Archive for November, 2003

Scratching a Legal Itch

Friday, November 14th, 2003

Generally speaking, I think there are way too many lawyers in the world, mucking the place up. But then I see stories like this one, and it occurs to me that maybe what we really need is more lawyers, so that when cops or landlords, or telemarketers, or TSA goons get cocky and think they can walk all over people, they’ll get a rude surprise when the person they are trying to take advantage of says “By the way, I’m a lawyer, and you’re way out of line, and I’m going to sue your ass so hard you’ll wish you were dead.”

Maybe then people in positions of authority would think twice before abusing their power.

Eh, probably not.

Hey Big Spender…

Thursday, November 13th, 2003

Attention fiscal conservatives: You’ve been had.

True, Bush has been really, really good at cutting taxes for the wealthy (less-so for the middle class, where the cuts have been smaller, designed to single out particular narrow voting demographics as fodder for political talking points). But what about that spending side of the equation?

Double Trouble at Bad Attitudes discusses it: Real men spend. He links to the following interesting article from the Washington Post: Government outgrows cap set by president, which points out that even when you factor out spending for the War on Terra and Homeland Security, Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have been going hog-wild on spending. With those big-ticket items factored in, of course, it’s off the charts; they’ve been acting like teenagers in the mall with dad’s credit card — though I guess a more apt analogy would go the other way, since the people running up debt like there’s no tomorrow are the grown-ups, at least ostensibly, while it is the kids of today who will end up having to pay for it all.

Bad to Worse in Iraq

Thursday, November 13th, 2003

So, a very interesting thing seems to be happening: the White House, while stopping short of admitting that the reconstruction of Iraq is in trouble, is tacitly admitting it by their actions. (And as they’ve demonstrated many times over, we can’t trust their words, but have to follow what they’re actually doing to get a sense of what they’re thinking.) Josh Marshall has some good commentary on this: I’ve found it difficult. And Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a great opinion piece (as always): Blame leaders as support for war wanes.

Meanwhile, from inside Iraq, Riverbend of Baghdad Burning paints a really informative picture of how Iraqis view those we’d like to install as their leaders: Iraqi governing council…

Finally, this article by Paul Starobin from the National Journal is one of the best things I’ve read on Iraq in a long time. Very highly recommended: The French were right. An excerpt:

An understanding of how the French got to the place they got to and stubbornly clung to, even as relations with Washington badly deteriorated, requires a probe of the substance and roots of the French position.

That may not sound like much fun. Even though they deny it, the French are already gloating that their much-maligned prewar forecast has proved to be on target. But here’s the good news — and it really is very good news. One big reason the French were right is that they were thinking along the lines that Americans are generally apt to think — that is, in a cautious, pragmatic way, informed by their own particular trial-and-error experience, in this case as an occupier forced out of Algeria and as a front-line battler, long before 9/11, against global Islamic terrorist groups.

The Bush administration, by contrast, approached Iraq the way the French are often thought to approach large world problems — with a grandiose sweep of the theoretical hand, a tack exemplified by the big-ideas neoconservative crowd, whose own thinking, ironically, draws on European political philosophy. So as the administration rethinks Iraq, the way back to a sound position may lie at home, in the great but neglected tradition of American Pragmatism. And then everyone can forget about the French.

The thing I like best about the Starobin article is that it’s not just Chicken Little-inspired “the sky is falling” stuff. It’s eminently practical. It’s just saying, look, this is what’s happening. The sooner we face up to it the sooner we can start fixing the mess we’ve created.

Good advice.

The Secret Diaries of LOTR Characters

Wednesday, November 12th, 2003

I found this by way of my daughter, which is kind of a weird “they get old so fast” experience. But whatever; it’s still really funny. If thou hast the Lord of the Rings fanboy/fangirl bug, go thou and readst these with great alacrity: The secret diaries of Cassandra Claire.

