Archive for June, 2004

Kristof on Bush’s Lying (Or Not)

Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

The NY Times’ Nicholas Kristof has some interesting comments on the subject of Bush’s honesty (or lack thereof) and the nature of the public debate of same: Calling Bush a Liar.

Mr. Bush’s central problem is not that he was lying about Iraq, but that he was overzealous and self-deluded. He surrounded himself with like-minded ideologues, and they all told one another that Saddam was a mortal threat to us. They deceived themselves along with the public — a more common problem in government than flat-out lying.

Aaron Swartz Graphs the Supremes on Rights of Terror Detainees

Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

From the weblog of Aaron Swartz comes this nice, succinct graphic on where various Supreme Court justices come down on a burning question of the day: When can I keep an enemy combatant?

Oh, and if you’re looking for an example of the kind of clear-headed patriotic response recent Supreme Court rulings have engendered among certain of the right-leaning weblog set, look no further than Michael Williams (Rasul v. Bush):

It seems like today’s Supreme Court ruling that the detainees being held at Guantanamo must have access to US courts could pose major problems for the War on Terror, as well as for more conventional future wars. How is our military supposed to manage foreign military prisoners if each one must be given a lawyer and access to courts thousands of miles away? Justice Scalia apparently agrees with this objection (starting on page 26), and Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog agrees with my interpretation.

I think Congress and the President should draw a line in the sand and ignore this decision. The Constitution doesn’t give sole authority for interpretation to the Supreme Court; that’s a power they’ve taken on for themselves. The other two branches of government should be equally interested and equally involved in applying the Constitution, and they should respond to this order with a unified “Make us.”

Michael elaborates in response to comments:

Courts aren’t the last recourse for justice, armed revolution is.

Okay… (backing away slowly toward the exit). That’s great, Michael. You go right on making your reasoned contribution to the public debate.

Krugman: How We Lost the Aftermath

Tuesday, June 29th, 2004

The latest Paul Krugman column asks, and answers, a simple quesetion: Who lost Iraq?

Let’s say the obvious. By making Iraq a playground for right-wing economic theorists, an employment agency for friends and family, and a source of lucrative contracts for corporate donors, the administration did terrorist recruiters a very big favor.

F3ll0wsh1p of teh R1ng

Monday, June 28th, 2004

I shouldn’t be laughing at this so much. But I am: F3ll0wsh1p of teh R1ng .

[At Bilbo's 111th Birthday]
Merry: “Omg, I pwn”
Pippin: “Sif, I pwn”
**Rocket goes off
Gandalf: “Pwned!”

Maybe you had to be there.

Selective Cleaning as Graffiti

Monday, June 28th, 2004

From the Independent: Moose, public-spirited graffiti artist, cleans up. Apparently the “Yorkshire graffiti artist known universally as Moose” (well, for certain values of the term “universally”) is in trouble for applying cleaning solvents to a template of corporate clients’ logos, thereby creating “reverse grafitti” against dirty backdrops.

Dear Sylvie Letter from McSweeney’s

Monday, June 28th, 2004

I’m not sure why I like these “open letters to people or entities who are unlikely to respond” so much, but I do. Anyway, from Muffy Srinivasan, via McSweeney’s Interent Tendency: An open letter to my three-year-old daughter, Sylvie.

The Filthy Critic on Fahrenheit 9/11

Monday, June 28th, 2004

Still yet one more additional review of the #1 movie in America this past weekend. (By the way, have I mentioned, Bush supporters, that you have a problem on your hands with this? Because you do. I’m not saynig the movie is going to force you to renounce your Bushism. But for those tragically flawed people who don’t actually make up their minds until election day, having a powerful piece of propaganda like this out there showing Bush’s My Pet Goat moment in real time is really, really problematic. And so far, I don’t think you’ve come up with an answer for it.)

Anyway, this review is from The Filthy Critic. Having still not seen the movie myself, I can’t really evaluate the criticism, but it sounds like the sort of thing I find myself thinking, mostly, about Michael Moore.

Josh Marshall Has a Secret

Monday, June 28th, 2004

Joshua Micah Marshall is tanned, rested, and ready to get back in the blogging swing of things after a brief hiatus. And he’s running quite the teaser today. After referring to the story in today’s Financial Times that purports to reveal important details about where the forged Niger yellowcake documents at the heart of the “16 words” scandal came from (By the time you read this…), he says this:

That’s what the FT says.

I hear something different.

In fact, I know something different.

My colleagues and I have reported on this matter extensively, spoken to key players involved in the drama, and put together a detailed picture of what happened. And that picture looks remarkably different from this account which is out today — specifically on the matter of the origins of those forged documents and who was involved.

