Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bush Dances Jig on MSM Grave

According to a Drudge Report Flash, President bush is happy to see the mainstream media foundering amidst high-profile scandals like Dan Rather's "Memo-gate".
President Bush, for the first time, is hailing the rise of the alternative media and the decline of the mainstream media, which he now says "conspired" to harm him with forged documents...."It looks like somebody conspired to float false documents," the president tells author Bill Sammon. "And I was amazed about it. I just couldn’t believe that would be happening [and] then it would become the basis of a fairly substantial series of news stories."
Yes, it truly is a scandal that falsified information would be disseminated and those lies would lead to a "substantial series of news stories." I wonder where Dan Rather got the idea.

It's worth noting that Bush is proud of the fact that he doesn't read newspapers but gets his information from a cadre of advisors instead. Perhaps this is what he means by "a revolution in newsgathering and dissemination." It might be out of the price range of most people, but since when did Bush care about that kind of stuff?

It's also worth noting that the Bush administration is fully willing to participate in the mainstream media that the president so decries when it comes to high-level leaks, hardball interviews with Brit Hume and paying hacks who shill for the government without disclosing their financial interest.

No, Bush doesn't hate the mainstream media. He hates the adversarial press. Which is a little bit like hating America. And freedom. I would have expected Bush to say something about the nattering nabobs of negativism, but what chance does he have of pronouncing that when he can't even say "nuclear"?

Moderate Muslims Are Everywhere

There's an eye-opening post by RJ Eskow on Huffington's blog that makes essentially the same point I've been trying to make all along. Where are all the moderate Muslims? They're the over 1.2 billion people who aren't rioting over the cartoons.
So let's have some fun with numbers. If 30,000 Muslims have rioted (probably a high number, but if you've got a more accurate one let's hear it), that's 0.000023% of all Muslims, or one Muslim out of every 43,000 worldwide. The frequency of reported rapes in the US suggests that an American is one hundred times more likely to be a rapist than a Muslim is to be a cartoon rioter.
Eskow gives us a laundry list of things that are statistically more likely than a rioting Muslim (such as a Christian minister convicted of sexual offenses). The wheels fall off a bit when he stoops to an ugly ad hominem attack on Hitchens, saying that the percentage of rioting Muslims is less than the percentage of "alcoholic writers who are as incoherent and pompous as ... well, as Christopher Hitchens."

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm more than happy to take Hitchens or Andrew Sullivan to task when they say something stupid. Still, if you want to dismantle someone, do it to their argument, not their character. Otherwise you just end up looking bad yourself.

Overall, however, a really good article on "that phony 'where are the moderates?' jag."

Before the Storm

Part 4 of Random Platitude's cartoon row dissection is up.

In it, our Danish lecturer and historian details the last few months before the Muhammad cartoon fury exploded in earnest. Before the story made international headlines, there was a debate within Denmark about the Prime Minister's refusal to meet with a cadre of Muslim diplomats about the cartoons. Politicians were pitted against politicians—with some accusing the PM of siding with Jyllands-Posten (remember, according to Jytte Klausena, a Danish journalist, the paper is affiliated, if unofficially, with the Danish ruling party).

Half a world away, Fatah militants were seizing on the cartoon issue as a way to legitimize their sagging political standing in the Palestinian Authority by attacking EU interests in Gaza. Jyllands-Posten offered an open apology the next day, which was accepted by the Danish Muslim Association. Sadly, it was too late. The cartoon crisis had a life of its own.

More of this fascinating insider's perspective is promised in Part 5.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Virgin Whore

Is this a joke? It has to be a joke.

According to Digital Spy, Paris Hilton has been tapped to play Mother Teresa in an upcoming biopic.
The hotel heiress has been approached by award-winning director T Rajeevnath, who is convinced that she will be a huge success....In preparation for the role, Paris is apparently joining the Order of Mother Teresa missionaries, and will travel around Bangalore and Calcutta to care for the sick.
While this is certainly close to Christopher Hitchens' perfect revenge fantasy, the general movie-going public is likely to be a bit less enthusiastic.

Well, at least we know she has the missionary position down.

Ethnocentrism in the Cartoon Debate

Christopher Hitchens recently had a good article about ethnocentrism in coverage of the Hamas victory in Palestinian Authority elections. There were gallons of ink spilled writing about what this result meant for Israel, but far less about what fate Palestinian voters had sealed from themselves.

It is always instructive to take a step back from the firing lines to try to get the bigger picture in any debate. Stepping away from the burning flags and fiery rhetoric of the Danish cartoon controversy reveals a similar imbalance to what Hitchens noted in the 'Holy' Land.

Almost all of the debate coming from the allegedly enlightened corners of the Western world focuses on what all of this means for Europe, or for Western civilization as a whole. The idea that Muslims could have in any way been aggrieved is dismissed out of hand. Why? Because in the popular imagination, it is the Europeans who are acted upon. The Muslim 'other' is the cause of the crisis, but they somehow cannot be affected by it. They can radiate hatred and intolerance, but not absorb it. In their zeal to protect the freedom of expression (a vital and worthy cause), many commentators have cast the Muslim world as an undifferentiated monolith that stands in contrast to the dynamic, multi-faceted societies of the West.

The question that almost never gets asked is, what does all this mean for Muslim communities in Europe and abroad? It's not that this should be the sole concern, but the fact that the answer is not even wondered at speaks volumes. It is often assumed that the cartoon crisis erupted in a vacuum. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some Danes and other Europeans had an agenda (or, rather, agendas) when they reprinted the cartoons, and certain Muslim entities had their own agendas as well.

There can be no honest discussion of the cartoon debate that doesn't address not only the failings of 'Muslim culture', but the shortcomings of European culture as well. The cartoon protests did not spring up out of nowhere. They happened against a backdrop of xenophobia, Islamophobia, political disenfranchisement and a host of other factors.

