27 April 2006

Iran: Hawks Wanted (BR)

In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush famously remarked that "America will never seek a permission slip" to defend itself. But the administration's handling of Iran's recent progress toward becoming a nuclear power, not to mention its antagonistic bluster, suggests that the Commander-in-Chief might need a friendly reminder.

Though recently translated tapes of pre-war Iraqi cabinet meetings reveal a hapless and terrified Saddam Hussein wondering aloud how to prove to America that he had no illegal weapons, the President and Congress stressed unequivocally that Iraq was an imminent threat to our national security so long as Saddam manned the helm. Bush still insists that the invasion was the right move, given the information he and our allies had in front of them.

Fair enough. So what about Iran?

From Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's public Holocaust denials, to the release of video proof of successful development of an advanced underwater warhead delivery system and its brazen admission to processing enriched uranium in violation of international anti-proliferations conventions, the Islamic Republic, it seems, does not shy away from its status as a pillar of the Axis of Evil.

It would seem that such a present threat to the United States would invite an even more direct rebuke, and a reaffirmation of the doctrine of preemptive force. But a war-weary and skeptical public, looming elections in November and the fact of an overstretched U.S. military have cowed the Bush administration into a reluctant diplomatic pose.

Were it not so tragic and frightening, it might be comical that since President Bush's oath after Sept. 11 to "kill the terrorists where the live," North Korea has paraded live warheads down the boulevards of Pyongyang and the Iranians have heralded their ascension to the Nuclear club with a special ceremony featuring a dance troupe which performed a routine "in which they waved small vials that purportedly held enriched uranium[.]"

Even if we accept the cynical view that the objective of our invasion of Iraq was merely to provide a strategic base from which to fight terror in the region, there is no evidence to suggest that this has been an effective plan of action. It has, instead, emboldened Iran and radicalized thousands of Arabs against America.

Making the talk show rounds a couple of weeks ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a middling position on Iran that rung strongly of Republican caricatures of Senator John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. To interviewer Tim Russert, she said, "If the international community stays really solid here, Iran cannot stand the kind of isolation ... that, for instance, North Korea endures almost by choice. We really do have a chance to solve this diplomatically."

Brushing aside the questionable assertion that we are effectively containing North Korea, where is this new commitment to diplomacy coming from? The United Nations, regarded by many as obstructers of U.S. foreign policy goals since the run-up to war in Iraq, are now, apparently, a valuable broker of American-Iranian relations in Ms. Rice's estimation.

Democrats in Congress have helped the situation little, characteristically exploiting the situation to criticize President Bush's inaction while offering nothing in the way of practicable solutions. With the ground the opposition party has gained as a
result of the growing unpopularity of the Iraq War, they perceive, probably correctly, that they would cede their early advantage by beating the drum for another battle.

The leadership, in its vague allusions to sanctions and official reprimands, has sent a message of weakness and irresoluteness to the Iranian regime. Though the threat of military action is allegedly "on the table," it's commonly accepted that our armed forces are not in a position to take on a power like Iran, while their business partners in Russia and China are determined to stymie even something as toothless as a U.N. resolution.

If the will to do so existed in the White House, it would be simple to weaken Iran's standing without firing a shot. A bill to forbid and punish investment in or trade with countries and business involved, directly or indirectly, with the Iranian government would fly through the House and Senate. The power of a presidential executive order could relieve our dependence on oil from despotic regimes by mandating hybrid or alternative-fuel engines in all new cars by next year. That nothing like this has been done is indicative of a deficit of determination to succeed in eradicating Islamic terror.

Though President Bush and his cabinet may try to put on a brave face to mask the absence of a real strategy for dealing with Iran, America must act soon, or face the prospect of applying to Iranian mullahs for permission slips to perform the most routine of tasks.

25 April 2006

Is The Present Only Prologue for the President? (CS)

It's hard to believe that there are people out there that could still support George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the entire crooked administration after everything that's happened and continues to happen. Just pulling from the latest headlines we can see various Republicans turning on Bush on everything from Rumsfeld and Iraq to even climate change. And yet, there are still those who cling to defending these failures and the boneheads behind them.*

The defense now (given perhaps most popularly by Sean Hannity) is that like Harry S. Truman, though unpopular during his presidency, Bush will be vindicated by history. The comparison between the two is pretty ridiculous in the first place. Reviewing Truman's presidency one sees that his unpopularity was probably largely due to an introverted personality (extra problematic in filling FDR's shoes), MacArthur's botching of the Korean War and Truman's stance on civil rights in his run for re-election. Nothing so drastically misshandled as the policies that Bush is criticized for. Decisions Truman made that were popular at the time are more easily criticized, such as his not interfering enough with the McCarthy witch-hunts and perhaps his use of the atomic bomb (a point that makes such a comparison to Bush quite uncomfortable for physicists worried about the President's itchy trigger finger).

