G. A. Cerny
Monday, May 31, 2004
  Czechs out?
Czech military police are likely to be withdrawn from Iraq at the beginning of next year, the Czech Defence Minister Miroslav Kostelka said yesterday, putting further pressure on Britain and the US to find volunteers for a multinational force. Spanish troops have already been pulled out of the country by the new anti-war government, and other governments are taking a new look at their commitments in light of the security situation. The Czech Republic has 80 military police stationed near Basra.
Mr Kostelkatold the news agency CTK that the Czech Republic should focus on its missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans.
Saturday, May 29, 2004
  Historians of the Battle of Kovarska
Founded on 1995, its base were friends from Kovarska who worked some years on documentation of Air-battle over their village. Main work of the group is documentation of Air battle on 11th September 1944, but it is documentaring also other air-war events over their region North Bohemia in Czech Republic, also as over south part of Sachsen, Germany.

The Air-Historical Association Kovarska is part of a great trend of local historians who do important work in nailing down facts and preserving memory. They are usually amatuers or hobbyists, but that is beside the point. The qualities a good researcher needs are an open mind, patience, meticulousness, and, most important, an irrational obsession with the subject. No academic qualification can substitute for these things.

As I said, they do great work. There are, sometimes, even tangible benefits.
Army Pilot Killed in WWII Buried in Okla.
A World War II Army pilot killed nearly 60 years ago but long classified as missing in action was buried Friday in his hometown next to his brother.
A bugler played taps, five soldiers fired a three-shot volley and four World War II training fighters flew overhead at a traditional military ceremony for 2nd Lt. William M. Lewis.
``It is finished,'' said Sharon Cross, who was about 6 months old when her father died. ``I feel complete for the first time.''

Lewis' P-51 fighter was shot down Sept. 11, 1944, over eastern Germany during a fierce air battle in which 57 U.S. aircraft were lost. Lewis' plane was last seen nose-diving into a forest.

A German naturalist, Adelbert Wolf, found Lewis' wreckage and buried what remains he could find in a field near Oberhof. Wolf marked the grave with a cross and tended it for decades.
About a decade before the Berlin Wall fell, Wolf notified an American about the grave, and a U.S. delegation visited the site but was not permitted by the Communist government to exhume the remains.

Lewis' grave remained in obscurity until Cross, motivated in 2001 by the film ``Saving Private Ryan,'' decided to search for her father. A family friend, computer consultant Ken Breaux, found a Czech aviation buff and battle historian, Jan Zdiarsky, over the Internet. Lewis was found.
A U.S. recovery team spent a month excavating the crash site and grave in 2002. After official identification, Lewis' remains were returned to Cross two months ago.
``So many people came together to see that my father came home,'' Cross said. ``It's the most amazing thing I have ever seen.''
  Self-Rule Is Test of Nerves on Local Iraq Councils
A very sobering look at the effort to create democracy, or something like it, on the local level in Iraq. 
  "Ahmed Chalabi is a James bleeping Madison"
A Flash movie from the geniuses at Sadly,No!. It sums up Chalbai's career, and you can dance to it! 
  Remember that story a while back that placed Atta in Baghadad?
The memo that purported to be from Saddam Hussein's government and detailed how Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 mastermind, was trained in Iraq.
The story that half the right wing jumped all over as proof of a connection Hussein and the attack on the World Trade Center.

I'd forgotten who fed it to the Telegraph in the first place.
He's the new interim prime minister of Iraq. According to Spencer Ackerman at The New Republic:
After the war, [Allawi] peddled the absurd story that Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal mentored 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta at the behest of Saddam. It seems likely that Allawi's pliability would be a decisive factor in the U.S. decision to support him for prime minister.  
  The mind boggles... 
  Chalabi, cont'd
The New Yorker just posted this long, absorbing profile of Ahmed Chalabi, and the evolution of his strange relationship with the U.S. government, by Jane Mayer. Much of it is familiar, but it's both detailed and well-written and there is a benefit to reading about his career as a whole, instead of in small chunks in the papers. Especially since so many of those chunks contradict each other. Definitely worth your time.

One thing kind of stood out for me:
Another story promoted by Chalabi’s organization offered an unsubstantiated link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The I.N.C. disseminated a story that Mohamed Atta, the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, had met in Prague in April, 2001, with an Iraqi intelligence agent. In February, 2002, David Rose wrote in Vanity Fair that a defector named Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy said that he had worked at a terrorist camp in Iraq called Salman Pak, where non-Iraqi fundamentalist Arabs were trained to hijack planes and land helicopters on moving trains. He also asserted that Atta had met with an Iraqi agent in Prague. Rose noted the I.N.C. had sponsored Qurairy, and wrote that an aide of Chalabi’s served as the translator for the defector.

The American press has several strories on Chalabi's neo-con friends urging the White House to end the "smear campaign." According to the NY Times, several of them met this week with Condoleezza Rice to make their case.
"There is a smear campaign under way, and it is being perpetrated by the C.I.A. and the D.I.A. and a gaggle of former intelligence officers who have succeeded in planting these stories, which are accepted with hardly any scrutiny," [Richard] Perle, a leading conservative, said in an interview.

Mr. Perle, referring to both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the campaign against Mr. Chalabi was "an outrageous abuse of power" by United States government officials in Washington and Baghdad.
"I'm talking about Jerry Bremer, for one," Mr. Perle said, referring to L. Paul Bremer III, the top American administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in charge of the occupation of Iraq. "I don't know who gave these orders, but there is no question that the C.P.A. was involved."

Later in the story, there is this pregnant sentence:
The current views of Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, are not known. Both strongly supported Mr. Chalabi before and during the war in Iraq.

My, how the worm begins to turn... 
Friday, May 28, 2004
  Medeival economic theory in Minnesota
It's been a long time since I was a doctrinaire capital "L" libertarian. It more or less peaked when I was a volunteer for Ron Paul's campaign way back in '88. But this story gets my Murray Rothbard juices flowing:
Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Minnesota's Commerce Department is cracking down on service stations over the price of gasoline. The problem: Some stations aren't charging enough.
Under Gov. Jesse Ventura, the state adopted a law in 2001 that prohibits gas stations from selling gas without taking a minimum profit. These days, they must charge at least 8 cents per gallon, plus taxes, more than they paid for it.
  Chalabi Agony II: Hitchens steps up
Christopher Hitchens offers a defense of Chalabi. There are, of course, those new charges, yet Hitch devotes the bulk of the piece to offering the case for his friend that he's been giving for some time now. Chalabi is a brilliant man, a lot of great leaders come from exile, and so on.

Hitchen's arguments always seemed to me to be rather forced; well, yes, there have been exiles who were greeted as heroes when they returned to their homelands. But, it often helps if someone had heard of them in their homelands, or if they'd left it after puberty.

On the question, rather key to Chalabi's credibility, of whether he's an embezzler, Hitch is not reasuring:
I do not know what happened at the Petra Bank, and not even Andrew and Patrick Cockburn, who have done the most work on the subject, can be sure that Saddam Hussein's agents in Jordan were not involved in the indictment of Chalabi by a rather oddly constituted Jordanian court. It could be, for all I know, that he was both guilty and framed. The litigation and recrimination continues, and it ought at least to be noted that Chalabi still maintains he can prove his case.

So is the man a crook? Hitchens: "Perhaps. Moving on..."

It gets worse. Did Chalbi spy for Iran? This is the whole of Hitchen's answer:
As to the accusation that Chalabi has endangered American national security by slipping secrets to Tehran, I can only say that three days ago, I broke my usual rule and had a "deep background" meeting with a very "senior administration official." This person, given every opportunity to signal even slightly that I ought to treat the charges seriously, pointedly declined to do so. I thought I should put this on record.

What cynic is beyond being convinced by that?

Christopher Hitchens can be a sharp writer and a strong advocate. I prefer him as a literary critic, myself. He reminds me a bit of Gore Vidal, actually, though with a different political agenda. Both are trenchant critics who are very precise about writing, but rather casual with assertions when they move on to politics. And, it must be said, rather insistent in their own dubious claims of expertise when they do move on to politics.

