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Andre Vladimir Sebastian is a figment of your imagination. Honestly, you really could have done better than him, now couldn't you? Next time, put a little effort into it.

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Another Victim Of Islamic Terror
Last Saturday I joked that Vidal Sassoon was a Brit with a French name. I should be more careful with my jokes. Reader Judith Weiss wrote this morning to correct me. She sent a series of links that reference the history of the Sassoon clan. And guess what? The Sassoons were a Jewish family chased out of Baghdad in the late 18th century by Islamic oppression. They fled to India, which explains how Vidal wound up in London with such an exotic last name. He now lives in Southern California, where only straight-laced, preppie, church-going WASPS are considered exotic. The history of his family also explains the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, based in Jerusalem. I did some Googling and found that Judith's claims on the Sassoon family history were backed up by plenty of sources, while my joke was, alas, nothing more than a joke. Links to the history of the Sassoon family are here, here, here, and here.

  posted by AVS @ 24.5.03


Hadrian's Trade Barrier
Some historians now believe Hadrian's Wall was built partly to fortify but mostly to improve tax collections on trade and to serve as a reminder of who was the toughest dude in town. Says historian Mike Ibeji: It's Hadrian very deliberately saying 'these are the limits of the empire and we want to charge anyone from outside the empire a fat little tax if they want to come in and trade.' Kind of like if Pat Buchanan became emperor.

  posted by AVS @ 23.5.03


"Saddam Hussein, He's The Murderer, Not The UN"
Those are the words of Baghdad Dr. Azhar Abdul Khadem, a resident at the Al-Alwiya maternity hospital. New York Newsday today posted a horrifying story (which I picked up from Little Green Footballs) in which Iraqi doctors tell how Saddam diverted money from hospitals and medical providers and pumped it into his palaces, then forced doctors to preserve dead babies to be paraded through the streets before Western journalists. He also forced the children's parents to tell Western journalists that the deaths were the fault of the UN sanctions, when everyone knew that wasn't true.

"We had the ability to get all the drugs we needed," said Ibn Al-Baladi's chief resident, Dr. Hussein Shihab. "Instead of that, Saddam Hussein spent all the money on his military force and put all the fault on the USA. Yes, of course the sanctions hurt - but not too much, because we are a rich country and we have the ability to get everything we can by money. But instead, he spent it on his palaces."

The U.S. government and others long have blamed Hussein's spending habits for the poor health of Iraqis and their children. For years, the Iraqi government, some Western officials and a vocal anti-sanctions movement said UN restrictions on Iraqi imports and exports were at fault.

"Saddam Hussein, he's the murderer, not the UN," said Dr. Azhar Abdul Khadem, a resident at the Al-Alwiya maternity hospital in Baghdad.

Doctors said they were forced to refrigerate dead babies in hospital morgues until authorities were ready to gather the little corpses for monthly parades in coffins on the roofs of taxis for the benefit of Iraqi state television and visiting journalists. The parents were ordered to wail with grief - no matter how many weeks had passed since their babies had died - and to shout to the cameras that the sanctions had killed their children, the doctors said. Afterward, the parents would be rewarded with food or money.

How long did Saddam preserve his murderous regime by the very effective use of this propaganda? Possibly years. Gullible Westerners, anti-war activists, and anti-conservative rabble rousers latched onto these images and to the testimony of these doctors and built a widespread propaganda campaign of their own in which they argued against war and in favor of lifting the sanctions.

UNICEF reported in 1995: Sanctions are inhibiting the importation of spare parts, chemicals, reagents, and the means of transportation required to provide water and sanitation services to the civilian population of Iraq. Š What has become increasingly clear is that no significant movement towards food security can be achieved so long as the embargo remains in place. All vital contributors to food availability - agricultural production, importation of foodstuffs, economic stability and income generation, are dependent on Iraq's ability to purchase and import those items vital to the survival of the civilian population.

The World Health Organization reported in 1996: Since the onset of sanctions, there has been a six-fold increase in the mortality rate for children under five and the majority of the country's population has been on a semi-starvation diet.