Random Book Dedications

Wednesday, November 12th, 2003

From Brandon Rogers, via MsSweeney’s Internet Tendency, via Janus, comes this fun little ditty: Random book dedications read from the bargain bin.

From jbc, who has written a book of his very own.

Howard Dean vs. George McGovern

Tuesday, November 11th, 2003

I’m aware that I’m a fickle linker. Someone catches my fancy, and suddenly everything they write is God’s Own Truth, Brought Down From On High. Or at least I link to them a lot.

Lately I’ve been linking to Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo and Kevin Drum of CalPundit. But now both of them are saying the same thing, and I disagree with them. Both of them are saying they basically think Howard Dean is unelectable in the general election. (Marshall: Okay, have to say it. Drum: Electing Dean.)

Marshall goes on to post an email from John B. Judis of The New Republic, in which Judis writes:

The only thing I’m semi-certain about is Dean’s lack of electability in November. I think it is because I lived through the McGovern campaign, as did some of those ex-Clinton people who have tried to pump up Clark. The similarities grow with every day. Not just the insurgent voter enthusiasm, the new ways of fundraising, and the bevy of flummoxed opponents, but also the economy (artificially stimulated by Nixon through the Fed and by Bush through the dollar just in time for election year) and the war (raging, but bound to quiet some by election time, and to raise prospects of peace).

Now, both Drum and Marshall offer some other (fairly vague) reasons besides the McGovern parallel for Dean’s supposed non-electability, but when you come right down to it, each of them says it’s basically just a gut feeling. And given that it’s more their guts than their heads that are talking, I wonder if it might be mostly the subconscious memory of the McGovern defeat that’s pushing them in that direction.

I was only 10 years old in 1972; the Nixon/McGovern race is the first presidential election I have any memory of at all, and it’s a pretty vague memory. But as I read the history of that campaign, I think those who see another McGovern in Dean are missing the forest for the trees.

Yes, McGovern was an antiwar candidate who swooped in from outside to upset the Democratic machine and take the nomination away from candidates with stronger support within the party, and in that sense he does look a lot like Dean. But there’s a crucial difference between the two.

In 1972, McGovern was perceived as a radical, an ideologue, at least by mainstream voters. In the aftermath of the turbulent 1960s, he scared people in the middle. Sure, they didn’t like the insane bodycount of the Vietnam war and were looking for a way out, but they weren’t willing to put the country in the hands of a moral crusader, the candidate of those campus radicals and drug fiend hippies, in order to get it.

Nixon, on the other hand, was a realist. Though short on details about his exit strategy, he was saying the right things about the war, and winding down US involvement. It wasn’t his war, after all, but his predecessor Lyndon Johnson’s. Nixon had been a moderate steward of the economy. In an era when people were still very thoroughly scared about superpower confrontation, he had opened a dialog with China. And so on.

I believe this was the dominant factor in Nixon’s landslide victory over McGovern. Nixon was the safe choice, the conservative choice (in the general sense, rather than the narrowly political sense). He was the grown-up choice.

But in the looming matchup between Dean and Bush, those roles are going to be precisely reversed. It is Bush who is the scary ideologue, with his go-it-alone pre-emptive wars, overturning of domestic civil liberties, radical re-tooling of the tax code, and exploding budget deficits. Dean is the grown-up, the voice of reason, the candidate of mainstream policies.

Throw away the partisans who will always vote red or blue, regardless of the candidate, and what you have left is a chunk of the country that really doesn’t care about all this ideological crap. They just want someone who seems sensible, and responsible, and who will do a good job. In 1972 they looked at the available choices and chose Nixon. In 2004, using exactly the same criteria, I believe those voters will look at the available choices and choose Dean.

So, it’s my guts versus Marshall’s and Drum’s. Whose guts will turn out to be right?

Die, Comment Spammers! Die!

