For the first time since records have been kept, Washington's heat index today rose above its bullshit index. Which is saying something given the levels of swirling crap that have that have been emitted during the debt-ceiling debate. It's piling up like snow banks on the street corners. And none of it is made any easier to bear by a heat index that is supposed to hit 116 degrees today. In a city full of gas bags and hot heads, that's just plain dangerous.
Both the heat and the headlines have the same effect on average citizens. They make us cranky. Personally, I feel the strong urge to punch someone right in the snout right now. I'd prefer it were one of the goons who has seen fit to criticize President Obama and Speaker Boehner for actually trying to break the irrational debt debate impasse and get something done. But frankly, it could be anyone. I'd pop the slender loris featured on the Washington Post's iPad app yesterday if it crawled over to me right now … and frankly, I have a kind of soft spot in my heart for lorises, slender and otherwise.
So, instead, I will vent my blogger's spleen. I will do this by answering for each of you the following question: Who were the world's biggest assholes this week? Surely this will prove a healthy distraction from the muffled sounds of passersby being swallowed up by the bubbling pavement beneath my window.
Such a big world, so many choices, where to begin? Well, let's start with a definition. Asshole may be an intemperate term but it is not an imprecise one (and if it is one that offends you I strongly suggest that you stop reading three sentences ago … and please don't bother to write that FP should not use such language. I agree. The editors agree. But it's hot. So go jump in a lake. And I'm perfectly happy to spend my whole evening deleting your prissy criticisms from the comments below.) Anyway, the point is that the word refers not to purely evil people but to jerks, irritating people who combine their bad behavior with a certain offensive ridiculousness.
So who are the world's top ten this week? (And please note we are not including lifetime achievers who already have had their jerseys retired such as Hamid Karzai, Eric Cantor, or those wonderful folks at Focus on the Family.)
10. Prince Andrew
Blue bloods always have an edge in competitions like this, pampered, in-bred fossils of obsolescent and offensive social systems that they are. And few royal families have produced so many memorable jerks as the House of Windsor, including first-ballot member of the first class of the Asshole Hall of Fame, Prince Philip. But the upper-class twit never falls far from the royal family tree and Andrew wins mention this week for having to resign his post as ambassador for British trade because of his long string of bad judgments, questionable actions and bone-headed misdeeds including, notably and unsurprisingly, his befriending of convicted sex offender.
9. Chris Brown
Beating up women was not enough for this narcissistic so-called musician. This week, reliable sources like TMZ reported that Brown was that special kind of over-achiever who is able to irritate and infuriate on many levels at once. He did so by revealing himself to his neighbors in LA as That Guy in the apartment building who reportedly has blaringly loud parties at all hours, carves his initials in the elevator, runs his racing dogs up and down the hallways and leaves his ridiculous male-enhancement-mobiles in handicapped parking spaces. And then, after the stories broke, he complained he was being picked on. Poor Chris. Guy may pack a punch (on a date) but can't stand being the punch line he has become. Being bitch-slapped by karma's no fun, is it?
8. Tim Pawlenty
Bland, nice guy Tim would seem like the last fellow to end up on a list like this but when he was the first to take the bait and question whether Michele Bachmann's migraines would make her unfit for the presidency, he jumped way up toward the front of the line. Sexist much? Seriously, whoever leaked the story to the right-wing rag that first ran it deserves the spot even more than Pawlenty, but frankly, the former Minnesota governor needs the break. This is the highest he has placed on any list or poll in months.
7. Employees of the Korean Central News Agency
After threatening that North Korea would launch a "merciless retaliatory sacred war" against the United States, the spin doctors of the hermit kingdom continued their tradition of hyperbolic overstatement that has made depictions of the country like that in Team America: World Police seem like a Frontline documentary. In its priceless article "Reading Between North Korea's Lines," the New York Times details how the robot-trolls of this small apparatus of Kim Jong-Il's state machine regularly pump out the greatest howlers of the world's almost always howling diplomatic communiqués. From attacks on their neighbors to the south as "half-baked, extra-large Philistines" to referring to Hillary Clinton as "the little schoolgirl" these folks at least deserve credit for making propaganda laughable again.
6. Allen West
Speaking of half-baked name-callers, Florida Republican Congressman Allen West rocketed into the news this week the only way he could: By lashing out against fellow Congressperson and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz with a slimy viciousness that set a new low even for the United States Congress. Calling her "the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member" of the House, West not only won a few more seconds of fame than his otherwise completely undistinguished career warranted but no doubt shall also receive sanctions from the Congress for his behavior. Way to go after a colleague, Allen. Who's your campaign manager, Chris Brown?
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
This week marks the premiere of the eighth installment of the most successful series in movie history. As such, it offers a useful comparison in the differences between what makes a successful summer blockbuster in Hollywood and what makes for one in Washington, DC. Here are the top ten:
10. Too Few House Elves in Washington (Too Many House Death Eaters)
Oh Dobby, Dobby, if only there were a man in Washington of your stature. Poor Dobby who died, according to his epitaph, "a free elf" was cranky and even less photogenic than Anthony Weiner, but he had heart and courage and took risks for those he served in ways that none on Capitol Hill seem to even comprehend. Meanwhile, there are far too many Death Eaters up there on the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue, swirling around in service of He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken (Grover Norquist) regardless of the pain it may bring to those who actually elected them. (Norquist may succeed with anti-tax religion in doing what the leadership of the Soviet Union could not -- bankrupting and thus breaking America.)
9. Even Hollywood Accounting is Better Than How They Do Math in DC
Hollywood is famous for skimming and double-entry book-keeping but even they know it takes both revenues and sensible spending to balance a budget. And they sure have their focused fixed securely on the bottom line on ways that would be revolutionary in DC. Meanwhile back in our nation's capital it would take a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with more gifts than Mad Eye Moody to combat the trickery that has in just over a decade transformed a budget surplus into a $1.6 trillion annual deficit. (Face it: Threats to downgrade U.S. debt aside, the real story is that Moody's and S&P haven't trash-canned America's Triple A rating yet. America is ... very lucky ... to still coasting on the reputation of past generations of leaders.)
Read the full list here.
China Photos/Getty Images)
It's Christmas and according the editors at FP, that means it's time for a Naughty and Nice list. The problem is: I'm not sure what naughty or nice means any more. (Could be a result of living in the morally compromised world of Washington.) Besides, the whole idea that Santa only has two lists suggests a kind of Manichean justice that I don't think reflects well on the whole North Pole enterprise. What's needed is more nuance. And so that's just what you'll get here. A list of the the best gifts of 2010 for some of the best -- and worst -- people of 2010.
