Friday, July 30, 2004

Why I'm Not Sold on Kerry

Our intrepid political reporter tracked down two local delegates in Boston tonight, to get their reactions to the Kerry grand finale and the convention overall.

I found their words enlightening.

The first is my state representative, a guy I vote for every two years. He's smart, he's a good state rep, and he's a veteran of Democratic Conventions.

Some people have made much of the centerist tone of the convention, as presented from the podium, and how it is so at odds with the opinions and mood on the Fleet Center floor. Kerry and Edwards, who voted for the war in Iraq, talking about staying the course.

David Brooks (New York Times) ran down the list today:

There were so many military men at the Democratic convention that I almost expected John Kerry to mount the stage in full body armor and recite the war speech from "Henry V." As it is, he called for bulking up the military, doubling the size of the Special Forces and crushing the terrorists. He hit Bush from the right, and when he got around to bashing the Saudis, I thought I'd wandered into a big meeting of The Weekly Standard editorial board.

Not only that, Kerry's speech followed an all-hawk medley. Gen. John Shalikashvili called for appreciably increasing the size of the Army. Joe Lieberman called for muscular and idealistic internationalism. Joe Biden said we must "win the death struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism." Gen. Wesley Clark said we're in "a life or death struggle" against terrorists seeking nuclear weapons.

John Edwards gave a speech that eschewed talk about Halliburton, WMD, misleading the country into war -— the entire liberal catechism. Instead he talked about defeating "every enemy in this new world" and confronting Syria and Iran so they don't interfere with the emergence of a democratic Iraq.

But, as David Broder (Washington Post) observes of the delegates, "80 percent of them say they opposed the decision to start the war in Iraq and 95 percent oppose it now. Unlike Kerry, 62 percent support gay and lesbian marriage. Almost nine out of 10 describe themselves as supporters of gun control."

But my state representative thinks it bodes well for the Democrats that the party's hard core did not surfeit on Bush rhetoric at the convention. He said people are leaving Boston tonight "unsatisfied" and "still hungry."

"At the last convention [2000], there was a lot of visceral Bush-bashing, and while that got you all revved up, it was also a release, so you went away feeling all satisfied. But because there hasn't been Bush-bashing at this convention, it's all been pure about Kerry, I think there's sort of a sense that 'gosh, there's got to be more to it than this.' Because just going 'rah rah,' and 'yeah,' and 'there's another good thing I like about him,' just doesn't give you that same satisfaction as, 'acht! we need tear this other guy apart,' from a very raw political sense."

["Acht," by the way, is a blunt, but harmless, Pennsylvania Dutch expletive. Dick Cheney should study it.]

The other local delegate we caught from the floor tonight thought Kerry was wonderful, because, "He talked about health care, jobs, education, world security -— he said what he needed to the American people."

"This is my fourth convention, and it's the most upbeat one I've been to. The messages being sent are, we need to stop out-sourcing jobs overseas, we need to strengthen our education system and there are 44 million Americans without health care. If we repeal some of the tax breaks Bush gave to the top one percent of income earners in America, as Mr. Kerry proposed, that would be more than enough to pay for these reforms."

Outsourcing ... education system ... health care ... repeal tax breaks ... reforms. Let's see, is there anything else on the American agenda tonight?

Oh, yeah, maybe they forgot this:

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Belly-Button Window

This article explores, in an oddly offhand way, the tension between the sensuality of belly-dance -- a delicious, ancient, and characteristically Middle Eastern art -- and the prudish anti-sensuality of Islamist fundamentalism.

The topic of the article is the decision by Egypt's state-owned TV to ban music videos where women bare their belly-buttons. The decision was taken in the name of "their daughter's morals." Egypt is not a theocracy, but its government rides a tiger of fundamentalism, and knows how to throw the beast a bone from time to time.

So far, the article reports, 700 videos have been banned, mainly Lebanese productions (the "exuberantly nubile Lebanese singer Nancy Agram" is singled out in the article) but also some Egyptian ones (a local girl named Rubi has drawn the ire of Cairo's fundamentalists).

But lest we accuse Egypt of being alarmist or old-fashioned, it's worth noting that American television imposed a similar restriction in the midst of the permissive Sixties. Curiously, a sitcom inspired by the 1001 Nights elicited the navel ban. I Dream of Genie [sic] was a classic piece of sexist kitsch featuring a curvy actress wearing a jewelled bra and gauzy pants that started out as hip-huggers and ended up around her waist.

There are two problems with this (besides not knowing how to spell "Jeannie"). One is that America in the 1960s was gradually lowering its collective dress code. TV was the final frontier. It was a long slog from Audrey Hepburn to Goldie Hawn. The "permissive Sixties" didn't open with a starter's pistol at dawn on Jan. 1, 1960.

The Barbara Eden series (1965) came along right at the time when women's exposed navels in public were the frontier of the rising tide of sexual liberation. After her came the bizarre era of the "occasional navel" rule, whereby censors would allow a bare belly-button in one scene if the same girl, in another scene in the same outfit, had it covered (you can see that in old "Gilligan's Island" and "Star Trek" episodes). After that came Cher, and "Laugh-In," and the TV belly-button floodgates were open, never to close.

A belly-button is, as the observant anthropologist Desmond Morris has pointed out, a miniature image of vagina. John Updike published a perfect little short story in 1961 called "A&P," which is essentially about a young man who works in a stuffy grocery store at the shore when three girls walk in, one of them in a two-piece suit, and the sight and idea of her, and her boss's reaction to her (lack of) attire drives him into open teen-male rebellion. The girls on the covers of the mid-'60s "Playboys" sported provocatively bare bellies in their hiphugger stretch pants. If you've ever read anything about how the "Playboy" empire operates, you'll know that those covers are scrupulously constructed to be deliberate ideograms of sexual suggestion.

The other problem is that, while Barbara Eden couldn't show her navel in a prime-time TV show, she could, and did, show it in other contexts -- as a young bikini model (it's easy to forget, given how annoying she later became as a perennial Merv Griffen guest, that she was good fun back in the day). She could walk down the beach in a two-piece suit without having to worry about being accosted by religious freaks. In Egypt, since at least as far back as "I Dream of Jeannie," belly-dancers have been forbidden to bare their bellies and navels. Sheer or flesh-colored nylons are allowed, but no bare bellies on belly-dancers. And, according to the article, "Rubi the singing and dancing sex bomb, ... must endure the company of campus security guards while attending class."

Other cultures appreciate and have eroticized the female navel. In Japan, young women commonly pay $2,000 for navel-reconstruction surgery to get an ideal belly-button -- which in that culture is "vertical, very narrow, and absolutely symmetrical." The navel goes to the core of Japaneses culture, says author Hogen Fukunaga. "The navel is the core of everything about the person," Fukunaga wrote in a book about how a navel's shape can diagnose one's ills. Scholars write treatises on the navel, such as the recent "Poetic Reflection on the Navel."

Middle Eastern and Indian culture also respect the belly as a vital center, the place where we all first were connected to life, through the navel. Its importance is reflected in the ancient art and literature of the Middle East and South Asia, which placed great emphasis on women's bellies. In Arab countries, as in Japan, there is a navel aesthetic: A large, hollow navel is regarded as beautiful and is considered lucky.

Like its brother religion, Christianity (and to a lesser extent Judaism), Islam often takes a harsh view of sexuality, and of women's sexuality especially. It seems to associate overt celebration of female sexuality with Islam's ancient enemy, polytheism. Probably this is because old paganisms often were matriarchal at their core, and, as was the case with Christianity in Europe, the goddess rituals naturally proved the most difficult to co-opt or extinguish.

In ancient India, the yantra is a downward-pointing triangle, a sacred female image, and the strongest version of the symbol is the Kali yantra. It represents shakti: the life force, cosmic energy experienced as female. And there is a navel-like dot at the center space, called the bindo, or "seed of life." Likewise, an image of Astarte, the Near Eastern fertility and sexuality goddess, in gold from Syro-Palestine c.1600-1500 B.C.E. reduces the goddess to only a simple face, a sacred triangle, and a navel. Her name itself means "Womb" or "Belly;" in Hebrew, she was called "Tamar."

A navel is the symbolic focal point of the mazes and labyrinths that dot much of the ancient landscapes of the Mediterranean. Francis Huxley ("The Way of the Sacred," 1974) writes: "He who knows how to follow or make the diagram has his passport to the other world and resides in God -- or rather, because the maze honors women and the belly, the Goddess." Mazes and labyrinths were found in the palaces of Minoan Crete, the most goddess-centered of all the early cultures, and are engraved on their coins, with the entrance at the bottom, representing the vulva, and the seat of the goddess in the center, the navel. These mazes were not places to get lost, but rather pathways to journey through on the way to the ritual space.

There once was an omphalos, or "navel-shrine," where the prophetic priestess of the Earth Goddess dwelt at Delphi before patriarchal religion converted the place to the service of Apollo. So patriarchal a figure as Aeschylus recorded that Gaia was the first to be worshipped at Delphi, followed by her daughters Themis and Phoebe. Asherah, one Canaanite form of the Goddess worshipped by the early Hebrews, was a daughter of Astarte. Asherah had a shrine at Shechem, mentioned in the Old Testament, known as the "navel of the land," which has been compared to Delphi.