Tuesday, November 11th, 2003

They’re not a huge annoyance, really, but they’re a constant reminder of how anti-community values have carpetbagged the Net I originally came to love in part for its playing-nice-and-building-on-the-efforts-of-others philosophy. Anyway, I don’t like comment spam, but even more, I don’t like the people who engage in it. So I did like this, from Reading & Writing: Conversation with a bottom feeder.

Torture by Proxy

Monday, November 10th, 2003

Lies.com reader Steve writes in with this north-of-the-border item: Apparently Canadians are well and truly pissed about US authorities having yanked a Canadian citizen off a plane in New York (where he was making a connection to another flight), after which they apparently sent him to Syria for torturing. Anyway, read the story and see what you think: Critics condemn US torture by proxy.

Update: From the comment by reader Tzoq, the statement to the media by Maher Arar. Where was I a week ago when this came out? Apologies for being so out of the loop. This, in a word, is absolutely fucking insane. Okay, three words. But still.

Philosoraptor: 1, DuToit: 0

Monday, November 10th, 2003

A really excellent point-by-point refutation of Kim duToit’s “Pussification” rant: The duToitification of the Western Conservative. It’s from Winston Smith of Philsoraptor, and in addition to being totally on-target, it’s also fairly hilarious. Thanks to Ted at Crooked Timber for the link.

Rumsfeld Just Flat-Out Lies

Monday, November 10th, 2003

Oops. I meant to link to this the other day, when I saw it at Josh Micah Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, but somehow forgot. Age creeping up on me, probably. Anyway, it’s not to be missed: Rumsfeld retreats, disclaims earlier rhetoric.

Al Gore: Repeal the Patriot Act

Monday, November 10th, 2003

Like lots of other people, I’m finding myself wishing Al Gore had talked more like this during the 2000 presidential campaign. But in all honesty, I don’t think he’d be talking like this even now if he were actually running for the nomination. Funny, isn’t it? In order to speak the truth, he has to be (to some degree, at least) beyond caring what we think about what he says. And since he feels that way, and speaks the truth, we love him (well, for certain values of “we” and “love”).

Anyway, check it out: Freedom and security. I especially encourage those on the Right who consider themselves patriotic Americans to check it out. Ignore, if you can, the person making the case, and just consider the case itself. Some things are bigger than Republican versus Democrat. I think this is one of them.

Drum on Barlow on Cheney

Monday, November 10th, 2003

Kevin Drum of Calpundit points to the new Newsweek cover story, then continues with a re-running of a really interesting John Perry Barlow piece on the Veep-in-Chief from before the war: A profile of Dick Cheney.

Thought provoking! Yea, verily!

Jason Salavon Averages Playboy Playmates

Saturday, November 8th, 2003

Dave Barry linked to this the other day, but I wasn’t paying attention, so I missed it. But then Janus mentioned it in Ishar, and then ymatt mentioned it in Ishar, and I finally got around to checking it out. And it’s kind of interesting. From net.kook Jason Salavon: Every Playboy centerfold, the decades. Once you’ve had your fill of averagerandomporn, check out some of his other stuff: selected projects. Way to obsess, dude.

Presidential Campaign Web Server Software

Saturday, November 8th, 2003

From my neighbor Doc Searls, and apropos my recent mockery of Kim du Toit for running a pussy server like IIS, comes this revealing comparison of the Netcraft results for the various presidential campaigns: Penguins for president?

Sgt. Stryker: Real Man

Saturday, November 8th, 2003

As a wave of adolescent testosterone washes through the weblog world (see the previously mentioned Kim du Toit item, The pussification of the Western male, and Donald Sensing’s religious variant, The metrosexual Jesus), I’m heartened to see that even among the manly types who survived basic training, there are some with a more grown-up sense of what it means to be a man. Like Sgt. Stryker: In praise of mediocrity. What he said.

