Archive for September, 2003

Cheney’s Fixation with the Atta-Prague Story

Monday, September 29th, 2003

The Washington Post has an interesting article today about Dick Cheney’s obsession with linking Saddam Hussein with 9/11, specifically by pushing the doubtful story about 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting a senior Iraqi security official in Prague: Iraq, 9/11 still linked by Cheney.

Gollum and Smeagol Review the Two Towers

Monday, September 29th, 2003

If you haven’t seen the trailer for The Return of the King yet, you must go watch it. Watch it now! Heh. It made the Mrs. start bawling, and I got pretty misty-eyed myself. Appears to be available from various places, like Apple’s download page.

But anyway, in the meantime, here’s a fun item: Gollum and Smeagol debate The Two Towers DVD.

TPM Does the Plame-Outing Story

Monday, September 29th, 2003

Near-continual updates from Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo over the last few days regarding the outing-Joseph-Wilson’s-wife story. Especially interesting items so far have been: The Washington Post continues to own Wilsongate (in which he talks about yesterday’s WaPo article that confirmed that stuff is going on in the White House behind the scenes, as the Bush people try to contain the growing scandal), Gagglepalooza from this morning, in which he quotes at length from Scott McClellan’s daily White House press briefing this morning, at which it was definitely blood-in-the-water time, from the sound of it, and A couple more issues to watch, in which he points out how this has the potential to cut the heart out of Bush’s claims to be standing tall in terms of protecting us from the threat of WMD proliferation.

All I can say is, wow. And Janus: I’m trying very, very hard not to use the “g”-suffix.

Do Not Call Me, Call Everyone Else

Sunday, September 28th, 2003

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how miniscule or trivial the substance of a story is, it’s still worth taking note of, if for no other reason then to laugh: Judge Who Nixed Call Registry Is on List.

Waldman: The Media Are Partly to Blame for Saddam-9/11 Myth

Sunday, September 28th, 2003

Writing in today’s Washington Post, Paul Waldman has an excellent opinion piece pointing out that it is not just the rumormongers in and around the Bush administration, but also the media, who have helped create the conditions under which nearly 70% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks: Why the media don’t call it as they see it.

Minnesota Flag Hubbub

Saturday, September 27th, 2003

This is almost old news by now, But It’s new to *me* — so I’m going to share. A law recently went into effect in Minnesota requiring: “All public and charter school students shall recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America one or more times each week.” Now first of all, why only once a week? I mean, why not every morning? But I digress — it seems that when passing this law, the state legislature didn’t consider that many of the urban schools didn’t own flags, and didn’t have the money to buy them, so kids are now saying the pledge to a flag graphic shown on the classroom TVs. That’s right, they can’t afford a $0.95 Flag in each class, but they all have TVs.

Now things are getting even more interesting. A High School student in St. Paul was kicked out of class twice by the same teacher “…for exercising her right not to stand, or participate in any manner in the activity.” Even after her school principle acknowledged “…that the law included an “Opt out” provision which meant that she did not have to stand or recite the pledge.”

Way to go Minnesota school system, way to be on the ball about this whole flag thing.

CIA Asks Ashcroft to Investigate Outing of Plame

Saturday, September 27th, 2003

NBC is reporting that the CIA has requested that the Justice Department investigate whether or not the Bush administration broke the law by revealing to reporters that Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover CIA operative specializing in WMD: CIA seeks probe of White House.

This is (potentially) a really big story. But of course, that assumes that John Ashcroft’s Justice Department is actually interested in, well, erm, “justice.” I’m not exactly holding my breath on that.

Link from Joshua Micah Marshall’s Talking Points Memo.

