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Candide’s Latest: December 12, 2006

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Quagmire Update
Stay? Withdraw? Tally Up the Dead

Three professors—Eugene Gholz of the University of Texas and Daryl G. Press and Benjamin Valentino of Dartmouth—argue in The Times that it’s time to outsource American troops in the entire Middle East:

Maintaining a large military presence in the region has been the cornerstone of American policy since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and remains so today. With the Iraq war, we now have tens of thousands of troops elsewhere in the neighborhood. But this strategy is flawed. In fact, many of the same considerations that led the Iraq Study Group to call for withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq suggest that the United States should withdraw its troops from neighboring states as well — leaving only naval forces offshore in international waters. As in Iraq, a large United States military footprint on the ground undermines American interests more than it protects them. Just as our troops on Iraqi streets have provided a rallying point for the insurgency, the United States military presence throughout the region has been a key element in Al Qaeda’s recruitment campaign and propaganda. If America withdrew from Iraq but left behind substantial forces in neighboring states, Al Qaeda would refocus its attacks on American troops in those countries — remember the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia? Worse, the continued presence of our military personnel across the region will continue to incite extremists to attack American cities. Osama bin Ladin repeatedly stated that the presence of American forces on the holy ground of the Arabian Peninsula was a primary reason for 9/11. [The full oped…]

It’s an old argument that’s been made and remade in light of current disasters. It’s not about to be heard. A large American footprint is what the nature of the beast is about at this stage. Even withdrawals are discussed in terms of limited, tactical retreats, not entire pull-backs. The Economist, for its part, comes out with a cover editorial against a retreat of any kind because

the Baker-Hamilton group is surely wrong to believe that announcing the army's departure will strengthen America's leverage over the internal politics of Iraq. The opposite is likelier. Mr Bush, a lame-duck president, would be a lame-duck president presiding over a lame-duck occupation. In fairness, the group is not advocating a complete withdrawal. Some 15,000 American soldiers would stay behind to train the Iraqis, as would some rapid-reaction troops, and special forces to lead the hunt for al-Qaeda. If the Iraqi government performs, it will still receive political and economic support. The wise men hope these will be inducement enough for Mr Maliki to do as America says. Hope is all it can be. At present, the American army is the only strong military force capable of holding the ring in Iraq. Pulling it out may merely encourage a vicious fight to fill the vacuum. The full editorial…

Annan vs. Bush

Kofi Annan minced no words in his parting speech as he steps down from the secretary generalship of the United Nations. From the UK Times: “ Kofi Annan used a farewell speech yesterday as United Nations Secretary-General to accuse the United States of abandoning its own ideals in the War on Terror. In his last major policy address, the UN chief reiterated his criticism of the Iraq war and implied doubts about the leadership of President Bush. Mr Annan chose Harry Truman’s presidential library in Independence , Missouri , as the venue for his speech in tribute to the American President who oversaw the creation of the UN in 1945. “More than ever today, Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world’s peoples can face global challenges together. And in order to function, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition,” Mr Annan said in an apparent swipe at President Bush. Mr Annan, who is replaced on January 1 by Ban Ki Moon, of South Korea , has clashed publicly with the Bush Administration over the war in Iraq , which he has termed “illegal”.The full piece…

Here We Go Again
Saudis Want Their Own Nukes

Isn’t this how Iran’s push for nukes began? It’s the Saudis’ turn: From Arab News, the Saudi publication: “ Saudi Arabia yesterday emphasized the economic significance of a joint [Gulf Cooperation Council] program to develop nuclear energy technology for peaceful purposes. “Possessing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has economic and scientific significance,” the Council of Ministers said. The weekly Cabinet, chaired by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, made the comment while discussing a decision taken by the weekend GCC summit in Riyadh calling for a joint study on developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. […] Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said the GCC states’ intention to pursue civilian nuclear technology was not a “threat” to anyone. “It is not a threat... It is an announcement so that there will be no misinterpretation of what we are doing. We are not doing this secretly. We are doing it openly.””

Prague Spring in Teheran

You have to take reporting of protests in places like Iran and Cuba with a grain of salt, when the source is the establishment press in the United States: Small gatherings, minor, rogue chants and backfiring cars can suddenly find themselves interpreted as massive movements of discontent, only to then never be referred to again as the status quo resumes. This may be another such case. Or not. We can’t quite know until it’s corroborated. But it doesn’t seem that odd. From The Times:

Students disrupted a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday at a major university in Tehran, setting fire to photographs of him and throwing firecrackers. The protesters chanted “death to the dictator” and demanded the resignation of Alireza Rahai, a conservative and the chancellor of the institution, Amirkabir University, the Iranian Student News Agency reported. Mr. Rahai was appointed to the post after Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected. Amirkabir, a polytechnic university in downtown Tehran, has been a center of student dissent. It was the first major public protest against Mr. Ahmadinejad since his election more than a year ago. Mr. Ahmadinejad cut his speech short and left as his security guards tried to stop angry students, who kicked at the car that carried him away, witnesses said. The guards did not remove the students or use force to stop the protests. Since Mr. Ahmadinejad took office, government pressure has increased on Iranians who have actively promoted changes to create a more open society. As part of the crackdown, dozens of university students around the country have been barred from taking classes this year, and a substantial number of professors have been demoted or forced to resign. A major reformist newspaper, Shargh, was shut down in September and several of its veteran journalists were barred from working. The government has blocked thousands of news Web sites and blogs in an effort to limit the access of Internet users to independent news outlets. The full story…

