Pontificator: News and Commentary

Saturday, April 19, 2003 :::
Beastmaster in North Korea

What do Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator, and Maax, the High Priest of the God Ar, played by Rip Torn in the movie "Beastmaster," have in common?

This is a serious question.

The answer: they both destroy little children based on a bizarre pseudo-astrological prophecy that those children will grow up and kill them. In Beastmaster:

As the story opens, three witches predict that Maax (pronounced May-ax, played by Rip Torn), the high priest of the god Ar, will die at the hand of the King Zed's unborn son. Maax determines to thwart the prophecy by cutting the fetus from the Queen's womb and sacrificing it to the god. However, before he can act, the King (Rod Loomis) discovers the plot and banishes Maax forever. Later that night, one of the witches sneaks into the King's chamber and magically transfers the baby from the Queen's womb into the belly of a cow and disappears before anything can be done. Once safely outside the city, the witch cuts the baby from the cow and begins making preparations to sacrifice it to the god. A traveler (Ben Hammer) overhears the baby crying and kills the witch. He takes the baby (who he names Dar) back to his home village of Emir and adopts it as his own. A few years later, Dar and his adopted father discover that his time in the cow's womb has given him a miraculous power—the ability to communicate with animals—when he saves his father from an attacking bear. But the true test of Dar's courage and abilities comes when he has grown into man (played by Marc Singer). His village of Emir is destroyed by a band of marauders called the Jun Hoard, led by none other than the evil priest Maax. As the only survivor, he sets out on a quest for revenge; his only companions a golden eagle, a black tiger, and two ferrets.

In North Korea:

All triplets in North Korea are being forcibly removed from parents after their birth and dumped in bleak orphanages.

The policy is carried out on the orders of Stalinist dictator Kim Jong-il, who has an irrational belief that a triplet could one day topple his regime.

I suppose Maax is not as bad as Kim Jong Il. After all, Maax only destroyed (or tried to destroy) one life based on this "prophecy." Kim Jong Il, by contrast, destroys dozens.

Oh yeah, and Kim Jong Il is real.

::: posted by Pontificator at 6:27 PM

Evangelicals out of Iraq!

This, is profoundly disrespectful:

When President Bush called his war on terrorism a "crusade," he backtracked quickly in the face of intense reaction at home and abroad. Now many people are worried that, in the case of Iraq, that inopportune choice of words may turn out to hold more than a modicum of truth.

As Christian relief agencies prepare to enter Iraq, some have announced their intent to combine aid with evangelization. They include groups whose leaders have proclaimed harshly negative views of Islam. They are also friends of the president. The White House has shrugged its shoulders, saying it can't tell private groups what to do, though legal experts disagree.

Yet to many Muslims and Christians alike, proselytizing at this highly volatile moment in the newly liberated country, with Muslims worldwide questioning US motives, could only spur outrage and undermine US policy in the region as well as in Iraq.

Look, the west has just completed a military conquest of a Muslim country. In the past, such conquests have been followed by attempts to destroy Islam and the people who insist on practicing it. We claim that we are different, that this military conquest was for the benefit of the Muslim people. To the extent that we try to convert them, or condition aid and comfort on their following of Christian practices, we undermine that message, play into anti-American stereotypes (which have historical legitimacy), and, ultimately, sacrifice national security by playing into the hands of the Al Qaeda haters who characterize the war against Iraq as a western crusade against Islam.

George Bush should order all evangelical Christian groups to leave Iraq now, in the name of national security and the war on terror.

::: posted by Pontificator at 4:59 PM

Thursday, April 17, 2003 :::
O'Reilly Racism Update

Unfortunately, the despicable Bill O'Reilly seems to have gotten away with another racist statement without consequence. To recap:

Emceeing Saturday night's Best Friends rock-and-roll gala at the Marriott Wardman Park -- which raised $800,000 for the 15-year-old charity benefiting inner-city schoolchildren -- the Fox News Channel star was trying to fill dead air during a lull in the entertainment.

Members of the "Best Men," as the sixth-to-eighth-grade boys in the program are called, were delayed getting onstage to perform a lip-synced rendition of the Four Tops standard "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." O'Reilly ad-libbed: "Does anyone know where the Best Men are? I hope they're not in the parking lot stealing our hubcaps."