Another thing that doesn't get mentioned at all is the effect of the War on Terror. Many people in Muslim societies perceive the war in Iraq, in particular, as a Western war against Islam. I happen to think that is simplistic, but the existence of that perception cannot be denied. Much of the outrage surrounding the cartoons can be attributed to a general feeling on the part of many Muslims that they are being encircled by a hostile West that sees them all as terrorists. Miss this point and you risk misinterpreting the whole crisis.

When Western commentators are in a self-congratulatory mood, they like to point out that enlightened societies allow the denigration of religious beliefs and cultural mores. Piss Christ is a favorite example. The comparison is actually a terrible one. Piss Christ was created by the American photographer Andres Serrano, who was brought up as a strict Roman Catholic in New York City.

Most of the anti-Christian images that we accept or tolerate are created by Christians or, if apostate, at least by people of Christian 'stock'. It would be a far different thing for a Jewish person to mock Christianity or for a Christian to mock Judaism. That sort of thing tends to be frowned on much more than an attack on one's own culture. It's why Chris Rock can get away with a standup routine that would get a white comedian beaten up. It's a distinction that people can quite easily make, but when it comes to the cartoon controversy, it as if people's minds go blank.

To have the overwhelming majority—a group that holds the reins of political and social power—tell you that your religion is a sham and the founder was an evil person is actually quite menacing. It would certainly upset anybody put in a similar situation. One group of people flexing their muscles and lording their cultural superiority over a smaller, weaker group is not the hallmark of freedom and openness. It's a warning sign.

Despite some of the lofty rhetoric echoing around the Western media, much of Europe does not allow freedom of speech. Some have vague laws that offer little protection, and others have specific anti-defamation laws. Why? Is it because they hate freedom? No. It's because they have had a demonstrated problem with xenophobia in the past. It all started when certain powerful people decided that there were minority groups in their midst that didn't share their values and constituted a threat to their indigenous (and always superior) culture.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

When There's a Will, There's No Way

On Thursday (or today, in many syndicated markets), George Will did a little amatuer social theorizing on the recent Pew Research Center survey that found conservatives to be "happier" than liberals (as they have been since 1972).

Don't let the bow tie fool you. George ًWill is not a grim scold. He's pessimistic, and he's happy that way.

"Conservatives," opines Will, "are happier than liberals because they are more pessimistic." What he means by that noggin-scratcher is that conservatives think everything's going to hell in a handbasket, so they're pleasantly surprised when they end up being wrong. I'm pretty sure that was cribbed from the Tao Te Ching, but I'll let it go for now.

The only problem with Will's op-ed piece is that he gives the impression of never having spent time with liberals or conservatives. By his theory, liberals must be miserable because they're optimistic. They believe in fruity things like world peace, and all. This may be, but conservatives have their own optimistic fairy-tale world, too, filled with working missile defense systems, democracy in Iraq and President Schwarzenegger. The fact is that liberals are just as pessimistic as conservatives—or more so—just about different things. And, as seems to happen so often when reading George Will, we've reached the "duh" factor.

That little theoretical error is only the half of it, though. Not only is Will's argument based on faulty reasoning, it's based on absolute falsehood as well. Take this, for example:
...because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes—government—they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself.
This coming from the political side of the spectrum that responded to 9/11 by saying the country just needed to blindly follow King President George Bush's lead and "trust" him completely. If conservatives put no faith in princes, why do they pledge fealty to the secretive, unaccountable monarchy-in-all-but-name that we have now? (Cheney would be Rasputin.) Maybe their "happiness" is just a mental byproduct of surrendering their ideals.

The biggest whopper in Will's article is undoubtedly this one:
Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.
Would an example of an unintended consequence be the massive tax credit targeted at rich people that ended up bankrupting the country? Lots of conservatives are up in arms about that one. Or how about the bold government undertaking of invading Iraq? That's the one that lost us most of our friends in Europe and created new enemies for us in the Middle East—a place where we had precious few friends to begin with. It's also the one that's costing about $200 billion more than projected. Sounds like someone in the Bush administration was being a little optimistic. How liberal of them.

Will pretty much cuts to the chase after that. "The right to pursue happiness," he writes, "is the essential right that government exists to protect." I agree. To hell with life and liberty! I want an SUV. And that's a "happiness" that liberals just cannot enjoy:
...conscientious liberals cannot enjoy automobiles because there is global warming to worry about, and the perils of corporate-driven consumerism, which is the handmaiden of bourgeoisie materialism.
Conservatives, however, don't believe in global warming. There have to be limits to pessimism, after all. Maybe the vast majority of scientists on the planet are wrong. The polar ice caps look pretty big to me. Who says we can't continue to pollute the planet without affecting it in the slightest? Yes, conservatives tend toward optimism when there's a profit involved. It might be fair to say that conservatives have all the happiness money can buy.

He ends his little essay with a little dig that is apparently supposed to be a zinger but falls a few notes short.
Liberalism is a complicated and exacting, not to say grim and scolding, creed. And not one conducive to happiness.
Yes, almost as grim and scolding as a pretentious George Will column. If conservatives are so pessimistic, how can they accuse liberals of being grim? You guys are the ones telling us that al Qaeda is hiding under our beds, waiting for a chance to strike. You're the ones mewling about the death of Christmas with a straight face. You're the people who stand outside of abortion clinics and scream at unfortunate teenagers (or worse). You're the one's who complain that TV is sliding into the sewer and corrupting our children. You're the ones telling us that God destroyed New Orleans because of all the faggots and he's itching to do the same to any town that dares to teach evolution in schools.

At the outset, Will says that "one cannot—yet—be prosecuted for committing theory without a license." I think it's time to write your representatives in Congress to see if we can't get that changed. It would make this liberal very happy.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Radicals and the Cartoon Crisis

Part three of Random Platitudes' dissection of the Danish cartoon controversy is up now on his site. RP is a historian and lecturer from Denmark and he offers up a highly-detailed insider's view of the Muhammad cartoon crisis.

