Saturday, June 10, 2006

We're good enough, we're tall enough,
and doggone it, we're going swimming

At the Goodman Pool. For years, Madison had been unable to find the money for a pool. What jump-started the project was the generous gift of $2.8 million, from brothers Irwin and Bob Goodman, long-time Madison jewelers, Badger boosters and philanthropists. The pool is right on the Wingra bike path, so we pedaled over and bought our season passes today and took a tour of the pool, which opens Monday. Rob Zaleski comments in the Capital Times about the opening of the pool he long campaigned for and never thought he'd see.
The Goodmans, both in their 80s, didn't attend the press conference. But their close friend Bob Pricer later told me that, much as the Goodmans love this city, they'd long felt that "something was lacking here."

That something, Pricer said, was a swimming pool. The Goodmans believed a pool not only would "provide recreation and promote good health," he said, but would "serve a diverse low-income and mixed-income population that currently has few options."

Now here it is, just two years later, and the day most people thought they'd never see is upon us. And while the Goodmans deserve most of the credit, they did, in fact, have a large supporting cast. (See the Goodman Pool link here, which includes fees and schedule.)
Now, let's move on and build that second pool in Warner Park. Meanwhile, I can't wait to try the lap pool.

My computer is haunted by neocons, and here's proof -- the famous letter that keeps popping up on my screen

It’s the craziest thing. Every now and then, when I’m typing the name of my blog into the browser, this damn thing comes up on screen instead. Yes, it’s the infamous January 26, 1998 letter to President Clinton from the Project for the New American Century urging him to attack Iraq and topple Saddam. Here it is -- clear proof that my computer is haunted by neocons.

It makes chilling reading now, for it suggests that well before 9/11, and in fact, nearly three years before George Bush took office, the neocons around him were pushing for war with Iraq, and that any later connection with the “war on terror” was purely coincidental.

You can see for yourself: Go to the document. Search for the word “terror.” You won’t find it. They hadn’t thought of that yet. They were still talking WMDs and not letting the U.S. be intimidated by the UN.
Given the magnitude of the threat, the current policy, which depends for its success upon the steadfastness of our coalition partners and upon the cooperation of Saddam Hussein, is dangerously inadequate. The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.

We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration's attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.
The signatories read like a “Hall of Shame” roll call of the people who got us bogged down in that hellhole. They include a prominent gambler, the current ambassador to the UN, the current ambassador to Iraq, a prominent neocon editor, the current defense secretary and the current head of the World Bank.
Elliott Abrams
Richard L. Armitage
William J. Bennett
Jeffrey Bergner
John Bolton
Paula Dobriansky
Francis Fukuyama
Robert Kagan
Zalmay Khalilzad
William Kristol
Richard Perle
Peter W. Rodman
Donald Rumsfeld
William Schneider, Jr.
Vin Weber
Paul Wolfowitz
R. James Woolsey
Robert B. Zoellick
Read ‘em and weep. Meanwhile, I’m looking for a good exorcist to purify the soul of my computer. Or at least show me how to clean up my browser’s cache so that I’m not constantly pestered by this infernal flashback every other time I type “letter.”

Zarqawi as seen by people, pundits and politicians -- and a “Girl Blog from Iraq”

I was thinking about the gloating, triumphalist reaction to Zarqawi’s death. One the one hand, it’s understandable -- the man was a monster and a thug. But what about the glorification of the high tech equivalent of vigilante justice and summary execution?

As usual, the people seem to be ahead of the politicians and pundits. On talk shows I heard a surprising number of people question the Zarqawi operation. Some said it was more about politics than justice, that it makes a mockery of the rule of law. Others suggested that taking out individual enemy leaders from the air hasn’t worked all that well for the Israelis, and it's not likely to work for us. The callers mostly weren't ideologues, but just ordinary Americans wondering what happened to our country’s sense of justice. What’s the message we’re sending about our values?

When George Bush announced Zarqawi’s death on the “Today” show, it seemed simple enough: Justice is something that's delivered from an F-16.
Mr. Bush said that at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday in Baghdad (10:15 a.m. Eastern time), special operations forces, acting on tips and intelligence from Iraqis, confirmed Mr. Zarqawi's location, and "delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq."
So now he’s judge, jury and executioner? I wonder if he will start to call himself the “Justice-Bringer.” But it wasn’t just Bush. Politicians and pundits alike seemed reluctant to speak up about due process. Nobody really questioned the idea of remote control justice, delivered by a laser-guided bomb.

