Archive for August, 2003

Al Gore Tells It Like It Is

Friday, August 8th, 2003

Al Gore’s speech yesterday to members in New York was a very honest, powerful indictment of just what it is that’s wrong with the Bush administration’s approach to government: Setting it right. Don’t settle for the smallish write-ups in news accounts; read the whole thing.

Mary Magdalene’s Secret

Friday, August 8th, 2003

I must have been one of the last people on earth to finally get around to reading The Da Vinci Code. Anyway, I finally did, and besides being deeply envious of its Amazon sales rank, I found myself enjoying (as everyone else has, apparently) the fun conspiracy theory about how the early Church arranged to rub out the truth about how Mary Magdalene was actually Jesus’ wife and his intended spiritual successor. Anyway, for those uncomfortable with getting their conspiracy theories from bestselling potboilers, Time has an article on the subject that, while it doesn’t go as far in its claims, at least includes them among the list of positions taken by modern-day Magdalene obsessives: Mary Magdalene: Saint or Sinner?

So, I wonder how Mel handles this issue in his new movie? Something tells me he probably hews pretty close to traditional Church dogma. If so, and if traditional Church dogma about Magdalene actually was the product of a 6th-century hatchet job, there’d be a certain irony in his having worked so hard to shore up the false version of Magdalene’s role in the name of staying “true” to Christianity’s “oldest” traditions.

Robert Purdy and George Paine, Take Three

Wednesday, August 6th, 2003

Another interesting (to me, at least) exchange of letters between George Paine of and Robert Purdy, a US Army helicopter pilot recently returned from Iraq: More from the Third ID. is an antiwar site, so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that most of the people who comment there are going to have a field day with someone like Purdy, who is unsurprisingly pro-war in his attitudes. But still, I find myself cringing at some of the snide comments people are making toward him. This guy is risking his life, okay? In defense of our collective life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Yeah, I happen to agree that the people who sent him in to fight this particular war were wrong to do so, but that’s not Purdy’s fault.

Maybe you believe we should build a world where he wouldn’t have to make those sacrifices. I happen to think so, too. But guess what? We haven’t built it yet. In the meantime, he’s putting himself on the line to stand between us and the bad guys. It’s not his fault if the people giving the orders are self-serving chooms. That’s our fault.

So show a little fucking respect. I’m not saying you have to agree with his political views. But acknowledge who he is, and the personal sacrifices he’s made on your behalf. You can at least be polite. Can’t you?

Gwynne Dyer on the Iraq/Vietnam Parallel

Tuesday, August 5th, 2003

Here’s a very interesting piece of crystal-ball gazing from war historian Gwynne Dyer: Welcome to Iraq-Nam. He thinks that the US will probably invade Syria sometime before the election next year in order to help Bush’s election prospects. Bush will win said election, after which there will be increasing Viet Nam-style quagmire and an eventual pullout from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, leaving violently anti-US Islamic hard-liners in charge of each of those countries.

Sounds good (well, bad, but credible) to me. And it’s quite testable. So, let’s check back in 2006 or 2007, and see how good a job Dyer did in predicting things.

More on Gilmore, “Suspected Egotist”

Monday, August 4th, 2003

Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine is ranting some more about John Gilmore’s altercation with British Airways over his refusal to remove a “Suspected Terrorist” button. Although I feel Jeff gets carried away with his obvious disgust at the end of his post, I understand his anger. As I mentioned in an earlier post I made on Lies, Gilmore’s actions and reactions to the requests and demands of the flight crew indicate to me a person who acts so self-focused on his personal mission to protest the grievous violation of his personal rights that he decides that the rights of his fellow passengers are of lesser importance.

Jeff focuses on one particular section of the justification that Gilmore makes for his actions. I’d like to point out a few other things. First, is Gilmore’s smug comment about how he doesn’t fly much anymore so he isn’t use to”life in a gulag”. There is nothing that hits my hot button harder during a political discussion as when someone casually throws out a comparison of a personal experience to something truly sinister like a Russian Gulag!!! Where does this pompous ass get the nerve to dare to put his experiences with airport security at the same level of those who suffered and died in merciless slave labor camps!!!!!! This comment is coming from someone who is privileged and well-off enough to be making all these international trips in the first place, and he dares to align his “indignities” with those innocents who died brutal and senseless deaths!! When I hear self-important elitists of any political persuasion make those kind of ignorant, disrespectful comments, I can chew through concrete!!

