Hard News by Russell Brown

So that's it, then?

Is that it, then? The Independent's story states as looming fact something that has been hinted at elsewhere in the past week or two: the abandonment of "Iraq as a political project" and the preparation of a Plan B - the partition of the country, and of Baghdad itself, into a Shia East and a Sunni West. The history of divided cities is not at all a happy one, but the sheer extent of the bloodshed in Iraq - 3149 civilians killed last month, with a much higher toll predicted for July - suggests that it may in fact be the least worst option.

Meanwhile, this from the Christian Science Monitor:

An Army long strained by the manpower demands of Iraq and Afghanistan is increasingly facing a new obstacle at home: The service is fast running out of money.

It is a story with a Dickensian twist - a tale of two bases that show how a force that received more than $100 billion for the current fiscal year doesn't have enough cash to mow the lawns or pay utility bills at installations nationwide.

Clearly, old truths are being revisited; not least in the White House, which, as Billmon notes, was the source for this report in the British Daily Telegraph:

White House aides have said they consider the Lebanon crisis to be a "leadership moment" for Mr Bush and an opportunity to proceed with his post-September 11 plan to reshape the Middle East by building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi’a terrorism. Yesterday Mr Bush cited the role of Iran and Syria in providing help to Hezbollah. (emphasis added by Billmon)

Wha'? Readers with memories extending further back than the last five minutes may remember the good old days when al Qaeda (which rises from an extreme Sunni sect) and Saddam were the bad guys and, and Iraq's Shia population were an oppressed people. Billmon suggests it's "a deliberate Eastasia/Eurasia switch by our fun-loving Orwellians in the Cheney administration," which seems as reasonable an explanation as any.

Billmon also suggests that, despite acres of Beirut having been reduced to rubble and continuous bombing raids all over Lebanon (handy target map here) it's not exactly going to plan for the Israeli military, even though the strategy was planned (with briefings for US officials) more than a year ago. Those bunker-buster bombs being shipped over had better work, because the Islamist zealots will claim anything short of total defeat as victory. And what total defeat might actually entail is pretty scary.

Meanwhile, this Washington Post column by David Ignatius, published over the weekend, is revealing:

Siniora has privately warned the Bush administration that by bombing so many targets in Lebanon, Israel is undermining its own strategic goals. Lebanese are angry with Hezbollah for starting the war by kidnapping Israeli soldiers, and most want to see the militia under government control. But Siniora has asked why the Israelis are hitting Lebanese airports, ports, roads, villages and other targets that primarily affect civilians. And he has criticized attacks on the Lebanese army, which even the Israelis say is the key to long-run stability and security.

Some Bush administration officials share Siniora's concern about the scope of Israeli attacks. These officials are said not to understand Israeli targeting decisions. The administration is understood to have communicated this concern to Jerusalem.

In the language of the unattributable briefing, the meaning is clear enough. Even the Bush administration can't understand the scope of Israel's attacks, and what it hopes to achieve.

The Brits neither, by the look of it:

The Observer can also reveal that British Prime Minister Tony Blair voiced deep concern about the escalating violence during a private telephone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, last week.

Speaking to a BBC reporter before travelling on for talks in Israel, where he will also visit the missile-hit areas of Haifa and meet his Israeli opposite number, [British Foreign Office minister Kim] Howells said: "The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people: these have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation." The minister added: "I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon."

Howells wasn't backing down yesterday, and The Guardian was describing - again - a split between the British Foreign Office and 10 Poodle Street. Another report said:

There has been an apparent policy vacuum at the Foreign Office since the conflict began last week. A Foreign Office source said: "It is difficult for the British to do anything. We cannot work out the direction of travel until we hear from the UN security council and know the intent of the US."

In the Commons, many Labour MPs were furious that the the shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, was prepared to be tougher in his warning to Israel than Mrs Beckett. "I think we can say that elements of the Israeli response are disproportionate, including attacks on Lebanese army units, the loss of civilian life and essential infrastructure and such enormous damage to the capacity of the Lebanese government, [which] does damage the Israeli cause in the long term," he told MPs.

Still, while people are dying and being driven from their homes on both sides of the border, and fleeing civilians are dodging hellfire from the skies, at least the world is safe for lardarsed American conservatives to write blog posts telling the "latte Lebanese" ("Latte Lebanese"? You may remember them as the brave citizen footsoldiers of the cedar revolution; freedom is slavery and all that.) to stop whining and be grateful.

Onto lighter matters: week two of Rosemary McLeod's homosexual panic. I personally don't find her joyless ravings offensive so much as a bit sad. I remember Rosemary McLeod when she was funny and pungent and didn't write like a crazy old lady.

She begins on the Ian Wishart tip:

There's an elephant in the sitting- room, but we tip-toe around it pretending it's invisible. It's called the Labour Party and gays. There'd be few adult gatherings in this country where the sexual preferences of the prime minister, her husband, advisers, and other Labour politicians and friends are not speculated on at some point, and certainly few Wellingtonians who don't believe there's a Labour network of gay mutual promotion. But the subject can't be discussed openly, for fear of being labelled anti-gay. It's extraordinary ...

And concludes:

... Ask yourself this: what would happen if everyone on Labour's network who is the object of speculation bounded out of the closet? Would their abilities and experience really count for nothing overnight? Or would we achieve a new atmosphere of honesty and openness in which to plan both the future direction of the country - and the Labour Party?

Well, I think it would be rather less newsworthy than the day that, say, everyone in the National caucus who was "the object of speculation" was to bound out of the closet, let's put it that way. McLeod seems to be bagging gays both for being closeted and for being out. Presumably it makes sense to her, but it's bloody lost on me.

She fills up most of the rest of her column with supportive emails from readers and declares that "labelling such responses homophobic or anti-gay is not an argument; it's an arrogant rejection of argument." The irony of doing so while quoting a string of non-arguments - including one from a "despairing wit" who wrote "I think homosexuality finally is going to become mandatory" - seems lost on her.

I guess this one is worth commenting on:

"Gays hit on me all the time at my workplace. The boss has told me that I have to put up with the first advance, and politely tell them to desist, but thereafter I can bodily throw them out into the street," a young male reader wrote. "To write off my feelings, and those of many other men, as a phobia (homophobia) is oppression."

Right … At a guess, this young man works in hospo. Does it occur to anyone that this is precisely the situation that women in that industry have always had to put up with? The problem isn't homosexuals, it's men.

McLeod also appears to say she thinks that people should have a legal defence if they happen to kill someone who "taunts" them. Er, what?

Compare it to the lead letter in the same edition of the Star Times, a lovely effort by Grant Robertson:

I am gay - I also want New Zealand to have world class education and health systems, and fair labour laws. I want healthier, warmer homes for all New Zealanders. I worry about the sustainability of our energy supply and, perhaps most importantly, whether we have a back-up at tighthead if Carl Hayman gets injured in World Cup year.

Damn right. We're looking okay on the loosehead - there was one scrum on Saturday night where Tialata just plain fucked up van der Linde - but the big guy looks irreplaceable.

And, finally Cory Doctorow notes a new version of the Democracy Player, an open-source media player with a BitTorrent Client, XML feed reader and VLC Player embedded in it. I had a play with Democracy last night and while it has a few interface quirks and - of course - needs content, you can see they're heading to a pretty good place with it. This might not be the future of television, but I think it's an interesting rough draft of it.