Friday, June 28, 2002

ZoNotes: Don't Say Goodbye

Gecko's Revenge: Worldcom and Xerox
Oliver Stone's testosterone-and-sermon-laden Wall Street was both commentary on the seductive wealth of the 1980s and, perhaps a glimpse into the 1990s. The reason you don't hear the Left decrying the 1990s in the same way that they do the Dark Ages of the 1980s is because there was a Democrat in the White House from 1993-2001. The accounting chicanery of Worldcom and Xerox came at the high time of the Clinton economy, which itself was a maturation of the Reagan-Bush economy of the previous decade. Plus, it reveals the flaws of individuals, flaws that rippled throughout the stockholding and consumer communities. Eventually, the faux success of the large and established companies faded to the reality of losses. If the 1980s was about the accumulation of wealth, then the 1990s were about its manufacture. It seems that politicians have their spin doctors and large corporations their Andersen accountants. Interestingly, the fall after the pride usually takes place after or during an economic slowdown. This isn't new, it's just more and more expensive for the people involved.

CARDINAL, Day V -- Is There a Doctor In the Safehouse?
Ok, now let's get to the portion of the book-to-movie translation that is also not a difficult fix. Late in the book KGB Chairman Gerasimov orders the kidnapping of a missile defense scientist as a pawn in his power play in the Kremlin. You can fix this in one of 2 ways -- either you keep the Russian angle, OR you have al Qaeda or some other undesirable do the dirty deed. I don't want to paint Tom Clancy as clairvoyant, but many of his books deal with domestic terrorism. Patriot Games, Sum of All Fears, Debt of Honor, and Executive Orders all have portions dedicated to extensive terrorist operations in the U.S. Indeed, given recent events, kidnapping is rather low on the scale. Still, it makes for some interesting fiction. In the book, the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team is presented with an operational dilemma -- do you emphasize the rescue over the hostage over everything else and take down the kidnappers, or do you operate to capture at least one of them to figure out who employed them in the first place? The FBI's HRT looks great in this book, dated Cold War epic that it was.
So there we go -- 5 different plot points. Put them together -- the Russians, missile defense, Afghanistan, and terrorism -- and what kind of film do you get? Tomorrow we'll find out.

"If you close your eyes and think, you may actually see more."

Thursday, June 27, 2002

ZoNotes: One Nation, Under GOD...