With that caveat about Hitchens, he's a persuasive man. If this essay is the most convincing he can be on the subject of Chalabi, then the man really is in trouble. 
  Just Ducky
It's the Iron Law of comedy: Ducks are funny. They always get a laugh. Die Duckomenta is the final proof of this.
(plucked from Fistful of Euros
Thursday, May 27, 2004
  "the next bad thing waiting to occur"
The bodies of three children, one of them decapitated and the others partially decapitated, were discovered tonight in a Northwest Baltimore apartment building, police said.
A man was being questioned by homicide detectives, but had not been charged as of early evening.
Police said they believe there was some type of dispute between the man and other adults in the families, but they are not sure of the nature of the dispute or when it occurred.

The victims were two girls, both age 9, and a boy, 10, police said. The children were found in a first-floor apartment in separate bedrooms, said Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Kenneth Blackwell. A weapon was found outside the apartment, he said.

"We see this as an isolated incident," Blackwell said. "Neighbors have no reason to be concerned" about their safety.

Afefe Tyehimba wrote her farewell column for the Baltimore City Paper earlier this month. It's appropriate to quote it now:
But most days, unless the Orioles or Ravens are on a winning streak, Baltimore's atmosphere seems filled with an uneasy anticipation of the next bad thing waiting to occur.
This is how Detroit used to make me feel, which is why I moved down South in the first place. For months and months, I've been telling myself to buck up and focus on the positive: the food, festivals, down-to-earth people. But then things happen, like one night last week when I sat outside a restaurant on St. Paul Street, waiting to pick up my kid from work. "Pop-pop!" two gunshots rang out--real close by. The sound made me and everyone else nearby go stiff for an instant; I noticed how seconds later, when nobody ran out of a building bleeding, we all went back to doing whatever we were doing, danger having apparently passed us all by.
The incident was another of a long line of wake-up calls I've had not just about the reality of life in the city, but also the quality of it.

Believe what? 
  Oh. My God 
  Matt Welch on the "Fifth Column":
...claiming that the U.S. media is waging a conscious campaign to make America lose -- and that it has the power to pull it off -- smacks not only of delusion, but a kind of desperation as well. 
  Poets, bloggers, and e-mailers
Since Andrew Sullivan took the day off, I'd like to consider something that I barely touched on in my opportunistic dis yesterday of the anonymous e-mail that he posted.
How should we assess first hand accounts of the situation in Iraq?
Sullivan prints, quite uncritically, even without any attempt at authentication, e-mails from the front. Other bloggers do the same.

Quite a few on the pro-war side, notably Roger Simon, promote a few Iraqi bloggers as proof that things are better than the media is telling you.

Most striking is the unanimity of opinion these bloggers reproduce. For all the support our troops have, at least according to these sources, it's a wonder that any uniformed American ever gets shot at.

Partly, this is because of the sources they choose. Anyone writing to a pro-war blogger is likely to be pro-war. The English-language Iraq bloggers are, whatever else they may be, capable of writing in English. Moreover, dissenting voices, or even different ones, don't get linked to as often, as least not from these bloggers. Riverbend comes to mind, as does this gripping account of an American soldier Alex Zucker linked. (To be fair to the right, Juan Cole doesn't link to Iraq the Model.)

But I find in the pro-war bloggers a plea not for news, but for good news, which is to say, for reassurance. In linking to Iraq the Model, Simon wrote, not too long ago,
Do I know who they are and what their biases are? Not really, but everyone's biased and at least the people here are knowledgeable.

Perhaps the blogger Simon went on to refer to as "the person signing his name Ali" is knowledgeable. I have no real clue, just as Simon has no real clue. Yet, Simon treats him as an impeccable source, even as he dismisses those marginal types like the NY Times (Simon's post was titled, "Newspapers: Who reads them?")

I am reminded of Mark Twain's reaction to the proofs of authenticity of The Book of Mormon:
Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything; but for me, when a man tells me that he has "seen the engravings which are upon the plates," and not only that, but an angel was there at the time, and saw him see them, and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction, no matter whether I ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel, or his nationality either.
And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but "hefted" them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.

Just insert the phrase "has a Blogger account" or "sent me an e-mail" and you've updated it.

Time and time again, bloggers and soldiers are given primacy over journalists. Which is not to say, of course, that newspaper accounts shouldn't be taken with some salt, but rather to question the practice of wolfing down some information without any seasoning at all.

Let me focus on the anonymous e-mails from soldiers. They run to a type, as Neal Pollock pointed out. Without in any way challenging the authenticity of the experiences of these soldiers, the honesty of the letter-writers, or the value of first-hand experience, there is much reason to be skeptical of an account by any particular soldier.

Robert Graves wrote in defense of his bracing, but error-riddled, memoir, Goodbye To All That, that any real combat veteran couldn't be trusted if he claimed to have coherent or ordered memories of his experience. The argument is, of course, paradoxical, self-defeating, and deeply self-serving, but it still has a ring of truth to it. The chaos and terror of battle don't promote clear recollection, and the exposure to organized violence will produce profoundly different effects on the individuals who experience it.

Consider the poets of the Great War, like Graves, Sassoon, and Owen. Their language brought home war, all war, with a force that stays with everyone who has read them. But that same war also produced Rupert Brooke. From the standpoint of experience, Brooke's romanticization of the war, his desire to be "buried under an English heaven"--
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

--is as valid as Sassoon's "Attack"--
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

or Owen's "Dulce et Decorum est."

It may be argued that Brooke saw relatively little combat, and that the poems of Sassoon, Owen, and others only grew darker as their time in the trenches increased. This is true, but we don't know how much time the anonymous soldier correspondents have spent in Iraq, or under what circumstances. And there are other Great War writers who kept faith in their endeavor, despite brutal experiences.

Paul Fussell, himself a combat veteran who has written often of the effect his experiences had on him, wrote a valuable little essay called "The Fate of Chivalry." He points out an obscure work by a Canadian World War I soldier, Coningsby Dawson, who wrote a book called, The Glory of The Trenches. The title poem starts:
We were too proud to live for years
When our poor death could dry the tears
Of little children yet unborn.
It scarcely mattered that at morn,
When manhood's hope was at its height,
We stopped a bullet in mid-flight.

The poetry is horrible, but the spirit is genuine. Dawson fought and was wounded; I won't challenge the authenticity of his experience, but I will note it's rareness.

I don't challenge the validity of the blogs and emails from Iraq. But I question whether they are exhaustive.

A part of me can't help imagining what the war-bloggers would have been like during the First World War.

Roger Simon:
This war is about protecting civilization. Nothing else matters, yet some only care about overthrowing Lloyd George. This struggle reminds me of the 100 Years War. I feel reassured when I read Aisquith. He understands what it is "to go join the men of
." Why doesn't the press?

Rupert Brooke. Read the whole thing.

Andrew Sullivan:
Sassoon and Graves never even mention the great progress we're making at Gallipoli. They are, of course, both of German descent-- Graves' grandfather is a von Ranke. 
  A profound truth emerges from a close study of pro hoops:
The question, in the NBA and in life, is not whether or not you can shoot.
The question is whether or not you can get your shot.

Ralph Wiley 
  The teacher handed out a questionnaire. Whose side would you have been on in 1917?
The Bolshevik cause, advocated by Tanya, won with 10 votes. The short-lived provisional government overthrown by the Bolsheviks got seven votes. Two students voted for the restoration of the czar. The rest declined to state a position.

From a long but rewarding piece by Susan Glasser in today's Washington Post on teaching history in a Russian high school. Far from cheerful reading, but not entirely pessimistic either.

I'm a fan of journalism that doesn't try to justify a trend with dubious statistics, but lets the people involved explain themselves with warts, and ambiguity, intact.

UPDATE: I should add a link to this depressing, but not surprising story in Thursday's NY Times: Putin Accuses Critics of Working for Foreign Powers 
  Damn:Slovak Police Find Explosives Near NATO Venue 
  Belgium's government has a sense of humour
That's a sign of the apocylpse, yes? Or maybe they're just very literal. Either way, calling a government-sponsored web-site devoted to struggles with the bureaucracy Kafka.be is a genius idea.

(stolen from Hit&Run
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
  Yeah, what he said. 
  Quiet, boring Baghdad
Prompted by another anonymous e-mail purporting to be from someone who claims to know a soldier just back from Iraq, Andrew Sullivan writes:
Yep. Most of the country is "quiet and boring." I'm sure it is. If you watched the evening news in DC, and never lived here, you'd have a similar impression. I live at a center of drug and gang activity and yet for the most part, life goes on. Baghdad is obviously much more dangerous; but the notion that it is descending into chaos as we speak just isn't borne out by the facts.