Although brave bloggers like Roger Ailes and Jesse of Pandagon fame immediately noted the story and lambasted the cable talk show king, the SCLM then let the story die.

That's not right. We should continue to remind people that Bill O'Reilly's racist attitudes preclude him from hosting a cable show on a national network. O'Reilly should make a full apology, and Fox should fire him.

::: posted by Pontificator at 12:13 PM

Wednesday, April 16, 2003 :::
The Speech

A clarion call for freedom, by Tim Robbins at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 2003.

TIM ROBBINS: Thank you. And thanks for the invitation. I had originally been asked here to talk about the war and our current political situation, but I have instead chosen to hijack this opportunity and talk about baseball and show business. (Laughter.) Just kidding. Sort of.

I can't tell you how moved I have been at the overwhelming support I have received from newspapers throughout the country in these past few days. I hold no illusions that all of these journalists agree with me on my views against the war. While the journalists' outrage at the cancellation of our appearance in Cooperstown is not about my views, it is about my right to express these views. I am extremely grateful that there are those of you out there still with a fierce belief in constitutionally guaranteed rights. We need you, the press, now more than ever. This is a crucial moment for all of us.

For all of the ugliness and tragedy of 9-11, there was a brief period afterward where I held a great hope, in the midst of the tears and shocked faces of New Yorkers, in the midst of the lethal air we breathed as we worked at Ground Zero, in the midst of my children's terror at being so close to this crime against humanity, in the midst of all this, I held on to a glimmer of hope in the naive assumption that something good could come out of it.

I imagined our leaders seizing upon this moment of unity in America, this moment when no one wanted to talk about Democrat versus Republican, white versus black, or any of the other ridiculous divisions that dominate our public discourse. I imagined our leaders going on television telling the citizens that although we all want to be at Ground Zero, we can't, but there is work that is needed to be done all over America. Our help is needed at community centers to tutor children, to teach them to read. Our work is needed at old-age homes to visit the lonely and infirmed; in gutted neighborhoods to rebuild housing and clean up parks, and convert abandoned lots to baseball fields. I imagined leadership that would take this incredible energy, this generosity of spirit and create a new unity in America born out of the chaos and tragedy of 9/11, a new unity that would send a message to terrorists everywhere: If you attack us, we will become stronger, cleaner, better educated, and more unified. You will strengthen our commitment to justice and democracy by your inhumane attacks on us. Like a Phoenix out of the fire, we will be reborn.

And then came the speech: You are either with us or against us. And the bombing began. And the old paradigm was restored as our leader encouraged us to show our patriotism by shopping and by volunteering to join groups that would turn in their neighbor for any suspicious behavior.

In the 19 months since 9-11, we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred. Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of fear. A unified American public has grown bitterly divided, and a world population that had profound sympathy and support for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us as we once viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state.

This past weekend, Susan and I and the three kids went to Florida for a family reunion of sorts. Amidst the alcohol and the dancing, sugar-rushing children, there was, of course, talk of the war. And the most frightening thing about the weekend was the amount of times we were thanked for speaking out against the war because that individual speaking thought it unsafe to do so in their own community, in their own life. Keep talking, they said; I haven't been able to open my mouth.

A relative tells me that a history teacher tells his 11-year-old son, my nephew, that Susan Sarandon is endangering the troops by her opposition to the war. Another teacher in a different school asks our niece if we are coming to the school play. They're not welcome here, said the molder of young minds.

Another relative tells me of a school board decision to cancel a civics event that was proposing to have a moment of silence for those who have died in the war because the students were including dead Iraqi civilians in their silent prayer.

A teacher in another nephew's school is fired for wearing a T- shirt with a peace sign on it. And a friend of the family tells of listening to the radio down South as the talk radio host calls for the murder of a prominent anti-war activist. Death threats have appeared on other prominent anti-war activists' doorsteps for their views. Relatives of ours have received threatening e-mails and phone calls. And my 13-year-old boy, who has done nothing to anybody, has recently been embarrassed and humiliated by a sadistic creep who writes -- or, rather, scratches his column with his fingernails in dirt.

