Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada

Mark Steyn noted that Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan had a certain reckless fatality about it that seemed pre-ordained to lend itself to the unfortunate and bloody conclusion that unfolded on Thursday. Whether Bhutto was a fatalist hell-bent on martyrdom is a point hardly worth debating, and given her opulent lifestyle and craving for all the trappings of aristocracy at the expense of the poor she claimed to champion tends to lay that argument to rest.

What is missing from the debate in both the circles of punditry and public discourse is any sense of context, both in the arrogant assumption that any Westerner knows a thing about Pakistan or even Bhutto herself, and the real legacy of her brief and corrupt reign. The media has reduced the discourse to such astounding levels of banality and ignorance that it is not uncommon to hear some self-professed "Expert on Pakistan" make the sand-poundingly stupid remark that the Bhutto family were Pakistan's version of the Kennedy's. When I first heard the remark uttered by some hawk-nosed pundit with very important hair, I was ready to throw my bag of Doritos at the TV, until it dawned on me (mid Doritos hurl) that the commentator's comparison to Bhutto and the Kennedy's was a back-stage homage at how very skilled Benazir Bhutto had been at seducing Westerners, particularly Europeans, into buying into her own self-created mythology.

To the West, and to adoring pundits, Bhutto was the exiled champion of the poor, ready to risk her own life to return democracy and moderate government to the hands of the people, and $1 jello shooter nights for all (well, maybe not the last one). With her Harvard and Oxford education, designer clothing, Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, and quick wit, she courted the Western media, re-writing her own history and never being questioned on it because she had carefully crafted her image as a freedom fighter right out Hollywood central casting. She was everything we wanted in a Mid-East leader and she knew it. The problem was that her adoring sycophants in the media never bothered to scratch beyond the shiny surface layers to reveal what lay beneath the expensive clothes and behind the silver tongue.

Bhutto was nothing more than a corrupt opportunist who was ousted from power in 1990 after 19 charges of corruption were filed against her and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, after a New York Times investigation revealed a complex scheme of money laundering, fraud and kickbacks. Some experts allege that by the time she fled the country, or was "exiled" as Ms. Bhutto preferred to call it, she and her husband had stolen over a billion dollars. Her husband spent eight years in prison - the money is still in an unmarked Swiss account.

A champion of the poor she was not. She was an elite from a political dynasty marred by corruption. One of her closest allies during her rule, as the corruption charges swirled around her, begged her to orchestrate some sort of damage control by meeting with those in the poorest regions of Pakistan. "A Prime Minister does not do such things", she coldly responded - and this, perhaps, gives us the best glimpse into the psyche of the lady who signed off her emails with a capital B.

So what are we left with? Poor President Musharraf - who came from poverty, created a middle class in Pakistan, eliminated the massive deficit left behind from the Bhutto years, brought cell phones, the Internet and technology to the masses, and gave the poor hope - is left trying to stabilize an already volatile situation he barely had under control before the nefarious little muck-raker stuck her nose back into to the fray, hoping to one day dip her hand back into the cookie jar. As the tension mounts, his government is forced to beat back ridiculous conspiracy theories that they were to blame for her assassination. It would seem that for President Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto will be a bigger headache in death than she was in life.

Gustave Stresemann once said that Dante can be understood only within the context of Italian thought, and Faust would be unthinkable if divorced from its German background; But both are part of their common cultural heritage. This is also true of Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan. Perhaps President Musharraf should invest in some Gucci loafers and Armani Suits; It may not play well with the poor of Pakistan, but we sure will gobble it up in the West.



Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's A Tough World, But We'll Always Have Bill

My article on the NIE report regarding Iran's uranium enrichment program, and the media's expected reaction to it, is being met with no small amount of hostility. My assessment illuminated that the report contained little new information, and only confirmed that Iran's uranium enrichment program was still in full swing, and their nuclear weapons program had only been suspended, not halted as the liberal chattering classes are so smugly asserting. The reason? The presence of the American military and their allies in the region has made it virtually impossible to acquire the necessary components to complete the project. The fact they intend to resume the program in 2010 should be a cause to raise alarm bells, and not a reason to celebrate.

Had my article fallen on deaf ears, it would have been less puzzling than the response it received from Ezine, who were considering publishing the article. They rejected it calling it "defamatory" and "inflammatory". Now, either these guys write speeches for Jesse Jackson in their spare time, requiring them to write rejection letters with lots of words that rhyme nicely, or they are adhering to the age old law that editors love the letter Y. Either way, defending President Bush and alluding to what I saw as a clear and overwhelming bias in the manner in which in the media handled the report is hardly inflammatory, nor did I defame anyone. But that's the nature of the beast when you're a conservative writer. Unless I adopt the childish mantras of the anti-war crowd, it's tough to make a buck in the world of editorial journalism.

