Saturday, June 10, 2006

Israeli-Palestinian Terror: Stray Shell

The beach is about five minutes from where we live. It’s a gorgeous beach on the Atlantic, steep-sanded at high tide, plains-like at low tide, a Saint Tropez of sorts for egg-laying sea turtles, a minor Mecca for anglers, romantics and old men with thick calves who like to sit on the wooden benches on the dune walk-overs and look at the ocean for fifteen minutes at a time, glimpsing, I imagine, their death’s horizon. We’re about thirty miles north of Daytona Beach so the beaches here aren’t nearly as crowded as they are down there, or as spoiled with walls of condominiums that make the piled-on place look like a richer version of the Gaza strip. Up here there are times when my family and I (my wife, my two young children) are one of maybe a dozen clusters of semi-naked lethargists claiming an acre of our own. My wife sucks up to the sun. My children get sucked in by the sand. I like to sit on a greenish canvas beach chair that I set right into the surf, the water lapping at my feet or sometimes rising high enough to graze the bottom of my bottom, and there I read to the sound of a considerably loud surf. As a judge would say: where am I going with this? Here’s where: How the Fribourg fuck does a “stray shell” find its way to a Mediterranean scene like this, which happens to be twenty times more populated with beachgoers, and kill seven people? And what is a “stray shell”? Gaza journalist Sami Youssef, who was at the scene: “There were people lying on the ground badly injured, crying. There were remains scattered along the beach. Three children were there, two with severe deep cuts in their heads. One girl was just screaming, crying out for her father: 'Dad, my dad.' It was a terrible scene, with blood everywhere. We could see a gunship in middle of sea, so we knew what had happened.” The Israeli military claims it was aiming for a spot “400 yards” beyond the Gaza beach where this latest display of episodic horrors took place yesterday. But that’s like Roger Clemens aiming for home plate and hitting the runner on first in the head with a 92-mile-per-hour fastball. And now in its equally barbaric wisdom, Hamas has decided to fire back in the same way, sending rockets and mortars blind into Israeli civilian areas. Truce over. As if it hadn’t been for months. As if it had had any chance at all. As if any of the usual players, the willfully absent Bush administration among them, have been interested in peace anyway. Since Hamas’s election it’s been a matter of another Israeli-Palestinian war looking for a stage. Now they have their war. One more. From the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush, the sun never sets on subcontinent in flames. This, ladies and gentlemen of the prejudiced jury, is how the lofty rhetoric of Bush’s second inaugural address—“There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment and expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant. And that is the force of human freedom”—has found its translation in the lands called , among other four-lettered words, Holy.
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Friday, June 09, 2006

No Exit, No Excuses: Germany 2006: My Unconditional Surrender to Total Football

It’s like losing your virginity: you don’t forget when it happened, though it usually happens much sooner. I know I watched the 1970 World Cup but I have no conscious recollections, only the vague sense that I was there in the television room in Beirut—the room whose windows gave on the Green Line and that would be shot to hell by snipers during the early days of the civil war, when we huddled in back of the fourth-floor apartment—when my father shouted his exuberance along with the rest of the world at the sight of the Brazilians putting on the greatest show in the history of the game, and at Pelé scoring one of the greatest goals ever in a game leading up to the final—greatest for the fact that the ball never even went into the goal. If you’ve seen the tape you’ll immediately know what I’m talking about: Pelé’s out-of-nowhere sprint up the middle toward the Uruguayan goal, taking a diagonal pass from midfield but letting it sail past himself and the rushing, utterly and flatly faked out keeper as Pelé kept running in the opposite direction only to zip back around the stunned keeper and reclaim the ball that had kept ambling on its merry way. Probably stunned himself by the DaVinci moment he’d just pulled off, Pelé, the back of the net gaping open to him, shot just wide of the near post: a goal all the same, in poetry if not in fact. After that, how could the Brazilians lose anything? They crushed Italy 4-1 in the final and made a man out of me. I was five and a half years old: Eros unbound at a very tender age indeed. Read the rest, steamy but for the grace of O Rei...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Stale Victory: Zip-Locking Zarqawi