Susan and I have been listed as traitors, as supporters of Saddam, and various other epithets by the Aussie gossip rags masquerading as newspapers, and by their fair and balanced electronic media cousins, 19th Century Fox. (Laughter.) Apologies to Gore Vidal. (Applause.)

Two weeks ago, the United Way canceled Susan's appearance at a conference on women's leadership. And both of us last week were told that both we and the First Amendment were not welcome at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A famous middle-aged rock-and-roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the war, only to go on to tell me that he could not speak himself because he fears repercussions from Clear Channel. "They promote our concert appearances," he said. "They own most of the stations that play our music. I can't come out against this war."

And here in Washington, Helen Thomas finds herself banished to the back of the room and uncalled on after asking Ari Fleischer whether our showing prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay on television violated the Geneva Convention.

A chill wind is blowing in this nation. A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown. If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications.

Every day, the air waves are filled with warnings, veiled and unveiled threats, spewed invective and hatred directed at any voice of dissent. And the public, like so many relatives and friends that I saw this weekend, sit in mute opposition and fear.

I am sick of hearing about Hollywood being against this war. Hollywood's heavy hitters, the real power brokers and cover-of-the- magazine stars, have been largely silent on this issue. But Hollywood, the concept, has always been a popular target.

I remember when the Columbine High School shootings happened. President Clinton criticized Hollywood for contributing to this terrible tragedy -- this, as we were dropping bombs over Kosovo. Could the violent actions of our leaders contribute somewhat to the violent fantasies of our teenagers? Or is it all just Hollywood and rock and roll?

I remember reading at the time that one of the shooters had tried to enlist to fight the real war a week before he acted out his war in real life at Columbine. I talked about this in the press at the time. And curiously, no one accused me of being unpatriotic for criticizing Clinton. In fact, the same radio patriots that call us traitors today engaged in daily personal attacks on their president during the war in Kosovo.

Today, prominent politicians who have decried violence in movies -- the "Blame Hollywooders," if you will -- recently voted to give our current president the power to unleash real violence in our current war. They want us to stop the fictional violence but are okay with the real kind.

And these same people that tolerate the real violence of war don't want to see the result of it on the nightly news. Unlike the rest of the world, our news coverage of this war remains sanitized, without a glimpse of the blood and gore inflicted upon our soldiers or the women and children in Iraq. Violence as a concept, an abstraction -- it's very strange.

As we applaud the hard-edged realism of the opening battle scene of "Saving Private Ryan," we cringe at the thought of seeing the same on the nightly news. We are told it would be pornographic. We want no part of reality in real life. We demand that war be painstakingly realized on the screen, but that war remain imagined and conceptualized in real life.

And in the midst of all this madness, where is the political opposition? Where have all the Democrats gone? Long time passing, long time ago. (Applause.) With apologies to Robert Byrd, I have to say it is pretty embarrassing to live in a country where a five-foot- one comedian has more guts than most politicians. (Applause.) We need leaders, not pragmatists that cower before the spin zones of former entertainment journalists. We need leaders who can understand the Constitution, congressman who don't in a moment of fear abdicate their most important power, the right to declare war to the executive branch. And, please, can we please stop the congressional sing-a- longs? (Laughter.)

In this time when a citizenry applauds the liberation of a country as it lives in fear of its own freedom, when an administration official releases an attack ad questioning the patriotism of a legless Vietnam veteran running for Congress, when people all over the country fear reprisal if they use their right to free speech, it is time to get angry. It is time to get fierce. And it doesn't take much to shift the tide. My 11-year-old nephew, mentioned earlier, a shy kid who never talks in class, stood up to his history teacher who was questioning Susan's patriotism. "That's my aunt you're talking about. Stop it." And the stunned teacher backtracks and began stammering compliments in embarrassment.

Sportswriters across the country reacted with such overwhelming fury at the Hall of Fame that the president of the Hall admitted he made a mistake and Major League Baseball disavowed any connection to the actions of the Hall's president. A bully can be stopped, and so can a mob. It takes one person with the courage and a resolute voice.

