Agam's Gecko
Saturday, July 10, 2004
There was some happy news and some unhappy news on the home front this week. On the positive side, the Big Mango's urban transit system took a large step forward with the opening of the new subway, dubbed the MRTA -- presumably the Mass Rapid Transit, er, something. Oh, of course... Authority, how silly of me. "A" usually stands for "Authority" over here (and big infrastructure always gets an approved English name in addition to the Thai one). The new subway is supposed to be fully integrated with the Sky Train (the literal translation of Rot Fai Faa), or BTS (Bangkok Transit System) as it's officially known. This is accomplished by having two "common" stations for transfering. A bit of a misnomer, as the Sala Daeng station -- designated as a "transfer point" -- is a good block away from the corresponding subway station, necessitating the negotiation of a good stretch of the Silom Road sidewalk / obstacle course between the two. And of course tickets from one system are totally useless on the other system (and the city's bus system is completely separate from both as well), so that claims of "integration" are, as Mark Twain used to say, "greatly exaggerated."

Naturally the foresight and planning involved in placing two separate stations for the two "integrated" systems one block apart, is quite remarkable. Your faithful correspondent has not taken the subway yet, but is pleased to note that at least it does take a different route from the skytrain system. It does actually open up new parts of the city to rapid transiting folks, so we have that to be thankful for at least. As a promotion until the grand, really official opening on Her Majesty's birthday on the 12th of next month, riders may ride from any station to any station for the low price of 10 baht - about 33¢ CDN. After that time, fares will be, as on the BTS trains, dependent upon distance travelled -- topping out at about 30 baht I understand. Bangkokians, being wholly unused to underground travel, apparently milled about in all directions and in total confusion upon emergence from the stations, during the first few days of operation. I'm sure they'll get the hang of it -- heck, I'm still like that at skytrain stations. I have heard that Jakarta has now started construction of a "monorail" type skytrain for itself, which should be open in a couple of years. So things are starting to look up for the Indonesian capital as well.

On the less happy side of things, we learned on Wednesday that Avian flu has broken out again on a chicken farm north of Bangkok (and as well in eastern China and Vietnam). At least it hasn't been accompanied by the previous levels of panic and foolishness, and chicken is still available in the markets and shops. There was a lot of uninformed fear of all forms of chicken the last time, and many of my favourite dishes were just not available for a long time. No problem this week (knock on wood). Also, the Prime Minister hasn't organised any of his funny public relations circuses yet, so the lack of panic has its downside as well. No free chicken feeds at Sanam Luang, no cabinet meetings around the chicken banquet table at the Chinese restaurant. Due to the public's good sense and calm about this issue now, Agam has been deprived of some good, solid laughs at the PM's expense!

Monday's election took place in a completely peaceful and calm atmosphere. I haven't heard of any untoward incidents in any part of the country, and some of the scenes epitomised my several idealistic recollections a few weeks ago, of East Timorese and Cambodian inspirational displays of democratic spirit. This week across the archipelago, ballot boxes were transported between islands by small wooden boats, carried on backs to be set up in small village schoolhouses, and in town, city and countryside across three time zones the people chose for the first time in their history, who they wished to be their president. Participation was pegged at around 85% - something that Jimmy Carter (who was present as an observer with his Carter Foundation) claimed was "more than double what it is in my own country." While I think his praise for the Indonesians' 6 year old transition to full democracy is well placed, I think he might be selling Americans a bit short. Surely they get more than 42% turnout, don't they?

It was very interesting to watch how things developed on Monday when the polls closed at 2pm West Indonesian time (the same time zone as Thailand). There was a bit of a problem with the "socialisation" of the ballot paper, as the local media phrased it. In other words, the procedure wasn't really thought through quite enough by the independent Election Commission to anticipate potential problems. The cause of the confusion -- and large numbers of initially invalidated ballots -- was in fact the design of the ballot paper itself. The straightforward matter of choosing from between 5 separate teams (each team comprising a candidate for prez and vice prez), was deemed to require a large paper of about 20" x 10", printed in landscape format. This big sheet had to be multiple-folded down to about 4" x 5" size, which is how they were produced, packed and presented to the voters on election day. Now this degree of overkill was done with the best of intentions, and in the interest of full participation of all citizens, regardless of their degree of literacy or acuity of eyesight. All very admirable. So each of the five teams lived in its own "box" aligned across the lower half of the page, and within each box was a decently-sized photo of both the presidential and vice presidential candidate in the team. The honoured voter would not need to exert much strain in order to determine who was who, and made his or her choice by simply "piercing" the box of their favoured pair. This is an old Indonesian tradition in her "democracy festivals" - none of this marking an "x" business for them. Piercing both photos in one team was also fine, people seemed to understand that they were choosing from between five distinct tickets, in a similar way to the concept in US presidential ballots.

