Saturday, September 24, 2005

Blasphemy Laws, Free Speech, Orianna Fallaci

I was reading Irfan Husain's column in Dawn, where this week's article, Things Better Left Unsaid, refers to (and quotes from) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's 1972 interview with Oriana Fallaci, the famous Italian journalist. The article makes the point that good outcomes are often spoilt by politicians saying too much.

The article made me wonder about Oriana Fallaci, and I came across another article about her,
Oriana in Exile, which raises an even more vital issue, the future of free speech in the West. Written by Christopher Orlet, whom I have never read before, and who, on cursory research, appears to be a strong supporter of the Iraq war, and an admirer of Ann Coulter and Christopher Hitchens, the article brings up the seldom mentioned advent of political correctness, both vis-a-vis religion in general and Islam in particular. This can be said to have stared with the Satanic Verses, and given a grotesque shape by 9-11 and 7/7. As Orlet says, blasphemy laws of the medieval times are either back in full strength or close to being back.

Indeed, the only safe ecclesiastical criticism, more especially humor, in Western society any more is aimed at either Christianity or Judaism (in Eastern societies in general, public humor is so fraught with taboos that it is moot to discuss in this context). I was watching an episode of the Simpsons some weeks back. It was full of satirical remarks about Catholicism and Judaism. I wondered whether biting humor about Islam, Sikhism, or Hinduism would be tolerated by societies where these communities were in a majority or were powerful. Fallaci, as the title of Orlet's article indicates, is in exile from Italy for her last book in which she made no secret of her poor view of Islam.

The irony of it all is that to spread free civil society to the Middle East, Europe and America are turning into cloistered images of that same society they set out to change, as observed in Niranjan Ramakrishnan's Who's Transforming Whom? and Little Minds and Large Empires).

Monday, September 19, 2005

North Korea: Breakthrough?

The six-party talks on North Korea have ended in avoiding immediate impasse -- the North Koreans have agreed to do away with their nuclear weapon program, if the US gives aid to them, and also promises not to attack North Korea.

This will be trumpeted, no doubt, as a showpiece of diplomacy by the Bush administration. If you go back and look at the old newspapers, I think you'll find that this is exactly the demand NK has been making all these years, mainly that the US should promise never to attack NK. On top of that, the US has agreed to give NK food and energy aid as well.

It was Talleyrand who said, "The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence". Long ago in grad school, my friend from India had a Thanksgiving card for our department: "Thank goodness Columbus didn't find India. Imagine stuffing an elephant!". Likewise, if this is the price of peace in North Korea, imagine having to feed and heat Iran...

Read North Korea's Gambit: Back to the Future? by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

Saturday, September 17, 2005

John Roberts

Ralph Nader has a good article in Counterpunch. He makes two points. Why is Congress on such a tight schedule when it comes to such important decisions? The senators had to run after three days of John Roberts, and just about a day of other testimony about the nominee. Where is the great rush that they can only give five minutes to the witnesses? Ralph Nader himself was not even invited to testify, though he his submission of written questions was accepted.

Nader makes his second point - why did no Senator ask Roberts vital questions like his opinion on power of corporations Vs individuals, the considerations of city, state and federal governments that corporations may be 'too big to fail'.

Roberts himself was a cold fish. It is a truism that lawyers are passionate, judges dispassionate, but there was no evidence of passion in Roberts even as a lawyer. And since he was careful to note at each turn that just because he had argued one way in a case did not mean he himself felt that way (nor would he say that he didn't), there was nothing to be gained from the exercise. It was, as usual, only a place for senators to grandstand on CSPAN. Another Washington replay of the old Soviet worker's joke, "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us".

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bush speaks from Jackson Square

George W. Bush stood beneath a statue of Andrew Jackson in the French Quarter and gave a speech.

