Archive for July, 2004

More from Jacobsen, Sensing, and Rivka on the (Ir)Rational Fear of Traveling (Syrian) Musicians

Tuesday, July 20th, 2004

Annie Jacobsen (the cub reporter from Women’s Wall Street who made a sensation by recounting her suspenseful brush with not-quite-terror in the skies) has some followup comments: Part II: Terror in the Skies, Again? She breathlessly recounts being slashdotted (or whatever the equivalent term is when it happens at the hands of überbloggers; Instalanched, I think I’ve seen before), and goes on to reiterate how her story and its aftermath demonstrate that we are being endangered by rampant political correctness.

After reflecting on the story for the last few days, and reading much of the commentary on it, I disagree. It’s not political correctness. It is our cherished American freedom, embodied in our Constitution, a document that Jacobsen and others like her, who favorably quote Anne Coulter’s calls to subject all swarthy-skinned muslims to body-cavity searches in front of the other passengers before every flight, should spend more time reading.

As demonstrated lately, I’m kinda wishy-washy, in the sense that I try to pay attention to people on both ends of the political spectrum, and believe, on some level, that truth and certainty are mutually exclusive. That attitude makes me less able to spout one-sided rants (what? I could actually be worse??), but it pays occasional dividends. For one thing, it puts me in a position to notice when rational people on both sides seem to be saying the same thing.

As they are in this case. See the latest Jacobsen deconstruction from unapologetic liberal Rivka of Respectful of Otters: Terror In The Skies!!!. And from very-much-Right-leaning former Army public affairs officer and current fire-and-brimstone-spouting (at least on the subject of countering Islamofascist terrorism) Reverend Donald Sensing: Terror in the skies — Jacobsen writes more. (Update: Sensing is a self-described non-Bush-supporting centrist. My apologies for the mischaracterization.)

Though Rivka and Sensing disagree about a great many things, they are pretty much of one mind about Annie Jacobsen: She’s paranoid (Update: Sensing might not go that far — see his comment below), and almost surely over-reacting to an innocent case of “Arab while airborne.” Which isn’t a crime in the land of the free and the home of the brave. At least not yet.

Krugman on bin Laden’s Man in Washington

Tuesday, July 20th, 2004

Paul Krugman takes a while to get to the point, and doesn’t construct it as a rational argument, but rather as an extended pitch for a remake (a different remake) of The Manchurian Candidate, but I think he’s basically right, and that it’s a topic that’s worth discussing more, so here you go: The Arabian candidate.

Why You Should Vote for Bush

Sunday, July 18th, 2004

This should more-properly be titled “Why I should vote for Bush,” it being my good-faith effort to convince myself that I should do just that.

Why am I doing such a thing? I guess because I want to make sure I’m considering the question as objectively as I can, divorced as much as possible from my preconceptions. Also, I’m interested in how the arguments I would make to myself differ from the arguments that are made to those actually likely to vote for him.

Anyway, in thinking about this, I’ve come up with two broad, and in some ways mutually exclusive, arguments. Here’s the first one:

Argument the First: Personal Integrity

Character matters. As a person, Bush is lame, but so is Kerry. In fact, Kerry’s personal lameness actually exceeds Bush’s. Therefore, I should vote for Bush.

I apologize to those in the audience who share my hatred of Bush for having just said that. But in fact, having tried really, really hard to be objective, I think I actually believe the foregoing statement to be true, at least from a certain point of view.

I’ve talked a lot (I mean, a lot) here about how much I dislike Bush’s character. But I have to give him credit for internal consistency. On some level, he’s his own man, not pretending to be something other than he is. He’s direct, decisive, and, within the limits of his personal world view, honest. In that sense he’s a real person, not just an empty shell designed to appeal to voters. If Bush were my neighbor (and I didn’t already despise him), I think I’d actually enjoy hanging out with the guy.

Kerry, on the other hand, appears to be very much a politician, crafting his position based on how it will be received rather than standing for anything. For example, he (and his running mate) voted for the Iraq war resolution, and have never offered an adequate explanation for why they did so. In Edwards’ case, I get the impression he actually still thinks in his heart of hearts that the war was a good idea. In Kerry’s case, I think it’s clear that he was just taking the politically expedient choice, rather than risking public disapproval for opposing what was clearly a trumped-up case for war. But if he’s willing to compromise his principles in the name of political expediency in that case, it pretty much proves that there’s no evil he’d be willing to oppose if it was going to cost him politically.