Did the mayor of Washington get blown up last week and I just missed it? 
  Are you nostalgic for the Prague of the past? The Prague of pre-1989? The crumbling, dark buildings in the Old Town, which have the now been done up and turned into luxury hotels and restaurants?
"Not at all. Because Prague was rather ramshackle in the Communist time, and this so-called 'mystical Prague' is more or less a dream about the past. I remember the old Prague when I was a boy. I don't remember any mystical Prague, but I do remember a lot of slums. Maybe fifteen minutes from our house the slums started, with very poor people, and very dirty streets. This also disappeared - and it's positive."

Ivan Klima, interviewed by Rob Cameron of Radio Praha.
(via Prague.tv
  Of all the idiotic museums in Washington, the Drug Enforcement Agency Museum and Visitors Center might be the worst. But checking out its web-site for a bit of research I'm doing, I found this potentially lucrative nugget:
The DEA Museum Archive welcomes any donations. We are looking for donations of artifacts that deal with the history of drugs and drug law enforcement. All donations are tax deductible. Each artifact that is received is cared for by the highest museum standards. If you have any questions or are interested in donating, please call the museum at: 202.307.3463.

Does this mean I can avoid paying taxes by sweeping up the crack vials and stoppers that litter almost every sidewalk in Baltimore and donating them to the DEA? 
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
  Chalabi agony
It's understandable that most of the right-wing is silent on the allegations against Chalabi. But he has his defenders, notably at the National Review.
Michael Rubin wrote after the raid on Chalabi's residence:
Iraqis — fans and foes of Chalabi alike — saw the raid as another sign of the contempt the CPA shows for ordinary Iraqis. By sending forces to break into Chalabi's house and then by holding a Governing Council member at gunpoint, Bremer sought to humiliate Chalabi. Bremer has not learned from the Abu Ghraib scandal. Humiliation backfires.

Simultaneously, the inside-the-beltway rumor mongering made clear both the irrational contempt and ignorance that many professional pundits feel for any proponent of Arab democracy. Those academics, pundits, and commentators who have never met Chalabi reserve for him the greatest vitriol.

David Frum blames those gullible enough to fall for a line from...the U.S. government:
It is puzzling to me that the same people who refuse to believe the US government when it says its forces hit a terrorist safe house, not a wedding partner, are all credulity when anonymous sources inside that same government declare that Ahmed Chalabi is the center of a vast sinister conspiracy.

In a truly bizarre piece, Michael Ledeen summons the ghost of James Jesus Angelton, the Cold War CIA counter-intelligence chief who failed to catch Kim Philby, and made up for it by almost crippling the agency in a fruitless "mole hunt."
ML: So what was this all about?
JJA: Oh, I think it's mostly political, and has little if anything to do with intelligence. The CIA loves to smear people they don't like with claims of super-secret intelligence that rarely exists.

It's striking that all three writers know Chalabi personally. Ledeen calls him a "friend" and Rubin even suggests that Chalabi's many doubters are at fault because they don't know him personally. Well, that settles that!

One thing is clear, however. Whether one views Chalabi as a future leader of Iraq or as a conman who managed to dupe America into backing his ambitions, a consensus has emerged. The neocons claim that our error was not backing Chalabi strongly enough, an error compounded by persecuting him now, and costing us our credibility, such as it is, in Iraq.
Chalabi's critics would argue that backing him at all was a colossal mistake that cost us valuable time and credibility in Iraq.

Either way, both sides agree that the government has made huge mistakes in Iraq that that will have dire consequences. By government I mean, of course, the Bush administration which I must insist on linking with George W. Bush.

For Bush's critics, the flirtation with Chalabi was just another entry in the long record of the president's incompetence. We weren't voting for him anyway.
For Bush's supporters, a group that I expect includes the writers at the National Review, the disastrous end of what should have been a long and fruitful relationship would seem impossible to square with their admiration of the president.

Will the right-wingers follow their own reasoning? 
  I can't believe this won't be featured at the Olympics
A retired Army lieutenant colonel, [David] Grossman is the author of 'On Killing' and the founder of the Killology Research Group and its Web site, killology.com. He came to the World SWAT Challenge and Conference to address nearly 100 cops -- members of paramilitary police units known as SWAT teams, which is short for Special Weapons And Tactics. Grossman told them we're living in a 'new Dark Age,' an era of al Qaeda-style terrorism combined with Oklahoma City-style bombings and Columbine-style school shootings by kids whose brains are warped by violent video games.
Most people are sheep, Grossman said, and you are the warriors who must protect them from the wolves.
"Embrace the warrior spirit!" he yelled.
"Live the warrior life!" he bellowed.
"We need warriors who embrace that dirty, nasty four-letter word kill!" he proclaimed.
Maybe he's right. Maybe the barbarians are at the gates and SWAT teams are our last line of defense. But in America, where almost everything eventually becomes a form of entertainment, SWAT is now a sport and these cops had come for the first World SWAT Challenge, a two-day, made-for-TV competition that will become a reality show scheduled to air July 17 on ESPN2.

"It's really kind of a niche sport," says Jack O'Connor, the mastermind of the SWAT Challenge.

Peter Carlson proves, once again, that he is the man. 
Monday, May 24, 2004
  Help Zenny!
Zenny Sadlon has been working on a new English translation of Good Soldier Svejk for seven years now. Anyone familiar with Cecil Parrot's earnest but flaccid English version, the standard translation, knows how neccessary a better English version of Hasek's great work is.

One small, but grating example:
Hasek: Ja mam moc rad, kdyz tak lidi blbou na kvadarat.

Parrot translated this as:
I love it when people drivel utter bunkum.

Hasek deserves better, and Sadlon is trying to do him justice. His website tracks his progress, and he also runs Svejk Central, which is full of great links, including the complete Czech text of Svejk online.

So how can you help him? Send him a gmail invite. Seven years of correspondence on translating Svejk uses up a lot of memory, and a gmail account would be a big help to him in storing it.

Sadly, I'd already used my two invites before he got in touch with me. I know those gmail invites are like gold, but if anyone has one to spare, drop Zenny a line at ksl[zavanac]zenny[dot]com

Do it for world literature! 
Friday, May 21, 2004
  Drink till you're an optimist again
In the course of bitching about how hard it is to be a blogger-- as opposed to being a coal miner?-- Andrew Sullivan made a rather incredible statement:
But life suffers - along with relationships, being able to drink after 8 pm, exercize and reading for - imagine this - pleasure. At this point, the reason for blogging has gotten a little lost.

He writes this shit when he's sober? Who woulda thunk it?

It was about the time that he wrote that-- not quite two weeks ago, actually-- that Sullivan began to acknowledge the wreckage of our Iraq policy. He didn't, of course, acknowledge how much he himself had defended those policies and the men who sponsored them, but Sullivan will be Sullivan.

I don't argue that Sullivan's sobriety while blogging helped him apprehend the sobering reality of Iraq. For all I know he's always abstained from drink while writing. Nevertheless, a graf he wrote in the empty hours this morning is suggestive:
IN THE EARLY MORNING: I was hoping to write this morning about Iraq but I'm too tired now after talking half the night chez Hitch. I'll check in later today to explain why a) I'm more encouraged than I have been and b) why I'm now persuaded that that wedding party story was and is bullshit.

The man who was so bitterly disappointed by the collapse of his fantasies in Iraq is now more encouraged. And all it took was a night of talking. Talking. Talking with Hitchens all night long.

Any bets on whether he'll be able to post before noon? 
Thursday, May 20, 2004
  The Neo-Nazi in the Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, first published in France in 1934, was not printed or sold in the United States until almost thirty years later. In the early 1960's when Grove Press finally dared to break the ban and bring out an American edition, many cities took legal action against the publisher and local booksellers that tried to carry the book.

One of those cities was Philadelphia, where an Assistant District Attorney was given the job of keeping Tropic off of the shelves.

To prove that the book was obscene, the young prosecutor would need to convince the court that it lacked redeeming social or artistic value. He needed an expert, an authority on English literature who was willing to say in public, under oath, that Miller's work, one of the great literary sensations of the modern era, made no contribution to literature.

What self-respecting professor could the ADA find?

In tiny LaSalle College, he found just the man: A. J. App.

In her bestseller, Denying the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt devoted a full chapter to App:
Austin J. App, a professor of English at the University of Scranton and LaSalle College...played a central role in the development of Holocaust denial, especially in the United States.

