Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Wall Street Journal on the Art Czar

Alice Goldfarb Marquis sent us news of this positive new review of her new biography of Clement Greenberg, by New Criterion editor James Panero, in the Wall Street Journal:
The power of critics such as Clement Greenberg in art or Edmund Wilson in literature -- both did much to shape elite and popular taste in the mid-20th century -- is hard to imagine today. Contemporary art is self-parodic and insulated against Greenberg's style of criticism, and art-world success is now determined almost exclusively in the marketplace, not on the printed page.

And yet in the precincts where art -- and thinking about art -- still matters, Greenberg is "indispensable," as Ms. Marquis notes. In an age when much art criticism is "conducted in a self-referential mumble," she says, "his rhetoric remains a benchmark for persuasive prose in the field of aesthetics." Her biography is a benchmark as well, for discussions of the life and legacy of Clement Greenberg.

Flight 93: Hollywood Got It Right

A member of the 9/11 Commission, John Farmer, writing in today's Washington Post, says the Bush administration lied about what happened on 9/11--and Universal Pictures is telling it like it happened in Flight 93:
How accurate is "United 93," Universal Pictures' new movie depicting the drama and heroism aboard the fourth plane hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001? The answer tells us a lot about Hollywood and government in the age of terrorism: The film is closer to the truth than every account the government put out before the 9/11 commission's investigation. Its release marks our passage through the post-9/11 looking glass, with our wildest fairy tales now spun not in Hollywood, but in Washington.

The facts of 9/11 are as simple as they are grim. The military officers in charge of the air defense mission did not receive notice of any of the four hijackings in time to respond before the planes crashed. The passengers and crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93 really were alone. They were all that stood between the hijackers and the Capitol (or possibly the White House). That is the core reality of that morning, and "United 93" gets it right.

A Short History of Language Controversies in the USA

James Crawford's Language Loyalties gives some useful historical background to the debate over Nuestro Himno:
Bilingual education is not a recent invention, but originated in the colonial era. During the 19th century, German-English schooling was authorized by law in several states and flourished unofficially elsewhere. Other European tongues were also taught (sometimes sometimes as the language of instruction and sometimes as a subject) in response to pressure from immigrant communities.<1> But libertarian attitudes did not extend to indigenous languages, as Jon Reyhner demonstrates. Anglicizing the Indian was regarded as a "civilizing" device, an alternative to military measures in pacifying warlike tribes. Children were removed from their reservations, often forcibly, and shipped to faraway boarding schools, where they were punished if caught speaking their native tongues. J. D. C. Atkins, federal Indian Commissioner in the 1880s, describes the policy of eradicating students' "barbarous dialects," along with every other remnant of Indian-ness.

Intolerance also characterized policies toward conquered peoples, notably Spanish speakers in the Southwest and Puerto Rico. The 1848 Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican- American War, made various guarantees to the inhabitants of the annexed territory. While there was no explicit mention of language and cultural rights, many believed that these were implicit in the treaty – as illustrated by the debate over California's 1879 Constitution. In practice, Spanish language rights were seldom observed except in New Mexico, where English speakers were greatly outnumbered before the twentieth century. As detailed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, New Mexico waged a long struggle for statehood against a Congress reluctant to grant self-rule to a non-English-speaking majority. When finally admitted in 1912, the state adopted a constitution with protections for Spanish speakers, for example, the bilingual publication of official documents.

31st Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon

Dennis Sevakis, in The American Thinker, quotes a Vietnamese expert--who says it was a war that the US could have won if political considerations had not hampered the US military:
Bui Tin went on to describe the single biggest error the U.S. committed in the prosecution of the war in Vietnam:

Q: How could the Americans have won the war?

A: Cut the Ho Chi Minh trail inside Laos. If Johnson had granted [Gen. William] Westmoreland’s requests to enter Laos and block the Ho Chi Minh trail, Hanoi could not have won the war.

Q: Why was the Ho Chi Minh trail so important?

A: It was the only way to bring sufficient military power to bear on the fighting in the South. Building and maintaining the trail was a huge effort, involving tens of thousands of soldiers, drivers, repair teams, medical stations, communication units.

The Harvard Crimson Remembers John Kenneth Galbraith

Apparently, in addition to being an economist and novelist, he was also the funniest professor at Harvard...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

What Does Saudi Arabia Want?

Middle East Quarterly hosts a roundtable discussion on the Saudi kingdom:
Ali Alyami: The House of Saud's only agenda is to stay in power. It will do whatever it takes: kill, murder, incarcerate, destroy. The Saudis have no interest in stabilizing Iraq. I disagree with the idea that it is indifferent to a democratic Iraq. The Saudis hate two things: Shi‘ite empowerment and a democracy on their border. They will do whatever it takes to ensure neither happens.

The Saudi government would like to see the United States stay in Iraq for sixty years. In part, it does not want Washington even to consider invading another Arab country, so getting the U.S. nose rubbed in the mud suits its purposes. Also, a U.S. occupation in Iraq can be just as useful a symbol if the U.S. military gets bogged down in the country.

In Syria, the Saudis have mixed interests. Because the ‘Alawites who control Syria are an offshoot of Shi‘ism, they fear the Assad regime's outreach to Iran and the Shi‘ite government in Iraq. On the other hand, the Saudis fear the alternatives to the Assad dynasty, and fear that chaos in Syria may undercut Lebanon.

Abdullah's Arab-Israeli peace plan was tactically wise. He knew that the Israelis could not accept it because it called for Israel to return all land occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. The Saudi royal family wants sway over East Jerusalem to add to [their patronage of] Mecca and Medina. Then they will be custodian of three holy places instead of two and will increase their stature accordingly. The Saudi government has no interest in seeing Palestinian-Israeli peace, especially if that results in a democratic Palestine. The Saudis are the greatest financial patrons of Hamas and of Al-Aqsa Brigades and other groups. If Israel and the Arabs make peace and democratization proceeds, the Saudi royal family will lose its power.

What really bothers me about all these discussions is that the Saudi people are never considered. We talk about the women in Saudi Arabia today as if we are talking about women's situations 500, 600 years ago, and then people say there are openings for women, there are openings for religious minorities—but it's still a country ruled by four or five old men who still do not recognize half of their society as human beings.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Cathy Buckle on Zimbabwe

With all the talk of Darfur, and George Clooney's new film showing this weekend, I wondered, whatever happened in Zimbabwe? Here's a link to Cathy Buckle's interesting reports from that country. A sample:
Coming back into the country by road and at night took me back in time 40 years. On the main highway I travelled, for mile after mile the roadside vegetation has not been cut and golden grass, 6 foot high, waves and sways, dipping into the road as you pass. On either side of the road and in the valleys there are no lights from farms anymore and in the distance - as far as you can see in any direction - there is only darkness, not even an orange glow on the horizon from a big town or city. The sight of the bending grass and the intense darkness took me back to journeys in remote country areas during my childhood. Journeys sitting in the back of the family station wagon, elbowing siblings and squabbling, looking out into the darkness watching for eyes. 40 years on though, and the roadside darkness is not from a sparsely populated countryside but from mile after mile of empty or subsitence level farms. Farms once overflowing with production, powered by generators when necessary, which ensured the lights stayed on over vast fields of export flowers and vegetables and kept cold rooms humming day and night. The farms now are just silent and dark.

The lack of urban lights in Zimbabwe these nights is from major and widespread power cuts. On the night of my journey the electricity had apparently been off in an area covering three main towns and over 100 kilometres for twelve hours. The long roadside grass is from municipal negligence - there are no excuses for it - we have abundant manpower due to massive unemployment and pay exhorbitant rates every month in all rural and urban areas. The lack of road signs and reflective lenses to give some light in the night are the result of people desperate for money removing anything and everything they come across - even tin road signs and little squares of shiny material buried in the tar...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs died on April 25th in Toronto. The New York Times published a nice obituary, City Journal paid tribute, and there's a lot of information about her writings on Wikipedia. My favorite work is her book, Systems of Survival. It's not as well known as her new urbanism, perhaps. Yet it provided real insight--the clash between "trader" (business) syndromes and "guardian" (government) syndromes. We need both sectors, each provides a "system of survival," but there is a problem when the signals get crossed. It provided a really provocative hypothesis that went beyond traditional left-right politics. You can buy it at Jane Jacobs' life and work showed that one person can indeed make a difference.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tony Snow New Bush Spokesman

There's a story in Britain's Guardian today. I guess this means that now there's an opening at Fox News Channel...

Another Dubai Deal...

According to radio talk show hostess Tammy Bruce, this time it is for Doncasters, a British-based defense contractor. And Bush relatives are reportedly involved. (ht Roger L Simon)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Today we were eyewitnesses to an accident. I was taking a walk with someone I know, we were just a couple of blocks from our house, when a silver BMW ran off the road, up the curb, onto a tree, then flipped over. It all seemed to happen very slowly, it couldn't have been going more than 20 miles an hour. Then a crunching sound. I looked in, found the driver on the other side, called 911.