Julian Assange: You want to play spy? You have a hankering for Nordic women? The Russians love you? We read your OK Cupid profile. So how about for you, a marriage made in heaven: a January wedding in beautiful Novosibirsk with Anna Chapman? She will certainly get more secrets out of you than she did the party boys she hung with in New York. What's more, the two of you will instantly replace Naomi Watts and Sean Penn -- er, I mean, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame -- as our two favorite celebrity spies. Which in turn will give us the pleasure of naming you our oxymorons of the year.
Glenn Beck: You were everywhere this year, making our skin creep with your ubiquity. So, there's only one very 2010 gift for you: a lifetime supply of bedbugs.
Silvio Berlusconi: So you -- like all those young women breezing through your bunga-bunga parties -- know what it's like to be confronted with the ugly remnants of fading manhood, a complete set of emailed pictures of Brett Favre's junk.
David Cameron: You -- and your political cousins like New Jersey governor Chris Christie -- are showing great courage by understanding that the only path back up into the light is hard work and real sacrifice down in the darkness. So for your inspiration and listening pleasure, the musical stylings of formerly trapped Chilean miner Edison Pena showing what it's like to truly be happy with life.
Rahm Emanuel: You're a shoe-in to become the next mayor of Chicago. Which means that even though you mastered being a Washington tough guy, you're going to have to bring your game up a notch. So, for this holiday season, your special gift will be a full set of the Mel Gibson audio tapes. Take a listen -- and look, if it doesn't work out, maybe you too can move on to a movie about a talking beaver.
The French national soccer team: You'll all participate in a production of Jean Paul Sartre's "No Exit" -- an irony given your early departure from the World Cup -- in which you are trapped with an orchestra of your favorite ex-hookers, strippers, and angry wives and girlfriends all playing the Marseilles on vuvuzelas -- for eternity.
Kim Jong-un: What do you give a guy whose father has already bequeathed him a country? Well, if the country is North Korea, you need a soundtrack. We think the most appropriate choice for a regime whose time is running out is "Tik Tok" -- and frankly, if this leads to Ke$ha ending up in Pygonyang, it's another win-win for civilization.
Hamid Karzai: Have we got a show for you! It's called Lost. Take that anyway you want.
Larry King: This was the year you said good-bye. Finally. The only more painful exits to watch have been the ones that are hospitalizing the cast of Broadway's "Spiderman." But Larry, you were so good at blowing smoke up the sensitive receptacles of your various guests, we will honor you with a trip to the only smoke-blower that did it better than you this year: Iceland's own Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
Kate Middleton: Marrying into that family, the most appropriate gift we can give you is our sympathy. But just in case, we'll throw in the escape slide that Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater used to escape his lousy job. (And if it's any consolation, if things keep going the way they have been you might also get the distinction of being the wife of the last King of England.)
Bibi Netanyahu: If settlements mean that much to you, how about a nice little apartment for two that you can share with say, Helen Thomas. That'll hopefully get you out of the house and back to the serious work of the peace table in 2011.
Barack Obama: A toast to a year that has actually turned out rather well for you, with the perfect drink: one that'll give you the energy you need and the alcohol you will want, with a name that will constantly remind you of the Hill majority and minority leadership who will continue to make your life miserable. To you...the last few cases of Four Loko. Savor them.
Christine O'Donnell: For you, a lesson in how witchcraft is done right from a 20-year-old who read more studying for finals last weekend than you apparently have in your entire life. Christine, step aside and let Emma Watson show you how it's done while she and the rest of us wait for the end of the Harry Potter saga to come to theaters near us in just a few months.
Tea Partiers: May you conduct your next tea party on a Carnival cruise.
Tiger Woods, Jesse James, and John Edwards: You three gentlemen need something for those overworked libidos, a way to scratch that itch without getting you into so much hot water. So, for all of you, for the foyers in your bachelor pads: state of the art airport scanners. They will live very little to your very active imaginations.
ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images
A U.S. government report indicates one in five Americans is mentally ill. This only partially explains the results of the last election.
The Davenport family of St. Petersburg, Florida on Wednesday became the first people in the country to begin waiting in line for next Friday's post-Thanksgiving Day sales. See prior point.
Heavily armed battle tanks arrive in Afghanistan for the first time in a nearly decade long war at roughly the same time President Obama arrives in Lisbon to persuade allies and the world that things are finally going our way in that benighted country. Who are you going to believe, the president or a battle tank?
Satellite imagery confirms that the North Koreans are building a new nuclear reactor. They would do more to send a message of progress to the world if the satellites sent back a snapshot of the opening of a Best Buy in Pyongyang (and you can be sure the Davenport family would be camped out in front for the grand opening.)
Protests over Haiti's cholera outbreak have turned violent. Meanwhile, UN Haiti recovery champion Bill Clinton wraps up shooting for his cameo in "The Hangover II" in Thailand.
EU leaders pressure the Irish to raise their too-low corporate tax arguing that the country has gone bust trying to make itself attractive to foreign investors. Are you paying attention, Washington?
In an effort to win the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Michigan Republican Fred Upton has promised to reconsider his support for phasing out incandescent light bulbs. This comes in response to right wing attacks on what they characterize as "socialist" support for more efficient "squiggly" bulbs. (Note: Bloggers everywhere appreciate the recent proliferation of such self-ridiculing stories. A real time-saver.)
The Nobel Committee announces that China's "unprecedented" campaign to shut down the peace prize ceremonies for Liu Xiaobo by keeping his family away and pressuring countries not to attend may succeed. Beijing could not have thought of a better way to validate Liu or to bring more attention to his award.
In related news, China sentences a woman to a year in a labor camp for retweeting a satirical message and thus "disrupting the social order." Yes, that's the same China that George Soros says is better run than the U.S. (but then perhaps he feels the same way I do about Twitter.)
Aung San Suu Kyi is finally freed in what the press characterizes as a "Mandela moment" but she notes that in many ways South Africa had it easier. She and Liu remind us that the real progress hasn't a thing to do with technology, economic growth or the shape of our lightbulbs.
P.S. Due to the tremendous response to this week's Snookiism post, I wanted to more clearly define what I mean by the term. To me Snookiism is any movement that depends on the stupidity of its main actors or its supporters for its success. In instances of extreme Snookiism, it relies on both.
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
Nothing captures the intellectual desolation of the wasteland that is American media like the fact that this week ended with the media in a furor over the fake and largely irrelevant story of a bungled human resources issue in the bowels of the Department of Agriculture while buried inside Friday's papers were obituaries for efforts to combat climate change and actually create the energy policy America has lacked for, well, ever.
What does this go to show? Well, for one thing, it underscores the obsession of the media with conflict and human drama no matter how inconsequential to the public at large. But even more, it should send a stark reminder to all that -- more often than we care to admit -- the most important story in the world is one that is just not getting covered or ends up as a blurb buried on an inside page. You can't get a good shot of what isn't happening... and with amazing frequency, the most important stories are of what we are not doing.
Also, of course, stories about climate and energy and global warming are -- despite their centrality and even despite a current crisis that could have been used as a springboard to highlight the urgency of doing something -- boring. What isn't boring? Fighting. Personal attacks. And, of course, sex.
Given the unpleasantness of fighting and personal attacks, let's see what we can learn about the world from the Top Sex Stories of the Week.
In Israel, a Palestinian man named Sabbar Kashur was sentenced to a year-and-a-half in jail for what was characterized as "rape by deception." His deception? He told a Jewish woman he met in September 2008 that he was an SJM (single Jewish male) ISO (in search of) a meaningful relationship (insert sounds of wedding bells here.)
One thing led to another, and Kashur and his partner had what both characterize as consensual sex. According to one of the judges ruling on the case however, "If she hadn't thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she never would have cooperated." Kashur is appealing. The case, I mean. Certainly, his approach to dating leaves something to be desired. The case raises several important issues. One relates to the ironies involved: Israel is created after centuries in which Jews had to hide their identities to avoid persecution and then produces social divisions so great that a man ends up being arrested for impersonating a Jew. But the bigger question that arises out of this is: How fast can we build jails? Because if the case sets a precedent for men being arrested for lying to get a woman into bed, we'll never have enough room for the incoming waves of freshly minted convicts.
2. Latest Twist in Vatican Sex Scandals: Priests
Having Sex with Adults
How can you not enjoy a good sex scandal presented by a magazine owned by an Italian prime minister who knows a thing or two about sex scandals himself? This week, Italy's Panorama magazine rocked the Vatican with yet another exposé, this one revealing priests at play in Roman gay clubs. "By day they are regular priests," wrote Panorama's editors, "complete with a dog collar, but at night it's off with the cassock as they take their place as perfectly integrated members of the Italian capital's gay scene." Of course, the last thing the Vatican needs is another sex scandal. If only there was some way for them to avoid such scandals. Perhaps after more than a millennium and a half of trying to prevent their priests from having sex -- despite the fact that this prohibition was added long after the founding of the Church and has been a resolute failure at every level ever since -- they might consider a set of rules that actually are consistent with, I don't know, the fact that priests are actually also human beings.
3. Iranian Defends Decision to Stone Woman to Death
for Adultery: "At Least We're Not Saudi..."
In Iran, which has somehow both prided itself as the most cosmopolitan country in its region while also being the most careful in adhering to medieval laws, a 43-year-old woman from Tabriz was just convicted of having extra-marital relations with two men (who later killed her husband.) Her initial punishment was the traditional local remedy of 99 lashes. But when she appealed, the higher court thought better of the laxer whipping and decided she should be stoned to death. One Iranian journalist named Kourosh Ziabari, who writes for Foreign Policy Journal (probably not, I think, affiliated with this publication), argued "Everything is not perfect here but Iran is very advanced in women's rights when compared to other Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, neither of which receive regular condemnation from the international community over human rights and are allied with the U.S." This is possibly the weakest defense of the indefensible I have heard since Mel Gibson argued that he punched his baby in self-defense. (I kid. I don't believe the baby was actually threatening Mel.)
Drama In the Garden of Barbara Eden: Saudi
Man Possessed by Female Genie:
Maybe there is something to Ziabari's defense. If you think it's bad for Saudis who are involved in extramarital relationships with one another (see long history of stories about convictions and punishments in this vein), its not so much better for Saudis having an intimate relationship with a phantasm. One poor Saudi guy, a 29 year-old Mecca resident named Turki, has ended up being chained in a basement for the past six years because his parents are convinced he has been possessed by an evil female genie. How do they know? Convulsions, eyeballs rolling back in his head, the usual sort of thing. And then supposedly he speaks in a woman's voice. While you might suppose this sort of display really calls for a visit from a doctor, poor Turki's misfortune is that his father was also apparently possessed by a genie when he was a young lad -- "a woman who would at times appear very beautiful and at times extremely ugly." OK, so now maybe you're thinking what they need is a shrink who understands they have some issues with the opposite sex. But actually, in Saudi Arabia, apparently the proper response to genies is either exorcism or, alternatively, as in the case of one family last year, getting a lawyer and taking the genie to court for the mayhem it produced.
5. Speaking of American Allies: How Do You Sing
"Everybody Must Get Stoned" in Urdu?:
In the Northwest Pakistani garden spot known as Kala Dhaka, a couple who were married -- but not to each other -- have also been sentenced to death by stoning. Fortunately for the man involved, he escaped -- or at least that's the explanation being offered for the fact that only the woman reportedly now faces death for their indiscretion. Convicted in a tribal court she either is or is not in imminent danger, depending on which local authorities you believe. One man who sat on the tribunal argued however, that it was unlikely that they will do anything so brutal as the stoning. According to the McLatchy wire report on the case:
We burnt down the man's house, as per our tradition," said Maroof Khan, who allegedly sat on the jirga that decided the case, though he denied that. "When we get hold of them, we'll kill them, there's no doubt about that. It was a clear-cut case. This is our custom. We will just shoot them. Finished."
6. What Would a List of Sex Scandals Be Without a
Celebrity?, Part I
Not every sex scandal of the week has a socially significant subtext about flawed societies or ill-considered theological precepts. Some are just about sex but are important nonetheless because they affect figures of international prominence. Take, for example, Franck Ribery, the star of the French national soccer team, who used to be such a figure until France's soccer flame-out in South Africa turned them into international laughing-stocks and a source of Gallic humiliation. Not content to let their misdeeds on the pitch drag them down, Ribery added insult to injury this week when he was charged with solicitation of an underage prostitute. The winger, who plays for Bayern Munich when he is not involved in embarrassing his country, faces up to three years in prison if convicted of the allegedly crime, which came to light in the media last year.
7. What Would a List of Sex Scandals Be Without a
Celebrity?, Part II
Not to be outdone, America's national sex scandal, Tiger Woods, also figured in the news this week. Because despite his internationally chronicled misdeeds, it was revealed that he still managed to be the highest paid athlete in the world last year. Yes, his earnings fell about 10 percent, and yes, his wife did get perhaps $100 million, but Woods himself still managed to collect just over $90 million in income last year, according to Forbes's rankings of highest paid athletes. About $70 million of that was from companies that paid him to endorse their products. More than a tawdry story of hanky-panky in the bedroom, each of these sex scandals is a window into the society in which it takes place. At least that's my story and my excuse for posting this list.
Athena's Pix / Flickr.com
Does your media experience leave you feeling empty? Are you still hungry after your usual breakfast of three newspapers, a side of Drudge, and a big steaming mug of Morning Joe? (The Washington equivalent of a Denny's Grand Slam with none of the nutritional value, restraint, or fiber.)
Is it the vapidity of cage match programming? The emotion-focused, sound-bite oriented Oprah-ization of the interviews? The sense you have that all the really big world-changing stories aren't being reported? (How could they be if you don't speak Chinese?)