Next, is his total shock that HE would actually have some responsibility for causing a safety concern or, by resisting the orders of a flight crew, for causing the plane to turn back to the gate and be delayed. As I mentioned in my earlier post, those who are as self-absorbed as Gilmore, tend to view any perceived interference in what they want to do, say, or wear, as being of paramount importance. While showing no sense of obligation or responsibility to others affected by their actions. Yes, the airline employees had control of choosing to turn the plane around, but GILMORE had control of removing the button to avoid the situation. And yes, he DID bear some responsibility for whatever safety concerns there were, since he was the one implying that he might be a terrorist. As unlikely as it may be, you don’t know everyone’s health condition, frame of mind or emotional reactions in a potentially anxious or stressful situation. The flight crew didn’t create the guidelines for security and safety, but they do have to follow them, and often make judgement calls in enforcing them. Instead of taking his beef to the policy-makers, Gilmore confronts those who are just trying to do what is already a difficult, stressful and often thankless job.

Lastly, he reveals his perceived moral and intellectual superiority over those who may disagree with him by claiming that “you readers” are mere mindless passives of a bullying, fascist US Government, not unlike the Polish Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto in WWII. (Ahhh, another grossly overstated comparison to a truly dark historical period involving REAL despair, human devaluation and death. Someone please give me some nails to bite on!)

It makes me wish that the next time Gilmore relates his most recent horrific experience of suffering through another torturous, demeaning “carry-on bag” inspection, he would suddenly be transported through time to a remote Siberian prison in 1939. But then again, it may look amazingly like Terminal B at LAX.

As I also mentioned in my earlier post, anyone can protest the perceived death of their personal freedoms that current airport security is creating. But what is Gilmore’s magical alternative for a massive public transportation system which carries dual high expectations for efficiency and safety, while protecting everyone’s real and imagined personal rights of privacy, while operating in an ever more dangerous world?

You can’t visit grandma, because you oppose the war.

Monday, August 4th, 2003

It’s official: prompted by the ACLU, using the Freedom of Information Act, the Transportation Security Administration has confirmed the existence of a secret list of people to receive extra scrutiny at apirports — completely seperate from the no-fly list of possible terrorists. Membership of this list seems to be any high profile anti-war activists…. “US anti-war activists hit by secret airport ban

Funny California-as-Iraq Spoof

Saturday, August 2nd, 2003

The wits at the WSJ’s OpinionJournal have a funny piece that sends up California’s current state government mess by comparing it to Iraq: Left coast quagmire.

Woman Gives Birth on Train, Refuses Assistance

Saturday, August 2nd, 2003

Nurses are tough customers. The stuff they deal with just leaves very little room for squeamishness and other nonessentials. So maybe this shouldn’t be such a surprising story, but still, like, whoa: Refusing help, woman gives birth aboard T.

Jim Gasperini’s 3D Penis

Saturday, August 2nd, 2003

Many inventions seem obvious once you’ve seen them. Like the wheel, or the hang glider, or the Post-It note. But it takes a special kind of someone to see those things before they exist, and bring them forth to obviousness.

Someone like Jim Gasperini, who has hit upon a really neat trick involving using an animated GIF to toggle back and forth between two slightly displaced photographs, providing a convincing (if somewhat jittery) illusion of three dimensions: Time for space. And given the rarity of such men, who can fault Gasperini for choosing to give pride of place on his page to a nude image of his three-dimensional self. Like Da Vinci with his Vitruvian Man, Gasperini makes his Johnson the proud, still, center around which the universe revolves: Siegfried salutes the sun.

Bush the Phony

Saturday, August 2nd, 2003

As long as you have that one-day pass to Salon, check out Jeremy Heimans’ and Tim Dixon’s take on how to beat Bush in the 2004 election: The poseur in chief. Arguing against Bush on the issues won’t be enough, they say. In order to succeed, the Democratic nominee will have to convince voters that Bush is a phony.

The Silk-Purse President

Saturday, August 2nd, 2003

As you may have figured out by now, I’m big on the subjective nature of reality. But in spite of that, or maybe because of that, I’m a sucker for objective data. Like those graphs of presidential polling data from Professor Pollkatz that have been making the rounds lately; I love those things.

Here’s one of them (you can click on it to view the full-sized version):

This plots Bush’s approval rating over the course of his presidency so far, as recorded by 13 different public opinion polls. He starts off between 50% and 60% approval, and over the next nine months holds pretty steady, or perhaps suffers a very gradual decline. Then, on 9/11, an extraordinary thing happens: overnight, he gets a 35% boost in his approval rating.