I have never understood why such a huge fuss was made about the 'Bullhorn moment' of September 14, 2001. I had always thought of it as a Bull**** moment, as most other moments of this presidency. But for whatever it was worth, it was at least novel. He tried to repeat it this time, but there was no audience, there was no spontaneity, and the bullhorn, as someone wrote, was buried in the water.

The obvious thing that came out of it was the fact that a few hundred billion dollars would be spent on New Orleans. The deficit would further skyrocket, of course, but the old conservative thought of prevention being better than cure has never been popular with the Bush crowd.

The more insidious thing was the explicit statement that the armed forces would now have a greater role. What this means is not clear, but it sounded ominous to me, more like the statement after a coup in some West African country.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Galloway Vs. Hitchens

The Grapple in the Big Apple
On Sep 14, Baruch College in New York held a debate between George Galloway (author of Mr. Galloway goes to Washington) and Christopher Hitchens (left-wing author who after 9-11 became a huge supporter of Bush, and the Iraq war).

One wishes the Presidential debates would be of this caliber. First, the Brits know how to debate with wit and sardonicism.

Hitchens spoke well, although he tends to swallow his words. Galloway has a clarity of thought and expression which must be the result of years of political streetfighting and parliamentary politics. Both were eloquent. Hitchens stood his ground, though Galloway, I thought, had the better of the exchanges.

For two hours they sparred, and it was a true delight. You can watch it on C-SPAN, which is broadcasting it on the BookTV channel on Sep 17, 9 PM Eastern Time, and also on Sunday (see schedule).

Two good pieces, one about the debate (Oona King, The Guardian) and the other on George Galloway by Greg Palast, both unflattering to Galloway.

* * *
Pat Buchanan's Place
Patrick Buchanan has been writing on New Orleans, but focusing on the cries of racism, ignoring the rest of the story. See Niranjan Ramakrishnan's "Brawl in the Family" in today's Counterpunch.

* * *
Row Vs. Wade
Question: What does Bush think of Roe Vs Wade?
Answer: People should get out of New Orleans any way they can.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tide and Tidings -- King Canute Old and New

The king who silenced his courtiers by ordering the tide to roll back was Canute.

That was then. Well before the 21st century. A millenium ago or more.

Our leader is quite the opposite. According to both Time (Living too much in a Bubble) and the even blunter Newsweek (How Bush Blew It), President Bush is so averse to getting bad news that his are scared to take anything but happy tidings to him.

Aside from the finger pointing and the cries of "Finger Pointing!", there is the vital issue of what a President is for. The years in Congress or the city attorney's office, the doggedness of the primary or the irritants of governorship, all designed to groom a person to gain an understanding of all strata of society.

But when primaries can be waged by smearing opponents out of contention, and presidencies can be won by friendly having your campaign chariman double as the state's secretary of state, rubbing elbows with the common people becomes unnecessary.
"That," he said, "is what happens when you got rich people who never been nothing but rich people running your country."
* * *
John Roberts spoke without notes and without pause, a pithy and crisp opening statement. Most impressive. That was yesterday. Today he answered questions from senators, a rather predictable affair, save for Specter, who did ask him some tough questions. I think there is a special version of the Fifth Amendment for judges seeking confirmation. Instead of the usual "I respectfully decline to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me...", this one goes, "If I answer, that would reveal my predelictions, so I respectfully decline...". John Roberts showed absolutely no passion. He did not seem moved by anything, did not appear to have anything dear to his heart. This may be a good thing in a judge. He kept on message -- one was not to answer questions, the second was to say that anything he had said or written in the past was on behalf of a case, and should not be construed as his view. At one point it got so exasperating that I was surprised when Diane Feinstein did not lose her cool. He basically repeated to her, in different words, her own question in statement form, making her say, "Basically you are saying this was the decision taken". Yes, ma'am.

In today's NYT, John Tierney, in his tongue in cheek Making Roberts Talk, says Roberts claims to like PG Wodehouse. In that case, he must have modeled himself after the Beach the Butler, or even Jeeves. He simply refused to be drawn.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Four years later: Wherrrrrrrrrrres's Osama?

