Saturday, September 17, 2005

Blow job generation

Over at The Moderate Voice, Joe Gandelman reports on a new survey that shows a marked increase in oral sex among teenagers. From The Seattle Times:

More than half of American teens age 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex, increasing to nearly 70 percent for those who are 18 and 19, according to the largest federal study of the nation's sexual practices.

The study also found that 11 percent of women age 18 to 44 reported having had at least one homosexual experience in their lifetime, up from 4 percent in the last study, conducted in 1992.

Taken together, the two findings suggest a possible shift in sexual practices, in which women and girls are using oral and gay sex "as a safer alternative than [vaginal] sex with men," said epidemiologist William Mosher of the National Center for Health Statistics, the study's lead author.

"If it is seen as a safer alternative, it is an interesting response to the campaigns to reduce teen pregnancy and to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and HIV," he said.

The study, however, found that only 9 percent of the teens reported using condoms during oral sex. Studies have shown that gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes and the human papillomavirus can all be transmitted in this manner.

I don't know. I'm all for sexual expression, but is this a positive development?

Bookmark and Share

Secrets and lies: North Korea's old nuclear ambitions

As always, North Korea doesn't get much attention in the news, but there's increasing cause for concern that Kim Jong-il's "guerrilla state," perhaps the most wretched place in the world, is going ahead with its nuclear program as diplomatic efforts stall.

Here's what Slate's Fred Kaplan says in his latest piece on North Korea:

After a promising resumption two months ago (which followed a yearlong hiatus), the "six-party talks" seem to be breaking down over the North Koreans' sudden declaration that they won't give up their nuclear-weapons program unless the other five powers—the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea—give Pyongyang the money to build a light-water nuclear reactor...

Just before the talks got under way again this past July, South Korea held out the promise of massive energy assistance in the form of power lines carrying conventional electricity, if North Korea gave up its ambitions to build A-bombs. Pyongyang came back to the table, saying all the right things (we want to give up our nuclear-weapons program, we'll welcome back international inspectors, we'll rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty)—then they demanded a reactor.

The demand is a nonstarter for two reasons: one political, one practical. First, the North Koreans have been enriching uranium—one method of building an atom bomb—at a reactor that wasn't designed for explicitly military purposes. Who's to say they won't do the same again? Second, nobody is going to buy them a reactor anyway. Russia, China, and South Korea agree with North Korea's claim that, as a sovereign nation, it has a right to nuclear energy. But that doesn't mean that they or any other countries have an obligation to supply it. They couldn't raise the money for reactors in '94, when an international agreement did obligate them to do so; they're not likely to raise it now...

Scott Snyder, author of Negotiating on the Edge (the best book on Pyongyang's bargaining style), writes that Kim Jong-il—like his father, Kim Il Sung, before him—regards his country as a "guerrilla state" and his position in the world as that of "a guerrilla fighter who has nothing to lose and yet faces the prospect of losing everything." In diplomacy, therefore, his strategy is to generate an air of perpetual crisis and brinkmanship, constantly probing for divisions among the diplomats on the other side of the table, ceaselessly demanding further concessions until he's convinced there's nothing more to be wrung...

The danger—not just for us but for the North Koreans as well—is that Kim and his emissaries will hold out for too long... The Bush administration went into this latest round of talks divided over whether they even should. In Bush's first term, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who favored talks, was outmaneuvered at every turn by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and even his own undersecretary of state, John Bolton. Talks are happening at all only because, in the second term, Condoleezza Rice has enough leverage with President Bush to insist on them. But if the North Koreans keep diddling for too long, Bush—or even Rice—will lose patience. And then we'll all be back to square one.

(Be sure to read the complete piece.)

Not too long ago, the words "nuclear" and "option" were used to describe the abolition of the filibuster in the Senate. Well, North Korea seems to be pursuing its own nuclear option, a literal one, and, more and more, it looks like Kim's brinksmanship -- his reckless leadership of a totalitarian regime bent on developing its own nuclear program even as it plays a diplomatic game of chicken with the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea -- could lead to war, or at least to potentially devastating military action.

