Make Gotham Goofy Again?

by Brendan James

As fans explode over the casting of Ben Affleck for the next Batman film, Noah Berlatsky wishes the franchise would return to its campy roots:

[T]he truth is that the most sophisticated and knowing Batman we’ve had thus far isn’t Frank Miller’s or Alan Moore’s or Christopher Nolan’s. It’s Adam West’s. … Batman’s omnipotence in the television show isn’t a function of his popularity. It’s a multi-level gag. Wouldn’t it be fun, the TV Batman asks, to live in a world where the fuddy-duddy scions won’t run stop-lights, where they’d rather die than blow up a handful of baby ducks, and where they can always get the right answer out of the bat computer? And isn’t it also more than a little ridiculous to hope for that world and its paunchy, bat-eared dad? Trust me, Adam West assures us, and I will pretend to save you.

Thus we have the conclusion of Batman: The Movie from 1966, in which Adam West in the batsuit accidentally swaps all the brains of the members of the UN Security Council one with the other. Having completely screwed everything up, he quietly declares victory and leaves — which is a much more insightful take on American imperial adventures than anything you’re likely to find in Iron Man.

How We Brought Polio Back To Pakistan

by Brendan James

In 2011, as part of its plan to catch bin Laden, the CIA launched fake vaccine campaign. Ben Richmond reports on the blowback:

A local warlord banned vaccinations after Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi was linked to the CIA operation to find Osama bin Laden. Under the guise of giving out a Hepatitis B vaccination, the doctor collected DNA samples from children, looking for bin Laden’s family members. A link was established between the CIA and vaccinations and starting on June 16, 2012, tribal leaders banned the vaccination campaign. The Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur said vaccinations would be banned until the CIA stopped its drone campaign in North Waziristan, according to UPI.

And the ban has been enforced. In the 14 months since it was lowered, at least 22 people involved in vaccination efforts have been killed and another 14 have been injured. As a result, an estimated 300,000 children in North and South Waziristan were forbidden from vaccinations, and the UN was forced to suspend polio eradication efforts in Pakistan. There have been 24 cases of polio in Pakistan so far this year, and three cases of paralysis, but as the New York Times pointed out, “even one case shows that the virus is in the area and could spread.”

Health officials have long warned the strategy was a mistake:

The medical community is understandably pissed at the CIA for compromising them and making their difficult work even harder. … An opinion piece in Scientific American from May 2 outlined, in more detail and stronger language, why the CIA shouldn’t have used a sham-vaccination ruse. “Few mourn [bin Laden] the man responsible for the slaughter of many thousands of innocent people worldwide over the years,” the article said. “But the operation that led to his death may yet kill hundreds of thousands more.”

A Short-Lived Victory For The Homeless?

by Brendan James

Stephen Lurie calls the recent drop in homelessness – 17 percent from 2005 to 2012 – “nothing short of a blue-moon public policy triumph.” But it’s all reversible:

In the next few years, as Washington looks to cut spending across the board, the public’s aversion to homelessness could contribute to its return. We have seen that some constituents have successfully lobbied to overturn some parts of the sequester, such as the FAA cuts. But the homeless population has notoriously low voter turnout, and certainly has little money to spare for campaign contributions. They are unlikely to have much power in an age of austerity and there seems to be little recognition or reward to be gained for politicians by serving the homeless.

As quietly as homelessness has fallen, so too it will go up quietly – unless there is major intervention.  The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that sequestration cuts from homelessness programs are set to expel 100,000 people from a range of housing and shelter programs this year. That’s nearly one sixth of the current total homeless population. Far from gently raising the homeless rate, it would undo a full decade of progress.

“A Gay Rapper Who’s Better Than Everybody”

by Brendan James

That’s what rapper Talib Kweli predicts it will take to end the stigma of homosexuality in hip-hop:

Unfortunately hip-hop is so competitive that in order for fringe groups to get in, you gotta be better than whoever’s the best. So before Eminem, the idea that there would be a white rapper that anybody would really check for was fantastic or amazing or impossible. You had people like 3rd Bass and other people came through, and people respected them for their dedication to hip-hop. But people didn’t really take white rappers seriously until Eminem, because he was better than everybody. Like female emcees, you need to be like Lauryn Hill or Nicki Minaj or killing everything before somebody takes you seriously.

Previous Dish on hip-hop and homosexuality here, here and here.

The Sarin On Our Hands In Iraq

by Brendan James

Declassified documents reveal that Saddam “relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence” when he deployed mustard gas and sarin during the Iran-Iraq war:

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We Chemical Weapons Iraq-Iran Waralready knew,” [retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona] told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

The disclosure obviously has relevance to our current moral posture on chemical warfare inside Syria:

If, as is looking increasingly likely, the U.S. does conduct a military intervention in Syria it is worth remembering that the U.S., while condemning the use of chemical weapons now, once supported a dictator knowing that he intended to use chemical weapons on his enemies, another example of how policy makers too often justify ugly and obscene policies in order to pursue what are considered desirable ends.

