Saturday, May 08, 2004

From David Brooks this morning:

"To conserve our strategy, we have to fundamentally alter our tactics. To shore up public confidence, the U.S. has to make it clear that it is considering fresh approaches.

We've got to acknowledge first that the old debates are obsolete. I wish the U.S could still go off, after Iraq, at the head of "coalitions of the willing" to spread democracy around the world. But the brutal fact is that the events of the past year have discredited that approach. Nor is the U.N. a viable alternative. A body dominated by dictatorships is never going to promote democratic values. For decades, the U.N. has failed as an effective world power.

We've got to reboot. We've got to come up with a global alliance of democracies to embody democratic ideals, harness U.S. military power and house a permanent nation-building apparatus, filled with people who actually possess expertise on how to do this job. "

Great idea. A league of Democracies. For anyone actually interested in what this might look like, look up David Brooks' New York Times colleague (and brilliant anti-war writer) Chris Hedges' articles in Harper's magazine from about a year ago. (hey, David, give credit where credit is due!)

Friday, May 07, 2004

The Spanish Prisoner Strikes Again

So I’ve been on this internet thingy for quite some time. Not in the blogosphere, mind you, but just out there in general. And it’s taken this “quite some time” (I got my first e-mail address maybe eight or ten years ago) for me to finally get the spanish prisoner scammail that’s been going around about stashed money in Africa.

Now, I got it, not in the address I use for all spam-related things (the one I give Amazon, etc.) but the address I set up especially for this blog roughly six weeks ago.

So I’ve been out here in the interweb for like eight years, but my new e-mail address (six weeks old) gets this:

Here’s the text, if you’ve never seen it before, it’s a hoot:



ATTN: Dear Sir,

I am MR MOHAMMED SALA, The manager, Bills and Exchange at the Foreign
Remittance Department of AFRICA INTERNATIONAL BANK Plc. I am writing
this letter to ask for your support and co-operation to carry out this
business transaction in my department.
We discovered an abandoned sum of 14 million US dollars (Fourteen
million US dollars) in an account that belongs to one of our foreign
customers who died along with his entire family of a wife and two children in
the Sept.11 2001 terrorist attack on america. Since we heard of his
death, we have been expecting his next-of-kin to come over and put claims
for his money as the heir, because we cannot release the fund from his
account unless "someone" applies for claim as the next-of-kin to the
deceased as indicated in our banking guidelines.
Unfortunately,none of their family member nor distant relative has ever
appeared to claim the said fund. Upon this discovery, I and other
officials in my department have agreed to make business with you and release
the total amount into your account as the heir of the fund since no one
has come for it nor discovered he maintained an account with our bank,
otherwise the fund will be returned to the bank's treasury as unclaimed
We have agreed that our ratio of sharing will be as stated thus; 30%
for you as our foreign partner, 65 % will be for us the officials in my
department and 5 % for the settlement of all local and foreign expenses
incurred by us and you during the course of this business. Upon the
successful completion of this transaction,one of my colleagues and I will
come over to your country and mind our share. It is from our 65% that
we intend to import Agricultural Machineries into my country as a way of
recycling the fund. To commence this transaction, we urge you to
immediately register your interest by a return e-mail enclosing your private
contact telephone number, fax number, full names and address and also,
your designated bank coordinates to enable us file the letter of claim
to the appropriate departments for necessary approvals before the
transfer can be completed.
Note also,that this transaction must be kept STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL
because of its nature. I look forward to receiving your swift response.
Manager bills and Exchange
Foreign Remittance Dept.
Tel:00221 663 4584

So on to culture for a change

So last night several playwright bloggers (George Hunka, Mac Rogers, Dan Trujillo and Laura Axelrod, all of whom you can find links to on the side bar) came to see the show as group and we all went out for a wee drinkee afterwards. Let me just say that this lot of playwrights are as intelligent and witty in person as they are in the blogosphere. It reminded me of my days running a BBS in the heady, pre-internet days of Washington D.C. modem culture. Once a year, each BBS would get a mini convention together of regular users. Usually these happened at someone’s house. You’d go have a swim, drink some soda, talk about the on line world, and you’d always meet someone you thought was cool but who turned out to be a gigantic creepwad.

Luckily, there were no creepwads in attendance last night, although there was one woman in the audience who sees 350 shows a year and has a reputation amongst NYC’s theaters of being absolutely crazy-go-nuts. She, however, doesn’t run a playwright blog so I didn’t have to go speak with her afterwards.

