Friday, April 04, 2003

J. Aug sent me this Reuters story explaining the difficulties U.S. and British forces are having with the language barrier. Apparently, Iraqis don't speak English, and U.S/Brit forces don't speak Arabic either. What a shock. One regiment has only two Arabic speakers, says one tank officer:

"One is from Egypt and even he struggles because he says the dialect is different. The other one I reckon is speaking Pakistani and just pretends to get a language allowance."

He speaks Pakistani? Really? Does he speak Belgian as well? Maybe he could utter a few phrases in Swiss? (FYI: There ain't no such language as Pakistani.)

OK, this is a bit of a cheap shot, but worth taking nonetheless. To be fair, probably the most amazing interaction I've seen so far between locals and coalition forces did not involve words, yet succeeded nonetheless. It was aired on CNN last night: In An Najaf, forces confronted a mostly peaceful -- but potentially very angry -- mob of Iraqis chanting something along the lines of "The city yes, the mosque no!" After a stand-off wherein communication consisted mainly of hand gestures and pointing guns at the ground, rather than the crowd, the troops appeared to convince the mob that they weren't interested in destroying the city's mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shi'ite Islam, despite the fact the Fedayeen were holed up there and firing on US/Brit forces. The denouement came when the commanding officer, camera in toe, told the line of soldiers to turn around and walk back to their tanks. He then waved to the crowd and, I think, bowed. It was actually kinda nice. I would be interested in seeing a print/online version of the event.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

So I'm reading this article by IHT's Joseph Fitchett and I get to this paragraph:

"Other leading British companies - for example, Vodaphone, Europe's largest cell phone operator - have all been cited as eyeing the Iraqi market. But a telecommunications industry executive in London voiced fears that Washington seeks in Iraq to impose U.S. companies in sectors like cell phones, where trans-Atlantic differences in technology and standards can create barriers to a free postwar market."

I don't like where this is going. Jesus, could you imagine getting charged for incoming calls on your mobile in post-war Iraq? Or if you had as much trouble sending SMS's between different networks as you do in the US? Man, that would suck! And we're supposed to be liberating these people?!? (My mom recently asked me for my "SMS address" -- huh? -- she insisted it should to have a @ sign in it! As if!)

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Banco de Gaia is playing at Akropolis on Saturday at 7:30. After that, there's a Beach Party at Tulip. I was also invited to Roxy and will probably go there after going to Tulip after going to Akropolis, if I don't skip town.
This is really cute. From Tom Tomorrow.
BBC's Reporters' Log is really good:

"After the initial stage when British soldiers - now out of their Kevlar helmets and flak jackets, and patrolling in berets - were trying to make friends with the children to win their hearts and minds, now the children are driving the soldiers mad with their constant demands for chocolates and sweets!"
'I had an opportunity to talk to some ordinary Iraqis who were out shopping. I asked one man if the Iraqi people thought of this as a war of liberation.'

'He told me, "People in the west need to understand that if even if people here are anti-Saddam, that does not equal pro-American or British." This man was not even a Baath party member, but he said, "I'm an Iraqi, and all I know is my country is being attacked. Why do you expect me to celebrate?" '

Meanwhile, U.S forces are within 19 miles of Baghdad, Reuters says, and if such a thing exists, have crossed Saddam's "red line" for chemical weapons deployment. But Agonist says that Stratfor says that it will take "up to two months" to secure the capital. (That Stratfor link hangs and I'm too impatient to wait.)
Just found this piece in the Slate archives, written during the 1999 Kosovo war. Here's what appeasement-happy Republicans traitors were saying then in defense of a brutal dictator:

"I don't know that Milosevic will ever raise a white flag," warned (Senate Majority Whip Don) Nickles.
Clinton "has no plan for the end" and "recognizes that Milosevic will still be in power," added (House Majority Whip Tom) DeLay. "The bombing was a mistake. ... And this president ought to show some leadership and admit it, and come to some sort of negotiated end."
"It is not helpful for the president's spin machine to be out there right now saying that Milosevic is weakening." The truth, said DeLay, is that "nothing has changed."

... (the next one's really good:)...

(Senate Majority Leader Trent) Lott implored Clinton to "give peace a chance" and, comparing the war with the recent Colorado high-school shootings, urged him to resolve the Kosovo conflict with "words, not weapons."

WH-WH-WH-WHAT!!? Didn't somebody just make a movie about that? So.... If you agree with Michael Moore, you also agree with Trent Lott. And vice versa. Either way you're wrong, I say.

