Quotulatiousness

February 25, 2013

What Argo doesn’t show about “The Canadian Caper” of 1979

Filed under: Cancon, History, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:15

In Maclean’s, one of the American diplomats who took part in the actual hostage drama in Tehran provides a bit of supplementary material to the film Argo:

Ben Affleck’s Argo has stormed box offices, collected awards [. . .] yet Canadians of a certain age may find themselves thinking: This is not quite how I remember those days. I was there when Iranians took over the American Embassy in Tehran, and it is not quite how I remember them either. Argo is terrific entertainment, but it tells only a part of our story, and says nothing at all about many of the real heroes — most Canadian — who helped rescue us. Before Argo came along, our rescue was routinely called the “Canadian Caper.” It still should be. The operation consisted of four distinct phases. Three were almost entirely Canadian, and only one involved significant U.S. assistance.

For those not of a certain age, a brief summary is a good starting point. Nov. 4, 1979 brought cold rain and hinted of trouble of a different sort. Two weeks earlier, then-president Jimmy Carter decided to admit the former shah of Iran to the U.S. for cancer treatment. Iranians were outraged; many suspected it was a plot by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to remove Iran’s new ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and put the shah back in charge. Protests outside Tehran’s U.S. Embassy had become daily occurrences. That November morning, demonstrators climbed the gate and soon controlled the compound.

[. . .]

Phase four always receives the least attention. The U.S. government was desperate to keep the CIA’s role secret, rightly fearing its disclosure might endanger the hostages (who weren’t freed until 1981). This concern was sufficiently real that we were asked to live under false names in Florida until the hostages were set free. I was looking forward to seeing how many speeding tickets my alter ego could accumulate, but La Presse decided to publish Jean Pelletier’s story once the Canadian Embassy in Tehran had closed. We came home to a rousing reception and the Canadians were asked to claim complete credit for our escape. That job understandably fell to ambassador Taylor, who spent the better part of a year on the rubber chicken circuit at receptions to honour the Canadian government and people for helping us. Some have said he did the job too well, or failed to share the credit with other embassy staff. My own experience contradicts this. I heard Taylor speak several times. He always mentioned his staff. I also tried, during press interviews I gave, to mention others, particularly the Sheardowns. My comments were edited out. It seemed the press could handle only one hero at a time. Unfortunately, this meant John Sheardown, who was indispensable in phase one, became invisible in phase four. I truly believe John did not care. He did his duty as he saw it. For those who loved and respected him, it was painful.

[. . .]

As I wrote at the beginning, Argo is a wonderful film. Not because it is historically accurate, but because, aside from its technical brilliance, it reminds us of a time when ordinary people performed great deeds, and two neighbours that feud over many small and not so small things came together and did something magnificent. Maybe it didn’t change history, but for we six house guests it was truly life changing. And it was, and should always remain, the Canadian Caper.

The difference between professional journalists and mere bloggers

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:03

Ken at Popehat explains “the game”:

Here we have the heart of the matter. “Professional” journalists may, indeed, be brilliant, talented, well-trained, professional, with an abiding appetite for hard-hitting but neutral reporting. Yet professional journalists also depend on relationships. Ms. Caldwell calls that fact out, sending law enforcement’s core message to the press: if you want access, play the game.

The game colors mainstream media coverage of criminal justice. Here’s my overt bias: I’m a criminal defense attorney, a former prosecutor, and a critic of the criminal justice system. In my view, the press is too often deferential to police and prosecutors. They report the state’s claims as fact and the defense’s as nitpicking or flimflam. They accept the state’s spin on police conduct uncritically. They present criminal justice issues from their favored “if it bleeds it leads” perspective rather than from a critical and questioning perspective, happily covering deliberate spectacle rather than calling it out as spectacle. They accept leaks and tips and favors from law enforcement, even when those tips and leaks and favors violate defendants’ rights, and even when the act of giving the tip or leak or favor is itself a story that somebody ought to be investigating. In fact, they cheerfully facilitate obstruction of justice through leaks. They dumb down criminal justice issues to serve their narrative, or because they don’t understand them.

This “professional” press approach to the criminal justice system serves police and prosecutors very well. They favor reporters who hew to it. Of course they don’t want to answer questions from the 800-pound bedridden guy in fuzzy slippers in his mother’s basement. But it’s not because an 800-pound bedridden guy can’t ask pertinent questions. It’s because he’s frankly more likely to ask tough questions, more likely to depart from the mutually accepted narrative about the system, less likely to be “respectful” in order to protect his access. (Of course, he might also be completely nuts, in a way that “mainstream” journalism screens out to some extent.)

Worst. Student movement. Ever.

Filed under: Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:04

The FEUQ speeds into the global lead for worst student movement ever:

I’m trying to imagine a worse excuse for a student movement than the one Quebec has at the moment; and I have to say that I’m not sure I can.

