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Saturday, August 28, 2004  
If Ali Sistani was not the most important man in Iraq before, he sure is now.

More soon. Mainly I am just keeping my head down until this SwiftBoat thing blows over. I can't even think about it without wanting to put my head (or the head of everyone who thinks that this is anything other than a straight-up campaign year smear ordered up and fostered by the President's caporegimes) through a plate glass window. Ezra has some good points about fighting the good fight, but I really just can't do it. Kerry may wipe most of this shit from his sleeve, but the fact is that this ugly, mucus-coated snakefish has slithered into the mainstream, and there it multiplies and swims, no matter how many of the SBVFT are shown to be liars (which, at last count, was all of them). It won't turn the election by itself, but it may have just made Nader matter. And that's another thing that makes me so angry I want to pull the heads off of bunny rabbits and use their flopping torsos as paintbrushes to write in hundred-foot high letters on the Washington Monument: "LIARS! FUCKING DIRTY SCUMBAG LIARS GO DIE! THIS IS HELL AND YOU ARE THE DEVIL!!!!!!"

So, as you see, it's probably best if I keep away from hot-topic political commenting right now. So, hmm, what else is there...oh, yeah, well it was a pretty good olympics for the commies, eh?.


Thursday, August 19, 2004  
Thanks but no thanks. President Bush has been touting the successes of the Iraqi soccer team in campaign speeches this week, and his campaign put out an advertisement noting that "two new democracies" have been added to the family of free nations competing at the Olympics. The ad displays the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This apparently has infuriated the members of the Iraqi Olympic team, who bitterly resent being utilized to support Bush:

To a man, members of the Iraqi Olympic delegation say they are glad that former Olympic committee head Uday Hussein, who was responsible for the serial torture of Iraqi athletes and was killed four months after the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003, is no longer in power.

But they also find it offensive that Bush is using Iraq for his own gain when they do not support his administration's actions. "My problems are not with the American people," says Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad. "They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?"

At a speech in Beaverton, Ore., last Friday, Bush attached himself to the Iraqi soccer team after its opening-game upset of Portugal. "The image of the Iraqi soccer team playing in this Olympics, it's fantastic, isn't it?" Bush said. "It wouldn't have been free if the United States had not acted."

Sadir, Wednesday's goal-scorer, used to be the star player for the professional soccer team in Najaf. In the city in which 20,000 fans used to fill the stadium and chant Sadir's name, U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled loyalists to rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr for the past two weeks. Najaf lies in ruins.

"I want the violence and the war to go away from the city," says Sadir, 21. "We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away."

Manajid, 22, who nearly scored his own goal with a driven header on Wednesday, hails from the city of Fallujah. He says coalition forces killed Manajid's cousin, Omar Jabbar al-Aziz, who was fighting as an insurgent, and several of his friends. In fact, Manajid says, if he were not playing soccer he would "for sure" be fighting as part of the resistance.

"I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?" Manajid says. "Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq."

This is, I guess, the strategy: portray Afghanistan as a solved problem, and Iraq as well on the way to being solved. Meanwhile, we are blithely letting Afghanistan slide back into chaos and lawlessness, to the point whereKarzai keeps losing control of chunks of his country, forged voter ID cards are available from Kabul street vendors, and Taliban militants beat community leaders to death for encouraging people to vote in the upcoming election.

In other "news", the Washington Times is running excerpts from "Unfit To Command" on the top of the front page. Gotta love that Washington Times.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004  
Olympunked. I was going to write a corruscating post attacking the drab and maudlin Olympics coverage, then I realized that (a) everybody knows Olympics coverage sucks, and (b) I already did, two years ago, in May of '02, during the Salt Lake games. Just change "ski jumping" to "archery," and you'll get the idea.

Olympic Fervor Abates
I have recovered, if by "Olympic fervor" you mean "Watching five minutes of four-man bobsled while assembling a metal shelf in my living room." I can't watch the NBC coverage any more; it's enough to put me off the Olympics altogether. Their decision is clear: The only athletes we get to see are Americans, plus maybe whoever the top two-or-three international competitors are.

The Olympics are a massive, sprawling enterprise, and at every minute, someone, somewhere is competing, jumping off a ramp, whizzing around an oval, shussing down a glistening steep, firing those rifles that look like praying mantises perched on the back of the biathletes. But American TV doesn't care about that.

American network television has decided that all you care about, Mr. & Mrs. American Public, all you care about, stupid, passive, overfed, maudlin couch potatoes that you are, is saccharine string music over touching stories of achievement and pluck as we hear the heartbreaking details of the heartbreaking divorce of the heartbreaking parents of an heartbreaking, plucky, inspirational and heartbreaking American ski jumper who has never placed higher than 7th in any international competition.