The author himself, William Saletan, closes with this:

"You can be sure of only two things: Each party is arguing exactly the opposite of what it argued the last time a Republican president led the nation into war, and exactly the opposite of what it will argue next time."

Those words were written in May 1999.
Slate's Mickey Kaus asks, "What the hell was Rummy thinking?" and now I'm thoroughly confused.

When I really feel like procrastinating, I think I'll write a little one-act to make the whole drama more clear.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Art critic and newly published poet J. August Buehler contributes these Powell quotes:

Even Secretary of State Powell seemed to be struggling to invent new ways to describe international cooperation in general and the role of the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq in particular. In an interview in Washington last Friday, he described the United Nations role as that of a "chapeau" and a "vessel."

Defining chapeau, the French word for hat, "as more than a hat," he said, "Chapeau is a cover. But I don't want to say cover in the sense we're covering something. It essentially provides an endorsement, an international recognition for what's being done, an international recognition for what's being done, an umbrella. An international umbrella for what's being done - chapeau."

He added that the United Nations would also serve as a "vessel in which you can put resources from which you can draw - vessel, like glass."

Powell went on to make a humorless quip about French-American "marriage counseling" and then called said quip "one of my great lines of the decade," which, unfortunately, was probably accurate. This is why Powell will never be president: He'd lose even to Al Gore.
Armchair media critic* David McDonnell sends these links from NY Times: First Alessandra Stanley, in her regular column "TV Watch," writes about the perceived "foxification" of news broadcasts. Some interesting quotes:

"The real bias in what we are seeing on television is the bias towards confusion," Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a nonprofit organization in Washington, said.

All the better, in some ways. Meanwhile an ABC spokesman says since they're getting criticism from both the left and the right, "it shows we are doing our job very well." That may sound glib, but actually, it's usually a pretty accurate gauge of objectivity.

In another piece (strongly recommended), Stanley also offers a highly amusing (and correct) explanation of the "fluency gap" between Bush and Blair. Where Bush seems perturbed by critical questions, Blair gives the impression of considering the opposing point of view whilst being eager to persuade.

Fox news commentator David Asman says Blair has an unfair advantage because of his skills in Parliamentary debate: "President Bush doesn't have to put his views up to that kind of public criticism day after day after day." Yeah, that's like, sooo totally unfair.

Finally, the Times business section runs a balanced piece on the bubbling controversy over US radio behemoth Clear Channel Communications, the TV Nova of heartland American, which stands accused of drumming up support for the war by organizing and promoting patriotic rallies and Dixie Chick CD burning ceremonies. This piece basically debunks most grand conspiracy theorists by refuting the worst charges while giving plenty of ammunition to the critics.

Thank you, David, for reading my blog. To anybody else who's reading this: please email me to let me know.

* That's a joke, you see: all media critics are of the armchair variety, almost by definition.
SARS has come to Prague. Why don't we just drop the euphemism and call the illness what it really is -- the "12 Monkeys disease"?

Monday, March 31, 2003

I like Panjabi MC.
Don't read my blog today. Instead, read Talking Points Memo, top to bottom.

Then, note Sy Hersh's new New Yorker piece, which came out just a few hours ago. It makes Rumsfeld look like -- and this is not an exagerration -- the biggest schmuck on the face of the planet:

One witness to a meeting recalled Rumsfeld confronting General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, in front of many junior officers. “He was looking at the Chief and waving his hand,” the witness said, “saying, ‘Are you getting this yet? Are you getting this yet?’”

And I thought he just played an arrogant prick on TV!

The New Yorker's military coverage has been sounding the same theme -- military brass vs. Rumsfeld -- for quite a while. Still, given currently circumstances (and the fact that the last guy Hersh went after, Richard Perle, resigned his post in response) this is major *wow* material.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

We'll know the war is going better when it starts to resemble the movie Three Kings. Sort of like in this story, in which fleeing Iraqi civilians fed hungry US troops a feast of lambs and chickens and boiled eggs and potatoes.

"They told me they wanted to go to America after the war. I said where. They said California. I said why? They said the song Hotel California and they left singing Hotel California."
As troops munched on their feast, one medic warned the food could have been deliberately contaminated. He was quickly disregarded as the hungry marines forged ahead to make a fondue out of a donated tin of Australian processed cheese, but the potatoes were eaten before the cheese could melt.


In more art-meets-life news, Time reports that Iraqis circulated Black Hawk Down to their troops as a manual for defeating Americans. Found this on Drudge Report.