a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew


Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th December 2012

That poor woman.

This has saddened the whole world. Today, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon released this statement, and bless him for it:

The Secretary-General expresses deep sorrow at the death of the 23-year old Delhi student who was gang-raped by six men in a moving bus in New Delhi on 16 December. He offers his sincerest condolences to her parents, family and friends, and utterly condemns this brutal crime. Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated. Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected.The Secretary-General welcomes the efforts of the Government of India to take urgent action and calls for further steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice. He also encourages the Government of India to strengthen critical services for rape victims. UN Women and other parts of the United Nations stand ready to support such reform efforts with technical expertise and other support as required.”

This, from a Wall Street Journal article, was heart-breaking:

A 12-year-old girl wrote a message to the deceased rape victim in black crayon: “You are lucky. Many people pray for you.” The girl said there were countless women in India who get raped and assaulted daily, but few get any attention. She said she wanted to grow up in a society that is safe for women.

I hate for 12 year olds to need to know and worry about such things, let alone be surprised that a victim is even noticed and remembered.  I hate for 14 year olds to, too; I need to talk with ours, she’s been following the story and is of course upset by it.  I don’t know what we’ll tell her exactly, I guess I’ll wait to see what she wants to ask and say.

In the last few years I’m more reluctant than I used to be to be judgmental about other countries’ shortcomings – we have quite a lot of our own.  But like the Secretary General suggests, I think it’s fair to guess that more rapes happen the more women are disrespected, not valued, considered lesser human beings; we can try to resist that everywhere.  Things may (well) be worse in India than they are here, but it’s not the only place where there’s violence against women, or inadequate pursuit of justice against their assailants; yesterday, NPR reported “Years Delayed, Detroit Starts Testing Rape Kits For Evidence.

UPDATE: Also, what many Indian women are saying is no different from what any of us anywhere can agree with.  Via The speech that explains India’s outrage over a gang rape—and how women are treated every day (S. Mitra Kalita ,,  here’s just part of what Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) had to say:

…I believe even if women walk out on the streets alone, even if it is late at night, why should justifications need to be provided for this, like ‘she has to work late hours’ or ‘she was coming home from a BPO job or a media job’? If she simply wants to go out at night, if she wants to go out and buy a cigarette or go for a walk on the road — is this a crime for women? We do not want to hear this defensive argument that women only leave their homes for work, poor things, what can they do, they are compelled to go out. We believe that regardless of whether she is indoors or outside, whether it is day or night, for whatever reason, however, she may be dressed — women have a right to freedom. And that freedom without fear is what we need to protect, to guard and respect.

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The Gerson Early Warning System

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 26th August 2007

President Bush’s idiotic speech to the VFW last week has been adequately skewered and roasted by others, saving me much time and effort — thank you, all.* My small contribution is to observe that important elements of Bush’s idiotic August speech were foreshadowed by equally idiotic June and July Washington Post columns by his former speechwriter Michael Gerson.**

One of Bush’s many idiotic assertions was about the lessons of Viet Nam — he claims to believe American troops weren’t bombing and shooting there long enough:

Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

Compare Gerson in June (“An Exit to Disaster”), retelling Kissinger’s story about Cambodian prime minister Sirik Matak, who refused to be evacuated by the US from Phnom Penh as the Khmer Rouge approached:

Eventually, between 1 million and 2 million Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge when “peace” came to Indochina. Matak, Kissinger recounts, was shot in the stomach and died three days later. Sometimes peace for America can produce ghosts of its own.

And again — and more ominously — in July (“Trouble with the Neighbors”):

These are realistic responses to the serious provocations of Iran and Syria: ramping up economic pressure on both regimes; intensifying operations within Iraq against foreign influence; and taking limited but forceful action against Syria’s Ho Chi Minh Trail of terrorists.

(Emphasis added.) Right: military action against the Ho Chi Minh Trail worked out so very well for everyone the last time. Wrong. By many accounts, the U.S. escalation into Cambodia helped the Khmer Rouge gain recruits and support just by pointing to B-52s overhead.

Bush (and Gerson’s) Indochina history lessons aren’t just a misguided argument for digging in for the very long haul in Iraq. They’re also a recipe for escalation and regional war — and Gerson, for one, merrily asserts that’s a good and simple thing, approvingly citing a former administration official (Bolton?) calling Syria “lower hanging fruit.”