App, of German descent, was a staunch defender of all things German. Including Hitler. Before he began advancing the now familiar crank arguments claiming that the Holocaust didn't happen, App had spent considerable time justifying Nazi crimes. For instance, as Lipstadt writes, App argued that the Nazi destruction of Lidice and the murder of its inhabitants was just.
...according to international law the killings were justified because the Germans had executed everybody who aided political murders and American law would have supported such action.

This was the State's expert.

App gave his own account of the obscenity trial in his 1977 autobiography. He leads in with an attack on Allied treatment of Germany after the war, which I include because it captures the flavor of his writing so very well:
Gangsters in a Harlem alley war could not have been nastier. Perhaps it is because Hitler accepted the surrender of the French government in 1940 with such punctilious chivalry that the victors and their columnists hate him so for having thus accentuated his better manners over their own jungle manners!
An attack of a different sort, which hardly bothered me nor harmed me, appeared in the Pennsylvania Magazine in April 1962. It showed itself frustrated by my testimony on January 23, 1962, for the Assistant District Attorney Arlen Specter against Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, a copy of which the District Attorney's Office had sent me. The Pennsylvania Magazine deplored Judge Carrol's ruling against the sale of this litany of four-letter words and action-- sixteen on one page! When on the first day, January 22, I attended the hearing, and saw the defence I looked around to assure myself that I had not by chance walked into Tel Aviv. The publisher Grove Press, the editor, Karl Shapiro (who introduced this manure pile as written by "The Greatest Living Author"), the defence personnel, all were Jewish. Only the author, Henry Miller, was not Jewish; he regrettably, was said to be ethnically German!
Of the two chief experts for the defence one was the director of the Free Library of Philadelphia. It seems this fool-- or degenerate-- had stocked the library system with thirty or more expensive editions of this sewer of a book and now squirmed and sweated trying to read some social value into it. Another was professor Carl Bode of the University of Maryland who raved about the literary and social value of
Tropic of Cancer, a book so dirty that for decades even the permissive U.S. prohibited its publication. The following day I testified, gratis of course, and I felt I hacked up the pro-pornographic rationalizations of those two academic pimps for pornography.

Senator Arlen Specter, this is your life!

To be fair, Specter, who is Jewish, probably had no idea of App's views. Lipstadt notes that the professor's own students had no idea of them, and, doubtless, App didn't give Specter a copy of his pamphlet, "The Six Million Swindle."

Specter, now trying to be returned for a sixth term, published an account of his long and controversial career, Passion for the Truth. The Tropic case isn't mentioned. Perhaps it slipped his mind.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004
  Today's allegation that American soldiers tortured and humiliated three Iraqi journalists is shocking, even after Abu Ghraib. A vigorous free press is one of America's most valuable traditions, and an export that Iraq needs.

Of course, there are many on the right who would insist that we don't have a vigorous free press, and that the coverage of the war proves this beyond all doubt. At best the press is useless, at worst an enemy. Who needs the press anyway, when you've got the blogosphere?

Scott MacMillan put it quite succinctly:
...somewhere in my heart of hearts I think it speaks badly of the world that anybody would considers these "primary sources." A blog, almost by definition, is a secondary source of information. That story about the nesting dolls on Old Town Square? That's about the closest this blog, or the vast majority of blogs for that matter, are ever going to get to original reporting or "primary source." A-list political bloggers like Josh Marshall and Mickey Kaus occasionally do a bit of reporting on their blogs and break some minor stories, but even then, it's not much.
I hate it when people blog about blogs, so I'm not going to touch that topic again. But needless to say, proper journalism to me means more than just stringing sentences together. It means doing tedious stuff like research and interviews and gathering more information than what your readers know already. (What? You mean I might have to pick up the phone to write this story?)

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a report this week that documented the increasing hazards of reporting from "the world's worst place to be a journalist":
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, twenty-seven journalists have been killed covering the war and its aftermath. Nearly all of those killed in 2003 were foreign correspondents, from the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, Germany, the United States, and elsewhere. In 2004, however, 12 of the 14 killed to date were Iraqis. Six Iraqi media workers have also been killed.

How many of the civilian war-bloggers have been killed posting about media bias? 
  Hunting Giant Squid
I don't have any comments to go along with the story by David Grann in The New Yorker, but if the phrase "hunting giant squid" won't by itself get you to click on the link, there's nothing I can do anyway. 
Monday, May 17, 2004
  More on Fallouja: Today, Fallouja is for all intents and purposes a rebel town, complete with banners proclaiming a great victory and insurgents integrated into the new Fallouja Brigade-- the protective force set up with U.S. assistance to keep the peace.

From a piece in today's LA Times. Did the Marines have a choice? To the extent that they did, it wasn't a good one:
With a potential bloodbath looming, Marine leaders adopted a mantra: "We don't want to turn Fallouja into Dresden"

A point made, with force and clarity, by Fred Kaplan when it seemed that we were going to take the city with a bloody assault. I think the Marine commander on the ground did what he had to do. But the residents of Fallouja, as well as the rest of Iraq, have at least some grounds to challenge our presence in their country if all we can produce are some casualties on both sides followed by a quick handover to the people we had been fighting in the name of freedom.

Friday, May 14, 2004
  Frisco? Co?
What fresh hell is this? It's not a beer...it's a fruit-flavored malt beverage! Plzensky Prazdroj, one of the leading Czech brewers is making a Zima-type "malt beverage." Called "Frisco."

I'm going to go drink beer now, and try to forget that I ever heard about this. 
  Atta/Praha keeps on truckin'
I'm pretty sure that Glenn Reynolds doesn't actually believe that there was a link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. He puts a story on it as the third item in a list of "things I'm not writing about."

Surely actual proof of Iraqi government sponsorship of 9/11 would justify, to all but the most ardent pacifist, our invasion of that country. So why isn't Reynolds writing about it?

Reynolds calls the story "further evidence for a Saddam / 9-11 link."
Except for the part about it not being evidence, and there not being any good evidence to actually further, that's accurate.

Instapundit's link is to a story in Front Page Magazine-- the Times is out of it, but Horowitz is the man-- by Laurie Mylroie that touts
Important new information has come from Edward Jay Epstein about Mohammed Atta’s contacts with Iraqi intelligence.

Yep. The calendar. The calendar that supposedly belonged to Iraqi intelligence agent Ahmed al-Ani and that supposedly lists an appointment with a "Hamburg student" who is, presumably, Muhammed Atta.

I've dealt with this before, only a few days ago. To sum up:
Nobody has come forward who claims to have seen the calendar. Not even anonymous sources.
Epstein hasn't seen it. It's not clear from his account that his source has seen it. There's no reason to believe that there is more than one source.
Nobody knows when, even in the most approximate terms, the calendar was lifted from the Iraqi embassy in Prague.

Does the calendar exist? Perhaps. It may even say what Epstein says it does. I have no particular reason to doubt Epstein's honesty or acumen. But there aren't any reasons, fact-based, checkable reasons, to buy what he's selling.

The calendar's existence is only a rumour. It's not too much to say that Epstein's story defines the difference between gossip and journalism. 
  This just in: Franco still dead.
Andrew Sullivan continues his running critique of the NY Times, calling them out for "burying the Nick Berg story."


Every detail of Berg's story has been diligently reported by the Times, even when the details haven't been new. Today's paper has a story announces the CIA believes that Al-Qaeda terrorist al-Zarqawi himself performed the execution. Since the web site that posted the video of the crime identified al-Zarqawi as the man who beheaded Berg, this is not exactly earth-shaking information, just a confirmation of something we pretty much knew a few days ago.

The editors of the Times "buried" this relatively small story, the only real new news on the case, by giving it four columns on page A-12, accompanied by two photographs. To further deflect attention away from the story, they cleverly placed a refer to it on the front page.

UPDATE: I just noticed that today, Sullivan himself linked to the above story. So, the NY Times can't be trusted to properly report events on a given subject, but, that's where Sullivan goes to for news on that same subject.
I know he's posted two hundred thousand words on his blog and all, but would it kill him to actually read some of them?
Thursday, May 13, 2004
  Elena Lappin
I'm not going to add anything to the condemnations of Lappin's detention and expulsion by Zucker, Lithwick, Steve, and many others. One, those writers have done better than I could have. But, also, there is nothing I can see to argue against.