But what the Election Commission failed to anticipate, is that some polling place workers might not carefully instruct people to fully unfold their ballot paper prior to poking holes in it. And while one would be justified in judging the prospective voter a bit daft, should he or she start poking holes prior to unfolding and separating all five choices (and this problem was very, very rare -- speaking well for the average Indonesian's common sense), it was obvious from early on that many people were poking their choices before unfolding the giant paper to its full glory. In other words, the first fold -- and the last unfold -- was the long horizontal fold above which was like the "title page" of the ballot, Election Commission logos and "This is your 2004 Indonesian Presidential Election ballot" and so on. Below the horizontal fold are the five candidate team boxes. So if one leaves the last lengthwise fold unopened, one has access to all the choices, the useless top part of the paper is conveniently out of the way, and the whole thing is much more manageable. And this is in fact, what very many people did.

Now clearly, when the sacred act is carried out in this way, one will inevitably poke holes in the irrelevant, title page portion of the ballot at the same time. And we can imagine how this might create problems when these ballots are examined before observers for the count, and deemed invalid. Some polling places were judging them as valid from the outset, while others went by the book and judged any paper with holes outside the "team boxes" as invalid. Pandemonium at Election Day Central Studios, emergency meeting of the Election Commission, issuance of urgent Commission letter to all polling places (which of course will take most of the day to reach some of the more remote spots). Naturally, all this was to confirm what common sense whould dictate -- that all such ballots are to be considered valid. The upshot of all this is that many of the polls at which election officials had chosen the less sensible judgement would have to start their counting all over again from the beginning.

Never mind hanging chads and dimpled chads, court battles and magnifying glasses, and counters going crosseyed looking at little tiny voting cards for weeks and weeks (as in some presidential elections I could think of). The Indonesian version of a recount has a guy standing up, holding the big page at arm's length, calling out the voter's clear choice of poking a big hole in a big box, swivelling around to show the paper to everyone present under the outdoor tent, who were able to see and confirm the judgement from a distance of up to several meters away. Maybe there's something to be said for this low-tech voting technology after all. Sure, it's totally dependent on human tabulation and judgment, and results are not instant as with machine readable methods, but it seems like it may lend itself to more readily avoiding disputes over the citizen's intention -- which is really all a ballot paper is required to be. Anyway, after all this description of voting day problems which I hope somebody might have found marginally interesting, I must say that I was very impressed with the good natured overcoming of these problems exhibited by the Indonesian people generally.

Now as for the results, and although it's none of my damn business, I'm very happy with the voice of the people. I think it speaks very well for the moderate and pluralistic nature of the country, and it seems to show that these values are the direction that most people wish to continue moving toward. In my earlier outline of pre-election opinion surveys, I had neglected to mention that they did not provide any space for "undecideds". These were telephone polling surveys done in urban centres only, and I presume that undecideds were simply not counted. I was reminded of this just a day or two later, when a different survey in fact showed about 20% of the voters were still undecided. With this information it appeared that the earlier possibility I had mentioned, namely that Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had the potential to take it on the first ballot, would in fact be quite unlikely.

As of today, with almost 100 million votes counted, Mr. Yudhoyono and his partner Yusuf Kalla are in the lead with about 34%. This is about the same as it was on the first day of counting, and in general the relative positions and percentages haven't shifted much over the period until now. The Megawati ticket and the Wiranto ticket have been a close 2nd and 3rd, with Megawati opening up a slightly wider lead through the week. They were running at about 24% and 23% in the early days, now she has it by about 26% to 22%. So in effect this is the only race left now -- who will come out in second place to face off against Mr. Yudhoyono and Mr. Kalla in the run off election in September. And bringing up the last of the field are Amien Rais with about 15%, and Megawati's current vice-president Hamza Has taking aim at the top job with slightly over 3%. These last two are the ones most closely associated with the "Islamic vote". Amien received the endorsement of the newer and more dynamic of the "Islam" based parties, the Justice Prosperity Party. Hamza has been the leader of the older, Suharto era "Muslim" party, the Unity Development Party. During the campaign, I was sorry to see Hamza openly courting the fundamentalist vote, having friendly confabs with the leader of Laskar Jihad and other radical types. He had several endorsements from these hardline Islamist groups, and one would expect that anyone hoping for eventual implimentation of Sharia law in Indonesia would have cast a vote for Hamza. He comes out of it with barely over 3%, and Agam is very, very happy.

