Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Audacity of Pope

The pope seems to be cutting a pretty reactionary path. We were told this pope would be conservative, but his choices, especially recently, are fairly breath-taking. He recently de-excommunicated a bishop who denied the Holocaust (said bishop has issued one a non-apology apology but has not retracted his odious views).
Coming on the heals of this decision, the pope has elevated a ultra-conservative priest to bishop-hood. Gehard Maria Wagner has accused the Harry Potter books of spreading satanism, and believes Hurricane Katrina was gods vengeance on New Orleans for tolerating sexual licentiousness, homosexuality and abortion.


Is it just me, or is Roland Burris a little nutty and self-obsessed? There's the mausoleum he had built for himself, which lists his accomplishments. As Jon Stewart observed "lots of people do that: Napoleon, Ghengis Khan, a couple of the Caesars..."
Odder still, Burris's two children are named Roland Burris II and Rolanda Burris. That's right, he named both his children in honor of himself. Now, being egotistical to the point of disorder cannot bar one from entering the senate, but it sure is weird.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bill Kristol and the Times Break-up

According to the last sentence in Bill Kristol's op-ed today, this will be his last. Like every bad relationship, we should have seen the end of this one coming miles off. Friends of the Grey Lady warned her that this guy, but she only responded that they don't know him like she does. The relationship was clearly under strain. Did the Times simply get board of his banalities, bad editing and general lack of respect, or did Kristol decide no self-respecting conservative could work for such a newspaper?
Kristol's already rebounded with the Washington Post , hopefully the Times can find a conservative that treats her a little better.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oscar Buzz

Apparently, the nominations for the Oscars are out. I don't really trust the Oscars as much of a finder of artistic merit. Every year Hollywood gets dressed up and pretends a business is an art, and gives crucial movies. I've seen all of the Oscar Best Picture nods ("Slumdog Millionaire", "Benjamin Button", "Milk" and "The Reader") except "Frost/Nixon" (I'll see it, even though it's not supposed to be amazing). They're good films, nothing blew me away like There Will Be Blood did last year. Slumdog's probably the best of the lot, and has an OK chance of taking the award.
James Surowiecki has an interesting point at the New Yorker:
The funny thing, though, is that Hazlett’s broader point, about the Oscar voters foolishly ignoring popular films this year, is right—though not for the reasons she thinks. There’s no doubt, after all, that the most popular film of the year, “Wall-E,” was also among the best, yet it went unnominated for Best Picture. And one could similarly make a case for Christopher Nolan’s excellent if flawed “Dark Knight,” which was a huge box-office smash. The problem with the Oscar voters isn’t that they love small, independent films like “Frozen River” too much. The problem is that they think tasteful, middlebrow dramas like “The Reader” are necessarily more artistic or serious than a movie like “Wall-E.” This year, at least, the Oscar voters should have more paid more attention to what ordinary people liked, not because it would have made for great television, but because it would have made for better nominations.

I'm not altogether sure I agree. "Wall-E" was not snubbed this year, and is a shoe-in to win best animated feature (Animated Feature is the official Pixar category... just you try to convince me that "Ratatouille" had more artistic merit than "Persepolis"). If the academy relies to heavily on middle-brow, it is because it is try to find the mid-point between the popular and the artistic. A movie based on a comic-book can never be nominated for Best Picture, but a movie too dark for the audiences tender sensibilities could never win.
My thinking: Sean Penn will win for "Milk", Kate Winslet will win for playing a concentration camp guard in "the Reader", and Heath Ledger will be awarded posthumously.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Daffy Qaddafi

Yesterday, I was somewhat surprised to open up the New York Times and find an op-ed by none other than Muammar Qaddafi.I represented Libya in 11th grade Model UN; the country and it Rufus T. Firefly type leader hold a special place in my heart.
For me, the most surprising thing about the article is that it lacks the bizarreness characteristic of Qaddafi. This is a man who at different times has claimed alternately (and contradictorily) that AIDS a CIA created bio-weapon to exterminate Africans and that it is a "divine disease" sent to by Allah to protect Africa from the white man. In the op-ed, there's no material nothing stranger than Qaddafi calling his plan for a united Israel-Palestine state Isratine. Somewhat of a disappointment.
The New York Times is right to at least try to stir up debate on the subject of a solution to the Israel Palestine conflict, advocating a one state solution challenges a widely held orthodoxy on the subject. By why choose Muammar Qaddafi to say this? The Libyan strong man is far from the only person who holds this opinion. Why not have Tony Judt summarize his argument from the New York Review of Books?
It's easy to see why Gaddafi is an improper messenger. As one New York Times letter-writer sneered "the brutal dictator responsible for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people, most of them Americans — would give advice on a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". Actually, evidence of Qaddafi's involvement in that attack is incredibly sparse. Still, the point makes sense. Gaddafi is a dictator and has supported terrorism, including the Black September movement that perpetrated the massacre of Israeli athletes at the '72 Olympics. He has expelled 30,000 Palestinians from his country. Can he really be said to have either the interests of Israelis or Palestinians at heart?
As far as I can tell, this op-ed is part of the transition of Qaddafi from a anti-US dictator, which we find intolerable, to a pro-US dictator, which is ok. A pro-US dictator is accorded do respect in the media accords to any other world leader by our media. Remember Musharraff on the Daily Show? Qaddafi still oppresses his own people, but since him giving up tiny WMD program gave Bush a chance at what looked like an international success, the US is ready to regard him as "our son of a bitch". The media, it appears, is all too ready to play along.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