The 911 operator was polite, told me not to move the man, who was hanging upside down. I pulled open the car door with some difficulty, and told him help was on the way, not to move. He let himself out of his seatbelt--crash onto his head but only a few inches to the padded seat. We talked a bit, he seemed all right, dazed but OK. Some blood on his hands but otherwise OK. He wanted to get out the car, but I told him the 911 operator said to wait for the ambulance.

Incredibly, it was less than 5 minutes from when I called 911 until the ambulances arrived--two of them. Plus two fire engines, and at least 4 police cars--2 vans and 2 cruisers. The fire engines had their hoses out, but luckily the car didn't catch fire. Then the paramedics went to work and pretty quickly had the man out of the car, onto a stretcher, and on his way to a hospital.

The professionalism and speed of the DC emergency services was very impressive. They certainly seemed to know what they were doing.

Though I don't know that I'd buy a BMW, after seeing this...

Break Up Iraq

That's the advice in Gareth Stansfield's cover story of Britain's Prospect magazine:
The belief that Saddam's regime was the glue that held together the fragmented mosaic of Iraq has proved to be true. It is now too late to resurrect a strong centre. New political forces have emerged with strong localised support and the ability to project power far more effectively than the nascent institutions of the new Iraqi state. These forces also have very different ideas as to how Iraq should be constructed and what it will mean to be an Iraqi in the future. For the Kurds, the problem is the legitimacy of the state itself. For the Shia, it is the nature of the state. In an ideal world, the Kurds would secede, with or without Kirkuk, and even without oil if it meant establishing their own state. Kurdish politicians are caught between satisfying a realist position in Baghdad and representing an increasingly noisy secessionist voice in the north. This Kurdish disenchantment with Iraq has not gone unnoticed among the two main Arab groups and it is increasingly common to hear the refrain, "let them leave if they wish to, but not with Kirkuk." Until an Arab-dominated Iraqi army is in a position to attempt to bring the Kurds back into Iraq, there will be little fighting in the north. For that reason, a Quebec-like asymmetrical decentralisation—in which the Kurdish region opts out of the Arab Iraqi state for most purposes—is likely to be officially recognised at some point soon.

The nature of the dispute between Sunnis and Shias is much more complex, as it is about who controls the narrative of the Iraqi state—what it means to be an Iraqi. For most of the 20th century, the narrative was one of Arab Sunni nationalism. Now, the Shia are struggling to win it back. The real struggle is in Baghdad and it is imbued with the symbolism of ancient religious disputes from the formative years of Islam itself. The struggle is further complicated by the fact that whereas Shiastan has resources, a relatively homogeneous population and a political leadership with some legitimacy, none of this can be said of Sunnistan—the most unstable part of Iraq.

The re-emergence of ethno-sectarian identities in Iraq should not have taken policymakers or academics by surprise. The Soviet collapse, for example, led to the intensification of ethnic conflict in several successor states, including Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, and changes in the ethnic balance of power in Yugoslavia quickly heralded that state's demise. Iraq is mirroring this pattern closely.

America and Britain still have some influence over events. We need to consider the most realistic and appropriate options still available. The return to a looser form of the Iraq state is a difficult process that requires careful management. If it can be achieved with little bloodshed and disruption, it will be a great prize. The alternative seems to be break-up by a long, low-level civil war—which would be a stain on the western conscience for decades to come.

Tamil Suicide Bombing in Sri Lanka

According to this report from Reuters,a female suicide bomber struck a military headqarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

What To Do When Your Cell Phone Breaks

Unless you have insurance, you might be in for a nasty "sticker shock," according to this article in Business Week.

Haaretz: Al Qaeda Sponsored Egypt Bombing

Zev Schiff writes that the Sinai tourist hotel blasts bear the hallmarks of a Bin Laden-style operation:
Al-Qaida was behind yesterday's terror attack in Dahab. Despite Egypt's efforts to halt the organization's activity in the Sinai Peninsula, Al-Qaida clearly continues to operate adjacent to the Israeli border, and is smuggling explosive material from the same area. It emerged recently that Al-Qaida also is trying to set up a base in the Gaza Strip in order to infiltrate into Israel to carry out strikes.

Egyptian authorities recently informed U.S. and international elements that they successfully eliminated an Al-Qaida base in Jabal Hilal, in central Sinai. Egyptian authorities moved large police and special unit forces into the Sinai. After a car carrying two Egyptian officers went over a mine and two men were killed, the special units were put into action and the base was eradicated.

Al-Qaida is believed to be recruiting among the Sinai Bedouin. According to the Egyptian government, intensive efforts have been made in recent months to create employment for the Bedouin there. It has emerged that these efforts have been unable to prevent Al-Qaida's ongoing infiltration into Sinai and the recruitment of new terror cells in the area.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Michelle Malkin Launches Her Own Network

She's calling it Hot

Natan Sharansky on George Bush

In today's Wall Street Journal, he praises Bush's democracy agenda, with this caveat:
I myself have not been uncritical of Mr. Bush. Like my teacher, Andrei Sakharov, I agree with the president that promoting democracy is critical for international security. But I believe that too much focus has been placed on holding quick elections, while too little attention has been paid to help build free societies by protecting those freedoms--of conscience, speech, press, religion, etc.--that lie at democracy's core.

I believe that such a mistaken approach is one of the reasons why a terrorist organization such as Hamas could come to power through ostensibly democratic means in a Palestinian society long ruled by fear and intimidation.

I also believe that not enough effort has been made to turn the policy of promoting democracy into a bipartisan effort. The enemies of freedom must know that the commitment of the world's lone superpower to help expand freedom beyond its borders will not depend on the results of the next election.

Orthodox Easter on the Web

Via the Patriarch of Jerusalem's blog...

A Tunisian Liberal Speaks

Rather than supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, I wish the US government would devote its resources to supporting liberals in Arab countries who favor Modernity over the Dark Ages; and the Declaration of the Rights of Man rather than Sha'aria. One example is Neila Charchour Hachicha, founder of Tunisia's Parti Libéral Méditerranéen. I saw her speak in Washington not long ago, making a case against both Islamic fundamentalism and dictatorship at the American Enterprise Institute. Now she is back in Tunisia--and apparently in trouble:
Liberalism will perish unless the White House and its European allies keep up the pressure to keep Arab liberals safe. When Rumsfeld visited Ben Ali in February, he spoke only of strengthening military-to-military ties. But true stability and security requires some degree of freedom. Ben Ali will listen to the outside world if he believes that its warnings are serious. The Quai d'Orsay offered only a timid statement when Tunisian security forces assaulted French journalist Christophe Boltansky for having reported on the Tunisian government's speech crackdown ahead of the World Summit on the Information Society. If outsiders are not even going to stand up for their own citizens, then why should the Tunisian government worry about opposition when they oppress Tunisians? After all, as the Tunisian ambassador to Washington told the American Enterprise Institute, why should Washington worry about "a person of no consequence" like me? The Tunisian government may say we are Islamists — I certainly am not — or cherry-pick statements to convince foreign officials that all opposition is radical, reactionary, or irresponsible. It is an old tactic, and experienced professionals should not fall for it.

The White House again stands at a crossroad. Not only in Tunisia but elsewhere in the Arab world, liberals and dissidents are waiting. Without freedom of speech and press, reformers cannot build credibility and legitimacy. Ben Ali should embrace reform, not repel it. We don't ask for much — just the assurance that we will not be abandoned if we ask for freedom of speech. Do not worry about stigma; we are already stigmatized for seeking our rights. U.S. ambassadors throughout the region should not hesitate to meet with members of civil society or stand up for prisoners of conscience, just as they once did in the Soviet Union.

I do not know what they will do to me and my husband in the weeks to come. I hope that Washington, Paris, and human-rights organizations will not allow dissidents to be sacrificed upon the altar of realpolitik. We should not suffer for comments as innocuous as ours, or for speaking out in professional forums in Washington. Those of us who struggle in defense of freedom in Tunisia appreciate the help of the State Department. We hope it will continue, even as the Tunisian regime thumbs its nose at Bush. And regardless of what happens, I hope that you will pray for my family and for all of us in Tunisia.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bin Laden Endorses Hamas

According to Al Jazeera, Bin Laden has made his support of Hamas perfectly clear:
Aljazeera has aired an audiotape attributed to Osama bin Laden in which he attacks the West for boycotting Hamas and accuses Western governments of waging a "crusader war" against Islam.

In the recording, aired on Sunday, the al-Qaeda leader said the isolation and cutting off of aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government reaffirmed that the West was at war with the Islamic nation.

"The blockade which the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist crusaders war on Islam," he said.
In the same speech, Bin Laden calls for jihad in Sudan, Chechnya, Pakistan and elsewhere. It will be interesting to see Daniel Pipes analysis of the full transcript, if and when it is made available.

