Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Failed liberations: Iraqis, garden gnomes

In the Tuesday NYT, Paul Krugman (who gave a great talk broadcast on CSPAN, I believe viewable online at booknotes.org) writes about the wilful ignorance of Bush and America in general about the views of others, the column brought on by 1) Bush’s failure to understand moderate Muslims’ distrust of the US (I made the same point yesterday by mocking Bush’s hyper-simplified analysis of Iraqi militants as hating freedom and loving terror), 2) the hate mail he got when he tried to explain, not excuse, the Malaysian PM’s anti-semitic remarks. Trying to understand, rather than issuing anathemas, is taken to be moral weakness. There was a mini-series about Hitler a few months ago, which originally was supposed to have been about his early years and based on the very good Ian Kershaw biography. By the time it reached tv, his childhood was reduced to about 2 minutes (presumably because showing his father beating him up would have been taken as sympathy for Hitler), the title was changed to something like Hitler: Rise of Evil, in case you mistook CBS’s moral stance, Kershaw had demanded his name be removed, and Hitler was played as a ranting lunatic, with no attempt in 4 hours to get into his head at all, much less explain how a nation could respond to him. 58 years later and CBS was scared it would be perceived as soft on Hitler. It was a film that filled Americans’ deep need NOT to understand.

For another example of wilful misunderstanding, there’s been a lot of condemnation in the last 2 days of the bombing in Iraq of the International Committee of the Red Cross, but I have yet to hear a suggestion that there’s a reason beyond sheer assholery: a big red symbol of Christ’s death and alleged resurrection didn’t carry that much weight in fucking Iraq.

I mean, in the same newspapers there are stories about the shitstorm in Italy where a judge ordered crucifixes removed from public schoolrooms (following one of Mussolini’s laws), after objections from a Muslim student. In case anyone needed a reminder that not everyone is a Christian. (Yes, I know that the ICRC claims the cross isn’t Christian but Swiss, but c’mon.)

Iain Duncan Smith is facing what we Kallyfohrnians call a recall as Tory party leader, under rules that also made recall way too easy (15% of Tory MPs could secretly demand it). Simon Hoggart of the Guardian: “This looks likely to be the fourth leadership election in eight years. The Tories seem to work their way through leaders like other people get new cars, except that a new car will get you somewhere. ... Heaven knows what the Tories would do if they ever found a leader they liked. They'd have nothing to do to fill the empty hours.” He might retain his job, simply because no one else really wants it--no one thinks the Tories will win the next election, so the next Tory leader will lose the election and be knifed in the back in his turn--but IDS is mortally wounded and can’t survive until the next election (probably in 2005).

And nearly 6 months after the flight carrier thing, Bush claims that the “Mission accomplished” banner did not refer to the war, but to that carrier’s mission, and that it was the work of the crew, not his PR people at all. Actually, it turns out to have been made by a private vendor, and no one is saying who paid for it. Also, Bush used the words “mission accomplished” in speeches, so blaming the carrier crew is especially weaselly.

Trent Lott on how to deal with Iraq: “If we have to, we just mow the whole place down, see what happens. You’re dealing with insane suicide bombers who are killing our people, and we need to be very aggressive in taking them out.”

From the Daily Telegraph:
More than 40 gnomes stolen and liberated by a shadowy French underground movement were yesterday condemned to life in a "dusty cupboard" by a police chief hunting the thieves.

Earlier this year priests arriving at the cathedral in Saint-Die in the Vosges found 84 stolen garden gnomes lined up on the steps as if waiting for Mass.

Flapping above them was a banner, which read "Free at last!" But after months of investigation, the police have given up trying to find the culprits.

An open day was held on Monday for those wanting to claim the gnomes. Fewer than half were collected.

"The liberators have failed," said Michel Klein, the local police chief. "The gnomes are now going to spend the rest of their lives locked up in dusty cupboard."

Despite M Klein's remarks, the closing of the Saint-Die gnome theft case marks another victory for France's gnome liberators. Since 1997, they have freed some 6,500 gnomes around France, stealing them from private gardens and leaving them in forests, beside lakes, or in one case encircling a roundabout.

In the strangest case, 11 gnomes were found hanging from a bridge in Briey accompanied by a suicide note saying: "When you read these few words, we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decoration."

Suspicion in the Saint-Die case naturally fell on the Front de Liberation des Nains de Jardin (Garden Gnome Liberation Front), whose leaders were arrested in 1997 and given suspended prison sentences.

Whereas in Britain thieves steal garden gnomes to resell them there is no suspicion that the FLNJ is out for money. Instead, they repaint the gnomes in green, representing trees, and blue for the sky, and cover up their clownish red noses. The gnomes are then liberated in a ceremony involving techno music, fireworks and, police suspect, drugs.

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