Thursday, November 30, 2006

Comfortable in his own mind

On the trip back from Jordan, Stephen Hadley admitted to reporters that the leaked memo was his, but said it didn’t affect the summit, and Maliki, “a really class act,” didn’t knee him in the groin even once.

He said Bush would react to the Baker Commission report (by the way, Bush this morning referred to the Iraq Study Group as, I’m paraphrasing slightly, a bunch of guys outside of government; he no longer ever says the name James Baker out loud, just as he avoided using Kerry’s name during the election campaign) in weeks rather than months. “It’s really going to be when the President is comfortable in his own mind”. That is an example of a straight line so pure and perfect, the Platonic ideal of a straight line, if you would, that it would be unnecessary, redundant and even a little cheap to respond to it.

Prodded to provide a little “color” about the summit, Hadley admitted that the table was rectangular, but, consummate diplomat that he is, evaded the questions, “Were there peanuts?” and “Did you have Coke, or what did you do?”

Speaking of having coke, a guy in Florida smoked some crack and decided to go skinny dipping. An alligator tried to eat him. There’s probably some sort of lesson in there somewhere.

So this 17-year-old high school student is given one of those dolls that teaches you what a pain in the ass babies are the responsibilities of parenthood. A few minutes later she’s driving along on the I-580, and the thing suddenly starts crying. She’s startled, bounces off the guard rail and hits a pickup truck. “When officers arrived, she was still caring for the baby,” according to a CHP officer, but didn’t have a driver’s license. There’s probably some sort of lesson in there somewhere.

The pope, visiting Turkey, attempted to make amends for saying bad things about Islam by visiting a mosque. He promptly burst into flames. There’s probably some sort of lesson in there somewhere.

Bush meets Maliki: This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all

Mikhail Gorbachev is in hospital with a blocked artery in his neck. He was crushed to learn that he was no longer important enough for Putin to have assassinated.

By the way, just how much of London did Putin have irradiated to kill one guy?

Read Andrew Cohen’s op-ed piece in the WaPo on the Guantanamo kangaroo courts.

Bush and Maliki finally met in Amman. Stephen Hadley was also present. That must have been awkward. But none of that awkwardness was displayed in Maliki’s expression or body language.

Bush & Maliki  11.30.06    1
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Bush and Maliki had a press conference.

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After the mysterious leaking of the Hadley memo, Bush went out of his way to praise Maliki as “the right guy for Iraq” and “a strong leader.” Really? In what way is he strong? Or a leader?

Actually, a reporter asked him that (and with Maliki standing right there): “what gives you such confidence today to think that he can achieve what he hasn’t done over the last six months?” Bush said, “The first thing that gives me confidence is that he wants responsibility. A sign of leadership is for somebody to say, I want to be able to have the tools necessary to protect my people. One of his frustrations with me is that he believes we’ve been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people.” In other words, he’s actually a weak leader, who needs to be “given” tools. Or, in the word de jour, “accelerating” his capacity. Indeed, “As opposed to saying, America, you go solve the problem, we have a Prime Minister who’s saying, stop holding me back, I want to solve the problem.”

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I won’t have much to say about Maliki’s remarks, which appear in the transcript as badly-translated bluster: “So everybody who is trying to make Iraq their own influences appear on the account of the Iraqi people needs to recalculate for it will not happen.” One can only hope Bush and Maliki’s translators did a better job. On the other hand, badly-translated bluster may be the only language Bush speaks fluently.

Bush: “I know there’s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there’s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq... this business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all.” Is there anyone who actually expects a graceful exit from Iraq? Marines performing grandes pliés while holding on to the runners of helicopters taking off from the embassy roof, perhaps?

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Asked about a time limit on meeting his goals, Bush helpfully said, “As soon as possible. But I’m realistic, because I understand how tough it is inside of Iraq.” Which is why 500 miles away in Jordan is as close as he’s gonna get. “No question it’s a violent society right now. He knows that better than anybody. He was explaining to me that occasionally the house in which he lives gets shelled by terrorists who are trying to frighten him.”

All time tables do, he said, “is set people up for unrealistic expectations.” And if there’s one thing Bush never sets people up for, it’s unrealistic expectations.