Amien is more of an opportunist than a hard line Islamist, but he is a former chairman of the Muhammadiya organisation (one of the two major Muslim organisations, each of which have over 30 million members) and one of the most prominent Muslim figures in the country. That is the basis of his support, and although he created a new political party which purports to welcome all races and religions at the outset of the "reformasi" era, his National Mandate Party is still seen as a vehicle for the Muhammadiya membership. He was a major figure in the parliamentary overthrow of Abdulrahman Wahid from the presidency midway through his term, an action which I still view as an unconstitutional parliamentary coup d'etat. Wahid, or Gus Dur as he is affectionately known, came up the middle during the 1999 parliamentary vote for president, between the popular Mrs. Megawati of the secular nationalist stream, and Hamza Haz of the Islamic stream. Gus Dur was the acceptable compromise, and in my opinion he was the best president the country has had to date. Megawati had been his vice president, and took over after the highly irregular parliamentary "impeachment" of Gus Dur. Amien Rais was the parliament speaker during this fiasco, and he was a major player in its eventual success. His party didn't do very well in this year's parliamentary elections, and he's now out of the running for the presidency. The poor showing of Hamza and Amien are not a disappointment for me.

So it looks likely that President Megawati will have the chance to run against her former security minister for the top job. Former General Wiranto made a good showing, and actually might have done better if he's not been running under the banner of GOLKAR, which was the vehicle for Suharto. I really don't understand why this party hasn't been disbanded yet, but they remain the most organised and powerful political machine from one end of the country to the other. But, looking on the bright side, all three of these best performing factions -- the new force of Mr. Yudhoyono (officially backed by a newcomer "Democracy Party"), Mrs. Megawati's long-standing nationalist grouping the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, and the old warhorse GOLKAR -- all are secular, pluralistic groups in which all racial, religious or tribal groups are able to feel comfortable. And I think that bodes well for a modern, and moderate, country which just happens to be the most populous Muslim country on earth.

While on this subject, I have to express another beef with the increasingly silly BBC. Maybe they're not really increasingly silly, maybe it's just that I'm increasingly noticing their silliness more. It is just a minor thing, but it seems like it illustrates a more general weakness in their reporting which has really bugged me lately. I do realise that reporters come and go, and so we can't always have someone on hand in any given place who has a good grasp of the local realities. CNN is lucky to have Maria Resa as Jakarta bureau chief -- unfortunately I rarely get to see CNN and so haven't seen Maria for a very long time. BBC used to have Jonathan Head in Indonesia, and he'd been there long enough to know what he was talking about. I would imagine he speaks reasonable Indonesian as well, after his years there. Jonathan was wounded in East Timor covering the violence at referendum time, and after that the BBC moved him elsewhere. I haven't seen decent coverage of the country since he left, and not much about the elections until a few days before voting day.

All of a sudden, here's someone named Rachel Harvey reporting from Jakarta, she's telling us all about the presidential candidates. And it's apparent to me that she's never heard an actual Indonesian person saying these peoples' names! And I wonder, does the Beeb fly in a star reporter to a friendly, safe and interesting country like this, only to have the star reporter stay in her hotel reading the Jakarta Post and regurgitating the printed words and analysis for her cameraman? Because that's the only way I could imagine her being so clueless. It's not simply that terrible pronunciation is annoying, but that it indicates a lack of care and basic knowledge. Her reports have been so superficial that one wouldn't even need to read the Jakarta Post in order to compose them, she could probably manage it with USA Today.

I've said before that it bugs me to think that this seems to be what Caroline Hawley does in Baghdad -- she's always in the same spot on her hotel roof reading the script, day in, day out -- but at least it's kind of dangerous so she has an excuse of sorts. But really, Rachel Harvey has no such excuse at all, she should be out there all day long meeting new friends, talking to people, and she'd be speaking basic Indonesian within two weeks if she wanted. The fact that she's never heard an actual Indonesian person saying "Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono" even once, is just too much. And I feel I'm on solid ground here, because if she heard it said just once, she would know how absolutely silly she sounds when she says it.

