November 30, 2003

Packer: How We Got Here

Given enough time and motivation, smart people will eventuallly figure things out. I think that's what's happening now in terms of identifying what went wrong in the time before, during, and immediately after the "major combat operations" phase in Iraq, such that we're in the mess we're in now.

See, for example, George Packer's lengthy but excellent article in the latest New Yorker: War after the war. What Packer presents is the detailed back-story that confirms what seemed like a pretty likely explanation all along: that the neocons who sold the war to Cheney & Co. (or, if you prefer, to Bush & Co.) let their ideological zeal blind them to the advice of people who had a much clearer idea of the likely nature of the post-war challenge.

Ignoring the advice of experts because you have a compelling vision of the future that their hidebound expertise prevents them from seeing can sometimes be a good thing. But there has to be a balance. Taken too far, you get what we have now in Iraq: a slow-motion clusterfuck brought on by ignorance, arrogance, and hubris.

Which is nothing new. It's human nature, after all, for the ambitious to oversell their abilities, for their reach to exceed their grasp, and, when things subsequently go bad, for them to refuse to acknowledge their responsibility for the result.

Feith, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush: they gave it their best shot. But their best shot wasn't particularly good. In fact, it was pretty much awful. As time goes by that fact becomes harder and harder for them to obscure.

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November 27, 2003

Do It Yourself Art Forgery

A fun little toy to amuse yourself with on your day off -- assuming you live in a country that likes to eat lots of Turkey today. (requires flash)

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November 25, 2003

Asya Schween Is... Interesting

Funky/interesting self-portraiture by photographer/artist Asya Schween: Social outcast. (More available via Gallery 1 and Gallery 2.)

Posted by jbc at 10:25 AM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (0)

November 24, 2003

The Spirit of the Season: Eat a Homeless Mute Boy

This time of year, many people get into the spirt of giving, and donate food/money to programs that help feed the Homeless -- particularly homeless children. Other people kiddnap them, tie them up in a sack, tell people they are a stray dog, and sell them to be used as food.

Happy Holidays!

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Bush's Love/Hate Legacy

Interesting cover story from Time concerning the fallout of Bush's divider-not-a-uniter approach to governing: The love him, hate him president.

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Natalie Maines Still Pissing People Off

The Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines continues to mouth off about what a lame president George Bush is, most recently in an interview with NBC's Today show: On top of the world once again. Meanwhile, she won a silly award from VH1. Woo! Go Dixie Chicks!

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Tom the Dancing Bug on Bush's Revisionism

Great cartoon from Tom the Dancing Bug: Presidential revisionist comics.

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November 22, 2003

Dean vs. Bush on Avoiding Vietnam

Jerome Doolittle makes a great observation about today's front page NYT story on the medical deferment that kept Howard Dean out of Vietnam: The character issue.

Digression: I especially like the image he used to illustrate the item. Heh. You know, I sincerely do not believe those are George Bush's real balls. I don't really care enough to make an issue out of it, and yeah, they certainly could be real. But if so they're definitely the jumbo-economy size. So which seems more likely: That Bush just happens to have a really prominent package? Or that his image team had the great idea of stuffing a sock in his shorts to underscore the manly look they were after?

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Johnny Hart Slams Islam. Or Not.

One truth I hold pretty dear is the notion that as somone gains expertise in a particular domain, he (or she) begins to be able to draw confident conclusions from increasingly subtle data. At its extreme, this gives you phenomena like Sherlock Holmes, who despite being a fictional character rings true to me in those scenes where he astounds Watson by examining a few indistinct marks on the ground and from them reconstructing an accurate description of past events.

Now, on some level I think everybody would like to believe he (or she) is Holmes, rather than Watson. And that's a dangerous desire, because another aspect of the Holmes stories that rings true to me is the way Watson repeatedly tries to mimic Holmes' deductive leaps, only to arrive at conclusions that are completely, ludicrously wrong. It's not enough to want to be like Holmes. Holmes got to be as good as he was only by combining a lot of native intelligence and energy with many years of diligent effort aimed at honing his talent. It required a brutal self-analysis, the holding of himself to an impossibly high standard of perfection as he sought to identify and eliminate the sources of error that drive all of us to conclusions that are comfortable rather than correct.

I'm aware that I'm closer to Watson than Holmes in a lot of ways. But that doesn't stop me from trying to shift myself further along in the Holmesian direction. I think that's why I'm so fascinated by ambiguity, by stories that can't seem to decide if they mean one thing or some other very different thing, and that challenge me to figure out which one it is.

All of which leads me to Johnny Hart, the creator of the B.C. comic strip. He's gotten himself into some hot water lately over his November 10 strip. According to an article in the Washington Post, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is up in arms because they say the strip amounts to an anti-Islamic slur: Cartoon raises a stink.

Hart denies the charge.

Asked about the outhouse strip this week, Hart denied that it was about Islam at all. He said that interpretation stunned him.

"My goodness. That's incredible. That's unbelievable!"

