May 01, 2004

Another perspective on the maltreatment of Iraqi POW's, by Sgt. Stryker. Regarding the excuse made by the staff sergeant in charge of the prison, he writes:
[H]e says that he and the others received no formal Geneva Convention training, which would've instructed them that stacking a bunch of naked men in a pyramid and posing for a trophy picture are inappropriate. I mean, until I was trained in LOAC, I thought I could just walk around shooting people at random if the whim caught me. Without that invaluable training, I'd have no idea that there indeed exist basic standards of human decency. Who knew?
Link via Matt Welch

April 30, 2004

When any war goes out of control, stories like this one, from the Guardian, are inevitable:
Graphic photographs showing the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in a US-run prison outside Baghdad emerged yesterday from a military inquiry which has left six soldiers facing a possible court martial and a general under investigation. The scandal has also brought to light the growing and largely unregulated role of private contractors in the interrogation of detainees. According to lawyers for some of the soldiers, they claimed to be acting in part under the instruction of mercenary interrogators hired by the Pentagon.


The US army confirmed that the general in charge of Abu Ghraib jail is facing disciplinary measures and that six low-ranking soldiers have been charged with abusing and sexually humiliating detainees. Lawyers for the soldiers argue they are being made scapegoats for a rogue military prison system in which mercenaries give orders without legal accountability.

A military report into the Abu Ghraib case - parts of which were made available to the Guardian - makes it clear that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison, which was notorious for torture and executions under Saddam Hussein. One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.
It should also be noted that the Senate today approved the nomination of former death squad enabler John Negroponte as Ambassador to Iraq.

April 29, 2004

I wish I could write like Tina Brown:
There was a surreal moment at a serious Manhattan dinner party Tuesday night when 12 power players who had all been talking at once about the mess in Iraq suddenly fell silent to listen to the waiter. He dove in shortly after he had served the coconut cake with lemon dessert -- perhaps to give moral support to the only Republican present, who was beginning to flag. Or perhaps he just thought it might be helpful for the guests to hear from one of the Ordinary Americans whose unhappiness with the status quo they are in the habit of earnestly invoking.

"I'm from the suburbs," he announced, "and I'm voting for Bush."
Nothing captures the atmosphere of a "serious Manhattan dinner party" like an anecdote about "Coconut cake with lemon dessert".

April 28, 2004

An inspiring story about living the San Fernando Valley dream.

April 27, 2004

The world's stupidest flag design...c'mon, powder blue and gold?

April 26, 2004

Smythe Jumps the Shark: Since I started my blog, I've tried to steer my own course, for the most part staying away from issues that I had little interest in, and/or had little in the way of expertise. Since I'm not a reporter by profession, I tend not to be obsessed with the political bias, whether it be right or left, of the media. I don't "fisk" other writers, since that is so 9/12, and I have another blog where I can discuss sports, if I wanted to. My opinion on Iraq is simple: the Administration (particularly the Veep) exaggerated the threat from Saddam, didn't have the slightest idea what we were getting into, and hundreds of American soldiers (and, no doubt, thousands of Iraqi civilians) are now dead. Also, Saddam was a bad man, it was a good idea to keep a close watch on him, regardless of whether we went to war, and it is going to benefit the Iraqi people in the long run to be rid of him.

There are only so many ways you can write those opinions before you glaze over the eyes of your readers, and it's so much easier to troll your views elsewhere, where they will be read by a larger audience. Some things, though, I am compelled by reputation to expound on, regardless of the general interest my readers may have. For example, I will always post about any halfway interesting night at Joxer Daly's; Smythe's World, in fact, is the de facto website for the bar, even though I'm not a regular there anymore. Political polling fascinates me, so any shift in the horse race numbers will receive my attention. Jose Offerman has been my favorite athlete since he was making several dozen errors a year at Albuquerque (I've always had a soft spot for despised athletes, like Sonny Liston and Ryan Leaf, but Offy is special, since he has always handled the malice from sportwriters and fans alike with class and dignity), so any news stories involving him will surely get noticed. And naturally, if something happens in the area of law I practice, bankruptcy, I will avail myself of the opportunity to rant.

And of course, there's Phoebe Nicholls. Ms. Nicholls, for those of you who do not have intimate knowledge of the British theatrical scene, is a mid-fiftyish English character actress. She was quite beautiful during her ingenue period back in the day, and even today she's not hard on the eyes, but her uniqueness derives from the spellbinding effect her voice has on an audience. Quite simply, it is the most captivating voice possessed by an actor since the late George Sanders; today, only John Malkovich is comparable. And like those actors, she invariably portrays rather elegant characters who deserve to be taken down a peg or two (that is, when she's not portraying another specialty of hers, that of "bereaving mother". It's safe to say that the former are a heck of a lot more fun to watch).