What's Eating the 9th Circuit?
Ok, so what was my initial reaction? "Jesus Christ!" ("Hey, I thought my name was dammit?" - What comedy show, what comedy show?) Yesterday's ha-ha-ha verdict out of San Francisco's 9th Circuit court finding that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional was a golden goose for the more conservative and devout members of the American political spectrum. This country's most overturned court just gives and gives to conservative politicians wanting a cotton-candy sweet political issue for the November midterm elections. I approach this slightly less indignantly than I did when I first read the reports yesterday. Why, you ask? Well, even the athiests receive His protection and grace. Here's a refreshing way of looking at it this morning. Unlike certain family-dominated theocracies in strategically important areas that receive American military protection in exchange for ungrateful lecturing on our foreign policy, our Constitution allows for athiest heretic unbelievers like Michael Newdow to file suit in American court to attack a cherished tradition without fear of official retribution by jackbooted thugs. Then, when said court wrongly interprets the Establishment clause of the 1st Amendment, the legions of the Good Lord don't go to the court's chambers with torches and axes and set it on fire. No, we have better options, like Judge Scalia & the gang at the Supreme Court, who will most likely send this verdict to the halls of the overturned. A ridiculous decision, yes, of course! What would you expect from a Nixon-appointed judge? Remember, Nixon was a statist of the first order. If it hadn't been for Vietnam and that whole Watergate-tampering-with-the-Constitution issue, the Left would have accepted him.
Oh, and just try and sell this verdict in the American heartland, or, hell, New York City. Fortunately, this ruling technically applies only to the 9 western states in the circuit's jurisdiction. Last night Sean Hannity of the fair, balanced, and unafraid Fox News Channel stated that Arab fundamentalists would see this and determine that we are weak. Ha, I reject that. No, Sean, you got it wrong -- only in America can you see the process work without anybody picking up a firearm to settle the issue. It is a testament to our strengths, that even a wahoo on the 15-minute ticker to fame like Newdow can get a fair hearing in a court of law. This is why Osama and al Qaeda can't win against us in the long-term. We will always be true to ourselves. A terrible ruling? Yes. A threat to mankind as we know it? No. This is going to get overturned like pancakes at Denny's.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...
...Texas Democratic nominee for governor Tony Sanchez has been banned by the Corpus Christi Diocese for his pro-choice policy. The ban prevents Mr. Sanchez from speaking in the Catholic facilities throughout the sprawling CC diocese. As you all know, Laredo was part of CC's jurisdiction until 2000. The ban does not apply to the entire state, and I feel that it's a symbolic gesture. The move is a bit unancticpated -- Sanchez isn't necessarily pro-choice. You see, Sanchez is operating on what could be called the Lieberman Precedent. Back in 2000, when Lieberman was vetted by Gore's people for the VP-nominee slot, Lieberman's most visibly conservative stances -- pro-life, pro-prayer in school, pro-school vouchers, were effectively silenced by the left wing of the Democrat Party. Sanchez is personally pro-life, operationally pro-choice. Straddling the fence, you say? Perhaps. But up to this point in the Texas governor's race, abortion hasn't become an issue. Could it become one now?

The Precarious Leadership of Russia: Cardinal of the Kremlin translation, Day IV
The great chess game in Clancy's novel is the Soviet internal politics pitting reformist General Secretary Narmonov against the hard-line wing of Aleksandrov. The pivotal forces backing these two figures are Defense Minister Yazov and KGB Chairman Gerasimov. The reason the book was given its title was because CARDINAL was a Soviet colonel sending info to the West. When Gerasimov's counterintelligence people discover that the CARDINAL spy is an aid to Yazov, he uses it to leverage support in the Politburo against Narmonov and the arms control treaty he helped negotiate. Gerasimov is presented with the most astonishing of circumstances that forces him to abandon his power play.
In a movie adaptation, all we have to do here is change things around a bit. Instead of the Soviet Union, we have to accomodate the changes since '91 and break it down to just Russia. You can still have a CARDINAL giving info to the CIA, and you can still have a faction struggle. In real-life, Russian President Vladimir Putin ascended directly from the former Soviet intelligence community -- then-President Boris Yeltsin's handpicked successor. In the game of leverage in Russia, Defense holds all the guns, and intelligence all the power. Russia has stabilized greatly since Putin assumed the reins of power, bringing a steely discipline to the wayward bear. Russia has G8 status, is still a voting member of the Security Council, and even has semimembership in NATO.
That said, will Putin's successor be as productive?
Indeed, a movie could have higher drama -- given Russia's weaknesses in conventional military strength, it's leaning harder on nuclear deterrence than it did even during the Soviets' high time of the 1970s. In 1999, Russian forces engaging in theatre-level exercises actually "deployed" tactical nuclear weapons as a response to a NATO contingency in the Baltic states. Sum of All Fears, at least in its cinematic incarnation, did a sloppy job of presenting Russia. A more thorough, precise interpretation can be rendered in a Cardinal film. On corollary notes, change Soviet involvement in Afghanistan to that of Chechnya.

"War is the unfolding of miscalculations." -- Barbara Tuchman

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

ZoNotes: Should've Been a Cowboy...

