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The Daily Journal: January 3, 2007

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The Saddam Assassination
So, What Do We Tell Our Children?

I've never been one to worry much about what to tell the children when it comes to issues in the news, whether it's a presidential blow job, a princess' decapitation or a tyrant's hanging. You explain it as it arises (so to speak). It's ridiculous to react to these things, as Joe Lieberman famously liked to react, by feigning horror that they'd be broadcast, or worse, by invoking "the children" as reasons that they shouldn't be broadcast, let alone discussed in children's company. It's an extension of the desire to sanitize (therefore censor) what we've made of this world. It was revolting, for instance, to read about the American networks' anxiety, in the hours leading up to the Saddam execution, over what and how much to show of it, when the same networks (and newspapers) have not hesitated to show Iraqi corpses all over the place in background shots of the latest routine bombing. Not only should the images be shown. They should be required watching for anyone who claims to support the war and the way it's been prosecuted (just as anyone who supports the death penalty is a hypocrite who wouldn't willingly be the executioner, too). The Saddam assassination is raising all sorts of questions, naturally (more on that later, maybe in a separate piece). Here's one reaction from Down Under--Christopher Bantick writing in The Age:

As uncomfortable as it is to accept, there will be some people who believed that the controversial hanging of drug mule Nguyen Tuong Van, just over a year ago, was an obscenity but the hanging of Saddam was not. To hold such a view tells us much about how we perceive evil and justice. The weeks leading up to Van's execution on December 2, 2005 had an impact on my son and I suspect other children. He could not escape the media attention electronically or in print. As parents, we asked ourselves what fallout the high media exposure was having on him and his friends. In the debate over the execution of Van, children were largely voiceless yet they watched the television and listened. They have again, thus far, been silent over the death of Saddam. The sudden end that came for Saddam did not enable much debate. But the subsequent images on the internet, television and newspapers are unambiguously clear. Saddam, as Van beforehand, died at the end of a rope. But the death of Saddam raises a double standard. That he was a man of unspeakable cruelty is unquestioned. His death was therefore appropriate. To hold this view while calling previously for clemency for Van or more recently, the Bali nine is hardly consistent. [...] In one sense, Saddam's death brings a kind of closure. Evil has been tried and sentenced. It has been overcome. But is that all? As parents, we have wrestled with how far we should influence our son. We have resolved that he should see his mother and father believe in things passionately and that the death of Saddam, like Van's was a craven act. Saddam's execution has left a rope swinging in my son's eyes. It is our hope, vain though it may prove to be, that it will never again be in the shape of a noose. The full column...

Closure. How I wish that word was retired for all times. The word deserves a hanging of its own.

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An FBI Torture Report
Guantanamo's Inquisitors

From the Post: "FBI agents witnessed possible mistreatment of the Koran at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including at least one instance in which an interrogator squatted over Islam's holy text in an apparent attempt to offend a captive, according to bureau documents released yesterday. In October 2002, a Marine captain allegedly squatted over a copy of the Koran during intensive questioning of a Muslim prisoner, who was "incensed" by the tactic, according to an FBI agent. A second agent described similar events, but it is unclear from the documents whether it was a separate case. In another incident that month, interrogators wrapped a bearded prisoner's head in duct tape "because he would not stop quoting the Koran," according to an FBI agent, the documents show. The agent, whose account was corroborated by a colleague, said that a civilian contractor laughed about the treatment and was eager to show it off. The reports amount to new and separate allegations of religiously oriented tactics used against Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. After an erroneous report of Koran abuse prompted deadly protests overseas in 2005, the U.S. military conducted an investigation that confirmed five incidents of intentional and unintentional mishandling the book at the detention facility. They acknowledged that soldiers and interrogators had kicked the Koran, had stood on it and, in one case, had inadvertently sprayed urine on a copy."

Inadvertently? How do you inadvertently spray urine on anything unless you're four years old, drunk or well into senility's clasp? The full story...

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The Other Crimes
In Case You've Forgotten...
An old classic from at South Africa's Zapiro, the cartoonist at the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian.
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Birth Pangs of a Morbid Middle East

Ramy Khoury, the editor of Lebanon's Daily Star, spent the last few days of 2006 on the shores of the Dead Sea (from Jordan; he wouldn't be so audacious to do so from the Israeli side, unfortunately). Here are his findings:

If the increasingly common use of violence by most local and foreign parties in the region becomes the norm of political expression, it could remove negotiated politics as a credible means of conduct for years to come. Political and military violence are now routinely used by all: Arab states and regimes, Iran and Turkey, Anglo-American-led foreign armadas, local hegemonic and occupying powers like Israel, assorted terrorist groups, several resistance movements, and local gangs and criminals. No wonder that the most common symbol of the contemporary Middle East is the security guard and metal-detecting scanner. It is the sad icon that defines and unites us, but it is also an icon of our own making. Foreign intervention in domestic affairs, though not new, has become more common and audacious, involving primarily countries like Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and some low-key Europeans. Foreign support for local proxies is most obvious in Lebanon and Palestine, but also in Somalia, Iraq and Sudan. The latest entry into this club is the Ethiopian Army in Somalia, where the rollback of the Islamists who had recently controlled parts of the country is likely to encourage more foreign assistance to stop the advance of political Islamists. Such a strategy is under way in Lebanon and Palestine, where political forces of roughly equal strength on both sides are likely to be forced to accept compromise agreements rather than fight to the finish. Consequently, we may be witnessing the birth of an odd new system in which Middle Eastern countries are governed by elites umbilically linked to foreign patrons. The full column...

