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[ 0 ] September 29, 2006 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Starbuck and Nelson


Africa as Stage

[ 0 ] September 28, 2006 |

I’m enthusiastically awaiting the arrival The Last King of Scotland in Lexington, but I must admit that Dana Stevens review of the film reminds me a little bit of Chinua Achebe’s appraisal of Hearts of Darkness:

Africa as metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?

In other words, there was more to the Belgian Congo than two Adventurous White Guys going crazy on a river. Indeed, the problems of Marlowe and Kurtz don’t seem to amount to a hill of beans compared to the grand opera of destruction that was the European colonial project in Africa. Stevens suggests that Last King uses Amin as a prop to examine the moral degeneration of Adventurous White Guy, played in this case by James McAvoy. I’m also reminded a little bit of Cry Freedom, which, for whatever merit it has, could have been titled “White Guy Comes to Grips with Apartheid while his Black Friends Die.”

Thinking on this question makes me revisit my mild disappointment in Hotel Rwanda, which, in retrospect, largely avoided the problems discussed above. Hotel Rwanda’s avoidance of the crazy white guy narrative has to be seen as particularly impressive in the context of what was an obvious “white guy gone crazy” opportunity in the figure of General Romeo Dallaire, played in the film by Nolte as “Colonel Oliver”. Dallaire was genuinely driven crazy by the events in Rwanda, but the film shows us very little of this, instead concentrating on the experiences of the African victims and perpetrators of the genocide. I think that my mild disappointment had a lot to do with how the film lacked operatic sweep, especially towards the end. Rusesabagina’s recovery of his children during the RPF advance feels like a tacked on Hollywood ending but is, in fact, the way that the story played out. There was no way, without doing violence to the narrative, to tell the story with a different ending.

Nevertheless, I found it unsatisfying, and I’m now wondering whether that has more to do with me than with the film. Am I prepared to accept a story about Africa when Africa is a Grand Backdrop for Something Important Happening, and less prepared to accept a story about Africa and Africans? Perhaps the inevitable consequence of being a white Westerner, but probably not…

Incidentally, why has no one ever made a movie out of Things Fall Apart or No Longer at Ease? I see that there was a production of the former in 1971, but it seems to have been rather minor and I’ve never seen it.

Poetic Justice

[ 0 ] September 27, 2006 |


RICHMOND — U.S. Sen. George Allen once again is being told to lay off the Confederate flag.

But this time, it’s not from the people who abhor the Dixie symbol. It’s from the people who revere it.

State leaders of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have scheduled a news conference Thursday to criticize Allen’s recent acknowledgement that the Confederate flag can be seen as a symbol of hate.

“George Allen was a good friend of ours and we don’t appreciate him turning on us to get out of political trouble,” said Frank Earnest of Virginia Beach, commander of the Virginia division of the SCV. “He’s degraded us, the flag and our heritage.”

Allen has a friendly history with the Sons of Confederate Veterans; while governor, he issued a Confederate History Month Proclamation in each April of his four year term. Mark Warner notably refused to issue such a proclamation during his tenure.

George Allen is the Gary Cherone to George W. Bush’s Sammy Hagar. You don’t think it’s possible to get worse on every single dimension, but you’re wrong.

Via Alterdestiny, via Virginia Progressive.


[ 0 ] September 27, 2006 |

Yglesias on Peretz on France:

French dovishness comes down to one war — Iraq, part deux — that France didn’t want to fight, and that France was right not to want to fight.

France’s “rep” for weakness and appeasement comes, of course, from World War II. But in 1938, France was the non-axis country most eager to fight Germany. Going to war without the support of England, the USSR, or the United States would have been a horrible policy. Once their British ally was on board, they fought. They lost, of course, but the contrast between France, the UK, and the USA in this regard is that France was located adjacent to Germany without a convenient stretch of ocean to block the Nazi advance.