But “fair and balanced” is my middle name, and I’m therefore willing to entertain the idea that I’m completely wrong about all of this, and that we made a tragic mistake by pulling out of Indochina over 30 years ago.

So let’s do what we can to correct that: let’s dress up Bush in that flight suit of his and send him to Viet Nam for a long overdue tour of duty — with Michael Gerson as his wing man.

* For some good Bush-kebab, see Jim MacDonald (“Making Light”), several offerings by Josh Marshall (“Talking Points Memo”) and hilzoy (“Obsidian Wings”), who leads with “Once upon a time, we used to expect our Presidents to have some idea what they were talking about.”
** I wrote about both columns.

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Gerson’s holiday from Cambodia

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd July 2007

In further proof of the maxim that nothing succeeds in Washington like abject failure and bald-faced lying, Washington Post readers are apparently now doomed to read columnist Michael Gerson for the foreseeable future. Gerson, an escaped Bush 43 speechwriter who coined or helped with some of the defining phrases of this presidency (e.g., “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” and “axis of evil”), produced a particularly pungent column last week, “An Exit to Disaster.”

Safely weeks removed from the heat of April and May’s actual debates on Iraq war spending, Gerson finally bravely peeked over the parapet and pronounced the Democratic/anti-Iraq position to be “creating a momentum of irresponsibility,” all the while graciously allowing as how things weren’t going swimmingly in Iraq just this very moment. As Steve Benen pointed out, he couldn’t even do that well: “Gerson isn’t willing to say he takes issue with some of Bush’s decisions; he’s willing to say history is rendering judgment.”

No; as ever (e.g., “compassionate conservatism”) Gerson’s real aim was to perform a rhetorical parlor trick. To wit:

History seems to be settling on some criticisms of the early conduct of the Iraq war. On the theory that America could liberate and leave, force levels were reduced too early, security responsibilities were transferred to Iraqis before they were ready, and planning for future challenges was unrealistic. “Victory in Iraq,” one official of the Coalition Provisional Authority told me a couple of years ago, “was defined as decapitating the regime. No one defined victory as creating a sustainable country six months down the road.”

Now Democrats running for president have thought deeply and produced their own Iraq policy: They want to cut force levels too early and transfer responsibility to Iraqis before they are ready, and they offer no plan to deal with the chaos that would result six months down the road. In essential outline, they have chosen to duplicate the early mistakes of an administration they hold in contempt.

Good one — that ought to put all us military know-nothings in our place, Lt. General Gerson! More to the point, Bush’s failures do not compel the Democrats or anyone else in the country to double down to bail him out. The best way to fix someone else’s mistake is not to compound it.

Meanwhile, commenting on candidate John Edwards’ pledge not to leave the region, Gerson actually has the gall to counter: “So America would defend its interests from a safe distance in Kuwait. But how effective has it been to fight terrorist networks in Pakistan from a distance?” If Bush et al hadn’t let Al Qaeda’s leadership get away at Tora Bora, we might never have needed to know the answer to that.*

But it was the final paragraphs that made me put down the paper in disgust. Gerson cites Kissinger, telling of former Cambodian prime minister Sirik Matak’s refusal to be rescued from the oncoming Khmer Rouge back in 1975:

“I thank you very sincerely,” Matak wrote in response, “for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we are all born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans].”

Eventually, between 1 million and 2 million Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge when “peace” came to Indochina. Matak, Kissinger recounts, was shot in the stomach and died three days later.

Sometimes peace for America can produce ghosts of its own.

No doubt this is how Henry Kissinger would like to lay out the story of Cambodia. But the alternative — and strangely familiar — version is this:

In April 1970, without Lon Nol’s knowledge, American and South Vietnamese forces crossed into Cambodia. There was already widespread domestic opposition to the war in Vietnam; news of the “secret invasion” of Cambodia sparked massive protests across the US, culminating in the deaths of six students shot by National Guardsmen at Kent State University and Jackson State University. Nixon withdrew American troops from Cambodia shortly afterwards. But the US bombing continued until August 1973.

Meanwhile, with assistance from North Vietnam and China, the guerrillas of the Khmer Rouge had grown into a formidable force. By 1974, they were beating the government on the battlefield and preparing for a final assault on Phnom Penh. And they had gained an unlikely new ally: Norodom Sihanouk, living in exile, who now hailed them as patriots fighting against an American puppet government.