This part of a woman's body naturally was prominent in the ritual erotic dances that were part of her religion, and which have come down, much disguised and altered, in modern belly-dance. Even detached from its origins, the modern belly-dance embodies a heady eroticism that can transcend narrow cultural perceptions of age, physical beauty, and sensuality. But clearly these ancient belly-dances had originally a magical, mystical power. The poet Ram Prasad, addressing Kali, wrote, "My heart is five lotuses. You building these five into one, dance and swell in my mind." In Turkish, one of the words for "dance" is a variation of the word boyu, which means "magic, witchcraft."

In part, too, the Middle Eastern repression of belly-dance may reflect a jealous regard for women's sexuality in a culture where women are a sort of property, to be bartered between families and hidden in harems. In this case, it is not so much a matter of what a woman does in her body, but of not crossing the line between public and private. And a desexualized woman, obviously, is easier to control.

"Many and subtle are the forms of violence to which Egyptian women have grown inured," the article notes. "On the unsubtle side we have Mohammed Omar, columnist for the state-owned daily Al-Akhbar, who maintains that only ugly women attract abuse and every man '[has] the right to do what [abusive] men have done.' "

So we should recuse ourselves from judging the Egyptian situation as "alarmist or old-fashioned" (I'd call it harsher things) because of what happened on our TV screens in 1965. That strikes me as a shoddy attempt at pre-emptive moral equivalency.

Useless Idiots

The "commentary in today's "Asia Times" makes it clear who is responsible for the ethnic slaughter in Sudan.

It's George W. Bush, of course.

The sad truth is that thousands of people in Darfur have died, and many more probably will and at least in part, because of George W Bush's and Tony Blair's failed adventure in Iraq. Two of the states militarily and logistically best equipped to intervene in Sudan have in effect ruled themselves out even as effective advocates of a rescue mission.

The world can't "trust" America and Britain anymore. We're to be shunned and ignored because we liberated Iraq from Saddam and are busy trying to give it back to its people as a free and democratic society. Because of that we're the bad boys who have to sit in time out for a generation or so. And if the world goes to hell in the interval, everyone knows who's to blame.

The piece goes on to compare Bush to Jack the Ripper.

One can indeed despair of the Arab world's tolerance for its own rulers' barbarities. But we have to admit that after the war on Iraq, the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the US's total protection for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pogroms in Gaza, and the xenophobic anti-Muslim and anti-Arab outbursts in the U.S., it is hardly surprising that many governments and their people across the world will cut some slack for any Arab regime in the face of US "concern" at its behavior.

Yes, one can indeed lament the few idiotic American brutes who for a few nights acted out their sadistic fantasies in Abu Ghraib. But at the same time, one can also apply a couple of brain cells and recognize the different between a cultural aberration, condemned and punished by the nation, and radical Islam's systematic religious policy of genocide that has gone on for hundreds of years.

"Sharon's pogroms"? Oh, please! The Israelis are efficient. If they wanted to hold an "organized extermination" (look up "pogrom") Gaza wouldn't be the teeming slum it is. Systematically decapitating the poisonous Hamas snake that intends to kill you does not count as a "pogrom."

"Anti-Arab outbursts in the U.S."? Oh, yes, the black Sudanese will just have to die because some loudmouths in the U.S. sometimes write stupid things about Arabs in AOL chat rooms. That's why so many Muslims are fleeing America, and none will dare to set foot in this country. Oops, except for the 7,000 or so who are moving as a lump to my state even as you read this. Well, but then there are plenty of black Africans clamoring to get under the rule of Arab purist thugs in Darfur and plenty of Jews queueing up to move to Saudi Arabia, so, moral equivalency, you know.

It might be possible somewhere in this article to mention the truth that Arabs and Muslims in this land of immigrants generally had it no worse than other ethnicities, until their brothers across the sea got it into their heads that killing Americans by the thousands was a legitimate policy. And that Islamic organizations in the U.S. seem to have been more interested in decrying "xenophobia" than terrorism. And that even with all that, Arab-Americans are less oppressed than Arabs who stay home in, say, Syria or Yemen.

The writer then points out why no other world power or regional coalition can, or will, do what needs to be done in Darfur.

The United Nations itself is not designed to conduct robust operations that could involve serious fighting, which is why it often "franchises" them. Ideally, the Arab League should act, but it will not. The African Union has made a start, but it is hopelessly under-resourced, and similar regional operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia were much-mitigated successes.

It would be good if some of the stronger Asian powers, even if it involved North Atlantic Treaty Organization and US backup, could get involved, but Pakistan being Muslim -- and India not being Muslim -- could complicate that. Indeed, Japan and South Korea, not having any dog in the fight at all, as former US secretary of state James Baker once put it, would be ethically preferable, if their militaries were up to it.

Failing that, perhaps in this case, this is a matter on which the European Union could be given the blue-flag franchise, and especially Germany, whose clean credentials on the Iraq war clear it of the Crusader connotations.

But one thing is very clear: the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and other active "coalition" partners should stay in the background, at best offering logistics and funding and the most discreet diplomatic support. And in a few years, maybe they will emerge from probation as good global citizens and be listened to once again.

Clear the way; here comes Germany. Only Germany can save the day because only Germany never did anything expansionist in North Africa, so, ...

... whoops. There goes that idea. As if you could have convinced the German Greens to go along with it anyhow.

And there the article ends. Women continue to be raped, children murdered or condemned to slow death by starvation, men burned alive in front of their market stalls. Ethnic cleansing, enslavement, religious terrorism. But by the end of an opinion piece that started out being about "Darfur: The case for intervention," Darfur and all its inhabitants have disappeared from view. They're gone from the prose, just as they will soon be gone from the face of the earth, if this writer's worldview prevails.

And that's too damn bad, but as is known to any good global citizen, who has been taught to think like this writer, the only real problem is always America. And of course those slaughtered Africans -- most of whom (Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa tribes) also are Muslims -- will have to realize that, too. Even though Arabs rode them down to the dust and killed them, it was all George Bush's fault. Explain it to them; I'm sure they'll understand.

Jack the Ripper indeed.

Penny, Brown Penny

Yesterday, when I got change back after paying for a Hunan chicken at the corner Chinese place, the cashier put a wheat-leaf penny in my hand with the other coins. I might not have noticed if she had given it to me heads-up, it was so clean and bright, like a new-minted coin. But there it was, from 1957, looking like it had fallen down someone's sofa cushions and hidden there unused since three years before I was born.

Coins fascinated me when I was a child. I studied the old U.S. designs, and foreign coins (the French had the most beautiful money, the British had the most important). And I horded wheat pennies when they came my way. But I can't tell you how long it's been since I got one in change. Two years? When I first became aware of money, in the late 1960s, they were common. I still have a big jar full of them that I saved. Slowly their numbers diminished and all but vanished.

Silver coin still lived then, too: dimes from 1964 rang differently on a countertop than the cheap alloy ones that came later. My grandparents, when they moved to southern Florida in 1962, still would get Indian head pennies in change at the local grocery.

Something about the look of this design takes me back much further than 1909 (when it replaced the Indian head cent). The dominant element is the big "one cent," as if it had to be made very clear to people what this was, what it signified. In that, it's like the earliest American money. And there's a point to it. Nickles issued in 1883 had a new design with a prominent Roman numeral V but no "cents," and sharpers brass-plated them and passed them off in rural regions as 5-dollar gold coins. The government fixed that the next year.

The old penny is clean and Roman in its design, it seems to me. The silly architecture of the Lincoln memorial is appropriate to a commemorative coin, not to a working money; it's like those ungodly state commemorative quarters.

But I turn 44 today, and maybe I'm just getting old.

Newsroom Dilemma

Newsroom dilemma of the day: An aerticle on Al Franken speaking at the Democratic Convention. Does it go in the entertainment column or on a news page? Maybe we need a new category of news. Politainment? Enterlics?

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A Glimpse of Life Under Shari'a

I was reading about the murder of Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian photojournalist beaten to death during interrogation in prison in Iran in 2003. She had been arrested while photographing student protests in Tehran. (Iranian authorities initially said she died of a stroke). Something jumped out at me, amid the whole sordid tale.

After a trial ended in charges dismissed against a low-level prison official (not the higher-ranking one that human rights activists said probably did the killing), Kazemi's Canadian son, Stephan Hashemi, was offered about $12,000 in "blood money" by the Iranian government as compensation for his mother's murder. Hashemi indignantly rejected the money, and good for him.

Under Iranian law, compensation for families of murder victims is set at $24,000 for a Muslim man, and about half that for a woman. Until only a couple of years ago, the rate for men of "tolerated" religions -- Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians -- was half that of Muslim men. Their women were half again, meaning the life of a Christian woman in Iran was valued at less than a quarter that of a Muslim man. As for Bah'ais, etc., forget it: no blood money, no rights, no nothing.

The Iranian theocracy, in a burst of reforming spirit, has upped the value of a tolerated non-Muslim man's life. But it hasn't been able to bring itself to admit women, even Islamic women, to equality.