Wars Real and Imagined

Friday, September 26th, 2003

So, here we are in the middle of one of those big online debates. They never end; no one ever “wins,” because both sides are right, and (rightly) aware of their rightness, and unwilling (or unable) to transcend the frame of reference that is the necessary underpinning of their rightness. A few (a very few) are willing to actually listen to the other side, raising the possibility of a synthesis that one day might lead beyond the current stalemate, but too much of the discussion is just angry, sarcastic, or dryly snarky denunciations, knocking down strawmen created by inverting all the known-to-be-right positions of one’s own side and attributing them to the other.

Consider the following two essays which, in combination, have thoroughly depressed me the last few days. First up, from ex-Israeli military man, novelist, and far-right commentator Mark Helprin: War in the absense of strategic clarity. This is probably the most dressed-up version I’ve seen of the argument, presented repeatedly since 9/11, that we are, in fact, at war with the whole of the world’s Arab population, or the whole of its Muslim population, or both. It is the argument that says the ties between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 are self-evident in the Arabic ethnicities and Islamic belief of the dead hijackers.

Of course, this glosses over the all-important step where the boundary between us and them was drawn. We could also observe, after all, that all the hijackers were dark-haired, or male, or human, or mammals, and blame that group for the attacks. But those boundaries would include too many whom we know, from personal experience, to be innocent. Drawing the boundary in such a way as to group only Arab (or Muslim) innocents within our retaliation’s blast radius works better. We can indulge our sense of rage, and the darker fear that underlies it, with relative impunity, entertaining various brutal fantasies for how we will even the score with them. Like Ann Coulter’s call to invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. Or Rich Lowry’s musing that nuking Mecca (in response to a hypothetical terrorist dirty bomb detonated on US soil) would send a strong message, and would kill few people, though perhaps the more moderate strategy of nuking Baghdad and Tehran, and maybe Gaza City and Ramallah, and maybe Damascus, Cairo, Algiers, Tripoli and Riyadh, would be preferable. Or Helprin himself, who comments wistfully in his essay about the ability of the United States to “almost instantly turn every Arab capital into molten glass.”

In response to Helprin’s essay, Lee Harris of Tech Central Station offers the following: War and wishful thinking. Harris points out that the mere desire, even the very, very, strong desire, to go to war in response to the events of 9/11, does not, in and of itself, mean that a suitable target for such a war actually exists.

Harris makes a bunch of other observations about the nature of war, some of which I disagree with, but his conclusion is worth quoting:

Everything about the present crisis is new. Historical analogy drawn from the period prior to 9/11 more often misleads than illuminates. We are in a brave new world, and the sooner we recognize the unreliability of all our prior categories and metaphors to guide us, the sooner we will free ourselves from the wishful thinking that is perhaps an even greater threat to our survival than the terrorists themselves.

I think Harris has a point, but I think that ultimately, he’s as bound up in his own frame of reference as Helprin is. And that, sadly, isn’t anything new at all.

When nuclear weapons entered the world’s military arsenals, humanity did a collective double take and said, “Whoa. We’ve got to re-think this whole war thing.” We still do. And while my own views (obviously) fall much closer to Harris’ side in this debate than Helprin’s, I think the debate itself is not particularly helpful in coming up with a solution.

So what is the solution? I don’t know. That’s why it’s depressing.

The Strange Case of Brianna Stewart and Treva Throneberry

Friday, September 26th, 2003

Courtesy of Hiro’s ABC News habit, here’s an interesting story about a 34-year-old woman who insists she’s both 21 and a completely different person (and was willing to spend two years in prison and go through high school all over again rather than admit the truth about who she was): Search for identity.

More ‘Bowling for Columbine’ Fun

Thursday, September 25th, 2003

So, I finally rented and watched Bowling for Columbine. It’s funny to me how something that’s been built up in my mind for so long by so many people can end up seeming so… different when I finally meet it face-to-face. I felt like telling the movie, “Huh. You’re a lot smaller in person.”

Which isn’t intended as criticism. The movie is what it is, and I think it makes a great point, and deserves to be watched and talked about. If I had my way, though, I guess I’d prefer that the talk actually be about what the movie is about, rather than being the strident meta-discussion over whether or not Moore “told the truth” in making it.

