Archive for July, 2003

Stryker on Military Recruiting Practices

Thursday, July 31st, 2003

Yet another really good item from Stryker: So you want to join the military… Besides the overall coolness of his pointing out how military recruiters are (by intention) indistinguishable from commercial salespeople, I really liked this part:

So you want to join the military? The first question that naturally pops into your head is, “Which service should I join?” Well, what do you want? The answer to that question ought to help put you on the right path. Do you want to get into the thick of it? Do you want to enjoy a structured life or a more lenient one? What kind of job or what type of training are you looking for? Are you looking for a career that’ll translate into a good paying job on the outside or do you want to blow shit up?

Heh. Sir! Blow shit up, sir!

How to Tell if Your Boyfriend Really Plays Bass in a Major Rock Band

Thursday, July 31st, 2003

Okay; last Salon link for today. From Cary Tennis’ advice column: Guitar grifter? Cary’s correspondent is a group of friends of a well-off young woman who has been smitten by, and is now engaged to be married to, a man who says he is a bass player for a major rock band. The friends have reason to believe he might be lying, and want to know how they can talk the bride-to-be into hiring a private investigator to check the guy out.

Nonono, responds Tennis. She can find this out easily without needing to resort to professional help (at least assuming she’s willing to entertain the question at all). He then explains how. So, if you might conceivably find yourself in similar circumstances, be sure to check it out.

Lies.com: serving your information needs for nearly a fourteenth of a century!

Boehlert on US Security Post-Iraq

Thursday, July 31st, 2003

Since you already got the one-day Salon pass to view that excellent James Woods interview (you did, didn’t you?), you might as well read this piece, too: Are we safer now? Writer Eric Boehlert wades into some murky territory and emerges with a mixed result: some experts loudly assert that yes, the Iraq war has made the US significantly safer from al Qaeda-style terror. Another batch of experts asserts just as loudly that no, we’ve been distracted and have squandered vast amounts of money and attention on a side issue, leaving us more vulnerable, not less.

I don’t expect this piece to change anyone’s mind. There’s enough ambiguity there for either side to be able to shore up its position against outside assault. But it’s an interesting question, one that will go to the heart of the national referendum on George Bush’s leadership we’ll be having next year.

Those who take their informed-citizen duties really seriously might also want to hold their noses and dive into the extremely deep pool of facts in this recent New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer: The search for Osama. It includes some interesting speculation on just what’s going on these days with the hunt for that other evildoer, the one to whose name Bush seems to have developed an accute allergic reaction in the last year or so, judging by his unwillingness to actually speak it in public.

James Woods Interview in Salon

Thursday, July 31st, 2003

It’s kind of hard to categorize this one. It’s an interview with actor James Woods by Salon writer Amy Reiter, and it’s definitely worth watching the MCI commercial (or whatever) to get the one-day pass for it: Woods on fire. He’s promoting his new movie, Northfork, so it should probably go in the “Movies” category, but the interview actually ends up being about lots of other things, like whether or not George Bush is a moron and why people on the left-wing can’t admit that it was a bad thing for Bill Clinton to put a cigar in Monica Lewinsky’s vagina and whether it’s important that WMD have not been found in Iraq and so on. On balance, I think the thing the interview is “about,” more than anything else, is the nature of celebrity and the larger context of people like Woods doing interviews like this, so that’s the category I chose for it.

I certainly don’t agree with all the conclusions Woods comes to. But I certainly do agree with some of them. And his comments about the frustration of dealing with people whose minds are already made up on every political issue struck a chord with me, given the kind of ranting I’ve been doing on this site lately.

Perry: Bush’s Top 40 Lies

Wednesday, July 30th, 2003

Steve Perry has this interesting round-up: Bring ‘em on: The Bush administration’s top 40 lies about war and terrorism.

It’s a one-sided account, to be sure. Perry withholds the benefit of the doubt from Bush and his people at every turn, while extending it to any critical-of-Bush claim quoted in a major news outlet.

For myself, I’m satisfied that most, if not all, of these “top 40 lies” are, in fact, cases where Bush and his handlers were intentionally misleading people. But in counterspinning the Bush team’s own spin, Perry actually ends up losing me.

The truth is out there, but it’s delicate. It’s a snowflake; breathe on it and it melts. It’s a butterfly; catch it in a net, and its fragile body is torn apart. It’s a reflection in a still pool; lean too close and you break the surface, shattering the image with ripples.