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Finally, Bush demonstrated his sophisticated understanding of the Middle East: “Well, first of all, there’s no question that if we were able to settle the Palestinian-Israeli issue, it would help bring more peace to the Middle East.” “I believe it’s in the Palestinian people’s interest that they have their own state.” He even has advice for Condi to bring to Olmert and Abbas: “My advice is, support reasonable people and reject extremists.”

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I always thought Bill Frist’s centeredness was fueled by the still-dripping heart of a kitten

Bill Frist will not be running for president. According to his statement, “We will seek the best opportunity to serve mankind.” OH MY GOD! IT’S A COOKBOOK!! A COOKBOOK!!!

Every recipe in which begins “First catch your kitten...”

He says he will “stay actively involved in formulating innovative solutions to the seemingly insurmountable problems that face Americans every day,” such as “the threat of radical Islam.” I’m looking forward to hearing his innovative solution to the threat of radical Islam, aren’t you?

He says, “I, of course, will immediately resume my regular medical mission trips as a doctor around the world to serve those in poverty, in famine, and in civil war. That is where my centeredness is fueled.” Say, I can think of a civil war I’d like to send him to. Just to fuel his centeredness, of course...

Also, why does he need to take trips around the world? Can’t he just diagnose them on video?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Hadley memo

The NYT prints all of Stephen Hadley’s Nov. 8 secret memo on the conclusions he formed on his trip to Iraq. Maliki, who has been known to call Bush up in a panic asking to be reassured that the US still backs him, will be reading this right before what I’m guessing will be a rather awkward meeting with Bush.

The big surprise is that the memo blames everything on George Bush. Wasn’t it brave of Hadley to write this about his boss?: “The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of... advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality. His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans... [b]ut the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests [he] is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.” OK, I probably didn’t fool any of you, that was about Maliki not Bush, but I think I made my point.

The “Steps Maliki Could Take” section includes:

The Clintonesque: “Announce an overhaul of his own personal staff so that ‘it reflects the face of Iraq.’”

The humorous: “Demand that all government workers... publicly renounce all violence for the pursuit of political goals as a condition for keeping their positions.” Because they might associate with militias and death squads, but they wouldn’t, you know, lie.

The fantastical: “appoint... nonsectarian, capable technocrats in key service (and security) ministries.” For fifty years, US officials have said that what Latin American, African, Asian, etc countries need is to be run by technocrats, near-mythical beings whose only goal in life is to make the railroads/sewers/banking systems etc run properly. I’m not saying there are no technocrats, I’m saying there are maybe 6 in Iraq.

Stay the course: “Declare that Iraq will support the renewal of the UN mandate for multinational forces”.

Tear everything down and start over: “Declare the immediate suspension of suspect Iraqi police units and a robust program of embedding coalition forces into MOI [Ministry of the Interior] units while the MOI is revetted and retrained.”

The “What We Can Do To Help Maliki” section mostly involves building up his image: “let Maliki take more credit for positive developments” (notice who is “letting” who take credit). But just when you’re thinking that this is the most realistic statement about Iraq you’ve seen from within the Bush administration, it suggests that the US can “help him form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors.” Total fantasy. Even if there were a sizeable constituency for such a party, how on earth could we create it (oh, wait, it says later on that “We would likely need to use our own political capital to press moderates to align themselves with Maliki’s new political bloc”; see, I knew there was a reasonable answer, we’d just use our political capi–- wait, our what now?) (also, money, and lots of it), and how would it grow and become strong enough to serve as the basis for a legitimate government without the existing parties, parliament and cabinet noticing, and doing something violent about it? It says that such a realignment could take place without an election (the next one isn’t scheduled until 2009), but it would require getting Sistani’s permission.

All of this would require Maliki to be much bolder (or you could say more foolhardy and quixotic) than he has appeared to be to date. My first impression of Maliki was that he was a blowhard, and I’ve seen nothing since then to alter that impression.

(Update: as I was writing, news came that the Maliki-Bush talks were postponed until tomorrow. Something’s up.)
(Updatier: Dan Bartlett explains: “I just said that [Maliki] had a meeting -- he had a bilateral earlier today with the King [of Jordan]; they had a very good conversation, and afterwards they felt, well, since we had good conversations, we addressed issues, there was not an agenda for the three for a trilateral that they felt was necessary.”)