Think what this means: In a single day, 100 million people changed their minds about Bush’s performance as president. Before 9/11, they didn’t approve of him. After it, they did. But Bush himself hadn’t actually done anything. It was all about our shifted frame of reference. As we closed ranks in response to the outside threat, we needed symbols to rally around: the flag, the president. He was our man, and we supported him. We needed him to succeed, so we adjusted the curve to make sure he got a passing grade.

Immediately, though, a steady decline in his approval set in. Absent a unifying event like 9/11, each day brought a steady erosion of Bush’s support, as more and more people decided that no, he actually wasn’t doing that good a job after all. Only now the decline was faster than it had been during the first nine months; the downward slope of the graph was steeper.

Then, recently, there was another uptick: The end of major hostilities in Iraq, and the Top Gun photo op on the Abraham Lincoln. But again, in the wake of that, the downward trend has reasserted itself, and again, the downward slope has steepened.

(Note, though, that Bush’s initial base of support remains intact. Even with the long slide since 9/11 and the steeper slide since the carrier landing, he still hasn’t dropped below 50%.)

Now check out another Pollkatz graph. It keeps Bush’s Gallup-poll results, drops the other 12 polls, and adds Gallup polls for four other recent presidents, aligned to let you compare each president’s approval at similar points during his time in office:

Bush is the row of magenta dots; his dad is the nearly parallel row of steeply-declining yellowish dots during his own post-war period; like father like son. Carter is the dark blue; you can see how he and the elder Bush joined up with each other down around 30% approval as they closed out their one-term presidencies.

One thing I found fascinating about this graph is the eery parallel in the plots for Clinton and Reagan. Clinton is the light blue; Reagan is the yellow (unfortunately hard to distinguish from Bush I at this scale, though in the larger version it’s clearer). Each had declines early on (Clinton with an early downward spike during his healthcare and gays-in-the-military missteps), but then got on track and had a remarkably similar march through gradually increasing approval up to year six. Then they diverge somewhat; Reagan’s Iran-Contra revelations and Reykjavik-summit stumbles cost him somewhat more than Clinton’s problems with his penis, but both finished their terms back alongside each other.

Here’s one more graph:

This one compares Bush with a slightly different set of post-WWII presidents; we’ve dropped Bush I and Carter, and added Ike, JFK, LBJ, and Nixon. The most dramatic thing here is the flameout of Nixon in the year before his resignation; he’s that row of yellow dots that dangles down in the middle of the graph before abruptly terminating at year 5.5. Even at the end, though, a quarter of the country still supported him: for them, at least, it was my president, right or wrong.

One other interesting comparison struck me when looking at this graph. Under normal circumstances, the only direction Bush’s support has ever gone is down. Clinton, Reagan, Eisenhower, and the pre-Watergate Nixon were all able to put together steady runs spanning at least a few years during which their support gradually built over time. So far, Bush has been unable to do that. In that respect, he looks a lot like Lyndon Johnson, represented here by the string of blue-gray dots that starts off with 80% support at year 3.0, then gradually sinks through the rest of his presidency.

With Johnson, as with Bush after 9/11, approval was bestowed rather than earned; the gift of a grieving nation rallying behind the president in a time of crisis. The public made do with what it had, turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse. But in each case, the man’s day-to-day performance could not sustain that popularity.

Baer on Saudi Arabia

Saturday, August 2nd, 2003

From Salon comes another story good enough to justify sitting through a commercial to get the one-day pass: Terror in the Saudi kingdom. It’s an interview with former CIA officer Bob Baer, who has a new book out called, “Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude.”

American Foreign Policy and the Code of Honor

Friday, August 1st, 2003

Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the obvious. Outsiders tend not to be very fine-grained in their analysis, but by the same token, they can be really good at describing the basic outlines of the forest, while we forest-dwellers are all caught up in the specifics of individual trees.

Anyway, that was my reaction to this really interesting piece from Paul Robinson, writing in the Spectator: Sword of honor. Robinson’s thesis is that current US foreign policy owes a lot to the same notions of southern honor that fueled the Civil War. And reading his account, I have to admit he makes a strong case. The only thing he misses is that the “insult” that has led to our current belligerent response in Iraq was 9/11. The code duello demanded a violent response to the events of that day. Since Osama bin Laden was unavailable, Saddam Hussein, whose continued existence since the 1991 war constituted an ongoing glove-slap in the face of our collective honor, was forced to serve as his stand-in.

Anyway, it’s a good article. Read it and see what you think.