Anyway, they all seemed to really enjoy the show, and it meant a lot to me to have them there. Mac Rogers mentioned that other than the lifting up the curtain entries, Parabasis remains basically a political blog. Part of this is because I’ve been so deep into the show that I haven’t really experienced much culturally. I make a few stabs—politics and theater, a night at the Kitchen etc., but mainly I’m talking about politics these days.

Well, that’ll change, people! We’ll have more culture blogging over the next few days, starting right now.

(Okay, this one’s kind of about politics but you know one step at a time, people)

Via Arts Journal I read this story about the denying of arts funding for political art in Melbourne. Although the article is about visual art, somehow the story ended up in the theater section (probably because of its resemblance to the NEA 4).

I wholeheartedly support massive state funding for the arts. As I wrote in the early days of Parabasis, the arts have never existed without some form of subsidy, often a combination of private patronage and government sponsorship. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but many believers in democratic capitalism believe that it is. If art can’t find a way to support itself, they say, than art should get out of the art business. This belies a fundamental misunderstanding of both commerce and history. All industries are supported in some way or another by the government, whether this takes the form in tax payer funded subsidies, tax breaks, “profit guaranteed” contracts with the government, loosening of regulations etc. This is as true in countries that massively support the arts (like in Denmark, where corporations are barely taxed) as it is in countries that don’t (like the United States with its massive corporate welfare program).

Furthermore, the arts are the way that we communicate, not only with each other, but throughout the ages. The Greeks are still responsible for a large part of our understanding of civic life, and that understanding is as encapsulated in the difficult questions of The Orestia as it is in Plato’s Republic, itself as much a work of literature as polemic. William Shakespeare helps us understand what it is to be human in all of its messy beauty, and no person in history has given us a better phraseology with which to attack this complex world. Freud’s understanding of human consciousness was informed by the drama of his day, particularly Arthur Schnitzler. And this isn’t even beginning to tap into the visual arts, music or dance.

All of this is a way of saying that the arts are necessary to humanity. I really, truly believe that. Art will always exist, regardless of whether or not there is money in it, but when artists can make a living doing their art, output and quality often increase (just look at good ole Willy Shakes if you don’t believe me). Making a living doing art is almost impossible without outside aid, and that aid has to come in a combination of private patrons and government sponsorships. The latter often leads to the former, and that is why it is important that governments support art.

This necessary support creates a tricky relationship, however. Artists in this post-enlightenment age are pretty sure they have the right to do whatever the hell they want; at the same time the government (any government) is interested in artists churning out art that supports their worldview. This will always create tension. Macbeth was banned from the English stage by James I, and wasn’t performed again for quite some time. The HUAC meetings destroyed the WPA and the Federal Theater Project. These events will continue to happen throughout history, and negotiating this relationship is part and parcel of the difficult job of being an artist. Sometimes, necessity will demand a cloaking of your art’s subversive qualities, as in Shakespeare’s 12th Night where a basic mistaken-identity-sex-farce hides a dark struggle between Puritanism and Paganism for the souls of the English. It is an unfortunate part of reality that as long as government is paying the bills, the chances of your being able to do whatever you want will narrow dramatically. I’m not saying this is the way it should be, I’m simply saying this is the way it is.

The government in these cases almost always tries to claim that what it is banning isn’t art. In this case (as in many), the Melbourne City Council claims that the art is agit-prop, and the very fact that it is overtly political should disqualify it from public funding. The counter argument is pretty simply and goes something like this (from the article itself):
"The artistic director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Chris McAuliffe, said: "If local government gets involved in supporting culture, then it's got to be prepared to support culture in all its forms. "If it's getting involved in culture in order to support only certain kinds of expression or only certain kinds of ideology, it might as well admit that it's supporting its own form of social engineering or propaganda."
Which brings us back to our old adage: art is political, if the politics are invisible, it supports the status quo. This is the thesis that McAuliffe is inherently embracing. The City Council doesn’t want non-political art; they want political art that agrees with them. You can probably guess who I agree with.

The Earthling Lands Again

Just a quick note:

Pretty much my favorite writer to ever grace the bits and bites of is back! That’s right ladies and gentlemen, Robert Wright has finally graced us with a new “Earthling” column. Check it out!

PS: I promise I’ll have more blogging later. Really.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

From the “always important to read more than the headline” department.

