A different kind of rice-throwing
Britain’s Gen. Richard Dannatt joins the chorus of voices calling for a pull-out from Iraq—then backtracks. Britain should “get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems,” he said in one interview. Then Tony Blair must’ve given him a call and threatened his pension and book deal. The backtracks: On Friday morning, he insisted Britain stood "shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, and their timing and our timing are one and the same." "We'll probably reduce our soldiers over the course of the next year or two or three -- let's wait and see. That's what I mean by sometime soon," Dannatt said in an interview with Sky News. "We don't do surrender. We don't pull down white flags. We're going to see this through," he said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio. What’s still notable is that the generals, in Britain and the United States, are beginning to admit what Iraqis have been saying for a while now: the American presence is part of the problem, not part of the solution. In a University of Maryland poll conducted in September, 78 percent of Iraqis said the American presence provokes rather than prevents conflict. Just 21 percent, most of them Kurds, say the Americans are a stabilizing force (Kurds don’t really count in this equation: they’ve created their country within a country to the north). How many Iraqis approve of armed attacks on Americans? 61 percent. But again, eliminate the Kurdish vote, and the figure jumps: 92 percent of Sunnis approve of attacks on Americans, just 15 percent of Kurds do. Gen. Dannatt is onto something, three years late: Iraqis aren’t keen on Americans. But he doesn’t call the shots. (See the full poll results, pdf)
Nobel Peace Prize for Microloans
The Peace Prize goes to Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank: “ Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their pioneering use of tiny, seemingly insignificant loans — microcredit — to lift millions out of poverty,” AP reports. “Through Yunus's efforts and those of the bank he founded, poor people around the world, especially women, have been able to buy cows, a few chickens or the cellphone they desperately needed to get ahead.”
Is this the year of the Muslims in Nobels? Whatever it is, The Economist recommends suspending the Nobel Peace Prize for a year--or five--and takes a dim view of some of its recipients, including this year's: "Some recipients seem less than deserving. Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho declined the award in 1973 when he was asked to share it with America’s Henry Kissinger. The two had signed a ceasefire agreement that year, but fighting continued in Vietnam for another two years. The recent decision to give the prize to a Kenyan environmentalist, Wangari Maathai, was also odd: she has done a lot to plant trees in Kenya, but not much to promote peace. Worse, she holds bizarre views on AIDS, suggesting that HIV was created by evil scientists to kill black people. This year’s winner is an admirable anti-poverty campaigner, but it is a stretch to call him or the Grameen bank peacemakers."
Score One for Bush: He Called Evangelicals “Nuts”
A new book by a former White House official says that President Bush's top political advisors privately ridiculed evangelical supporters as "nuts" and "goofy" while embracing them in public and using their votes to help win elections," Peter Wallsten writes in the LATimes. "The former official also writes that the White House office of faith-based initiatives, which Bush promoted as a nonpolitical effort to support religious social-service organizations, was told to host pre-election events designed to mobilize religious voters who would most likely favor Republican candidates.The assertions by David Kuo, a top official in the faith-based initiatives program, have rattled Republican strategists already struggling to persuade evangelical voters to turn out this fall for the GOP."
McClatchy Newspapers makes no bones about it: Democrats Are Poised to Capture U.S. House “and with it gain the strength to stymie President Bush's agenda and the subpoena power to make him spend his last two years in office defending his first six. Two respected independent analysts predicted this week that the Democrats will pick up at least the 15 seats they need to seize the House for the first time since 1994. […]Dozens of interviews with voters, candidates and analysts in battleground House races confirmed that any bump the Republicans got in September - when they focused national attention on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the threat of terrorism - has faded. National attention has turned back to Iraq. Stories about former Rep. Foley's sexually suggestive messages to male House pages and the failure of House Republican leaders to stop him sooner didn't help the party either.”
Bernard Henry-Lévy on the fascism of anti-Americanism: “Today, all of the forces over the world who share a narrow nationalism, chauvinism, hatred of cosmopolitanism, hatred of Judaism, and anti-Semitism, their flag is anti-American. America is a word used to convey all these hatreds together. So I’m anti-anti-American because if we let this anti-Americanism flow, it will spark off a disastrous fascism.” See the full interview…
Ramadan TV: “The Ramadan television lineup is the Middle East's version of American networks' sweeps week, with the unveiling of lavish miniseries that are a mixture of campy schlock and cutting-edge scripts. But among the advertising are some critically acclaimed programs that tackle the most pressing issues of the region: terrorism, Western influence, religion and poverty. … Egypt alone produced 60 series this year on a dizzying collection of subjects ranging from the lives of Cairo street children to the push for women's rights in remote farming communities to an idealistic father's struggle with his rebellious son. In other parts of the Arab world, directors risk their lives and livelihoods with more serious shows that challenge authoritarian regimes as well as the wave of militant Islam that's coursing through the region. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the top-rated Ramadan show lampoons the kingdom's ultraconservative traditions. In one episode, Saudi women call police because they fear a burglar has broken into their home. But when the officer arrives, he refuses to enter the home because the women don't have a male relative with them. The show's producers have received death threats and calls from Saudi clerics to cancel the program.”
End of civilization update, I: Is Amsterdam going conservative? “For international travelers, Amsterdam has long served as a kind of nirvana. Considered a forward-thinking capital light years ahead of the rest of the world, much of the city's exceptional status is due its coffee shops -- essentially marijuana bars -- where smoking pot is perfectly legal. Coupled with other liberal sex and drug laws that have ensured a level of tolerance no European city can rival, Amsterdam has acted for many as a role model of what an enlightened 21st-century city should be,” Dara Colwell writes in AlterNet. “But things aren't always what they seem. In recent years the Netherlands, like many countries around the world, has witnessed a rise in conservative power and with that, a corresponding tightening of its once-famous looseness. The legendary Dutch credo "anything goes" is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its coffee shops.
By way of the Heretik I came across this piece in the Washington Post describing the end of hand-writing, let alone cursive, as we knew it: “When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.” I've been waging my own jihad with my daughter for several years now--over her cursive handwriting. She went to school in Florida's secular madrassas, where they teach (when they teach at all) non-cursive for a couple of years, cursive for a couple of days, then focus on what they do best: let the children have fun and take standardized tests in their spare time. I grew up in the gulag of French-Jesuit schools where if I didn't round my o's and slash my t's at just the right height I had a one-way ticket to Devil's Island (the principal's office, who happened to be a bitch of a child-abusing nun, as they all were). It's a wonder those schools didn't produce little Catholic suicide bombers who blew up anything nunnish. I’m sure they did produce their fair share of terrific suicide-note calligraphers. Anyway, the jihad goes on, with little success.
Martin Amis scores again, finally: “House of Meetings,” his newest novel, "is a singular, unimpeachable triumph, as powerful as J.M. Coetzee's “Disgrace” and the small list of novels that have unanimously carried off the Man Booker prize for fiction. In the week that a divided jury awarded the 2006 prize to Kiran Desai's “The Inheritance of Loss”, what is astonishing is that Mr Amis's publishers did not even submit his book for consideration." So says the Economist. See the full review...