He said it was just a "silly" bathroom joke, wrapped around the cliche "Is it just me, or . . . ?" According to Hart, the joke was about the ambiguous authorship of a bad smell. The SLAM, Hart said, was simply there to show that the caveman had walked into the outhouse. The crescent moons were there to indicate it was nighttime, and because outhouses have crescent moons.

"This comic was in no way intended to be a message against Islam -- subliminal or otherwise," he said. "It would be contradictory to my own faith as a Christian to insult other people's beliefs. If you should have any further silly notions about malicious intent from this quarter, you can save yourself a phone call."

So, there are at least two possibilities here: Hart really intended no slur against Islam, at least consciously, when he created the strip. Or he did intend the slur, and he's lying now. Which explanation is correct?

The Post article's authors actually went to considerable effort trying to answer that question, soliciting the opinions of an expert in semiotics (the study of signs and symbols), along with 6 cartoonists who are admirers of Hart's work. All but one of them, after looking carefully at the strip, concluded that the Islamic-slur interpretation was the only one that made sense. The lone holdout was Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau, who said, "We cartoonists are simple folk. We don't write on that cryptic a level. Leave Johnny alone."

I'm inclined to say that the slur was, on some level, intentional. But am I being Holmes or Watson when I say that? I honestly don't know.

Posted by jbc at 10:56 AM | view/comment (18) | TrackBack (0)

November 21, 2003

Drezner on Lileks on Pax

Proving once again the he is a rare beacon of reason among his right-wing brethren, Daniel Drezner points out that really, the people of Iraq deserve a little slack if they choose to be less than enthusiastic about having been bombed, maimed, burned, killed, dispossessed, and otherwise liberated: Why James Lileks is flat-out wrong. (Warning: Academic using the F-word ahead.)

Posted by jbc at 06:44 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Cat in the Hat Sucks

I haven't seen it yet, so I'll hope you'll forgive the title. But it seems a pretty safe bet, based on the assembled comments on this Defective Yeti page: The Bad Review Revue: We Did Not Like It, Not One Little Bit.

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Bring on the Sludge

I recently linked to an article by Arnold Kling in which he criticized Paul Krugman for making "Type M" (as opposed to "Type C") arguments. By a Type M argument, Kling meant an argument that focused on the other side's motives, rather than the consequences of the other side's proposals. I observed at the time that while Type C arguments were certainly preferable, it was actually Krugman's right-wing opponents who had first lowered the debate to that level, with a steady outpouring of Type M arguments.

Another nice example of that is the Republican party's first campaign ad, due to begin airing this Sunday. It features images of Bush delivering the last State of the Union address (no, not the part of it that subsequent events have shown to be lies, but you have to admire their chutzpah even bringing up the speech at all). As they show Bush delivering lines that absolutely no sane person would disagree with, they run the following words underneath: "Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists."

Note the classic Type M argument. It's all about motivations. And not only does the argument focus on the motivations of Bush's critics, but it also completely mischaracterizes those motivations.

Howard Dean (and others) who have been criticizing Bush's Iraq policy have not been criticizing him "for attacking the terrorists." In fact, their argument has been just the opposite: They have been criticizing him for not attacking the terrorists. By dropping the ball on al Qaeda and going after Iraq instead, Bush gave Osama bin Laden the breathing room he needed to rebuild and reorganize. By alienating our traditional allies around the world, Bush undercut the international cooperation that is essential to effective anti-terror efforts. By overthrowing the Iraqi government without having an adequate plan for the aftermath, he has saddled the US with a costly and deadly quagmire of an occupation that seems likely to increase, rather than decrease, the anti-US sentiment that fuels terrorist funding and recruiting. And so on.

Note what's going on: Bush's critics have been making a nice, rational, Type C argument about the consequences of Bush's policies. But rather than debate with them on that level, the very first Republican campaign ad descends immediately to Type M: Bush's opponents are criticizing him because they don't want him to attack the terrorists!

Which is really a pretty pathetic argument. Were I to stoop to Type M arguments myself, I'd probably observe that the people running this ad must believe they can't win an objective Type C argument, since everyone pretty much knows that Bush's policies are objectively failing, with many of the strongest justifications he previously offered for them having turned out to be lies. As a result, mischaracterizing his opponents' motivations is all they have left.

Posted by jbc at 06:18 PM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (1)

November 20, 2003

Triumph Does Terry Gross

If you're a fan of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog from Conan, or of Terry Gross, or (especially) both, you definitely owe it to yourself to check out the latter's interview of the former from today's show: Fresh Air. It's great... for me to poop on!

Posted by jbc at 04:39 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Professional Programmers/Politicians/Soldiers

Some interesting items on "professionalism" crossed my monitor this morning.

