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The Daily Journal: January 24, 2007

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Into the fray, again

Hezollah’s Wish…
… Lebanon ’s Slide

This is how it was, in those acrid early days in 1975: the strikes. The protests. The burning tires. The occasional clash with police or the “Forces de Sécurité Interieure,” the Interior Security Forces, FSI, as we called them—every nation has them; the more backward, the more repressive. And this is how we knew the “protests” in Beirut , between Hezbollah and the government, would eventually turn. To fire, riots, shootings, and if the hotheads prevail, as they seem always to prevail in Lebanon , civil war all over again. I’ve been looking at the pictures coming out of Lebanon . They’re the pictures of 1975. Only the car models have changed. Anyway isn’t the April 13 anniversary of the beginning of the civil war approaching? It’s been thirty years. A whole generation. Might as well get that new young one, the one less aware of the civil war, baptized and soaked in the kind of bloodbaths Lebanon once excelled in. It’s as if they instinctively know what to do. It’s in their blood. The rioters blocked the international airport. They burned political leaders’ pictures, brandished others, fired insults across those dormant divides. How long until Damascus Road re-becomes the Green Line? Although this time the divisions are more creative, what with Michel Aoun, the little megalomaniac Maronite Christian general, playing footsy with Hezbollah (and Hezbollah thinking: let his delusions help us to the ultimate prize, the up-ending of Lebanon’s confessional political system, the transformation of the presidency into a Shiite protectorate, and Lebanon into yet another back-stepping province of the Sharia-chained caliphate. I could quote from the Times story about Tuesday’s clashes, but what’s the point? War in Lebanon isn’t the crapshoot of Biblical prophesy. It’s more cosmically certain, like a comet’s scheduled visit. You could see this one in the sky even in broad daylight, if only the smoke wasn’t blocking the view.

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State of the Union
The 28 Percent Presidency

I'm writing this about two and a half hours before the State of the Union time (although it'll probably be posted an hour after the address). No sense waiting to note the obvious. There’s nothing the president can say at this point that can or will make a difference. Word has it he’ll propose some sort of national plan of conservation, some kind of Jimmy Carter-like 20 percent reduction in consumption of gasoline—over the next ten years. Not, mind you, by cutting consumption so much as shifting it to ethanol fuels and raising fuel efficiency standards, those standards that would, in face, make a huge difference, but that he refused raising for six years with the same kind of pledge he applied to higher taxes. No new fuel efficiencies! (Bill Clinton was at fault too, although only because the Republican congress he contended with would have refused to raise the standards if he’d proposed it). The last time fuel efficiency budged was during the first Bush administration. Still: a 20 percent reduction in consumption compared to when? Compared to today’s standards? Knowing the way this administration does math, the reduction will be based on an imaginary number—a reduction from what consumption will be projected to be 10 years from now, rather than from what it is now. Only 5 percent of the reduction would come from an increase in efficiency anyway; the rest would come from switching to alternative fuels: always keep the energy producers happy, the consumers consuming. Then there are the gimmicks: the White House, says the Post, “also said Bush's energy plan includes "stepping up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways" and doubling the size of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels by 2027. The doubling of the reserve's capacity would be enough to provide 97 days of supplies in the event of disruption of foreign oil imports.” But the Strategic Oil Reserve is the biggest gimmick of them all, a fine-sounding security blanket to the average American, but a useless absorption of fuel for a three-month supply that,. Should it ever be needed, would presume catastrophic events far beyond anything that a strategic oil reserve could possibly mitigate. Two things these State of the Union fooleries shouldn’t detract from: Bush’s approval rating, according to the latest CBS-New York Times poll, is down to 28 percent, just two points above the low point the Carter administration reached at the depth of the hostage crisis in 1979, when inflation and unemployment were also in double digit. Inflation is in check, unemployment is technically near historic lows, and the economy is technically expanding. By any measure, the Bush presidency is now the most disastrous, as far as public approval is concerned, since Herbert Hoover. That includes Carter. That includes Nixon. The only good surprise Bush could give us in his State of the Union address is his resignation. Anything short of that is window dressing on the way to keeping the country on course for more punishment at the Bush junta’s poisoned hands.

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What's the Real Difference?
Islam and the West

The Islamic scholar Gudrun Krämer discusses tolerance and freedom of religion among Muslims, the role of the Crusades and colonialism in today's conflicts, and the mistakes made by Western critics. From Der Spiegel: “Something is rotten in the relationship between the Islamic and Western worlds; there is a diffuse but pungent odor of fear and mistrust. The unease has primarily to do with the issue of violence: violence that permeates the past and the present, violence in all its glory - honor killings, suicide attacks, the Crusades, colonialism, the Taliban, Abu Ghraib, sharia, headscarves, youths rioting in France, jihad, Israel, insulting the Prophet, and freedom of speech. What a tangle! Europe, the West and Christendom have all but become synonymous, as have the Middle East, the Islamic world and Islam itself. Theory and practice, unalloyed doctrine and tainted practice are all blithely muddled together. Political conflicts assume the mantle of cultural clashes and vice versa. As so often, perceptions weigh at least as heavily as facts. However, in this case the bare facts are daunting enough. Once upon a time, a clear distinction between "Islam" and "the West," may have been possible. But no longer. The boundaries are blurring: Millions of Muslim men and women live in the West and many are citizens of Western nations. They are therefore now inextricably part of the West. Conversely, the West has left its mark on the Islamic world; through its politicians and generals, but also through its materialism, technologies, communication tools and organizational paradigms, things with which only hermits can completely avoid contact. The resulting conflicts are very real. Yet, given the current European propensity for viewing reason as a Christian legacy and themselves as sole heirs to the Enlightenment, it ill befits Europe's residents to cast reason aside whenever their relationship with Islam and Muslims is at issue. Read the full piece...