Part three deals with two obscure Danish imams with ideological and financial ties to Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and their involvement in propagating the story of the cartoons to the Muslim world at large.

RP also connects outbursts of protest and violence in the Muslim world to the fact Iran and Syria, both states facing possible sanctions from the UN Security Council, may have been interested in influencing Denmark, which was serving its rotation on the UNSC.

This blog has lots of detail and lots of background that hasn't been reported elsewhere. Go check it out.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Coulter Spreads the Love at IU

Ann Coulter spoke at Indiana University last night to a mix of applause and jeers. Here's what she said when an audience member asked her why liberals hate conservative values:
Well, they hate God and they hate America.
No, Ann, we just hate you.

Ann Coulter, now and always, a waste of a good cream pie.

Rummy Wags the Dog

A blogger filed a Truth of Information Act request (you go!) and managed to get his hands on the notes that Department of Defense staffer Stephen Cambone took during meetings with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

Salient extracts (click the link above for images):
"[b]est info fast...judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time — not only UBL [Usama Bin Laden]
Go massive....Sweep it all up. Things related and not.
Things related and not. Sweet Jesus! How could anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 read this and not change their mind? Had the "best info" actually pointed to that, we would have invaded Iraq at the same time we invaded Afghanistan.

We didn't. Instead, the U.S. government worked for months to accumulate the evidence that would allow them to do what they obviously hoped to be able to do from the very beginning. A prefect example of the tail wagging the dog if there ever was one.

Did the government manufacture this evidence? We can't say for sure. This memo clearly indicates that they were willing to cherry-pick at the very best. We need an independent investigation to determine whether it's wrong to assume the very worst. The burden of proof is going to have to be on them.

Moderation Under Fire

There seems to be a general opinion in Weblogistan and beyond that there is a dearth of "moderate Muslims." This isn't helped by the fact that Muslims only ever make the Western press when they blow something up. Of course, the problem has only become worse since the Muhammad cartoon controversy.

After the golden dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra, one of the holiest sites for Shiites, was destroyed by bombers, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric did something unprecedented. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani made an exceedingly rare television appearance to urge his followers to protest this immense crime against their faith peacefully and to refrain from making reprisals on Sunnis or their mosques.

So, we have an extremely powerful and well-respected Islamic leader calling for restraint and peaceful protest. And this isn't over some cartoons half a world away, it's about a direct and obvious attack on a holy place. Sounds like moderation to me, and at a time when it really counts.

I'd like to say, "get blogging", but I'm resigned to the notion that there's no point. People who can't find moderation in the Muslim world simply aren't looking. And they're probably not looking for a reason.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hate Breeds Hate 2.0

After the Danish cartoon controversy reached a fever pitch, Tehran's Hamshahri newspaper decided to hold a ghastly contest to find the "best" cartoon about the Holocaust. It was a perfect example of the downward spiral this debate has become stuck in. Now, news from Britain provides further evidence that the furor is heading toward its logical conclusion.

The British National Party, a neo-fascist political fringe group, is distributing a leaflet with a reproduction of one of the cartoons in an attempt, according to a BNP spokesman, to provoke debate. "We published the cartoon not to offend individual Muslims — that's most important — but to make a stand for freedom," the spokesman said.

The BNP claims it is not a racist organization, but party leader Nick Griffin and another BNP member will face race-hate charges (on an unrelated issue) in a British court this October. The BNP website states that the organization "exists to secure a future for the indigenous peoples of these islands." The indigenous people are defined as those with Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Norse ancestry.

Here is some of the text of the leaflet:
By showing you just how mild and inoffensive the cartoon is, we're giving you the chance to see for yourself the huge gulf that exists between the democratic values that we share, and the medieval views that dominate Islam, even supposedly 'moderate' versions.
This statement, from a neo-fascist leaflet in Britain, is virtually indistinguishable from the kinds of rhetoric we've been hearing from mainstream defenders of free speech like Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens, amongst others. Of course, this doesn't mean that either of those guys sympathizes with the BNP—far from it—and it certainly doesn't mean that there's something fascistic about defending the right of people to reprint the Danish cartoons.

Obviously the BNP is latching on to this issue and trying hard to strike a reasonable pose because they think they can win some respectability points from doing so. It's pandering of the lowest order. That said, if your position on Muslims in Europe can essentially be adopted wholesale by a neo-Nazi organization, perhaps there's some nuance missing from your line of reasoning. As passionate admirers of George Orwell, both Sullivan and Hitchens should know as much.

Both writers are planning to attend a rally in support of Denmark outside the Danish embassy in Washington tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with standing up for the right to free speech (indeed, its a vital cause—albeit one that makes strange bedfellows) or even to show solidarity with Western Enlightenment values. Something is lost, however, when crazy people at either end of the spectrum hijack the debate.

I support the right of any newspaper anywhere to print whatever image or idea they wish. I also reserve the right to support this principle without being required to agree with the ideas protected under its broad umbrella. There is more than a whiff of anti-Muslim xenophobia surrounding the Danish cartoon controversy and the way it has rippled through Europe. I condemn this as reflexively as I condemn the outbreaks of violence and intolerance in the Muslim world. It would be nice if the likes of Sullivan and Hitchens would do so as well. Unfortunately, they're so busy cheerleading for Western Civilization that they haven't found the right moment.

When the ideological descendents of Western Civilization's greatest failure are in your camp, you should, to say the least, be very, very careful. If you get into bed with the enemies of freedom—on either side—you'll end up hating yourself in the morning.

Internet Akbar!

My new email address from yesterday's Yahoo-Allah debacle, allah4500231@yahoo.com, got it's first spam message at about three in the morning. That's a pretty good turn-around time, since the address had been in effect for only 17 hours.