I mean, sure, the Canadian Federation of Students has talked some awful crap about how reducing net tuition for poor students is unacceptable, unless richer kids get a break too — really ludicrous stuff, which objectively favours richer students over poorer ones. But so far as I know, they’ve never actively aided and abetted a government that was intent on making universities poorer.

But that’s what FEUQ, and the rest of the Quebec student movement, seem to be doing right now.

[. . .]

FEUQ’s train of thought seems to run something like this: 1) Universities want more money; 2) the provincial government is broke; 3) therefore, new money can only come out of tuition fees; 4) therefore, we’d better oppose this. The problem is, if you concede point 2 you’re more or less screwed in terms of asking something for yourself, like a more generous student aid system (which Quebec certainly needs, at least for dependent students). And you’ve gone and hacked-off one of your most natural allies as far as higher education is concerned.

H/T to Stephen Gordon for the link.

Western media suddenly notices problems in South Africa

Filed under: Africa, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:33

In the Telegraph, Brendan O’Neill shows how the western media has managed to ignore horrific things in South Africa, but suddenly the murder of a pretty white woman has them all utterly rivetted to what’s happening in that country:

Last year, 34 black striking miners were gunned down by South African police at the Lonmin mine in Marikana. Some were shot in the back as they attempted to flee. Some were killed as they surrendered. Others were killed 300 metres from where the main massacre took place, suggesting they had been chased — that is, hunted down — by the armed servants of the ANC. Yet there was no outrage in the Western liberal press. There were no fuming leaders; very few angry columns. Amnesty International, guardian of the modern liberal conscience, issued a weak, almost uninterested statement about this act of mass murder, and then went back to throwing money and staff at the campaign to have Pussy Riot — prettier and way more fashionable than those dead miners — freed from jail in Russia.

This month, a pretty white woman, Reeva Steenkamp, was killed by her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, in a gated community in South Africa. And this time, right-thinking observers went crazy. The shock and outrage have been palpable. Feminists have popularised the Twitter hashtag #hernamewasReevaSteenkamp, to draw attention to the scourge of domestic violence in South Africa. Column after column tells us that the Steenkamp killing shows that the New South Africa is sick, that it’s a fear-ruled, crime-ridden, corrupt nation. This tragic shooting and the fractured court case and debate it has given rise to have cast a “lurid light” on South Africa, commentators tell us, calling into question its image as a “Rainbow Nation”. Where the massacre of 34 black workers elicited a collective shrug of the shoulder among observers over here, the killing of Steenkamp has got them tearing their hair out, demanding answers, wondering what the hell went wrong with the country they once admired (the New South Africa) and its ruling party that they once cheered (the ANC).

All of which raises a very awkward question: why is the shooting of a white woman in a domestic setting more shocking to liberal commentators than the massacre of 34 black miners at a public strike and demonstration? This isn’t a complaint about how the media elevates celebrity news over all other forms of news. I can understand why there is so much media and public interest in the Pistorius/Steenkamp case: it isn’t every day a global sports star shoots his famous, beautiful girlfriend in questionable circumstances. But what is striking is the fact that it took this incident — and not, say, the ANC’s massacre of 34 miners — to open Western liberals’ eyes to the profound problems, the moral and political decay, in modern-day South Africa.

Hollywood’s addiction problem

Filed under: Business, Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

It’s not addiction to drugs — although we can be sure there’s more than enough of that — it’s addiction to government subsidies, tax credits, and special privileges not available to ordinary businesses:

With campaign season over, you’re not likely to hear stars bringing up taxes at [the] Academy Awards show. But the tax man ought to come out and take a bow anyway. Of the nine “Best Picture” nominees in 2012, for example, five were filmed on location in states where the production company received financial incentives, including The Help (in Mississippi) and Moneyball (in California). Virginia gave $3.5 million to this year’s Oscar-nominated Lincoln.

Such state incentives are widespread, and often substantial, but they don’t do much to attract jobs. About $1.5 billion in tax credits and exemptions, grants, waived fees and other financial inducements went to the film industry in 2010, according to data analyzed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Politicians like to offer this largess because they get photo-ops with celebrities, but the economic payoff is minuscule. George Mason University’s Adam Thierer has called this “a growing cronyism fiasco” and noted that the number of states involved skyrocketed to 45 in 2009 from five in 2002.

In its 2012 study “State Film Studies: Not Much Bang For Too Many Bucks,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that film-related jobs tend to go to out-of-staters who jet in, then leave. “The revenue generated by economic activity induced by film subsidies,” the study notes, “falls far short of the subsidies’ direct costs to the state. To balance its budget, the state must therefore cut spending or raise revenues elsewhere, dampening the subsidies’ positive economic impact.”

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