Sunday, August 31, 2008

Stalin Must Be Rolling Over In His Grave

From the NYT:
A decade after capitalism transformed Russian industry, an agricultural revolution is stirring the countryside, shaking up village life and sweeping aside the collective farms that resisted earlier reform efforts and remain the dominant form of agriculture.

The change is being driven by soaring global food prices (the price of wheat alone rose 77 percent last year) and a new reform allowing foreigners to own agricultural land. Together, they have created a land rush in rural Russia.

“Where else do you have such an abundance of land?” Samir Suleymanov, the World Bank’s director for Russia, asked in an interview.

As a result, the business of buying and reforming collective farms is suddenly and improbably very profitable, attracting hedge fund managers, Russian oligarchs, Swedish portfolio investors and even a descendant of White Russian émigré nobility.

Hahahahaha. White Russians and hedge funders buying up Soviet collectivized farms. Now I've seen everything. Anyway, here's a random book recommendation on the collectivization of Soviet farms and the deliberate famine engineered by Stalin in the Ukraine during the early 1930s: The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine by Robert Conquest.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin Is Married To Ricky Gervais

Tell me I'm wrong. No, seriously.


Today in Pakistan

It is very easy to be cynical about Pakistan and its politicians. It takes a person like Senator Israrullah Zehri of the Balochistan National Party- Awami to remind us that in some cases anger and outrage is far more appropriate than cynicism.

Balochistan Senator Sardar Israrullah Zehri stunned the upper house on Friday when he defended the recent incident of burying alive three teenage girls and two women in his province, saying it was part of “our tribal custom.”


Fans of irony should enjoy this sentence in a report about the Swiss case against Zardari being dropped.

The PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif also congratulated Zardari on the closure of the Swiss case, which was initiated against him by the PML-N government in 1997.


In related reading, I highly recommend this 2002 article by Samina Ibrahim on the government's pursuit of Zardari's stolen wealth. I particularly liked this bit:

Apparently their most effective undercover operatives in Pakistan are women and they have close to 50 female operatives working in social circles in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Pakistan is apparently one of the easiest places in the world as far as intelligence gathering is concerned - everybody is willing to talk and there is no shortage of aggrieved parties.


Here's another one for you irony fans:

According to official sources, the vehicle being driven by a would-be suicide bomber was on its way to hit Orakzai Scouts checkpost near Pakistan-Japan Friendship Tunnel at Darra Adamkhel
.

Finally, here's a blog post about sexual harassment at PTV. Be sure to read the over 200 comments.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain Chooses MILF For Veep

I know absolutely nothing about Sarah Palin, except that she was probably hot twenty years ago.


The first immediate thought that comes come to mind is that McCain is really hoping for the Hillary PUMAs (Party Unity My Ass, for the uninformed) to actually swing the election by showing Obama up. He seems to be saying: "that woman won 18 million votes and wasn't even considered by my celebrity arugula-eating secret Muslim terrorist elitist opponent for veep. Meanwhile, look at me! Look at what I've done!" I don't know if it's going to work, but man, it's an interesting choice, certainly a lot more interesting than Obama's (note: that doesn't mean it's a better choice, just a more interesting one).

Anyway, I've posted this video before, but seeing as how it has become relevant again, please watch this Daily Show clip from earlier this year where Jason Jones tells us about Flilfs.

Excerpt Of The Day

The following is from page 61 of Migrants and Militants: Fun and Urban Violence in Pakistan by Oskar Verkaaik, describing the early years of the MQM:
Largely the same group of young men who would establish the MQM on 18 March 1984 founded the All Pakistan Muhajir Student Organization (APMSO) on 11 June 1978. The group had met in the pharmacy department of Karachi University in 1974. Because of a shift toward a semester system, a group of twenty-seven students had not been registered on time and failed to gain admission. They raised an Intermediate Student Action Committee to demand midterm admission. The president of this committee was twenty-one-year-old Altaf Hussain who even at that early stage made quite an impression on his fellow students as he wore a revolutionary cap and shockingly tight trousers. Under his leadership the committee was successful. The students were admitted and the university vice-chancellor resigned.

Of course, this begs the question: were Altaf Hussain's "shockingly tight trousers" a mere reflection of contemporary Mohajir fashion, or was he actually the origin of the present day Mohajir uniform (tight pants with a big belt with a silver buckle)?

Microsoft-Changing-The-English-Language Watch

If red squiggly lines are anything to go by, apparently "ludic" is no longer a word.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wow, Some People REALLY Don't Want Obama In The White House

Here's someone called Craig Smith, writing for something called WorldNetDaily:
Barack Obama will be our first hip-hop president. I can only imagine how the world will embrace the leader of the free world when he introduces other foreign leaders with, "give it up for my man Vladimir." Giving "props" for joining us in a treaty. Or the first lady Michelle talking about "my man" the "daddy of my babies" when referring to the president. That should go over well everywhere from 10 Downing Street right on down to the streets of the Middle East.

Here's a blogger talking about that failed non-plot against Barack Obama:
But perhaps the most sinister undertone is the hint of hopefulness among a certain element of the left wing that perhaps someone will succeed in assassinating Barack Obama.

Such a tragedy would serve as a confirmation of their firmly held beliefs that conservatives are evil, and could possibly trigger a backlash that would fill the anarchists among them with glee. At the same time, an Obama death would provide progressives with a martyred hero in place of what troubles many of them the most; deep-seated and well-placed fears that Barack Obama is precisely what his record suggests, a shallow, vain, and arrogant opportunist who has created impossible expectations with little possibility that he capable of coming close to meeting those impossibly inflated expectations.

In places liberals don't want to talk about, they'd rather have a martyr than a failure. That is the reason they pounce upon even the remotest possibility of Obama's untimely end with such fervor.

And last but almost certainly not least, here's Slate showing Michelle Obama getting the Faux Noise treatment:



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Even More Tuesday Links (Sports Edition)

Now that the Olympics are over, it should be fairly easy to determine which country was the ultimate winner. Well, hold on for just a second. US television channels decided the US had won because they had the most medals. The Chinese (and the rest of the world) believed that China was top dog because they got the most golds. And if you are inclined to think like the Swiss, you could establish an arbitrary points system (3 points for gold, 2 for silver and 1 for bronze) and it would be a tie between the US and the Chinese. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a different take on the whole matter:

The 27 member states of the EU when counted together won 87 gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, dwarfing the individual tallies of China on 51 and the US on 36, as the games closed on Sunday (24 August)…“The European Union therefore takes the leading position. It's a victory for sport and for the fundamental and common values of the people of the union," French president Nicolas Sarkozy - currently chairing the EU - said.