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One Demon After Another
Rupert Murdoch Bids for Tribune Co.

The Tribune Company owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Sun-Sentinel and six other newspapers, 23 television stations, the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and other not necessaily related interests. It's not a fun company to work for. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Thomson was the company that best approximated the gulag. This decade, it's the Tribune Company. It fired the publisher in Los Angeles for his refusal to slash jobs, then fired the executive editor for pretty much the same reason (the more official, corporate flacking was that the men had aired the company's dirty laundry in public by saying, in one speech or another, that editors should not always be slaves to the bottom line.) Rupert Murdoch of course is the media giant and pimp to such whorish parodies of journalism as Fox News; he's been to journalism what Godzilla might have been to Tinkerbell, had the two dated (the tinkerbell analogy, given American journalism's current state, is doubly appropriate). The Tribune Company is a ready-made graveyard for his trampling. Now we learn this from the Financial Times:

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has joined the Chandler family in its bid for Tribune Company, with an eye to taking a stake in New York’s Newsday newspaper. [... ] A person familiar with the situation said Mr Murdoch wanted to combine back office and operational functions at Newsday with those of the New York Post, the News Corp tabloid that has made big circulation gains in recent years but continues to rack up losses. Mr Murdoch would likely take a minority stake in a consortium owning the Tribune’s newspapers, rather than attempting to buy outright control of Newsday, the person added. Given News Corp’s television and newspapers interests in the New York market, the company would be constrained my media ownership rules.

Poor Newsday. From one ghastly owner to another. Why bother with two newspapers? Combine them into the Post and be done with it. That, of course, is Rupert's ultimate aim. Reduce Newsday to a zoned section for the outlying burbs.

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A Paul Robeson Moment
“All Men Are Brothers Because of Their Music”
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Jacques Brel, Ever Alive and Well
“Le Plat Pays”

Brel’s “Le Plat Pays” is one of the most beautiful French songs, and poems, I know (on most days, excluding every other Sunday in Lent and most Mondays of Ramadan, give me Brel over Mallarmé any day). It wasn’t always so: as a young boy Brel was a favorite of my late father Fouad and my brother Robert. I couldn’t stand him. It was I think in the winter of 1978, as a boarding student in England, when I grasped on to anything French as an anchor back to the familiar and Mediterranean—to offset the cruel and usually gray punishment of English boarding school life—that Robert converted me, beginning with, of course, “Amsterdam” (Brel’s lyrical whoremongering was bound to be appealing to my raging fourteen-year-old hormones). I didn’t find the song’s lyrics in English and I didn’t have the heart to translate it shoddily. But I did find a video of Brel singing the song in Wallon, with the words in English sub-titling a montage of mildly cheesy Belgian scenes. It's below the poem's French original. The song is enough to transport you: Le Plat Pays is an ode to Belgium —not quite an ode-worthy country; Belgium is the Florida of Europe. But in Brel’s words and music, it might as well be the garden of Eden. Listen to the song here, and sing along:

Avec la mer du Nord pour dernier terrain vague
Et des vagues de dunes pour arrêter les vagues
Et de vagues rochers que les marées dépassent
Et qui ont à jamais le cœur à marée basse
Avec infiniment de brumes à venir
Avec le vent de l'est écoutez-le tenir
Le plat pays qui est le mien

Avec des cathédrales pour uniques montagnes
Et de noirs clochers comme mâts de cocagne
Où des diables en pierre décrochent les nuages
Avec le fil des jours pour unique voyage
Et des chemins de pluie pour unique bonsoir
Avec le vent d'ouest écoutez-le vouloir
Le plat pays qui est le mien

Avec un ciel si bas qu'un canal s'est perdu
Avec un ciel si bas qu'il fait l'humilité
Avec un ciel si gris qu'un canal s'est pendu
Avec un ciel si gris qu'il faut lui pardonner
Avec le vent du nord qui vient s'écarteler
Avec le vent du nord écoutez-le craquer
Le plat pays qui est le mien

Avec de l'Italie qui descendrait l'Escaut
Avec Frida la Blonde quand elle devient Margot
Quand les fils de novembre nous reviennent en mai
Quand la plaine est fumante et tremble sous juillet
Quand le vent est au rire quand le vent est au blé
Quand le vent est au sud écoutez-le chanter
Le plat pays qui est le mien.



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