All these are contributors, of course. But a big piece of it is what is known to insiders as the non-story. These are pieces -- often with big headlines, an anchor flown in to do the stand-up in front of the flaming wreckage, a chorus of loudly flapping columnists punditerizing in the background -- that look like stories, sound like stories and quack like stories but are not actually stories.
To help you identify these before they actually suck you in (and then begin to eat up valuable grey cells, filling your limited memory with non-facts, non-insights and non-essentials not worth knowing), let me provide you with four examples from this past week of non-stories. Each is an archetype. Once you learn them, try to spot the equivalents or other examples of this all too common, rapidly proliferating form of intellectual pollution.
Type A: The "You've Been Played" Non-Story
Of all the non-stories of the past year, one of the most grotesque, bizarre and difficult to understand is the story of LeBron James "big decision." In this story, America held its breath as a seemingly friendly but over-large and uneducated 25 year-old who has never won a single truly big game as a professional basketball player gazed deep into his own navel deciding where he would cash his next obscenely large check. Wait a minute. He's a professional basketball player? He is a man who plays the one sport that is by acclamation agreed to be vastly more interesting when it is played at the college level because the pros are so self-indulgent, slow and generally loathsome? And we care? We actually played into his hands and helped him hype himself further while what he was doing was offering his young fans a lesson in how their heroes will sell them out for money or glory?
Yes, we did. Yes, we allowed the sheep-like non-journalist flacks for the sports marketers to sell this decision about where this man who is the world's most overpaid sneaker model would like to spend the next few years bouncing a little orange ball like it was a presidential election. Wait a minute ... we bought a story that covered a rich athlete behaving selfishly while he basks in the limelight of a charmed life as though it were news, all the while selling more LeBron T-shirts and posters? I apologize to the non-journalists who cover sports. They're not the sheep. They're just cogs in the machine. We're the sheep. We're the ones who buy into the whole idea of entertainment "news" as though it were not marketing but news.
Which brings us to example number two...
Type B: The "News from Nowhere" Non-Story
Combining the emptiness of "entertainment news" with the shock value of a sunrise is another brand of non-news: the kind that doesn't creep over even the lowest threshold for newsworthiness because it is so utterly predictable. We've had at least two excellent examples this week. In one such story, as it turns out, Mel Gibson is a reprehensible jerk. In another, as it turns out, Lindsay Lohan is a lying, self-deluding, drug-abusing skank. Mel, not content to be remembered as a misogynistic, alcoholic, anti-Semite, goes the extra yard by allegedly beating up his Russian mail-order mistress. And throwing in a few choice racist epithets for good measure. Lindsay, sporting the latest in obscene nail decoration, breaks down in court when she is told that there are actually consequences for repeatedly breaking the law, lying to the police, lying to the courts, lying to herself, and generally flushing what was a promising career down the toilet over which she was just bent while hoovering line after line of mysterious white powder up her button nose.
David McNew/Getty Images
It was one thing for Brazil to appease one nuclear rogue state. But two in one month? That qualifies as a national policy. The last time anyone appeased that many nuclear scofflaws in such a rapid time frame was ... well, the reality is we do it all the time. North Korea. Pakistan. India. Iran. It's now standard operating procedure to let countries build their own A-bombs.
That's why, as shocking as Brasilia's moves with Turkey to reach out to Iran may have been, Brazil beating North Korea by only one goal is perhaps even more stunning -- a veritable victory for Pyongyang. In a soccer universe in which Brazil is the superpower, North Korea is a pipsqueak, much less of a factor even than it is geopolitically. (Which is saying something given the country's class-by-itself isolation and the economic incompetence of the lunatic regime that runs the country.)
Brazil is ranked number 1 in the world. North Korea is ranked number 105. The reality is that at many times during today's match, North Korea looked more disciplined than the Brazilians ... and on several stunning occasions, they looked both better and more creative.
While the game is unlikely to be seen as a strong argument that robot automatons make the best soccer players or that a diet of grass and warm water are the cornerstones of the care and feeding of future World Cup stars, it will almost certainly raise a question about the Brazil team.
That question is why? And my only conclusion can be that since the outcome can't be explained on the basis of relative talent, skill or soccer history, something else must be in play. And given the importance of soccer in Brazil, then I say it has to be an initiative taken at the highest levels.
I'm just saying... Look for this to be an issue in the upcoming Brazilian presidential elections. And look for the North Korean team to be rewarded with extra-loose shackles and a double order of gruel on their arrival home.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
I've recently laid my hands on the Obama administration's super secret Iran plan. Because it is highly classified, I can't offer all the details here. (Also, because there are very few details to begin with.)
The plan begins with the sanctions program that was approved Wednesday by the U.N. Security Council. It should be noted however, that after the description of the sanctions are a few hand-written notations. The deadlines, for example, have been struck through ... repeatedly. In fact, there are almost more deleted deadlines than there are deleted proposed sanctions. Almost. But there are actually scores of proposed elements that were one after one cut out of the program ranging from "petroleum products" to "anything that might negatively impact trade or relationships with China or Russia." In fact, the only original item in the sanctions program that remains intact is prohibiting Iranian television from airing episodes of the first season of Glee until early next year.
However, the sanctions are followed by the following note: "It is very unlikely that the sanctions program will work even if it is not eviscerated by our "partners" in the diplomatic process." (Here there are just a bunch of exclamation marks and the letters "LOL" in the margin.) It goes on to say: "We know this because a.) Sanctions programs rarely work; b.) When they do work they never work quickly enough to actually achieve our prime purpose here which is stopping the Iranian nuclear program; and c.) Because this will be the fourth set of sanctions, weaker than prior sets and therefore will be seen as a nothing more than a "used handkerchief" by the Iranians. Or anyone else."
And from there it goes on to say: "Nonetheless, these are our damn sanctions and even if they are an empty sham we cannot allow them to be upstaged by even the naïve and equally unlikely to succeed programs of others. Because such programs will both marginalize us and at the same time underscore the pointlessness of our efforts. Thus, even if we don't take forceful action to stop the Iranian nuclear program we must take forceful action to stomp out other programs that might seek to stop the Iranian nuclear program."
Next something is written about the necessity of having a forceful and credible military response in the event the sanctions don't work but this too is scribbled out. In the margin: "If we're backing toward the exit in Iraq and Afghanistan, who's going to believe any of this mouthwash? Just parrot the old "reserve all our options" formulas and hope people are too busy following whatever Charlie Sheen's latest scandal may be to notice how transparently impotent this all is."
