Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
The Importance of Being Cool
Russia has not really withdrawn from the club of world's great powers, except for the brief period following the fall of the Soviet Union. But with President Vladimir V Putin at the helm and his new, nationalistic economic policy, the big bear seems not only to wake up from the post-Soviet nap, but is now truly trying to achieve a new status. Russia is back, with a vengeance.
The European Union may think that it is the sole balancer of the United States and the next superpower, but "Vladimir the Savior" may beg to differ.
Europe may have the euro and other attractive features, but Russia posseses oil and gas, and lots of it. What could be more important right now than oil and gas?
It is also because of energy resources that Russia and even China is moving closer to Iran, a world hydrocarbon superpower which holds the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and has the second largest gas reserves next to Rusia. Should Iran and Russia get together in producing and marketing their gas, the world could see an "OPEC of gas."
Partly because of the new great game in Eurasia, which has a lot to do with energy resources, the presence of US military and spreading of democracy by the US and Europe in Russia's near abroad is viewed with great suspicion in the Kremlin. This has led it to throw its weight behind the move by Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to ask the US military to leave their bases in those countries.
The move was made a lot easier with help from its partner in the ambitious Shanghai Cooperation Organization. US troops are still allowed to be in Kyrgyzstan, but with a fee increase to more than US$150 million per year from only US$2.7 million prior to the fall out. Russia and China is remaking the world order, or at least a part of it, through the SCO.
In another display of power by Putin, the Ukranians suffered a very cold Christmas last year after Gazprom reduced the supply of gas to the republic that underwent an "orange revolution" the year before. And when a gas pipeline broke following a dispute on gas prices between Russia and Georgia, the latter also suspected that Russia was somehow responsible.
And yes, Georgia also switched allegiance to the West, with its "rose revolution" attracting the world's attention in 2003. It was clear that Russia was more and more flagrant in using its energy as a weapon, especially if you decided to cross to the other side.
In the Sakhalin 2 gas project in the Pacific Ocean recently, Russia has flexed its energy muscle again, much to the dismay of the Dutch, British and Japanese multinationals involved in the project.
According to the official source, The project, carried out by a consortium of Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi and Mitsui is destroying the environment. But it is clear to all that Russia wants Gazprom, its energy behemoth, to get a stake in the billion dollar project.
Recently, the ever ambitious Gazprom decided to go it alone in developing the huge Shtokman fields under the Barents Sea, without involving Western energy companies who were bidding to participate in the project. It clearly demonstrated that Russia has taken oil nationalism to a whole new level.
At around the same time, in another sign of Putin's economic policy success, two Russian aluminum companies, Rusal and Sual announced a merger with a Swiss company, Glencore, to form the world's biggest aluminum maker. This deal would result in the American company, Alcoa relegated to the second place.
But no matter how much Russia tries to become a global power at par with the United States and the EU, it needs to realize that it is missing something very important: soft power. The world knows little about Russia, and very few Russian cultural products reach the world outside Moscow's sphere of influence.
Plus, Russian language is very difficult.
Rusia doesn't have Britney Spears, Pussy Cat Dolls or any wildly popular bubble gum pop princess to influence the world's young and impressionable population.
Sure, there are Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova, but they don't sing and appear in raunchy music videos on MTV. And remember that during the Cold War, the world witnessed how Russia's communist brand of rock and roll was soundly defeated by the Western version.
Imagine how an All-Russian Rejects would sound! Maybe it is for the best that it is not a global power.
As funny as it may sound, that is all it boils down to, a culture that attracts a huge number of the world's population. No amount of resouces is enough if you don't fare well in the global culture wars.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Bringing slutty back
From The New York Times, October 19, 2006
Good Girls Go Bad, for a Day
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM
In her thigh-highs and ruby miniskirt, Little Red Riding Hood does not appear to be en route to her grandmother’s house. And Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone’s bed. There is a witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria’s Secret and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a tea towel.
Anyone who has watched the evolution of women’s Halloween costumes in the last several years will not be surprised that these images — culled from the Web sites of some of the largest Halloween costume retailers — are more strip club than storybook. Or that these and other costumes of questionable taste will be barely covering thousands of women who consider them escapist, harmless fun on Halloween.
“It’s a night when even a nice girl can dress like a dominatrix and still hold her head up the next morning,” said Linda M. Scott, the author of “Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism” (Palgrave Macmillan) and a professor of marketing at the University of Oxford in England.
The trend is so pervasive it has been written about by college students in campus newspapers, and Carlos Mencia, the comedian, jokes that Halloween should now be called Dress-Like-a-Whore Day.
But the abundance of risqué costumes that will be shrink-wrapped around legions of women come Oct. 31 prompts a larger question: Why have so many girls grown up to trade in Wonder Woman costumes for little more than Wonderbras?
“Decades after the second wave of the women’s movement, you would expect more of a gender-neutral range of costumes,” said Adie Nelson, the author of “The Pink Dragon Is Female: Halloween Costumes and Gender Markers,” an analysis of 469 children’s costumes and how they reinforce traditional gender messages that was published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly in 2000.
Dr. Nelson, a professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, said the trend toward overtly sexualized costumes actually begins with little girls. “Heroic figures for women or considered icons of femininity are very much anchored in the femme fatale imagery,” she said, adding that those include an assortment of Disney heroines, witches, cocktail waitresses, French maids and an “interchangeable variety of beauty queens.”
While researching “Pink Dragon,” Dr. Nelson found that even costumes for little girls were gendered. Boys got to be computers while the girls were cupcakes. Today, there are bride costumes for little girls but one is hard pressed to find groom costumes for little boys.
Additionally, Dr. Nelson said, the girls’ costumes are designed in ways that create the semblance of a bust where there is none. “Once they’re older women it’s just a continuation of that same gender trend,” she said.
Men’s costumes are generally goofy or grotesque ensembles with “Animal House”-inspired names like Atomic Wedgie and Chug-A-Lug Beer Can. And when they dress up as police officers, firefighters and soldiers, they actually look like people in those professions. The same costumes for women are so tight and low-cut they are better suited for popping out of a cake than outlasting an emergency.
Obviously, however, many women see nothing wrong with making Halloween less about Snickers bars and SweeTarts and more about eye candy.
Rebecca Colby, 28, a library clerk in Milwaukee, said the appeal of sexy costumes lies in escaping the workaday, ho-hum dress code.
“I’m not normally going to wear a corset to go out,” said Ms. Colby, who has masqueraded as a Gothic witch with a low-cut bodice, a minidress-wearing bumblebee, a flapper and, this year, most likely, a “vixen pirate.”
“Even though you’re in a costume when you go out to a party in a bar or something, you still want to look cute and sexy and feminine,” she said.
Indeed, many women think that showing off their bodies “is a mark of independence and security and confidence,” said Pat Gill, the interim director of the Institute of Communications Research and a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
It is a wonder gyms do not have “get in shape for Halloween” specials.
In her book “Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality” (Harvard University Press), Deborah Tolman, the director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University and a professor of human sexuality studies there, found that some 30 teenage girls she studied understood being sexy as “being sexy for someone else, not for themselves,” she said.
When the girls were asked what makes them feel sexy, they had difficulty answering, Dr. Tolman said, adding that they heard the question as “What makes you look sexy?”
Many women’s costumes, with their frilly baby-doll dresses and high-heeled Mary Janes, also evoke male Lolita fantasies and reinforce the larger cultural message that younger is hotter.