Minority Report Review
Last night ZoNoter Kathleen Lyon and I made our way over to the Hoffman Theater in Alexandria to watch the new Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. This was a fun movie, appropriately dark yet surprisingly humorous in its execution. To give a brief plot summary, Mr. Cruise plays the role of John Anderton, the chief of the DC "Precrime" unit. The unit's "engines" are 3 "precogs" -- people who can see the future. Just as the program is about to go federal, Cruise realizes that in 36 hours he is set to kill someone he has never met. A fast-paced yarn ensues. Now, the movie was filmed before 9.11, and there are obviously no direct correlations between the film and the events of real life. The fictional dynamic and the hard-driving plot prevent director Steven Spielberg from delivering some heavy social message about the dangers of law enforcement run rampant. If anything, the officers in the precrime unit are not jackbooted thugs hungry on oppressing the masses. Based on what they know about the precog technology, the officers do their jobs. Besides, it is a nice ironic twist is that for all they know about the crimes that they preempt -- they lack a piece of critical knowledge about the entire system -- one that could impact the whole of the program. When Anderton realizes that he may have found an error, he expresses sincere shock about the lives he has changed.
Apart from some, shall we say, eye-opening moments, the film is a great blend of futuristic sci-fi, energetic pacing, and gripping plot twists. Colin Farrell does a splendid if underused job as federal Agent Whitmore, a viciously entertaining combination of unrestrained ambition and dedicated service. Cruise, who seems to play the same role no matter what the setting of the film, is successful in portraying the drug-addled, mentally shaken, physically agile Anderton. And Max von Sydow of Exorcist fame plays the role of a steady mentor, almost too perfectly.
Kathleen was a bit turned off by the graphic liberties taken by Spielberg, citing the violence as a bit too heavy and gratuitous. I can see merit in that assertion, as some of the smack being thrown down doesn't necessarily flow with the "mystery thriller" trajectory of the movie. Still, one action scene in particular is appropriate for the film -- I won't say which -- that tests the physical talents of the actors involved.
Ok, now for the social heavy stuff. Contrary to some observers, the DC portrayed in this film is in my opinion not an "Ashcroftian" utopia. The whole premise of the film is deeper than the current political arrangement, and if you want to get deep about it -- precrime is not what the state wants, it's what we want. Remember Jack Nicholson's infamous rant from A Few Good Men (interestingly, also a Cruise flick)? "You want me on that wall, you need me on that wall!" Well, the same logic applies in Minority Report. A little detail in the film is that precrime is facing a national referendum after a 6-year trial in DC. So, it's not being forced upon the populace, it's being offered.
Thus, if the film is cautionary and admonishing, it is so in the direction of the body politic, not the state. The question that the film poses for the viewer is this: in a free society, would you rather have the ability to ward off crime before it takes place, or are you willing to accept the consequences of an unpredictable world? The Precrime unit is not omnipotent -- for all the information that the unit receives, it is still on the short end of time. The chaotic opening moments of the movie confirm this. It is not that precrime is perfect, it is that it is anticipatory. That's what we all want, right? To stop crime before it takes place? To borrow a phrase from my political opposites, the precrime is thinking globally, acting locally (or in this case, throughout DC).
The Left as of late has made hay over the 9.11 "warnings" and our inability to "ward off" the attacks. Fine, the state can be more assertive, but if they had performed precrime-like activity before the attacks, would not the same Left denounce it as a violation of civil liberties and racial profiling? You can't have it both ways. All in all, a fine movie it was.

Cardinal Goes to the Movies, Part III -- Afghanistan, Banana Peel of Empires
My Cardinal of the Kremlin translation from film to movie continues. Great powers have a history in Afghanistan, most recently the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and the current American/Coalition activity against the Taliban and al Qaeda after the 9.11 attacks. Operations in this country have never been easy -- evidenced by the dismal Soviet military performance there and the hiccups American forces encountered at Tora Bora and during Operation ANACONDA.

This is a relatively easy script alteration for a Hollywood scribe, given the relevance of the battlefield itself. In the novel version of Cardinal of the Kremlin, the Soviets are operating in Afghanistan against the U.S.-backed mujaheddin. In a cinematic adaptation, all we have to do is replace superpowers and adversaries and have American forces working against al Qaeda. Plus, we already have a sterling role for an actor to play -- that of the Archer, the Afghani warrior who is a legend by shooting down Soviet aircraft with his trusty Stinger missile. In the movie, the Archer could be a Northern Alliance warlord known throughout the tribes for his bravery against Taliban and al Qaeda forces. Plus, we have a real-life example, that of Massoud, the Northern Alliance chief who was killed by homicide bombers before the 9.11 attacks. The Archer is perhaps the most poignant character in Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series -- a dedicated fighter, a devout man of God, hardened by war. Indeed, he is arguably the most "real" of the many characters in the Ryan mythos.

"It is not that time moves faster, it is that we are busier."

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

ZoNotes: You Can't Hide Those Lyin' Eyes, And Your Smile is a Big Disguise, I thought by now, you'd realize, there ain't no way to hide those lyin' eyes...

Sean Mullaney (B'00) sends me this article about our hemispheric partners in Chile.

Line In the Mud
President Bush's proposal for a Palestinian state simultaneously establishes the official American position while ensuring that the Palestinians' own weaknesses will result in its collapse. Apart from open civil war between moderates and Arafat, it is unlikely that democratic elections will alter the face of the Palestinian leadership -- primarily because Arafat controls the security apparatus of the PLO, and it will allow him to rig the results. This was why Arafat looked so calm after the announcement was made. For the most part, the thrust of the speech wasn't about the prospect of a Palestinian state -- it was more of a direct message to Arafat himself and the Arab states who offer him the superficial but real political cover in international forums. It also slightly alters the blueprint that has dominated the context of the peace process for the last 35 years. Up until now, the Palestinians only had to offer "peace" in exchange for the territory Israel took over in the Six-Day War. Now, they have to offer a more concrete guarantee of stability along with peace. The Israelis don't really have to give anything up aside from the halting of settlements. Depending on how fast the Palestinians decide to act, it could be years before the combatants get to final status talks. the talk of a provisional Palestinian state is a throwaway line designed, I guess, to offer the Palestinians a "horizon." However, they've already had a rather broad one. In essence what it looks like -- no more Israel. The Bush proposal offers the Palestinians a realistic chance for a state. However, if you work from what I offered last week, it's not the state that they want. It's the war, and millions of dead Jews. They can't say that we didn't make an offer.

Lasers, Schmasers: The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Part II
First, we need a proper cast. I read Jack Ryan, I saw him in 3 movies, and trust me, Ben Affleck is no Jack Ryan. Let's insert Han Solo, Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, as it was in the decently executed Patriot Games and the bungled Clear and Present Danger. The missile defense work that forms the integral focus of the plot in Clancy's book is actually a bit more ambitious (lasers) than the current missile defense options -- "interceptor" missiles and theatre ballistic options on the Aegis-class cruisers. The Molly Ivins lefty crowd speaks of missile defense as trying to hit a bullet with a bullet. It's actually alot harder than that -- you have to put the bullet where you think the missile's warheads are going to be. However, it isn't impossible. The ballistic missile is indeed the most difficult delivery system to bring down. However, the math and the technology exist. It's just a matter of getting the timing right. Cardinal's tech had to do with lasers frying the target. The specifics described in the novel are perplexing and complicated, so I'll spare that.
The point is, if you're a scriptwriter in Hollywood, "Lasers," "Russians" and "Americans" make for good popcorn fodder. Before 9.11, missile defense was supposed to be the primary defense-related issue in the political debate. After 9.11, many on the left argued that a missile defense shield was obviated by the use of airliners. If it were true, I'd be happy. The reality is that states like Iraq and North Korea continue to pursue a ballistic program of a robust nature. Why do you think the Russians didn't object all too much to the Bush Administration's decision to abrogate the ABM Treaty? It wasn't simply because the Russians maintain a significant arsenal to overwhelm the modest defense proposed by the White House -- it was also because the Russians had violated the treaty tenets already! The phased array radars deep in Soviet territory were big no-nos for the treaty. The Russians already had one ABM site operational around Moscow -- the Galosh system (whose reliability was never verified, thankfully).

A proper script alteration would be: Both Russians and Americans working on missile defense options to counter ballistic missile attacks from neo-fascist white supremacists in Europe! Ok, see how utterly ridiculous the movie adaptation to Sum of All Fears was in respect to choosing villains? If we don't want to offend anybody, then we can make up an evil Persian Gulf country (West Wing fans, do you know the way to Komar?) -- Nowhereistan. Nowhereistani dictator Haddam Sussein is fielding an army armed with nerve gas and nuclear weapons, a threat not only to America, but also to the sensitive Russian "near abroad" -- all the "-istan" states in Central Asia.

See? How hard was that? Tomorrow: Afghanistan, where the world goes to fight.

"People who talk about the "good ol' days" may not have lived through them."

Monday, June 24, 2002

ZoNotes: I'm Looking At the Man in the Mirror...

The Empty Mound
I was profoundly saddened by the sudden death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile, who passed away in his sleep, due an apparent heart attack caused by blocked arteries. At the strapping young age of 33, Kile had found new life and vibrancy with the NL Central-leading Cards, who were in Chicago for a weekend series against the archrival Cubs. I saw last night's game to see how the Cards would play, given that Sunday night was Kile's turn in the rotation. Even though the Cards were beat badly, I must tip my hat to Manager Tony LaRussa, who helped lead the team in a most sensitive time. Already reeling from the death of radio announcer Jack Buck earlier in the week, the Cards were devastated by the discovery of Kile's body sometime after noon on Saturday. Kile's passing was unexpected, but I truly do hope that when God came for him, that there was no pain. There's no way to know for sure if he "died peacefully in his sleep" -- we all hope so. An alarming detail in today's Washington Post story is that the usual EKG scan players receive did not detect the problem, but the article goes on to note that a more detailed test would have been necessary to detect the problem. The severity of the clog -- enough to cause a life-ending cardiac event -- indicates to me that this problem manifested over a long time. May God watch over Kile and his family. And for the Cards, I hope nothing more comes upon the franchise. They've gone through a week of trauma that other sports teams don't experience in years, or perhaps in their entire existence.

It's All in the Translation, Part I
This week I'm going to build a case for why Tom Clancy's Cardinal of the Kremlin would have made a better book-to-movie translation than the gloriously apocalyptic adaptation of the Sum of All Fears. Even though the latter was published later, it is in fact a more "outdated" concept than Cardinal. Sum was perhaps the most time-sensitive of the entire Jack Ryan series, for it relied on a bevy of Cold War pillars to make the story run -- the Soviet-American demarcation point in East Berlin, the continued presence of a Soviet state, a true superpower armed confrontation involving multiple theaters of operation, and a Cold War-era U.S. armed forces structure. After, say, Christmas 1991, the book lost alot of its resonance and value as a demonstrative tool. Cardinal, however, is a cleaner break, for a variety of reasons we will discuss this week:

TUESDAY: Missile defense technology, or, lasers, schmasers!
WEDNESDAY: Afghanistan, banana peel of Empires
THURSDAY: The Precarious Leadership of Russia
FRIDAY: Is There a Doctor in the Safehouse? Acts of Domestic Terrorism

As a primer, I recommend that you all pick up a copy of Cardinal at your local library or bookstore. You don't have to, as I'm basing this on generalities on the story, but it should be of assistance to you as we go along this week. Oh, and one other thing based on the brief 3-hour stay I had at Barnes and Noble on Saturday -- Red Storm Rising, Clancy's World War III epic, is NOT a Jack Ryan series novel. The updated cover on the reprint is a big mistake.

"Life is as short as the Lord makes it."