Category Archives: bush

bush’s iraq speech: a critical edition

Last month we published an online edition of the Iraq Study Group Report in a new format we’re developing (in-house name is “Comment Press”) that allows readers to enter into conversation with a text and with one another. This was a first step in a creative partnership with Lewis Lapham and Lapham’s Quarterly, a new journal that will look at contemporary issues through the lens of history. Launching only a few days before Christmas, the timing was certainly against us. Only a handful of commenters showed up in those first few days, slowing down almost to a halt as the holiday hibernation period set in. Since New Year’s, however, the site has been picking up momentum and has now amassed a sizable batch of commentary on the Report from a diverse group of respondents including Howard Zinn, Frances FitzGerald and Gary Hart.
While that discussion continues to develop in the Report’s margins, we are following it up with a companion text: the transcript and video of President Bush’s address to the nation last night where he outlined his new strategy for Iraq, presented in a similarly Talmudic fashion with commentary accreting around the central text. To these two documents invited readers and other interested members of the public can continue to append their comments, criticisms and clarifications, “at liberty to find,” in Lapham’s words, “‘the way forward’ in or out of Iraq, back to the future or across the Potomac and into the trees.”
An added feature this time around is that we’re opening the door to general commenters, although with a fairly high barrier to entry. This is an experiment with a more rigorously moderated kind of web discussion and a chance for Lapham and his staff to begin to explore what it means to be editors in the network environment. Anyone is welcome to apply for entry into the discussion by providing a little background on themselves and a sample first comment. If approved by the Lapham’s Quarterly editors (this will all happen within the same day), they will be given a login, at which point they can fire at will on both the speech and the report.
Together these two publications comprise Operation Iraqi Quagmire, a journalistic experiment and a gesture toward a new way of handling public documents in a networked democracy.
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milblogs on veteran’s day

Thought it would be appropriate today to talk about what’s going on with military blogging. Last August, John Hockenberry explored the world of war blogging (or milblogging) at length in a Wired article, The Blogs of War. Hockenberry noted that war bloggers are not just recording events — rather, “they engage in the 21st-century contact sport called punditry, and like their civilian counterparts, follow few rules of engagement. They mobilize sympathizers to ship body armor to reserve units in combat, raise funds for families of wounded soldiers, deliver shoes to barefoot Afghani kids, and even take aim at media big shots.” He also drew a connection between the influence and prominence of milblogs and the few restrictions imposed on them by the military: what’s radical about milblogs is that “anyone can publicly post a dispatch, and if the Pentagon reads these accounts at all, it’s at the same time as the rest of us.” Still, Hockenberry added, even the bloggers themselves were feeling like the freedom they enjoyed wouldn’t last.
How right he was. Only a week after the article ran, the Army issued a memo to all personnel saying they were going to crack down on the milbloggers. It’s probably not a stretch to imagine that the Wired piece and a similar article in the Washington Post caught the eye of someone in the Public Relations office. According to an NPR story on the topic, some soldiers felt like the crackdown had a less to do with security than with the fact that some military bloggers were becoming increasingly sour about the war. Since the new regulations were released in October, several influential milblogs have been “vanished” from the web by the Army. One notable recent example is Daniel Goetz’s All The King’s Horses, a eloquently written blog by a patriotic but disenchanted soldier in Iraq. Goetz’s final post, on October 22, was a creepily Orwellian retraction (literally, since he titled it Double Plus Ungood) of what he’d been blogging in his final weeks:
“For the record, I am officially a supporter of the administration and of her policies. I am a proponent for the war against terror and I believe in the mission in Iraq…Furthermore, I have the utmost confidence in the leadership of my chain of command, including (but not limited to) the president George Bush and the honorable secretary of defense Rumsfeld. If I have ever written anything on this site or on others that lead the reader to believe otherwise, please consider this a full and complete retraction. I apologize for any misunderstandings that might understandably arise from this. Should you continue to have questions, please feel free to contact me through e-mail. I promise to respond personally to each, but it may take some time; my internet access has become restricted.”
There’s been a great deal of discussion of David’s fate in the blogosphere. Daniel’s girlfriend, who has been blogging herself in Daniel’s absence, posted his entired deleted blog on her own site.

ok — it’s judy time at if:book; but i promise only future-of-the-book related comments

these thoughts came immediately after reading the NY Times’ sad attempt to explain how the “newspaper of record” managed to lose its integrity.
1. looks to me as if the media (ny times) has become the news and the blogging community are functioning as the real journalists. can anyone reading this blog, who has been following the judith miller situation say they didn’t go to the blogosphere today to get a decent handle on how to parse what the Times just did to “cover the Judith Miller” story.
2. i want a juan cole equivalent for the judy miller story; someone who specializes in the working of behind-the-scenes washington and who knows enough about law and history to put each day’s events in perpective. at the very least i want someone to present me with the ten most useful accounts on the web so that i can triangulate the problem.
3. perhaps it would be a good thought experiment to try to come up with interesting ideas of how to organize references on the web to the judith miller situation. how would you present an overview of the references?

pinter and the nobel prize

pinter.jpg Twice in one year now the Swedish academy has used the Nobel Prize as a political swipe at the Bush administration, first giving the peace medal to Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA (a difference of opinion on disarmament, you could say), and today awarding the prize for literature to British playwright Harold Pinter, who in recent years has been a vocal critic of US and British policies, once referring to Tony Blair as a “deluded idiot.”
But recent years aside, Pinter undoubtedly deserves the prize for his life’s work in the theatre, where he developed a politics far more complex, painful and profound than what is on display in his latter-day fumings (generally right though they may be) about American empire.
In college I acted in one of Pinter’s later plays, Ashes to Ashes (1996), a mysterious single act about a marriage in crisis, and a good example of the kind of frightening moral puzzle, encompassing the personal and the political, that Pinter excelled at creating. In a comfortable English living room, in a comfortable English university town, a woman seems to psychically rupture before her husband’s eyes, traumatized by events she relates only in part, and which she could not possibly have been alive to experience.
She confesses to having had an affair with the warden of a Nazi death camp, and having lived with him there. She describes the horror of the place, obscenely channeling the Holocaust as a sort of sexual taunt toward her mystified husband, but at the same time communicating her distress at the slow suffocation of their marriage. It is a sickening game, but one they must play in order to cut to the heart of their relationship. Ashes to Ashes is a domestic play, but somehow the entire century speaks through it.
On a more general note, it’s encouraging to see a dramatist get recognized on this scale, a statement about the continued relevance, at least in concept, of the theatre — an unmediated medium in a thoroughly mediated age. It also says something about language. Pinter, whose bleak but darkly humorous sensibilities were formed in bombed-out, post-WWII England, uses language sparely and with scalpel-like precision. Playwright David Hare said of him:

“Pinter did what Auden said a poet should do. He cleaned the gutters of the English language, so that it ever afterwards flowed more easily and more cleanly.”

His plays have the ominousness of still water, the words like stones breaking the surface. You have to read and feel the ripples. In an age where mass media, and now the internet, have devalued words, Pinter found a way to make them startling again. He also understands the power of silence.
Elevating Pinter as international spokesman for the left, the Swedes missed the point. His recent protests haven’t been terribly interesting or original. But in missing, they still struck gold. All this media attention cannot really convey the power of his plays. Hopefully, this will lead to a reinvigorated interest in producing them. They still speak vitally to our times.