“It’s not a good long-term strategy for women,” Dr. Tolman said.
But does that mean women should not use Halloween as an excuse to shed a few inhibitions?
“I think it depends on the spirit in which you’re doing it,” Dr. Tolman said. “I’m not going to go and say this is bad for all women.”
Perhaps, say some scholars, it could even be good. Donning one of the many girlish costumes that sexualize classic characters from books, including “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Cinderella” and “The Wizard of Oz,” can be campy, female sartorial humor, said Professor Gill.
It can be a way to embrace the fictional characters women loved as children while simultaneously taking a swipe at them, she said. “The humor gives you a sense of power and confidence that just being sexy doesn’t,” she said.
Dr. Tolman added that it is possible some women are using Halloween as a “safe space,” a time to play with sexuality. By taking it over the top, she said, they “make fun of this bill of goods that’s being sold to them.”
“Hey, if we can claim Halloween as a safe space to question these images being sold to us, I think that’s a great idea,” Dr. Tolman said.
But it may be only an idea. Or, more fittingly in this case, a fantasy.
“I love to imagine that there’s some real social message, that it’s sort of the female equivalent of doing drag,” Dr. Nelson said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily so well thought out.”
Tanda Word, 26, a graduate student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, who wrote a satirical article about the trend for The Daily Toreador, agreed. “I think it’s damaging because it’s not just one night a year,” she said. “If it’s all the costume manufacturers make, I think it says something bigger about the culture as a whole.”
Salacious costumes — the most visible reminder that Halloween is no longer the sole domain of children — have been around longer than plastic Grim Reaper scythes. But there has been an emergence of “ultrasexy” costumes in the last couple of years, according to Christa Getz, the purchasing director for BuyCostumes.com, which sells outfits with names like Little Bo “Peep Show” and Miss Foul Play.
“Probably over 90 to 95 percent of our female costumes have a flirty edge to them,” Ms. Getz said, adding that sexy costumes are so popular the company had to break its “sexy” category into three subdivisions this year.
Heather Siegel, the vice president of HalloweenMart.com, said her company’s sexy category is among its most popular. (The two best-selling women’s costumes are a low-cut skin-tight referee uniform and a pinup-girl-inspired prisoner outfit called Jail Bait.)
“Almost everybody gets dressed up really, really sexy for it,” said Carrie Jean Bodner, a senior at Cornell University in Ithaca who wrote about the abundance of skimpy Halloween garb for The Cornell Daily Sun last year. “Even the girls who wouldn’t dream of going to class without their pearls and pullovers.”
Last year Ms. Bodner, 21, dressed up as a sexy pinch-hitter for an imaginary baseball team. This year she and her friends are considering being va-voom Girl Scouts.
Ms. Getz of BuyCostumes.com said far more women are buying revealing costumes than firing off indignant e-mail messages asking, “Why are all of your costumes so sexy?” (though some do).
Still, women may be buying racy outfits because that is all that is available. Ms. Getz said she wished there were more sexy men’s costumes on the market and that the lack of them is but further evidence of the gender double standard. “It’s just not as socially acceptable,” she said, adding that men feel comfortable expressing themselves with Halloween costumes that are “either crude or outrageous or obnoxious.”
Ms. Siegel of HalloweenMart.com said the costume industry is merely mirroring the fashion industry, where women have more variety in their wardrobes. Besides, she said, men are less interested in accessorizing. “They’re happy grabbing a mask and a robe and being done,” she said.
At least they get a robe. Ms. Bodner of Cornell estimated that it will be about 30 degrees in Ithaca on Oct. 31.
“We’re not just risking our dignity here,” she said. “We’re risking frostbite.”
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Dalam usahanya menghukum Korea Utara, Amerika Syarikat menemui halangan hampir sama dalam usahanya mendapatkan sokongan masyarakat antarabangsa untuk menghukum Iran. Perkembangan terbaru, yang dikaitkan banyak pihak dengan tragedi "perang menentang terorisme" pasca 11 September, 2001, semakin menyukarkan pentadbiran Presiden George W Bush untuk mendapat sokongan masyarakat antarabangsa seperti semasa pakatan untuk menyerang Iraq.
China dan Rusia, dua ahli tetap Majlis Keselamatan PBB yang sering tidak sehaluan dengan AS terus menunjukkan sikap bertentangan apabila menjadi penghalang kepada tindakan lebih keras kepada Pyongyang. China telah pun melaksanakan tindakan memeriksa kontena yang dibawa masuk melalui jalan darat ke Korea Utara tetapi menolak kehendak AS dalam draf asal yang menghendaki pemeriksaan lebih menyeluruh.
Washington perlu mengambil kira kedua-dua negara kuasa besar itu kerana mengharapkan sokongan negara tersebut dalam usahanya menghukum Iran yang dituduh membangunkan senjata nuklear.
Jepun di bawah perdana menteri baru, Shinzo Abe membuktikan apa yang disuarakan pemimpin nasionalis berhaluan kanan itu. Selain berjaya mendapatkan resolusi sekatan ke atas Korea Utara melalui PBB, Jepun menambah hukuman dengan tindakan unilateral terhadap Korea Utara.
Kedua-dua China dan Rusia, dalam tindakan yang menyerupai sikap mereka ketika AS menuntut hukuman ke atas Iran melalui Majlis Keselamatan, mengatakan lebih banyak masa diperlukan untuk mendesak Korea Utara. Akibat kesukaran mendapatkan sokongan penuh kedua-dua negara, AS terpaksa mengubah draf resolusi beberapa kali sebelum diluluskan Majlis Keselamatan baru-baru ini. Banyak halangan dilalui AS untuk memperolehi resolusi menghukum negara pimpinan Kim Jing Il itu.
China ialah negara yang paling diperlukan untuk menyokong sebarang tindakan terhadap Korea Utara. Dalam rundingan enam negara melibatkan Korea Utara dengan China, AS, Rusia, Jepun, Korea Selatan, China memainkan peranan yang sangat penting. Tanpa kerjasama China, AS dan sekutunya sukar untuk bertemu dan berunding dengan Pyongyang. Walaupun telah membuat kenyataan keras terhadap ujian nuklear Korea Utara, negara itu masih bergantung pada China dan masih berada dalam ruang pengaruhnya.
China, walaupun telah membuat kenyataan keras terhadap tindakan Korea Utara menjalankan ujian nuklear, tetap tidak mahu AS memperolehi apa sahaja yang dikehendakinya, terutama memandangkan Korea Utara ialah negara yang di bawah pengaruh Beijing dan kejayaan pentadbiran Bush mengenakan hukuman yang sangat berat kepada Pyongyang menunjukkan pengaruh AS yang sangat kuat di rantau Asia Timur, sesuatu yang memalukan bagi China.
China dan Rusia juga berjaya menghalang daripada tindakan ketenteraan disebut dengan jelas dalam resolusi itu. Kedua-dua menekankan perlaksanaan sekatan di bawah Artikel 41 yang berbentuk sekatan ekonomi.
Jepun menjadi negara yang paling agresif bertindak secara unilateral terhadap Korea Utara, sekaligus mengesahkan dasar luar baru di bawah pentadbiran Abe. Jepun dalam satu draf awal mengenakan sekatan lebih ketat kepada Korea Utara, termasuk menghalang kapal negara itu daripada singgah di mana-mana pelabuhan di mana-mana negara. Jelas sekali Korea Utara menjadi insiden pertama yang menunjukkan dasar luar baru Jepun yang lebih asertif.
