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Michael Ubaldi, March 15, 2005.
 


Saturn and daughters. If this were an artist's conception, we might call it contrived. As nature, a quintessence of order.

On the other side of the solar system, Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, having persevered their intended lifespan nearly five times over, continue to astound NASA scientists with their resilience and longevity.

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 15, 2005.
 

Sometimes academic quotation is necessary. Often, it's misused intelligence; replacing principle, which is accessible to all, with the rigid exclusivity of rote.

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 15, 2005.
 

Though its expressed interest in Egyptian democracy is flattering, the Washington Post — far from coming away impressed by events in Cairo that, fortitude of domestic opposition notwithstanding, would not have occurred without pressure from Washington — has forgotten the terms to which it previously held the president, and is today showing a sorry measure of ingratitude:

While aggressively campaigning for freedom in Lebanon, the Bush administration continues to gently prod Mr. Mubarak. In a speech last week devoted mostly to Lebanon, President Bush included one sentence saying that credible elections must include "freedom of assembly, multiple candidates, free access by those candidates to the media and the right to form political parties."


The Post should know by now that clarity and purpose alone can carry for this president a single sentence from word to policy to action: witness "the Taliban must act, and act immediately"; and "Saddam Hussein must disarm himself — or, for the sake of peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him." But critique seems the better part of the Post's valor. Just six weeks ago Ayman Nour was worth supporting because he "is no radical: He recently said he would support Mr. Mubarak for another term as president if he first agreed to constitutional reform." And now?

Though the platform calls for Mr. Mubarak to forgo another term, most of the opposition is prepared to accept a new mandate provided the president commits himself to genuine change. So far, however, Mr. Mubarak's concessions are limited to his election plan, which resembles the sham balloting familiar from other dictatorships.


The Post's new position — that an unyielding progressive, a "radical," is what Cairo needs — is my own, as Hosni Mubarak's perpetuation means nothing more than better bread and water during the Egyptian people's collective, open-ended prison sentence. But three weeks ago Ayman Nour was sitting in jail and Mubarak was conceding nothing to popular will. That Nour is free and Egyptian democrats have been offered one of their prime demands within two months of the twenty-fourth year of Mubarak's dictatorial rule — two months that brought triumphant Iraqi elections, President Bush's moral condemnation of tyranny three days later and two weeks after that, Lebanon finally stirring after a political murder to shake off Syria's yoke — is enough to conclude that the Cairo strongman wanted none of this. That in turn indicates Mubarak feels appropriately threatened, and will be, voluntarily or not, the most receptive to surrendering power for the first time in his life.

Which means "gentle prods" have indeed moved Cairo, will more likely continue to than not, and that the Post's editors should recognize good works when the one they asked for is before them now and in progress.

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 14, 2005.
 

"An Opinionated Network" is what Howard Kurtz makes of a recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism that, in declaring Fox News' claim to balanced reporting faulty, appears to have conflated on-air personality with news content. Omission and methodical control over the perception of news is gentry media's most destructive contribution of bias to American journalism, and Kurtz makes his own here straightaway by failing to inform readers that the Project for Excellence in Journalism — led by media critic Tom Rosenstiel — is the left's answer to rightist Brent Bozell's Media Research Center. Rosenstiel maintained in 2002 that among other mainstream anchors CBS's Bob Schieffer — who continues to deny any meaningful leftward tilt to major news outlets, even in Rathergate's wake — is "trying to cut it down the middle," whereas "Fox is not."

Driving ideology aside, the report as explained by Kurtz draws the left's favorite conclusion — that Fox News has achieved cable and broader television success by daily tossing red meat to Republicans — from information that doesn't support it. The first charge is a play in semantics:

In covering the Iraq war last year, 73 percent of the stories on Fox News included the opinions of the anchors and journalists reporting them, a new study says. By contrast, 29 percent of the war reports on MSNBC and 2 percent of those on CNN included the journalists' own views.


Is the PEJ talking about slanted coverage? Not from Kurtz's explanation — the activity is merely an anchor or journalist adding a personal comment to a report. He offers two examples:

Last March, Fox reporter Todd Connor said that "Iraq has a new interim constitution and is well on its way to democracy."

