Student of History ... Draft-Age Blogger 8-01-03

Mr. Williams is a recent graduate in history at the University of Washington. He is now attending graduate film school at Boston University. He has written the following articles (pirates, press, prisoners, plagiarism, personalities) and can be reached at

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Another Nathan



Hitchens goes too far. 8-01-03

I can forgive the illogical but impassioned arguments for war last winter. I can generally forgive the usual militant contrariness. But I cannot forgive Christopher Hitchens's merciless lambasting of Bob Hope the very week the man dies.

Say I met Christopher in an elevator, casually remarked on the passing of the great entertainer, and heard in response,"Well, I never actually found him that funny." That's fine. Comedy is one of the most subjective parts of entertainment. But to write a thousand word diatribe against a universally beloved entertainer (unlike Bing, Hope has no abuse allegations hanging over his legacy) a handful of days after than man dies is utterly tasteless.

Hitchens calls Hope,"paralyzingly, painfully, hopelessly unfunny." I could not agree less. Surely Hope was not the freshest comedian on the menu after hitting 80 (Hitchens attacks him over a bad joke made in 1984; we'll see if Hitchens is even getting published in 2030). The post-Lenny Bruce stand-up era surely left him by. But in his prime, Hope's timing and delivery were impeccable. Woody Allen, to whom Hitchens unfavorably compares Hope, says:

There are a number a films where's he's allowed to show his brilliant gift of delivery, his brilliant gift of comic speech. He had a very breezy attitude, he was a great man with a quip. Those one-liners and witticisms, they're just like air. He does them so lightly. When someone else tries to do them, they're so leaden. It's hard to counterfeit his work and describe it. At times I even prefer him to Groucho.

You probably can't beat praise from a fellow comedian, but I would have liked to have quoted from Steinbeck's WWII era dispatch about Hope's remarkable resilience and talent which was included in Once There Was a War, but I seem to have misplaced my copy. It, and the volume, a collection of Steinbeck's wartime writings, as a whole, are definitely recommended. Also recommended, for Hope's performance at the very least, are: My Favorite Brunette, Son of Paleface, Fancy Pants, The Lemon Drop Kid, and Monsieur Beaucaire.

Posted by Nathan at 10:21pm PDT.

I'm no fan of Terry McAuliffe, but...8-01-03

Dean is in the wrong on this one. According to U.S. News (and World Report):

Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe secretly went to all the campaigns a few weeks ago and said that when it was"mathematically clear" that the party had a nominee (a date he estimated would be no later than March 9) he wanted the losers to drop out, release their delegates and endorse the presumptive winner. Dean refused. He is going to the convention with his delegates pledged to him no matter what.

Also, some have questioned my lack of commentary on the Poindexter madness. What can I say? Markets aren't magic. They don't, as James Surowiecki claimed in Slate, predict the weather. And any minor intelligence assistance the terror futures market could provide would, I believe, be offset by the profound loss of moral high ground when American investors can gamble directly on civilian deaths.

However, don't be surprised if we suddenly find Poindexter running some new bizarre program for the Jeb Bush administration.

Posted by Nathan at 9:35pm PDT.

It really is 1991 all over again. 7-29-03

Bush in the White House, a war in Iraq, an economy going south, and now an equivalent to the Rodney King case.

As some have pointed out, this parallel is a good omen for popular music, but bad for the country as a whole.

Posted by Nathan at 3:25pm PDT.

Open-mouthed shock.

I can't even begin to fathom the logic behind this.

Posted by Nathan at 10:11pm PDT.

On the warpath. 7/28/03

Say what one will about his motives, Bob Graham has been making quite a case for himself for running mate in '04. The old blue dog's taste for Bush's best slippers, so to speak, combined with his unimpeachable Florida credentials, make it hard, at this point, not to hope he ends up on the ticket.

Not to nitpickers: Yes I know that"blue dog" technically implies House membership, but it's such a great term for conservative southern Dems that I wholeheartedly advocate an expansion of the definition.

Posted by Nathan at 9:08pm PDT.

Me and Lorenzo/rolling in a Benzo. 7-23-03

It seems the Chicago police have long memories, none-too-subtly describing in a community alert a suspected sexual predator as resembling the highly-successful anti-establishment-rapper-turned-mainstream-actor, Ice Cube. The Chicago police were no doubt quick to think of Ice Cube's face because they never quite got over his primary authorship of the hit 1989 song,"F--- Tha Police."

Though there may have been legitimate gripes at the time about the song provoking anti-police violence in impressionable listeners, the behavior by Chicago's finest 14 years later is, of course, quite irresponsible.

Posted by Nathan at 3:53pm PDT.

Those durned Makhmalbafs! 7-23-03

Like the Pitt's, the Makhmalbaf's keep producing younger and younger talent, and thus shaming your 22-year old humble blogger. 20 I can handle, but 14!?


Posted by Nathan at 3:19pm PDT.

The good doctor lays it on the line. 7-22-03

Woe be to our country if Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is correct in his prognosis. A little taste:

The Stock Market will never come back, our Armies will never again be No. 1, and our children will drink filthy water for the rest of our lives.

Dangerous stuff, eh?

Posted by Nathan at 11:26pm PDT.

The Phantom Menace? 7-09-03

With the press and Democrats regaining their backbone as stability in Iraq seems farther on the horizon with each passing day, is the real danger to Bush's re-election the Federal Reserve? So says Robert Novak, and he's got a point.

If Bush can limit the casualties--pulling the 3rd Infantry and inserting some unnamed foreign division will definitely help--who's to say the American public really cares if there's a political and humanitarian disaster in Iraq. No one seems to mind about Afghanistan. The only damage I see the administration taking from Iraq (unless the allegations of WMD evidence falsification lead somewhere) is if Saddam somehow regains some visible position of power, even if only regional warlordship.

Oh, and Bill Safire has established a direct telephone link to hell somehow.

Posted by Nathan at 8:33pm PDT.

Yes,"bring them on." 7-02-03

Assuming that the mission is to be well-thought out (not always a given, as we've seen), I applaud the reported intention of the White House to send 500-1,000 Marines to Liberia as peacekeepers. Should the mission be successful, the stigma against American intervention in Africa might be broken and a lot of good might be possible in the near future. I do not endorse American military involvement in every single African conflict, but rather the selective and humane use of it when clearly necessary. Such actions might also do much to encourage more peacekeeping commitments by other powers (like the recent British intervention in Sierra Leone and the current, but small, French force in the Congo).

Of course, it ought to be mentioned that this is reported on the same day that the president issued a ridiculous challenge to Iraqi militants, needlessly antagonizing an Iraqi populace that is quickly souring on U.S. occupation. I think that we could not bring in Pakistani or Indonesian (as has been rumored) peacekeepers too soon.

Posted by Nathan at 3:52pm PDT.

