Archive for July, 2004

Neiwert on PsyOps and the Toppling of Saddam’s Statue

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

Dave Neiwert of Orcinus rambles interestingly on the subject of the way the US military staged the toppling of Saddam’s statue at the climax of the Iraq war (er, of the Major Combat Operations Phase of the Iraqi Freedom Campaign of the Global War on Terror), and how the pseudo-event was intended to mold the opinions of both Iraqis and US citizens: The psychological combat field.

We have in fact known from even before the outset that the war against Iraq would prominently feature psychological warfare. Most people have assumed that this warfare would be directed against the enemy and the subject citizens. They have not stopped to consider that, by definition, it would also be directed toward the American public as well.

Krider on Fairness

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

Dylan Otto Krider of Who’s Lying? has this thoughtful piece: When fairness is a lie.

The Smallness of George W. Bush

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

Update: Slashdotties (and others) coming via isbushwired.com should know that this item really isn’t about the whole “is Bush wearing a hidden receiver” thing. For stuff on that, see the following more-recent items: Kerry’s pen, Bush’s earpiece and Wiregate!

I think a compelling case can be made that George W. Bush is, in fact, the smallest president in the history of the United States.

Not in terms of physical stature. James Madison is the acknowledged champion in that respect. At 5′ 4″ and about 100 pounds he’d be more likely to be mistaken for a pre-teen female gymnast than the manly leader of the free world, at least in today’s televised political setting.

No, I mean in the sense of moral stature, in the sense people mean when they say that “it takes a big man to admit he’s made a mistake.”

George W. Bush will never make that admission. He will never have that kind of bigness.

The latest incident to highlight this came Thursday, when Bush, asked to comment on the indictment of former Enron chairman Ken Lay, got pissy and stalked away from the podium without answering. (Update: Um, not really, as it turns out. It was Wednesday, and it was more that he left the podium and had the Ken Lay question, to which he didn’t respond, shouted at him as he departed. See update below.)

From Capitol Hill Blue: Angry Bush walks out on media, refuses to answer questions about relationship with Ken Lay. (Update: Again, see below for my own mea culpa re: my poor judgement in being willing to link to and excerpt from the lying fucktards at Capitol Hill Blue.)

A clearly-rattled President George W. Bush walked out of a media briefing Thursday, refusing to answer questions about his close relationship with indicted Enron executive Kenneth Lay, a campaign benefactor Bush nicknamed “Kenny Boy” when the two were up-and-comers in Texas.

The President, visibly upset, stomped off the stage when reporters pressed him about his relationship with Lay and left White House press secretary Scott McClellan to deal with the questions.

Capitol Hill Blue is pretty much just a glorified anti-Bush weblog, so if you’d prefer a more mainstream source for the story, you can go to Telegraph.co.uk (Bush turns his back on Enron questions), or to CNN (White House plays down Bush relationship with Lay).

In honor of my current campaign to immerse myself in US history, you can also dig deeper, into some primary sources. From the post-tantrum press briefing by Scott McClellan:

Q Does the President have anything to say about the unsealing of the indictment against Ken Lay?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Bill, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the White House to discuss any specific criminal case. However, I’m more than happy to talk to you about this administration’s commitment to cracking down on wrongdoing. One of the President’s top priorities is to crack down on corporate wrongdoing and strengthen corporate accountability. And we have a record of accomplishment in that area.

This President has worked to go after those wrongdoers and directed his administration to pursue those who are dishonest in the boardroom. The President has made it very clear that we will not tolerate dishonesty in the boardroom.

This administration worked to uncover abuses and scandals in the corporate arena, and certainly the President’s concern is with those workers and other people who have been harmed by corporate wrongdoing. And that’s where his focus will continue to be.

Q But this particular alleged corporate wrongdoer was a personal friend of the President’s, who the President addressed as “Kenny, boy,” who raised a lot of money for the President in the 2000 election cycle, who offered corporate jets to the President for travel in Texas. He did know him well. Does he –

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you seem to want to be fairly selective there, because let me point out that he was someone who supported Democrats and Republicans, alike, including the President, as you pointed out.

Q Well, is that all the President had to say?

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s how I would describe the relationship, and I think it’s an accurate way to describe the relationship.

Q Does President Bush consider Ken Lay a personal friend? And did the White House have any communication with the Justice Department leading up to the indictment?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. This is a Justice Department matter, and we expect the Justice Department to do their job when it comes to cracking down on corporate wrongdoing. In terms of the question you asked about Mr. Lay, the President has already addressed that, and he described it the way I did, as well.

You can compare this characterization of the Bush-Lay relationship with The Smoking Gun’s collection of correspondence between the two men.