Caption contest, Latvian style

Pictures from the NATO summit in Riga, for your captioning pleasure. The women are respectively Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga (try saying that five times fast), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and an unidentified scary black chick.

Wherein I must allude to disemboweling, and not the fun kind of disemboweling

So I’m reading down the table of contents page for Wednesday’s Independent, and there’s this lovely headline from Afghanistan: “Disembowelled, Then Torn Apart: The Price of Daring to Teach Girls.” In one of those speeches in the Baltics yesterday, Bush bragged that there are now 2 million girls being taught in Afghanistan, whereas under the Taliban there were 0. I’m pretty sure he didn’t say anything about the whole disemboweling thing. (If you read the article you may notice a similarity between the description of what the Taliban did to one of the four teachers they killed in Ghazni and what the French did to Robert Damiens in 1757 for the attempted regicide of Louis XV) (only with motorbikes instead of horses).

Anyway, on the Indy’s contents page, that story is followed by a palate-cleanser, “Bollywood Breathes Sigh of Relief as Idol Is Cleared of Bombing,” and then it’s on to “Five Young Girls Killed in US Attack on Iraqi Insurgents.” Let’s stop presenting our military adventures as acts of feminist liberation, is all I’m saying.

The Guardian also has a long article on the position of women in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Following Bush on his expedentions abroad

Like Stephen Hadley, Bush today referred to Iraq as being in a “phase” rather than a civil war. A phase of what, he didn’t say. Phase of the moon, phasers on stun, whatever. He’s putting a lot of emphasis on who started the “phase” (“There’s a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented, in my opinion, because of these attacks by al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal”), which wouldn’t be particularly relevant to stopping it even if he were right. He says, “You know, the plans of Mr. Zarqawi was to foment sectarian violence. That’s what he said he wanted to do.” “[W]e’ve been in this phase for a while,” since the Samarra bombing (everything was going perfectly in Iraq until February), which was intended by Al Qaida “to create sectarian violence, and it has. The recent bombings were to perpetuate the sectarian violence.” That’s funny, because I thought all those things actually were sectarian violence. He seems to think that violence and civil war is an end in itself to the bad guys, forgetting that some people actually prefer to finish wars.

Bush grudgingly admits that he can’t really object to Iraqi leaders talking to Iranians: “Iraq is a sovereign nation which is conducting its own foreign policy. They’re having talks with their neighbors. And if that’s what they think they ought to do, that’s fine. I hope their talks yield results. One result that Iraq would like to see is for the Iranians to leave them alone.”

He praises Estonia for being a COW (Coalition of the Willing) country: “And the interesting contribution that a country like Estonia is making is that, people shouldn’t have to live under tyranny. We just did that; we don’t like it.”

Asked about the Russian attempts to subjugate Georgia, Bush is clearly bored with the whole subject, unwilling to criticize Putin, and may possibly have forgotten a few words into his answer which conflict he’d been asked about: “Precisely what we ought to do is help resolve the conflict and use our diplomats to convince people there is a better way forward than through violence. We haven’t seen violence yet. The idea is to head it off in the first place.”

In Latvia, he said that “Europe no longer produces armed ideologies that threaten other nations with aggression and conquest and occupation,” while lauding NATO’s armed occupation of Afghanistan in the name of freedom and the transformation of NATO into an “expedentiary” alliance, and he demanded that members increase their military budgets so they can participate in these, um, expedentions I guess.


Bananas redux

I seem to be unable to leave the idea of the humor inherent in the word banana alone today, so here is a column from the October 29 1997 London Times, by Matthew Parris:

Blair’s eloquence slips on a banana skin

Yesterday Tony Blair said “banana” in the Commons.

It sounded odd from this Prime Minister: somehow beneath his dignity. The leader’s Brighton speech had been a triumph. “Vision ... passion ... the British soul ... beacon to the world ...” had echoed round the hall. “Fear lost. Hope won. The giving age began!” he had cried. “Britain! A young country!”