Rummy strikes again. 7/01/03

I'm not the first HNN blogger to bring this up (go read Tom Spencer for the earlier comments), but it's impossible for me to avoid discussing Rumsfeld's recent history lesson. According to the AP:

Rumsfeld said the United States faced"a period of chaos and confusion" in its early years, including a depression, rampant inflation, no stable currency and mob uprisings.

"It took eight years before the founders finally adopted our Constitution and inaugurated our first president," he said, adding later:"Were we in a quagmire for eight years? I would think not. We were in a process ... evolving from a monarchy into a democracy."

I don't think Rumsfeld would need to think very long before realizing the problems with this comparison. The Articles of Confederation-era United States was, first and foremost, NOT occupied by a foreign power. To the dispassionate observer, the role of the United States in Iraq could, in this analogy, best be compared to that of France had it been necessary for Louis's forces to invade the British colonies and remain in occupation for a number of months/years to hunt down Cornwallis and his cronies.

To a less than dispassionate Iraqi, the United States could quite easily be seen in this little fantasy to correlate quite strongly to Britain herself, making armed resistance against the foreign power that wants to take away privately owned rifles akin to the minutemen at Lexington.

Rumsfeld blows a lot of hot air and I will hardly predict dire consequences for this public display of historical dull-wittedness. But this combined with numerous other incidents, like Condi Rice's statement that the US would have been wise to have invaded the Soviet Union in 1948, tends to lead to the belief that this is not a history-friendly administration.

Posted by Nathan at 12:12am PDT.

Does my title make sense anymore? 6-20-03

Having just graduated with my BA in history and now onto another challenge (film school), the"Student of History" moniker doesn't really fit. I could call myself"Draft-age historian," but I'm not sure if a BA gives me the right to call myself a historian, especially since I'm pursuing my love of the topic somewhat obliquely now.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by Nathan at 12:03am PDT.

Hypocrisy is what makes us human. 6-19-03

Only a few days after Hatch's"destroy the copyright infringers' computers" comments, it has come to light that Hatch's website uses unlicensed, and thus pirated, software. WIRED reports.

Posted by Nathan at 11:54pm PDT.

Difficult to fathom. 6-19-03

I can understand and sympathize with conservative idealogy on most points, though I more often than not disagree with such a point of view. However, the consistent refusal to accept scientific fact concerning climate change is absolutely unfathomable. 15 years ago, yes there was lack of consensus in the climatologist community. But now, almost no one disputes that temperatures are rising dangerously and that gases produced by human activiites are almost certainly responsible for such change.

I can somewhat understand the (relatively recent, it should be noted) conservative disdain for general conservationism. Placing plant and animal lives above the betterment of the human condition is a difficult moral argument. But climate change, of course, does not just affect coral reefs and Appalachian forests, but nearly every aspect of human life as well. So behavior like that reported today in the AP is baffling. Why do conservatives think that liberals (and many, many moderates) are concerned about this issue? There is no great political advantage to championing carbon-reduction for its own sake. And fierce conservative opposition matched with the general American unwillingness to change one's lifestyle makes for extremely depressing long-term thinking.

My only source of hope on this issue is quite widespread feeling among my generation--across idealogies--that the preceding generation has utterly failed on this issue, living in comfort so that in 50 years their children and grandchildren will suffer. And having the estate tax repealed is a meaningless gesture for a generation whose real legacy is an increasingly unlivable world. Thanks.

Posted by Nathan at 11:01am PDT.

Civil discourse.

I hate to be partisan, but...well, check out this clip (the one moderated by Pat Schroeder). Starting around 41 minutes, at least, it is worth watching. I have little tolerance for television personalitites, but seeing O'Reilly out of his position of control and uncomfortable is rare.

Posted by Nathan at 7:35pm PDT.

Suckered. 6-5-03

The Guardian has now admitted they misquoted Wolfowitz. How they managed such an extensive, detailed misquote is beyond me, but it really didn't make sense for him to say the things he did, at least to the press.

Posted by Nathan at 10:05am PDT.

Whuh!? 6-4-03

Some profoundly disastrous comments from Paul Wolfowitz. According to the deputy secretary of defense, oil was the real reason for invading Iraq and WMDs were simply a"bureaucratic" excuse. This is truly astounding behavior and would merit, I imagine, a sacking.

If it's true, I guess he deserves our admiration for coming clean. I can't imagine this won't have reprecussions for the administration. Polls have showed a majority of Americans don't really mind if chemical and biological weapons are never found. But will they mind if oil, not ending terror or liberating an oppressed people, was the primary motivation?

Posted by Nathan at 11:42am PDT.

Back to the real world. 6-3-03

Sorry for the long, unannounced hiatus. Over the past week I was occupied with promoting and planning the premiere of a film I recently completed. I also just returned from a short trip to LA (from my home in Seattle) to visit the California Institute of the Arts graduate film program. The school is wonderful, but can I handle the city?

What has happened in my absence? Well, it seems that public pressure in both the U.S and Britain are forcing lawmakers to look into the rock-solid proof that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons. I will reiterate my prior opinion on the matter: they probably did (but not in terribly significant amounts) but wouldn't have used them. If Saddam did not launch such weapons at U.S. forces or Israel when the invasion began, why would he have used them spontaneously? Yes, psychoanalyzing brutal dictators is generally not a wortwhile endeavor, but foreign policy must rely, to some extent, on probability.

Still, even though I believe Iraq possessed some such weapons, it seems likely that the British and American governments exaggerated the strength of their intelligence on such matters. Given that the administration has squelched the move to publicize the investigation into 9-11 preparedness, it's unclear how significant politically any of this will be in the long run.

Posted by Nathan at 5:18pm PDT.

Don't take my word for it... 5-26-03

Reading Rainbow, one of only a handful of socially worthwhile television programs ever created, is in dire straits. Those of you over thirty probably think,"What, that cheap thing?" However, to the academically and literarily interested of my generation, LeVar Burton's perpetually underfunded program was profoundly important in encouraging reading, curiosity, and thinking for oneself. Having grown up in the era of cable television when cartoons and other programming attractive to children are available twenty-four hours a day, my debt to this program is incalculable.

Our culture is generally like ivy and recovers setbacks quickly. However, the loss of this program would be a deep and lasting wound.

Posted by Nathan at 4:00pm PDT.

Ditto. 5-26-03

Tired of hearing the phrase"roadmap for peace" without knowing what the details are. You can read the relatively short document right here. You can also read why Bob Novak thinks Bush and Sharon will hang it out to dry here. Color me optimistic, but, uh, I'm optimistic.

Posted by Nathan at 1:36pm PDT.

Maybe not good news, but promising rhetoric. 5-26-03

Opposition forces in Zimbabwe say they are close to beginning their"final push" in the effort to oust dicatator, Robert Mugabe. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has stated before that it only wants the removal of Mugabe himself, not a complete expulsion of his ruling party, and has even offered immunity to Mugabe if he stepped down. If the rhetoric of"final push" is accurate, we will see in the coming weeks whether Mugabe cuts his losses or takes yet another gamble on being able to hold on to power.