Next the main body of the memo consists of a number of possible steps listed under "Program of Escalation." These are only to be implemented if the sanctions fail to markedly slow down Iranian nuclear progress. They include: "U.S. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice pointedly eats at a different table from the Iranian delegation in the United Nations cafeteria," then "Rice starts eating with the Turks to demonstrate we have friends in the Islamic world" (this has however, been crossed out), then "Robert Gibbs to complain that cable media have empowered the Iranians and cancels appearance on Morning Joe," then "Criminalization of possession of Iranian pistachios and spontaneous display of pouring pistachio ice cream into the street in front of SEIU headquarters," then "Public display of affection with Bibi Netanyahu" (also crossed out), then "President Obama tells touching story about how Malia tugged on his PJs and asked whether he had stopped that nasty Mahmoud from getting the bomb," then finally "President Obama delivers very tough speech employing soaring rhetoric declaring the success of our engagement program, punctuated with threats about 'kicking ass' and announcing the appointment of a bipartisan committee to explore 'forceful next steps' -- end with tight shot of clenched jaw."
After these there is a concluding paragraph which reads: If none of the above initiatives work see next memo (NSC document code redacted) entitled "Learning to Live with a Nuclear Iran."
ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Remember the scene in Annie Hall in which Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are talking and there are sub-titles indicating what they really were thinking? I regularly wish such a thing were available when listening to politicians speak. Not always, because frankly most of the time that politicians speak the best filter is ignoring them altogether. But Barack Obama is the president of the United States, the country is ass deep in alligators and so his State of the Union address takes on special importance.
We know he and his team have worked for weeks on the address. They have spent the past few days pre-gaming the press hoping to get the "Obama Does It Again: America Starts Believing in Change They Can Believe In ... Again!" story they really want. And we also know that every single phrase in the speech has been viewed through multiple lenses-impact on the media, impact on the left, impact on the right, impact on the center, impact on donors, impact on November 2010 election prospects ... well, you get the idea. With the pros in the White House you often get the sense they're looking at dozens of angles associated with any phrase or idea. It's not triangulation. That's so 1990s. It reeks of Dick Morris'a mouth full of toenail polish. Today we're dealing with polygonulation of a much richer sort. With three political factions, U.S. and foreign media, 50 states, the G20, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, the White House dog and the Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol, and Oprah that would make it octacontakaihenagonulation. (There's a change you can believe in.)
Anyway, to help cut through it all, we watched carefully as the president delivered his address and have selected ten key phrases in which the president said one thing but actually meant something else. Then, we added the real or alternative meaning. So now, you can truly understand.
And as for knowing what you yourself were really thinking while you watched, perhaps it's best to return to Annie Hall in which Annie says "Well, to me, I mean it's all instinctive. You know, I mean, I just try to feel it. You know, I try to get a sense of it and not think about it so much." But while she says it, the subtitles let us know what she (and you) are really thinking: "God, I hope he doesn't turn out to be a schmuck like all the others."
The following are not necessarily offered in the order they came in the speech:
1. "Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit."
This actually means: "Holy crap, what a mess. But let's not panic. Please do not give up on me. Please do not quit on me now. It's early yet...and look at this way, you could have elected John Edwards. Imagine where we'd all be then with the economy in the tank, the First Lady moving out and him having to turn the Situation Room into a nursery."
2. "We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust -- deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years."
This actually means: "We've got a gigantic deficit of dollars right now, but let's change the subject. Let's blame it on the past. I sure hope that you don't notice that throughout this speech I blamed problems on the past like 9 or 10 times. Christ, I hope some nutjob pundit doesn't dub this the "Blame It On the Past" speech tomorrow."
3. "To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue -- to end the outsized influence of lobbyists, to do our work openly and to give our people the government they deserve."
This actually means: "By both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, I mean in Congress. As for the ending the outsized influence of big money I sure do hope people weren't watching Tim Geithner's mugging on the Hill earlier today for being too cozy with Wall Street. No seriously, I hate lobbyists. The guys that fund them, the donations they give, the issues they advance, those things I'm ok with. But lobbyists, I wouldn't bend over to scrape them from my shoe."
4. "Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't."
This actually means: "Anything that pisses Rachel Maddow off this much has got to make centrists a little happier, right? And where's she going to go? Who's she going to vote for? Mitt Romney? Ahahahahahahhaha... I could appoint Bill O'Reilly Secretary of Banning Abortions and Distributing Assault Rifles to Schoolchildren and she would still have to vote for me. As far as the families on a budget line goes, I hope no one does the math. We're freezing 18 percent of the budget. And the rest we're not touching. That's like a family trying to balance its budget by cutting back on what it pays the paperboy."
5. "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are."
This actually means: "See my little liberal friends, there's something for you in here too. Oh sure, I know this reeks of Clinton era small ball and a kind of something-for-everyone approach. But hey, gay people, enjoy it ... because in terms of my list of priorities going forward, you're way behind big things like health care and fighting global warming and cutting the deficit and defeating terrorism and winning in Afghanistan and virtually none of those things are actually going to happen either."
6. "Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class. That's why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class Families."
This actually means: "So, ok, here's the one area we are going to spend. Jobs for the middle class. Tax breaks for the middle class. We can't afford anything. Except for programs for the people who will determine whether we get to keep our jobs. Ha...we're part of our own jobs program."
7. "Now let's be clear -- I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics."
This actually means: "Let's be clear, while I did take this on because I wanted a big legislative victory and because I thought it was good politics, this dog is clearly not going to hunt. So let's just walk it back. Did I say I wanted this done by the State of the Union? What I meant was the first bill I want on my desk this year is a jobs bill."
8. "Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong."
This actually means: "Geesh, this is a bit awkward. They're sitting right there. And they don't look happy. The reason I'm all for separation of powers is that if they were any closer they'd bite me on the leg. And frankly Alito looks like he has rabies."
9. "Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security."
This actually means: "Ok, I have to get to national security for a few minutes. Admittedly, I am going to do about 8 minutes out of a 75 minute speech on foreign policy tonight. Pity because I really am getting us out of Iraq, that's a pretty big deal. I wish I could talk more about this stuff ... but right now, America seems to want a time out from the planet earth."
10."Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation. But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn't be here tonight."
That meant: "Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation. But I also know this: if people had made that decision fifty years ago or one hundred years ago or two hundred years ago, we wouldn't be here tonight."
But as I said, all politicians have multiple meanings with their speeches. Overall, the speech was not bad. No grand new ideas. But overall ... not a bad domestic stump speech that was particularly effective when it turned to condemning the dysfunctional mood of Washington at the moment. Admittedly, if you're a foreign policy fan, there really wasn't much here ... but Bush was all national security all the time and that didn't turn out so well for anyone. Grade: B.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Take it from me, there is only one certain method for determining whether someone is from New Jersey or not: They will refer to a trip to the beach as going "down the shore." However, the handcuffs are another dead giveaway.
