Saturday, October 04, 2003

"This whole case just seems really weird. I thought the idea post 9-11 was to recruit more agents. But this whole thing seems to send the message that if you don't do what the White House likes, your cover will be blown." So writes Doug Arellanes in my comments section about the Wilson-Plame-CIA affair.

Actually, I think The Wall Street Journal's editorial on this subject ("'Stupid' Intelligence: Some of our spooks simply oppose Bush administration antiterror policy") pretty much sums up the attitude of the White House toward the CIA.

The CIA fell asleep at the wheel, goes the thinking; therefore the Agency should be shuttered, its employees exposed as the dupes that they are, and so on. Truth is, I didn't believe it could possibly be that simple until I read the WSJ's editorial.

Thank god we're finally arguing about the CIA out in the open, says the WSJ. Except the paper has neither facts nor reason on its side.

To be fair, the WSJ scores a few decent hits: Intelligence entails gathering evidence and presenting it to elected policy makers, who do with it what they please. The entire process, start to finish, is politicized by its very nature.

And then the WSJ editors crash and burn, big time. Take this one: Calling attention to a number of wrong-headed positions adopted by CIA big-wigs, they write that

current senior CIA official Paul Pillar wrote shortly before 9/11 that counterterrorism should not be viewed as a 'war' we can hope to win, but more like 'the effort by public-health authorities to control communicable diseases' or improve 'highway safety.' He also reportedly assailed Mr. Bush's Iraq policy in a public appearance earlier this year at Johns Hopkins. This is precisely the mindset that failed to prevent September 11.
Am I missing something? Because this sounds like the stupidest thing one could possibly say to advance an argument. What are they saying? That one day we'll actually win the War on Terror and they'll be no more terrorists? Sort of like that time we declared War on Drugs and eradicated all drugs? Or that time inflicted so much damage on Poverty that it signed an unconditional surrender?

There will always be bad people in this world who blow shit up and kill innocent people. Of all people, I'd expected hard-nosed conservatives like WSJ's editors to come out and say this. In other words, we'll never "win" the War on Terror. The best we can do is reduce the threat to an acceptable level and keep it there. Yes, sort of like highway accidents and diseases. Please, if you disagree with this in any way, come right out and define what would constitute "victory" in the WOT.

Link via Josh Marshall. You can rightfully chide him for banging the same points over and over again (and like Steve, chide me for almost always taking his side) but yesterday he wrote one of the most revealing posts that I've seen on the subject.
CNEWS World - Pope warns of new 'difficulties' on path to unity in talks with Archbishop of Canterbury.

Weird, just really weird. I had no idea the Anglican and Catholic churches were even talking about reunification. I'm surprised Charles and Camilla aren't an issue.

OK, so I have an idea. How about an African pope. That'll provide all the more reason for the African Anglican conservatives, now threatening to break away from Canterbury over the gay bishop, to defect to Catholicism.

Friday, October 03, 2003

During my first day teaching on Wednesday, I was surprised that I wasn't more palpably nervous when speaking in front of a classroom. I guess nervousness doesn't manifest itself in the usual ways when you're "in the zone." One thing I noticed is that I kept drawing blanks on stuff that would normally roll off my tongue effortlessly. (I even had to check the article in front of me because I blanked out on Ambassador Wilson's first name. Joseph.)

The worst moment came when I tried to use the following as an example of a poorly constructed passive sentence: "It is known that Jemaah Islamiya is Al Qaeda's arm in Southeast Asia." The problem was, after I began the sentence, I completely forgot the name Jemaah Islamiya. Like it was always there, and suddenly it ws gone. So I hemmed and hawed and ended up saying "Islam Jambalaya" instead.

Don't worry, I acknowledged that it wasn't the real name (nobody else knew either) and I'm about to issue an email correction to the class.
There was a kid named David Kay in my grade in middle school and high school. When we were about 12, people always made fun of him just by saying his name. It's a funny name if you say it like a mean 12-year-old. Oh yeah, I just remembered: It was mockingly stuttered when said, even though as far as I can recall, David Kay didn't have a stutter. "D-d-d-david Kaaaay!" Jeez, kids are really terrible beasts. Just thinking about it makes me want (most of) them to end up like this.

Anyway, is there a dead horse around? If so, I'd like to join in the beating. US asks UN to step up arms inspections: "The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has said any country with an intelligence service knows that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction." Dec. 4, 2002.

That was part of the case for war. The war may have been justified for other reasons, but no matter how anyone tries to bend it, Rumsfeld said it. And I believed it. And it wasn't true.

At least it'll make a decent movie one day.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Call me Professor: Yesterday I taught my first class at University of New York in Prague, where I instruct pupils in the fine craft of "Media Writing" every Wednesday. It was a scary experience.

Scary because unlike virtually every other English-speaking expatriate in Prague, I have never taught English. I've never taught anything, period. And I'm a terrible public speaker.

I wish I could write all about the class, but some of the students are probably smart enough to Google my name and discover my blog, so I'm afraid brutal honesty would not be appropriate. It's a mix of nationalities, something like 75% Czech and Slovak, taught in English. Indeed, the students are pretty smart. Maybe too smart. One of the "texts" we went over in class was this AP article about the Wilson-Plame-CIA affair. The point was not to criticize the article (which isn't to say there's nothing wrong with it) but rather to analyze the style in which it's written. Notice, for instance, how the author leads with the most recent developments, which are threefold: FBI launches investigation, Bush pledges to cooperate, Dems demand independent counsel. The article weaves these threads together for the first six paragraphs, and expands them throughout the rest of the story. It's not until the seventh paragraph that the author even begins to explain what the whole complicated issue is really about. In other words, it's the classic "inverted pyramid" style of news writing.

