Friday, December 09, 2005

Germany, the World Cup, and the ghosts of Nazism

The 2006 World Cup draw was revealed today -- see here for the complete draw/schedule, here for some observations, and here for an analysis of American prospects.

But see here for an interesting look at the architecture and historical context of Berlin's "new" Olympic Stadium. In this case, Germany seems to be dealing with its past in a thoughtful and responsible way.

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Mel Gibson and the Holocaust

According to the Times, Mel "Lethal Weapon" Gibson "has a new project under way: a nonfiction miniseries about the Holocaust".

Does anybody else see a problem with this?

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The power of the right-wing echosphere

How powerful -- how politically relevant/influential -- is the right-wing blogosphere? According to an upcoming article by Michael Crowley in Sunday's New York Times (see here for a preview), more powerful than its counterpart on the left.

But Atrios responds here, and he does so quite explicitly: "In a sense conservative blogs are more effective because both the massive right wing media and the mainstream media... are willing to pick up and retransmit their bullshit... But the liberal blogosphere is a much greater value added for our side because we have such a shitty media infrastructure. If all the wingnut blogs disappeared tomorrow it really wouldn't have any impact on the national discourse. Sure they're there and the Right is better at using them but they don't really *need* them. They have plenty of other ways to launder their horseshit."


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Sign of the Apocalypse #27: Mariah Carey's Grammy groundswell

Look, the Grammy Awards are a joke. We all know that. Homer and the Be Sharps won one, but no one really cared. So should we care now? No, but it's tough not to think of the latest nominations -- some of them, anyway -- as glaring, flashing, screaming Signs of the Apocalypse.

Specifically, Mariah Carey, who now insists on calling herself "Mimi," has been nominated for eight -- count' em, 8 -- awards, including album of the year.

Other Signs:

Kanye West also received eight nominations, Beyonce received six, and Gwen Stefani received a nomination for album of the year.

Sure, Coldplay, the Boss, and other worthy singers, songwriters, and groups were nominated for this or that award, but the Grammys continue to prove that they're anything but a true barometer of musical excellence.

(Mariah Carey is also SOTA #11.)

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Who's up for more Rummy?

In an uncharacteristically transparent expression of verbal communication, Donald Rumsfeld has declared that he has "no plans to retire".


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Life, liberty, and the pursuit of blogging

This will be of much more interest to bloggers than to non-bloggers, but Atrios, one of the best and biggest of the blogosphere, has an excellent "Occasional Reminder" about links, traffic, and other blog-related matters here.

Needless to say, it's a must-read.

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Holocaust denier

Alas, I may have gone too lightly on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when I first wrote about him back in July. Not too long ago, he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Now he's denying that the Holocaust ever happened and calling for Israel to be moved to Europe.

I don't need to pollute The Reaction with any of Ahmadinejad's own reprehensible statements. Instead, see here for a BBC article and here for a Reuters article.

And see The Moderate Voice, Daniel Drezner, and Donklephant for more.

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Bush and McCain: The quid pro quo of shame

My new friend Marc Acriche alerts me to a perceptive post at his (highly recommended) blog State of the Day called "McCain's Payoff for Kissing Ass" -- click here to go right there (and then c'mon back, but do check out State of the Day regularly -- there's always good stuff to read).

What is this ass-kissing, you ask?
What is this payoff, you demand to know?

Consider (if I may boil the arrangement down to its basics): The Bush crew, led by Dick the Veep, is pro-torture. They won't say that -- in fact, they'll deny it vigorously -- but they are. McCain, a war hero who knows a thing or two about the subject, is anti-torture. The Senate passed McCain's anti-torture measure 90-9 (those cruel and unusual 9 should suffer an atrocious torment or two, don't you think?). Bush said America doesn't torture (he lied), Cheney wants to allow torture (at least he's honest, more or less), and Condi Rice is over in Europe leaping through rhetorical hoops with her non-denial denials.

A rift among Republicans? McCain the Maverick vs. Bush the Establishmentarian?

