April 29, 2004

Open Letter to the Crackhead Who Stole the Tops Off Matt's Motorcycle's Sparkplugs

This is really pretty sweet. From craigslist.org, via some weblogger whose identity I foolishly misplaced: Hey crackhead.

Posted by jbc at 11:00 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 28, 2004

Crying at Movies

What with the logistics of kids and babysitters, I tend not to see too many movies during their theatrical runs. (Well, except for kid movies. I see pretty much all of those, whether they deserve it or not.) Eight or nine months after everyone else has finished discussing the latest cool movie, I finally get around to seeing it on DVD, and suddenly find myself wanting to discuss it with my friends, friends who are already all talked out about whether Matrix Reloaded sucked or not (not, unless you're willing to stipulate that the first one sucked, too), or whether Lost in Translation was an aimless piece of nothing (sorry, no) or a masterful mood piece (a-yup).

So it was something of an aberration that my wife and I saw Love, Actually in the theater a few weeks before it officially opened, at a sneak preview in Santa Barbara. The audience was chock-full of Hugh Grant/Emma Thompson/Colin Firth fans from the city's British-expat community, which may have helped it receive an especially warm reception, but even without the supportive crowd, I'm pretty sure I would have liked the movie a lot. Anyway, I did like it a lot, and now that it's out on DVD and I've seen it again, I like it even more.

I'm quite the sucker for romantic comedies. An argument can be made that Love, Actually isn't really a romantic comedy, but is more of an extended highlight reel from six or seven of them, but the fact remains that Richard Curtis (the film's writer and director) has a distinctive sort of output that was very much in evidence in his previous work (he wrote the screenplays for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones' Diary), and if you liked his work there (which I mostly did) you're probably going to like it here.

Not so, however, for Chris Orr, a writer for The New Republic. In a new review timed for the DVD release he pretty much pans everything about Love, Actually: Crap, actually. While I admit that his review's title is kind of cute, he's just completely, tragically wrong about the movie. It is a great film, a beautiful film, a hopeful, uplifting film. That a movie with nine (or so) separate storylines is not a mess is a tribute to Curtis's deft writing and to his effective use of the stunningly good actors in his cast. Improbable as it seems, Curtis has taken the stuff of several light, frilly comedies, stripped it down and mashed it together, and delivered not only laughs, but a deeper movie that is actually about something.

Okay; I admit there are comic bits that aren't going to work for everyone. For my taste, there were too many fat jokes, and the storyline about the loveless Colin (Kris Marshall), who goes to America to become a sex god and succeeds beyond any reasonable expectation, was pretty silly. (Though I liked it better on subsequent viewings.)

But those are minor quibbles, given the things the movie does right. The most unexpectedly powerful moment for me comes when Thomas Sangstrom, playing the 11-year-old stepson of Liam Neeson's character, steps into Neeson's arms to be hoisted and turned in the air, his arms spread wide in a moment of exultation that is pure, heartfelt, and thoroughly moving.


I don't think I was particularly prone to crying at movies when I was younger, but since becoming a parent I've noticed a definite tendency toward emotional waterworks, especially in tear-jerking scenes involving children. I cried when I saw that scene in the theater, and cried again when I watched it on DVD, and again when I watched the DVD the second time to listen to the audio commentary. It's powerful stuff, and it's powerful because Richard Curtis and his cast and crew were willing to risk making a movie that talks honestly and openly about the most vulnerable of human emotions.

It's easy to cut down a film that is sincere and hopeful about love. It's easy to be cynical and snarky. Easy, but wrong.

This is a great movie. If you haven't seen it, give it a try. If you have seen it, see it again. Go ahead and mock me in the comments for being a silly girly-man; I don't care. I love this movie.

Posted by jbc at 09:15 PM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Found: Some really entertaining stuff

I don't remember what show I was watching yesterday, but I caught the tail end of an interview with Davy Rothbart, the founder and editor of FOUND magazine. I'd never heard of the magazine until then, but it sounds pretty cool. You see a few years ago, Davy found a strange note on his car (it was a case of mistaken identity) that spawned a fascination with "found items", the random snippets of paper, photos, and other objects that litter the streets everywhere we go, telling a tale about society and the people in it. He turned his hobby into a magazine, and from there it's spawned a new Book and a 50 state tour in which he's driving all over the country, hosting parties to show of cool stuff, and encouraging people to bring in their own finds.

If nothing else, spend a few minutes checking out the website ... they showcase some pretty kooky stuff.

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April 27, 2004

Myths at Home and Abroad Cloud Prospects for Peace

I've been thinking about movies lately. Like John Boorman's Excalibur, when Nicole Williamson as Merlin is asked by Nigel Terry's Arthur, "What is the greatest virtue of knighthood?" Merlin answers, "Truth. That's it, yes, it must be truth, above all. When a man lies he murders part of the world."

Well, these days, with respect to the war in Iraq, the murderers are clearly winning, both literally and figuratively. On both sides of the conflict, lies and myths are driving the public to support war and oppose peace, in part because a certain type of leader knows that by encouraging these beliefs he can cement his own hold on power.

Two stories I read recently highlight this. From today's LA Times: Rumors thrive in a nation shaped by myth.

For decades under Hussein, Iraqis lived in a country perverted by propaganda. Little was known about the outside world or the dealings of the government. The people's mood was controlled by innuendo planted by Iraqi intelligence operatives and by shreds of vague information that spread through alleys and boulevards. This created a parallel reality, which at its most outlandish featured last year's televised proclamation by Mohammed Said Sahaf, then Iraq's information minister, that U.S. forces were not in Baghdad, even as gunfire from advancing troops rang out behind him.

Street gossip is merging with a new phenomenon: satellite TV. Satellite dishes symbolized the end of Hussein's regime and brought the unfolding of events into living rooms. Live broadcasts by Al Jazeera and other Arabic-language channels show what is happening in Iraq, from kidnappings to suicide bombings to gun battles between American troops and insurgents. U.S. forces claim that these outlets have stepped beyond the boundaries of news gathering and are inciting uprisings and sabotaging efforts to build a democratic Iraq.

On a visit to the Middle East this month, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said he "didn't have enough fingers and toes" to count what Washington considers to be Al Jazeera's numerous inaccuracies.

Al Jazeera is often first on the scene of a story. Its breathless commentary and images of dead Iraqi civilians undercut the U.S. message that the occupation is improving the country. The bloodshed the channel shows sometimes offers an eerie counterbalance to assessments by Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, who has described battles between insurgents and U.S. forces as "upticks" in violence.

Hamida Smaysam, dean of media studies at Baghdad University, said: "Everyone is watching Al Jazeera and other Arab TV stations. There's a war of information going on, and the Americans have not been able to fill the gap.

"Al Jazeera is not intentionally distorting the facts -- it's just rushing into exciting news and making quick conclusions," she said. "But at the same time, the Americans want to hide things."

Meanwhile, back here in America, our own little Ministry of Information has been busy putting out its own twisted version of reality with a fair degree of success. For proof of that, look at this latest report (Americans continue to believe Iraq supported al Qaeda, had WMD) from the people at PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes:

According to a new PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll, a majority of Americans (57%) continue to believe that before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, including 20% who believe that Iraq was directly involved in the September 11 attacks. Forty-five percent believe that evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda has been found. Sixty percent believe that just before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38%) or a major program for developing them (22%).

Despite statements by Richard Clarke, David Kay, Hans Blix and others, few Americans perceive most experts as saying the contrary. Only 15% said they are hearing “experts mostly agree Iraq was not providing substantial support to al Qaeda,” while 82% either said that “experts mostly agree Iraq was providing substantial support” (47%) or “experts are evenly divided on the question” (35%). Only 34% said they thought most experts believe Iraq did not have WMD, while 65% said most experts say Iraq did have them (30%) or that experts are divided on the question (35%).

Not surprisingly, perceptions of what experts are saying are highly correlated with beliefs about prewar Iraq, which in turn are highly correlated with support for the decision to go to war.