"Let's pray it works out," said anchor David Asman.

Another time, after hearing that Iraqis helped capture a Saddam Hussein henchman, Asman said: "Boy, that's good news if true, the Iraqis in the lead."


The choice of quotes is illustrative for two reasons: first, as indicators of bias they're spectacularly weak and second; as a corollary, the PEJ's selection exposes the elite media's fascination with an inviolable neutrality to all things political, national, ethical and moral but that is more like an opposition to Western liberalism. If Asman is to be considered subjective on the basis of his first remark then one must put forward the value of "the other side," the suggestion that it might have been reasonable to pray for a collapse of Iraq's democratic efforts. Certainly there are those who do make that argument but as failed presidential candidate John Kerry revealed by checking his personal indifference to Iraqi pluralism with a generic nod to its success before his broadest audiences, these people are not taken seriously. Nor has the American interest in Iraqi self-reliance ever been a point of disagreement between anyone; Democrats, Republicans or the fringe. Senator Ted Kennedy, if he were better able to comprehend events in theater, would find news of Iraqis' increasing efficacy as welcome as would Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

David Asman, then, was in these two instances speaking for most Americans. Were the reports themselves unfair? Apparently not.

The problem seems to be that Asman voiced support for an American endeavor at all. In 2001 National Public Radio senior foreign editor Loren Jenkins insisted that as a public employee he in fact didn't "represent the government" but "history, information, what happened." In 2003, ABC President David Westin forbade talent from wearing flag lapel pins on grounds that "our patriotic duty as journalists in the United States is to try to be independent and objective and present the facts to the American people and let them decide all the important things." The leftist media rejects nationality and moral authority in favor of a transnational, relativist baseline: American, but not; unconvinced that the free world is incomparably superior to its authoritarian enemies, working to robe in cause and worth those who by nature defy it. "Objectivity" is not so much a practice than a condition, including objectivity to value itself.

The PEJ report throws a few numbers at Fox news shows like Special Report with Brit Hume and The O'Reilly Factor that are summarily invalidated by the study's metric. Brit Hume's program usually includes two or three guests for topical commentary, and holds a panel debate through the last two segments. Bill O'Reilly is successful precisely because of his opinions, scoring high ratings on the guarantee that his subjective arguments are honest.

A focus on journalists' comments on the night's filing is a red herring — what about the report itself? Here, the American news audience speaks clearly: consistently polls show an overwhelming perception, sometimes by a ratio of 2-to-1, of leftist slant to coverage, despite elite agencies' continued — if disintegrating — controlling interest in the national conversation. For all the media establishment's protestations of innocence and accusations against Fox News like this PEJ report, there is something to the idea that Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather kept their opinions not so much under wraps as under the byline — and that, loudmouth or not, you can trust somebody if he gives you all the serious angles.

One collection of figures Kurtz provided was amusing, if painfully illustrative of the gentry's disconnection between headlines and reality. According to PEJ's study, Fox was about twice as likely to broadcast "positive" stories from Iraq than cable competitors CNN and MSNBC. Well, yes: on January 29th of this year, Fox News was warily hopeful of Iraq's Assembly elections while MSNBC prepared for disaster. What happened the next day?

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 13, 2005.
 


After a friend's encouraging response to one of my political cartoons from four-and-a-half years ago, I thought we could all stand to see more. This little vignette was my reaction to the Democratic Party's rug-pull at the start of the 107th Congress, accomplished through Jim Jeffords' inelegant departure from the Republican plurality.

I swapped "107" for "109" but Capitol Hill being what it is, our two hand puppet friends are acting out any modern Congress. Or perhaps Congress just takes naturally to burlesque. Which is the parody?

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 13, 2005.
 

Shortly after President Bush's State of the Union address, the Washington Post placed a reasonable condition on the White House's vision of peace through liberty: challenge and help overturn the baseless incarceration of Egyptian democratic opposition leader Ayman Nour. Less than a week after sizeable liberal demonstrations in Cairo, and immediately following a diplomatic rebuke by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak relented to demands and unveiled a process leading to the first legitimate executive referendum since he assumed power in 1981.