Once again, my home state has been thrust into the limelight in a massive corruption case that involves a failed philanthropist named Solomon Dwek who lived, appropriately enough in a town called Deal (which is, as any Jerseyite knows, "down the shore"), a guy from Brooklyn named Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum who could get you a slightly used pancreas for a good price, a bunch of rabbis who laundered money through charities they controlled, cash from Israel, bankers in Switzerland, the mayors of Hoboken and Jersey City (where it is fair to say this case is not the first to offer a whiff of scandal), a member of Governor Jon Corzine's cabinet and a host of other bit players who you might find milling around catching a smoke outside the Vince Lombardi Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Dwek, (pronounced in much the same way Barbara Walters would pronounce "dreck" which is the Yiddish word for shit), is now somewhere in the witness protection system (hopefully for his sake in the custody of Marshall Mary Shannon as played in "In Plain Sight" by the irresistible Mary McCormack.) Seeking to save his own skin after getting caught floating a bad check for $25 million, our guy Solomon-the-wise...er...guy, started helping the Feds round up corrupt pols.
One big-time Fed anti-corruption prosecutor called New Jersey the most corrupt state in the nation. (Which is probably true since technically, the District of Columbia is not a state.) Jon Corzine, who has a tough election race later this year that just got tougher, said "Any corruption is unacceptable-anywhere, anytime, by anybody. The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated."
Noble words. But has Mr. Corzine so quickly forgotten his roots either in Washington or at Goldman Sachs? While the colorful cast of slimeballs arrested yesterday has restored pride of place to my home state in the corruption league tables, let's face it, what was really shocking about the reported payoffs was that the prices were so low. This was penny ante stuff. Ten grand for a building permit. That kind of thing. It can't hold a candle to the millions that are pumped into the campaigns of federal politicians who guide laws subtly this way and that or turn bills into Christmas trees of goodies for key constituents or who simply look the other way when oversight is concerned...for example, in the case of the financial community. Just for example, Governor.
There are cultural and definitional hurdles we need to get over with regard to the corrosive effects of buying and selling influence in our society. Corruption is offensive when it involves $97,000 stuffed in a box of Apple Jacks cereal as in this latest New Jersey case...but dress it up in the finery of federal campaign finance laws designed to institutionalize the power of the few and its suitable for high society senatorial or presidential fundraisers in Hollywood, Houston, or the Hamptons.
I call this later phenomenon "corruption within the law." And it as many times more pernicious than payoffs in diners in Bergen County as it is more expensive ... even if it doesn't quite invoke the backroom at Bada Bing or Satriale's quite as evocatively. That's because the effects are so much more widely felt in society ... as in the case of Wall Street selling the view that it didn't need much regulation or that it needed cheap money bailouts or in the case of the oil and auto industries rental of the levers of U.S. energy policy for the past several decades.
But I guarantee you that tonight America's most trusted newsman (which according to a new TIME Magazine poll is Jon Stewart...who is neither a newsman nor does he actually represent himself as being trustworthy, quite the contrary) will devote time on his show to tape or pictures of the perp walk of the five dirty rabbis or the car loads of mayors and assemblyman as if they were the face of corruption in America. Which may be appropriate because they are as much about comedy and as far from the real story as is "The Daily Show."
Nonetheless, the real uncovered corruption aside, as a Jersey boy, there is something irresistible about this particularly tale. It's the bastard short story of Mario Puzo and Philip Roth (with a hint of Damon Runyon by way of Sholom Aleichem) and who can object to that. Further, we take pride in our scumbags in New Jersey.
In fact, that reminds me ... earlier this week I was having lunch with FP supremo Moises Naim at the Palm Restaurant in Washington.
While we lunched on rare tuna salads while Lord knows what kind of nasty deals were being cut in the booths nearby, we got into a discussion of just this subject of corruption. Moises, author of the book Illicit -- recently turned into an Emmy-nominated documentary -- and thus an expert on all things sleazoid and able to say the word "bagman" in 80 languages, argued that whatever flavor our corruption took in the U.S., the Venezuelas and Russias had us beat hands down. I muttered a few words about my theories about our sanitized versions of buying and selling politicos but he scoffed. He's from Caracas and he likes his violation of the public trust big and loud and ideally involving low-life political thugs of the type who rule his home country.
Well, look at the scoreboard, my friend! We are from New Jersey and we are loud and we are proud! We've got it all. The baby-faced golden boy of Hoboken politics, the new mayor, heading to the slammer practically before he is old enough to shave. An 87 year-old Syrian rabbi. A special lingo in which payments were "invitations" and approvals were "opportunities." We're slicing people open and selling freaking body parts for chrissakes (although due to Kashrut laws you couldn't get, say, a kidney and a pound of cheese from the same guy).
So Mr. Glamorous expert on the underbelly of globalization, who's corrupt now? Boo-ya, my friend! Fuggedaboutit.
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Washington is a city of oxymorons. It is a city of garden variety morons, as well. On the oxymoron side we have old favorites like "military intelligence," "compassionate conservative," and "government organization." On the moron side...well, in U.S. politics we have morons on both sides.
Now we have something new however, as in Washington the oxymorons and the morons are coming together in the form of America's latest reality television extravaganza (we really needed another): "Real World Washington." This is a unique double oxymoron in that it calls itself real but, like most reality TV, it is not...and because it is suggesting, fancifully, that there is somehow a connection between Washington and the real world. As for the morons, well you need only visit the bars around the DuPont Circle neighborhood location of the Real World set and you can view for yourself the cast in all their beer-soaked glory.
At first I wondered to myself how it was that a show like "The Real World" could have become MTV's longest-running hit, now in its 17th year. After all, it's pretty formulaic. Semi-attractive young adults including at least one or two with deep psychological problems are put together in a house in which they: drink, puke, appear to grope one another in grainy night-vision camera shots, and then fight about who groped whom.
Of course, thinking of it that way, I naturally started to wonder why it took so long for the show to come to the home of American politics which have been featuring all these activities for years. (For those of you who are more insensitive than I, insert Teddy Kennedy joke here. And for those of you who don't have the stomach for such humor but still want a laugh at the expense of all that Kennedy family groping, see this link about a new book on America's zany royal family.)
Once I started thinking about politicians and groping and the real world, however, my thoughts immediately drifted eastward, out over the Atlantic, and in the direction of the world's most famous aging libido, that of the host of this week's G8 Meeting, Silvio Berlusconi. This in turn led to a thunderbolt of inspiration akin to that which struck another famous Italian in the Berlusconi mold, Michael Corleone, when he first saw the ill-fated Apollonia Vitelli. What about the Real World Berlusconi-style? What about Real World L'Aquila? Once we get the G8 leaders to Italy, why don't we lock them in a room until they actually produce something productive? And let's put it all on video! Big Brother for Big Brother!