The journalists in this country can battle back at those who would rewrite our Constitution in Patriot Act II, or "Patriot, The Sequel," as we would call it in Hollywood. We are counting on you to star in that movie. Journalists can insist that they not be used as publicists by this administration. (Applause.) The next White House correspondent to be called on by Ari Fleischer should defer their question to the back of the room, to the banished journalist du jour. (Applause.) And any instance of intimidation to free speech should be battled against. Any acquiescence or intimidation at this point will only lead to more intimidation. You have, whether you like it or not, an awesome responsibility and an awesome power: the fate of discourse, the health of this republic is in your hands, whether you write on the left or the right. This is your time, and the destiny you have chosen.

We lay the continuance of our democracy on your desks, and count on your pens to be mightier. Millions are watching and waiting in mute frustration and hope - hoping for someone to defend the spirit and letter of our Constitution, and to defy the intimidation that is visited upon us daily in the name of national security and warped notions of patriotism.

Our ability to disagree, and our inherent right to question our leaders and criticize their actions define who we are. To allow those rights to be taken away out of fear, to punish people for their beliefs, to limit access in the news media to differing opinions is to acknowledge our democracy's defeat. These are challenging times. There is a wave of hate that seeks to divide us -- right and left, pro-war and anti-war. In the name of my 11-year-old nephew, and all the other unreported victims of this hostile and unproductive environment of fear, let us try to find our common ground as a nation. Let us celebrate this grand and glorious experiment that has survived for 227 years. To do so we must honor and fight vigilantly for the things that unite us -- like freedom, the First Amendment and, yes, baseball.


::: posted by Pontificator at 4:16 PM

American Soldiers Fire on Political Rally

Yes, that's the headline. And 10 Iraqi civilians were killed and perhaps a hundred wounded. If the article is accurate, we're no better than Saddam.

::: posted by Pontificator at 12:06 PM

Monday, April 14, 2003 :::
The Fix Was In?

What happened in Baghdad on April 9? Why weren't even the most basic defensive measures taken against U.S. Forces (such as blowing the bridges around Baghdad?). Where is Saddam? Where is Qusay? Where is the entire frikkin Baath leadership? Why were many of the Baghdad military and Baath party headquarters found empty and abandoned? Does anybody really care where Saddam is? Is anybody looking for him?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But this interesting Salon article has a theory:

Arabic media are speculating that a "safqua" -- Arabic for a secret deal -- was arranged between the United States and Iraq's Baath regime to hand over Baghdad. Although nobody can pinpoint the exact terms, there are three clear outcomes. First, the lives of many American and British forces as well as most senior Baath officials were spared. Second, Baghdad itself did not turn into the blood bath widely anticipated by military experts. Third, the war was shortened dramatically, saving the region -- especially Saudi Arabia -- from catastrophic consequences.

. . . .

While Arabs all over the Middle East now routinely talk of the deal that saved Baghdad, they also speculate that the same deal may have saved Saddam. Unlike the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, which preoccupied U.S. forces for months, the hunt for the dictator no longer appears to be the top priority for U.S. forces in the wake of Baghdad's fall.

Where could Saddam be if he is still alive? Some Arab media experts speculate he may have sought refuge in Mecca, the most sacred Islamic place in the world. No non-Muslims ever lived in and very few have even set foot in this holiest of Muslim cities.

If it turns out that Saddam is indeed in Mecca, it would be one further clue that the architect of the "safqua" or deal between the Baath and the United States was Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah -- a trusted intermediary of the Bush family and the only Arab leader invited to President Bush's Crawford ranch.

For the Saudis, as well as for many other Arab leaders, the deal offers the one hope of sparing the Middle East the consequences of a bloody and prolonged war of resistance in Iraq. For the Americans, the deal offers a chance of stabilizing postwar Iraq and its neighbors, leaving the door open for what Bush calls the road map to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Whether this fanciful theory is true or not, there certainly was, at some point last week, a command decision at the highest level to abandon ship. SKB observes:

Something troubling me is where is the Iraqi army? It is estimated they have over three million men of military age fit for duty. Recent estimates by Jane's put their regular army and Republican Guard troop strength at approx. 400,000. In addition, it has been estimated that they had 650,000 reserves and up to 60,000 paramilitary.

