Commentary on news and culture from a left wing perspective.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Good news, everyone! The Iraqi elections have gone off without a hitch (er, at least the Shia voted--the Sunni, not so much). Those efforts to drive expectations down so low they were practically underground were unnecessary after all. So now they'll be peace and goodwill toward the US and Israel in this land, right? We'll see...

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Give Maureen Dowd some credit. While Times writers like Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof ramble on about how to save the world, she actually noticed the latest disgusting torture scanda.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

This is just the sort of headline the Times was hoping to run before the Iraqi vote:

Insurgents Vowing to Kill Iraqis Who Brave the Polls on Sunday

Our side wants to vote. Their side wants to disrupt the vote. But really, an election seen by a large minority as a power grab by a majority ethno-religious group isn't particularly productive of democracy. Expectations have already been thoroughly lowered for voter turnout:

Estimates vary, but Iraqi officials say they will be pleased if the nationwide turnout reaches 50 percent of the 14 million eligible voters. In some areas, like the Sunni-dominant cities of Ramadi and Falluja, even a meager turnout would be welcomed.

Translation: American officials will claim that practically any turnout constitutes a triumph of democracy. Dexter Filkins, author of a notorious piece celebrating the Marines' destruction of Fallujah, has the lingo down pat:

(Mashtal is) an ethnically mixed neighborhood on the eastern edge of Baghdad, where many Iraqis say they would like to vote, and where a small, determined group of people are doing everything they can to stop them.

Note that 'Iraqis' want to vote; 'a small, determined group of people' doesn't want them to. There was actually a much better piece by Jeffrey Gettleman a couple of days ago that laid out the situation clearly enough:

With Iraq's crucial election coming up on Jan. 30, people here still have strikingly different views on the vote, with the disparities apparently based not on class or education or sex or age but on the country's stubbornly durable fault lines of ethnic and religious affiliation.

The biggest chasm seems to be between the most powerful groups in Iraq: the Shiites and the Sunnis. Every single Shiite interviewed for this article said he or she planned to vote. Though there are a few Sunni leaders running for office, all the Sunnis interviewed, except one, said they were going to boycott. That could mean a humiliation for American forces and the new Iraqi government, who have relentlessly pounded the Sunni areas in a so far unsuccessful campaign to wipe out the resistance.

Guess they had to bring in Filkins to do damage control. He is now vying for the Judith Miller award in crap journalism.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Memo to George Bush: If you care so much about freedom, find better friends than Ariel Sharon and Alvaro Uribe. Fire your attorney general. Indeed, get a crash course in American constitutional law. And realize that most of the world cares at least as much about having something to eat as freedom.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Ahh... The World Economic Forum. Whoever you are--Angelina Jolie, Tony Blair, Bono, Bill Gates, Mahmoud Abbas, etc. --your presence in Davos basically seems like a definitive affirmation that 'I'm more interested in getting cozy with the existing power structure than doing anything to change or challenge it'. If the concept of a placeless 'Empire' has any validity, it is here, where you can see the wheels of this global mind turning.... 'we've got the Ukraine, good. Hopefully the Palestinians soon. Could use another rock star...'

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The screw turns. Many of us have been anticipating this:

The Iraqi government that emerges from elections on Jan. 30 will almost certainly ask the United States to set a specific timetable for withdrawing its troops, according to new American intelligence estimates described by senior administration officials.... The official said the United States was hoping that the new Iraqi government would settle for a schedule based on the military situation, not the calendar.

If Iraqi 'democracy' means anything, it surely means that it has absolute say over whether its 'liberators' are welcome or not. Hard to see what is to be negotiated here.
US mayors whine about Homeland Security:
Mayors complained Tuesday that their homeland security efforts remain underfunded and lack vital information, including national terror alerts issued by the federal government.

"We mayors are expected to find out about differences in the security code through watching CNN," Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson told federal Homeland Security Department officials

I'm guessing the mayor of Salt Lake City isn't all that liberal.

Mayors also worried aloud about hazardous materials being transported through their towns, like the chlorine gas that leaked from a wrecked railcar in South Carolina this month, killing nine people and injuring hundreds more.

Mayor Bob Young of Augusta, Ga., compared the train wreck to a weapon of mass destruction.

"We've been crying for three years, asking the federal government to please assist us with one easy step: tell us what's coming through our cities," Young said.

Hah! Don't these mayors know there are higher priorities, like turning DC into a fortress for the inauguration. If Bush had such a mandate, you have to wonder what he's so afraid of. Anyone with a lick of historical sense knows that something is terribly wrong when security becomes an obsession.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Graphic images can let us see things in new ways, understand them differently, blah blah... Then again, some graphics are purely designed to mystify. Like this.

This map, based on Pentagon data and news reports, shows the number killed and wounded since January 1. Because of the limits placed on reporters and the military's need to inform families, there may have been additional casualties during this period that are not noted here. The map also does not include Iraqi civilians accidentally killed by coalition forces. Still, it is our attempt to visually depict the human cost of a fortnight in an embattled land.