Nobody Listened

Today's Washington Post Opinion section published a list of "bad guys"--dictators and tyrants around the world who should make Americans mad. Of course, Fidel Castro wasn't on the list. Which reminded of this interesting student paper from Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada by Jessica Rincon and Patrick White, sent in by filmmaker Agustin Blazquez:
‘NOBODY LISTENED’ One of Many Cases of Censorship
by Jessica Rincon and Patrick White
Student paper for the Communication Studies Department, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Dictatorships have been known historically to censor people’s freedom of expression. From the communist regimes in the Soviet Union to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and today in modern day Cuba, people are locked up for questioning or disagreeing with the action, views, and or policies of their government. Regardless, people still try to make their voices heard. Nobody Listened is a documentary film that attempts to reveal the truth about one of the world’s most notorious dictators, Fidel Castro. After watching the film and researching the issues that relate to it, we found that this particular film is part of an even bigger issue of censorship that not only involves the censorship in Cuba, but also that of Cuban exiles in the United States of America. We will examine here the various ways that the documentary film Nobody Listened has been censored both in Cuba and in the United States.

Cuba is known to the world for having excellent literacy rates and an outstanding system of health care; however, most civilians consider this a myth created by the revolutionaries, since for decades Cubans have suffered under Castro’s dictatorship. Although some Cubans favor his government, a considerable amount has fled, mainly to the United States, to escape his regime and Cuba’s poor conditions of life. Castro censures people’s freedom of expression by arbitrarily banning any material (book, film, or article) he feels threatens his government principles, such as the declaration of Human Rights or a Cuban exile book, and labels it as “counter-revolutionary.” Since Castro first formed his government, 47 years ago, thousands of political and regular prisoners have been accused of committing crimes. What are considered crimes, as mentioned in the article Against All Hope: A Memoir in Castro’s Gulag, are things like being part of organizations defending Human Rights, sedition, possessing counter-revolutionary or non-authorized material, or if the person has been arrested before and is considered politically active, Castro will find any pretext, such as refusing government officials to fumigate the person’s house with substances she/he is allergic to, to arrest him/her (Valladares 1-2). They were, and are, taken to jails where they endure unthinkable abuses, ranging from horrendous tortures, forced labor and beatings, to “accidental deaths” and executions.

The documentary made by Nestor Almendros and Jorge Ulla, Nobody Listened, touches on these issues, questioning the general state of Human Rights in Cuba. The film is inspired by the book Against all Hope, where the author, Armando Valladares describes the experiences he and other prisoners went through. Nobody Listened is an expository documentary showing a series of people’s testimonies ranging from Castro’s former comrade, to priests and civilians that had been, or had a relative, in at least one of the prisons shown. Their stories are accompanied by footage or pictures supporting their testimonies, and on given occasions, the narrator explains further the images shown.

When one watches the movie, one realizes immediately why the film is censored in Cuba. This documentary is completely against the revolution, or better said, against Castro’s government since it reveals the stories of people that have gone through terrible tortures and somehow survived. It questions Cuba’s system of Human Rights and shows the discrepancy between what Castro and his “comrades” say is happening in Cuba versus what is really going on according to the everyday experiences of many Cubans. Castro has a remarkable ability, like any other tyrant, to ignore what the people are going through in his own country. He demonstrates his unwillingness to make things better when he said that “for those who hope for change ‘Let them sit down and keep hoping, because in Cuba there is no need to change a thing’” (Valladares 3).

The documentary also tackles the non-supportive response of Cuba’s government towards its exiles, as in the case with the directors themselves (Ulla and Almendros). This can be seen at the beginning of the movie when Ulla is trying to ask important figures of the government for their contribution, or their thoughts on the situation of Human Rights in Cuba, and they respond, if at all, with ambivalence, evasion or outright refusal to talk to him. Exiles are considered traitors to the country, and therefore, do not deserve any help. Also, it should be kept in mind that obviously exposing the real situation in Cuba is inconvenient for Castro. To this end, the reaction of the people in his government is to be expected.

It is understandable that due to such a dictatorship people who have seen this documentary in Cuba are few and far between, but what about in the United States, a country who prides itself on being the Land of the Free? Well, it seems that in the U.S there is a tacit sense of censorship, an implicit way of making decisions about what is broadcast since they cannot air everything is made in order to make everyone happy, and this is precisely why this documentary and others like it have been rejected. The censorship of the film Nobody Listened is not something that limits itself to films with explicit descriptions of the terrible things that certain people had to go through in Cuban jails, but is actually part of a bigger problem that Cuban American intellectuals face every day.

Although we could not contact Jorge Ulla, and Almendros passed away in 1992, we could get a hold of a friend of Almendros, the filmmaker (Covering Cuba series from one to four) Agustín Blázquez, who provided us with substantial information about the censorship of this type of documentaries, particularly in the United States. For years, intellectual Cuban exiles residing in the U.S have been discriminated against by the people who control the media and the ones in charge of promoting and distributing artists, filmmakers, and writers’ works. As mentioned in Blázquez’s article, Branded by Paradise and Maligned by Exile, there is a herd of “pro-Castro sympathizers in the U.S. media and in the film industry” (3) who, like the dictator they support, react in this way against people who do not share their political beliefs. An example of this is when Nobody Listened was rejected in 1988 by the New York Film Festival, the same festival that rejected Bitter Sugar (Leon Ichazo) and This is Cuba (Chris Hume); which are also films that contain as well controversial information about Castro’s regime. However, this trend did not go unnoticed because of the group of Cuban American filmmakers who protested against this decision, and among these protesters was Ulla. According to Blázquez’s article “Enough is Enough,” the director of the festival, Richard Pena, said that the films are chosen irregardless of their content. This is the same man who said that Improper Conduct, another film by Nestor Almendros, “attacks the stability of the Cuban revolution” (Blázquez 1). No correlation is shown between what the principle of the Festival seems to be and what actually happens at the end. It seems as if films of this sort are destined to receive little or no airtime.

In our conversation with Agustín, he sounded aggravated by the fact that although people like him had spent a great deal of time, money, and effort to produce and direct films with such an important message, and in a country where freedom of expression is so valued, are yet still censored. He felt helpless in relating that everything is about politics and about who controls public broadcasting. According to him, as repeated many times in both his articles and our conversation, a large part of the media and art world in the U.S., which includes filmmakers and festival organizers, are considered political Leftists. This means that in a free country like the United States, they have the right to express their views. At the same time, it is contradictory that precisely this situation is what prevents movies like Nobody Listened from being seen; as was the case with the festivals rejecting it, and the PBS TV stations, which was probably the most blatant form of censorship that has been imposed on the film.

For years, PBS refused to show it, but in 1990 when they finally agreed to broadcast it - better late than never, they cut out about an hour of the two-hour film. This meant that many of the powerful testimonies of torture and suffering where left out. Furthermore, immediately after it ended, PBS aired a pro-Castro documentary entitled The Uncompromising Revolution by Saul Landau. This, according to Blázquez, was something that Ulla and Almendros considered an absolute offence to their work. He shared their opinion and compared it to the unlikely scenario of a movie about the Holocaust being aired, followed directly by a pro-Hitler movie. This is something that would never happen, he said. He also added that by doing so, and by cutting down the film, the message they were intending to send was diluted or had no effect, since the audience was put in “double standard” situation.

After having examined the issue about censorship being applied to the documentary film Nobody Listened, in Cuba it seems inevitable that a film like this one would be censored, judging from the regime under which it is governed. As mentioned earlier, one of the first rights taken away from people living in a dictatorship is freedom of expression. Therefore, it is impossible to show a film like this one under the political conditions in Cuba. On the other hand, the case of censorship in the United States is a different issue. It seems strange that a country not involved with decisions concerning what is broadcast in Cuba, since it is a different country, in its own country when dealing with this issue, trying to sort out between pro-Castro and against-Castro material, they apply a tacit censorship. Because it is such a delicate issue, they should be objective and neutral, but instead they take a biased stance. It would seem more adequate and fair to perhaps still show both side views, as everyone has the right to speak their opinions, but maintaining respect, above all, towards both groups, and leaving it up to the audience to interpret what they see in a considerable space of time.

Going through this investigation has provided deeper insight into the controversial issue of censorship. One sometimes takes for granted freedom of speech in countries like the United States, since we are used to the idea that we are expressing ourselves with minimal or no restraints. However, what seems common sense to us is not necessarily the case for others. In the case of Cuban exiles in the U.S. their films are apparently too controversial to be shown. For us, the fact that the material is controversial and revealing is precisely why it should be shown. We should be prepared to deal with the complexity and conflict in society by acquiring as much information and debating the issues. In this way, overt censorship and heavy biases by those with power amounts to. Our right is to know.

Blázquez, Agustín. Telephone Interview, Feb. 25, 2006

Blázquez, Agustín with collaboration of Jaums Sutton. “Branded by Paradise and Maligned by Exile.” Tyrant Aficionado. 1999,

Blázquez, Agustin, “Enough is Enough.” CubaNet News.

“Nobody Listened”. Dir. Nestor Almendros and Jorge Ulla. Perf. Jorge Ulla et al. Cuban Human Rights Film Project and Direct Cinema, 1989

Valladares, Armando. “Against All Hope: A Memoir in Castro’s Gulag.” The Heritage Foundation. 15 March, 2002. Heritage Lecture # 737.