First up, an old article from Tom DeMarco: Professional awareness in software engineering. DeMarco describes a hierarchy of different conceptions of professionalism, but the thing that struck me as interesting is that DeMarco believes that true professionalism requires careful and continuous monitoring of one's own behavior to make sure it meets an ethical standard:

There are no simple, general rules in ethics; ethics is about values and value conflict, philosophy and morality, and a willingness and capability to confront intricate and convoluted conundrums. The Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule may get you to Heaven, but they won't (all by themselves) make you an ethical promise-keeper. The only thing that will do that is to keep yourself in a permanent state of ethical introspection.

In order to make it clear what I mean by this introspection, consider its opposite. The most familiar form of this opposite is what I call:

THE FATAL PREMISE: Evil is done by evil people; I am not an evil person and therefore . . . I cannot do evil.

The Fatal Premise gives you an ethical blank check: If you did it, it must be OK.

It is my opinionated opinion that about half the world's population believes the Fatal Premise. One who is governed by this premise is neither ethical nor unethical, but a non-participant. Such a person can never be a true professional, because his or her introspection mechanism is disarmed. The Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offers a counter to the Fatal Premise in the following quote:

The line separating good and evil passes not between states nor between classes nor between parties [individuals] either, but through the middle of every human heart.

To be an ethical human being you need to be aware of your capacity to be evil, your dark side. To the extent that it is our business to foster professionalism, we need to focus mostly on helping people get past the Fatal Premise so they can deal with the possibility of their own evil. Most meaningful evil on earth is done by good people, not by evil people. The capacity to do evil is in each one of us.

So, when he talks about how it is unprofessional to attribute evil to the other side, and thereby excuse yourself from the possibility of committing evil, were you thinking of the same person I was? I know it doesn't sound quite right to say we need more "professional" politicians, but if you use DeMarco's definition of the term then I think that's exactly what we need.

Continuing in a somewhat-related vein, check out these interesting items from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo on the finger-pointing currently going on as the unprofessional folk currently running things in this country try to divert blame for the now-widely-recognized-as-wrong decision to disband the professional soldiers who made up the Iraqi army: here, here, and here.

Posted by jbc at 01:14 PM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (1)

November 19, 2003

Homeless-Children Folklore

The story itself is more than six years old, which I guess means that most of the believers it quotes have moved on to other beliefs. But I still found this Miami Times feature on the religious folklore told by children in homeless shelters fascinating: Myths over Miami. Thanks to Yian, again, for the link.

Posted by jbc at 03:48 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bobby Kennedy, Jr., in Salon

A great interview with Bobby Kennedy, Jr., is currently running in Salon: Save the earth: Dump Bush. Very much worth watching the commercial to get the one-day Salon pass. An excerpt:

I'm not scared of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. They can never hurt America in any fundamental way. As Teddy Roosevelt said, American democracy will never be destroyed by outside enemies -- but it can be destroyed by the malefactors of great wealth who subtly rob and undermine it from within. And I see that process happening today.

Thanks to dangerous free radical Yian for the link.

Posted by jbc at 10:47 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

November 18, 2003

Bombing Tikrit

Riverbend of Baghdad Burning has some more on-the-ground commentary from an average Iraqi-in-the-street: Difficult days. I must admit, our latest bombing campaign (along with the drive-by shootings and other "shows of force" the US troops have been engaging in lately) reminds me of nothing so much as Xerxes flogging the waves of the Hellespont. I thought it was the other side that was supposed to look desperate.

Posted by jbc at 04:58 PM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

November 15, 2003

Boy and His Computer's Church Signs

A little spirituality to bring meaning to your humdrum existence: Church signs.

Posted by jbc at 11:21 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Niven: Can Superman Reproduce?

I first read this about 30 years ago, which is kind of a shocking thing to realize. At the time I believed it to be the funniest thing ever written, and I still think it's pretty good. As with other recent net.kooks items, though, I make no promises. Humor is awfully subjective, and this isn't just juvenile humor, but juvenile humor I liked as an actual juvenile.

Anyway, from Larry Niven: Man of steel, woman of kleenex.

Posted by jbc at 07:40 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kinsley: Did Bush Mean *Any* of the Speech About Democracy?

Michael Kinsley at his best: The limits of eloquence. A sample:

George W. Bush's powers of persuasion are apparently so spectacular, at least to some, that almost all the pro-Bush voices in Washington and the media have remained pro-Bush even when "pro-Bush" means the opposite of what it did five minutes ago.
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November 14, 2003

Scratching a Legal Itch

Generally speaking, I think there are way too many lawyers in the world, mucking the place up. But then I see stories like this one, and it occurs to me that maybe what we really need is more lawyers, so that when cops or landlords, or telemarketers, or TSA goons get cocky and think they can walk all over people, they'll get a rude surprise when the person they are trying to take advantage of says "By the way, I'm a lawyer, and you're way out of line, and I'm going to sue your ass so hard you'll wish you were dead."

Maybe then people in positions of authority would think twice before abusing their power.

Eh, probably not.

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November 13, 2003

Hey Big Spender...

Attention fiscal conservatives: You've been had.

True, Bush has been really, really good at cutting taxes for the wealthy (less-so for the middle class, where the cuts have been smaller, designed to single out particular narrow voting demographics as fodder for political talking points). But what about that spending side of the equation?

