Thursday, July 24, 2003
Winning the Next World War

A great rallying-cry-cum-graduation speech from former CIA director James Woolsey.

Woolsey argues that we are in a long-term war with fascistic Middle Eastern countries and totalitarian Islamic groups. The war will be long, but can only be won by convincing the majority of the world's Muslims that democracy is preferable to the despotism they currently live under. It won't be easy.
I was in a taxi a year ago last February, the day after former President Bill Clinton gave a speech in Washington in which he said that September 11 was a payback in part for American slavery and the treatment of the American Indian. I saw right away that the newspaper on the front seat was open at that article and that the driver was one of my favourite substitutes for polls - a black citizen of the District, wearing his Redskins cap, a guy of about my age, who had probably been driving a cab for a long time.

So I asked him what he thought about Clinton's speech. He said: 'Those people don't hate us for what we've done wrong; they hate us for what we do right.' I would submit that is the essence of the matter.
Definitely worth the read.

More Great Moments in Israeli Political Rhetoric (Hebrew link)

A discussion in the Knesset last night about the Falashmura (a group of Ethiopians who believe that they are Jewish, but are not according to the Halakha) turned into a sideshow. Nissim Ze'ev, an MK from the ultra-orthodox Shas party attacked Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, who belongs to the ultra-secular Shinui party, Shas' bitter rivals.

Apparently pissed off that Poraz did not want to bring the Falashmura to Israel and was thus dealing in religious matters, Ze'ev started ranting and raving about how Poraz employs a tight pants-wearing "homo-ist" in his office. Said homo-ist, according to Ze'ev, disgusts people and keeps them from entering the Interior Minister's offices.

This is the same Ze'ev who attacked another MK last year for allegedly hiring "lasbians" as assistants.

The Unhappy Ones

Not everyone is happy at the outcome of Tuesday's operation, of course, even outside the small circle of Saddam and his closest loyalists.

The inimitable Robert Fisk weighs in with his usual brand of moral equivalence-filled anti-Americanism. To Fisky's credit, he doesn't dwell too long on the conspiracy theories and instead delves into the heart of the matter, that being his ardent hope that the death of Saddam's children will only increase the opposition and violence against US forces.

Conspiracy theories and sour grapes abound amongst the moonbats. Judging from the reactions of the idiot squad, it seems like a lot of people are pissed that the operation was so successful.
One post that caught my eye (and basically inspired the longer entry about the two brothers) came from the Democratic Underground site, a meeting ground for those whose Demo partisans whose party's powerlessness has caused them to sever ties with reality. One such idiot writes:
Doesn't a part of you wish that Queasy and Duh-day were alive?

I'll admit they're scum and rightfully so, but anything that lands as even more humiliation on W's grotesque shrivelled face is that much the better.

It's sad, really, that as despicable as they are, Saddam's family seems to be the lesser of two evils when you compare them to the wretched little bastard* occupying the White House and destroying America in the process...
That's right, Bush's domestic policies are worse than feeding people feet-first into a shredding machine and anything -- anything -- that makes Bush look good is automatically horrible.

The (Hopefully) Last Word on Uday and Qusay

US forces are still mulling the issue of whether or not to release photos of the late Uday and Qusay Saddam Hussein in order as proof of their deaths to people who either refuse or are afraid to believe that the two rotten stains on humanity are indeed no longer. This story will probably be old hat by next week, but I feel that I can't move on without one final shot (pardon the pun) at Saddam's spawn.

Herewith, a minor sampling of horror stories about Uday and Qusay's career, just in case we are tempted to forget the outright wickedness of the two men.

First off, Uday. A profile of Saddam's eldest in the Guardian today begins with this summation:

He was a monster even by the standards of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a sadist with a taste for cruelty so extreme that even his father was forced to acknowledge that his first-born son would not be a worthy heir.

Uday had a well-documented fondness for rape. Numerous stories tell of the elder Hussein brother getting his henchmen to grab girls off the street for him to have sex with, often offering the girl's parents money and -- if that didn't work -- simply raping her outright.

This penchant spread even to members of the inner circle. One of Saddam's former mistresses had to sit silent and offer up her own daughter to the monster:
Among the shocking stories she tells is of the rape of her 15-year-old daughter by Saddam's son, Uday. As Shaqraa was by then living in a villa in Saddam's palace, she had no option but to keep silent, take her daughter to a hospital for treatment, and even allow Uday to continue seeing her.

When he wasn't busying himself raping underage girls, Uday spent his days cultivating Iraqi sports (by beating members of the national football team and threatening to cut off their legs if they did poortly) and generally developing his own sadistic pursuits with the help of Saffa, his personal torture squad:
In the medieval terror of Uday's reign, there was a clear scale of barbarity. Deserters had an ear cut off. Thieves had fingers or hands cut off, depending on the source and value of stolen goods. Stealing government property automatically cost a hand.

