Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Alan Jackson of Islam

A familiar story: young dude lives the high life and encounters enormous obstacles (a flat tire on his Porsche) that puts in jeopardy his job and love life. Allah intervenes and the next thing you know he's kicking butt at work and marrying the woman who loves him.

The big fat Rolex is a celestial bonus.

"Malak Ghair Allah” (You Only Have God to Count On) sung by Mohammed Al-Haddad is notable for being a spiffy video filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia with a Saudi crew. They even have a cool Ali G. guy playing the lead.

I have no idea if it's a big hit or not. I just like seeing Jedda and thinking that's what Falluja will look like someday.

Via Virginia Heffernan's Screens blog, the best thing in The New York Times these days.(Sounds backhanded but it's actually quite good).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Touch of the Old Shrum Magic

British PM Gordon Brown has made a big splash at the Labour Party Conference. The dour rumpled technocrat came out swinging with a new hairstyle and a new passionate speaking style.

He’s certainly saying many of the right things regarding terrorism in the clip below (except for the absence of the verboten word “Islam.”) Note the special guest cameo appearance by Smeats, the Glaswegian Jack Bauer. Also, is it me or is Gordon Brown an unnerving combination of Richard Nixon and Dan Rather? Another reason to outlaw human cloning.

But fast forward and listen from about 3:40 onward. Sound familiar? It should if you’re an American voter.

Do you hear the revealing personal anecdotes, the sticky compassion dripping from every word, the shameless tugging at heartstrings? The Times online via An Englishman’s Castle has done a bit of pattern mapping to refresh your memory and it seems Gordon’s words bear the mark of the beast:

Al Gore 2000 nomination acceptance speech: I know my own imperfections. I know that sometimes people say I'm too serious, that I talk too much substance and policy.
Gordon Brown: Sometimes people say I am too serious and I fight too hard and maybe that's true.

Al Gore 2000 nomination acceptance speech: I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day and I will never let you down.
Gordon Brown: This is my pledge to the British people: I will not let you down.

John Kerry 2004 nomination acceptance speech: And what can I say about Teresa? She has the strongest moral compass of anyone I know
Gordon Brown: And this is my moral compass.

Bill Clinton 1995 State of the Union: As we move into this next century, everybody matters; we don't have a person to waste.
Gordon Brown: This is the century where our country cannot afford to waste the talents of anyone

Of course, that treacle you hear is extruded by none other than Bob Shrum, wordsmith to every formerly rising star in the Democratic Party.

For those unfamiliar with Shrum, he is the Angel of Political Death, the sea anchor on the ship of state, the losing-est political consultant since Joseph Goebbels.

Fresh from the John Kerry campaign, trailing clouds of glory and having exhausted all possibilities for defeat among the now canny Dems, has Shrum turned his magic on old Blighty?

I’d say that doesn’t bode well for Gordon Brown.

But more importantly, why would a mature political organization like the Labour Party want to imitate the transparent insincerity of the American political culture? Are American campaign consultants actually respected outside of the U.S.? Do overseas statesmen think these hacks are going to help them win elections?

And how can it be that the least imaginative consultant in history, a man who clearly cannot conceive of a single new talking point and therefore must recycle Spotted Dick from a decade ago, how can this guy support himself as a communicator?

And I ask you Washington, D.C. . . . what do you have to do to never work in this town again?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Inexplicable Japanese Commercial #365

Perhaps after obliterating the fascist religio-military regime in Tehran with two nuclear weapons they’ll end up turning out intriguing pop culture like this.

One can only hope.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mahmoud's Comin'. Hide Your Love, Babe.

Just stopped by Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza to register my displeasure with the unshaven, cheaply-suited Iranian President Mahmoud Armoredinnerjacket across the street from the United Nations.

A fair turnout on a beautiful day.

UN special forces (actually NYPD) posted on the roof of the roof of the General Assembly building were taking no chances.

They’re clearly armed with handheld inkjet printers ready to fire sternly worded resolutions into any angry mob of UN protesters. Presumably, a contingent of men from U.N.C.L.E. are secretly working the crowd as well.

The crowd turned out to be a mix of young and old with a heavy emphasis on young. Non-bellowing speakers addressed a non-riotous audience and didn’t whip them into a murderous frenzy. No AK-47 rounds were fired into the air and no passersby were wounded by celebratory bullets falling mysteriously from the sky.