Posted by Nathan at 10:31am PDT.

F for Effort. 5-21-03

In a speech to Coast Guard cadets today, the president chastised Europe for blocking"all new bio-crops because of unfounded, unscientific fears." Was this opinion informed by the same scientific advisors who felt this and this are unscientific fears?

Yes, in the speech his criticism of European fears over genetically modified food is in the context of food aid to Africa. However, the recently filed suit against the EU in the WTO (in retaliation for an EU suit over American steel tariffs) is the real motivator. And, of course, the same president concerned about feeding Africa is the one who froze $34 million promised to the United Nations Population Fund.

Posted by Nathan at 1:31pm PDT.

Huh? 5-20-03

AP:"Rumsfeld said the administration just wanted to study these weapons, 'not to develop, not to deploy, not to use' them."

Full story.

Posted by Nathan at 11:03pm PDT.

Victory for all. 5-16-03

The Texas legislature standoff has ended with good news for everyone. The Democrats held out until the deadline to prevent the aggressive GOP gerrymandering (splitting Austin into 4 parts in order to negate it as a Dem stronghold, etc.), while the Republicans (or their ideals anyway) win because the FBI and Homeland Security forces did not, as was requested by the Texas Speaker of the House, hunt down and arrest the missing legislators.

Posted by Nathan at 12:11pm PDT.

Wit and wisdom from New Mexico. 5-15-03

I'm sure you've all been following the Texas legislature story. If not, Salon has a good article on the matter which held a section, I felt, worth quoting here:

Furious Republicans asked Perry to issue warrants for the Democrats' arrest. They urged him to send"wanted" bulletins to neighboring states. New Mexico state Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat, replied with a sarcastic promise of cooperation:

"I have put out an all-points-bulletin for law enforcement to be on the lookout for politicians in favor of healthcare for the needy and against tax cuts for the wealthy."

Posted by Nathan at 11:50pm PDT.

Pre-history is still history...sort of. 5-15-03

I would have posted this in the Breaking News section of the front page, but we've been having some technical difficulties. Anyway, a recent Italian study casts significant doubt on the Neanderthal and Cro-magnon interbreeding theory. Thanks to Will Mallon for the link.

Posted by Nathan at 6:16pm PDT.

Rock history is still history. 5-12-03

The wind cries Noel.

Psted by Nathan at 9:20pm PDT.

A marathon (to be followed by a sprint). 5-12-03

Though the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is quite young, it is already proving to be a fascinating one (though unlikely to approach the great 1824 presidential election for sheer excitement). My two greatest surprises have been how unimpressive the great Southern hope (John Edwards) has been and how impressive the perceived spoiler-clown (Al Sharpton).

The Edwards campaign not only emphasizes his Clintonian aspects, he is rumored to have the political titan himself as an informal advisor. Edwards is also supposed to be a phenomenal trial lawyer. However, he has come across as terribly light-weight in recent public performances. Of course, so did Bush in 2000, but if recent events have not added to Bush's intellectual curiosity, they have certainly aged him and given him a gravity that would contrast well with Edwards' seemingly shallow charm. The other defense of this flaw has been to point out Clinton's learning curve. While his '88 convention failure is legendary, by '92 he had been DLC chairman for two years and was infinitely more savvy. Maybe John Edwards is undertaking a test-run for 2008 or 2012. If so, he would do well to alienate as few as possible between now and his drop-out date.

Sharpton, on the other hand, has been surprisingly realistic about the campaign, at no point insisting that he really has a chance (Feel free to provide an example contradicting this observation). When criticized as a spoiler by Stephanopoulos, Sharpton responded not with the perfectly justified but unrealistic"why shouldn't I have a chance just because I'm black?" but rather cited the increased rate of voter registration among African-Americans immediately following Jesse Jackson's 1984 campaign and its importance in the 1986 Democratic recapture of the Senate. Sharpton has been not just witty but well-spoken throughout, though his tendency towards spontaneous one-liners has not been entirely suppressed. Fascinatingly, he recently chided front-runner John Kerry for doing potential damage to his own campaign by engaging in more intense politics than necessary with dark horse, Howard Dean:"I don't see where [Kerry] even scores points policy-wise. And certainly, politically, he doesn't gain by arguing with someone who is not a long-term threat." Sharpton has gone a long way to convincing me that his intentions in the race are honorable, not to earn a greater role for himself by wielding the black vote, but to bring issues important to the Democrats strongest demographic to the fore and help ensure a high turnout rate among that group.

Posted by Nathan at 7:12pm PDT.

Maybe somewhere on the White House lawn? 5-12-03

The Independent is reporting that the Army's 75th Exploitation Task Force, assigned to search the"hundreds" of suspected sites alleged to be housing chemical and biological weapons, has ended its search. I am pretty surprised we couldn't manage to find anything in the whole country and that the search has been abandoned so soon.

Whether this seeming acceptance that the famous"WMD" will not be found will be of any political detriment to the president is yet to be seen. If the American public does not mind, so be it, but I hope the press does not abandon the Iraq story as they did Afghanistan.

Posted by Nathan at 4:31pm PDT.

A question of procedure. 5/7/03

Orin Hatch is now proposing a new (to me, at least) and drastic measure to defeat the repeated Democratic filibusters of Bush's judicial nominees in the Senate. He plans to challenge the jurisdiction of Rule XXII, the Senate rule allowing"unlimited debate on all legislative issues that reach the floor unless three-fifths of the Senate calls a halt," over judicial appointments.

I am no constitutional scholar, but I am sure there are some of you out there. How solid is this challenge? The linked article has much more detail.

Posted by Nathan at 3:07pm PDT.

So many baked beans...5/6/03

Back from Boston. The knee breaches went over poorly. THANKS A LOT, gentle readers, for warning me.

Oh, well. I quoted Emerson and Tip O'Neil with alacrity and won the natives over that way.

Here's a few Novak tips for you. Sorry if I seem overly reliant on the old conservative, maybe I'm just getting sentimental in this neo-con era. First, he reports that"Democratic insiders" expect to lose five Senate seats in the upcoming election. Then he proposes a nightmare/dream scenario wherein Hillary Clinton might receive the Democratic nomination for president in 2004!

His scenario depicts a brokered convention at which Hillary is the only candidate acceptable to everyone. However, this hypothesis relies on Gephardt winning Iowa, Kerry winning New Hampshire, Edwards winning South Carolina, and Lieberman winning Michigan. However, it's Lieberman who's way out in front in conservative South Carolina. As a political junkie, a convention that actually decided something is a dream. As a Democrat, it's a nightmare. As a student of politics and history, it's very long odds.

Posted by Nathan at 12:28pm PDT.