True, a diplomatic solution still isn't out of the question, but it may take military action (and, beyond that, a change of regime (and not just a change of leadership)) to solve this growing problem. But what would such military action entail?

I've previously written about North Korea here and here.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, September 16, 2005

Supply and demand: Iran's new nuclear ambitions

I've generally been quite optimistic about Iran's future, even with the recent election of populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, even with its return to the nuclear game (although nuclear weaponry could still be a decade away).

But this... this isn't good:

Iran is willing to provide nuclear technology to other Muslim states, Iran's hardline president said Thursday, notching up his rhetoric as his government rejects international pressure to cut back its atomic program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the comment after talking with Turkey's prime minister during a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said.

Ahmadinejad made repeated promises that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons, the report said. Then he added: "Iran is ready to transfer nuclear know-how to the Islamic countries due to their need."

Iran has said it is determined to continue processing uranium so its nuclear program can be self-sufficient in meeting its own reactor fuel needs. It insists the program is intended only to generate electricity and denies having any ambition to build atomic weapons.

Okay, maybe, but what about those other Islamic countries? And, beyond that, what about those terrorist organizations that operate in said Islamic countries? I doubt I'd support any sort of major military operation against Iran, at least not right now, but something drastic would have to be done to prevent Iran from exporting its "nuclear know-how". And, of course, that something (say, special operations and airstrikes to take out Iran's nuclear facilities) would have to be done by the U.S., unless the U.N. were to get its act together (which is unlikely) or the major European powers were to act on their own (also unlikely).

Ahmadinejad may just be posturing. As Franklin Foer notes in his wonderful book How Soccer Explains the World, one of the more underappreciated currents in Iranian culture is nationalism (as opposed to, say, jihadism). It may be good politics to stand up to the U.S., Europe, and the U.N., flaunting Iran's power in front of the world's cameras, but it's a dangerous game to play. If Ahmadinejad isn't careful, if he continues along this path to the proliferation of "nuclear know-how," the U.S. will have no alternative but to take military action.

Iran is a land of great possibility. Indeed, I suspect that most Iranians want their country to move closer to the West (and especially to the U.S. -- hated by the rulers, loved by the people) and towards liberal democracy. But how is that to happen, how is Iran to realize its great possibility, if it continues to threaten, if only for now in its rhetoric, the security of the West?

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bush's prime-time promises

Make what you will of Bush's speech this evening. Personally, I didn't think much of it. I don't doubt his compassion, and he may have said the right things ("there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans"), but I can't get past his obvious incompetence and the utter lack of leadership he showed after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. He was right to say that "[Katrina] was not a normal hurricane, and the normal disaster relief system was not equal to it," but consider this:

It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority, and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.

Now? It is now clear? Wasn't it clear after 9/11?

Isn't this the president who was (self-)defined by 9/11, who exploited 9/11 out of partisanship, who supported the Patriot Act, created the Department of Homeland Security, launched a global war on terror, and started a reckless war in Iraq all for the sake of keeping America safe, who ran for re-election as the one man who could lead America through difficult and dangerous times?

And now what? Hollow claims of responsibility and a definitive lack of leadership. Sure, he's doing something now, but I wonder about all those promises, that State-of-the-Union-style laundry list of financial commitments. Will he follow through on them? Will he work with Congress and local officials to ensure that New Orleans is rebuilt and the evacuees are helped as much as possible? Or was this merely the rhetoric of a desperate politician whose poll numbers are low and getting lower?

Whatever my differences with the president, I do hope he's serious and I do hope everything is now clear to him. Forgive me, though, if I'm a little skeptical. He hasn't done much to win my trust and confidence these past 4+ years, and I'm not expecting much to change.