Reasonable, passionate and peaceful. An excellent display of political maturity. I was impressed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don’t Ever Beat Your Wife (Unless I Say So)

Man, I guess I totally misunderstood The Prophet™.

I thought he said a man can beat his wife. But what he really said was that a wife can be beaten by her husband.

It’s a nuance that Islamophobes exploit to put Salafist Islam in an unattractive light.

Well, at least that’s all cleared up now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

MoveOn Protests of the Past

All politics aside, the people were extremely lucky to have a prominent general whose name lent itself to very targeted mockery.

"General Petraeus Or General Betray Us?" Now that's clever.

Of course, other advocates of America’s humiliating defeat have throughout history failed to make such a fortuitous connection.

But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What to Make of Bush

Here's my thinking, and beware, it's longwinded.

There are really two wars taking place. One war is a global conflict being fought with diplomacy, covert operations and good old fashioned violence. This is the misnamed "War on Terror" and it’s being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Kashmir, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Germany, France, the U.K., Denmark, and the United States. It’s going to last for many, many years. It predates George W. Bush and in most places has nothing to do with Bush, American policies, Israel, Abu Graib, oil, or any of the usual root causes.

The other war is a narrow, hyper-partisan culture war that is limited to the urban centers of the United States. It's a tribal thing based more on personal identity than rational thought. Sure, complex arguments and proof points are deployed to support one side or the other but the goal is not to change minds but to inflict damage on the other tribe and validate your own tribe's positions. This is all fun and games when you're young and powerless but it's destructive and corrosive when the stakes are high.

Actual war is a zero sum game. What hurts us aids the enemy and vice versa.

So is criticizing Bush policy unpatriotic? Of course not if the intention is to steer the policy toward a more effective way of defeating the enemy. But if you don’t believe there is an enemy, or worse, you believe that the U.S. government is the enemy, then you’ve crossed the line. You’re on the other side. And that’s the antithesis of patriotism.

From the beginning, George Bush has had to fight the real war against real enemies and at the same time fend off the home-grown tribalists whose goal was to delegitimize his presidency (as is always their goal when the president is from the opposing "tribe.") Bush's mistake was to think that 9/11 actually changed the game and that he could bring the tribalists along with him in a fight against our common enemies.

To his credit, Bush didn't treat the Islamofascist threat as a law enforcement issue as had every preceding administration. You could see the policy forming in plain view. On 9/11 he said he would bring the perpetrators to justice. A week later the policy had changed to “ending failed states.” The Taliban regime was the first of these states to end.

Now remember where we were back then. American flags were flying all over the East Village and Adams Morgan. Neil Young had just recorded “Let’s Roll”, surely his first pro-war song. Bush had the highest approval rating ever recorded (92%). And despite warnings, small, agile U.S. forces had liberated an “unconquerable” country with minimal casualties. And they were greeted with flowers.

This was all incredibly good for Bush. But what’s good for Bush (even if it happens to coincide with what’s good for America generally) is bad for the tribalists. Michael Moore, you may recall, was anti-war even back during the Afghanistan campaign. So was Gore Vidal and of course Noam Chomsky.

Recall also that we were already at war with the failed state run by the Hussein dynasty. The terms of the 1991 ceasefire included the requirement that he declare and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. In 1991, he declared to UN inspectors that he had an offensive biological warfare capability of among other things:

“5,000 gallons of botulinum, which causes botulism; 2,000 gallons of
anthrax; 25 biological-filled Scud warheads; and 157 aerial bombs.”

These are WMDs. They existed. He declared them. UNSCOM’s mission was not to find undeclared WMDs, it was to confirm the destruction of those WMDs that were already there. Hussein failed to declare their destruction. Why? Who knows. But that mistake cost him his life.

So, was the President lying when he said:

“What if Saddam fails to comply, and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made?

Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction.

And some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. And I think every one of you who's really worked on this for any length of time believes that, too."

Perhaps he was lying. But the president who said that was Bill Clinton. And he said that when he made regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States. It wasn't a lie. It was conventional wisdom.

It's common to say these days that there are no easy options with Iraq. The same was true in 2002/3.

What was Bush supposed to do after 9/11 . . . allow Hussein to continue to undermine the sanctions regime? We now know it was even worse than anyone could have guessed. The Oil for Food program was the largest financial fraud in history. Members of the UN Security Council received payoffs. The sanctions were failing and diplomacy was compromised.