OK, bear with me here. Indonesian language is about as close to 100% consistent with phonetics as any language is ever going to be. It's really simple, vowels and consonants are virtually always consistent -- if you know the sounds, then you will always say it properly even if reading a word you've never actually heard spoken. But surely this wouldn't apply to Ms. Harvey, right? She must have heard the star candidate's name, the people's favourite presidential hopeful's name, spoken aloud by someone, right? Well, if she did, then she's just too willfully stubborn to be a reporter, in that case. She does pretty well with the "Susilo" and the "Yudhoyono" parts. sue see low and you dough yo no -- nothing too hard with that. If you can read it off a page, I would guess most would come up with about the same thing.

Bambang. I don't know, maybe it's a cultural thing because Fred Flinstone's neighbour Barney Rubble had a kid named "Bam Bam". And maybe Ms. Harvey watched a lot of cartoons before she became an international journalist. And since the pronunciation of Barney's kid goes something like baem baem - you know, that open kind of "a" like in English "bat", "fat", "mat", "chat" etc. Well there's no such thing in the Indonesian phonetic, and if it was necessary for a foreign name or something they'd probably use a composite spelling like I used above to try and express it. The vowel "a" in Indonesian is always, well just like the "a" in "above", "Indonesia", "watched", or "probably" just to pick a few from this paragraph. Heck, it's close to the "a" in her own name "Harvey", or indeed the very word "a" when you read the phrase, "watched a lot". That kind of "a". Now when you say "Bambang" it will be more accurate to phonetically spell it like "bumbung". Like "humbug" with appropriate consonant changes. Now I know you're all on the edge of your chair wondering, "Well, Agam. So what did she say??" And of course I know that you're wondering that in such a way that it sounds like, "Well Uh-gum. So what.." etc. of course you did. Well I'll tell you. Our dear Rachel says "Bang Bang". And that's Bang Bang as in Baeng Baeng or even Baing Baing to be more precise. Not Baem Baeng as you might have suspected, combining Barney Rubble's kid's first name, with "bang" rhyming with the English "fang" or "gang". Oh no, that would be too simple. She has to conflate it with memories of her younger brothers playing cops 'n robbers or cowboys 'n indians, when she'd hear them dashing around the side of the house shouting "Bang! Bang! You're dead!"

And since that first irritating report she made, wherein she repeated this Susilo "Bang Bang" Yudhoyono thing at least half a dozen times, it appears she's going to be the regular Jakarta bureau chief for the Beeb, and I shudder to think how infuriating this is going to be after Mr. Yudhoyono actually becomes President. Silly stuff like this combined with the palpable know-it-all attitude which exhudes from this reporter are just annoying beyond description. There are an increasing number of these people on BBC World which prompt a quick hit on the mute button. It would be nice to have the choice of another news service to have on in the background while I'm working.

I've got it. I can take out my frustrations about the Beeb by teaching Rachel Harvey a valuable lesson. Next time i go to Jakarta, I'll find out where she lives. And then I'll convince the desk clerk, door man, bakso vendor, [I doubt she'll be eating street food - ed. Yes of course you're right, scratch that one. - A.] and whoever else is likely to speak to her, that the actual, correct English pronunciation of her name is something like "Raw-cheel Hair-vaye" or something.

OK, I know it may seem that I'm down on a lot of the BBC's women, but I'm not really. Dumeetha Luthra is a new face in Baghdad, and she seems very sharp and keen to understand what's going on, without that "preachy" thing that some of the others have in overabundance. Many others whose names I don't have at hand, are also seemingly quite professional and impartial. It may be just coincidental that the "preachiest" reporters, who thereby grate on my sensitive nature the most, happen to be some (only some) of the female ones. Orla Guerin. Caroline Hawley. And now Rachel. Mae Loon in Singapore -- I can't hit the mute fast enough! Yikes, the princess of irritating voice-overs, Juliet Dunlop! You people probably have no idea who any of these people are, and obviously I really need to get out more and forget about these tormentresses. Tristana Moore in Germany is really starting to get on my nerves too, with that endlessly repeated time filler that goes, "The number of far right wing groups willing to use violence . . . is going ahhp." (ok, you guys know by now that I'm only half serious about this, trying to give you a chuckle... these ladies haven't driven me completely around the bend. Yet.)

And guess who it is? Ready? Give you a hint -- it's related to the disjointed and rambling end to the previous Indonesian election item. Give up?

This week was the 50 year anniversary of BBC Television News. And I just have to tell you about this revelation I had while being told about the milestone by... er, BBC Television News. Which if you haven't guessed by now, is what my background video input falls back on whenever there's no C-SPAN or PBS programming coming off the other bird (which is most of the time).