Perhaps most relevant politically, perceptions of what the experts are saying are also highly correlated with intentions to vote for the President in the upcoming election. Among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq had WMD, 72% said they would vote for Bush and 23% said they would vote for Kerry, while among those who perceived experts as saying that Iraq did not have WMD, 23% said they would vote for Bush and 74% for Kerry.

It's all very depressing. The truth would set us free, but we're too busy wrapping ourselves in a warm, fuzzy cloak of tailor-made deception to notice. Will enough of us on each side of the conflict catch on, allowing us to craft a better future for our children? I'd like to believe so. But in the face of stories like these it sure doesn't seem likely. I'm left with the embittered, defiant response that Daryl Hannah's Pris gives in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, "Then we're stupid, and we'll die."

To which my inner Roy Batty can only smile and say, "No we won't."

Posted by jbc at 10:06 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 25, 2004

Richard Clarke on What We're Doing Wrong on Terrorism

The guy served four presidents, the last two in the capacity of chief counter-terrorism person, until this current president drove him crazy with his indifference to hair-on-fire warnings. But if there's such a thing as an expert on the subject, he's it.

Yes, he's something of a prima donna, an alarmist, and may even be (horrors!) gay, for all I know. Doesn't matter. He has the one (1) qualification that in this case trumps all objections, including whatever snark-du-jour the Bush defenders fire off in their ongoing efforts to cut him down personally while avoiding his actual arguments. And that one qualification is this: his Cassandra-esque warnings were proven right on September 11. So cut the crap about how you just don't like his taste in ties, or whatever, and go read what Richard Clarke has to say about how this whole War on Terror thing is going seriously wrong: The wrong debate on terrorism.

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

A Tale of Two Fallujahs

So, it looks like we're reaching the later stages of our collective pre-emptive remorse over the additional innocent blood we're going to spill in Fallujah. From the New York Times: Bush's decision on possible attack on Falluja seems near.

Facing one of the grimmest choices of the Iraq war, President Bush and his senior national security and military advisers are expected to decide this weekend whether to order an invasion of Falluja, even if a battle there runs the risk of uprisings in the city and perhaps elsewhere around Iraq.

After declaring on Friday evening in Florida that "America will never be run out of Iraq by a bunch of thugs and killers," Mr. Bush flew to Camp David for the weekend, where administration officials said he planned consultations in a videoconference with the military commanders who are keeping the city under siege.

So, Bush is on the horns of a dilemma. Leaving the evil-doers of Fallujah unpunished would be intolerable. But killing them will result in the deaths of large numbers of innocent civilians, thereby turning Iraqi, Arab, and world public opinion more firmly against us, making our larger Iraq problem dramatically worse.

See, this is where having a president who was actually capable of introspection and the careful weighing of complex issues would be helpful. Because Bush's decision on this one is completely predictable, and it's going to suck. Faced with a choice between an intolerable current situation (a situation he created with his previous decisions, one should remember), and a "solution" that will actually make things much worse, he's going to ignore the consequence and go with what feels right to his gut. Which will be to kill the bad guys. And make things much worse.

Meanwhile, I was struck by this item from war-supporter and überblogger Andrew Sullivan: Email of the day. It's an email allegedly from a military chaplain in Fallujah who offers an extended analogy comparing the insurgents there to a street gang.

The part I find interesting is the contrast between this version of Fallujah and the ones I linked to earlier from the peace activists who visited the medical aid station there (see Firsthand account of Fallujah and Rahul Mahajan on Fallujah). Those earlier accounts essentially portrayed the insurgents as being in solidarity with the locals. It said the fighters consist essentially of all the able-bodied males in the city, banding together to protect their homes and families against the US invaders. It said the insurgents very much had the support of the city's population.

Compare that with Sullivan's anonymous military chaplain:

[I]n Faluja, the supposed hotbed of dissent in Iraq, countless Iraqis tell our psyopers they want to cooperate with us but are afraid the thugs will slit their throats or kill their kids. A bad gang can do that to a neighborhood and a town. That's what is happening here.

So which is it? I mean, there's doubtless some truth in each side's account, but each side is also filtering its perceptions through a bigtime reality filter. Which one is distorting things more? If you and I could go there, live with the people of Fallujah for a while, and get to know them, which version would emerge as being more accurate?

I know which one is easier for me to believe. But I also know that the world is not under any obligation to behave in a way that minimizes my cognitive dissonance. War supporters like reader Thom will have the same problem, but with the arrow pointing the other way.

I don't think it's really possible to answer the question conclusively from here. But it's an important question, and given the actions that are about to be carried out in our name in Fallujah, I think it's a question that deserves serious thought.

Posted by jbc at 08:00 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

McSweeney's Does the Neocon Open Letter and the Saddam Interrogation

A couple of fun items from McSweeney's: An open letter to William Kristol, Richard Perle, and President Bush's other neoconservative puppetmasters. And Saddam's interrogation logs.

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Photo Mosaic of Bush

Joe at American Leftist created this interesting photo mosaic of Bush, using only the faces of American soldiers killed in Iraq. He calls the image "War President":

War President

It's mirrored here, and is also available in larger sizes that let you see each face in the mosaic more clearly.

Note that there are more than 1400 faces depicted in the image, while so far only about half that many US soldiers have actually died in Iraq. Some of the faces are duplicated in the image, a fact that its creator makes clear up front.

(Which reminds me that I'd meant to link to that other photo mosaic of Ashcroft's face made with pornographic images. So I've done that now.)

Posted by jbc at 06:54 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Coors Identified as Klansman. Sort of.

Adam of the currently-on-hiatus Words Mean Things weblog likes to say that even if Bush were to kill a small child on national television, many of his supporters would find a way to explain it away. As far as I know Bush hasn't done that yet, preventing us from testing the theory, but an amusingly similar media event has befallen Pete Coors, who's running for Senate in Colorado. From the Rocky Mountain News: Oops! Coors' photo used in Klan story.

Thursday's New York Times misidentified GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors as a Ku Klux Klan member who murdered a black sharecropper.

The Coors campaign found the error "so outrageous it's kind of funny," said spokeswoman Cinamon Watson.

Janus/onan's reaction to the story? "I want a spokeswoman named Cinamon."

Posted by jbc at 06:36 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 23, 2004

Bartlett: Deep Misgivings on Iraq, Bush's Decision-Making

Bruce Bartlett isn't the kind of guy I read every day, but maybe I should. The self-described political conservative has some choice words about how things are going in Iraq, and about the problems he sees with Bush's decision-making process: My misgivings.

I realize I make my own arguments fairly easy for Bush-supporters to dismiss, what with the one-sided snarkery I engage in. So ignore me. What about Bartlett, though? He's not some raving leftist. He's a sober, intelligent, thoughtful conservative. And he's got concerns. Maybe you conservatives who visit lies.com from time to time (both of you) might want to check out his remarks.

For my other nine readers, who presumably fall somewhat closer to my own position on things, notice something here: the guy is a political conservative, yet he's thoughtful, honest, and willing to speak his own mind. Interesting, huh?

Posted by jbc at 03:41 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Iraq Pre- and Post-Mortem

So, much saber-rattling coming from the US military leadership in Iraq, about how we're just about ready to unleash large-scale carnage on Fallujah again: Marines poised for Fallujah offensive. Just when it was looking like wiser heads were doing some prevailing, too.

Meanwhile, a couple of interesting looks back at the war's justification and prosecution, from a few folks who recognized it was a catastrophe in the making from Day One. From Juan Cole, responding to some baiting from Christopher Hitchens: Hitchens questions on Iraq. And from Paul Krugman: What went wrong?

Posted by jbc at 10:41 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bush and Kerry and Military Service, Still Yet One More Time Again

Righties are doing their best on Kerry's military record (like this from Donald Sensing, quoting from a Washington Times article: Three Purple Hearts and not a day of duty lost?). And Kevin Drum was goaded into going into a bit more detail about just why it is that Kerry's released documents pretty much slay any questions one might raise about his service, while Bush's do just the opposite: Bush vs. Kerry.