Now, I realize that on some level this is just a big game of “gotcha”, and any politician in Bush’s position would try to avoid being associated with Lay. It’s not the fact of Bush’s avoidance of the Lay tarbaby that I find noteworthy. It’s the manner of his avoidance.

I mean, it should have been easy for him to answer the question with a statement that distanced himself from Lay while not acknowledging any personal wrongdoing, as McClellen basically did on his behalf later on. Politically, that would have made a lot more sense; then this whole story about how Bush refused to answer the question and stalked off would never have happened.

But see, Bush can’t, or won’t, do that. I’m sure there are Bush defenders out there spinning this as a sign of his deep sense of personal loyalty, his willingness to endure political harm rather than say something bad about an old friend. Well, you believe that if you want to. I think it’s just that such a statement would have come too close to an admission of error, something that this president, by virtue of his record-setting lack of moral stature, is simply incapable of doing.

It was easier for him to just walk away, despite the mental gasps of onlookers, answering the underlying question of “can he really be that petty, that vain, that small?” with an emphatic, “yeah, actually, he can.”

The iconic photo of that moment, as shot by the AFP’s Paul J. Richards:

The Littlest President

Update: The Capitol Hill Blue story bends things in the interest of crafting a better story. The photo of Bush was made Wednesday, not Thursday, as the CHB piece incorrectly states. The photograph was taken at the conclusion of Bush’s remarks in favor of Senate action on stalled judicial nominees; see White House transcript, video, and audio here: President Bush meets with pending Michigan judicial nominees.

The transcript and video (and audio, presumably, though I didn’t bother to listen) cuts out as Bush concludes his remarks and leaves without taking questions. Presumably reporters did shout one or more Ken Lay questions at that point, which Bush declined to answer.

The Scott McClellan comments were made the next day (Thursday) at the usual White House press briefing, with Bush not present. I thought that was pretty clear when I read the accounts, but my presentation above may have reinforced the misleading language of the CHB piece to imply that McClellan’s cleanup took place at the same venue as Bush’s earlier refusal to answer the Lay questions.

The telegraph.co.uk article linked to above has a significantly more-accurate description of Bush’s action:

Mr Bush walked away from a media briefing, refusing to answer questions about Mr Lay, a close adviser dubbed “Kenny Boy” by the president.

Note also that the CNN piece I linked to talks only about the McClellan comments, and doesn’t mention Bush’s failure to respond to questions about Lay the previous day.

So, to sum up the ways in which the Capitol Hill Blue piece distorted things:

  • The briefing at which Bush spoke wasn’t on Thursday, but Wednesday. By itself, not a big deal, but it feeds into the misconception the piece creates that both the Bush actions and the McClellan follow-up happened as part of the same event, rather than as two separate events. Is that important? No, not really. But was it on purpose, as opposed to an innocent accident? Yeah, I think it probably was.
  • Bush wasn’t “angry”, “clearly-rattled”, or “visibly upset”, at least not in the portion of the event archived on the White House site. If he became so somewhere between his turning from the podium and the snapping of the AFP photo two steps away, I’d be pretty surprised. To the extent he displayed emotion, it could more reasonably be attibuted to his frustration at the slow pace of Senate confirmation of his judicial nominees.

Bush is still a putz for refusing to answer questions at a press briefing, but that’s not really anything new. Overall, while I stand by my larger point about what the incident says about Bush’s small-minded refusal to acknowledge error, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have linked to or excerpted from the Capitol Hill Blue piece, which is larded with false-to-fact spin in its opening graphs. Sorry about that.

I guess I knew that about Capitol Hill Blue already, given my post-excerpt disclaimer in the original posting. But it’s still a “fool me twice, shame on me” moment. Resolved: no more paying attention to Capitol Hill Blue. Just because I agree with their political position doesn’t mean I have time to waste parsing fact from fiction in the accounts of people willing to consciously mislead.

Don’t Write ‘Bomb’ in a Crowded Airplane

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

The latest in an ongoing series of stories about people running afoul of the hyperalertness of air travellers and those who herd them: I write badly, therefore I am a would-be terrorist.

But the agent ignored the crossword, turning the paper sideways to read a line I’d scribbled in the margin: “I know this is kind of a bomb.”

Pentagon: The Dog Ate Bush’s Homework

Saturday, July 10th, 2004

From the AP, via the New York Times: Pentagon: Bush Military Records Destroyed.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It certainly sounds fishy. The Bush people have clearly been doing their best to sweep this whole Guard-duty thing under the rug, with accounts of people having “scrubbed” his records, the as-yet-inadequately-answered question (for me, at least) of why he skipped his flight-line physical, and the overall question of whether Bush was or wasn’t the beneficiary of string-pulling designed to trade daddy’s political influence for a cushy spot Stateside to protect young W from the draft.