So in honour of the great occasion, viewers were treated to the actual very first televised BBC news program, broadcast in 1954. Of course they'd been doing radio news for quite some time by then, and were very good at it. And in fact the new tech was very much like radio news, but with visual aids. It sounded just like BBC radio, while on screen you could see, for example, a map of some countries and their borders, and then a long pointer wielded by someone off camera to point at different parts of the map in accompaniment with the news reader. I think it may have had some newsreel footage of troops moving during the Korean War or something too. But that was it. No anchor desk, no serious looking newsreader reading from papers in front of a camera. That innovation would have to come later.

And why was this? Well, in those days, the BBC was so committed to absolute impartiality and dispassionate dissemination of the pure facts, and only the facts, that the visible presence of a newsreader was deemed inappropriate. It was believed that if the viewing audience could see the newsreader's face, it could put the entire honourable process in jeopardy. For if the newsreader had any facial expressions while doing his sacred job, it might very well be construed as displaying some form of feeling or opinion or favouritism toward the subjects of his report. And so the news organisation of record during those times, deemed that impartiality would be inevitably compromised simply by seeing the face of the person telling us the news.

My, my, how times have changed. If only they could have a fraction of that concern for how their broadcasting comes across today. Earlier tonight, during a live report of a congressional committee publishing its inquiry into US intelligence problems related to pre-Iraq war CIA workings -- which will obviously be damaging or embarrassing to the Bush admin. -- the BBC reporter in Washington couldn't even conceal her glee -- and obviously she had no desire to do so at all. She was literally giggling as she delivered her damning assessment of the trouble Bush was going to be in now. I mean, nothing surprises me anymore with blatant partisanship in media reports, but this was just way too overboard even for me to actually believe I was seeing it. And I'm sure that nobody over there even clued into the contrast that was so evident and obvious to me. Only one or two days after showing us how careful the Beeb used to be at one time, such that even minor facial expressions might possibly compromise their honourable impartiality, that they will show such a shameless and blatant partisanship and not even give it a second thought. I was flabbergasted.

But, sometimes their need to say something, just any old thing when a comment is needed, can produce funny results. Dead air is bad, must keep it moving. So this morning when the Kenneth Lay indictment was the hot issue, the anchor had the US financial desk BBC guy making commentary. The anchor asked him whether it would be a safe assumption that in general, a CEO of a big corporation like Enron would be expected to know if there was some funny business going on at the lower levels. And the other guy, needing to be the confident expert in this field, pounced on the question without any hint of hesitation, exclaiming, "Absolutely! Not necessarily! Blah blah blah blah..." Or maybe it was "Absolutely not necessarily! Blah blah blah blah..." Or it could have actually been "Absolutely not! Necessarily blah blah blah blah..." I think he had absolutely not necessarily any idea what he actually wanted to say. But it sure was funny.

I was planning to write some detailed stuff about Michael Moore today with charts and graphs and footnoted attributions, but an "un-graceful" shutdown last night wiped out all the pages I'd been reading this week and keeping aside in my browser's offline cache to quote snippets from. I may drop some of the links in here later, so that if you have time and are so inclined, you could check them out even without my teasing you with shocking little known stuff about his shocking history of making misleading movies for fun and profit.

But I did have one sort of minor insight into the Moore phenomenon which doesn't rely on my temporarily wiped outside sources. And that is that it seems to me, as a longtime participant in the sometimes fierce debates which take place in a little known corner of the global computer meta-network called Usenet, that what we have here is a classic Usenet troll.

Now in Usenet culture, "troll" in its noun form is not what you might think. It has nothing to do with comparing the recipient of the epithet to any sort of mythical gnome-like creature who lives under bridges, or emerges rarely from a hidden cave in the deepest darkest part of the forest. Although many Usenet participants are unaware of the origin of the expression, and persist in relating to this form of the word used in old legend and storytelling. In actual fact, the origin is from the action itself, the act of "trolling".

I know that several of my readers are located on the Canadian Pacific coast, and will be familiar with the leisurely art of trolling. Get yourself a fishin' rod and some bait, climb aboard a boat of some sort -- small or large is unimportant -- get out into the salt chuck and troll away. Your vessel must move, but quite slowly for this type of fishing, and the fisherperson is not required to do much other than keep an eye on the rod and drink beer. Or whatever. One can even troll in an unmotorised vessel -- just row at a constant speed and drag that baited line through the water. Now you're trolling.