It should also be noted that the Soviet Union survived the German invasion by giving up several France sized chunks of its territory and a number of dead equal to about half of France’s entire population. The supposed “dovishness” of France is a topic I invariably mention in lecture, usually while citing the following statistic:

French military deaths, August 1914-November 1918: 1,375,800
US military deaths, April 1775-present: 1,012,000


[ 0 ] September 27, 2006 |

Bob Bergen of the CDFAI (Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute) is irritated:

The left wing in Canada has been doing its level best to equate Canadian foreign and defence policyunder Prime Minister Stephen Harper with American President George Bush for some time now. But a new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) making headlines across Canada has broken shameless new ground implying that Canadian troops in Afghanistan are little more cannon fodder.

Bergen is referring to a report by Stephen Staples and Bill Robinson that purports to show that Canadian troops are more likely than any other nationality (adjusted for size of deployment) to be killed or wounded in Afghanistan, and thus are disproportionately at risk. Bergen’s basic point is sound; Staples and Robinson draw conclusions from a sample that is really too small to support the contentions that they’re trying to make. They then use those conclusions to make political arguments relying on the implication that Canadian soldiers are being used by US and NATO commanders in particularly dangerous situations, a contention that again isn’t sufficiently supported by the statistical evidence or by a qualitative assessment (the latter regarding US forces, at least; Canadians may in fact be engaging in more dangerous Afghani missions than other NATO allies).

Bergen undercuts himself by analogizing to World War II, however. Apparently, the desperate need to link any given conflict to the struggle against fascism in World War II is not limited to wingnuts in the United States. Bergen writes:

Just one historical will demonstrate what is wrong with such an analysis. On August 19, 1942, 4,963 Canadians were sent to attack the beach at Dieppe, France, in the first major Canadian action of the Second World War. Of them, 907 were killed and 1,946 remained hostage.To compare that death rate on the very worst day of the war to American casualties or to calculate that,based on that experience, Canada would lose an extrapolated number soldiers over the war’s duration if the rate were to remain unchanged would be pure folly.

Here’s a tip; if you’re trying to make the argument that Canadian forces aren’t being used as cannon fodder, it’s best not to bring up Dieppe. The Dieppe raid of August 19 was planned and staged by Lord Mountbatten in an effort to convince the Russians that the Western Allies were serious about a Second Front, to draw Axis attention away from North Africa, and hopefully to draw either the Luftwaffe or the Kriegsmarine into battle. The attack used primarily Canadian soldiers and was an unmitigated disaster, as the Germans slaughtered many and captured more. Over half the Canadian participants were lost. Incidentally, I would also rate the defense of Hong Kong (2000 Canadian troops were deployed in October and November of 1941 to a hopeless position) as the first major Canadian action of World War II.

In any case, it’s my understanding the the spectacularly inept planning and execution of the Dieppe Raid has long been controversial in Canada, precisely because of the concern the Canadian soldiers were being used as cannon fodder.


[ 0 ] September 26, 2006 |

The interview isn’t really playing to Stewart’s strengths (he’s invariably docile when faced with authority), but I’m fascinated that it’s happening at all; the President of Pakistan (who took power in a military coup) is chatting with an American comedian about Pakistan’s realpolitik calculus following 9/11, including a consideration of the possibility of military conflict with the United States.

We live in interesting times.


[ 0 ] September 26, 2006 |

I have been preparing to write a post-mortem for the Reds, but it seems that, somehow, they’re only three games back pending the outcome of tonight’s St. Louis-San Diego game. It would be unseemly to write the post-mortem, then see them win the Central. I will say, though, that it sure would have been great to have Felipe Lopez’ .282/.362/.361 instead of Royce Clayton’s .234/.288/.326, not to mention Austin Kearns’ .251/.382/.431 instead of the rogue’s gallery that they’ve put in the outfield.


[ 0 ] September 26, 2006 |

Yesterday, Glenn Reynolds linked to a story at Strategy Page that, if I may summarize, said that things are going great in Iraq and our troops are “mystified” that the media reports otherwise. Setting aside any effort to evaluate that claim, I had to wonder how many times, in the last three years, that Reynolds has linked to a story that was in all essentials identical to this one. I’m not masochistic enough to dig through his archives, but a quick glance at my memory seems to indicate “hundreds of times”. I wonder, are there bloggers on the right who do nothing but say “things are fine, and the troops wonder why the media says differently” in new and exciting ways in the hopes of an Instalaunch?