If you are being even more nitpicky, you could do what this website has done, and adjust the medals table to account for population and GDP. Australia (who everyone knows are the undisputed kings of sport), some Caribbean nations and Iceland lead the way.


For those who bemoaned the fake fireworks, fake ethnic performers and fake singers of the Chinese Olympics, rest assured that the London Olympics in 2012 will be keeping it ‘real’ thanks to its bumbling mayor Boris Johnson:

The eyes of the world were on Boris Johnson yesterday, and what they saw was a moon-faced fat man who kept putting his hands in his pockets. Was Boris trying to look relaxed? Or checking on the prawn toasts he'd snaffled from the previous day's 10-course Imperial banquet?…And then came Bojo, the entire stadium bathed in the glow of his custardy bonce, to formally take possession of the Olympic flag, symbolising the passage of the Games to London. His outlandish presence spoke of a change of tone and style. The next Games, it seemed to be saying, will be a complete shambles, but, probably, much more fun. To give the 1.6 billion people watching on television a taste of modern Britain's cutting-edge sophistication, a double-decker bus lumbered unsteadily into the stadium, eventually disgorging a multi-ethic troupe of dancers waving umbrellas…Then David Beckham booted a football, which was meant to land in the crowd, but missed and floored a Chinese acrobat.
At least Boris didn't have to make a speech. The day before he had bewildered much of the world's press with scathing references to "Olymposceptics".
Then he answered a question about whether he might become prime minister with an allusion to a long-forgotten politician in ancient Rome. "Were I to be called, like Cincinnatus from my plough," he proclaimed, "obviously it would be a huge privilege to serve."



Is applying mint-induced saliva to facilitate reverse swing cheating? I don’t know, but it’s certainly an ethical grey line.

Rafa Nadal does a risqué photoshoot for New York magazine. Federer can retake the number one spot in sexiness by doing a full-frontal shoot for Playgirl.

Links For Tuesday

Stuff to read:

What a killer piece by Osman Samiuddin on the whole security/withdrawal from the Champions Trophy issue. It's nice to see that he can be really hard-hitting; usually his pieces, even when critical, have this soft and cute quality to them (I mean that in a good way). Here's my favorite part:
The war on terror Pakistan is leading will not end overnight, because such nebulous wars don't. At best, within this country, it will have to be managed so that interference with life's everyday grind is minimal. Expect stories that Pakistan's place as co-hosts of the 2011 World Cup is under threat to be churned out from next year.

For countries like Australia it makes no difference, for they seem to have put their policy in place some ten years ago. They haven't toured even once in that time and have never shown a particular willingness to do so. Leaders they may be on the field, but on this matter they have been consistently disgraceful.


Zalmay Khalilzad - U.S. ambassador to the U.N - has been told in no uncertain terms to stop his BFF routine with Asif Zardari.

Mr. Khalilzad had spoken by telephone with Mr. Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, several times a week for the past month until he was confronted about the unauthorized contacts, a senior United States official said. Other officials said Mr. Khalilzad had planned to meet with Mr. Zardari privately next Tuesday while on vacation in Dubai, in a session that was canceled only after Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, learned from Mr. Zardari himself that the ambassador was providing “advice and help.”

“Can I ask what sort of ‘advice and help’ you are providing?” Mr. Boucher wrote in an angry e-mail message to Mr. Khalilzad. “What sort of channel is this? Governmental, private, personnel?”

Speaking of our good friend Zardari, check out this story from the Financial Times (courtesy Asad) in which we discover that Zardari might be suffering from mental health problems. [I will pause here for the inevitable and tasteless joke you are all thinking of]. Anyway, what's really interesting is how the "emotional instability" and "memory and concentration problems" arose:
Mr Zardari used the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him over alleged corruption, court records show.

The case – brought to seize some of his UK assets – was dropped in March, at about the same time that corruption charges in Pakistan were dismissed.

Hmmm. You guys have all seen that Ed Norton movie right, the one where he has a stutter?

Speaking of Zardari, please check out his and Sherry Rehman's pathetic attempts to blame external forces (read: the U.S.) for the PPP's failure to to keep their word on the judges. First AZ:
Mr Zardari admitted that he had signed “political understandings” with Mr Sharif, but asked the PML-N chief to realise the difficult situation they had come across after the resignation of President Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf. Without explaining, he said they had taken the help of “some friends within and outside the country in the ouster of President Musharraf”.

And now Sherry:
Federal Information Minister Sherry Rehman admitted that the PPP had signed agreements with the PML-N but claimed that “our other internal and external allies wanted us to take our own route after the resignation of President Musharraf”.

Meanwhile, the stock market is crashing, and whoever filed this report for The News is pissed:
The market today opened in an extremely pensive environment, as the KSE like others in the country felt duped and deceived by the dud leaders of the country, from whom, they had pinned great hopes of making the democracy work and steering the country out of the lurking dangers instead of fast taking back the country to the fearsome 1999 situation, when the country was about to be declared a failed state.

Leaving Pakistan for a moment or two, it appears that Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden for veep was easily foreseeable. How? Why, flight patterns of course! (Via Slog)

Is the age of the Apple Aura of Invincibility over? I don't know how much this one data point counts, but I can tell you that my new iPod - bought in June 2008 - works considerably worse than the stolen one it replaced - bought in January 2006.

David Brooks argues that Barack Obama should ignore the advice of everyone not named David Brooks. The first sentence alone makes it worth your while to click on the article.

Last but not least, I am copying and pasting, without comment, the following question posed to a sex-advice columnist in the Mumbai Mirror (via India Uncut):
I am 29 years old and married. I had sex with my wife 15 months after she gave birth to our son. Can this lead to a second pregnancy? What are the safety precautions that we can take? Please help.

