Monday, May 31, 2004


For various reasons that are unimportant at this time, I never served in the military. This means that I cannot completely know or understand the sacrifices made by the people who serve in our armed forces. So rather than bloviate at length, all I've got to say this Memorial Day is:

For those who stood a post, who have placed their lives on the line in defense of our nation, for those who have chosen to serve where I cannot, thank you for your service.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Praising the Factually Challenged

The Star Tribune ran this mentally-deficient editorial about Michael Moore's latest "documentary", Fahrenheit 9/11 today. The first paragraph gives one a pretty good notion why I called it that:

We haven't seen Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," and so cannot praise or criticize the film on its merits. But enough is known about its ambitions and general thrust to establish that this is something Americans should have a chance to see, and so congratulations are in order -- not only to Moore, but to the Cannes International Film Festival jurors who gave it their top award on Saturday.

The Palme d'Or is of dubious commercial worth, it is said, but in this case it has removed any doubt that deals will be struck to distribute Moore's latest project in the United States, as they already have been struck for every other territory on the planet. Certainly the prize has already increased audience interest in advance of the film's release later this summer. And, as a side benefit, it has added to the deserved embarrassment that Michael Eisner, the Disney chairman, is suffering for having tried to suppress it.

Don't they do any research before they write these things? First they recommend this film without, by their own admission, having seen it and judging on its actual merit. Apparently ambition and the point of view it expresses (trashing the current US administration) is enough. Second, they repeat the discredited story about Disney attempting to suppress this work of 'art'. The facts are a bit different. Disney told Miramax (and Moore) over a year ago that it would not permit Miramax to distribute the film. Moore was always free to peddle his movie elsewhere, so Disney was not trying to suppress it. They just didn't want their name associated with it. Given Moore's strained relationship with the truth, that sentiment is understandable. The Star Tribune even admits that Moore is a less than honest filmmaker:

His "Bowling for Columbine" was shot through with fakery, from the staged gun giveaway at a Michigan bank to the soundly discredited notion that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had gone bowling before slaughtering their high-school compatriots. Nor did it probe deeply into the most troubling aspect of American gun violence: its disproportionate visitation on people who are not white and not wealthy. Moore built the film to look like a documentary, and so no matter how vigorously he rejects that label, he can't easily excuse the liberties it took with facts.

But no critic has yet tagged such a distortion in "Fahrenheit 9/11," which, by all accounts, moves in a very different direction.

The reason that no critic has tagged any distortions in "Fahrenheit 9/11" is that people interested in actually critiquing the film haven't had a chance to see it yet. The audience at Cannes was not likely to be one critical of his efforts, given that is an attack on George W. Bush.

The editorial goes on to list events in the movie it heard about in an attempt to make the case that it is factual. Then it makes the following comment about Moore's effort:

Yes, Michael Moore makes polemics in the form of popular films. So what? The points he is raising deserve to be raised, and they demand answers from a president and an administration who remain dedicated to evading the ugliest truths about this war with a combination of secrecy, denial and blithe changes of subject.

Setting aside the unwarranted shot at administration (they don't bother to tell us what "ugliest truths" are being evaded for one thing), the editorial writers go on to praise this factually-challenged clown for making polemics. Since the Star Tribune has now officially endorsed the presentation of distorted facts and misrepresented events as useful and desirable, I'll be looking forward to a positive review of Ann Coulter's next work. I just won't hold my breath while I'm waiting.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Why Abu Ghraib is more important than Nick Berg's execution

Earlier this week my less-than-favorite newspaper published an editorial explaining why the Abu Ghraib is much more important than the story of Nick Berg's execution at the hands of Arab terrorists. Since I disagree with their take on things, I'd like to make a few comments about it. The complete editorial can be found here (free registration required). What follows are quotes from the editorial (in italics), followed by my comments.

Editorial: Berg, Abu Ghraib/Why the focus is on the prison

Not even the barbaric beheading of Nicholas Berg, seen in sickening photos and video worldwide, has derailed the scandal over U.S. abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. That has left some Americans puzzled, especially those who found in the gruesome murder of the innocent young idealist from Pennsylvania a justification for Abu Ghraib. Why focus on the abuse, they ask, when what happened to Berg was infinitely worse and wholly unjustified.
For some, the question is disingenuous; they want the focus away from Abu Ghraib for political reasons, and Berg's death became a lever they could use. But some truly are puzzled about why such energy is going into the prison scandal. There are several reasons, some of them mundane, some more complex.