According to some estimates, we've killed about 4000 of them (not counting civilians) and taken about 7500 prisoner. Where are the other 388,500 ?

Have they all really just thrown down their weapons and faded back into the population? (My guess is that some of them are probably the looters, by the way). That's a scary thought. Can we really say they are defeated if they're just hiding? Remember Lexington and Concord?

And how is it we were so certain they wouldn't fight? I realize there were some hellish battles and that our guys are pretty good and we've got some pretty awesome firepower and technology. Not to mention control of the skies. And thankfully our casualites have been very light.

But an entire Republican Guard division (the Baghdad Division) destroyed without a single U.S. casualty? Not one Iraqi fighter in the sky? The Iraqi Army 5th Corps surrendering to the Kurds (according to their commander, the troops themselves seem to have vanished). No WMD deployed? And it seems like most of the resistance in the cities has been from paramilitary and imported terrorists, not regular army or Republican Guards.

What we have here is a riddle wrapped in an enigma in the middle of a question mark. I want to know the answers, and not just out of idle curiosity. I want to know the answers because, before we start another war, I'd kind of like to know how we won the last one.

Postscript: If anyone knows the answers to the questions asked in this post, this guy undoubtedly does.

::: posted by Pontificator at 11:19 PM

Summary Judgment

After 100 days as majority leader, it appears that Bill Frist is an abject failure!

::: posted by Pontificator at 9:53 PM


Who do you think is right about the Agonist, Hesiod or Yourish?

If you even have an inkling about what I'm talking about, you might be spending too much time reading blogs.

::: posted by Pontificator at 9:17 PM

Corruption Watch

This is not from the Onion:

A state Senate committee accepted a $78,300 check from a special-interest group today and then approved a public school voucher program the group supports, saying the money was welcome given the state's financial crisis.

"If everyone would show up with a check, that would make this job so much easier," said state Sen. Ron Teck, a Republican from Grand Junction.

Lawmakers said they knew of no precedent for getting cash for a project, though they have approved legislation that allows programs only if they were financed through gifts and donations. Lawmakers said they would return the check if the bill is killed.

The headline is actually a little unfair, since none of the legislators will personally benefit from the check. However, in light of the prospect that this type of behavior will unfairly favor the rich over the poor in the legislative process, somebody should really see that this is stopped.

Of course, compared to the usual model of public corruption, where laws favoring special interests are passed in exchange for the financing of re-election campaigns, this is nothing. At least here the public treasury is enriched, as opposed to a re-election bank account.

::: posted by Pontificator at 9:09 PM

Sunday, April 13, 2003 :::
Andrew Sullivan is a Bitter, Hypocritical [fill in the blank]

Andrew Sullivan is approvingly quoting the New York Times again.

Wait Andrew, I thought the New York Times was dominated by a control-freak lefty who stamped his world-view on the entire newspaper, turning it into a left-wing rag?

Admit it Sullivan -- the New York Times is the premier news-gathering organ on the Planet! Although it's editorial page more frequently sides with the Democrats on issues than the Republicans, the news pages are unparalleled in their depth, breadth, and perspective on national and international events. Why don't you just admit that you're biased against the New York Times because (as you admit), it fired you!

::: posted by Pontificator at 5:05 PM

Opportunity in North Korea

Kim Jong Il seems to have opened the door to resolving the nuclear standoff in North Korea:

Today, the Korean Central News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that if the United States was "ready to make a bold switchover in its Korea policy for a settlement of the nuclear issue," then North Korea would "not stick to any particular dialogue format."

To analysts of political discourse in the isolated nation, the report indicated that North Korea was moving away from insisting on one-on-one talks with the United States.

"North Korea seems to be saying they are ready to try a multilateral format," said Scott Snyder, author of "Negotiating on the Edge," about North Korean negotiating tactics. "The problem is that, given the mood of the moment, can the Bush administration take yes for an answer?"

So the key question: will the Bush administration grab this opportunity to negotiate with North Korea and make the most dangerous part of the world just a little bit safer? Or, are they so empowered by their military victory in Iraq that they'll refuse to give any ground on any issue and consequently precipitate a nuclear crisis?

As usual, I hope for the best and fear the worst.

::: posted by Pontificator at 1:16 PM


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