Yeah, well, I’d like to serve under Captain Picard aboard the Enterprise and take an extended vacation with the riders of Rohan and go fishing on the Grand Banks with the crew of the We’re Here, too. But none of those things are ever going to happen, except in my head. We live in the real world, and the subjective nature of reality notwithstanding, it is what it is, too, regardless of our wishes.

And what it is lately is a place to talk about Moore’s truthfulness in making Bowling for Columbine. He himself has a really nice treatment of that at his web site: How to Deal with the Lies and the Lying Liars When They Lie about “Bowling for Columbine”. And Brendan Nyhan at Spinsanity has his own counterspin on Moore’s comments: Moore admits to altering “Bowling for Columbine” DVD.

Thanks to Adam at Words Mean Things for the link.

Kay Report Expectations Lowered

Thursday, September 25th, 2003

I seem to remember, several months ago, getting some snarky commentary from supporters of the Iraq war about how David Kay’s upcoming report was going to blow the lid off the whole WMD thing. Hoo boy, us liberals would have some egg on our faces then, you betcha.

Well, here comes the report: Iraq weapons report won’t be conclusive. Surprisingly (or not), it seems to be following exactly the same pattern we’ve seen, oh, maybe 20 times before during the WMD hunt: BIG GIANT PRELIMINARY ANNOUNCEMENT and then, after a while, littletinyacknowledgement to the effect that, um, well, we haven’t acutally found anything. But we’ll keep looking!

Hey, super. You go right on doing that.

Update: An interesting editorial from the Washington Post, taking the administration to task for basically the same issue I’m complaining about above (or at least, for making the availability of expert analysis contingent on whether it helps or hurts the administration): Waiting for Mr. Kay.

Read a Banned Book

Wednesday, September 24th, 2003

I’m posting this a little late, but September 20–27 is Banned Book Week, …a reminder not to take one of our most important freedoms for granted—the freedom to read and explore many points of view. So take this oportunity to broaden your mind — read a book from “The List“.

The President’s Crotch

Wednesday, September 24th, 2003

Completely ridiculous and content-free discussion from BuzzFlash regarding Rove & Co’s alleged attempts to make Bush’s Johnson the center of the (re-)election effort: George W. Kowalski?

I know it only helps his prospects to bring it up, but I can’t resist. I’m pathetic.

Wesley Clark, Phone Home

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Raising memories of the “Al Gore lies again!” silliness from the 2000 campaign, righties are making much of Wesley Clark’s having been quoted in Newsweek as saying, “I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone callls.” (When asked, Clark explained that it was a joke.) For some saner coverage of the issue, I like CalPundit: A modest request.

I’d also like to link to Steve Gilliard’s comments on it, but his weblog seems to be permalink challenged at the moment. I guess you can go there and scroll down looking for the headline, “Nonsense about Wesley Clark”. My favorite part is this:

George Bush spent his entire career in the service of private gain and failed miserably at it. Wesley Clark spent his career in the service of the public good and succeeded wildly. If I was in the White House, I’d be nervous.

Gilliard makes some nice comments about Dean, too.

Wilson: Well, I Think We’re Fucked

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Ambassador Joseph Wilson, of Nigerian yellowcake fame, did an interview with Josh Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo on September 16. The first part of the interview appeared last week, the second part appeared yesterday, and it’s all pretty fascinating, at least for a politics junkie like me. Long, but very much worth it. And it certainly starts with a bang. Anyway: Part 1, Part 2.

Update: A shorter version of Wilson’s views is available in this opinion piece he wrote that appeared last week, but which I overlooked at the time: Seeking honesty in US policy.

