Archive for September, 2004

Fun with Flash

Sunday, September 5th, 2004

Valued-reader Sven writes:

Hey John-

I found this well made flash video that I’m not sure what to make of. I suppose it’s easily filed in the “looney conspiracy theory” category, but I was wondering what you thought of this:

My take is this: Cecil Adams said the following in his response to a question about Area 51:

For years the military didn’t acknowledge the existence of the Groom Lake facility, and even now it speaks only vaguely of “testing … technologies and systems” there. This of course made Area 51 the perfect place for UFO buffs to store hypothetical alien spacecraft.

I think there’s something similar at work here. The fact that this happened at the Pentagon meant that there was more than the usual degree of government secrecy about what took place. Given the resulting large areas of terra incognita on our perceptual map, it was inevitable that people would fill those areas with monsters.

Yeah, I think it’s completely possible that the reality of Flight 77 is completely different from the government storyline. Similarly, I think it’s completely possible that a US fighter plane shot down Flight 93, even as the heroic passengers aboard it were struggling with the terrorists. Possible, but not likely.

But the world is filled with unlikely things that nevertheless turn out to be true. Is this story one of them? I really don’t know, and don’t expect I ever will. But I applaud the impulse that leads people to question the conventional wisdom. Even when it makes them sound like raving nutjobs.

Completely coincidentally (or is it a coincidence???), valued commenter Tom Buckner just contributed a link to yet another wacky piece of Flash: The terrible secret of space. Apparently it’s been around forever, but I never saw it before.

At first I thought it was merely kind of odd, if fun, but about halfway through I suddenly got what was going on, at which point I became much more impressed.

Thinking About the Unthinkable

Sunday, September 5th, 2004

Time and Newsweek have come out with polls that show Bush, who has been trailing Kerry in most polls since the Democratic convention, suddenly has a 10-point lead.

Now, maybe that’s just post-convention bounce. The campaign is really just getting started. Kerry had that rough window between the conventions when he couldn’t match Bush’s ad spending. And so on.

But maybe it’s real. Maybe this is the middle portion of the electorate, having watched both candidates at their conventions, deciding that, when you get right down to it, they like Bush better.

Publius of the Legal Fiction weblog offers his take: Quick thoughts on the convention.

While I think that Democrats are (as usual) hitting the panic button a little too quickly, there’s no denying that Bush is in a very strong position to win in the fall. You know, I could go through and analyze the speech and talk about the lack of specifics, the cheap sentimentality, and all that. But none of it really matters. It all comes down to a pretty simple truth – Bush is more likeable than Kerry, in terms of perceived personalities. Yes, one’s personality has exactly zero relevance to policy and the challenges we face, but it’s what many people base their vote on in the TV age.

Bush’s speech was thus effective in that sense. The vagueness and amnesia are irrelevant. Bush gave a speech that made people like him, and projected a personality that people associate with “strong leader” – even though the projection, again, has almost zero relation to the real world. He spoke of his family, his children, and praised the military. He peppered his speech with folksy sayings and warm smiles. He played to people’s emotions. From a strictly politial perspective, it was good stuff. And by good, I mean that it appealed to people’s juvenile, irrational bases for voting for one candidate over another.

Let’s face it – Kerry simply is not a great candidate for the TV age. He would be one million times better as a president in terms of domestic and foreign policy, but he’s not considered “warm.” Yes, that’s absurd and insane, but unfortunately, it’s reality. And I simply have no idea how Kerry’s advisors can get around it. People like Bush. People liked Reagan and Clinton – and they won. People didn’t like Daddy Bush and Gore – and they lost. I suppose I’m simplifying things, but I don’t think modern politics is much more than getting people to like you personally. That’s what the culture wars and the Swift Boat Vets ads were all about – making you dislike someone – or some party – on a personal level.

For some time now I’ve been fairly confident that the electorate, faced with Bush’s record of serial failure in every area, but especially in Iraq, would decide to switch horses. But for the last day or so that faith has been shaken.

It really is quite early in the contest to be losing hope. But two months from now I’ll be living in an America that has delivered its judgement. What story will I be telling myself about that judgement? Will it be:

  • You can fool some of the people some of the time, but even in the age of televsion, there’s a point beyond which you can’t successfully bullshit your way to victory. The American electorate, given time and facts, has the common sense to know when it’s being lied to.

