both men to walk toward the seated king on their knees. The footage and photos of the two of them crawling on their knees and then listening to the king were all over the tv and papers. The ex-general was in an Armani suit (he had the reputation of being a proud and powerful man) while the populist wore his usual simple peasant clothes (he cultivated the image of simplicity and humility). Not surprisingly, the images appeared to seal the ex-general's political fate (and this appeared to have been the king's intention by allowing the audience to be filmed and photographed).


* * *
Followup Saturday, Sept, 23

I shouldn't treat this story with such breezy carelessness. Many people take the story more seriously. A commentary in Le Monde was translated by Leslie Thatcher for Truthout.

...this coup d'√ątat has been limply condemned by the international community. A sign of the times? Indicator of erosion, of exhaustion of the democratic model in developing countries, where it too often merges with nepotism and corruption? The timidity of criticism is explained by an observation: the putsch, accomplished without bloodshed, was welcomed by the population - in any case, by the residents of Bangkok - with relief. It's a fact: the reaction on the street was to offer the soldiers flowers, not to throw stones at them. The symbol is powerful.

Etc., Etc.

My point in posting this story (I almost said "little" story, but for the people involved it is anythign but little. It is easy to be carelessly disrespectful, isn't it?) was that there are all kinds of variants on what we like to call "democracy." From what I remember of history in those classrooms so long, long ago, there is a second-cousin to democracy called populism. Populism is what people call democracy that they don't like. But populism is what is afoot today all over the world.

dr ngo's comments above are cogent, but the most important line in the piece is at the beginning:

"-- First, the disclaimers. It's NOT about Islam. It's NOT about us."

That point needs to be underscored.

It's about populism. Nothing more. (Remember, now: Populism is what we call democracy that we don't like.) Next, I have to write something that will make a lot of people angry. [Reader advisory: Righteous Indignation Trigger coming up...]

When the leaders of Venezuela and Iran spoke to the United Nations this week, they said things that were rude to the point of insult to the United States, their host country, and to George Bush, our president. No need to link or quote them here. Besides, everyone knows to what I am referring...
Who was their audience? The UN, you say?
Hardly.
Their audience in both cases was the people they left at home, the populist-driven base that put them into power. Oh, we can get all prissy and self-righteous about how those elections were manipulated, how Jimmy Carter was so afraid of violence that he put a stamp of approval on a clearly "rigged" election of Chavez. Or how extremists in Iran somehow succeded in sneaking Ahmedinizhad past a majority of their people. But the simple fact is this: the mathematical majority of people in those countries, whatever the reason, don't like US policy and how it impacts their lives. They may love our consumer-driven brand marketing, our fast foods, our movies and cable TV. But at another level they think our foreign policy stinks. And like it or not, that is why leaders such as these occupy the offices they hold.

Majority. That means an expression of *choke* democracy, ya'll.
And my guess is that the respective majorities of the folks back home cheered their leaders for what they said and how they said it. No, Chavez and Ahmedinezhad were not speaking to the UN. They, just like Senators and Congressmen in Washington, were speaking to the camera, and so to their constituencies...the folks back home.

Sure, some of their compatriots were embarrassed. I don't know about you, but I didn't read any reports yet about anyone from Venezuela or Iran rendering an apology. That might come later, of course, but at the moment those voices are mute. Why? Because we know what happens when anyone speaks out against the grain of public opinion.

Dr. Hadar once referred to the president's democratic crusade as a nutty idea. I'm beginning to think he was correct.

Jesus Camp -- the movie

Jeff Sharlett says this is a movie worth seeing. That makes me want to watch.

Jesus Camp, a new documentary, opens in New York City this Friday. I've assigned a review of the film for The Revealer, but in the meantime, I can't recommend it strongly enough. Jesus Camp turns out to be perhaps the best work of journalism -- or art -- dealing with contemporary Christian conservatism. It's a film of bleak beauty, to borrow a phrase from the great photographer Danny Lyon, and like Lyon's work, Jesus Camp is both unsentimental and heartbreaking, harrowing and absurd at the same time. It's a movie about the Christian Right and that movement's political ambitions, but it's also a story about kids and what they believe and how they absorb the beliefs of the adults around them. Jesus Camp transcends its moment even as it reports on it with precision. This is a film of scriptural intensity; see it if you can.

From the reviews...

Washington City Paper: If you’re one of those hardy optimists who think the blue and red halves of the United States will someday deserve that name again, Jesus Camp is just the movie to kick all the hope out of you. Behold, East Coast liberals, and despair: Young children speaking in tongues. Home-school matriarchs arguing that intelligent design and global warming are, respectively, proven and unproven theories. And, most worrisome, a driven, self-assured children’s educator who announces that “democracy is designed to destroy itself” and that it’s only a matter of time before “Jesus reigns on Earth.” This particular juggernaut, Pastor Becky Fischer, is the driving force behind the Kids on Fire summer camp, an extended revival meeting and recruitment tool for adolescent Christian soldiers.