Yeah, you'd think so. But that would mean underestimating Republican electoral self-interest, not to mention the self-interest of McCain the Maverick and Bush the Establishmentarian.

For McCain goes on Meet the Press last Sunday to defend Bush and his mismanaged war effort (he's been a tough critic, but let's not go there, eh?) in a way that no one else can -- and he can certainly defend Bush much better than Bush can defend himself (remember Bush on Meet the Press? -- he was the deer in Russert's headlights).

And how does Bush, helpless Bush, thank McCain? Well, by giving in to McCain on torture, of course. At least that's how it looks. The House will likely support McCain's anti-torture measure and the White House will likely back off.

Quid pro fucking quo.

Here's how SOTD puts it: "Bush definitely needed some credible support on Iraq. I mean how many times can you throw Cheney out there without making people a bit nauseous? So McCain gave Bush some political cover, and the White house gave him his anti-torture bill. It's a good move by McCain. He has kissed ass before, and surely will again leading up to 2008, but there has got to be a better way than jumping in bed with Bush."

Or isn't that precisely the sacrifice that McCain must make if he is to win in '08? I like McCain, don't get me wrong. If I had to pick a favourite Republican, he'd be up near the top of my (admittedly short) list. But he's been smiling his loyal, pride-swallowing, wince-inducing smile at Bush's side for five years -- and it's all quite nauseating, isn't it?

I do believe that McCain is a man of principle, a man who believes in the goodness and possibility of America in a dangerous and unjust world. I do believe that he prefers national-interest bipartisanship to the small-minded partisanship that plagues Washington (and the Bush crew). I do believe that he longs for the truth in opposition to the endless cycle of spin and re-spin that characterizes the Bush presidency. And -- without endorsing him or anyone else, for I am generally on the Democratic side of things -- I do believe that he wouldn't be such a bad president -- that, once in the White House, he would be the man of principle many of us believe him to be (albeit a man of mostly conservative principle).

But how much of his soul does he intend to sell in pursuit of the White House? Would the end justify these means? Or would there be nothing left once he took office?

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Just imagine: Remembering John Lennon

Joe Gandelman remembers John Lennon and the day he died -- 25 years ago today.

Other excellent posts worth checking out are at:

-- The Heretik;
-- TalkLeft; and
-- PunditGuy -- who has a great link round-up.

To me, his music -- which I love dearly -- speaks for itself. I'm not old enough to remember anything about Lennon while he was alive, but the pleasure of having him (and The Beatles) in my life through his (and their) music has been truly immense.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Harper still harping on same-sex marriage

On day one of the election campaign, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper attempted to re-open the debate on same-sex marriage. He says he's determined to bring it to a free vote in Parliament again, allowing all MPs, including cabinet members, freedom to choose without being under the party whip.

Let's just get to the real message: He just wants to cram the genie back into the bottle and cork it, and he's making an election issue out of it. According to the Toronto Star, "He would have to circumvent court judgments allowing gay marriage, as well as a reference opinion from the Supreme Court of Canada."

According to the same article, "Harper conceded he would consider the matter closed if MPs don't support introducing new legislation to once again define marriage as the sole domain of one man and one woman. Either way, he promised to preserve more than 3,000 gay marriages already performed across Canada, though he wouldn't say exactly how."

Mr. Harper, let me just clarify: The MPs didn't support the legislation the first time around -- that's why it didn't pass. And how he intends to preserve the 3,000 marriages is puzzling at best.

I find this to be extremely dangerous, that Harper would be so quick to use the notwithstanding clause on a rights issue that has already been resolved. Same-sex marriage guaranteed equality in rights for everyone, and judges have ruled that it's supported by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Parliament has already voted on this, and the Liberal cabinet ministers who could not, in their conscience, back the bill, stepped down from their posts.

And speaking of free votes, was it not Stephen Harper who chewed out Belinda Stronach before the budget vote in May, causing her to switch parties? If I recall, there were some things on the agenda that she liked and would have considered voting for. When Harper heard about this, he read her the riot act and told her that if the government won the vote he would place the blame on her shoulders.