Double Trouble at Bad Attitudes discusses it: Real men spend. He links to the following interesting article from the Washington Post: Government outgrows cap set by president, which points out that even when you factor out spending for the War on Terra and Homeland Security, Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have been going hog-wild on spending. With those big-ticket items factored in, of course, it's off the charts; they've been acting like teenagers in the mall with dad's credit card -- though I guess a more apt analogy would go the other way, since the people running up debt like there's no tomorrow are the grown-ups, at least ostensibly, while it is the kids of today who will end up having to pay for it all.

Posted by jbc at 06:11 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Bad to Worse in Iraq

So, a very interesting thing seems to be happening: the White House, while stopping short of admitting that the reconstruction of Iraq is in trouble, is tacitly admitting it by their actions. (And as they've demonstrated many times over, we can't trust their words, but have to follow what they're actually doing to get a sense of what they're thinking.) Josh Marshall has some good commentary on this: I've found it difficult. And Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a great opinion piece (as always): Blame leaders as support for war wanes.

Meanwhile, from inside Iraq, Riverbend of Baghdad Burning paints a really informative picture of how Iraqis view those we'd like to install as their leaders: Iraqi governing council...

Finally, this article by Paul Starobin from the National Journal is one of the best things I've read on Iraq in a long time. Very highly recommended: The French were right. An excerpt:

An understanding of how the French got to the place they got to and stubbornly clung to, even as relations with Washington badly deteriorated, requires a probe of the substance and roots of the French position.

That may not sound like much fun. Even though they deny it, the French are already gloating that their much-maligned prewar forecast has proved to be on target. But here's the good news -- and it really is very good news. One big reason the French were right is that they were thinking along the lines that Americans are generally apt to think -- that is, in a cautious, pragmatic way, informed by their own particular trial-and-error experience, in this case as an occupier forced out of Algeria and as a front-line battler, long before 9/11, against global Islamic terrorist groups.

The Bush administration, by contrast, approached Iraq the way the French are often thought to approach large world problems -- with a grandiose sweep of the theoretical hand, a tack exemplified by the big-ideas neoconservative crowd, whose own thinking, ironically, draws on European political philosophy. So as the administration rethinks Iraq, the way back to a sound position may lie at home, in the great but neglected tradition of American Pragmatism. And then everyone can forget about the French.

The thing I like best about the Starobin article is that it's not just Chicken Little-inspired "the sky is falling" stuff. It's eminently practical. It's just saying, look, this is what's happening. The sooner we face up to it the sooner we can start fixing the mess we've created.

Good advice.

Posted by jbc at 05:40 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 12, 2003

The Secret Diaries of LOTR Characters

I found this by way of my daughter, which is kind of a weird "they get old so fast" experience. But whatever; it's still really funny. If thou hast the Lord of the Rings fanboy/fangirl bug, go thou and readst these with great alacrity: The secret diaries of Cassandra Claire.

Posted by jbc at 02:15 PM | view/comment (14) | TrackBack (0)

Random Book Dedications

From Brandon Rogers, via MsSweeney's Internet Tendency, via Janus, comes this fun little ditty: Random book dedications read from the bargain bin.

From jbc, who has written a book of his very own.

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November 11, 2003

Howard Dean vs. George McGovern

I'm aware that I'm a fickle linker. Someone catches my fancy, and suddenly everything they write is God's Own Truth, Brought Down From On High. Or at least I link to them a lot.

Lately I've been linking to Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Kevin Drum of CalPundit. But now both of them are saying the same thing, and I disagree with them. Both of them are saying they basically think Howard Dean is unelectable in the general election. (Marshall: Okay, have to say it. Drum: Electing Dean.)

Marshall goes on to post an email from John B. Judis of The New Republic, in which Judis writes:

The only thing I'm semi-certain about is Dean's lack of electability in November. I think it is because I lived through the McGovern campaign, as did some of those ex-Clinton people who have tried to pump up Clark. The similarities grow with every day. Not just the insurgent voter enthusiasm, the new ways of fundraising, and the bevy of flummoxed opponents, but also the economy (artificially stimulated by Nixon through the Fed and by Bush through the dollar just in time for election year) and the war (raging, but bound to quiet some by election time, and to raise prospects of peace).

Now, both Drum and Marshall offer some other (fairly vague) reasons besides the McGovern parallel for Dean's supposed non-electability, but when you come right down to it, each of them says it's basically just a gut feeling. And given that it's more their guts than their heads that are talking, I wonder if it might be mostly the subconscious memory of the McGovern defeat that's pushing them in that direction.

I was only 10 years old in 1972; the Nixon/McGovern race is the first presidential election I have any memory of at all, and it's a pretty vague memory. But as I read the history of that campaign, I think those who see another McGovern in Dean are missing the forest for the trees.

Yes, McGovern was an antiwar candidate who swooped in from outside to upset the Democratic machine and take the nomination away from candidates with stronger support within the party, and in that sense he does look a lot like Dean. But there's a crucial difference between the two.