We can’t exactly have it both ways. Either Zarqawi was a bumbling idiot, as the Pentagon tried to portray him in a video last month, or he’s the most wanted, most dangerous man in Iraq, as the White House’s tired version of Iraq as a wild-west Mideastern show has had it. His killing should bring a moment’s relief. The world always feels lighter when rid of a blob of barbarism. But the White House is playing up his killing by doing the equivalent of a street-dance: a 745-word Rose Garden address by President Bush that continues to miss the point: “Zarqawi’s death is a severe blow to al Qaeda.” Maybe so. But al-Qaeda isn’t the point in Iraq, or much of anywhere at the moment. We zero in on one man, we lose a country: Somalia is now a Taliban-like caliphate that the United States helped bring about. (I also wonder, with Victorino, “if the Bush administration is doing everything it can to best ensure OBL’s victory.”) Afghanistan is inching its way back to pre-2001 conditions. Iraq’s war isn’t nearly over: Zarqawi had already been marginalized ever since his terrorist bombing of a hotel in Jordan last year, while the Iraqi prime minister continues his show of puppeteering figureheads in one ministry or another while bodies pile up in the nation’s morgues. The nabbing of Saddam had supposedly been a blow to the insurgency. Same with the paraded killing of his two sons, and now the killing of Zarqawi. But the war in Iraq and within Islam is a bit more blobby than any one man’s beard, or even the shadows it casts.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Iraq Prison Break: Saddam, the Model

Remember that John Burns story in the New York Times? The dateline is especially ironic: “ABU GHRAIB, Iraq, Oct. 20 [2002]—Tens of thousands of Iraqi prisoners stormed out of their cells to freedom today after President Saddam Hussein declared an amnesty that appeared to have all but emptied a sprawling, nationwide network of prisons that have served as the grim charnel houses of one of the world's harshest police states. At the Abu Ghraib prison, a sprawling compound on the desert floor 20 miles west of Baghdad that has become a notorious symbol of fear among Iraqis for its history of mass executions and allegations of torture, the heavy steel gates gave way under the crush of a huge crowd of relatives who rushed to the jail within an hour of the amnesty broadcast. All semblance of order vanished as a cheering mob surged through the compound, in some cases joining prison guards in smashing cell-block walls to free weeping inmates. But some inmates were killed in the chaos today.” That was four years ago. Today’s New York Times, John Burns again: “Iraq’s new government said Tuesday that it would release 2,500 detainees, nearly 10 percent of those held in Iraqi and American detention centers, and that it would adopt a ‘national reconciliation’ plan to reintegrate former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party into society.” Read the rest…

"Terrorist" At the Gate: John Updike Brandishes a Boxcutter

He’s calling it Terrorist, and the critics are quick to take the bait: John Updike is making a “surprising turn” into new and “emotionally daring” territory, “taking so many risks,” writing about terrorism from the inside out. Not quite. Read the rest…

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

World Cup 2006: How Could 300 Million Americans Be Wrong?*

I can think of just three places on the world stage where the United States is an underdog: The United Nations, Iraq and soccer’s World Cup. We don’t do well as underdogs, if our collective opinion of Iraq and the U.N. are any guide. And when it begins in Germany on Friday, English-as-the-only-language fans this side of the Rio Grande will make a point of treating the World Cup as a foot fungus infesting the television universe for a month. Ridiculing the World Cup is such a point of national pride that the Wall Street Journal eight years ago felt compelled to defend the event in an editorial: “Fans of what is the world’s most popular sport tend not to walk out on it for long stretches, not when victory is defined by scores of 1-0 or 2-1. For this, soccer is routinely ridiculed by sportswriters in the U.S., who are stupid. If they weren’t stupid, they wouldn’t mock soccer.”

A game boasting a few billion fans doesn’t need defenders. Soccer thrives with or without the United States. But it’s a pity that a nation so compulsively appreciative of sports is so contemptuous of the king of sports — just because it hasn’t found a way to dominate it. A pity this year especially. The American team in Germany is the best ever assembled by the United States for a World Cup. (That semi-final finish in Uruguay in 1930 doesn’t count: It was the first World Cup, you could count the number of countries involved on two hands, and the Latin American host was probably scared that, true to form, the United States would invade if it wasn’t allowed an honorable showing.) As bad luck has it this time around, the Americans landed in the most difficult of eight groups for the initial stage of the competition, drawing Italy and the Czech Republic — both of them soccer Godzillas — along with Ghana. Still, with a little well-deserved misfortune for the dull and corruption-trailing Italian team and Ghana obliging as a sacrificial lamb, the Americans have a chance of making it out of the Group of Death and all the way to the semis again. (Nutty, sentimental prediction: they will.) Read the rest of the column...

(*) Perhaps for the same reason that 62 million Americans could be so catastrophically wrong.