Interesting and unusual article in today’s WSJ by Dan Rather on his recent face-to-face encounter with Saddam. Interesting because Western reporters rarely get so close to the Butcher of Baghdad. Unusual because its theme is Saddam’s focus on one thing alone, his survival. No, that’s not unusual. But the fact that Rather doesn’t bring up this obvious question is: If Saddam is so hellbent on his own survival, why is he dragging himself and his country into a situation that literally guarantees his downfall? It does not compute.
February 28, 2003
My life in Beijing is improving with the weather. And to my utter dismay, after seven treatments at the local hospital my arm actually seems to be recovering after four months of misery. There are some people I miss so badly I can cry, but I at least feel that I can make it through the next six months alive. There were moments when I truly wondered.
Michael Kinsley has a way of getting to the heart of the matter that I truly envy, of taking an impossibly complex subject and translating it into bite-sized pieces that even the feebleminded like me can readily grasp:
Like generals, anti-war protesters are always fighting the last war. Or in this case, depending on how you count, the war-before-last. The methods, the style, the arguments, the very language of objecting to war are still stuck in Vietnam. That’s why the protests of the past couple of weeks have seemed so lame and retro. The Vietnam debate was primarily a moral one. Although the cost of victory became an important factor as the years went on, it was not the main factor turning people against that war. Americans ultimately decided it was a victory we shouldn’t even want. In the case of Iraq, by contrast, few people think the goal of overturning Saddam Hussein is immoral. If we knew for sure it would be as easy and cheap as the administration hopes, few folks would object.
This type of highly ironic “fooled-you” article seems to be much in vogue at the moment. The formula is simple: quote a famous politician saying absolutely shocking things about a hot topic (like Iraq), tell how horrified and indignant his political arch-enemy is at what he’s saying, then hammer the reader with the truth — that the shocking things were actually said by the arch-enemy in regard to a similar topic in the past. In this case, it makes Tom DeLay look like a total fool and a hypocrite (not that that’s so hard to do).
Is this a legitimate form of journalism? It works, but if you don’t read down to the end of the article you could end up with a serious misimpression….
February 27, 2003
It’s off to war we go….
Slate’s Saddamometer says the chance of war is now 100 percent. So I guess any discussion between me and Hong Kong’s best-known Gweilo would be irrelevant. There’s something odd about this whole thing — I sense (as best as I can sense anything about the the US from here) a real unsureness, an attitude among the slim majority that we should do it but we kind of wonder about it. There were no such doubts when we ousted the Taliban, the mission was clear. Everyone was in line behind it (aside from Village Voice readers). This time, the reputation of the country is at stake in a way I’ve never seen before in my lifetime. The risks are incredible. If I believed in god, I would be praying.
Okay, I won’t go on about Iraq; there’s plenty of viewpoints on the subject out there. In just a matter of hours — maybe even before I push the Post key — most of that debate will be irrelevant. Let the cards fall where they may.
February 25, 2003
Is it just me, or is this the most confusing debate ever?
Read Andrew Sullivan and you’d believe anyone opposed to war with Iraq is either an idiot or a Frenchman. Read Nicholas Kristof and you’d believe the whole thing is a canard, the product of alarmist hysteria.
While I hate seeing idiotic peace marchers claiming that Bush is the “barbarian” and not Saddam, I have to question the logic and the necessity of invasion. Kristof’s words today are thought-provoking indeed:
In the 1950s and 1960s, the hawks magnified the threat from Vietnam and Cuba. In the 1980s they obsessed about Nicaragua (only a one-week bus ride from Texas!). None of these threats were imagined, but they were exaggerated.
Now the focus is on Saddam, and it’s true that he has been brutal and threatening for 25 years — particularly in the 1980s when Don Rumsfeld was cozying up to him in Baghdad and the U.S. was shipping him seven strains of anthrax. The last 10 years have been the best behaved of Saddam’s career (not saying much), and he is now 65, controlling an army only one-third its peak strength, and in the twilight of his menace.
Alas, what to think, what to believe! Bouncing from one blog to another, I get even more confused. What is The Truth? How can such smart people come to such vastly different conclusions? It’s so confusing, I’m ready to SCREAM.
February 24, 2003
I know, this story is so old it is carbon-dated, but I just came across it while surfing Dan Gillmor’s great weblog and I can’t just let it go. Can a company truly be as evil as this? Can it actually send its own employees to their deaths? No, it can’t be true…. But it is.
I was wrong, it’s not China’s Interent that’s been so slow lately, just my apartment building’s Internet. I’m in the office now and there’s no problem. (Well, there’s one problem: I’m not supposed to be doing this in the office.)
Where’s the Outrage? Our Office of Homeland Security is Pure Farce
Maureen Dowd, who has become such a bratty, gossipy bitch that I often skip her columns, made some really sharp observations yesterday about the idiocies of our Office of Homeland Security. Being part of the marketing/pr industry, I found her insights especially biting. E.g.:
Last week, the head of Homeland Insecurity unveiled the big strategy he’s been working on for nearly a year: a $1.2 million “ready campaign,” a p.r. concoction complete with a “D’oh!” Web site. There are TV ads starring cute New York City firemen telling people to store water and get flashlights, and close-ups of Mr. Ridge spouting simple-minded axioms like “Have a good communications plan for your family.”
The new campaign was developed with the help of focus groups convened by the Advertising Council.
George Bush has always mocked Washington’s dependence on focus groups. Only last week, he derided mass European protests against the war, saying listening to the marchers would be like relying on focus groups to set foreign policy. (Millions of people marching in the streets of world capitals is not a sampling of opinion; it is opinion.)
February 23, 2003
If you want to be a pundit, China is not the place to be. No, I’m not talking about the government. It’s just that the Internet is often so frikking slow here, you can grow old waiting to link from one site to another. It always seems worse on Sunday, when my “broadband” seems to take its own day of rest, leaving me SOL. Bloggers need access to lots of news and opinion to comment on. With nearly every major e-newspaper blocked and broadband that’s slower than the 9k dial-up modem I used back in the early 90s, there’s little I can do today but stew. I’ll be back once the pipes have been re-opened.