THE EURO-PRESS

We’re experiencing another bout of trans-Atlantic dissonance on Iraq. The only story in Europe and the Middle East right now are the images of some U.S. soldiers humiliating and mock-torturing some Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. The images are indeed revolting, appalling, and shameful. They are being used and will be used as further propaganda fodder to make democracy fail in Iraq and to neuter America’s moral credibility. But that in no way excuses them. The people involved need to be punished as severely as military justice demands. We need to figure out just how exceptional these cases of cruelty are. And we have to acknowledge the huge propaganda blow the fight against terror has just received in world opinion. Instead, the U.S. media is barely on the case.

EMAIL OF THE DAY: “‘But this Falluja reversal is mystifying, to say the least.’ Actually, this change in tactics may turn out to a very effective, yea brilliant, move on our part.
1. Putting an “Iraqi face” on this operation will likely do a number of things, not the least of which is creating internal divisions within insurgent ranks. It’s one thing to “make jihad against American infidels” and quite another to start killing fellow Iraqis who are ostensibly trying to bring some semblance of order and peace.
2. What is more, as we are apparently already seeing in Najaf with Al-Sadr’s militia, the foreign jihadis are rapidly wearing out their welcome. The Sunnis don’t much like the Americans but they undoubtedly hate the jihadis even more.
3. The jihadis may offer “72 Virgins and Paradise” but that’s not going to put food on the table or buy new clothes for the kids. Fallujans may be Sunnis but they’re not idiots: They know “Uncle Sugar” has deep pockets and they’d like a piece of the same action that the Shiites and Kurds are getting.
4. Buying people off, as we’re apparently doing now, has a long (if not totally honorable) history in the Middle East. We did it in Afghanistan and it has largely worked so why not try it in Iraq too?”

HEADLINE OF THE WEEK: “Suicide Bombing A Cry For Help, Vengeance Against The Infidel” – from the Onion.

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STRENGTHENING MARRIAGE

In Massachusetts, some employers are preparing to get rid of “domestic partnership” benefits for gay couples. Once gays are eligible for real civil marriage, they will have no more need for marriage-lite options (and such marriage-lite options need not be extended to straights). If that isn’t a truly conservative development, I don’t know what is.

THE RISK IN FALLUJA

I can’t be the only one troubled by the apparent decision to hand over the pacification of Falluja to some kind of Sunni/Iraqi force. Rumsfeld suggests that this is a recommendation from the Marines on the ground. You can certainly see why an effective Iraqi attempt to destroy the Baathist and Islamist forces in Falluja would be a good thing. But how realistic is that? And what does this sign of our retreat say to the rest of the population? Here’s a paragraph that made my stomach lurch:

And amid condemnation in Europe and elsewhere for what some leaders say are heavy-handed tactics in Falluja, American military and civilian officials in Iraq have shown much reluctance to return to all-out fighting here either, despite strong talk from President Bush and other administration officials about ending the insurgency.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that we have to strike a balance here – between quelling unrest and provoking more of it. But if we had the chance to eradicate a whole swathe of Baathist/Islamist terrorists and walked away, then it would amount to a huge miscalculation. In my lower moments, it makes me worry if the Bush administration has begun to abandon Iraq to internal chaos. I cannot believe they would do that. But this Falluja reversal is mystifying, to say the least.

THE BIGGEST SURPRISE: “As a person who has followed the Iraqi situation pretty closely, the results I read in the USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll were pretty much what I would have expected. The biggest surprise, by far, was the one about family income. I was frankly shocked to read that 84 percent said their family income was the same or better than before the war. While I know the media coverage can be slanted and misleading about many things, the impression I have seen from virtually every source about this topic has been so far off from what the poll results show that I am truly bewildered.
Could it be that media people are so jaded by the level of prosperity they enjoy that they simply cannot believe that the situation in Iraq could possibly have been this bad before the war? But since many of these same people have visited areas of the world with even more extreme poverty than they see in Iraq, I doubt this is truly the case. A more plausible explanation may be that non-Iraqis failed to understand the extreme deprivation of the quality of life that the Iraqi people lived with under Hussein. Whatever the cause I think it is a fascinating subject that really deserves a great deal of scrutiny and research.” – More feedback on the Letters Page.

A GERMAN … Takes on anti-Americanism and even defends George W. Bush!

SHARIA IN NIGERIA: Another region succumbs to theocracy.

THE NYT VERSUS STANDARDS: I’ve always failed to understand the left’s general educational policies. I’m particularly flummoxed by the horror so many feel at the thought of subjecting bad and failing schools to tough standards with consequences. Of course, the New York Times is against such standards. Eduwonk explains how they still get it wrong. (Hat tip: Mickey.)

THE GUARDIAN AND THE ENVIRONMENT: A nice tour through some truly bad journalism.

NYT DISTORTIONS I

Deborah Sontag’s defense of Jose Padilla is under blogfire.

NYT DISTORTIONS II: The New York Times’ medical correspondent still hasn’t backed away from front-page story in July 2000, predicting a “sub-Saharan” explosion in AIDS and HIV cases in San Francisco. I questioned his methodology at the time, spurred by the vigilance of Michael Petrelis, an HIV activist. Anyway, the latest data from San Francisco is now in on new AIDS cases in the first quarter of 2004. Petrelis compares them to previous first quarter results from 1999 onwards. Bottom line:

1999 = 62
2000 = 49
2001 = 56
2002 = 40
2003 = 14
2004 = 8

Now, of course, AIDS cases do not correlate with new HIV cases. Nevertheless, in five years, numbers of new AIDS cases in San Francisco in the first quarter have dropped from 62 to 8. Until the New York Times runs this astonishingly good data on its front page, its medical reporter, Lawrence K. Altman, has some ‘splaining to do.

