Tuesday, February 28, 2006 at 11:52 AMIt’s bad enough that Dan Brown’s bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code (DaVinci) is possibly nothing more than a skillfully plagiarized version of Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh’s 1982 novel Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG). But knowing that it’s equally possible that HBHG is itself nothing more than a skillfully woven tale of fact and fiction published as historical gospel, only makes the trial that began in London’s High Court yesterday seem like a legal farce: Indeed, a showdown between fraudsters over ownership of a very lucrative literary hoax – as Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel argue quite persuasively in The Da Vinci Hoax.
As it happens, I read HBHG in the mid-1980s and remember vividly proselytizing its fascinating claims amongst friends because I thought it gave credence to my ingenuous apostasy. In fact, I especially relished challenging Christian fundamentalists in my family with “proof” that, although Jesus might have been a saint, celibacy was not one of his virtues (and, what better justification can there be for one’s own promiscuity…). Because HBHG asserts that Jesus not only “had carnal knowledge” of Mary Magdalene but also fathered children with this woman who Catholic dogma insists was nothing more than a “harlot” (whore).
HBHG purports to retrace the 2000-year odyssey to protect the secret of this holy bloodline. And it begins with a revolutionary claim, which makes a mockery of all of Christendom: namely, that Jesus was never crucified. He lived! HBHG then posits why his bloodline posed a threat to the established secular and religious order of the day. (Indeed, one gets the uncanny sense that his putative offspring were in as much peril as he was when King Herod ordered his assassination upon hearing news of his birth.) But this is why they supposedly fled from Palestine to France where their secret was variously protected and sought after by Knights Templar, Freemasons, the Prieure de Sion and pretenders to the Merovingian Throne. Ultimately, though, HBHG leaves us with the utterly blasphemous notion that there are Frenchmen living today who are direct descendants of Jesus Christ; which I suppose explains the messianic complex so many of them suffer….
“There are at least a dozen families in Britain and Europe today-with numerous collateral branches who are of Merovingian lineage….And the Devonshire family, among others, would seem to have been privy to the secret. All of these houses could presumably claim a pedigree from Jesus; and if one man, at some point in the future, is to be put forward as a new priest-king, we do not know who he is.”
(Of course, this begs the following observation, which tends to undermine the central thesis of HBHG: Where one can appreciate the fear of revealing their holy bloodline throughout the ages, it seems so incredible – as to be specious – that heirs to the Son of God would not reveal themselves to the faithful protestants of the world’s only superpower in America. After all, this nation of born-again Christians would surely protect them (against dreaded Catholic assassins) with a religious zeal that even the heavily-guarded president of the United States would envy.)
Yet, as fantastical and heretical a story as this is, it seems few people had ever heard of HBHG until Brown cited it in the introduction to his DaVinci yarn. But Brown was smart to acknowledge that DaVinci traced the trail that was blazed so quietly by HBHG; because there can be no reasonable doubt that HBGB spawned many bastard novels – including DaVinci. Brown also deserves credit for cleverly setting his story in modern times and taking his readers on a backwards trail to the place where HBHG began. Although, Steven Spielberg should probably sue him as well for using an Indiana Jones-inspired Harvard professor to move his story; which has this adventuresome professor trying to solve a murder that took place in the Louvre and uncovering the (HBHG) plot by the Catholic Church to conceal the sexual nature of therelationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the bloodline she established in France.
Therefore, the only question facing the High court is to what degree is it acceptable to “lift the whole architecture” of another person’s research “to save the time and effort that independent research would have required” to construct one’s own yarn – as the authors of HBHG allege Brown has done?
First and foremost, I submit to you that this question must necessarily arise whenever the alleged plagiarizer sells 30 million books and the original author only about 30. However, Brown cleverly attributes the original idea for DaVinci, in part, to HBHG. And, since novels based on historical scholarship have a hallowed tradition dating back to the time of William Shakespeare, it is a precedent that British courts are loath to overturn.
Therefore, as a legal matter, claimants Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh will lose….
But here’s the rub: Brown was so cocksure about his “two-year” research that he inserted a “fact page” delineating the “truth” of all of his fairytales. Indeed, it is this page that has induced so many people to buy his book and go on DaVinci pilgrimages to Paris. However, if the judge finds this fact page too contrived (as Olson and Miesel argue), he might be moved to rule in favour of the original HBHG story tellers.
Therefore, as an equitable matter, claimants Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh should win – at least a split (Solomon-like) decision…
NOTE: The timing of this lawsuit is very shrewd indeed. Because the highly anticipated movie based on Brown’s book is scheduled for release in May. And nothing concentrates the minds in Hollywood quite like the prospect of a summer blockbuster. So, if the claimants win even a partial victory, they will have considerable leverage to extract tens of millions of dollars in damages from Brown’s publisher Random House, if only to allow the movie to open as planned.
ENDNOTE: There is, nonetheless, an upside to this whole farce f
or all parties involved. Because, as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces demonstrated, there’s nothing like controversy to boost sales of a book (or movie). Indeed, even if they lose, Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh’s HBHG might see their 30 copies in sales increase to 3 million before the dust is settled…
Hooray for Hollywood!
Monday, February 27, 2006 at 11:43 AM“Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” [God’s original "Abrahamic covenant" with man - Genesis 12:1-3].
I suspect many of you spent much of Saturday enjoying the outdoors or watching the Winter Olympics on TV. But I spent the day slogging through legal documents whilst giving one very keen ear to proceedings at the State of the Black Union 2006 that was being broadcast live on C-SPAN. And, if listening to a bunch of rich black folks baring their souls about the problems of poor blacks is not your idea of fun, I assure you, it’s not mine either. Therefore, please bear with me as I share the reasons why this was no ordinary rap session….