So that was the original analogy for some of the disruptive idiots who inhabit many parts of the usenet. They really don't know anything much about the particular field they inhabit, let's say for instance under the category "recreation" subcategory "movies" sub-subcategory "comedy" sub-sub-subcategory "silent" sub-sub-sub-subcategory "chaplin". People would debate and discuss within this field, and some would know quite a lot while others would know very little but were interested to learn, and some would simply read the discussion for enjoyment without participating very much. But it could be very rewarding because it isn't like mindless chatting in real time, but it's a format in which one could take time to compose one's thoughts or arguments. Your discussion/debating partner(s) might read your ideas the next day in a completely different part of the world and respond to some or all of what you had written. Then you might read this response one or two days later, do a little research to back up your ideas and reply back again. A long, slow moving discussion ensues, which hundreds or even thousands of interested people all over the world might be reading and following with interest. The train of thought may continue to evolve for weeks or even months, with the discussion taking unexpected turns and various people joining in or withdrawing from the discussion in a freeform fashion. It's actually quite a good medium for exchanging ideas in a positive way, even (and especially) with contentious subjects in various fields of political debate. Get a couple of well informed individuals on opposite sides of an issue, with good researching skills and persuasive debating technique, and one can learn a hell of a lot about a hell of a lot of things.

Trolls are not interested in any of this. These are people who have learned what sort of bait is liable to get the biggest rise out of the greatest number of people, and the most effective way in which to drag that bait back and forth through the waters. They are not interested in either imparting or acquiring genuine understanding, but rather in preventing others from doing so. Their main enjoyment and purpose comes from disrupting, stoking anger and frustration, and oftentimes doing this very skillfully. A troll will produce carefully crafted nonsense which he knows full well is nothing but horse feathers -- but carefully selected horse feathers which he knows will be hot button issues for the genuine seekers of truth in his chosen field of play.

The more I learn about Michael Moore's past works, the less regard I find myself having for him. He's not just an entertaining clown playing at working class hero. He couldn't possibly aspire to that, since he's never actually spent a single minute on any Flint, Michigan assembly line (that's just part of the contrived personal mythology). And he's certainly not a genuine seeker of truth, because I'm quite sure now that he knows full well how dishonest he's being. I could see it plainly in his short BBC interview this week. He knows exactly what he's doing, and he's doing nothing but trolling. His field is a lot bigger than some specific category of interest in the Usenet world of honourable debate. He's out there on the world stage now, playing with issues of foremost importance to the entire world. And in this field it is good and proper for people to disagree, dispute the validity of various issues, debate with real facts and arguments, based upon a fundamental agreement to be honest about it. Michael Moore is not being honest about it, and he knows this with the same certainty that any person with a little time on their hands can also know, simply by doing some basic fact checking.

Moore has installed a "war room" in anticipation that when his movie was released, it was likely that some fact checker type of people would start calling him on his dishonesty. He hired some of the more ruthless masters of spin and negative campaigning in the political business for his anticipated battles, and threatened all and sundry with his legions of lawyers if anyone should so much as look at him funny. This was the whole point of the entire exercise. It's exciting for him, his war room and rapid reaction force. He has called Americans "possibly the dumbest people on the planet", and he imagines himself making full use of that perceived quality so that he can make more of a splash, cause more of a stink, get more people mad as hell and derive more adoration from those who simply enjoy having their preconceived notions confirmed, but are too busy to really care whether he is deceiving them. I've actually read several adoring fans state that they don't really care whether there is misleading stuff in the film, whether there are outright lies in the film, or whether the whole project is simply bald propaganda. "The important thing is that it's promoting essential truths, which is that Bushitler Chimpy Shrub is a moron moron moron..." or "I don't care if it's misleading propaganda, this is my kind of propaganda and I love it.." and so on. Yes, real people talk like that and they really seem to mean it.

My jing joke companion linked you to Hitchens' piece a couple of weeks ago, which certainly contains enough material to make my case. But could I stop there? Not likely. Somebody (I recall not whom) pointed to this partial dissection by the flagship of the liberal media, Newsweek. This is some serious fact checking by the two writers who cover the terrorism and security issues for the magazine. I also came upon a detailed article posted by its author during its process of evolution in readiness for publication, in order to facilitate corrections adjustments and additions, which Dave Kopel called the Fifty-six Deceits in Fahrenheit 911 (although when I read it this week it already had more than 56 items in it). There is also a new site to centralise the ever evolving compendium of deceptions in the Moore movie, Fahrenheit Facts. And if you are interested in verifying that these mountains of disinformation are actually contained in the large one's latest cinematic work, without actually giving him the money which he doesn't deserve anyway, one helpful blogger has been posting sections of the film laboriously transcribed by hand. So you can read what Michael wants you to believe without actually subjecting yourself to his cheap visual plays to your emotions with sneaky editing and dishonest juxtapositions. Part One is here, and Part Two is here. I'm sure the final part must be up by now.