But the best summing up comes from Kos, I think: The shorter Bush/Kerry comparison.

Posted by jbc at 10:26 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

I See Dead People

Everyone is going to keep mentioning this until I post about it, so here you go: the obligatory lies.com acknowledgement of the thing with the pictures of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq: From the NYT: Pentagon ban on pictures of dead troops is broken. From Joshua Micah Marshall: Yesterday I was going to post a link... From Kevin Drum: Coffins. And from the horse's mouth, which in this case is thememoryhole.org: Dover AFB (unfortunately slashdotted, or whatever the equivalent phrase is for when the mainstream media does it to you, so you can also get it from the fine people at Warblogging, here: Dover AFB gallery).

Posted by jbc at 09:46 AM | view/comment (24) | TrackBack (0)

The Salman Rushdie Poll

From perennial supplier of cool links Bravo comes word of this fun/interesting poll at ShiaChat.com: Salman Rushdie: What would you do if you saw him?

Posted by jbc at 04:01 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Vote for a Douchebag This Fall

From Hiro comes word of this site, which really sums things up quite nicely: http://www.johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com/.

Posted by jbc at 03:32 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 22, 2004

Cole: Perle Carries Water for Chalabi at Senate Hearing

Giving you a welcome break from my increasingly strident fuming about how George W. Bush has a deep-rooted desire to nuke little children, here's some fuming about someone else: Richard Perle, who aroused Juan Cole's ire with some testimony he gave Tuesday: Perle at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Interesting stuff.

Posted by jbc at 10:16 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ye Shall Know Them by Their Fruits

Kevin Drum offers up a nice comparison of the military records of Bush and Kerry, and the atttitude toward those respective records by the right-wing political set: A tale of two soldiers.

I'd say that pretty well sums up what our two presidential candidates were up to 30 years ago.

I really do find the double standard interesting. If Bush had Kerry's military record, the right-wing machine would be engaging in public masturbation over it. But since it's Kerry's record, it's grounds for criticism. (You know, there's a rumor he really didn't get injured all that badly in order to receive that first Purple Heart...) Meanwhile, Bush "served his country with honor and distinction" (by pulling strings to jump to the head of the National Guard line, getting a taxpayer-funded chance to fly jet planes as far from the fighting as possible, then losing interest, going AWOL, and being quietly discharged before serving his full term).

It isn't surprising to see this double standard in action. Given the many other actions Bush and his team have been involved in more recently, things that dwarf, in their seriousness, the charges under which Republicans in Congress impeached Clinton, but that turn out to be no big deal when committed by the Bush people, it isn't surprising at all.

But it sure is unseemly. Guys: you're not fooling anybody. There's no principle involved when you trumpet the one guy's glorious service, while cutting down the other guy based on sly innuendoes. You're just being craven tools of a particular agenda. Craven. Tools. Look the words up.

Oh, don't bother. I'll do it for you.


adj : lacking even the rudiments of courage; abjectly fearful; "the craven fellow turned and ran"; "a craven proposal to raise the white flag"; "this recreant knight" --Spenser [syn: recreant]


3: a person who is used to perform unpleasant or dishonest tasks for someone else [syn: creature, puppet]

Posted by jbc at 07:03 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (1)

April 21, 2004

Bush: Our Enemies Have No Souls

During his recent campaign speech calling for renewal of the Patriot Act, Bush mentioned "souls" five times, leading up to this final, extremely curious (from a theological standpoint) mention:

And there's only one path to safety and that's the path of action. Congress must act with the Patriot Act. We must continue to stay on the offense when it comes to chasing these killers down and bringing them to justice -- and we will. We've got to be strong and resolute and determined. We will never show weakness in the face of these people who have no soul, who have no conscience, who care less about the life of a man or a woman or a child. We've got to do everything we can here at home. And there's no doubt in my mind that, with the Almighty's blessings and hard work, that we will succeed in our mission.

The discussion of this at Corrente is pretty interesting (see this item: How can Bush say that his enemies have no souls?, as well as the item's comments). It includes a link to an earlier Corrente posting (POTL -- short for "People of the Lie") that I also really liked.

The asssertion by Bush that our enemies have no souls raises some questions. Obviously, it doesn't comport with the teachings of any mainstream Chrisitian religion. So, given Bush's frequent allusion to his being, in fact, a born-again Christian, what does it reveal about him?

To me, it reveals that his religious faith is, to him, very much like every other aspect of his character. Fundamental questions (like whether evildoers have souls, or whether a unilateral pre-emptive invasion of Iraq will help or hurt US interests) hold essentially zero interest for him. He's not an analyzer. He's a gut-checker. He knows the truth, knows what's right, and feels no particular need to examine the world to see if it matches up with his a priori beliefs.

I don't think anyone's going to bother correcting Bush on this theological point; people realize that the distinction really just isn't important to him. Souls, shmouls, who cares? The important thing is that they're our enemies, they're sub-human, and we needn't be concerned about moral complexities if we decide to hunt them down and exterminate them like vermin. Oh, and likewise submerged in the clutter of unimportant details: what one has to do to qualify for such morally-neutral extermination. Commit acts of terror? Sure. Be a Muslim living in a Middle Eastern country that lacks a pro-US foreign policy? Okay, you're in, too. Oppose the president's policies at home? Yup, you're also soulless. Line 'em up for the gas chamber, boys. We're making a better world.

What's that? You think I'm being unfair? I don't think so. It's completely consistent with how Bush operates. I honestly believe that the only thing holding him back at this point is his desire to win the upcoming election. If Bush wins a second term, such that that last restraint on his behavior is removed, I can't imagine how far he'd go in pursuing his personal version of reality, both at home and abroad. I really don't want to find out.

When you get right down to it, it's just awfully convenient to grant onesself the power to imagine a world that matches all one's preconceptions, and then to ignore the world's real nature in one's interactions with it. It's what very young children do, as a rule. Among grownups, though, it's considerably more rare. In a person who wields the power of the US presidency, it's downright scary.

Posted by jbc at 06:40 AM | view/comment (7) | TrackBack (0)

April 20, 2004

Corn on Woodward on Bush

I haven't being paying a whole lot of attention to the fuss surrounding Bob Woodward's new book, in part because Woodward kinda gives me the creeps. But I read David Corn's recent piece on Woodward in The Nation, and it struck me as interesting enough to warrant posting here. So there: I have officially done the lies.com coverage of Woodward's new book: Woodward on Bush.

Posted by jbc at 09:03 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

April 19, 2004

More Detail on Marines Sniping Ambulances

There was a brief scuffle in the comments here recently between reader/author Craig, reader Thom, and me regarding the nature of US Marines' and Sunni insurgents' actions in Fallujah (see Firsthand account of Fallujah and More on events in Fallujah). It ended up that Thom was surprised I would take accounts of Marines sniping on clearly marked ambulances seriously, until I explained that I considered it likely that the insurgents might have used ambulances for transport, at which point Thom creatively spun my remarks to be somewhat stronger than I intended them, declared victory, and we let the matter drop.

Now I've come across a little more detail on the issue. Dahr Jamail (a peace activist who visited Fallujah a week ago, and who wrote one of the accounts I previously linked to) has this item on his weblog: Iraqi health minister presses authorities to explain U.S. targeting of Falluja ambulances. It includes the following:

I attended a press conference today at the Ministry of Health, led by the Iraqi Minister of Health himself. In short, he held the press conference to stave off criticism of not doing enough to assist (medically) the besieged and suffering residents of Falluja, as well as some of the areas down south where fighting has occurred.

Al-Iraqia television, the Coalition Provisional Authority-run propaganda station that most of my Iraqi friends call the "CIA Station", was at the press conference. They packed up and left promptly after the minister and his two doctors finished their discussion, entirely missing the pointed questions that were to follow.

A stunning surprise, however, was that the minister acknowledged the U.S. military had been intentionally targeting ambulances in Falluja. He expressed his outrage over the matter, and stated that he had personally pressed the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and Bremer for explanations about why these human rights violations, as well as violations of the Geneva Conventions, are occurring.

He said that the U.S. military had accused mujahedeen in Falluja of using ambulances for fighting, and that is why Marines were firing on them. Perhaps there is some truth in this, but at the same time, ambulances that were being used legitimately are being targeted as well, and innocents are dying. My personal friends Jo Wilding and David Martinez were riding in one of these that received 5 sniper rounds through it. I can vouch that they are not mujahedeen.

Also, a number of outlets are carrying the message from a US military briefing announcing details of the latest cease-fire agreement between Iraqi and US forces. Among the terms of the agreement are these:

  • Coalition forces will allow "unfettered" access to Fallujah General Hospital for treatment of sick and injured.
  • All parties agreed to provide for the removal and burial of the dead, as well as providing food and medicine in isolated areas of the city.
  • The start of an evening curfew will be moved from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to enable Fallujah religious functionaries to conduct services.
  • Measures will be implemented to provide passage of official ambulances throughout the city via checkpoints.
  • Medical, technical and security personnel will be allowed access throughout Fallujah to conduct their work.
Examined in context, and taking into account the spin being applied by the various participants, I think the broad outlines of this ambulance-sniping behavior are pretty clear. Yes, Marines have been sniping ambulances, as described by activists in Fallujah a week ago and tacitly acknowledged by the US military in the latest cease-fire agreement.

Marines have justified shooting ambulances by claiming Sunni insurgents were using them to transport themselves. Were the insurgents actually doing that? I think it's probable. These are guerrillas fighting an enemy who has overwhelming air support and heavy armor. Their only hope of surviving, to say nothing of inflicting harm on the enemy, is to be quick, stealthy, and, for want of a better word, "creative." If ambulances are being treated as sacrosanct by the Marines, the insurgents would be stupid not to use them. And if they're using them, the Marines would be stupid not to snipe them. And given those facts, those of us trying to figure out what's going on from the outside would be stupid to expect anything other than what has taken place.

Now, to the extent the insurgents are using ambulances to get around, that would, I assume, constitute a war crime. To the extent they're hiding among civilians, using them as shields against the US forces, that would constitute a war crime. Those crimes notwithstanding, to the extent Marines aren't working particularly hard to distinguish between real ambulances and clandestine troop carriers, or to the extent they're not making a good-faith effort to determine if any given 10-year-old boy is or isn't toting a Kalashnikov, or a particular burqa-wrapped "woman" is or isn't actually a male insurgent concealing an RPG, before shooting said ambulance/boy/"woman", they're also guilty of war crimes.

Of course, good faith isn't the sort of thing one should expect to find in a war zone. War crimes happen on both sides in every war. When the war is over, the victors get to make a show of exposing the other sides' perfidy, while sweeping their own under the rug. To believe that our side doesn't engage in such things is naive.

War is the realm of pragmatism. It explicitly sets aside the usual norms of civilized behavior. Warriors kill people. They do it brutally, efficiently, and without compunction. Civilian casualties are minimized "to the extent that it's possible and prudent." Prudence, in this case, though, often means nothing more than not using up your bullets on people who don't represent a real threat. In the position the Marines were in in Fallujah, not knowing who was a combatant and who wasn't, which ambulances were carrying insurgents and which weren't, and with no shortage of bullets, the international conventions that prohibit shooting unarmed civilians and ambulances were set aside. And it was completely predictable that that would happen when the decision was made to go in and make an example of Fallujah.

Which is why I continue to think that the decision to go into Fallujah with guns blazing was stupid. Sure, we can defeat individual bands of insurgents, and given the provocation of the four contractors/mercenaries' killing and mutilation on March 31, I can see where the desire to go in and just impose our will on the city, "pacifying" it by killing anyone suspected of opposing us, along with anyone who happened to get in the way while we were doing so, was tempting, especiallly to someone like Bush. In that sense, as I've said before, Fallujah represents a microcosm of the larger Iraq war, and the overall "war on terror." One can almost hear Bush, after watching footage of burned and dismembered Americans, saying, "Fuck Fallujah. We're taking it out."

Yeah, I happen to think that Bush's quick resorting to blunt military solutions, without exhausting the messy, complicated solutions available short of war, is immoral, betraying as it does a tragic indifference to the innocent lives that war grinds into hamburger. But as I've also said before, I'm not basing my objection to the Fallujah action on a moral claim. I'm basing it on a more practical concern. It was completely predictable that it was going to descend almost immediately into this sort of ugliness, thereby driving Iraqis all across the country, not just in Fallujah, away from us and into the arms of anti-US radicals. Which makes the solving of our larger Iraq problem much, much harder.

We need Iraqi hearts and minds if we're going to leave a friendly-to-the-US government behind. Fallujah was a huge failure in that regard. In the same way, we need the support, trust, and cooperation of other countries if we're going to effectively combat terror around the world. By misleading the world about things like Saddam's connections with al Qaeda and his stockpiles of WMD, and then launching a pre-emptive invasion over the objections of the UN Security Council, we've taken a huge step backward in that regard, too.

George W. Bush: Fuckup-in-Chief.

Posted by jbc at 11:37 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

McNamara, Morris at Berkeley

Here's a writeup and Real Audio video of a fascinating panel discussion: Robert McNamara, Errol Morris return to Berkeley to share lessons learned from "Fog of War".

Posted by jbc at 01:29 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

How to Get Bush to Debate Kerry

Kerry keeps talking about wanting to debate Bush early and often. Bush keeps ducking the challenge, for obvious reasons. But Lead Balloons over at Bad Attitudes suggests that Kerry might be able to get Bush to go for it if he says Bush can bring Cheney with him; i.e., Kerry will debate both of them at once.

Balloons actually suggested that a couple of weeks ago, but I missed it then. He also suggests, more recently, an alternative approach Kerry can take: offering to debate Cheney instead of Bush. That one works, too, though in a different way.

If he did it jokingly, during a Letterman appearance, say, he could get it out there without having to look like he's beating up on Bush. That assumes Kerry has a sense of humor and can tell a joke, something I'm not sure I've seen him do, so maybe he can't or won't. But it's a cute idea, at least.

Posted by jbc at 01:07 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

April 18, 2004

Forbes on the Air Force One Lie

Interesting (to me, at least) item from Scott Forbes about how the lie from the Bushies about Air Force One being targetted on 9/11 revealed to him the extent of their dishonesty: Moment of truth.

Posted by jbc at 05:33 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 17, 2004

Teen Values TV Over Mom

Here's a feel-good story to break my recent trend of posting about quagmires and war crimes. From CNN: Kill mom but don't hurt TV, teen tells hitman.

Posted by jbc at 08:05 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

April 16, 2004

Myers: Iraq Insurgency a Sign of Success

In keeping with tradition, Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers observed today that the recent widespread violence (and, presumably, record numbers of US dead, though he didn't mention them specifically) were a sign of the "success" we are having in Iraq. He even managed to use the word three times in two sentences. From the Washington Post: General calls insurgency in Iraq a sign of US success.

BAGHDAD, April 15 -- The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday that the deadly insurgency that flared this month is "a symptom of the success that we're having here in Iraq" and an effort to undermine the country's transition to self-government.

Asked at a news conference here whether the military had failed to counter insurgents' attacks in Iraq, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said guerrillas want to undermine several political successes, including the creation of the Iraqi Governing Council, the signing of a bill of rights and efforts by the United Nations to devise an interim government that would assume power on June 30.

"I think it's that success which is driving the current situation, because there are those extremists that don't want that success," Myers said.

Quoting The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Posted by jbc at 04:08 PM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (0)

Krugman on the Iraq/Vietnam Analogy

Paul Krugman has some apt comments on the various ways in which the Iraq war is (and isn't) like Vietnam: The Vietnam analogy.