Mohd Zulqisti Mohd Nawi would like me to have my Internet address for life. I wonder if there's a whole subset of Islam-oriented spam out there. I'll be sure to keep an eye on it. Spammers, Praise Be Unto Them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sullivan's Post Is Allah-ta Crap

Andrew Sullivan has a new post about how poor Linda Callahan was not allowed to use her name as an email address because it contains the word "Allah", which Yahoo doesn't allow. Sullivan boldly calls this "capitulation to religious hooey."
I wish I were making this up. The world is going completely bananas over mullahs.
The problem? It's all a load of crap. How do I know? Well, I'm the proud owner of the brand new Yahoo email address allah4500231@yahoo.com. Go ahead, send me an email. I'll write back to you.

In his post, Sullivan links to the jeremiad of Ms. Callahan in which she claims that no Yahoo ID she requested, including kallahar385753984753, was available. Also not true. I just tried to get that ID and Yahoo said, "Congratulations, the ID kallahar385753984753 is available!" Now, this took me about five minutes to debunk. What gives, Andrew? It's called basic research. I believe they teach that at Oxford, no?

Sometimes I get the feeling that Sullivan just really, desperately wants these things to be true.

This is allah4500231, signing off.

Update: Pepe has provided this link to a story in the Register that says that Yahoo, in fact, unbanned "Allah" after this story got out. According to Yahoo, "'Allah' was one word being used for [hateful] purposes, with instances tied to defamatory language." Therefore, Yahoo banned the word themselves and not, it appears, at the behest of the mad mullahs of Andrew Sullivan's nightmares. Still, at the time of Sullivan's post, his research would have confirmed Callahan's story. Correction noted. The assumption that Yahoo's decision was indicative of some world-wide conspiracy to placate Islamic fundamentalists was, alas, his own leap of "faith."

Update 2: In case any of you are wondering about my own research ethic, the story in the Register was posted 27 minutes after my post originally appeared. You know what they say: Weblogistan has bloody borders.

Update 3: In case I have been remiss, apologies to Andrew Sullivan (and Oxford) for impugning his research ethic. I certainly have issues with his views on Islam of late (you can read all about it by clicking here and scrolling down to the posts on the cartoon controversy), but I was too quick to jump on this one.

Denmark's Diplomatic Breakdown

Here is another interesting post from Random Platitudes about the background of the Muhammad cartoon crisis, coming from a historian and lecturer in Denmark. It's nice to see a dispassionate examination of the origins of this crisis from somebody who really knows the background.

In his first post, RP detailed some inconsistencies in the story of Danish author Kåre Bluitgen, who allegedly could not find anyone willing to illustrate his children's book on Muhammad. RP raises the possibility that these "unwilling illustrators" may not, in fact, exist.

In part two of his exposition, RP deals with the chain of events that turned the cartoon controversy into a diplomatic crisis. The mainstream press has made much of the fact that the cartoon protests were "orchestrated" by governments in the Muslim world. What they don't offer is an explanation of how this came to be.

Shortly after Jyllands-Posten published the original cartoons on Sept. 30, 2005, the Danish prime minister got a letter signed by the ambassadors of eleven Muslim countries requesting a meeting to discuss Islamophobia in Denmark. At issue was not only the cartoons, but three other incidents of anti-Muslim hatemongering, several originating from within the Danish government itself.

In a serious breach of diplomatic protocol, the prime minister refused to meet with the eleven diplomats and cut his own foreign minister out of the loop. RP sees this as a missed opportunity, calling the foreign minister "a highly intelligent man with a gift for diplomacy."
Had he been involved from the start, it is fair to say that the situation might not have escalated.
But, we all know how it ends. The prime minister of Denmark (purposely or not) turned this into a diplomatic crisis which then spiraled out of control. None of these revelations excuse the rioting and killing—nor do they justify Muslim governments manipulating their citizens into violence—but it is extremely useful to have this background information.

RP's post is part 2 of a 4-part series on the cartoon crisis. Definitely worth a read.

Hard a'Port

Now that Cheney's hunting "accident" has fallen off the front pages, the Bush administration finds itself caught up in a new furor. It's not the Mora memo, as it really should be, but the decision to allow major seaports on the eastern seaboard and the gulf coast to be administered by Dubai Ports World, a state-run company from the United Arab Emirates. That was Arab, in case you weren't paying attention.

Here's Bush beating back his loud and bipartisan critics:
I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a [British] company.
It could be the bad shellfish I ate, but I think this feeling of vertigo might just be what it feels like to actually agree with the president. I understand that Congress feels like they weren't consulted (now you're pissed about that?), but so much of the opposition to the UAE smacks of bigotry. What kind of message does this send to the Arab world? We want to help you rid your societies of terrorism, but when it really comes down to it, we think you might all be terrorists. We'll buy your oil, though. It's particularly unpleasant to watch Congressional Democrats jumping on the anti-Arab bandwagon and waving the 9/11 flag to score political points.

It'll be interesting to see how this thing plays out. I'm a little suspicious of the administration's tenacity on this, seeing as how they don't exactly have a spotless record on the Arabs-are-our-brothers front. Bush's threat to veto a bill to block the transfer of the ports, which would be the first veto of his entire presidency, makes me wonder if there's more to this deal than meets the eye. Of course, Bush could just be standing on principle, here.

Here comes that vertigo again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Madness of King George

I'll link to the New Yorker article on prisoner abuse again, because this is required reading.

Jane Meyer's article is shocking, depressing and inspiring—all at the same time. She chronicles the fight of one honest man—Alberto J. Mora, the outgoing general counsel of the United States Navy—against the intransigence of the Bush-Cheney cabal and their unquenchable desire to obviate whatever laws or moral strictures that stood in the way of legalized torture of terror detainees.

