Haggai's Place

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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Friday, January 30, 2004 ::

Kerry and Bush on Iraq
Not much dissent here from David Broder's latest column in the Washington Post. Hard to quote just part of it without quoting all of it, so here's some of it without most of the Kerry stuff:
President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry have opposite problems when it comes to explaining the crucial decisions they have made about Iraq and national security. The president is reticent to the point of stonewalling, while the senator, who has put a strong claim on the Democratic nomination by winning Iowa and New Hampshire, almost drowns his judgments in a torrent of words.

Neither approach serves the country well -- with the most troubling questions centering on the president.

On Tuesday, in his first meeting with reporters since former weapons inspector David Kay declared that Saddam Hussein almost certainly did not have weapons of mass destruction on the eve of the Iraq war, Bush was asked three times whether he had reservations about the rationale he had offered for war and the intelligence on which he relied.

He never answered directly. Rather than deal with the weapons question, he fell back on the repeated phrase that Iraq was "a grave and gathering danger." Twice he said: "There is no doubt in my mind. . . . I believed it then, and I know it is true now."

By shifting the argument, Bush fuzzes the basic issue in assessing his policy. Many shared his fear of the Iraqi dictator, and many others believed Hussein had these weapons. But Bush alone decided the threat was so grave that it justified a preventive war -- one that already has cost more than 500 American lives and billions of dollars, with more to come.

That he now evades the issue and gives scant evidence of a searching reappraisal of his administration's decision-making is profoundly disturbing. It is, and ought to be, an issue in this election...

Kerry too has explaining to do -- but his grappling with the problem is preferable to Bush's stonewalling.

5:20 PM
:: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 ::
Wow, this is priceless
Just saw this from a link at a movies forum. A Lord of the Rings fan posted a "story" from Middle Earth about the characters' reaction to not getting any Oscar nominations for anyone in the cast. This is outstanding stuff:
'Rings' characters discuss Oscar snub
by Molly J. Ringwraith

Jan. 27, 2004
MINAS TIRITH (AP) – The city of Minas Tirith has been abuzz today over the news that 'The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King,' while receiving 11 nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, did not receive any nominations for acting.

"Eleven nominations?" said Pippin Took, of the Shire. "Well, that's good news."

His friend Meriadoc Brandybuck responded by swatting him over the head with the newspaper and protesting, "But the cast is a part of this movie! Aren't they?"

Their kinsman Frodo Baggins shared Brandybuck's dismay. Upon reading the list of nominations, Baggins commented with an ironic chuckle, "They've left out one of the chief characters: the cast. I want to hear more about them." Waxing solemn and soulful, he added, "The movie wouldn't have got far without the cast."

"You almost don't want to watch the awards ceremony," contributed Baggins' gardener and loyal valet, Samwise Gamgee, "because how can it be happy? How can the awards go right when so much bad has been nominated? Folks in that Academy had lots of chances of voting for these actors, only they didn't."

Legolas Greenleaf, of the Mirkwood realm, commented somewhat cryptically on the Academy's choices, "A red sun rises. Lame decisions have been made this night." When asked to clarify his opinion, he told reporters that he had not the heart, for the grief was still too near, and retired for a walk in the forest.

His companion, Gimli son of Gloin, had sharper remarks to make upon the chosen nominees. "Mystic River? What madness drew them there? You'll find more cheer in a graveyard!"

But wizard Gandalf the White urged a more optimistic approach. "Do not be too eager to deal out Oscars in judgement," he advised. "That is not for us to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the Oscars we are given."

Meanwhile, his colleague Saruman the formerly-White was in favor of retaliation against the Academy: "Too long have those peasants stood against us," Saruman said, referring to the Academy's failure to give any fantasy film the Best Picture Oscar yet. "Leave none alive! To war! There will be no dawn for film critics!"

Treebeard, of the Ents, told reporters after much deliberation and exchanging of long names, that he was in agreement with this proposed course of action. "There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men for this treachery," he declared. "My business is with Beverly Hills tonight. With heads made of cotton candy and rock."