Short hiatus. 5/1-5/3

I'm not sure how many will notice, but I will be out of town and unable to blog for the next three days. I've been accepted by the graduate film production program at Boston University and will be visiting the school, at my own expense, and exploring the town. Any recommendable, affordable restaurants?

If I end up there, it will be interesting from a historical perspective, moving from Seattle, the it city of 1994-1998, to Boston, the it city of 1630-1775. I'm still a little confused, though. Are knee breeches appropriate before Memorial Day?

Posted by Nathan at 9:48am PDT.

Painful. 4/29/03

It seems a large number of South Carolina Democrats, plus Jocelyn Elders for some reason, are fighting to get Lyndon LaRouche invited to the May 3 Democratic debate. Anyone familiar with my commentary so far has hopefully found me to be uncommonly reserved in judgement and if not unbiased than certainly respectful of most political points of view. LaRouche, however, is nuts. His pamphlets are nuts. And his supporters, who constitute--along with the even more insane anti-Illuminati protesters--the bulk of political activism on my college campus, are aggressively annoying nuts.

The American political parties are so decentralized and loose definitions that someone like LaRouche can parade around calling himself a Democrat and nobody can really do anything about it. In this nation we love our mavericks who are able to buck the party line, but we more than pay the price with extremists and criminals.

Posted by Nathan at 8:37pm PDT.

Unprecedented. 4/29/03

The AP is reporting that the president will soon announce the end of hostilities in Iraq. This official end to the war is entirely unique in our nation's history in that the other side had absolutely no say in the matter. Every war and major foreign conflict prior has ended with some sort of official surrender or peace agreement. Even in the chaos in Germany at the end of the Second World War, Admiral Dönitz surrendered not merely as the supreme military commander of German forces but as head of state as well.

I am not of the type to decry this war as a new colonialism, but in this sense it resembles a war of colonial occupation much more than the traditional war between states. The Iraqi government is of course to blame for this absence of official surrender, but its hard to fault them for their disappearance: Even Dönitz, a militarist but hardly sympathetic to Nazism, got ten years in prison for his troubles.

Posted by Nathan at 12:09pm PDT

The tyranny of the primary system. 4/28/03

Alas, assuming Drudge is correct, mine will not be one of the 35 ABC affiliates showing the ridiculously early Democratic presidential debate May 3. All the heavies will be there, with Mosley-Braun and Kucinich for good measure (though no Gary Hart). Apparently excerps from the debate will be broadcast on Stephanopoulos's show the following day, but real democrats (small"d") will only accept the genuine article.

Will a front-runner emerge? Does anyone want to emerge as a front-runner (thus accepting all the associated burdens)? Will Sharpton's rhetorical skills shame the rest of the pack yet again? Only the lucky viewers of Tuscon, Milwaukee, and 33 other localities will find out.

Posted by Nathan at 7:10pm PDT.

Memorial blues. 4/27/03

The NYTimes today has a fascinating article on the disastrous D-Day memorial in Bedford, Virginia. A little lie becomes a big myth and eventually leads to a federal fraud indictment.

Still, it seems there's little chance any of this controversy will spill over to D.C. and derail the aesthetic offense that is the National World War Two Memorial. Sigh...

Posted by Nathan at 2:30pm PDT.

Get out your pencils. 4/23/03

A downside to the remarkable lateness of the Republican presidential nominatic convention in 2004, ostensibly delayed to avoid the Olympics but nicely timed so that Bush can launch his campaign on 11 September, is that Bush would be ineligible for the Alabama presidential ballot. As CNN reports, Alabama law stipulates that the parties must nominate their candidates by Augsut 31. If current legislation in Alabama extending the deadline does not pass, Alabamans would have to vote for the current president as a write-in candidate. Given Bush's tremendous success in the state in 2000, it is likely he would carry it even with the handicap of being a write-in."Bush" isn't that hard to spell, after all.

Posted by Nathan at 8:29pm PDT.

On the wrong track. 4/23/03

Yet another Deep Throat sighting, this time by University of Illinois (my sister's institution of learning) journalism students. Alas, they are on the wrong track. Since my readership is discreet beyond measure, I'll give you a hint as to the true identity of the informant: he or she is a certain Kissinger confidant.

Posted by Nathan at 7:40pm PDT.

Discretion is the better part of valor but the worse part of entertaining television. 4/23/03

Bah! Powell on Rose made no mention of the Gingrich speech. It seemed to be taped much earlier in the day or even on a previous day. And in all other matters he was his usual inscrutable self, saying his only goal was to serve"at the pleasure of the president."

Posted by Nathan at 1:16pm PDT.

I love robotic cameras. 4/22/03

Anyone interested in Colin Powell's state of mind following the open criticism by Defense Dept. employee Newt Gingrich should tune into the Charlie Rose Show tonight. Charlie's an unrepentant softballer, but the issue has to get broached. Much more exciting than any fabricated"reality TV."

Posted by Nathan at 4:43pm PDT.

One of the chosen few. 4/22/03

I'm no fan of Newt, but he is one of the most successful (along with Pol Pot) historians in the political arena, so he's worth watching. Now a Pentagon advisor (I thought he was still lobbying), today he made some scathing comments about Colin Powell's State Department. Though he criticizes pretty much everything, he singles Powell's efforts to solve the Syrian issue diplomatically as especially worthy of scorn:"The concept of the American secretary of state going to Damascus to meet with a terrorist-supporting, secret police-wielding dictator is ludicrous."

Let's see, Syria has been ruled by a dictator and supportive of Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups for decades. Gingrich became a public figure (House member) in January of 1979. Since then, George Schultz visited the secret-police wielding dictator in Damascus SIX times, James Baker ELEVEN times, Warren Christopher TWENTY-NINE times, Madeleine Albright FOUR, and Powell just two. I don't happen to have the collected speeches and press releases of Newt Gingrich in front of me right now, but I'm prepared to bet that the number of times he criticized these previous 51 trips to Syria is zero. And the number of nations that fit these criteria (unlected government, rights-abusing police, unsavory ties) is not small.

Of course, Newt being rash and stupid is not really news. What is interesting is how intense this inter-departmental rivalry in the Bush administration has become. Clearly, Bush does not want to lose Powell and his near-universal popularity. But just as clearly, the White House has shown its preference for the Rumsfeldian style of doing things. Democrats are no doubt enjoying this one from the stands.

Posted by Nathan at 1:09pm PDT.

Tiptoeing. 4/19/03

Robert Novak comments on the remarkable, increasing synchronicity of American and Israeli policy.

This puzzles me. Israel is, admirably, a real parliamentary government in a region where popular control of the government is not common. However, it is a nation of only six million and unfortunately, due to factors I need not go into, unable to serve as a friendly role model to other Middle Eastern states. It is also the world’s smallest nuclear power, and must be respected and feared as such. Still, India is democratic, nuclear, and home to over a billion human beings, and we do not spend a tenth of the political effort working to solve their disputes with other powers, notably the formerly democratic, but continually nuclear, Pakistan.