So, yeah, Bush and Co. (which probably includes senior leadership at the Pentagon) are completely non-credible on anything having to do with this. I think, given their history, a presumption of guilt is warranted when something as ridiculous-sounding as this crops up. It’s reminiscent, in that sense, of the Justice Departement’s “we can’t comply with your FOIA request, because doing so might crash our computers” excuse from last month (see Creative excuse to deny FOIA request).

But just because the people offering the excuse have demonstrated a willingness to lie shamelessly, and just because this particular assertion sounds particularly stupid, at least in the form of a 10-second sound-bite, doesn’t mean it isn’t actually, improbably, true.

It’s like Clinton’s “didn’t inhale” line. As I’ve said before, I think he was probably telling the pure, unspun truth when he said that. But it made such a delicious symbol of dishonesty that his opponents couldn’t resist making it a centerpiece of their arguments against him.

I’m a sucker for the argument that cuts the other way: If Bush is such a shameless liar, why wouldn’t he come up with something that sounds better than this?

Anyway, it’s trivia. The White House strategy has succeeded in that respect, at least: even an avowed anti-Bushista like me can no longer summon the energy required to care much either way. So yeah, okay; the records of Bush’s glorious patriotic service in the Vietnam War were destroyed in a tragic baking accident. Whatever.

Tommy Chong Released from Prison

Saturday, July 10th, 2004

Tommy Chong has been released from prison after serving nine months for selling bongs over the Internet, huzzah. He apparently was on the Tonight Show last night, which I might accidentally have instructed my Tivo to record; I’ll check on that as soon as I can reclaim the box from my son, currently rotting his brain with a Spongebob rerun. If I did record it, I’ll watch it and update y’all. In the meantime: Actor Tommy Chong makes 1st post-prison TV appearance on the Tonight Show, Friday July 9.

Darwinism in Pelicans

Friday, July 9th, 2004

Some people read an article like this and think: “Stupid birds.” Other people think: “There goes mankind, messing up the environment and indirectly killing off a species”.

I read it and thought: “This is fucking hilarious!” …

Pelicans Mistaking Asphalt for Lakes

(Which kind of person are you?)

US Iraq Deaths Down in June

Monday, July 5th, 2004

I’ve updated my Iraq-Vietnam comparison graphs with the number of US dead for June, 2004. The number was down again from the previous month, with 42 US fatalities in June.

Again, I’m getting these figures from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the first sixteen months of each war. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the same chart, with the Vietnam numbers extended out to cover the first four years of the war:

Finally, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’m aware that we have more troops in-theater in Iraq than we had during the corresponding parts of the Vietnam War graph. Vietnam didn’t get numbers of US troops comparable to the number currently in Iraq until shortly after Johnson won the 1964 election, some three-and-a-half years after the starting point of the Vietnam graphs above.

These graphs are not intended to say anything about the relative lethality of the two conflicts. I am completely aware that the number of dead produced by each of these wars correlates closely with the number of soldiers on the ground at any given time. Nor am I trying to make a case that the Iraq war is somehow equivalent to, or worse than, the Vietnam war. I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and these graphs let me see that. You are free to draw your own conclusions.

You can view more discussion of these charts on the following pages, if you’re interested. The graphs are all the same; I just update them in place when the new numbers become available.

The Pet Goat Obsessive

Saturday, July 3rd, 2004

Peter Smith of the Ledge of Liberty weblog got a bee in his bonnet about the book Bush was reading during his infamous seven minutes of indecision, and the result is this: Mystery of “The Pet Goat” Revealed. Heh.

Update: Per Adam in the comments, see also http://www.mypetgoat.com/.

Yet another update: Per Jenny in the comments, see also the Amazon page for the book, including the following reader review:

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:

“The Pet Goat” is Great!, July 1, 2004

Reviewer: George W. Bush

I love this book, especially the story “The Pet Goat.”

When my friend Andy told me that a second plane had struck the World Trade Center and the United States was under attack and certainly thousands were dead, well, I just couldn’t stop reading. I was engrossed! You know you’ve got a corker on your hands if a national security crisis can wait.

“The Pet Goat” is great. You won’t be able to put it down!

Krugman on Fahrenheit 9/11

Friday, July 2nd, 2004

I pretty much can’t not link to this, given my personal linking history. Paul Krugman’s comments on Fahrenheit 9/11: Moore’s Public Service.

The Angry Jesus Talking Action Figure

Friday, July 2nd, 2004

You know how the Web is; you’re minding your own business, researching an upcoming weblog posting on some important and serious topic, when suddenly you’re hijacked by a Google text ad, and before you know it you’re sitting slack-jawed before the talking Jesus Christ action figure.