"I do not doubt their hearts," Eomer of Rohan conceded. "Only the size of their brains." He then returned to the task of loading up forty of his men and horses with toilet paper and Maps to the Stars' Homes, for a "secret midnight mission" that he regretted he could not give details about.

At least one individual, calling himself Smeagol, claimed to be making plans to steal the Oscar statuettes. "Oscar is sooo pretty, sooo golden," said Smeagol. "We will take the statuesss once the Hollywood snobses are dead! Ye-esss, precious!" He then quickly added, groveling at the feet of reporters, "No! No! We were only joking! Smeagol wouldn't hurt a fly! Nice movie industry." He crawled away before he could be questioned further.

Still others appeared not to care about the snub. Lady Eowyn of Rohan said with a shrug, "The women of this country learned long ago that those without Oscar nominations may still get dates to awards ceremonies. I fear neither critics nor fans." Lord Boromir, a native of Minas Tirith, dismissed the concerns, claiming, "Gondor has no actors. Gondor needs no actors."

But overall the mood was one of mild disgust. As Lord Aragorn put it to reporters, "The day may come when the Academy is able to find their ass with a flashlight. But this is not that day."
Goddamn, that's funny.
6:37 PM
Oscar props for a great movie
Glad to see several nominations, including Best Director, for the brilliant City of God, a crazy look into the violent world of Brazilian slums in the 1970s. It was released here in the US almost exactly a year ago, which is when I saw it, and I'm happy that more people will hear about it now and maybe get a chance to see it. Not for the faint of heart, as it has a lot of dreadful violence, much of it involving young kids, but it's remarkably powerful.
3:57 PM
:: Monday, January 26, 2004 ::
Up is down
There was a Washington Post story on Saturday about several senior al-Qaeda figures being housed in Iran:
According to European, U.S. and Arab intelligence sources, a number of al Qaeda operatives moved to Iran after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in November 2001. The operatives included Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, the Egyptian military chief of al Qaeda, who is better known as Saif Adel; Saad bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden's sons; and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, the sources said.

Among other al Qaeda members who made it to Iran, they said, were Mahfouz Ould Walid, who is also known as Abu Hafs the Mauritanian; Abu Mohammed Masri, an Egyptian who became al Qaeda's chief financial officer; and Kuwaiti-born Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, al Qaeda's spokesman.
This is all sort of murky, and the relationship of the Iranian regime to these guys doesn't seem to be all that clear. But this alone is far more indicative of a potential Iran/al-Qaeda connection than anything the Bush administration put forward before the war about an Iraq/al-Qaeda connection. In particular, Zarqawi and his group have been mentioned before, as this other Post story from Saturday explains:
In separate action in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, U.S. troops last week raided a facility and captured Husam Yemeni and several associates who were identified as figures within Ansar Islam, the terrorist group that was once located in northern Iraq but moved south after the U.S. invasion. Ansar is headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has been accused of masterminding the October 2002 assassination of Lawrence Foley, a U.S. official in Jordan who was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ansar has been identified as the major terrorist group operating against U.S. forces inside Iraq, and Yemeni is the highest-ranking member to have been captured.

Zarqawi received medical treatment in Baghdad and was cited by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in his Security Council speech last February as providing a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Most U.S. intelligence analysts believe that Zarqawi operates his own network but that he has joined with al Qaeda in some operations.
Paul Wolfowitz, among other people, also cited Zarqawi's treatment in Baghdad as proof of a Saddam/al-Qaeda link. What appears to be the case is that Zarqawi was actually living in--and operating out of--Iran, not Iraq. But hey, that one trip to Baghdad sure must mean something! Did he eat some hummus there, too? Surely Saddam must have known about that.

Also, the point about bin Laden's son, Saad, being in Iran is illustrative here. There can't be much doubt that if he had been believed to be living in Iraq before the war, there would have been even louder howls from the administration and its backers about a direct Saddam/al-Qaeda union. But since nobody wants to invade Iran, almost nobody mentions it, or any of this other stuff.
4:02 PM

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