Once you start applying your own spin, you can pretty much forget about knowing reality. True, the resulting illusions will be your illusions, and there’s a definite comfort in that, especially for those sick of having illusions fed to them by others.

And the alternative is, frankly, terrifying. How many people are willing to face up to how little they really know? Reality is a scary thing. What if the world actually makes no sense whatsoever? What if Bush is neither the capable, forthright leader, nor the bumbling, mean-spirited, serial failure? What if he’s just some guy, surrounded by a bunch of other guys, doing their honest best, but hampered by their own human failings and by a world that no one, really, can control?

Welcome to reality.

He who dies last, still wins

Tuesday, July 29th, 2003

I know that newpapers tend to prepare obituaries in advance, so that they’re ready to print when someone old and famous (like Bob Hope) dies, but this is ridiculous. Vincent Canby died in 2000.

Stryker on Conspicuous Displays of Patriotism

Tuesday, July 29th, 2003

Hopefully the display of doctrinal impurity won’t cause any of your tiny little minds to explode, but someone else whose commentary I really have been enjoying lately is Stryker, of Sgt Stryker. Including his latest item: We’ve gotta talk about your flair. Besides the really cool Office Space reference in the title, he just makes a damned good point about something that bothered me in pretty much the exact same way about a post at Windsofchange.net (The public display of patriotism test).

Iraq War as Retribution for 9/11

Tuesday, July 29th, 2003

George Paine at Warblogging.com is one of my favorite war-obsessed webloggers these days. So it was interesting to see him respond to a critical email he received last night, from someone describing himself as a newly returned soldier in the 3rd Infantry Division: A letter from the Third ID.

As I read through that exchange, and as I read through the postings and discussions on various pro- and anti-war weblogs, it seems like the debate over the war’s justification comes down to one question: Was Saddam Hussein either directly or indirectly involved in perpetrating the 9/11 attacks? Or, if not, do you think he was likely to involve himself in such attacks in the future? If you answer that question with a “yes”, then you probably supported the war. If you answer “no”, then you probably didn’t.

The people who seem most confident in their positions for or against the war also seem to be the ones most sure about the Saddam-9/11 connection (or lack thereof). In the pro-war camp, I was struck by this item from 9/11 widow Christy Ferer, describing her participation in a recent USO tour in Iraq: A note of thanks to those who serve. Her account reinforces what I see on pro-war weblogs: for those currently or previously in uniform, the tight linkage between Saddam and 9/11 is pretty much a given.

For people who’ve never paid much attention to the world beyond the US border, the category “Arabic bad guys” is sufficiently all-inclusive to make this a non-issue. But others offer a more-nuanced version of the same position. Check out the opinion piece from righty weblogger Steven Den Beste that ran in the Wall Street Journal last week, for example: We won’t back down. Den Beste’s argument is a lot longer than Ann Coulter’s prescription for world peace (“we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity”), but they share the same wellspring, which is the normal human impulse to see every major world problem as susceptible to the same, simple solution: just make everyone else in the world much more like me (at the point of a bayonet, if necessary).

See? Problem solved.

In general, simple solutions are a good thing. Einstein famously observed, “Everything should be made as simple as possible — but no simpler.” It’s the “but no simpler” part that worries me here. A “solution” that involves the forcible conversion (or extermination) of some 280 million Arabs seems, how shall I put it, cumbersome. As in, not going to work.

So I think we need another solution. It almost certainly won’t be as simple. But it will have the even greater virtue of actually having a remote chance of success.

Update: George Paine goes another round with his military correspondent: Continuing the correspondence with Third ID.

Spinsanity on the Iraqi Uranium Story

Monday, July 28th, 2003

The folks at Spinsanity have an interesting summary of who’s been lying about what with respect to Bush’s State of the Union allegations about Saddam’s efforts to obtain uranium from Africa: Lies, spin and truth in the controversy over Iraq’s alleged pursuit of uranium. They do a good job of cataloging the major falsehoods we’ve heard on this from the Bush administration; they also have a long list of media folks who they believe have gone too far in painting Bush as having intentionally made a false statement in the State of Union address.

Interestingly, my own reaction to this story these days is mainly one of low-level nausea. I’m disgusted with those who persist in extending the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt, but I’m also beginning to have a toxic reaction to my own ongoing bitching about it.