End of the Line for Nepalese Dynasty?

Writing in The Observer, Randeep Ramesh explains that the current crisis may spell the end of the Shah dynasty of Nepal:
Nepal, strategically situated between India and China, has been either under the Shah kings or dynastic maharajahs since the late 18th century. Democracy has existed for only two short-lived occasions, in 1950 and the 1990s.

The beginning of the end for the last phase of democracy came when the last king, Birendra, and his family were assassinated in the palace by a drunk crown prince. His brother Gyanendra took over and made no secret of his disdain for elected officials.

Whether the monarchy can survive or not remains moot. The answer, say some, may be found in an Nepali legend about King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of the modern Nepali state. The tale goes that he once met a god disguised as a sage who, to test his loyalty, offered him some yoghurt that had been vomited up.

If the king consumed it, the Shah line would have lasted forever. Instead, King Prithvi threw it away, and some fell on his feet. So the dynasty would only last ten generations, one monarch for every toe. Birendra was the 10th Shah king.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Daniel Pipes, Call Your Office...

On the Counterterrorism Blog, Jeffrey Cozzens explains the rationale behind US government support for the Muslim Brotherhood:
Perhaps our fight against the narrative of global jihadism—unquestionably a greater evil—could be bolstered if we enlist the help of the MB. After all, it shares elements of AQ’s exclusive worldview, but its cadres pursue a different path towards establishing Islam.
Will Daniel Pipes be able to change this policy?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Daniel Pipes Establishes Islamist Watch

More here.

Vallejo Times-Herald: Rumsfeld Must Go

The Rumsfeld kerfuffle isn't going away:
President George W. Bush comes to the neighborhood today with a planned visit to St. Helena, part of a long weekend swing through southern and northern California.

He's here for a little R&R, a bit of fund-raising and a moment to pitch his technology initiative in the Silicon Valley.

It appears a chance to head from the Beltway, to skip out of town and avoid the latest attack on one of his most detrimental, and controversial appointees - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Seven retired generals have come forward in recent weeks to denounce Rumsfeld's ability to manage the war in Iraq. While other retired generals, including Gen. Tommy Franks, former commander of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are supporting Rumsfeld, the importance of this latest outcry against Rumsfeld's failed leadership cannot be overstated. It is unprecedented, and is bound to have serious effects on Rumsfeld's ability to lead the military.

It is time the president heeded their collective wisdom.

The generals say they are speaking on behalf of the active-duty military people who dare not voice opposition to Rumsfeld out of fear they will lose their jobs. That claim is substantiated. One Washington pundit, based on interviews with military officers, estimates 75 percent of the military leadership want Rumsfeld out.

His policies have failed to bring about any of the president's objectives. A stable Iraq has not been achieved, military experts blame this on Rumsfeld's underestimating the insurgency and going into Iraq with too few troops despite their insistence they were undermanned.

This has allowed a small insurgency to breed and grow to unmanageable levels.

Rumsfeld's arrogance has alienated his troops. He is accused of ignoring seasoned military leaders' advice and warnings, resulting in a stifled atmosphere where there is no longer respect for Rumsfeld's views among the military. Rumsfeld, meanwhile shows respect only for those military leaders who agree with him or don't rock the boat with critical questions. Last week he shrugged off the seven retired military officers' views as so much sour grapes, contending they were not at key strategy meetings that involved much give-and-take.

We don't buy it. It is one thing to encourage questions; it is another to really want them. Rumsfeld has long been known to be condescending toward those who disagree with him, and in military settings such an approach will tend to lead to silence, or at least to grudging agreement where all options aren't fully explored.

Such an approach is dangerous. It can lead to the type of disastrous micro-management Lyndon Johnson used during the Vietnam conflict. It can also lead to similar results in Iraq.

Rumsfeld is not the man for the job, and it is past time the president end his stubborn support for failed leadership.

A View of Gramercy Park in April (2006)

Buy This Book!

Just finished my friend Alice Goldfarb Marquis's biography of Clement Greenberg, The Art Czar. Finished reading it, appropriately, in a guest room at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park South, a magnificent 19th-Century mansion formerly home to New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden. There were announcements of a testimonial dinner for Arthur Gelb, long-time New York Times "culture czar" in the lobby. So, when Marquis' described the incestuous and inbred New York art scene, so inbred that even I desperately tried to find a personal connection--someone I know had been a student of Rosalind Krauss, Greenberg's disciple turned nemesis, and I once delivered a term paper to her downtown loft; I met Hilton Kramer once or twice; gee, Greenberg knew Irving Kristol at Commentary; my cousin went to Syracuse University, etc.--to the incredibly juicy and melodramatic story of alcohol, sex, money, and "Painterly Abstraction" (not "Action Painting," please! That's Harold Rosenberg's heresy). Don't forget Greenberg's former life as a Trotskyist cum Cold Warrior.

At one level aesthetic, at another political, deeply personal, Marquis' book is also about the twin seductions in Greenberg's life--Avant-Garde (aka holiness) and Kitsch (aka sin). Greenberg may have been an art czar, but he was, as Marquis makes clear, also an art rabbi, making Talumudic pronouncements, koshering the work of artists in their studios, and ensuring a moral dimension. Did he strip paint off David Smith's sculptures? Yes, he did--to make them look better.

This high moral purpose, interestingly, sounds somewhat Victorian from the vantage point of 2006. Today, it seems that Kitsch has triumphed in the Art World. So, Marquis looks back nostalgically to the days of Clement Greenberg--a critic who may not have known much about art, but who certainly knew what he liked. Unlike today, the post-war period was a time when art mattered, and Alice Goldfarb Marquis has done a marvellous job of explaining how and why, through the life of Clement Greenberg.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bush Loses Face

The heckling of Chinese president Hu Jintao appears to be turning into a mini-crisis. The heckler has been arrested. What's the big deal? From the Chinese side, it is understandable. Someone explained to me that the Chinese leader "lost face" from a cultural standpoint, when the heckler was elevated to the same level as the president, just by being able to heckle.

On the other hand, Americans might see the situation differently. Americans are used to heckling, it is no big deal, it is freedom of speech and democracy in action. People heckled Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, LBJ, Johnson, you name it. So what?

But President Bush's apology to the Chinese leader, especially public statements that Bush apologized, send a bad signal. Rather than celebrating democracy, Bush has apologized for an example of freedom of speech. A lone protester, like at Tienamien Square.

By apologizing when he did not need to, President Bush has lost face. Where Ronald Reagan would have made a joke, Bush has kow-towed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Mass Grave in New Jersey

At the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Jersey, next to Fort Mott State Park, lies Finn's Point National Cemetery, which contains the mass grave for some 2,500 Confederate POWs who died while incarcerated at at Ft. Delaware prison on Peach Pit Island during the Civil War. The prison held some 12,000 rebels. It is a sobering site, marked by a large obelisk erected in 1910 over plaques listing two thousand four hundred thirty-six names. There is also a small memorial to Union soldiers who died while on duty as guards, and a special section in a corner for a small number of German POWs who died while in custody at Fort Dix during World War II.

Finn's Point National Cemetery can be reached via I-295, on New Jersey State Road 49 towards Pennsville, NJ, located just before the beginning of the New Jersey Turnpike. Ft. Mott State Park is part of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail, a new National Park.

Some stanzas from Theodore O'Hara's poem, The Bivouac of the Dead, are posted on cast-iron tablets near the obelisk:
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

No rumor of the foe's advance
Now swells upon the wind;
Nor troubled thought at midnight haunts
Of loved ones left behind;
No vision of the morrow's strife
The warrior's dream alarms;
No braying horn nor screaming fife
At dawn shall call to arms.

Their shriveled swords are red with rust,
Their plumed heads are bowed,
Their haughty banner, trailed in dust,
Is now their martial shroud.
And plenteous funeral tears have washed
The red stains from each brow,
And the proud forms, by battle gashed
Are free from anguish now.

The neighing troop, the flashing blade,
The bugle's stirring blast,
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout, are past;
Nor war's wild note nor glory's peal
Shall thrill with fierce delight
Those breasts that nevermore may feel
The rapture of the fight.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Notice Board at the Evergreen, Alabama Public Library

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How Stalin Created Israel

It wasn't Harry Truman alone who supported the creation of Israel.Johnson's Russia List's Research and Analytical Supplement runs Stephen D. Shenfield's interesting review of Leonid Mlechin's book, Zachem Stalin sozdal Izrail? [Why Did Stalin Create Israel?] (Moscow: Yauza / EKSMO, 2005):
Did Stalin create Israel? To the extent that any one individual can be held responsible for the creation of a state, it does seem, on the basis of the evidence presented by Mlechin, that Stalin has a better claim than any other individual to this particular honor. Why did he do it? Apparently it was a gamble in the context of the more assertive Soviet foreign policy that followed victory over Nazi Germany, made in the hope of establishing a lasting Soviet presence in the Middle East. It failed, but it can be seen as a precursor of similar and more successful efforts in the post-Stalin era, this time backing the other side in the Israel-Arab conflict. It does show that the standard view of Soviet penetration of the Third World as a post-Stalin development is not quite accurate.