And to keep it interesting we can add elements of other reality shows. For example, how about a taste of Real Housewives Berlusconi-style, while we're at it. Just locking Silvio and his really (justifiably) angry, estranged wife Veronica Lario in a house for the enjoyment of tv audiences everywhere would be irresistible.But throw her in with a bunch of other world leaders? See what happens when Silvio shoots an ill-considered glance in the direction of Michelle Obama? Who's wailing on him first? Veronica, Barack or Michelle? (My money is on Michelle.) Sadly, of course, Veronica is passing on the G8 Summit, forcing the Italians to turn the wife of their president to be the hostess for the affair.
We still have plenty of fun cast to choose from, however, given that the meetings in Italy will actually be attended by more than 25 countries, including all the G20. Just think of the potential gang we could feature in the house that meet the Real World formula for diversity and mayhem.
Given the fact that Berlusconi will be joined in Italy by members of the G20, the cast can be expanded to included a diverse enough group of lively characters to make this one version of Real World actually look a lot more like the real world than its many predecessors. South Africa's Jacob Zuma is, for example, a party all by himself with four wives, three other fiancés, perhaps as many as 18 children, and a list of run-ins with the law that would allow him to play the bad boy role. China's Hu Jintao was reportedly fond of singing and dancing in his teen years and therefore might add a little lift to those party nights out. And although Brazil's President Lula and Zuma may only have achieved the fourth and fifth grade in school, respectively, this actually makes them educationally over-qualified by Real World standards.
Sadly for the Real World premise...and for the real world...not many of the visiting leaders are women so we will have to rely on host Berlusconi to add a few of his close personal friends to add a little sexual tension to the show. But what with party credentials of the crowd gathering in L'Aquila and the help of Il Cavaliere it's clear this could make for fine viewing. If we wanted to make it something more than that...and something more than the bland communiqué machine G8 meetings typically are...we could add a different reality show twist, à la say "Big Brother" or "Survivor," in which participants are voted out after each week. Except in this instance, what we could do is rely on the general odiousness of hanging out with pols around the clock to motivate the cast to want to leave the house, but then not let them out unless they actually get something done in their negotiations. Think how that system would change the nature of summits. Although my fear is that rather than producing more productive meetings of government leaders, the requirement that they get something done would actually lead to the end of summits altogether.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
Because Foreign Policy, when done right, is not a noun but a verb, I'm leaving the country. (Ok, so it's never a verb. I'm having premature jet-lag. But you get the idea.) None of this arm-chair punditry for me. I'm going out where you can taste that clash of civilizations and walk the flat earth. (And that's just eating and trying to get to my plane at most airports.)
During the next week and a half my business will be taking me to four continents. Admittedly, four continents in eight days is borderline insane for someone who has to fly commercial but think of all the time it will give me at 35,000 feet to contemplate the big issues and provide juicy blogs full of local color.
Consider it my Sleep Deprivation and Digestive Distress (S Triple D) World Tour...and view it as your chance to get a window on the world as I hobnob with cab-drivers, bellmen, secretaries who don't understand a word I am saying, and drug sniffing dogs. Naturally, to the extent that major developments break anywhere in the world, I will be there to offer a distinctly outside the Beltway perspective on them. And all of it will be viewed through the lens of crushing exhaustion that will add special color to it -- like hallucinations, imagery of large insects crawling all over my body, paranoid fantasies of hotel shampoo bottles coming to life, that kind of thing.
So now, in the grey light of dawn, I head to the airport with my primary achievement thus far being the ability to get all that I need for the trip into my carry-on luggage. This does not mean I am traveling light. My suitcase and briefcase together weigh roughly the same as any car from the Kia line of fine, Korean-made, automobiles. (Although I worry my luggage may actually have lower fuel efficiency.)
Barack Obama has made it a new world in which everyone loves Americans. And I am ready to go out and collect my hugs and free drinks.
More news as it happens...
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Both were candidates for important national positions. Prejean's position would make her an ambassador for America and Freeman was a career diplomat. Both were denied those positions at least in part because of the unpopular views they expressed. And both were victims of blogospheric overkill that may have done more to damage their critics than it did to them. Certainly, the longer their controversies continued to bubble, the worse their opponents looked. (Last night, for example, even the Rush Limbaugh of liberal America, Jon Stewart, closed his Prejean story with a statement that made it clear he felt the attacks on her were unfair.)
Finally, today both are considerably better known than they were before the controversies they didn't seek and both are considerably more popular among key constituencies that are likely to provide them with long-term support as a consequence of their courage to say what they felt.
Unfortunately for Chas (and I think for the NIC), Barack Obama did not appoint Donald Trump director of national intelligence because he might have stood up for Chas like he stood up for Carrie. (Well, he would have if he thought Chas was hot in a bikini.) But Chas's defenders in the administration folded under too much pressure from the likes of noted intelligence connoisseur Nancy Pelosi.
In fact, given their winning smiles, the only real differences between the two are Prejean's implants and the fact that Chas is brilliant and she appears to be dumb as a box of rocks. (The rumors that Steve Rosen had nude pics of Freeman have proven to be as unfounded as some other charges against Rosen.)
That said there's a message here, people: beware the impulse to incite the virtual crowd, because as often happens with real mobs, e-mobs or their actions can get so out of control that they trample the reputations of their organizers and prove seriously counter-productive to their longer term goals. (See: Salem witch trials, McCarthyism, and votefortheworst.com.)
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
In case you missed the constant barrage of photos of the half-naked Miss USA runner-up that the media has been airing this week in their never ending quest for the truth (or to exploit a good opportunity to get some expensively spray-tanned skin on the air during May sweeps), Prejean is in big trouble with her pageant's organizers. They are shocked, shocked by some of her behavior. Of course, it is unclear which of her actions is really troubling them -- her semi-nude "lingerie model" photos or her appearances at her church on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage during which she spoke out against gay marriage.
Ok, we all
know it couldn't be the photos, right? I mean the pageant had her appear
practically naked on television. That's obviously just an excuse.
Prejean sealed her fate when she expressed a personal belief that didn't jibe
with those of the new Billy Graham, America's new moral arbiter, Perez
Hilton. So, the moral forces behind the event including Miss California
pageant director Shanna Moakler, best known for allegedly punching Paris Hilton
in the jaw during a cat fight over Moakler's then husband, scrawny, tatted-up,
marginal rock singer Travis Barker, and Donald Trump, best known for his serial
bankruptcies, appalling taste, and really, really bad hair, are now
contemplating whether to banish Prejean to ensure that they get a more
politically correct choice in place to be available for the next strip mall
opening in Barstow.
(Just so there is no mistake about my view on these vitally important issues, I am all for both gay marriage and semi-nude photos of beauty queens. I am also for freedom of speech and don't think it's fair to kick someone out of a high public office like Miss California or Vice Miss USA just because they don't hold a mainstream or even a defensible view.)