Via Robert Mayer, news that Ayman Nour has been freed:

An Egyptian opposition leader and presidential hopeful whose imprisonment angered Washington and called into question Egypt's pledges of democratic reform led a parade Saturday through downtown Cairo, trailed by thousands after being freed on bail. ...Speaking to his supporters later, Nour reiterated his innocence — and his jailhouse announcement that he would run for president this year against 24-year incumbent Hosni Mubarak.

"I announce that I will run in the presidential elections for you," Nour said, standing on a podium in a charitable organization he'd founded down the street from where he was freed. "We are paying the price of our search for freedom," he said to cheers. "They tried for days to destroy a national project, the Tomorrow Party. But they failed."


Suspicion of Mubarak's motives are warranted, though the likely methods of subterfuge — releasing Nour temporarily or as expressly for the purpose of drawing the Tomorrow Party out to be crushed and scattered in rigged elections — would for success require an ambivalence to despot chicanery no longer a part of American politics, or at least not for the next four years, at a time when twelve months is too long for Egyptian democrats to hold their tongues. Hosni must know that what he's given singly will be demanded by the gross. One has to at least consider wooing an old operator from his throne: Just think, Mr. Mubarak, that if you cleave to power your likeness will be wiped from the lineal scroll, and if you should relinquish it, a statue will be dedicated to — if nothing more — your final penance.

Whatever the case, the Washington Post's standard has been met — and the editors ought to express their pleasant surprise.

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 11, 2005.
 


Women in the Iraqi reconstruction contingent of Japan's Self-Defense Force posed for a photograph with local girls at a recreation center in the southern town of Samawah.

President Bush has on many occasions told audiences how the awe of standing close, as a friend and ally, with the leader of an old foreign enemy never escapes him. Last September Richard Benedetto wrote about what I've maintained for quite some time: once in the fold of liberal democracy, a nation returns the aid and guidance it received through its own difficult rebirth.

I began essay Antiphony with reflection on the news that Japan's military was deploying in its largest semblance since 1945 to Indonesia for a humanitarian mission. The Self-Defense Force is packing up, now, and at least in anecdote its work has been a success:

On Monday, the Japanese closed their field hospital in the Lamara area of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, which had been operating for more than a month.

The makeshift tent hospital treated thousands of patients.

"I'm here to say thank you, because they have been really good ... We will miss them," said Tjoet Anna, 36, a mother of two children and regular visitor.


Amends are made, if they had not been already. Japan is steadily accepting more obligations of liberty and prosperity. Afghanistan has taken its first step. With generous foreign aid and a promising native beginning, Iraq will be no different.

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 11, 2005.
 

An interesting confluence: yesterday, two readers of Glenn Reynolds' sent him their apparently heartfelt desire to destroy Islam, and today Jonah Goldberg and Andrew Stuttaford are volleying back and forth on what drives murderous cultures and movements.

Glenn's unwelcome correspondents are falling for the best-selling lie of dictatorship: that a totalitarian state or a malignant culture is a popular choice rather than a perversion forced or foisted upon the whole by a violent minority. If one knows a sliver about the Crusades, it's that they had as much to do with Christ's teachings as Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93 had to do with Mohammed's. The Near East is neither despotic because it is Muslim nor Muslim because it is despotic: if the region were doomed to barbarity, "1/30/05" would have no meaning and Hamed Karzai would be long dead.

How many cultures started out free? None. Goldberg and Stuttaford won't have much luck settling their argument as they are proceeding currently, searching for a denominator among multiples. The greatest threat to maintaining liberty and enacting liberalization is not culture, nor religion, nor tradition but the tiny cut of sociopaths and worldly enablers who forever try and make all that defines man as man into a fulcrum to wrench civilization back into animalism, where might alone is king. Religion is only one wedge, the means of distribution just one other. That dominative cut is in America, too, but our common good has kept most authoritarians down at the level of crooks and cranks. Where despotism reigns, the crooks rule. It's a matter of who's in charge.

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 10, 2005.
 