The episode also helps us fill in a broad historical view of the nature of Zionism-Israel as an international phenomenon. What made possible the remarkable rise of the Zionist community from a small and vulnerable minority in Ottoman-ruled Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century to a nuclear-armed regional superpower in that century's last quarter? Many things, to be sure. The Holocaust had a decisive impact. But we should not underplay the significance of the Zionist movement's ideologically flexible and repeatedly successful search for great power patrons. As the relationship with one patron becomes less viable, a new patron is always found:

1. Britain with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, whose Mandate provided a roof for building an autonomous quasi-state (the Yishuv).

2. Stalin's Soviet Union played the crucial role in the creation and initial consolidation of an independent Zionist state.

3. France gave Israel nuclear weapons.

4. US support was crucial in creating a Greater Israel.

5. Next great power patron -- China, perhaps?

Rev. Willaim Sloane Coffin, R.I.P.

The death of Rev. William Sloane Coffin reminded me of the time he did me a favor. I was trying to put on a panel about the plight of Vietnamese "Boat People" and Cambodian refugees during the Carter administration. A lot of antiwar activists didn't want to help (at that time I was a liberal Democrat). It was getting depressing to be turned down again and again looking for help from places like The Nation. I remember Emile de Antonio telling me they (the Vietnamese & Cambodians) chose the wrong side (with the US) and so deserved to drown.

Well, in the end Martin Peretz of the New Republic agreed to pay for the event, and Rev. Coffin offered a room in Riverside Church. Coffin's participation helped fill the panel with experts like Frances Fitzgerald. The event was a big success, the room was full. And it helped change the Carter administration's policy towards refugees,many of whom who were admitted to the US.

I was touched.

No matter what I may have had by way of disagreements with some of his views, because of this I'll always remember William Sloane Coffin as a mensch. May he rest in peace.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Read President Bush and Vice President Cheney's Tax Returns

You can download PDF versions of Bush and Cheney's IRS Form 1040s on the Tax History Foundation website. President Bush declared $397,000 in wages, tips, etc. Cheney declared $7, 423,433.

Tax Day Tips from the US Postal Service

In case you need to find the location of the closest Post Office.

The Wall Street Journal on Zacarias Moussaoui

The Wall Street Journal explains why the Moussaoui case is important
The further we move away from 9/11 without another domestic attack, the more tempting it is to believe that awful day was an aberration, to think that we can return to normalcy if we merely leave Iraq and the other Middle Eastern regimes to their own purposes. But the forces of radical Islam aren't going to leave us alone merely because we decide that resisting them is too hard. The men and women on that plane weren't soldiers overseas; they were traveling to work, or on vacation, or to their homes within the United States.

The main political difference in the U.S. today is between those who appreciate that Islamic terrorists represent an existential threat to American life and liberty and are prepared to do what it takes to defeat them, and those who think the threat is overstated and can be ameliorated or appeased. Only yesterday, al Qaeda kingpin Ayman al-Zawahiri exulted in a videotape posted on the Internet that "the enemy has begun to falter." He's wrong, but the transcript of Flight 93 is a reminder of our fate if we do.
There's more detail about the case on the BBC News website devoted to it, including this quote:
Moussaoui took the stand against his lawyers' advice on the opening day of their defence.

He gave a lengthy explanation about why he hates Americans, and criticised US support for Israel.

"You are the head of the snake for me. If we want to destroy the Jewish state of Palestine, we have to destroy you first," he told the court.

He turned to the Koran for evidence he said backed up his claims that Muslims are called to fight for supremacy for Allah.

"We have to be the superpower, we have to be above you," he said.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Story of Easter

From the US Naval Observatory:
Easter is an annual festival observed throughout the Christian world. The date for Easter shifts every year within the Gregorian Calendar. The Gregorian Calendar is the standard international calendar for civil use. In addition, it regulates the ceremonial cycle of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The current Gregorian ecclesiastical rules that determine the date of Easter trace back to 325 CE at the First Council of Nicaea convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine. At that time the Roman world used the Julian Calendar (put in place by Julius Caesar).

The Council decided to keep Easter on a Sunday, the same Sunday throughout the world. To fix incontrovertibly the date for Easter, and to make it determinable indefinitely in advance, the Council constructed special tables to compute the date. These tables were revised in the following few centuries resulting eventually in the tables constructed by the 6th century Abbot of Scythia, Dionysis Exiguus. Nonetheless, different means of calculations continued in use throughout the Christian world.

In 1582 Gregory XIII (Pope of the Roman Catholic Church) completed a reconstruction of the Julian calendar and produced new Easter tables. One major difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendar is the "leap year rule". See our FAQ on Calendars for a description of the difference. Universal adoption of this Gregorian calendar occurred slowly. By the 1700's, though, most of western Europe had adopted the Gregorian Calendar. The Eastern Christian churches still determine the Easter dates using the older Julian Calendar method.

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC

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Mutiny at the Pentagon

What does a widely-reported insurgency, by retired Major General Paul D. Eaton, General Anthony C. Zinni, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General John Batiste, Major General John Riggs and Major General Charles H. Swannack Jr., demanding that Donald Rumsfeld resign as Secretary of Defense, mean?

One guess is that the military is uncomfortable about the prospect of launching a war against Iran under Donald Rumsfeld. Retired officers are able to voice public criticisms that serving military are unable to put forward. Jim Lehrer interviewed retired General John Batiste on the Newshour last night

JIM LEHRER: So where do you fit Don Rumsfeld into that then? He's one person. Everybody wants him to -- you guys want him to go. So what are you saying to me?

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I think an honorable man would take account, be responsible for what he did, and step down.

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to a skeptic who would say, "Wait a minute, General. One secretary of defense is solely responsible for everything that's gone wrong in Iraq, and there is nothing that any of you military leaders could do about it on the ground?"

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I didn't say that. What I'm saying is that the strategic underpinnings of this war can be traced back in policy to the secretary of defense. He built it the way he wanted it.

JIM LEHRER: Do you expect Secretary Rumsfeld to do what you want him to do?

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: I have no idea.

JIM LEHRER: I mean, do you...

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: He's his own man.

JIM LEHRER: Is that a bottom line for you? Have you talked to these other generals about this? Is this an organized effort?

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: You know, surprisingly, it's not, not at all. We haven't talked; this is all spontaneous.

JIM LEHRER: Did you talk about it at the time when you were on active duty in private?

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE: Sure. We were all disgruntled.
So far, the White House has dismissed the revolt of the generals:
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, White House Press Secretary: The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history.
Translation: "Heck of a job, Rummy..."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Iraqi Claims Saddam Gave WMD to Syria

Melanie Phillips reports on former Iraqi Air Vice Marshal General Georges Sada's charges (ht LGF):
He also says that he lived and worked with the ever-present daily reality of Saddam’s tactics of hiding his WMD from the weapons inspectors. Whole environments were transformed and rebuilt – buildings, whole factories – in the largely successful strategy of hiding the stuff. The idea that Saddam suddenly stopped hiding it and secretly destroyed it instead, he says, is utterly ludicrous. Hiding WMD was the unchanging pattern of his regime.

He has listened to the tapes that recently surfaced of Saddam’s discussions with his top brass about the problems being caused by the UN weapons inspectors. He says the translations that have so far been made of these tapes are inadequate because the translators, who are of course Arabic speakers, do not however speak Tikriti Arabic, the dialect in which these discussions were conducted. Sada does speak Tikriti. He has translated a crucial three and a half minutes of these tapes, he says, in which Saddam and his generals are discussing how to outwit the UN inspectors; in which they say that the problem of the chemical weapons is solved but the biological are still causing a problem; that this problem will probably be solved with the help of the Russians and the French; and in which Saddam says: ‘In the future the terrorism will be with WMD’.

In April 2004, a group of al Qaeda terrorists was caught in Jordan with 20 tons of Sarin gas. When Sada heard of this, he says, his blood ran cold. There was only one place which was capable of producing 20 tons of Sarin: Saddam’s Iraq. To his horror, he says, he realised at that moment that Saddam’s WMD had got into the hands of al Qaeda.

Did Comedy Central Censor South Park's Mohammed Cartoon?

Michelle Markman thinks so...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Konstantin on Applebaum on Yushchenko

Konstantin thinks today's oped by Anne Applebaum about Viktor Yushchenko sounds like old Pravda articles about Comrade Stalin:
But the truth seems much more straightforward to me. There is Yushchenko, alone in his big office. There is Ukraine, a country of 50 million people. And in between the two are thousands of people -- civil servants, politicians, journalists, business people -- who have deep financial and personal interests in maintaining the corrupt status quo. For Ukraine, the Orange Revolution was the easy part, compared with what lies ahead.