Blood money is a barbaric relic, but it has its function, in a country where most people don't have insurance. If a breadwinner is slain, it helps his family survive. It's also true that Iranian women, especially in the few years since reformists began loosening the theocrats' grip, enjoy better rights than women in many other Muslim countries. They're now active members of the workforce, and they fill many senior public and private-sector positions.

"By participation in society women have changed the economic conditions of their families," said Fatameh Rakei, head of the parliament's committee on women's issues. "Most of them are responsible for covering family expenses." The murder of such a woman would have a catastrophic financial impact on her family.

But reformists such as Rakei have had no luck in getting an equalization of the blood money in Iran. The problem? Iran is bound by Shari'a Law. And "female breadwinner" and "seventh century A.D." just don't mix.

Any proposal approved by Iran's parliament also must be cleared by the hardline Guardian Council, which is responsible for ensuring that legislation conforms with Shari'a Law.

The Islamic definition of blood money is one of the following: 100 camels, 200 cows, 1,000 sheep, 200 silk dresses, 1,000 gold coins, or 10,000 silver coins. Authorities have set cash equivalents to simplify matters. That much modernization they could stomach without sensing they were violating Allah's commandments. "But it is clearly stipulated in the Koran that women get half blood money," a high-ranking cleric told Reuters in 2002.

Now, remind me again why important women's rights leaders in Britain consider it "a badge of honour" to form an alliance with Islamist preachers. As the writer here says, "Just because women wear the hijab, for example, does not mean that they are more oppressed than other women."

She specifically embraces Sheikh A-Qaradawi, who has said on the BBC that it's "God's justice" for Palestinian killers to target Israeli women in suicide bombing attacks, because "an Israeli woman is not like women in our societies, because she is a soldier." As for Jews, he says, "There is no dialogue between us except by the sword and the rifle."

Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou, at the Democratic convention last night, read as pure a piece of poetry as she ever spoke. Of course, it wasn't hers.

She read a quote from Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper's daughter who challenged the Democratic Party at its 1964 convention to break down the color barrier. The words came from a plain-spoken woman with a workaday prose that broke through clouds because it did without the verbal frumpery of Angelou's strained verse.

"What do I think of my country? What is that which elevates my shoulders and stirs my blood when I hear the words, the United States of America? Do I praise my country enough? Do I laud my fellow citizens enough? What is there about my country which makes me hang my head and avert my eyes when I hear the words the United States of America? What am I doing about it? Am I relating my disappointment to my leaders and to my fellow citizens, or am I like one, not involved, sitting high and looking low?"

Why does it seem that the two halves of that statement have diverged into the two political camps of the modern political scene?

Plus, His Name is Great Fodder for Headline Puns

Everyone's raving about Barack Obama's speech last night at the Democratic Convention. Everyone -- liberals and conservatives. It goes to show, I think, how refreshed most people in this country are (and not just white people) to find an emerging leader from a minority background who has a transcendant message, who can win without the cheat of gerrymander districting, who can make a color-blind appeal past the cycle of guilt-mongering. His ancestors were in Africa while those of most American blacks were in slavery.

I was working, so I didn't hear his speech with the full force. I wish I had; I love the pulpit style, it's one of the great rhetorical arts of the human experience. But I've read the speech. I hope Obama wrote this himself. It's wonderful:

This year, in this election, we are called to reaffirm our values and commitments, to hold them against a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations.

Yes! Can anything be more appealing to someone whose sense of America's present is rooted in its history? And, to top it off, he said the thing I've been waiting for John Kerry to prove he knows:

Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued – and they must be defeated.

To which he added, "John Kerry knows this." I like Mr. Obama. But with all due respect, I'm not going to take his word for it on something as important as this. I need to be convinced by the man himself.

One of the most thoughtful blog posts today is this one from Dean Esmay, one of the writers in this medium who can earn respect of both liberals and conservatives. He looks ahead to America after the (hypothetical, but possible) election of John Kerry. All the problems and challenges remain. Conservatives/Republicans (and that would include me) have tended to condemn many liberals/Democrats as being more focused on humiliating and defeating the incumbent party than in dealing with the serious crisis of terrorism and uniting in a time of war.

What happens when the positions are reversed? Esmay writes, "I do find myself wondering: how many of you on the right will embrace such a philosophy if John Kerry should carry the election in November? ... How many of you will have the patriotism to say, 'I disagree with many of his policy directions, I do not think he is conducting our foreign policy in the right way, but I will do my best to get behind him and support him until elections come around next time?' "

I'm genuinely curious. For that is the stance I intend to take. I will refuse to call him traitor, loser, liar, incompetent. He will be my President, my Commander In Chief, the Chief Executive of a great nation, elected by the will of a majority of the electors in these 50 great united States. So even if he does things I disagree with in conducting foreign policy, I will say, "I respectfully disagree with the President's directions, but I will do my best to express my dissent respectfully and hope that I am mistaken and that he has made the proper decisions after all."

That's my pledge. How many of you will take a similar one?

OK, I'm down with that, though I'm not necessarily the audience he is addressing. Anybody else?

The very conservative Hugh Hewitt, for instance, writing from the convention, is staking out the hostility in terms that you might get used to hearing if the 2004 election ends up like that of 1992.

The delegates and their nominee are hard-left – the most left-wing convention in American political history. The talking points all stress happy faces and lowered voices, but Michael Moore is the crown prince of this assembly, even as it prepares to give John Kerry a blessing. ... The delegates hate Bush, want out of Iraq, want courts to impose same-sex marriage, and want taxes hiked on all but the poorest Americans. The policy on abortion rights is absolutist; on race-based remedies, the answer hasn't changed since 1978 – quotas by any other name will do.

I played a game on the radio show yesterday, the convention's first day. We played a version of Groucho Marx's "secret word." We were prepared to declare a winner when the first Democrat I interviewed mentioned al-Qaida. None did. It just isn't an issue with them. The consensus seems to be that if Bush is beaten, al-Qaida will no longer threaten Americans.

And he writes of another groups of Americans, the ones who turn up in long lines at his book-signings. "I think this group has begun to move into the political conflict, convinced that the war needs fighting and winning, and outraged at the Moore gang's hostility to all that America stands for. The left wanted another Vietnam, thinking they'd win the domestic battle again. But what they may have brought about is the mobilization of another, stronger, larger silent majority."

A democracy can only work if the people's commitment to being a democracy is greater than their passion for one or another political position. The direct dangers are demagogues and tyrants and mobs, but the root of the evil is a fanaticism that insists they can't be trusted with the government, and we're better off with a bloody revolution or a martial law dictatorship than allowing them to rule.

This commitment to democracy must be kept -- even if the other side has jettisoned it. Once a nation has lost that, reach for your gun. Our national rituals include gracious concession speeches and defeated incumbents riding to inaugurations beside victors. The Greeks would have understood the desperate importance of that.

More from Obama:

It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America — there is the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

It's what used to be boilerplate in political rhetoric. It's not a platform, and it's not a program, and it's fuzzy as a milkweed pod, but we need to keep telling ourselves stuff like this.

"It's Time to Save Darfur"

It's time to save Darfur
The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Sudanese government made a false promise to protect the people in Darfur, and has threatened guerrilla war if other nations try to help them. Courage must replace patience in dealing with Khartoum.

Under the cover of a 21-year civil war, the Arab Islamist government in Khartoum has been using bandit gangs called Janjaweed to drive black people in its western territory from their homes. The gangs are made up of nomads threatened by desertification and who are loyalists of President Omar el-Bashir; the farmers in Darfur have land Mr. el-Bashir wants to give them. The farmers are also Muslim, though not generally Islamists.

With support from government helicopters and bombers, the Janjaweed have rampaged across Darfur for over a year. The villages are burned, the wells poisoned, the women raped en masse. Disease is spreading and famine looms over more than a million people driven from their homes. Thirty thousand people are dead and hundreds of thousands more are doomed unless they are protected and fed.

The U.S. Congress has declared the attacks a genocide, the European Union is threatening sanctions, and the African Union is having a meeting next week. It concedes a "powerful sense of urgency," which, by its standards, is a bitter condemnation. (The U.S. Congress is showing its sense of urgency by asking President George Bush to consider sending troops, with or without multilateral approval.)

Britain, Sudan's former colonial ruler, has claimed a "moral responsibility" to help, and might send as many as 5,000 troops. But if it does, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail has as much as threatened a terrorist backlash: "You know what is going to happen in one or two months, these troops are going to be considered by the people of Darfur as occupying forces, and you'll have the same incidents you are facing in Iraq," he said last week in Paris.

In other words, we own this place and we own its people, and we will do with them as we wish. If you try to stop us, we will fight you and we will kill your aid workers.

Under intense pressure from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Mr. el-Bashir pledged to rein in the Janjaweed starting July 3, but according to Jan Pronk, Mr. Annan's special envoy to Sudan, Khartoum has made "no progress whatsoever" doing so.

The United States and Britain are pushing a Security Council resolution to impose trade sanctions, but they're having trouble getting it passed. Pakistan and China, for instance, are hesitant to interfere with Sudan's oil trade, which supplies about 300,000 barrels a day to Asia, partly pumped by a Chinese company.