IF IRAQ GETS MUCH WORSE

Bush could get a landslide. Dan Drezner has a point.

IT’S SECURITY, STUPID: Very sobering news from the latest big poll within Iraq. The obvious problem is that people feel less physically secure than before the invasion. Of course, some of that is inevitable. The security of a police state is not true security. The centrifugal forces that Saddam was slowly failing to control were bound to have a period when they spun out of control. Nevertheless, more troops, more focus on simple street security seems a no-brainer. Also notice the astonishing disparity between the Kurds and everyone else. The Kurds love us. But of all Iraqis, 57 percent want us out within the next few months.

A STAR IS BORN: Amazing reviews in London for a new production of Hamlet, starring an unknown 23-year-old, Money quote:

This is the kind of evening of which legends are made, one of those rare first nights that those who were present are never likely to forget… Whishaw, with his light, tremulous voice, painfully thin body, and the kind of cheekbones that will have adolescent girls swooning in the stalls, presents the most raw and vulnerable Hamlet I have ever seen.
He has all the gangliness of adolescence and the unbearable pain of a once bright and happy scholar who returns home to find that his family has imploded and nothing makes sense any more.
No wonder that this inadequate prince finds it so hard to revenge. Whishaw brilliantly captures an adolescent deep in the depths of clinical depression, whose feigned madness sometimes slips terrifyingly into the real thing.
Yet he is also the most lovable of Hamlets. During the soliloquies he genuinely seems to be confiding in us, the audience, with a rare, bruised candour that catches the heart.
“Oh that this too solid flesh would melt” is delivered through tears and snot and I have never heard “To be or not to be” – during which he contemplates knocking back a bottle of sleeping pills – spoken with such freshness and depth of feeling. You seem to be hearing it for the first time.

Enough to make me want to jump, er, hobble onto a plane. (It’s playing till August.) I had the chance to play Hamlet in grad school – bigger, longer, uncut – and ended up even more fascinated by the character than I was before. Maddeningly, purely, human thought. Unactable. And then, days after Shakespeare’s birthday, some kind of miracle happens again.

BLOGS AND 2004

Are we making a difference? George Packer thinks we are – but need to do more original reporting. Money quote:

Many bloggers emerged from the ranks of the press itself; unlike the elite press corps, though, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can blog. This is potentially the most radical innovation of the form: It opens up political journalism to a vast marketplace of competitors, reminiscent of earlier ages of pamphleteering. It also restores unvarnished opinion, for better and worse, to a central place in political writing. Insult and invective were the stock-in-trade of the English political essayists of the 18th century, and of their American counterparts during the early years of the republic (when bimbo eruptions made their first appearance in press coverage of presidential campaigns). The explosion of blogs has blown a needed hole in the sealed rooms of the major editorial pages and the Sunday talk shows. It has also affected political reporting, by forcing Washington journalists accustomed to the caution of the mainstream to follow less traveled tributaries x97 for example, the examination of President Bush’s National Guard service was partly pushed along by evidence laid out for reporters by Calpundit.

Yes: pamphleteering. And why not?

EMAIL OF THE DAY: “The line that struck me as most interesting in that piece from the embedded CNN reporter is near the end where he writes ‘So itx92s been surprising’. I would love for him to further explain why he finds the actions & attitudes of these men ‘surprising’. I would take a guess & say that this is this man’s first exposure to our men in the military.
I was an Army brat from the day I was born until I was halfway through college, and my father was an Airborne ranger most of those years. This reporter’s observations of our soldiers don’t surprise me at all. Anyone who has spent anytime around our soldiers would not have expected anything different. These men take their code and their duty seriously. The fact that the reporter is ‘surprised’ I think reveals more than anything his (and no doubt a significant number of media people’s) disconnect from what most people know, either first hand or instinctively, about our military personnel. We have the best military known to mankind and one of the primary reasons is the simplest one: The people who are in it.” – more feedback on the Letters Page.

THOM GUNN DIES: A difficult but, at times, I’ve found a rewarding poet. In this typically rich and arch Daily Telegraph obituary, you find two other details: he met his husband, Mike Kitay, at Oxford in the early 1950s. Kitay survived him.

A MARINE COMES HOME

A simple story of a tragic return home for a fallen Marine. It says a lot about America to me.

KREEPING KAUSISM: Mickey – “The Sky Is Falling!” – Kaus has been hyperventilating (most entertainingly) for months about the execrable nature of the Kerry candidacy. Now we have the Village Voice and New York Observer piling on. What do you call post-election recriminations six months before an election?

AIMING FOR BLAIR: The Euro-left targets the British prime minister as a “neocon.”

SONTAG AWARD NOMINEE: “Tillman, probably acting out his nationalist-patriotic fantasies forged in years of exposure to Clint Eastwood and Rambo movies, decided to insert himself into a conflict he didn’t need to insert himself into. It wasn’t like he was defending the East coast from an invasion of a foreign power. THAT would have been heroic and laudable. What he did was make himself useful to a foreign invading army, and he paid for it. It’s hard to say I have any sympathy for his death because I don’t feel like his “service” was necessary. He wasn’t defending me, nor was he defending the Afghani people. He was acting out his macho, patriotic crap and I guess someone with a bigger gun did him in.” – from the Daily Collegian in New England. I feel sick to my stomach. I’m working on a piece about Tillman, and hope to publish it soon.