This passage is a good example why Washington Post proudly bears the name of Pravda on Potomac. As Petrovich from inosmi forum pointed out, here we see almost a word-by-word translation of numerous Pravda “op-ed” published in the early 30’s just before the infamous “purification” of the Communist Party. The picture is the same. There is good and hardworking Comrade Stalin, working late at night in his Kremlin office. There are millions of Soviet workers and peasants. And in between the two thousands of people – corrupt civil servants, secret Trotsky admirers, American spies, and unrepentant White Guards officers – who have deep interests in maintaining the corrupt status quo. For the USSR, the Great October Socialist Revolution was the easy part, compared with what lies ahead. What lies ahead, Mrs. Applebaum? How can we get rid of these enemies of the people? Should we tolerate them or should we crush them with our revolutionary implacable fist of steel? Should we be afraid of their nasty conspiracies or should be wipe them clean from the book of history? In the name of freedom, democracy and equality. Amen.

President Bush's Passover Message

Don't let Walt and Mearsheimer see this:
Passover, 5766

"Say therefore to the people of Israel, "I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment."

Exodus 6:6

I send greetings to those observing Passover, beginning at sundown on April 12.

The story of the Jewish people throughout history reflects the triumph of faith, the importance of family, and the power of hope. During Passover, Jewish people across America and around the world gather together with family and friends to celebrate the liberation of the Children of Israel from slavery. By reading the Haggadah, singing traditional songs, and sharing the Seder meal, Jewish people relive the story of their redemption and ensure that their values and heritage are passed on to future generations.

During this celebration of faith and hope, we are reminded that freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man, woman, and child. We pray for a more peaceful and hopeful world where the blessings of liberty are bestowed upon all mankind.

Laura and I send our best wishes for a blessed Passover.


Leon Aron: Why the USSR Collapsed

Leon Aron credits a moral revolution led by Aleksandr Yakovlev
Unlike Khrushchev, who knew firsthand how precariously poised was the house that Stalin had built on terror and lies, the Gorbachev group appeared to believe that what was morally right was also politically manageable. There is hardly a better example of the primacy of the moral component in Gorbachev’s opening crusade than the campaign against alcohol consumption, undertaken and sustained in the face of obviously and extremely adverse political and economic consequences. In 1985, the state’s annual income from the sale of alcoholic beverages constituted between 12 and 14 percent of total budget revenues. (In 1990, Gorbachev disclosed that, alongside oil exports, the vodka trade sustained the Soviet Union between 1970 and 1985.) Between 1985 and 1988, the anti-alcohol campaign cost the Soviet Treasury 67 billion rubles--the equivalent of almost 9 percent of the 1985 GNP, 17 percent of that year’s revenue, and nearly four times the sum spent on health care. Yet when Ryzhkov objected to the campaign’s excesses he was overruled by other members of the Gorbachev “team” because, as they put it, he was “concerned about the economy instead of morality” and the “morals of the nation must be rescued by any means available.”

The closest approximation to a well-integrated vision of perestroika as a revolution of ideas and ideals--a normative, conceptual, even cognitive overhaul--is to be found in articles, interviews, and memoirs by the “godfather of glasnost,” Aleksandr Yakovlev, who died in Moscow last October, six weeks shy of his eighty-second birthday. When he returned to the Soviet Union in 1983 after a ten-year stint as Moscow’s ambassador to Canada, Yakovlev’s memory of what he saw was much the same as Gorbachev’s and Ryzhkov’s: "[T]he moment was at hand when people would say, “Enough! We cannot live like this any longer. Everything must be done in a new way. We must reconsider our concepts, our approaches, our views of the past and of our future.” There had come an understanding that it was simply impossible to live as we lived before--intolerably, humiliatingly."

Yakovlev makes clear that, for both himself and Gorbachev, democratization was the most urgent imperative, that it came far ahead of any economic objectives in the initial impulse forperestroika. In his remarkable final book Sumerki (Twilight), published in Moscow in 2003, Yakovlev refers to the upheaval a few times as the “March–April [1985] Revolution,” but far more frequently calls what happened a “Reformation” to underscore the moral and spiritual transformation. For him, perestroika was an “attempt to. . .end the amorality of the regime.”

In a secret memorandum that Yakovlev handed to Gorbachev in December 1985, a few months after Gorbachev had made him a secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, Yakovlev argued, “The main issue today is not only the economy. This is only the material side of the process. The heart of the matter lies in the political system, that is, its relation to man.”[29]Hence, the “main principles of perestroika”: democracy first and foremost, understood as freedom to choose in multicandidate elections; glasnost, or freedom of speech and the press; judicial independence; and laws safeguarding key human rights--the inviolability of individual persons, property, and communications; freedom to travel, assemble, and demonstrate; freedom of religion; and the ability of a citizen to sue any official or official body in court. For Yakovlev, glasnost was the touchstone of perestroika. Soviet society was tormented by lies--“ubiquitous and all-consuming lies.” Without glasnost, he repeated to newspaper and magazine editors, perestroika would be “doomed.”

Francisco Gil-White: The Problem of Jewish Self-Defense

I found this essay by Francisco Gil-White by accident, while googling the Iranian hostage crisis for the article on Mrs. Palfrey's premiere. At first, I thought the site came from a Lyndon LaRouche organization, it seemed so strange. But then, I read an essay in which Gil White predicted that Bush's Iraq policy would lead to Islamist takeovers and a stronger Iran. Written before it happened. He has another essay predicting the Iranian nuclear crisis will end in the disarmament of Israel and victory of Islamist fundamenalism. Contra Walt and Mearsheimer, Gil-White believes that Islamism is the favorite religious lobby of the American Elite, and that Israel has few friends in Washington.

I'm somewhere in-between on this--believing that Israel has friends, enemies and people who don't give a damn--but it was interesting to see Walt and Mearsheimer turned on their heads.

So I read on.

I found his very long essay on "The Problem of Jewish Self-Defense" to be absolutely fascinating, not least because it deals with the case of Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook). He was the central character in my documentary, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die? He may be wrong about other things, but he gets Bergson right, IMHO.

What Gil-White has to say is summed up here, where he relates American tolerance of Islamic fundamentalism today to American acquiescence towards Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II:
There is a joke told of two Jews, right before they are killed:
“Sam and Irving are facing the firing squad. The executioner comes forward to place the blindfold on them. Sam disdainfully and proudly refuses, tearing the thing from his face. Irving turns to him and pleads: ‘Please Sam, don’t make trouble!’”

The structure of this joke is identical to what happened when Peter Bergson tried to pressure the US government to save Jewish lives in Europe, causing “some mainstream American Jewish leaders” to say to his protesting rabbis: “Please, don’t make trouble.” The joke makes fun of a pathology of reasoning but the extermination of the Jewish people is not funny; if we do not want more exterminations of the Jewish people, we must understand this pathology of reasoning....
Later he adds:
I am predicting that soon -- very soon -- there will be another antisemitic genocide. It will take place in the State of Israel, and it will be directly carried out by the antisemitic forces of the Muslim world. The Western world will look the other way. Later, it will build Holocaust museums and people will put on grave looking faces and shake their heads. Or perhaps they will celebrate. It all depends on which direction culture takes in the coming years. But though time may be running short, this genocide can still be prevented. In order to do so, good people in the West must understand what is at stake. They certainly don't understand it now. They have no clue why there is hatred of Jews, and they are utterly confused about their own antisemitic prejudices.
Another curious thing about Gil-White is that he has lived in Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and shares an an interest in Central Asia.

Condoleezza Rice, Concert Pianist

Sunday's New York Times ran this article about the Secretary of State's music-making. She's partial to Brahms and Shostakovich. She'd rather play in a group than as a soloist (she accompanied Yo-Yo Ma at the National Medal of the Arts award ceremony in Brahms's Violin Sonata in D minor, see photo above). The Secretary of State's favorite opera? Mussorgsky's Khovanschchina.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Last night, we attended a screening of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. It was held at the Canadian Embassy, a wonderful building that sits on land Ronald Reagan gave to Canada as a gift of gratitude for help during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979--the Canadians sheltered Americans in their embassy and helped them to escape Ayatollah Khomeni's mobs using Canadian passports.

The event was a benefit for The Hospitality and Information Service, a Washington, DC charity. There were diplomats and lobbyists and lots of Washingtonian. We were seated in front of the Ambassador from Lesotho, H.E. Molelekeng Ernestina Rapolaki.

The screenwriter, Ruth Sacks Caplin, was there in person. She was as charming as any of the characters in the film. According to a Washington Post story, Ruth Sacks Caplin spent about a quarter of a century trying to make this film, based on a story by British novelist Elizabeth Taylor. She couldn't get the rights during the novelist's lifetime. Finally, she outlived her and got permission from the estate. Her patience paid off. It is charming, a vision of England as we Americans like to see it, full of colorful eccentrics quoting Blake and Wordsworth--the film is perfect entertainment for anyone who enjoys Masterpiece Theatre. Every actor has a moment to do a star turn. The cast does a magnificent job, especially Joan Plowright.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Conflict Resolution 101

Today I heard an interesting anecdote at a seminar on Russia. I think the story sums up the academic discipline of "conflict resolution."