I wish to make clear, however, that “this puzzles me” is not a sarcastic statement carrying the implication of nefarious, religiously-based links between the two governments. I sincerely am puzzled by the energy and continually gigantic foreign aid devoted to the matter since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Posted by Nathan at 10:47pm PDT.

Intriguing, but dubious. 4-16-03

The BBC is reporting that there have been:

hints from Colin Powell in the last few days that Israel would only give up its own weapons of mass destruction if there were a peace deal between Israel, and Syria and Lebanon.

If true (they give no quotes) this would be the first public acknowledgement of Israel's nuclear program that I have ever heard by a U.S. official this high-ranking. Though revealing the hypocrisy of our anti-WMD position, the trade would hardly seem fair. As much as the president loves to lump together chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, their effectiveness and humanitarian impact are markedly different. Not only are the sarin and VX Syria is rumored to possess hardly the kind of defensive trump card that Israel's nuclear weapons are, it's much easier for Syria to acquire or remanufacture such weapons after the destruction of original stockpiles. And, of course, a"peace deal" would not necessarily mean the end to covert support of Palestinian violence by Syria.

Perhaps in exchange for Israel giving up their nuclear arsenal, we are promising to extend a NATO-like nuclear defense promise to the 55-year old nation. This seems unlikely, however, as does the entire hinted enterprise.

Posted by Nathan at 2:05pm PDT.

Instant Party (Circles). 4-14-03

In an AP article today, the unnamed writer attests:

Every minute, the sun bombards Earth with enough energy to supply its power needs for a year. Yet only two one-hundredths of a percent of all the electricity fed into the U.S. grid originates from sunlight.

Ho ho, really? Had the university attended by this ostensible journalism major required just a little bit more science in the curriculum, he or she might have known that all common energy sources--save nuclear and geothermal--originate from the light of our very own sun. Coal and oil are just really inefficient, but long-lasting, solar cells. So oil execs everywhere (even those who are"beyond" petroleum) can proudly declare themselves purveyors of solar energy.

Posted by Nathan at 3:34pm PDT.

Free stuff. 4-14-03

Slate is reporting today that 7 Up/Dr. Pepper is paying some young adults to casually drop references and links to their new drink,"Raging Cow," in their blogs. To be more precise, the article only implies payment, but it is almost certain that if these individuals are not paid in money they are paid in free product. I assure my readers that I would never succumb to such temptations. By the way, the Oxford English Dictionary totally rox!!

Posted by Nathan (OED 4ever!) at 10:46am PDT.

Inter arma silent leges. 4-13-03

The New York Times Magazine contains a very interesting piece by law professor Kenneth Anderson on the evolving nature of the"rules of war." He ultimately makes his viewpoint known, but overall the article is generally unbiased and informative.

Posted by Nathan at 11:00pm PDT.

Different kinds of tragedy. 4-13-03

I mean no slight to the immense human suffering going on in Iraq (whether needlessly or necessarily) when I bring readers' attention to this unique tragedy. I would comment on such suffering if I had anything worthwhile to say, but I can offer neither constructive criticism, historical perspective of any benefit, or comfort. However, as a student of history writing for historians above all others, I must relay and discuss the following disaster.

The looting of the National Museum of Iraq and the potentially permenant loss of some of the only artifacts from the world's very oldest civilizations is a long-term tragedy. That is, its impact will not--and should not--be truly felt at this moment. The death, torment, and, indeed, joy of too many human beings puts the loss of trinkets from those long dead firmly in perspective. But just as no one today mourns the loss of the human beings who lost their lives in the events surrounding the various fires that destroyed the ancient library at Alexandria, one day--a day I do not long for or seek to rush towards--the short term tragedies will be forgotten, buried along with those that experienced and observed them, and future generations will be left with, of course, the international and local consequences of this war itself, but also the great loss to humanity's self-knowledge brought about by this saddening theft and destruction.

Posted by Nathan at 1:09am PDT.

Back on the radar. 4-12-03

Any semi-frequent visitor to this site has probably noticed my repeated attestations of affection for documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris. Last year I heard that he was about to release his long awaited interview session with Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense for Kennedy and Johnson and president of the World Bank during the '70s. Long has this film evaded my gaze, but now it appears a release date is finally set for this fall. Fans and detractors of the good secretary will be fascinated at this unprecedented account of his beliefs and recollections.

A question for my well-read readers (or perusers): I have not read David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest. Any recommendations? My familiarity with Halberstam is limited to his Fifties and numerous self-satisfied television interviews. But I suppose if I was asked to pontificate on camera, self-satisfaction would be hard to resist. We'll see how McNamara does...

Posted by Nathan at 3:32pm PDT.

Whew! (maybe) 4-10-03

According to the AP, many Arab jihad volunteers are returning home from Iraq, frustrated in their desire to inflict casualties upon the American and British invaders/liberators by the lack of organization on the part of Iraqi leadership. Hopefully we will handle the situation sufficiently so as not to inspire their return.

Posted by Nathan at 8:07pm PDT.

A foundation for concern. 4-09-03

I have been truly impressed with the effectiveness of the conventional military operations in Iraq and especially surprised, like many, at the forfeiture of Baghdad by the supposedly elite Iraqi units. Nevertheless, amidst this jubilation (understandable on the Iraqi part but a bit premature on ours), we must face the fact that winning the peace will be more difficult and require more political tenacity than winning the war.

Just look at Afghanistan. As a scathing critique in Salon observes, the situation in much of the country is as bad, albeit in some different ways, or worse than the Taliban era. The New York Times reports that President Hamid"Karzai's authority is largely limited to Kabul" and is only maintained"by a 5,000 strong international peacekeeping force." Warlords, many armed by the U.S. in its effort to overthrow the Taliban, hold real power outside the capital. Women's rights are still trampled upon.

Afghanistan clearly has greater underlying ethnic discord, religious extremism, and economic impoverishment than Iraq. Nevertheless, our neglect of that nation is evident and inspires little confidence in our new endeavor. And if greater funding and energy is applied to rebuilding Iraq and still denied from Afghanistan, the disparity is damning in itself. Afghanistan has a population of 27 million, Iraq has 24 million.

Posted by Nathan at 10:05pm PDT.

Quibbling. 4-09-03

At a press briefing today, Rumsfeld righfully declared,"the tide is turning,""the regime has been dealt a serious blow," and all sorts of self-congratulatory rhetoric. No quibbling here. But he also made the statement:"Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed brutal dictators."

While I do not dispute the brutality of their rule, how exactly were Lenin and Stalin"failed?" Both died firmly in power and of natural causes at a relatively mature age. I suppose one could argue they were"failed" in the inability to determine their successor, but then almost every American president is failed in this respect. Methinks Rummy just couldn't resist lumping some commies in there. Why not the former communist Milosevic? Or would that give too much credit to Clinton's war on Serbia?