One name that comes up again and again in Meyer's article is Dick Cheney, who has been diligently expanding the power of the executive branch since his days in the Reagan cabinet when he argued that prohibiting the arming of Contras without Congressional authority was an unconstitutional check on the president's prerogatives. What the administration is asking for is the unaccountability that comes with royalty. It's never been entirely clear whether Bush or Cheney is the king, although Meyer makes the case for the latter.

The good news is that Mora seems to been an entirely unimpeachable character. Let's see how the administration tries to smear him. You know they will.

The Lawless Executive

Two important posts on Andrew Sullivan's blog today (here and here) occasioned by Jane Mayer's New Yorker article about the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody.

This needs to be on the front burner of the national agenda, now. Money quote:
In short: we have a lawless executive, consciously and with pre-meditation dedicated to the practice of torturing and abusing detainees. Their motives might be decent: they were doing all they thought they should to protect the country; and they still are. But I repeat: we have a lawless executive, consciously and with pre-meditation dedicated to the practice of torture.
The perpetrators and enablers of these policies will undoubtedly call people who raise a fuss unpatriotic. The truth is, it would be unpatriotic not to raise a fuss.

Monday, February 20, 2006

New Twist in the Plame Game

Everybody knows that Bob Cesca's exclusive first photo of Cheney's shooting victim that ran on the Huffington Post was a silly Photoshop job (it's Scooter Libby in a hospital bed, see), but the vice president may end up wishing it were true before all is said and done.

According to an article on the Raw Story website, the outing of ex-covert CIA agent Valerie Plame (by Dick Cheney's office, amongst others) may have been a much bigger liability for the U.S. intelligence community than previously imagined.

The Raw Story post, which relies on unnamed sources from within the intelligence community, discloses that at the time of her unmasking by columnist Robert Novak, Plame "was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran." This is quite a revelation considering the amount of attention Iran's nuclear program is getting these days.

According to intelligence sources, Raw Story reports, "her outing resulted in 'severe' damage to her team and significantly hampered the CIA's ability to monitor nuclear proliferation." Furthermore, the Raw Story article states that three intelligence officers all confirmed that Plame's outing resulted in the exposure of other non-official cover CIA officers, although they did not say how many. Another officer said that the Plame leak resulted in the exposure of "both people and agency operations that involve the 'cover mechanism,' 'front companies,' and other CIA
officers and assets."

Perhaps most damning, considering the current policy on nuclear proliferation and Iran, is this:
Several intelligence officials described the damage in terms of how long it would take for the agency to recover. According to their own assessment, the CIA would be impaired for up to "ten years" in its capacity to adequately monitor nuclear proliferation on the level of efficiency and accuracy it had prior to the White House leak of Plame-Wilson's identity.
If all of this is true, then it belies the insistence coming from the right that Plame was never a covert agent and her exposure really had no effect because her clandestine activities were over. I'm a bit wary of this story because of its total reliance on anonymous sources. While that's understanding considering the subject matter, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Still, if it turns out to be true, this scandal could end up destroying more than a few careers in Washington. What it may have cost us in terms of the Iranian nuclear program is something I don't even want to contemplate.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

D.C. Confidential

A recent headline in the Arizona Daily Sun: "Bush denies accident shows an overly secretive White House."

"Not at all," said the president. "We're very open here. Not that it's any of your business, really. National security! Perhaps I've said too much."

After a brief conference, Karl Rove decided to allow the president to continue talking to reporters. Bush described a visit he had with Cheney after the accident/attempted murder: "Yesterday when he was here in the Oval Office, I saw the deep concern he had about a person who he wounded." The president continued, "I knew it was genuine because that's the first time I ever seen him look like that. It looked unnatural on his face, let me tell you."

How did Dick Cheney handle the post-shooting situation? "Just fine," said Bush. "I'm satisfied with the explanation he gave. It's strong and powerful. Just like that Michelob Ultra Light I had last night," he added. "I mean last decade. Crap. Interview's over."

Ok, I know. This scenario is highly unrealistic. Everybody knows the president doesn't give interviews.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Phantom Illustrators in Denmark?

Apart from being a great band name, the title of this post refers to an article on a brand-spankin-new blog called Random Platitudes. Starting off with a topic that is far from random, the author—a "historian and lecturer" from Denmark who calls himself RP—promises a four-part dissection of the Danish cartoon incident.

In part one, RP gives a little background.
In the summer of 2005, author Kåre Bluitgen, writer of several books critical of Islam (Nye danskere and Til gavn for de sorte) and a frequent participant in media debates on Islamic presence in Danish society, was working on a book dealing with the life of Muhammad. During a meeting with an old acquaintance, journalist Troels Pedersen, Bluitgen mentioned that he was having trouble with his book, because three different illustrators (according to Bluitgen) had refused to participate, citing fears of reprisals for making pictures of Muhammad.
So far, this is pretty much common knowledge for anyone who has been paying close attention to the cartoon controversy. The one thing that might not be as widely known is Bluitgen's status as a critic of Islam and of the Islamic presence in Denmark. In many news accounts, he was portrayed as some sort of Danish Ted Geisel whose harmless little children's book was ruined by terrorists. It's interesting to learn that this may not be the case.

More intriguing, however, is that little nugget in the parentheses (ain't the best stuff always in parenthetical remarks?). RP elaborates:
Troels Pedersen didn't do anything with the story at the time — but three months later, he was working at the Danish news agency Ritzau and Pedersen now made the situation with the three reluctant illustrators the basis for an interview with Bluitgen. Bluitgen declined to identify the three, but Pedersen went ahead with the story anyway. Repeated requests by journalists for Bluitgen to identify the supposed illustrators were denied, and a certain skepticism crept in. Had Bluitgen concoted the story to bring attention to his upcoming book? (emphasis added)
That's an excellent question. Have the phantom illustrators of Bluitgen's children's book ever been identified? Do they even exist? As RP points out, when Jyllands-Posten went trolling for illustrators willing to draw Muhammad, they had no trouble whatsoever finding them.