Sihanouk’s support boosted the Khmer Rouge’s popularity among rural Cambodians. But some observers have argued that the devastating American bombing also helped fuel the Khmer Rouge’s growth. Former New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg said the Khmer Rouge “… would point… at the bombs falling from B-52s as something they had to oppose if they were going to have freedom. And it became a recruiting tool until they grew to a fierce, indefatigable guerrilla army.”

Frontline, “Pol Pot’s Shadow”, 2002

Nixon and Kissinger helped light the Cambodian funeral pyre that consumed Mr. Matak. In Cambodia as in Iraq, a militarily and legally questionable war in pursuit of unachievable goals produced the very opposite of what we — or, that is, American leadership — claimed to desire: chaos, local patriotism converted into hatred of America, and a horrific reign of terror visited on the average inhabitants of that country. For Gerson to look at Cambodia and dare to see in it a justification for “staying the course” in Iraq is equal parts breathtaking idiocy and bloody minded “burn the village to save it” crusaderism.

That is, it’s par for the course for loyal Bushies.

* By the way: impeachable offense number 693. Recall Bush was explicitly warned by the CIA days in advance that forces committed at Tora Bora were “not up to the job” and that we were “going to lose [Bin Laden and Zawahiri] if we’re not careful.” No presidential action resulted. Apparently, it’s good to have a permanent, invisible enemy — especially if otherwise you’re a waste of time like this president.

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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th April 2003

  • Jonathan Chait suggests that Comical Saeed and Ari Fleischer have a lot in common, that Bill Clinton was the only one to get the Iraq war right and stick to his guns, and that cakewalks aren’t.
  • Tim Burke describes “The authentic temptations of intervention.”
  • Ken Layne defends David Letterman.
  • Peter Praschl publishes a series called “Unterschiede” (“Differences”) about his recent trip to Cambodia. Extra credit points for not being about Iraq. Angelina Jolie, of all people, comes off well. (in German, in case that wasn’t obvious; installments so far: 1 2 3 4.)
  • John Lloyd resigns from the New Statesman: “The left has lost the plot.” (Guardian excerpt, via Harry’s Place)
  • Non-leftie Andrew Sullivan compares and contrasts assorted lefties Nicholas de Genova, Nat Hentoff, and Paul Berman.
  • I join Sullivan in strongly recommending Paul Berman’s book “Terror and Liberalism.” You can get a feeling for some of Berman’s arguments in the book by reading “Resolved,” his contribution to the March 3 issue of the New Republic.
  • William Saletan asserts that “the number of innocent people who are dead because we ousted Saddam is dwarfed by the number of innocent people who are dead because we didn’t.” (via Daniel Drezner)

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Germany, Japan … Iraq?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd March 2003

Josh Marshall has an interesting column in “The Hill,” followed by a wrapup he wrote after getting e-mails about it. His point is that the utterly catastrophic kind of bombing that happened to Japan and Germany is precisely what will not happen with Iraq, so that — he thinks — there may not be the same kind of “well … shock and awe” that enabled — he suggests — a transition to a new society for those two countries.

To be clear, Marshall is certainly not arguing for catastrophic bombing of Iraq. He’s arguing against expecting a Japan/Germany-like transition to democracy. I suppose I don’t think the only route for a totalitarian society to democracy is via getting bombed to smithereens; at least I hope it isn’t. And maybe that wasn’t exactly what happened in Germany and Japan, or at least not the only thing.

But say that is what happened in those two countries; the Iraqi situation seems quite different to me, because I think the Iraqis have not identified with their regime to the same degree that Germans and Japanese identified with theirs. No “transformative” experience may be needed.

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What I did on my Christmas vacation…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th January 2003

…from blogging and the whole “little green footballs” business, see below. Some of the comments made me briefly reconsider the wisdom of the comment utility. Who the hell is “zulubaby”? No, I don’t really want to know. Thanks to those who were supportive or at least made a good faith effort to understand my point of view.

So what have I been up to? Over the period of about a week last year, I cleaned up my home office, cleaned up the downstairs storage room, and threw out about 6 garbage bags full of useless trash. It felt great. Entropy has resumed a bit in the office, must do something about that. But basically, great progress on the home front. The main thing was, I finally unpacked boxes of books that had been languishing in storage since we moved a couple of years ago. It’s like getting back a part of yourself. And now I’ve got a ton of stuff to read, I sometimes buy books “speculatively” and then find something else more immediately interesting.