The hostess and guest speaker had participated together previously at an international seminar on conflict resolution. Among the other participants was a couple haggling over a disputed territory in the former USSR. They brought up 1000 years of historical grievances. Stalemate. Tension. Unhappiness.

Up walks a Harvard University academic expert in peaceful conflict resolution.

"What you need to do," she tells the bickering couple, "is to forget your history and look to what you can do by working together in the future."

Hearing this, the disputants exploded in rage. For the conference luncheon, the organizers seated the two at separarate dining tables at opposite ends of the room.

Weekly Standard: Putin Knew About Saddam -9/11 Connection

Dan Darling's story can be found here:
IN JULY 2004, DURING THE COURSE of a little-publicized event while on a visit to Kazakhstan, Russian President Vladimir Putin made some unusual remarks:

I can confirm that after the events of September 11, 2001, and up to the military operation in Iraq, Russian special services and Russian intelligence several times received . . . information that official organs of Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist acts on the territory of the United States and beyond its borders, at U.S. military and civilian locations.

Putin's remarks were little noticed by the American press, coming as they did so soon after the release of the 9/11 Commission's report. Moreover, despite his strong opposition to the war in Iraq, Putin was unabashedly in favor of Bush's reelection, having earlier criticized Senator Kerry for supporting unilateral action against Serbia while opposing it with regard to Iraq. Putin went so far as to claim in October 2004 that "The goal of international terrorism is to prevent the election of President Bush to a second term."

Mark Steyn on Bombing Iran

He's for it:
Perhaps it’s unduly pessimistic to write the civilized world automatically into what Osama bin Laden called the “weak horse” role (Islam being the “strong horse”). But, if you were an Iranian “moderate” and you’d watched the West’s reaction to the embassy seizure and the Rushdie murders and Hezbollah terrorism, wouldn’t you be thinking along those lines? I don’t suppose Buenos Aires Jews expect to have their institutions nuked any more than 12 years ago they expected to be blown up in their own city by Iranian-backed suicide bombers. Nukes have gone freelance, and there’s nothing much we can do about that, and sooner or later we’ll see the consequences—in Vancouver or Rotterdam, Glasgow or Atlanta. But, that being so, we owe it to ourselves to take the minimal precautionary step of ending the one regime whose political establishment is explicitly pledged to the nuclear annihilation of neighboring states.

Will Bush Bomb Iran?

That question is the talk of Washington right now. I just don't know. It's hard to believe. But someone I know thinks he will. She told me that Bush has no alternative because his credibility is shot, his domestic poll numbers are down, and his international stature is shrinking. It would be a "Hail Mary" pass. (Look at it as a possiblly real "October Surprise").

If such an attack worked, all would be forgiven and the Republicans might keep their majority in Congress. If it didn't--Bush could be impeached if the Democrats sweep 2006 elections...

Still, hard for me to believe he'll go through with it. Though as my friend pointed out, Bush has already invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. He's done it before.

Friday, April 07, 2006

An Overheard Snatch of Conversation...

Today I was in Au Bon Pain near George Washington University, sitting next to two undergrads about six inches away, and overheard a young man telling a young woman something I suppose he thought might impress her that I could not have made up:
HE: Well, my AP ceramics teacher was really great. He brought in some dildoes and we made a teapot.
SHE: That's...interesting.
HE: I'm taking this class now in cultural studies, and it's all about Jennifer Lopez's ass, how it's about identity, how she's not really Puerto Rican, she's a 3rd-generation American, and how her ass and what has happened to it reflects that identity...
"Tuition dollars at work, I guess," someone I know said to me, after we left.

Michelle Malkin on South Park and the Danish Cartoons


Libby v Bush?

Someone I know suggested that the latest news stories about "Scooter" Libby's legal case may indicate that the former staffer is not willing to fall on his sword for George W. Bush. Which might mean a crack in the famous "loyalty" of the White House staff. Which might lead to more interesting developments. I do remember that President Bush said something like he would investigate who leaked confidential information, and if he found out who, then he would fire the person. Well, if it was Bush--he really ought to resign...

UPDATE: Here are relevant quotes from
Update II: Reader SS sends these quotes along:

"I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action." [Bush Remarks: Chicago, Illinois, 9/30/03]

"The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." [White House Briefing, 9/29/03]

Uh huh.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Zorba's Wisdom

Saw Zorba the Greek with Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates last night. Was struck by the film's seriousness. Sort of grim. Tears under the laughter. Found this quote that sums it up, on an MIT Zorba page:
When everything goes wrong, what a joy to test your soul and see if it has endurance and courage! An invisible and all-powerful enemy-some call him God, others the Devil, seems to rush upon us to destroy us; but we are not destroyed.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bush's "Sleaze Factor"

Bush promised to restore dignity to the Oval Office. Instead, his administration is making Bill Clinton look like Pollyanna. The latest sleazy news is of a Homeland Security p.r. official (I kid you not) arrested in a kiddie-sex internet sting. Before that, it was a domestic policy advisor in a fake-returns scam. Before that, Abramoff & Co. ripping off American Indians. Before that, "Heck of a job, Brownie!" Before that--torture memos. Not to mention Barbara Bush's donation to First Brother Neil's software company in the name of Katrina relief.

The resignation of Tom DeLay, like that of fellow Texan Jim Wright, puts a "Sleaze Factor" on the agenda for 2006 . If Democrats can't follow Newt Gingrich's playbook to retake at least one house of Congress by beating up on Republican arrogance and corruption--well, it doesn't bear thinking about...

Fallaci v. Rumsfeld

While browsing in a local Barnes and Noble bookstore today, I came across a copy of Oriana Fallaci's new book, sitting on a table. The Force of Reason,. I opened a page, began reading, and was struck at once by Fallaci's analysis of the current ideological conflict--one that differs from Donald Rumsfeld's point of view(scroll down):
I do not believe in moderate Islam. What moderate Islam? Is it enough not to cut heads off? Moderate Islam is another invention of ours.

There is not good Islam or bad Islam. There is just Islam. And Islam is the Qur’an. And the Qur’an is the Mein Kampf of this movement. The Qur’an demands the annihilation or subjugation of the other, and wants to substitute totalitarianism for democracy. Read it over, that Mein Kampf. In whatever version, you will find that all the evil that the sons of Allah commit against themselves and against others is in it...

The Paradox of Humanitarian Action

For research on an article about the role of NGOs in international relations, I've just started reading this interesting book by Fiona Terry, from Doctors Without Borders, called Condemned to Repeat: The Paradox of Humanitarian Action. I'll have more to say when I've finished it, but in the meantime, I thought that an interview with the author published on the organization's website gives some idea of the issues the author is wrestling with:
Q: What was your first experience in witnessing the manipulation or abuse of humanitarian operations?

At a political level, it was in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 when humanitarian action was deployed as the response to the terrible predicament of the Kurds at the hands of Saddam Hussein. The United States and its allies had encouraged the Kurds to rise up during the Gulf War but only offered them wheat flour as compensation for the violent repression that followed. Fearful that a massive influx of Kurds would destabilize Turkey, an important US ally, the would-be refugees were refused asylum and were lured back to their villages with humanitarian aid. Thus humanitarian action served as an alibi, giving governments an image of doing something to address the problem when in reality they did little to help the Kurds.

At a more direct level, it was in Somalia during the 1991-92 famine. While men, women and children starved to death, certain Somalis went to great lengths to steal food for their own use, including registering fictitious villages for distribution. Aid agencies were struggling to find the resources needed to feed hundreds of thousands of starving people, yet had to pay exorbitant fees to armed militias to protect them and their supplies.

But even at its worst, the abuse of humanitarian action in Somalia was not as bad as in the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) when it was the aid - and only the aid - that sustained a regime and army responsible for perpetrating genocide.

Q: Would you please define what you describe as the "refugee-warrior" phenomenon in your book?

Refugees are generally fleeing some violence or oppression in their home country and seek asylum in a neighboring country. There some of them take up arms and use the refugee camps as rear-bases for guerrilla incursions against their home government. Although the notion of a refugee-warrior is a contradiction because combatants are not entitled to refugee status unless they put down their arms, in practice the refugee-warrior phenomenon has been widespread during the last 50 years. Refugee camps provide a good pool of potential recruits, many of who are understandably willing to take their future into their hands and try to return to their homeland by any means necessary. The camps provide protection against enemy reprisals as an attack on a refugee camp usually receives condemnation from the UN and its member states, and camps provide a whole host of resources such as food, money and medical supplies. The aid structures in the camps also provide mechanisms through which control can be exerted on the refugee population. And, by acting as interlocutors between the refugees and the aid organizations, combatants can gain legitimacy with the refugees as well as internationally by acting as the supposed representatives of the refugees.

Q: In your book you state that "do no harm," the common dictum among aid organizations, is an illusion. Why?