The critics of the war in Iraq, those who said that was all about oil, are silent. France, the great multilateralist, has given just $6 million to a UN fund for Darfur, which Mr. Annan says needs $350 million. (The Americans have found $130 million so far.)

But for the aid to mean anything, the people of Darfur must have security, which Mr. Ismail has indicated the Sudanese government will deny them. These are the words of both a terrorist and a promoter of genocide, not a man who will be swayed by threats of trade sanctions. The world has dithered and innocents have died. It's time to find the nerve to act.

Meanwhile, the brutality continues.

AU monitors declared on Wednesday that government-backed Arab militiamen chained and burned alive civilians in a raid on a market in Darfur.

"The attackers looted the market and killed civilians, in some cases chaining them and burning them alive," said a report released in Nairobi by AU ceasefire observers in the region.

The report said the African Union monitors went to Suleia village, where the militia raid occurred July 3.

It said the raid was carried out by "militia elements believed to be Janjaweed."

"This was an unwarranted and unprovoked attack on the civilian population," the report said. However, it could not substantiate allegations that Sudanese government forces took part in the raid alongside the Janjaweed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Moore's "Minutemen"

Of all the stupid things written about this war, probably the most unnerving was this gem from lardy propagandist Michael Moore:

The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush?

A spittle-flinging rant, but it's revealing. Moore is prone to say interesting things like this when he escapes his handlers and speaks his mind instead of sticking to talking points. What's interesting here is not the loopiness, but the degree to which he's right.

It's possible he simply wrote that to enrage people. But he published it on his own Web site, where his faithful go to hear his message. This piece was his reaction to a Bush State of the Union speech. And even if the intent was to provoke, the particular image he conjured up puts his thinking in perspective. This is not an insane person. This is an intelligent man, albeit one with a severe vision problem. The point at which his parallel shears away from reality is where we see into his nature.

Moore's making a historical comparison. Does it hold up? How were the American "Revolutionaries" and "Minutemen" like the modern Iraqi "resistance"?

Both were fighting the greatest military force on earth in their day. Both used unconventional fighting tactics that were denounced by their enemies. The 18th century was unblessed by Geneva Conventions, but the colonials' tactic of hiding behind trees and walls, firing and then running away, was highly "unsporting."

The thug-armies trying to bring down Iraq into chaos today terrorize and killed the people in their own land who prefered cooperating with the Americans or the new native government. American rebels had their dark moments and characters, too. Tories were hounded, beaten, terrorized, driven from their homes, and sometimes lynched. The word "lynch" seems to date from the late Revolutionary period. Of course, this work was mostly done by irregulars, and the military authorities, including Washington and Anthony Wayne, punished it severely.

The American rebels, like the Iraqi insurgents today, counted on other great powers, jealous of the one they were fighting against, to hamstring the giant. What France, Spain, and Holland did for the colonial rebels, Iran, France, and Syria try in their various ways to do in Iraq.

The American rebels, like the Iraqi insurgents today, knew they had important allies in the political opposition in the homeland of the nation they were fighting. Lifelong opponents of the Crown in Parliament continued to fight it when the rebellion broke out. Their speeches were widely reprinted and praised in the rebel territories.

The American rebels, like the Iraqi insurgents today, knew their strategy was not so much a matter of winning on the battlefield, but of making their enemy pay a prohibitive cost to stay the course. A battle like Bunker Hill, which by any military account the Americans lost, boosted rebel morale because they had managed to kill many enemy soldiers, even while getting chased from the field.

Indeed, the Iraqi insurgents enjoy advantages the American rebels would have envied. George Bush, despite the brayings of his enemies, holds nowhere near the power in his government that George III wielded in his. American Loyalists proved indispensible to the British, moreso than the Iraqis -- so far -- have proven to be to the Americans. And what would have been the effect on Britain of an 18th century CNN that would beam images of dead redcoats, or weeping colonials outside their burning homes, into every parlor in London?

The parallels implied by Moore's quip are on the practical level, and of the sort that will always be common among underdog rebels fighting world powers. The question that matters is, "what are they fighting for?" In both cases, the answer is both complex and simple. In any one man or woman, in Boston or Fallujah, it might be a mix of motives, some purely personal (grudges, thirst for revenge), some purely patriotic or tribal, some religious. But here is how the leaders of the Minutemen came to state their case:

"That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

And the Islamists, who are the most effective and dramatic elements of the Iraqi resistance, have stated their goal. If the common goal of the resistance -- driving out the Americans and collapsing the Allawi government -- succeeds, Iraq will become a Taliban paradise of crushing religious fundamentalism and terror colleges. The Islamists have their own declarations:

It seems, in fact, that the wild beasts in the White House have forgotten or have tried to forget one very important thing, which is, in all pride -- the Al-Qaeda organization. This organization, which strikes fear in the hearts of the infidel West, turns youth into people who have nothing in this world but their devotion to Allah and to His Prophet Mohammed, and who are the tormentors of the sons of whores [i.e. the West], and who are shining examples of estrangement from the sins of this world ... and of selling their souls to Allah.

... Therefore, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Even though the Americans have bombs possessing enormous power, Al-Qaeda is even more powerful than they, and it has in its possession bombs which are called "dirty bombs", and bombs with deadly viruses, which will spread fatal diseases throughout American cities .... The coming days will prove that Kaedat el-Jihad is capable of turning America into a sea of deadly radiation, and this will prove to the world that the end is at hand .... Yes, we will destroy America and its allies, because they have used their power for evil against the weak. And now, the end approaches at the hand of the enlightened [Islamic] youth astride their horses [fighting the war against the infidels].

[Abu Shihab El-Kandahari, Dec. 26, 2002]

And between those two passages lies all the difference that Moore and his friends fail to see. For all these coincidental similarities between Minutemen and jihadis, to fail to distinguish their difference is like saying a Red Cross blood drive is the same thing as a vampire attack.

The fault of Moore and those like him, I think, is to see only what goes on in American politics. They see only America. The rest of the world is something that reacts to America, or suffers under it. They don't know or care what the imams want to work on Iraq. The only thing that matters is getting rid of That Man in the White House.

They validate Moore's own line (the one he uses in overseas speeches, but not at home) about Americans being the stupidest people on earth.

... meanwhile

Meanwhile, we are getting word back from Iraq that "Farenheit 9/11" downloads are making the rounds of U.S. military bases in Iraq and dragging down the morale of soldiers.

Moore quoted Abraham Lincoln ("... you know the old saying from Abraham Lincoln, give the people the facts and the Republic will be safe") in a "Today" interview recently. Lincoln, too, knew such men as Moore in his nation when he was a president at war. They did their best to demoralize his soldiers and turn the nation against him, using their media bully pulpits to inform on his administration's flaws and secret agendas.

Old Abe did not hesitate to strip them of their property and power, throw them in jail, and sometimes have them banished or sentenced to death. Here's what he said in defense of it:

And yet again, he who dissuades one man from volunteering, or induces one soldier to desert, weakens the Union cause as much as he who kills a union soldier in battle. Yet this dissuasion, or inducement, may be so conducted as to be no defined crime of which any civil court would take cognizance.

... Must I shoot a simpleminded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother, or friend into a public meeting, and there working upon his feelings till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration of a comtemptible government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert. I think that, in such a case, to silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional but withal a great mercy.
[Letter to Erastus Corning, June 12, 1863]

I think it was wrong when Lincoln did it. I think it certainly would be wrong to even suggest doing it now. But the interesting part is, many people today believe Lincoln did everything right. He ended slavery, after all. Certainly such an ends justifies rough means. The jailed dissidents were the broken eggs on the way to the great omelette.

Besides, Lincoln was doing this to "conservatives." The Democrats of the North were the conservatives of their day. Those jailed American dissidents, who numbered in the tens of thousands, had complex and varied opinions about union and war and slavery and government. (They were racists, by modern standards, but so was everyone else, Lincoln included.) They bitterly denounced Lincoln's trampling of the Constitution to wage a war in which the dissenters, who called themselves patriots, saw only national destruction and narrow partisan advantage.

Sound familiar?

Ah, but when you sit in the present and see them only in the rear-view mirror, they were defending those Southern racist rednecks that progressive intellectuals today just love to denigrate. The curious thing is, the same people who think political repression in the name of homeland security was a great move by Lincoln, valid and justified, are the ones who have been to see "Farenheit 9/11" three times, and celebrate the news that it is spreading demoralization among the U.S. troops in Iraq.

Carter's Canard

The opening night of the Democratic Convention looked like a good show (I was working so I didn't get to really watch). From what I read, a lot of the right people stepped up and said a lot of the right things.

But one thing irked me: Jimmy Carter repeating the false meme that America squandered the "goodwill" of the world that was ours after 9/11.

True, there was a reflex of sympathy in many places, especially Europe. But what made it remarkable was that it was so out of character. And it was doomed one way or another.

In many places, it never existed. The "Arab Street" danced in the streets of its capitals when our people died on Sept. 11. They hated us before the first Iraq war, and have hated us ever since. The Bush Administration has failed to spark much obvious good will in most places in the Middle East, but it's not like he lost anything we had in Carter's day.