60 Minutes' Leslie Stahl said in a 1996 interview with Madeline Albright: We have heard that over half a million children have died. I mean, that's more than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Edward Said wrote in a jacket blurb to a 2002 book, Iraq Under Siege by Anthony Arnove, perpetuating the sanctions kill children myth: For more than a decade, an inhuman campaign of sanctions—the most complete ever in recorded history—-has destroyed Iraq as a modern state, decimated its people, and ruined the agriculture, its educational and health care systems, as well as its entire infrastructure. All this has been done by the United States and United Kingdon, misusing United Nations resolutions against innocent civilians, leaving the tyrant Saddam Hussein more or less untouched.

Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson, said in Oct. 2002: Then we impose the unbelievable sanctions on Iraq that have killed a million and a half people. Every day it continues, every day and every day infants, children, elderly die from those sanctions. We just got back from Iraq in September, where we heard the health minister say the death rates continue to increase. The number of children born below normal weight, below 2 kilograms, are now one in four. A midget generation. We have killed 1 and a half million people with genocidal sanctions.

The Campaign Against Sanctions In Iraq, an outfit based in Cambridge, England, released this statement on the same day the Newsday story came out: Sanctions have been one of the primary causes of the humanitarian disaster suffered by Iraq over the past 13 years. Economic sanctions, by their very nature, are designed to inflict economic hardship on civilian populations. By preventing the free import and export of goods, they in effect rendered the administration of Iraq similar to that of a refugee camp, run by the United Nations. The income available to the country under sanctions was entirely insufficient to meet the needs of its population: in 2002 it totalled roughly one-twelfth per person of what it was in 1979/80.

And according to Iraqi doctors who are finally free to speak the truth, they're all wrong. But I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for their retractions.

  posted by AVS @ 23.5.03

When, Oh When, Will This Foul Tune Ever Be Vanquished!?
French figure skater Philippe Candeloro knows how to pander. On Wednesday he was the only skater at the Salt Lake City stop of the Champions On Ice tour to get a standing ovation. Not even pert little Michelle Kwan got the fans off their fannies. Candeloro pulled this coup by selecting as his music the nefarious Lee Greenwood hit "God Bless The USA" and shamelessly whipping Old Glory from his right shirtsleeve for the grande finale. And the audience fell for it like a bunch of twerps.

I say "nefarious" Lee Greenwood hit because "God Bless The USA" is an unspeakably insidious composition, and I use the word "composition" the same spirit in which one would use the word "art" to refer to a blind three-year-old's crayon scribblings upon the leg of one's best trousers.

"God Bless The USA" is, in my estimation, the worst conglomeration of sounds ever to become an American musical standard. It is the musical equivalent of off-brand diet soda. Expired off-brand diet soda. I'd rather give a team of carniverous squirrels a crack at dislodging my left big toe and carrying it away for dinner than subject my ears to that wretched, soul-crushing melody one more time.

In addition to being one of the worst pop tunes in history -- and in case you're wondering, I do include in that estimation the entire catalogs of Menudo, New Kids On The Block, Ashford & Simpson, Stryper, Christopher Cross, Roberta Flack, Winger, Fifth Dimension, Tiny Tim, and Celine Dion -- the lyrics are abyssmal. "I'm proud to be an American, cause at least I know I'm free!" At least I know I'm free? That's hardly a ringing endorsement. The words may as well say, "This country may suck, but hey, it's not Cuba."

Greenwood's remarkably talentless tune has come to prominence for no other reason than the simple fact that there are no alternatives. America is almost completely lacking in quality patriotic pop music. Sousa and Irving Berlin are long dead. And what have we to show since then? Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner while high. That's about it. The few decent patriotic country tunes that came out in the past two years are OK, but they just don't compare musically with Berlin and Sousa, both of whom were popular composers.