The specific comparison to Truman aside, that "history" will be Bush's saving grace is an idea which, on it's face, doesn't work. It doesn't take a historian to recognize that history itself is amorphous and debated. Sure, the point will be made that certain ideas in history are agreed upon enough that they are hardly debatable if at all. At the risk of giving my own post the Godwin, I'd say that an overwhelming majority of historians agree that Hitler was a terrible madman.

But if the historian is to be the final judge, then why don't we ask historians themselves what they think of the current administration? As it turns out, historians condemn Bush at a rate of at least eight to one. Using the perspective of evaluating the presidential history that has come before and the various mistakes made then versus now, historians have nearly unanimously agreed that Bush has failed in comparison to even the worst of his predecessors in almost every category.

As a historian (ever in training) myself, I also find the idea of Bush being vindicated down the line as absolutely absurd. Here is a man who has been completely ignorant of the history of the regions he has been dealing with (quite ignorant of the history if his own country), a man that does not read the newspaper, much less historical analysis, and I'm supposed to expect him to be redeemed by a process he apparently condemns? He did not realize that Afghanistan has historically been a problem region and now, despite our claims of "victory" Afghanistan still suffers from violence and warlordism and the Taliban still grows. The administration paid little mind to sectarian history in Iraq, figuring we would be welcomed as liberators by all. Now there is talk that Iraq will be (or is currently) in the throes of civil war as the violence there only gets worse.

Perhaps the assumption made by Bush apologists is that there will be as much cover up as possible of Bush's records. Bush has already provided problems for historians by halting the effort to declassify old documents and covering up his family's history as well. Of course, this sort of shady secrecy is nothing out of the ordinary these days. Covering up corruption is something that has continually surrounded this administration.... Of course, they haven't succeeded entirely in that effort. It seems every project the administration has greenlighted in Iraq (and their most favorite company to work on many of these projects which starts with an H and puts money in the VP's pocket) is plagued by terrible corruption and illegal graft. I've mentioned in the past how administration bosom buddy Paul Bremer was in charge of some incredibly questionable bookkeeping for an incredibly important process in Iraq. The White House might even be linked to a ripening election scandal in New Hampshire. It's really no wonder Rep. Murtha says, "Nobody can believe these guys anymore."

But truly, history will be little more than the cherry on top when it comes to judging this president. The truth becomes more apparent every day in the present regarding how much damage he has already caused. The continuing problems of our "Global War on Terror" have already been mentioned above. There is the crime, corruption and leaks that seem to pop up in every aspect connected to Bush and Cheney. I have not even touched on domestic spying, religious issues, education, environmental issues, and economic damage. And of course, the most damning of all in the eyes of many Americans, the evidence continues to pile up showing that we were sold a whole set of lies in order to send the country to war in Iraq. How can history possibly save the Bush administration's image on any, much less all, of these fronts?

All that said, it is baffling that there are some people who still defend Bush Co. There's clearly no common sense involved in such an attitude and even party lines have broken down as far as defense and criticism of the administration goes. The only way one could be standing by Bush at this point is through a "healthy" dose of ignorance and a whole lot of denial.... Which as it turns out is a great formula for getting your own nationally syndicated radio show.

*I refrain from calling the Bush administration "clowns" anymore because it is an insult to clowns, especially guys like The Boomchucka Circus (formerly Circus2Iraq) who are doing incredible work in Israel and Palestine.

20 April 2006

Comics Roundup 4/21 (CS)

So i'm gonna try to cover as much of the past two or three weeks of my comics buying as I can being that I've been out of action for a while now. You might wanna wear a hardhat....*

Man Is By Nature A Political Animal

You know what? Let me just get this out of the way right now. Fuck you, Judd Winnick. The latest Green Arrow was friggen terrible. The first several pages were bloated with what was basically Judd Winnick's politics (gay marriage, Katrina/FEMA, etc). We've heard it all before from 1,000 other people miles more qualified. The dialogue was formulaic to the point of being unbelievable and I just realized... Winnick never resolved whatever the hell happened to Mia buried under all that rubble before all this OYL stuff started up. So how does one reconcile that with the fact that she's running around with the Titans in the pages of infinite Crisis and The Battle of Bloodhaven. Plus, this was the second issue in a row where the "big surprise" on the final page is already shown to us ON THE COVER before the story even begins. Argh. And listen... If I wanted to read about a mayor/super-hero, then I'd be better served picking up an issue of Ex-Machina.

Speaking of which, the first part (of two) of the Ex-Machina special came out this past Wednesday. It was a step away from Mayor Hundred as mayor and showed one of his adventures as The Great Machine. Good stuff. I'll let my personal nerd out of the closet to ask, which would you choose, Hundred's ability to talk to/control machines or Pherson's ability to talk to/control animals??
Of course, if you're interested in seeing what Brian K. Vaughan has to say about politics in his comics, you can just check out his neato torpedo interview at Chud.