Actually, in addition to excluding civilians 'accidentally' killed by coalition forces (never intentionally?), the map also excludes Iraqi 'insurgents' killed, who, on the face of it, would appear to have a similar moral standing in a two sided conflict (although, unlike the 'coalition forces', they are not invading someone else's country). On what planet can a map that excludes all the death caused by one side in a conflict (the 'coalition forces') 'visually depict the human cost.. in an embattled land'?
I can't believe I missed this a couple of weeks ago: Daniel Okrent actually cited Dexter Filkins loathsome propaganda pieces about the Marines in Fallujah as ace reporting! Proving we were probably better off before the Times pretended to police itself with a 'readers advocate'.
Walden Bello's description of that 'reporting' is worth quoting at length:

Even as the shocking sight of a US Marine shooting a wounded, defenseless Iraqi prisoner flashed o­n television screens globally, the New York Times ran a front page story o­n Sunday, November 21, depicting the marines as a band of brothers courageously taking Fallujah block by block from faceless Iraqi insurgents. "In Falluja, Young Marines Saw the Savagery of an Urban War," by Dexter Filkins, is in the genre of macho war reporting by generations of civilian writers awed by the mystique of the elite of America’s colonial legions. When a marine is hit by fire from fighters defending their city from the invading troops, Filkins recounts, with reverence, how "the marines' near mystical commandment against leaving a comrade behind seized the group. o­ne after another, the young marines dashed into the minaret, into darkness and into gunfire, and wound their way up the stairs."

Simply change the place names and the account can easily be that of the "leathernecks" taking pillbox after pillbox from tenacious "Japs" in Guadalcanal in 1943. This genre of journalism is akin to what Edward Said called "orientalist writing." Places, events, and people may change but the categories or episodes remain eternal: Marines land, marines encounter heavy resistance, marines work their way forward inch by bloody inch, marines sacrifice themselves for their comrades, marines finally overcome, and the band plays Semper Fidelis in honor of the fallen heroes, who are awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Another glorious episode that reminds us that compared to the Army, the marines are no ordinary mortals. As for the enemy, its role is to fight bitterly and savagely in order to bring out the best in the marines.

With literature like this, who needs propaganda?

Okrent also praises the Times for
Recognizing that much of the country doesn't look the way it may sometimes appear from West 43rd Street, the paper assigned reporter David D. Kirkpatrick to cover political and social conservatives. (I will not deny that there is a certain irony in what may seem an affirmative action effort aimed at the political right.) And I'm absolutely convinced that the national desk has been making a clear and increasingly effective effort to scrub stories for evidence of bias.
Um, the country doesn't look the way it may sometimes appear from West 43rd street to progressive activists either, not that the Times gives a shit (in the interest of balance, are they going to hire a leftist to transcribe press releases from progressive think tanks and call it reporting, a la John Tierney?). And I love that 'effort to scrub stories for evidence of bias'. You can just smell the terror of 'getting some e-mails from right wingers who think we're too liberal' (or, worse still, being treated badly by powerful Republicans) wafting about the newsroom.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

There was a lot of talk when Arafat was dying about how this presented a new dawn for hope, etc. etc. Yet it' s clear enough that the same pattern during his last couple of years remains. Sharon will continue to constantly test how far he can abandon any pretense towards being a peacekeeper without serious criticism from the US. And the answer remains, very far.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Some stories don't really require any commentary:

Monsanto Co.'s "seed police" snared soy farmer Homan McFarling in 1999, and the company is demanding he pay it hundreds of thousands of dollars for alleged technology piracy. McFarling's sin? He saved seed from one harvest and replanted it the following season, a revered and ancient agricultural practice.

AP Photo

"My daddy saved seed. I saved seed," said McFarling, 62, who still grows soy on the 5,000 acre family farm in Shannon, Miss. and is fighting the agribusiness giant in court.

Saving Monsanto's seeds, genetically engineered to kill bugs and resist weed sprays, violates provisions of the company's contracts with farmers.

I like to link to articles which I think suggest important things about the world, like this one, redolent of the ever tightening noose around the US fin-de-siecle.

But what exactly are you supposed to make of a story like this?

The principal of a Palo Alto middle school may not invite a popular speaker back to an annual career day after he told girls they could earn a good living as strippers.

Management consultant William Fried told eighth-graders at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School on Tuesday that stripping and exotic dancing can pay $250,000 or more per year, depending on their bust size.

I'm especially impressed about his clarification of the way the wage market is structured in this field:

Fried spent about a minute answering questions, defining strippers and exotic dancers synonymously. According to Jason Garcia, 14, he told students: "For every 2 inches up there, you should get another $50,000 on your salary."

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Things are pretty bad when Ayad Allawi says it's too dangerous to vote. I've yet to see an explanation for how exactly election campaigns are supposed to work given Iraq is under martial law. The other day on Democracy Now!, Abu Abunimah of Electronic Intifadah commented about the Palestinian elections:
The impression, I think, many Palestinians have is that the media, the US government, the herd of international monitors who went over there to certify the victory decided in advance that the election had to be treated as good news, and they're not interested in what actually is happening to Palestinians both in the context of the election and the much bigger context of the continued Israeli assault.

If anything remotely resembling an election takes place in Iraq, I think it's fair to say that, compared to what we heard about the Palestinian elections, you ain't seen nothing yet!

Nicholas Kristof notes that Cuba's infant mortality rate is actually better than the US's. No effort to look at what is actually working in Cuba, and why the reference point is Cuba rather than, say, the Dominican Republic. He blames poverty for the poor showing in the US, but Cuba, and China, which he also mentioned, are of course much poorer than the US, both in terms of per Capita GDP and in terms of number of people who could be classified as poor. Nevertheless, I give him props for mentioning this.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?