The Cats Who Walked Though Walls

Monday, September 22nd, 2003

(As seen in the Drudge Report) Aparently, a very sweet old lady with a lot cats died a few years ago, and since then her son has come by every few months with some large bags of cat food and just let the 103 cats have the run of the place … Felines rove in walls as bugs root through filth, building condemned — I really can’t even imagine what kind of person could just walk through feces 3 feet deep to dump some cat food in a kitchen sink.
My favorite quote: “Once the cats breed inside the walls, its economically impossible to clean it up, You can imagine what’s inside those walls, and what the house is going to smell like forever.”
My friend’s favorite quote: “He’s also brought out one dog, a beagle. Jacobson said the dog looked well-fed.”

Titans Coach Fakes a Tantrum

Monday, September 22nd, 2003

Cool story, quoted by Donald Sensing, about how Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Jarvis threw a mock-tantrum yesterday to fake out the other side: Strategy.

Bush Descending

Monday, September 22nd, 2003

So, Bush continues to fall. Here’s the latest graph from Professor Pollkatz, combining results from 13 different polls asking, “do you approve of President Bush’s job performance?” (Click on the graph for a larger version.)

With Bush’s visible weakness, criticism is getting both more widespread and more pointed. For example, Clarence Page has a column on the latest vortex of doubletalk: Blurring the line between Hussein and 9/11.

There’s also a lot of interest in just what Bush intends to say to the world in his UN address tomorrow, and how the world is likely to respond. As Jay Bookman points out in an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it’s not like Bush has a lot of time to play with: Deadlines in Iraq can’t be ignored. Simon Tisdale in The Guardian gives a pretty clear idea of the tough crowd Bush is likely to face: How the world can aid Iraq without helping Bush. And Josh Micah Marshall has an excellent Talking Points Memo entry where he talks about the way Bush & Co. seem stuck in a self-defeating cycle: Denial, anger, bargaining.

In a certain sense, I think this is Bush’s last chance. The polls show that solid majorities still approve of him personally (if not of his job performance), and think he’s essentially honest. It’s just that they (as ever) disapprove of his actual policies, and increasingly believe that he’s just not competent. Which leaves him a last opportunity: He could take advantage of that personal liking to apologize, both to the American people and to the world, and humbly ask for another chance. Maybe something like this:

I come before you today to make a painful admission: I have made mistakes. I mistakenly believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. I mistakenly allowed the American people to be misled about the nature of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. And I mistakenly spurned the United Nations, insisting that the US could go it alone, if necessary, in overthrowing the dictatorship in Iraq and erecting a stable democracy in its place.

In all these actions, I must now admit to having been wrong. So I come to you humbly, contritely, acknowledging my error and asking you to give me another chance. I am a changed man. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Of course, there’s no way Bush would say something like that. Instead, we’ll get more bluster, more bravado, more little-kid taunting. It’s just his nature. Maybe Rove will still be able to pull an October Surprise (a real, live nucular crisis in Iran or North Korea? bin Laden’s head on a plate?), but I’m kinda doubting it. No, the most-likely scenario at this point, at least as I see it, is a continued lame-duck descent, with Bush raging against the dying of the light all the way down.

The Soldier and the Tiger

Sunday, September 21st, 2003

Could there be a more apt allegory? From CNN: US soldier kills Baghdad tiger. There’s also this piece from the AP: US soldier shoots tiger at Baghdad zoo. From the latter:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A U.S. soldier shot and killed a tiger at the Baghdad zoo after it bit another soldier who had reached through the bars of its cage to feed it, a zoo security guard said Saturday.

The soldiers had been drinking beer when they entered the zoo Thursday night after it closed, said the guard, Zuhair Abdul-Majeed.

“He was drunk,” Abdul-Majeed said of the bitten soldier.

After the man was bit, the other American shot the tiger three times in the head and killed it, Abdul-Majeed told The Associated Press.