In 1972, McGovern was perceived as a radical, an ideologue, at least by mainstream voters. In the aftermath of the turbulent 1960s, he scared people in the middle. Sure, they didn't like the insane bodycount of the Vietnam war and were looking for a way out, but they weren't willing to put the country in the hands of a moral crusader, the candidate of those campus radicals and drug fiend hippies, in order to get it.

Nixon, on the other hand, was a realist. Though short on details about his exit strategy, he was saying the right things about the war, and winding down US involvement. It wasn't his war, after all, but his predecessor Lyndon Johnson's. Nixon had been a moderate steward of the economy. In an era when people were still very thoroughly scared about superpower confrontation, he had opened a dialog with China. And so on.

I believe this was the dominant factor in Nixon's landslide victory over McGovern. Nixon was the safe choice, the conservative choice (in the general sense, rather than the narrowly political sense). He was the grown-up choice.

But in the looming matchup between Dean and Bush, those roles are going to be precisely reversed. It is Bush who is the scary ideologue, with his go-it-alone pre-emptive wars, overturning of domestic civil liberties, radical re-tooling of the tax code, and exploding budget deficits. Dean is the grown-up, the voice of reason, the candidate of mainstream policies.

Throw away the partisans who will always vote red or blue, regardless of the candidate, and what you have left is a chunk of the country that really doesn't care about all this ideological crap. They just want someone who seems sensible, and responsible, and who will do a good job. In 1972 they looked at the available choices and chose Nixon. In 2004, using exactly the same criteria, I believe those voters will look at the available choices and choose Dean.

So, it's my guts versus Marshall's and Drum's. Whose guts will turn out to be right?

Posted by jbc at 09:25 PM | view/comment (11) | TrackBack (1)

Die, Comment Spammers! Die!

They're not a huge annoyance, really, but they're a constant reminder of how anti-community values have carpetbagged the Net I originally came to love in part for its playing-nice-and-building-on-the-efforts-of-others philosophy. Anyway, I don't like comment spam, but even more, I don't like the people who engage in it. So I did like this, from Reading & Writing: Conversation with a bottom feeder.

Posted by jbc at 09:22 AM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (0)

November 10, 2003

Torture by Proxy

Lies.com reader Steve writes in with this north-of-the-border item: Apparently Canadians are well and truly pissed about US authorities having yanked a Canadian citizen off a plane in New York (where he was making a connection to another flight), after which they apparently sent him to Syria for torturing. Anyway, read the story and see what you think: Critics condemn US torture by proxy.

Update: From the comment by reader Tzoq, the statement to the media by Maher Arar. Where was I a week ago when this came out? Apologies for being so out of the loop. This, in a word, is absolutely fucking insane. Okay, three words. But still.

Posted by jbc at 02:22 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Philosoraptor: 1, DuToit: 0

A really excellent point-by-point refutation of Kim duToit's "Pussification" rant: The duToitification of the Western Conservative. It's from Winston Smith of Philsoraptor, and in addition to being totally on-target, it's also fairly hilarious. Thanks to Ted at Crooked Timber for the link.

Posted by jbc at 12:32 PM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Rumsfeld Just Flat-Out Lies

Oops. I meant to link to this the other day, when I saw it at Josh Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo, but somehow forgot. Age creeping up on me, probably. Anyway, it's not to be missed: Rumsfeld retreats, disclaims earlier rhetoric.

Posted by jbc at 11:27 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Al Gore: Repeal the Patriot Act

Like lots of other people, I'm finding myself wishing Al Gore had talked more like this during the 2000 presidential campaign. But in all honesty, I don't think he'd be talking like this even now if he were actually running for the nomination. Funny, isn't it? In order to speak the truth, he has to be (to some degree, at least) beyond caring what we think about what he says. And since he feels that way, and speaks the truth, we love him (well, for certain values of "we" and "love").

Anyway, check it out: Freedom and security. I especially encourage those on the Right who consider themselves patriotic Americans to check it out. Ignore, if you can, the person making the case, and just consider the case itself. Some things are bigger than Republican versus Democrat. I think this is one of them.

Posted by jbc at 10:29 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Drum on Barlow on Cheney

Kevin Drum of Calpundit points to the new Newsweek cover story, then continues with a re-running of a really interesting John Perry Barlow piece on the Veep-in-Chief from before the war: A profile of Dick Cheney.

Thought provoking! Yea, verily!

Posted by jbc at 10:15 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 08, 2003

Jason Salavon Averages Playboy Playmates

Dave Barry linked to this the other day, but I wasn't paying attention, so I missed it. But then Janus mentioned it in Ishar, and then ymatt mentioned it in Ishar, and I finally got around to checking it out. And it's kind of interesting. From net.kook Jason Salavon: Every Playboy centerfold, the decades. Once you've had your fill of averagerandomporn, check out some of his other stuff: selected projects. Way to obsess, dude.