New York Times this morning:


Rumsfeld Chastised by President for His Handling of Iraq Scandal

I think:

Ooo, this seems juicy. The President is slapping around Rumsfeld for his less-than-prompt-and-outraged responses t what’s going on at Abu Ghraib. Or maybe the fact that he dithered with the press about whether or not the abuses counted as torture. Or something. Wow, maybe Bush has a small kernel of human decency and empathy.

And then,

From the article itself:

The disclosures by the White House officials, under authorization from Mr. Bush, were an extraordinary display of finger-pointing in an administration led by a man who puts a high premium on order and loyalty. The officials said the president had expressed his displeasure to Mr. Rumsfeld in an Oval Office meeting because of Mr. Rumsfeld's failure to tell Mr. Bush about photographs of the abuse, which have enraged the Arab world.

I think:

No, I was wrong, he’s just mad about the fact photos were taken! This point is repeated again and again, he’s angry about the photos because this makes the torture much worse. No it doesn’t. It makes the PR campaign to save your ass much worse, Mr. President. You should be dressing him down for the fact that the torture happened in February and you didn’t hear about until now. You should be dressing him down for going on TV and not admitting that it was torture. You should be dressing him down for the absolutely ridiculous level of failure in the defense planning for postwar Iraq. You should be, quite frankly, asking for his resignation for his consistent mendacity towards the American people.

But no, Mr. President. You dress him down because there was photographic evidence of wrongdoing by US soldiers. Not for the wrongdoing itself, but because you weren’t told there was documentation.

Nice one, Mr. President. You’re a real class act.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Last weeks' Democratic Radio Address

Becuase no one listens to the DRA's, I thought it would be helpful to post this one. It's written by a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I think it's pretty powerful. Check it out:

Remarks of Paul Rieckhoff, Democratic Radio Address to the Nation Saturday, May 1, 2004

      Good morning. My name is Paul Rieckhoff. I am addressing you this morning as a US citizen and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I served with the US Army in Iraq for 10 months, concluding in February, 2004.

      I'm giving this address because I have an agenda, and my agenda is this: I want my fellow soldiers to come home safely, and I want a better future for the people of Iraq. I also want people to know the truth.

      War is never easy. But I went to Iraq because I made a commitment to my country. When I volunteered for duty, I knew I would end up in Baghdad. I knew that's where the action would be, and I was ready for it.

      But when we got to Baghdad, we soon found out that the people who planned this war were not ready for us. There were not enough vehicles, not enough ammunition, not enough medical supplies, not enough water. Many days, we patrolled the streets of Baghdad in 120 degree heat with only one bottle of water per soldier. There was not enough body armor, leaving my men to dodge bullets with Vietnam-era flak vests. We had to write home and ask for batteries to be included in our care packages. Our soldiers deserved better.

      When Baghdad fell, we soon found out that the people who planned this war were not ready for that day either. Adamiyah, the area in Baghdad we had been assigned to, was certainly not stable. The Iraqi people continued to suffer. And we dealt with shootings, killings, kidnappings, and robberies for most of the spring.

      We waited for troops to fill the city and military police to line the streets. We waited for foreign aid to start streaming in by the truckload. We waited for interpreters to show up and supply lines to get fixed. We waited for more water. We waited and we waited and the attacks on my men continued...and increased.

      With too little support and too little planning, Iraq had become our problem to fix. We had nineteen-year-old kids from the heartland interpreting foreign policy, in Arabic. This is not what we were designed to do. Infantrymen are designed to close with and kill the enemy.

      But as infantrymen, and also as Americans, we made do, and we did the job we were sent there for-and much more.

      One year ago today, our President had declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over. We heard of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, and we heard him say that "Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home."

      Well, we were told that we would return home by July 4th. Parades were waiting for us. Summer was waiting for us. I wrote my brother in New York and told him to get tickets for the Yankees-Red Sox series in the Bronx. Baseball was waiting for us. Our families were waiting for us.

      But three days before we were supposed to leave, we were told that our stay in Iraq would be extended, indefinitely. The violence intensified, the danger persisted, and the instability grew. And despite what George Bush said, our mission was not accomplished.

      Our platoon had been away from their families for seven months. Two babies had been born. Three wives had filed for divorce and a fiancee sent a ring back to a kid in Baghdad. 39 men missed their homes. And they wouldn't see their homes for another eight months.

      But we pulled together - we took care of each other and we continued our mission. The mission kept us going. The mission was to secure Iraq and help the Iraqi people. We saw first-hand the terrible suffering that they had endured. We protected a hospital and kept a school safe from sniper fire. We saw hope in the faces of Iraqi children who may have the chance to grow up as free as our own.