Almost all of her work is done on British television or on stage, and she's only acted in a handful of films (none released since 1997), so Americans rarely have the chance to see her perform. I've followed her career since her disembodied voice concluded The Elephant Man in 1980, and her most famous role was that of the youngest sister of Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited the following year. The sheer fact that she has worked regularly (and, for the most part, reviewed favorably) since then, without becoming a household name even in her home country, is a testament to a quality I generally admire in a person, a commitment to craft beyond any pecuniary benefits that may arise out of it.

Which brings me to Prime Suspect 6 [part two], which ran on your local PBS station last night. She had only two brief scenes, playing the frumpishly malevolent spook who attempts to shut down Inspector Tennison's investigation into the Serbian war criminal she's protecting. She played the part perfectly, creating one of the most sinister TV characters since The Cigarette Man, conveying more with a resigned shrug than Gwyneth Paltrow does with one of her patented line-readings. In particular, her final scene conveyed a sense of power and contempt even after she had been out-smarted by the heroine, all without uttering a word. It gets replayed again on PBS next weekend, so watch out for it if you missed it the first time. And by all means, remember the name; it wouldn't surprise me in the least if she turns out to be another Judi Dench, an actress whose fame and notoriety in this country are achieved after middle age.

UPDATE: Jose Offerman has now been cut by three teams in the last two years, and spent the entire 2006 season with the New York Mets AAA team in Tidewater. In August, 2007, he was charged with assault after he charged the mound in a minor league game with a baseball bat (he subsequently plead guilty, and agreed to probation), and was suspended indefinitely. Showing up two years later managing in the Dominican Winter League, Offerman proved the early incident was no fluke by meriting a lifetime suspension for attempting to punch an umpire.
Phoebe Nicholls has rebooted her career in recent years by excelling on the West End, starring in a number of well-received plays and winning some long-overdue awards.

*However, her American fans were recently victimized by a cruel hoax when the IMDB website listed her as performing in the TV series CSI: Miami. In fact, the producers of the show merely created a character named "Phoebe Nichols" (with only one "l", so the audience wouldn't be confused with the real-life actress), a Britney Spearsian singer who is thought to have exploded in flames at the beginning of the show, only for the deceased to have been a doppleganger. I hope my blogmuse was well-paid for the indignity.
Religion of Peace? One of the dittohead talk radio hosts has called for the extermination of all Muslims, proving that rancid bigotry and skinhead sentiments are not simply the preserve of LGF.
Is there anything more idiotic for the GOP to do than to question John Kerry's war record? Last week, they demanded that he release his full war record, which he did, revealing a man of courage and bravery. Now, they are bringing up his anti-war positions after he came back, probably not the wisest course of action considering that a) 30 years after the fact, Vietnam is a not a popular cause, even in Red America, and b) the similarities between Vietnam in 1971 and the Middle East, 2004 become more and more acute. Even the dispute concerning whether or not he ever claimed to have discarded his combat medals in 1971 (the interview in question is unclear as to whether he was referring to his medals or the medals of other soldiers) only reminds the public that he won medals in the first place, at a time when most of his adversaries had "other priorities". Kerry should do whatever he can to ensure that this story stays on the front page for as long as he can, even if it means dissembling, stonewalling, prevaricating, or just plain flip-flopping; the comparison between the brave patrician warrior and the president for whom truth is a flexible concept can only benefit the challenger.

UPDATE: The ABC news producer who broke the story, Chris Vlasto, is well-known for his far-right connections. In 1994, he acted as an emissary from Ken Starr to lobby both James and Susan McDougal to cooperate with his inquisition. In 1995, he produced a report on ABC that accused Hillary Clinton of perjury, based largely on a doctored video clip of the First Lady. In 1998, he threw a celebratory party for Paula Jones and her attorneys after Bill Clinton was forced to testify before the Lewinsky Grand Jury. In October, 2001, he produced a report that claimed a connection between Saddam and the anthrax attacks on Senator Daschle, et al., as well as being one of the first journalists to detail a link between Muhammed Atta and the government of Iraq; both allegations were subsequently discredited. More recently, Vlasto ran a misleading report suggesting that Howard Dean had covered-up incidents of alleged domestic abuse by one of the state troopers protecting him; it was repudiated as "slime" and denounced by those denizens of the far left, Andrew Sullivan and John Ellis. And now comes word that the tape itself was made by the Nixon Administration, which viewed Kerry as an "enemy". Despicable.

UPDATE [2]: The speed by which the Kerry campaign was able to shift the focus off of the medal controversy and back onto the missing Bush TANG records was breathtaking, almost Clintonian in its subtle political skillfulness. He might just win this election yet....

April 25, 2004

Busy, busy day. Got up early, went to a "book festival" at UCLA sponsored by the local paper of record, found out more about the cultural importance of Las Vegas than I needed to know (also, that Kelly Lange looks "younger" now than she did when I was in high school, thanks to plastic surgery), received a tip about either firing a gun (or lighting a joint[?]) whenever I had writer's block when drafting a screenplay, then checked out the second half of the Laker game...Kobe Akbar !!!