December 31, 2003

Blue States Versus Red

Daily Kos has an interesting discussion of the upcoming election: Why Dean can win without the South. It's about, um, why Dean can win without the South. Not just links, but links and provocative, stimulating analysis!

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Marshall on Ashcroft's Plame-Case Recusal

So, John Ashcroft has recused himself from the Plame-outing investigation. (No, Hiro, I am not going to explain what it is. Go read the Washington Post, if you must: Ashcroft Recuses Self from Leak Case.)

Joshua Micah Marshall tries to read the tea leaves about what it all means here: A few more quick thoughts. His take seems to be that this may indeed bode something serious, since the announcement wasn't made at a time that would help bury it in the news cycle.

So, what could have led to it? Someone has blabbed to the investigators, and it's pretty clear that someone weighty in the White House is going to be going down for this? And they want to start working on their righteous-indignation act, and get it out of the way sooner, rather than waiting for it to blow up in the middle of the campaign season?

Time will tell, I guess.

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December 30, 2003

Dave Barry's Year-End Wrap Up

Much-beloved net.kook Dave Barry rings out the old year in style, with the following item: Between Iraq and a hard place. Thanks to Yian for the link.

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December 29, 2003

Winston Smith's Orson Scott Card Story

I neglected to link to it last week when I first read it, but I think it's interesting, especially if you like (or dislike) Orson Scott Card: The view from parallel Earth.

Interesting, too, the way Winston Smith thinks the post is not worth reading.

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Stryker on Widescreen Movie Formats

Stryker is tragically broken in his non-appreciation of LOTR, but otherwise makes a good point about the weirdness of people who prefer panned-and-scanned over widescreen: Challenging your beliefs.

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December 23, 2003

Sojourner Interviews Ray McGovern and David MacMichael

Here's an interesting interview from Sojourners. It's with a couple of ex-CIA guys who are mighty displeased about the way ideology is driving the intelligence process these days: The burden of truth.

Thanks again to reader Steve D. for this link, as well as the last two.

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Mitchell on the Atta-Prague Story

Oh, look: Yet another story claiming that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with representatives of Saddam Hussein's intelligence service in Prague shortly before the attacks. Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher doesn't think much of it: When will press stop circulating dubious Iraq claims?

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Bush-Blair Love Spat?

My apologies to loyal readers for shirking my posting duties lately. Reader Steve D. has been keeping up a steady stream of interesting story suggestions; here's one, with several more to follow. Thanks, Steve!

Anyway, from The Mirror: Bush and Blair: The big fall-out. Seems Tony Blair is getting annoyed at Uncle Sam's puppeteer's hand currently rammed up his backside, or something. The story is short on detail, but fun nevertheless.

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Havrilesky: Americans Love To Be Lied To

A nice piece at Salon on the latest fad in these United States: The year of the liar. Subscription (or free one-day pass) required.

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Yahoo's Offbeat Year End Wrap Up

As we approach the holiday season, people tend to reflect back on the 2003 and their accomplishments. What better time to take stock of some of this years accomplishments (and misshaps) of people even more disfunctional then yourself.

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December 17, 2003

Abstinance Makes People Dorks (aparently)

My buddy Mark put it best when he sent me this link...

Is this the best the Christian abstinance brigade can do?
"100 things do to with your boyfriend or girlfriend instead of it"
I mean, do they read this? Seriously? Do they have teenagers? Have they
ever been a teenager? And what's with the circa 1950's 'it'... come on, even
Jerry Falwell can say "sex" with a straight face.

Posted by hossman at 03:06 PM | view/comment (19) | TrackBack (0)

December 16, 2003

Presents for people you hate.

Have anyone on your list that you're forced to buy a present for but would just has soon alienate? Have I got a deal for you! You can get your very own talking Ann Coulter doll. If you take off the dress does it have a penis? I'm not going to look...

Posted by J.A.Y.S.O.N. at 07:01 PM | view/comment (6) | TrackBack (0)

Philosoraptor: Reactions to Saddam's Capture

A long, but extremely interesting piece of soul-searching from Winston Smith of Philosoraptor: Politically incorrect degrees of happiness. He's talking about the right wingers' demand that lefties rejoice in the capture of Saddam (a rejoicing that, in the righties' case, smells of hypocrisy, given the way their Presidents Reagan and Bush the First armed and financed Saddam in the 1980s, when many of the worst crimes "against his own people" now being recalled actually took place).

But Smith doesn't really focus on that issue. Instead, he looks inside himself, asking why he feels empty and hollow about an event he looked forward to for so long. From his conclusion:

Actions are morally good or bad on the basis of intentions--on the basis of the goals for which they are undertaken--and we undertook this war not in order to bring justice to Iraq, but in order to eliminate a threat our leaders invented almost out of whole cloth. We had a morally good goal and a goal that motivated us, but sadly these were two different goals. The not-especially-noble goal of self-defense actually moved us to act, something that the morally laudable goal of deposing the tyrant never would have done by itself. The morally laudable goal was invoked only after the fact, after it became painfully obvious that our action taken in self-defense was based on irresponsibly shoddy evaluation of the evidence. Shamed, and left without a plausible reason for doing what we had done, we were all too willing to be manipulated again, especially when this time we were being manipulated into accepting an account of things that made us, not pusillanimous lackwits sheepishly obeying orders to fire indiscriminately, but brave and noble defenders of the downtrodden.

The thing I like most about this, as with all the stuff on his site, is the way Winston Smith doesn't talk down to his reader. He's talking to himself, and that means that even if others can take refuge in ignorance or partisanship in order to make merry over Saddam's capture, he doesn't get to. He's too honest with himself for that.

That sort of honesty is supremely important. I may disagree with some of the things he posts on his site, but I give him credit for being honest. He's holding himself to a higher standard. He can still be mistaken, can still be wrong, but at least he won't be wilfully wrong.

It's a lot like what I was writing about Howard Dean the other day. Philosophers and doctors have to be honest in order to succeed in their chosen professions. Unlike, say, presidents and CEOs.

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December 14, 2003

Saddam Captured; Iraq War Still Stupid

Saddam has been captured, huzzah! Meanwhile, the war was still a profoundly stupid idea, sold to the public via a systematic campaign of lies.

Winston Smith at Philosoraptor sums up my feelings exactly with this item: A humble prediction.

The right acts as if it has accepted the following inference: Saddam is terrifically evil; Bush opposes Saddam; so Bush must be good. The left acts as if it has accepted this one: Bush is a very bad man; Bush opposes Saddam; so Saddam must not be that bad.

But both inferences are defective. Note also that, though both inferences have true premisses, both have false conclusions.

Saddam is evil and Bush is merely awful, but Bush's awfulness hits closer to home for Americans. If we ignore either Bush's awfulness or Saddam's black, bottomless, inhuman evil, we're ignoring something important about the world.

Finally, ymatt lends his Photoshop skills to answering the question on everyone's mind: What was Saddam thinking with that beard? One possible answer: He was working on his costume for the local Return of the King line party.

Posted by jbc at 03:28 PM | view/comment (22) | TrackBack (0)

December 12, 2003

Dogpile on Kynn!

Kynn of Shock & Awe does a really nice job of pointing out some glaring hypocrisy from reigning überblogger Glenn Reynolds: Instapundit and Communist protesters. Everybody else is linking to him, so I thought I'd get my head in the trough.

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December 11, 2003

Bush, Kerry, Thompson, GYWO, Iraq, and the F-word

You probably saw, or heard about, the interview with Rolling Stone where John Kerry said, "When I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, 'I'm against everything?' Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."

For what it's worth, I actually thought Bush was going to fuck things up pretty badly in Iraq, and I bet I could find at least a few dozen others who were on the record with similarly dire predictions. But the cool thing about the statement is the way it (aptly) assumes that everyone knows that Bush has, in fact, fucked things up.

The followup, in which Andrew Card, Bush's chief of staff, complained about Kerry's use of such foul language, was pretty interesting. Especially given that Bush, a year or so before the onset of war, interrupted a national security briefing with Condoleeza Rice and a group of senators to say, "Fuck Saddam. We're talking him out."

Anyway, some additional discussion of Bush's use of the F-word is provided by Capitol Hill Blue's Doug Thompson: What's in a word? A lot it seems. "So why are Republicans so upset that John Kerry invoked such a classic Anglo Saxon term in reference to Bush? Their only option is anger at the language because they can't really argue that Kerry's assessment is wrong."

Wrapping things up with a feel-good foul-language fest are the good people at Get Your War On: Page twenty-eight.

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Onion on Outsourced Marital Duties

As is frequently the case with the Onion, it's not just the idea, but the execution. Anyway: CEO's marital duties outsourced to Mexican groundskeeper.

Thanks to Hiro for reminding me to actually read the story, after I'd giggled for a while at the accompanying photos yesterday.

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December 10, 2003

The 'Truth Uncovered' Documentary

Available now from a file-sharing service near you, or by sending $14.95 to, or by having attended a house party last Sunday, is a new documentary titled, "Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War." I just finished watching it, and it's powerful stuff.

It isn't powerful because it makes any blockbuster revelations. It's powerful because it gathers together, in one telling, a simple, direct summary of the deceptions with which Bush and his handlers led the country to war.

There's nothing in the video, I'm pretty sure, that hasn't been reported already. But pulled together like this, it's just incredibly damning. There's something truly shocking about watching the footage from before the war, as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, and Wolfowitz present a coordinated storyline that simply falls apart in the light of subsequent events.

Let's be clear about what this is. This is a president being caught red-handed in the act of lying. In that sense it's reminiscent of Clinton's lying about Monica Lewinsky. But it's fundamentally different.

Clinton's Lewinsky lies were bad. The President abused the power of his office to get blowjobs from an intern (and almost certainly was doing lots more of the same sort of thing -- still is, for all I know). Then he lied about it under oath (yes, it was a pretty pathetic witchhunt that cornered him into doing so, but that's a side issue). He then got in front of the TV cameras and waggled his bent forefinger at the nation and said, "I didn't have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

And because she kept a dress stained with presidential semen, we all know exactly what he was doing when he did that. He was lying. Liar, liar, liar. You lied to us, Bill Clinton. You took the power of your office and the trust of the American people and your God-given talent for making people like and believe you and squandered it all on a pathetic effort to cover up a tawdry affair. And got caught.

Among the many people your betrayal harmed was your vice president, who lost his opportunity to succeed you in significant part because of the public's revulsion at your moral failings. And all the evils of the Bush presidency followed directly from that, which is really quite a lot for you to answer for.

But Bush's lies are a different sort of animal. Where Clinton's lies were personal and petty, aimed at getting him some illicit tail while continuing to maintain a fiction of personal morality, Bush's lies led directly to the death and maiming of thousands of innocent people. This war should never have been fought, and will ultimately achieve nothing good for anyone (with the possible exception of a small cadre of well-connected corporations and their shareholders). It will increase terror, rather than reducing it. It will make our nation more, rather than less, vulnerable. It will ultimately be recognized, as with the Vietnam war before it, as a colossal national tragedy, a waste, a mistake.

Bush went to war casually, disdainfully. His handlers orchestrated a campaign of coordinated lies designed to frighten the American people into going along with the pre-emptive invasion of a country that represented no real threat to them.

This is the source of the anger fueling the Dean campaign. It isn't the kind of irrational, reflexive hate that gave us Clinton-murdered-Vince-Foster screeds from the right wing. This is justified outrage at real murder on a massive scale, at a systematic, craven, soulless debauching of the principles that underlie everything worthy about this country.

Somewhere out there is a voter who hasn't decided yet who she is going to vote for. She doesn't read newspapers, doesn't watch Sunday talk shows, and doesn't blog obsessively about politics. But she's registered, and she takes her civic duty seriously. And sometime between now and next November she's going to watch some television: some campaign ads, a few convention speeches, and maybe a debate or two. And she's going to ask herself, which of these two men do I trust to run the country for the next four years?

On TV (and, I'm willing to believe, in person) Howard Dean comes off as an honest man. He sounds tough-minded but fair. He doesn't waffle; he analyzes the facts of the situation, and speaks his mind. When he makes a mistake, he acknowledges it.

I think a lot of this comes from his professional training as a doctor. Doctors have to make tough decisions based on murky data, and they have to do it all the time. Sometimes those decisions turn out to be wrong; when that happens they have to deal with the consequences. They have to figure out what went wrong, fix it if possible, and move on.

I think it would be really, really hard to succeed as a doctor using a George W. Bush approach. You can't party your way through a good med school. You can't get well-connected patrons to bail you out when your professional decision-making proves inadequate. The overhead associated with maintaining a fictional façade of competence is just too high for a doctor. In the end, to succeed as a doctor, you pretty much just have to be competent. And achieving and maintaining that competence requires a fundamental degree of honesty, both with the outside world and with yourself, that George Bush simply doesn't have.

In this sense, Howard Dean is the anti-Bush. Just as Carter was chosen to correct the perceived failings of Nixon, Reagan to correct the perceived failings of Carter, and Clinton to correct the perceived failings of Bush's father, Dean will be chosen to correct the perceived failings of Bush.

Those failings of Bush are very much on display in this video.

Posted by jbc at 01:33 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

December 09, 2003

Trampled Wal-Mart Shopper Seems Accident Prone

By now, most people have probably heard about the woman who was trampled the day after thanksgiving when hundreds of Wal-Mart shoppers rushed to buy $29 DVD players. What I just heard about tonight (Thank you Lewis Black and the Daily Show) is that this woman has a history of claiming ... suspicious ... injuries.
(Scroll down to "Wal-Mart Chaser" in this column for a detailed list of her past "injuries")

Posted by hossman at 11:44 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Please Don't Come To Our New Years "Extravanganza"

This choice little ditty is just too classic to let slide: The Mayor of London wants the city to have
"an extravanganza to rival the spectacular fireworks displays that cities such as Sydney and Los Angeles have become noted for" -- but he doesn't want it to be very long, and he doesn't want any one to come see it.
The fireworks will cost 330,000 ($576,000 US) and will only last 2 minutes long -- a show put on purely to create a video-bite that can be broadcast world wide. Londoners are actively being told to "stay home" and watch it on TV, becuase having a lot of people there in person may "ruin the effect" for the TV cameras, and the world audience.
Yea-Ha London, you folks really know how to party!

Posted by hossman at 05:12 PM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

December 08, 2003

Streisand Tossed Out of Court

As metioned previously, Babs has been acting like a spoiled little child, complaining that the California Coastal Records Project had violated the sanctity of her home, and was aiding stalkers. I didn't notice untill today, but last week the judge dismissed her case.
The CCRP web site has more info about the dismissal, and tons of press links.

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December 07, 2003

Kristof on Dean

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof believes Dean is another McGovern: There they go again. In thinking Dean is more or less "unelectable" in the general election, Kristof joins people like Joshua Micah Marshall and Kevin Drum, whose willingness to link Dean with McGovern I previously wrote about here: Howard Dean versus George McGovern.

I'm linking to this Kristof column not because I think he's right (since I don't), and not because I want to further depress Adam of Words Mean Things (though it seems possible that Kristof's column will achieve that). I'm linking to it because Kristof's belief that the upcoming election will be a replay of 1972, and my belief that it won't be, means that one of us is warping reality to match his mental model. Which one of us is it? A year from now I'll know.

Posted by jbc at 02:14 PM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

December 06, 2003

The Man Versus "Man"

From the LA Weekly's Steven Mikulan comes this update on the plight of Tommy Chong: Chong family values.

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Ivins on Dean

Molly Ivins tells it very much like it is: Picking a winner.

Those of you who, like me, were scared into supporting Kerry early on because he was the most "electable," especially compared to that angry little doctor from Vermont, really need to take a closer look at Dean. Because, you know, he's going to be your president for the next four to eight years, and it would make sense for you to have some idea of what the guy's all about.

Posted by jbc at 10:00 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Corn: Is Bush a Pathological Liar?

David Corn offers an interesting commentary, based on the conservative radio talk show circuit he's been doing to promote his book: Is the president a pathological liar?

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Traveling Soldier: Bring 'em Home

From Traveling Soldier Online: How can we leave Iraq?

Posted by jbc at 09:29 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 04, 2003

Baghdad Turkey Was for Show

In some ways it's a ridiculous thing to even be talking about, but then again, the fact that such ridiculous things keep coming up is significant in and of itself. Anyway, from the Washington Post: The bird was perfect but not for dinner. It turns out that the most-widely-circulated image from Bush's Baghdad airport photo op, in which he holds a big turkey on a platter, was staged, in the sense that he wasn't actually serving anyone the turkey. It was a centerpiece meant to adorn the chow line, rather than being for eating; he just grabbed it for a few seconds while a pool photographer snapped the photo.

So, chalk up another one for the image-over-substance team: Bush in front of the extravagantly-illuminated Statue of Liberty. Bush framed just so against the faces on Mount Rushmore. Bush's (augmented?) private parts hiked up and delineated by his flight-suit harness. And now Bush the selfless server of Thanksgiving cheer for our brave young men and women in harm's way.

White House officials do not deny that they craft elaborate events to showcase Bush, but they maintain that these events are designed to accurately dramatize his policies and to convey qualities about him that are real.

Yeah, whatever. I find myself longing, though, for a leader who doesn't have to be so carefully dramatized and showcased in order for his "real" qualities to come through. One whose actual statements and actions and policies could do that sort of thing for him.

Posted by jbc at 10:01 AM | view/comment (6) | TrackBack (0)

If Scott Forbes Ran the Circus

Ex-pat American and newly certified permanent Aussie resident Scott Forbes takes on Tacitus' question of just what he would do about Iraq if he were in Bush's position: Custer had a plan too.

Posted by jbc at 09:23 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 03, 2003

The Shape of Bush's Legacy

I didn't notice it at first, but when I took a second look at the latest graph of US fatalities in Iraq I noticed an odd thing about its shape. This led me to prepare the following visual companion to the Bush presidency (click the image for a larger version).

[Snotty pre-emptive comeback to anticipated patriot-baiting removed.]

Posted by jbc at 01:31 AM | view/comment (7) | TrackBack (0)

December 02, 2003

November: The Cruelest Month

More US troops died in Iraq in November than during any previous month of the war, including "major combat operations" last spring. With US military leaders reviving the inflated enemy bodycount as a way of putting a positive spin on things, it seemed like a good time to update my charts comparing US deaths in Iraq and Vietnam (see my earlier postings here and here). 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 nine 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:

These charts really seem to annoy supporters of the war who think I'm trying to make an argument that Iraq is "worse" than Vietnam because the brown line on the charts is higher than the corresponding portion of the green line. Even among the not-so-annoyed, it's a common observation that these numbers haven't been normalized for the number of troops in-theater, so any comparison that tries to derive a sense of the relative lethality of the two wars from these charts willl be way off-base. More than one observer has suggested that a more valid starting point for the Vietnam numbers would be somewhere around March of 1965 (year 3.3 or so on the last two graphs above), since that's approximately when the number of US troops on the ground in Vietnam matched the number currently in Iraq, and when US forces in Vietnam really began engaging in direct combat operations, rather than the training/advisory role they were playing prior to that.

Others have questioned my focus on US military deaths. What about the other side's death toll? What about all the young men and women whose lives have been shattered by horrific injuries? And what about the many thousands of non-combatant Iraqis who have been killed in the fighting?

All these folks have valid points. It really would be stupid for me to try to argue from these numbers that Iraq is somehow "worse" than Vietnam, that one conflict is more or less dangerous than the other for a typical soldier, or that December of 1961 is an appropriate point to begin counting Vietnam war deaths in order to derive some kind of lesson about military strategy or tactics. It would likewise be wrong for me to argue that US military fatalities are the only, or the most significant, cost of this war.

But I'm not arguing any of those things.

Again, as I've said from the beginning, I'm looking at something fairly specific here. I'm looking at the history of each of these conflicts not in terms of the military situation, but in terms of domestic US politics. I'm interested in US attitudes about the war, and politicians' statements about the war, at similar points in each conflict's political timeline. Given that, I think it's valid to start the Vietnam numbers at the point when President Johnson first started talking about US soldiers dying in the cause of Vietnamese freedom. And since the count of US dead is one of the most direct, unambiguous pieces of data about the cost of these wars, at least in the eyes of the domestic audience, I think a comparison of the US military death toll at similar points in each war's history makes for an interesting, if depressing, graph.

Those who want to use the numbers to make other sorts of arguments are welcome to do so. (You can download a CSV version of my data to help you, if you wish.) I haven't been able to find month-by-month statistics for troop levels in Vietnam, but the year-end numbers I have found seem to generally support the view that both conflicts are pretty close to each other in terms of lethality per 1,000 troops.

Posted by jbc at 09:27 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Doolittle on Bush's Desperation Not To Go To Baghdad

Jerome Doolittle, who was a press officer during the Carter administration, has an interesting take on Bush's recent Baghdad-airport photo op: A chickenhawk's Thanksgiving. An excerpt:

By the time President Bush finally left his house in Crawford for the airport -- behind the limousine's tinted glass and disguised by a baseball cap pulled down over his face -- he had shopped his concerns to his chief of staff, his pilot, the secret service, his military commanders, his wife, and his two daughters.

But nobody had given him the answer he was looking for.

Posted by jbc at 06:38 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)