I'm enough of a Devil's Advocate to entertain even the most far-fetched argument, but I just can't imagine any plausible justification for this policy that goes against every good thing this country says it stands for.

Does anyone have an argument for this idiocy? 
  The NY Times front-page, as edited by Andrew Sullivan
Andrew Sullivan, the fucking fool, has taken a number of swipes at the Grey Lady today.. It seems that they can't get anything right.

Sullivan, whose blogging duties are starting to tire him-- imagine if he fact checked those four books worth of posts?-- would do things differently. Let's try to imagine what the front page would be like.

Page A1 headlines:
Harsh CIA Methods In Top Qaeda Interrogations Morally Superior to Beheading the Innocent

Twelve Iraqi Soldiers Under Close American Supervision Are the Spearhead of a New Army in Decisive Victory
Is Final Triumph Near?

Family of Al-Qaeda Victim Deluded in Their Grief

General Took Guantanamo Rules, On a Different Moral Plane than Al-Qaeda's, To Iraq For Handling of Prisoners

Most of the front page would be devoted to a still of Nick Berg's severed head, with the caption, "Why we are in Iraq." 
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
  Was Fallujah a precedent?
Bloomberg reports:
The U.S. is trying to quell a Shiite Muslim cleric's uprising in southern Iraq by recruiting some of his militia to help create a security force, according to General Martin Dempsey, a top U.S. military commander in the region.
``If the militia dissolves tomorrow what I've got is 600 unemployed young men on my hands; some of those are probably decent, who have been led astray,'' said Dempsey at a press briefing televised from Baghdad.

Quick thoughts:
If it works, it works.
Weren't these guys the true face of Islamic fundamentalism, the jihadists who needed to be killed, according to a lot of right-wingers?
Disbanding Iraq's army seems dumber every day. Thanks Rummy! 
  The Baltimore Film Festival was this past weekend. I was going to post something about it, but Jesse Walker saved me the trouble, and made me sort of glad that I couldn't make it to the sole showing of "Archangel." 
  Radio Prague celebrates the 30th birthday of the other thing that the Russians did for the Czechs: Prague's Metro.
It didn't quite make up for the fucking invasion, but nice to have.
(via the Monitor
  Rat fishing
Matt Welch has a rat problem. Or he thinks he does. Perhaps in Southern California it qualifies, but in Baltimore his situation would not be worth bringing up, save perhaps for the amazing detail that his neighbor's cats were able to kill one. In Baltimore, cats rarely try, taking the not unreasonable view that it's a mistake to hunt something bigger and meaner than you are.

I recall how my late cat, a large beast with a nasty disposition and a highly developed sense of territoriality, reacted to a rat in the alley behind the house. It was broad daylight, and the rat was difficult to miss as it wandered through the alley with an arrogant air. I looked to my cat, outside sunning herself, to see what she'd do.

After a moment of what cat lovers insist is thought, she got up, licked one paw a few times in a studied show of casualness, and strolled back inside with a nothing-to-see-here attitude. Perhaps she thought it was a good time to look for mice.

Baltimore, the City That Should Kill All the Rats, as Joe MacLeod put it, used to have a rat fishing tournament. Details are hazy (isn't it astonishing how tough it can be to find out things about the recent past that preceded the internet revolution?) but it seems that a group of regulars in a now shuttered bar in East Baltimore decided to see if it would be possible to catch rats in the alley behind the bar with fishing equipment. (Though some claim that it was a tradition that went back to the 1930's.)

It evolved into an annual tournament that was as much a sly protest at the city's decay as it was a sporting event-- what the Czechs call a "happening." The idea was to use a baited hook to catch the rat, which would then be reeled in and dispatched with a baseball bat. Good times, 'no?

Ratkill.com has a post from a Baltimoron that gives some more details:
the last one that i know of was in '94. it got bigger than the bar owners could deal with. tv satellite trucks, cops directing traffic, peta protesters, it was a mess. they even had a tv crew from australia.

The bar, the Yellow Rose, is gone now. It's not improbable that the government of Baltimore, a city that guards its reputation far better than it actually protects its living standards, might have caused a few problems-- an occasional weekly inspection from the liquor board, say-- that contributed to the demise of the bar that gave us so much publicity.

The event lives on in local legend. A local filmaker produced a short called The Tournament on the subject, though I gather that the fishing was staged for the film.

So, anyway, don't tell me about rats in Cali. I live in Baltimore, where we know from rats. Jesse Walker, a fellow resident of the Maryland Free State, wrote in the comments to Welch's post:
What beast bites off rat-heads?
Why, a bigger rat, of course! Watch out

Yeah. That's Baltimore, hon'. 
Monday, May 10, 2004
  Justice for Emmett Till
The Justice Department said Monday it is reopening the investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a black teenager whose death while visiting Mississippi was an early catalyst for the civil rights movement.
Till was abducted from his uncle's home in Money, Miss., on Aug. 28, 1955. The mutilated body of the 14-year-old from Chicago was found by fishermen three days later in the Tallahatchie River.

Pictures of the slaying shocked the world. Two white men charged with murder — Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam — were acquitted by an all-white jury. Both men have since died.

There is, as the story goes on to note, something of a trend to re-investigating the crimes committed during and before the civil rights era. The assasination of Medgar Evers, the four girls killed in the bombing of an Alabama church, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman-- all have gotten new legal attention.

Some will ask if it is useful or appropriate to revisit these crimes after the passage of so many years. Someone always does. I would answer with Burke's famous definition of society as "a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born."

Avenging the victims of a nation's crimes, whether Stalin's in Russia or the Klan's in Mississippi, is an obligation second only to remembering them. 
  We told you so, you fucking fool. 
Sunday, May 09, 2004
  "EU Membership a Boon to Czech Flag Maker"
An interesting (audio) story from National Public Radio. 
  Prague Segwayed
Interesting post about taking the Segway through Prague by MAO, also known as Eurosavant.

MAO, who knows Prague pretty well, is a bit skeptical about the possibility of the Segway catching on in the Czech Republic; cobblestones, relative lack of money, and Czech xenophobia.

I hope he's right, since I can't stand the damn things, but nevertheless I congratulate him on his pioneering...roll through the Golden City.

PROSIM: In a fit of stupidity, I misidentified in the original post the author of the blogs Eurosavant and Segwayeurotour as Thomas Knauf. MAO, the anonymous keeper of those invaluable sites, wrote to inform me that Thomas Knauf is, uh, somebody else.
My apologies. 
  Atta/Praha. Again.
Nicmoc reports that Edward J. Epstein is still on the case of Mohammed Atta's mysterious visit to Prague before the September 11 attacks.

Why was it so important for Atta to go to the Czech Republic? A fascinating question, but the answer that Epstein seems to have settled on, with no real evidence, is Iraq. Specifically one Iraqi, Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Intelligence agent at the Iraqi Embassy.

The theory has been a favorite of, among others, William Safire-- funny how Instapundit and Sullivan never call for the NY Times to fire him over this. As I've written before, the story is, while not impossible, lacking any reliable support. The fact that the US had the al-Ani, the Iraqi agent, in custody for over a year and got nothing from him on Atta argues that his meeting with the terrorist never happened.

Is there anything new? World Net Daily, a website that's only slightly more reliable than the Weekly World News, reports:
New evidence about a meeting in Prague between September 11 plot leader Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani has been uncovered, reports Geostrategy-Direct, the global intelligence news service.
Investigative journalist Edward J. Epstein has uncovered Czech government visa records indicating al-Ani was posted to the Iraqi embassy in Prague between March 1999 and April 21, 2001, and was involved in handling Iraqi agents.

Geostrategy-Direct, the "global intelligence news service" is basically WND Premium, a subscriber-only news service for right-wingers. But, what is the new evidence of the meeting?
A search of the Iraq Embassy in Prague after the fall of Baghdad to coalition forces revealed al-Ani had scheduled a meeting for April 8, 2001, with a Hamburg student, according to an appointment calendar obtained by Czech intelligence.

The WND story goes on for more paragraphs but not into any more detail. Nicmoc provides the link to the man who "uncovered" the calendar, Epstein. The graf on his web-site reads:
Al-Ani scheduled a meeting on April 8,2001 with a "Hamburg student" according to an appointment calendar subsequently turned up by Czech intelligence in a surreptitious search of the Iraq Embassy (presumably after the defeat of Iraq in April 2003.)

