American Culture

Nota Bene #16

Appearing weekly, Nota Bene attempts to provide an overview of the week’s news. Meanwhile, in its appendix, we cull trenchant comments to articles and posts, as well as those heard in person or emailed.

In “The Obama Doctrine” at American Prospect, Spencer Ackerman writes: “Obama is offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we’ve heard from a serious presidential contender in decades. [He envisions] a doctrine that first ends the politics of fear . . . in favor of ‘dignity promotion,’ to fix the conditions of misery that breed anti-Americanism. ”We want to have [a foreign policy] debate with John McCain,’ a close Obama adviser says.”

As for Hillary, reports Frank Newport for Gallup, “A sizable proportion of Democrats would vote for John McCain next November if he is matched against the candidate they do not support for the Democratic nomination. This is particularly true for Hillary Clinton supporters, more than a quarter of whom currently say they would vote for McCain if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee.” As opposed to 19% of Obama voters who claim they would vote for McCain over Clinton. Hillary’s supporters think they’ll get her nominated by figuratively holding their breath?

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times writes of her that “if the brawl continues, then she and her husband may be remembered. . . as having the same effect on Mr. Obama this November that Ralph Nader had on Al Gore in 2000. Do the Clintons really want to risk becoming the Naders of 2008?” Why not? By threatening to take the nomination to the convention, she’s already reached the nadir of her career.

Hillary may never have run from snipers, but she ran from sniping. A few years ago Village Voice reporter Ward Harkavy writes that after a speech, “I walked toward the podium and. . . politely asked her about her stint on the board of directors of Wal-Mart. She stared at me in shock, her eyes grew big as saucers, and, despite [waiting] well-wishers and celebrity-seekers. . . she scurried off the stage without saying a word. Yes, she didn’t walk, she scurried. ”

Not one of our favorites (he was pro-Iraq war), Richard Cohen of the Washington Post nevertheless caught our attention when he wrote that “even when this war, like Norman Bates’s mother, is gussied up by its embalmers and declared a glorious effort, the shame of Abu Ghraib will forever stain George Bush and his top aides.” Comparing Iraq to Norman Bates’s mother is even better than the recent comparisons of Hillary Clinton to Tonya Harding.

James Glanz of the New York Times explains how the Mahdi Army have become “Alley Fighters,” “partly because the alleys of the neighborhoods they control are too narrow for the Iraqi Army’s armored vehicles.” He quotes one deputy commander: “We can’t face the armored tanks of the Americans face to face, because all we have is light guns. . . So we just wait for a chance to attack something.”

Two articles exploring our indifference to Iraqis. . .

In “The Arab Abstraction” on Foreign Policy in, Erica Bouris writes that “we cannot quite move beyond this level of Arab as abstraction. We may call these infractions [against Iraqi citizens] human rights violations. . . but I have only rarely seen the lurching of a human gut towards these suffering people.”

On Asia Times Online, Julian Delasantellis writes of the Great Iraq Puppy Toss: “For five years Americans had mostly sat by and clicked on their remote controls whenever there was coverage of alleged atrocities by US military personnel against helpless Iraqi civilians, but for those who transgress the laws of war against cute Iraqi canines, well, dust off those gavels at Nuremberg, what we got here is a real crime against humanity!”

Fear mongering or true? The Associated Press reported that senior Israeli defense officials said that Hezbollah “has acquired new Iranian rockets with a range of about 185 miles. . . as far south as Dimona,” site of Israel’s famed nuclear reactor. Who needs nuclear weapons when you can set one off from afar?

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney visited Saudi Arabia for high-level meetings with the Saudi king and his ministers. Afterwards it was reported that the “Saudi Shura council will secretly discuss national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors.” Experts? Do they mean Cheney et al? Come hell or high water, he’ll get that attack in before he leaves office. Nice to learn of it from the Saudis, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, according to John McGlyn at Japan Focus, thanks to FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), a unit within the US Treasury Department, we have already declared war on Iran — financial war. “When the history of this newly declared war is someday written (assuming the war is allowed to proceed) FinCEN’s role will be as important as that played by [CENTCOM] in directing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” FinCEN’s in charge of warning off other countries from doing business with Iranian banks.

The Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile parts mistakenly sent to Taiwan contained no nuclear material. But, reports Nuclear Threat Initiative, according to nuclear weapons analyst Hans Kristensen, “It’s very sensitive technology because it is essentially the brain of the re-entry vehicle. As it comes toward the earth, it determines when the bomb goes off. . . at the right height and at the right yield.”

I’m so mixed up. “Petraeus reacted immediately to Sunday’s rocket attacks on the Green Zone by blaming them on Iran,” reports Gareth Porter. “Revealing the contradictions built into the U.S. position in Iraq, even as it was blaming Iran for the alleged renegade units of the Mahdi Army, the U.S. was using the Badr Organisation, [one of] the most pro-Iranian political-military forces in Iraq,” to fight the Mahdi Army.

In Moscow’s the eXile, Alexander Zaitchik reports on the world’s most polluted city — Baku, Azerbaijan (the former Soviet republic that lies between Iran and Russia): “Before me the rolling hills of the city dump smoldered, churning enough fume across the horizon to erase the city skyline. . . . an improbably blue Caspian Sea. . . felt like several planets away as I surveyed a deathscape of trash fires, abandoned oil derricks, ghost processing plants, and crumbling concrete structures with no obvious purpose. In every direction, garbage, oil pipes, and the decaying carcasses of Baku street dogs and other mammalian vermin who came here to scavenge and never left. For connoisseurs of a distinctly Soviet desolation. . . on a rainy day [it’s] a kind of travel delicacy.”

Turning to sports and the Isiah Thomas death watch, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News writes of the embattled New York Knicks coach that he “has essentially stopped working. He canceled practice on Tuesday and then conducted an 18-minute game-day shoot-around yesterday. He also continued his habit of showing up later than normal for games — which he has done more than a dozen times — blaming it on traffic.” Perhaps inevitably, “Thomas’ questionable work ethic is rubbing off on his players.” Maybe his problem is that he never got over his mother withholding that first “a” in Isaiah.

At Sports Illustrated, former NFL player-turned-reporter Ross Tucker reports on a consideration that would never occur to you that players use when they become free agents and get to entertain offers from other teams. The Chicago Bears’ strength coach “Rusty Jones, place[s] a premium on injury prevention, thus heavily emphasizing stretching, nutrition and body composition. . . . Any NFL player will tell you they would rather feel completely healthy than make any type of strength gains as they head into training camp. Jones’ presence and reputation around the league offers the Bears a leg-up as free agents make their decisions.”


A friend of mine told me a disquieting story. The two children of his brother-in-law’s brother had a nice surprise for their parents — they both decided to enlist at the same time. When my friend arrived for their farewell party, the kids’ recruiter himself was in attendance, along with all the kids’ friends. “The kids treated him like part of the family,” my friend said. “My sister kept her kids away from him.” Why not just invite a pedophile over?

In contrast to many of his supporters, Obama said, “My attitude is Senator Clinton can run as long as she wants.” R.I. filled in the imaginary thought balloon over his head: “Yeah, as far away from me as possible.”