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The Daily Briefing 11/11/05
1 Blair, Boris and one night in Oxford
This one is a delightful, and very British read. Of course it is easy not to be concerned about laws, however draconian, when you are fairly sure that they don't apply to "us" - but only to "them". ("They came for the intellectuals, and I said nothing ...) Conservative MP and Spectator editor (amongst other claims to fame) Boris Johnson had an experience with the plod as a callow youth, one that seems to have left him with a life-long concern about the right to detain without charges and due process, as proposed under UK (and Australian) anti-terrorism laws. "By this stage I am afraid that the Bullingdon Club was very far from the proud phalanx of tailcoated twits that had set out for dinner the night before. Some of us were beginning to whimper for our mothers. Others, half-asleep, groaned the names of their nannies. Some of us were brave enough to lie on the bemerded floor. Others stood up, streaked and dishevelled, and tried to sleep on their feet."
The aftermath of Tony Blair's first ever Parliamentary defeat on detention powers still reverberates. The Guardian reports that Blair remains defiant, even "as the government's own panel of Muslim experts warned that it still risked alienating their community."
In the same paper, Britain's answer to Matt Price, Simon Hoggart, describes the scene as Parliament regained its relevance.
And The Times reports that the tension leading up to the vote almost resulted in physical violence toward one Labour rebel.
BORIS JOHNSON/THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
2 Interviews with Shaw and Saul
Two interviews, with two respected voices, both from "the left" (whatever that is these days), though in the case of Martin Shaw (link below) one critical of both the anti-Iraq war left (Pilger and Galloway) as well as its supporters (Hitchens, Aaronovitch and Cohen). Shaw is a sociologist of war and global politics and holds the Chair of International Relations and Politics at the University of Sussex. "We face a threat of terrorist attack which is sufficient to generate serious atrocities, to harm our society through militarising its politics and curtailing our civil liberties. But the threat is obviously not of a kind which will destroy our society. It's a different sort of threat than the old Soviet Union. In this sense I think it's a threat which is quite well suited to the ideological project of the global war on terror which Bush has proclaimed. I think it's interesting to observe the way in which al-Qaeda calibrates its attacks with Western political developments. We have seen the intervention just before a Spanish election, the video tape which Bin Laden sent just before the American election, which I think helped Bush, and the delaying of the attacks on Britain until after the British election. I think there's a sense which al-Qaeda needs Bush and Bush needs al-Qaeda."
And Mother Jones interviews John Ralston Saul about his new book "The Collapse of Globalism". "And the interesting thing is, even that disparity between rich and poor doesn't total up to a big increase in wealth; it's just that a small group of people are getting richer and a much larger group of people are getting poorer. So getting more of the pie today, for the poor, still wouldn't represent a success for the system. This suggests that the system, as designed by the globalists, simply isn't delivering what it said it would deliver."
3 Plame and Niger update
Plame update time, even though all of this may well be one for obsessives only. Judith Miller, the journalist at the centre of the affair , has "retired" from the NYTimes.
The New York Observer reports Miller's immediate reaction and it has other reports on the move (scroll down past the battle of the front pages). And naturally the woman herself has a blog with a full account of her version of events.
Meanwhile, the debate over whether or not former Dick Cheney chief-of-staff should have be indicted continues. Former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht (link below), now with the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute thinks not, and runs what has become the right's main line of defence: this is much ado about nothing and Plame's husband Joe Wilson is a lightweight liar. "A serious CIA would never have allowed Mr. Wilson to go on such an odd, short "fact finding" mission. It never would have allowed Ms. Plame potentially to expose herself by recommending such an overt mission for her mate, not known for his subtlety and discretion. With a CIA where cover really mattered, Mr. Libby would not now be indicted. But that's not what we have in the real world. We have an American left that hates George W. Bush and his vice president so much that they have become willing dupes in a surreal operational stage-play."
But according to the Pew Centre, as reported by Dan Froomkin, the average punter thinks it is important. "But according to a new Pew Research Center poll, the recent indictment of senior White House aide Scooter Libby is a really big deal: Even more important to the country, for instance, than the 1998 charges that President Bill Clinton lied under oath about Monica Lewinsky. Those, of course, led to Clinton's impeachment."
On the very much related Niger yellowcake bogus document scandal, Salon is talking up the Italian connection.
But neo-conservative spruiker Michael Ledeen is pointing the finger at the French. Ledeen, remember, was directly involved in a meeting with Italian intelligence prior to the documents coming into official US hands, and he chooses an odd way of responding to suggestions that he may even have had a hand in forging them - by imagining a ouija board session with a late CIA chief. (Now if you wanted to give yourself wriggle room on any of your denials, this would be one way of doing it.)