UPDATE:
The more I read those quotes from Zardari and Sherry Rehman on external forces and the judges, the more I think they might be talking about Saudi Arabia, not the U.S. I don't know. What do you guys think?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Live Blogging Shoaib Akhtar's Interview On Dawn News

So AKS told me earlier today - later confirmed by an ad I heard on the radio - that Shoaib Akhtar was scheduled to be on Dawn News at 10. I decided it would be a good opportunity to take notes.
_____________________________________________________________________________________


10:01 p.m. I’m so goddamn excited, I can’t tell you. This is going to be AMAZING.

10:02 p.m. What the hell is this? Why is this guy talking about the PML-N and what’s going on with the coalition? Who gives a crap? God I hate politics.

10:02 p.m. “We want Shoaib!” “We want Shoaib!”

10:03 p.m. Is there more than one Dawn News channel? I’m positive I heard the ad on FM 89 say the interview would be on at 10. This is really pissing off.

10:05 p.m. Alright, the news is over. Fingers crossed…

10:06 p.m. I’m REALLY hoping for the slicked-back hair.

10:06 p.m. The host comes on. There’s a red couch. And Shoaib walks out in sunglasses (it’s an indoor studio, as you might expect) and a dirty tight white t-shirt. No (or very little) gel in the hair unfortunately.

10:07 p.m. He starts off describing how hard he’s training. He immediately jumps into the victim routine, calling himself a good teammate, and decrying unfair representations of him to the contrary.

10:10 p.m. He calls fast bowlers “precious cargo” and says that they should be in “precious containers”. I see we’ve moved on from the luxury car metaphor to the traded goods metaphor.

10:11 p.m. He calls Salman and Shahrukh Khan his two best friends and says that he likes partying with his “boss” and “friend” Shahrukh Khan. Man, I hope this interview lasts a full hour.

10:13 p.m. AKS texts: “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!!” Yup, I agree.

10:14 p.m. He says he’s unfairly targeted with respect to partying; others don’t attract attention with their recreational activities. I guess he’s sort of right there.

10:14 p.m. He kept saying something about not being “politically correct” but I swear I thought he was saying “pathetically cricket”. He really has an incomprehensible accent, I have to say.

10:15 p.m. For the record, his t-shirt says “Diesel Trainer” across his chest.

10:17 p.m. He calls Imran the biggest influence on his bowling. Interesting; I thought it would be Wasim. He also claims he shares with Imran a “passion for the country” and “honesty”.

10:21 p.m. He says he’s not one overly bothered with appearances, though he did make the effort to shave for the show, as he tells us. So I’m glad we’ve established this today: Shoaib Akhtar is not vain.

10:23 p.m. The host asks him if there’s “anyone special” in his life. He replies “no, I’m single”. He follows this up with an extremely goofy smile, and sticks his tongue out cheekily.

10:24 p.m. His pickup line, according to himself: “I really like you, I think you’re fantastic looking.” His advice on how to approach women: “You have to be genuine.”

10:26 p.m. He says he gets up at 5:30 for prayers, and then he goes for training. I think there’s a greater chance of Salman Rushdie praying fajr than Shoaib Akhtar.

10:27 p.m. He claims knives have been drawn in the Pakistani dressing room in disputes between players, but that he doesn’t want to divulge details because he doesn’t like bringing intra-team disputes public. Clearly a shot at Afridi and Asif for Batgate.

10:31 p.m. “What is the real Shoaib Akhtar like? What do you like doing in your free time, when you’re not playing cricket?” Shoaib’s reply: “On my couch, watching National Geographic.” I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to.

10:33 p.m. Again, the victim, this time claiming that there is a personal vendetta against him in Pakistan, purportedly drawing a contrast with his time at the IPL. Dude, the only reason they don’t hate you yet is because they haven’t spent more than two weeks with you.

10:35 p.m. “I love to go out,” he explains. “I love to go to a bar….or something…[realizing he’s made a boo-boo, given that this is the Islamic Republic]…you know, to eat or something.”

10:37 p.m. “I like to do edgy things in my life.”

10:38 p.m. The host asks Shoaib what his post-retirement plans would be, other than charity. “I would like to have a small office, where I can go in the morning, I can take my wife there…” he says.

10:39 p.m. The host says that he finds Shoaib exceedingly normal, and that he wishes the rest of Pakistan could see what he sees in the interview. Shoaib agrees. “I don’t come on TV as much as I should,” he says. I’m sorry, I’m at the point where I’ve run out of jokes.

10:43 p.m. Apparently, a media school is in the works so that he can better help project a good image of Pakistan abroad.

10:45 p.m. Shahrukh is apparently “really, really fond of” him. Lonely club that one, eh Shahrukh? Meanwhile, we are told Salman Khan is “a man of a gold heart.”

10:47 p.m. The host asks if one of the “hot women” of Bollywood have ever “tried to get jiggy with you.” This host is as idiotic as Shoaib, I’ve concluded.

10:50 p.m. Rapid-fire questions. Nothing really interesting out of it, except for his fondness for Wasim, Imran, some model called Vinny, his distaste for the spoken English of someone called Meera, and the curious fact that his self-evaluated best quality (“my honesty”) is the same as his biggest weakness (“sometimes I’m too honest”).

First Impressions

Apparently, Yousaf Raza Gillani didn't make the best of them on his trip to Washington last month:

Mr. Gilani, a novice front man plucked out of obscurity by Mr. Zardari to be prime minister, made a poor public impression on his first visit to Washington last month, and was not much better behind the scenes, officials said.

At a gathering of the Council on Foreign Relations, he stumbled through basic questions about the Pakistan-United States relationship from a knowledgeable crowd of experts.

In private meetings with the Bush administration, according to an official who attended, Mr. Gilani could offer only a simple mantra for defeating the Taliban: “Let’s work together.”


Yes, let's.


By the way, the "stumbling" at CFR bit is a bit of an understatement in my view (transcript here). First of all, he said the words "ladies and gentlemen" a full ten times in a 2000-word speech - trust me, I counted - which works out to roughly once a paragraph.

Secondly, it is clear that answering very predictable questions is not his forte (unlike, say, backhand-fondling Sherry Rehman at a rally, which he appears to be an expert in). By way of example, check out Richard Haass' first question, Gillani's answer to it, and Haass' bewildered response.