I mean, Kerry’s formative political experience was as a leader in the anti-Vietnam-war movement. For someone who did that to be willing to vote in favor of reproducing the exact conditions that led to Vietnam is pretty mind-boggling. It could be argued that all politicians are unprincipled opportunists in the same way I’ve described Kerry, but Kerry does seem a particularly striking example of it.

Bush’s character is different. His internal sense of who he is shows through in the form of personal charisma, which is an important factor in being an effective leader. I may not always agree with the direction he chooses to go, but he possesses a demonstrated ability to communicate in a way that effectively speaks to large masses of people, and, potentially, to lead them.

In the months after 9/11, Bush’s response to that event struck a chord with Americans, helping to take a shocked and grieving people and infuse them with a sense of strength, courage, and shared purpose. It seems possible that in a similar situation, Kerry, with his appreciation of nuance and his balanced approach and his desire for global cooperation (and his hollow political opportunism), would have lacked the ability to adopt and communicate a strong response. He might have been paralyzed in a Jimmy Carter-esque paroxysm of national hand-wringing, leaving the country adrift when what it needed was for him to pick a direction and start moving resolutely forward. Which, in all honesty, is what Bush did.

In a memorable scene from Full Metal Jacket, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by Lee Ermey) says, “Private Joker is silly and ignorant, but he’s got guts. And guts is enough.”

Bush is sillly and ignorant, but he’s got guts.

I know; I know. Thirty-five years ago Kerry was earning a Silver Star by being a hero in the Mekong River delta, while Bush was coasting through an entitled life avoiding any serious responsibility. But we’re not choosing between the Bush and Kerry of 35 years ago. We’re choosing between the Bush and Kerry of today. And today, for all his failings, Bush has many personal qualities that are important in a leader, and that Kerry, at least based on the evidence I’ve seen so far, seems to lack.

As long as we’re talking about their 1960s selves, there’s also this issue: Kerry chose to go to Vietnam, while Bush (sensibly) avoided the conflict. What does that say about Kerry’s intelligence and personality? I’m grateful to him for being willing to risk his life in service to his country, but that war was wrong. In that sense, his evolving views on Iraq seem eerily reminiscent of his evolving views on Vietnam. I’m not sure that a track-record of being repeatedly wrong on that particular question, only to realize his error after the fact, is a particularly strong qualification for the presidency.

Having such strong feelings (as I do) on Bush and Kerry’s personal integrity, I felt like I really needed to look at that side of the equation, and do my best to neutralize my anti-Bush bias. But the fact is, having done that, I don’t think it’s really the issue I should be focusing on. Hence my second argument:

Argument the Second: Outcomes

While character may matter somewhat as a predictor of how a president will behave in unforseen circumstances, character per se doesn’t actually matter much at all. All that matters is what results the candidate would bring about if elected. Who he is and how he thinks and whether he’s a hypocrite or not are all irrelevant issues in and of themselves. What matters are the outcomes that a given president’s being elected would lead to. Bush (or Kerry) could be the world’s biggest asshole, and still be the right choice for president if I believed his election would produce better results than electing the other guy.

My crystal ball capabilities are limited, but there is a definite possibility that a second Bush presidency, in the long run, would turn out to be better for me, my family, my country, and/or my world than a Kerry presidency. If I think that that is likely to be the case, I should vote for Bush, regardless of how I feel about him as a person. So, do I think the outcomes of a second Bush term are likely to be better than those for Kerry? Well, let me try to think of some scenarios in which that might be the case.

Greedy personal reasons:

Here’s one reason: Bush’s tax policies are probably better for me personally, and that will certainly be the case should my level of income rise by much. I operate my own business, and have plans to try to grow that business. A pretty strong case can be made that Bush’s business-friendly policies would be more favorable for those activities than Kerry’s. My chances of getting a tax break based on the private-school tuition payments I make for my daughter, and will probably at some point be making for my son, are better under Bush than under Kerry.

Here’s another reason: Bush might withdraw from Iraq sooner than Kerry would. Bush’s short attention-span and emotional inclination to walk away from and deny the existence of failures might bring about a quicker resolution than Kerry’s plodding, minimize-political-risks decision-making. That earlier withdrawal could help avoid a Vietnam-style quagmire, with beneficial effects for my country. Note that in five years I will have a child of draft age. (But note also that Bush’s greater militarism probably increases, rather than decreases, the chances that one of my kids will end up being drafted.)