Of course, all of this has just played well into Liberal hands. Choose the Grits or choose the other guys, who would willingly yank away your rights. The image of the U.S.-style, right-wing leadership has resurfaced, along with 2004's rumours of the so-called "hidden agenda".

There are a lot of important issues that should be discussed: national unity (which should be top priority), health care, education, the environment, among other things. Instead, Stephen Harper chooses to beat a dead horse.

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Grace Miao at The Reaction

I'd like to welcome a new co-blogger to The Reaction, Grace Miao. Grace is a former student of mine at the University of Toronto. Now a good friend and fellow blogger, she will be writing occasional posts on a variety of topics. Over the next couple of months, many of her posts will focus on Canada's upcoming federal election, but her first post, below, is a moving remembrance of the Montreal Massacre of Dec. 6, 1989. Scroll down or click here.

Grace joins Vivek Krishamurthy and James Stickings as my co-bloggers (and I may add more in future). The author of the blog Flights of Fancy, she brings a distinctive voice and perspective to The Reaction, and I'm very pleased to have her here.

Please welcome Grace and take the time to read her work. I know you'll enjoy it.

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Canada's "dysfunctional" politics

Canada is a "cool" country, according to The Economist, but, as The Globe and Mail puts it, "[t]he latest edition says Canada is beset by dysfunctional politics, grumpy anti-Americanism and three brewing political storms: one in the West, one in Quebec and one in its relations with the United States".

This week's Economist includes a special report and a lead editorial on my beloved country, but, unfortunately, it's all premium content at its website. Pick up a copy and read more about us, but here's a bit more from the Globe:

It's upbeat about Canada's overall prospects: “Peaceful, diverse, tolerant (in June gay marriages became legal throughout the country) and with long-term riches to boot — if this isn't ‘cool', what is?”

However, it points to building political turbulence.

Looking at the campaign for the Jan. 23 federal election, the survey describes the country's politics as “a fractured mess.”

Prime Minister Paul Martin is “a fine finance minister, but as prime minister he has, on the whole, disappointed.”

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is described as “an aloof, cerebral figure, disparaged well beyond Liberal circles as a neo-conservative importing dangerous ideas from the United States.

He is also “clueless with the media.”

The magazine dismisses the NDP (Leader Jack Layton isn't mentioned) as “a socialist party from the old world that is ill at ease in the new one and has yet to find its Tony Blair.”

Well, sort of. The Economist is right about Martin, more or less, but Harper isn't quite the despised figure he's made out to be and the NDP is a fairly successful third party outside of Quebec. It may not have its own Tony Blair, but it isn't on the same electoral scale as Britain's Labour Party.

The Economist is also right that the likely outcome of next month's election is another minority Liberal government "propped up by the NDP".

And it's right about this: “Canada has everything, except perhaps ambition.”

There's extraordinary potential up here. Canada is a great land populated by great people.

The question is whether or not we'll ever live up to that potential. Perhaps being Canadian means forever countering ambition with humility. That's not such a bad thing, I suppose. We do need the political leadership to move us forward, but I wouldn't go so far as to call our politics dysfunctional. We are a truly postmodern nation struggling with our own sense of self-identity and purpose in a complex and interdependent world. Our politics merely reflect that struggle.

Which is a good reason for the rest of the world, much of which is breaking free of its modern certainties, to pay much closer attention to us. And to our upcoming election.

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The rats of Easter Island

Were rats somehow involved in the demise of Easter Island? According to USA Today, that's the theory of researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Well, rats and Europeans.

The accepted wisdom has been this: The natives deforested the land in order to transport the 10-ton stone statues for which the island is renowned. This deforestation brought about erosion and the destruction of farmland. Then the natives destroyed themselves in a cannibalistic civil war in the 17th century.

But, according to the new theory, rats -- "the rodent population spiked at 20 million from 1200 to 1300 and then dropped off to a mere 1 million after the trees were gone" -- likely "deforested the 66-square-mile island's 16 million palm trees" well before humans arrived on the island in significant numbers. So "the disappearance of Easter Islanders probably was caused by visiting Dutch traders in the 1700s, who brought diseases and, later, slave raiding".