And then we cut to some vacuous fathead on the ground with a microphone, talking about "What an amazing story, the perseverence of this young man from Montana..." and in the background, tiny, sailing figures in the distance, we see....what? PEOPLE ACTUALLY JUMPING OFF OF THE RAMP. Who are they? How far did they jump? Who cares! They don't speak yankee, and they can't be milked for pseudo-inspirational pabulum or "scandals." And don't get me started on the "scandals."

It really is depressing, because some of the stuff these athletes do is amazing. I seem to remember, in my younger days, when my brother and I built a couch-cushion fort in the den and watched the Games for what seemed like days at a time (standing up and destroying the fort in an excess of celebration when the American hockey team beat Russia...I still remember that), anyway, I remember the coverage being COVERAGE, not spin, not hype, not comforting fairytales. Maybe I have tricked myself into wishful thinking.

I say just put a camera at the bottom of the hill and tell me who the skier is, and show his time. If there is a break in the action go someplace else and show some other competition. Would it really be such a ratings disaster if the primary goal of the network was to show as much actual competition as was possible to stuff into the time allotted? I understand, commercials, sure, covering the Olympics is a massive endeavor, and you have to make it profitable, but I would be willing to accept some on-screen hanger ads, and commercial breaks, and more sponsor signs, if it just meant that I could WATCH THE FREAKING OLYMPICS, instead of what it is now, oscillating between hallmark card and tabloid, and making me sick.

I won't go into it too much, but I will just point out one thing. My wife follows swimming, and she assures me that the near-unanimous pick for greatest swimmer in the world, prior to the Olympics, was Ian Thorpe. When Thorpe beat American mediaman Michael Phelps in the freestyle 200, it was a case of the favorite winning. Had Phelps won, it would have been an upset. But anyone within 100 yards of an American television in the run-up to the Olympics would have stated without reservation that Phelps was the favorite to win that race.

Hey, don't get me wrong - I was in a bar last night during the 4x200 when this happened, and I was cheering with the rest. But come on. A breathless reporter came up to the four swimmers after the race and stuck a microphone under Phelps's nose and said "How does it feel to win your second gold at the Olympics?" Your second gold - clearly referring to the individual gold Phelps had won the first day, and thus laying the credit for the team win right at Phelps's feet.

This exchange came, of course, immediately after Klete Keller -- who swam the final leg, not Phelps -- had just flat outswum the aforementioned Thorpedo in Thorpe's best stroke and distance (200 free). It was a great race - the US had a lead going into the last leg of 200, but Thorpe closed it halfway through the first fifty. The last three lengths were head-to-head, and Keller straight up beat him. That was the story. Phelps knew it. Everybody knew it but the stupid fucking reporter, who kept asking Phelps about "the Quest For Eight."


UPDATE: A reader writes in (I know, I couldn't believe it either) to comment:
I just read your Olympunked piece, and it is certainly true of the NBC coverage, but have you checked out any of the alternate coverage on MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, and Telemundo? Its almost exactly what you are looking for, with little backstory and few yanks in sight. I watched an amazing badminton match (that's right, badminton) between China and UK this morning, and the soccer coverage has been pretty good. As opposed to other Olympics, when you wouldn't even know soccer was an olympic event. I don't don't know if you have sufficient cable to get those channels, but its worth checking out.

What can I say? He's right. I watched the singles badminton match on Bravo this morning between a Korean and an Indonesian, and it was a lot of fun with minimal commentary.


Sunday, August 15, 2004  
I know, I know but I've been on the run now for a week; they're everywhere, watching me, every time I look around theres another one...

This compelling slideshow from the Electronic Privacy Information Center regarding the proliferation of security cameras in DC is worth a look; clearly the layout of the cameras is not intended to spot terrorists, as the original rationalization went, but to observe the frequent protests that billow through the DC streets with some frequency. Now, if you believe that protesters are two clicks over from terrorists, maybe this makes sense to you. I, personally, experienced a tickling dread while watching the slideshow, and reading the accompanying text. It's one of those things, so frequent nowadays, that just feels wrong, like a mistake you can't fix, like phantom nerve pain, like biting tinfoil.

However much I am pulling for Kerry in the upcoming election, electing him won't really do anything to stop the overall change, as we grow colder, more remote, more isolated and discharged from the responsibility of being fully human by the introduction of technological mediation into everything that used to involve, used to require human interaction: work, entertainment, buying stuff, enforcing the law. We are being driven into our homes, with our loved ones, and that isolation is being held up as an ideal; but it's not. The ones we are holed up with are our loved ones, to be sure. I love my wife. I already love my unborn child. But the frightening thing is that within this generation, our loved ones may be the only ones that we really know, at all. And, generally speaking, we can be crueler to strangers. Or, at least, we mind it less when others are cruel to them.


Tuesday, August 10, 2004  
Doing politics.
"We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security."
- Tom Ridge, 8/3/04

"[W]e must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the President's leadership in the war against terror."
- Tom Ridge, 8/1/04



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