One interesting factoid which I ran across in many articles about Mr. Moore, was the absolute difficulty writers seemed to have in finding anyone who actually knows him, who would actually say anything nice about him. People who actually praised him, invariably never met the fellow but simply adored him because he was the crusader of the month for their own hatred for Bushitler Chimpy Shrub the moron etc. Of course the intellectuals writing in the establishment papers and magazines who indulged in adoration didn't exactly put it that way. But it was apparent that from whatever walk of life, commoner or cultural authority figure, those who admire him do so for other reasons than because he's a really lovely person. People who actually personally knew him -- whether it be from previous collaboration together or a person had worked for him on the TV shows or movies, or whatever way they actually had first hand knowledge -- seemed quite agreed on the basic description, "jerk". One wag who had worked for Lumpy struggled for a few moments to find the right words to accurately paint the picture, finally settling on something like, "Working for Mike felt like what it must have been like to work for Idi Amin -- except without the laughs."

I somehow have a sneaking suspicion, or some kind of undefined feeling that eventually Mr. Moore will come crashing down in deserved shame. I don't know why or how, it just seems like something is out of kilter somewhere, that his riding high on all this praise for being skillfully dishonest is not sustainable for very long. Maybe I'm wrong, and it's just this cliche sense that what goes around has to come back around, reap what you sow, and so on. But I feel like he's heading for a fall. Might be something as simple as a public backlash against Fahrenheit, peaking right before the election so that his net effect ends up hurting the Democrats. And this will make him fail in his vendetta, which is exactly what it is. Damn, I wish I still had those old emails from his mailing list. I used to get these regularly back in the days when I liked and trusted him. And he wrote some pretty revealing stuff back then after Gore lost the Supreme Court ruling. Moore is on the exact same angry crusade now, that he started when Bush "stole" the election.

Agence France Presse reports that al Qaeda attacked Spain four months ago because it believed Spain was the "weakest link" in the coalition of countries which liberated the Iraqi people from Saddam's regime of fear. It seems that al Qaeda believed it would take them several more strikes against Spain in order to force its withdrawal from Iraq.
"We consider that the Spanish government cannot suffer more than two to three strikes before pulling out (of Iraq) under pressure from its own people," said the document obtained Wednesday by AFP from Radio France International's regional office in Beirut.

"If these (Spanish) forces remain after the strikes, the victory of the socialist party would be near-guaranteed and the pullout of Spanish forces from Iraq would be on its agenda," said the document, distributed ahead of the March 11 attacks in Madrid.

Hat Tip: Donald Sensing

From the Reuters report on Al Gore's latest fire-breathing speech, at Georgetown University Law Center:
"Beginning very soon after the attacks of 9/11, President Bush made a decision to start mentioning Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the same breath in a cynical mantra designed to fuse them together as one in the public's mind."
That's nothing: if you put together the last few Al Gore speeches, Bush is actually both Hitler and Stalin at the same time! And on top of that, gentle folk like yours truly and his jing joke partner who decline to viscerally hate George W. Bushitler Chimpy Shrubshrubbyshrub moronshrub and all his ancestors and descendants for seven generations, and who might be audacious enough to write so publicly on Mr. Gore's own personal invention, the Internet™, are in actual fact "digital brown shirts". 'Scuse me while I go practice my "Seig Heil's!" Thanks for that Al -- y'know for being so sensible and everything.
IN 1992, AL GORE ATTACKED PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH FOR IGNORING IRAQ'S TIES TO TERRORISM. SEN. AL GORE: "[W]hen George Bush took office, he should have reevaluated what our relationship was with Iraq ..." CNN'S LARRY KING: "Well ..." GORE: "Let me finish, just briefly. Instead, he stepped up the foreign aid to Iraq, and he looked the other way when there were repeated incidents of terrorism in which Iraq had a part, terrorists operating openly in Baghdad, and repeated warnings from our national security people telling the Bush administration that Saddam was on a crash program to develop nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction. And he overruled a lot of his advisers and extended another billion dollars of foreign aid, and the U.S. taxpayers are right now having to bail out Saddam Hussein for almost $2 billion. Just like the savings and loan bailout, now it's the Saddam Hussein bailout, and it shouldn't have taken place." (CNN's "Larry King Live," 10/5/92)