It is over 1400 days since the twin towers came down, and Bush promised to get Bin Laden, alive or dead.

Well, where is he?

One would have thought such an important quarry would have figured in the newspapers each day. And when we have forgotten him, poor fellow, he feels insulted and himself reminds us of his existence via video and audio releases. Here's an excerpt from an article by Michael Tomasky in the American Prospect, entitled "Day 1,461 And Counting":
Just imagine bin Laden having been at large this long in President Al Gore’s administration. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine, because President Gore, under such circumstances, wouldn’t have lasted this long. You probably didn’t know, until you read this column, the number of days bin Laden has been at large. But I assure you that if Gore had been president, you and every American would have known, because the right would have seen to it that you knew, asking every day, “Where’s Osama?” If Gore hadn’t been impeached, it’s doubtful he’d have survived a re-election campaign, with Americans aghast at how weak and immoral a president had to be to permit those 2,700 deaths to go unavenged this long.
The statement is as much a testament to the Bush administration's chain failure technique -- before it can be held accountable for one failure it fails somewhere else, the very distraction warding off the consequences -- as to the Democrats' total lack of strategy (if nothing else).

As one more anniversary rolls around, Tomasky notes some historical facts:
America vanquished world fascism in less time: We obtained Germany’s surrender in 1,243 days, Japan’s in 1,365. Even the third Punic War, in which Carthage was burned to the ground and emptied of citizens who were taken en masse into Roman slavery, lasted around 1,100 days (and troops needed a little longer to get into position back in 149 B.C.).
Keep this in mind as you watch the news networks shamelessly bring you the self-serving pageantry of presidential ceremony at New York and elsewhere, with bold graphical gymnastics of "9-11: America Remembers" and the like.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina Heads East, Bush Heads West!

From Niranjan Ramakrishnan's article in Counterpunch today, "From New York to New Orleans: Still Clueless in Crawford, Witless in Washington".

Consider this: As the storm approaches, after warnings of levee collapse and what awaited if that happened, Bush waits it out in Crawford (550 miles from New Orleans), clearing brush and God knows what else. Then, on the day it hits, he moves another 1000 miles away from New Orleans, playing golf in Arizona! The next day, when the levees break and the city is below water, he heads further away (San Diego, 1840 miles from New Orleans) to address veterans!

When the going gets tough, the toughs head due W.

Gore's Wonderful Stand-Up Tragedy

Last night, I had the opportunity to watch Al Gore's interactive presentation on Global Warming. I cannot recall when I have ever seen such a masterly presentation: great visuals, accompanied by telling but low-key commentary.

Here are some salient facts:
  1. There is a direct and well-established correlation between CO2 emissions and global temperatures.
  2. Both have shown distinct rises in the past 30 years.
  3. In every part of the world, glaciers are melting (excellent side-by-side photos of the same place some decades ago vs. now demonstrate this)
  4. If the half the Antartica glacier drops into the sea, it will cause a 20 foot rise in sea level.
  5. Hurricanes, forest fires, both have shown a sharp rise in the beginning 1990 (order of magnitude)
  6. Global warming not only causes hurricanes, it also soaks up soil moisture from the interior lands too -- if this continues, much of the continental US, for example, will be turned to desert.
A heart-warming talk on global-warming. The danger is real.
It is the real issue facing the world.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Holy Cow! An Indian Connection?

A news report says the Mad Cow disease could have been caused by human remains in cattle-feed, remains coming from Indian funerals.

New Orleans Blues
President Bush and the administration have no excuse this time. The storm, if anything, spared New Orleans by turning east at the last minute, unlike the direct hit which was talked about for weeks. Despite that, the man spent his time biking, golfing, and collecting funds (for his party). This is right there alongside Nero fiddling. Many people have written about this. One such article is by Van Jones, called, "Bush's Role in the Drowning of New Orleans".