And in fact, our position against Saddam and the Taliban has made America more popular in some parts of the globe. India certainly isn't complaining. And Eastern Europe still has the memory of repression fresh in mind, so it recognizes what we are trying to do.

But what Carter really meant was "Western Europe," which, to an American liberal intellectual's "New Yorker" cover world, certainly passes for the globe. He as much as said so when he said, "Unilateral acts and demands have isolated the United States from the very nations we need to join us in combating terrorism." [emphasis added] It's a safe bet he wasn't talking about, say, Honduras or Gabon.

And the sympathy that flowed for Americans from those places after 9/11 only lasted as long as we stayed flat on the ground, beaten and bloody. As soon as we stood up, dusted ourselves off, and started to do something about it, it vanished. It was the international political version of Monty Python vaudeville; the corpse of America wouldn't stay dead long enough for Old Europe to finish delivering its eulogy.

What Carter didn't go so far as to say, but many people I work with do say, is that the Europeans always loved America until mean ol' George Bush came along and made them hate us.

This is nonsense. Evidently, such people have never read Le Monde or Der Spiegel or The Guardian. French "sympathy" for the U.S. stood at 35% -- in 1996. It's hardly worse today. The French book with the title translated as The American Cancer wasn't published in the shadow of U.S. "hegemony" in the Middle East. It was published in 1930. Anti-American sentiment in Canada dates to (and still routinely invokes) the War of 1812. Jean-François Revel, author of L’obsession anti-américaine, tells of how someone who grows up reading the European media and the elite writers of the continent would naturally come to believe America is plagued by poverty, inequality, “no unemployment benefits, no retirement, no assistance for the destitute,” and medical care and university education only for the rich -- and he wasn't writing about the post-Iraq era. He grew up before the Vietnam War.

Bruce Bawer at Hudson Review has written a wrap review of the stack of recent books about America, many of them by European writers. His critiques are leavened with personal stories; as an American who has lived in Europe since 1998, Bawer knows the turf.

He also knows, as my co-workers seem to have forgotten, that the vintage of Old Europe's America-hating bile is a lot older than 2003.

To be sure, Western European intellectuals often claim, as Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe did in a 1966 essay, “We Who Loved America,” that they once were pro-American but, owing to some social change in America or some U.S. government action, have altered their position. The current claim is that Europeans loved America until the Iraq War; before that, it was a truism that they loved America until Vietnam. But Bromark and Herbjørnsrud state flatly that “It wasn’t the Vietnam War that made European intellectuals, authors and academics anti-American. The truth is that they had been anti-American all along.” As early as 1881, the Norwegian author Bjørnsterne Bjørnson argued that Europe’s America-bashing had to stop; even earlier, in 1869, James Russell Lowell complained that Europeans invariably saw America “in caricature.” Indeed, nineteenth-century European aristocrats despised America as a symbol of progress, innovation, and (above all) equality, ridiculing it as a mongrel land of simple-minded Indians and blacks; later, avaricious Jews were added to the list. These stereotypes soon spread to Americans generally, resulting in today’s European-establishment view of Americans as materialistic morons.

And he didn't even mention Sydney Smith.

More Clarity from Canada

"Come let me tell you who the Jews are. The Jews have lied about the Creator, and even more so about His creations. The Jews are the murderers of the prophets, the violators of agreements, of whom Allah said: 'Every time they make a promise under oath, some of them violated it; most of them are unbelievers.' These are the Jews: usurers and whoremongers. They will leave you nothing, neither this world nor religion."

These words are heard frequently on Al-Jazeera, in various commentaries coming from hosts like Sheikh Qaradhawi and other speakers who appear in panel discussions. The words are never challenged.

They come from Osama Bin Laden. It is from his famous "Feast of the Sacrifice" sermon.

'CNN of Middle East' a TV network that only George Orwell could love by Charles Adler of the Winnipeg Sun.

Clarity from Canada

Soft on Islam, by Klaus Rohrich. Don't know how long this link will be up, but here's how it starts:

Last Sunday a Methodist minister in Coquitlam BC urged his parishioners to go out and set fire to all the area’s mosques. On the same weekend, a Catholic clergyman in Yonkers, N.Y. rigged a couple of his altar boys with dynamite-laden vests and sent them out to blow up the headquarters of the Muslim-American Association of New York. A month previous, a Baptist minister in Atlanta, Georgia called for the eradication of all Muslims and told his church that if they died while engaged in the act of killing Muslim "Infidels", they would be guaranteed a spot in Heaven, at the right hand of Jesus. A Rabbi in Stockholm, Sweden urged his Schul to form up gangs and "smite Muslims, wherever they may find them".

Sound absurd? Of course it does, as no Christian or Jewish cleric today would dream of doing anything of the sort. However, that isn’t the case with the world’s fastest growing religion. Almost daily, Islamic clerics are calling for, among other things, the destruction of Israel, the destruction of the Great Satan, America, the killing of infidel tourists around the world and the death of all Jews.

However, there is little or no reaction from the so-called civilized world to this genocidal ranting. In fact, the West seems to tiptoe around anything to do with Islamic malfeasance. I do not understand this. Is it because we are afraid that by excoriating their racist slander, they will turn on us, or is it because of some misguided sense of tolerance and acceptance of cultural differences?

UPDATE: See here for the long-term link to this piece, and thanks to "passer-by" for locating it.

Read the Report

The Sept. 11 commission report doesn’t directly address the Iraq war. That’s deliberate. The commission chairmen said they opted for a strict interpretation of their mandate, and they kept the focus on Sept. 11, 2001, and its immediate aftermath.

They frankly admit that doing otherwise would have jeopardized their ability to make a report at all. The bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (to call it by its full name), is deeply divided about the propriety of this war. So is the American people. It’s an honest difference that too often devolves into polemics and demagoguery.

But the panel did the nation, as well as itself, a service by sidestepping Iraq. It wrote a saga of Sept. 11 that ranks with the best prose produced in the name of that awful day. To read it is to feel again the grip in the throat and the shock of horror.

And it reminds us that, whether we agree about Iraq, a real and very dangerous enemy attacked us, and intends to do so again.

The tale of the Islamist terrorists and what they wrought in America with box-cutters and credit cards reminds us again how ill-prepared we were, and are, for all our military might, for the new war. Our enemy is a major force in one of the world’s great religions; how do you fight a religion with tank battalions?

As we measure up presidential candidates this summer, much of the focus will be on Iraq. But perhaps the better measure of their qualification is, do they understand Sept. 11? Do they recognize the enemy of that day? Do they have a sane plan to defeat it?

Monday, July 26, 2004


It's what I'm missing right now in American politics and public life. Oh, not selfish ambition: there's plenty of that. But a kind of morally guided ambition to do public good, and to feel the pure joy that derives from that. It was an essential quality in the democracies of ancient times. It was recognized as such by our Founders.

Ron Chernow's new Hamilton biography describes the young immigrant lad at the point of making his first foray into public political life, as a college student, with the Revolution gathering.

Eager to make his mark, Hamilton was motivated by a form of ambition much esteemed in the eighteenth century -- what he later extolled as the "love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds, which would prompt a man to plan and undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit." Ambition was reckless in inspired by purely selfish motives but laudable if guided by great principles.

Not only did he devote himself to giving the nation independence, a balanced government, and a sound economy, he promoted and founded industries deliberately because America needed them. He took part in the biggest entrepreneurial venture of his day. Unbridled capitalism? Proto-Enron? No way. Investors were promised profits, but the company was called the "Society for Useful Manufactures." Profit and patriotism. He tried to make money and do good for the American people at the same time.

Then again, Hamilton was one of the first in the United States to be lacerated by sexual blackmail and slanderous tales of bribes and embezzlement, as the recompense for his devotion to public causes. And the ancient Athenians and Romans had their Hamiltons, too. Once you've made your mark, you become the mark for those whose only ambition is to tear down.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Impending Ugliness

You think it's ugly now; just wait.

Tom Ridge says al Qaida may be entering the "operational or planning phase of an attack," yearning to hit America hard sometime before Election Day.

Since Sept. 11, only the most paranoid fringe players have asserted the cynical theory that the Bush Administration knew what was going to happen that day and let it happen for the sake of some agenda. Rather, Bush has been condemned for his clueless, slack-jawed response. Next time, if it comes, it will be different. If I'm right, the anti-war voices already are staking out their positions on the grassy knoll, ready to open fire with the lurid assertion that "Bush knew."

The virulently anti-war, anti-Bush Guardian newspaper in Britain runs an occasional series under the heading "Fortress America" Today's is titled George Bush's re-election hopes may well hang on al-Qaida's ruthless ingenuity.

The Guardian doesn't have the guts to come right out and say it. But the piece seems aimed at setting up a public suspicion that Bush knows an al Qaida attack -- gods forbid there should be one -- between now and November would assure his re-election, and that, if he has some inclination that one is coming, he might not try very hard to stop it. Here's the article's conclusion:

In a recent opinion poll for the Economist, handling the war on terror was one of the few areas in which American voters favoured Bush over Kerry. It seems likely there would be a wave of patriotic solidarity with the incumbent. In short, Bush's election chances may depend on the ruthless ingenuity of al-Qaida, while Kerry's election chances may depend on the ability of Bush's department of homeland security to combat it.

