Archive for July, 2003

RonK on Hastert’s, Biden’s Nucular Confusion

Monday, July 21st, 2003

An excellent piece from Daily Kos’ RonK about the misstatements about nuclear weapons made by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) on Meet the Press yesterday: Ignorance reigns.

Blaustein on Bush’s Economic Policies

Monday, July 21st, 2003

UC Berkeley prof Arthur I. Blaustein doesn’t think much of what Team Bush is doing to the economy: Leave no millionaire behind.

Pitt on the WMD Scandal

Monday, July 21st, 2003

Here’s a really good summing up from William Rivers Pitt of the case against Bush with respect to the use of false and misleading information to build support for the invasion of Iraq: The crime and the cover-up.

Partridge: Liberal Fantasies

Monday, July 21st, 2003

Earnest Partridge at The Crisis Papers has written a pair of essays that offer divergent views of the next few years in this country. One is extemely pessimistic: America at mid-century. The other is much more optimistic: A new birth of freedom. Both are informed by an unapologetically liberal point of view.

To my mind they’re each pretty remarkable, but not necessarily because they’re particularly credible. They’re remarkable because of what they reveal about the perceptual map of reality their author uses.

Here’s an excerpt from the pessimistic piece:

Soon after the re-election of George Bush in 2004, and the “uncovering” by the CIA and FBI of an alleged plot by al Qaeda to set off a nuclear device in New York Harbor, “Patriot Act II” was enacted by the Republican Congress. With this, habeas corpus, and the constitutional rights of citizens to open trials by juries, access to counsel, were all suspended. On the assumption that “you are either for us or against us,” as articulated by George Bush soon after the September 2001 attacks, critics of the government were regarded as “traitors.” Mere hours before their intended arrests, dissenters Noam Chomsky and Paul Krugman escaped to Canada and thence to the faculties of Oxford and Cambridge. Democratic presidential aspirants Howard Dean, John Kerry and Dennis Kucinich were not so lucky, and have not been heard from since their disappearance in the summer of 2004.

Here’s a chunk from the optimistic piece:

Bush’s approval ratings plunged until, by early August, they finally dropped for the first time below 50%, as more than 50% of those polled reported that they were not inclined to vote for Bush’s re-election in 2004.

Facing this loss of public support, Bush reached into his trusty bag of tricks for the device that had previously bloated his ratings: In October, he ordered the invasion of Syria which, he said, was hiding the Weapons of Mass Destruction that the US Military had failed to discover in Iraq.

With that, the iron discipline of the Congressional Republicans collapsed. Four Republican Senators, Chaffee, Snowe, Collins and Voinevich, unwilling to be “fooled twice,” declared themselves as Independents, joining Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. The control of the Senate reverted back to the Democrats, who promptly rescinded the war resolution of 2002 and adopted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops in Syria. The Senate then ordered a series of investigations of alleged abuses of power by the Bush Administration.

Soon thereafter, fifteen moderate House Republicans fled the GOP fold and declared themselves independents. The House of Representatives, reorganized under a Democratic-Independent coalition, set up a parallel series of Select Investigation committees, and drew up Articles of Impeachment against both President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Now, despite being basically in agreement with Partridge’s values, I can’t read either of those scenarios without smiling at how ludicrous they are. And at the same time, I’m grateful to Partridge for putting them out there. Each of us carries around a mental map of reality; each of us embellishes the white spaces representing terra incognita with extrapolations based on what we know, and what we think we know about the extent of what we don’t know.

To the timid mapmaker, the unknown is assumed to look more or less like the known. The white spaces on the map get filled in by little islands and cities and coastlines that look more or less familiar. But the person with imagination fills in those spaces with fantasic things: sea montsters and unicorns.

Both maps are right. Both have something important to teach us about the true nature of the unknown. Creating the fantastic version requires more courage, though. I’m grateful to Partridge for that.

NYT Sums Up WMD Story So Far

Sunday, July 20th, 2003

A really good summary, I think, of what’s gone on so far, is this article from the New York Times: In sketchy data, White House sought clues to gauge threat.

One of the things I think this article does well is to honestly present the events as they’ve happened, without skewing the data to promote a certain side’s case. I value that in a media outlet (or a politician).

Time on Kobe

Sunday, July 20th, 2003

Using the headline that 10,000 webloggers considered, briefly, before rejecting as too cheesy, Time Magazine has this: Say it ain’t so, Kobe. Includes some detail I hadn’t seen before.

The Other 4019 Words

Sunday, July 20th, 2003

The good people (person?) at Sadly, No! has the following nice summary of the problems in the rest of the 2003 State of the Union address: Only 16 words you say?

Thanks to Adam for the link, via Barney Gumble.

As long as we’re playing games with counting words, go see SpudArt’s word-frequency analysis of the 2003 SOTU, and his ranting about it.

Gitlin’s Advice for Activists

Sunday, July 20th, 2003

From Salon comes a great raft of advice, courtesy of 60’s activist Todd Gitlin: Anyone but Bush.