The fate of the Easter Islanders has been linked directly to environmental irresponsibility, a cautionary example of what can happen when humans interfere with the environment. If this new theory is true, however, there may be a new lesson: This is what can happen when "invasive species" enter a new environment and interfere with the native population.

It's a fascinating discovery.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Remember the Montreal Massacre

Take a moment today to remember that, 16 years ago, on December 6, 1989, a man walked into the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, and killed fourteen women in cold blood.

This man was not mad, or insane: he was lucid enough to compose an objective suicide note, in which he detailed that he was out to murder feminists, and that he hated them. On it, he included the names of 19 women he wanted the kill, although the names have since been removed in copies of the letter to protect their identities. He walked into classrooms, separated the women from the men, and shepherded the men outside before firing at the women.

Feminists who know this story, these days, will not mention the killer's name: they want to let his legacy die with him, therefore, I will not mention it either.

The event led to an outpouring of grief, and a new awareness of violence against women in Canada.

Remember that while our objective is equality, we have not yet reached that goal, but we must continue toward it. Remember that even in North America, women are not yet completely equal to men, though some may think otherwise. They will not be equal until a woman can walk down the street at night without fearing for her safety, and that her sexuality or the way she dresses will not be used against her if she encounters trouble. We will not have equality until women can find the strength and are provided support to stand up to abusive spouses.

Today, we remember violence against women, and that it still continues even here, and that we must do everything in our power to put an end to it. We cannot help those abroad if we cannot even help ourselves.

Remember the Montreal Massacre.

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David Cameron wins U.K. Conservative leadership race

From the BBC: "David Cameron has been elected as the new Conservative leader by a margin of more than two to one over David Davis. The 39-year-old beat Mr Davis by 134,446 votes to 64,398 in a postal ballot of Tory members across the UK."

We'll have more on this, including analysis of what Cameron's victory means for the Conservative Party and the future of British politics, in the coming days. Check back for updates.

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Anti-ID Kansas professor beaten by cowardly thugs

Here's some disturbing, if unsurprising, news from Kansas:

A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating.

University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki said that the two men who beat him made references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this spring.

Originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request.

The class was added after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.

"I didn't know them," Mirecki said of his assailants, "but I'm sure they knew me."

The Carpetbagger Report provides the background: "A couple of weeks ago, Prof. Paul Mirecki chairman of the Religious Studies Department at the University of Kansas, took a firm stand against intelligent-design creationism by including it in a class on 'religious mythologies.' A week later, the course was cancelled after Mirecki mocked creationists on a website."

I'm hardly a fan of so-called intelligent design, which has been an abject failure and which is really just a convenient euphemism for creationism without any of the supporting theology, but Mirecki probably shouldn't have made those remarks -- at least not publicly. However, it almost goes without saying that this kind of violence is simply unacceptable. (I say "almost" because some people clearly believe that it is acceptable.)

By the way, I certainly wouldn't say that these thugs represent everyone on the other side, all the supporters of ID/creationism. I disagree with the supporters of ID/creationism -- I think their opinions are hazardous to the cause of truth and to the health of our society -- but these thugs are clearly the exception, not the rule.

We need to expose ID for what it is, but let's do so in a civil manner. But --

Here's a thought: How would the right -- the O'Reillys and Coulters of the world -- have responded if a pro-ID professor were beaten by hardcore secularists? Would they have been fair and balanced in their comments? Would they have refrained from attacking all secularists and blaming secularism for all the ills of the world? Doubtful.

(See also Shakespeare's Sister and Pam's House Blend.)

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Lies, damned lies, and the Pentagon (Part I)

Like him or not, Hitchens is absolutely right about this: "The revelation that Defense Department money, not even authorized by Congress for the purpose, has been outsourced to private interests and then used to plant stories in the Iraqi press is much more of a disgrace and a scandal than anyone seems so far to have said."

Read on to find out exactly why. (Although it's hard to believe he's so shocked by this. Does he not understand how the Bush Administration works?)