Lots of Christmas presents, mainly for Maddie, of course. The big hits were more Angelina Ballerina paraphernalia (tiny armchair, stroller, baby brother), some Brio wooden train stuff, and an indoor/outdoor tent to “hide” from us in with her best pal Meloney from next door. Plenty of books, too; most notably “The Red Balloon” from Maddie’s Oma and a classic by Chris Van Allsburg, “Jumanji,” from next door

I enjoyed and am enjoying a couple of great DVD series courtesy of HBO. First, “Band of Brothers“, the Spielberg/Hanks production of the Stephen Ambrose history of the Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.* Well worth your time if you haven’t seen it yet; I won’t be against a second look sometime. The first episode, “Currahee”, named after a notorious mountain the soldiers had to run up at the Georgia facility where they trained, seems like a slow start, but it’s good history, and bears fruit in later episodes. The acting, writing, and directing (by different directors) were generally quite good (especially Wahlberg and the guy who played Winters), and even casting David Schwimmer as the reviled, insecure, ineffectual (American) captain Sobel was something of a stroke of cruel genius by the producers. The real stars, of course, were the real soldiers, who were interviewed without attribution prior to the first episodes, and whose names were revealed in the final episode, a straightforward thing to do, but a throat-catching effect all the same by the time you’ve seen a glimpse of what they went through. The company fought on D-Day, in the ensuing Normandy hedgerow campaign, in Arnhem in Operation Market Garden, in Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge, and on into Germany (where they liberated a concentration camp).

The other series, of course, is the justly celebrated “The Sopranos”. I’m about to finish the first season. Wow. Darkly funny, great acting, from sidekicks like Louie or cousin Moltisano to wife Carmela or Tony’s mother. And good acting needs and gets some very good writing here, some very acute stuff, I think. I’m obviously years behind the curve on this, but if you’re like me and too cheap to buy cable, you’ve saved some bucks you should go ahead and splurge on renting this show for a few nights. Interestingly, my wife really loves it, too; it’s a relatively rare treat for both of us to unreservedly enjoy the same movie or TV show, so that shows something or other about the show, too. Or about us.

I’ve also got a fair bit of reading in; plowed through Band of Brothers in double time after watching the series; a fine book, subject, and author. I also got through The Glass Palace, by Amitav Ghosh, after a fast start. It’s a kind of Burmese-Indian “Buddenbrooks”, a story of an extended family’s rise and fall as history and their own personalities interact; it’s also simply a fascinating look at how British colonialism worked, and its effect, intended or not, of pitting one people against the other economically and, via the Indian regiments, militarily. The book seems strongest early on; the description of the teak forestry, with elephants, camps, and monsoon torrents bearing huge logs down mountainsides is riveting. I may be insufficiently sensitive, but one thing that bothered me is that the book somehow fails to make the case that colonialism was so very bad for the protagonists, who mainly flourish, prosper, and drive (lovingly described) classic cars and motorboats through the Indian, Burmese and Malaysian countrysides. This wouldn’t be a big criticism, except that the issue of colonialism is the main and frequent concern of several of the book’s heroes. Yet characters like the Indian soldier Arjun, who joins a World War II mutiny against the British, seem to fail to articulate their grievance adequately even to themselves or to the reader.

I was completely bowled over, on the other hand, by Paradise Alley, by Kenneth Baker. It’s an incredible account of the New York draft riots of 1863, through the eyes of several fictitious characters depicted in episodes from that riot, conducted principally by Irish immigrants against blacks and police, and put down by a Union regiment, many themselves Irish, sent north from the ruins of Gettysburg. There are also chapters where protagonists recall the Great Famine in Ireland in the late 1840s, which drove so many Irish to this country. It makes clear what a mind-shaking holocaust that was for its survivors. It’s not an excuse or an explanation for what happened in 1863, but it’s certainly necessary background. The way New York firemen were essentially gangs and political action clubs with a veneer of public service was also new to me; to judge from the book, fire companies were sometimes more interested in competing with eachother than in putting out fires. I can’t do the book justice here; it succeeds both as history and as a novel that is a testament to the forgotten poor and working class people of that time. I suppose one difference with “Glass Palace” is that it is more focused and less epic. Another, of course, may be that it’s about my part of the world and not somewhere else. So don’t overlook “The Glass Palace” on my account.