The main problem here is the attempt to discredit the people asking the question. First is the implication that a significant number of Americans believe that Nick Berg's murder justifies the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. I haven't seen that opinion anywhere, so how did the Star Tribune get the idea that kind of opinion is widespread enough to matter? They are also implying that the people who are most questioning of the focus on Abu Ghraib are those who approve of the abusive conduct there. Rather a nasty thing to say about folks who disagree with them, what?

At the level of mundane is this: The prisoners abused at Abu Ghraib weren't the same people as those who killed Berg. They weren't even from the same country. Berg was butchered by Al-Qaida, the real enemy in the war on terror.

The fundamental answer is simpler: Americans are not like Al-Qaida, and we're not like Saddam Hussein. The United States simply doesn't behave as they do, and efforts to find some moral comparison between the prison abuse and the murder of Berg suggest that it should.

Moreover, Al-Qaida doesn't worry about its reputation, but the United States must. It was Karl Rove, President Bush's political adviser, after all, who lamented that the Abu Ghraib scandal will take decades to undo in the Arab world. That damage has serious implications for the American economy and American security.

This part isn't totally unreasonable, except they continue to propagate (along with the Democratic Party) the idea that Al Qaida is the only enemy. The Bush administration has made it clear all along the enemy is all terrorist organizations with international reach. From President Bush's address to both houses of Congress on September 20th, 2001:

"I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. (Applause.) The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.

Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."

-George W. Bush, September 20, 2001

Then they continue on with the following:
But there's another reason this story is gathering, rather than losing, steam: Top civilian and military officials in the U.S. government, many of them Republican, are fueling it. They were sickened by the abuse and the stains it has left on institutions they care about, and they are fed up with the arrogance and incompetence of the Bush administration. They have resented for a long time the cabal of neoconservatives who call the shots in this administration and who are responsible for the failures in Iraq.

The editors at the Star Tribune seem to think this story is fueled by government disgust with 1.) the Bush administration and 2.) neoconservatives. First, they just state (without a shred of supporting evidence) that the Administration is incompetent and arrogant, as if those opinions are established fact. The voting public will decide that in November. Second, I don't think they would recognize a neoconservative if one walked into their offices, introduced him/her self, and presented them with 'Neoconservatism for Dummies'. After this stuff, they present a semi-chronological account of the events in Iraq, basing some of it on the Seymour Hersh story in the New Yorker. They finish up with the following:

The most fanatical supporters of Bush have started beating the drum that the whole mess is a creature of liberals and the media, who would like to see Bush lose more than they would like to see the United States win in Iraq. Some also add that the International Committee of the Red Cross is a liberal outfit whose reports on prison abuse can't be trusted.

All of that is patent nonsense. Abu Ghraib and the failing Iraq occupation get conflated into a general charge that the Bush administration has shown itself to be wholly incompetent. Much of the harshest criticism is coming from old-line conservatives and Republicans. That's why Abu Ghraib remains in the news: Washington leaders of various political stripes are finding common ground in rising up against the neoconservatives and their delusions of grandeur that have bequeathed the United States the looming disaster it now confronts in Iraq.

The last couple of paragraphs is a contentless attack on the Bush administration. The Star Trib responds to criticisms of the media's handling of this affair by accusing their critics of being fanatical Bush supporters. Well, the Star Trib editorial board is a group of fanatical Bush haters, given the content of their editorials. That hardly makes them objective observers. They then say Abu Ghraib plus the 'failing' Iraq occupation proves Bush to be incompetent. (Of course, the well-executed invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq can't be evidence to the contrary.) They state their opinion of the occupation (that it's failing) as fact, when jury is still out on the question. And then we have the standard 'evil, deluded neocons' argument. Sloppy,sloppy, sloppy.