There's a paternalism in the institution of the presidency, and Americans will rally around an incumbent leader, even an unpopular one, in a national crisis. But the anti-war left has noticed that this can be thwarted, quickly and effectively, by deflecting the galvanizing effect of an attack into national anger at the administration. And their model is Spain.

"A major terrorist attack on the American homeland a few days before November 2 would almost certainly not have the effect that the Madrid pre-election bombing had, sending swing voters to the anti-war opposition," the Guardian writes. No, an attack by itself wouldn't. But a scandalous revelation that the Bush administration had let it happen surely would, and the Guardian surely knows this. As do others in its camp. It needn't be a full revelation; in a nation as split and jittery as we are this year, a strong suspicion, shouted loudly enough by reputable sources, might suffice.

In Spain, voters tossed the U.S.-allied Aznar government just days after a major terrorist attack. Nobody accused Aznar of complicity in the attack. But, they say, he knew that if voters connected the deaths to his unpopular decision to take part in the war to overthrow Saddam, they would swing behind his opponent. Aznar, the pundits say, too quickly blamed the terror bombings on Basque groups. Al Qaida turned out to be the culprit. The national anguish at the vicious murder of almost 200 citizens galvanized into anger -- not at the killers, but at the government that named the wrong suspect.

The U.S. is not Spain; it's hard to imagine that sequence happening here. But you can't blame the Bush-bashers for dreaming of the anger of U.S. voters if Bush or his cabinet were believed to have cynically allowed Americans to die for the sake of an election.

And you have to think some people in high places are already rehearsing what they might say in the days between a terrorist attack on the U.S. and the next presidential election.

As despicable as that would be, the Guardian piece veers right off the track into tin-foil-hat territory by suggesting that Bush's self-interest converges with bin Laden's. "Osama bin Laden ... must be backing an election victory for George Bush."

The object of the terrorist is often to reveal the "true" repressive character of the state against which the terror is directed, and thus win further support for the terrorists' cause. If the United States had just acted in Afghanistan, and then concentrated on hoovering-up the remains of al-Qaida, the United States might clearly be winning the war on terror today. But, as bin Laden must have hoped, the Bush administration overreacted, and thus provided, in Iraq and Guantánamo, recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida of which Osama could only dream.

"So in this looking-glass world of backhanded ironies ... al-Qaida terrorists will be backing Bush, because he's their best recruiter." And in that view, the article reports, the terrorists may well try to influence the American election by timing an attack to boost Bush into another four-year term.

OK, overlook the howler about putting Afghanistan in one category and Guantanamo in another: the Guardian, which editorializes tirelessly against Guantanamo, doesn't seem to realize that "the vast majority" of the detainees there were scooped up in the Afghan campaign.

The fact is, the Islamists don't need Bush's policies to bring in recruits. They have allies in mosques all around the world, tirelessly preaching Jihad, and filling the heads of uninformed young men with the most ludicrous lies about the U.S., the Jews, 9/11, you name it. If the U.S. had stopped with Afghanistan, the only difference would be that the outcry from the mosques and al Jazeera about human rights abuses, secret Mossad operations, and mass rapes of Muslim women by G.I.s would have been told about that country, rather than Iraq.

The Guardian doesn't document its suggestion that, the more America fights back, the more Muslims join the radicals. Perhaps in some cases that is so. But there is good anecdotal evidence from Iraq that our determined resistance to Islamist jihad dampens the enthusiasm of the enemy -- not all of them seem to want those 70 virgins right now. And a perception of our weakness, as in Fallujah, is regarded throughout the region as a wonderful gift to Islamist "recruiters."

You don't read about imams preaching, "go fight the Americans, they hit back hard." But you do hear a lot about them telling their followers how weak and decadent we are, for all our appearance of power. Fallujah, not Guantanamo, is their rallying cry.

As for Spain, Iraq al-Jihad, the al-Qaeda strategy document publicized after the Madrid bombings, shows that the terrorists didn't care a damn about the left-right nuances of the Popular Party and the Socialist Party. The Spanish elections were targeted for one reason: the Socialist Party had pledged, in its platform, to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq unless the U.S. got a U.N. mandate for them to be there.

To the Islamists, Spain was a soft ally that could be peeled away from the main target. And America is target number one. Al Qaida doesn't care that the "bring the troops home now" crowd supports Kerry. Their war on us goes on no matter who sits in the White House. Al Qaida loathes America and the West, and while the Guardian's pundits inhabit a space where the gap between Bush and Kerry is as wide as America, to al Qaida, they're both the same; a different face on the Great Satan.

But speaking of Islamist "recruiting," in Spain this year Al Qaida determined the outcome of a European nation's election. It asserted Islamic power in Spain in a way that it hasn't been felt since the 15th century. For once, a Western power knuckled under to Islamic force, not the reverse. Realities don't matter in the Islamic Middle East; in that world, perception rules. George Bush could say or do nothing that would send Islamist hotheads running to Osama faster than voters in Spain did.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

How many Sarin shells in a "stockpile?"

I used to work with a wonderful reporter named Mark Johnson, a New Yorker who never got over his indignation at having to work in rural Pennsylvania, amid rube politicians who tried to snow him on stories. Once when he was covering the police beat in the city, after a long session of haggling with the mayor on the phone, we heard him blurt out sarcastically, "how many 'isolated incidents' does it take to make a crime wave?"

In the same spirit, Ace of Spades notes that the number of Sarin and/or mustard-gas shells uncovered in Iraq now is up to 35, asks, "What number constitutes a 'stockpile'? One would think that any time you're above 20 or 30, you're in at least small-stockpile territory. I want the liberals to give us a number, now. Because, a month from now, when we've discovered 60-100, I don't want to hear that a "stockpile" has now been redefined to be whatever number we have not yet reached."

Mountain Brings Forth a Mouse

Pundits, prophets, and political hacks are tearing through the 9/11 Commission Report, hoping to fetch up a weapon handy to beat the other side. But the big picture? After all that talk and anguish and tawdriness, nothing new. The whole country got whacked that sunny morning almost three years ago. We all stared at the pictures and the video footage, disbelieving, stunned. Nobody expected it.

OK, I'm not supposed to expect it, and neither are you. But what about the men and women in power? The report doesn't change the answer: Nobody expected it. And after the report, all sorts of recommendations for how to change Congress, the spy agencies, and the entire structure of government, start to percolate. They'll be dead by Election Day.

Because this is our choice: do we want to live in a country where spies are limited, government keeps its hands off its citizens, and people practice their freedoms uninhibited? Or do we want a government that is ruthlessy efficient at spying, anticipating trouble, and keeping track of every detail that might someday connect to something else?

We've looked at that choice and turned away. Invade Afghanistan, attack Iraq. Argue about peace and oil. Change one party for another. Those things we can do, they can drown out the bigger questions.

How can we engage in a generation-long struggle againt an amorphous, stateless, potent, rich enemy that takes the form of a branch of one of the world's great religion, without fundamentally changing the nature of our government and national culture, without becoming a different nation than what we are? Look what the Civil War did to us in four years.

This bit of the report, detailing events of 1998, is nothing new, either, in principle.

On December 20, intelligence indicated Bin Ladin would be spending the night at the Haji Habash house, part of the governor's residence in Kandahar. The chief of the Bin Ladin unit, "Mike," told us that he promptly briefed Tenet and his deputy, John Gordon. From the field, the CIA's Gary Schroen advised: "Hit him tonight -- we may not get another chance." An urgent teleconference of principals was arranged.

The principals considered a cruise missile strike to try to kill Bin Ladin. One issue they discussed was the potential collateral damage -- the number of innocent bystanders who would be killed or wounded. General Zinni predicted a number well over 200 and was concerned about damage to a nearby mosque .... By the end of the meeting, the principals decided against recommending to the President that he order a strike ....

Some lower-level officials were angry. "Mike" reported to Schroen that he had been unable to sleep after this decision. "I'm sure we'll regret not acting last night," he wrote, criticizing the principals for "worrying that some stray shrapnel might hit the Habash mosque and offend Muslims."

The principals, he said, were "obsessed" with trying to get others -- Saudis, Pakistanis, Afghan tribals -- to "do what we won't do." Schroen was disappointed too. "We should have done it last night," he wrote. "We may well come to regret the decision not to go ahead." [9-11 Report, page 147-148]

In the cruel math of Realpolitik, trade 200 lives for 3,000? But subtract from your mind, if possible, every image of 9/11, every falling, burning, bleeding body, every tear and gasp of rage. Then kill the same 200 people on the chance -- mere chance -- that this one man might succeed in his plan to wreak devastation on America.

And imagine the reaction in the U.N. General Assembly, in the Middle Eastern mosques, in the German and French press.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A Vew From the CPA

A fairly high-ranking official in the Coalition Provisional Authority was a local guy, Don Eberly. After the CPA's mission wound up last month, one of our reporters did an interview with him and wrote up a story. Due perhaps to the newspaper's continuing lack of interest in anything to do with the redevelopment of Iraq, however, the story hasn't run.