The day-long symposium was organized by talk show host Tavis Smiley who has held annual rap sessions for the past seven years, but had little to show for it. Long before the panelists took the stage this year, however, Smiley disseminated – amongst all of those invited to speak – his blueprint for discussing the issues that matter most to black Americans, which included black economic empowerment, political activism and emerging leadership.
In fact, Smiley spent the last year commissioning experts in the fields of education, business, criminal justice, politics, family planning, religion etc., to contribute to The Covenant book – which is made up of 10 chapters distilling all of these issues into a 10-point action plan to improve black America. And that is why so much of Saturday’s panel discussions was focused, constructive, and devoid of the political platitudes that usually characterize such conferences.
Indeed, according to Smiley, The Covenant book:
“…outlines how individuals, groups, communities and the body politic can move forward to make this nation better. When we make Black America better, we make all of America better. We all want an America as good as its promise.”
Amongst the more high-profile panelists were Professor Cornell West of Princeton University, actor and activist Harry Belafonte, Rev Al Sharpton, Minister Louis Farrakhan and Chairman of the Black Leadership Forum, Joseph E. Lowery. But the genius of this conference was that none of the trademark bloviating from these rhetorical firebrands could compete with the sobering facts and prescriptive proposals outlined in The Covenant; or for that matter with the substantive remarks by people of real scholarship and professional accomplishment that Smiley had the good sense to invite. Therefore, I urge you to click here to buy this book to see what you can do to help fulfill this covenant. And please understand that – even though targeted at black America – every American should heed this calling. Because Smiley is absolutely right in asserting that “when we make black America better, we make all of America better.”
I would be remiss, however, if I did not share a couple of the “Amen” moments that livened things up for the 5,500 delegates who packed St Agnes Church in South Park, Houston on Saturday. (Though please be advised that my recounting of things people said is based solely on my fairly reliable memory, and is not meant to be verbatim. Unfortunately, a transcript is not available as I write this post. However, the entire symposium re-airs tonight on C-SPAN so I invite you to tune-in for a first-hand account and to check my representation):
Smiley himself was the first to deviate from the carefully moderated agenda to set the record straight – “for the media” – on why there were only a few black Republicans amongst the panelists participating in this event of such national importance.
(Incidentally, I remain stupefied by the fact that blacks have continually given Democrats over 90 percent of their votes in presidential and statewide elections. Yet, there’s overwhelming evidence that Democratic leaders have done little for them lately to sustain their loyalty.)
At any rate, Smiley announced that – because of the persistent criticism that blacks are hostile to dissenting political views within their race, he made a point of soliciting prominent black Republicans to participate in the symposium. He then informed the delegates, with mocking but justified indignation, that despite giving him their personal assurances that they would attend, many of those Republicans failed to show up. And, he named names: including the Ohio’s Secretary of State, J Kenneth Blackwell, who is now running for Governor; Maryland’s Lt Governor, Michael S. Steele, who is running for Governor; and another Republican politician who – according to Smiley – actually spent the night before the symposium in the hotel at the centre where the St Agnes Church is located.
Shame of Blackwell and Steel! As for the anonymous politician, however, I can appreciate that he probably got cold feet after reflecting on how Democrats bashed President Bush at that black church in Atlanta during the funeral service for Corretta Scott King. But if Bush had the cajones to show up….
Another interesting moment came, to no one’s surprise, when Minister Louis Farrakhan finally got his chance to sound off. He launched into a vintage diatribe about the folly of even dealing with the U.S. government, and dismissed The Covenant bo
ok as worthless because it was encouraging black people to perpetuate their servitude to deceitful whites. Then, to reinforce his point, Farrakhan recounted a story he said Harry Belafonte (sitting across the stage from him) told him some time ago. He held forth in a somber, barely audible voice essentially as follows:
Just weeks before Dr King’s assassination – in the last conversation he had with him – Harry noticed that Dr King looked melancholy. So he asked Dr King why he looked like he was troubled. He said, ‘what’s the matter, Martin?’ And Dr King said, ‘you know, Harry, we fought long and hard for integration. But I’m coming to believe that we’re integrating our people into a burning house. [Farrakhan continued:]
So Harry asked him, ‘what are we gonna do Martin.’ And Dr King said, ‘we need to become firemen!’
[At which point Farrakhan, now in a loud and bellicose voice, shouted]
“No, no, no. I say let the house burn! America must burn!!!”
He then went on far too long – as is his wont – spewing his familiar “America is the devil” themes and ended by telling Smiley to his face that he was a Johnny-come-lately with his covenant. Farrakhan then informed the delegates that Smiley practically plagiarized the governing principles of his Millions More Movement which, in part, call for establishing separate ministries (for education, agriculture, foreign affairs et.al.) to govern the affairs of black America.
And, like a rock star abruptly ending a concert and leaving the crowd begging for more, Farrakhan stood to his feet and said – with a devilish grin: “I love you all…but I gotta go!” At which point, his Fruit of Islam bodyguards swarmed the stage and escorted the Minister off, no doubt, to attend to more important matters…
After such public humiliation by Farrakhan, a lesser man might have retreated. But Smiley stood his ground and reclaimed control of his symposium by responding essentially as follows:
I would say to Minister Farrakhan’s face what I must now say behind his back [given his hit and run diatribe]. And that is, with all due respect to the Minister, the time for rhetoric is over. This covenant is about facts. This covenant is about taking action. And, above all, this covenant is about dealing with this America and about how we can make it better for our people; not about creating a separate America. So please, let’s not lose our focus here….
I thought Smiley acquitted himself and The Covenant book well. Alas, it would’ve taken an informed delegate or C-SPAN viewer to appreciate why it was so easy for him to put out Farrakhan’s arsonist rhetoric. But don’t be embarrassed if you’re clueless, just click here.