In more germane, and pleasant, news, Rumsfeld took another crack at Syria but assured an inquiring reporter that we would take no action in the short term as"we're still dealing with Iraq." That's good to know.

Posted by Nathan at 1:15pm PDT.

At risk of getting caught looking ahead. 4-09-03

This week's New York Times Magazine contains a fascinating article (really an extended interview) in which Iranian democratic reformers make a strong case that any overt American involvement in internal Iranian politics (including the ridiculous but increasingly discussed subject of militarily instigated"regime change") would be counter-productive.

Choice quote: A student leader told the author,"We're trying to move from ideology to modernity, and Bush is moving from modernity to ideology."

I will admit that Iran holds a dear place in my heart, albeit for somewhat superficial reasons. Somewhat surprisingly to westerners like myself, it is the home of the greatest cinema movement of our day. Abbas Kiarostami's new film, Ten, is now playing around the country and is highly recommended for anyone interest in the medium or in Iranian society. A calendar can be found here.

Posted by Nathan at 12:43am PDT.

Heaping praise upon praise. 4-08-03

Congrats to Robert Caro and Richard Atkinson for winning Pulitzers for biography and history respectively. I wish I had read them. This is not a"let's poke fun at the unconscionably long books" post. I really wish I had the free reading time to tackle these, especially Master of the Senate (because I'm a closet LBJ lover). Alas, at 1,100 and 700 pages respectively, what is a college student to do?

Less cable news and more reading, you say? If only I had the strength of will...

Posted by Nathan at 2:58am PDT.

A portent of things to come? 4-07-03

While the conventional military successes in Iraq continue at their astonishing pace, the AP find the opportune time to provide a counterweight. As they report, Afghanistan is in an abysmal state, much of it due to lack of funding for police and the military. Consequently, Taliban forces are reorganizing and rearming, and the nation is so dangerous that the Red Cross has indefinitely suspended activity. Not only should we do everything possible to avoid repeating this neglect in Iraq, we should remedy the situation in Afghanistan as well.

Posted by Nathan at 12:15pm PDT.

Patton on the Metz. 4-05-03

Robert Patton, Gen. George Patton's grandson, writes a fascinating piece in the New York Times on the general's long and bloody siege of Metz in late '44. The younger Patton does not intend to draw parallels but merely to provide a cautionary tale of a superior mobile force frustrated at determined urban resistance and the temptation for direct assault.

Posted by Nathan at 1:20pm PST.

My Generation, Right or Wrong. 4-05-03

A fascinating article in the New York Times about a generational clash on college campuses—between anti-war professors and apathetic or pro-war students.


In violation of my promise, I have been unable to track down the source for my 2 April mention of Jordanians among the POWs. Given my failure in this area, it was likely a printed source. If anyone can point me in the right direction, please do so in the Post a Comment section below.

Posted by Nathan at 10:16am PST.

Astounding. 4-05-03

If reports are to be believed, the Republican Guard defense of Baghdad seems to have effectively collapsed. American troops are allegedly deep within the city itself and meeting little resistance. If the Iraqi plan is to lure us into the city and trap us there, they seem to have done a miraculously good job at feining utter defeat.

If all this is accurate, there is a very good chance casualties, both coalition military and Iraqi civilian, could be much lower than most--including myself--anticipated. At least in the period of conventional warfare.

Posted by Nathan at 1:58am PST.

Upstarts in a blowout. 4-04-03

Gotta hand it to the British. They know the key to gaining Iraqi respect and affection.

Posted by Nathan at 2:10am PST.

Stalin's Oregon 4-03-03

Reuters reports a shocking piece of legislation in the Oregon state senate. If passed into law, the legislation would classify traffic-blocking public protest as terrorism and mandate a minimum 25-year jail sentence!

As the article indicates, the bill is certainly doomed, but the fact that an influential state senator (Chairman of the judiciary committee) would propose such a thing, is truly disheartening. FDR used to refer to my home state as the"Soviet of Washington," but it appears Oregon has claimed the authoritarian mantle. They are welcome to it.

(Yes, I'm aware Roosevelt was emphasizing Washington's overall lean to the left, not its oppressiveness).

Posted by Nathan at 9:18am PST.

Disappearing act. 4-03-03

A BBC journalist embedded with the 3rd Infantry is reporting that there are far fewer Iraqi casualties and destroyed equipment—-evident to him at least—-than one would expect if an entire Guard division had truly been annihilated in the vicinity. Also, another BBC correspondent reports from Saddam International Airfield that it is still firmly under Iraqi control, contrary to U.S. reports that it has been taken. Curious.

Posted by Nathan at 9:00am PST.

55 Years Young. 4-03-03

Today marks the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, also known as the Marshall Plan. In honor of this multiple-of-11 anniversary, the New York Times makes available its original article from that very day.

In the first year alone, the Plan spread $5 Billion in aid to 16 European nations. This was 14% of the total federal budget. What kind of commitment will we show to post-war Iraq? And will the future Iraqi government be allowed similar freedom with aid funding?

Guess which of the following nations did not receive funding under the Marshall Plan (answer at very bottom of page): Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, or western Germany?

Posted by Nathan at 12:35am PST.

Not so savvy. 4-02-03

In an move that looks extremely foolish, Iraq has expelled two Al-Jazeera reporters from Baghdad and incited the influential cable network into ceasing all reporting from Iraq. There are still other Arab media outlets reporting in the country, but none are as widely viewed (allegedly 35 million viewers) or as respected as Al-Jazeera.

With much of the potentially sympathetic press expelled from the city or marginalized, Franks, et al, are now much more able to control perception of the likely upcoming battle for Baghdad. Escalation of the war fueled by pan-Arab outrage is Saddam's best bet for long-term survival, and this turn of events lengthens whatever odds he originally had. We'll see if this order came from the top or if the Ministry of Information undergoes a few high-level dismissals. In which case, Al-Jazeera may return, no doubt emboldened.

Posted by Nathan at 8:35pm PST.

Quick update. 4-02-03

Here is a Slate article discussing the suprisingly--to me at least--brittle Republican Guard.

Posted by Nathan at 5:00pm PST.

The sweet smell of success? (Amateur analysis) 4-02-03

The Third Infantry Division and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force are reported to be making rapid and substantive progress towards Baghdad, not only taking ground but, the Pentagon claims, obliterating two of the Republican Guard divisions in the process.

Now, if true, this progress is quite remarkable, especially since there have been no reported combat casualties in the renewed offensive. It would seem the loss of mobility by these heavy divisions due to the overwhelming American air superiority has made carving them up a deliberate but relatively painless process.