Posted by jbc at 09:20 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Presidential Campaign Web Server Software

From my neighbor Doc Searls, and apropos my recent mockery of Kim du Toit for running a pussy server like IIS, comes this revealing comparison of the Netcraft results for the various presidential campaigns: Penguins for president?

Posted by jbc at 09:01 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sgt. Stryker: Real Man

As a wave of adolescent testosterone washes through the weblog world (see the previously mentioned Kim du Toit item, The pussification of the Western male, and Donald Sensing's religious variant, The metrosexual Jesus), I'm heartened to see that even among the manly types who survived basic training, there are some with a more grown-up sense of what it means to be a man. Like Sgt. Stryker: In praise of mediocrity. What he said.

Posted by jbc at 07:58 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

How the War Is Going

So, those pesky facts keep getting in the way, requiring periodic reformulations of the analysis that shows we are "winning" in Iraq. The latest developments include a dramatic uptick in the US bodycount in connection with attacks on helicopters, and indiscriminate shooting up and bombing of civilian neighborhoods by US troops in retaliation. See this item, for example: US retaliates after Blackhawk crash.

In commenting on the story, Kynn at Shock & Awe points out that we are marching firmly in the footsteps of Israel: Welcome to the occupation, part three. Meanwhile, William S. Lind at CounterPunch has his own interesting take on what it all means: Indicators.

At the same time, I've noticed a definite surge in feisty comments from war supporters, both in the comments here and across the wider blogosphere. I wonder; do you think the sudden outpouring of bile is a sign of their desperation? Proof that us anti-war folks are making progress against the dead-enders of the Bush regime? Time will tell, I guess.

Posted by jbc at 07:39 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

Scot Tempesta: Loudmouthed Idiot

This is a fun one. Scot Tempesta, who apparently hosts a right-wing AM radio talk show out of San Diego, sent some emails to Kynn Bartlett of Shock & Awe, looking for someone opposed to the death penalty to appear on a show. (Update: Per Kynn in the comments, Tempesta isn't a regular host, but some sort of producer-type-guy at the station.) Kynn posted about it here: KOGO seeking death penalty opponents, and included excerpts from the emails he exchanged with Tempesta.

Well, guess what? Three weeks go by, Tempesta is out ego surfing, and he comes across the posted item. And he's pissed! Heh. Kynn tells about it here: Scot Tempesta is angry.

Posted by jbc at 07:12 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

November 07, 2003

Howard Dean: Asshole

Let me repeat myself. You are an asshole.

-- Dennis Slater, in the comments to this item

What is an asshole? As I, and presumably Dennis Slater, use the term, it's someone who has committed a wrong, but has managed to do more than that, adding a layer of gratuitous injury such that I'm well and truly pissed at him. (And it's always a him. If a woman does this I use a different word.) An asshole isn't just in the wrong; by going out of his way to inflict some harm that he could just as easily have avoided he's managed to make it personal. It wasn't an accident; he meant to do it. He acted with malice aforethought, exhibited mens rea, showed what a mean-spirited, vindictive S.O.B. he is. In short, an asshole.

I happen to think George W. Bush is an asshole. A lot of people think Howard Dean is an asshole. I'm pretty sure I'm right in my view of Bush, and I'm willing to stipulate that they're right in their view of Dean.

Some people, like Kevin Drum of Calpundit, think this aspect of Dean's personality will prevent him from winning the presidency. Drum posted about this (without actually calling Dean an asshole) in this item: Why I like Wes Clark. Drum wrote:

I like Dean's energy, I like his passion, and I like the fact that he's obviously not afraid to take on George Bush with gusto. But there's a flip side to this, and I think you can see them both in his "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks" remark. On the one hand, he was making a smart observation: these guys ought to vote for Democrats and we shouldn't alienate them. But on the other hand, it was a really, really stupid way to make his point and he was too stubborn to back down from it until it had already done him a bunch of damage.

So while I don't have any huge policy differences with him -- although he's sounding a little too sincere in his opposition to free trade these days -- his character seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Too much of his appeal is built on anger, he often comes across as defensive and perhaps a little bitter to people who aren't true believers in the first place, and I think he'd get flattened by Karl Rove's $200 million war chest. I feel bad saying that, but it's my best guess.

For myself, I think Dean's Confederate flag remark hasn't damaged him much, if at all. For one thing, he's well on his way to steamrolling the Democratic primaries. (This New Republic article on Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, has some interesting coverage of that: Organization man.) I think Dean is already looking forward to the general election, and from that perspective, the Confederate flag comment makes a lot of sense. For every northern liberal it offends into leaving him (if any; what are they going to do, vote for Bush?) it probably makes a half dozen southerners sit up and take notice.

And what will they see? Well, maybe an asshole. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. With the collective store of fear and anger this country has been carrying since 9/11, I think there are quite a few people who are ready to vote for an asshole for president.