This entire election season has been felt rather odd. I'm so used to bad news, I don't quite know what to do with good news, and it feels especially odd the way momentous events on the national stage contrast with the mundaneness and routine of everyday life.
The inauguration was a truly heartening sight, with thousands (at least two of whom I personally know) gathering to see the august soon to be president take his oath.
The speech I especially liked. Obama speeches are characteristically strong, but on the trail his speeches generally offered uplift, and he was accused not altogether unfairly of lacking substance. Clearly, he knew what to say to get elected, and now, he's laying down the line on what change really will mean. The speech was a rebuke of many Bush policies, stating, for example, that we reject as false the choice between our ideals and out liberty.
Another high point: it has been a cliche of American policy to rattle of the religions in America, and hail this diversity. Obama did the same in this speech, but made a surprising addition: unbelievers.
The ceremony had it's high and low points. The poem was atrocious. It looked like Obama flubbed the the oath, and many Americans thought "Oh no. I thought he was perfect". Fortunately, we have been reassured: it was Roberts who dropped the ball, not Obama. And really, what do you expect from a Bush appointee? the Chief Justice has all of four years to practice to get it right next time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fighting in Gaza

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is once again very much in the news. Juan Cole has a brief history of the entire conflict which is worthwhile as a refresher. One paragraph about Gaza:
The current Israeli military effort to substantially weaken Hamas in Gaza follows on the contradictions in Kadima Party policy. In 2005 Kadima, led by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew from the Gaza Strip, which Israel had occupied in 1967. But since Kadima refused to negotiate with Hamas, Israel was unable to shape the political structures of its former colony, leaving the outcome to chance. It was not a stable place. By 2005 Gaza had a population of 1.5 million. Although it was a relatively nice little Mediterranean region before the rise of modern nation states, its traditional markets were Egypt and Jordan, and after 1967 its only outlet was Israel, which already produced much the same things as Gaza did. So Gaza had become trapped economically.

I am unclear on the legality of Israel's recent bombing campaign but I am fairly certain that the blockade on Gaza is both illegal and foolish. Many western commentators described the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza as a "coup". This is hardly accurate: Hamas became the legitimate government of Palestine by elections pushed by the Bush administration as part of the much-vaunted "freedom agenda". Yet, when Hamas won, we didn't accept the outcome on the grounds that Hamas is a terrorist group. With tacit US and Israeli backing, Fatah refused to give ground to Hamas, and the result has been the division of Palestine into two states, making matters much worse.
In some ways, the events in Gaza are a side-show to the West Bank, where Israel continues to build settlements. Dov Weisglas, a close confidant of Ariel Sharon admitted that the 2005 pullout from Gaza was merely a ruse to expand Israeli hegemony on the West Bank (Israel also rung out concessions from the Bush administration, including a greater willingness to acknowledge the "facts on the ground"). Now a peace between the the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas does not buy peace, because Hamas is kept away from the table. Instead of attempting to negotiate, the Israeli government (with support from the United States) has decided it will simply destroy Hamas. Israel, if it wants to end the current fighting, is going to have to lift the cruel embargo of Gaza. It will find that this cannot be easily accomplished. A summary by the International Crisis Group wisely concludes:
Sustainable calm can be achieved neither by ignoring Hamas and its constituents nor by harbouring the illusion that, pummelled into submission, it will accept what it heretofore has rejected. Palestinian reconciliation is a priority, more urgent but also harder than ever before; so, too, is the Islamists’ acceptance of basic international obligations. In the meantime, Hamas – if Israel does not take the perilous step of toppling it – will have to play a political and security role in Gaza and at the crossings. This might mean a “victory” for Hamas, but that is the inevitable cost for a wrongheaded embargo, and by helping end rocket fire and producing a more stable border regime, it would just as importantly be a victory for Israel – and, crucially, both peoples – as well.