Members of Saffa, said Ali, performed the amputations with a sword dubbed al-Haq, the Arabic for justice. Liars had their backs broken. Offenders were tied to a wooden plank between two cement blocks, and another block was dropped on the victim's spine. Informants who supplied Saffa with tips that proved erroneous had a piece of redhot iron placed on their tongue.

Then there was baby brother Qusay, daddy's heir apparent. Qusay took after his old man; his penchant for violence wasn't out-of-control and random like his brother's, but cold and calculated. Reporter David Rose tells us of this scene from the end of the first Gulf War:
And we see this back in 1991 after the last Gulf War when, of course, there was the uprising in the south, and Qusay was in charge of controlling Baghdad where there's a big Shiite community in the place known as Saddam City. And he was literally herding people into -- having his people herd people into warehouses, men, women and children, stripping them naked, interrogating them at gun point, and then shooting them on the spot.

And we are talking about a place that was just awash with blood. Naked people watching other naked people be shot dead in the hundreds. That is the record that Qusay bears on his soul.
Of course, Qusay could also get more creative with his murdering when the mood struck him:
Prisoners were often eliminated with a bullet to the head, but one witness told the London-based human rights group Indict that inmates were sometimes murdered by being dropped into shredding machines. Some prisoners went in head first and died quickly, while others were put in feet first and died screaming. The witness said that on at least one occasion, Qusai supervised shredding-machine murders.

I could go on and on for days, but this is making me queasy enough as it is.

Looking back on the evil that Uday and Qusay wrought, all I can say about the aftermath of the attack in Mosul on Tuesday is good riddance to really, really bad rubbish.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Cucumber Season

Like Imshin I've been finding it hard to work up the energy to blog about the local situation lately. It's not that there isn't stuff going on, but it's the same stuff day after day: the single mothers are still camped outside Bibi's office, the budget battles are going on inside Bibi's office, the hudna is stuck in its own rut with the Palis grumbling and doing nothing on one side and Israel dragging its feet about the prisoner release on the other side. Most of the news outlets didn't even lead with the Uday and Qusay deaths, choosing instead to focus on two Israeli hikers killed in an avalanche in Peru. (Personal tragedy always sells around here).

The football season doesn't start for another month and it's way too hot to work up much of a lather about the latest Rachel Corrie story, BBC misreporting, or Arafat's most recent outrage.

All this had me a bit blah-ed out until I realized what was actually going on: cucumber season is back.

Onat hamelafefonim, "cucumber season" in Hebrew, refers to that period in the summer when news is slow for weeks on end. I thought this was an Israeli term, but after a little Googling I see that the phrase is widespread, if a bit obscure. (What did we use to do before the Internet?) There are a number of competing etymologies for the phrase. The one I've always heard is that in the summer there's so little news that the media resorts to reporting on the state of the cucumber harvest.

While onat hamelafefonim usually denotes a state of boring blah-ness, I think we should stop and be happy that it's here. Fact is, we haven't had a good cucumber season in several years. Since the turn of the millenium, summer here has been filled with terms like "Camp David" and "Dolphinarium" and especially "violence." Compared to that "cucumber" sounds pretty good.

I just hoped that, having pointed this out, we won't get some horrible-but-exciting news to pull us out of it.


Let's all join together in saying buh-bye! to the Ace of Clubs and the Ace of Hearts. US forces, tipped off to a house in Mosul, dispatched Uday and Qusay Saddam Hussein from this world. Following the official announcement that the brothers had been killed, residents of Baghdad celebrated in the traditional Arab way by firing their guns in the air.

Okay, now the big questions: will this help quell the attacks on US forces? Will this lead to the capture or similar dispatch of the Ace of Spades himself? We wait and see.

Over here, Channel 2's roaming corespondent Itai Engel was on the morning talk shows pissing on everyone's parade. The attacks on the forces, he claims, have nothing to do with Saddam supporters. Why, most Baghdadis don't even care, he says. Others are a bit more optimistic. Ehud Ya'ari, one of the more prominent Middle Eastern Affairs commentators here said yesterday that the killing of the two brothers means the noose is certainly tightening around Saddam.

Putting the analysis aside for the moment, I think you can say the same thing about the raid yesterday that you can about this war in general: even if the death of Uday and Qusay has no effects and the unrest continues in Baghdad, you will still have done the world a huge favor by taking the evil bastards out.