In comparing Wesley Clark with Howard Dean on this point, I see an interesting paradox. Clark, of course, spent his professional career rising rapidly within an organization dedicated to killing people. For all that, though, he comes off (at least on TV) as a nice, non-threatening kind of guy. He's smart and incisive, but he's not particularly mean. He seems too rational for that. If you cut him off on the freeway he wouldn't lean on the horn or flip you off. He might shake his head at you, but he'd also carefully reduce speed, put some distance between your car and his, and generally make sure he got the hell away from you.

Dean's professional training was pretty much the opposite of Clark's. As a physician, he took an oath to do no harm, which is about as far away from the Army's raison d'etre as you can get. And yet, watching him talk, you get the sense that if you cut him off on the freeway, that feisty little doctor might very well give you a piece of his mind, or maybe even pull over and roll up his sleeves and settle it man-to-man, should you choose to escalate.

Now, from the perspective of a nice, thoughtful left-coaster like Kevin Drum, that looks decidedly non-presidential. But in the context of a culture where a piece of unapologetic knuckle-dragging like Kim du Toit's The pussification of the Western male can provoke such a response that his Playskool web server has a nervous breakdown (note to Kim: real men use a real operating system on their servers), I think a scrappy Type-A doctor-turned-governor has a way better chance against Bush than a prissy schoolmarm of an ex-general, Karl Rove war chest or no.

Posted by jbc at 10:25 PM | view/comment (19) | TrackBack (0)

November 06, 2003

This Way to the Bunnyranch

Matthew Teigen has a memorable, if predictably depressing, account of his trip to a brothel in Virginia City, Nevada: Bunnyranch. This is the kind of thing I love about the Web, and have loved about it from the beginning. No, not stories about sex. I mean the way the Web lets you connect up with other human beings you wouldn't otherwise have known, share their stories, vicariously experience a piece of their lives, if only for a moment.

One other thing I have to say: The next time I'm buying a car, I want Matthew Teigen with me. Dude can seriously negotiate.

Posted by jbc at 11:35 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

November 05, 2003

Calpundit on Why We're in Iraq

Kevin Drum of CalPundit takes a thoughtful look at an important question: Why are we in Iraq? He points out that for all the macho sound bites we've been getting lately from Bush about "staying the course," we've managed to drift into pretty murky territory as to just what "course" we're actually supposed to be on.

Posted by jbc at 01:48 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Senators Hollings, Byrd on Iraq

Here are a couple of items about US senators being critical of the war. First, an article in which Fritz Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina) is quoted as not knowing what to tell a constituent whose son died in the fighting: Senator says situation in Iraq 'is, chapter and verse, Vietnam' again. And yet another great speech from Robert Byrd (Democrat, West Virginia), delivered as part of the Senate debate over the conference committee's version of Bush's $87 billion funding request: A high price for a hollow victory. From Byrd's speech:

The President continues to insist that the United States will persevere in its mission in Iraq, that our resolve is unshakable. But it is time past time for the President to tell the American people exactly what that mission is, how he intends to accomplish it, and what his exit strategy is for American troops in Iraq. It is the American people who will ultimately decide how long we will stay in Iraq.

It is not enough for the President to maintain that the United States will not be driven out of Iraq by the increasing violence against American soldiers. He must also demonstrate leadership by presenting the American people with a plan to stem the freewheeling violence in Iraq, return the government of that country to the Iraqi people, and pave the way for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. We do not now have such a plan, and the supplemental conference report before us does not provide such a plan. The $87 billion in this appropriations bill provides the wherewithal for the United States to stay the course in Iraq when what we badly need is a course correction. The President owes the American people an exit strategy for Iraq, and it is time for him to deliver.

Posted by jbc at 08:54 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 04, 2003

Dying for Bush's Vanity

Here's an opinion piece that ran last week in the San Diego Union Tribune. By James O. Goldsborough, it's about the similarities between Bush and Lyndon Johnson, as each man finds himself hemmed in by past decisions, unable to alter course because doing so would amount to an embarrassing admission of error: World conflict and presidential vanity.

Posted by jbc at 08:15 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 03, 2003

Mission Not Quite Accomplished

I keep thinking about that silly "Mission Accomplished" banner. Judith Bushmiller, the New York Times reporter who asked the question in last week's press conference that led to Bush asserting that it was the sailors' idea to fly the banner, has an interesting followup story: Two words on a banner that no author wants to claim. She paints an ever-so-slightly-clearer picture of who did what as the White House advance team and the PR officers on the Abraham Lincoln worked out the specifics of Bush's flightsuit photo op.

I realize the story is completely trivial. But it's like a loose tooth; I can't stop fiddling with it.

I'm willing to accept that the idea for the banner was originally floated by someone from the ship, as a variation on the innocent practice of flying self-congratulatory banners at the end of a deployment. But for Bush to assert that it wasn't latched onto by his visuals-obsessed image people as a symbolic backdrop that spoke of his success in winning the war in Iraq (excuse me, "successfully concluding major combat operations in the Iraq battle of the War on Terra") is simply horseshit on the face of it.