Nanotech Dockers

Saturday, July 19th, 2003

From Popular Science, via CNN, via Daypop: Little robots in your pants.

Alterman on the Impending Fall of Bush

Saturday, July 19th, 2003

Eric Alterman tells it like it is on the recent downturn in Bush’s reputation and polling numbers: Lyndon B. Bush?

John Gilmore, Suspected Terrorist

Saturday, July 19th, 2003

Great story about EFF co-founder John Gilmore’s removal from a British Airways flight because he was wearing a button that the airline didn’t like: I was ejected from a plane for wearing “Suspected Terrorist” button.

Bulwer-Lytton 2003 Results

Saturday, July 19th, 2003

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest / 2003 Results. Yay!

Kobe Bryant: Adulterer (+ Rapist?)

Saturday, July 19th, 2003

So, Kobe has been charged with sexual assault, and while proclaiming his innocence of that charge, has acknowledged having sex with the 19-year-old ex-cheerleader in question: Bryant charged but declares his innocence.

Several things about this seem noteworthy to me. One of my first reactions was to be impressed by the forthright way Kobe was coming right out and acknowledging the adultery. But then I thought about it some more, and realized that, given the likelihood that Bryant’s DNA was inside the alleged victim, the forthright admission can be viewed simply as Kobe taking his best legal option, focusing the case on the issue of consent, which will be more of a “he said/she said” thing.

Yeah, he used purty words when he said it, gazing sincerely at wife Vanessa while apologizing. Reading the quotes later, I wanted to like him, to sympathize with him in his troubles. But I couldn’t help playing that scene from the movie Quiz Show in my mind; the one where Ralph Fiennes as Charles Van Doren is testifying before Congress, admitting to having been given the answers in advance. At first the congressmen are falling all over each other to praise him for his candor and courage, until one of them says hey, I don’t think we should be praising this guy just for having told the truth about a wrong he committed. Let’s not forget the wrong.

I’ve noticed this same thing lately with supporters of George Bush. There’s a conscious looking-away that happens in the run up to the damning admission, an unwillingness to see, to hear, the discordant data. Like a toddler with his fingers in his ears chanting “nonononononono”, we try to magically ward off the unwanted truth by refusing to acknowledge it.

As the situation deteriorates it takes more and more energy to resist that truth. Then comes the singularity: The repository of our trust openly admits having committed the wrong we we’ve been telling ourselves he couldn’t have. There’s shock, a moment of disbelief, and then the mind gets to work, hastily rebuilding the mental scaffolding. And there’s a powerful desire to make the new scaffolding look as much like the old scaffolding as possible.

So that was me, with Kobe, yesterday. He’s Mr. Clean Cut, Mr. Maturity, I’d been telling myself. There were rumours about his accuser; previous interactions with the sherrif, trying out for American Idol; maybe he flirted with her and she ran with it.

But no, they actually had sex. The most favorable interpretation for a Kobe fan is that he was not the clean-cut family man he’d been presenting himself as. Like lots of other young men his age, he was thinking with his penis, at least sometimes, maybe a lot, living a lie and rationalizing it. And, as Hiro pointed out, apparently so convinced of his own immortality that he was having unprotected sex with random hotties, even in the age of AIDS. I wonder how that part of the conversation with Vanessa went. I suspect it wasn’t quite like the press conference.

Anyway, my Kobe scaffolding has rearranged itself. As you can tell, in the new configuration I’m still skeptical of the rape charge. But there’s a hint less certainty to my inner voice. And there should be. I was wrong before. I believed in the old facade, and found out there was a very different reality behind it. Now there’s a new facade. What secrets does it conceal?

I don’t know. I didn’t know before, but now, to paraphrase Rumsfeld, I know that I don’t know, at least a little more. Let’s see me remember that, now.

Explaining the Farmer’s Market Tragedy

Saturday, July 19th, 2003

Another item from Kuro5hin, this one dealing with the root cause of the recent tragic event in the Santa Monica farmer’s market: Pedal error: A brief refresher. Not really “science”, exactly, but I thought it was interesting and didn’t know how else to categorize it.

Concerning Trolls

Saturday, July 19th, 2003

In the wake of my recent mention of trolling, this Kuro5hin article caught my eye: The Adequacy Style Troll (AST): A Brief Refresher

Noah: It Wasn’t the Lie – It Was the Admission

Friday, July 18th, 2003

Here’s a thoughtful look at the yellowcake story from Slate’s Timothy Noah: Why this Bush lie? Part 2. Noah points out that it wasn’t the mere fact that Bush lied that sparked the current extended news cycle. It was the (very uncharacteristic) White House acknowledgement of error.

Now, if you’ve been trolling the righty weblogs lately (as Adam has and I have, at least a little; it’s a guilty pleasure), you know that for many Bush supporters there was no lie. Everything Bush said was true. So the circling of the White House wagons and the reversion to form, with every question being answered with a deflection or a non-answer or a statement that “we’ve already addressed that”, is working, at least for those who want to believe. But for a few minutes there we got to see the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, working the levers furiously.