Update (9/16/05): David Kusnet, former Clinton speechwriter, liked Bush's speech. As a speech, not necessarily for the content (though he liked much of that, too): "Never before has a president spoken so well and acted so ineptly. Perhaps the rhetoric will win Bush a second chance." I just don't think he spoke that well, though the rhetoric may indeed give him "a second chance". As for taking responsibility for all those blunders:

By the time he arrived at the question of whether his administration should be held accountable for responding too late, with too little assistance and too much ineptitude, Bush had gotten much of his audience nodding in agreement. Shrewdly, he said that "recovery and rebuilding" will require "a united country." But, then, he assumed the Reaganesque role of leader of the nation, not manager of the government, calling for a bipartisan investigation into what went wrong. Addressing the deepest dread surrounding this disaster -- if we couldn't respond to an anticipated assault from Katrina, what of a surprise attack by Osama? -- Bush said the panel's findings would be used to improve homeland security.

Nice try, Mr. President, but we see right through you.

Bookmark and Share

Massachusetts rejects same-sex marriage ban

Excellent news for proponents of the legalization of same-sex marriage from the state I once called home:

In a sign that the legalization of same-sex marriage has changed the political landscape in Massachusetts, the legislature soundly defeated a proposed constitutional amendment on Wednesday to ban gay marriage and create civil unions, an amendment that lawmakers gave preliminary approval to in a raucous constitutional convention last year.

Wednesday's 157-to-39 vote by a joint session of the House and Senate partly reflected the fact that some legislators now consider same-sex marriage more politically acceptable, after a largely conflict-free year in which some 6,600 same-sex couples got married and lawmakers who supported it got re-elected.

The vote also reflected some lawmakers' reluctance to pass a bill that could either withdraw rights from already married couples or create a class of married gay men and lesbians and a class of those unable to marry.

The fight isn't over yet, however:

Last year some legislators who opposed both same-sex marriage and civil unions voted for the amendment because they considered it their best chance at preserving marriage for heterosexuals.

This year, after it appeared that the amendment would fail, many opponents of same-sex marriage started a citizens' petition for a stricter amendment that would ban same-sex marriage without creating civil unions.

The earliest that amendment, endorsed by Gov. Mitt Romney, could become law is 2008. Supporters must get 65,000 signatures, the votes of 50 lawmakers in two consecutive legislative sessions and the approval of voters in a referendum. Both sides expect a difficult fight.

As you may know, especially if you're a regular reader of The Reaction, Canada legalized same-sex marriage over the summer. The fight for what I consider a basic right will be longer and tougher in the U.S., even in more liberal states like Massachusetts, but there is simply no turning back at this point. And rightly so. In the end, gay and lesbian couples will be treated just like their heterosexual counterparts. And America will be all the better for it.

Bookmark and Share

Penguins and conservatism

Four interesting posts at The Carpetbagger Report (where I recently guest-blogged):

1) Conservatism without compassion: Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who recently voted against federal relief for the victims of Katrina, is blocking an attempt to exempt those same victims from the new bankruptcy law. He's clearly one of the leading candidates for most noxious politician in Washington.

2) The death of conservatism: Tom DeLay's recent defence of Big Government (claiming that the budget is right where it should be, with all the fat cut out) indicates that conservatism is dead. I'd argue that conservatism isn't dead, it's just been banished from the corridors of power in the Republican Party.

3) Conservatism without intelligence: Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who also voted against federal relief for the victims of Katrina, argues that a proposed Pennsylvania memorial to the victims of Flight 93 on 9/11 in the shape of a crescent could, given the association of the crescent with Islam, inadvertently honour the terrorists. Clearly, Sensenbrenner has competition.

4) Penguins and politics: Some conservatives seem to have convinced themselves that March of the Penguins, a well-reviewed new documentary about, yes, penguins, supports the case for intelligent design (such as there is one), the pro-life movement, and monogamy. How convenient that they left out homosexuality. All I can say is, isn't evolution wonderful?