Putrid Fall in Teheran
A Gathering of Deniers

From the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian: “An international cast of established Holocaust deniers and implacable foes of Israel were given an open forum by Iran on Monday to support President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's contention that the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis was a "myth". The Foreign Ministry opened a two-day conference, Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision, which senior officials portrayed as scientific scholarship but which Ehud Olmert, Israel's Prime Minister, denounced as a "sick phenomenon". Visiting Berlin, Olmert urged Germany to sever diplomatic ties with Iran.
Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, insisted the event was necessary to counter an alleged lack of free speech in the West about the Holocaust, which Iranian officials argue is used to justify Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. […] But pretensions to scholastic objectivity were undermined by the background of some among the 67 foreign visitors from 30 countries, including Britain. They included David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; Robert Faurisson, a French lecturer stripped of his academic tenure for his anti-Holocaust opinions; and Michele Renouf, a London-based associate of the British author David Irving -- who is currently serving a jail sentence for Holocaust denial in Austria.” The full article…

Sex Crimes and Hysteria
Predator Panic: A Closer Look

From Skeptical Inquirer: “ America is in the grip of a moral panic over sexual predators, and has been for many months. A moral panic is a sociological term describing a social reaction to a false or exaggerated threat to social values by moral deviants. (For more on moral panics, see Ehrich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda’s 1994 book Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance.) In a discussion of moral panics, sociologist Robert Bartholomew points out that a defining characteristic of the panics is that the “concern about the threat posed by moral deviants and their numerical abundance is far greater than can be objectively verified, despite unsubstantiated claims to the contrary.” Furthermore, according to Goode and Ben-Yehuda, during a moral panic “most of the figures cited by moral panic ‘claims-makers’ are wildly exaggerated.” Indeed, we see exactly this trend in the panic over sexual predators. News stories invariably exaggerate the true extent of sexual predation on the Internet; the magnitude of the danger to children, and the likelihood that sexual predators will strike. (As it turns out, Attorney General Gonzales had taken his 50,000 Web predator statistic not from any government study or report, but from NBC’s Dateline TV show. Dateline, in turn, had broadcast the number several times without checking its accuracy. In an interview on NPR’s On the Media program, Hansen admitted that he had no source for the statistic, and stated that “It was attributed to, you know, law enforcement, as an estimate, and it was talked about as sort of an extrapolated number.”) According to Wall Street Journal writer Carl Bialik, journalists “often will use dubious numbers to advance that goal [of protecting children] . . . one of the reasons that this is allowed to happen is that there isn’t really a natural critic. . . . Nobody really wants to go on the record saying, ‘It turns out this really isn’t a big problem.’” See the full article …

Scandal at La Scala

From Italy’s Corriere Della Sera: “The French tenor Roberto Alagna is Radames in Franco Zeffirelli’s ambitious production of Verdi’s Aid, which opened triumphantly on 7 December. Yesterday evening, at the first performance for season-ticket holders, Alagna raised a defiant fist and left the stage after singing the romanza “Celeste Aida” to applause mixed with protests and boos from hardcore opera buffs in the gods. Never before had this happened at La Scala.Conductor Riccardo Chailly accompanied Amneris in “Quale insolita gioia nel tuo sguardo...” and Radames should have continued the duet. To the amazement of spectators, another singer took the stage dressed in black, with no costume. And there were further cries of “shame, shame”, “this is La Scala” from the upper balconies. The courageous tenor who took over from Alagna, Antonello Palombi, was greeted by calls of “stand-in, stand-in”. Like the rest of the second cast, he had been waiting in the artistic direction dressing rooms, ready to come on if needed.”

A Special Message from Santa Claus
Ho, Ho, Ho! I Saw You Masturbating!

Season's greetings from your old friend Santa! My, oh, my, only 12 nights left until Christmas Eve! It's so close now, we can hardly contain ourselves here at the North Pole. And from the looks of it, my young friend, we're not the only ones set to burst! Why, Jolly Old Saint Nick hasn't seen a Yule log this lit in ages! Now, don't be shy. You know what Santa's talking about. You just couldn't wait to open your present this year, could you? Ho, ho, ho! Dear child, I saw you masturbating! And it hasn't been just once either, wee child! Oh, no! Santa's seen you at least twice splashing away in the bathtub, three times in the attic with one of your mother's old art history books, and more times than even Santa can count spread out like a stunned partridge on that beanbag chair of yours! Read the rest from, of course, The Onion…

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Happy Birthday, Munch
Dec. 12, 1863-Jan. 23, 1944

Madonna (1895)


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