But there is good news for Miss Prejean on this National Prayer Day (which begins here in Washington with hundreds of politicians gathering for a national prayer breakfast in which they bow their heads and appeal to the Good Lord that a photograph of them praying ends up in their home town paper). Saudi Arabia, this weekend will kick off its own beauty pageant, one with a uniquely Saudi spin, the fabulous, second annual "Miss Beautiful Morals" pageant. In this event, unlikely to be picked up by Donald Trump for broadcast to the U.S. anytime soon, the winner is the young woman who demonstrates "the most devotion and respect for her parents."
According to pageant founder Khadra al-Mubarak, quoted in an Associated Press story, "the idea of the pageant is to measure the contestants commitment to Islamic morals...it's an alternative to the calls for decadence in other beauty contests that only take into account a woman's body and looks." Although sadly there appears to be no evening burka competition in the pageant, there are ten weeks of classes and quizzes on pro-parent topics like "Mom, paradise is at your feet." Over 200 women compete for a grand prize of more than $2,600 (not enough to buy even one of Prejean's recent breast implants) and "other prizes." (A one year modeling contract for Miss Wahabi Hottie magazine, maybe? Featuring the latest in "Death to Israel and the Great Satan" full-coverage resort-wear?)
on the differences between a glitzier pageant in more liberal Lebanon that
actually features one piece bathing suits and the Saudi inner beauty
extravaganza, the AP article notes dryly, "There are no such displays in
ultra-strict Saudi Arabia, where until Miss Beautiful Morals was inaugurated
last year, the only pageants were for goats, sheep, camels and other
Using unusual restraint, I will not comment on this last point except to suggest that if Carrie Prejean is in need of a replacement title sometime soon, she may just want to look into other options internationally where in addition to "Miss Beautiful Morals" she could compete for other crowns which during the past several years have included the likes of the Russian nuclear industry's "Miss Atom", Thailand's plus-sized "Miss Jumbo-Queen", Angola's "Miss Landmine", "Miss Brazil Transex", outer-space's "Miss Klingon Empire" and the good old USA's "Miss Hell-hole Swamp." And if these don't work out, after the Saudi option, perhaps the one most suited to Miss Prejean's publicized talents might be China's glamorific "Miss Artificial Beauty Contest."
No need for a thank you note, Carrie. Just another public service article from your friends at FP.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
There is an element of lonely self-gratification to blogging that calls to mind Woody Allen's description of masturbation as "sex with someone I love." Of course he also said the same thing about one of his children. But I digress. My point is you don't need a partner to blog either. But here at FP there are some great ones (partners...not Korean stepchildren that you would consider marrying) and so when I want a little stimulation, like anyone else I just point and click around my home site. For example...
Laura Rozen has a piece referencing Joe Nye's assertion academics are increasingly irrelevant to policy. While this is certainly true, it misses the bigger point: policy is increasingly irrelevant to government. Government is reactive to a world is so complex and fast-moving that it may be that policy itself is an antiquated concept. That's not to say that we don't have policies...it's just to say that almost no one in government ever really thinks about them, they're too busy spinning the headlines, stroking constituencies and trying to keep the news cycle from blowing up in their faces.
FP ran a piece by Nestor Carbonell saying it is too early to give up on the embargo with Cuba. Yuh. Also way too early to say whether or not television will catch on or to stop hoping for a comeback by native Americans against the conquistadors. There is not one defensible reason for the embargo. In fact, it is one of the best illustrations of that definition that describes insanity is doing the same thing over and over again-for almost half a century -- and expecting a different result. (Although the technical foreign policy definition of insanity-unilateral sanctions-also applies.) Frankly, the only thing making Cuba policy worth discussing any more is the fact that it is so out of whack with reality. (I must say though, that I did like the FP Passport story about the Cuban regime poisoning diplo-pets...it's pathetic and nasty but on the level of a crazy old coot who lives in the dilapidated house down the street. Which is roughly right...if the old coot had a record of human rights violations and keeping nuclear warheads in his back yard. Still, he's an old guy, not really threatening anymore and it's time to accept change is in the wind.) The best we can hope for is that once America's Cuba policy becomes more rational...and the recent steps by the Obama administration on travel and remittances are, I feel, an irreversible step in that direction... with some luck Cuba will assume the importance it deserves among our priorities...somewhere between Curacao and Sao Tome and Principe. (I kid...it belongs between the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.)
Tom Ricks says Slate is wrong about Israel bombing Iran anytime soon. He may be right about that. But there are those in the Israeli military who don't think bombing is the way it will go. They have quietly been speculating about an approach from the sea. Now, I know there is a whole group of Israelis who feel they're making an important contribution just by ginning up some speculation. Still, I'm just sayin'...
I reviewed carefully all the lists of books on international relations. Most fall into the category of I'd-rather-stick-my-hand-in-a-Cuisinart-than-read-this. Why is it that most books on the intersection of money, power, ambition, and human drama are so damn boring? Hint: it's not the subject matter.
Important breakthrough: All is right in the Jewniverse. (This reference is to my very own blog.) The powers that be at my daughter's high school have relented and restored the swastikas to the spring musical. It really will be springtime for Hitler, after all. Pause to daub away tear of joy. Reason has prevailed. Bad taste has triumphed again. I couldn't be prouder.)
I'm so delighted in fact, that when I turn to Steve Walt's piece on the Somali pirates in which he cautions that the weekend's triumph may be only prelude and that in any event, the issues of piracy off the African coast pale in comparison to the bigger questions confronting the world, I find I am actually in complete agreement with Walt. See what a few swastikas will do for a guy's outlook. (Mine, mine. You guys are so sensitive.)
Since I am flipping around the FP site, let me say that Net Effect is a great addition and I encourage everyone not only to visit...but to click on his links. Many are fascinating. By the way, that's a broader rule of thumb. Click the links. Some of them will surprise you. My pieces here are regularly made better by genius linksmanship from the FP editorial team.
So click the links...and remember the national anthem of bloggers everywhere...
Hey, hey- - they say I better get a chaperone
Because I can't stop messin' with the danger zone
No, I won't worry, and I won't fret
Ain't no law against it yet
Oop -- she blog -- she blog"
She blog -- he blog -- we blog...
Had lunch with a very well-known Dem whose sister lives in Chicago. She held a reception for a Chicago resident who was joining the Obama administration.
The hostess' mother was visiting from the East Coast. She was not impressed with the Chicago political crowd that showed up. "These Chicago people," she trenchantly observed, "they don't know from Tuesday." Later the conversation turned to really bad twists that history could take -- unexpected developments that could really throw us for a loop. A particularly striking example we arrived at: God arrives on earth and a group of Jewish people clamor to him and say, "God, we have been waiting and waiting and still no sign of the Messiah." And God says, "What are you talking about? I sent him years ago." And the people say, "What? We missed that? Who? Who was it?" And God says, "Why, it was Michael Dukakis."
I don't know...to me, that's funny.
David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.