But I'd be less than honest, and I hope it doesn't make me a bad host here today, if I also didn't add that there's not as much optimism as you suggested in your talk, and a lot of people who look at Pakistan question either its will or its ability, its capacity to tackle those challenges.

So the question I would put to you is one of both willingness and capacity on the part of your government to meet what has to be as daunting and as difficult a range of problems, quite honestly, as any government I know faces.

GILANI: Thank you very much. You have asked me a specific question regarding what I have said, that you think this is not the case which I mentioned. But I want to tell you that as an elected prime minister of Pakistan who has got the unanimously vote of confidence in the history of Pakistan, I have accepted that challenge. And I have decided to go for a good governance and to make policies which are friendly policies for the investors from the world to come and invest in Pakistan and be able to provide them (all ?) facilities, and soon you will see a lot of investors coming to Pakistan, especially in the power sector.

HAASS: Let me then come back to the question somewhat differently.

Then there's this, perhaps my favorite exchange from the entire session, where Gillani shows how not to not answer a question [no, that's not a typo, read it again]. I actually cringed while reading this bit.

HAASS: One of our senior fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, Dan Markey, has recently produced a study called Securing Pakistan's Tribal Belt, and it's a study about the FATA and what needs to be done there. And one of the questions I would have is whether it's possible to imagine a different relationship between the central government and the FATA, and essentially to end the unique status of the FATA and to integrate it more into Pakistan like other parts of the country.

GILANI: Exactly you really don't know the exact position of FATA. FATA is already under the federal government. And there are two governments. There's a provincial government and the federal government. And the FATA is under the federal government. Therefore it is controlled by the governor, who is the nominee of the federal government. Therefore it is under the federal government.

HAASS: I understand that it's under the federal government. But it also enjoys, shall we say, a slightly different status or reality than other parts of the country.

GILANI: They have -- (inaudible) -- and they have senators. And interestingly all -- (inaudible) -- and the senators are supporting me.

HAASS: Okay.

Well, we wish you well with that. (Laughter.)

GILANI: And one of the -- (inaudible) -- from FATA, who happens to be the minister for environment, highly educated, and in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, he met President Bush along with me.

HAASS: Good.


I'm sorry for highlighting so much from that exchange, but can you honestly blame me? It's like trying to put together a highlights package from that Australia-South Africa one-day in 2006 when the Aussies scored 430 odd and lost: what part of it can you leave out? It's a veritable comedic goldmine.

It's also quite cute that when he tries to crack a one-liner, he fails miserably mainly because what he says makes no sense.

HAASS: I think I know the answer to this question from Dennis Lamb, who used to be an ambassador, but I'm going to ask it anyhow: Do you think that Americans understand Pakistan? (Laughter.)

GILANI: They understand Pakistan more than what I know.


The transcript does record him receiving laughter on that one, but I'm most assured that it was only a gesture of politeness. I think he's trying to intimate that Americans understand Pakistan better than he himself does, but that statement is neither funny nor true.

Anyway, whatever. I have to say that my ribbing aside, I find Gillani an utterly harmless figure. He didn't really ask for any of this; the poor sod was pushed into the role to a greater extent than any other recent Prime Minister I can think of off the top of my head. At the end of the day, he doesn't make any important decisions, so it's not really fair that he has to answer fairly hard-hitting questions in a language which he clearly struggles with (sort of like George Bush, I guess).

Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Quote Of The Day

Well, Goc and your kin, if you thought AKS' post on not hiring women except as receptionists and secretaries was misogynistic, I've got something for you. Here's a British legal expert on honor killings, quoting a man he knew on why social mores concerning sexuality are more constraining against women than men in Pakistan (and why that's ok):
A man is like a piece of gold and woman a piece of silk. If you drop gold into the mud you can polish it clean, but if you drop silk into mud, it's stained forever.

The following things should be noted:

1. Exploring ones sexuality is the equivalent of being dropped in mud. A completely healthy and normal activity is posed as the equivalent of being dirty or filthy (please, frat-boy types, don't make the obvious joke here).

2. Men decide who is like gold and who is like silk. You see, that's just the way it is. But, just for a second, imagine if women had this decision-making power. "What?! You dirtied your silk by taking advantage of the family goat? Be banished from my presence forever! You don't get to touch me or my gold."

3. Men simply don't come up with the laws of human nature (men=gold, women=silk) but are key in enforcing them. If a woman ever thinks of straying from the path prescribed by social norms, men will try to ensure she doesn't succeed - and if she does succeed, men will ensure that she is punished. Put differently, it is up to the man to make sure the precious and clearly-lacking-agency half of humanity lives in accordance with "their" values, because if they won't do so, who will?

4. Finally, make sure to note the emphasis on the word "forever" in the quote. This reveals a great deal about the hallowed status of virginity (for women anyway; men can do whatever they want) in conservative societies. If you would like another manifestation, please read this article in the NYT from a couple months ago which details a Muslim man in France leaving his wife on the night of their wedding because he "discovered" that she wasn't a virgin (of course ignoring that a woman's hymen can be separated for any number of reasons other than intercourse). Moreover, he ran out on her while their guests were still present and "delivered" (the NYT's words, not mine) the bride to her parents home the very same night.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Links (Way Early) For Thursday

Non-Musharraf stuff to keep you busy:

Fred Kaplan succinctly sums up the Bush administration's problems on the world stage:
Bush and most of his top officials have now reached the point, if they haven't raced past it long ago, where nobody can afford to believe a single thing they say.

The New York Times with a fantastic feature on who I believe to be the smartest television personality I've ever seen (I really do mean that): Jon Stewart. It does an excellent job of summing up why he and his show are so brilliant.

Ok, I lied at the beginning of this post: there is
one Musharraf link. Hamid Mir (yeah, yeah, I know) reports on Musharraf's evil Machiavellian-Bismarckian-Sun Tzuian plan to have Nawaz and Zardari bleed each other to death in a political battle over the judges. I've always found that political leaders' egos are boosted considerably more by their enemies than by their sycophants. By attributing to them the most cunning and forward-looking modes of thought, they greatly exaggerate the extent to which leaders actually know what the fuck they're doing. To be clear, I'm not saying Hamid Mir's reporting is false in this case; I simply don't know. It's more of a general observation. (Courtesy Faraz)

An interesting read on the "demise" of the Jamaat-e-Islami. The writer basically argues that the JI has come up short in an age that is shown to be a resurgent one for political Islam (in places like Turkey and Egypt, with the AK party and the Brotherhood, for instance). Moreover, it does not contribute substantively to the intellectual and political discourse of the day in a way that can be taken seriously. My two cents on the matter would be that both the AK party and the Brotherhood (to cite two examples from the article) have historically run up against strong institutional constraints (to say the least) in their respective countries, and have grown stronger because of the struggles attached to fighting those constraints (the strong survive and all that). The Jamaat, meanwhile, has grown fat on state and military patronage, especially over the last generation, and perhaps has forgotten what it takes to be a viable political and intellectual organization. (Via Grand Trunk Road)

New York magazine tells us this charming story about how Barack met Michelle. (See Oba? We
do do cute and cuddly around here).
Michelle, meanwhile, later told the Washington Post that she had heard his “strange name” and assumed that “any black guy who spent his formative years on an island had to be a little nerdy, a little strange.” “I already had in my mind that this guy was going to be lame,” she told Ebony.

But the presumed dork turned out more attractive than the photo he’d sent in, and he was confident, easy to talk to, and had a good sense of humor. When they went out to lunch that first day, Obama learned about Michelle’s family and schooling, and liked that she “knew how to laugh, brightly and easily,” while noticing, as he writes in The Audacity of Hope, that she “didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to get back to the office.” About a month into the summer Obama asked her out, but she declined. “I thought, 'No way.’ This is completely tacky,” Michelle told ABC. “This is my first summer. I've got an advisee and I'm gonna date him? I thought, 'No, no, I can't do that.’ And he was like, 'No one cares.’" Obama kept at it, and even threatened to quit if it meant he could romance her. “Eventually, I wore her down,” he writes. One day, after Michelle drove him home from a business picnic, they went to the Baskin-Robbins across from his place and sat together on the curb eating ice cream. “I asked if I could kiss her,” he remembers. “It tasted of chocolate.” On their first formal date, the pair saw Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, where Obama, as he later bragged, was allowed to touch Michelle's knee.

(Courtesy Nikhil)

Man, events in Eastern Europe
have escalated, haven't they? I want to write a longish IR-y post on this when I get the time, but for now all I'll say is this: current events in the region remind me a lot of the first fourteen years of the last century, especially the decade or so before World War I. Mindless adventures where states feel like they must send statements (Tangier and Agadir then, Kosovo and Georgia today), the rise of a powerful state that legitimately feels encircled (Imperial Germany then, Russia today), whose actions born of insecurity are viewed with increasing suspicion in the political capital of the Western world (London then, Washington today). Why are these states (America, Russia, and the EU) acting the way they are today? Because while I think we are in a period resembling pre-World War I, they think we are in a period resembling pre-World War II. In other words, they think showing strength is a way to deter opponents who prey on the weakness of others (Nazi Germany and the problems of appeasement are the historical analogue). The problem, of course, is that if you are actually in a pre-World War I world (where backing off pays) but think you're in pre-World War II world (where puffing your chest out pays), the things you choose to do are the exact and precise actions that will make things worse. (The interested reader can go to Chapter 3 of Jervis' Perception and Misperception in International Politics for more on this issue).

Obama and the Art of the Pander

The South Asian Journalism Association posted a story about a speech Barack Obama gave to a group of expatriate Indians and Pakistanis. While it is routine for presidential candidates to speak to a multitude of interest groups, amending their stump speech to pander to the group in question, Obama does it with so much damn style that you can’t help but be charmed.

Obama told the group - which included many Indian and Pakistani immigrants - that he is not only familiar with their cultures - but also proud of his lifelong association with them.
"Not only do I think I'm a desi, but I'm a desi," he said, using a colloquial term that describes South Asian immigrants. The remark was greeted with laughs. "I'm a homeboy."
He said that when he went to Occidental College, his first roommate was Pakistani. And in his dorm, he said with a laugh, "Indians and Pakistanis came together under one roof ... to cause havoc in the university."
To applause, he said he became an expert at cooking dal and other ethnic dishes, though "somebody else made the naan," the trademark Indian bread.


Just these few sentences contain all the ingredients of a successful pander. He shows familiarity with South Asian terms and professes to be intimately linked to the group in question, but is also careful to make a self-deprecating joke.

I’ve always disliked pandering in all its forms, be it Hillary Clinton drinking whiskey shots in Pennsylvania or George W. Bush pulling that grating folksy routine of his, but Obama, even more than the previous master Bill Clinton, makes you believe he means every word he says. With Clinton you always got the feeling that he was trying to pull a fast one on you, but you still let yourself be fooled.

Obama‘s verbal ability also highlights an important distinction between him and John McCain. While Obama will sweet talk desis, he is still ready to take military action in Pakistan. McCain, meanwhile, is clearly uncomfortable in social settings where he is forced to make small talk, fake enthusiasm and speak in superlatives (this Daily Show video of McCain with the Dalai Lama hilariously highlights that). His pandering takes an altogether more sinister form. He seems startlingly eager to change his positions on pivotal issues, from tax cuts to drilling for oil in Alaska to torture, to gain votes.

And of the two, I know which form of pandering I prefer.

P.S. A case can be made that Obama has a genuine connection to South Asia, and Pakistan in particular. This CNN video on the differences between Obama and McCain’s pronunciations of Pakistan would be a good starting point.

Musharraf Leaves Behind A Complicated Legacy, And An Opportunity

At the end of it all, Pervez Musharraf had one final significant decision to mull: make a relatively dignified exit, or leave kicking and screaming. That he chose the former is perhaps one of the more sound decisions he has made lately.

“How did it come to this so quickly?” he must mutter to himself in between sips of his evening drink. In the days before he resigned, Musharraf faced a Pakistani public firmly against him, political parties at his throat, and important backers such as the Pakistan Army and the United States government nimbly stepping aside as his political fortunes turned for the worse.

And yet, it does not strain one’s memory to recall a time when none of the above propositions were true. Musharraf was an immensely popular man both at home and abroad until the spring of last year, when he picked against the then Chief Justice what many Pakistanis may characterize as a panga – a needless fight driven by ego. The fallout from his ill-advised, not to mention illegal, move to essentially fire Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was to provide a rallying point for the galvanizing of varying strands of Pakistani society – the legal community, civil society, independent media, the religious right, and the nationalist right – into opposition to Musharraf.