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Screw Reader Reaction
Why We Love Joel Stein

Joel Stein's latest in the LATimes: "DON'T E-MAIL me. That address on the bottom of this column? That is the pathetic, confused death knell of the once-proud newspaper industry, and I want nothing to do with it. Sending an e-mail to that address is about as useful as sending your study group report about Iraq to the president. Here's what my Internet-fearing editors have failed to understand: I don't want to talk to you; I want to talk at you. A column is not my attempt to engage in a conversation with you. I have more than enough people to converse with. And I don't listen to them either. That sound on the phone, Mom, is me typing. Some newspapers even list the phone numbers of their reporters at the end of their articles. That's a smart use of their employees' time. Why not just save a step and have them set up a folding table at a senior citizen center with a sign asking for complaints? Where does this end? Does Philip Roth have to put his e-mail at the end of his book? Does Tom Hanks have to hold up a sign with his e-mail at the end of his movie? Should your hotel housekeeper leave her e-mail on your sheets? Are you starting to see how creepy this is? Not everything should be interactive. A piece of work that stands on its own, without explanation or defense, takes on its own power. If Martin Luther put his 95 Theses on the wall and then all the townsfolk sent him their comments, and he had to write back to all of them and clarify what he meant, some of the theses would have gotten all watered down and there never would have been a Diet of Worms. And then, for the rest of history, elementary school students learning about the Reformation would have nothing to make fun of. You can see how dangerous this all is. I get that you have opinions you want to share. That's great. You're the Person of the Year. I just don't have any interest in them. First of all, I did a tiny bit of research for my column, so I'm already familiar with your brilliant argument. Second, I've already written my column, so I can't even steal your ideas and get paid for them. [...] Huge portions of my e-mails come from people who haven't even read my article. They're just assuming, based on a headline or an excerpt on a blog, that I'm unpatriotic or irreligious or lecherous. Sure, they happen to be right, but it would have been nice if they had clicked on my column and moved me up on that "most-read articles" list." The full column...

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This Land Is Your Cash
Gilded Folly

Chohong Choi, an old friend of the Notebooks and a resident of Hong Kong, just back from New York, contributed this to Dissident Voice: Here are a few questions for everyone. How many of you have kept all the gifts you received or bought for yourselves last Christmas? Of those gifts that you have kept, how many of them are you using regularly, and how many have you allowed to collect dust or stowed away someplace you do not check very often? Yet, the cycle repeats every year. People max out on their credit cards and savings to buy things they or their intended beneficiaries probably do not need. I was guilty of this practice too, and like everyone else, I found it a chore to decide what to buy for whom. It is no fun taking a trip to the mall and navigating the crowded corridors looking for the “hot” item that happens to be on the shopping lists of five million other people. Lugging around those shopping bags full of stuff is cumbersome, even if you have a car, and those with cars have to navigate the parking lots for spaces. Even online shopping is not totally immune to this mess because the huge volume of holiday mail traffic leads to inevitable delays, and there are still the bulky gifts to carry to their destinations.  Come December 26, and the stores are again teeming with people -- some of whom are looking for after holiday bargains, and some who are unhappy with their Christmas gifts and want to return them. That seems to be the spirit of Christmas nowadays. [...] Considering how ready some shoppers are to fight and maim each other for a video game system or some other material item of questionable value, how many of them would be gung-ho enough for a real fight by signing up for a tour of duty in Iraq right now? It seems that Americans have more to fear from each other at Christmas time (or any other time) than from any insurgent, terrorist, or member of the Axis of Evil.  With so many domestic adversaries, who needs foreign enemies? The full essay...


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"Middle" America’s Alleged Soul
Country Music As England Sees It

Who's this one again?

Always funny to see how country music is interpreted, especially when non-Americans are trying to make sense of the likes of Waylon Jennings and Toby Keith. First error: to lump country music as different as that of Jennings with the runtish, musically plagiaristic style of Keith and his carbon-copy likes. At any rate. Here’s The Economist on the subject:

In 1943 Roy Acuff, a country superstar, invited the governor of Tennessee to a party. The governor snubbed him, complaining that he and his awful musicians were making Tennessee “the hillbilly capital of the United States”. No modern American politician would dare be so sniffy about country music. On the contrary, many embrace it. Mark Warner campaigned for the governorship of Virginia in 2001 with a lively bluegrass song: “Get ready to shout it from the coal mines to the stills/ Here comes Mark Warner, the hero of the hills.” He won—quite an achievement for a Democrat in a conservative state, especially when you consider that he was “a Connecticut Yankee who had moved to northern Virginia and made a zillion in the telecommunications industry”, as conceded by his campaign manager, Dave “Mudcat” Saunders. Mr Saunders reckons that “if you want to get a message down into the soul of a God-fearing, native-to-the-earth, rural-thinking person, one of the surest ways is through traditional country music.” He may be right. And there are an awful lot of God-fearing, rural-thinking folk in America. Some 45m Americans tune in to country-music radio stations each week. In the heartland, no other genre comes close. But for some Americans, still, there is something risible about country. “I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’,” quipped Bob Newhart, a comedian. When George Bush senior wrote an article about how much he liked country music for Country America magazine, the Washington Post reprinted it under the snooty headline: “George and the Oval Office Do-Si-Do: Heck, a President Ain’t Nothin’ but Just Folks”. The full story...

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Photo of the Day
Le Canal Saint Martin
Sophia at Les Politiques was kind to send in a different view of the Canal Saint Martin in Paris, referred in yesterday's Daily Journal in connection with the solidarity protest there on behalf of Paris's homeless.
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