Judgement clouded by the effects of alcohol, acting on the basis of a macho impulse without bothering to consider the risk, a soldier decides it would be fun to demonstrate his sense of power and ownership over a predatory beast by feeding it some scraps of meat. The animal is dangerous, to be sure, but it is confined in a cage, and the soldier is armed with the latest high-tech weaponry. It will be fun. And besides, it will demonstrate the soldier’s humanitarian side. He’s helping the animal, see?

Ignoring all warnings, he places himself in close proximity to the tiger, and discovers too late that telescopic sights and laser-guided bombs aren’t a guarantee of safety when you are within arm’s length of razor-sharp claws guided by a hostile will. He falls, wounded, and his companion, in a fit of retribution, kills the still-caged beast with three bullets to the head.

Obviously, the soldier is George Bush (or the USA, more generally); the tiger is Saddam Hussein (or Iraq). Both parties come away from the experience having paid a price, the tiger somewhat moreso. And while the soldier would doubtless blame the tiger for the debacle, a more sober observer might view things differently.

What to Think About the War?

Saturday, September 20th, 2003

I’m big on the idea that our subjective attitudes color our perceptions. We inhabit a world of myths and fantasies masquerading as facts, and no one is immune. The most hard-headed, rational, objective observer still builds a picture in his or her mind and goes looking for bits and pieces of reality that match up with it. It’s not necessarily dishonest; it’s just how our brains work.

Obviously, a lot of that is happening now with Iraq. As we head into the presidential campaign season, a lot of money and effort will be spent on convincing each of us that the reality in Iraq conforms to one of two conflicting storylines: Bush’s and his Democratic challenger’s. And a lot of that sales job will be dishonest, in the sense that the people doing the selling won’t balk at knowingly misrepresenting things to try to make their case.

Those storylines are being fleshed out now. For those looking to replace Bush, the story is that Iraq is a mess, and it’s Bush’s fault. He lied to us to build support for the invasion, and while the lies worked (mostly) in convincing a still-reeling-from-9/11 domestic audience, they didn’t do too well with the rest of the world. As a result, we’re now bogged down in a Vietnam-style quagmire, with few allies, a faceless enemy that evaporates whenever we try to bring our superior firepower to bear, no exit strategy, and no credible plan for making things better. As time goes on the mess will get worse, our enemies will multiply and become better organized, until we have no choice but to leave the country, letting it fall into the hands of Islamic extremists, and having fanned the flames of anti-US passion to the point that we face worse terrorist threats than ever.

For Bush’s supporters, it’s basically the same picture, just with every assertion reversed. The pre-war justifications for invasion (at least as modified with the benefit of hindsight) were perfectly valid. The war is going great; we’ve got a broad coalition of the willing fighting beside us, and we’re kicking the bad guys’ asses. We know exactly what we’re doing, and the plan is working flawlessly. We’re enhancing our domestic security by fighting the terrorists on their turf, not ours, and over time we’ll succeed in killing them off, substantially reducing the threat of terrorism.

And then we’ve got those pesky “facts”. Obviously, each side chooses different ones, then claims that they conclusively show that its interpretation is the correct one. Some of the latest pesky facts are summarized well in this new article from Time magazine: Election season brings new questions for Bush on Iraq. There’s also this article from the Washington Post on the recent battle in (near?) Tikrit: Attack on US troops shows strength of Hussein loyalists. And this one from the Boston Globe: US troops patrol Tikrit in tanks in show of force following killing of three soldiers.

I dunno; these events seem to fit the “things are getting worse” story better than the “things are getting better” one. Time will tell, of course.

In the meantime, I’ve been getting into some of this with Donald Sensing, who falls very much into the “things are going great” camp. While I disagree with many of his conclusions, I’ve come to believe that he’s both relatively informed, and relatively honest in terms of not intentionally misrepresenting things. But I do think he’s laboring under a pretty selective fact filter. Here’s some of the latest examples of that: The Saddam-bin Laden connection (and my response here), and I try not to get personal here, but there are times… (and my response here).