The practical consequences of that somewhat tenuous unity bare themselves to us in clear terms today. In February of last year, his job approval spread was +41 (63% of Pakistanis approved of his job performance, 22% disapproved). In June of this year it was measured to be -64 (check p. 42 of this report for the numbers). His political career is over, with the new coalition government, elected in February this year largely on an anti-Musharraf platform, forcing his hand with the very credible threat of impeachment. As a final insult, he also had to bear having his human rights violations compared unfavorably to Adolf Hitler’s.

As his career draws to a close, it behooves political observers to consider Musharraf’s legacy. How will we remember the man, and the leader? How will Pakistan?

Lazy historians will reach for two superficially valid points of comparison. The first is Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military ruler. Like Musharraf, Ayub carried out a bloodless coup in October (1958 for Ayub, 1999 for Musharraf). Like Musharraf, Ayub was westernized and secular in his outlook. Like Musharraf, Ayub concocted devolution-of-power plans that were cloaked in the garb of furthering democracy but were in actual fact attempts to consolidate military rule. And like Musharraf, Ayub formed an alliance with the U.S., receiving Western largesse in return for support in the global political struggle of the day (the Cold War then, the so-called War on Terror today).

The second faulty analogue that will be drawn will be with Zia-ul-Haq. Like Musharraf, Zia seized power by deposing a popularly elected Prime Minister; Ayub’s assumption of power, by contrast, was by invitation when then-President Iskander Mirza declared martial law. Like Musharraf, Zia participated wholeheartedly in a Western-led military struggle in Afghanistan whose long-term effects can only be guessed. And like Musharraf, Zia attempted to recreate and rebrand the powerful Pakistan military in his own image – a thoroughly Islamic one in Zia’s case, and a pragmatically secular one in Musharraf’s.

The comparisons fall short for one highly significant reason, however: unlike his predecessors, Musharraf is the only military ruler whose time in power has, paradoxically and often unintentionally, helped create the conditions vital for truly democratic government to take root in Pakistan.

Scholars of democratization remain divided over which segment of society – the middle class or the working class – is most necessary for democratic government to be established in a state. One canonical work’s arrestingly argues for the former with the words, “no bourgeois, no democracy.” More recent scholarship has brought that claim into dispute, instead arguing that a strong working class is the driving force toward a state becoming democratic.

Either way, Musharraf has solidified Pakistan’s prospects for sustainable democracy. The liberalizing of the economy under him earlier this decade led to the creation of a larger professional class in Pakistan – lawyers, bankers, consultants – and strong manufacturing growth led to better economic fortunes for lower-income wage earners. That these efforts are in danger of being undone via the combination of political instability in Pakistan, a crisis in investor confidence, and global food and fuel inflation is troubling to say the least, but should not make us forget what preceded the present economic crisis.

In addition to his economic policies, Musharraf took important and unprecedented steps in liberalizing the media and civil society, allowing freedom of expression to flourish as it had never done before – even during Pakistan’s so-called democratic years. He discovered for himself last year just how strong an institution the independent media had become, when he faced his first serious and prolonged crisis of legitimacy. Despite heavy-handed physical, financial, legal, and bureaucratic attempts to curb criticism of his government by television talk-show hosts and newspapers, Musharraf quickly found that he was almost helpless in stemming the tide of public disapproval – unlike previous Pakistani rulers, who were significantly more successful in their attempts to clamp down on free expression.

Finally, Musharraf made substantive progress on ties with India, becoming the man Indian leaders hate to love, and helping guide the détente in the subcontinent since early in 2004. Pakistan’s historically thorny relationship with India is one of the key factors in the failure of democracy to take hold in the country. It has allowed the military to self-servingly regard itself as the guardian of the state, and allowed it to dominate politicians – or “bloody civies” as military men in Pakistan pejoratively like to call them – on important issue areas like foreign policy, even when the politicians are purportedly in power. Continued strengthening of relations with India can only bode well for Pakistan’s democracy.

Ultimately, Musharraf will leave behind a complicated legacy, befitting a man prone to self-contradiction. The man who refused to allow gang-rape victim Mukhtaran Mai to receive international awards because he felt her recognition would hurt Pakistan’s image also ensured greater legislative representation for women, and expended considerable political capital on pushing through a controversial bill through parliament in 2006 which made it easier to prosecute and report rapes. The man who presided over the greatest explosion in free speech in Pakistan’s history also brandished an ugly authoritarian inclination to crush criticism and jail political opponents when push came to shove. The man who arguably led Pakistan’s stupidest military misadventure – the Kargil mini-war in 1999 – displayed progressive statesmanship when faced with the reality of an unwinnable political conflict with India.

In the final analysis, however, Musharraf’s greatest contradiction may be that, as a military man who was as unaccommodating as any to political forces opposed to him, he laid the foundations of sustainable democratic governance in a country that has never enjoyed it. Whether or not those foundations are built upon is contingent on the conduct of politicians finally freed of the Musharraf straitjacket, and new Chief of Army Staff Kayani – chastened by the backlash the military has faced with Musharraf’s declining popularity – keeping his word on staying in the barracks.

Pakistan’s political elites have never before faced such opportune circumstances for making long-lasting pacts sustaining democracy. They have legitimacy amongst the broader public by virtue of being elected in relatively free and fair elections. They have political momentum on the back of accomplishing one of their central goals – pushing Musharraf out. They have an army chief for the first time being explicit about his intentions to keep the military out of politics. Though extensive challenges remain – the weakening economy and the Taliban threat chief among them – it is imperative that civilian elites take this opportunity to cement a sustainable and checks-and-balances parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. Moreover, it is crucial that the Pakistani public and media demand from the newly elected civilian leaders the same standard of accountability that they did so vociferously against Musharraf - thus keeping them on their toes and obviating a slide into the self-aggrandizing misgovernance of the 1990s.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Typo/Freudian Slip of the Day

From AP:

His top contenders are said to include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Less traditional choices mentioned include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, an abortion-rights supporter, and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential prick in 2000 who now is an independent.