I cannot begin to describe how much I would like to say more than that. And at some later point in some later post I will do my best to explain the hows and whys of why I can’t. But, for the moment, I can’t.

So, my take on this is that he’s working on some big article for the actual media, as opposed to this silly bloggy hobby he dabbles in on the side, and we all have to wait for said real article to appear to learn the point of all this coy hinting.

If Marshall were a Bush supporter offering tidbits about the latest smoking-gun evidence that Iraq had WMDs or al Qaeda had close operational ties with Saddam, I’d be making exaggerated wanking motions right now. But he’s not. As far as my obsessive following of his commentary over the last year or so tells me, he doesn’t pull this sort of thing without having the actual goods to back it up. So I’m (tentatively) hopeful that that’s the case here. And I’m looking forward to having that view confirmed or disconfirmed in the days ahead.

Excuse Me. Is That a Frog in Your Uterus?

Monday, June 28th, 2004

From the BBC: Iranian woman ‘gives birth to frog’.

An Iranian newspaper has reported the controversial story of a woman who claims to have given birth to a frog.

The Iranian daily Etemaad says the creature is believed to have grown from larva to an adult frog inside her body.

While it is unclear how this could have happened, the paper carries quotes from medical experts who say there are human characteristics to the animal.

It has been speculated that the woman, who has not been named, unknowingly picked up the larva while she was swimming in a dirty pool.

Link courtesy of Patrons of the Absurd.

Citizens United against Fahrenheit 9/11

Sunday, June 27th, 2004

I heard about this the other day, but haven’t really had a chance to look into it untill now. Citizens United (“America’s premier conservative research organization”) has filed a complaint with the FEC claiming that TV Ads for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 should not be allowed to air durring the month of August, becuase they make reference to President Bush, and thus: “qualify as ‘electioneering communications’” (which are not allowed to be paid for with corporate money one month prior to a Primary).

The AP and the Boston Globe both have decent stories on the complaint, which point out some interesting questions about the multitudes of issues involved: Moore’s First Amendment rights; Preventing foreign and corporate influence in the election process; and the power of the FEC to (potentially) prevent a company from marketting its completely legal product.

As usually, when controversy follows Moore, he seems to have the last word: Thanks for the free press. Again.

Scott Forbes on Operation Iraqi Freedom

Sunday, June 27th, 2004

From Scott Forbes’ Sovereign immunity:

Imagine that Iraq is a patient on an operating table. We’re performing surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor, a complex procedure that normally requires a team of 15 surgeons and assistants…

Just the Facts from Godproven.com

Sunday, June 27th, 2004

An extended Web-based sermon for your Sunday: Godproven.com: The scientific proof for the existence of God. You might be inclined to think that 84 pages is a bit much, but remember: this is scientific proof.

The Carole Coleman Interview

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely watch the interview that Carole Coleman of Ireland’s RTE did with Bush on the eve of his trip to Ireland: RealOne Player file. Bush gets pissy with Coleman for interrupting him when he’s trying to give her some of his trademark non-responsive answers.

Some followup items on the interview:

  • Atrios quotes an article from the Irish press on how the White House lodged a complaint with the Irish Embassy over Coleman’s “disrespect”: Waaaahhh. Apparently the White House refused to honor a previous agreement to let RTE interview Laura Bush today, after they discovered that Coleman would be the reporter doing the interview. Heh. I wonder who made that call. Bush? Laura? Karl Rove?
  • In a separate item, Atrios quotes Coleman as follows: “The policy of the White House is that you submit your questions in advance, so they had my questions for about three days.”
  • Digby of Hullabaloo: Magically delicious.
  • Ezra Klein of Pandagon: It wasn’t me.

One of the things that struck me about the interview is the way it highlights the difference between Bush’s, and the rest of the world’s, definition of “leadership.” In Bush’s mind, “leadership” means “doing what I said I’d do, regardless of people’s efforts to change my mind, and regardless of subsequent developments.”

But see, this misses a key element of leadership, at least as defined by everyone not-Bush. For the rest of the world, it’s not enough that the leader stick with a particular course of action despite the efforts of naysayers to turn him aside. The leader must be proven right by subsequent events. It’s that, not his mere willingness to continue unswerving on a stated course, that gains someone a reputation as a great leader. That’s what causes people to follow him. (I saw this discussed on some other weblog recently, but now I can’t find it, dammit. Sorry about the failure to attribute.)