Posted by jbc at 08:59 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Jerome Doolittle on Bush's Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Jerome Doolittle of Bad Attitudes runs some excerpts from an academic piece on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), noting the point-by-point matchup with George Bush: And you thought guys like that were just assholes!

Posted by jbc at 08:55 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 15, 2004

Poop For Peace Day: April 16, 2004

I can't say it any better then they do....
On April 16, take some time to think when you take your time to stink. Think of yourself on your toilet, and George W. Bush on his, and Saddam and Osama on theirs. Think about the children of Iraq and the children of America, and realize that while their skins are different colors and their gods have different names, their daily ritual is exactly the same. We all poop, which means we're all human, which means we're all brothers and sisters. Any other differences are arbitrary -- we are all united in the daily struggle against the tyranny of the bowel.

Posted by hossman at 06:10 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Lizza on the White House Press Corps' Thirst for Vengeance

From The New Republic's Ryan Lizza comes this really fun and insightful piece on the relationship between Bush and his media entourage, and the back story to Tuesday's press conference: Stuck.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that poll-obsessed me found this part especially interesting:

Before the press conference, some in the media believed that Bush's performance could tip the president's popularity one way or the other. But, instead of changing Bush's political momentum, Tuesday's performance just reinforced the public's opinion about what his most dominant trait is. It's not leadership or stupidity, the two characteristics most often ascribed to the president by his allies and foes. It's that he refuses to change his mind.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center recently asked 1,800 people to rate Bush and John Kerry on a scale of one to ten for 17 different characteristics. On many issues, the scores revealed no advantage for either candidate. Voters rated them equally on whether they "care about people like me," "share my values," are "inspiring," "trustworthy," or have the "right kind of experience to be president." But the most extreme score was recorded when voters were asked how well the word "stubborn" applies to Bush. And the more important voters are to deciding the general election, the higher the score rose. Respondents from the 18 swing states thought Bush was even more stubborn than the rest of the country did. And, within the swing states, the so-called "persuadable" voters, a narrow band of Americans (about 11 percent of the electorate) undecided about the contest, found Bush even more stubborn. Interestingly, the impression that Bush is obstinate is far more ingrained than the impression that Kerry is a flip-flopper. Voters say the phrase "changes his mind for political reasons" applies about equally to both men. The coveted persuadables actually say it is a slightly better description of Bush. So, while the president may have spent $40 million on advertising to convince swing voters that Kerry changes his mind too much, they apparently are more concerned that Bush changes his too little.

Gotta love those persuadables. Flexible willow wands themselves, trimming their sails to whatever political wind is currently blowing, they apparently are even more likely than lefties like me to take notice of Bush's stubborn streak.

I also really liked this part:

It's common for a president faced with a sudden decline in popularity to think that, if he could only get his message out more effectively, his problems would be solved. Bush has always leaned heavily on the crutch of the big speech or bold press conference to turn things around. But he doesn't have a message problem; he has a reality problem. "The administration is like a person who talks more loudly and slowly to people who don't understand English," says a Senate Democratic aide.

Posted by jbc at 04:58 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Time on Fallujah

Time magazine has a new article about events in Fallujah: How to squeeze a city. It's very much from the Marines' perspective, and offers some additional detail. An excerpt:

City combat blunts the Marines' chief advantages: speed and awareness of what is ahead. Buildings create vast "dead spaces" where the enemy can hide. The cityscape hinders communications and prevents anything that flies low, like helicopters, spy drones and warplanes, from assisting friendly forces on the ground for very long. Life-and-death decisions must be made instantly: 90% of the targets are less than 50 yds. away and seen for only seconds. "When they start zinging RPGs in here, you can't really do anything about it," says Staff Sergeant Mike Conran. "It's really just dumb luck if you get hit."

In some neighborhoods, the Marines say, anyone they spot in the streets is considered a "bad guy." Says Marine Major Larry Kaifesh: "It is hard to differentiate between people who are insurgents or civilians. You just have to go with your gut feeling." U.S. commanders say many residents of the town haven't declared their allegiance to either the coalition or the insurgents and are waiting to see who prevails. But the Marines sensed that, no matter how the battle turns out, winning hearts and minds in Fallujah after so much destruction may be impossible. "I think that was a pretty big step we took," said Corporal Andrew Stokef, 20, after Specter gunships pounded Fallujah for several hours. "There's no turning back now."

Posted by jbc at 04:09 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

More on Events in Fallujah

Here are some links on recent events in Fallujah.

From the Washington Post's Pamela Constable, a reporter embedded with the Marines, apparently, comes this story. I think it provides an important perspective that has been missing in the items I've posted so far: A wrong turn, chaos, and a rescue:

Marine officials said the three-hour battle that erupted at dusk Tuesday on the streets of Fallujah, and was recounted Wednesday by several of the key officers involved, exemplified the bravery and resourcefulness that Marines are known for, even when surprised and surrounded by a host of enemy fighters on alien urban turf. By the end of the tumultuous encounter, the charred personnel carrier had been towed to safety by a tank and most of its 17 crew members -- several of them wounded -- had been rescued from a house where they had taken shelter.

But the incident also revealed some startling facts about the insurgency that the Marines are facing here, officers said. More dramatically than any armed confrontation since U.S. forces surrounded Fallujah nine days ago, it showed the tenacity, coordination, firepower and surprisingly large numbers of anti-American guerrillas who still dominate much of the city.

"We definitely stumbled into a wasps' nest. They were definitely a lot more organized than we thought," said Capt. Jason Smith, 30, commander of the company whose armored supply vehicle made a wrong turn into insurgent territory and was immediately inundated by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades from all sides.

Marine officials here said offensive operations in Fallujah would remain suspended, extending a pause that was ordered Friday to allow civilians to leave the city and let political leaders in Fallujah and Baghdad attempt to negotiate a solution to the conflict.

Just before dawn Wednesday, however, AC-130 Spectre gunships launched a devastating punitive raid over a six-block area around the spot where the convoy was attacked, firing dozens of artillery shells that shook the city and lit up the sky. Marine officials said the area was virtually destroyed and that no further insurgent activity had been seen there.

I bet. It's pretty hard to recconcile this last part with the earlier reassurances by Lt Col Byrne of the Marines that 95% of those being killed are armed insurgents. How do you flatten six city blocks in a punitive raid while making sure that you only kill 1 non-combatant for every 19 enemy fighters?

I find it interesting that the Marines were surprised by the level of coordination and resistance they encountered. The earlier items by the relief workers who travelled into and out of Fallujah over the weekend made it clear that pretty much the entire male population of the city, from little boys to old men, are toting Kalashnikovs and itching for a chance to shoot back at the guys sniping and bombing them -- and that they are doing so with the active support of their neighbors.

Anyway, here are some more perspectives, courtesy of those anti-American propagandists at the Christian Science Monitor: Refugees tell of rising anger in Fallujah and Siege of Fallujah polarizing Iraqis. From the latter:

The Marines and coalition officials say they doubt many civilians have been killed in Fallujah and promise that their rules of engagement limit civilian casualties. "My solution is change the channel," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said earlier this week, after being asked about TV images of dead Iraqi civilians.

"The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources, that is propaganda, and that is lies."

While the fog of battle makes it difficult to get to the bottom of their differing accounts, the political impact of the television images and of what most Iraqis deeply believe can't be denied.

I'll grant that it's difficult to know exactly what the proportion of innocents to insurgents being killed is. But it's obvious to anyone looking at the various accounts that this is a very different kind of fighting, with a much higher incidence of "collateral damage," than the "pinpoint bombing" and "surgical strikes" that were employed during the initial invasion.

Let's be honest about what has happened here. There was a conscious decision to make Fallujah an example, to respond in a forceful way to its ongoing defiance of the occupation, and in particular to the desecration of the bodies of the four contractors who were killed in late March. That act showed graphically, in a way that could not be spun away, that at least in Fallujah we were not viewed as benign liberators opposed by a mere handful of bitter-enders. We were hated occupiers facing a population that was united against us. So the word came down, no doubt from the highest levels, to show them who was boss. As with the Iraq invasion itself, the goal was to bypass that namby-pamby diplomacy/law enforcement/negotiation stuff and just go in with guns blazing.

I haven't linked to it before, but I keep thinking about the short piece Scott Forbes posted on his "A Yank in Oz" weblog: Chickenhawk down. In it, he speculates that the strategy in Fallujah may represent the right wing's response to the perceived weakness displayed by Clinton in pulling out of Somalia after Mogadishu. We know how to deal with brutal savages who parade our side's dead bodies through the street. With force, brutally applied. Anything less will be taken as a sign of weakness, and will simply encourage more attacks on us.

Well, it's an interesting theory, and one that obviously resonates with the way George Bush looks at the world. Whether it is moral, or will be effective in advancing US interests, is another matter. I'm skeptical, but I guess we're going to get a chance to find out.

One more item: George Paine's commentary on all this, from which I obtained most of the links above: Of punitive raids and public opinion. He calls what has happened in Fallujah a war crime. I think he's probably right.

Posted by jbc at 12:18 PM | view/comment (9) | TrackBack (0)

Help Bush Identify His Biggest non-9/11 Mistake

Hm. This is arguably another press conference item, which means I lied. Dammit!

Anyway, be sure to check out the following from the Center for American Progress: Vote in our poll: President Bush needs your help.

It's an online poll that lets you pick from five possible answers Bush could have given to the "other than 9/11, what's the biggest mistake you've made?" press conference question that he honestly couldn't think of an answer for. The choices:

  • Invading Iraq without a plan for the aftermath.

  • Telling the American people that Iraq definitely possessed WMD.
  • Failing to send U.S. troops into Tora Bora to capture Osama bin Laden in November 2001.

  • Disparaging Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki when he said more troops would be needed in Iraq.

  • Focusing on missile defense while ignoring repeated warnings of an imminent al Qaeda attack before 9/11.

The last one is arguably not a valid response to the question he was actually asked, but even with it excluded, that's a pretty good list of candidates. Reading them actually gave me a new appreciation of the difficulty Bush faced during the press conference: I had a really hard time picking one, too.

Posted by jbc at 02:37 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Riverbend on Media Coverage of Fallujah

Riverbend offers her Iraqi's-eye-view of the controversy over recent media coverage of our glorious military campaign: Media and Falloojeh.

Posted by jbc at 02:16 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

criticalviewer's Press Conference Summary

Okay; last link re: Bush's recent press conference, I promise. From criticalviewer: A busy person's guide to the Bush press conference. The scary thing is, this summary is pretty much what he actually said. Funny how stripping away the rhetorical embellishment can turn a plain-talkin' Texan's answers into psychotic incoherence, isn't it?

Posted by jbc at 01:47 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jo Wilding's Account of Fallujah

Another firsthand account by a Westerner (British activist Jo Wilding) who was in Fallujah this past weekend: April 11, Falluja.

Posted by jbc at 01:30 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Zakaria: The Way Out

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria has an informative article on the current state of Iraq, including suggested steps that Bush could take in order to turn things around. Unfortunately, those steps include the acknowledgment of error and the setting of a new course -- things our South-Going-Zax-in-Chief seems incapable of considering, much less doing. Sigh. Anyway: Our last real chance.

Posted by jbc at 12:02 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 14, 2004

Saletan: Bush's Credibility Gap

So, I've obviously got this thing about watching Bush and marvelling at how his mind works. And others have a similar thing, including Slate's William Saletan, who has written one of the best pieces I've seen lately about Bush's recurring problem with this whole notion of "credibility": Trust, don't verify.

Posted by jbc at 05:20 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Aday: Press Conference Summarized

Here's an actually-extremely-accurate summary of last night's press conference, from Fly Traps' Sean Aday: Bush's presser: The Reader's Digest version.

Seriously, if you didn't watch it, and want the gist in the shortest possible version, this is it. If you did watch it, and want a chuckle, you're likewise in luck.

Posted by jbc at 04:52 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Whitehouse.org's PDB

I really enjoyed this. From the fine subversives at whitehouse.org: PRESIDENT BUSH'S PERSONAL COPY OF DECLASSIFIED DAILY INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING FOR AUGUST 6th, 2001.

Bush's personal copy of the Aug. 6 PDB

Posted by jbc at 02:08 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Juan Cole Debunks Bush's Press Conference Statements

Middle east expert and weblogger Juan Cole started to go point-by-point through some of the more questionable assertions Bush made during yesterday's press conference, but apparently lost heart for the exercise fairly early on. Still, the comments he did make are interesting: Arguing with Bush.

Posted by jbc at 01:44 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Plain-Jane Russian Beauty Queen

Here's a thought-provoking item from the BBC: Anti-Barbie becomes Russian icon.

Posted by jbc at 01:41 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rahul Mahajan on Fallujah

Here's another on-the-scene account of what things looked like in Fallujah this past weekend. It sounds as if this blogger (Rahul Mahajan) was part of the same group as Dahr Jamail, whose account I linked to previously. He's obviously not a fan of the war, what with his frequent references to US imperialism. But he offers some more specifics, and an interesting perspective on the mindset of the people of Fallujah: Report from Fallujah: Destroying a town in order to "save" it.

Posted by jbc at 01:38 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Press Conference Post-Mortem

So, Bush's prime-time press conference last night came off mostly as predicted, though there were a few interesting developments, especially late in the proceedings when he called on some reporters who don't normally get to put questions to him.

His pre-rehearsed stuff on "staying the course" in the cause of Iraqi freedom was sufficient, I'm sure, to make the most enthusiastic of his supporters happy. But overall, I think the argument he presented was weak. Beyond asserting (and reasserting, and reasserting) that he (Bush) feels personally confident that he is doing the right thing in Iraq, and that the course we are on will magically lead to a peaceful, democratic government there, and thence to the magical spread of those values throughout the region, there really wasn't any substance. Bush's argument basically comes down to, "trust me." And as a response to polls showing that a growing majority of people specifically don't trust him, at least on Iraq, that seems like a less-than-adequate response.

It's clear, though, why Bush dislikes the press conference format: it makes him look bad. Or, from a less-forgiving point of view, it makes his essential badness harder to conceal.

There were some questions that he clearly flubbed. Like this one:

Q. Mr. President, Why are you and the vice president insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 commission? And Mr. President, who will you be handing the Iraqi government over to on June 30?

A. We'll find that out soon. That's what Mr. Brahimi is doing. He's figuring out the nature of the entity we'll be handing sovereignty over. And secondly, because the the 9/11 commission wants to ask us questions. That's why we're meeting, and I look forward to meeting with them and answering their questions.

Q. Mr. President, I was asking why you're appearing together rather than separately, which was their request.

A. [Accompanied by steely glare at the impertinent questioner.] Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 commission is looking forward to asking us, and I'm looking forward to answering them.

Let's see. Hold on for a minute. Oh -- I've got some must calls, I'm sorry.

After which he went to the reporter from the Washington Times for a softball question to get his footing back.

There was also this one, which led to one of those heart-stopping "oh my God" moments as Bush floundered for a long time without answering what honestly should have been an easy one:

Q. In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You've looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say? And what lessons have you learned from it?

A. Hmmm. I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. I'm sure historians will look back and say, Gosh, he could have done it better this way or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet.

I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even though what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth as -- exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like, the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm.

One of the things that Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons and their fear of talking about them, because they don't want to be killed. You know, there's this kind of, there's this terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq. They're worried about getting killed. And therefore, they're not going to talk. And it'll all settle out. We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time.

However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today just like it would have bothered me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually not only had weapons of mass destruction -- and the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm or paid people to inflict harm or trained people to inflict harm on America because he hated us.

You know, I hope I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here and maybe I'm not quick, as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.

That one led to the following harsh assessment from Reuters: Bush remembers no specific mistakes since 9/11.

Now, I realize that on one level, this is just a game of political gotcha, and in that context, Bush is well within his rights not to play along by offering a sound bite in which he acknowledges error. But honestly, I think this goes beyond that. I'm increasingly convinced that Bush really does have what can only be described as a deep-rooted personality disorder that makes it impossible for him to acknowledge error. It's not just that he's unwilling to admit being wrong to a roomful of reporters. He's unwilling to admit it to himself. And that's a problem.

The final oh-my-God moment, for me, came at the very end of the session, when he called on Don Gonyea, NPR's White House correspondent. Maybe Bush was feeling the finish line, and decided he could afford to throw one to a more-critical questioner. But it was a mistake, and he compounded it when he got into a conversational back and forth with Gonyea during which the presidential stature he works so hard to build up crumbled visibly:

[A.] Let's see, last question. Hold on for a second. Those who yell will not be asked.

Q. Following on both Judy and John's questions, and it comes out of what you just said in some ways, with public support for your policies in Iraq falling off the way they have quite significantly over the past couple of months, I guess I'd like to know if you feel in any way that you've failed as a communicator on this topic?

A. Gosh, I don't know.

Q. Well, you deliver a lot of speeches. And a lot of them contain similar phrases and they vary very little from one to the next. And they often include a pretty upbeat assessment of how things are going with the exception of --

A. I didn't think --

Q. -- pretty somber assessment this evening.

A. Pretty somber assessment today, Don.

Q. I guess I just wonder if you feel that you have failed in any way? You don't have many of these press conferences where you engage in this kind of exchange. Have you failed in any way to make the case to the American public?

A. I guess if you put it into a political context, that's the kind of thing the voters will decide next November. That's what elections are about. They'll take a look at me and my opponent and say let's see which one of them can better win the war on terror. Who best can see to it that Iraq emerges as a free society. And Don, you know if I tried to fine tune my messages based upon polls I think I'd be pretty ineffective. I know I would be disappointed in myself.

I hope today you've got a sense of my conviction about what we're doing. If you don't, maybe I need to learn to communicate better. I feel strongly about what we're doing. I feel strongly that the course this administration is taking will make America more secure and the world more free. And therefore, the world more peaceful. It's a conviction that's deep in my soul. And I will say it as best as I can possibly can to the American people. I look forward to the debate and the campaign. I look forward to helping, for the American people to hear, you know, what is the proper use of American power. Do we have an obligation to lead or should we shirk responsibility?

That's how I view this debate. And I look forward to making it. I'll do it the best I possibly can. I'll give it the best shot. I'll speak as plainly as I can. One thing is for certain, though, about me, and the world has learned this, when I say something I mean it. And the credibility of the United States is incredibly important for keeping world peace and freedom.

Thank you all very much.

That last exchange shows both the best and the worst of Bush's performance. I think he was being honest in that moment about the conviction he feels, "deep in his soul," that he's the best person for the job of president. And for him, that personal conviction trumps any evidence to the contrary. You can see him thrusting it back at the electorate, almost daring them to disagree with him.

That approach obviously resonates with a certain chunk of voters. But over time, in the face of accumulating evidence that it's not just admirable self-confidence from someone who hit a triple, but is rather the self-serving bravado of someone born on third base who's willing to ignore his own failures, that exchange could end up being Bush's political epitaph.

Because it is essential that the president be credible in order to lead effectively, both at home and abroad, and that credibility has taken a huge hit under Bush. When you get right down to it, his shirking of responsibility -- for 9/11, for the missing WMDs, for the lack of a realistic exit strategy and the ongoing carnage in Iraq -- is the hallmark of the Bush presidency. Increasingly, voters are raising questions about that.

And Bush doesn't have an answer.

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

April 13, 2004

Firsthand Account of Fallujah

From The Nation comes this fascinating story by Dahr Jamail, describing a trip that he made to Fallujah over the weekend with a group delivering medical supplies: Sarajevo on the Euphrates.

Righties will dismiss it as propaganda. I'm not so sure.

Posted by jbc at 05:26 PM | view/comment (7) | TrackBack (0)

What Will Bush Say at the "Press Conference"?

So, for the first time since March of 2003, and only the third time in his entire presidency, Bush is going to do a press conference in primetime. Well, except that if he follows the pattern he's established with previous events, he will only call on a small group of reporters chosen for their willingness to throw softballs and eschew tough followups.

Still, officials have indicated that Bush will deign to answer questions on Iraq and the recent 9/11 commission hearings:

"The president believes this is a good time to provide the American people with an update," [White House press secretary Scott] McClellan said, adding that he expects the president also will address the recent violence in Iraq. "This is an opportunity when we can reach many Americans."

White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Monday that the president also is prepared to address questions about a memo, titled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S.," that he received on Aug. 6, 2001, as part of the President's Daily Brief.

So, what will he say? I'm guessing it's going to be large amounts of "we're making progress in Iraq," "we need to stay the course and demonstrate the manly, upright firmness of our resolve," and "our opponents over there are few, weak, scattered, and desperate." Expect something touching and down-home, also, about the sacrifices "our brave young men and women of the armed forces" are making.

On the President's Daily Brief, expect more of what he's been floating over the last few days, slipping nimbly away from accusations that he paid insufficient attention to the warnings, taking refuge in claims that there was nothing "actionable" in them, and claiming (paradoxically) that besides, he was already doing everything appropriate anyway.

The overall subtext I'm expecting to see is: look at how somber I am. Look how hard I'm working on this Iraq thing. I'm a serious, serious president, looking very, very presidential.

So go watch him do that. But while you're watching, keep in mind this latest in the long series of hilarious photographs revealing the fun side of our Class Clown in Chief (courtesy of Wonkette; image stolen shamelessly from Jason Reed of Reuters):

Bush blows kisses with Barney

Good Lord. This man is the president.

Posted by jbc at 01:31 PM | view/comment (5) | TrackBack (0)

Republican Pork in the Highway Bill

Boy, it sure is lucky for us taxpayers that the fiscally conservative Republicans have a hammerlock on both houses of Congress, not to mention a steely-eyed veto-wielder in the Oval Office. Otherwise, we might have to worry about billions of dollars being spent on useless pork-barrel projects in key congressional districts.

Thanks to John Fontana of Stonegauge for the link.

Posted by jbc at 10:16 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Astrology Proven Valid (forcertainvaluesofthetermquotevalidunquote)

Nifty little item from Pharyngula, in which a group of scientists attempt to verify the claims of a prominent astrologer: Scientific bias and the Void-Of-Course Moon.

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

Who Died in Fallujah?

So, the civilian bloodbath that I (among others) feared during the initial invasion of Iraq, but which (to some degree) was averted when the Iraqi forces melted away rather than fighting pitched urban battles, appears to have taken place, albeit on a smaller scale, in the recent fighting between US Marines and Sunni insurgents in Fallujah.

Or at least, so says the director of the Fallujah hospital:

A fragile cease-fire between Sunni insurgents and Marines showed signs of faltering this morning in the besieged city of Fallujah, where Iraqis said more than 600 civilians were killed in the past week... [M]ost of the Iraqis killed in fighting that started April 5 were women, children, and elderly, the director of the city hospital, Rafie al-Issawi, said.

Not so, says the leader of the Marines assaulting the city:

Asked about the report of 600 dead, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne said, "What I think you will find is 95 percent of those were military-age males that were killed in the fighting."

"The Marines are trained to be precise in their firepower... The fact that there are 600 goes back to the fact that the Marines are very good at what they do," he said.

Riverbend of Baghdad Burning seems to take for granted that the hospital director's version of reality is the correct one: One Year Later - April 9, 2004. Meanwhile, two members of the US-picked Iraqi Governing Council have resigned in protest over the civilian death toll: Turki resigns from Iraqi Governing Council. What the US has been doing in Fallujah amounts to "collective punishment," they say.