The stories about the Hussein brothers are well-documented: Uday was a violent psychopath, whose hobbies included raping 12-year-old girls and torturing Iraq's national football team. Qusay was more like his father, a cold and remorseless killer given to personally executing suspected enemies of the regime.

I've been following Uday's career on and off for the last 8 years, when he came on my radar during a summer spent interning with the neoconservative cabal in Washington. At that point, Uday was best known for having beaten one of his father's aides to death with his bare hands. (Daddy had him jailed for a while following that escapade; which just makes you wonder what crimes you have to commit in order to make Saddam Hussein say "Boy, you've really crossed the line with this one.") Uday was supposed to inherit his daddy's mantle until Uday was semi-crippled in an assassination attempt. At that point, his younger brother became heir to the throne.

Luckilly, Iraq will never have to suffer either of these cretins again. Whatever punishments the Deity has in store for these two on the other side, they are more than well deserved.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Bad Journalism, contd.

Meme-in-development: the Andrew Gilligan scandal at the BBC is similar to the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times. Similar not only that both institutions have paid for it with their credibility, but also that the scandals came about because of the political atmosphere in each organization, an atmosphere dictated by the people in charge.

According to Roger L. Simon, the big problem here lies with his own boomer generation, those who were brought up to Question Everything:
Overweening distrust of authority can lead to blindness as much as to liberation. And this distrust is easily augmented by envy and schadenfreude, those emotional twins long the special friends of writers and journalists.
This combination does seem to inform a lot of the Beeb's coverage of the Gulf War in general, and (non-boomer) Gilligan specifcally.

It's still unclear whether or not heads will roll at the BBC as they did at the Times. For the moment, the Corporation has begun to circle the wagons and wait out a government inquiry into the matter.

The Blogattolahs Strike Back

As part of the general crackdown on anti-government demonstrations in Iran, the ayatollahs have begun to order Iranian ISPs to block a long list of Iranian blogs. This is a depressing, though hardly unforeseen development. While Iran lacks a free press, it is open to the Internet in a way that you wouldn't expect from a country that has officially banned home sattelite dishes for years.

Given these facts, blogging would seem like the perfect outlet for protest and discontent, not to mention for organizing protests. Sadly, the mullah-ocracy has hepped to this fact and are acting to squash it.

Iranian blogger Hossein Derakhshan has more on the developments, including a list of the sites that are being filtered. (He also has a useful list of resources related to Iranian blogging . Worth a peep.)

Monday, July 21, 2003
While we all wait around for Idi Amin to die, here's a little nubbin of brilliance from the good people at Scrappleface:
Idi Amin to Head U.N. Rights Commission In Absentia
(2003-07-21) -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan today named former Ugandan President Idi Amin to head the U.N. Human Rights Commission in absentia.

During Mr. Amin's exciting 8-year rule of the African nation, he helped to slow the population growth and provided steady work for doctors, nurses and undertakers. His innovations in the arena of human rights provide a benchmark for aspiring "presidents for life" everywhere.

"It would be an honorary appointment," said Mr. Annan. "It's just an effort to recognize Mr. Amin's accomplishments. I'm sure the Nobel Peace Prize committee is looking at his dossier now as well."

Diplomats say the appointment of the Ugandan demonstrates the relevance and credibility of the Human Rights Commission.

Mr. Amin currently lies in a coma in Saudi Arabia, where he has been vacationing since his retirement in 1979.

Iraq, Blair, and the BBC

The biggest story in Britain over the last week has been the death of David Kelly, a WMD expert who found himself at the center of a media storm.

The story so far:

On May 29, the BBC broadcast allegations that the British government had "sexed up" (a strange British expression) an intelligence dossier to make it appear that Iraq posed more of a WMD threat than it actually did. The following day, the journalist behind the piece, Andrew Gilligan, charged Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications, as being the one who had added lies to the document. Gilligan claimed he got his info from a source at the Ministry of Defence.

During the month of June, a right pissing match ensued between the Blair government and the Beeb. The BBC stood by its allegations while Campbell denied them and demanded an apology. A government committee investigating England's entry into the Iraq war eventually cleared Campbell of the charges.

Two weeks ago, David Kelly admitted to his superiors that he had spoken to journalists. The BBC admitted he had spoken to the journalist Gilligan, and Kelly was hauled in front of the investigative committee where he denied ever mentioning Blair's communications director. Media interest in the case rose as the investigation continued as to whether Kelly was the primary source for Gilligan's story.

Last Thursday afternoon, Kelly left his home saying he was going for a walk. When he had not returned home by 11, his family called the police. Kelly's body was found the next day not far from his home. He had committed suicide.