For more, see Hullabaloo, Political Animal, and Abu Aardvark.

(For "Lies, damned lies, and the White House (Part I)," see here.)

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Senator Kerry, Secretary Lieberman?

On Monday, John Kerry called on President Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, according to The Raw Story: "The President owes it to our troops serving in Iraq to remove Secretary Rumsfeld and replace him at the Pentagon with a Defense Secretary who understands the situation on the ground in Iraq and who will advance, not undermine, American values around the world."

Well, sure. I would wholeheartedly support Rumsfeld's long-overdue removal. But is it possible that his successor would be Joe Lieberman, a vaguely Democratic Democrat who is, as Kos puts it, "corrosive to Democratic unity" and "tragically wrong on the war"?

I've never disliked Joe-mentum as much as many on the left, but it would certainly say something about him (something rather unpleasant) if he finally took that last step and sold out to Bush's corrupt regime.

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Dave and Oprah, sitting in a tree...

Once again, Slate's Dana Stevens proves that she's one of the best voices to turn to for television criticism -- yes, serious (yet extremely amusing) television criticism. See here for her piece on the recent kiss-and-make-up (for grudges unknown) between two cultural giants, Dave and Oprah -- Letterman and Winfrey, that would be.

Best passage, one that's as good as it gets:

"It would have made for far better television if Dave and Oprah had discussed their obvious temperamental differences and how these affect their approach to their craft. Where she sees her show as a 'mission' (a word she used in last night's interview), mingling feel-good philanthropy with a near-pathological messiah complex, he is a deeply cynical, almost nihilistic figure, whose air of cold detachment only grows as he mires himself deeper and deeper in the world of show-business artifice. In fact, this abyss inside Letterman -- the fact that, as he said almost proudly last night, he 'isn't close to anyone' -- is the only thing that still makes him interesting to watch."

Brilliant stuff.

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Excuse me, is that Merlot all over your face?

Stressed? Need to relax?

Why not visit a wine spa?

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Faith and love in Neverland

A former student of mine at the University of Toronto, Hajera Khaja, writes a blog called Finding Neverland. She describes it as "[t]he nonsensical ramblings of a self-defined slightly crazy, slightly delusional Muslim". Maybe, maybe not. I'll let you decide. But if you want a break from the political arena that I tend to inhabit, if you want to explore the poetic possibilities of blogging, and if you want to be challenged to consider the deeper, more spiritual facets of your humanity, I recommend you take the time to read Hajera's work.

And I suggest you start with an excellent post called "A Night of Peace" -- click here.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Blogger down, Reaction up

Well, that was slightly annoying. Blogger was down all evening. I'll do a couple of posts tonight, but keep checking back for regular updates. There's always new stuff at The Reaction, and I've invited a few co-bloggers to write some occasional posts. You'll be seeing them soon.


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So much for those Iraqi security forces

Once again, the truth threatens to undermine President Bush's grotesque attempts to spin the Iraq War in the direction of his peculiarly faith-based sense of reality.

For it looks like those Iraqi security forces in whom we have been told to trust, those wonderfully well-trained forces who will take over for the U.S. when Bush withdraws American forces for partisan political purposes and shifts the war in a new and as yet ill-defined direction.

From the AP, via Editor & Publisher:

The training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big "setback" in the last six months, with the army and other forces being increasingly used to settle scores and make other political gains, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said Monday.

Al-Yawer disputed contentions by U.S. officials, including President Bush, that the training of security forces was gathering speed, resulting in more professional troops.

Bush has said the United States will not pull out of Iraq until Iraq's own forces can maintain security. In a speech last week, he said Iraqi forces are becoming increasingly capable of securing the country.

Al-Yawer, a Sunni moderate, said he agreed the United States cannot pull out now because "there will be a huge vacuum," leaving Iraq in danger of falling into civil war. In particular, armed Shiite militias in the south might try to incite war if U.S.-led coalition forces leave, he said in an interview with The Associated Press and a U.S. newspaper at a conference [in Dubai].