Should he have maintained the status quo? That would have meant enforcing a no fly zone indefinitely which, by the end of the Clinton Administration had expanded to include bombing of ground targets and frequent civilian casualties. Recall also, that the world (except for the UK) strenuously objected to the U.S.’s “unilateral” enforcement of no fly zones.

Should he have ignored Hussein? Iraq had already violated dozens of UN resolutions. The regime continued to collect tens of billions of petrodollars, enough to buy off major governments and enough to fund weapons programs he had already declared were his intention. His sons were already taking up positions of power to ensure a dynastic regime for generations to come. And his regime was already known throughout the world as a barbarically cruel fascist dictatorship. Moreover, we were still at war with Iraq and they had already violated the ceasefire many many times.

In the post 9/11 world, how could any president ignore Iraq?

To his credit, Bush didn’t ignore the problem. He enforced the UN resolutions and the regime change policy. And his solution wasn’t just to knock off the dictator and steal the oil but to give Iraqis a shot at self-determination. That was an idealistic bonus. At the same time he upset an unacceptable status quo and surrounded the far more threatening Iran with coalition forces. And by the way, the troops were again greeted with flowers.

Could he have done a better job? Of course. He could have articulated the mission over and over and rebutted the domestic tribalists who saw (and still see) any Bush failure as a success for their tribe. He could have sent twice as many troops, or half as many troops. He could have prosecuted the Baathists or partnered with the Baathists. He made difficult choices without the luxury of hindsight that his critics enjoy.

I don’t agree with all his decisions but I believe they were made in good faith with the welfare of the United States in mind. I don’t think his tribal critics have anything in mind but the defeat of Bush even if that means the defeat of the U.S. in the Iraq campaign of the Long War. For being of the other tribe, he has earned the inevitable scorn of partisans who would still hate him if he was Nelson Mandela.

The Bush haters are not just people with differing opinions than his. They are on the other side. They want to damage him even if it means damaging the country.

But this sort of hate is not anything new. Listen to the rhetoric from the Democratic Convention:

"(he is a) worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero ... The man who votes for him now is a traitor and murderer... And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

That was the Democratic Convention of 1864 back when Abraham Lincoln was “the worst President ever,” when we were mired in an endless war with no exit strategy, and when the justification for it had changed from saving the union to freeing the (insert N word here), as the Copperhead antiwar Dems were prone to saying at the time.

Is Bush perfect? No. Are we living in dangerous times? Yes. Do I hope and believe the United States will prevail in the struggle against Islamofascism? Absolutely.

Dissent can be patriotic, but nowadays the highest form of dissent seems to be patriotism. And I mean old fashioned, Stephen Decatur-style patriotism. Back in the day he gave a toast saying, “To our country. May she always be right. But our country right or wrong.”

Sadly, I can’t imagine anyone saying that these days.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

First Impressions

Who to Trust?

I just can’t tell which side to believe: the calm and reasonable military hero with the Ph.D delivering long awaited testimony to Congress or the shrill lesbians with pink foam rubber tiaras on their heads shouting obscenities from the back the room?

If I were a Democrat – and I once was – I’d be more than a little embarrassed by my Code Pink comrades today.
Cry If You Want To

In case you can't bear to hear anymore hopeful news about progress in the Iraqi theatre of the Long War, here is a lovely clip of Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry on the Cilla Black show from 1974.

The subject matter of this song is in no way a suggestion that the Democrats in Congress are chagrined at the testimony of General Petraeus.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

One Giant Leap for Steve Holden

Have you ever noticed how the Baby Boomers distort the history of the 1960s so that it conforms to their sylvan utopia stereotype? For example, we heard a lot this year about the anniversary of the totally inconsequential “Summer of Love” and very little about the Newark riots that happened at the same time yet whose consequences are palpably evident to this day.

This morning’s New York Times has a particularly laughable example of wishful recollection in a review of the new Apollo 11 documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon.” Times reviewer, Stephen Holden, sets the context by describing 1969 as an innocent time compared to our current state of events.

The good vibes are gone. The tone of international political discourse has toughened, and the United States is increasingly viewed as an arrogant, dangerous superpower. The concept of a cooperative multinational “we,” working together for world peace, with America leading the way, is almost as quaint as the cozy concept of “the global village.”

