Friday, June 02, 2006


I've been very busy recently, so I haven't had the energy or inclination to write. But that doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention. Here is an abbreviated list of topics that have caught my eye.

The Department of Justice ended its inquiry into the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program essentially because the N.S.A. doesn’t want to be investigated. The N.S.A. refused to grant security clearance to D.O.J. investigators. (Washington Post, 5/11/2006) George Bush, Jr., who ordered the N.S.A. to violate federal law, could order the Agency to obey the law instead; but he has already promised not to do that. During his State of the Union Address, when he insisted domestic spying would continue, Republicans gave him a standing ovation.

The Attorney General of the United Kingdom has called for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo. He said, “The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, of liberty, and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol.”

Computer experts are concerned about a flaw in the security system for Diebold touch-screen voting machines that could allow hackers into the machines without leaving a trace. Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Hopkins University, called the flaw “the most serious thing I’ve heard to date…”

And just in time for the elections!

The G.O.P agreed on a tax bill which will increase the federal deficit by another $70 billion. (Washington Post, 5/9/2006)

An Israeli art student arranged for an exhibit at Brandeis University of 17 pictures made by Palestinian children. Several pictures included depictions of The Wall. After four days, the exhibit was removed. Complaints about the exhibit included the charge that it was not “balanced” by pictures from other perspectives. One viewer reportedly wondered if the point of the exhibit was to show how Palestinian children had been politicized by their elders.

“Balance” is a very subjective determination. Imagine a show of Jewish art from German concentration camps. Would anyone object, or even notice, if it wasn’t “balanced” by positive images of German life? Suppose the Brandeis exhibit contained a picture by an Israeli child of his uncle killed by a bomb. Would that provide balance? What about a drawing of an olive grove?

The idea that Palestinian parents must have influenced the work of their children is doubtful in at least one very important respect. Palestinian children grow up next to The Wall. They draw pictures on The Wall; they kick soccer balls against The Wall. They do not need their parents to remind them of its existence.

And finally:

Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a video game scheduled for release in October. It is based on the extremely successful Left Behind series of books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. The game is set in New York City, in the end times. Players win points by converting New Yorkers of all sorts — gays, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. — or by killing those who resist.

The game is being promoted by evangelical Christian Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Warren’s book has sold over 13 million copies.


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What Were We Going To Teach Them About Fire?

Michael Herr was a correspondent in Vietnam and the author of Dispatches, a penetrating examination of the American experience in southeast Asia. He wrote the narration of Captain Benjamin Willard for Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s stunning movie about Vietnam. Herr was also a co-auther, with Stanley Kubrick and Gustav Hasford, of Full Metal Jacket.

Here is an excerpt from Dispatches:

Prayers in the Delta, prayers in the Highlands, prayers in the Marine bunkers of the “frontier” facing the DMZ, and for every prayer there was a counter-prayer — it was hard to see who had the edge. In Dalat the emperor’s mother sprinkled rice in her hair so the birds could fly around her and feed while she said her morning prayers. In wood-paneled, air-conditioned chapels in Saigon, MACV padres would fire one up to sweet muscular Jesus, blessing ammo dumps and 105’s and officers’ clubs. The best-armed patrols in history went out after services to feed smoke to people whose priests could let themselves burn down to consecrated ash on street corners. Deep in the alleys you could hear small Buddhist chimes ringing for peace, hoa bien; smell incense in the middle of the thickest Asian street funk; see groups of ARVN with their families waiting for transport huddled around a burning prayer strip. Sermonettes came over Armed Forces radio every couple of hours, once I heard a chaplain from the 9th Division starting up, “Oh Gawd, help us learn to live with Thee in a more dynamic way in these perilous times, that we may better serve Thee in the struggle against Thine enemies…” Holy War, long-nose jihad like a face-off between one god who would hold the coonskin to the wall while we nailed it up, and another whose detachment would see the blood run out of ten generations, if that was how long it took for the wheel to go around.

And around. While the last falling-off contacts were still going on and the last casualities being dusted off, Command added Dak To to our victory list, a reflexive move supported by the Saigon press corps but never once or for a minute by reporters who’d seen it going on from meters or even inches away, and this latest media defection added more bitterness to an already rotten mix, leaving the commanding general of the 4th to wonder out loud and in my hearing whether we were or weren’t all Americans in this thing together. I said I thought we were. For sure we were.

Michael Herr was obviously deranged. How could he have called our noble effort in Vietnam a jihad?


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