And on the wider question on the Iraq invasion and WMDs, uber-conservative Norman Prodhoretz in Commentary is doing all he can to protect the Bush administration from the charge that it lied about the intelligence used to justify the war - without discussing some of the latest material (see Archives).
REUEL MARC GERECHT/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
4 The new barbarism
After three decades of silence, conservative sociologist Philip Rieff is about to have four books released. David Glenn looks at Rieff's life and work, and devotes some space to his marriage in the '50s to Susan Sontag. "But in a more important sense, the two scholars went on to move in very different directions. Ms. Sontag had a much more hopeful view - although always ambivalent - toward feminism and other liberal and radical cultural currents. Her 1966 collection, Against Interpretation, praised Norman O. Brown, whom Mr. Rieff regarded as a utopian "left-Freudian." In 1985 she wrote an appreciative introduction to a volume of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs. Mr. Rieff is far more skeptical: His new book includes a meditation on one of Mr. Mapplethorpe's photographs, which culminates with the declaration that "homosexuality as a social movement is not a movement of love but a movement of hatred and indifference."
DAVID GLENN/THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
5 If you really knew Rupert
Having spent some time in the Murdoch empire, and 25 years in and around journalism, it is hard to take this one seriously. Perhaps this is the first of a "myth of the great dictator" series by Graham Stewart, who is described by HarperCollins as a highly rated historian. Will we see, Saddam, Adolf and Benito, myth of the great dictators? As Stewart tells the story, we've all had it wrong about Rupert (including all those former editors and executives who told a similar tale?) By this telling Murdoch is the model of the independent proprietor, encouraging outspoken diversity where ever he goes. (There are no indications that this is intentional satire.) "There was a natural self-interest in The Times's commercial rivals portraying it as the mouthpiece of its owner. By questioning the objectivity of the paper's judgment, these attacks hit at the heart of its appeal. Every editorial decision, from backing the Conservatives to backing new Labour was, sooner or later, attributed to Murdoch's hidden hand. Differences of opinion not only between his British newspapers but also with his own supposed opinions were disregarded or overlooked."
The Globe and Mail has the latest grim statistics on US newspaper circulation. "Average weekday circulation at U.S. newspapers fell 2.6 per cent during the six month-period ending in September in the latest sign of trouble in the newspaper business." (Of course those same newspapers have presumably picked up many thousands of readers online, which is not accounted for in these statistics.)
And in the rapidly changing media world, Microsoft said yesterday that it would develop a news video distribution network for The Associated Press and share in advertising revenue generated by the newspapers and broadcasters that use it.
GRAHAM STEWART/THE TIMES
6 Indigenous refugees and ecotourism
The notion of "wilderness" has a bad name in some indigenous circles, carrying as it does the concept of being untouched by humans. The result of this policy around the world, according to Mark Dowie, is the destruction of indigenous cultures, and probably the loss of biodiversity as well. "It's no secret that millions of native peoples around the world have been pushed off their land to make room for big oil, big metal, big timber, and big agriculture. But few people realize that the same thing has happened for a much nobler cause: land and wildlife conservation. Today the list of culture-wrecking institutions put forth by tribal leaders on almost every continent includes not only Shell, Texaco, Freeport, and Bechtel, but also more surprising names like Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Even the more culturally sensitive World Conservation Union (IUCN) might get a mention."
And in Common Ground, Suzanne York is not impressed by ecotourism as it is practiced. "Among the most degrading effects of ecotourism is the marketing of indigenous heritage, cultural identity, and sacred rituals. Ancient cultures are quickly reduced by this activity to another exotic product to be advertised and sold. Rituals, dances, and religious ceremonies are stripped of their deeper traditional spiritual value and made meaningless. Indigenous artifacts are valued only for their souvenir potential, and the indigenous people themselves tend to be valued only as a photo opportunity. Local crafts are often crowded out of the market altogether, as corporations copy them and mass-produce arts and crafts and clothing, marginalizing the local craftsperson and substituting cheap labor outside of the country. In Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, the fine art of batik, a dye-and-wax process that creates beautiful prints on natural fiber, is now mass-produced on synthetic materials in hundreds of factories in Southeast Asia. Traditional designs have been replaced by pop art."
7 What money can buy
Money won't buy happiness, so they say, but it sure buys influence. At least one local outlet - let's spare the guilty party just this once - got quite excited yesterday about the fact that "big oil" had been called before the US Congress to explain high oil prices and record company profits, declaring it was "big news". Umm. They should have waited to see exactly what transpired. As Dana Millbank describes it, they were beaten lightly with a feather. "But instead of calling oil executives on the carpet yesterday, senators gave them the red-carpet treatment. The companies summoned to testify have given about $400,000 in PAC money this year alone -- and much of that has found its way to those who served as the executives' interrogators."