Via: a gazillion US blogs

Nine Years of Entertainment

I'm going to leave the analysis of Musharraf's resignation to those better suited to that kind of thing (I'm still waiting for Ahsan to weigh in). But I would like to pay tribute to the man by reprinting a Newsline article (not available online) from a few months ago that collected the best Mush quotes. Feel free to add your favourite quotes in the comments.

RAMBLING MAN


For sheer entertainment value, the Musharraf era has been unrivalled in the country’s history. As Pakistan lurched from one crisis to the other, it could always rely on its fearless leader to pour forth some words of wisdom, be it a gratuitous insult or a prediction that had no chance of ever materialising. And if there was no one else left to blame, he could always take a pot shot at our Eastern neighbours. As Musharraf’s rule draws to a close, Newsline celebrates - and mocks - the man who kept us laughing through the war on terror, a judicial crisis and nine of years of military rule.


The Perfect Gentleman

On Iftikhar Chaudhry (February 17, 2008)

"The scum of the earth – a third-rate man – a corrupt man."
On ex-generals opposed to him (January 23, 2008)

They are insignificant personalities. Most of them are ones who served under me and I kicked them out ... They are insignificant. I am not even bothered by them."


On US troops (January 12, 2008)

“Our troops, who are the locals, who understand groups and customs, are very hardy. Our troops can go on roti and water. American troops would need chocolate.”


On human rights activists (November 14, 2007)

“You go and meet human rights activists. Ninety percent of them may have never cast their votes. They sleep on the day of elections.”

On NGOs (June 17, 2005)

“Westernized fringe elements.... as bad as the Islamic extremists.”


On rape victims (September 18, 2005)

"A lot of people say that if you want to go abroad and get a visa from Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped,"

On Ali Kuli (from In The Line of Fire)

“Yet instead of me, he selected Lieutenant General Ali Kuli Khan Khattak, who I felt was a mediocre officer.”





The Eternal Optimist

On the nature of his rule (February 17, 2008)

“It is not a dictatorship here! How can you reinstate judges if you become prime minister? How?”


On the emergency (November 14, 2007)

“I know what they [Pakistanis] feel about the emergency when all these suicide bombings were taking place. Their view is, Why have I done it so late.”


On Kargil (From In the Line of Fire)

“Considered purely in military terms, the Kargil operations were a landmark in the history of the Pakistani army."



On George W. Bush (May 16, 2001)

“Each and every individual Pakistani was in favour of his winning, each and every one. I don't think there could be a single Pakistani who was against him I would say. He enjoyed the support of every Pakistani.”

On Harkat-ul-Mujahideen fifteen months before it was declared a terrorist group by the US (June 25, 2000)

'
'These people are not terrorists. They are fighting a jihad.''


The Seer

On Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif(October 12, 2006)

“Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif will not participate in 2007 elections.”

On Benazir and Nawaz again(October 23, 2006)

“I am one hundred percent sure they would lose elections against me even if their votes were combined.”


On Altaf Hussain, a year before allying with him (May 16, 2001)

"I don't think he has any place in Pakistani politics.”


On religious extremists (May 16, 2001)

“There is not even 1% religious extremists. Ninety-nine per cent of Pakistanis are moderate.”


On nuclear weapons safety, three years before A.Q. Khan was caught (June 25, 2000)

“There is no question of nuclear material falling into the hands of irresponsible people at all.''



The Brotherly Neighbour

On the Indian military (April 15, 1999)

''We have developed Ghauri, which is a most effective missile and better than that of Agni. India has the ambition to reach the world, but we have the capability to reach India.''

On a plane hijacking situation (January 8, 2000)

“India had staged this drama to give Pakistan a bad name.''

On diplomacy with India (March 26, 2000)

'Indians are quite allergic to the word mediation, so the word mediation should be avoided,''

On offering earthquake aid (May 16, 2001)

After the [Indian] earthquake I said we must send aid immediately. A lot of people in Pakistan said we should not do that, I overruled them and said, "Let 's send them aid. It's a humanitarian gesture". But when we offered they said they did not need tents and blankets. Then another letter comes [saying] that "we don't need tents and blankets but we would like to have sniffing dogs". So I said, "OK, let them have sniffing dogs". We have a dog centre and we selected some dogs and we said we'd send them. Again the next day a message comes: "we don't want your sniffing dogs". I think they realised that maybe those dogs may be ISI representatives, and so I said, "OK, fine - let's not send them the dogs".


Monday, August 18, 2008

Passage Of The Day

From Nicholas Schmidle - the best Western reporter in/on Pakistan - in Slate:
On Monday night, I asked Zardari if, when Musharraf paused in the middle of his speech and talked about "standing up to the charge sheet," he thought Musharraf might not step down after all.

"No," he said. "I predicted it yesterday on CNN. They said, 'Where do you see him in one week's time?' I said, 'Playing golf.' "

"In Rawalpindi or in Saudi Arabia?" I asked.

"I didn't specify where."


Anyway, so that's that. I have a longer post on Musharraf in the works and it should hopefully be out in a day or so. For now, just some random thoughts:

1. The speech was very, very good. I stupidly did not see it live, but when catching the replay, I was very impressed.

2. Surely Nawaz Sharif did not fight this long and hard to kick Musharraf out of politics just to see his good buddy Asif Zardari take over?

3. Suddenly the terms "fifty", "eight", "two" and "B" are even more important than they were 15 hours ago.

4. If the PPP-PML(n) government makes it as a coalition to the anniversary of the elections (mid-February), I will be very surprised.

5. I was mentioning this to someone else today, but you know what I want? I want a three hour interview of Musharraf by Talat Hussain. No holds barred, nothing off the table (unlike last time). Talat is an excellent interviewer, and Musharraf always gives it to you straight. It would be awesome. The person whom I presented this request to noted that there will invariably be some sort of media gag as part of the resignation, and we shouldn't expect to hear any interviews for a few weeks or months. Oh well.

See you around, Mush.

Musharraf 's Last Exit

The nine year rule of Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf finally came to an end today after he submitted his resignation to Parliament. This surely is an end of an era, which for many of us was our first conscious political experience. General Pervez Musharraf was one of the longest serving leaders of the country and for much of his tenure he remained a highly respected, admired and popular leader who guided Pakistan through a tumultuous period gaining a great deal of national and international respect on the way. However, things changed drastically for him some 18 months ago when he decided to sack the Chief Justice and enter into an ill planned battle with the entire judicial system. Since then it’s been one bad move after another, leaving him with no better option than a safe and honourable exit.