Variety: The three main featured campers, 12-year-old Levi, 9-year-old Rachel and 10-year-old Tory, are shown playing Christian combat video games and expressing their love for Jesus with genuine fervor.
The camp's likeable founder, Becky Fischer, talks about her mission to indoctrinate children to form an army of proselytizers to "take back America for Christ."
Fischer, who boasts she can "go into a playground of kids that don't know anything about Christianity and lead them to the Word in no time at all," is surely a formidable salesperson. Using visual aids such as little plastic fetuses to appeal to raw emotion and healthy doses of guilt to evoke religious rapture, Fischer is always focused on her mission.
Though opposing viewpoints are sporadically proffered by Air America radio host Mike Papantonio, a practicing Christian appalled by the fundamentalists' political agenda, the film employs no exposition and professes no overt bias; indeed, Fischer was apparently delighted with the finished product. Both the camp's children and the adults welcome the camera as a witness to their crusade.

Independent News: During an election year, the film shows just how political evangelical Christians, which are estimated to number 75 million in the United States, have become.
In fact, it’s estimated 25 million evangelicals voted in the 2004 presidential election with 80 percent voting Republican.
Papantonio labels it a “religious-political army.”
“We have been asleep at the wheel, while the political fundamentalists have gained power over our country,” he laments in the film.
The eerie or wonderful film, depending on your religious perspective, follows Fischer and the recruitment and training of three children Levi, 12, Rachel, 9, and Tory, 10.
The three kids are seen at home, a bowling alley, going to camp and then crisscrossing the country from an evangelical church headed by Haggard in Colorado Springs, Colo., to praying outside a Kansas abortion clinic and finally protesting abortion with red tape with “life” written on it taped over their mouths as they pray outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
“You could call it brainwashing, but I am radical and passionate in teaching children about their responsibility as Christians, as God-fearing people, as Americans,” says Fischer, who at one point denies indoctrinating children politically but then admits it.
In the end, viewers can decide in the very matter-of-fact film whether it’s OK to turn children into Christian soldiers, like Fischer does, or not.

Reuters: With no voice-over or commentary, the movie follows Fischer at events for children in North Dakota and Missouri.
In one scene a cardboard President George W. Bush is brought on stage at an assembly so attendees can pray that he make America "one nation under God." In another a preacher shows plastic models of tiny fetuses and leads a prayer saying: "God end abortion, and send revival to America."

Looks like scary stuff to me. I don't know which is more dangerous for my grandchildren, their physical environment or the political one.
So why do you think I'm such a nut about separation of church and state?

Last night I listened to John Danforth being interviewed by Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith. I thought about blogging a post about it, but this link is all I have decided to post. I'm getting tired of saying the same thing over and over. I know my readers are getting tired of seeing it.

"I think that the conservatives have a lot to tell us about trying to keep some sense of morality in our country, and they’re concerned about all kinds of things, about promiscuity and about drugs, about the breakup of families. I mean, all of these are very real concerns, and I’m glad they’re raising them. I just wish that they would raise them with a little more humility."
--John Danforth

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dr. Leon Hadar -- Anti-Americanism in the Arab World

This link is not everyone's cup of tea, but anyone who follows events in the Middle East should read it. Hadar's take on how and why US policy has created more problems than it has solved is an iron-clad piece of analysis. Those guys at the Cato Institute are pretty sharp. And in Dr. Hadar's case, funny, too.

In 1977, when I got to New York, there was a lot of excitement in the city. On Broadway, the hit, A Chorus Line was playing. There was Studio 54 and the launching of a new television show, Saturday Night Live. John Travolta was doing the disco on Saturday Night Fever and everyone was wearing polyester suits. And there was... Woody Allen.

For me – personally, and for many members of my generation – Americans and non-Americans -- the movie producer and actor Woody Allen and his artistic energy and sense of humor was and continues to personify that New York that I love and its great spirit.

So I was not surprised a few weeks after 9/11 to read in the New Yorker an interview with an Iranian woman by the name of Ava who was in love with America and who told the writer Joe Klein how devastated she felt watching the images from New York on 9/11:

"Do you want to know what I was really worried about? Woody Allen. I didn't want him to die. I wanted to know that he was all right. I love his films."

Now... since 9/11 America has lost Ava from Tehran -- she lost that loving feeling towards the United States -- as well as the hearts and minds of most Iranians, Iraqis, Egyptians, Turks and many, many others in the Middle East and around the world.

My guess is that Ava remains a fan of Woody Allen. Who knows? Perhaps Osama bin Ladin --- hiding in a cave in Pakistan -- is watching Annie Hall on his plasma television screen and enjoying that unique New York Jewish humor...