Forgotten American Blogging

[ 0 ] September 26, 2006 |

Philip Vera Cruz.

Revised Idiocy of the Day (Farley Edition)

[ 0 ] September 26, 2006 |

Robert Kagan:

I would worry about an American foreign policy driven only by fear of how our actions might inspire anger, radicalism and violence in others. As in the past, that should be only one calculation in our judgment of what does and does not make us, and the world, safer.

How hard is it, really, to grasp the fact that these two concerns are inextricably linked? If American foreign policy inspires anger, radicalism, and violence in others then it obviously makes us and the world less safe. This effect may in balance be less significant than whatever other objectives our foreign policy has, but it’s incontestable that inspiring anger and violence ought to be part of the “safety” calculation.

Via Drum.

…as Jackdaw points out in comments, I have obviously misinterpreted even the selection that I quoted from Kagan’s article. Apologies on this point are owed to Dr. Kagan. This is why we should always read things twice before posting them.

Mercy Killing

[ 0 ] September 26, 2006 |

David Corn euthanizes Christopher Hitchens.

For more than two decades, I have seen Hitchens weave facts and assertions into stylistically brilliant copy as he attempts to intuit great truths. But when he comes to believe that he can outthink the facts, he ends up enwrapped in creative conspiratorial fantasies. This past February, I participated in a radio debate with him on whether the Bush administration had misguided the nation into war. Hitchens largely avoided the question at hand and instead argued the necessity of the invasion. When he did address the issue of the absent WMDs in Iraq, he took a strange turn. “Doesn’t anything ever strike you as odd,” he said, “about the figure of zero for [WMD] deposits found in Iraq? … Isn’t it odd that none after all this? None? Doesn’t that suggest a crime scene that has been pretty well dusted in advance, the fingerprints wiped? Well, it does to me.” Read that quote carefully. It is revealing. Hitchens was saying that the fact that no weapons had been uncovered in Iraq (after nearly three years of searching) was evidence that there had been weapons. How can one argue with a person of such intellectual prowess that he can turn absence into presence by mere deduction?

Hitchens responds (appropriately, I think):

Incidentally, I begin to tire of this sickly idea that I used to be a great guy until I became fed up with excuses for dictators and psychopathic murderers (let alone for mediocre CIA fantasists). Alexander Cockburn is surely nearer the mark when he says that I was a complete shit and traitor all along.

I’ve been of the opinion that Hitchens was a complete shit all along, even if he did manage the occasional catchy phrase, but he’s surely correct that guys like Corn shouldn’t waste time mooning over what he once was and crying about what he’s now become, which is an apologist for torturers and psychopathic warlords (let alone for mediocre blogging fantasists).

Can’t We Reach Out?

[ 0 ] September 25, 2006 |

Mel Gibson’s anti-semitic tirade wasn’t quite enough to drive away Michael Medved, who wrote at the time:

Rather than driving this tormented, self-destructive, deeply disturbed but vastly talented artist into the arms of active Jew-haters (like his father), wouldn’t it make more sense to try to reach out to him at a moment of vulnerability and disgrace? The Jewish community need not approach the tarnished star with a message of “poor baby, all is forgiven” but it makes sense to offer at least some ladder to help him crawl out of the dank pit he has dug for himself.

I wonder, what could Mel say that would drive Medved irrevocably from his side? Hmm…

Mr. Gibson’s antiwar remarks immediately raised a red flag for conservative fans of his “The Passion of the Christ.”

In a phone interview today, the conservative radio talk show host and columnist Michael Medved said: “If these antiwar comments are the beginning of an ill-considered, organized campaign to get back into the good graces of the Hollywood establishment that gave him the Oscar for ‘Braveheart,’ so he can show he’s not different from them and march arm-in-arm with Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, there will be a great deal of disgust from the people who have enjoyed Mel’s movies in the past.”

“Hack” doesn’t quite cover it. Nor do “insipid”, or “intellectually dishonest”, or “mindblowingly moronic”.

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