A cry in the dark:

A group of unarmed Iranians staged a protest aboard a Lufthansa jet at the Brussels airport Thursday, refusing to leave the plane and calling for the return of the monarchy in Iran, officials said. Christina Zia, who said her father called her on his cell phone from the plane, said they were supporters of the late shah and wanted to draw attention to Iranís problems.

"There are no weapons. This is nothing dangerous. They only want the world to see the problems, to see that Iran is not what the world sees today," said Zia, who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from Germany. The group had a letter for NATO and refused to leave the plane until they are allowed to hand it over to the alliance, Zia said, adding that she did not know its contents.


According to activist Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, the group is chanting, "We are the messengers of peace. We are against global terrorism. We will remove the malignant terrorist regime of the Mullahs..."

WORD TRAVELS FAST: Another report:

U.S. Iranian activist Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, who is in phone contact with [London activist Frood] Fouladvand, told World Net Daily the protesters want an internationally monitored referendum that would enable the Iranian people to choose their next form of government.

..."This is the first of a series of confrontations with the European Union," Zand-Bonazzi said. "They will always be peaceful and respectful, but the leaders of Europe have to back down now. [The mullahs] may say they are after the U.S. and Israel, but they are after a secular and democratic lifestyle, which includes Europe," Zand-Bonazzi said.

The protesters have been verbally abused by Belgian authorities and accused of hijacking, according to Zand-Bonazzi. She maintains, however, the activists are doing nothing but singing Iranian freedom anthems and asking to speak to the U.K., French and German representatives of the European Union.


I marvel at the speed at which news travels — and its breadth. Banafsheh has me on an e-mailing list; from her I received the original bulletin two hours ago, a forward of the Daily article at about ten after three. From there, I started up Internet Explorer, went straight to Google News and using search string "Fouladvand," immediately connected to the article's webpage. Ten years ago, an evening news broadcast might have mentioned the incident if open program time allowed for it. Today's revolutions go live.

IT GOES ON: Over thirteen hours:

"We want the European countries, also the United States and Russia to stop helping the Iranian regime," the group's spokesman, who identified himself only as Ira, told The Associated Press in a call from the aircraft. ..."We want these leaders to stop supporting terrorist regimes any longer ... to get rid of this Islamic regime or any kind of radical brutal religious movement from Iran," said Ira, who said he was an American national and a psychiatrist from New York.

...As night fell, the airport shut down as no other incoming flights were scheduled. Belgian Iranians came to the terminal, holding banners and flags.


A discussion board for Daneshjoo, the Iranian student democracy movement, shows near unanimous support. One fellow is peturbed that an Iranian in the airport terminal was demanding Islam be excised from Iran, though after twenty-six years of theocracy one can hardly be surprised by an allergy to the religion. Whatever the shortcomings of these protesters — their event has gone off rather pell-mell — they've pierced the wall silencing Iran. For so long many of us have only heard of Iranians' disgust with Tehran's mullahs, affection for the West and desire for freedom secondhand; it's likely most in the free world know little about the struggle. The few score holed up in that jetliner remind us that 70 million people are prisoners in their own country.

FINI: The protesters have been removed from the plane. Authorities are not certain whether Iranian nationals in the group will be "repatriated," although we undoubtedly know the wisdom — and mercy — in not doing so.

 
 
 
 
Michael Ubaldi, March 9, 2005.
 


With the Chinese would-be hegemon grasping at headlines over the last few days, we've been reminded that many of the threats beyond the Near East recognized before 2001 still exist. This drawing is from a clutch of political cartoons I scribbled out in the Fall of 2000. I sent the lot out to a few newspapers and received, from Washington Times editorial page editor Halle Dale, a rejection letter I was happy to accept and keep. There was currently no place in the Times for my, as she put it, "creative, well-executed drawings."

The undertaking was a bit of a whim, and I soon moved on. But anybody who's ever solicited knows that no reply need be gracious, let alone complimentary.

As for the subject matter itself, this one remains my favorite. Though the implications are unsettling the statement is quite relevant nearly five years later — and besides, that dragon is so grotesquely adorable.