      And still, we waited for help. And still, the people who planned this war watched Iraq fall into chaos and refused to change course.

      Some men with me were wounded. One of my squad leaders lost both legs in combat. But our platoon was lucky--all 39 of us came home alive.

      Too many of our friends and fellow soldiers did not share that same fate. Since President Bush declared major combat operations over, more than 590 American soldiers have been killed. Over 590 men and women who were waiting for parades. Who were waiting for summer. Who were waiting for help.

      Since I've returned, there are two images that continue to replay themselves in my mind. One is the scrolling list of American casualties shown daily on the news - a list reminding me that this April has become the bloodiest month of combat so far, with more than 130 soldiers killed.

      The other image is of President Bush at his press conference 2 weeks ago. After all the waiting, after all the mistakes we had experienced first hand over in Iraq, after another year of a policy that was not making the situation any better for our friends who are still there, he told us we were staying the course. He told us we were making progress. And he told us that, "We're carrying out a decision that has already been made and will not change."

      Our troops are still waiting for more body armor. They are still waiting for better equipment. They are still waiting for a policy that brings in the rest of the world and relieves their burden. Our troops are still waiting for help.

      I am not angry with our President, but I am disappointed.

      I don't expect an easy solution to the situation in Iraq, I do expect an admission that there are serious problems that need serious solutions.

      I don't expect our leaders to be free of mistakes, I expect our leaders to own up to them.

      In Iraq, I was responsible for the lives of 38 other Americans. We laughed together, we cried together, we won together, and we fought together. And when we failed, it was my job as their leader to take responsibility for the decisions I made--no matter what the outcome.

      My question for President Bush - who led the planning of this war so long ago - is this: When will you take responsibility for the decisions you've made in Iraq and realize that something is wrong with the way things are going?

      Mr. President, our mission is not accomplished.

      Our troops can accomplish it. We can build a stable Iraq, but we need some help. The soldiers I served with are men and women of extraordinary courage and incredible capability. But it's time we had leadership in Washington to match that courage and match that capability.

      I worry for the future of Iraq and for my Iraqi friends. I worry for my fellow soldiers still fighting this battle. I worry for their families, and I worry for those families who will not be able to share another summer or another baseball game with the loved ones they've lost. And I pledge that I will do everything I can to make sure they have not died in vain and that the truth is heard.

       Thank you for listening.


Hitchens... what a blowhard.

I don’t really know if Christopher Hitchens destroyed all of his credibility when his crusade against the Baathist regime of Iraq turned into a crusade against everyone who disagrees with him, or if it just revealed to the left that he’s a close-minded, arrogant little nugget of hate who happens to also be a great writer. Either way, it’s really a shame. Hitchens is a provocative spirit, a powerful master of prose, and a quick wit. Unfortunately, all of this has turned him into a total propaganda machine for the Neo-Con wing of the Bush administration.

My biggest problem with Hitchens is a fairly simple one: he’s sneaky. All he does is either misrepresent his opponents view points and argue against his misrepresentation or selectively pick the most fringey, insane thing out there in the blogosphere and make it as if it is a representative idea of his opposition. Throughout the build up to war in Iraq, he refused to take the anti-war argument seriously, arguing instead against the International ANSWER coalition’s ludicrous statements about Milosevic and Hussein. Very few people in the anti-war movement took them seriously; ANSWER got to be included because they filed for permits early. But they provided brilliant fodder for didacts like Hitchens to smear the entire anti-war movement.

So now, in the past seventy-two hours, we have Hitchens going further off the rhetorical deep end. First, on Scarborough Country, Joe was talking with a round table about the recent torture of Iraqi prisoners. One of the people Scarborough had on was a Democratic Strategist. He asked said Strategist a strategy question: how does the torture play out in the broader campaign for President and for the hearts and minds of the Arab world. When she answered the question, Hitchens jumped on her for talking about people as political capital instead of as poor human beings. She got caught up in it (maybe it was the English accent) and argued the point with him instead of saying “look, you bastard, no one takes you seriously, I doubt that your sober and I was asked a strategy based question”.