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Sign of the Apocalypse #18: Britney has a baby

With this, Britney -- utterly, stupidly pointless Britney -- makes her second SOTA (the first, #2 overall, is here). Yes, Britney "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman" Spears is a mother. (I'll pause while you shiver in despair for the future of civilization, if there is one.) According to Us Weekly -- itself utterly, stupidly pointless -- Preston Michael Spears Federline (the assumed name) was born by Caesarean section earlier today. The father (sperm donor, baby daddy) is, of course, Kevin Federline, former Britney back-up dancer, who also has two children with his ex-girlfriend. In fact, the ex was pregnant when Kevin and Britney "met" last year. Now that's classy.

How long do you think it'll be until the Spears-Federline family ends up on Jerry Springer?


Britney: "I'm gonna be a hot mom." You go, girl. Not that anyone's paying much attention to you anymore, but your self-absorption and obliviousness to your own triviality is just charming.


Meanwhile, at Britney's official website, there's all the latest on her new fragrance, "Fantasy," that, oh, just happens to be hitting stores (what does that even mean?) tomorrow. Coincidence? Yeah, sure. Would anyone actually buy her so-called fragrance (eau de parc de trailer) if she herself weren't all over the news with her baby? Come on. Don't be so naive.

But, while we're at it, just what is this fragrance? Well, "[i]t was created with all kinds of enchanting scents and flavors like lush red lychee, golden quince, sensual woods and exotic kiwi. It even has a hint of cupcakes, white chocolate and jasmine."

Just enough to cover up your B.O. Just enough to attract a guy like Kevin Federline.

But... cupcakes?


It's all enough to drive away your last vestiges of sanity.

But here's the good news: My friend Justin and his wife Krista also had a baby today, also by C-section. I'm not sure of the little one's name yet, but, for now, he'll be known as Sign of the Renaissance (SOTR) #2.

Britney as a mom is a lot to overcome, but Justin and Krista have done their best to keep us from inching ever closer to the brink of apocalypse.

Update (9/15/05): The baby's name is Noah.

Bookmark and Share

Bush claims responsibility for Katrina failures

Pinch me.

Seriously, pinch me.

From the Times:

President Bush said on Tuesday that he bore responsibility for any failures of the federal government in its response to Hurricane Katrina and suggested that he was unsure whether the country was adequately prepared for another catastrophic storm or terrorist attack.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Mr. Bush said in an appearance in the East Room with President Jalal Talabani of Iraq. "I want to know what went right and what went wrong."

In response to a reporter who asked if Americans, in the wake of the hurricane, should be concerned about the government's ability to respond to another disaster or a terrorist attack, Mr. Bush said: "I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm? And that's a very important question."

Throughout his nearly five years in office, Mr. Bush has resisted publicly acknowledging mistakes or shortcomings, and his willingness in this case to edge up to a buck-stops-here statement, however conditional, was evidence of how shaken his presidency has been by the political fallout from the government's handling of the storm.

It also set the stage for a White House effort to pivot from dealing with urgent rescue and relief efforts to setting out a vision of how the federal government could help rebuild devastated communities and re-establish Mr. Bush's image as a leader.

Well, good luck with that.

For now, I'm just, uh, flabbergasted. Not necessarily impressed -- he's the president, after all, he should claim responsibility and show some leadership -- but surprised that he actually stood up to acknowledge failure and to take (some of) the blame for what went wrong.

Or, no. Not surprised. This president has been beaten down. He's no longer the 9/11 president, he's the Katrina president. His approval rating is way, way down, and, finally, neither the media nor the American people nor the Democrats nor even members of his own party are allowing him a free ride. In other words, he's desperate and he needed to do something, anything. And that something, anything was something he'd never done before.

Which is a start. I suppose.

Bookmark and Share

Senate Judiciary Committee v. John G. Roberts Jr. (2005)

Or, what's abortion got to do with it?

