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The Daily Briefing 9/12/05
1Conservatives in mess
Hopefully at least some readers are as interested in the upheaval in US conservative ranks as TDB given the time devoted to it. David Brooks is arguably the most influential conservative columnist is the US - comes with getting space in the NYTimes twice a week, and it helps that Brooks is good. In the column below he gives his analysis of what has gone wrong for the movement that has gone from nowhere to holding the power at almost every level in the US.
Another powerful conservative voice, George Will in The Washington Post illustrates the gap between conservative idealists and Republicans in power as he explains how Americans now have "the inalienable right to a remote" and digital television. "Remember, although it is difficult to do so, that Republicans control Congress. And today's up-to-date conservatism does not stand idly by expecting people to actually pursue happiness on their own. Hence the new entitlement from Congress to help all Americans acquire converter boxes to put on top of old analog sets, making the sets able to receive digital programming."
And liberal columnist Robert Scheer (recently sacked by the LATimes) looks at the corrupt activities of conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
2 Progress and violence in Iraq
Reports from on the ground in Iraq continue to be horrifying, tempered by the occasional hopeful sign. This article falls into the latter category. Jonathan Finer reports on evidence of growing political maturity and interest from "parties of all stripes" ahead of the December 15 election that are so crucial for the US and its backers. "In January, most candidates outside the dominant few parties largely eschewed campaigning, fearing they could be kidnapped or assassinated. Now, even long shots are getting into the act. One day this week, National Democratic Institute instructors explained get-out-the-vote techniques to a dozen members of the Free Iraq Gathering, a new coalition that "probably won't get many more votes than you see in that room," according to an institute employee."
This report, also in the Post, looks at the situation in two cities cited by George Bush as showing signs of progress; and at corruption in the reconstruction effort. "In an interview yesterday, Stuart Bowen, the U.S. inspector general for Iraq, said corruption is "pervasive and very serious, particularly within the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior but not confined to the two offices." In one case under investigation, more than $1 billion is basically missing, he said."
But the most comprehensive report from Iraq TDB has come across in a very long while is the one, linked to below, by four journalist from Der Spiegel. It describes a Hobbesian hell. "Criminal statistics in Iraq no longer distinguish between politically motivated killings and conventional murder -- and no one even bothers to count the numbers of thefts, blackmailings, muggings and kidnappings. The abyss of violence seems bottomless, and the victims are almost always Iraqi citizens. "There are currently 48 Iraqi victims for each American death," says Kamran Karadaghi, the chief of staff of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.""
3 Spreading terror, corrupting journalism
Jim Hoagland captures a sentiment TDB has seen expressed many times of late, especially since the suicide bombing in Jordan - that Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism is spreading its reach out from Iraq into surrounding Arab nations. Hoagland recently attended a conference in Bahrain organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and attended by Gulf Arab leaders, intellectuals, senior military officers and national security officials. And he reports that concerns were expressed that the US is making the situation worse. "Government representatives described Islamic-inspired terrorist networks as the urgent threat to citizens and to stability -- and then put forward some fresh ideas on what Muslims themselves must do to defeat the terrorists. Those suggestions constituted the originality and the promise of this conclave."
Also in the Post, David Ignatius, who writes for the Beirut Daily Star, contrasts the courage of Arab journalists working - at risk to their lives - to build a free press, with the actions of the US in paying for "good news" stories in Iraq. "This at a time when real Iraqi reporters are risking their lives to work for The Post and other news organizations in Baghdad because they believe in honest journalism. Here's a thought for an administration that claims to love freedom and democracy: Let's try living our values, rather than just talking about them."