The only great and relatively modern (by pop music standards) patriotic tune I know of is "America" by Prince. It is a fantastic song. Song 1, Side 2 of "Around The World In A Day." The lyrics are a billion times more creative than Greenwood's. They're both patriotic and anti-communist. One could argue that, like Greenwood's, Prince's lyrics also fall into the "this-country-may-stink-but-it's-better-than anywhere-else" category. But I would disagree. I think Prince is trying to make people realize how good they have it here and that they shouldn't take America's freedoms for granted because the Soviet Union is a real threat that can only be kept at bay if we keep our guard up (the song was released in 1985). In addition to the lyrics, the songwriting is excellent. Prince takes the melody from "God Bless America" and plays with it. It's very creative.

Under the benevolent Curveball dictatorship that will one day rule the world, "God Bless The USA" will be forever replaced with "America" at every patriotic festivity and sports event that calls for a rousing, patriotic pop song. And Lee Greenwood will be made Prince's valet. For life.

  posted by AVS @ 22.5.03


Stop The Horrible Scourge!
The lead on an International Herald Trubune story this morning reads, More than 190 nations voted unanimously Wednesday to adopt a sweeping global anti-tobacco treaty whose aim is to reduce the worldwide death toll from smoking, estimated to be at least 4.9 people each year. Hardly seems worth the effort of an international treaty to save 4.9 people. More people probably die of brain freeze from eating their ice cream too fast. I don't know where in the World Health Organization that number came from, but the Tribune needs to check its fact checkers. The New York Times reports that 10 million die each year from smoking-related causes. Which makes me wonder, how many more have to die in automobile accidents, which WHO says kill 3 milion year, before world governments do something about this horrible scourge! Ban cars now!

  posted by AVS @ 22.5.03

Our Racist, Sexist Culture
Ruben Studdard, an overweight black man, was just voted the winner on American Idol, and Annika Sorenstam is competing in a PGA event. American culture is so oppressive for minorities and women!

  posted by AVS @ 21.5.03


Collins Accused
British Col. Tim Collins, who gave a wonderfully stirring speech to his men before the Iraq war began (a speech in which he instructed his men to treat Iraqis humanely), has been accused by an American officer of mistreating prisoners. He denies the allegations, and The Daily Telegraph relays a defense of the Col.'s actions by a friend who says he never mistreated anyone. My guess is Collins will be cleared. The worst he is accused of is pistol whipping a senior Baath official to get information from him. A witness says he didn't do it. Even if he did, that doesn't really bother me, considering there was a war on and all. What bothers me is that Amnesty International thinks rock music and children's songs are torture devices. OK, they may have a point about Barney. But if we can't put prisoners under any form of duress to get them to talk, even something as innocuous as playing Metallica, how will we ever be able to pry their skulls open and have a look inside? Something tells me the Saudi interrogators who learned their captured al-Qaida operatives had been planning a suicide hijacking didn't sit back and politely request that the terrorists divulge their plans between sips of chamomile tea and nibbles of butter cookies.

  posted by AVS @ 21.5.03

Dead Ringer
Kirk Elder has no use for the telephone. Writes The Scotsman's resident curmudgeon, I thought, for a moment, about telephone etiquette. Mostly, this can be summarised under the general heading: "The telephone is wrong at all times." There is nothing good or even useful about the ’phone. The news it carries is always bad, and the manner in which it arrives is an insult to good manners. In more civilised times, the intercourse between men could be carried out at several removes. While at home, a chap could rely on his isolation from his fellows. Certainly, it was possible that an unexpected guest might knock on the door, but there is nothing about doors which says that they need be answered, and by fitting black-out curtains on the windows, and egg-boxes on the walls, it has always been possible to give the impression of being out. The rest is equally entertaining.

  posted by AVS @ 21.5.03

John Kerry on Monday called for a bold new program of High School Service, which will make service and civics a requirement in every secondary school in the nation in exchange for the federal funding the government provides. This would not be negotiable. High School Service should be mandatory for students, he said. Exactly how this is constitutional Kerry never said.