Manakala negara jiran, Korea Utara menjadi negara yang dilihat sebagai lemah dalam menangani isu nuklear ini. Seoul dipersalahkan banyak pihak kerana berlembut dengan Pyongyang sehingga mendorong negara komunis itu berani membangunkan senjata nuklear.
Presiden Korea Selatan, Roh Moo-hyun walaupun bersetuju untuk bersama dengan dunia menghukum jirannya di utara itu, tidak memperlihatkan hasrat menilai semula dasar berbaik-baik dengan Korea Utara, dikenali sebagai "dasar sunshine."
Melalui dasar yang dimulakan pada penghujung 1990-an itu di bawah pentadbiran Presiden Kim Dae-jung, Korea Selatan mula berbaik-baik dengan Korea Utara, yang semakin dilihat sebagai saudara yang terpisah dan bukan musuh.
Sekatan ke atas Korea Utara itu menekan negara itu agar kembali ke meja rundingan melibatkan enam negara yang berakhir setahun lalu. Resolusi paling keras terhadap Korea Utara itu bermatlamat menghentikan program nuklear Pyongyang dan menghalang ahli baru kelab nuklear itu daripada membeli atau menjual teknologi nuklear kepada negara lain. Ujian nuklear baru-baru ini menunjukkan Pyongyang telah jauh dari rundingan tersebut. Selain menarik diri daripada NPT, Pyongyang juga telah menunjukkan tanda penentangan utama dengan melancarkan ujian senjata nuklear.
Resolusi yang berjaya dicapai ini juga telah menunjukkan kepentingan China dan Rusia yang sering selari walaupun Rusia lebih mudah untuk mengikut kehendak Barat. Pengaruh kedua-dua negara Majlis Keselamatan ini juga telah mendorong permainan politik lebih kreatif oleh Washington, dan berkompromi dalam beberapa hal.
Duta AS ke Majlis Keselamatan, John Bolton ternyata kurang senang dengan tindakan China dan Rusia melengahkan dan melemahkan resolusi terhadap Korea Utara. Beliau mahu resolusi yang menunjukkan tanda jelas kepada Pyongyang. Dalam satu kenyataan bertentangan dengan pandangan AS, Rusia berpendapat kenyataan yang keras boleh menjejaskan usaha menyelesaikan masalah seperti itu. Korea Utara telah pun bersuara menyamakan tindakan Majlis Keselamatan menghukumnya sebagai deklarasi perang.
Tindakan ke atas Iran sukar dilaksanakan kerana sumber hidrokarbon negara Parsi itu yang penting bagi Rusia dan China, yang sedang membangun pesat tetapi berbanding AS dan negara-negara Barat dan Rusia kurang memndapat akses kepada sumber tenaga Timur Tengah dan Eurasia. Politik tenaga global yang mengaitkan AS dan negara-negara Barat dengan China menjadi faktor penting dalam percaturan seperti yang sedang dilakukan AS terhadap Korea Utara, Iran dan Sudan. Beijing juga ketika rundingan menghantar wakil ke Washington untuk bertemu Bush.
Isu Sudan masih sukar diselesaikan, walaupun puncanya bukan hanya rintangan yang diletakkan China tetapi juga kekurangan kesungguhan daripada Washington sendiri yang sedang sibuk dengan agenda lebh penting seperti Iraq, Afghanistan dan Iran. China menjadi pelabur terpenting dalam industri minyak Sudan dan merupakan pembekal senjata terbesar negara Afrika kaya minyak itu.
Bagaimanapun, China dan Rusia juga tidak mahu terlalu keras menentang agenda AS di Majlis Keselamatan. Hubungan perdagangan China dan AS menyukarkan pertembungan politik kerana hasil sangat besar diperolehi daripada perdagangan. Rusia juga menyedari kuasa tunggal dunia masih lagi AS walaupun senjata minyak dan gasnya memberikan kelebihan dalam banyak hal, terutama melibatkan hubungan dengan Eropah.
AS bimbangkan perluasan pengaruh Rusia dan China di Timur Tengah dan Asia Tengah, tetapi kebimbangan ini perlu ditangani dengan berhati-hati, antaranya kerana kerjasama yang diperlukan Washington daripada Moscow dan Beijing seperti Korea Utara, Iran, "perang menentang terorisme" dan sebagainya.
Bagaimanapun, penyertaan Beijing dalam meluluskan resolusi ini merupakan satu perkembangan baru yang disambut baik oleh Washington. Dari satu sudut, ini satu kejayaan diplomasi yang besar bagi pentadbiran Bush. Tetapi peranan baru diambil China ini dilaksanakan dengan berhati-hati, dan mungkin mengharapkan kompromi AS dalam hal-hal lain. China dan negara jiran Korea Selatan tidak mahu sebarang tindakan drastik sehingga meruntuhkan kerajaan Korea Utara. Mereka tidak mahu kestabilan tergugat.
Tetapi, kejayaan meluluskan resolusi ini menunjukkan pentadbiran Bush semakin perlu meneima multilateralisme, termasuk mengharapkan kerjasama negara yang berkepentingan bertentangan. Dan Korea Utara juga tidak boleh diharapkan untuk menerima tekanan AS kerana Pyongyang menganggap ia menjadi mangsa "permusuhan ekonomi" kuasa besar itu.
Pulangan untuk Korea Utara sekiranya mematuhi resolusi itu dan menghentikan program senjata nuklear juga tidak jelas, kerana tidak dapat dipastikan negara itu akan tidak dipinggirkan lagi dan mendapat bantuan masyarakat antarabangsa.
Sikap baru Washington yang semakin keras juga kemungkinan besar akan menjauhkan lagi Pyongyang dari meja rundingan dan semakin mendekatkannya dengan dasar nuklear yang lebih agresif, kerana ancaman yang dirasai daripada tindakan Majlis Keselamatan itu. Pyongyang juga menyedari tekanan ini sejak daripada rundingan enam negara yang berakhir setahun lalu.Tindakan unilateral daripada pentadbiran Bush juga tidak boleh diketepikan, walaupun tidak dalam masa terdekat.
Mungkin sikap seperti ini juga diambil oleh Iran yang turut berhadapan kemungkinan tindakan hukuman yang sama atau lebih keras daripada AS, termasuk tindakan ketenteraan. Tambahan pula, selepas senjata nuklear dibangunkan, mustahil untuk sesebuah negara itu berundur, lebih-lebih lagi negara yang merasa terancam.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Eksploitasi wanita hodoh oleh kapitalis
From Counterpunch, October 14-15
Is Betty Ugly?
By LUCINDA MARSHALL
Because I am a middle-aged woman, complete with grey hair, wrinkles, sagging breasts and stretch marks, on October 18, I will celebrate Love Your Body Day, an event sponsored by the NOW Foundation. The celebration, now in its ninth year, is designed to draw attention to the horrendous damage to self-esteem that is experienced by women as a result of the purposeful efforts of "Hollywood and the fashion, cosmetics and diet industries to make each of us believe that our bodies are unacceptable and need constant improvement."
Because of the relentless messages we receive telling us that our bodies are less than ideal, women spend billions of dollars every year to 'improve' ourselves and salve our damaged self-esteem. For most American women, feeling insecure about our bodies and how we look is a way of life. We are bombarded daily with images of what we should look like, images that for the vast majority of us don't come naturally.
Unless of course we go on a fad diet. Never mind that most of those fail, we still spend some $3 billion a year on weight reduction programs and diet food. Or we could undergo cosmetic surgery, and millions of us do, despite the risks. We spend billions on cosmetics (many of which contain unregulated, harmful ingredients), fashion magazines and the latest clothes. We dye our hair at the first sign of grey. In short, we have (literally) bought into a national epidemic of feminine insecurity.
The latest manifestation of the normal is ugly mantra is a new show on ABC, "Ugly Betty". Is Betty ugly? Not according to the promo shots. She just happens to be of normal build, maybe a size 10 (which the show description characterizes as, "slightly pudgy"), wears glasses and clothes that haven't been advertised in Vogue or Glamour and has braces that make her look like a 14-year-old girl, not a grown woman. The theme of the show? Betty and her sex-crazed boss conquer the "sharks" of the fashion industry who include, "many couture co-workers with botoxed smiles." Definitely a worthy heroine.
But of course we all know that Betty isn't really a role model, she is just a laughable character on a sitcom. Not someone to be emulated. For that we watch the likes of the CW's "America's Top Model" where the women who are winners are tall, anorexically skinny, have big breasts, perfect hair and behave in sexually suggestive ways. This, in the age of pimp chic, is the epitome of female perfection.
While positive role models for girls and women are still marginalized, pornography can be easily downloaded to an iPod or a cellphone. Video games use prostitutes as characters and offer virtual violence against women as entertainment. While Janet Jackson's breasts offend us, misogynist hate language has become extremely common on both television and radio where words such as" bitch", "slut" and "whore" are now used with impunity, particularly on shows marketed to teens and young adults. Most images of women in advertising are scantily clad and depicting violence against women is an acceptable advertising theme as long as it sells the product.
It has become normal to consider normal women ugly. We abide by the denigration of women's bodies because it is very, very profitable. The result for millions of women is not only damaged self-esteem and unrealistic expectations, but damaged health and bodies as well. And that is a very, very high price to pay.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network.
Pop culture this week
Berita-berita yang menggegarkan dunia budaya popular sejak seminggu lalu
1. The end of the place where the t-shirt that band people wear to gigs in order to look cooler than others because very few people have them, especially in Malaysia, came from.
2. Another 911 thing by Oliver Stone.
3. Tahun ni ramai sikit pegi tengok wayang berbanding tahun lepas.
4. Kartun Pope untuk dakwah orang supaya insaf dan mematuhi ajaran igama.
5. Radiohead making a new album and Thom Yorke campaigning for the environment.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
‘Liberal Islam’ and ‘Liberation Islam’
By FARISH A. NOOR
Prof Farid Esack is no stranger to scholars of contemporary Islam: Based at the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge and author of "The Quran, Liberation and Pluralism", he is known to many as one of the most ardent and consistent spokesmen for progressive Islam the world over. Recently Prof Esack was invited to Berlin for a conference focusing on how progressive ideas can and do develop within the context of contemporary Muslim societies, and in the course of his keynote speech he once again outlined the need for a progressive outlook in the interpretation and praxis of Islam that confronts the very real challenges faced by Muslims in today’s rapidly globalising world.
From the outset, he insisted on the distinction between what he labelled as ‘liberal’ Islam and ‘liberationist’ Islam. Speaking from his own experience as a Muslim activist who was directly involved in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, he noted that “for those of us coming from the left, there is and has always been a clear distinction between the meaning of ‘liberal’ and ‘liberation’.” The danger that so many Muslim activists face today is that the hegemonic outreach of international capital is so great that it is able to co-opt and domesticate all forces that oppose it. One such example is the case of so many Muslim leaders, activists and intellectuals who have been absorbed by the power structure of global capital, reducing them to compradore elites who merely mouth sentiments accepted and valorised by economic liberalists, without actually addressing the very real power differentials that continue to divide the world between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless.
Faced with this very real problem, he noted that “progressive Muslims need to go beyond ad-hoc accommodation with power and to address the reality of power differentials in the first place. So often those described as ‘moderate’ Muslims merely say what is sexy and acceptable to the powers that be, without challenging the logic of power per se. They therefore end up adjusting their theology to suit the needs and demands of power, and this is what I call the theology of accommodation, as opposed to the theology of liberation.”
“But in reality we need to ask more pressing questions that address the immediate needs of the environment around us, on a local level. For instance, in the context of Africa today where millions of people are dying of diseases like HIV/AIDS, should we not direct our theological understanding to address the fundamental root causes of these problems, such as the lack of health care and a proper medical system? Root causes and issues such as poverty, powerlessness among the people, the collapse of the state- these are the real issues to be addressed. We cannot isolate and distance ourselves from the core questions of power and politics in such instances.”
Where, then, should the progressive Islamist project locate itself? For years now the relationship between the Western and Muslim worlds has been defined by a consensus between Western and Muslim elites, who already operate on a shared understanding predicated on terms of a global capital-driven discourse. So much effort has been invested into conferences, meetings, research projects on issues like capital-driven development; yet the results have been paltry in comparison: African and other Muslim countries continue to be exploited by powerful multinationals whose only understanding of liberalism amounts to the opening up of domestic markets and the exploitation of the resources of poorer countries.
It is for this reason that Prof Esack insists that any progressive project begins from the premise of questioning the workings of power and highlighting its negative impact on the margins of society: "The progressive Islamist project, if it is to be truly progressive, has to be Prophetic by nature. What I mean by that is that we need to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad, and all the other Prophets such as Jesus and Buddha, who located themselves at the margins of society. They spoke for the poor and the downtrodden, and based themselves not at the centre but at the margins of society. Progressive Islam and progressive Muslims therefore have to identify themselves with the marginal constituencies of their respective societies, for progressive Islam is all about finding the voice of God at the margins of society: among the poor, the underprivileged, racial, ethnic and gender minorities, the politically weak and unrepresented." To this end Prof Esack insisted that "to find the sacred in the marginal is to bring the marginal to the centre, to make important what was deemed negligible and unimportant, like the poor and the weak."
This prophetic mission is what Prof Esack identifies as the true transformative power of any progressive interpretation of religion. Following in the footsteps of liberation theologists who fought (and died) for the cause of the poor and the marginalised, he criticised those moderates and liberals whose political commitment stopped short at an auto-critique of their own attachment to wealth and power: “Prophetic religion is all about criticising the abuses and accumulation of power at the hands of economic and political elites. I do not know of a single prophet in the history of humankind who began his project with the question ‘How do I adapt myself to the workings of power’, but rather the opposite. Religion, if it is to have any transformative potential and impact, has to oppose the centralisation of power and always stand up for those who have been sidelined and even abused by it. And for progressive Muslims to be truly progressive they also have to be consistent. One cannot call oneself a progressive Muslim in political and economic terms, while being a racist or misogynist in one’s private life.”
Whether such progressive voices can emerge and be heard at all in these troubled times remains to be seen. What is evident, however, is the fact that in the wake of 11 September the struggle to define and re-define Islam and Muslim norms and praxis has been waged in earnest. With more and more underdeveloped Muslim countries being forced to undergo ‘regime change’ at the point of a gun it is unclear if the new ‘moderate’ elites being promoted by the West will take into consideration the needs of their own people. But what is clear is that the need for a truly transformative and critical progressive project in Islam is greater than ever.
Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist. He can be contacted via his web site The Other Malaysia
Friday, October 13, 2006
If you don't like my lyrics you can ban my concert
Three latest clashes (one not really new) between pop culture and politics. The government of China decided not to let Jay-Z perform in the country, because of "vulgar language." A good news actually, because he may have to change some lyrics like the Stones did. Now that would not be cool.
A Slayer album was pulled from the market in India due to complaints regarding the cover by Catholic groups in the country.
In Europe, some lawmakers decided to meddle in Turkish affairs by passing a bill that would criminalize denial of Armenian "genocide." It coincided with Orhan Pamuk winning this year's Nobel Prize in literature. Although the bill needs approval from the senate and president, this somehow confirms how many Europeans feel about Turkey joining the European Union.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
TV dan pengolahan persetujuan
TV means a lot to many people. These days, it has truly achieved what it is made for: a substitute for human interactions, which is good for some people, by the way.
And according to Astro, now is the most important time for us to take TV seriously, for many important reasons. Such as being a popular boss, or a good son to your mother.
It used to be important to have a second Astro, or third for that matter, so that you would not be victimized in a struggle for the control of the remote between you wife and your mother.
Now that there's Astro Max, that is no longer the most important thing in life. Now you got to have Astro Max so that you would not lose out.
It is important that you watch everything that matters, so that you would not feel left out when you office mate gather around the water cooler to discuss what happened in the last episode of Cintaku di Rumah Susun, or who was on TRL last night. And it is also important for you to know how would Judging Amy ends.
Such are the important questions in life nowadays.
If you don't have Astro Max, you would not know what happened on TV. And if you don't know what happened on TV, you are not cool. That is why you need to get the Max. Plus there is a fear that Astro would only air a popular program only once.
Life has just got harder.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Islam in Europe
Across Europe, Worries on Islam Spread to Center
By DAN BILEFSKY and IAN FISHER
Europe appears to be crossing an invisible line regarding its Muslim minorities: more people in the political mainstream are arguing that Islam cannot be reconciled with European values.
“You saw what happened with the pope,” said Patrick Gonman, 43, the owner of Raga, a funky wine bar in downtown Antwerp, 25 miles from here. “He said Islam is an aggressive religion. And the next day they kill a nun somewhere and make his point.
“Rationality is gone.”
Mr. Gonman is hardly an extremist. In fact, he organized a protest last week in which 20 bars and restaurants closed on the night when a far-right party with an anti-Muslim message held a rally nearby.
His worry is shared by centrists across Europe angry at terror attacks in the name of religion on a continent that has largely abandoned it, and disturbed that any criticism of Islam or Muslim immigration provokes threats of violence.
For years those who raised their voices were mostly on the far right. Now those normally seen as moderates — ordinary people as well as politicians — are asking whether once unquestioned values of tolerance and multiculturalism should have limits.
Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, a prominent Labor politician, seemed to sum up the moment when he wrote last week that he felt uncomfortable addressing women whose faces were covered with a veil. The veil, he wrote, is a “visible statement of separation and difference.”
When Pope Benedict XVI made the speech last month that included a quotation calling aspects of Islam “evil and inhuman,” it seemed to unleash such feelings. Muslims berated him for stigmatizing their culture, while non-Muslims applauded him for bravely speaking a hard truth.
The line between open criticism of another group or religion and bigotry can be a thin one, and many Muslims worry that it is being crossed more and more.
Whatever the motivations, “the reality is that views on both sides are becoming more extreme,” said Imam Wahid Pedersen, a prominent Dane who is a convert to Islam. “It has become politically correct to attack Islam, and this is making it hard for moderates on both sides to remain reasonable.” Mr. Pedersen fears that onetime moderates are baiting Muslims, the very people they say should integrate into Europe.
The worries about extremism are real. The Belgian far-right party, Vlaams Belang, took 20.5 percent of the vote in city elections last Sunday, five percentage points higher than in 2000. In Antwerp, its base, though, its performance improved barely, suggesting to some experts that its power might be peaking.
In Austria this month, right-wing parties also polled well, on a campaign promise that had rarely been made openly: that Austria should start to deport its immigrants. Vlaams Belang, too, has suggested “repatriation” for immigrants who do not made greater efforts to integrate.
The idea is unthinkable to mainstream leaders, but many Muslims still fear that the day — or at least a debate on the topic — may be a terror attack away.
“I think the time will come,” said Amir Shafe, 34, a Pakistani who earns a good living selling clothes at a market in Antwerp. He deplores terrorism and said he himself did not sense hostility in Belgium. But he said, “We are now thinking of going back to our country, before that time comes.”
Many experts note that there is a deep and troubled history between Islam and Europe, with the Crusaders and the Ottoman Empire jostling each other for centuries and bloodily defining the boundaries of Christianity and Islam. A sense of guilt over Europe’s colonial past and then World War II, when intolerance exploded into mass murder, allowed a large migration to occur without any uncomfortable debates over the real differences between migrant and host.
Then the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, jolted Europe into new awareness and worry.
The subsequent bombings in Madrid and London, and the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-born Moroccan stand as examples of the extreme. But many Europeans — even those who generally support immigration — have begun talking more bluntly about cultural differences, specifically about Muslims’ deep religious beliefs and social values, which are far more conservative than those of most Europeans on issues like women’s rights and homosexuality.
“A lot of people, progressive ones — we are not talking about nationalists or the extreme right — are saying, ‘Now we have this religion, it plays a role and it challenges our assumptions about what we learned in the 60’s and 70’s,’ ” said Joost Lagendik, a Dutch member of the European Parliament for the Green Left Party, who is active on Muslim issues.
“So there is this fear,” he said, “that we are being transported back in a time machine where we have to explain to our immigrants that there is equality between men and women, and gays should be treated properly. Now there is the idea we have to do it again.”
Now Europeans are discussing the limits of tolerance, the right with increasing stridency and the left with trepidation.
Austrians in their recent election complained about public schools in Vienna being nearly full with Muslim students and blamed the successive governments that allowed it to happen.
Some Dutch Muslims have expressed support for insurgents in Iraq over Dutch peacekeepers there, on the theory that their prime loyalty is to a Muslim country under invasion.
So strong is the fear that Dutch values of tolerance are under siege that the government last winter introduced a primer on those values for prospective newcomers to Dutch life: a DVD briefly showing topless women and two men kissing. The film does not explicitly mention Muslims, but its target audience is as clear as its message: embrace our culture or leave.
Perhaps most wrenching has been the issue of free speech and expression, and the growing fear that any criticism of Islam could provoke violence.
In France last month, a high school teacher went into hiding after receiving death threats for writing an article calling the Prophet Muhammad “a merciless warlord, a looter, a mass murderer of Jews and a polygamist.” In Germany a Mozart opera with a scene of Muhammad’s severed head was canceled because of security fears.
With each incident, mainstream leaders are speaking more plainly. “Self-censorship does not help us against people who want to practice violence in the name of Islam,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said in criticizing the opera’s cancellation. “It makes no sense to retreat.”
The backlash is revealing itself in other ways. Last month the British home secretary, John Reid, called on Muslim parents to keep a close watch on their children. “There’s no nice way of saying this,” he told a Muslim group in East London. “These fanatics are looking to groom and brainwash children, including your children, for suicide bombing, grooming them to kill themselves to murder others.”