Suffice it to say, Roberts is a really, really good lawyer. On Tuesday, his Senate confirmation hearings really got going, with Democrats challenging him on a number of contentious issues, including (of course) abortion. But he wouldn't budge:

"I think nominees have to draw the line where they are most comfortable," said Roberts, who also sidestepped questions about civil rights, voting rights and the limits of presidential power in a long, occasionally antagonistic day in the witness chair.

Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said past Supreme Court rulings carry weight, including the Roe v. Wade
decision that legalized abortion in 1973. But he quickly balanced that by adding that the same principle allows for overturning rulings, as well.

Over and over, he assured lawmakers he would be guided by his understanding of the facts of cases, the law and the Constitution, not by his personal views.

As I've said before (at both The Reaction (here and here) and The Moderate Voice (here)), I just don't see any "extraordinary circumstances" here. He's too conservative for my liking (but what possible Bush nominee wouldn't be?), but I'm not necessarily opposed to his confirmation, and, indeed, he may very well turn out to be a fine chief justice (assuming his modesty, respect for precedent, and appreciation for judicial restraint are all sincere). And, again, I say this as someone who would prefer a more liberal Supreme Court.


For more on Roberts and abortion, see here. "[I]t is certainly true, I think, that abortion's hold on the American political (if not judicial) mind -- and, more specifically, on the minds of those of us who are paying attention to the Roberts nomination -- is disproportionately high... This is not to say that abortion isn't an important issue, nor that Roberts's (or any other candidate's or nominee's) views on abortion shouldn't be considered. But the centrality of abortion in American political life does need to be reconsidered, especially when we're talking about the Supreme Court. It's simply not the most illuminating issue."


For more on Roberts's confirmation hearings, see this excellent article in the Times:

His face never scowled. His level tone seldom varied. He answered questions he found useful to his cause and avoided those he did not. Above all, Judge John G. Roberts Jr. explained his views and defended his honor with the force and fluidity of an advocate who has argued often before tougher judges than those he faced on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

But as he parried a sympathetic Republican's question about how careful the Supreme Court should be in overturning an act of Congress, Judge Roberts also acknowledged a political reality that hung over his confirmation hearings: "All judges are acutely aware of the fact that millions and millions of people have voted for you and not one has voted for any of us."

His job this week is to persuade a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 senators to vote for him, and under hours of relentless and sometimes hostile questioning, Judge Roberts never lost sight of that goal. He listened. He smiled. He nodded. He spoke of the power of precedent and the importance of humility, using plain language with senators who sometimes got tangled in legal shorthand, jargon and precedents.

Read on. It's interesting stuff, and there's still a long way to go.

Bookmark and Share

MJWS at The Moderate Voice

I just wanted to let you all know that in Joe Gandelman's brief absence I posted more than usual the past couple of days over at The Moderate Voice.

In addition to the post on the latest troubles in Northern Ireland, which I first wrote for The Reaction (see here), I wrote one on the battle over Holocaust Day in Britain, since re-posted here, then one on the start of the Roberts confirmation hearings and one on Mike Brown's resignation as director on FEMA. Given time-sensitivity and length, I won't re-post the latter (on Roberts and Brown) here, but if you're interested in those continuing stories I urge you to check them out over at TMV. In addition, I wrote one on Bush's collapsing approval rating and one on Bush, Katrina, and race. I won't re-post the former, given how tired I am of reporting on the obvious and the justifiable, but I will re-post the latter, in revised form, just below this one (scroll down or click here).

Bookmark and Share

Bush on Katrina: Race had nothing to do with it

From the Post:

Speaking to reporters after touring New Orleans yesterday, Bush sought to dispel the view that race played a role in the government's response to the disaster. "When those Coast Guard choppers, many of who were first on the scene, were pulling people off roofs, they didn't check the color of a person's skin," Bush said. "They wanted to save lives."