Over the weekend, a lot of the anger was directed at Blair, with the insinuation that Kelly's suicide was sparked by recriminations from the Defence Ministry angry that he had leaked information to the BBC. However, yesterday the Beeb admitted that Kelly had indeed been the primary source for Gilligan's piece.

(The Sky News website has this handy timeline of events in the case).

This new information casts the story in a different light. Now, the focus is less on the government dealing with a mole and more on shoddy reporting which brought the heat down on the scientist. Subsequently, a lot of the anger has turned from Blair and is now focused on the BBC and Gilligan.

The Kelly story touches on two semi-related issues.

The first is Blair's increasingly shaky position due to his support of the Gulf War. Blair, more so than any other leader, really put himself on the line by backing Bush as completely as he did. In doing so, he set himself up not only against the prevailing anti-American tide in European politics, but also against a large portion of his own political party and the sizeable minority of Brits who opposed the war. Angered that they failed to keep Britain out of the war, many of Blair's internal critics are now out to get him any way they can. In this context, the original BBC story was a real blow to the Prime Minister as was, initially, the Kelly story.

(I'm actually surprised that the tinfoil hat brigade haven't jumped on this story more than they have. After all, the suicide of a scientist involved in a report that could bring down the government should be a conspiracy theorist's wet dream. Just imagine if Vince Foster had been involved in the Bay of Pigs, for instance...)

As mentioned, attention is now being turned toward the second issue, which is the BBC and its notoriously biased, partisan tone. A lot of the Beeb's finest qualities were highlighted in its reporting of the Gulf War where its reflexive anti-Americanism and romantic admiration of authoritarian Third World thugs like Saddam earned it the nickname of "The Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation".

Andrew Sullivan, long a foe of the Corporation and its tactics, has termed Kelly "the BBC's first victim."

Kelly was a well-respected scientist whose main legacy, sadly, looks like it will be a massive finger-pointing session between the government and the media over who is to blame for his death.

Milestones in the Development of Israeli Culture, part 673

Ha'aretz takes a look at the growing phenomenon of Israeli teens holding proms at the end of high school, "just like in America", with all the accoutrements of expensive dresses and stretch limos. Unsurprisingly, the tone of the piece is snide and disapproving.

The prom phenomenon is the kind of thing you could attack from a couple of different directions. The old-timers here bemoan the growing materialism of the youth and point out that in their day the end of high school was celebrated with folk dancing around the campfire. And that they were happy with that.

The bleeding hearts at Ha'aretz, of course, choose to point out -- once again -- the growing social inequalities in Israeli societies. Subtext: how can you put on your fancy clothes and sit there in your stretch limo when there's so much suffering in the world.

Given that the principal players in the piece (a bunch of no-class, pampered little snots playing out sad "90210" fantasies) are so worthy of derision, I'm actually surprised that the article isn't more strident. However, I do wonder if Israeli proms end up sucking as badly as the American ones they seek to ape.

Meanwhile, Back at the Protest Tent

The single mothers' movement looks like it may be on the verge of cracking. The movement lacks a unified leadership, which means they are vulnerable to internal rifts as well as the Finance Ministry's attempts to try and divide and conquer. Already, a schism has appeared between those demanding that their benefits be returned in full and those who want to hear out Netanyahu's compromise offers.

Meanwhile, a counter-protest tent supporting the government has been set up alongside the protest tents outside the Finance Ministry. And in addition to everything, some of the single mothers have begun to criticize Vikki Knafo -- the ostensible leader of the revolt -- for serving her own interests at the expense of the others.

Amusingly enough, Knafo and some of the other single mothers sent a letter to President Bush asking him to intercede with Sharon on their behalf. It's a bit ridiculous, but it does serve to demonstrate just how large in the Israeli imagination looms the friendly uncle in America.

Sunday, July 20, 2003
A Golfing Tale

Even though there's a lot going on around here (the prisoner release issue, the David Kelly story in England, the single mothers' protest, the whole bogus Niger scandal, and Arafat's continuing evil machinations just to name a few), I can't muster the energy to write about any of them. Sorry, beginning of the week.

Instead, here's a story about a remarkable individual named Zohar Sharon.

Sharon lost his sight and part of his hearing while serving in the army. He drifted into despair and depression until he found the world of golfing. With the help of a group of dedicated friends, as well as his own fierce will, Sharon overcame his disabilities and has turned into an ace golfer. He recently won a champions tournament held in Caesaria, beating a host of sighted golfers.

If you presented this story as a Hollywood screenplay, every studio would laugh you out the door. It's so cliched they'd tell you, so completely mawkish. And so it is. But it's nice to know that in a mean, post-everything world there's still a little place for genuine mawkishness.

Anyway, read the whole thing for a truly uplifting story.