*Someday I’ll learn how the American military numbers things; I’m sure I’ve never heard of a “39th” or “98th” Airborne Division, or anything but the 82nd and 101st. And I’m willing to bet a small sum there weren’t 505 other parachute infantry regiments.

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India relies on U.S. to prevent nuclear war?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd January 2002

Maybe not India, but the Times of India, where writer K. Subrahmanyam argues “Indo-Pak nuclear conflict unlikely”. Somewhat reassuringly, he (or she) notes that India has pledged not to use nuclear weapons first, and points out that India, with the larger armed forces, is not likely to need to resort to nuclear weapons to prevail. The analyst is less reassuring about the Pakistan side of the equation:

If and when Pakistan takes out its weapons and starts readying them for firing, the US can never be sure that some of them may not be aimed at the US carriers, considering the enormous resentment among the Pakistani servicemen against the US.

After all, Pakistani nuclear scientists have collaborated with Osama bin Laden. In such circumstances, the US, which is keeping Pakistan under close surveillance, will destroy the Pakistani nuclear weapons through accurate non-nuclear strikes.

The Pakistanis know it, the Americans know it and the Indians also know it. Therefore, there is no risk of an Indo- Pakistani conflict with the US forces present in the Arabian Sea. It is a very different scenario from all four previous wars.

I would think it’s just a little more of a toss-up than that between withdrawing the fleet to a safe distance, and declaring war on Pakistan! Quite aside from whether Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were such a serious a threat to the U.S. forces that we’d want to destroy them, those weapons may not be all that easy to locate on short notice; remember the Scud hunts of the Gulf War? Still, the assertion is interesting: the attack on the Indian Parliament itself may have been an Islamist reaction to the U.S. fleet in the Arabian Sea and the Afghanistan war: its predictable main effect has been to draw Pakistani forces away from the Afghanistan border, and complicate the U.S. war on Al Qaeda. It would be nicely ironic if the same U.S. presence moderated the India-Pakistan crisis. But it’s also interesting, and a little disturbing, that Indians may view U.S.political and military prestige as a moderating factor that they can’t find in their own institutions.


12PM: On re-reading the last sentence, I realize I left out a step. Obviously, Subrahmanyam sees Pakistan as more in need of U.S.-supplied moderation than India is. But that seems to leave India off the hook for taking its own steps to de-escalate, or at least not escalating tensions with loose talk about taking a nuclear war in stride or boxing Pakistan and Musharraf into a corner. Quite aside from the effect on the fight on terrorism, a lot of lives in those two countries are at stake, and it’s not altogether minor that the fallout would eventually drift our way. — Also, I added the CNN link to “draw Pakistani forces away…”

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Indian and Pakistani reactions

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th December 2001

Times of India’s Chanand Rajghatta: India read Afghan wicket correctly (which is presumably good):

More than the selection of the Shimla-educated Hamid Karzai as the head of the interim set-up in Kabul, New Delhi has reason to be pleased with the composition of the remaining 30 spots in the arrangement. Eighteen of the posts have gone to the Northern Alliance or the United Front, eleven to the so-called Rome group, and only one to the Pakistan-based Peshawar group. […]

Although Pakistan has publicly welcomed the new power sharing arrangement, they are said to be fuming privately at being outplayed. The Pakistani bitterness was betrayed by former ISI chief Hamid Gul, who said Karzai would be a puppet of the three Northern Alliance leaders holding the most crucial portfolios.

There has been at least some discussion in Pakistan of the government’s miscalculations in Afghanistan; see this article by M.B. Naqvi of the Jang Group Online:

Each Afghan government, otherwise beholden to Pakistan, has disappointed Islamabad and its supporters have had grievances against Pakistan. For a poor under-developed and aid-addict country to nurse imperial dreams can only be unrealistic. Pakistan was not, and is unlikely to be, in a position to develop Afghanistan as a dependency, exploit its resources and draw strategic or any other benefits from that realpolitik vantage point. That was and will remain beyond the capacity of Pakistan. The whole venture should thus be pronounced unwise.

Others by Shafqat Mahmood or Kamran Shafi (via Jim Henley’s Unqualified Offerings blog) of the same news outlet are sometimes in the same vein. I hope that some of that same good sense will be applied to resolving the Kashmir dispute without further resorting to state-sponsored terrorism, or escalating to something even worse.

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