Finally, even though much of his rhetoric competed with Farrakhan’s for the dubious honor of being trite, unhelpful and irresponsible (eg. his insistence that President Bush is a worse terrorist than Osama bin Laden), Harry Belafonte redeemed himself somewhat by coming to Smiley’s defense. He acknowledged sharing the story about Dr King with Farrakhan but added, in essence, that:
I respect my brother, Minister Farrakhan. We speak regularly. But we have our differences, and we discuss those openly and forthrightly. But like Dr King said, if the house is burning we need to become firemen. Unlike the Minister, however, I don’t want my grandchildren growing up in a country where people would standby and let a house burn. Instead, I would get involved and do all I can to save the house and all those inside…
Belafonte then told a story that serves as a fitting challenge to blacks (and all Americans) to put the 10-points of The Covenant book into action. Here’s how he told them, in essence, to just do it:
Many of you may not know this but Eleanor Roosevelt was a dear friend to blacks struggling for civil rights during her husband’s presidency. So one night she invited A. Philip Randolph - who was probably the smartest black politician this country has ever produced – to the White House for dinner with FDR.
And when FDR invited him to talk, Philip went on for about 20 minutes – outlining all the things that were wrong with America as far as the Negro was concerned, and telling FDR how he could easily fix them. When he was finished, there was a long silence as FDR reached for a cigar box and handed it around the table…I don’t think Eleanor took one. But then he said, Philip, I’ve heard everything you said, I missed nothing. And, I agree with all of it – including your assertion that I have the power to do all you ask with just the stroke of my pen.
And I would do all of it Philip, but only on one condition: I want you to go out there and make me do it!
The Covenant book provides the guidelines for blacks to go out and make Democratic and Republican leaders do what they’ve been promising to do for decades.
NOTE: It’s a measure of how little regard major (Democratic) newspapers have for black Americans when they report this weekend’s Mardi Gras as a frontpage event and relegate this black summit to the back of the paper…(if it’s mentioned at all).Covenant with black America, Tavis Smiley, Louis Farrakhan, Harry Belafonte, Cornell West, Al Sharpton
Monday, February 27, 2006 at 11:34 AMIt was not the result of a national election but it still counts. By being elected the new leader of Jamaica’s ruling People’s National Party (PNP) on Saturday, Portia Simpson Miller will automatically become prime minister when PJ Patterson, the current PM, retires in a few weeks – after 14 years in power.
Sunday, February 26, 2006 at 1:47 PMPlease file this under the stupid things intelligent people say: “Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t like them and won’t watch them … Because they’re so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too. Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. Try not to point out that something’s not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what’s called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won … So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done, when we can move on to March Madness — for God’s sake, let the games begin.” That was golf-loving, NBC-scorned Bryant Gumbel, out in the television wilderness on HBO, doing his best to seem hip (hop) by dissing the Winter Olympics, whilst sabotaging NBC’s ratings (they have exclusive rights to cover the games) – as payback for firing him from the TODAY Show – on the eve of the games two weeks ago.
These words alone should convey adequately enough what a pompous, hypocritical smart-ass Gumbel is….NOTE: I enjoyed every second of the games I managed to watch and found the real (mostly white) athletes participating in real sports to be nothing short of extraordinary! (See “Good (news) Friday” below)
Saturday, February 25, 2006 at 11:47 AM
Friday, February 24, 2006 at 11:08 AMAfter Sasha Cohen (L) of the United States and Irina Slutskaya (R) of Russia ended the short program in the women’s Figure Skating competition on Tuesday in a virtual tie, everyone presumed last night’s final would be a cold war battle for the gold between them, figuratively, with the other skaters fighting for bronze.
Well, as it happens, I’m congenitally disposed to the underdog. Therefore, though many of you probably felt agony over the outcome of this premiere event of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympic Games, I was thrilled by the triumph of Shizuka Arakawa (C) of Japan over her presumptive bettors – after she skated a flawless performance in her long program whilst the others skated on their butts. And, thank God, there’s no scandal or controversy surrounding her undisputed victory.
I would be remiss if I did not mention how impressed I was by Shani Davis who won gold in the 1000 and silver in the 1,500 meters speedskating races. In so doing, he became the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics. I’m all for breaking stereotypical racial barriers in every aspect of human life and endeavors. So, well done Shani!
NOTE: Since this is the debut of my new feature “Good (news) Friday”, I shall refrain from commenting on magazine cover-boy Bode Miller or the invincible Canadian men’s hockey team….
Thursday, February 23, 2006 at 11:45 AMFrontpages of Serbian newspapers trumpeting “Mladic arrested in Belgrade” – referring to Bosnian Serb general and war crimes fugitive, Ratko Mladic
Yesterday, virtually every international news organization ran with stories heralding the arrest of indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic, after it was reported as fact by every newspaper in Serbia. This, even though every reputable news editor in the world knows that, for years, unrepentant nationalists in the Serbian government have traded in rumors about his arrest to curry favor with and extract money from the United States and the European Union. After all, coveted U.S. aid and EU membership have been conditioned on Serbia doing “everything necessary” to apprehend him. Mladic, of course, is one of the two most wanted fugitives – along with Radovan Karadzic – being sought to face a battery of war crimes charges in The Hague. But the search for him has made keystone cops out of NATO forces and willing dupes out of US and European leaders. Because, it’s been an open secret in Serbia, since both men went into hiding over five years ago, that Mladic is being protected by Serb nationalists (probably somewhere in southern Bosnia). And, moreover, that they’ve been encouraged to thwart NATO’s efforts to capture him by none other than Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica - who himself has made no secret of his contempt for the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Yet U.S. and EU officials continue to deal with the Serbians as if they’re acting in good faith. Indeed, I ridiculed their folly inthis previous article in which I quote U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns – who was announcing a $10 million disbursement because of a “new pledge by Serbia to finally cooperate fully” with the tribunal – as follows:
“My strong impression from my discussions in Belgrade is that the government is working very seriously to find General Mladic and there will be a sincere attempt to capture him or to have him voluntarily surrender and to send him to The Hague….We are confident that his days in relative freedom are numbered.”That was over 8 months ago….And, despite Kostunica’s specious assertion yesterday that Mladic’s arrest has been “solved politically” and was now in the “purely technical sphere”, I think chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is right to dismiss his assurances as having “no validity whatsoever”.
