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Candide’s Latest: Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Kazakhstan vs. Borat (and the Bush Factor)

How to make friends with despots and keep smiling

Kazakhstan, the Central Asian republic, is so offended by Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat and his new film (“ Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”) that the country invested $53 million to make “Nomad,” the most expensive film in Kazakh history (that’s about a quarter the amount of money Kazakhstan spends on its entire annual defense budget). It’s an attempt to make Kazakhstan look less backward and counter the Borat effect. Good luck. The country is four times the size of Texas and apparently four times as humorless. Not to worry: Kazakhstan’s laugh track may be arid and it may have nothing but contempt for democracy (its electoral system is a hybrid between Ohio’s and Florida’s), but that only makes it a perfect candidate—along with the likes of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and so on—for membership in the Friends of Bush Club. Especially since Kazakhstan has oil. To wit: “U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met the foreign minister of Kazakhstan on Monday to cement closer ties with the oil-rich former Soviet state which opposition groups say blocks democratic reforms,” Reuters reports. “The meeting laid the ground for a visit to Washington by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who will meet President George W. Bush on Friday and spend time with the president's father at their holiday home in Maine.” As always, all pipelines lead to Kennebunkport. “The United States has been only mildly critical of Kazakhstan's human rights record, not wanting to upset its government as Washington competes with Russia for influence in Central Asia, a key gas and oil producing region.” Here, by the way, is what Reporters Sans Frontieres tells us about Mr. Nazarbayev, whom the Bushes are about to entertain in rustic Maine, surely with a lobster dinner: “ The regime sharply increased pressure on the media in the run-up to the 4 December 2005 presidential election, filtering opposition Internet websites, obstructing printing and distribution of independent newspapers and seizing those considered too critical of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his associates. Journalists were often physically attacked, threatened and abused. Batyrkhan Darimbet, editor of the opposition weekly Azat, died in very suspicious circumstances and may have been killed because of his work.” On August 4, a French journalist was found murdered in his home in Kazakhstan ; he’d gone there to prepare an advertising feature for Foreign Affairs, the American journal. The editors and reporters of the Bangor Daily news have better be on their guard when Mr. Nazarbayev shows up. For that matter, Borat might have to watch his back. Half of Kazakhstan is Muslim, the other half Russian Orthodox. Either side’s fanatics are liable to levy a Rushdiesque fatwa Borat’s way.


Afghanistan’s regression:Safia Amajan promoted women's education and work - a fairly ordinary job in most places - but in the Afghanistan of a resurgent Taliban it was a dangerous path to follow. She was a target, and yesterday she was gunned down outside her home,” the UK Independent’s Kim Sengupta reports. “Five years after the "liberation" of Afghanistan by the US and Britain, with promises of a new dawn for its downtrodden women, her murder was a bloody reminder of just how far the country is slipping back into a land of darkness. Public figures, including the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, lined up to praise Ms Amajan.Yet this support was signally lacking while she lived.” See the full report… Meanwhile in Somalia, it’s al-Qaeda redux.

At least the liquid scare is over on airliners: It was a bogus scare all along. The British government has yet to show one shred of evidence that bombers were actually ready, or close to ready, or close to imagining being ready, to use actual liquids aboard airliners to blow them up. But the ban on shampoos and breath gurglers is over, as long as travelers buy the stuff from inside the airport terminal: Clever, how airport monopolies find all sorts of ways to assert themselves. So a terror scare turns into a business opportunity of the rankest order. Watch those vendors line up to have the privilege to sell the stuff, with the Department of Homeland Security Seal of Approval. Obviously, the announcement was made at “Reagan” National Airport (in honor of another fantasist president). “Though liquid explosives are "an ongoing part of the terrorist playbook and must be dealt with, we now know enough to say that a total ban is no longer needed from a security point of view," Edmund S. "Kip" Hawley, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, said at the news conference today,” the post reports. The blatant contradictions should be obvious. But then the entire war on terror has been a blatant contradiction—until you connect the business-opportunity dots. This is the latest.


Pakistan previews news of a coup deposing Musharraf: (At least this is what it would look like): “A countrywide power outage and reports of President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s unscheduled medical check-up in Texas sparked unusual rumours all over the country about a change of the guard in the capital on Sunday,” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reporter. “Newspaper offices were deluged with calls by concerned people who said they had heard on the grapevine that there had been a putsch in Islamabad following reports that the president had suffered a heart attack during his visit to the United States. Callers from Quetta said jubilant crowds poured on to the streets and fired into the air to celebrate the government’s removal.” Quetta, of course, is the central-western Pakistani town in Balochistan where the Taliban and Osama’s hangers on go to party and plan their coups. It barely belongs to Pakistan, except in name.

Lebanon’s Harriri assassination: a suicide bomber. A UN inquiry finds evidence, including one tooth, that Hariri was probably killed by a suicide bomber inside or just outside a truck bomb weighing 3,960 pounds.

“America must listen,” or so says Syria’s Bashar Assad in a Der Spiegel interview. Maybe so. But is Syria in any position to lecture? Yes, says Assad, “Because they contribute to hopelessness in our country, and to silencing the dialogue between cultures.” Again: Is Syria in any position to lecture on those scores? “And then there is the condescending language -- the expression "islamofascism," which President Bush used, is a prime example. The pope's recent comments are also part of it. Such statements complicate the situation and create this need for revenge.” Fair enough. But excuse us for the clarification: the only inaccuracy about Syria’s “Islamofascism” is the Islamo part: Syria is fascistically secular, but fascistic nonetheless.

In Other Worlds

How do you make a housing recession sound merely like a vacation from homebuying? Why, just let the realtors and developers do all the talking. That’s what American media, ever the accomplices of the business sector, always do. The country is obviously entering one hell of a housing slump following five years of unsustainable rises in the price of homes. Monday brought further bad news, a 1.7 percent year-over-year drop in the median price of all homes (from $229,000 to $225,000, still well above anything like a sustainable level). So how do the papers spin it? Well, it’s just a “correction.” It’ll level off soon, maybe in 2007 at the latest (a year ago the “:analysts” were all saying that prices would level off this year, but never go down.) Nationally, the price drop is the steepest in 13 years. But it’s to California that all eyes should turn: there, the price drop is the steepest since 1982. And where goes California, so goes the nation.

Mel Gibson gave America’s Religious Right the greatest sustained erection it’s had since the 2004 election, when its legions of bigots managed to ban gay marriage in thirteen states. But is Mel Gibson giving his right-wing friends apoplexy? Is Mel Gibson about to join hands with Cindy Sheehan? “"The precursors to a civilization that's going under are the same, time and time again," the actor-director said after a screening of an unfinished cut of "Apocalypto," his first directorial effort since "The Passion of the Christ." "What's human sacrifice if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?" he said at the festival, which is devoted to new science fiction, horror and fantasy films.”

Today’s literary dish: On Julian Barnes.

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