And as long as I'm touching upon politics within comics, I'd like to address the most recent issue of The Comics Journal. They had an interesting write up on "The New Patriotism" in comicbooks, dealing with the war in Iraq and our Global War on Terrorism (bleugh to that phrase). They touch upon the comics Freedom Three and Cobb, both of them being aggressive in attitude to the point that some might even call jingoistic. The comparison is made to comics that came out during World War II (and of course Captain America is mentioned since Freedom Three's first cover is an homage to Cap's first cover, substituting Osama Bin Laden for Hitler). It's a decent article but it makes it seem like this is the only type of comicbook dealing with the war. I assumed a follow up article in the next issue, and there is one. But that next article will deal with a study at Smith college that found "during times of violence, unrest, or economic stress, superhero comics in the U.S. consistently engage in a kind of circle-the-wagons response involving themes of patriotic aggression and support for authoritarian structures." This is ridiculous. I don't know what comics the people at The Comics Journal or Smith College are reading. I find that in most comicbooks, if you read behind the lines, you will find an incredible amount of criticism against America's aggressive actions abroad. A recent opinion article in the London Free Press pointed out several examples of this and I can think of several more off the top of my head, including Captain America's New Deal story arch, which was the first major arch to follow the events of 9/11. Either TCJ and Smith College think that superhero comics don't deserve that much of a discerning eye to find this sort of criticism or they are suffering from the academic disease of "finding what you want to find, and that's all."

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Aint it the way of the world that just when things were getting good, things fall apart?
Swamp Thing gets better with every issue. Plus, they've had Eric Powell doing absolutely incredible covers. Figures though that just when things were getting warmed up, they would drop it on us that Issue #29 will be the conclusion of the series. I'll be looking forward to a revival (it's gotta come eventually, right? ...right?!?!) I mean, c'mon, DC can have one of their new heroes endorsing Pontiac, but they can't keep around the swamp god defender of the environment??

Art, n. This word has no definition

Comics are always battling to be taken seriously. The Comics Journal does a decent job of portraying comic books as serious art and literature. Fantagraphics has published a fair amount of comic book criticism as well and recently I saw their The Sandman Papers on the shelf. It contains interesting literary and artistic criticism of The Sandman and I'd recommend any big fan of Gaiman's master-series to give it a glance. One essay in particular dealing with Gaiman's (and Alan Moore's) continuation of the Gothic tradition of literature made me realize that these guys had a huge hand in saving comic books from stagnation. Also, it got me thinking about writers/artists that are continuing on that tradition today within comics. Of course, the first to spring to mind is Mike Mignola with Hellboy and B.P.R.D. The B.P.R.D series has really taken off to the point of being Hellboy's equal and the arch that just concluded I think proved (if it still needed proving) that Mignola can be more Lovecraftian than Lovecraft and still be fresh and fun to read. I'm really looking forward to the next arch, The Universal Machine (it just sounds cool).

My Heart Leapt Up When I Beheld....

New issues of Shaolin Cowboy and The Goon!!!

Shaolin Cowboy definitely wins the prize for coolest cover, looking like a beat up pulp, letting you grab crazy snippets of whatever wild story lays beneath. Of course, those pulp pages and whatever the contain can't be half as crazy as what unfolds within the pages of this issue. Geoff Darrow's talent for incredible detail combined with incredible scope can be classified only as absurd. Since the Cowboy is roaming the dessert (and he's already killed everyone else in the dessert in the previous issues) you'd think that there wasn't much else for Darrow to draw. That is, until he makes a massive lizard beast rise from the ground with an entire city on its back and swallow the Cowboy so he must adventure on its insides filled with its own eco-system of birds, sharks, brokedown cars, and corpses. I'd also like to say that the stock that this book is printed on smells fantastic. That's right, the book itself smells great.

Those of you not creeped out enough by my "this book smells great" comment to run away are probably appreciators of the Goon too. This issue was chock full of punching, machine guns, zombie monster children born of tumors, and the incontinent elderly. Imagine all that brought to you by the art of Eric Powell. Magnificent, isn't it? What little dialogue there is to this issue is mostly devoted to Powell's sick humor as the characters make wisecracks about yellow snow or wearing a zombie as a hat (Zombie Priest made a funny!). Still, without any nasty expository dialogue to get in the way, Powell sets up the throw down to come between Goon and the Zombie Priest... especially now that those tumor babies burned down the ol' watering hole. Yeh, that would piss me off something fierce. Plus, there's a nice little homage/parody of Hitchcock's The Birds to start the issue off which had me smiling.

*Bonus points to whoever can identify where my bold headings come from...

17 April 2006

Technical Difficulties (CS)

You'll have to excuse the lack of posts lately. Just moved into a new apartment and still waiting on that internet connection. Del.icio.us posts should still be updating regularly though, so enjoy.

03 April 2006

Check It Out (CS)

In case you all haven't noticed, I've set up my Del.icio.us to be able to post to the blog in the sidebar. So to read what I've been reading just take a look and get clicking. Yes, this will be on the test.