Their Own Personal Vietnam - September 22, 2003

Times Watch for September 22, 2003

Their Own Personal Vietnam

More quagmire at the Times. Fridays editorial, The Terrorism Link That Wasnt, states as fact the assertion there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Then, its yet another waist-deep jump into the Big Muddy: The Bush administration always bristles when people attempt to draw any parallels between the quagmire in Vietnam and the current situation in Iraq. If the president is really intent on not repeating history, however, he should learn from it. The poison of Vietnam sprang from a political establishment that was unwilling to level with the American people about what was happening overseas.

For the rest of the Times editorial on the Iraq quagmire in the making, click here.

Editorial | Saddam Hussein | Iraq War | Quagmire | Terrorism | Vietnam

Frank Richs Mel Gibson-Baiting

Intemperate remarks by actor Mel Gibson allows Times Arts editor Frank Rich to resurrect his charge that Gibsons upcoming movie on the Passion of Christ could inflame anti-Semitism, and that Gibson himself is guilty of Jew-baiting.

Richs Sunday column, The Greatest Story Ever Told, recycles his August 3 accusations of Gibson. Reacting to harsh comments about Rich from Gibson in a New Yorker profile of the actor (I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick.I want to kill his dog), Rich claims: My capital crime was to write a column on this page last month reporting that Mr. Gibson was promoting his coming film about the crucifixion, The Passion, by baiting Jews. As indeed he has.

Richs evidence? In January, the star had gone on The O'Reilly Factor to counter Jewish criticism of his cinematic account of Jesus's final hours-a provocative opening volley given that no critic of any faith had yet said anything about his movie (and wouldn't for another three months). Clearly he was looking for a brawl, and he hasn't let up since.

Again, Rich is being willfully misleading. Gibson didnt come out swinging against Judaism. Host OReilly was the one who brought it up, as shown by this bit from his January interview with Gibson:

OReilly: Is it going to upset any Jewish people? Gibson: It may. It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible. But you know, when you look at the reasons behind why Christ came, why he was crucified, he died for all mankind. He suffered for all mankind. So that really, anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part, or look at their own culpability.

For the rest of Frank Richs Gibson-baiting, click here.

Mel Gibson | Jesus Christ | Movies | Passion of Christ | Religion | Frank Rich

Moderate Dukakis but Staunchly Conservative Bush?

Reporter Robin Toner characterizes Bill Clinton as centrist, Michael Dukakis as moderate-and George Bush as staunchly conservative.

In Sundays Week in Review on Gen. Wesley Clark and the fight for the soul of the Democratic party, Toner writes: Bill Clinton moved the party to a centrist third way in 1992, but that happened only after 12 years out of the White House, when Democrats were really hungry to win.The struggle over the right message, and messenger, has to be waged anew for the post-Clinton Democratic Party. So far, it is largely framed by the powerful anger at the Democratic grassroots-over the 2000 election and a president elected without a popular vote majority; over three years of staunchly conservative policies and a war unpopular with Democratic voters from the start.Predicting electability, of course, is tricky; sometimes when Democrats thought they were voting their heads, they were still badly beaten in the general election. Former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts captured the 1988 Democratic nomination as a moderate, nonideological technocrat-not a man who stirred his party's passions, but one who seemed, to many Democrats, decent, competent, electable.

For more on the fight for the Democratic party, click here.

Campaign 2004 | Democrats | Michael Dukakis | Labeling Bias | Robin Toner

Cucumber-Flinging Monkeys Fight for Fairness

Adam Cohens latest signed editorial, What the Monkeys Can Teach Humans About Making American Fairer, summarizes a recent study of the group behavior of capuchin monkeys: Give a capuchin monkey a cucumber slice, and she will eagerly trade a small pebble for it. But when a second monkey, in an adjoining cage, receives a more-desirable grape for the same pebble, it changes everything. The first monkey will then reject her cucumber, and sometimes throw it out of the cage. Monkeys rarely refuse food, but in this case they appear to be pursuing an even higher value than eating: fairness.

Sounds to Times Watch more like a petulant six-year old whining that her brother got more ice cream than she did for dessert. Nevertheless, lets see where Cohens heading with his, um, interesting analogy: But in a week when fairness was so evidently on the ropes-from the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancn, which poor nations walked out of in frustration, to the latest issue of Forbes, reporting that the richest 400 Americans are worth $955 billion-the capuchin monkeys offered a glimmer of hope from the primate gene pool. The study's implication that we are, to some extent, hard-wired for fairness speaks with special force to the legal system. American law has undergone a transformation in recent years, led by conservative Supreme Court justices and scholars, away from a focus on broad principles of fairness and toward a willingness to subject people to treatment that might be unjust, on the grounds that it is legal. The monkey study suggests, however, that fairness might be more than a currently unfashionable legal concept. It may be integral to who we are.

Cohen ends up where he usually does, criticizing the strict and conservative Supreme Court: Today, in law's eternal battle between strictly applied rules and broader principles of fairness, the pendulum is rapidly swinging back toward strict rules.In death penalty cases, criminal appeals, discrimination suits, the conservative majority regularly shows an indifference to the sort of fairness claims that would have prevailed in the 1960's.

But Cohen concludes theres hope for primates after all: But the capuchin monkey study suggests that fairness is at least part of the mix of traits that go with being human-and that over time, higher notions of justice that look beyond mechanical application of rigid rules may have a fighting chance. In Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, an ape-man throws a bone he has just used as a weapon into the air and it is transformed into a spaceship. The discovery of weapons was certainly, as the movie indicates, one of our key evolutionary moments. But the capuchin monkey study is a welcome reminder that the first time an ape-man angrily picked up his food allotment and threw it into the air because it was unjust was no less pivotal to the emergence of what it means to be human.

Cohen sees this as primates innate understanding of the nobility of socialism. It sounds to Times Watch more like the less noble but all-too-human traits, envy and spite.

For the rest of Adam Cohen on capuchin monkeys and the Supreme Court, click here.

Capuchin Monkeys | Adam Cohen | Editorials | Constitution | Science

An Anti-Wolfowitz Whopper

Wolfowitz in the lions den: Reporter Eric Schmitt covers a talk by deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the liberals favorite neocon imperialist, at Manhattans New School University.

Schmitts dispatch, headlined Wolfowitz Stands Fast Amid the Antiwarriors, includes this whopper: Iraq did have contacts with Al Qaeda, Mr. Wolfowitz insisted, momentarily silencing the audience with an accusation even President Bush now says is unsubstantiated. He added, We don't know how clear they were.

But as both Gregory Djerejian and Andrew Sullivan point out, Bush only said Saddam didnt have links to 9-11. Bush didnt say Hussein had no links to al-Qaeda itself.

In fact, Bush himself last week said, There's no question Saddam Hussein had al Qaeda ties. (Mondays Wall Street Journal has other helpful reminders of the Hussein-al Qaeda link.)

The Times piles on Wolfowitz in an accompanying photograph showing Wolfowitz and his interviewer on the lighted stage, and a heckler in the audience holding up a sign which is unreadable in the dark. But not to worry; the caption helpfully notes: The silhouette is of a heckler with a sign, which read, On Trial! Not on Stage!

For the rest of Schmitts story on Wolfowitzs in Manhattan, click here.

Al Qaeda | George W. Bush | Corrections | Saddam Hussein | Iraq War | Eric Schmitt | Paul Wolfowitz