Idealistic large-scale reasons

In bringing about large-scale social change, things sometimes must get worse before they can get better. Through his evident dangerousness to the world, Bush could give impetus to a global movement aimed at making war obsolete. The dangers represented by Bush are symptoms of a broken geopolitical system that persists in acting as if international conflicts can be resolved by war, when in fact scientific progress as applied to killing large numbers of people means that we must either develop an alternative to war or exterminate each other. Bush’s ill-considered belligerance makes those risks more clear to the people of the world. This might result in a backlash that helps pave the way for a new, more peaceful order. Kerry’s more thoughtful, engaged approach to the world could actually, paradoxically, serve to mask those symptoms, allowing the old, broken system to continue in place, rather than being recognized as a failure and replaced with something better.

Pragmatic large-scale reasons

Wisdom requires balance. It is unwise to grow cynical and believe that things can never change. It is similarly unwise to be so idealistic as to believe that an oncoming train 50 feet away going 50 mph can be stopped or diverted. One has to know when to act based on an idealistic faith that by doing the morally right thing, even when it seems risky in the here and now, one can build a better future, versus when to act based on a pragmatic recognition that one must sometimes compromise in order to address an immediate danger. Bush’s blunt, direct response to the terrorist threat this country faces is not so hot from a long-term, idealistic perspective, but it may in fact be appropriate given a realistic evaluation of the threat.

It’s not very much in keeping with Sun Tzu, but the fact is that Bush is probably going to be more willing than Kerry to use US military power as a tool to oppose global terrorism. In an era when it is a demonstrated fact that radical Islamic terrorists would like to do things like detonate nuclear weapons in US cities, the willingness of Bush to use force could make the difference in preventing a major domestic tragedy. (Note, though, that Bush’s go-it-alone reliance on the military is harmful to the international cooperation that could also make a difference in that area.)

Also, as Jenny pointed out in the comments to my earlier item on this topic, by pursuing military hegemony in the middle east, Bush could position the US to better withstand the shock of the world running out of oil. With US military control of Iraqi oil reserves, the social and economic disruptions that will be the inevitable result of the oil crash will be lessened, at least for me and my family. As morally reprehensible as it may be to contemplate, if the world in 2050 is going to be like a post-iceberg Titanic, I want my children to have a place in the lifeboats. (Note, though, that Bush’s pro-big-oil policies, including his hostility toward conservation, seem likely to undercut the benefits of our controlling mideast oil with our military.)

So that’s it. Those are all the reasons I’ve been able to think of that seem like good reasons to me to vote for George Bush. I’ve done my best to present them fairly and honestly. They’re not strawmen (though Bush opponents are welcome to knock them down, should they wish to). After considering all those reasons as objectively as I can, am I willing to vote for Bush?

I don’t know. Probably not. But I’m going to do my best to keep an open mind going foward. I probably won’t make my final decision until election day.

In the meantime, if anyone else would like to play this game, I encourage you to do so. I would be particularly interested in seeing a similarly constructed case-for-Kerry from one or more of the Bush supporters around here. Thanks.

Body and Soul on Hersh’s Latest Child-Abuse Charges

Saturday, July 17th, 2004

Jeanne of Body and Soul talks about a speech that journalist Seymour Hersh gave recently to the ACLU, in which he went into more detail about the allegations of child abuse at Abu Ghraib: The thing with feathers. She quotes from a video of Hersh’s speech that is available online (Hersh’s part begins at about 1:07:48; the part quoted below begins at about 1:31:30):

The boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking — that your government has. And they’re in total terror it’s going to come out.

I know reader Thom has been interested in this story. I realize this isn’t additional confirmation; just more detail from one of those who has already been talking about it.

Wallis on Christianity, Empire

Friday, July 16th, 2004

I really like Jim Wallis. From a column in Sojourners magazine: The theology of torture.

Christian theology is uneasy with empire, and the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison reveal why. More than politics is at stake in this scandal. Moral theology is also involved, and that is worthy of serious public discussion – especially when this war’s commander-in-chief speaks often of his Christian faith.

Middle-Eastern Men Scare Timid White People

Friday, July 16th, 2004

A must-read, one of those Rashomon-in-real-life stories that mean entirely different things depending on your personal perspective. The actual story in question comes from Annie Jacobsen, a writer for Women’s Wall Street, who got really scared on an airplane flight recently because of the suspicious behavior of a group of Syrian men on the plane. Her story reads like an Alfred Hitchcock movie: Terror in the skies, again?

Courtesy World O’Crap, which has a nice round-up of blog commentary on the story, plus mockery: Terror in the Skies!!!