Because humanitarian assistance will always have some negative consequences even if these are not immediately visible to aid organizations. Aid will always generate some winners and some losers; in order to reach victims it is often necessary to work with and through rebel leaders or government officials who have blood all over their hands. Pretending that aid can actually be given without causing any harm is utopian. Moreover, it is counterproductive if we are to make hard-headed assessments about the relative good and harm of our actions and act accordingly.

Q: The 1990s term "complex emergency" with its implicit notion that humanitarian work is more complicated now than during the Cold War era is something that you discuss at length in your book. You feel that some humanitarian workers use this concept as an excuse for not learning (or wanting to learn) from past experiences, or more specifically, experiences that happened during the Cold War period. Why do you think that this is a mistake?

I think that too much emphasis has been placed on perceived changes in the context to explain the difficulties encountered in assisting victims of conflict, and not enough on the role of aid actors themselves. There are genuine changes in the nature of conflict in the post-Cold War world but these have coincided with the massive growth of the international aid regime, and the expansion of the field of intervention from the periphery of conflicts during the Cold War to the heart of conflicts in the 1990s. Aid is implicated in the dynamics of conflicts in most places but this is not a new phenomenon, and the dilemmas we face today are not more difficult than those of the past. I think that the choices aid organizations faced when trying to assist Cambodians along the Thai-Cambodian border and inside Cambodia in the 1980s were more difficult than most choices we have to make today. I think aid organizations too readily assume that what occurred in the "simple" past is not relevant to today's "complexities," and lament the complexities of contemporary crises as an excuse for their failings.

Q: In your book, you focus on four contexts where aid was manipulated to the benefit of combatants: the Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan (1980s), the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras, the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand, and the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire (DRC). Do you think that there are similar situations happening now?

Absolutely. The Liberian refugee camps in Guinea are used as a base for opponents of Charles Taylor's government in Monrovia, and the Burundian refugee camps in Tanzania have long hosted rebel fighters.

But the worst case of the manipulation of humanitarian assistance in the world today is not taking place in a refugee camp but in a huge open prison that is called North Korea. Refugees who have managed to flee the country and hide in China say that food aid meant for famine victims is not getting to those who need it but is going to citizens deemed to be loyal to Kim Jong-il's regime. Refugee testimonies suggest that three million people died from starvation and related illnesses in 1995-1998 alone, and many continue to die today. I think it is scandalous that aid organizations continue to work in North Korea when the government does not allow them to conduct an independent needs assessment, freely distribute their aid or monitor and evaluate the impact of the aid. These are the minimum conditions necessary to assure that aid is reaching those in need and not those chosen by the regime. To participate in such discrimination opposes the fundamental idea of humanitarian action. It is terrible to think that North Koreans are starving to death while North Korea is the second largest recipient of food aid after Afghanistan. Until last year, it was the largest recipient. Aid organizations have a responsibility to know what is happening to their aid for the sake of the people in whose name they intervene. In North Korea they are collaborating with the regime, channeling aid through the same regime that is responsible for causing and perpetuating the famine.
You can buy a copy of Fiona Terry's book from

Blogger Wins Blooker

This 'n That has this story about Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen from the London Telegraph:
The organisers of the Blooker Prize,, an American online print-on-demand publishing company, says it wants its prize - which is worth $2,000 (£1,140) to the winner - to become better known than the £50,000 British Booker Prize within five years.

By coincidence, Powell has a connection with the Booker. "The first-ever recipient of the Blooker Prize is the former nanny of the first-ever two-time recipient of the Booker Prize. I think that's kind of neat," she said yesterday

Eight years ago, Powell worked for 12 months as nanny to the family of Peter Carey, the Australian novelist, when they lived in Manhattan.

Carey's Oscar and Lucinda won the Booker in 1988 and he became a double-winner in 2001 with his novel, True History of the Kelly Gang. Powell, whose success has allowed her to buy a better New York apartment, said that the time and cost of her cookery marathon had put great strain on her marriage.

Child's recipes are elaborate, so working outside the house and then cooking often meant that dinner was not ready until after midnight. And the financial strain meant that she was grateful when several fans of her "blog" tracked down her address and sent small sums of money or ingredients through the post.

Powell said: "It was enough to get me through some quite tough times paying the rent. There are 12 recipes requiring a whole leg of lamb. Legs of lamb in New York are not cheap."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

America's D/D+ in the Battle of Ideas

The Secretary of Defense graded himself on March 27th. From the transcript:
QUESTION:  Inaudible]. My question has to do with the war on terror as a war of ideology. The National Defense Strategy, QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review), talks about the war on terror having a significant component as a war of ideology. What do you think we're doing well with respect to the war of ideology, and what do you think we could do better?

            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  If I were rating, I would say we probably deserve a D or D+ as a country as how well we're doing in the battle of ideas that's taking place. I'm not going to suggest that it's easy, but we have not found the formula as a country.

            It's basically a struggle not between the West and Muslims. It's a struggle within the Muslim faith. There are a relatively small number of violent extremists and a very large number of moderates who do not believe in violent extremism in that faith. We're going to have to find ways that we can encourage and support those moderate voices because they're the ones who are in the struggle...

The Art Czar

Just got my review copy of Alice Goldfarb Marquis' new biography of critic Clement Greenberg. Full disclosure: Alice is a friend of mine, thanks to her book on the history of the NEA, Art Lessons. She has visited me in Washington and in Moscow, and I've visited her in San Diego. She mentions of my name in her acknowledgements. So, I'm biased.

That said, I already finished Chapter One. For a scholarly biography published by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, it sure is juicy... Love poetry, broken homes, drinking, Mary McCarthy dancing in a black leotard. Who knew?

I can hardly wait to see the movie. My pick for Greenberg: George Clooney.

Mark Steyn: Learn From the Australians

Mark Steyn explains why he thinks Australia is the country to follow (ht LGF):
If I had to propose a model for Western rhetoric, it would be the Australians. In the days after Sept. 11, the French got all the attention for that Le Monde headline -- "Nous sommes tous Americains" -- "We are all Americans," though they didn't mean it, even then. But John Howard, the Aussie prime minister, put it better and kept his word: "This is no time to be an 80 percent ally."

Marvelous. More recently, the prime minister offered some thoughts on the difference between Muslims and other immigrant groups. "You can't find any equivalent in Italian or Greek or Lebanese or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad," he said, stating the obvious in a way most political leaders can't quite bring themselves to do. "There is really not much point in pretending it doesn't exist."

Unfortunately, too many of his counterparts insist on pretending (at least to their citizenry) that it doesn't exist. What proportion of Western Muslims is hot for jihad? Five percent? Ten, 12 percent? Given that understanding this Pan-Islamist identity is critical to defeating it, why can't we acknowledge it honestly? "Raving on about jihad" is a line that meets what the law used to regard as the reasonable-man test: If you're watching news footage of a Muslim march promising to bring on the new Holocaust, John Howard's line fits.

Is it something in the water down there? Listen to Howard's Cabinet colleagues. Here's the Australian treasurer, Peter Costello, with advice for Western Muslims who want to live under Islamic law: "There are countries that apply religious or sharia law -- Saudi Arabia and Iran come to mind. If a person wants to live under sharia law these are countries where they might feel at ease. But not Australia."

You don't say. Which is the point: Most Western government leaders don't say, and their silence is correctly read by a resurgent Islam as timidity. I also appreciated this pithy summation by my favorite foreigner minister, Alexander Downer: "Multilateralism is a synonym for an ineffective and unfocused policy involving internationalism of the lowest common denominator." See Sudanese slaughter, Iranian nukes, the U.N.'s flop response to the tsunami, etc. It's a good thing being an Aussie Cabinet minister doesn't require confirmation by John Kerry and Joe Biden.

My worry is that the official platitudes in this new war are the equivalent of the Cold War chit-chat in its 1970s detente phase --when Willy Brandt and Pierre Trudeau and Jimmy Carter pretended the enemy was not what it was. Then came Ronald Reagan: It wasn't just the evil-empire stuff, his jokes were on the money, too. In their own depraved way, the Islamists are a lot goofier than the commies and a few gags wouldn't come amiss. If this is a "long war," it needs a rhetoric that can go the distance. And the present line fails that test.

Tom DeLay Resigns

Today's Washington Post has the story:
The decision came three days after Tony C. Rudy, his former deputy chief of staff, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and corruption charges, telling federal prosecutors of a criminal enterprise being run out of DeLay's leadership offices. Rudy's plea agreement did not implicate DeLay in any illegal activities, but by placing the influence-buying efforts of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff directly in DeLay's operation, the former aide may have made an already difficult reelection bid all but out of reach.

The Immigration Crisis

I haven't blogged on this, because I really can see both sides of the dilemma. The issue of immigration has been a perennial source of conflict in American history. Probably whatever compromise is worked out by Congress will need to be revisited in a few years. Both Democrats and Republicans are divided, for good reasons.

There are no easy answers to the immigration problem, only tradeoffs.

Gators 73, Bruins 57

The better team won...