April 12, 2003

Gagarin Day

Today is Gagarin Day, the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's trip into space in 1961. Salyut.

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al-Sahhaf Jokes Losing Steam

I guess the absence of true creativity in the Press shows in how quickly they have worn out the joke of Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf. Almost all of them have him being hired for some one or another political or entertainment figure: George Steinbrenner, George Pataki, Harvey Weinstein, etc.

Stop. Please stop. In the name of all that is funny...

But before it stops, I wanted to pass along this Canadian version, from Mark Steyn in the National Post:

It's surely only a matter of time before he's hired as Chrétien's press officer. "These are all lies that the Americans are annoyed with Canada! The whole world knows Washington is terrified of our great leader and quakes before his heroic display of principles and sovereignty! America is our best friend and neighbour and if they dare say otherwise we will crush them like the Zionist tools they are! The 49th parallel is littered with the burnt-out shells of their tanks, those bastards!"

Sorry. couldn't resist.

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Reality Distortion Field: Paris

Now this is rich. French peace protestors are marching this weekend. Get this — they're claiming victory! Why, because they got rid of Hussein! That was their prime objective all along, it turns out.

«On est supercontents que l'un de nos objectifs : la chute du régime de Saddam Hussein, soit atteint,» explique, imperturbable, Arielle Denis, du Mouvement pour la paix. «Mais la prise de Bagdad risque de ne pas signifier pour autant la fin du conflit. Tout reste à faire.» Mot d'ordre de la journée : «L'Irak aux Irakiens»

Huh! I forget. Did anyone actually see those Down with Hussein banners or Iraq for Iraqians, without Saddam signs.

What is the French for chutzpah? Oh, right, that would be French.

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Weasel Poutine

While cruising a batch of articles at Le Monde, I happened to notice for the first time (since I don't look for Russian news in French papers) that President Putin of Russia is actually referred to in France as le président Poutine.

Well, now that is amusing, at least to a sometime Montrealer. Poutine is a popular snack food in Quebec. It consists of french fries covered with cheese curds and gravy (chicken or undefinable).

So, this weekend the three pillars of the Security Council weasels are meeting to decide the future of Iraq (in their dreams). Like the three pillars of the poutine. I can't sort out if Chirac is the cheese, Putin the fries and Schroeder the gravy, or some other metaphor. Whatever, they're still just a snack aspiring to be a meal.

There's more on the history and transcendant nature of poutine at Kuro5hin. And there's a quite promising, haute cuisine recipe available at the FoodTV Canada web site. Most poutine is way more plebeian than this.

Political commentary and cooking tips in one posting.

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April 11, 2003

To Celebrate What He Dreaded Most: Victory

An antiwar author celebrates the liberation of the Iraqis from the monster. Some on the right are pointing to his comments about secretly hoping for the worst-case, massive-US-soldier-death. And that has been a leitmotif among a certain (not inconsiderable) strata, but I would focus on his hopes, shared by those on the pro-liberation left.

It is possible that we who celebrate today will be forced to recant tomorrow. But that should not stop us. Nor should it be our concern. Those who opposed this war in part because they feared what it would do to the Iraqi people must now make every effort to protect and raise up those people. And to do that, they must pay attention to what is happening to them -- the good, the bad and the in-between. This is the most compelling reason to celebrate the end of Saddam. Call that celebration a leap of faith, if you will -- but you could also call it a binding contract, American to Iraqi, human heart to human heart. We smashed your country and we killed your people and we freed you from a monster: We are bound together now by blood. We owe each other, but we owe you more because we are stronger and because we came into your country.

The left's role, now, must be to make sure that debt is paid.

There are also some moving passages from Albert Camus on the liberation of Paris. Worth the read.

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April 10, 2003

Hicks Mix with Lethal Chicks Pix

This photo of British soldier Samantha Sheppard in Iraq has a mind-bending, gender-switching quality of a good sort. It's could almost be a Benetton ad, based on some WWII model.

Samantha, like Jessica Lynch, in almost all earlier eras would have been the girl the soldier left at home. It does an aging, feminist heart good to see this.

The headline comes from friend David Smith. It's brilliant.

For the larger image, click here.

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Schroeder Welcomes Victory

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder:

There are joyous signs that show that this could soon be the end of the war. The important thing now is to make a political profit out of a probable and welcome victory. That will only be the case if the Iraqi people can decide itself on its political and economic conditions.