Personally, I think this is frightening. Under Kerry's plan, the federal government would tie federal school money to national service. The only way to avoid compulsory volunteerism, which is the Oxymoron of oxymorons, is if your school doesn't receive the funds for the program. The intellectual base Kerry builds for the plan crumbles before it's finished. His logic is as follows: 1. 9-11 made America less secure. 2. We need more civic involvement to increase national security. Not specifically volunteering for national security measures, just civic involvement in general. 3. During World War II, people helped out. 4. If we make high school kids volunteer, they'll become more engaged Americans. 5. If they become more engaged Americans, we'll all be more secure.

The logic is so poor it's a marvel this man can find his pants in the morning. Kerry seems to be saying that the War on Terror is so serious a security threat that it requires conscripting high school students. But to do what?. Having kids build Habitat for Humanity homes and volunteer at the public library is going to stop terrorists? If Kerry were calling for a reinstatement of the draft, that would make sense. It would be ludicrous, but it would make sense. Forcing children to do public service in the name of homeland security is poppycock.

Logic aside, this would be an incredible, unprecedented brushing away of individual liberty during a time of peace. It most certainly would violate the 13th Amendment. I hesitate to use terms like "scary" and "frightening" because they risk making me sound like a black helicopter type, and I'm not in the least. But this proposal is disturbing because it comes from a man who has a legitimate shot at becoming president. That such a man has no concept, none at all, of individual liberty and the boundaries the Founding Fathers intended to erect between the state and the citizen is dumbfounding. When President Clinton unveiled Americorps, it was silly. Paying people to "volunteer" is stupid, but the program was just another dumb gimmick to get votes by making people feel warm and fuzzy. There was nothing Orwellian about it. Kerry's proposal crosses that line between maddening but harmless federal largess and a dangerous, radical expansion of federal power.

How would schools determine what volunteerism counts toward the mandatory number of hours required for graduation and what doesn't? How would that be quantified? In some school districts where volunteerism is already a graduation requirement, volunteering for the Boy Scouts doesn't count. I don't think this is some sinister left-wing plan to depopulate the right's civic organizations. I do think one outcome of such a plan would be the politicization of volunteerism. Councils and committess would decide which groups are "legitimate" volunteer groups and which are not. I don't want my son being told by me that the Boy Scouts are a great and worthy organization while his teacher tells him they're off the list because the school board disapproves of them.

There are so many reasons this is a horrible idea, but it's late and I need my beauty sleep. Have any thoughts, send them my way. I'd love to hear some discussion of this. Am I being oversensitive, or is John Kerry a nincompoop with a tyrannical impulse?

  posted by AVS @ 20.5.03


Being Dumb Is The Pitts
Stupidity, thy name is Leonard Pitts. How dumb is Miam Herald columnist Leonard Pitts? Back in 1998, Marc McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in a steroid-fueled (sorry, but I think McGwire was more doped up than Keith Richards, and Sosa was probably poppin' the roids, too) chase to see who could be the first to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record. Pitts wrote that McGwire got all the media attention because he was white, and that Sosa was ignored because he was black. McGwire, of course, broke Maris' record and ended the season with 70 homers. Sosa later passed the Maris milestone but ended the season with 66, so he never held a record, and thus he never received the same level of attention McGwire did, though he did become a major celebrity and remains one to this day. Pitts, who I think is a racist, couldn't get past the fact that Sosa is black. PItts was so flooded with letters pointing out his stupidity that he had to write another column backtracking on his assertion and admitting that there was a good, non-race-related reason McGwire got more attention than Sosa.

Fast forward to 2003 and the Jayson Blair scandal. Pitts sees racist white commentators fanning the flames of bigotry over Blair's undoing.

So apparently, Jayson Blair's biggest crime is not that he cheated and misled. It's that he cheated and misled while black. That's the unmistakable implication of much of the criticism that's been leveled at the young man in recent days, Pitts wrote on Friday.

Journalists sifting the wreckage of Blair's career have been harsh in their judgments and I don't blame them. What's offensive is that so many have cast his failures in terms of race. For instance, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes that Blair is emblematic of a newsroom culture ''that cherished diversity . . . so much so that journalistic standards were bent.'' Cohen is far from the only one expressing that -- I use the word loosely -- thought.