I tried to talk ymatt into photoshopping the Reuters image from Bushmiller's article to crop in on Bush's head and the word "ACCOMPLISHED," changing the word to read "ACCOMPLICE," since I think that would be really funny. Alas, he remains unconvinced that that would be worth the effort involved. In the meantime, though, he was kind enough to create the following slightly different (and significantly easier) visual gag:


Posted by jbc at 03:56 PM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

Jay Bookman on Bush's Info-Phobia

An excellent opinion piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman finds a common thread running through several recent news stories: Bush team's info-phobia hurts us, them.

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November 02, 2003

Rieff: The Failure to Plan for Post-War Iraq

David Rieff has a lengthy but really good article in the New York Times Magazine on the screwed-up planning for post-war Iraq: Blueprint for a mess. Rieff makes a compelling case that the failure we're seeing now is at least in part the predictable result of poor planning by the Pentagon's senior civilian leadership.

Posted by jbc at 09:43 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 01, 2003

Iraq War Deaths

I've updated my earlier posting comparing the number of US deaths in Iraq and Vietnam at equivalent points in the history of the two wars. My previous charts used a projected figure for October that turned out to be overly optimistic; instead of 32 US military deaths in Iraq last month there actually ended up being 42.

Here are the charts again, updated with the actual number for October. (Again, I'm getting these figures from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville's page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.)

The first graph shows the first twelve months of the Vietnam war, and the first eight months of the Iraq war. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the same chart, with the Vietnam numbers extended out to cover the first four years of the war:

Finally, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

There were some interesting comments on the original item. Some people would like to see the comparison expanded to include all casualties, not just deaths. The argument is that this would give a better comparison to Iraq, where the human cost is masked somewhat by the fact that we've gotten better at keeping wounded soldiers from dying. Another person was interested in seeing a comparison of deaths normalized for the number of US troops present in-theater at any given time. I think that would be pretty interesting; if you know where I can find statistics on the number of troops deployed in Iraq and Vietnam by month, please let me know.

Another person basically accused me of celebrating soldiers' deaths because of my hatred of the Bush administration. There's an element of truth in that accusation. I disagree strongly with this war; I think it is a mistake both in a broad moral sense and in a more narrow, practical sense. I see it as a crime against humanity, justified by lies and pursued by people who lack the moral clarity to recognize the wrong they are committing. Besides being wrong in those terms, though, I believe this war is just plain stupid in a practical sense, in that it will hurt, rather than help, the longterm security interests of Americans (along with pretty much everyone else on the planet), while exacting a terrible price in terms of money and lives.

It's true that I want to see Bush punished politically for his decision to launch this war, and evidence of the ongoing death toll is an important part of making that case. But it isn't just personal animosity toward Bush that's motivating me. I'm not just looking for retribution. I'm looking for deterrence. It's wrong for politicians to lie their way into wars like this, and then lie about the consequences of their having done so. I'm pissed at Bush about that, but more importantly, I want to stop him, and stop other politicians who would do the same thing in the future. I want to demonstrate to them that, as a practical matter, lying your way into an ill-conceived war is a losing proposition, politics-wise.

Yes, the Iraq war is not yet giving us the kind of horrific death toll we saw at the peak of the Vietnam war. But that isn't the point. The point is that if a war is wrong, then even one death is a horrible injustice. Forty deaths a month is much worse.

The main tragedy of the Vietnam war, in my mind at least, wasn't the number of people who died. It was the number of people who died needlessly. It was the fact that having pledged their lives to protect their country from harm, soliders had those lives wasted in pursuit of a very different, and much less noble, goal: protecting politicians from the embarrassment of admitting that their policies had failed.

I believe that's exactly what's happening now. And I want it to end sooner, rather than later.

Posted by jbc at 11:17 AM | view/comment (57) | TrackBack (1)

Bush: Mission Accomplished (Or Not)

Some interesting commentary continues to appear about Bush's attempt to deny responsibility for the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the Abraham Lincoln. From David Sarasohn, writing in the Oregonian: Six months later, carefully editing a two-word banner. Sarasohn points out how the ease of searching old news items on the net makes it trivial to expose a lie like this.

And from Dave Lindorff, writing in CounterPunch: Big lies and little lies. Lindorff makes the interesting observation that, paradoxically, it is the smallness of this lie, the pettiness of it, that makes it so significant. He writes:

As the guerrilla war heats up in Iraq, and the numbers of American dead mount, he "mission accomplished" line, like the "Bring 'em on" line, is returning to haunt him. But this time, instead of just showing him to be out of touch, we see the real character of the man. Caught in an embarrassing situation, he'd prefer to lie his way out than face up to his responsibility.

So, who is it who still thinks Bush has the judgement, maturity, and emotional stability required to lead the most powerful nation on earth? And for those of you who do, how do you account for this "Mission Accomplished" lie? Again, I'm not arguing that the lie itself was some kind of earth-shaking crime. It was trivial. But what it shows about Bush's character is, I think, pretty significant.

Posted by jbc at 08:32 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)