Bush vowed that the massive federal response, which already has received funding of more than $62 billion and involves more than 71,000 federal personnel on the ground, would be managed fairly. "The storm didn't discriminate, and neither did the recovery effort," he said, adding: "The rescue efforts were comprehensive, and the recovery will be comprehensive."

I've been awfully critical of President Bush, but I'm tempted to believe him on this one. I suspect that the response would have been quicker if the storm had hit, say, San Francisco or Boston, but that probably has more to do with the fact that they're richer, more prosperous, and ultimately more important cities in terms of media attention and, more broadly, in terms of America's sense of self (which is why a disaster in New York means so much more than a disaster anywhere else).

But race and poverty were indeed important factors -- before the storm hit, according to Matt Yglesias:

The race and class issues entered the picture earlier. Poor people face a distinct set of challenges when faced with things like evacuation orders, and I think it's undeniable that a big part of the reason nobody seems to have given consideration to those realities is specifically that the people in question were poor and largely black. That, after all, has been the general pattern of this administration. The federal government runs various programs designed to help the poor. That set of activities has been made uniformly less generous under the period of Republican rule. And they haven't been made less generous thanks to broad, across-the-board spending cuts. Virtually nothing has been cut except anti-poverty spending.

The point is, many of the poor (including the black poor of New Orleans) had no chance. Not because Bush is a racist or because there was some racial component to the relief and recovery efforts, but because they had already been beaten down and left hopeless and helpless by a society that largely ignores them.

They're the "other" America, and they're still suffering.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sign of the Renaissance #1: The end of reality TV?

As many of you know, my Signs of the Apocalypse (SOTA) series is well underway, now up to #17 -- see right sidebar for all the links.

Well, let me introduce to you... the opposite: Signs of the Renaissance (SOTR). If a SOTA heralds the coming of the end of civilization, a SOTR heralds something in the way of genesis, a new beginning, hope, which is to say, rebirth, renewal, revival, resurgence -- a sign that the Apocalypse isn't imminent, that collapse isn't just around the corner, that perhaps our civilization is coming back from the brink of self-destruction. Or not. I don't know. Suffice it to say that in this context, here at The Reaction, our civilization is at the center of a tug of war between the forces of Apocalypse and the forces of Renaissance, pulled in both directions to the point of breaking apart entirely. It seems that the forces of Apocalypse are winning, but this post provides at least some ammunition for the other side, some proof that all is not lost.

It's 17-1, but, hopefully, there's still a lot of the game left to play.


SOTA #17 involved reality TV, specifically the returns of the Donald and the Martha to the airwaves in complementary editions of The Apprentice (the most vile show on TV). SOTR #1 similarly involves reality TV, but -- yes, you guessed it -- in a good way:

The popularity of reality TV in the US appears to be on the wane, with four out of five people surveyed saying there are now too many reality shows.

Some 82% of those in the AP-TV Guide poll said reality shows were either "totally made up" or "distorted".

Only 4% of the 1,002 questioned said there were not enough reality shows.

Yes, there's hope yet.

Bookmark and Share

The rise and fall of the Bush presidency

According to E.J. Dionne, in a provocative column in today's Post, the Bush Era is over:

The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, the better for them -- and the country.

Recent months, and especially the past two weeks, have brought home to a steadily growing majority of Americans the truth that President Bush's government doesn't work. His policies are failing, his approach to leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like this...

The Bush Era, if it may be called that, began on September 14, when Bush stood upon the wreckage of the World Trade Center and launched the so-called War on Terror. He "[identified] enemies and [rallied] a nation already disposed to action," and "[v]ery nearly all of us rallied behind him".