Here's a few excerpts: Eberly has been with the CPA since March 2003. He lived in Iraq for nearly four months, overseeing and reconstructing the Ministry of Youth and Sport, one of 24 ministries rebuilt by the authority. After he came back to the States, Eberly worked as the director of social policy, advising senior staff members in Iraq in education, higher education (particularly the universities), health, youth and sport, labor, and social affairs. Now that the authority is officially dissolved, Eberly is putting the finishing touches on the transition of power in Iraq and the coordination of privately donated equipment and supplies from U.S. companies.

"A lot of what is going on in Iraq now involves a huge amount of oversight and coordination with Washington. There are serious bucks going into Iraq. With the CPA phase-out, we're facing huge demands from Congress for basic reporting. 'How are you doing with education?' 'How are you doing with health?' 'How are you spending our money on contractors and subcontractors?' 'What's the state of reconstruction across dozens and dozens of categories?' "

Sometimes he runs the pick for Iraqi officials, tackling issues before they become problems.

"Part of our mission, in fact -- to use football terms -- is to be the defensive line. Because we do what we do, people in Iraq are not bothered every day with calls that come from Congress and the media. We're the front-line representatives."

Eberly said the now-defunct authority is still moving computers, high technology supplies, health care supplies and equipment, pharmaceuticals and educational supplies to Iraq on behalf of mostly U.S. companies.

"I just shipped 30,000 medical textbooks about (a month ago)."

"I do not at all sugarcoat reality in Iraq. I don't see any purpose served in that. We're not serving the people well by being anything less than forthright. The negatives are already well-known. We know about the security challenges. We know about the insurgency. In America, we say location, location, location; in Iraq we say the top three issues are security, security, security."

"Yet Iraq does not have a general insurgency like the one U.S. troops faced in Vietnam. If there were a general insurgency, we'd all be in big trouble. The truth is that it is a quite limited insurgency. One that's large enough to do substantial damage on a daily basis, but it is, in fact, quite isolated."

"There are vast areas of the country where Iraqis are essentially getting on with their lives. There has been, long before the creation of the CPA, a lot of local Iraqi leadership. They're running the towns and cities and are managing municipal services and organizing town councils. A good bit of the country is actually working relatively normal."

Bue he said the insurgency has succeeded in opening a rift of "pervasive fear and mistrust" between the Iraqi people and U.S. soldiers.

"It is a very unfortunate side effect and makes doing the job a lot harder. There is a lot of barber-chair concern among Iraqis about things that are going on in Iraq."

Eberly said there was a bipartisan agreement that regime change should be made in Iraq. Sept. 11 deepened those concerns.

"Most people standing where the president stood at the moment in time when the final decision had to be made would probably have made the same decision. The weapons of mass destruction issue will remain with us for a long time and I have no idea how it will settle out in history. People have a tendency to forget that Saddam Hussein was himself, in the words of the Iraqi people, a weapon of mass destruction."

Eberly said, most forecasters are predicting significant progress this year in Iraq's economy. "This is locally generated economic growth. It should be a pretty solid year. It's hard to see that kind of progress when your television screen is filled with violence and destruction."

"One of the interesting questions, I think, that history will ask is, 'Did we handle de-Baathification properly?' You've got to get rid of the people who were sympathizers of the previous regime. And that's where it gets complicated because it's gray. How do I know where your sympathies are, Mr. Senior Baath Party official? What was your role?"

Eberly said there was a blanket policy that the top three levels of the Baath Party government had to go.

"Then we had a policy inviting officials back on a case-by-case basis. That gets complicated because one of the biggest concerns is, what do you do with the people who had power?"

Many were mere administrators who had committed no crimes. Yet many couldn't be invited into the new administration because their ideologies were in doubt.

"The minute you relinquish control, they have all the advantages, in a worst-case scenario. They've got connections and can easily take advantage."

But they couldn't just be left idle. "You're talking about some very talented people. People who had all the power before and knew all the tricks of the trade when it came to manipulating the political environment to go about achieving what they want."

The Iraqi army faces a similar problem. "The question there is, 'Should we invite the previous army back?' Some of them are professional soldiers and will show allegiance to whoever is in power. This kind of soldier is not an ideologue. But if you eliminate a professional soldier and disarm and shame him in front of his family and community, you've got a big problem."

"De-Baathification was the toughest part of our jobs as senior advisors. I spent so much time on De-Baathification because any blanket approach was not adequate. It almost had to be case by case. It's like schools of fish in the ocean swimming together. You don't know friend from foe when it comes to political issues. It is impossible to have a high success rate when it comes to hiring back someone who served in a mid-level capacity in Saddam Hussein's government. It's extremely difficult to get that right. You're talking about thousands of people."

"De-Baathification was extremely complicated. If you didn't drill down far enough, if you didn't dig deep enough, in terms of removing close ideological ties to the old administration, it would be like replacing Hitler without removing Hitler's Nazi party."

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


Maybe you had to be there. I did research into the records of a couple of Civil War regiments at the National Archives in 1989, so maybe that's why the Washington Post account of Sandy Berger's "Trousergate" troubles strikes me as hilarious:

The FBI is investigating Clinton administration national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger's removal of classified documents from the National Archives, attorneys for Berger confirmed last night.

Berger inadvertently took copies of several versions of an after-action memo on the millennium bombing plot from the Archives last fall, said his attorney Lanny Breuer. The lawyer said one or more of the copies were then inadvertently discarded. ...

Berger discovered several versions of the classified memo in a leather portfolio he had taken to the Archives, his attorney said. He returned them and papers on which he had taken notes about materials he had reviewed. Those notes, Breuer said, were not supposed to have been removed from the Archives without review by employees there. Berger's actions, said Breuer, were the result of "sloppiness" and were unintentional.

Berger "inadvertently" stuffed "several" classified documents down his pants? (A detail the WaPo conveniently omits). I know he went in there intending to cover his ass, but I didn't think he meant it literally.

In all the time I've done historical research, I never had the urge to put it down my pants.

Then he "discovered" other documents in his book bag. Who could have put them there? The Little People?

The National Archives staff was a good deal more strict with me when I did my research, I can tell you. They kept track of every singe soldier's file I touched -- and well they should have. I had to go right to the top of the food chain to get permission to have more than one of them in front of me at a time.

The Chester County Historical Society in Pennsylvania, wher eI did the bulk of my research, never would have let Berger rip them off like that. They would have had his number. Archivists with valuables under their care can spot a thief. Hell, my high school librarians would have tackled him. Jimmy Snyder, the study hall troublemaker in 10th grade, used to stuff his German texbook down the front of his jeans and brazenly head out the library doors just for the thrill of watching the librarians spring into action and try to bust him for theft.

"Sloppiness" + "U.S. National Security Advisor in the years before 2001" = you do the math.

The Hunting of the Snark

In a piece called "Snark and scholarship," Schussman takes me to task for my post lamenting the liberal academics who are so enamored of Michael Moore in spite of the filmmaker's deceptions, which they readily acknowledge.

Taking the learned professoriate down a peg or two is a favorite hobby of some, as I guess there is great satisfaction in proving them to be out of touch, incompetent, and otherwise ignorant of the real world.

When I was a young journalist in the early '80s, I lived in a crumbling World War I-era apartment block near Bryn Mawr College (yes, it's possible to live on the cheap on the Main Line, but it's not pleasant). My companions were struggling Villanova students and other guys trying to make it in their first jobs. We talked and debated and learned from one another, but mostly we caroused.

One of the places we sometimes ducked into when we had a little money was a popular bar/pizzeria. But the place also was home to a young philosophy professor (he might have been a teaching grad student) from Bryn Mawr. He wore a nattier cut of tweed, and he took his attractive groupies there and held court. He would buttonhole some unsuspecting dolt (i.e. a guy like me), and pose an innocent-sounding bit of Socratic trickery to him, then intellectually skewer the young man's answer while the groupies cooed and grinned appreciatively.

Perhaps he was working off bile for some teasing he had taken from the common sort as a third-grader. I rather doubt it. Even so, I never knew a man I more wanted to slug. He was the intellectual equivalent of the bully bikers in a "Billy Jack" movie. When I have tangled with academics over the years, his face always comes to mind.

I dont think there is any kind of strong case that this characterizes the broad world of academics.

Probably not. I never said it did. I said it was so in my experience. But I don't have contact with that world on a regular basis. Schussman seems to, so I'll take his word for it. I do, however, have contact with the academics who dive into certain public debates about divisive current events. And even if they're an unrepresentative minority, their collective impact is disproportionate. And their words and methods are worth parsing.

Academics maintain their cachet in the public mind, I think, because we presume these are people who habitually read widely and think carefully. We expect them to weigh thoughts before speaking, and to investigate claims before asserting them, and to not claim expertise beyond what they genuinely have. Ne supra crepidam sutor judicaret.

I used an example from my Online Etymology Dictionary experience, in which I found some gender-studies professors repeating a fairly transparent Internet urban legend about the origin of the word "faggot." It's impossible to prove a negative, but the story they were repeating violated all sorts of common sense rules of language, and it gets no credence in any reputable etymology source.

Schussman speculates that the "etymological example has, I think, more complexity than he allows." I'd be curious to know what I overlooked.