IN 1992, GORE SAID BUSH ADMINISTRATION WAS "CODDLING" SADDAM AND IGNORING HIS PURSUIT OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. "Democratic vice presidential nominee Al Gore Tuesday attacked what the Bush campaign views as its strongest asset, as he charged the president caused the gulf war by 'coddling' Saddam Hussein. ... He said recent evidence - including published reports and documents from congressional hearings - contradicts Bush's assertions he did nothing to enhance Saddam's development of weapons of mass destruction before Saddam invaded Kuwait. Gore said both the Reagan and Bush administrations received regular intelligence 'warnings' that Saddam was aiding terrorists and was bent on building such weapons." (Sam Vincent Meddis, "Gore Assails Bush On Iraq Policy," USA Today, 9/30/92)
Via Power Line blog.

The Washington Post had this to say after Paul Bremer's departure from Baghdad:

When he left Iraq on Monday after surrendering authority to an interim government, it was with a somber air of exhaustion. There was no farewell address to the Iraqi people, no celebratory airport sendoff.
On the other hand, many of the Iraqi people apparently enjoyed his farewell address to them very much. I read a few accounts of people expressing their disappointment that they didn't have a chance to thank him properly, or even to have some sort of farewell party for him. But his farewell address to them was well appreciated by many Iraqis, even though the Post snidely denies it ever happened. One of the brothers who writes Iraq the Model, Dr. Mohammed, composed a touching farewell and thanks message for Mr. Bremer, in which he says:
I was never surprised when none of the western media broadcasted your impressive speech because I doubt their interest in showing the world the nature of the relation between you and the people of Iraq. But I'd like to tell you this:

Iraq loves you just as you love her.
Mohammed's brother Ali, also a doctor, describes the scene at his hospital (and he posts a couple of pictures of their little celebration with an impromptu cake):
The speech was impressive and you could hear the sound of a needle if one had dropped it at that time. The most sensational moment was the end of the speech when Mr. Bremer used a famous Arab emotional poem. The poem was for a famous Arab poet who said it while leaving Baghdad. Al-Jazeera had put an interpreter who tried to translate even the Arabic poem which Mr. Bremer was telling in a fair Arabic! "Let this damned interpreter shut up. We want to hear what the man is saying" One of my colloquies shouted. The scene was very touching that the guy sitting next to me (who used to sympathize with Muqtada) said "He's going to make me cry!"

Then he finished his speech by saying in Arabic,"A'ash Al-Iraq, A'ash Al-Iraq, A'ash Al-Iraq"! (Long live Iraq, Long live Iraq, long live Iraq).

I was deeply moved by this great man's words but I couldn't prevent myself from watching the effect of his words on my friends who some of them were anti-Americans and some were skeptic, although some of them have always shared my optimism. I found that they were touched even more deeply than I was. I turned to one friend who was a committed She'at and who distrusted America all the way. He looked as if he was bewitched, and I asked him, "So, what do you think of this man? Do you still consider him an invader?" My friend smiled, still touched and said, "Absolutely not! He brought tears to my eyes. God bless him."

Another friend approached me. This one was not religious but he was one of the conspiracy theory believers. He put his hands on my shoulders and said smiling, "I must admit that I'm beginning to believe in what you've been telling us for months and I'm beginning to have faith in America. I never thought that they will hand us sovereignty in time. These people have shown that they keep their promises."
As for the title of this item, Abu Haider is the nickname which, if we can believe several of the Iraqi bloggers, many people began calling Mr. Bremer from very early on in his time there. I read about this a long time back, and I can't be sure whether it was explained by Hammorabi (see blog roll) or by one of the Iraq the Model writers, or one of the others. What I do remember is that it's an honourable nickname and that it's a custom to give prominent figures such a name. Sometimes they would be praise worthy names, and sometimes it might carry some sarcasm or ridicule. I don't know, like Abu Fatso maybe or something. But for sure, Abu Haider is meant to convey respect and honour, because the Iraqis quickly recognised that Bremer was dedicated to them and he showed honour and respect toward them. It was simply their way of returning it. As we can see with Dr. Ali's anecdote at his hospital, the feeling was not universal and some people didn't open up to it until Bremer was actually gone. But I've been reading some of these Iraqi people since before the old regime fell -- well before Bremer arrived. And whatever criticism there may be of his work and policies, he was certainly doing some things right because some very sensible Iraqi people expressed admiration and respect toward him from very early in his term of authority there.

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