Asked why it is that Iraqis believe US forces have committed a massacre of innocent civilians, Brig. General Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of US military operations in Iraq, blames misleading news coverage from Arabic-language TV networks like al Jazeera, calling said coverage "a series of lies":

[A]sked by [an] al-Jazeera anchor about the live images [of US fighter planes attacking a residential neighborhood in Fallujah during an announced US cease-fire], the U.S. commander said he was not accusing al-Jazeera of faking the images, but rather "looked at things differently."

Sigh. The ideologically slanted media giveth, the ideologically slanted media taketh away. And it was just a few weeks ago that Dick Cheney was doing damage control on Rush Limbaugh's show, taking advantage of Rush's pro-Republican bias to promote the fiction that Richard Clarke was a disgruntled low-level staffer who, frankly, was "out of the loop" on the actions Bush took on terrorism prior to 9/11.

But anyway, there's a reality on the ground (or, for some sad number of former civilian residents, under the ground) in Fallujah. What is that reality?

For myself, I think it's likely to be much closer to the hospital director's version than to the Marine colonel's. Dead civilians are the predictable by-product of waging war with tanks and fighter planes in densely populated cities. This is the fundamental nature of war, the thing that separates it from that more-civilized, and lately much-maligned, alternative of law enforcement.

If what you're doing is law enforcement, and some bad guys are shooting at you from an apartment building, you seal off the area, evacuate nearby residents, and yack at the bad guys with a bullhorn for several hours. If what you're doing is war, you drop a 500-pound bomb on the building and move on.

What we've been doing in Falluja is war. And as Colonel Byrne observes, the US Marine Corps is very good at it.

Posted by jbc at 06:30 AM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (0)

April 11, 2004

Bush AWOL (Again)

I'd been meaning to mention that WaPo article everyone else has been linking to, the one that lists the record amounts of vacation time Bush has been awarding himself as president. Significantly, he sticks to his vacation schedule even during presidential-attention-worthy events like that pre-9/11 spike in domestic terrorism warnings, and the current spontaneous combustion of his "plan" for achieving a stable, democratic Iraq.

But reader Alex Mauldin has done a better write-up than I would have done, complete with comparisons to the vacation-taking habits of other recent presidents: Bush's spring break.

Posted by jbc at 09:00 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 09, 2004

Condoleeza Rice: Still Doing Her Job

President Bush, fiddling around in Crawford while Iraq burns, thinks Condoleeza Rice did a "great job" in her appearance before the 9/11 commission. Which she did indeed do: she clearly was well-coached, well-rehearsed, and used that preparation to good effect, neutralizing hostile questioning with long, torturous responses that obscured and deflected any hint of responsibility for her, and Bush's, failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks.

For some choice examples of Rice's spin in action, see this hilarious item from William Saletan in Slate: LexiCondi.

Remember when national security advisors were actually responsible for advising the president on matters of national security? Lucky for us the nation doesn't currently face any serious threats along those lines, or Rice's 24/7 focus on political damage control might get in the way of her real job.

Posted by jbc at 09:04 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

April 07, 2004

Eyeball Jewelry

The newest fashion craze has been unleashed upon the world, starting in Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Eyeball Jewelry. Tiny pieces of specially made metal, in various shapes, can actually be surgicly implanted in the "interpalpebral conjunctiva" of a persons eyeball (the white part). Yahoo has photos of two different women who have had the proceedure done, and the Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery which is pioneering the procedure has a third picture. (I'm not sure if it's one of the same women)

My challenge to the lies.com army: Find More Pictures. I mean, come on!, the Institue says they have made all different shapped implants, but all three pictures are of hearts -- where/who are the other 4 people who have had this proceedure done?

Posted by hossman at 04:48 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

April 03, 2004

Clift: The Man Behind the Curtain

Eleanor Clift of Newsweek offers the following: The Wizard of Oz letter:

This was the week the curtain got pulled back on the Bush presidency. In exchange for allowing Condoleezza Rice to testify under oath, President Bush gets to bring along his vice president when he appears  privately before the commission.

A top Republican strategist dubbed the legal document striking the unusual deal "the Wizard of Oz letter" because it strips away the myth that Bush is in charge.

There's lots more, all of it good.

Posted by jbc at 10:25 AM | view/comment (5) | TrackBack (0)

April 01, 2004

Winston Smith: Why The Bush People Keep Lying

Philosoraptor's Winston Smith has a pair of items that really impressed me: Why won't they just tell the truth? and Why won't they just tell the truth, part 2. From the latter:

...as we all know, lies become more difficult to confess the longer one maintains them and the more elaborate they become. Lies tend to accrete; new lies are required to defend the flanks of previous lies, small lies become extensive tissues of lies, and consequently small liars become big liars. And it's harder to confess to being a big fat liar than it is to confess to having told a relatively small, run-of-the-mill lie. Though this doesn't explain why they chose to lie in the first place, it does help to explain why, relatively far down the path of mendacity, they have elected to stick with their increasingly implausible fabrications.

There's lots more, and as I said above, I find it really, really impressive. Not because he's calling Bush and his people liars, though after trolling through some righty weblogs lately, it's comforting to me to return to the land where people aren't busy applauding the beautiful fabric and stunning cut of the emperor's new clothes. No, the impressive thing is the way he goes beyond the snark and vindictiveness that lots of people, myself (obviously) included, feel toward Bush and Co., and focuses on his own attitudes and what it would take to restore civility and honesty to the discussion.

Such willingness to turn a critical eye on onesself is rare, but Winston Smith routinely displays it.

Anyway, like I said: impressive.

Posted by jbc at 05:57 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

*Fuck* April Fools

We interrupt today's Web-wide spate of mock/faux/ridiculous "news" items to bring you this important announcement: *Fuck* April Fools.

Even under the best of circumstances, April Fools pranks are pretty darn stupid. But in the context of the Web, where foisting bogus content as if it were real is trivially easy, there's even less of a point to it. Those who post information on the Web should, in my view, be doing whatever they can to lend the medium credibility, rather than doing the opposite, as so many seem compelled to do every year at this time.

As a longtime user of the Web, who has been honing his bullshit detector since the early 1990s in order to successfully navigate its labyrinthine spaces, I find the typical April 1 Web jokes to be not just pointless and unfunny, but actually outright annoying. They're user-hostile, in the same way that frames and most navigational javascript and the <blink> tag are.

Give it a rest.

Posted by jbc at 04:55 PM | view/comment (5) | TrackBack (0)

Something to Ask Dr. Rice About

The Washington Post reports that Condoleeza Rice was set to give a speech on 9/11 on national security, including terrorism, that included no mention of Osama or al Qaeda; the focus seems to have been on missile defense and the like. This should make Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission next week a bit more interesting. The Bush camp is already counterspinning that it's not what they were going to say, it's what they were doing behind the scenes that nobody, including Richard Clarke, knew about. Ahem.

Posted by ymatt at 02:15 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thirteen Months In

I've updated my Iraq-Vietnam comparison graphs with the numbers of US dead in Iraq during the month of March; see below. March's numbers were up, sadly, as the people who were concentrating on killing Iraqis during February turned their sights (well, their improvised roadside bombs) back on us.

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 thirteen months of each 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:

Yes, I'm completely aware that we had fewer troops in-theater in the early stages of the Vietnam war than at comparable points in the Iraq war. If I were trying to make a comparison of the relative lethality of the two conflicts, normalized for troop levels, I'd be starting the Vietnam graph later, in 1965.

But I'm not looking at that. I'm looking at these wars from a political perspective, looking at how politicans deal with bodybags coming home. And since December of '61 is the date of the US death that Lyndon Johnson subsequently identified as having been the first to occur in the cause of Vietnamese freedom, that's when I chose to start the Vietnam graph.

Posted by jbc at 01:23 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)