Friday, April 27, 2007

Op-Ed: Iraq Is the Ultimate Aphrodisiac

This is an Op-Ed piece by columnist Frank Rich of the New York Times. It was originally published on Sunday, April 22. But since it's Opinion, I didn't care much to blog it by that very exact day.

The column started out as a criticism to President Bush's selective attendance to various events that are pressing to our country. Rich said that the President only shows up for events (funerals, memorials, speech events) for things that does not directly correlate to the Iraq war, because these are the things that he cannot be blamed for.

Rich uses the metaphor of a cancer to show how the Iraq war may have started off all these other problems. An example: "At home, the president is also hobbled by the Iraq cancer’s metastasis — the twin implosions of Alberto Gonzales and Paul Wolfowitz."

For a short Op-Ed, it actually has quite a fantastic structure. As I said before, Rich started out with Bush's public appearances (or lack thereof) and then he went into how there are other people in the news who are being criticized right now for misdemeanors (Gonzales and Wolfowitz), but that the media have completely forgotten about their roles in the Iraq war.

Then Rich goes into great explanation about Bernard Kerik, who recently withdrew from a cabinet position because it emerged that he had questionable finances records and that Gonzales had rushed his nomination into his position. The White House pinned the blame on Rudy Giuliani, and it is most unfortunate since Giuliani is now running for President.

However, the White House had also failed to mention that Kerik had failed in his duties in Iraq a year before his cabinet nomination. He was supposed to train the Iraqi police, but instead, "Mr. Kerik gave upbeat McCain-esque appraisals of the dandy shopping in Baghdad’s markets."

From there on out, Rich shows quite well how the White House may be facing domestic problems with these people's alleged mistakes, and they may have serious PR issues because of that. But what's worse is that these domestic jobs were given to these individuals after their failures in the Iraq war, and that when the domestic problems arose, it would actually be better for the White House to have the scandals and the front page splashy headlines because it serves to shadow the ugly going-ons in Iraq.

It's good that Rich is an opinion writer because the diction that he chooses are often powerful and evocative- a little too much for objective reporting.

Here's the lead of his piece:

"President Bush has skipped the funerals of the troops he sent to Iraq. He took his sweet time to get to Katrina-devastated New Orleans. But last week he raced to Virginia Tech with an alacrity not seen since he hustled from Crawford to Washington to sign a bill interfering in Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life medical care."

And here is Rich's point at the very end:

"Like the C.I.A. leak case, each new scandal is filling in a different piece of the elaborate White House scheme to cover up the lies that took us into Iraq and the failures that keep us mired there."

I thought that his flow and transitions were very good, and they all added up to his kicker at the end. I actually don't read Frank Rich very often- not for any particular reason, I just usually go straight to Nicholas Kristof and Paul Krugman, or the guest writer- so this was actually a great introduction of Rich for me. He's very harsh and astute in his writing, I quite admire it.

Since it is Op-Ed, you can only view it if you subscribe to Times Select. But I found that a website called Truth Out copied and pasted the piece, so go read it- it's quite an eye-opener.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

2007 Pulitzer Winners for Journalism

Today, the winners of 2007 Pulitzer Prize was announced in the Metro section of the New York Times. Oded Balilty of The Associated Press won the prize for Breaking New Photography for his "powerful photo of a lone Jewish woman defying Israeli security forces as they remove illegal settlers in the West Bank," said the judges.

This photo is especially amazing because it makes a person wonder what happened the milisecond after the photo was snapped. Was the woman pummeled by the force of the soldiers trying to rush past her? You can see, in the background, people standing around, watching and waiting. Why just her?

Another winner worth noting is Andrea Elliott from the New York Times. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her features on a series of articles on Sheik Reda Shata, an imam from Egypt who is working in a mosque in Brooklyn. Congratulations to her!