Many Muslims say this new mood is suddenly imposing expectations that never existed before that Muslims be exactly like their European hosts.
Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Lebanese-born activist here in Belgium, said that for years Europeans had emphasized “citizenship and human rights,” the notion that Muslim immigrants had the responsibility to obey the law but could otherwise live with their traditions.
“Then someone comes and says it’s different than that,” said Mr. Jahjah, who opposes assimilation. “You have to dump your culture and religion. It’s a different deal now.”
Lianne Duinberke, 34, who works at a market in the racially mixed northern section of Antwerp, said: “Before I was very eager to tell people I was married to a Muslim. Now I hesitate.” She has been with her husband, a Tunisian, for 12 years, and they have three children.
Many Europeans, she said, have not been accepting of Muslims, especially since 9/11. On the other hand, she said, Muslims truly are different culturally: No amount of explanation about free speech could convince her husband that the publication of cartoons lampooning Muhammad in a Danish newspaper was in any way justified.
When asked if she was optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Muslim immigration in Europe , she found it hard to answer. She finally gave a defeated smile. “I am trying to be optimistic,” she said. “But if you see the global problems before the people, then you really can’t be.”
Dan Bilefsky reported from Brussels, and Ian Fisher from Rome. Contributing were Sarah Lyall and Alan Cowell from London, Mark Landler from Frankfurt, Peter Kiefer from Rome, Renwick McLean from Madrid and Maia de la Baume from Paris.
Islam in Europe by Timothy Garton Ash
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Dunia minggu ini
RUSIA: Rusia meneruskan hukuman kepada Georgia yang semakin hampir kepada Eropah dan Amerika Syarikat. Moscow ingin menunjukkan akibat peralihan kiblat politik Tbilisi dari Rusia ke Eropah/Amerika Syarikat. Apa sahaja kini boleh dijadikan alasan oleh Kremlin untuk memulakan tindakan menghukum.
Tambahan pula, Moscow kini terpaksa berhadapan kritikan antarabangsa berhubung pembunuhan wartawan investigatif Anna Politkovskaya, pengkritik utama Presiden Vladimir Putin berkenaan isu Chechnya.
Moscow melihat Politkovskaya sebagai sebahagian daripada Barat yang bersikap kritikal terhadap kerajaan Rusia. Dalam satu perkembangan lain, Gazprom telah menunjukkan kuasanya apabila mengetepikan rakan dari Amerika Syarikat, Perancis dan Norway untuk membangunkan medan gas di Laut Barents bernilai sekitar AS$20 bilion. Kontroversi ini ialah yang kedua dalam tempoh singkat selepas kontroversi Sakhalin 2 melibatkan Shell.
KOREA UTARA: Korea Utara berjaya menunjukkan kepada dunia kehadirannya ke dalam kelab nuklear. Amerika Syarikat yang paling memusuhi Pyongyang dan telah lama berusaha menghalang hal ini daripada berlaku telah pun memberi amaran jangan menyebarkan senjata nuklear kepada pihak lain, yang pasti dimaksudkan paling utama Iran. Tindakan Korea Utara ini pasti akan membawa kepada perlumbaan senjata dan penyebaran senjata nuklear kerana musuh Washington biasanya sedia bekerjasama, seperti dilihat dalam kes Venezuela dengan Iran.
Pengkritik George W. Bush telah pun mengaitkan kejayaan Pyongyang membina senjata nuklear dengan dasar luar pentadbiran Bush selepas 11 September, 2001. Isu ini bakal memberi impak besar dalam pemilihan pertengahan penggal di Washington, sebagai tambahan kepada skandal seks dan lain-lain masalah besar Republikan.
JEPUN: Sebahagian besar media menyambut kemenangan Shinzo Abe dengan pengumuman usaha memulihkan hubungan dengan China dan Korea Selatan. Abe sebenarnya tidak jauh beza dengan Junichiro Koizumi. Abe tidak bercakap dengan jelas mengenai sikapnya dalam tempoh terdekat sebelum diumumkan sebagai Perdana Menteri Jepun yang baru. Sikap Abe terhadap dasar luar Jepun, kebebasan tentera Jepun daripada perlembagaan buatan Amerika Syarikat dan tafsiran sejarah perang dengan China sangat berpotensi untuk mengeruhkan kembali hubungan dengan China dan Korea Selatan, walaupun bersatu dengan Korea Selatan dalam hal nuklear Korea Utara.
Hubungan Jepun dengan Rusia kurang diberi perhatian pada masa ini. Hubungan kedua-dua negara yang terlibat dalam pertikaian wilayah ini sedang menghadapi ujian ekoran pertikaian dalam projek tenaga Sakhalin 2 di Rusia.
CHAD: Syarikat minyak Malaysia, Petronas hampir menjadi mangsa terbaru nasionalisme minyak oleh kerajaan Chad. Setelah berunding mengenai pertikaian cukai, Petronas dan sebuah lagi syarikat, Chevron dari Amerika Syarikat dalam satu memorandum bersetuju untuk membayar cukai tertunggak untuk terus beroperasi di negara Afrika tengah itu. Presiden Petronas berkata jumlah yang akan dibayar syarikat itu dan Chevron kepada kerajaan Chad jauh lebih rendah daripada AS$281 juta yang diumumkan kerajaan Chad.
Konsortium projek Doba dimiliki 40 peratus oleh Exxon, Petronas 35 peratus dan Chevron 25 peratus memulakan operasi pada 2003. Pertikaian ini telah lama tercetus dan Ogos lalu kerajaan Chad memberi amaran akan menghalau syarikat terbabit sekiranya isu ini tidak diselesaikan. Pertikaian ini berkait dengan usaha syarikat negara Chad, Societe des Hydrocarbures du Tchad untuk menyertai projek di negara itu untuk mendapat bahagian yang lebih besar, iaitu sebanyak 60 peratus.
Menurut Presiden Idriss Deby, dalam tempoh kurang tiga tahun, konsortium itu telah memperolehi AS$5 bilion daripada pelaburan AS$3 bilion tetapi Chad hanya menerima AS$588 juta, sekitar 12.5%. Perjanjian asal syarikat minyak terbabit dengan Chad dicapai ketika minyak berharga AS$15 setong. Syarikat terbabit juga dituduh melakukan tindakan tidak beretika dengan meminta pengecualian cukai daripada seorang menteri Chad.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Rampasan kuasa yang menjatuhkan Thaksin Shinawatra di Thailand kelihatan disambut baik banyak pihak. Menurut laporan media, Muslim di selatan negara itu juga gembira dengan rampasan kuasa itu.
Kejatuhan Thaksin sebenarnya memang diusahakan musuh-musuh politik Thaksin daripada pelbagai parti dan kumpulan. Dari satu sudut, boleh dikatakan kejatuhan Thaksin lebih kepada kemenangan kumpulan politik lain berbanding kemenangan rakyat Thailand.
Dalam politik, sering kali kemenangan seperti ini - yang sering disifatkan sebagai kebangkitan rakyat - bukan kemenangan rakyat tetapi pihak oportunis yang berkepentingan.
Pihak-pihak seperti ini menggunakan isu yang paling visible - dalam kes Thaksin penjualan kepentingan negara kepada negara asing Singapura -pada semua dan meningkatkan lagi intensiti emosi rakyat, walaupun matlamat mereka tidak semestinya sama dengan yang dikemukakan kepada rakyat. Agenda sebenar mereka hanya akan terdedah selepas mereka mendapat kuasa.