(Update: And now I’ve found it again. It was Paul Waldman, writing at Fly Trap — Double snap! — in which he quoted Joseph Biden in a recent Rolling Stone piece:

About six months ago, the president said to me, “Well, at least I make strong decisions, I lead.” I said, “Mr. President, look behind you. Leaders have followers. No one’s following. Nobody.”

Anyway, glad I got that straightened out.)

This disconnection goes to the heart of Bush’s Iraq problem. For Bush, the debacle on the ground in Iraq is irrelevant in evaluating his leaderhsip. The only thing you have to ask yourself, in his view, is whether he did what he said he’d do. And for certain definitions of the phrase, yeah, he did.

But in the world of grown-ups, actions have to be evaluated not just in terms of whether they show an unswerving consistency with stated intentions. They have to be evaluated in terms of the outcomes they produce. So far from being irrelevant, the ongoing chaos in Iraq is, in fact, quite relevant in evaluating the quality of his leaderhsip.

But again, Bush doesn’t get that. It’s part of that sense of entitlement he has. “Hey,” he seems to say. “Look at me. I’m the president. I don’t have to prove myself to anybody.”

Except that you do, George. You really do. And you’re failing.

Iraq War Knowns and Unknowns

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

A little rambling for your morning. But it all ties together by the end; I promise.

First, a trip down memory lane. From Slate’s The Poetry of D.H. Rumsfeld:

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

–Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

A similar wisdom is voiced by David Gristwood, in a piece titled 21 rules of thumb — how Microsoft develops its software (courtesy of Discourse.net):

1. Don’t know what you don’t know.

It is essential not to profess to know, or seem to know, or accept that someone else knows, that which is unknown. Almost without exception, the things that end up coming back to haunt you are things you pretended to understand but didn’t early on. At virtually every stage of even the most successful software projects, there are large numbers of very important things that are unknown. It is acceptable, even mandatory, to clearly articulate your ignorance, so that no one misunderstands the corporate state of unknowingness. If you do not disseminate this “lucid ignorance,” disaster will surely befall you.

Human nature is such that we dislike not knowing things that are important to our well being. Since there is so much we don’t know in a software project, the nearly universal tendency among developers and their managers is to gloss over or even deny altogether the extent of their ignorance. You should reward and treasure those who consistently make themselves aware of the list of relevant things that are currently unknown. It requires mental and psychological strength to resist the normal human cravings for certainty and order. It is especially difficult to believe in uncertainty when things have a veneer of orderliness, which is often the case. Pseudo-order is a maladapted defense against uncertainty.

The organization surrounding you will undoubtedly abhor uncertainty, would infinitely prefer pseudo-order and will make countless attempts to magically convert your ignorance to knowledge. Your job is to make uncertainty an unshakable fact, and to coerce the reshaping of the surrounding organization to cope with the uncertain situation. The organization must learn to thrive in an uncertain environment for its own well being.

All of which leads me to Iraq. Depending on who you pay attention to, our war against the Sunni insurgency there is either going really, really well, or really, really badly. For example, Michael Williams, in Good news in Iraq 1, links to a StrategyPage discussion titled Something strange in Fallujah. Williams offers this helpful summary:

Time is pretty much up for these dead-enders, and they know it. The incoming Iraqi government won’t be nearly as soft-handed as we Americans have been. Good.

A similar attitude is in evidence over at One Hand Clapping, where Donald Sensing, in a posting titled The winner is the least screwed up, quotes extensively from a posting at The Dignified Rant titled Center of gravity:

In wartime, not screwing up is often just as important as doing things right. Which brings me to Brian Dunn’s exposition of the fundamental screwups of our terrorist enemies in Iraq:

I think the main reason for our success is that the Islamists with their foreign jihadis have screwed things up for the Baathists. That is, if the insurgents (or regime remnants or whatever you want to call them) had been able to target Americans and our allies without other complications, the vast majority of Iraqis might have decided to sit out the war as neutrals and just watch passively to see who will win. Absent a really ruthless American campaign, we would never win if we fought enemies in a sea of apathy that slowly turned against us as the violence continued.

But the jihadis were never able to control the tempo or character of the ensuing battles, except perhaps very early.

This civil war strategy of the Islamists was always going to be a loser for the Baathists. A Sunni-Shia war might have been fine when the Sunnis controlled all the instruments of state power, but in a fight in which the Shias have the numbers and the state, this cannot work. At best, this path could inflame the oil-free Sunni heartland in revolt but this would not gain the entire country back for the Baathists. The Baathists could only win it all back if the Shias joined them against America as a common enemy, as some thought was happening in April at the start of the twin Fallujah and Sadr revolts.