12″ action figure dressed as shown in image (staff & sandals not included). Talking Jesus Christ action figure recites the 10 commandments.

$34.95

Which is fun and all, but why the 10 commandments? Shouldn’t Jesus say something actually, you know, attributed to Jesus?

When you listen to it (320K mp3 file) it becomes clear, though. This is an angry Jesus, one who has renounced all that “love thy neighbor” stuff and focuses instead on striking fear into the flock with wrathful pronouncements about what they shall and shall not do.

I dunno; $34.95 is pretty steep, but that thing is cool.

National Birthdays, Real and Imagined

Friday, July 2nd, 2004

It’s hard to escape the topic of nation-birthing these days. For example, there was that only-slightly-premature delivery of the new Iraqi state. I haven’t felt like saying much about that, though I did very much like GYWO #37, which featured the following:

Nothing says “Good luck” like handing off sovereignty and then running straight to the airport. Do we always treat sovereignty like it’s a goddamn grenade?

I thought that was pretty funny, but it’s one of those “funny because it’s true” things. Transfers of sovereignty are exactly like a grenade, as pretty much anyone who’s read history knows.

I’ve been reading more history lately. I think I needed an emotional break from the raw news of the day. It’s comforting, in a way, to look back on a political debate with the benefit of centuries of hindsight. Things are more certain in the past. People disagree with each other, they yell and fume and make scurrilous charges against their opponents, but as an observer I’m comfortably insulated from their fears and uncertainties. For me, it’s already over. I know how it turns out.

Currently I’m reading a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while, but have never gotten around to before now. It’s David McCullough’s John Adams, and as I lay in bed tonight I read the part where McCullough describes the debates in Philadelphia in the spring and summer of 1776 that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

It’s a great story. The tension builds; the delegates scrabble back and forth like football players chewing up the same turf over and over, but the ball is moving inexorably toward one end of the field, toward a formal break with England, and they all know it.

On July 1 John Adams delivers the speech of his lifetime, making the case for independence with relentless logic, pounding his opponents like a single-minded fullback; no fancy reverses or trick plays, just power drives up the middle.

But stopping him on the 1-yard line is the Pennsylvania delegation, unwilling, in their Quaker pacifism, to take the final, irrevocable step of voting in favor of a declaration that they know will mean years of bloody war. Exhausted, the delegates agree to put off the vote to the following day.

The atmosphere that night at City Tavern and in the lodging houses of the delegates was extremely tense. The crux of the matter was the Pennsylvania delegation, for in the preliminary vote three of the seven Pennsylvania delegates had gone against John Dickinson and declared in the affirmative, and it was of utmost interest that one of the three, along with [Benjamin] Franklin and John Morton, was James Wilson, who, though a friend and ally of Dickinson, had switched sides to vote for independence. The question now was how many of the rest who were in league with Dickinson would on the morrow continue, in Adams’s words, to “vote point blank against the known and declared sense of their contituents.”

To compound the tension that night, word reached Philadelphia of the sighting off New York of a hundred British ships, the first arrivals of a fleet that would number over four hundred.

The next morning, Caesar Rodney, a pro-independence delegate who had been absent the day before, arrived just as the doors to the Continental Congress were about to close, having ridden 80 miles through the night so he could cast his vote and break the 1-1 tie of his Delaware delegation.

Yet more important even than the arrival of Rodney were two empty chairs among the Pennsylvania delegation. Refusing to vote for independence but understanding the need for Congress to speak with one voice, John Dickinson and Robert Morris had voluntarily absented themselves from the proceedings, thus swinging Pennsylvania behind independence by a vote of three to two. What private agreements had been made the night before, if any, who or how many had come to the State House that morning knowing what was afoot, no one recorded.

The birth of our nation arguably didn’t come later that day, when each of the colonial delegations (except for New York, which abstained) voted in favor of independence. And it certainly didn’t come two days later, on July 4, when they finally got all the paperwork drawn up.

If there was a moment when our country really was born, it was late that night, the night of July 1, or perhaps in the wee hours of July 2, 228 years ago this very night, in a smoky Philadelphia tavern, or maybe in a quiet lodging room, as the two sides faced up to the realities of their situation and the opponents of the Declaration agreed to stand down.

Here’s a toast to back-room deals, and real anniversaries, and impassioned partisans willing to step back from their bickering and make common cause, pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, even in the face of a future that, for them, was still very much in doubt.

Declaration of Independence

More GI Joe Shorts from Fenslerfilm

Thursday, July 1st, 2004

I guess we can excuse a little enthusiasm on the part of the good people at Fensler Films, who finally have the complete set of de-evolved GI Joe public-service announcements available online for your viewing pleasure: LAST ONES!! PSA19!! PSA23!! PSA25!!