How the War Is Going

Saturday, November 8th, 2003

So, those pesky facts keep getting in the way, requiring periodic reformulations of the analysis that shows we are “winning” in Iraq. The latest developments include a dramatic uptick in the US bodycount in connection with attacks on helicopters, and indiscriminate shooting up and bombing of civilian neighborhoods by US troops in retaliation. See this item, for example: US retaliates after Blackhawk crash.

In commenting on the story, Kynn at Shock & Awe points out that we are marching firmly in the footsteps of Israel: Welcome to the occupation, part three. Meanwhile, William S. Lind at CounterPunch has his own interesting take on what it all means: Indicators.

At the same time, I’ve noticed a definite surge in feisty comments from war supporters, both in the comments here and across the wider blogosphere. I wonder; do you think the sudden outpouring of bile is a sign of their desperation? Proof that us anti-war folks are making progress against the dead-enders of the Bush regime? Time will tell, I guess.

Scot Tempesta: Loudmouthed Idiot

Saturday, November 8th, 2003

This is a fun one. Scot Tempesta, who apparently hosts a right-wing AM radio talk show out of San Diego, sent some emails to Kynn Bartlett of Shock & Awe, looking for someone opposed to the death penalty to appear on a show. (Update: Per Kynn in the comments, Tempesta isn’t a regular host, but some sort of producer-type-guy at the station.) Kynn posted about it here: KOGO seeking death penalty opponents, and included excerpts from the emails he exchanged with Tempesta.

Well, guess what? Three weeks go by, Tempesta is out ego surfing, and he comes across the posted item. And he’s pissed! Heh. Kynn tells about it here: Scot Tempesta is angry.

Howard Dean: Asshole

Friday, November 7th, 2003

Let me repeat myself. You are an asshole.

Dennis Slater, in the comments to this item

What is an asshole? As I, and presumably Dennis Slater, use the term, it’s someone who has committed a wrong, but has managed to do more than that, adding a layer of gratuitous injury such that I’m well and truly pissed at him. (And it’s always a him. If a woman does this I use a different word.) An asshole isn’t just in the wrong; by going out of his way to inflict some harm that he could just as easily have avoided he’s managed to make it personal. It wasn’t an accident; he meant to do it. He acted with malice aforethought, exhibited mens rea, showed what a mean-spirited, vindictive S.O.B. he is. In short, an asshole.

I happen to think George W. Bush is an asshole. A lot of people think Howard Dean is an asshole. I’m pretty sure I’m right in my view of Bush, and I’m willing to stipulate that they’re right in their view of Dean.

Some people, like Kevin Drum of Calpundit, think this aspect of Dean’s personality will prevent him from winning the presidency. Drum posted about this (without actually calling Dean an asshole) in this item: Why I like Wes Clark. Drum wrote:

I like Dean’s energy, I like his passion, and I like the fact that he’s obviously not afraid to take on George Bush with gusto. But there’s a flip side to this, and I think you can see them both in his “guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks” remark. On the one hand, he was making a smart observation: these guys ought to vote for Democrats and we shouldn’t alienate them. But on the other hand, it was a really, really stupid way to make his point and he was too stubborn to back down from it until it had already done him a bunch of damage.

So while I don’t have any huge policy differences with him — although he’s sounding a little too sincere in his opposition to free trade these days — his character seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Too much of his appeal is built on anger, he often comes across as defensive and perhaps a little bitter to people who aren’t true believers in the first place, and I think he’d get flattened by Karl Rove’s $200 million war chest. I feel bad saying that, but it’s my best guess.

For myself, I think Dean’s Confederate flag remark hasn’t damaged him much, if at all. For one thing, he’s well on his way to steamrolling the Democratic primaries. (This New Republic article on Joe Trippi, Dean’s campaign manager, has some interesting coverage of that: Organization man.) I think Dean is already looking forward to the general election, and from that perspective, the Confederate flag comment makes a lot of sense. For every northern liberal it offends into leaving him (if any; what are they going to do, vote for Bush?) it probably makes a half dozen southerners sit up and take notice.