You know what? If you really want to believe in Bush’s essential honesty at this point, and possess sufficient credulity to maintain that belief, more power to you. I’m done arguing. And while I’m unable to share it, I envy you your faith.

Voices in the Wilderness or tools of a dictator?

Monday, July 28th, 2003

Last month I had a short debate with a fellow reader of this site regarding the degree of suffering and economic damage brought upon the people of Iraq by the UN sanctions that have been in place for more than a decade. He felt that the sanctions were directly hamstringing the Iraqi Government from providing the level of service and infrastructure repairs needed to provide food and healthy water to its people, especially its children. I countered that the sanctions, though ineffective in pressuring Saddam to comply with UN requirements, had little to do with any significant food or health issues in Iraq. Such problems (at least the ones not purposely exaggerated) were more due to the unwillingness of Saddam to direct available money and materials to remedy a situation that he preferred to use for propaganda purposes.

We each provided links to bolster our opinions. Among his links was a reference to Voices in the Wilderness, an activist group which was deeply critical of the effects of the UN sanctions. However, this story has now appeared, in which a former member of that group now believes that his organization naively (or purposely) compromised their moral ideals by helping Saddam promote the false impression of a US-led victimization of the Iraqi people due to its single-minded effort to punish Saddam’s regime.

I don’t know if this former Voices member is giving the full unvarnished truth or not (i.e. whether he had a falling-out with the group for some reason and now has an ax to grind), but it gives an interesting view of how some people, in their dogged determination to call out the “repressive and criminal actions” of the US and its accomplices, can find themselves with an ironic bedmate.

FutureMap: betting on Terror

Monday, July 28th, 2003

If someone told me that there would be an organization running a stock market style pool in which the general public could “bet” cash on acts of terrorism, assissinations, and other military incidents in the Middle East — it would’t have surprised me at all. But when I never would have guessed that the Pentagon would be behind such a money making scheme. I saw it via a local station, but Google News has more links, including the scoop on how it seems to be getting shut down faster then it started.

Body Integrity Identity Disorder

Sunday, July 27th, 2003

Interesting piece in Slate, from a few weeks ago, in which bioethicist Carl Elliott discusses an emerging mental disorder characterized by the desire to have one’s healthy limbs amputated: Costing an arm and a leg. Thanks to Flit for the link.

War Without End

Friday, July 25th, 2003

In some ways, being at war makes it all so easy. Complex moral dilemmas vanish. Everything polarizes into black versus white, good versus evil, us versus them. “Major combat operations” have ended, but the war goes on, the War on Terror, the war that will never, ever end.

So with the killing of Saddam’s son’s, Qusay and Uday. They were guilty of horrible crimes, and it was war, and they were part of the enemy’s command and control structure, and so they were, of course, legitimate military targets. And the fact that Qusay’s 14-year-old son, Mustapha, was also killed is no cause for moral qualms; again, it’s war. These things happen.

And the showing of the dead bodies on TV; again, it was necessitated by the harsh realities of war. We’re fighting a guerilla campaign against people motivated, in part, by the dream that Saddam’s regime will be restored; images of his dead sons help sap their will, at least according to the judgement of Donald Rumsfeld. Remember that stuff about the Geneva Convention that Torie Clark brought up back when it was dead engineers from the 507th Maintenance Company being shown on TV? Well, that turns out not to be so important after all. Military advantage trumps international agreements, for us no less than for Saddam.

And the gruesome media parade that now follows the bodies of Qusay and Uday, as recounted in this story: Reuters Sees Touched Up Bodies of Saddam Sons; again, it’s all part of war. Interesting bit there about how our embalming of the bodies to make them look more lifelike doesn’t actually play the way we intended in the Arab street, since they don’t do such things with their dead. But look; we’re Americans. This is how we do things.

I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I’m resigned to the fact that, at least for the duration of the Bush presidency, the War on Terror is not a metaphor, not some marketing slogan like the “War on Drugs”. It’s a real war, with everything that implies. Hell, I’m surprised we haven’t stuck a couple of spears in the ground in front of the Palestine Hotel and put Qusay and Uday’s severed heads atop them. Maybe that will occur to someone over the next few days.

The only part that gives me pause is this: Because the enemy in this war isn’t a country, but is instead an idea; a vague, decentralized, anti-American antipathy that exists throughout the world, and which is in some ways actually strengthened, rather than weakened, when we oppose it in this particular way, this war will never end. Never.