There can be little doubt that had the Chief Justice debacle not taken place and / or Benazir Bhutto not been assassinated, Musharraf would still very much be in power. This is not to say that he should have continued to stay in power. I think Musharraf lost his way much earlier, perhaps around the time that Chaudhry Shujat was appointed the acting Prime Minister of Pakistan, followed by Shaukat Aziz as PM. (By the way it’s telling that Shaukat Aziz took the first flight out of the country while Musharraf is fighting to remain in the country.)

It is essential to remember that when Musharraf seized power he was regarded as a saviour who had ridden Pakistan of the menace that is Nawaz Sharif. The disastrous reign of Nawaz Sharif had resulted in the public losing all confidence in the political leaders of the country and when Musharraf stepped in, as an all-powerful military dictator, he was greeted with near unanimous support; a support that stayed with him for much of his time in power. This allowed him to take some very bold steps and Musharraf will always be remembered for his role in laying the foundations of a vibrant media, not to mention his role in the development of the economy. Though, I guess his security and foreign policies will always be a point of debate. But policies weren't all that Musharraf was about. He was a leader with whom a large number of Pakistanis, especially Karachiites, shared an ideology with – before Enlightened Moderation became a catch phrase, it was a symbol that urban Pakistanis had been searching for years and readily identified with. Moreover, Pakistanis hadn’t seen a leader they could look up to in quite some time; in Musharraf they found a person they could respect and admire. But then the wheels came off and he was stuck; he was a man who lost friends and was now short on ideas.

The one thing that he was sure about was that he had to remain in power. Musharraf always held the belief that destiny drove him to power and he was the last savior of the Pakistani people so he needed a way of remaining in power. He knew he couldn’t keep hold of the military forever, thus he needed other means of remaining relevant. It would be idiotic to say that Pakistani politicians were the main force behind Musharraf’s decision to shed his uniform. Such a statement undermines the internal political pressures that he must have felt from within the army.

The armed forces of Pakistan are the last remaining [relatively] meritocratic institution in Pakistan. To be a General, you have to be a good soldier and a great commander. To be the Army Chief, you must also be supremely ambitious and have maniacal self-belief. So if you imagine yourself to have all these qualities and want to be the next Army Chief, you’re not going to be happy sitting around for years and years only to retire in the process, you’re definitely going to start knocking on the door and after seven years of knocking you may just think of breaking that door open. If Musharraf knew that he couldn’t hold on to the uniform for ever, he also knew that becoming a civilian President was perhaps his only hope.

Unfortunately for Musharraf he did not have the time to master the political game. It was just his luck (and the short sightedness of some of his policies) that his segue into a primarily civilian domain was accompanied by a resurgence of violence in Baluchistan, the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban, Benazir’s assassination, an idiotic Chief Justice, Lal Masjid and the rise of Islamist militancy and a bunch of scheming, vengeful politicians. To borrow a term from NB's mother, 'he was a lonely lion being chased out by a pack of hyenas'.

Today’s public address was Musharraf’s last hurrah. His speech was a rather balanced and conciliatory affair, which says a lot about the man (as well as the deal that he may have struck!). Musharraf’s speeches have always fascinated me. He manages to command an audience while lacking key oratorial skills such as the ability to form complete sentences. Today’s speech was no different. He was commanding and strong, never unsure of himself even as he mumbled his words or shot out a short, excited bunch of words that sounded exaclty like an order. Much of what he said was measured, and balanced but elusive. He emphaisised the economic gains that were made during his tenure and reminded the country of how well he had guided Pakistan through security issues post Kargil and post 9-11. He stated that his reasons for leaving office were not guided by a need to protect himself but by a need to protect the institution of the Presidency. He was respectful towards the government and wished them well, reminding them that they had a great responsibility to the nation. There was no mention of the judges, except a subtle parting swipe at the Chief Justice (‘a man who was willing o jeopradise the country’s economy for personal benefits’ or something like that). There was similarly no mention of Lal Masjid, the Talibans, Baluchisan or Kashmir. Most strange of all was his aviodance of the term “Enlightened Moderation,” (he chose to employ his new catch-phrase “Pakistan First” instead).

Musharraf came off as a man proud of his achievements, a patriot who was sincere with the country; this farewell speech will certainly help in remedying Musharraf’s lately tainted reputation. It is a shame though that he devoted so much of his speech to his achievements rather than his ideals. He is a man who truly cares about this country and wishes to see it prosper economically and socially. He believes in a socially progressive Pakistan and hopes for a tolerant and just society; that he failed to achieve these goals must haunt him.

Musharraf's departure has created a massive vaccuum and only time will tell us how effectively this is filled. In the mean time, we (by that I primarily mean GEO) must desist from rushing to deliver a judgment on Musharraf's rule. It's time for Musharraf reflect on his deeds and for us to reflect on his rule, then only can we do justice to what has been a long and complex time in power.

Breaking News: Mush, Gone

More later.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Zulfiqar Bhutto Jr. Can So Kick Bilawal (Bhutto) Zardari's Ass

I'll let the photographs do the talking.

Bilawal (Bhutto) Zardari, 19.



Zulfiqar Bhutto Jr., 18.



Then again I wouldn't trust Bilawal fighting fair; he'd probably get some policemen to do the dirty work for him!

(Photo credit The Times via NaiTazi.com)

Quote Of The Day

Here's Pastor Rick Warren, who will host/moderate the first real debate/conversation between John McCain and Barack Obama this weekend:
The difference is that there are no death squads in America. The worst you can get here is that you can get blogged, you can get Lewinskied, on the Internet. There is a difference between that and living under oppression, living with fear for your life. That's why whether or not they found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is beside the point. Saddam and his sons were raping the country, literally. And we morally had to do something. If you have a Judeo-Christian heritage, you have to believe it when God says that evil cannot be compromised with. It has to be resisted, it has to be overcome.

Hear, hear. We really don't have enough people speaking truth to power nowadays. Anyone who says "whether or not they found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is beside the point" has my full support.