It's not at all clear that Epstein has actually seen the calendar. It's not even clear that whoever told him about the calendar has seen it. Epstein can only guess when it was taken from the embassy, "presumably" sometime in the last year or so.

This is evidence?

The blogosphere has been slow to pick this up, though there has been at least some notice. Perhaps they remember the last time they ran with a dubious story about Atta. Or maybe just because the story came out on a Friday. 
Friday, May 07, 2004
  "You sunk my battleship!"
Well, to be more accurate, Idle Type, Baltimore's link maven, sunk my already low chances of ever getting any real work done on the computer by linking to a bitchin' Flash version of Battleship
  His name will last for all eternity
The coming dedication of the National World War II Memorial prompts the Washington Post to reflect on the vagaries of fate that determine which presidents get their names carved into which pieces of marble. By tradition, it's the privelege of the current occupant of the White House to affix his name to public buildings and monuments dedicated during his term. Bush's name goes on the WWII memorial, though it was Clinton who signed the bill to build it, though Clinton's name is etched on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial dedicated in his term.

The story does not mention what is perhaps the most striking result of this tradition. On July 21, 1969, Appollo 11 landed on the moon. They left a plaque bearing the signatures of the three astronauts and that of the President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon.

Untarnished by the elements, there it will stay, forever, even if all trace of humanity were to vanish from this earth. 
I've avoided discussing the surprise handover of security in Fallujah to a force recruited from Hussein's army and led by his former officers. I simply don't know what's going on, and it's difficult for me to imagine that anybody else in Blogistan does either.
The most illuminating thing I've seen on the subject is this long story by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in today's Washington Post. It's an account of how Marine Corps General James Conway negotiated the creation of this force and how it's playing out the first week.

The good news:
The crackle of gunfire, omnipresent here just a week ago, has been replaced with the din of car horns. Shops that had been shuttered during a month-long siege by U.S. Marines, giving this city on the Euphrates River the feel of a ghost town, have begun to reopen. Attacks on the few remaining American troops in the surrounding desert have nearly ceased.

The bad news:
Fallujah is now caught in a time warp. Iraqi soldiers wearing their crisp, olive-green army uniforms -- a sight unseen since former president Saddam Hussein's government was toppled more than a year ago -- now man checkpoints on roads leading into the city. Stout generals, their lapels adorned with stars and crossed swords, stroll around the mayor's office with the same imperious air they projected when Hussein was president.

The decidedly mixed news:
"Many of the guys who were shooting at the Marines have simply put on their old army uniforms and joined the Fallujah Brigade," said a U.S. official familiar with the new force.

Hey, at least they're not shooting at us.

I'm slightly optimistic about this. You can't have a democratic government without some measure of stability, and liberating the Iraqi people was, after all, one of our stated goals.

"Their offer had significant elements on the table that otherwise wouldn't have been an option for us, most significantly to put an Iraqi face on the solution to this problem," [Col. John Coleman, Conway's chief of staff] said. "This option brought back into the fold an opportunity for Iraqis to deal with an Iraqi problem."


The White House evidently ordered Conway to take this step, or at least something like it. Chandrasekaran writes:
...with the possibility of a deal with the generals and growing concern about the broader impact of an attack, senior officials at the White House and the Pentagon told Marine commanders to exhaust all their options before mounting another offensive, according to U.S. officials familiar with the issue.

But, as he notes earlier:
Although Marine commanders insisted that Conway's superiors were fully briefed about the arrangement and signed off on it, the unorthodox nature of the deal has led senior officials at the Pentagon, the U.S. military command in Iraq and the civilian occupation administration to react with skepticism. "It's Conway's thing," said one U.S. civilian official involved in the issue. "Either it works out, and he emerges as they guy who solved the Fallujah problem, or it turns into a big failure."

Of course the Marines were there in the first place after:
after four U.S. security contractors were killed and mutilated on March 31, the Marines were ordered to shift their strategy to an all-out attack on suspected insurgent positions.

Ordered by whom? The story doesn't say. It does quote an anonymous Marine's description of the events leading to the handover: "Ad hoc would be kind."

We'll see what happens. Probably soon:
As of Thursday, leaders of the brigade said they had assembled more than 1,000 soldiers and would continue expanding the force. The troops have not yet begun patrols inside the city, but have been deployed along the outskirts, supposedly to prevent insurgents from entering or leaving.
But at Hamid's checkpoint, enforcement was a lax affair. His soldiers failed to stop a single vehicle during an hour-long visit.

"We're from this city," he said. "We know who is suspicious and who isn't."

Marine commanders said they intended to test the new brigade's success in combating the insurgency in a week or two, when they plan to send a convoy through the center of the city. "We're going to see whether anything has changed," one officer said. "If not, we'll just have to go back to where we were."  
Thursday, May 06, 2004
  A great moment in Czech science
Doug Arellanes spreads, and translates, the news that
Instead of a homemade remedy for headaches, nausea and dizziness, a new capsule taken either before or during an alchohol session can allegedly help. The new formula was unveiled today by the PharmaTrade company
The formula, with the name Anti Ethanol 07, was allegedly invented by Czech scientists. It is made of exclusively natural ingredients from wine vines, smutně hořké, date palm, and chicory. According to the company, it also helps protect the liver from the negative effects of alcohol..

Czech scientists rock. Just last year, Dr. Martin Bobak proved, at least to my satisfaction, that beer does not lead to what has been ignorantly termed "the beer-belly."

There's gonna be a lot of Czech heard in Sweden brothers. 
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
  I don't care how good the Salzburger nockerl is, I'm never eating there
When Wallsé, an Austrian restaurant on West 11th Street, opened in 2000, it presented itself as a brave outpost on a residential frontier far from pedestrians' reach. It seemed an appropriate station for Kurt Gutenbrunner, Wallsé's chef and owner, who is outspoken and gruff, a rebel in a city full of media-groomed chefs.
Rather than gliding through his dining room with a hand out to welcome customers, Mr. Gutenbrunner tends to march through, jerking his head as he inspects the scene, and abruptly approaching tables with a stern, "Hello," followed by silence. If you have not eaten enough, he will tell you. If you argue with him, he is likely to puff up like an angry cat.
Michael Totten, a thoughtful liberal advocate of the war, asked his readers:
Here’s what I want to know. Has anyone bothered to make a public statement defending torture in Iraq? If so, I haven't seen it. The conservatives I pay attention to unanimously condemned it, and I know already that liberals don’t think it’s okay.

Totten probably meant the question rhetorically, but one of the commentators on his blog was able to answer with "Rush."
Limbaugh said, as quoted on Totten's blog:
You know, if you really look at these pictures, I mean I don't know if it's just me but it looks like anything you'd see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe you can get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean this is something you can see at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City: the Movie. I mean, it's just me.

Totten's comment on Limbaugh ("asshole") sums it up for me.

But, then I came across Little Green Footballs this morning, which quotes and links to this:
New Iraq Shocker: Prisoners Forced to Wear Beanies, Swallow Goldfish
US CentCom braced for an international human rights backlash today, as it released another raft of photos detailing widespread inmate abuse and humiliation at the hands of US guards at the notorious Al Ghraib prison.
In the newly released photos, masked Iraqi prisoners are shown forming human pyramids, stuffing Volkswagens, eating live goldfish and pounding 'beer bongs,' all under the supervision of laughing US guards.

Comparing torture, rape, and murder to a fraternity initiation. Charming.

I'm tempted to just join Totten and say, "assholes." It's certainly appropriate.
But, Mr. Totten, Little Green Footballs is on your blogroll.

In a point that is, I think related, Andrew Sullivan, (who, to be fair, has condemned the tortures in Iraq) makes another in a series of attacks on Ted Rall, the loathsome syndicated cartoonist. While I in no way disagree with the Sullivan's case against Rall, he's doing more than just attacking one vile and relatively obscure figure. No, he wants to use him to attack everyone:
The interesting thing about Ted Rall is that he reminds us of something we have forgotten - that a measurable swathe of the anti-Iraq war crowd were also against the war to topple the Taliban and uproot al Qaeda's base of operations. In fact, opposition to the war in Afghanistan was intense in far left circles in early 2002.
Rall is a member of the Black Helicopter crowd on the far left. He does not represent most liberals, let alone most Democrats. But that offers them an opportunity to condemn him. Why has, say, Salon not weighed in? Why has Slate not barred his work permanently from their site? If National Review could can Coulter, the mainstream left can certainly can Rall. My bet is: they won't. Nothing should be allowed to detract from the war against Bush. Not even elemental decency and taste.