And then we have Hitchens’ latest piece in, where he used the torture cases to argue in favor of the continued involvement of Ahmed Chalabi in the reconstruction efforts of Iraq. Here’s the key sentences:
“The secretary of state is quoted as saying that he often thinks our biggest problem in Iraq is Ahmad Chalabi…. It's a change, though, from the authorized smear and jeer of last year, which was that Chalabi was an American puppet. Since then he has called for an earlier transfer of sovereignty, earlier elections, and a sterner line on de-Baathification than the patrons of Abu Ghraib would like. He's said and done some other things that I'm not so sure about, and I don't know what happened in the Jordanian banking system many decades ago (and neither, dear reader, do you). But he's not a puppet, and anyone who thinks he is the problem is probably readying some puppets of his own whom you don't want to think about.”
The main argument (in the US at least, but I don’t think Hitchens ever claims he’s arguing about Arab thought) about Chalabi has never been that he was an American puppet. The main argument against Chalabi’s continued involvement is that he’s a liar who was using the US to get rid of Hussein and be forcibly installed as President. That argument was there before the war and now that none of Chalabi’s claims about Iraq WMD are true, and now that he’s screwed over the occupational authority time and again, more and more people are coming to agree with the anti-war folks that Chalabi is not our ally, he’s a simple huckster.

But it was nice of Chris Hitchens to confuse the issue further rather than actually try to make a case for Chalabi’s integrity. Then again, since there’s no case to make, it’s probably easier for Hitchens to argue against something no one really believes.

(oh, PS: the Hitchens article is here.
(and TalkingPointsMemo has great stuff on Chalabi. Check it out!
Ooo, and too!)

Monday, May 03, 2004

I couldn't think up something clever; this one is about the death penalty

So I guess Massachusetts is like the anti-Illinois or something like that.

Governor Mitt Romney convened a blue ribbon commission in order to study ways to bring the death penalty back to MA in as fair and even handed a way possible.

They’ve come up with ten recommendations, all of which seem to be about keeping away wrongful convictions. The ten provisions thought up by the committee include having all decisions to seek the death penalty reviewed by the Attorney General, having accusations of wrongful conviction examined by an independent body, only seeking the death penalty for torture killings, terrorism, multiple homicides and killing of law enforcement officer etc.

These proposals seem well and good. Certainly, if one is really jonesing to put people to death, the commission seems to have found a good way to do it as fairly as possible. But doesn’t that beg the question… why is killing someone so important that you would spend this much money and this much public legal brain power in order to do it?

Just think about it for a second. Regardless of whether you’re for or against the death penalty (I’ve gone back and forth many times in my life but am for now comfortable ensconced in the “against” camp) doesn’t it seem a bit odd that being able to put people to death is that important to Governor Romney and the people of Massachusetts? Many of the arguments against capital punishment have been fairly definitively debunked in the past decade. For example, putting people to death is more expensive for the state than giving them a life sentence in one of America’s hellish maximum security prisons, and statistically, the death penalty does not work as a deterrent. Furthermore, no matter what you do you can’t be 100% certain that everyone you put to death is actually guilty, unless you have easily verifiable footage of them doing it (etc.) and in those cases the person will almost certainly plead guilty anyway, which usually means that the state won’t put them to death, because no one wants to punish telling the truth.

There are arguments in favor of the death penalty that I don’t agree with, but I understand them, and they’re more subjective. Arguments like the Message argument, which states that this is a good way for society to make it clear how unacceptable certain crimes are. Or another one, which is simple vengeance. They killed someone, they deserve death. How would you feel if your wife was raped and murdered? Wouldn’t you want the killer to die? How can you withhold that right from someone to whom it happened to?

I can understand being not-against the death penalty. On a good day, I could even understand supporting the death penalty. What I can’t understand is being so in love with the death penalty that you would think Romney forming a commission to study better ways to be certain you’re killing the right person is a good idea. It just seems like a waste of money, talent and brain power to focus so tightly on returning to the age of Leviticus in our sentencing procedures.

(oh and PS: the NYTimes article is here)

Oh what fools these mortals be

Want to see something truly ridiculous?

Check out this report from the AP wires:

“May 2, 2004 | BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, said Sunday he regrets a statement he made more than six months before the Sept. 11 attacks that the Bush administration was "paying no attention" to terrorism.

Bremer said any implied criticism that President Bush was not acting against terrorism was "unfair."

Ahead of the November election, Bush is facing criticism he didn't make terrorism his No. 1 priority before the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center and then weakened the war on terror by invading Iraq and shifting the focus from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. The resurfacing of Bremer's comments added to administration frustrations.

At a McCormick Tribune Foundation conference on terrorism on Feb. 26, 2001, Bremer said, "The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?'”

So… he said this six months before September 11th, and he only regrets saying it… now?

More on the War on Terror will be coming up from Parabasis this week, partly in response to the NYTimes Magazine, and partly because, well, tis the season.