So, until the next round of “leaks, rumours and whispers” about his (or Karadzic’s) arrest, Mladic remains a fugitive “still at large” and he’ll remain at large until Americans and Europeans make it untenable, economically and politically, for Serbs to continue harbouring him.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 11:25 AM“Yes, there were gas chambers. Millions of Jews died. There is no question. I don’t know the figures. I’m not an expert on the Holocaust.” This is the constrained admission of an acclaimed historian and author of 30 books who made a veritable fortune peddling revisionist nonsense about the Holocaust – including his infamous charge to fellow historians to help put an end to the Jews’ “gas chambers fairy tale”. But, alas, his Saul of Tarsus conversion – on the way to court – did not work. Because, on Monday, a jury in Vienna, Austria convicted controversial British historian David Irving of the dubious crime of “denying the Holocaust”.
Many countries have laws that make it a more serious offense to commit a crime motivated by hate (eg. “hate crimes” like the gay bashing of Mathew Shepard). But, in addition to Austria, a number of countries – including Germany, France, Belgium, Czech Republic Switzerland and Israel – have a law that makes it a crime if a person merely denies that the Holocaust is an historical fact (which puts an entirely new perspective on “hate speech“). Of course, I can appreciate the zealousness amongst Austrians to appear more Jewish than the Jews in this regard. After all, their compatriot’s collaborated with the Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust; and, that Adolf Hitler was born in Austria must be a truly embarrassing historical fact!
Nonetheless, these laws put an untenable chill on freedom of speech – attaching as they do an Orwellian peril to personal liberty. For example, I can understand imposing civil penalties – such as the fine that was assessed against Irving by a German court in 1992 for saying the Auschwitz gas chambers were a hoax. Indeed, it seems eminently more sensible (and just) to create a civil cause of action whereby Irving could be sued – until his dying day – by anyone who claims his views inflict extreme emotional distress.
But throwing Irving in jail (for three years no less) smacks of a politically-correct abuse of the criminal justice system. Why not burn his books too, like the Nazis might have done? This is an egregious act of state oppression – even if it’s intended to quiet this “active Holocaust denier [and] anti-Semitic racist”: Which is how British High Court Judge Charles Gray pilloried Irving in rendering a decision against him in 2000, when Irving had the unmitigated gall to sue Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt for libel after she dismissed his Holocaust denials as the pandering of an unconscionable academic dilettante for crass profit….
NOTE: It’s too bad his diplomatic immunity protects him, because it would be a terrific coup to lureIrving’s fellow Holocaust denier Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Austria, let him go off on one of his now familiar anti-Semitic rants and then cuff him!
Even though his sentence was not nearly as harsh, I lament the fact that Harvard President Larry Summers has suffered an equally untenable fate for daring to exercise his freedom of speech. Yesterday he announced that he has been effectively forced out of his coveted position by a coven of rabid feminists who never forgave him for daring to challenge their academic agenda and feminist dogma.
In thisprevious article on his unforgivable politically incorrect crime, I wrote that Summers: “…launched (what turned out to be) an intellectual nuclear bomb at a conference on the poor representation of women and blacks in science and engineering. He suggested that the presence of so few women in these fields is due to their biological and gender limitations. And, that these natural limitations are compounded by the unwillingness of women to make the same sacrifices as men to advance their careers.” But, upon hearing Summers’ “shocking” hypothesis, these purportedly liberal and open-minded female professors left the conference in hysterics and launched their mutinous counterattack against him. And, despite his immediate expression of regret for any unwitting emotional distress he may have inflicted on their intellect, the die was cast and his fate consummated yesterday…. David Irving, Holocaust denier, Larry Summers, Harvard University
Tuesday, February 21, 2006 at 11:38 AM“On the war of ideas or the struggle for hearts and minds…American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended….American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies.” [Pentagon's “strategic communications” report to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ]The Red Hook Container Terminal in the Brooklyn borough of New York – one of the six U.S. ports at the heart of another US-Arab dispute… Given its quagmire in Iraq, the indictment of VP Cheney’s Chief of Staff on obstruction of justice charges in the CIA leak investigation, a scathing report on its implementation of post 9/11 security measures, an even worse report on its post Katrina relief measures, fall-out from its NSA spy program and the hoopla surrounding VP Cheney’s hunting fiasco, the Bush Administration just seems to be reeling from one political crisis to another. (And this list is by no means exhaustive….)
Now comes the hysteria over its contract that gives management control of six major U.S. ports to a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But it would be a strategic mistake (in the anti-terror war) to rescind this contract – notwithstanding bipartisan calls by craven politicians and jingoistic bloggers likeMichelle Malkin. And here’s why:
Donald Rumsfeld was on the Hill last week bemoaning the fact that America’s goodwill in Muslim countries (reinforced by tsunami aid in Indonesia and earthquake relief in Pakistan) is being undermined by a failure to communicate (ie. “US losing web war” – where its good deeds are being upstaged by al Qaeda propaganda and insurgent guerilla tactics.)
Yet, what does it communicate to the UAE, arguably America’s best ally in the Muslim world, when its contract with the U.S. government is greeted with this kind of xenophobia, indignation and undisguised distrust?
“We have worked very closely with the United States on a number of issues relating to the combat of terrorism, prior to and post Sept. 11.” [Sheik Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahyan, UAE's foreign minister]
For the record, it’s important to understand that all of the hue and cry about this dealjeopardizing national security is grossly misguided. Moreover, it unwittingly betrays pervasive (latent) anti-Arab bias in America. After all, the UAE merely bought the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company that has been running commercial operations at shipping terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia for years, without a single terrorist incident. And this transaction was consummated only after the nonpartisan:
“…Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, run by the Treasury Department, reviewed an assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies. [And] the committee’s 12 members agreed unanimously the sale did not present any problems.
And, after investigating all the speculation about the UAE funding terrorist activities, this committee probably found that UAE banks do not fund such activities anymore than Citicorp and JPMorgan Chase do. But, if America stops doing business with Arab countries it suspects of doing business with terrorists, Saudi Arabia, not UAE, should be boycotted!Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, is the leading voice amongst those calling for the Bush Administration to review the objective decision by the Treasury Department to approve the UAE’s $6.8 billion takeover of major shipping ports in America This “stop the port sellout” mob reminds me of the British who ruled Hong Kong for 150 years as colonial despots and then, when the time came to return the territory to China, they suddenly decided that – for the sake of humanity and all that is fair and just – the people of Hong Kong must have democracy! If the analogy is lost on you, here’s what I mean: U.S. ports have been susceptible to terrorist infiltration for as long as the US-Mexican border has been vulnerable to illegal immigration. Therefore, to raise national security as the reason to rescind this contract reeks of hypocrisy.
Moreover, what does it communicate to the UAE and Muslims around the world (especially those trying to quell the riots over the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad) when it’s so patently clear thatthe only reason controversy has erupted over this contract is because the buyer is Arab and not European?
Of course, Rumsfeld is right to wonder why America’s image abroad is taking such a beating. Because it is undeniable that Americans are doing many good things in many places (including in Muslim countries) for which they get little recognition and even less gratitude. But it’s a wonder America has any respect in the Muslim world at all when so many reputable Americans can be whipped into an anti-Muslim frenzy without any credible provocation whatsoever. Indeed, rescinding this contract will not only fail to win hearts and minds, it may also achieve the opposite effect of giving bin Laden and his jihadists
more fodder to goad moderate Muslims into thinking that America is, in fact, at war with all Muslims, not just Muslim fanatics like him.
NOTE: It’s disingenuous for critics to argue that the mistakes and secretive modus operandi of the Bush Administration – as delineated in the opening paragraph – justify their questioning the propriety and national security implications of this deal. Because, not so long ago, these very same critics were bashing Bush for being too zealous in his attempt to protect the American people by eavesdropping on communications between terrorist suspects.
Alas, poor George, he’s damned for wanting to lock-up America’s Muslim enemies (al Qaeda) and damned for wanting to do business with America’s Muslim friends (UAE)….
UPDATE: Just moments ago (today Tuesday @ 4:15pm), President Bush declared that the U.S. ports contract with UAE poses no national security ramifications and dismissed opposition to it as purely political. He then vowed to veto any attempt by Sen. Schumer and his Congressional “Minutemen” to block the deal; adding that:
“It would send mixed signals because no criticism was raised when a British company was in charge.”Well done, Mr Bush! US ports, UAE contract, national security
Monday, February 20, 2006 at 12:05 PMIn the Black Hills of South Dakota, four presidents grace the face of Mount Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln
One can be forgiven the impression that the President’s Day holiday is just another superficial inducement for Americans to go shopping (for “blowout” sales on everything from mattresses to Chevy trucks). However, it dates back to 1796, when a grateful new nation honored its first president and revolutionary war hero, George Washington, by making his birthday, February 22, a national holiday.
Of course, it’s a testament to Washington’s extraordinary character and accomplishments that no other president was accorded this honor until it was bestowed on February 12, 1892 uponAbraham Lincoln, the man who “preserved the union through its darkest hour” – the American Civil War. (And, probably because he was assassinated so notoriously at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1965.)
Since then, notwithstanding Mount Rushmore, no other president has been deemed worthy of this honor. (Indeed, it’s a testament to the extraordinary character and accomplishment of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., that he’s the only other American to have a federal holiday – the third Monday in January – declared in his name.) At any rate, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which combined both holidays into the one that is now celebrated, so perversely….
NOTE: My choice of presidents to grace Mount Rushmore II: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald W. Reagan.
Your choice?President’s Day
Sunday, February 19, 2006 at 11:57 AM“Katrina was a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare.”
Last Wednesday, the U.S. Congress released its 520-page report, A Failure of Initiative, on the abysmal failures of the government’s Katrina relief effort. But the only people who seemed surprised by its water-over-the-levee findings were the finger-pointing nincompoops at Homeland Security (who had a “blinding lack of situational awareness and disjointed decision making [that] needlessly compounded and prolonged Katrina’s horrors”) and their clueless boss, George W. Bush.
God help us WHEN the next major hurricane, or worse – al Qaeda, hits again….
Saturday, February 18, 2006 at 11:51 AMAs you probably gathered from Thursday’s column on the Cheney hunting accident, I don’t have much regard for media priorities when it comes to news coverage in America. For example, when was the last time any of you heard or read a report on the trial of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling for allegedly perpetrating the biggest corporate fraud in U.S. history? (A trial, incidentally, that is being held not more than a stone’s throw from the location of Cheney’s ill-fated weekend hunt down in Texas.) Of course, if this were a sensational murder trial (as in OJ, Scott Peterson or Neil Entwistle who is about to become the next media obsession), such a question would be utterly gratuitous…. Enron trial, media hype
Friday, February 17, 2006 at 12:45 PMEarlier this week, Iraq’s American overseers expressed embarrassment – disguised as frustration – with the way even their newly-appointed, no-nonsense judge is allowing Saddam Hussein to make a mockery of his trial for crimes against humanity. And no one delights in their embarrassment more than Saddam himself. Indeed, he jumps at every opportunity to get under their skin by performing his perfectly scripted and choreographed defense – intended not so much to address the charges against him as to address the international audience with sensational charges of his own against his American accusers (and to disrupt and delay the proceedings, indefinitely).
For those of you who have only seen passing images of Saddam holding forth in his own defense, here’s his answer to every charge and court ruling, and what I predict will constitute his opening statement, case in chief and summation:
“Don’t you know who I am… I am Saddam, president of Iraq. You have no jurisdiction over me. You are a puppet of the infidel American aggressors and a traitor to Islam. To hell with you and to hell with this court!”
As bizarre as it may seem, Saddam’s defense strategy is working. Because after each of these now patented performances, court is adjourned – for a week or two – until Saddam is ready for his next curtain call or until he recovers from his latest bout of illness or from his new ploy, the classichunger strike.
This is clearly a farce, but the Americans have only themselves to blame. After all, their Iraqi surrogates pleaded with them to dispense justice for this former dictator under the “Saddamic” law he keeps invoking to defy the court’s authority. Because, if they had heeded those pleas, Saddam would have been executed within days of his capture and his victims would now be free to tell their stories (see SHOAH), without the horrific indignity of this genocidal maniac staring at them.Instead, at this rate, I have no doubt that five years from now, Saddam will still be performing his defense and turning his trial into a three-ring circus. I am equally certain, however, that international interest in his courtroom antics (and even in his fate) will wane; just as initial interest in and morbid fascination by the courtroom high jinks of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic has waned as his trial for crimes against humanity withers away in The Hague with nary a media comment.
But I’m sure that it was not lost on Saddam that – just last Sunday – Milosevic celebrated five years of making a mockery of his trial by using this same delusional and ego-maniacal strategy – complete with prolonged adjournments to treat mysterious illnesses. After all, for Saddam, Milosevic’s anniversary represents a life-affirming prospect that is devoutly to be wished (indeed emulated). For his American captors, however, the Milosevic precedent is but a foreshadowing of terminal embarrassment (and frustration) – as one Iraqi judge after another does his best to dispense American-style justice with the palpable and ironic sense that justice delayed for Saddam will be justice denied.
Note: I understand why the Americans in Iraq and the United Nations in The Hague are bending over backwards to give these former dictators a “fair” trial. But there’s really no reason why Saddam should be allowed to utter a single word in court – unless and until he’s called to testify; just as there was no reason to allow Milosevic to act in his own defense – especially since he has yet to even recognise the jurisdiction of his Tribunal (the ICTY) and his political intentions were clear from the outset.
Instead, here are just a few procedural restrictions that should have been implemented:
The proceedings should’ve been videotaped for release only after trial, and not for showing on the daily evening news. Both men should’ve been assigned public defenders (since, in Saddam’s case, what money he has to pay private lawyers is prima facie tainted as ill-gotten gains). They should’ve been warned that any attempt to disrupt the proceedings would result in their being placed in sound-proof chambers for the remainder of the trial. And, evidence against them should’ve been presented regardless of their physical presence in court to negate dubious complaints about heart murmurs and belly aches being used to bring their trials to a halt, repeatedly. If these restrictions were in place, there’s no reason why either trial should’ve taken more than 6 months to complete!
As it stands, Milosevic is leading his Tribunal into it’s 5th year on a budget that was $271,854,600 (USD) for 2004 and 2005. And, no one sees any end in sight except his death by natural causes (and, no doubt, Saddam is determined to win a similar forturnate fate). In fairness to Milosevic, however, even he condemned the farcical nature of his trial when he made the following observation to the presiding judge in response to one of so many things that have gone wrong with his trial:
“Well, Mr. May, that really is an example showing that this is truly nothing more than a farce.”
Indeed! And, Saddam too has shouted as much….
Thursday, February 16, 2006 at 11:32 AM“I’m the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend….It was not Harry’s fault…You cannot blame anybody else.” [Avid outdoorsman VP Dick Cheney to Britt Hume of FOX News on shooting his hunting buddy last weekend.... Perhaps now he'll do more fishing than shooting. ] Yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney finally met the press to explain how he accidentally shot Austin lawyer Harry Whittington during a weekend Texas hunt and why he refused to personally disclose details about the shooting to the White House press corps. But, even though he was far more forthcoming and emotional than anyone could have anticipated during this belated interview, I have no doubt that Democrats will still be gnawing at his political bones. And, for this, he is at least partly to blame.
Because no matter how noble his intentions for controlling the release of information about this incident (ie. concern about the precise nature of the injuries and wanting to inform Whittington’s children first), he should have come forward much sooner and here’s why:
Officials in the Bush administration have gotten away with secret dealings that make the attempts by officials in the Nixon administration to cover-up their dirty tricks seem relatively innocuous. Indeed, whether it’s their refusal to fully disclose governmentno-bid contracts to Haliburton (to profit unconscionably from the war in Iraq) or Cheney’s own secret negotiation with oil companies to make national energy policy more palatable to Exxon, the code of omerta (arrogant silence) observed by all of Bush’s men (and women) would make any mob boss proud.
Therefore I can understand why so many members of the White House press corps, in particular, are taking bites out of the soft spot this story has opened in Cheney’s Teflon political shield. But, frankly, the relentless gnashing of teeth over Cheney’s failure to explain himself to them has turned their justified professional indignation into a media circus; just as violent protests by some rabid Muslims have turned their justified moral indignation into aJihadist frenzy.
Even more unseemly than the press behaving like hyaenas with press credentials, however, is the partisan pontification of political pundits who seem completely inured to the universal emotion that is evoked when a man accidentally shoots a friend:
But, for the record, that’s the story folks. Period!