Sullivan himself concedes that "Rall is someone who craves and shouldn't get more attention" yet he has devoted several posts to doing just that. But this member of the lunatic fringe somehow taints anyone who opposses this war. Note the progression:
a measurable swathe of the anti-Iraq war crowd were also against the war [in Afghanistan]
opposition to the war in Afghanistan was intense in far left circles
Rall is a member of the Black Helicopter crowd on the far left

And, tied up in a bow, mainstream liberals won't go after Rall because...uh, I'm not sure, but it has something to do with us being fanatics in our war on Bush. We also lack decency.

Sullivan shot a dead horse in a barrel, praised his own marksmanship, and then condemned the rest of us for not going hunting with him.

UPDATE SullyWatch, mayor of the village of bloggers who try to keep AS honest-- and it takes a village-- gives the long history of Coulter's "exile" from Jonah's domain. SW adds
This is but one of many examples Sullivan and others of the ilk doubtless cite to prove the right’s rectitude in ideological self-policing that turn out, among further inspection, to have as much substance as reports of massive Iraqi WMD stockpiles. Since Sullivan is using it here to bash lefties whom has just implied are, in opposition to Rall, sensible, it’s only fair that he answer to the full record of these instances and still attempt to use it as a valid counterexample.
  Czechia-- that slut!-- leads on Scotland
As the Czech Republic opens itself to the outside world, so Scotland can take advantage.
The Scotsman 
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
  Where never is heard, a discouraging word...
It's been a rough couple of weeks for the hawks. Unless you're Roger Simon. He writes:
It seems the only place in the world that isn't in a lather about the US troops' mistreatment of prisoners, keeping this disaster somewhat in perspective, is... IRAQ

Why is Roger so happy? Because one blogger, one solitary human being in Baghdad, isn't pissed off. Simon continues:
--at least that's what Omar of IRAQ THE MODEL says.... and he knows more about what's going on there than most of us, I would assume.

Omar writes:
Why the Iraqi people are not really upset with this issue?
Is it because of the firm and rapid response from the American officials to these terrible actions?

In that case, there could be a problem:
Two Iraqi prisoners were murdered by Americans and 23 other deaths are being investigated in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States revealed on Tuesday as the Bush administration tried to contain growing outrage over the abuse of Iraqi detainees.
An official said a soldier was convicted in the U.S. military justice system of killing a prisoner by hitting him with a rock, and was reduced in rank to private and thrown out of the service but did not serve any jail time.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a private contractor who worked for the CIA was found to have committed the other homicide against a prisoner.

We need to brace ourselves for the possibility that this scandal could get a lot worse.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds also linked to Iraq the Model's Omar. If this keeps up, the phrase "grasping at straws" will one day be replaced by "grasping at Iraqi bloggers." Reynolds writes:
Instead of viewing this purely as a disaster (though, of course, it's that) we should view this as a teachable moment.

A teachable moment? Gawd. 
  And speaking of Sullivan...
Sullivan links to David Ignatius, which isn't surprising, since his column today is so much optimistic analysis-free puffery.
Today Nasiriyah illustrates a new mood of pragmatism emerging in southern Iraq as Shiite political, religious and tribal leaders prepare for a transfer of sovereignty less than two months away. Iraqis here seem to understand that unless they quickly take more responsibility for security, the country could descend into chaos after June 30.

"Descend into chaos"? Descend from what?

A stable transition remains a long shot. But five days of touring southern Iraq leaves me convinced it's not impossible-

Five whole days? A "long shot"? But at least it's somehat reassuring, yes? No:

--at least in this part of the country, where the British-led occupiers have tried to stress dialogue rather than confrontation.

So the bulk of the country could be even worse? Small wonder Sullivan linked to it; if it contained a few mean-spirited snipes at his opponents, and if it had been filed from Washington after reading a few Iraqi bloggers, Sullivan could have written it himself.

From the same op-ed page, Sullivan cites the George Will column that I discussed in my previous post. He writes:
The danger is that Arab-Islamic cultural pathologies will overwhelm all of this. That was always the risk and it's why, as George Will points out today, what we are witnessing is something truly historic and a test between the hopes of neoconservatism and the sobriety of conservatism. But my bet is that the truth is somewhere in between, and that, with time and commitment, real improvement can and will come to Iraq. Unlike others, I'm not giving up yet. Far from it. It's at times like this that we have to grit our teeth and see this through.

Let's try to translate this:
"If we fail, it's because those damn, crazy Arabs didn't listen to us, not because we fucked up the occupation and not because even the best run occupation will produce bitter hatred in the population. It's the Arabs. Those crazy Arabs.
"But I still believe we will win. I have always believed we will win. Even though I find it difficult now to say why, exactly. But only those who lack a spine are backing down now." 
  Where are the wise men?
You might not think it from this blog, but I'm actually a registered Republican. A lapsed, non-practicing one, to be sure, but a Republican nevertheless. Moderate conservate voices, or those who inclined to question this president's policies, have been all but drowned out by uncritical Bush partisans, at least on Iraq. This isn't entirely new, of course. It became most distressing during the disputed 2000 election, when it seemed every commentator was following a strict party line, but it's become even worse now.

Which is why I'm finding George Will's columns quite refreshing these days. I don't want to pull one of those too common blogger tricks of saying "even X agrees with me, therefore I'm right," or, even worse, "x, with whom I usually disagree, has finally seen the light." It's not a good column, still less a great argument, just because one agrees with it.

But it's nice to have a mainstream conservative grasp some obvious facts and express them without equivocation:
Appearing Friday in the Rose Garden with Canada's prime minister, President Bush was answering a reporter's question about Canada's role in Iraq when suddenly he swerved into this extraneous thought:
"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern."

What does such careless talk say about the mind of this administration? Note that the clearly implied antecedent of the pronoun "ours" is "Americans." So the president seemed to be saying that white is, and brown is not, the color of Americans' skin. He does not mean that. But that is the sort of swamp one wanders into when trying to deflect doubts about policy by caricaturing and discrediting the doubters.

That last line is sweet; it almost makes me forgive him for Men at Work, which has not done well in the test of time, or, rather, the test of Moneyball.

What's crucial-- even more for the supporters of the war than its opponents-- is to try to face matters of urgent reality in Iraq that we have ignored for far too long. My chief problem with those who have been so optimistic about our prospects in Iraq-- Roger Simon, Glenn Reynolds, and, most especially, Andrew Sullivan-- is that they haven't been nearly willing enough to question their assumptions about American policy or how that policy would play in the Arab world. Sullivan, especially, distanced himself from bad news until it was no longer possible, at which point he poured his considerable energy into distancing himself from his previous statements.

While I don't entirely agree with the direction of Will's column today, even Bush's staunchest backers should realize that:
This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides...

One of the most frightening aspects of Bush's White House is their tendency to listen only to themselves. There are sane members of Congress who supported this war and are members of Bush's own party who have ben ignored by this administration.

John McCain is the obvious example; he's often called a maverick, which is not a term of endearment in the GOP, but many of his concerns about our policies have been shown to have merit.

Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, has a taste for publicity and will probably run for president some day, but then every senator craves publicity, and all of them think themselves fit for the White House. I've aways had some regard for Hagel, ambitious camera-dog that he is, especially after he was virtually the only Republican to argue during the Elian Gonzalez frenzy that the party of "family values" shouldn't try to keep a child from his father, even if the father was a Cuban commie.

Hagel has been blunt about the White House's refusal to discuss the costs of the war. USA Today, in a recent editorial on the subject quoted him:
...the fighting in Iraq has worsened, the Pentagon is keeping more troops in the field than it had planned, and the price tag keeps rising. That has prompted Republicans to join in complaints that the Bush administration has not come clean about the costs. "Every ground squirrel in this country knows that it's going to be $50 (billion) to $75 billion in additional money this year," said Sen. Chuck Hagel...

Especially striking, even shocking, is the Bush team's studied indifference to Richard Luger of Indiana. Dick Luger, in addition to having the best porn star name of any American politician, is as solidly Republican as they come. He's also the Chairman of the Senate Foeign Relations Committee. Yet, as the IHT noted this week:
....Lugar...has limited influence on U.S. foreign policy. He has not spoken at any length to the president in nearly eight months, he said.