My very own local paper, the Times and Transcript, are always quick to whip out a litany of semi-literate editorials by their resident paint sniffer in chief, Bill Belliveau, who, when he's not screaming about how George Bush is a war criminal, he's reminding us how we should be grateful to be paying taxes, or how Prime Minister Harper is a knuckle dragging neophyte for suggesting that we should be able to keep more of our money. I wrote a short letter to the editor outlining not only my views, but those of many others in this country who feel that the NIE report was a snow job. They chose instead to publish a letter from some guy who simply wrote in to inform us all that he was getting a busy signal at his doctor's office. It took all of two sentences. It seems that if I were to write in a letter about how very pleased I was with this year's entries in the annual gingerbread bake-off, I'm sure they would give me top billing.

I'd be less cheesed with Times and Transcript if their letters to the editor section was a-political, but it is not. Any nutcracker who wants to go on anti-Israel, quasi-Hebrew-baiting rant gets published. Any guy who doesn't like the fact that cops use tasers gets published. And of course, anyone who thinks that President Bush beats puppies and eats the souls of babies on the weekend definitely gets published.

Oh well, for all the caveats that come with this genre, thank the good Lord for blogs. At least for those who prefer wit over cleverness, facts over media fiction, and fresh perspectives over regurgitated talking points from the left, you can always click on the Hype. For the rest of you, there will always be Bill.

Anyway, I hope Mr. Belliveau has thick skin. Have a great week, and make sure you check out the Hype's artist of the week, the hypnotic Regina Spektor, singing her amazing song Fidelity.



Friday, December 07, 2007

Slightly Less Annoying Than MySpace

Blue something or the other. It's a new social networking site, I think, and I don't intend to go out of my way to find out. Facebook is enough, which I guess is the new Myspace. I don't want to add the "Zombie Application" or the "Happy Flower Application". I took off my Funwall after I could no longer take 17 people bombarding me with Youtube videos every day of a dog who took in an orphaned raccoon as a baby, or some endless video clip of reasons I should grateful I don't live in Darfur. I'm fairly certain I don't need reassurance from well-intentioned people that I should be happy that troops of 12 year-olds armed with machetes aren't breaking down my door to lop my limbs off in a bloody mess and parade my head through the streets like some modern day Thomas Becket. Enough already.

Did you know that the mail service use to run up to 5 times a day in some countries, so people could be bothered to put pen to parchment, slap on a stamp, and write something substantive to their neighbors across town? Now people are strapped up like Tom Cruise in Minority Report with their Ipods and Blackberries so they can write in some cryptic language to text trivial things to half of their wired network. Yeah. TTFN. Do you know you're actually saying tata for now? Have we become a society of gay 19th century socialites? The last time someone said "tata" to me, I'm fairly sure I was 2 years old and was I being admonished for shitting behind the chair in the kitchen.

I know people far more skilled then I have tackled this topic before with much more wit than I, but good lord, IHMD! (I've had my druthers!)

But I'm 34, and maybe getting a little misanthropic with age. Facebook is fun enough, but it's a little like the cyber equivalent of showing up on someone's door step unannounced. I get a notification that some guy I used to work with, never spoke to, and am pretty sure hated my guts, wants to add me to his friend list. Gee. Why didn't you just actually try to be my friend when we worked together 13 years ago? That would have been a hell of a lot simpler.

Why? Because there is something blatantly disingenuous about all this social networking. I used to repeatedly mock former CNN anchor George Bernard Shaw when he asked the former President Bush some 15 years ago whether the Internet would come with a price, the price being the loss of human contact, religion, and maybe our soul. Ok, maybe he was going over the top with the soul comment, but Mr. Shaw foresaw something the rest of us didn't. Funwalls and Zombie applications.



Thursday, December 06, 2007

Still A Threat

It didn't take long. The press copies from the NIE report supposedly downplaying Iran's nuclear capabilities were still warm to the touch, and the rabid Trotskyites from the major news networks were already pouncing on President Bush. CNN's Ed Henry threw all semblance of objectivity out the window, reporting that he was "shocked" that the President "showed not even the slightest admission that he was wrong about Iran's nuclear weapons program." Well, with all due respect to Mr. Henry, had he read the report in full instead of looking for "gotcha!" quotes, he would have found the report shed little light on anything new, and confirmed what President Bush has been saying all along - that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium and has no intentions of stopping any time soon.

As Clifford May so eloquently pointed out in his recent column, there is vast difference between "suspending" a nuclear program, and "abandoning" it altogether. Iran, as the report clearly stated for those who bothered to read it in it's entirety, is only suspending the program until 2010, and would resume it much quicker if they had the capability.So through all the naive static and accusations of Anderson Cooper and the like, we are left with this fact. Iran is continuing to enrich uranium, and has said in the past that "a world without the United States … is achievable...We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization … We know how we are going to attack them.” Comforting huh? At least President Bush doesn't think so and neither should anyone else with a grain of sense in their head.

Of course, this will fall on deaf ears, as people like Keith Olbermann and his ilk prefer to conveniently turn a blind eye in the face of overwhelming evidence because they cannot see clearly through their almost bizarre hatred of the President. But if you choose to believe that the NIE report is actually saying that Iran has no dire intentions behind it's ACTIVE Uranium enrichment program, be my guest. Remember, these were the same guys who told us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction - now they are saying Iran has none. Where they wrong then, or are they right now?