But it's not about Woody Allen. It's not about the Way We Were in 1977 or in 1991. It's not about – to quote President Bush -- Who We Are. It's About the Policy, Stupid! In this case, it's about U.S. Policy in the Middle East.

And he procedes to explain how US policy in the Middle East has whiplashed a time or two in recent years, resulting in a raging anti-Americanism at the political level that shines in sharp counterpoint to a basic pro-American sentiments of ordinary people. No need for me to parse here what he said. Interested readers can read for themselves. I find his analysis clear, constructive, reasonable and accurate. In other words, I expect few people in Washington will get it.

Tortured by Mistake

That is the headline: Tortured by Mistake.
Grotesque.
Not the headline, but the inference. The unspoken implication is that torture may be okay if it is NOT a mistake. That is the pernicious subtext that I don't think even the Washington Post headline writers and editors intended. Nevertheless, that is where the public debate is headed.

I have a hard time coming to terms with living in a time when it is necessary to explain myself when I say that I am against the use of torture.

After looking at some of the stories and documents [PDF] relating to this story I will have to take a pass on writing a post about it. It may be the most altogether disgusting sequence of events that has hit the news in recent times.

Oh, there are more tragic, more bloody, more horrendous stories out there...but they are about textbook evil people doing what their kind does. Or about otherwise noble and upright people who due to some character defect have fallen prey to that one chink in their moral armour that took them down some dark pathway to their ultimate destruction.

But this is not the same. This public conversation about torture is taking place in high places, among elected and appointed officials that represent you and me. This is not about some perverted or misguided individual or group that has nothing to do with most of us. This is us talking. You and I. A conversation by proxy that is seriously contemplating under what circumstances to use torture.

Un. Be. Liev. Able.

What Constitutes “Torture”?

Even while Mr. Arar was in detention in Syria, reports circulated that he was being subjected to torture. A report of the Syrian Human Rights Committee, an NGO based in London, provided certain details that Mr. Arar himself later contradicted and clarified. In his first public statement on the conditions of his detention, delivered on November 4, 2003, a month after his return to Canada, Mr. Arar described his treatment in the context of torture. He stated:

The next day I was taken upstairs again. The beating started that day and was very intense for a week, and then less intense for another week. That second and the third days were the worst. I could hear other prisoners being tortured, and screaming and screaming. Interrogations are carried out in different rooms. One tactic they use is to question prisoners for two hours, and then put them in a waiting room, so they can hear the others screaming, and then bring them back to continue the interrogation.

The cable is a black electrical cable, about two inches thick. They hit me with it everywhere on my body. They mostly aimed for my palms, but sometimes missed and hit my wrists they were sore and red for three weeks. They also struck me on my hips, and lower back. Interrogators constantly threatened me with the metal chair, tire and electric shocks.

The tire is used to restrain prisoners while they torture them with beating on the sole of their feet. I guess I was lucky, because they put me in the tire, but only as a threat. I was not beaten while in tire. They used the cable on the second and third day, and after that mostly beat me with their hands, hitting me in the stomach and on the back of my neck, and slapping me on the face. Where they hit me with the cables, my skin turned blue for two or three weeks, but there was no bleeding. At the end of the day they told me tomorrow would be worse. So I could not sleep. Then on the third day, the interrogation lasted about eighteen hours.

From the earliest descriptions of his ordeal, to the first public statement, and in all the subsequentrepresentations of his counsel before the Commission, Mr. Arar has asserted that he was tortured.It is therefore necessary for me to enter the grim realms of defining what is meant by the term torture.

In assessing what constitutes torture, I am assisted by well-established international law standards and by clear testimony before the Commission. In the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984[hereinafter Convention Against Torture], “torture” is defined in Article 1 as:
…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a...


I don't have the patience to copy and paste the rest.

Look at this description of another man's treatment:

Mr. Nureddin was detained from 11 December 2003 to 14 January 2004. He struck me as asimple man: his descriptions were unembellished and visceral. He described his fear at being shown in an interrogation room a few links of chain on a wall and an open chair frame which he immediately deduced were used for torture. Many details of his testimony correlated closely to descriptions offered by Messrs. Almalki and EL Maati. For example, in one interrogation session two days after his arrest, Mr. Nureddin described how he was stripped to his underwear and hadcold water poured over him while lying on his stomach under a fan. He was asked to raise his feet. He then saw a “black cable” which was used to beat him on the soles of his feet. This cable– which figures prominently in all the descriptions of beatings that I heard – was brought down on his feet some fifteen times. Then Mr. Nureddin was told to stand up. Cold water was pouredon his feet to ease the searing pain, and he was ordered to run in one place before the procedurewas repeated two more times.

Sorry, folks. Some of us have to stand for something better than this. If that makes me an outcaste, then that is how it must be.