Now here he was, looking tired, minus yet more tufts of hair, and saying “banana”. Not the giving banana, the young banana or the beacon banana. Just banana.

The occasion was a statement to the Commons on the conclusion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Mr Blair began gurgling away in grand style: “Delighted to welcome Commonwealth Heads ... my thanks to the people of Scotland...” he gushed.

“Warmth of Her Majesty’s reception ... Economic Declaration on ‘Promoting Shared Prosperity’ ... Harare Declaration of 1991", the Prime Minister rumbled, as the capital letters rolled. “Arrangements for African, Caribbean and Pacific ...”

But oops! What was this? We sensed a tiny frisson of alarm ruffle Mr Blair’s composure as his eye caught the next word. He almost gulped. “... banana exporters.” He said “banana” very quickly and rather quietly, anxious to move on. Mr Blair soon recovered his dignity and his capital letters. “Code of Good Practice ... South Asia Regional Fund ... every Highly Indebted Poor Country ...” But once you have heard a person say “banana”, a sliver of the awe in which you had held them is lost, never to be recovered. Something similar happened when John Gummer said “porpoise” at the dispatch box, twice, in 1993.

And there was more to come. Perhaps in some schoolboy pact to make Blair say “banana” as much as possible, Tory backbenchers kept asking him about the Caribbean. John Wilkinson (C, Ruislip Northwood) demanded to know how the Prime Minister would “safeguard the banana regime”. Blair refused to say “banana regime” but could not avoid saying “banana” once again in his reply.

Bowen Wells (C, Hertford and Stortford) leapt up. Did he understand the importance of this fruit to Commonwealth nations? “Economies,” said Blair, pained, “that are completely dependent on, er, one particular, er, form of produce ...”

A new phase characterized by this increasing sectarian violence that requires us obviously to adapt to that new phase

Today Bush signed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which somehow I hadn’t heard of before, which classifies as terrorism, and increases the penalties for, any acts against “animal enterprises” (i.e., companies that use or sell animals) which reduce their profits, including non-violent acts such as blockades, trespassing, freeing animals, “threats,” etc. Terrorism.

Actually, acts of animal terrorism are committed twice daily in my home when I give my cat her pills, although she and I might have differing ideas about which of us is committing the terrorist acts.

The White House website also informs us that Thursday is “National Methamphetamine Awareness Day.” So don’t forget to be aware of meth on Thursday. The proclamation informs us that “Chronic use can lead to violent behavior, paranoia, and an inability to cope with the ordinary demands of life”... oh, you’re all way ahead of me, aren’t you?

NBC has decided to use the term “civil war” to describe the situation in Iraq. Did they even consider my compromise alternative, “crapfest”?

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley disagrees, but does say that “We’re clearly in a new phase characterized by this increasing sectarian violence that requires us obviously to adapt to that new phase”. Not very Ken Burns-y, is it? Cue plaintive violin music: “My dearest Martha: this new phase characterized by this increasing sectarian violence that requires us obviously to adapt to that new phrase drags on, and I grow weary...”

Hadley continued, “Obviously, everyone would agree things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough.” You’ll notice the word “enough” assumes that things are in fact proceeding in the right direction and at a measurable pace.

He also said that while “there’s been a lot of discussion within the American press about the need to adapt our strategy, a lot of discussion about Baker-Hamilton, a lot of discussion on talk shows... it’s important, I think, for the President to send the message to Prime Minister Maliki that while he is listening to all of these voices for ideas, is open to ideas, that in the end of the day to reassure Prime Minister Maliki that it is the President who will be crafting the way forward on Iraq”. Yes, George W. Bush crafting the way forward, how... reassuring.

At that briefing, Tony Insert-Snow-Related-Pun-Here denied that there was a civil war in Iraq because it was not, he said, a battle for territory. “What you do have is sectarian violence that seems to be less aimed at gaining full control over an area than expressing differences”. Expressing differences. Like a letter to the editor, but slightly more horrific.

Robin Wright and Thomas Ricks of the WaPo say, without sourcing or further explanation, that Cheney was in fact “basically summoned” by Saudi Arabia.

Bush, meanwhile, was in Estonia today, meeting with Estonian President Herman Munster.