Of course, not everything we've been told so far has been quite as rosy as initially reported. Not only have geographical gains been prematurely celebrated (Umm Qasr, Basra, Nasiriyah, etc.), but so have reports of destruction or surrender of Iraqi forces (remember the surrender of the 51st division and the 120 tank column suicidally rolling out of Basra?). It is possible that the gains are quite true, and that Iraqi casualties are significant but represent only a delaying force with the bulk of the Medina and Baghdad divisions either withdrawing to lure the Americans into Baghdad or dispersing to harass lines of supply and communication. Also, there remains the distinct possibility that U.S. casualties are significantly higher than reported.

Also worthy of concern is the fact that Jordanian Palestinians are among POWs being taken in the fighting (I will find a reputable link, I promise) and claims of an Al Qaeda kidnapping.

Posted by Nathan at 12:45pm PST.

Typical British overstatement. 4-01-03

The BBC is reporting that"in a show of confidence, British troops have removed their helmets and replaced them with berets in Safwan, al-Zubayr, Umm Qasr and Rumaila." Wait a moment, don't London police wear helmets? Is southern Iraq really less dangerous than Trafalgar Square? Not a huge issue, really, but wouldn't we all like to have more stories like this one and fewer of our cousins across the pond in the casualty rolls?

In the same report, the British military spokesman is quoted as saying,"Normality is returning to the people of Iraq." This is plainly an irresponsible claim. Even in the best of circumstances, normality will not return to Iraq for a long time. Suggesting so publicly—and thus to Iraqi civilians—is to promise more than the coalition can provide.

Broken promises, while perhaps inevitable when conquering/liberating a nation, can at least be minimized.

Posted by Nathan at 9:10pm PST.

The old guard. 4-01-03

A great Moynihan tribute from Bob Novak.

Posted by Nathan at 6:31pm PST.

Reading and viewing material. 4-01-03

Back to popular culture for a few moments:

I know I'm just a bit late on this one, but in case someone's on the fence after seeing The Pianist declared the best written, acted, and directed film of last year (but apparently not the best) and need one more shove in the right direction, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

The film provides a perfect companion piece to the East German Jakob der Lugner, a much more allegorical film. Indeed, Pianist provides the emotional counter-weight to Jakob's intellectualism.

While there are numerous great documentaries about the Holocaust (Shoah and Mr. Death among them), it is very difficult to handle this part of history with a feature narrative film. Too many try to fight the darkness by portraying real or fictional heroes.


As a college student, one is often compelled by financial matters to obtain reading material second-hand, and thus late. Nevertheless, I will quote from the Economist of 22 March, pointing out the interesting parallel between the current war and the Suez crisis of 1956:

Then it was Britain and France that launched a military action aimed at toppling a Middle Eastern dictator, Nasser of Egypt—and it was the United States which worried about legality and the international impact of intervention without a wider mandate. In the run-up to the war, John Foster Dullues, the American secretary of state, argued that the use of force against Nasser"would make bitter enemies of the entire population of the Middle East." The British and the French, however, were cast in the role of today's impatient Americans. They were, as a historian, Peter Clarke, puts it,"bent on intervention and increasingly impatient of the time-wasting pantomime at the United Nations, ostensibly aimed at diplomatic settlement."

I will not try and force some sort of conclusion from this parallel. Sometimes historians just find these things interesting for their own sake, and I am as guilty as the next. Nevertheless, it is a reminder how dramatically our dedication to international institutions has declined.

Posted by Nathan at 2:15pm PST.

What can you do with a general? 3-31-03

With all the talk about the conspicuous silence of the Democratic presidential candidates, Wesley Clark is very carefully edging his way into the picture. Clark writes occasional editorials for the Times of London and a few U.S. papers and appears regularly on CNN, shining especially on the latter stage. It helps, of course, that CNN seems to have accidentally given one of their accountants a lead anchor role during this time of crisis. Brown is usually stumbling and confused—perhaps like much of CNN’s moderate audience—and Clark manages to be both reassuring and cautioning. Very early on he pointed out his concerns about our invasion inspiring the long sought-after pan-Arabism of Nasser, et al. He also was relatively early and frank in his assessment of the inadequacy of ground forces.

Will this be enough of a media war for the media generals to gain more political steam than the real ones? During the Kosovo campaign, Debra Dickerson recounts in Slate, Bill Cohen ordered the media-savvy Clark"Get your f------ face off the TV!" The retired Clark is now getting more live TV time than the president.


Why exactly did Colin Powell want State over Defense? Powell was at least partially responsible for the recent diplomatic disaster leading up to this war and would likely have handled the war planning better than Rummy. (Franks's plan or no, Powell would almost certainly have followed his own doctrine and brought more forces to the fight.) Yet, it's widely reported that Powell repeatedly had opportunities to voice criticism of the invasion plans and refrained from doing so.

Powell's puzzling behavior is reminiscent of that of John Quincy Adams during his tenure in the State Department. However, Adams's unpredictable positions were motivated by career concerns—his chances for the presidency were more important than ideological consistency. What is Powell's career future?

Posted by Nathan at 2:04am.

Without haste but without rest. 3-28-03

Now that the advance to Baghdad has become somewhat bogged down, or, as the President told a group of veterans today, steadily advancing, the question of urgency presents itself. How urgent is the defeat of Iraqi forces and overthrow of Saddam Hussein? Under the assumption that a direct assault on Baghdad would cost far more lives than coping with paramilitary attacks over nearly any length of time, what is time worth in terms of lives? Is sieging the capital for six months at the cost of 500 coalition troops preferable to seizing it in one at the cost of 5,000?

The problem with arguing that lives are valued immeasurably over speed is that time clearly was enough of an issue to inspire the invasion (and the resulting assurance of lives lost) in the first place. It is unclear whether the slow burning fuse of a prolonged war or the devastation of a direct assault are more palatable to the American public—and, just as important, to the Arab public.

While many have compared the looming battle for Baghdad to the 1942-43 Battle of Stalingrad, a better fit is the Battle of Berlin. In 1945, the Soviets had the option of surrounding Berlin and starving it into surrender. Instead they assaulted and lost tens of thousands of men. While Hitler may have had delusions of Frederick the Great rising from the dead or some such nonsense, the average German soldiers (many of them children) must have seen much less prospect for victory than loyal Iraqis currently do. And the Soviets attacked with 193 divisions.

There are innumerable related questions, among them, which course of action spares greater civilian lives and which offers the least prospect of the use of weapons of mass destruction, by either side.

Posted by Nathan at 11:36pm.

Courage under fire. 3-27-03

From the New York Times

In one widely recounted incident, a force of about 20 guerrillas charged a Marine armored patrol head on. Only about eight survived the first devastating round of fire, but they got up and charged again.

This is an ominous sign. To the historian, such behavior brings to mind the ever-present banzai charges in the Pacific campaign of WWII. This type of tenacity, of course, made invading and assaulting Japan so distasteful that the decision was eventually made to use atomic weaponry. I cannot imagine the same result here, but it is likely that such attacks--as well as less dramatically courageous guerilla action--may spur commanders, if only locally, to indulge in a less soccer-mom-friendly mode of warfare within populated areas. This in turn, historical example suggests, can lead to increased antipathy towards U.S. forces from the local population.