If Leonard Pitts ever met a real thought it'd grind his underexercised brain to a halt. Pitts explains why the Blair scandal is not a failure of affirmative action and anyone who says so must be racist:

For the record, Times editors say they initially brought Blair into the newsroom because they were wowed by him. They offered him a slot in an internship program that was being used to help the paper diversify its newsroom. He rose swiftly from there.

Uh, yeah. So, race is not an issue because the editors were "wowed by" Blair and they wanted to "help the paper diversify its newsroom." Apparently to Pitts, race would be an issue if Blair hadn't "wowed" the editors, but because race was a factor in his hiring and not the factor, it can't be considered when thinking about and commenting on the man's downfall. But don't affirmative action boosters claim that race is an issue when a white manager hires a white applicant over a black applicant even if the decision was made only in part because the white applicant was white, and even if the white applicant was impressive? It's that subtle, unquantifiable racism that supposedly justifies affirmative action, even if it's only a subconscious and tangential reason why a white manager would choose a white over a black applicant. So why is race an issue if it was part of the reason a white man was hired, but not an issue if it was part of the reason a black man was hired? Either way, it would be wrong to hire a less qualified applicant because of his race. Pitts is trying to dodge the "well-qualified" point by noting that Blair impressed the editors during the job interview. He hopes we'll forget that Blair's record since being hired shows him to have been demonstrably unqualified, and that the editors knew he was incompetent for at least a year before they forced him to resign, which calls into question the validity of their claims that he greatly impressed them during the interview. It's worth keeping in mind that The Times usually doesn't hire rookie reporters. To get on the Times staff, one normally has to gain years of experience at a smaller paper. Blair was fast-tracked up the Times totem pole. Why? Well, that's what Times critics are asking, and Pitts doesn't want them to ask.

For the record, I don't think hiring someone because of his appearance is always wrong. For example, white reporters can have a tougher time getting stories in black neighborhoods. If you have a white reporter assigned to cover black neighborhoods, and your competitor has a black reporter, guess who's got the best chance of gaining the trust of the people and thereby developing better sources and get better stories? It's a fact of life in America that "reaching out" to some communities by putting a black or Hispanic or female face forward is good business. You have a black salesman to cover Washington, D.C., and you'll probably get more business than if you have a white salesman. You put a slim, busty woman in a Hooters t-shirt, and you'll get more business than if you put the same shirt on Rowan Atkinson. But the Times didn't hire Jayson Blair because his race would give him an advantage when it came to doing his job. The Times hired him to keep race-baiting hooksters like Jesse Jackson off the paper's back. That's what "diversify the newsroom" means. It means covering your butt so you don't get sued or picketed. That's why they kept Blair around even a year after one of his editors said he should be immediately fired.

Obviously, race is an issue in the Blair case because obviously the Times, like Leonard Pitts, is trying to have it both ways on the issue. They're saying race was a factor in hiring and keeping Blair, but that the damage Blair did in no way reflects on the value of the Times' affirmative action program. That's like saying, "I'm going to go hit on that totally hot babe over there! But, uh, I'm really interested in a woman for her mind and personality, and my choice of that smokin' blonde in the corner is in no way influenced by her appearance." Race is THE central issue in the Blair case only because Blair was a "diversity" hire and Times management was loathe to fire him because they needed a black body to fill out their diversity quota. That's why affirmative action is wrong. It leads management to put "diversity" ahead of truth, accuracy, fairness, and profit. Becoming a staff reporter at The New York Times usually takes a lot longer than it took Jayson Blair. If Blair had worked his way onto the national desk on the strength of his reporting alone, this scandal would be just another in a long line of forgettable scandals involving reporters who choose to make stories instead of break them. But Blair was an affirmative action hire, and as such his failure legitimately raises the question of whether the Times editors, like a guy who stays with a dud girlfriend too long just because she's pretty, made bad decisions because of the way a person looked. That's a fair question to ask, even if Leonard Pitts doesn't want to admit it.

  posted by AVS @ 19.5.03

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