For all the mistakes we have made, our enemy may have made the most critical of them all.

Did you follow that? Dunn’s argument is that the Sunni Baathists are toast, because the presence of foreign jihadis in the mix has left them on the short end of the stick however things turn out. (Or something like that. If you read his entire post it becomes a little more clear than it is in this excerpt.)

So far it’s a pretty consistent picture. But what to make of this article in today’s LA Times, then? From Iraq insurgency showing signs of momentum:

BAGHDAD — As this week’s coordinated violence demonstrates, Iraq’s insurgent movement is increasingly potent, riding a wave of anti-U.S. nationalism and religious extremism. Just days before an Iraqi government takes control of the country, experts and some commanders fear it may be too late to turn back the militant tide.

The much-anticipated wave of strikes preceding Wednesday’s scheduled hand-over could intensify under the new interim government as Sunni Muslim insurgents seek to undermine it, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

“I think we’re going to continue to see sensational attacks,” said Army Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the 101st Airborne Division commander who will oversee the reshaping of Iraq’s fledgling security forces.

Long gone are the days when the insurgents were dismissed as a finite force ticketed for high-tech annihilation by superior U.S. firepower.

Wreaking havoc and derailing plans for reconstruction of this battered nation, the dominant guerrilla movement — an unlikely Sunni alliance of hard-liners from the former regime, Islamic militants and anti-U.S. nationalists — has taken over towns, blocked highways, bombed police stations, assassinated lawmakers and other “collaborators,” and abducted civilians.

Although Shiite Muslim fighters took U.S. forces by surprise in an April uprising, the Sunni insurgents represent a stronger, long-term threat, experts agree. The fighters, commanders say, are overwhelmingly Iraqis, with a small but important contingent of foreign fighters who specialize in carrying out suicide bombings and other spectacular attacks, possibly including this week’s coordinated strikes that killed more than 100 people.

“They are effective,” said Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, operational commander of U.S. troops here.

So, according to politically conservative war-supporters, the Sunni insurgency is on its last legs. We’ve practically defeated it. But according to the officials quoted by this (presumably politically liberal) LA Times reporter, the Sunni insurgency is on a roll, with no signs of slowing down.

Both statements cannot be true. One side or the other (or both) are deluding themselves about the extent of their known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

Time will provide evidence of which of the current views is more accurate. But will advocates on either side take time out from whatever issue they are disagreeing about then to look back and hold themselves accountable for their earlier spouting of bullshit?

Um, no. I can safely say no. That much, at least, is a known known.

Two Views of Fighting in Iraq

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Forming a nice set of ideological bookends, here are two accounts of recent fighting in Iraq. First, from The Guardian: ‘This is the only fun the kids get – shooting at the US sitting ducks’. Next, from the good Moonies at the Washington Times: Army unit claims victory over sheik. Enjoy your cognitive dissonance!

Ames’ Challenge to Anne Coulter

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Ann Coulter obsessive (though I understand he prefers “shrill blonde harpy obsessive”) Barry Ritholtz writes to bring the following actually-fairly-disturbing item from the New York Press’s Mark Ames to my attention: The Coulter challenge.

In brief, Ames is challenging Coulter to have sex with him. If she does so, and succeeds in, um, satisfying him, he promises to vote for Bush. If she fails, she has to “dress like a genuine Republican woman.”

Ann Coulter Reviews Clinton’s ‘My Life’

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Heh. I’m linking to this mainly for the title of the piece. As far as Ann Coulter raving goes, it’s pretty ho-hum. But still: Moby’s dick.

Bangity Bangity Bangity Bangity Bangity Bangity Bang

Friday, June 25th, 2004

This story would be a lot less fun if anyone got seriously injured in the course of it. Thankfully, it sounds like nobody did (except the dog, maybe, which I’ll grant lessens the fun factor). But anyway: Pacific Beach, June 14, 2004.

Kottke on Fahrenheit 9/11

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Can’t throw a rock without hitting a Fahrenheit 9/11 review these days. Here’s one by Jason Kottke that I found interesting: Fahrenheit 9/11.

Bryan Henderson Sticks It to the Left

Friday, June 25th, 2004

I previously got into it a little with the folks at protestwarrior.com, and I have to say, while I can’t agree with much (any?) of their political platform, they get points for being rude and persnickety in a semi-entertaining way.

Anyway, I found the following story interesting: Operation Tiger Claw: Debriefing. I think I’m basically okay with this. I disagree pretty strongly with many of the views young Bryan Henderson is espousing, but I like his willingness to engage in public debate in a rational manner. We need more high school seniors like him.