And in what way does this differ from the original intention of the United States in conducting this war?

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April 09, 2003

DominiqueDe Returns

Dominique , Gallic superhero, has returned from his Chateau of Solitude to confuse everyone with his hyper-vision.

We have to maintain that the future of Iraq is going to be done because it is going to be difficult and our responsibility is to make sure things are sorted out there. We have got to look at reconstructing Iraq and it is very important that the international community has a central role.

That needs to come from the United Nations, It needs to have a central role. It is not a question of a vital role or a central role. I think we would all agree that the United Nations will play a key role.

Central! Non, Non. Not vital, not central, but key! Somebody get me a translator.

To see the whole comic book cover, just cliquez ici.

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Where's al-Sahhaf?

Iraq's irrepressible information minister didn't show up for his daily stand-up at the Palestine Hotel. Seasoned observers of Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf are wondering if the presence of the United States Marine Corps in the audience might have forced him to think up some new material.

Have you seen this man?

"We will bomb their brains out." Mohhamed Said al-Sahhaf cutting up for the international press corps in happier times.

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Cakewalk defined

Well, Ken Adelman sure got a lot of grief for predicting a "cakewalk".

I believe demolishing (Iraqi President Saddam) Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.

Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps."

I'm not sure how much less effort it would take before we can, in future, declare a cakewalk.

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Heeeere's al-Sahhaf...

And now, live from a 3 week tour at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, the Prince of Propaganda, the Pharaoh of Denial, the Caliph of Calumny, the Buffoon of Baghdad. The one, the only, inimitable, irrepressible, Mohammed al-Sahhaf...

"They are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks."

"The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad."

"They're leeches, animals and rats. They will only leave the airport alive if they surrender."

The lies are amusing, but al-Sahhaf is a master at billingsgate.

Apparently he has quite a following in the Arab world, starved as they are for good comedy:

Al-Sahhaf has even introduced insults virtually unknown to the Arab public. His use, for example, of "uluj," an obscure and particularly insulting term for "infidel," sent viewers leafing through their dictionaries and calling TV stations for a definition.

His enemies are never just the Americans or the British. They are "outlaws," "war criminals," "fools," "stooges," an "international gang of villains."

Al-Sahhaf has singled out Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, describing him as a "crook" and "the most despicable creature."

This article, in Le Monde has more of his insults.

L'un de ses qualificatifs les plus célèbres est sans doute le terme "alouj", pluriel de "ilje", aux acceptions multiples, dont celui de "grosse ânesse" ou de "gros zèbre", ou encore —et c'est la définition la plus répandue — de "mécréant".

I sure hope he gets an extended run after this Baghdad gig runs out. I'd miss him.

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Linguistic Completeness

One thing I learned on my recent trip to Montréal was that the French for "shock and awe" is

choc et stupeur.

Kind of what Chirac is feeling just about now.

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April 07, 2003

Black Watch Defeats Iraq

I just had to post this piece from the Scotsman, for obvious reasons.

The Black Watch regiment was formed by the Campbells and other loyal clans in 1725. They fought at Ticonderoga. For their ferocity in the First World War, the Germans dubbed the Highland Regiments the "Ladies from Hell".

They may not wear the kilt when they attack, but they still play the pipes ... and they still kick butt ... Cruachan!

GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN with the Black Watch in Basra

THE Iraqis were hiding in a bunker at the side of the road when the tanks first spotted them. There were four of them, waiting at a crossroads in the Al Hadi area of Basra, slotting another rocket-propelled grenade into their launcher to fire at the advancing British troops.

The request to engage came over the commanding officer?s radio. A moment?s pause, and then the reply crackled back: "You are now clear to engage the bunker with four men with HESH and co-ax."

High explosive shells and chain gun - that?s what the jargon meant, and nothing could stand in their way. Inside the bunker, the militia had only a few seconds left. The sound of a dull explosion rolled across the city. Over the radio, the Challenger crew reported the kill. "The target was engaged and the job was done."

On the other side of the bridge over the Shatt al-Basra canal, Lieutenant William Colquhoun had unpacked his bagpipes and sat on the turret of his Warrior waiting for the order to advance. As the sun attempted to poke through smoke rolling lazily across desolate marshland stretching away on either side of the bridge, wading birds were picking their way among the long grasses.