None of this changes the fact that people got stupid and went crazy in the streets. If, however, the whole cartoon controversy, from the very beginning, was engineered by right-wing xenophobes, that would certainly put the liberalism and tolerance of Europe into perspective. Random Platitudes has left us with quite a cliff-hanger, there, so I guess we'll have to stay tuned.

Why Is This News?

Drudge is linking to this story on the so-called "Cybercast News Service."
Richard Dreyfuss, the actor who starred in movies ranging from "Jaws" to "Mr. Holland's Opus," told an audience in Washington, D.C., on Thursday that "there are causes worth fighting for," and one of those is the impeachment of President George W. Bush.
Who gives a rat's ass what Richard Dreyfuss thinks about politics? He's an actor. Do you care to hear my views on sub-atomic physics? Didn't think so. So why report this? And a more pressing question: What was he doing speaking at the National Press Club? Dr. Joyce Brothers was all booked up?

Drudge is linking to the story because he wants to let us know, if we haven't heard already, that Hollywood is awash in radical leftists and smelly communists. Oh, and Jews. I can't believe I almost forgot the Jews—I really have to reread my GOP Blogging Handbook.

Wow, Hollywood leans left. CEOs tend to vote for Republicans. Anarchists don't shower. La-di-freakin-da! Who cares?

Hollywood actors: Stop making grand pronouncements on politics as if you had any idea what the hell you were talking about! A 10th-grade education and an IMDB entry don't entitle you to lecture me or anyone else on politics. That's what bloggers are for.

Drudge: Stop giving these actors media attention for their political views! Haven't you ever heard the expression "don't feed the trolls"? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter what SAG members like Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Redford or Arnold Schwarzenegger have to say about anything other than acting or what it's like to have enough money to buy and sell any one of us ten times over.

Iran Embraces Western Values

Finally, some good news from the Muslim world. All that burning and looting about a bunch of stupid cartoons was so last millennium. Now, all you "Samuel Huntingtonians" out there can breathe a sigh of relief because the Muslim world is starting to embrace Western values after all, and in Iran of all places.
Bakeries across [Tehran] were covering up their ads for Danish pastries Thursday after the confectioners' union ordered the name change in retaliation for caricatures of the Muslim prophet published in a Danish newspaper. "Given the insults by Danish newspapers against the prophet, as of now the name of Danish pastries will give way to 'Rose of Muhammad' pastries," the union said in its order.
Yes, in the proud Western tradition of "freedom fries", "victory cabbage" and the British pronunciation of "lieutenant", the Iranians have chosen semantics over silly antics—and not a moment too soon.

Now all they have to do is rename their ICBMs "Peacekeeper" missiles and they'll be home free.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sullivan Talks Turkey

More asinine commentary from Andrew Sullivan on the cartoon controversy today. This from a post called "Stoning Journalists":
Hey: she was a woman without a veil. What else is a good Muslim supposed to do? And this is in Turkey: you know, the place where moderate Islam has made peace with secularism.
Actually, it's the entire post. Why explore, explain or extrapolate when you're talking about Muslims, right? They're all the same, after all.

Sullivan links to this article on Gateway Pundit about a Turkish reporter who was attacked at an anti-cartoons rally in Konya. Now, anyone who does their homework (and that is emphatically not Andrew Sullivan when it comes to Islam) will know that Konya, as the country's religious mecca (if you will), is probably Turkey's most religiously conservative city.

This doesn't excuse fanatics from attacking a woman who is not wearing the hijab. The incident, however, cannot, in good faith, be used as an exemplar of Turkey and its identity as a Muslim nation. That is just what Andrew Sullivan has done.

Thought experiment: Would Sullivan ever dream of using the Eric Rudolph abortion clinic bombing, for example, to extrapolate the attitudes and beliefs of all American Christians? Of course not. But when it comes to Islam, Sullivan is so blinded by ignorance and an almost pathological intolerance that he is able to make the most offensive generalizations without a second thought. A couple guys throwing stones in a provincial Turkish city does not encapsulate the entirety of a nation of over 80 million people. You would think Andrew Sullivan would know that.

Fair and Balanced

Gosh, I love Fox News Channel! Where would we get our corporate-government-media synergy without it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Fraternity Hazing, GI Style

Totally reminds me of when I was rushing Delta Kappa and the guys stripped me naked, held me to the floor and beat me to within an inch of my life. Thank god for the Mad Dog or I really would've been in some pain. Sucks that they didn't let me in, though. They said I bled too much.

Seriously, though, if this doesn't make you absolutely furious, I don't know what will. It's not "hazing" or "emotional release" or "naked twister"—it's torture plain and simple. Don't forget that Donald Rumsfeld called the actions depicted in the first Abu Ghraib photos "fundamentally un-American." What does that make these? Inhuman is a good start.

Hush, Rush Limbaugh, before you can say a word. It doesn't matter that the insurgents are blowing people up and chopping journalists' heads off. Not in this case. The way our military behaves should be dictated by our values, not the abysmal behavior of others. We win by being better than the terrorists, not by sinking to their disgusting level. And don't console yourself with the thought that we're using 'unorthodox' methods to get good information. We're not. The military itself admits that 70-90% of the people imprisoned by U.S. soldiers in Iraq were "arrested by mistake." There's not even the satisfaction of seeing bad people get what's coming to them. There's nothing good about this at all.

Either George Bush and Dick Cheney get off their asses and do something about this once and for all, top-down, or their entire mission in the Middle East will be laid bare for all to see what it really must be: a filthy, grotesque lie.