But... well, you know the rest of the story. The War on Terror metamorphosed into the War in Iraq, and that hasn't gone well. There were those excessive tax cuts "for his wealthiest supporters". There was the botched attempt to privatize social security. There was the sluggish economy. There were the massive budget deficits and a booming national debt. And Iraq kept getting worse and more Americans were dying in the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah and all around that occupied land. There was the partisanship. All that nasty partisanship from a man who claimed, arrogantly and erroneously, to be a uniter, not a divider. And then there was Katrina:

And so the Bush Era ended definitively on Sept. 2, the day Bush first toured the Gulf Coast States after Hurricane Katrina. There was no magic moment with a bullhorn. The utter failure of federal relief efforts had by then penetrated the country's consciousness. Yesterday's resignation of FEMA Director Michael Brown put an exclamation point on the failure.

The source of Bush's political success was his claim that he could protect Americans. Leadership, strength and security were Bush's calling cards. Over the past two weeks, they were lost in the surging waters of New Orleans.

Dionne is one of my favourite pundits, but I'm not sure what to make of this. I agree (mostly) with his assessment of the rise and fall of the Bush presidency. And I agree that Bush is at such a low point in the wake of Katrina that he may not be able to recover. But he has three and a half years left, and three and a half years are a long time in politics. Dionne's on to something, but it may be a bit premature to write Bush off so early in his second term. Just as Katrina brought him low by exposing the hollowness of his leadership, or the lack thereof, some as-yet-unknown event could bring him back up, if not to the level of support and popularity he enjoyed after 9/11, than at least back up to respectability.

Regardless, for those of you who dislike Bush and who have found his presidency to be something of a disaster, take comfort. The Bush era may not quite be over, but it soon will be.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, September 12, 2005

The return of the Holocaust (Day) deniers

From the (London) Times:

Advisers appointed by Tony Blair after the London bombings are proposing to scrap the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day because it is regarded as offensive to Muslims.

They want to replace it with a Genocide Day that would recognise the mass murder of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia as well as people of other faiths.

The draft proposals have been prepared by committees appointed by Blair to tackle extremism. He has promised to respond to the plans, but the threat to the Holocaust Day has provoked a fierce backlash from the Jewish community.

Holocaust Day was established by Blair in 2001 after a sustained campaign by Jewish leaders to create a lasting memorial to the 6m victims of Hitler. It is marked each year on January 27.

The Queen is patron of the charity that organises the event and the Home Office pays £500,000 a year to fund it. The committees argue that the special status of Holocaust Memorial Day fuels extremists’ sense of alienation because it "excludes" Muslims.

A member of one of the committees, made up of Muslims, said it gave the impression that "western lives have more value than non-western lives". That perception needed to be changed. "One way of doing that is if the government were to sponsor a national Genocide Memorial Day.

"The very name Holocaust Memorial Day sounds too exclusive to many young Muslims. It sends out the wrong signals: that the lives of one people are to be remembered more than others. It’s a grievance that extremists are able to exploit."

Come on, really?

Look, I have no problem with a day to remember victims of genocide more generally, nor even specifically: It's certainly true that the victims of genocide in, say, Armenia and Cambodia, or Bosnia and Rwanda, or even Stalin's Russia, are often forgotten, or at least subject to far less official remembrance than the victims of the Holocaust (and, even there, largely the Jewish victims of the Holocaust). Is this fair? Is it even a matter of fairness of victimhood? Maybe, maybe not. I'll let you decide that for yourselves.

But the fact is, there was, in my view, something truly exceptional about the Holocaust. It was the culmination of centuries and centuries of persecution. It was an attempt to wipe out an entire people — even the memory of an entire people. I realize that there have been similar genocides throughout history, but it's difficult, at least for me, not to view the Holocaust independently of, or at least as the ultimate event in, the history of genocide.

It could be argued, I suppose, that the Holocaust has been granted this "special" status as a result of highly effective lobbying and marketing by a powerful interest group — namely, Judaism as a whole, backed up by the state of Israel and its supporters throughout Europe and America. But this misses the point. We're talking about the United Kingdom here. It seems to me that the Holocaust means something there (and here in North America) that it may not mean, at least not to the same degree or in the same way) in other parts of the world. Obviously, jurisdictions with, say, large Armenian or Cambodian populations would likely afford those two genocides greater emphasis in terms of official remembrance.