As he began to play, the sound of Scotland the Brave drifted across the bridge towards the city, competing with the clatter of rotor blades as four Cobra helicopters raced in to join the attack.

For more on the Black Watch, see the Regimental web site.

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"Moderate" Muslim Calls Saddam a Terrorist

Despite my debunking of him as an "Islamic moderate"  last week, Sheikh Tantawi won't stay down. He does seem to have seen the handwriting on the Baghdad wall, though and criticizes both Saddam and the US.

In a case of the "pot calling the kettle black" Tantawi labels Saddam a terrorist.

From the BBC: Leading cleric blames Saddam

Sheikh Tantawi said the war was not a crusade against Islam and condemned Saddam Hussein for not accepting a call from the United Arab Emirates to resign in order to prevent war.

He still likes suicide bombing as a tactic against US troops. So one step forward, one step back...

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April 06, 2003

Cannabis Link to Schizophrenia

The Guardian (UK) is reporting concern that increased use of stronger cannabis can lead to increased rates of schizophrenia, a concern heightened by planned decreases in criminal penalties for use in the UK.

Professor Robin Murray, who is leading the study, said his view of the drug had changed in recent years. He used to be sceptical when cannabis was blamed. 'Relatives would say "It seems to be the cannabis that makes my son or daughter or brother psychotic" and I would say, "Oh, they're being hysterical, they're just trying to look for something to blame". We've come to realise that it does have a significant effect, but it has taken us a long time to wake up to this.' [...] 'We know that for those who take the drug there is a fourfold increase in schizophrenia and a fourfold increase in the chances of suffering major depressive illness.'

I guess my question would be how we can quantify effects in illnesses that are as ill-defined as schizophrenia. It is just as likely that schizophrenic-prone individuals seek cannabis to self-medicate. As always, these studies seem to be lobbed in to affect the legal process than to aid the treatment process.

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Rated PG. May Contain Violence.

The movie so far—

Most of the work for this production has been carried by some fine comedic talents. Information Minister al-Sahhaf provides light comic relief with his daily briefings 'Iraqi authorities however said they had repulsed an American attack from the south, claiming: "We were able to chop off their rotten heads." ' Despite the weakness in the script and the occasional worried look as he wonders if this is the appearance when he'll get his head shot off by a US sniper, al-Sahhaf does yeoman work with his lines: admitting that the airport had been taken by US troops, he gamely describes it as "the Americans' graveyard."

The irrepressible Tariq Aziz, whose game early work in "Gulf War I" guaranteed him a major supporting role in this sequel, deals masterfully with such lines as "it's best not to fight them in the desert, but to lure them into the cities and towns and to populated areas". But we barely get to see him. I suspect he is phoning in his role from Syria.

But the marquee star has barely shown up. For being mostly about "Saddam", the lead actor in this production is offscreen for most of the action. Like Harry Lime in The Third Man, we seem to spend most of our time waiting for him to show up in the story.

And when Saddam does show up finally, the staging has been weak, weak, weak. The Iraqi propaganda machine's idea of a set: a white wall and a flag. Where's the map, the model tanks, the pointers? Come on guys, I know times are hard, but even a high school production could come up with a painting of Saladin for that set. The only prop: a single TV set showing a tank. And he sits in front of it!

Those ensemble scenes with his council of war — no tension or drama, no conflict, no clash of advisors. Everyone sits around rapt as Saddam seemingly tediously details the latest episode of Friends.

And those outdoor shots! You would think that 70 years of propaganda films would have come down to something better than that stroll-around. Leni Reifenstahl must be spinning in her grave. Where are the shots of Saddam looking through binoculars? Saddam brandishing an AK-47? Saddam firmly pounding on a tank? Saddam on the steps of a palace defying the Stealth fighters? Saddam directing sandbag fortifications?

No, he walks around aimlessly — paunchy, cockeyed grin, ill-defined hand gestures. Did he have his director banished? Shot? And could they have tried to make him look shorter and more insignificant? He looks like the big-head Goofy figure at Disneyland. Not even Mickey, endowed with that awe, majesty and suave presence: Goofy.

Look guys, if this is the best you can do to rally the people, this movie is closing faster than Madonna's Swept Away.

Thumbs down.

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