Katrina's Welfare Queens

A House report detailing the failings of government, at all levels (as I so wisely said back before it was cool), was released yesterday. From the AP write-up:
"The preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina should disturb all Americans," said the report, written by a Republican-dominated special House committee chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. "Passivity did the most damage," it said. "The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering, and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is no better prepared to protect its people than it was before 9/11, even if we are."
Let's see how they lead this story over at the Fox News Channel:
Some [government-issued relief debit] cards were used for purposes that are inconsistent with the intent of disaster relief programs. For example, debit cards were used for adult entertainment, tattoos, bail bond services and to pay for prior traffic violations.
Ah, the nostalgia! Remember the Cadillac-driving, vodka-swilling welfare queens of Ronald Reagan's day? Well, they're back, and they're stealing your money. Never mind the unbelievably massive waste and fiscal incompetence in the federal government, because a few idiots are getting tattoos that say "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People" on the government's dime. Horror.

In other FoxNews™, Harry Whittington and a covey of quails are being brought up on federal charges of interfering with the Vice President in the course of his official duties. Whittington faces additional charges of concealing government property in his face, neck and chest.

Olympic Greens

Can anyone explain the burning spear of asparagus that's been on the Google homepage for the past several days?

Perhaps it's a subtle suggestion from our Internet overlords that watching the Olympics is good for you and you should have 5-8 servings per day, even if it's not so easy going down.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Cheney, Victim Have Heart to Heart

This from an AFP story running now on Breitbart:
The birdshot "basically has lodged in a certain area causing inflammatory changes. When that occurs it causes irritability," David Blanchard, emergency room chief at the hospital, told a new [sic.] conference.
The veil of euphemism is fairly opaque here, so allow me to translate. What the doctor refers to as "a certain area" is in fact the heart. Not bad damage for some harmless little birdshot that we're all making such a silly fuss over. The "inflammatory changes" and "irritability" referenced by the doctor are more commonly known as a minor heart attack.

Surprisingly enough, the Vice President's dramatic reenactment of "The Most Dangerous Game" has actually formed a bond of intimacy between Cheney and his victim, Texas lawyer Harry Whittington. Cheney, the quintessential well-to-do Vietnam draft dodger, has no idea what it's like to get shot, but he certainly knows all too well what it's like to have a heart attack. In fact, if I were Dick's doctor, I'd keep the angioplasty machine handy just in case it turns out that Mr. Whittington, Esq. has filed his last brief.

More incisive commentary here.

On a Related Note: If, in the unlikely event that the media pressure surrounding Quailgate results in Cheney's resignation (or arrest), he would not only be the second Vice President to shoot somebody (that we know of…), he'd also be the second veep to be destroyed by the "nattering nabobs of negativism." Either way, those nabobs will just keep nabob-bob-bobbing along.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dick's Not Shooting Blanks

Ok, so Dick "Go F**k Yourself" Cheney shot somebody. Who didn't see that coming? I always had him pegged as more of a garroter, but life is full of surprises. Life can also be unfair. All that time hunting with Antonin Scalia without a single mishap? C'mon! Where's the justice (so to speak) in that?

Whoops, I forgot: only Republicans are allowed to advocate violence against the federal judiciary. In any case, this poor Harry Whittington fellow could have done with a secure, undisclosed location of his own.

More Cowbell, By the Numbers

There is a cry ringing (or should I say "clanging"?) out across the land, a burning fever that must be satiated—everywhere you look people are practically begging for more cowbell.

Ever since Will Ferrell played Blue Öyster Cult cowbell soloist Gene Frenkle in a SNL parody of Behind the Music, "more cowbell" has been galloping across the web and inundating our culture. (For a ridiculously straight-faced exploration of the phenomenon, check Wikipedia's "more cowbell" entry.)

Now there's no better arbiter of culture and taste than Google. And since they're bound to replace the Library of Congress within the next five years and the entire U.S. government within the next 10, we sure better listen to what they say. I conducted a Google search for "more cowbell" today and got an astonishing 3,100,000 hits. Sure, that doesn't compare to George Bush's 44,800,000 hits or Britney Spears' 34,000,000, but 3.1 million Google hits is heavy hitting on the web.

For the sake of comparison, you would need to combine the results for Rutherford B. Hayes, James Polk, James Garfield, William Howard Taft, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Zachary Taylor to equal the number of hits for "more cowbell" alone. That's a lot of mediocre presidents!

"More cowbell" has even outstripped its source material. Compare 3.1 million hits to 2,940,000 for Will Ferrell and 1,860,000 for Blue Öyster Cult. Poor producer Bruce Dickinson, played with trademark creepiness and panache by Christopher Walken, musters only 807,000 hits when you filter "Iron Maiden" (different guy—less cowbell, more fencing) out of the mix.

If we can trust Google as a fame-meter (and Google says we can, nay, must), "more cowbell" is about as famous as mid-echelon stars like Brittany Murphy (3.2 mil.) and Nick Lachey (3.4 mil.), and the cowbell didn't even have to marry Jessica Simpson. "More cowbell" even holds its own against another dominant craze in American Culture: American Idol. Check out these stats:
Kelly Clarkson—3,950,000
Clay Aiken—3,240,000
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Carrie Underwood—2,630,000
Paula Abdul—2,270,000
Simon Cowell—1,250,000
Ruben studdard—904,000
Bo Bice—733,000
William Hung—716,000
Ryan Seacrest—563,000
Randy Jackson—413,000
Fantasia Barrino—350,000
Looks like America's calling out for a new idol! Here are a few more standards of comparison from my scientific-ish research that leave "more cowbell" looking pretty good:

Cowbell vs. Canada
Bryan Adams—5,830,000
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Wayne Gretzky—2,800,000
Stephen Harper—2,440,000 (that's the new Prime Minister, moron!)
Cowbell vs. the Royal Family
Prince Charles—3,280,000
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Princess Diana—2,790,000
Prince William—2,040,000
Queen Elizabeth II—1,840,000
Prince Harry—1,180,000
Camilla Parker Bowles—730,000
Cowbell vs. Selected Current Novelists
Tom Clancy—6,610,000
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Salman Rushdie—2,940,000
Toni Morrison —1,740,000
Don Delillo—769,000
Cowbell vs. Public Intellectuals
George Will—3,130,000
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Christopher Hitchens—2,280,000
Harold Bloom —1,010,000
William F Buckley Jr—867,000
Richard Rorty—528,000
Richard Posner—417,000
Cowbell vs. Right-Wing Pundits
Rush Limbaugh—7,170,000
Ann Coulter—6,410,000
Bill O'Reilly—5,660,000
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Sean Hannity—2,300,000
Robert Novak—1,780,000
Tucker Carlson—973,000
John Podhoretz—331,000
Cowbell vs. Left-Wing Firebrands
Michael Moore—17,300,000
Al Franken—4,420,000
Barbra Streisand—3,620,000
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Susan Sarandon—2,990,000
Tim Robbins—2,190,000
Phil Donahue—410,000
Alan Colmes—388,000
Cowbell vs. Selected Classical Composers
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Johannes Brahms—1,990,000
Igor Stravinsky—1,320,000
And just in case you might think this is nothing more than a call for more percussion in general:

Cowbell vs. Other Percussion Instruments
More Cowbell—3,100,000
Less Cowbell—46,700
More Triangle—11,300
More Cymbals—10,200
More Melodica—3,290
More Xylophone—3,120
More Gong—799
More Maracas—784
More Conga—759
More Wood Block—470
More Tambourine—404
More Vibraphone—231
More Tympani—102
More Jew's Harp—37
Whether you view all of this as a step forward or a step backward for world culture is a matter of personal taste. Don't be surprised, however, if your choice is what determines whether or not Google lines you up against a wall and shoots you when the revolution comes.

Update: I realize that the melodica is not a percussion instrument, but how often do you get to send a shout-out to the Hooters?

East Coast Snow Woes

In honor of my Right Coast brethren, I simply must link to this old Straight Dope article from Cecil Adams.

In it, the inimitable Mr. Adams attempts to enlighten the Teeming Millions with a discourse on the many Eskimo words for "snow." He takes a stab at constructing a sentence that means, "look at all the freaking snow," but the best he can come up with is, "observe the snow—it fornicates." I still can't be in a snowstorm without uttering that line, much to my wife's glee, I'm sure.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sullivan vs. Islam

In a post titled Islam vs. Brokeback, Andrew Sullivan writes the following:
The movie won't be shown in much of the Arab world. It's offensive to Muslim values.
Of course, Sullivan could have mentioned that Brokeback Mountain has also been banned in China, pulled from theaters in Utah and Washington state, boycotted by a church group right in here my backyard in Bedford, Indiana, picketed by church members in Placerville, California—heck, even the President of the United States of America laughed at the crazy-assed notion that he would go to see the movie. (George Bush doesn't care about gay cowboys.)

Sullivan could have mentioned these things, but he didn't. You see, Islam (not just the fundamentalists, mind you, but the whole shebang) is the sole source of hate and intolerance in the world. All 1.5 billion of them want nothing more than to crush our freedoms. Nothing—not even the truth—can distract from that. It bears repeating: Islam is the sole source of hate and intolerance in the world—as long as you don't count Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Andrew Sullivan prints the following letter from a reader without comment:
I'm honestly starting to suspect that, before this is over, European nations are going to have exactly four choices in dealing with their entire Moslem populations — for elementary safety's sake:
(1) Capitulate totally to them and become a Moslem continent.
(2) Intern all of them.
(3) Deport all of them
(4) Throw all of them into the sea.

This sounds a bit shrill even to me — but what the hell else can you do with several tens of millions of potential Branch Davidians?
Let's be clear here: Andrew Sullivan sees no reason to condemn a reader who suggests the annihilation and/or rounding up into concentration camps of tens of millions of people. Haven't we been through this already, Europe?

By publishing this letter, he endorses the notion that all Muslims in Europe (and beyond) are potential terrorists and cannot be trusted. Truly one of the most disgusting things I've ever read from a mainstream journalistic figure.

Not All Cartoons Created Equal

Andrew Sullivan has heaped nothing but scorn not only on the violent anti-cartoon protesters, but on anyone who would dare be offended by what he calls the "banal" Muhammad cartoons. (For my take on Sullivan's blog in real time, scroll down. Keep scrolling. Yep, I wrote that many posts about it.)

He's certainly quite blithe about the Danish cartoons, but he wasn't always such a good sport—not when the subject matter hit a little closer to home. Back in January of 2005, Sullivan was up in arms over derogatory cartoons that ran first in the right-wing Weekly Standard and then in the leftist Nation. The cartoon published by The Nation, titled "Babe Lincoln," depicts the former president in a bustier and culottes and was drawn in response to historical research suggesting that Lincoln may have been a homosexual.

Sullivan inveighed against the cartoon, calling it "tasteless" and condemning it for "playing to stereotypes" (sound familiar?). He was unsurprised that the Standard ran an anti-gay cartoon, but he was particularly upset at the second publication. "The editors of that allegedly 'progressive' magazine won't offer anything but a weasel apology....More proof that prejudice knows no ideology."

Clearly, Sullivan wanted more than an apology from The Nation, although it's not clear what redress he sought. In the current cartoon crisis, apologies from the European newspapers that printed and reprinted the images of Muhammad are entirely out of the question. Here he is on Sunday: "...the violent demonstrators owe the West an apology, not the other way round." Certainly the violence is appalling, but why no sympathy for the vast masses of Muslims who had their religion stereotyped as a "terrorist" religion by the broad brush of an ever-so-smug Europe? Sadly, I think it's because Sullivan's not a Muslim and was therefore not personally offended.

Funny how hypocrisy and righteous indignation so often go hand-in-hand.
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