The students, of course, were having none of this. Since they didn't understand the background of the issue -- and one certainly couldn't expect them to, given nobody seems to really understand what really happened -- they more or less thought the article sucked. One person said the author was trying deliberately to confuse the reader. Another said the writer clearly didn't know what the affair was all about, and therefore he shouldn't be writing about it.

Ah, youth!
Check this out. About a month ago I quoted the song "We're Not Gonna Take It" in my long screed about Iraq.

Today I learned that Arnold Schwarzenegger has made that old Twisted Sister classic his campaign theme song. Dee Snider is even going to sing it at a Schwarzenegger event on Sunday.

That song hasn't been making the rounds, as far as I know. I didn't pick up on early signs of Twisted Sister comeback. Me and Ah-nold are just on the same wavelength, it seems.

Well, maybe not. "If that's your best, your best won't do" referred to George Bush when I used it. But still.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Jack Shafer ruminates on the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame and ends on this note:

The hidden bad news is that none of them [the six journalists who were called by an anonymous leaker] reported that the Plame information was being leaked by sources who wished to embarrass her and Wilson -- which they could have legitimately done without burning their sources by name. In other words, they all protected the White House from its blunder.
There are plenty of interesting things to say about this affair. Indeed at times like this, I wish people actually read my blog so I could justify spending time on it. For one, the odd parallels with the David Kelly affair over on this side of the ocean are surprising: In both, a mean-spirited leak about an intelligence officer sparked controversy, questions about the role of the media, and an internal investigation, all of which serve as a proxy-scandal for the larger issue of the case for war.

Schafer points out that there are six people -- journalists all of them, most likely in the mainstream national press -- who know the identify of the person who outted Valerie Plame. Now there's an ethical dilemma: You know somebody in the administration broke the law, in a rather slimy sort of way, by trying to leak a story to you. You could reveal the person's identity and make a pretty big name for yourself. As a trustworthy journalist, are you obliged to keep the identity of your "source" confidential? Even if the person's a scumbag? (Didn't Christopher Hitchens expose Sid Blumenthal over something slightly less hairy?) Even if the person's not a source at all, because you never used the story, most likely because you knew it was pure spin? I don't pretend to know the correct answer.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Matt Welch reviews Roger L. Simon's 1998 film Prague Duet, released in the U.S. as Lies and Whispers. I've never seen this film, but now I'm sort of interested.
Chris Suellentrop quotes Quentin Tarantino's mom, Connie Zastoupil, in a Sept. 16 article in Slate:

"I wanted a name that would fill up the entire screen," she told Vanity Fair in 1994. "A multisyllable name: Quen-tin Ta-ran-ti-no." His first name was lifted from William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, but it was also inspired by the Burt Reynolds character, Quint, from Gunsmoke. And his last name? She made it up. It just sounded cool.
I don't know what Connie Zastoupil told Vanity Fair, but the part about making up "Tarantino" isn't true. That's a bit sloppy if you're going to make that the lead in an otherwise brilliant article on Tarantino's talent, and his rise, fall and possible comeback. Tony Tarantino was Quentin's biological father's real name. Connie later married a Czech-American guy named Curt Zastoupil, who passed away a couple years ago.

I don't know this because I'm a geek (although I am) but because Connie Zastoupil told me herself. Connie used to live here in Prague, where I socialized with her a several times. She's a remarkable and hilarious woman -- sort of how you might imagine Quentin Tarantino's mom. When a Czech friend complimented her on her excellent pronounciation of her own last name, she shot back without skipping a beat, "It does have a few vowels in it. That helps."
Things are really heating up in the south of Afghanistan, but here's some good news from the Christian Science Monitor (also via Colby Cosh):

With most headlines focusing on an upsurge in Taliban attacks across the south, it's easy to forget how much ordinary life here has changed.

Over 2 million Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan in the past two years.

In major cities, from Kabul to Mazar-e Sharif to Herat, small businesses have opened to help individual Afghans rebuild their homes. Lumber yards are full of timber for roofs. Carpentry shops are banging out new doors and windows....

Down south, US engineers are expecting to finish repaving the Kabul-to-Kandahar road by the end of the year, cutting an 18-hour trip to about five or six hours.
Mind you, I didn't say exciting news.... Read the article, though. It's good for you.
Colby Cosh: "I had the pleasure of hearing the Chicago Cubs clinch a playoff spot this afternoon. People are starting to get excited at the still-remote possibility of a Cubs-Red Sox World Series, which would create beautiful bedlam on this continent.... If we can arrange to have the Series feature two very old franchises still in their original towns (it's no coincidence that they are often described as 'storied') which are also the two most notable hard-luck organizations in all of North American sports, well, that would be just real cool, and I think we would all remember it for a very long time."

FYI: The Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908. And owing to "The Curse of the Bambino," the Red Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918, when they defeated.... the Chicago Cubs.
There's that word again: "The judgments reached and the tradecraft used were honest and professional, based on many years of effort."

Anybody with some time to kill could research the etymology of "tradecraft" as a noun to describe what spies and spooks do. Merriam-Webster says it originated in 1961.
Here's something strange. On a page of links ostensibly devoted to lotion (Just-Lotion-Links.com, The World's Largest Lotion-Related Links Directory), you'll find the following document: An Analysis of Al-Qaida Tradecraft.