JIM HOAGLAND/THE WASHINGTON POST
4 Undermining democracy in Venezuela
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez won a thumping victory in elections on Sunday for the National Assembly, a poll boycotted by a number of minor parties. Robert Gott, author of the book "Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution", describes the boycott as cynical, and says the move was backed by the US as part of a campaign to discredit Chávez. The problem, as he sees it, is that the size of the victory that resulted has given Chávez the opportunity to change the country's "generally admirable" constitution in ways that will undermine democracy. "The US-backed strategy is to use apparently neutral non-governmental organisations to tell the world that the elections are not free and fair, that press freedom is under threat, and that human rights are not respected. These allegations are then exaggerated and amplified in Washington. The complaints are nonsense. The opposition still owns most of the newspapers and television stations. The judiciary has been comprehensively reformed after the scandals of the previous decade when half the judges were found to be corrupt or incompetent. Elections have been endlessly vetted and human rights have been extended to the great mass of the people."
ROBERT GOTT/MOTHER JONES
5 Changing societies, changing mores
Most of the articles on China and India TDB has linked to throughout the year have been on the impact of their economic growth, and the geopolitical ripples that has created. Much like this one from the NYTimes on how the rapid population move to the cities is having a profound impact on a society traditionally based around village life.
So, for something different, two pieces on changing social and s*xual mores. Bishakha De Sarkar in the Calcutta Telegraph (link below) says a statement last month by actress Khushboo that an educated Indian male shouldn’t expect his bride to be a virgin caused uproar in Tamil Nadu. Get used to it, she says, "premarital s*x is now just a part of the process of getting acquainted".
And Time magazine reports on how China is "coping with an epidemic of free love". "Sparked by the easing of government control over individual lifestyle choices and the spread of more permissive, Western attitudes toward s*x, Chinese are copulating earlier, more often and with more partners than ever before. Today 70% of Beijing residents say they have had sexual relations before marriage, compared with just 15.5% in 1989, according to Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences."
BISHAKHA DE SARKAR/THE (CALCUTTA) TELEGRAPH
6 Teach your children love
This is a follow-up to what was essentially a piece of fluff yesterday about changing attitudes to childcare. Terence Kealey blames most of those changes, and a lot of the bad advice along the way, on scientists and other assorted experts. "Fixed feeding was justified by behaviourists because they claimed it built character by teaching babies to control their appetites, but we now know from wise paediatricians such as John Bowlby that the opposite is true. Character is rooted in security, and security is rooted in limitless maternal love. The more an infant is petted and indulged and adored, the happier, more self-disciplined and more robust it will grow to be."
More on the super-nanny state. The children's classic "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown has been edited to make it "smoke free" by digitally altered the photograph of Clement Hurd, the illustrator, to remove a cigarette from his hand. Author Karen Karbo in the NYTimes wonders why stop there? "How long has this bowl full of mush been sitting here? A single drop of sour milk contains more than 50 million potentially fatal bacteria. At the very least Bunny is in danger of contracting irritable bowel syndrome. Not to mention mush is low in fiber. Suggested change: Digitally remove."
TERENCE KEALEY/THE TIMES
7 Avoid them like the plague
Something else to fret about in the morning rush to compile TDB - the inevitable use of the familiar and shared language of the cliche, even if meaning has been all but leached from them. Sean Gonzales constructs the article linked to below using nothing but every political cliche that, at the end of the day, you might hope never to hear again. "We need to fight for working families because the children are the future. Never mind the polls. I've never believed in polls. They're much ado about nothing. Bells and whistles. Besides, people will vote with their conscience, and with their hearts, and their pocketbooks. With all due respect, it's the economy, stupid."
Mark Peters at Grist notices some recurring phrases have slipped into George Bush's lexicon whenever he talks about nuclear energy. "Bush used this spiffy phrase in, among other places, his State of the Union address and a spring press conference. And who knows? At this very moment, he may well be spooning with Laura and seductively whispering the four words every First Lady or nuclear plant owner yearns to hear: "safe, clean nuclear power.""
This article was linked to yesterday, but was then only available to subscribers of TimesSelect. If you are interested in what NYTimes columnist Nicholas Kristof has to say about "the hubris of humanities" you can now read it for free.
The Age today publishes an extract from Harold Pinter's Nobel prize acceptance speak, in which he has some unkind things to say about the US of A. (No pleasing some people.) If you'd like to read the whole thing you will find it here, and the NYTimes report on it is here.
Don't agitate, litigate. Another chapter in the obesity-junk food debate, fashionable here as well. The NYTimes reports on legal action to ban soft drinks (that'd be soda pops to you young lady) from schools. "In a lawsuit they plan to file in the next few months, Mr. Gardner and half a dozen other lawyers, several of them veterans of successful tobacco litigation, will seek to ban sales of sugary beverages in schools."
8 90 reasons to hate the nineties
After making us all feel inadequate about out grammar, Lynne Truss appears to be doing the same with manners, to judge by the number of articles her book "Talk to the Hand" has inspired. Stuart Jeffries says the picture she paints could have been worse, but for a gap in her research. "Are men similarly racing over the boardwalk of acceptability into the drink of sociopathic narcissism? This is the question that even Lynne Truss in her new analysis of modern manners, Talk to the Hand, cannot answer, chiefly because she has made the wise lifestyle choice of not going into men's loos to find out how modern technology is facilitating social change."
James Westcott in The Village Voice takes the opposite tack. He draws on his experiences as an Englishmen in New York to show that politeness can be overdone. "While her anecdotes about inattentive, snotty adolescents at supermarket checkouts are pretty funny, Truss might have done better to spend her time examining a more urgent problem—actually more of a pathology, in need of a national psychoanalysis. The English can't ask clearly and directly for what they want, and this is precisely a function of our obsession with Truss-style politeness, which does a lot more than keep people safely at arm's length. It makes us terrified of strangers and ashamed of our desires. Petulance, passive aggression, and a fear of strangers result. Give me the smoothness of New York interactions— especially with their bravado or bluntness—over the mutually assured dithering in English corner shops any day."
Jacob Sallum at Reason shares his thoughts on a golden oldie for lifestyle writers, "why are the things we like sinful or bad for us?", after research showing drinkers are less prone to obesity than teetotalers.
From the way we are to the way we supposedly were. Mark Ames and Jake Rudnitsky in eXile with 90 reasons to hate the '90s. "7. People Who Taped Friends Episodes The Sham: Before there was eBay, before there was TiVo, there were people in the 90s who willingly, consciously recorded episodes of Friends on their VCRs, and played them back on weekend nights with their boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/roommates/gay-neighbors while wearing sweats with university emblems. They'd say, "Oh, I love this part!" and "Wait-wait, watch this!" And they'd probably share a big bowl of low-fat snacks with a bottle of Zin. If Al Qaeda hates America because we are free, then we hate America because we are Friends."
STUART JEFFRIES/THE GUARDIAN
9 Come together over blogs
There is a slight air of "blogs for beginners" about Nicholas Hookway's piece on bloggers, but they and the internet are driving the massive shifts underway in the media landscape, so here it is. Hookway, a sociology and social work PhD student argues that blogs can be a part of community life and should not necessarily be seen as a retreat from it. "Call me an optimist, but I would argue that pronouncements regarding the “death of the social” (Baudrillard) are premature. While it might be true that old measures of private and public community are in decline I would like to explore the possibility that the “information revolution” has provided new forms of “being together” in the contemporary world. If people are “hanging out” at home rather than in pubs or cafes maybe they are online, finding cosy little worlds within their computer screens."
NICHOLAS HOOKWAY /ON LINE OPINION
10 The pushrod engine
Forgive this quirky curio, readers who have absolutely no interest in the internal combustion engine. As a long-term, confirmed Ducati-nut, TDB is more taken by bevel drive and desmodromic engines, but nonetheless found interest in this report that the old-fashioned push-rod engine is making something of a comeback, in part because it is said to offer some fuel-efficiency advantages. Not forgetting the extra "low-end grunt", of course.