To me, lumping genocides together means, ultimately, neglecting the singularities of each one. I see nothing wrong with recognizing a Holocaust Day, but then I see nothing wrong with recognizing a day for another genocide (or other genocides). That should be up to individual jurisdictions.

I realize that this is an incredibly sensitive topic, and I must admit that I was hesitant to write anything about it. It's too easy to write off this latest effort to do away with a Holocaust Memorial Day as anti-Semitism (as Andrew Sullivan does). It surely is for some, but there is indeed a case to be made, and not just for the sake of Muslim youth, for lumping together all genocides into a generic Genocide Memorial Day. But why do that? It's important to remember the Holocaust as the Holocaust, not as yet another example of humanity at its worst. It needs to be remembered on its own, just as all other genocides need to remembered on their own, independently of one another, whatever the similarities that bind them.

(See also my previous posts on North Korea (here and here), Rwanda (here), and Darfur (here and here).)

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, September 11, 2005

After Katrina: Hopelessness lifts, Democrats go on the offensive

As the recovery efforts continue in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, as that overriding sense of hopelessness begins to lift and the death toll looks like it might actually be much lower than all those dire predictions last week, Democratic senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Barack Obama of Illinois, among others, went on the offensive Sunday in response to President Bush's handling of the crisis and subsequent Republican efforts to deflect attention away from Bush by pinnning the blame squarely on local officials.

I said much of what I have to say in a previous post. It's important, I think, to find out what went wrong, what could have been done better, and who (or what) is to blame, but it's a shame, however predictable, that partisanship has taken over.

Politics. As usual.

So much for the truth.

Bookmark and Share

More trouble in Belfast

Not too long ago, I praised the I.R.A.'s decision to lay down its arms and to pursue a political settlement in Northern Ireland. I was cautiously optimistic. "Hope abounds," I declared, but:

[W]e'll have to see just how effectively peace and politics replace war and terror. For if a widely satisfactory political solution doesn't emerge in the near future -- and there simply may not be one that appeals to the extremists and reins them in -- violence could return with a vengeance, sinking Northern Ireland back into bloodshed and hatred.The will may be there to end the violence, at least for now, but it's not at all clear that this new effort will solve the problem of Northern Ireland.

Well, it's one thing for the I.R.A. to lay down its arms, which it must if there is ever to be peace in Northern Ireland, quite another for Protestant extremists to do the same, and this weekend saw some of the worst Protestant violence in a decade:

Cranes lifted scores of burned-out cars from Belfast's riot-scarred streets Sunday after thousands of Protestant extremists went on a rampage, attacking police and British soldiers over a restricted Orange Order parade.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde, commander of Northern Ireland's mostly Protestant police, blamed the Protestant marching brotherhood for inspiring the riots, which were the worst committed in nearly a decade by the Protestant side of the community.

He said that 32 officers were wounded Saturday and early Sunday while fending off mobs of angry, often drunken Protestant men and teenagers in several parts of Belfast and in seven other predominantly Protestant towns and villages.

He said two major outlawed Protestant groups, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, helped to orchestrate what he called "completely organized" attacks. He said police seized a bomb-making factory and seven firearms in follow-up raids Sunday.

And there's more:

Chief Constable Orde said about 50 live rounds, some from automatic weapons, were fired at police positions Saturday in northwest Belfast, scene of the most protracted and dangerous clashes, but no one was wounded by bullets. About a half dozen officers suffered shrapnel wounds from homemade grenades.

About 2,000 police and British troops combated the Protestant backlash, Chief Constable Orde said, after security forces blocked Orangemen from marching past a hardline Catholic section of Belfast's Springfield Road, a major sectarian fault line in the Northern Ireland capital.

Clearly, both extremes deserve the blame for Nothern Ireland's troubles, and this latest Protestant violence shows once more just how far off peace may be.

Bookmark and Share