Chotiner insists our dirty hands in Iraq shouldn’t prevent action against Assad:

If anything, America’s previous support for Saddam Hussein made it more imperative that the country take some action to remove him. I certainly don’t think this was a sufficient reason to support a disastrous war, but it gives ammunition to the opposite case than the one that anti-war activists were making. The same argument cropped up when Mubarak lost United States support in 2011. Would it have been better to go on supporting him? …

This time around [with Syria], look for a similar focus. Haven’t we looked the other way during previous atrocities? Didn’t we previously reach out to Assad and try to make deals with him? And, given the latest revelations, how can America condemn the use of chemical weapons when we aided Saddam Hussein’s crimes? For these questions to have any merit, someone needs to explain why having previously aided an atrocity is a reason for ignoring the next one.

Meanwhile, Friedersdorf understands our assistance to Saddam as a lesson about government secrecy:

Most people in the Reagan Administration would’ve been mortified to stand in front of TV cameras and say, “I decided that we should help Saddam Hussein to kill Iranians with chemical weapons.” Forced to embrace that approach openly or not at all, policy may have been different.

But the policy never had to be explained to the American people or the world. The American personnel who carried it out never needed to defend their actions to a critical press or the public. Some people believe America did right back then. The rest of us should reflect on the lessons to take from our wrongs. Taking sides in a war like Iraq versus Iran almost inevitably meant sullying ourselves. Acting in secret all but guaranteed questionable actions would be carried out in our names. And hindsight hasn’t been kind to those who claimed our morally dubious acts were necessary.

(Photo: Victims of Iraq’s attacks on Sardasht with chemical weapons from Wikimedia Commons)

Adopting An Embyro

by Brendan James

Sarah Elizabeth Richards describes the process of embryo donation, a trend that’s on the rise despite its emotional toll on parents:

In theory, embryo donation seems like the ideal solution: You have embryos you don’t want. Other people desperately want them. But of course, it’s hard to for many couples to get past knowing that someone else would be raising their biological children (or their siblings unknowingly mating with them—a risk known as “accidental incest”).

One survey of more than 1,000 patients from nine U.S. fertility clinics who had extra embryos found that nearly 60% said they were “very unlikely” to donate them to another couple trying to have a baby; only 7% were “very likely” to consider this option. “It was the idea that their child was walking around, and they couldn’t ensure it was having a great life,” says lead author Dr. Anne Drapkin Lyerly, an ob-gyn and associate director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “If they couldn’t raise that child, many felt that the responsible choice was to make sure they didn’t become children in someone else’s life. One woman told me, ‘I’d rather have them destroyed than born.’ ”

Arab Democracy’s First And Last Domino?

by Brendan James

With Egypt in pieces and Syria in the crosshairs, James Traub singles out Tunisia as the Arab Spring’s “last hope”:

[W]hatever dangers Tunisia now faces, there is virtually no possibility of a military coup followed by a state-sponsored war on the Muslim Brotherhood, as in Egypt. And this is so because of what may be the most salient difference between the two countries, at least in regard to their political trajectory: Egypt has an overwhelmingly politicized and intrusive army, and Tunisia does not. “None of the generals want a coup d’état,” says Adnen Hasneoui, an activist close to the ruling Ennahda party. “The only group which could carry out a coup would be the national police, and Ben Ali” — the former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — “designed the organization chart so that the police don’t have the power.” Indeed, Ben Ali’s inadvertent gift to Tunisia was to keep the military weak — Tunisia has only 27,000 very poorly equipped troops — and to exercise firm control over the Interior Ministry police.

Why compromise between government, currently led by the Islamist Ennahda party, and political opposition groups is within the realm of possibility:

Tunisian politics really is less polarized than Egyptian politics, though of course that’s not saying a great deal. The Islamists are certainly less Islamist. Mohamed Morsy was a narrow-minded functionary, while Rached Ghannouchi is a leading Islamic philosopher (and a former member of FP‘s Top 100 Global Thinkers). Ennahda agreed from the outset that the new constitution would not stipulate sharia as a source of Tunisian law, and removed offending passages about women’s rights and “the Zionist entity” after they provoked an outcry. The chances of a rapprochement in Tunisia are thus greater than they ever were in Egypt.

The Latest Conservative Defector On Same-Sex Marriage, Ctd

by Brendan James

Walter Olson praises Joseph Bottum’s essay accepting marriage equality:

Those who don’t have patience for the entire [essay] and want more of a political statement might want to skip to the remarkable section where Bottum writes about how he regrets signing and helping draft the Manhattan Declaration (Robby George, Charles Colson, etc.), a manifesto of resistance to the modern liberal polity which attempts to link and in the process deeply confounds the three causes of abortion, religious liberty and same-sex marriage. As critics have already noted, Bottum makes no attempt to take down George’s position on the basis of logic, but then it’s not as logic was the basis of that position in the first place.