Or will it be:

  • The Democrats screwed up when they torpedoed the “too hot for TV” Howard Dean in favor of the “safe, electable” John Kerry. Connecting with voters on a personal level is what matters in the age of TV. Dean was able to do that, because his commonsense delivery of the facts about Bush came across as being heartfelt and true. On TV, Kerry feels like a cautious, calculating politician. And it turns out that that’s just not good enough.

If that latter lesson is the one I end up learning, I’m not sure where it will take me. I really don’t want to think about Four More Years. I don’t want to think what it means about the future of my country that someone so destructive of democratic principles could game the country into electing him — even after he’d amply demonstrated his incompetence. I don’t want to think about how much worse things could actually get, or what shreds of compensation there might be in a second Bush term (better material for the Daily Show! Yeah!).

I don’t want to think those things. But that’s what I’m thinking.

Burke on Wishes, McCain

Friday, September 3rd, 2004

Don’t think I haven’t noticed my increasing level of anti-Bush stridency; I have. I apologize for that. Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election, life (of some sort) will go on, and I should do a better job of remembering that.

Also, I got into it a bit in the comments this morning with principled conservative and valued co-author Craig; I feel icky about that. Apologies there, too.

Anyway, in spite of all this ickiness at my hyper-partisanship, I really want to link unto this pair of great pieces by Timothy Burke of Easily Distracted. I guess he’s a Bush-hater, too, but he seems to have a little more perspective than I currently can muster, so maybe his ranting will provide some degree of relief from the one-note stuff I’ve been dishing out.

First: Fishbones in my throat, in which the author visualizes the world as he would have it, rather than as it is. Second: Dear John, in which he tells an old flame that, sadly, it’s time to break it off.

Lithwick on the Bryant Trial’s Aftermath

Friday, September 3rd, 2004

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate offers an insightful analysis of the outcome of the Kobe Bryant rape trial: Hall of blame.

Here’s just a little teaser:

Was it all District Judge Terry Ruckriegle’s fault, then, for allowing his staff to leak — on four separate occasions — humiliating details as well as the name of an accuser who had already endured a year of abuse and death threats? No. His was a tiny little courthouse, staffed by honest guppies and bunnies, overmatched by the wolves of cable television.

If I ever have the bad fortune to be put on trial, may it please be in a courtroom staffed by honest guppies and bunnies.

The Daily Show on Bush’s Words

Friday, September 3rd, 2004

Via reader Eric in the comments on a previous item (no, not that Eric) comes word of this really fun Daily Show clip that I didn’t catch when it aired: George W. Bush: Words speak louder than actions.

Eighteen Months In

Friday, September 3rd, 2004

I’ve updated my Iraq-Vietnam comparison graphs with the number of US dead for August. The number was up from the previous month, with 66 US fatalities.

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 18 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. 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.

My conclusion, 18 months in: Bush has no exit strategy. These deaths will continue in approximately their current numbers until the US electorate musters the political will to call for a change of course. I’m hoping that’s in 60 days, but we’ll see. In the meantime, when you listen to those chants of “four more years,” don’t kid yourself. You’re talking about four more years of this. These soldiers are not dying to keep America safe from terrorism. They’re dying so Bush doesn’t have to admit he made a mistake.

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.

AP, WaPo Actually Do Some Journalism

Friday, September 3rd, 2004

A pair of mainstream articles are getting favorable mention from the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy for actually calling “bullshit” on Bush and the other speakers at the Republican Convention. From the AP: Bush leaves out complex facts in speech. And from the Washington Post (page A01, no less): GOP prism distorts some Kerry positions.

If you’re a hard-core Bush fan it’s easy for you to dismiss such stuff, since A) Rush and O’Reilly are constantly reinforcing your belief that the mainstream media is the domain of frothing-at-the-mouth liberals, and B) you don’t read newspapers anyway. But for the grown-ups in the audience, I think this is worth pointing out, and praising: Some in the media are still willing to do their job, providing context and calling the powerful on it when they try to peddle the rankest sort of swill as truth.

More: Who’s Your Daddy (A: Not Bush)

Thursday, September 2nd, 2004

Thomas More makes a very good point on his Utopia weblog: The President is not your Daddy.

Saletan on the New Patriotism

Thursday, September 2nd, 2004

Everything William Saletan says in this piece is profoundly, maddeningly true: Imperial president – Opposing Bush becomes unpatriotic.