The “good vibes?” He must be thinking of My Lai, the campus rioting, the Manson murders, and Ted Kennedy’s midnight drive on Chappaquiddick which – in convincing proof that God looks out for drunks and fools – happened just hours before the biggest news story in history.

Good vibes? Sure, if you had just joined the Weathermen.

“The tone of international discourse has toughened”? That’s a laugh. With so much saber rattling going on back then I don’t think anyone could actually hear the international discourse. Discourse doesn’t get much tougher than Mutual Assured Destruction with the latest Soviet technology guaranteeing that no thermonuclear missiles get fired by mistake.

“The United States is increasingly viewed as an arrogant, dangerous superpower.” Again, I would draw your attention to a world literally divided between two nuclear armed camps. One based on a barbaric 19th century ideology that murdered hundreds of millions of people in an attempt to eliminate poverty and the other on ancient Greco-Judeo-Christian concepts of self-determination and individual liberty. An existential struggle featuring for the first time the actual means to extinguish human existence.

I know many Boomers are still torn up about which side to support in that struggle but here’s a hint: it's over and the political Left was vanquished.

As for the concept of a “cooperative multinational ‘we’ working together for world peace with American leading the way,” I suppose he means something like an idealized United Nations. In reality, it’s more like a coalition of the willing with the United States as the leader by default because of its superior resources and because waiting for the “global village” to act is an exercise in creative inertia.

If today’s world is even more strife-torn than the world of 1969, when theVietnam War was raging, one reason may be that the same technology that produced Apollo 11 has since come under a cloud.

Since the world is demonstrably not more strife-torn than it was in 1969, this baffling observation is moot. Still, what does he mean?

I think the technology that produced Apollo 11 will be the one thing historians will remember about the 1960s. Everything else was froth. Aerospace technology lead to miniaturization and semiconductors and binary computing and digital communications and the internet and MySpace and lonelygirl15. Some cloud!

Is this Holden guy typing his reviews on an IBM Selectric with a bottle of Wite-Out close by?

Let’s see, Holden was born in 1941 making him 28 at the time of the moon landing. So he’s too old for Woodstock and too young for Korea. He falls into the awkward Paul Anka, Dick Cheney generation and probably has regrets about being the dork at the groovy kids’ party, sipping martinis at the happening, wearing a turtleneck and blazer at the orgy, comb-over and handlebar moustache looking for action that never would have lived up to his heightened expectations had he ever be lucky enough to have found the fountain of free love.

For the rest of us, Apollo 11 was out of sight. It was the only thing anyone was thinking of for months before and after July 20th. From the perspective, the 1960s was all about miraculous technology in the service of American hegemony and nothing at all about the “good vibes” Holden thinks he can recall.

Any you know what? Things are a lot better now.

The movie looks great, btw.

Sitting Here in Limbo

Know how hard it is to go to a restaurant with a kid under ten? Imagine campaigning for president with your kids in tow.

Sure it would be miserable for you but imagine the living hell it would be for the kiddies. No friends. No attention from Mom or Dad. Nothing but grownups talking to each other on and on all day long.

If you still can’t picture it, check out this New York Times video about the lovely and talented John Edwards. He’s campaigning for President and I guess he wants to show what a great father he is by taking his kids out of school and dragging them through endless photo ops in Middle America on a rented bus.

Frankly, I’d do the same thing if I had to run for President. But I don’t have to, and neither does Edwards. I’m sure the campaign thinks that his pursuit of the presidency even though his wife has cancer and his kids are bored out of their minds is proof of Edwards’s’s’s focus and perseverance.

But I think it just makes him remarkably selfish. All the more remarkable since he lost his eldest son in an accident and must surely regret the lost opportunities to share love and life. Why then subject your other children to the whims of your career?

His kids are certainly getting a unique education though. When this is over they should be able to write a dissertation on child exploitation.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mad Men

My old friend Mark nails the reason why Mad Men is one of the best things on TV these days. It’s not just the attention to details of 1960 design but also the amusing reminders of how effortlessly these “conformists” flirted with real danger.

The constant smoking, drinking, and driving . . . and often all three . . . while pregnant . . . either shows how foolish people were back then or how frightened we all are right now.

I remember vividly each year spending three days in the middle of the back seat of a smoke-filled Oldsmobile 98 driving to Florida (never stopping at South of the Border) and listening to The Living Strings. That was the Sixties. No tie-dyed hippiie shit for us.

If I can survive that, my kids can damn well put up with The Pixies for a half hour, dammit!