Everyone assumes that Alexander Litvinenko received the fatal dosage of radiation poisoning in that London sushi restaurant from an agent of Putin, but has anyone asked whether he ordered the Godzilla sushi?

In Ecuadoran presidential elections, Rafael Correa defeats “pro-American banana tycoon” Alvaro Noboa. I don’t have any analysis of that, I just wanted to be able to say “pro-American banana tycoon.”

“Banana magnate” is also funny.

“Banana baron.”

Really, anything in the whole banana area is amusing.

Banana banana banana.

Just saying.

Monday, November 27, 2006

They want to drag you all into angry reactions

Maliki went on Iraqi tv again, to issue a joint statement with Talabani and the speaker of parliament declaring that the civil war is the result of lack of unity. No shit. “The terrorist acts,” they say, “are a reflection of the lack of political consensus.” Again I say: no shit. “Do not let those who are depriving you of security impinge on your unity. They want to drag you all into angry reactions.” Well, Iraqis are displaying a certain unity in that they’re all reacting angrily.

For example, the Iraqis who stoned Maliki’s motorcade when he ventured into Sadr City yesterday to visit the families of victims of Thursday’s violence. Shiite victims, of course; he wouldn’t have dared visit Sunnis.

Er, isn’t the “thumbs up” sign considered obscene in Iraq?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

We’ve requested the Americans not to do it again

The London Sunday Times (no one else seems to have this story) says that the bombing of that Pakistani madrassa last month, killing 82, was actually carried out by American warplanes, but according to its source, described by the paper as a key aide to Gen. Musharraf, “there was a lot of collateral damage and we’ve requested the Americans not to do it again.” So that’s okay then.

New York police shot up some people leaving a bachelor party at a strip club, killing the groom. They say they were acting to “prevent an incident.” I don’t know, shooting 54 bullets at a car full of people seems to me rather like an “incident.” As always with one of these incidents, nearly as horrifying as the number of rounds let off is the number which missed. It sounds like the cops hit the target – a car which was no longer moving – only 21 times, while hitting a lot of other cars and an apartment window.

Cheney’s visit to Saudi Arabia is now concluded, and no one will say what he actually discussed with the members of the royal family he met, although it is suggested that he asked them to rein in the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. It’s news to me that the House of Saud actually has that sort of influence, and possibly it was news to them as well (the Sindy refers to Riyadh’s “tribal connections” to the militias).

Cheney doesn’t do the hand-holding thing, you’ll notice.

In a WaPo article on the Iraq Study Group, Robin Wright quotes one of the “experts” as saying that James Baker “doesn’t tolerate fools.” Of course he doesn’t.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Breaking curfew

A mention of this on today’s Now Show reminds me that I forgot to relay the story that the manufacturers of “Welsh Dragon Sausage” are in trouble with the trading standards people because the name inadequately describes the product. As the Now Show put it, the dragons from which the sausage is made are not in fact Welsh.

Iraqi President Talabani says that an emergency security conference was a success. Hurrah! Evidently, “All parties agreed on the importance of working together and really participating in Nouri Maliki’s government of national unity.” Gosh, I’m sure everything will be fine now. I don’t know why no one thought of holding a pointless conference in order to mouth platitudes before now.

New White House spokesmodel Scott Stanzel says that this certainly isn’t a civil war (“We’re constantly asked that question, and while the situation is serious, Prime Minister Maliki and President Talabani have said they do not believe it is a civil war.”), but all this killing and shit is bad. “It is an outrage that these terrorists are targeting innocent civilians in a brazen effort to topple a democratically elected government.” You’re missing the point, Little Scotty II: no one needs to topple the “government” because it is irrelevant. Also, of course, the militias are associated with the parties and politicians who constitute the government – any day I’m expecting to read about a firefight between the Health Ministry and the Ministry of Education – with the difference that the militias can actually get things done, albeit evil things. The government can’t fill in potholes; the militias can, but, like those Welsh Dragon Sausages, you really don’t want to know what they’re filled with.

Sorry. I made that joke but even I was grossed out by it.