And what will they see? Well, maybe an asshole. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With the collective store of fear and anger this country has been carrying since 9/11, I think there are quite a few people who are ready to vote for an asshole for president.

In comparing Wesley Clark with Howard Dean on this point, I see an interesting paradox. Clark, of course, spent his professional career rising rapidly within an organization dedicated to killing people. For all that, though, he comes off (at least on TV) as a nice, non-threatening kind of guy. He’s smart and incisive, but he’s not particularly mean. He seems too rational for that. If you cut him off on the freeway he wouldn’t lean on the horn or flip you off. He might shake his head at you, but he’d also carefully reduce speed, put some distance between your car and his, and generally make sure he got the hell away from you.

Dean’s professional training was pretty much the opposite of Clark’s. As a physician, he took an oath to do no harm, which is about as far away from the Army’s raison d’etre as you can get. And yet, watching him talk, you get the sense that if you cut him off on the freeway, that feisty little doctor might very well give you a piece of his mind, or maybe even pull over and roll up his sleeves and settle it man-to-man, should you choose to escalate.

Now, from the perspective of a nice, thoughtful left-coaster like Kevin Drum, that looks decidedly non-presidential. But in the context of a culture where a piece of unapologetic knuckle-dragging like Kim du Toit’s The pussification of the Western male can provoke such a response that his Playskool web server has a nervous breakdown (note to Kim: real men use a real operating system on their servers), I think a scrappy Type-A doctor-turned-governor has a way better chance against Bush than a prissy schoolmarm of an ex-general, Karl Rove war chest or no.

This Way to the Bunnyranch

Thursday, November 6th, 2003

[Name removed by request] has a memorable, if predictably depressing, account of his trip to a brothel in Virginia City, Nevada: Bunnyranch [delinked by request]. This is the kind of thing I love about the Web, and have loved about it from the beginning. No, not stories about sex. I mean the way the Web lets you connect up with other human beings you wouldn’t otherwise have known, share their stories, vicariously experience a piece of their lives, if only for a moment.

One other thing I have to say: The next time I’m buying a car, I want [Name removed by request] with me. Dude can seriously negotiate.

Update: Just got the following in the mail:

Dear Mr. Callender,

I fished this email out of the Whois for lies.com — I hope it’s the correct one. If this email would be better served by sending to a different recip, would you kindly forward it? Thanks.

My names is [name deleted], and on November 6th, 2003, my web-essay on the Bunnyranch brothel was linked to by lies.com. This was great — I got something like 10,000 hits in one day.

However, it doesn’t look all that wonderful when “[name deleted]” is googled, and the lies.com link to that article comes up in the top 10 google hits.

I took the article down, so your link in lies.com is now dead. I would ask that my name be removed from that page of your site, or that that archived entry be taken down entirely (perhaps this would be appropriate, since your link no longer works — there is no longer a Bunnyranch article on my website).

Thanks so much for understanding — I’ve been applying for “real” jobs lately, and I understand that employers sometimes google employees’ names.

Take care.

To which I replied:

Hey, I even praised your negotiation skills — an unsolicited testimonial sure to influence a discerning potential employer. Maybe you’re just applying for the wrong kinds of jobs? :-)

Just kidding. I’ve modified the page to remove all specific references to your name and web site. Sorry to have created problems.

Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help. Likewise, if you’d be willing to let me host a sanitized version of the essay (which I really enjoyed, and still remember), please consider emailing me a copy, which I’ll add to the lies.com page in question.

So we’ll see where that goes.

Calpundit on Why We’re in Iraq

Wednesday, November 5th, 2003

Kevin Drum of CalPundit takes a thoughtful look at an important question: Why are we in Iraq? He points out that for all the macho sound bites we’ve been getting lately from Bush about “staying the course,” we’ve managed to drift into pretty murky territory as to just what “course” we’re actually supposed to be on.