If you look a couple entries down, you would see that I had a post about an African-American imam who went to Long Island to speak to a mosque that had Muslims that were South-east Asians and Arabs immigrants. It was about how these different races are of the same faith and they are trying to find ways to connect and strengthen the Muslim faith in America, especially during these times of prejudice and fear.

Elliott is an extremely compelling writer, very informative in her reporting- and judging from her page on the New York Times website, she really deserves this award for her hard work and her dedication to her subject. I'm really happy for her.

Link for the 2007 Pulitzer winners:
Link for Elliott's coverage of Muslims in America:

Monday, April 16, 2007

Russia Tries To Save Polar Bears in Legal Hunt

This was in the New York Times today, and it was written by Steven Lee Meyers. It's a short piece about how in Vankarem, Russia, they have decided to legalize the hunting of polar bears to help to prevent illegal poaching of the bear.

Meyers used the word "counterintuitive" to describe this action. I'm still trying to sort my thoughts out on this one.

According to the article, the Russian government banned the hunting of polar bears in 1956 after there was a sharp drop due to over-zealous hunters. Every year, they carry out a census and then come up with a quota that the hunter can work with, then the ban is partly lifted so that this quota can be met. Polar bear meat is important in Russian culture, in terms of fur and meat- so as I understand, it would be a sort of culture abhoration if there were no polar bear hunts whatsoever.

For the past couple of years, because the sea ice that the polar bears survive on (a mental iimage of one crouching on the sea ice, waiting to whack the head of a seal comes to mind) has been melting and also because winter has been arriving later, there have been more and more polar bears hanging out at the shore of Vankarem. Since 2003, there have been three attacks by the bears, and the village has had guards in the fall to monitor the safety of the village.

Although I do think it's not exactly rational logic that makes a government think that a lifting of a ban would prevent, or at least lessen, an action, there is something else that is far stranger. So, the Russian government banned the hunting of polar bears in 1956 with the purpose of stopping the rapid decline of their population. While this law is in effect, the hunting continues, though illegally, and as many as a hundred are killed every year (and this number is only under the "Illegal" label- let's not forget those yearly jaunts when the government temporarily lifts the ban.) There is currently an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in the world, and the U.S. is thinking of including them on the list of threatened species.

Why would they think that a law, that was originally set to enforce it and that did absolutely nothing to enforce it, would further enforce it when it is done away?

Anyway, the article ends with a quote by Stanislav Belikov, who helped to set the rules for the resumed polar bear hunt, who also said that "the threat of climate change and poaching made urgent measures necessary."

"In 50 years," he said. "We may only be able to tell our grandchildren that these creatures existed here."

What was that quote supposed to do? Affirm my cynicism that this new law (or lack of law) will make it so that we had to tell our grandchildren about them because they couldn't possibly see it for themselves because these animals would be extinct? I just don't understand this placement of the quote or the set up, it seems so- counterintuitive. And confusing.

Unless, of course, if Meyers is trying to show his disdain for the lifting of the ban by placing this quote there, so that it would seem incredibly stupid for someone allowing the killings of polar bear to say that he wanted his grandkids to see polar bears in the future. If that is what he meant: Well-played, Meyers.

Speaking of polar bears, did anyone see the cover of Vanity Fair (I think) with Leonardo DiCaprio posing on ice with a baby polar bear? The first thing I thought when I saw that was that it was definitely photoshopped because Leo looked like he was floating on the ice. But he wasn't, and it was taken by celebrity photography, Annie Leibovitz. Huh, that must make it good then.

I also felt a little sick, mostly because the polar bear is now used as the mascot for all things environment-related- and we, the public, are just amazed by how cute and wonderful it is. "We must stop global warming for those polar bears- they look so cuddly." I don't underestimate the public into thinking it in exactly those terms, but why should stopping global warming have anything to do with whether the animals are babies or not?

Did anyone see Happy Feet? My friend said that the ending was like a slap in his face- I really need to watch that movie.

Link for article:
Link for Vanity Fair cover: