Thursday, June 23, 2005

The NBA Draft Made Easy

Now that the lamest NBA Finals in history have concluded with a characteristically low score, it is time to look ahead to Tuesday's NBA draft. Of course, there are a lot of candidates floating around, few of them decidely superior, and the middle-to-late first round could feature more nasty surprises than Asia SF to the uninitiated. Speaking of SF's, SF Marvin Williams, UNC's pogo-stick 6th man, has begun to really cause people to question whether Andrew Bogut, the national player of the year who averaged almost twice as many points and rebounds as Williams, is the consensus #1 pick for the Bucks, who have been quietly suffering their own version of chronic wasting disease out in the hinterlands. The word is that the Bucks will take the player most immediately ready to contribute (Bogut), leaving Williams to fall (and how!) to the Hawks.

Now, when Robinson Jeffers wrote Give Your Heart To The Hawks, he could not have known how right he'd be. To "heart", let us also add: point guard, shooting guard, power forward, and center. The Hawks, you see, never met a small forward they didn't like. After staking the franchise on the lovable but solid-at-best Al Harrington, they decided that 3 is indeed company in last year's draft, taking Josh Childress, arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time, followed closely by Josh Smith. Childress was stuck out of place at the 2, but played a very nice de facto 3 in the second half of the season, while Smith outshone the higher pick early on but never really proved to be more than a dunk/rebound/block kind of player (a tremendous shock, I know).

So, whither the Hawk's #2 overall pick? Conventional wisdom suggests that these perennial Emmy award winners will pick the one thing they have too much of already - which leaves #3 pick-holders Portland in a tight spot. No strangers to boneheaded picks (viz. Sebastian Telfair and Travis Outlaw) in recent years, the Blazers could select the best overall player, undersized but sparkling point guard Chris Paul. But they have already invested the point guard position in Telfair. So what do they do? They could bypass this conflict entirely and select Gerald Green, the prep schooler already being touted as a young T-Mac (wait, I thought T-Mac was a young T-Mac). They could pick Paul, and admit they goofed on Telfair. Or they could play the two side by side in a bid for the Shortest Backcourt This Side of the WNBA. (Of course, given the chemistry masterstroke of playing Zach Randolph and Shareef Abdur-Rahim side by side, it's not inconceivable).

Now, there is one outcome that no one is discussing. What if - and I am only saying what if - Atlanta does something smart for once, and picks Chris Paul, the floor general they so desperately need? And what if, with such grace shed upon them, Portland snatches the previously unthinkable Marvin Williams, a perfect complement to the menacing Randolph at the other forward spot? I know, I know: When you're Top 2, you're Top 2. But bear with me on this. Portland gets their man, and perhaps even deals Darius "I'm Gonna Average 9 and 5 The Rest of My Life" Miles to some really desperate and optimistic team. Think about it: #2 picks the best available player for their needs, and #3 does likewise. At #4, New Orleans nabs the obvious pick, Illinois PG Deron Williams. And everyone's happy. Well, everyone, that is, except the teams picking 5th-30th. But, like my dad says every time I piss off the wrong people, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Because the rest of this draft is certainly looking like a hearty one.

{Don't} Flaunt It If You've Got It

Tonight, Dad and I had the rare pleasure of foregathering for dinner all by ourselves, without such distractions as my wild-eyed radical of a brother or my charming and vivacious Mom. Hence, the conversation very quickly turned to the Middle East and a host of related things that make for unpleasant but animated discussion. Now, for those of you who care to remember, a few weeks ago I published a jeremiad of sorts concerning the Newsweek/Koran/Swirlie allegations, and the right of the press to make these sorts of things known to the general public. However, I felt I wouldn't be sufficiently balanced if I didn't acknowledge that sometimes, information needs to be kept secret for the sake of the war effort. The only problem is, that information, at least the kind that gets me madder than John Bolton sans moustache-wax, isn't being leaked by rogue and disaffected members of the press. Rather, it is being gleefully trumpeted by representatives of the U.S. government in their so-called War on Terror.

I am speaking, of course, about something we see every few months: some high-ranking al Qaeda operative, usually with a mean five o' clock shadow, is smoked out of a safe house in Karachi or Islamabad, and, after a protracted gun battle, is proudly taken to an undisclosed location and paraded around a fair amount beforehand. Some of the more high-visibility captures include Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian and bin laden's former Operations Chief; Ramzi Binalshibh, the "20th Hijacker", and 9/11 operational mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Great, you say. But believe me when I say that I would be happier not knowing any of this.

Al Qaeda operates on a principal of replaceable parts. Indeed, when running a martyrdom racket, you have to be able to replace people. Osama bin Laden himself has even issued statements to the effect that al Qaeda is not really about him - though his capture would certainly dim the morale of his followers, perhaps sufficiently enough to be worth publicizing (of course, I do not want to bring myself to think of the political ramifications of this, should G.W. Bush manage to take credit for it). The de-centralized nature of the organization means that no one, indeed no single cell, is irreplaceable. That being said, there do exist certain "stars" within the organization, and the abovementioned captives certainly fit the bill. These are the organizational and oeprational geniuses, the guys who recruit in tough territories and establish cells where others failed. They are also flashpoints for communication and intelligence between cells.

Now, let's say we catch one of these guys, and say nothing. Depending on the nature of the capture - how many are killed, how many escape - it is conceivable that the rest of al Qaeda won't know whether their missing comrade is dead, captured, or cut off. Plans that rested with him must be adjusted. And, most importantly, information known only to him and perhaps a few others might be squeezed out. In fact, the government could announce that he has been killed - especially in the event that he actually talks. (I will not get into the ethics of torture debate here, but we'd be fools to think it isn't happening). One intriguing possibility might be to provide a suspect who has cracked with the means of contacting members of an at-large cell, under close watch from his captors of course - in other words, to have a suspect actively lead intelligence to active and free members. I don't know how realistic this is, but the point in all of this is that it could proceed with greater ease and (duh) secrecy if we didn't feel the need to prop every capture for the world media.

Now, what is happening when we do announce captures? For one, it emboldens those left behind in the raid to prove that less is more - that al Qaeda can operate even more brazenly without its top brass. For another, it allows free operatives to plan around the loss of personnel, to scrap certain courses of action, and even to consider the possibility that the person might be talking - although, frankly, I have little idea how many of these guys have started to sing under prodding at their undisclosed locations. Looking over the pros and cons, I can't really find any good reason to announce the capture of top al Qaeda figures other than to glorify the War on Terror - and a very costly glorification it may prove to be.

So why is the government so quick to give away the element of mystery surrounding such missing persons when all it accomplishes is a slight morale boost? My theory is that they have precious little else to show for this expensive war, and the American people instinctually like to identify villains. Furthermore, it would require educational - and cerebral - efforts currently unthinkable in this country to disabuse citizens of their belief that these public captures mean we're any safer. Of course, the more al Qaeda members behind bars, the better - but not if we give away the game before anyone has had a chance to learn anything.

Of course, in the event that bin Laden himself is captured, the policy might merit reconsideration, because he is such a lionized figure among his followers, and because his continued freedom has been cause for many to thumb their noses at the U.S. Of course, there is also the question of how involved he is in al Qaeda's day to day operations - and if he has the ability to continue to issue communiques across the globe, my hunch is that the answer is "very". Not that I'd expect to get much information out of him, though. We could try all we liked, but, given the build-up he has received as the evil to end all evils, it would almost be a disappointment to his mythology if bin Laden talked to the CIA. My belief remains that the best we could get from him would be his head on a stake. But don't strain yourself holding out for that contingency.

Monday, June 20, 2005

It Could Happen

I think that having listened exclusively to The Band my entire senior year of college might finally be taking its psychological toll. The other night, I dreamed that I had become a million-selling singer overnight, having just recorded a cover of "Up On Cripple Creek". Problem was, though, I still sounded like me, which is to say awful. Maybe the fact that, in the alternate reality of my dreams, the American public's tastes have sunk so low as to make me a chart-topper could portend a similar cultural skid in real life.

One thing I've always found in my dreams is that I can't enjoy things, even major wish fulfillments. For instance, a dozen times in the past year I have dreamed that I am finally a San Francisco 49er, but my shoes keep getting tied together whenever I play. In this case, I was unable to enjoy my fame and fortune due to embarrassment, and the lingering knowledge that, even if I sounded fine to everyone else, I knew I couldn't carry a tune. What really intensified my self-mortification was that I'd also cut a music video, consisting solely of me, from the chest up, singing "Cripple Creek" in the shower with no instruments. Only I would ever consider this a wise career move.

The result of all this was that I went to Ohio to hide out until the uproar died down. Well, as The Band themselves once sang, "look out Cleveland, storm is coming through..."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Laisser Les Bon Temps Rouler

Once again, I will be breaking format to report personal goings-on. (Ok, maybe there isn't too much of a format any more, nowadays). Last night I was fortunate enough to go to La Selva Beach, south of Santa Cruz, where the redoubtable and lovely Danielle Rinderknecht was hosting a Summer Soul-stice at her residence. A fine time was had by all, and it was especially a pleasure to renew my culinary partnership with noted carnivore Lucy Goodnough to season some small animals for the grill, ably manned by Lee H. Lightfoot (judging by the hours he put in slaving over the hot metal, I guess that the "H" stands for Hephaestus). However, the point of this post is not to emphasize my glamorous lifestyle, but to offer some handy-dandy cooking tips for my readership.

Folks, summer is barbecue time, and those of you who are less than fully alive to this essential truth had better shape up or just pledge allegiance to Osama right now, because there is no middle ground on this issue. I am committed to making this the summer of fire and meat, and in view of this I will share a series of recipes. This week, we're having Chicken Legs Zevon, a tribute to my favorite bard of headless machine gunners and werewolves with a taste for Chinese.

Chicken Legs Zevon:
(Note that measurements will be in the Cajun standard format. This is easier than it sounds - just use enough to cover your meat).

- A bunch of chicken legs (I can eat at least five myself, when prepared this way).
- A shitload of Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning.
- Paprika
- a tol'able amount of Cayenne Pepper
- Thyme
- Maple syrup
- Olive oil
- 1 ice-cold beer (medium to dark, but no weak sauce)
- Ketchup
- Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
- Red wine vinegar
- Garlic

Begin by mixing equal parts maple syrup and olive oil. Yes, it sounds weird - just trust me. Lightly baste the chicken legs with this mixture. The oil will burn off; the syrup will seep into the skin for a pleasing sweetness.

Take the shitload of Tony's, and add paprika til it's a shade or two darker. Add cayenne to taste - you don't want to cater to the wimps (not that you know any, but, all the same, you have nothing to prove. It will be spicy enough. Then, add thyme to taste - I do it until the spice mixture aquires a faint greenish tint.

Rub the spice mixture thoroughly over the chicken legs until they are well caked with the stuff. Grill them until the skin is crispy and blistered, almost blackened.

While chicken is grilling, make a sauce of 2 parts ketchup to 1 part Lea & Perrin's. Add vinegar and garlic to taste. Heat over medium. At this point, you should be sweating in anticipation. Crack open an ice cold beer, and toss a few splashes into the sauce before refreshing yourself. Let the sauce come to a simmer, and remove from heat after ten minutes, stirring to prevent skin from forming. At this point, you can either baste the legs in the sauce before they're done cooking, or let folks do their own when you take them off.

Note: In a rush to experience the magic, your guests will shove the still-smoking legs into their mouths before it's quite safe. Keep plenty of ice-cold beer on hand as an extinguisher.

Next time: The secrets of Carne Asada.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Look Homeward, Angel

It has been a tacit agreement with myself throughout the brief tenure of this blog that I would not indulge in any personal, emotional reflection. My thoughts, insights, and spontaneous, off the cuff tirades I offer to the poor schleps who would partake; my feelings I prefer to keep to myself. However, I can't help but give voice to how I feel tonight: sad, yet fully aware of how blessed I have been these past four years. You see, tonight I drove Praveen, one of the true constants of my college experience, to the airport, where he will depart for his ancestral homeland of Kentucky, followed by a summer of biking through Europe and then grad school at Penn.

Now, it's not like I'm saying goodbye to a girlfriend. No, in some ways it's worse. My girlfriends have always served to detract from my sanity, while Praveen singlehandedly preserved it on many occasions. And, indeed, if anyone has ever addressed you as "grundle grinch", you had better hope that person is not your girlfriend. But all that aside, I am left to gape and exclaim, "What a guy." Praveen is more than a friend; he is a conspirator in every sense of the word. From being the meanest members of the 6th Man club, to infecting the rest of Stanford with phrases we learned on BET, to living in a vegetarian co-op and ruining it for everyone else, Praveen has always been there. He'd be first in line for best man at my next wedding, if our tastes weren't so similar that I couldn't safely let him within a hundred yards of my wife. Just kidding, pal.

I will cut it out with the emotional indulgences now, but I would like to leave you with the image of the drive to the airport. We stopped at In N Out Burger, a restaurant sadly underrepresented in Pennsylvania. I had a triple meat; Praveen had grilled cheese, but insisted on paying for mine, beef and all. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Greatest Hits, a perennial selection, was playing, and the Jew from Carmel Valley, California and the Hindu from Lexington, Kentucky sang along vigorously to the more than vaguely Christian "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" - "There's a better world a-waiting/In the sky, Lord, in the sky." I can't really say much about that. But I will say it's already a better world because of folks like Praveen, who, if he should chance to read this, would probably object to so much unqualified praise. So, for the sake of balance, your jump shot is a disgrace to humanity.

Five years of Praveen, four of them characterized by our unwavering dedication to the principles of brotherhood, cooperation, and Ebonics. And yet, Stanford is still standing.

Only in America.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Camp X-Ray Fantasy

What if Guantanamo detainees had re-written The Big Lebowski? Well, for one thing, they might actually have tended to agree with Walter's characterization of Saddam Hussein as "that camel fucker in Iraq". (As over 50% of the voting public failed to grasp, Saddam, the secular dictator, was not widely admired by advocates of theocracy).

More importantly, though, consider the dialogue that could have been:

Walter: Thaaat's right, Dude, they pee on your fucking Koran.

Be Careful What You Wish For

It recently came up, as a result of a conversation I had with the redoubtable Andy Aymeloglu, that, as I had predicted, the Spurs-Pistons series (which I did sneak a shameful peek at today, in defiance of my earlier edict against me watching it) is a complete punishment to look at. By the way, the sports-minded among you should definitely read up on Andy's thoughts at http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=aaymeloglu. I say this both because it's true, and also in the hopes that Andy will elect to forgive me the promise I made to name my firstborn after him in exchange for after-midnight help in CS 106A sophomore year. Comrade Aymeloglu asks, "84-69? C'mon, what kind of score is that?" My thoughts exactly - and that is why I did not (for the most part) watch the game.

What we've been hearing all week from the basketball pundits is that this will, contrary to popular despiar, be a fan's series after all - a marketer's nightmare, but some great pure basketball. The truth is, though, this series, or, more accurately, my fears about it, have caused me to question whether, in fact, we want the game to be played "the way it was meant to be played". Now, there is some common ground. We're all sick of guys coming in with no jump shot, of 6'11" guys who can't even pull off a drop step when it would really help. These are the types of fundamentals we can agree upon. But I think we're all finding out that teams that defend every possession to the fullest of their ability make the game a complete misery. The fact is, if everyone got his man, there would be no - or many fewer - game-saving threes, no silky floaters in the lane just when you really needed it. (Of course, a lot of this has to do with the officiating, and the tendency of the refs to go all-or-nothing on certain types of fouls, particularly offensive fouls away from the basket).

The point is, though, basketball the right way is just no damn fun at all. I mean, who among us wouldn't like to have every game resemble the Lakers-Celtics dance marathons of the mid to late 80s, when each team could be expected to chip in 115-120 points a night? I'm biased, of course - I quite literally learned to swear watching these games as a four, five, and six year old whose yearly family reunions in L.A. managed to coincide with the Finals during the height of Showtime. The fact is, we like glamour. It's nothing to do with having no Shaq or Kobe in the Finals. Well, OK, it's everything to do with having no Shaq in the finals. No one is naive enough to pretend otherwise.

Personally, I wouldn't mind it if Kobe never sniffed that hallowed event again (although preferably he would languish on another team than my beloved Lakers). But in an era devoid of game-changing centers, Shaq lends an ineluctable aura of excitement. (OK, I know Tim Duncan is effectively a center half the time, but he's boring, and, as we have seen, boring is bad). Hence, I propose a Shaq inclusion clause: If Shaq is not, somehow, on a team playing for the NBA title prior to the start of the series, he will be temporarily released from his contractual obligations and inserted into the action - signing one, and, if events warrant, two ten-day contracts. I think the sheer fun of Shaq signing a ten-day contract would be worth the absurdity all on its own. More importantly, though, the rules would be changed so that possession of Shaq would alternate. As a result, gaining home team advantage would pale in comparison to the merits of gaining Shaq-team advantage. Finally, Shaq would win a whole slew of titles, and we could effectively relive the days when guys like Mikan and Russell manhandled an entire league on their way to absolute domination.

I mean, it's only fair, right?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Shades of Stupidity

By now, everyone has read what is surely the most notable of recent "who cares now?" revelations - namely, that Kerry's grades while at Yale weren't really any better than those of the much-maligned intellect to whom he conceded the 2004 election. Conservatives are having a field day, liberals are affecting disdain, and assorted others are struggling (or not) to care. Grades, of course, are near and dear to my heart - but not because mine have always been perfect. Indeed, I have all the admiration in the world for folks whose grades belied their intelligence, yet still managed to outshine those who toed the line. In my own modest case, I graduated 13th in my high school class - surely the lowest-ranked student to attend an elite university, not to mention a traditionally unlucky number. Mind you, I went to a small high school, and not a top-heavy one either - the difference between one and thirteen in terms of accomplishment could be aptly analogized to the same difference in the NBA Draft lottery.

Of course, it's college grades that are at issue here, and on this score, I have some inside information, albeit hearsay. My friend Joey's father was a classmate of Bush's at Yale, and remarked that he was a C student - however, he seemed to coast easily into those C's in an era when C represented the average payoff for the average effort, and mere coasting often translated to worse grades. I've always suspected Bush was not as stupid as liberals would have him, nor even as stupid as he himself lets on. I don't want to get started on a rant about the current anti-intellectual craze in this country, but suffice it to say that we are not, at present, a nation that reveres books (regardless of how much of the Newsweek allegations you believe).

I still think it's fair to characterize Bush as a cowboy, whose advisors, many of them intellectuals of a far superior echelon to most of the folks who voted the whole menagerie into office, have really re-defined conservatism by their any-means-necessary approach. Regarding the Iraq war, no one is pretending that our course of action is expedient. Rather, the rallying cry is "freedom" - freedom, it seems, from the shackles of pragmatism. The point is that we are not talking about good, safe ideas anymore - we are talking about neo-Platonic ideologies, about bridging an immense gap between the way things are and the way things ought to be. In an ideal world, wanting to spread democracy one country at a time to one imaginary grateful populace at a time would mean a year here, a year there - not a disjointed and wildly problematic campaign that has arguably rendered us less safe than ever before. But, again, we're not talking about good ideas, we're talking about good ideologies. In other words, when Bush & Co. do something you or I might regard as "rash", or even "stupid", they know exactly what they are doing.

Of course, it's easy to have been less than one's intellectual best in college. I mean, how many of you can honestly say that you gave it your all during those four (or five, or six) years? What matters is how dumb you are now. Remember, as the newfangled saw goes, youth only happens once, but immaturity is forever. Take my dad - he spent most of college engaged in civil disobedience and free love. He did not graduate with honors. However, he is as smart and hard-working at 57 as you will find. That's what interests me - who's doing smart things now. I mean, Bush got a free pass from the Right for the cocaine and drunk driving. I say we give Kerry a free pass for having enjoyed mediocre grades at his Ivy League institution, much as a more historically recognized JFK did at Harvard. As Johnny Cash says, "I made straight A's in love."

Monday, June 06, 2005

Displeasure

So, the Pistons were basically handed the series, as they enjoyed both an injured Shaq and an injured Dwyane Wade. Those of you who can stand it, get ready for the most miserable NBA Finals of your entire lives. You'll have to tell me about it, though, because there is no reason for me to watch. I have adopted some pretty absurd causes in my day when my A-list teams were not in the Finals (viz. 2003 New Jersey Nets), but there is really no reason for me to prefer either of these low-scoring morasses of basketball. And I think it's really going to be bad enough that drinking and gambling won't be able to cast a positive light.

In Watermelon Sugar

One of the advantages to emerge from being both sick and at my parents' house this weekend was the chance to unearth some of the paperback books my dad must have enjoyed when he was not far from my own age. This afternoon, I sat out on the deck, wrapped in blankets in the manner of the sanatorium inmates in The Magic Mountain, and read Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar, a work of confusing but nonetheless astonishing beauty. Its basic premise - a world where the sun shines a different color each day as the stage for a simple fable of love and betrayal - almost caused me to dismiss the book out of hand. Indeed, there is a general miasma of wackness about it - at the rational level. However, I am always hoping to be moved irrationally, and this one did the trick. Eight hours later, I still feel elsewhere, and although I rarely issue such a dictum, I say, to the three of you who are likely to read this, go out and get a copy post-haste. You will be both a sadder and happier person as a result.

Friday, June 03, 2005

A Sophomore, But Hopefully Not Sophomoric, Effort

Well, it seems that almost two months have gone by since I started this blog, and in fact I have not done a damn thing about it since my initial post promising quality thoughts - quality, not quantity, mind you. However, since I am under the weather, and the shot of Everclear I ingested earlier this afternoon didn't help matters as much as I expected it to, I feel it is time to hit the keypad again, hopefully on a more regular basis from here on out. Of course, a lot of things have happened since the last posting, and I am loathe to report old news, but I will share two reflections: my brief brush with enlightenment Tuesday, and my thoughts on the Newsweek Koran-flushing debacle.

I. Tuesday marked the day tickets went on sale for the Dalai Lama's appearance at Stanford this November. Good son that I am, I agreed to help obtain tickets for my dad's friend, and was treated to the most staggeringly inefficient line I have ever had the displeasure to encounter. As I was reflecting on my aggravation, it suddenly dawned on me that Buddhism taught the transcendence of everyday frustrations such as this one, and I held out my hand, as if to say, "Wow, would ya look at that!" At that time, a bird took a shit on my outstretched hand. Surely, the Buddha smiles for good reason.

II. What the Newsweek affair reveals, more than anything else, is how little the verifiable truth has to do with the actual controversy. While tragic, the fallout of this outbreak of finger-pointing hysteria is extremely instructive. Namely, it has served to clarify some of the real anxieties surrounding the right and left, respectively, in the war on terror.

I'll begin with those on the right. Roger Kimball, chief contributor to The New Criterion's Arma Virumque weblog, notes (in comparing the U.S. media of today to that of WWII) "The press then was on our side. Whose side are they on now? I wonder." Dennis Prager (my distant cousin) notes, "While American news media were just as interested in scoops in 1944 as they are now, they also had a belief that when America was at war, publishing information injurious to America and especially to its troops was unthinkable." What is most interesting is that Prager prefaces that comment by positing that "If an American interrogator of Japanese prisoners desecrated the most sacred Japanese symbols during World War II, it is inconceivable that any American media would have published this information."

Note, if you will, that Prager does not hypothesize a false report. What I assert is that the Newsweek report did not anger so many people because it was unsubstantiated. Nor, even, is the real issue seventeen dead riot victims. Rather, what is inconceivable to so many is that the press could publish information that is damaging to America's reputation at all. This is hardly a secret, of course. Conservatives across the nation are boiling over at a media they perceive to be nothing less than traitorous. Frankly, I find this rhetoric highly disturbing. I believe that in this case, there was not much to be gained by exposing such an incident, and that, in the grand scheme of grievances against the U.S., this one ranks pretty low on the totem pole. However, we need not look too far back to find so many of the same people calling the expose of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses an act of treason - an attitude that is jingoistic at best and at its worst highly dangerous. Should their be no accountability for what is done within our military? Would Americans have been better off not knowing what went on under the banner of freedom and democracy? The adaptation of the press as a state-sanctioned mouthpiece smacks to me of nascent fascism - and while I would not join some of my liberal colleagues in accusing the United States of turning into a fascist entity, it is impossible to ignore the significance of the trend towards stern reprisals against the press.

The fact is that the news media, however short they may fall of achieving it, ostensibly are responsible for truthful reporting of the news that affects us. They are not responsible for propaganda - though they may certainly serve as a vehicle for it. Neither, then, are they responsible for covering things up in a paternalistic fashion. The best-known exception to this, of course, is when something is withheld - a victim or witness' name, in most cases - in the interest of protecting individual safety. Well, so the argument goes, seventeen dead people - and countless more who were merely injured - might constitute a violation of safety.

What I wish to ask the millions of people who are wholly comfortable blaming Newsweek for the murderous and animalistic actions of rioting Afghans is, suppose Mr. Bush had given a speech affirming our commitment to achieving democracy or defeating terrorism, and a bunch of people launched into a deadly riot? Suppose Bush had issued, as he so often has, a direct challenge to the assorted evildoers to 'come and get us', so to speak? Would anyone on the right blame Bush for the ensuing carnage? No, and well they shouldn't. I could probably find any number of Bush speeches, were I so inclined, that would qualify as incendiary - to trigger-happy Islamist radicals itching for the least excuse to draw a bloodbath. Dennis Prager asks, and quite correctly, "Did any Buddhists riot and murder when the Taliban Muslims blew up the irreplaceable giant Buddhist statues in Afghanistan?...Did any Christians riot and murder...when all Christian services and even the wearing of a cross were banned in Saudi Arabia?"

Of course not. And this is the great failure of the fringe but vocal element of the American left that suggests we treat the Islamist enemy as people with legitimate complaints expressing them through legitimate means. In defending Newsweek's decision, liberals are forced to point out the most obvious truism, that no one made the Afghan rioters kill anyone. Yet, this is precisely the perspective lacking from the debate in the left camp, where one routinely is bombarded, for instance, with the fallacy that Palestinians are "forced" to commit suicide bombings. The image of the Koran being flushed down the toilet is, to be sure, a terrible act of disrespect, and can be called incendiary due to its sheer blatantness. However, taste can ony account for so much of the controversy. It is too easy to point to the Newsweek story and find an example of egregious and inflammatory editorial oversight. What is not easy is to come to terms with the fact that when it comes to appalling the sensibilities - and I use the word extremely loosely - of people like tha Afghan rioters, the means of rhetoric is largely arbitrary. Someone who will kill over the perceived desecration of the Koran does not need that Koran to be flushed down the toilet. The existence of the U.S. itself, let alone as a presence in Muslim land, is ammunition enough for these people. In other words, we cannot win by playing nice.

Whether there is anything to be gained by publishing reports such as this one is debatable. There is, of course, the intrinsic value of knowing what is going on. Is this worth seventeen lives? I am not arguing that the article is what cost those lives, but the questiuon must be asked. From a utilitarian standpoint, the article was a poor idea - even if no one had died, the magazine's integrity was terribly compromised - and, if the editor had even the faintest notion of what might ensue, he might have been well advised to do otherwise - not out of pressure but simply out of common sense.

However, the impact of Newsweek's editorial decision pales in comparison to the impact of our decision to be a military presence in the Middle East. I do not suggest that decision is wholly without just cause. What I do suggest is that there is a tremendous amount of sacrifice involved - both for the U.S. war effort, and the efforts of the press, however noble or short-sighted, to keep the government honest. It may be that no good emerges from the Newsweek saga, that we are left to reckon the terrible cost of abstract knowledge that someone, somewhere, may or may not have desecrated a holy book. In instances such as the Abu Ghraib abuses, the great hope is that the free press forces us to reckon the cost of justice - if indeed justice is ever served as a result of the ugly, necessary truth being told.