I really love it when that happens. And it goes beyond partisanship. I’m offended when politicians – of any ideological persuasion – tell lies, and it makes my day when they’re suddenly standing up there in the TV lights with their pants around their ankles.

I believe in conspiracy theories generally, even though I know that the vast majority of them aren’t true. Sure, any particular explanation for the currently inexplicable is probably bogus, but the underlying idea, that the conventional wisdom is wrong, wrong, wrong, feels spectacularly right to me.

So I love it when a politician gets caught in a blatant lie. Any resulting political fallout may or may not be something I’m happy about, but I’m always happy about the way thousands, even millions, of people just had their perceptual framework suddenly wink out of existence, leaving them staring into the bare, dazzling face of reality.

Yeah, things get back to normal sooner or later. But I remember.

Snopes Doubts ‘Hunting for Bambi’ Is Real

Friday, July 18th, 2003

Interesting proto-debunking of the “Hunting for Bambi” story from the other day, via Snopes.com: (Inboxer rebellion) Hunting for Bambi. Yeah, now that I look at it, I can see the suspicious parts of the original.

So, I’m a putz. Again. Psych!

Three Views of Bush

Friday, July 18th, 2003

Here’s a trio of pieces, each of them looking at Bush from a different angle.

First, Paul Krugman wants to talk about a different falsehood that was in the State of the Union: Passing it along. It’s about the economy, Krugman’s main area of expertise, and surprise! Bush’s statements there don’t hold together any better than the Iraqi war justification.

Next, from Geov Parrish: Romper room. It’s a fun, but merciless, attack on Bush and his team, with the organizing metaphor being that where Clinton was a sex-crazed adolescent, Bush and his team aren’t even that developed, being instead a bunch of spoiled 7-year-olds, lacking empathy, prone to tantrums, and insisting that it’s someone else’s responsibility to pick up after their messes.

Finally, Glen sent in a link to the transcript from yesterday’s White House press briefing: Transcript for July 17. Some of it’s pretty bad; Scott McClellen is doing his best to stay on-message, but when the message is basically, “Hey; the president really wishes you’d just forget everything he ever said, and let him start over from scratch” it’s hard to keep the reporters from acting uppity.

Here’s an interesting tidbit:

Q Scott, when I asked you about the Cincinnati speech, I asked you if the President knew that the line had been taken out at the direction of the CIA, and you didn’t answer the question. It’s a simple “yes” or “no.” Did the President know?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that — again, I can tell you what I know. And I know that we’ve got two different speeches we’re talking about here and two pieces of information that were based on some — well, one that was based on a specific source and a specific amount of information, and it was removed from that speech — another that was based on broader sourcing. And the President learned after the State of the Union address about these forged documents and the other information —

Q But I didn’t ask that.

MR. McCLELLAN: I know, Jeanne. I’m telling you what I know.

Q I’m asking specifically, did the President know, back in October, that at CIA direction that this information had been removed from his speech?

MR. McCLELLAN: And I’ve addressed it based on what I know and the President has stated, when he learned about it.

Q No, I am asking — it’s a “yes” or “no” question, or an “I don’t know.” It’s a direct question. Do you not know?

MR. McCLELLAN: I told you what I do know.

Oh, and there was this really fun exchange, too. Apparently the White House reporters read MediaWhoresOnline:

Q The White House web site has a picture on it of the President going over the State of the Union address and it says he’s examining it line by line and word by word. Did he in fact go over it line by line and word by word? Are you going to keep this picture on the web site in light of the controversy? And if he went over it line by line and word by word, why isn’t it proper for the President to take more responsibility for his own words?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you know, again, it goes back to exactly what I was talking about, I believe, with David, when we were going through how the vetting process works. There are a lot of people involved in that that have input into it and the bottom line is, the speech was cleared. But we learned some more information later we should not have included it in there. But I haven’t seen the specific picture.

Naughty Folded Paper

Friday, July 18th, 2003

From somethingawful.com, via Beck, comes this fun item: Origami Underground. Includes folded-paper versions of various sexual positions, pooping dogs; you name it.

See what you get when my obsession with Nigerian yellowcake starts to fade? Be careful what you wish for.

Team Dean, Team Bush on This Whole Net Thing

Friday, July 18th, 2003

Interesting little item that pretty much sums things up: From Howard Dean’s official campaign weblog: Morning news roundup for Friday, July 18. Check out the end of the entry, where the following appears:

Finally, Kos points to a NY Times article that reveals how Dean and Bush are polar opposites even when it comes to the minutae of the web:

Under a system deployed on the White House Web site for the first time last week, those who want to send a message to President Bush must now navigate as many as nine Web pages and fill out a detailed form that starts by asking whether the message sender supports White House policy or differs with it […]

As opposed to, you know, the simplicity of just commenting in the thread below.

I spent the last couple of days reading everything on Dean’s web site. It’s official. I’m an ex-Kerry supporter. Put me down in the Dean column, right next to Karl Rove. Dean is the man this country needs right now. He’s going to be the next president of the United States.