But he moves from this proposition to the idea that academics are essentially corrupt, supporting arguments that they know to be false, a jump that only seems possible by misreading or misrepresenting the evidence at hand.

Maybe my standards are too high. What I said is, "it seems to me that academics, of all people, ought to be committed to rigorous inquiry after true origins, rather than blind clinging to the paps of false idols." And I decried the tendency in academe to embrace false things for what is seen as a higher purpose.

A politician might do that. We expect him to do that. But that seems, to me, to be an illegitimate choice for someone whose opinion carries weight precisely because he or she is assumed to be the kind of person who doesn't do that kind of thing.

Schussman accuses me of "eliding the most significant point of Todd Gitlin's review of Fahrenheit 9/11.

He says I call it a "laudatory review." That's not correct. I call it an "essentially laudatory review." Gitlin laments much about Moore's methods, but he essentially praises the movie for its own sake, as well as for its opinion-shaping role in modern America. Schussman reads the review as saying, "Moore's film is useful, but he's an ass." I read it as, "More's an ass, but his film is useful."

Split the difference, if you like, but consider this line from Gitlin: "Don’t some means justify some ends." No, they don't, I say, if you're talking about a film-maker hammering a complex and delicate world crisis into a vaudeville hook so he can un-elect a president he despises, damn the consequences.

And no, they don't, if you're talking about someone who draws his authority from his association with the university system, writing about the democratic virtues of a work that he knows distorts the truth and passes off deception as reality.

An academic's reputation is based in large part on his or her commitment to honesty. We read their books because we trust that they've done honest research. Gitlin, and I think Schussman, is a sociologist, a discipline that regards itself as a science. It takes the Greek -logia into its name, and involves scientific methods. In that system, there is no room for ideology to trump research and inquiry. To see an academic embrace such a view makes me suspect anything I might read by that person that touches on this topic.

And if Gitlin really is saying, "the only way to get truth across to modern Americans is to lie to them," he's doing more damage to his own reputation than I possibly could.

When Gitlin celebrates Moore as the "most compelling, useful filmmaker of the 21st century," it is with a "so far" and a great sigh of regret that it takes unscrupulous demagoguery to generate attention to issues that are critically important -- for those on the right or the left.

And in that passage Gitlin was paraphrasing André Gide on Victor Hugo -- a novelist talking about a poet. And it seems to escape both Gitlin and Schussman that there is a difference between fiction and current events, and that the same standards might not apply. "Art is a lie that tells the truth." But Moore's film is presented as a documentary. (In fact, AP, calls it a "newsreel").

Moore's demagoguery is a positive good, to Gitlin, not for its own sake, but because it converges with Gitlin's personal politcs. He doesn't justify all political demagoguery as a necessity in modern America -- he damns it when he finds it from the other side, as a corrupting influence. Compare Gitlin on Moore:

"Moore makes thunderous propaganda, all right, but it’s our propaganda, at last, and much of it is right. He’s got more in his arsenal than cheap shots. He’s a not–so–secret weapon against the bully propaganda machine called the White House, which sold a war –- a war –- on delusional grounds. With jokes, outtakes, hissable villains, the mother of a dead American soldier from Flint, Michigan – a woman who could make Donald Rumsfeld weep – and rhetorical questions, and insinuating music, and bomb damage footage, and whatever else it takes, Moore gets people who don’t follow antiwar websites to see Iraqi casualties, usually invisible and countless, not to mention a bereaved mother, at length."

"... Moore is the master demagogue an age of demagoguery made. He’s an impresario of spectacle and he corrals people who don’t pay attention to news to pay attention to him and his facts, his footage, his badinage, his sarcasm, his factoid detonations, all of it, indiscriminately, smashing up the complacency that watched George Bush seize power in the most powerful nation in history."

... to Gitlin on Fox News:

The commercial motive dovetails beautifully with a politics of muscularity and resentment. Over this is laid an objectivity scrim, the veil of "we report, you decide." But it's hard to believe that any of FOX's 1.2 million daily prime-time viewers is fooled. The brashness and raucousness speak for themselves, as if much of the shows were broadcast from the middle-school lunchroom. The phony objectivity is the equivalent of Bill O'Reilly's phony populism ....

"Throughout the day, FOX's formula is consistent: attitude. Its anthem is all percussion, all the time. Even its weather report blares, and its morning show is raucous -- a frat-house alternative to the other channels' goody-two-shoes presentation. Real guys and gals know how the world works. (Corollary: Only a wuss doesn't.) Goodness (Team Bush) faces off against Badness (Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il) as surely as brawling Sean Hannity mauls mild Alan Colmes. Animal House flies the flag. Show us a problem and we'll show you that they are responsible.

[We Disport. We Deride. It's all attitude, all the time at FOX News.]

Back in May, I lamented British climatologists praising the global warming disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow." I take climate change from human activity very seriously -- I argue with conservative friends who want to dismiss it as kooky environmentalism. But to me, scientists only undercut their authority when they praise as "important" a movie that telescopes tens of thousands of years of climate change into a week and delivers up impossible consequences.

And the more the academic community and the policy-makers align themselves with Hollywood junk science, the more they play into the "loony left" trap that discredits them in the eyes of many people who might otherwise accept them. Yet that is likely to be the result in many minds when scientists, given the chance to draw the line between legitimate work and lurid entertainment, choose to embrace the latter as a teaching tool.

The movie so clearly is based on junk science that won't it harm, rather than help, the cause of serious scientists trying to educate the public about a real but complicated issue? But evidently the real scientists have given up and they're counting on special effects to win people over. Good luck. That was before Memorial Day. Now it's late July. Perhaps now the public is concerned about mad scientists with eight robotic arms and journalists who can swing from webs above New York.

Doug manages to avoid being accountable to his own early premise, that argumentation is based on more than abstract qualification. It also takes an appreciation of precision of meaning and an allowance for complexity, but he leaves neither for Gitlin.

Ah, curses, dismissed again. Flashback to Gullifty's in Bryn Mawr. I appreciate the attempt to hold me to the highest standard. But I was writing about the standard that top academics are held to (rightly, I think) in exchange for their authoritative voices, their book sales, their pundit's chairs on NPR. Yet it seems to me Gitlin has descended into journalism and polemics with his piece on Moore (which is painted more in praise than in criticism, if you ask me). Moore's propaganda, which falls far short of rigorous argument, seems to pass muster with Schussman and Gitlin. Then perhaps they will smile upon my polemics, which, simplistic though they be, at least are not wrapped in the deceits of propaganda.

If I, as a mere journalist, can disown certain polemicists who happen to agree with me on certain issues because I find their tactics unworthy of discourse -- Hannity, Coulter, Limbaugh -- is it too much to ask academics to stand up for the truth for its own sake?

Heard Around the Newsroom

"Doing a Michael Moore." That's the term a reporter used to an editor as they conspired to injecting the maximum slant into a local story (in this case, about AIDS education funding) that is meant to appear as simple news coverage of an issue or event.

Reporter: "I want to say, 'how can we afford not to do this?' ... (snicker) Without editorializing."

Add Joe Wilson

To the list of war opponents who, before the war, believed Saddam had WMD. Or at least they wrote as though they believed it. With some of these folks, it's difficult to tell anymore if they mean what they say.
From an L.A. Times Op-Ed piece by Joseph C. Wilson, Feb. 6, 2003:

There is now no incentive for Hussein to comply with the inspectors or to refrain from using weapons of mass destruction to defend himself if the United States comes after him.

And he will use them; we should be under no illusion about that.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Good News Roundup

The Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff runs a regular round-up of the good news from Iraq, scoured from various media and official sources. You might have seen one or two of the stories, amid the reports of gloom and carnage. But to see them all stacked together in one place is an enlightening, and uplifting, experience.

Today, the Wall Street Journal got wise to that, and printed a Chrenkoff good news roundup (on its editorial page, of course, even though these are all news reports).

My favorite? It's hard to pick a favorite off this menu. But I like this one:

Biology professor Safaa Al-Hamdani wasn't expecting an avalanche of books when he asked colleagues at Jacksonville State University to help his alma mater in Baghdad restock its libraries. But donations have been pouring in from around the country. "I never thought it would get this big," Al-Hamdani said Friday.
It all began when JSU professors Bill Hug, Kelly Gregg and others joined the effort, collecting spare books off professors' shelves to ship to Baghdad University, which has been drained by decades of brutal dictatorship, war, and international sanctions.

A story about the book drive last month in The Anniston Star was picked up by other media outlets, and books started arriving from universities all over the country.

While we support and cheer on Iraqi academics, let us also remember the risks that those brave Iraqis who want to rebuild their country face every day. A new study has found that around 250 university professors have been killed since April 2003.

A long time ago, I came this close to taking a job offer to work for The Anniston Star, buying a motorcycle, and moving to eastern Alabama. I thought it was a great little paper then. I think so all the more now, after reading this.

and a correction

It a post, I wrote that the "9/11 hijackers spent their last nights in strip clubs and booze halls." Someone asked if I could verify this. I did a quick check, and discovered that the report is that the ones who lived in Florida spent their last week there hanging out in a topless bar. I don't know if that forms any part of any of the official reports on the hijackers.