Thaksin sememangnya melakukan dosa besar terhadap demokrasi Thailand. Akhirnya, beliau menjadi korban dan pengorbanan beliau tanpa menungikut proses demokrasi itu direstui banyak pihak, seolah-olah rampasan kuasa oleh pihak tentera itu sebahagian proses demokrasi.
Satu bencana politik daripada rampasan kuasa di Thailand ialah persetujuan ramai terhadap proses tidak demokratik ini. Walaupun pemimpin yang dijatuhkan semakin tidak popular, rampasan kuasa itu telah membelakangi proses demokrasi apabila langkah seperti menyekat kebebasan media dan perhimpunan awam. Majlis yang berkuasa juga tidak bertanggungjawab kepada mana-mana pihak selain Raja. Lebih buruk lagi, kelihatan apa sahaja dipersetujui asalkan Thaksin dijatuhkan.
Pihak tentera yang muncul dalam bentuk majlis reformasi demokratik menggunakan alasan restu daripada Raja Thai sebagai alasan untuk membelakangi demokrasi. Pihak majlis juga belum bersedia untuk segera memulihkan demokrasi di negara itu, termasuk segera mengadakan pilihan raya.
Isu penipuan dalam pilihan raya yang dihadapi parti Thaksin tidak dapat diselesaikan dengan cara menurut proses undang-undang kerana telah berlaku rampasan kuasa. Maka Thaksin tidak dapat dibuktikan melakukan kesalahan yang didakwa ramai pihak.
Isu kaum juga dipergunakan untuk memburukkan Thaksin. Keturunan Cina keluarga beliau yang sama dengan keluarga Lee Kuan Yew di Singapura dikemukakan dan dieksploit hanya selepas beliau dilanda kontroversi penjualan Shin Corp.
Rampasan kuasa itu boleh disambut dengan baik kerana menjatuhkan Thaksin, tetapi ia juga mampu menggugat demokrasi di Thailand.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Tentang lemak haram dan dadah halal
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has sorrounded himself in controversy through his healthy eating in school program. Many kids are mad at him for that.
His view in Good Housekeping reported a couple of days ago will also, I think, invite mixed responses.
But food and beverage is also a big issue in the Big Apple right now. There's the trans fat ban - which is a big on going debate there - and the Cocaine energy drinks controversy.
The company says it is unfairly attacked by super right wing groups.
I guess it is what everybody is supposed to do. Authorities should scold anything inappropriate they see and people who want to sell things do everything to sell them. In fact, the company knew that the brand would be controversial. That's the reason they use that name in the first place.
On working women and bad food
Jamie Oliver on working women and bad food culture
"As far as holding a family or a nation's food culture together, it's always been women.
"And when the Industrial Revolution and two world wars kicked in - and there was rationing - women went to work and stayed in work.
"To my mind that's why we've lost our food culture."
"I might be biased, but I think if you got everyone round the table two or three times a week you'd get a drop in the divorce rate.
"And as for the kids, they might not know it yet, but they'll thank their parents when they're older."
"I'm not dissing women in anyway. If they want to go to work, they should bloody well go to work - if you look in my office you'll see that they're all women and I'd much rather work with them.
"But I think it's a combination of women going to work and supermarkets getting very big very quickly that means a lot of the food choices we make our slightly naughty ones."
State of Denial
From The New York Times, September 30, 2006
A Portrait of Bush as a Victim of His Own Certitude
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
In Bob Woodward’s highly anticipated new book, “State of Denial,” President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war. It’s a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in “Bush at War,” his 2002 book, which depicted the president — in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed — as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the “vision thing” his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.
As this new book’s title indicates, Mr. Woodward now sees Mr. Bush as a president who lives in a state of willful denial about the worsening situation in Iraq, a president who insists he won’t withdraw troops, even “if Laura and Barney are the only ones who support me.” (Barney is Mr. Bush’s Scottish terrier.) Mr. Woodward draws an equally scathing portrait of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who comes off as a bully and control freak who is reluctant to assume responsibility for his department’s failures, and who has surrounded himself with yes men and created a system that bleached out “strong, forceful military advice.” Mr. Rumsfeld remains wedded to his plan to conduct the war in Iraq with a lighter, faster force (reflecting his idée fixe of “transforming” the military), even as the situation there continues to deteriorate.
Mr. Woodward reports that after the 2004 election Andrew H. Card Jr., then White House chief of staff, pressed for Mr. Rumsfeld’s ouster (he recommended former Secretary of State James A. Baker III as a replacement), and that Laura Bush shared his concern, worrying that Mr. Rumsfeld was hurting her husband’s reputation. Vice President Dick Cheney, however, persuaded Mr. Bush to stay the course with Mr. Cheney’s old friend Mr. Rumsfeld, arguing that any change might be perceived as an expression of doubt and hesitation on the war. Other members of the administration also come off poorly. Gen. Richard B. Myers is depicted as a weak chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who routinely capitulated to the will of Mr. Rumsfeld and who rarely offered an independent opinion. Former C.I.A. director George J. Tenet is described as believing that the war against Iraq was a terrible mistake, but never expressing his feelings to the president. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who appears in this volume primarily in her former role as national security adviser) is depicted as a presidential enabler, ineffectual at her job of coordinating interagency strategy and planning.
For instance, Mr. Woodward writes that on July 10, 2001, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism coordinator, J. Cofer Black, met with Ms. Rice to warn her of mounting intelligence about an impending terrorist attack, but came away feeling they’d been given “the brush-off” — a revealing encounter, given Ms. Rice’s recent comments, rebutting former President Bill Clinton’s allegations that the Bush administration had failed to pursue counterterrorism measures aggressively before 9/11.
As depicted by Mr. Woodward, this is an administration in which virtually no one will speak truth to power, an administration in which the traditional policy-making process involving methodical analysis and debate is routinely subverted. He notes that experts — who recommended higher troop levels in Iraq, warned about the consequences of disbanding the Iraqi Army or worried about the lack of postwar planning— were continually ignored by the White House and Pentagon leadership, or themselves failed, out of cowardice or blind loyalty, to press insistently their case for an altered course in the war.
Mr. Woodward describes the administration’s management of the war as being improvisatory and ad hoc, like a pickup basketball game, and argues that it continually tried to give the public a rosy picture of the war in Iraq (while accusing the press of accentuating the negative), even as its own intelligence was pointing to a rising number of attacks against American forces and an upward spiral of violence. A secret February 2005 report by Philip D. Zelikow, a State Department counselor, found that “Iraq remains a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary political change” and concluded that the American effort there suffered because it lacked a comprehensive, unified policy.
Startlingly little of this overall picture is new, of course. Mr. Woodward’s portrait of Mr. Bush as a prisoner of his own certitude owes a serious debt to a 2004 article in The New York Times Magazine by the veteran reporter Ron Suskind, just as his portrait of the Pentagon’s incompetent management of the war and occupation owes a serious debt to “Fiasco,” the Washington Post reporter Thomas E. Ricks’s devastating account of the war, published this summer. Other disclosures recapitulate information contained in books and articles by other journalists and former administration insiders.
But if much of “State of Denial” simply ratifies the larger outline of the Bush administration’s bungled handling of the war as laid out by other reporters, Mr. Woodward does flesh out that narrative with new illustrations and some telling details that enrich the reader’s understanding of the inner workings of this administration at this critical moment.