I’ve read several stories about Iraq today that begin like this one: “Defying a government curfew, Shiite militiamen stormed Sunni mosques in Baghdad and a nearby city on Friday, shooting guards and burning down buildings...” Etc, etc. Every one of these stories insists, for some reason, on mentioning along with all the other atrocities, the wanton disregard of the curfew. Does their wickedness and perfidy know no bounds? Did they also run any red lights on their way to pour kerosine on Sunnis and burn them alive?

There was an exception to the Baghdad curfew, according to the BBC: “The only vehicles allowed out were those carrying the coffins of Thursday’s bombing victims.” So, um...

Friday, November 24, 2006


My theory: Cheney was supposed to make a “surprise” Thanksgiving visit to Iraq, but cancelled when they started setting off car bombs every 15 minutes.

While the authorities in Britain are deciding how to perform an autopsy on Alexander Litvinenko without killing everyone in the room, Putin denounces the late Litvinenko’s statement blaming him for his murder, saying “It’s extremely regrettable that such a tragic event as death is being used for political provocation.” So maybe you shouldn’t have had him killed, huh Vlad?

Speaking of provocations, here are some more London Review of Books (LRB) personal ads:
Young, charming, thoughtful, attractive, sporty, zesty, intelligent. None of these are me, but if you’d like to spend an afternoon or more considering alternative adjectives to be applied to 53-year old cantankerous dipshit, write now to box no 2202

I wrote this ad to prove I’m not gay. Man, 29. Not gay. Absolutely not. Box no. 2205

They don’t call me naughty Lola. They call me Brian. Brian, 57. Box no. 23/07
Normally I wait until I have more than that, but I thought I’d mention, for those looking for Xmas presents, that there is now a book of LRB personals (which I just ordered, but haven’t seen), They Call Me Naughty Lola. (Mysteriously, that page thinks the book should be bought along with “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House.”) Or for free there’s always my own compilation page, currently experiencing a small surge of Google popularity following an article Monday in the NYT on the LRB personals phenomenon.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I’m very sorry, fake sincerity. Oh, I wasn’t supposed to say that part out loud?

Honestly I couldn’t give a shit about the Michael Richards incident, but I do wonder what is revealed about our society by this headline: “PR Expert to Help Richards Apologize.”

Or this one: “Iraq Logs 400 Casualties; Marines Enjoy Turkey.”

Speaking of turkeys, George Bush phoned ten members of the military to, I don’t know, tell them the story of Thanksgiving or something. I’m not sure who selected the ten lucky callees (2 from each service), if there was a whole team sifting through dossiers, or if a PR expert helped Bush apologize, but the White House did issue a picture of him making the calls.

One of my favorite actors, Philippe Noiret (Coup de Torchon, The Clockmaker of St. Paul, Life and Nothing But, Birgit Haas Must Be Killed, La Grande Bouffe, Cinema Paradiso, Zazie dans le Metro, etc etc), has died.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Breaking the horn of the big head

Just because he’s crazy doesn’t mean he’s wrong: Iranian President Ahmadinejad called Bush “evil.” And your point is? He said, “We will first have to break the horn of the big head so that justice can be done.” The Press Association helpfully explains that “To ‘break the horn of the big head’ is a Fares expression for blunting arrogant behaviour.” See if you can work it into the conversation around the Thanksgiving table.

The Dutch elections were spectacularly indecisive, with much horse-trading in the weeks to come. Which will presumably be opposed by the Party for Animals, which has won 2, possibly more seats of the 150, the first animal-rights party to win seats in a European parliament, or possibly anywhere else. Muslims are more unpopular in the Netherlands than animals are popular: the anti-immigrant “Party for Freedom” won 9 seats. I don’t know if the government prevented that being even higher by shamelessly poaching its Islamophobia last week when it announced plans to ban burqas.

Notice how all I really wanted to talk about there was the Party for Animals, but I had to include the other stuff so I wouldn’t seem shallow?

I don’t feel the need of an excuse to post some in-utero pictures of an elephant fetus at 12 months, still 10 months away from being born, from a tv program “Animals in the Womb,” airing in the US on the National Geographic Channel Dec. 10, and on Britain’s C4 sometime next month.

A very Chimpy Thanksgiving

Whoever writes Bush’s Thanksgiving proclamations is still mistakenly claiming that the first Turkey Day was “to thank God for allowing them to survive a harsh winter in the New World.” Dude, get out more: first autumn, then winter.