(Although I suspect that many of Cheney’s critics were praying for Whittington to die from his injuries to vindicate their misguided outrage. As it stands, his wounds are not life threatening and, despite complications with his heart, doctors expect him to make a full recovery.)
So, here we have the notoriously emotionless Dick Cheney breaking down on TV over this tragedy (and not for himself – because he clearly faces no legal or political jeopardy), whilst indignant members of the press and Democrats are focusing solely on scoring professional and political points. This story is at once a tragedy and a travesty. But as much as I abhor Cheney’s mafia-style execution of his VP duties, I have nothing but sympathy for him as he clearly struggles with guilt and grave concern over this unfortunate accident.
Note: I am especially disgusted with the way some Democrats are behaving because their criticism reeks of such partisanship and hypocrisy that it triggers acute political gag reflex. For example, Senate Minority leader Harry Reid has been all over TV self-righteously decrying “this Administration’s secretive nature” because Cheney waited 1 day before disclosing details of this accident. Yet, just months ago, Reid himself was criticized for keeping secret for 3 days the fact that he was hospitalized aftersuffering a stroke….
But here’s the bottom line: If Cheney delayed reporting the fact that HE was shot, that would warrant this media outrage (because of obvious Constitutional implications). But this was an entirely private incident that affects no one except the families involved. Therefore, it hardly seems worthy this national kerfuffle: a sentiment Whittington himself expressed when he reportedly wondered to his doctors “what is all the hoopla about?”
Indeed!VP Dick Cheney, shooting accident, White House press corps
Wednesday, February 15, 2006 at 11:13 AMToday marks the one-year anniversary of this journal. And, I thought it appropriate to celebrate the occasion by thanking all of the readers who have supported it over the past year.
Therefore, my heart-felt thanks to the thousands of people around the world who my webmaster informs me are daily readers!I launched this weblog after being persuaded that it would be a convenient way to share thoughts about current events amongst my close circle of friends. Indeed, I suspect many of you can relate to having such busy lives that you communicate primarily by emails and debate issues more often in blogs than in personal gatherings.
I was too ignorant about the passive but pervasive nature of the blogosphere, however, to appreciate its potential to disseminate my daily musings to every corner of the earth. And I’ve been humbled and honoured by the interest so many people outside my inner-circle have shown in my thoughts on events of the day.
But I’m especially grateful to all who have taken the time to not only read my columns but also write comments. And, as a small gesture of appreciation, I’ve decided to make it my second-year resolution to set aside time during my work-day to respond to your comments with far greater regularity than I did this past year (which, I’m embarrassed to confess, was only on 3 occasions…after prodding from friends).
So, here’s to what I hope will be another year of what one reader kindly described as “informative, provocative and often witty ipinions”; and, to your sustained interest in and comments about them.Anthony
The Ipinions Journal, Anniversary Celebration
Tuesday, February 14, 2006 at 11:08 AMAnd, as a Valentine treat, here’s a little trick to get you in the mood for love…
Monday, February 13, 2006 at 2:01 PMI must admit that I do not know who amongst the motley crew of 34 candidates in last week’s presidential elections offered the best leadership prospects for Haiti. But ever since it descended into virtual anarchy during the final days of the Aristide presidency in early 2004, I have felt that Haiti does not need a president so much as a prolonged period of (enforceable) martial law. Because only under strict martial law will government authorities be able to disarm the nihilistic gangs and rag-tag militias that are still terrorizing war-ravaged slums throughout the country. And only when law and order is restored will a corps of engineers be able to supervise the building of key elements of Haiti’s national infrastructure (ideally, employing many of the disillusioned and chronically unemployed Haitians who have joined these gangs and militias out of frustration and despair), to attract and properly utilise the foreign aid and direct investments that are desperately needed to develop its economy.
That’s my prescription for Haiti’s terminal illness….
As far as these elections are concerned, I am constrained to conclude that I do not see how the election of (projected winner) Rene Preval - for a second tenure as president – will help restore law and order to Haiti and stimulate sustainable life in its beleaguered and moribund economy. Because, despite the combined efforts of UN peacekeepers and the caretaker government of Gérard Latortue, all of the destabilising forces that rendered Preval a feckless president from 1996 to 2001 seem determined to do the same again. And, indeed, no force is more ominous in this respect than that of Preval’s erstwhile mentor, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who seems poised to make his fated return….
“I think this election…is going to demonstrate, as secretary of state (Condoleezza Rice) said when she was here last fall, how Bertrand Aristide is a man of the past.” [U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Tim Carney]
Alas, Ambassador Carney’s quote betrays a classic example of ostrich diplomacy: bury one’s head in the soft Caribbean sand and pretend the problem does not exist. Because, it is ironic and perhaps instructive that as they plead to diminish Aristide as a cause celebre, if not a living martyr for a critical mass of Haitians, the Americans invoke his name to validate last week’s ambivalent elections and inspire hope for Haiti’s future.
But their extraterritorial denials do not vitiate the fact that Aristide is no more a man of the past today - after being forced into exile to South Africa (allegedly) by American forces in 2004, than he was a man of the past in 1993 – when he was forced into exile to the United States by Haitian forces – only to make a triumphal return two years later to resume his presidency.
(Note: Just as he was exiled in America for 2 years, Aristide has now been exiled in South Africa for 2 years. And, this is a man with a pathological messianic complex. Therefore, what mortal hand or eye dares predict his fateful symmetry?)
Indeed, that the Bush administration is putting more pressure on Preval to renounce Aristide than to announce his plans to resuscitate the Haitian economy indicates the clear and present fear the Americans have of Aristide’s imminent return. And, their fears are well founded: After all, the vast majority of leaders in the Americas still believe Aristide’s damning claims that he was the victim of a coup d’etat because President Bush (and local businessmen – mostly mulatto bourgeois Europhiles calling themselves “the Group of 184”), found his governing socialist policies politically and ideologically untenable. And these regional leaders never fully recognized the US-installed Latortue government as legitimate.