Get used to those faces: bruised and blackened, or touched up with putty and paint. They’re the faces of war.

Optical Illusions

Friday, July 25th, 2003

From Daypop comes word of this really fun (if slightly nauseating) optical illusion: raareffect.jpg. The circles aren’t actually moving, you see.

More fun turned up in a few second’s Googling: Akiyoshi’s illusion pages and optillusions.com.

Couple of Funny Bush Photos

Friday, July 25th, 2003

I’m still not sure if it’s going to happen on January 20, 2005, or sometime later, but whenever it happens, I am really going to miss the steady infusion of memorable news photos President Bush has given us. Like this one: No, really. My budget plan is about JOBS. That’s right; JOBS! And especially this one, in which Bush experiences yet another of the nasty surprises he never expected were going to be part of this gig: Getting up close and personal with limp-wristed pianists.

It’s a Fact: Chicks Lie About Sexual History

Thursday, July 24th, 2003

Ok, I admit — that was a deliberately inflamatory headline … but that doesn’t make it false. A recent study from Ohio State University points out that… some reported gender differences [of sexual behavior] might show up because women donít always answer surveys honestly, but give answers they believe are expected of them. In this new study, some groups of men & women were surveyed about their sexual history, and others were asked the exact same questions durring a (fake) polygraph test. The average answers from the guys didn’t vary much — but the average answers from the women differed significantly: from 2.6 partners to 4.4.

White House Story on Niger Allegation Changes Yet Again

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2003

Good lord. How many times does Bush need to change his story before even his supporters admit the obvious: He’s being dishonest about the process that led to his making allegations about Saddam trying to buy uranium from Niger in the State of the Union address.

Anyway. Here’s the latest from the Washington Post: Bush aides disclose warnings from CIA. An excerpt:

The new information amounted to an on-the-record mea culpa for a White House that had pointed fingers at the CIA for vetting the speech, prompting an earlier acceptance of responsibility by Tenet. But that abruptly changed yesterday after the CIA furnished evidence that it had fought the inclusion of the charge.

The disclosures punctured claims made by Rice and others in the past two weeks. Rice and other officials had asserted that nobody in the White House knew of CIA objections, and that the CIA supported the Africa accusation generally, making only technical objections about location and quantity. On Friday, a White House official mischaracterized the CIA’s objections, saying repeatedly that Tenet opposed the inclusion in Bush’s Oct. 7 speech “because it was single source, not because it was flawed.”

It’s certainly reminiscent of Watergate, where the initial wrongdoing ended up being eclipsed by the ensuing coverup.

As long as I’m slinging yellowcake stories around, here’s another good piece that sums up the growing disgust with Bush’s attempts to avoid taking responsibility for his own words: Bush needs a 12-step program.

Stryker: Soldiers Are People, Too

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2003

Interesting post, and ensuing discussion, from Sgt. Stryker: Your pain and suffering will lead us to electoral victory. Stryker takes exception (I think) to a Steve Gilliard post at Daily Kos, because it views soldiers in Iraq in terms of the political impact of their losing limbs and such. Basically bitches at both major parties for using the military for their own political purposes, and has a very Shylockian tone to it; “if you prick us, do we not bleed?” and all that.

Kucinich: 10 Questions for Cheney

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2003

Check out the text of this letter sent by Dennis Kucinich (along with two other members of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations) to Dick Cheney, asking him to explain his role in the investigation of claims about Saddam’s alleged nuke-reconstitution program: Ten questions for Cheney.

Digression: Those of you trying to paint Dean as a wacko leftist nutjob, by the way, are confused. Dean is into balanced budgets, preserving the death penalty, and letting states decide for themselves about gun control. His healthcare reform plans are about as mainstream and common-sense as you can get (which isn’t very surprising, given his background).

It’s Kucinich who’s the unelectable nutjob. Which saddens me, since I basically believe in every single thing he’s advocating. I just don’t think this country is ready for his particular flavor of sanity.

But that’s okay. It’s something to have someone out there willing to call for things like the establishment of a Department of Peace. And send nasty letters on Congressional letterhead to Dick Cheney.

Krugman on Patriotism

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2003

Paul Krugman’s latest New York Times opinion piece focuses on some of the more questionable actions of Bush & Co.: Who’s unpatriotic now?

Update: See also this Newsday piece about the “outing Wilson’s wife” issue that Krugman mentions in his conclusion: Columnist names CIA Iraq operative.