The WaPo on CIA Prisoner Disappearances

Friday, July 16th, 2004

The Washington Post editorial writers make a pretty good case against the CIA’s (as distinct from the Pentagon’s) actions regarding detainees in the War on Terra: The CIA’s Prisoners

(Still working on the “Why you should vote for Bush” piece. I’m thinking this particular item won’t figure prominently in it.)

A Wee Experiment

Friday, July 16th, 2004

For my next posting, I have in mind something different. I intend to try to argue myself into voting for Bush.

In making the case, I will only use arguments that I think are actually valid. (Remember, I’m trying to convince me.) I will endeavor to honestly make the best case I can. No pulling punches. No cheating.

I’m not sure why I want to do this. It just seems like an interesting exercise. I’d find it even more interesting if I could talk one or more of the Bush-supporters around here (actually, I’m not sure there are any, but I think there might be a few) to post a similar piece making the best case they can for Kerry. I’m curious how the resulting arguments would compare to those that candidates’ actual partisans make on their behalf.

Anyway, stay tuned for that.

John Edwards: Hopeless Romantic

Friday, July 16th, 2004

Anybody who says John Edwards is “way out of the mainstream” obviously hasn’t run into him and his wife at a Wendy’s on their aniversary.

The Marshmallow Terrorist

Wednesday, July 14th, 2004

I admit it, I get all of my news from the Daily Show, which is where I heard about the “Marshmallow Terrorist“.

It’s a good thing we have Federal Marshals performing random warrant checks on people entering the country, otherwise we never would have caught this vicious, vile, 32-year-old Wyoming woman who never paid a year-old $50 fine from Yellowstone. And it’s a good thing they carry leg shackles so they could keep her from escaping when they dragged her off her cruise ship at 6:30 AM (in her nightgown) … not to mention during the 9 hours they kept her locked up.

Oh wait, she paid the fine? the same day she got the citation?

Oops. Our bad.

Umm. I guess we should probably take those shackles off now.

Joe Wilson Good! No, Joe Wilson Bad! Etc.

Tuesday, July 13th, 2004

If you care about trivia like White House operatives exposing the identity of our own side’s anti-WMD-proliferation spooks (which, I’ll grant you, is nowhere near as important as amending the Constitution to deny the pink-triangle set the right to marry), then you doubtless already know about the latest developments in the Valerie Plame-outing story. But in case you’ve been too busy, here’s a quick roundup.

First, the Senate intelligence committee report on the CIA’s bogus Iraq data (yeah! it was all the damn CIA’s fault!) apparently asserted that Valerie Plame really did recommend husband Joe Wilson for the Niger investigation, and Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post wrote a story about it: Plame’s input is cited on Niger mission.

Then Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo did a fairly thorough attack on Schmidt (elsewhere attacked as being ad hominem, which may be a fair cop, but it’s still a fun piece): I’ll dispense with the literary prologue…

Various righties made lots of hay with the story, including this choice example from Donald Sensing: Prophecy fulfilled. (Update: Note, though, that Sensing wasn’t prophesying that Wilson would be found out to be untruthful, but rather that the legal investigation into the Plame outing “would go nowhere, lead to no indictments and would eventually just sputter away.” See his comment on this item for more.)

But not so fast; Josh Marshall has some analysis that spills much of the wind from Sensing’s sails: There’s been a rush of egregious commentary… And then the good little partisans at the WSJ’s OpinionJournal weblog weighed in with their own snark, and Marshall again went to bat to put their assertions in context: A Republican lobbyist friend just sent me a link…

But after all the sturm und drang, I think the best summary of the whole thing comes from the inimitable Fafnir of Fafblog (which is destined to displace some less-obsessive entry in my blogroll as soon as I can get around to it): How could you lie to me so, Joe Wilson!

Heh. And now I think we’re completely up to date.

Scamming the Scammers

Tuesday, July 13th, 2004

Gotta love it: Turning the tables on Nigeria’s e-mail conmen.

“I persuaded him to send me the $80, which he did, inside a birthday card, by courier,” Mike says.

Down a Sixpack, Tell Your Doctor: Lose Your Driver’s License

Tuesday, July 13th, 2004

From the Patriot News of Harrisburg, PA: Beer drinker fights to get driver’s license back.

LEBANON – Keith Emerich regrets telling his doctors the truth.

The Lebanon man told doctors who were treating him for an irregular heartbeat that he drinks six to 10 beers a day. If not for his admission in February, Emerich, 44, said he would still have his driver’s license.