DANA MILLBANK/WASHINGTON POST
8 Teaching White House ethics
This one definitely is satire. A few days back TDB brought news that George Bush had ordered White House staff to attend ethics classes in response to the charges bought against Lewis Libby. Christopher Buckley sits in on a class. ""Let's move on. Now suppose - yes, Mr. Cheney?" "I have to go. I have a meeting." "Please sit down. This is important." "So's my meeting." "Perhaps you'd like to share with us what it's about?" "Torture."
This one is not satire, but it should be. Yesterday TDB linked to a report that a pro-"intelligent design" school council in Pennsylvania had been voted out of office, every last one of them. Pat Robertson has news for those heathen voters - God is pissed, really pissed. "If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there."
And in case you hadn't heard, Libby in earlier, happier days, tried his hand at writing a book, as many Republicans have done before him. The New Yorker reviews this little known literary genre - the right-wing dirty novel. "So, how does Libby stack up against the competition? This question was put to Nancy Sladek, the editor of Britain's Literary Review, which, each year, holds a contest for bad s*x writing in fiction. (In 1998, someone nominated the Starr Report.) Sladek agreed to review a few passages from Libby. "That's a bit depraved, isn't it, this kind of thing about bears and young girls? That's particularly nasty, and the other ones are just boring," she said. "God, they're an odd bunch, these Republicans." Unlike their American counterparts, she said, Tories haven't taken much to sex writing." (Is there an Australian equivalent? Has Ron Boswell say, or Santo Santoro, ever written a bed-bouncer?)
9 Juan Goytisolo on his latest novel
From Le Monde, a writer TDB had not previously encountered. Juan Goytisolo has written a dozen novels, and is considered among the best fiction in Spanish in the 20th century, so we are told. In this article, he discusses his latest, autobiographical novel. "In 'Telon de Boca' the image of a crushed thistle in Chechnya, trampled by the boots of the Russian army and the tsar, later by Yeltsin's boots and now by Putin's, is a recurrent theme: the absurd and constant renewal of human barbarity. Given the choice between society's progress and its bestial heritage, the latter often prevails. Not much has changed in that respect. The brutality of the Spanish civil war is replayed in every civil war."
JUAN GOYTISOLO/LE MONDE
10 How to Google your dinner
This sounds like a great idea (link below) for those of us who walk into a kitchen stacked with ingredients and can't think of anything to cook. "The concept behind Google cooking is basic: Simply plug in your ingredients and the word "recipes," press Google search, then wait for the results to pop up. The engine will scour reams of Web sites -- from the expected (Food Network's http://foodtv.com/ ) to the obscure ( http://acupuncture.com/ ) -- for recipes that incorporate your desired foodstuffs. With its infinite repository, Google can find recipes for unconventional food pairings or exotic products that might stump most cookbooks." What it might come up with if you typed in "half a tomato, some limp celery, a mouldy thing that could have been a carrot and a dozen stubbies" is anyone's guess.
And for those who need such things, David Pogue in the NYTimes is excited about anytime, anywhere wireless downloading of songs onto your mobile. "This remarkable service is brought to you by Sprint. It's the first cellular carrier to unveil a phone-based online music store; the others have similar plans. Their logic goes like this: "Those crazy kids have bought 30 million iPods and a billion songs from online music stores. They also spend nearly $5 billion a year on downloadable ring tones. What if we could combine those two trends? If teenagers could download full-length songs right onto their cellphones - we'll be rich, I tell you! Rich!""
And in the same paper, Lizette Alvarez looks at the problems created by a flood of emails, and reports that there are now consultants to deal with it. (TDB has one of those. It's called the delete key.) "The onslaught has given rise to a cottage industry of consultants who advise companies - including Microsoft, which helped create e-mail - on how to juggle their e-mail messages and focus on being more proactive than reactive, a difficulty in today's e-mail-intense corporate world."
THE WASHINGTON POST
11 Remembering 11/11
This one is a shameless plug for another (Brisbane-based) online outlet. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the end for Sir John Kerr, "for all of today the Larvatus Prodeo bloggers will share their thoughts and perspectives on The Dismissal. Some will examine the politics of then and now while others will reflect on the times. Some will use The Dismissal as a jumping off point for reflection on other matters." (Link below)
And to show that TDB is politically balanced when it comes to shameless plugs, Sydney-based RWDBs (Right Wing Death Beasts) might like to join Australia's shallowest and nastiest blogger to celebrate Gough's downfall. Apparently things could get interesting.