Yes, I know the political angle: Al-Yawer is a Sunni. Obviously, he wouldn't want the U.S. to withdraw and to turn over security responsibility to Shiites, not with all the talk of torture at Iraqi detention facilities and Shiite militias terrorizing Sunnis. Plus, Iraq is in pre-election mode. Surely al-Yawer is motivated by personal political aspirations.

But shouldn't his claim be taken seriously? After all, he's not the only one who's questioned the competence of these much-ballyhooed Iraqi security forces -- see James Fallows in the latest Atlantic Monthly, for example. Bush has said that he wants to finish the job and that it would be irresponsible to withdraw U.S. forces prematurely and/or according to a timetable, but his hopes for a successful union of his key personal and political interests rest largely on the viability of these security forces to take over a large chunk of the policing on the ground.

Are they up to the task? Not if al-Yawer is to be believed.

And, unfortunately, there is good reason to believe him -- at least in part and at least to the point where Bush's hopes seem irresponsibly optimistic at best.


For more, see Matthew Yglesias at TAPPED and Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice.

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Civil partnerships in the U.K.

It's not quite marriage, but the U.K. has finally recognized same-sex partnerships under the new Civil Partnerships Act, according to the BBC. It's a huge step in the right direction.

(Here are posts on same-sex marriage in Canada and South Africa.)

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U.S. not prepared for terrorist attack

Over four years after 9/11, and with so much (rhetorical) attention on the so-called war on terror, the U.S. is still unprepared for another terrorist attack, according to Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the Republican chairman and the Democratic vice-chairman, respectively, of the 9/11 commission.

I'm sure the Bush Administration has some fascinating spin on homeland security -- I'm sure everything's just hunky-dory -- but Kean and Hamilton, neither of whom has an obvious partisan ax to grind, continue to reveal disturbing flaws in America's preparation, or lack thereof, for another serious terrorist attack.

I've said this over and over again, but there's only one man to blame. And we've still got three more years left of him. Isn't it time he was held accountable?

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

JFK and Vietnam, GWB and Iraq

In today's New York Times, Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger wonder what JFK would have done about Vietnam. It's all quite speculative, of course, but they knew first-hand what JFK was planning to do -- that is, withdraw from Vietnam before it turned into a quagmire, an unwinnable war.

But Sorensen and Schlesinger are also right about this, in response to Bush's speech at the U.S. Naval Academy last week:

We did not hear that the war in Iraq, already one of the costliest wars in American history, is a running sore. We did not hear that it has taken more than 2,000 precious American lives and countless -- because we do not count them -- Iraqi civilian lives. We did not hear that the struggle has dragged on longer than our involvement in either World War I or the Spanish-American War, or that by next spring it will be even longer than the Korean War.

And we did not hear how or when the president plans to bring our forces back home -- no facts, no numbers on America troop withdrawals, no dates, no reference to our dwindling coalition, no reversal of his disdain for the United Nations, whose help he still expects.


The responsibility for devising an exit plan rests primarily not with the war's opponents, but with the president who hastily launched a pre-emptive invasion without enough troops to secure Iraq's borders and arsenals, without enough armor to protect our forces, without enough allied support and without adequate plans for either a secure occupation or a timely exit.

Can there be any confidence that this president knows what he's doing, that he has a plan, that there's some viable strategy for winning the war in Iraq, a war that's been grossly mismanaged and that seems increasingly unwinnable?

It's not at all clear that Bush even understands what's really going on in Iraq and what's truly gone wrong in a war of his own making.

Don't expect that to change.

GWB is no JFK.


See also:

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The failure of intelligent design

And what a grand failure it is, both as a wholly un- and anti-scientific theory and, increasingly, as a faith-based political movement. It still gets quite a bit of attention, but:

Behind the headlines, however, intelligent design as a field of inquiry is failing to gain the traction its supporters had hoped for. It has gained little support among the academics who should have been its natural allies...

On college campuses, the movement's theorists are academic pariahs, publicly denounced by their own colleagues. Design proponents have published few papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals...