The state Department of Transportation recalled Emerich’s license as of April 1 because he was reported by a physician as having a medical condition that impairs his driving ability. Emerich’s medical condition, according to PennDOT, is substance abuse.

LA Times Editorial on Kerry, Edwards, and the War-Authorization Vote

Tuesday, July 13th, 2004

The lead editorial in today’s LA Times was actually interesting and insightful. I suspect the Michael Kinsley effect is being felt there: Kerry-Edwards Stonewall.

They’re pretty web-hostile at the Times, yanking their fishwrap quickly and trying to charge for access, so here are some excerpts. But it’s actually worth reading the whole thing, if you can get there in time. It’s just damn refreshing to hear someone making intelligent observations that aren’t hardcore partisan spin.

If not murder, John F. Kerry and John Edwards have accused President Bush of something close to criminally negligent homicide in Iraq. “They were wrong and soldiers died because they were wrong,” Kerry said of the Bush administration over the weekend.

This is strong language, but not unjustified….

The trouble is, both Sens. Kerry and Edwards voted yes on the resolution authorizing the war in Iraq. And now they refuse to say whether they would have supported the resolution if they had known what they know today…

Reluctance to answer the question is understandable. If they say they stand by their pro-war votes, this makes nonsense of their criticisms of Bush. If they say they were misled or duped by the administration, they look dopey and weak. Many of their Democratic Senate colleagues were skeptical of the administration’s evidence even at the time. If Kerry and Edwards tell the probable truth — that they were deeply dubious about the war but afraid to vote no in the post-9/11 atmosphere and be tarred as lily-livered liberals — they would win raves from editorial writers for their frankness and courage. And they could stop dreaming of oval offices.

Kerry and Edwards are in a bind. But it is a bind of their own making. The great pity will be if this bind leads the Democratic candidates to back off from their harsh, and largely justified, criticism of Bush. The Democrats could lose a valuable issue, and possibly even the election, because the Democratic candidates were too clever for their own good.

Doonesbury on bin Laden on Bush

Monday, July 12th, 2004

My dad emails (yeah, weird, I know) to suggest that everyone go see the Doonesbury cartoon from yesterday: Doonesbury@Slate – Daily Dose.

I saw it in the paper, and thought yeah, cool, but wasn’t blown away by it. I guess that’s because I’ve accepted it as self-evident that George W. Bush is the best thing that could ever have happened to Osama bin Laden for quite some time now. But I guess in more-mainstream circles that’s still a noteworthy observation.

A Boy and His Cat. And Its Enema.

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

Actually, this isn’t as bad as you think. The illustrations are pretty cool. Tasteful, if somewhat crude (but not crude the way you’re thinking). Anyway: I gave my cat an enema.

Bush Gives Protesters the Finger

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

From LiveJournal user jiveturkey: The single greatest event of my life.

At the front of this second bus was The W himself, waving cheerily at his supporters on the other side of the highway. Adam, Brendan, and I rose our banner (the More Trees, Less Bush one) and he turned to wave to our side of the road. His smile faded, and he raised his left arm in our direction. And then, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States of America, extended his middle finger.

Read that last sentence again.
I got flipped off by George W. Bush.

A ponytailed man standing next to us confirmed the event, saying, “I do believe the President of the U.S. just gave you boys the finger.” We laughed probably for the next half hour, and promptly told everyone we knew.

Heh. I still think Bush is toast in November, but this could help him get back into it. I mean, in an alternate universe, I could even imagine me voting for someone willing to do that.

Suspicious Brown-Skinned Man with Camera Laments His Lost Innocence

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

This one really kind of bugs me. The artist’s statement: Humiliated, angry, ashamed, brown.

American Leftist on Abuses of Children at Abu Ghraib

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

From Joe of American Leftist: The Children of Abu Ghraib.

Fafblog on Katherine of Obsidian Wings on Domestic Rights Abuses

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

I don’t really want to link to Fafblog. I want to link to Obsidian Wings for former-blogger Katherine’s goodbye-cruel-blogosphere item on domestic rights abuses (Failures of imagination). But the Fafblog commentary linking to Katherine was fun, so here you go: wake up.

“But Fafnir I do not want to read about torture” you say because you are a lazy whining person. “I want to read about gumdrops an rainbows and Presidents who are made of gumdrops an rainbows an use them to blow up the terrorists.”
No you should really read it it is a very important issue now go or I will have Giblets hit you with the waffle again.