Friday, April 14, 2006

April 13, 1975: Lebanon's War and Memory

As iconic a date as September 11 is for America, April 13 is for Lebanon. It was on this day thirty-one years ago that the civil war began there, on a Sunday morning, neither cold nor hot as I remember it, but balmy enough for a family trip to the mountains, where we spent the day as oblivious to the crag unfolding in Beirut as we were about the shatters, happening that very day also, of a half-century’s colonial order half a world away. April 13, it turned out, wasn’t just the end of the road for Lebanon’s brief experiment with peace and the semblance of unity. It was also very near the end of the road for America’s experiment in hubris in Vietnam, and for Cambodia’s days without terror.

It’s all there on The New York Times’ front page for April 14, 1975. The lead story is by Sydney Schanberg, who’d eventually win a Pulitzer for it and others like it, reporting the exodus out of Phnom Penh as the Khmer Rouge approached (Schanberg was the last American reporter there). Over three columns and below a four-column picture of jubilant South Vietnamese soldiers waving communist flags they’d allegedly seized, Fox Butterfield reports North Vietnam’s capture of Xuan Loc (“a key provincial capital east of Saigon”). And there, above the fold, fifth column from the right, this two-deck headline: “22 Palestinians Killed in Beirut,” followed by the sub-head: “Are Reported Shot on Bus by Lebanese Rightists—Arafat Protests.” The story, datelined Beirut, is by Juan de Onis. Like Proust’s muffin, any one word evokes that whole world of strife indistinguishable from personal memories verging, inexplicably, on the nostalgic (I imagine because anything spilling out of one’s childhood, even the traumatic and unforgivable, inevitably flirts with the nostalgic). Read the rest...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Civilization's Redeemers: Porn and Beans

While our Lord and Savior president continues to ensure that America’s near future will be defined, much too early given America’s age, by the usual trappings of imperial reckonings — defeat, decline, ridicule — it’s good to know that civilization’s forward march is not without its advocates elsewhere on the planet. “It is an ‘objectively determinable factual reality’ that beans,” South Africa’s daily Mail & Guardian reported on its front page yesterday, “make you fart.” This, the paper said, according to South Africa’s Advertising Standards Authority, which was compelled to rule on the matter following a complaint by the country’s Dry Bean Producers Organisation against a television commercial for Wildeklawer Sweet Onions. “The commercial,” the paper goes on to tell us, “shows a rugby player sitting in a change room with his coach. The rest of the team is standing outside the door refusing to enter. The lone player is eating a can of beans, and his coach asks: ‘Why, Roy, why? With sweet onions there are no tears, no burn and definitely no stink.’ The pay-off line is: ‘Wildeklawer Sweet Onions. Stinky is out. Sweet is in.’” Naturally, the beans association was offended by the suggestion that its product foments anything less than fibrous pleasures. “The producers claimed the commercial failed to recognise that gas formation due to beans was ‘merely a temporary condition which occurs while a person’s body gets used to the added fibre and prebiotics contained in beans.’” Well, yes, but those are mere words lost on the broken wind. Beans will be beans, while the truth about flatulence shall, we can now rest assured, set us free.
Equally vivifying is the somewhat belated if arousing report out of Saudi Arabia that the House of Saud has decided to phase out salesmen at lingerie shops, and to replace them with women. Read the rest...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Strangeloving Iran: Bush Does Yalta

No surprise. Our Lord and Savior President appears to be boning up for a B-2 bomb run on Iran ’s 17-odd underground nuclear facilities. His Strangelove ordnance might include bunker-busting nukes, because you wouldn’t want to show the world how serious you are about nuclear non-proliferation without going nuclear on transgressors’ isotopes. The administration’s denials are enough to confirm The New Yorker account of the coming air raids by Seymour Hersh, beat reporter to Bush’s Waterloos.
“Seymour Hersh is a liar,” Bush told the journalist Bob Woodward four years ago, an odd judgment considering that The New Yorker’s fact-checking department is more reliable than this White House’s. Renewed Hersh-hissing sounds cribbed from the Iraq playbook, back when the president was wagging diplomacy’s dog in public while he’d already platted Iraq’s corporate and military subdivisions in — literally, so far as the body parts are concerned — skull and bones secrecy. Obstinacy in the face of defeat is the gift of fools who confuse their folly with divine mission. Could Bush be that far gone? Actually, yes, but God’s work may have less to do with it than Yalta . A brief tour of the Oval Office, and a look at a recurrent theme in Bush’s speeches, show why. Read the full column...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

False Diplomacy: Bush Planning Major Air Attack on Iran

Seymour Hersh/The New Yorker, April 10, 2006

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.
American and European intelligence agencies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), agree that Iran is intent on developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. But there are widely differing estimates of how long that will take, and whether diplomacy, sanctions, or military action is the best way to prevent it. Iran insists that its research is for peaceful use only, in keeping with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it will not be delayed or deterred. There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ” Read the rest...