Even Al Gore let me down all over again, on the Leno show. Before the jokes started, Leno asked him if he didn't find it creepy the way people were gloating about the Zarqawi killing. Now, maybe Leno was just trying to set him up, but the fact remains Gore came off as insensitive in comparison to Jay Leno, of all people. He looked puzzled for a moment. (Why are we talking about this?) Then he said something to the effect that Zarqawi was a bad person and he was glad he was gone. (Can we get back to my scripted comic bits, please?) In other words, he sounded like a politician when I was (unrealistically, and perhaps unfairly) looking for something more.

But you’re not going to get a broader context from a politician. You’ve got to look elsewhere. A good place to start is Greg Palast’s “Unreported: The Zarqawi Invitation” in Truthout.
They got him - the big, bad, beheading berserker in Iraq. But, something's gone unreported in all the glee over getting Zarqawi - who invited him into Iraq in the first place?

If you prefer your fairy tales unsoiled by facts, read no further. If you want the uncomfortable truth, begin with this: A phone call to Baghdad to Saddam's Palace on the night of April 21, 2003. It was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on a secure line from Washington to General Jay Garner. The General had arrived in Baghdad just hours before to take charge of the newly occupied nation. The message from Rumsfeld was not a heartwarming welcome. Rummy told Garner, Don't unpack, Jack - you're fired.

What had Garner done? The many-starred general had been sent by the President himself to take charge of a deeply dangerous mission. Iraq was tense but relatively peaceful. Garner's job was to keep the peace and bring democracy. Unfortunately for the general, he took the President at his word. But the general was wrong. "Peace" and "Democracy" were the slogans. "My preference," Garner told me in his understated manner, "was to put the Iraqis in charge as soon as we can and do it in some form of elections."

But elections were not in The Plan.
Read the rest of the piece to see how a mixture of U.S. greed, cynicism and bungling helped create the very insurgency that Zarqawi came to represent.

And if you want to see how things look on the ground in Iraq, check out Riverbend at Baghdad Burning -- the “Girl Blog from Iraq” (link thanks to Robot Wisdom, the invaluable site that first alerted me to this brave Iraqi woman’s blog). Her response to the Zarqawi killing is angry and cynical.
"A new day for Iraqis" is the current theme of the Iraqi puppet government and the Americans. Like it was "A New Day for Iraqis" on April 9, 2003. And it was "A New Day for Iraqis" when they killed Oday and Qusay. Another "New Day for Iraqis" when they caught Saddam. More "New Day" when they drafted the constitution… I'm beginning to think it's like one of those questions they give you on IQ tests: If 'New' is equal to 'More' and 'Day' is equal to 'Suffering', what does "New Day for Iraqis" mean?

How do I feel? To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation -- he came along with them -- they don't need him anymore, apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now? Who will be the new excuse for killing and detaining Iraqis? Or is it that an excuse is no longer needed -- they have freedom to do what they want. The slaughter in Haditha months ago proved that. "They don't need him anymore," our elderly neighbor waved the news away like he was shooing flies, "They have fifty Zarqawis in government."

So now that Zarqawi is dead, and because according to Bush and our Iraqi puppets he was behind so much of Iraq's misery -- things should get better, right? The car bombs should lessen, the ethnic cleansing will come to a halt, military strikes and sieges will die down… That's what we were promised, wasn't it? That sounds good to me. Now -- who do they have to kill to stop the Ministry of Interior death squads, and trigger-happy foreign troops?
In her previous post she invoked the name of Emily Dickinson to give voice to her despair after another day of brutal killings.
There’s an ethnic cleansing in progress and it’s impossible to deny. People are being killed according to their ID card. Extremists on both sides are making life impossible. Some of them work for ‘Zarqawi’, and the others work for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. We hear about Shia being killed in the ‘Sunni triangle’ and corpses of Sunnis named ‘Omar’ (a Sunni name) arriving by the dozen at the Baghdad morgue. I never thought I’d actually miss the car bombs. At least a car bomb is indiscriminate. It doesn’t seek you out because you’re Sunni or Shia.

We still don’t have ministers in the key ministries- defense and interior. Iraq is falling apart and Maliki and his team are still bickering over who should get more power- who is more qualified to oppress Iraqis with the help of foreign occupiers? On top of all of this, rumor has it that the Iraqi parliament have a ‘vacation’ coming up during July and August. They’re so exhausted with the arguing, and struggling for power, they need to take a couple of months off to rest. They’ll leave their well-guarded homes behind for a couple of months, and spend some time abroad with their families (who can’t live in Iraq anymore -- they’re too precious for that).

Where does one go to avoid the death and destruction? Are the Americans happy with this progress? Does Bush still insist we’re progressing?

Emily Dickinson wrote, “hope is a thing with feathers.” If what she wrote is true, then hope has flown far -- very far -- from Iraq…
I only wish that people who speak so glibly of the progress we’re making could spend one day in her shoes.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

John Updike joins the novelists drawn to terrorism like moths to a flame, but most critics aren’t buying his new novel, “Terrorist”

In The New Yorker recently Martin Amis was drawn to Muhammad Atta, a real terrorist. Now John Updike has drawn a portrait of Ahmad, an imaginary terrorist.