“Americans,” the proclamation says, “share a desire to answer the universal call to serve something greater than ourselves” – a humungous turkey. “Our citizens are privileged to live in the world’s freest country, where the hope of the American dream is within the reach of every person”: to eat more than their own body weight in turkey and pass out in front of the television.

“The Thanksgiving tradition dates back to the earliest days of our society, celebrated in decisive moments in our history and in quiet times around family tables.” Yes, after junior decisively announces that he’s gay, everyone sits around glaring at each other, not talking, just like the pilgrims did. “Thou art a what?”

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 23, 2006, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage all Americans to gather together in their homes and places of worship with family, friends, and loved ones to reinforce the ties that bind us”. Oo, a kinky Thanksgiving. Excellent.

The People have spoken, and the national turkeys named: Flyer and Fryer. Mocking and spiteful and mean, that’s what that is.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy, happy home

The Minnesota Legislature which was just elected will have 70 women out of 201 members of both houses (53 D’s, 17 R’s), which is some sort of record. The state has also elected its first female US senator, Amy Klobuchnar. (Correction: its first elected female US senator. Hubert Humphrey’s wife Muriel was appointed to serve out the remainder of his term when he died in 1978.)

I’m too lazy to look up how many women Minnesota is sending to the US Congress, but I know that the first was Coya Knutson, elected 1954 after a term in the legislature. Knutson got into politics in part to get away from her drunken, physically abusive husband, who sabotaged her second re-election campaign in 1958 with an open letter entitled “Coya, Come Home,” which begged (and indeed, commanded) her to quit politics and “come back to our happy, happy home.” I just had to search for my clipping of her 1996 NYT obit to find a sentence about that letter which is mysteriously missing from the online version (Times Select): “Then, as Mrs. Knutson and the nation discovered, hell hath no fury like a jerk.” The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party backed away from her, and she narrowly lost to one Odin Langen, whose not-at-all-condescending slogan was “A Big Man for a Man-Sized Job.” Coya did not come home, divorced the jerk, who drank himself to death, but her two attempts to return to Congress failed.


Bush, in Hawaii: “You know, one of the jobs of the President is to surround himself with smart, capable, strong people -- and I have done so in Condoleezza Rice.” Yes, he is surrounded by Condi. Not my idea of a good time, but to each their own.

His father, at a World Leadership Summit in Abu Dhabi, tells the audience how sad it makes him when his idiot son is criticized. The audience responded by criticizing his idiot son. “We do not respect your son. We do not respect what he’s doing all over the world,” said one woman, to what AP describes as whoops and whistles. “My son is an honest man,” said 41, “He is working hard for peace.” Says the idea that the US is trying to forcibly open markets for American corporations is “weird and it’s nuts”, and “How come everybody wants to come to the United States if the United States is so bad?”

Every year, the president pardons two turkeys, who are then sent to Disneyland – I’m not entirely sure the pilgrims would have approved – and every year the American public are called upon to vote to name the birds in question. This year the choices are Ben & Franklin, Plymouth & Rock, Washington & Lincoln, Corn & Copia, and Flyer & Fryer. Corn & Copia suggests that whoever’s job it is to come up with these names (Karen Hughes?) is running out of ideas, while Flyer & Fryer is just plain mean.

I believe that you, the residents of the WIIIAIosphere, can do better in coming up with names appropriate to The Year of Our Lord 2006. Consider this a contest. For extra credit, what is George Bush thankful for this Turkey Day?

As long as it takes

Tony Blair went on a surprise visit to Afghanistan, the other disaster. No, this one really was a surprise, it’s his first trip there since 2002. He said that “Afghanistan and its people deserve the chance to increase their prosperity and to live in a proper democratic state.” A “proper” democratic state, isn’t that just so British and adorable?

He said, “You have the same alternative you had five years ago. You either stick with it until the job is done, or you leave it to another generation. I am not prepared to do that.” He evidently saw no contradiction between that and something else he said repeatedly: “We have got to stay for as long as it takes.” And then he got on a plane and went home.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Aloha means hello, goodbye, and “The old bat’s trying to kill me, get her off, get her offfffff!”