At three days of hearings on Iraq policy, April 20-22, the first since September, Lugar repeatedly asked tough questions about the plans for an interim Iraqi government, the status of American forces in Iraq after the transition, the role of the United Nations, the plans for elections, the composition of the future U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the security of Americans in Iraq and the cost of the U.S. presence there.
But the only witnesses the administration would provide were second-tier officials. Two who might have made news - Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, and Joshua Bolten, the president's budget director - specifically declined to appear. Lugar did not even try to summon Secretary of State Colin Powell or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The story goes on to quote Hagel:
"Even more important," Hagel added, "you have an administration that does not reach out to or see much value in consulting with Congress. They treat Congress as an appendage, a constitutional nuisance."
In an interview, Lugar said he had reluctantly come to accept the reality that he and his committee had but a secondary role.
When he was chairman of the committee in the last two years of the Reagan administration, he said, he was included in White House meetings on foreign affairs and had regular breakfasts with Secretary of State George Shultz.
"This president and this secretary don't do that," Lugar said. "I just accept the fact that there are different styles in different administrations."
The administration has the right to decide who "they want around the table," Lugar said, adding, "I do not purport to have played a significant role."

It quotes Hagel again:
"What troubles and surprises me about the administration is that when you have someone like Lugar, as respected and knowledgeable a senator as there is, to not use him. He's smart, he's articulate and it deprives the administration of a tremendous reservoir of knowledge and experience."

When will this president learn to act like a president? Will he ever?

Josh Marshall writes:
Either the president knows the situation is that bad or he (and perhaps his advisors too) is just too out of touch to have any idea what's happening. Increasingly, I think that the president is just too small-minded and vainglorious a man to come to grips with the situation.
A strong president, a good president, would put his country before his pride and throw himself into saving the situation even if it meant admitting previous mistakes and ditching past policies and advisors. But I don't think this president has the character to do that.
Making a clean sweep, firing some of his most compromised advisors, admitting some past mistakes -- not for effect, but so that those mistakes could be more thoroughly and rapidly overcome -- might well doom the president politically. But I doubt there's any question they'd be in the best interests of the country.
Monday, May 03, 2004
The Czech-Moravian Football Union said on Monday it would hold an extraordinary meeting after police arrested a referee for allegedly taking a bribe to influence a match between Sparta Prague and Synot.
Synot, who deny the allegations, beat Sparta 2-0 on March 27 in a game that damaged the Prague side's chances of catching league leaders Ostrava.
Police spokeswoman Blanka Kosinova said the referee and a Synot official had been arrested after they met at a rural petrol station.

Doug Arellanes has more, including a translation the MFD piece
I...know that it's easy to sit here in D.C. and pontificate while, on the ground, political compromises and military messes are inevitable. But last week seems to me to have reached a point where even hopeful, pro-war, Bush supporters like me have to acknowledge the epic mishandling of the post-war occupation. The U.S. is beginning to look both cruel and (a much bigger problem) weak.

Wow. Sullivan has decided to "acknowledge" the problem. It's a first step, but I really want to see him do the others, especially #'s 4, 5, 8, 9, and 10. Especially #10:
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

But Sullivan doesn't admit that he got anything wrong. At no point does he regret his failure to acknowledge the mounting disaster of our occupation. Still less does he rue his failure to anticipate the inevitable problems we'd face before we went to war. No, he stayed in character. Sullivan may have abandoned his optimism in the wreckage of the war, but his self-regard has survived, unscathed.

Sullivan's turnabout is not good news. It's actually quite terrifying. Sullivan has been so optimistic for so long that for him to change course means that the we really are as deep in the shit as I'd thought. I'd always wanted to be wrong about Iraq.

Sullivan wrote last March:
It is important to remember, I think, that the war isn't just between the West and Saddam. There's also a political and ideological war within the West. The anti-war crowd have lost the argument about going to war; so they are determined to win the case during and after it. They want this war to be regarded as a disaster. And it's up to the rest of us to fight back, expose them, and keep people focused on reality, not pro-Saddam and anti-Western spin. I need your help in this, so keep those press clips coming. Blogs are another weapon. We should use them.

This reveals much; his opponents were, Sullivan implied, "pro-Saddam and anti-Western" carpers who wanted a disaster in Iraq. No, we feared a disaster in Iraq. But that was, more than a year ago.
Today, Sullivan admits:
The only word for this is incompetence and chaos.

That's two words, but never mind. 
Saturday, May 01, 2004
  Various reports from the EU front
Those interested in the celebration-- if that's the word-- of the Czech Republic's admission to the European Union should check out MacMillan and Arellanes. Two fine bloggers exceeding their own high standards.

Doug Arellanes:
A Spanish TV crew walked around the Old Town Square, trying to ask if any of the crowd were Czech. "Vy jste Český?" the reporter asked. Nobody he asked was Czech. So he settled on a group of three young and beautiful British girls and asked them their thoughts on EU enlargement.

MacMillan, writing "from occupied Europe," decided, for reasons that actually make some sort of twisted sense in the context of the longer story, to
...have a hotel lobby adventure. Hotel lobbies are great, because they're always nice classy quietly active places and you can't generally get thrown out unless you seriously do something wrong. I've also had the pleasure of taking a sneak peak into the Four Seasons employees' manual and learned some interesting things. You're explicitly not allowed to touch the guests, unless administering mouth-to-mouth resucitation, for instance. So I figured it would be neat to slip and fall right in front of one of the lobby attendants and reach for his hand and and him to help me up and then have him fired as soon as he touches me.

I've never been one to say bloggers are superior to journalists. I mean, come on. The blogosphere may, on its good days, be superior to the letters to the editor. But, there's a lot of bad journalism out there. One type of story I hate, even worse and even more common than the trend piece, is the what-do-some-representative-members-of-X town-think-about-whatever story. You, know, the pieces where a reporter does a long feature where there's a quote from the cab-driver who took him from the airport, another graf quoting the waitress at the coffee shop where he cooled his heels until he met the union official who some stringer had put him on to, which was before he had dinner with the mayor. Outside the restaraunt, he interviews a homeless guy sleeping on a grate.

In the finished story, everybody in the town that the ink-stained wretch met gets a graf that sums up their demographic credentials, and quotes them. The article runs, usually on the first National page inside, with a hed like "Passaic faces new challenges," or, "Newton Center ponders an uncertain future."

The reason that I bring this up here is Sarah Lyall's piece in today's Times, "Newest 'Europeans' Struggle to Define That Label." Bylined from Prague, Lyall interviews several Czechs and a couple of other Europeans. Good journalism tells you something you didn't know about a place you thought you knew. Lyall, who is, I believe, based in London, managed to discover that Prague is in Europe. And that different people have different opinions about that.


The Times did a much better job earlier this week with Mark Landler's story on a small bridge linking tiny Nova Ves V Horach with Germany that was damaged in the floods. It includes this excellent distillation of the Czech spirit:
[[Town mayor Jana] Dvorakova says she never would have repaired the bridge without asking for permission. But once the Germans acted, she did her part by persuading the border police not to report it.

So, anyway, check out Doug and Scotty. Yeah, that's the point I wanted to make.

Oh, and, any copy-editor who lets a line about "Europe expanding East" slip should have to write "Prague is west of Vienna" over-and-over and for all eternity in Hell.  
  Jesus, I wish that he was in the White House
A great deal of discussion here in the States about last night's Nightline, where host Ted Koppel read the names of American soldiers killed in Iraq. Baltimore's own crazed right-wing, yet usually dull, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns several ABC affiliates, refused to air the show.

I was going to blog something about this, but I didn't get around to it. I'm rather glad, actually, because Senator John McCain said everything I wanted to, and with greater force and exactness than I would have been able to summon, in a letter he sent to the Sinclair Broadcast Group:
I supported the President's decision to go to war in Iraq, and remain a strong supporter of that decision. But every American has a responsibility to understand fully the terrible costs of war and the extraordinary sacrifices it requires of those brave men and women who volunteer to defend the rest of us; lest we ever forget or grow insensitive to how grave a decision it is for our government to order Americans into combat. It is a solemn responsibility of elected officials to accept responsibility for our decision and its consequences, and, with those who disseminate the news, to ensure that Americans are fully informed of those consequences.

I can't add anything to that, but I will note that the President and CEO of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, David Smith, pays for sex from Calvert Street crack whores
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