Striking a balance between maintaining certain moral standards and successfully fighting a war is as old as war itself. There are no simple answers for Gen. Franks and company. However, it would benefit this country on a great many fronts to be able to capture not only Baghdad but the moral high ground as well.

Posted by Nathan at 9:21pm.

Even"Reagan" would sound better. 3-27-03

A secured airport near Nasiriyah is being referred to as “Bush International.” While I am sure the president blushed when informed of this gesture, it is profoundly ill-advised. To Shiite Iraqis in the south, “Bush” no doubt brings to mind the leader who allowed their widespread revolt to be brutally crushed. The name also smacks of conquest, something we should be reassuring Iraqi civilians is far from our minds. Isn’t it?

Posted by Nathan at 5:05pm.

First Time's the Charm 3-26-03

Am I the only one who winces at the term, "hearts and minds?" Nearly every media source seems to casually use it, but for me it has inescapable associations if not of Vietnam itself (being just a bit too young) than of Vietnam lectures in high school. On the first night of the war, former Sec. of Defense Bill Cohen accidentally referred to “Shock and Awe” as “Rolling Thunder.” I hope the Pentagon PR dept. has a big laminated card of all the Vietnam-era terms that are strictly taboo.

Especially My Lai.


Why are the conventional Iraqi forces on the offensive? With Iraqi forces severely outgunned, why on earth would they conduct the large scale offensives they seem to have mounted? (Over)confidence or desperation? It’s quite difficult to imagine the former. Despite the parallels, it’s hard to imagine Saddam as Hitler ordering the Ardennes offensive in December ’44, honestly thinking he could retake Antwerp/Umm Qasr. As for the latter, no one knows quite what is going on in the Iraqi dictator’s inner circle, but judging by the overall progress of the war, desperation doesn’t seem to be quite necessary, at least so far. His limited loyal forces are certain to be much more effective on the defensive.

Or is there some sort of Tet-like moral victory hoped for? Does the Iraqi command think a strong offensive at this point likely to shock the U.S. public and its modern-day Walter Cronkites into opposition to the war? This is also hard to imagine, especially since we’re only a week in. But that’s why I wasn’t chosen to succeed al-Bakr in 1979.


Michael Moore gets booed, deservedly so, at the Academy Awards. Several of my peers cannot fathom how this could happen. “Why would anyone boo Michael Moore?” Seattleites live a sheltered life.

The most shocking part of the Flint, Michigan, native’s harangue is his implication of the moral superiority of documentary filmmaking:

I have invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us, and we would like to — they're here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times.

Documentary films, especially the kind Moore makes (highly stylized, featuring significant narration and background music, employing scripted comedic scenes—in one case animated) are capable of flights of fancy and manipulation right there with Lord of the Rings. Remind me, Michael, what genre was Triumph of the Will?

The real best documentary of the year.


Anti-war songs! Now that Credence Clearwater’s “Fortunate Son” is dutifully selling jeans, where are the new anti-war anthems? Well, the Beastie Boys aren’t much younger than Fogerty and co., but that didn’t stop them from recording “In a World Gone Mad.” Listen for yourself before reading further…Done? Bet you didn’t finish it. Well, neither did I. With mediocre production and quatrains like the following, the Beasties aren’t exactly inspiring:

Citizen rule number 2080
Politicians are shady
So people watch your back 'cause I think they smoke crack
I don’t doubt it look at how they act

Better produced is former Rager Zach de la Rocha’s “March of Death.” Take a listen? Did you understand it?

I read the news today, oh boy, a snap-shot of a midnight ploy
Vexed and powerless, devoured my hours I’m motionless with no rest.

Me neither. Leave it to the nearly petrified REM to produce the strongest track, found here. Taking its inspiration from the protest songs of the 60s, it is vague enough not to induce laughter and articulate enough to get its point across. Guess that’s the best we’re gonna’ get.

Posted by Nathan at 4:30pm.

Answer to quiz of 3 April: Franco's Spain, of course. In 1953, however, he gave the U.S. four military bases in return for economic aid.

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More Comments:

Sam Trowell - 8/6/2003

The Lenny Bruce era may have spelt a sea change to Bob Hope-style comedy, but Hope appreciated talent. In a Playboy interview that I read years ago, Hope referred to Bruce as the funniest comedian that he ever watched perform. He spoke of one night when Lenny realized that he was in the audience. Bruce said (something like) "This one's for you Bob- here's my impersonation of Jack Paar taking a shit". He then sat in a chair just offstage, wrapped the stage curtain around himself so all that was showing was his face, which he then contorted as if struggling painfully with the task at hand. Hope said he fell out of his chair laughing.

Nathan Williams - 7/5/2003

It's so clever, I can't imagine it hasn't already been taken. Nevertheless, I shall research the matter...

Pat - 7/5/2003

Artful blogger

Nathan Williams - 5/14/2003

Perhaps I should have made myself more clear, or perhaps dry (or bad) senses of humor don't translate well to blogging. The Illinois students and Chatterbox make convincing arguments that I, who know Deep Throat only as Hal Holbrook, can't really judge. My link to infamous producer was a joke, but he did have a very close relationship with Kissinger at the time.

Don't worry, you aren't the first to be confused by my comments on the matter. And thanks for writing.

Rayna - 5/13/2003

So you don't think it's Fielding? I found their argument, coupled with that of Slate's Chatterbox's quite compelling. As to your hint, is there a particular reason why it is a link to Robert Evans?

Nathan - 4/11/2003

It seems we were both overly pessimistic. However, I would have felt the same way given the evidence available at the time.

Perhaps the biggest difference between '45 Berlin and '03 Baghdad is that the United States, while an invading and occupying power, does not quite strike the fear of brutal reprisal and racial antipathy that Germans might have felt in regards to their Russian invaders. Let us hope our occupation is more sucessful than the Russian as well.

Thanks for your comment.

Mark - 3/31/2003

I concur with your assessment that an assault on Baghdad has greater similarity to the fall of Berlin than the debacle at Stalingrad. Given the complete collapse of communication, discipline, supply and morale within the German troops in Berlin in those waning days; and given the unbelievable firepower assembled by the Soviet forces (e.g. hundreds of 230mm assault guns!) it is remarkable that the Soviets still suffered such appalling casualties. German troops were limited to small arms and "rolling Stukas" (aka a Panzerfaust mounted on a bicycle) Both OKH and OKW had established headquarters far outside the city. And the Twelth Army and Ninth Army were trying to reach each other and the Western Allies, not Berlin.

With Baghdad it is a much different story. The Republican Guard are rested, fed and well supplied. Their morale is reportedly high and their command structure is largely entact.

I fear they will not go quietly into that good night.