He reports, for instance, that the Vietnam-era Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger “had a powerful, largely invisible influence on the foreign policy of the Bush administration,” urging President Bush and Vice President Cheney to stick it out. According to Mr. Woodward, Mr. Kissinger gave the former Bush adviser and speechwriter Michael Gerson his so-called 1969 salted peanut memo, which warned President Richard M. Nixon that “withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded.”
As with Mr. Woodward’s earlier books, many of his interviews were conducted on background, though, from the point of view of particular passages, it’s often easy for the reader to figure out just who his sources were. In some cases he recreates conversations seemingly based on interviews with only one of the participants. The former Saudi Arabian ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Mr. Card, Mr. Tenet, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage and Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser (to Bush senior), appear to be among the author’s primary sources.
Whereas Mr. Woodward has tended in the past to stand apart from his narrative, rarely pausing to analyze or assess the copious material he has gathered, he is more of an active agent in this volume — perhaps in a kind of belated mea culpa for his earlier positive portrayals of the administration. In particular, he inserts himself into interviews with Mr. Rumsfeld — clearly annoyed, even appalled, by the Pentagon chief’s cavalier language and reluctance to assume responsibility for his department’s failures.
Mr. Woodward reports that when he told Mr. Rumsfeld that the number of insurgent attacks was going up, the defense secretary replied that they’re now “categorizing more things as attacks.” Mr. Woodward quotes Mr. Rumsfeld as saying, “A random round can be an attack and all the way up to killing 50 people someplace. So you’ve got a whole fruit bowl of different things — a banana and an apple and an orange.”
Mr. Woodward adds: “I was speechless. Even with the loosest and most careless use of language and analogy, I did not understand how the secretary of defense would compare insurgent attacks to a ‘fruit bowl,’ a metaphor that stripped them of all urgency and emotion. The official categories in the classified reports that Rumsfeld regularly received were the lethal I.E.D.’s, standoff attacks with mortars and close engagements such as ambushes.”
Earlier in the volume, in a section describing the former Iraq administrator Jay Garner’s reluctance to tell the president about the mistakes he saw the Pentagon making in Iraq, Mr. Woodward writes: “It was only one example of a visitor to the Oval Office not telling the president the whole story or the truth. Likewise, in these moments where Bush had someone from the field there in the chair beside him, he did not press, did not try to open the door himself and ask what the visitor had seen and thought. The whole atmosphere too often resembled a royal court, with Cheney and Rice in attendance, some upbeat stories, exaggerated good news and a good time had by all.” Were the war in Iraq not a real war that has resulted in more than 2,700 American military casualties and more than 56,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, the picture of the Bush administration that emerges from this book might resemble a farce. It’s like something out of “The Daily Show” or a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, with Freudian Bush family dramas and high-school-like rivalries between cabinet members who refuse to look at one another at meetings being played out on the world stage.
There’s the president, who once said, “I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy,” deciding that he’s going to remake the Middle East and alter the course of American foreign policy. There’s his father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush (who went to war against the same country a decade ago), worrying about the wisdom of another war but reluctant to offer his opinions to his son because he believes in the principle of “let him be himself.” There’s the president’s national security adviser whining to him that the defense secretary won’t return her phone calls. And there’s the president and Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, trading fart jokes.
Mr. Woodward suggests that Mr. Rumsfeld decided to make the Iraq war plan “his personal project” after seeing a rival agency, the C.I.A., step up to run operations in Afghanistan (when it became clear that the Pentagon was unprepared for a quick invasion of that country, right after 9/11). And he suggests that President Bush chose Mr. Rumsfeld as his defense secretary, in part, because he knew his father mistrusted Mr. Rumsfeld, and the younger Bush wanted to prove his father wrong.
Many of the people in this book seem not only dismayed but also flummoxed by some of President Bush’s decisions. Mr. Woodward quotes Laura Bush as telling Andrew Card that she doesn’t understand why her husband isn’t upset about Mr. Rumsfeld and the uproar over his handling of the war . And he quotes Mr. Armitage as telling former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that he’s baffled by President Bush’s reluctance to make adjustments in his conduct of the war.
“Has he thought this through?” Mr. Armitage asks. “What the president says in effect is, We’ve got to press on in honor of the memory of those who have fallen. Another way to say that is we’ve got to have more men fall to honor the memories of those who have already fallen.”
Monday, October 02, 2006
Rise of Russia
From The New York Times, October 1, 2006
What Kept Russia From Producing Tennis Stars Before Now?
By SERGE SCHMEMANN
Where in frozen Siberia did Russians learn how to swing a racket? Svetlana Kuznetsova took the China Open. Dmitry Tursunov beat the best American player, Andy Roddick, to knock the United States out of the Davis Cup. The glamorously teenage Maria Sharapova swept past Belgium’s best, Justine Henin-Hardenne, to win the United States Open.
And so it goes, the extraordinary invasion of pro tennis, and especially women’s tennis, by players from a country that shouldn’t be playing tennis at all. Russians excel at ice hockey or chess, and we wouldn’t think twice if they dominated gymnastics or synchronized swimming. After all, these are sports that require year-round refrigeration, endless indoor drills and lots of wintry brooding. But tennis?
Two decades ago, there were no Russian names among the top 100 players, much less among the glitterati of the sport. Today, Maria Sharapova is a trademark, and behind her is a cascade of top-ranked Russians with jaw-challenging names. And these are not shy newcomers. They seem to have emerged as complete, prepackaged, beautifully turned out stars, complete with obsessed parent. Tursunov, like Sharapova, was exported by a relentless father to the United States at a precocious age, and it’s hard to tell whether they are more Russian or American. So what spawned these stars?
There’s a time-honored tradition in the West to approach Russia as a riddle, devising elaborate explanations for admittedly befuddling ways. I know: I was a foreign correspondent in Moscow for 10 years, expounding on the effects of endless winter, endless expanse, the collision of East and West, long subjugation by Mongol hordes. I’ve always had a soft spot for the swaddling theory, wherein the practice of binding babies like mummies between feedings formed a nation given to lurching between passivity and anarchy.
So there is a certain temptation to seek a profound explanation for the rise of Russian tennis. Are these young stars a post-Soviet reaction to the collective ethic? Are they another version of the trillionaire oligarchs, people who frantically grasp for all the riches and glory denied them for 70 years?
The fact is that there was always tennis in the Soviet Union, even if it was usually on lumpy courts behind high walls. But the Communist Party always preferred to send teams abroad, because stars traveling alone had a habit of defecting. All that changed in 1988, when tennis returned to the Olympics, and the Soviet Union began to loosen up. Courts began to sprout across the land. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the game got a further lift from Boris Yeltsin, who was often photographed wrestling with a racket.
That was when most of the current stars got their first rackets. Anna Kournikova gave further inspiration when she became the first Russian tennis player to become a marketing star. Combine that allure with the fact that Russian children are still expected to master skills through relentless practice, and the head of Russian tennis, Shamil Tarpischev, says we’ve only seen the beginning.
Why women’s tennis in particular? The playwright Edvard Radzinsky, writing in The Wall Street Journal, noted that when the Soviet Union collapsed, women were free to plunge into business. And professional sport is foremost a business.
But back to swaddling. Isn’t tennis all about lurching between passivity and furious activity?