You’d think that Updike’s new novel, “Terrorist,” would have been cited in news stories about the recent arrest of the alleged homegrown Canadian Islamic terrorists, or that reporters would have sought to question the author about his views, since the Canadian conspiracy to some degree echoes the situation in “Terrorist.”


Instead, the novel as a cultural institution continues its gradual slouch toward social irrelevance. Of the 687 hits in response to the Google News query “Canadian Islamic terrorists,” not a single one of the stories bothered to quote Updike, despite the obvious news peg.

But if journalists weren’t looking him up, major newspaper critics weren’t exactly looking up to him either. Michiko Kakutani savaged the book in the New York Times.
Unfortunately, the would-be terrorist in this novel turns out to be a completely unbelievable individual: more robot than human being and such a cliché that the reader cannot help suspecting that Mr. Updike found the idea of such a person so incomprehensible that he at some point abandoned any earnest attempt to depict his inner life and settled instead for giving us a static, one-dimensional stereotype.

"Terrorist" possesses none of the metaphysical depth of classic novelistic musings on revolutionaries like "The Secret Agent," "The Possessed" or "The Princess Casamassima," and none of the staccato, sociological brilliance of more recent fictional forays into this territory, like Don DeLillo's "Mao II."
In the Washington Post, Amitav Ghosh is, if anything, even more dismissive. His review is titled “A Jihadist From Jersey: An alienated Muslim high schooler plots to blow up the Holland Tunnel,” and in it he accuses Updike of completely failing in his portrayal of Ahmad, the son of an Egyptian father and an Irish-American mother.
Updike once wrote, "In the strange egalitarian world of the Novel a man must earn our interest by virtue of his . . . authentic sentiments." Authenticity is, to my mind, a tall order for any novelist -- mere plausibility would be enough. But there is nothing plausible about the characters of this book: Only two of them are halfway believable, and they are Jack Levy and Ahmad's Irish-American mother. It is no accident, perhaps, that neither of them is brown.
So, does it make sense for a 74-year-old white male and Christian novelist to try leaping the barriers of age, culture, religion and color that separate him from his imagined terrorist?

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, you can’t help but admire the earnest student and dogged researcher who clearly put a lot of work into the enterprise, not to mention the master stylist who tried to bring this all alive as fiction. But on the other hand, isn’t this the kind of hubris and white American male sense of entitlement that is part of the problem, because it’s more about pontificating than listening?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Beast threw everything he could at us, including tornadoes, but missed

666 Update: Our plans to toast the Day of the Beast at the Edgewater pier were foiled by His Satanic Eminence Himself. He really did throw some weather at us, and he didn't mess around with cats and dogs, either -- or even frogs. He threw tornadoes at us. But he missed.

It was the damndest thing (and I'm choosing my words carefully here -- after all, I am speaking of the Prince of Darkness, the Boss of the Four Horsemen himself.) He couldn't touch us. Miraculously, the thunderheads and updrafts and rotating winds and flying debris diverged and split as they approached Madison. Some went southwest of us, some went northeast, and overhead the skies cleared and turned blue. It was like the Red Sea parting, or something.

27 Live Super Doppler

Bad weather southwest of Madison

Bad weather northeast of Madison

To what does Madison owe this miraculous stroke of luck? I'm just guessing here, but I think it's possible that even the Beast has gotten sick and tired of Ann Coulter. Publishing her new book on the Day of the Beast must have been the last straw. Madison is a pretty liberal town, and we've never had much use for Ms. Coulter, either. Even a Rough Beast has feelings. In a moment of temporary weakness, I think he saw us as an ally against a common foe and decided to cut us some slack.

Today is 666, and the minions of the Beast are on their usual rampage

The way things are going in Iraq and elsewhere, it looks as if War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death should have a great day -- especially as today they’re joined by another scourge.
Ann Coulter, the leggy blond scourge of all things leftish, is releasing her latest book, "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," on this supposedly demonic day. In it, she asserts, "Of course liberalism is a religion. It has its own cosmology, its own miracles, its own beliefs in the supernatural, its own churches, its own high priests, its own saints, its own total worldview, and its own explanation of the existence of the universe."
Meanwhile, things look a lot less apocalyptic here in Madison. We’re planning to nurse our hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia over a tall cool one while pondering the mystery of why the squares of the first seven prime numbers add up to 666 and watching the sun set on Lake Mendota from the Edgewater pier (666 Wisconsin Avenue).

Unless, of course, the Beast makes it rain cats and dogs. Or, worse, frogs.

UPDATE: No, not frogs -- tornadoes.