You know what counts as a Thanksgiving bounty for a blogger? A choice between the photo sequence from Reuters or the one from the AP of George Bush on a stopover in Hawaii being strangled with a lei by a little old lady. I just can’t choose, so let’s have both.

(Burp) I am so stuffed with bloggy goodness right now.

How big is it?

Bush, who visited Brazil a year ago and observed, “Wow, Brazil is big,” is spending a few hours in Indonesia, of which he says, “I don’t think the American people understand how big Indonesia is.” Not big enough, however, that there was any part of it where he felt safe enough from protesters (and Elmo) to be willing to risk staying overnight. He said of the protests, which have been going on for days, “It’s a sign of a healthy society.” So even George Bush admits that anti-Bush protests are a sign of a healthy society.


Announcing that the US had negotiated an agreement with Russia to support its entry into the WTO, he said it would be “good for the United States and good for Russia,” adding, two sentences later, as if we’d already forgotten, “I repeat, this is a good agreement for the United States. And it’s an equally important agreement for Russia. And it’s a good agreement for the international trading community.” So, it’s good, is that what you’re saying?

It’s not just that he has an under-sized vocabulary, but that he has an over-sized ego, and assumes (still) that our trust in his judgment is such that he doesn’t need to say a single word about why it’s “good” (which he doesn’t), and we’ll just take his word for it.

Here is Bush opening the trading session at the... wait for it... Ho Chi Minh City Securities Trading Center. It’s possible that when they told him he’d be hitting a gong, he was anticipating... something else.

Ah yes, that’s more like it. Here, he and John Howard hook up with those twins from the Mothra movies.

A particularly good episode in the new season of BBC radio’s The Now Show.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

When in Hanoi

It’s so awkward when everyone shows up at work wearing the same thing.

Wow, that totally flatters his ass.

I am totally freeballing it under this thing.

Man, I coulda gone commando too.

This is, as Putin would say, totally a caption contest.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Conversing with God in Hanoi

“Miss Israel,” Yael Nezri, who is a private in the Israeli Army, has been given permission not to carry a rifle, because it bruises her legs, which interferes with her modeling career. I believe Dick Cheney used the same excuse to get out of Vietnam. And yes, I looked for pictures that showed her legs, bruised or unbruised – solely in the interests of in-depth news analysis, of course – but no luck.

It’s Sunday morning in Vietnam, and Bush went to a Catholic cathedral built by the French colonialists. Or as he modestly put it, “Laura and I just had a moment to converse with God in a church here in Hanoi.” Poor God, he must have figured Vietnam was the last place George would look for him. Bush went on, “And it’s our way of expressing our personal faith and, at the same time, urging societies to feel comfortable with, and confident in saying to their people, if you feel like praising God you’re allowed to do so in any way you see fit.” Then he paused, and added, “Well almost any way – run Katie Holmes, run!!!”

The president has been doing a lot of waving

Alberto Gonzales attacks not only the August federal district court ruling against warrantless eavesdropping (update: I have now seen the transcript, and he was actually attacking “some people” who see it as “on the verge of stifling freedom”), but “Its definition of freedom -- one utterly divorced from civic responsibility -- is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people.” So, to review, being secretly spied on is a civic responsibility, freedom is a threat to liberty, and superficial critics of government surveillance fail to grasp the profundity of Freedom 2.0.

The military coup leader in Thailand is claiming support from Bush, because in Hanoi Bush told him he “understands” the situation, called it an “intervention” rather than a coup, and prattled something about understanding the difficult situation Gen. Surayud is in, because Bush is also in a difficult situation thanks to losing the mid-term elections. Which is odd, because his people spent the conference telling everyone who would listen that American foreign policy won’t be affected in the slightest by the elections.

David Sanger of the NYT notes that Bush chose not to see any part of Vietnam that wasn’t adorned with conference tables, floral arrangements and giant busts of Uncle Ho.
Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

“If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”

He continued: “I think he’s gotten a real sense of the warmth of the Vietnamese people and their willingness to put a very difficult period for both the United States and Vietnam behind them.”
Those Vietnamese must have been doing some very expressive waving, to convey all that.