Moreover, the Americans can be forgiven their suspicion that, despite his pronouncements, Preval remains as devoted to Aristide as ever. (Recall that Aristide practically anointed Preval as his successor in 1996 – only to oust him and reclaim power in 2001.) And, it’s an open secret that most Haitians who voted for Preval, did so only because they expect him to facilitate the return of their Lavalas leader Aristide to his rightful place in Haiti…. (Which, incidentally, makes Preval’s suggestion that he would welcome Aristide’s return only to put him on trial patently disingenuous.)
According to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the foreign minister of his host country South Africa:
“Aristide is not here for life. The president of Haiti is a guest in our country and when he arrived in South Africa, we said that he will be a guest in our country as long as it is necessary. As far as we are concerned, he is not here for life, as far as he is concerned, he is not here for life. That is why it is important to see what happens after these elections…and see whether it is conducive to both himself and the government for him to go back.”
It is noteworthy that even Dlamini-Zuma refers to Aristide, not as the former or ex President, but as “The president of Haiti”. And, I assure you, that is no mere diplomatic slip of the tongue…
Adding to U.S. fears is the profound recognition that Haiti, like other countries in the Americas, will have far less regard for its Damoclean sword of financial aid than it had just years ago. Because petrodollars from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and bi-lateral aid from the burgeoning super-power communists of China can effectively marginalize any U.S. threat to withhold aid if Preval (or Aristide) does not do its bidding.
Nonetheless, besides unwieldy violence and the spectre of Aristide’s return, a Preval presidency seems fatally threatened by the elite Group of 184 that participated so shrewdly in undermining his first tenure as president. In fact, in an interview on the eve of elections, sidelined presidential candidate Dumarsais Siméus told the New York Times that:
“With the prospect of Preval to be president, the elite is already lining up and getting ready to derail him from governing.”
Clearly, with so many forces arrayed against him, it’s difficult to see how Preval governs Haiti any better this time around. But as I lamented inthis previous article, there are no saints (or even moral actors) in this ongoing nightmare. And I fear this election might prove as a
ll other hopeful developments have done: as just another opportunity lost for Haiti….
Sunday, February 12, 2006 at 11:34 AM
Saturday, February 11, 2006 at 12:23 PMConfirming the Frankenstein possibilities of modern science, a French woman made international news on Monday when she revealed herself as the recipient of the world’s first partial face transplant.
Of course, it won’t be long before people begin offering reasons to pervert the humane purpose of this medical procedure. And foremost amongst them, I suspect, might be the Danish cartoonists who drew the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that haveMuslims protesting with irrational outrage all over the world….
face transplant, Danish cartoonists, prophet Muhammad
Friday, February 10, 2006 at 11:28 AM****BREAKING NEWS: I screwed up…big time! Karen, one of my astute readers, has pointed out that it’s Princess Kiko and not Crown Princess (in continuing distress) Masako who is “preggers”. What can I say? I so wanted poor Masako to rise to the occasion that – even as I saw Kiko’s name in the Washington Post article – I read only her (Masako’s) name. Of course, this raises even more interesting questions: What happens if Kiko has a boy? Will the goverment put the kibosh on the bill that would allow Masako’s daughter to ascend the throne – so that this “more suitable boy” can become crown prince? Will Masako be relieved if Kiko delivers a boy prince? Or will this blessed event plunge her into inconsolable and irretreivable despair at having “failed” the imperial family and her nation?
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!Thanks Karen… (Nonetheless, I shall leave this post in place as a monument to my flaws and to allow my detractors to revel in my shame….)
Inthis previous article, I expressed sympathy for Princess Masako who had been effectively exiled to her maiden-family’s country home after failing to inject life (in the form of contemporary style and vital male heirs) into the moribund Japanese imperial family – the way Princess Diana had done for the British royal family and as all of Japan expected her to do.
Indeed, unforgiving Japanese imperialists determined that Masako had failed spectacularly…in both respects. And they were not shy about expressing their disappointment and speculating as to reasons why she was unable to fulfill her imperial duties.
Of course, to Westerners, Masako always seemed every bit as glamourous as Diana and she was confirmed to be properly fertile after giving birth to a beautiful baby girl in 2001 – 8 years into her marriage to the future emperor of Japan. But to the Japanese, her failure to produce more children – a boy in particular – made her seem barren. And, her baby girl became more an object of resentment than a symbol of national pride.
Ironically, it seems inevitable that such national pressure to produce a child would induce prohibitive performance anxiety in any woman. In fact, in Masako’s case, it not only inhibited her physically but also led to a nervous breakdown as her 10th wedding anniversary approached in 2003, which precipitated her exile.
What is even more ironic, however, is that after demands to produce a male heir almost drove her insane, the Japanese government introduced a historic bill that would allow Masako’s daughter and other females to ascend the 2,000-year-old Chrysanthemum Throne. And, if all goes according to the government’s legislative agenda, this bill will be enacted into law well before Masako’s baby is born.
And why not? After all, some of history’s most successful and revered monarchs were women. And, though I find monarchiesabsurdly anachronistic, the most famous and respected monarch in the world today is undoubtedly Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.
At any rate, Masako (42) is finallypregnant again. But, if reports are accurate, it’s early days yet (6 weeks). And the only question on people’s minds in Japan is: is it a boy?
It’s easy enough to find out, of course. But I hope Masako has a sonogram just to alleviate stress and give herself the best chance to have as healthy a pregnancy as possible. (Although finding out that she’s pregnant with another girl might trigger a spontaneous abortion….But let’s not go there….) However, even if it’s a boy, I hope she makes everyone else wait until the child is born to find out!
Because, as we all know, so much can still go so very wrong….Princess Masako, Japanese Imperial family, male heir