More Thoughts on Abu Ghraib

A report in yesterday's New York Times indicates that several aggressive methods used by interrogators at the prison. It also reports that these methods were approved by officers that lacked the authority to do so, as that authority rests with General Ricardo Sanchez. The last disturbing fact appears to be that some of the deaths of Iraqis in U.S. custody prisoners/detainees may be homicides.

I draw the following things from the article.

  • That we have a problem with some of the military intelligence people in Iraq. Obviously, killing people in our custody (even by accident) is not acceptable conduct. The individuals responsible must be found and appropriately punished.

  • There is no evidence as yet that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were condoned by the senior commanders. If this continues to be true, the calls for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's resignation are misplaced. It is completely unreasonable to expect the head of the Department of Defense to control the actions of low-level people in the field. That's what their commanders are for. If Rumsfeld approved a policy of torture and abuse or willingly turned a blind eye to it, then he should be canned as incompetent and possibly tried as a criminal.

  • The source of this information is the US military, not the press. The military has discovered and is in the process of investigating the abuses and punishing the offenders. The press' contribution to this process has been just about zero. So why are we being bombarded with this story on a daily basis? What, in the eyes of the media, more should the government be doing about the problem? So far, the only things mention by our media 'watchdogs' is to fire Rumsfeld.

Another question - why has the media downplayed the discovery of sarin in Iraq and the beheading of Nick Berg? It would seem the discovery of a chemical weapon belies the claim that Iraq had destroyed its WMDs. As far as the Berg story, why is it the misconduct by prison guards gets a hundred times more attention than deliberate barbarity committed as matter of policy by our enemies? The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote an editorial on why they thought Berg's beheading was not important that basically was self-serving bilge plus a cheap attack on Republicans, 'neoconservatives' and the Bush administration. More about that later.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I'm Back

After a brief hiatus due to illness, I'm back here writing again. Respiratory illnesses suck.

Kudos to the Star Tribune

Well, given the amount of space I spend on criticizing the Star Tribune, it is only fair that I complement them when they do something that I do like. In this case, the Strib reprinted a Los Angeles Times piece by Kay Hymowitz critical of that artistic icon of the Left, Michael Moore. My favorite part:

Michael More recently announced that Disney had refused to distribute his new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11". As with all of Moore's pronouncements, you might want to season this one liberally with salt.

Moore - who poses as a heroic truth-teller an who in a speech last year after winning an Oscar for his documentary "Bowling for Columbine" bemoaned these "fictitious times" - is a virtuoso of fictions himself.

She then goes on to describe some (there wasn't enough space for all) of the misrepresentations and lies made by Moore in the "documentary". Given the bent of the Strib's politics, I applaud their willingness to print something uncomplimentary to someone on their side of the political aisle. Now if they could just apply the same standards to their own editorials...

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Newsmagazine? You Must Be Kidding...

While channel surfing a bit after my evening bike ride, I found that one of my favorite programs, Law and Order, has been pre-empted by NBC's Dateline program. The important news story that caused the pre-emption? Two hours about the end of Friends (an "obscure" show that has been running on NBC oh, forever). This event signifying the complete takeover of the news department by NBC's marketing division, I declare that at NBC, journalism has now ended.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

On the Misconduct at Abu Ghraib

There have been so many reports about the misconduct of some of the soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (although here is report about Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's latest statement on the matter) that I don't feel the need to link to a bunch of them. I'll just stick to stating my usual uninformed opinion on the matter. There are two things that need to happen.

First, the people responsible for the mistreatment of those prisoners must be tracked down and appropriately punished. Not just enlisted personnel, but the responsible officers, contractors and military intelligence types who may have been involved in these "interrogations". I think that is necessary to uphold the honor of the United States and that of our armed services. We cannot be like the government we deposed, otherwise we fail. We have a resposibility to make great efforts to live up to the standards we proclaim to stand for.

Second, we must make sure that the Iraqi people know what actions have been taken to ensure that justice has been done. Otherwise, they have will have some reason to believe that the US is no better than than the scumbags who used to rule the place. Certainly that is not the truth, but the perception matters. The Iraqis need to know that we do punish those who break the rules, even (especially) when they are our own people. They need to see that justice can prevail.