Isaac Chotiner, on the other hand, pans Bottum’s piece:

[T]here is nothing in his piece that gay marriage advocates should hold onto; it is a reactionary work that is more concerned with the future of Catholicism and sexual morality than it is with gay rights. Bottum isn’t a fighter for same-sex marriage. No, he is more like a general who realizes a skirmish has been lost and wants to regroup before the big battle.

The theocons, as one might expect, are less than pleased with Bottum’s change of heart. Matthew Franck growls:

Others who really know the author may wish to comment at greater length on an essay that is avowedly very personal. But what I detect in it is the work of someone who was never all that interested in investigating the arguments on either side of the same-sex marriage debate; whose scant interest in it has now been fully exhausted, both intellectually and morally; and whose present conclusions hover in mid-air without anything to support them other than a wistful regret that he has lost a hoedown partner in a gay man who has come fairly unglued over the issue.

Robert Royal declares the essay to be “preemptive surrender”:

He is saying that the Church cannot win this cultural battle, indeed is being harmed by it, given the forces arrayed against Her. Our bishops should not waste time on it and instead focus on the deep “re-enchantment of the world,” which is what it will take to get people to see the real point of the Church’s richer notions of Creation – and sexuality.

And Dreher sees Bottum’s piece as purely a PR move:

Bottum cares a great deal about how the rest of the world sees the Church. In the spring of 2002, he publicly rebuked me, then a Catholic, at a meeting of Catholic journalists for writing so forcefully in criticism of the bishops over the sex abuse scandal. He said that by attacking the Church’s bishops so publicly, I was serving as a “professional Catholic,” a useful idiot for secularist types who hate the Catholic Church, to help them justify their prejudices and deny the Church freedom. I thought that was an unfair and even gutless accusation, one that made being a theocon hack more important than speaking the truth about the failures of our Church. My view then was that it didn’t matter what the world thought of the Church, the scandal and the culture that brought it about had to be confronted openly, and by Catholics. …

It sounds to me like Bottum is still thinking along these lines. He doesn’t argue that same-sex marriage is good, only that it is a very close to a fait accompli, and that the Church harms itself by continuing to resist it.

Millennials Won’t Play Politics?

by Brendan James

Boomer Ron Fournier worries that Generation Y is too wary or disgusted with partisan politics to enter Washington and make change:

The trouble is that Millennials believe traditional politics and government (especially Washington) are the worst avenues to great things. They are more likely to be social entrepreneurs, working outside government to create innovative and measurably successful solutions to the nation’s problems, even if only on a relatively small scale. … A generation ago, government had a monopoly on public service. To Millennials, the world is filled with injustice and need, but government isn’t the solution. They have apps for that.

Noreen Malone counters by pointing out that “people have always built fortunes and connections and forged their worldview outside government before deciding in middle age or later to try for political office”:

It’s highly doubtful that, in a few years, an entire generation of adults will look at positions promising vast influence and power and say “no, thanks.” That’s simply not the way human nature works. So if in the meantime some young people aren’t learning at the feet of the very people who’ve broken the system and are instead trying to learn how to fix problems in a new way, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.

Egypt’s Copts In The Crossfire

by Brendan James


McArdle suggests Western nations give Egypt’s Christians asylum as the country descends further into paranoid violence:

The U.S., along with other nations, should offer greater sanctuary to the Copts, who are clearly at risk as this drama plays out. This animus toward the large Coptic minority is not new — a friend whose grandfather was a prominent Coptic cleric once told me that his grandfather was used to spending time in jail because Hosni Mubarak would lock up some notable Copts every time he sensed the Muslim majority was getting restless. But this seems to be one of the worst spates of church-burning in Egypt since the Middle Ages. There’s a real risk that the widespread attacks on the Copts’ buildings will progress to widespread attacks on their people.

The Economist echoes her concern:

The virulence of the latest campaign stems from a perception among many Islamists, but particularly followers of the puritan Salafist school, that Christians helped orchestrate the July 3rd coup that toppled Muhammad Morsi. During the Brotherhood’s ill-fated sit-in, non-stop sermons frequently alleged Christian complicity in a global anti-Muslim plot. Salafist television stations have repeated claims of arms being stashed in churches.

Waguih al-Shimi, a former member of parliament for Nazla from the Salafist al-Nour party, says that while he disapproves of targeting Christians he understands what motivates their persecutors. Many Muslims, he says, were angered when the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, appeared next to Egypt’s defence minister as he announced the army coup. Salafist websites, according to Mr Shimi, have featured photographs showing soldiers raising the cross in triumph after shooting Islamist protesters. “Considering what has happened to Muslims,” says Mr Shimi, “we can thank God it was only Christian property, not people, that got hurt.”

More recent Dish on the plight of Egypt’s Copt minority here.

(Photo: A picture taken on August 18, 2013 shows a burnt icon in the Amir Tadros coptic Church in Minya, some 250 kms south of Cairo, which was set ablaze on August 14, 2013. By Virginie Nguyen Hoang/AFP/Getty Images)