While intelligent design has hit obstacles among scientists, it has also failed to find a warm embrace at many evangelical Christian colleges. Even at conservative schools, scholars and theologians who were initially excited about intelligent design say they have come to find its arguments unconvincing. They, too, have been greatly swayed by the scientists at their own institutions and elsewhere who have examined intelligent design and found it insufficiently substantiated in comparison to evolution.

That's because there's simply nothing to it. For more, my previous posts on ID are:

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Jihadism is not Communism

The comparison may suit Bush's short-term political interests -- particularly his attempt to resurrect his presidency and his party's fortunes by refashioning the terms of both the so-called war on terror and the diversionary war in Iraq -- but it's neither accurate nor wise, says former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in today's Washington Post. His piece is a must-read. Here's a key passage:

By asserting that Islamic extremism, "like the ideology of communism . . . is the great challenge of our new century," Bush is implicitly elevating Osama bin Laden's stature and historic significance to the level of figures such as Lenin, Stalin or Mao. And that suggests, in turn, that the fugitive Saudi dissident hiding in some cave (or perhaps even deceased) has been articulating a doctrine of universal significance. Underlying the president's analogy is the proposition that bin Laden's "jihad" has the potential for dominating the minds and hearts of hundreds of millions of people across national and even religious boundaries. That is quite a compliment to bin Laden, but it isn't justified. The "Islamic" jihad is, at best, a fragmented and limited movement that hardly resonates in most of the world.

Communism, by comparison, undeniably had worldwide appeal. By the 1950s, there was hardly a country in the world without an active communist movement or conspiracy, irrespective of whether the country was predominantly Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist or Confucian. In some countries, such as Russia and China, the communist movement was the largest political formation, dominating intellectual discourse; in democratic countries, such as Italy and France, it vied for political power in open elections.

In response to the dislocations and injustices precipitated by the Industrial Revolution, communism offered a vision of a perfectly just society. To be sure, that vision was false and was used to justify violence that eventually led directly to the Soviet gulag, Chinese labor and "reeducation" camps, and other human rights abuses. Nonetheless, for a while, communism's definition of the future bolstered its cross-cultural appeal.

In addition, the intellectual and political challenge of the communist ideology was backed by enormous military power. The Soviet Union possessed a huge nuclear arsenal, capable of launching in the course of a few minutes a massive atomic attack on America. Within a few hours, upwards of 120 million Americans and Soviets could have been dead in an apocalyptic mutual cross-fire. That was the horrible reality.

Contemporary terrorism -- though nasty and criminal, whether Islamic or otherwise -- has no such political reach and no such physical capability. Its appeal is limited; it offers no answers to the novel dilemmas of modernization and globalization. To the extent that it can be said to possess an "ideology," it is a strange blend of fatalism and nihilism. In al Qaeda's case, it is actively supported by relatively isolated groupings, and its actions have been condemned without exception by all major religious figures, from the pope to the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia.

Brzezinski is a man of immense learning and political acumen. In other words, he knows whereof he speaks. America's leaders would do well to listen to him. And so would everyone else. Where Bush and his desperate team of spinners (from Cheney on down to the talking-point-spewing hacks who populate cable TV, the right-wing op-ed pages, and the talk-radio airwaves) will distort the truth or manufacture rival versions of the truth simply for political gain and self-validation, Brzezinski and others like him are doing their best to see things as they are (and to deal with them as they are), not as they appear to be through the lens of willful misrepresentation and disfiguring partisanship.

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A petition for Darfur

The Coalition for Darfur, a joint effort of Demagogue and Southern Appeal of which I'm a member, is helping to organize a petition calling on the international community "to organize and implement a strong, well-manned, and well-resourced intervention in Darfur, Sudan, in order to stop the ongoing genocide being perpetrated by Government of Sudan (GOS) troops and the Janjaweed (Arab militia) against the Black Africans of Darfur."

I wholeheartedly support the effort and I encourage you to sign the petition, which you can find here. Our voices need to be heard. And something needs to be done. It's not yet too late to act.

(My last post on Darfur, with links to my previous ones, can be found here.)

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