Archive for October, 2004 Readers on the 2004 Election’s Aftermath

Saturday, October 30th, 2004

I can’t seem to turn on the TV without hearing “This is the most important election of our lives” and “If you think you’ll know who the next president is on the morning of November 3rd, you’ll be in for a suprise.” I’m inclined to agree, but it begs the question: what’s the big issue everyone will be fixated on starting Tuesday night? Lots of things will probably go wrong, but we’re a nation with a short attention span, so what’s the One Big Thing that will grab the attention of everyone and their lawyers?

  • Computer Voting Fraud ?
  • Computer Crashes with no paper backup ?
  • Colorado’s EC Vote Proposition ?
  • Voters turned away from crowded polls ?
  • Counting of provisional ballots ?
  • Counting of absentee ballots ?
  • Counting of ballots from soldiers over seas ?
  • Osama being captured on Monday ?
  • Hanging Chads ?
  • Alien Invasion ?

…sound off folks, nows your chance to prove you can predict the future.

Philosoraptor on the 2000 Election’s Aftermath

Friday, October 29th, 2004

I really like Winston Smith’s postings at Philosoraptor, but at first I skipped reading his latest, both because it was long and because it was about the post-election infighting in 2000, a subject that I didn’t really want to be thinking about right now, and figured I’d already thought about enough. But then I broke down and read it, and I’m glad I did. I encourage you to overcome your reflexive revulsion at the subject and do so, too: The case against Bush, part 2 –The Florida recount and what it revealed.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

The Democrats’ main argument was, in short: every vote should be counted. The Republicans’ main argument was, in short: give us the f*cking Presidency. Now.

Marshall on al Qaqaa: Game Over

Friday, October 29th, 2004

Joshua Marshall has the latest on the question of just when those munitions went missing from al Qaqaa. The evidence is in, and it points conclusively to one explanation: They were looted after our troops took over. Game. Set. Match.

Scientist: Bush’s Bulge Not a Fabric Wrinkle

Friday, October 29th, 2004

Salon persists in chewing on the story of what Bush had under his jacket in the first presidential debate. In today’s installment, they interview a JPL scientist who does image analysis for a living, and who took footage from the debate and analyzed it using the same techniques he would use on some murky photos of Titan. His conclusion: There’s definitely something under Bush’s jacket. And it’s not fabric wrinkles. NASA photo analyst: Bush wore a device during debate.

Winston Smith of Philosraptor muses on what it all means: Bush’s wire, or: Does this tinfoil make me look fat?

Folks like Craig, presumably, will laugh this off. But I think they’re wrong to do so. The fact that an explanation strikes one as ludicrous on its face is not, in and of itself, a particularly powerful argument. If there’s one thing that the history of human knowledge teaches, it’s that apparent absurdity does not make something untrue.

Let’s look at some of the absurd things people have had a good chuckle over in the past: The earth is spherical in shape. It orbits the sun. Human beings are descended from ape-like ancestors. Heavier-than-air flying machines can form the basis of a viable transportion system. Human beings can journey to the moon and back. Adolf Hitler is a threat to world peace. Arab terrorists might fly hijacked airliners into buildings. The sanctions and weapons inspection program has succeeded in degrading Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of WMD.

Laughter is not a particularly effective means of discerning truth. Just the opposite, in fact: It often serves as a last-ditch defense against information that challenges one’s preconceptions. It’s not an argument. It’s a de facto declaration that no argument is necessary; that the very idea of whatever is under consideration is inherently ludicrous. It’s an abdication of reason.

Which is fine. Everyone needs a little chuckle now and then. That’s why I watch and enjoy The Daily Show, for example. But I don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because something makes for a good laugh when Jon Stewart mocks it on the show means that the thing he’s mocking actually deserves to be mocked. You need to do some actual analysis of the underlying data if you want to make that judgement with confidence.

So with Bush’s bulge. Laugh all you want. But there’s something under there. And it’s not fabric wrinkles. Nor does it look much like a bullet-proof vest, as some Bush defenders have apparently taken refuge in believing. He and his people have systematically dogded the question of what it is, offering only jokes (“It’s a radio for receiving instructions from his alien overlords! Ha, ha, ha!”) and obvious lies (“It’s a poorly tailored shirt”).

So what is it? Laughing at it doesn’t make it go away, as much as your subconscious might wish that it did. At this point, I think the idea that it was a clandestine receiver to prompt him with answers really is the most-rational explanation. And I’d say the burden is on those who disagree to either offer an explanation that better explains the available data, or to admit that they’re not being rational.

2004’s Scariest Halloween Costumes

Friday, October 29th, 2004

Dan Savage and David Schmader have put together a nice little bit that’s both timely, and accurate: 2004’s Scariest Halloween Costumes. My personal favorite is “Lyndie England” (thanks for the link T).

Toward Government by Grown-Ups

Thursday, October 28th, 2004

My daughter is having a problem with her math class right now. What precise problem she’s having is difficult to say, at least for her. As her parent, though, I’m pretty sure I know what the problem is: She’s refusing to take responsibility for her own actions.

I’ve become pretty familiar with the symptoms. The first sign is her coming to me for help with her homework. Which is fine. But as I’m going over the assignment with her, it quickly becomes clear that she’s not really focusing on it. She’s mopey and whiny, and quickly shifts from talking about the actual assignment to complaining that she doesn’t know how to do any of this and the teacher isn’t making sense when he talks about it in class and the other kids in the class are all smarter than she is and she’s never going to be able to understand any of it.

None of which are true.

These symptoms are my clue that she doesn’t really need help with her math. (Well, she probably does, but it won’t do any good to try to help her with it until the larger problem has been addressed.) The larger problem is that she’s not really trying to deal with her assignment. She’s looking for an excuse that lets her avoid responsibility for it.

Once I figure that out, it’s usually a pretty quick process to help her get back on track. She probably needs a break, or a snack, or just to go to bed and come back to sit down with me and look at the assignment in the morning, when she’s rested and able to focus.

I’m not trying to belittle her here. I think what she’s doing is perfectly normal behavior for a 13-year-old. (It certainly was for me at that age. And, truth be told, well beyond. Up to and including, erm, well, mumble mumble mumble…)

But the point of my bringing this up isn’t to embarrass my daughter. It’s to point out the remarkable similarity between her adolescent avoidance-of-responsibility behavior and that of the Bush people in reacting to the story of the missing 380 tons of explosives at the al Qaqaa munitions dump.

Josh Marshall has been all over this story from the outset, so go read some of his recent items if you want details (the most recent item as of now is this one: Okay, now we seem to have the White House’s third rendition of what happened…). Since the story broke last weekend, the Bush folks have asserted all of the following:

  • We didn’t know anything about this until 10 days ago. If munitions are missing from the dump, it’s the fault of the interim Iraqi government, since they control that facillity now, not us. Talk to them about it. Oh, and we haven’t made the information public because it’s standard policy to avoid letting the insurgents know that this stuff might be missing.
  • Okay; the Iraqis say that the munitions weren’t there when they took over the facility, and that they brought the issue up with us months ago. But this is really just a politically motivated attack by the liberal New York Times and the Kerry campaign. The munitions aren’t a big deal; it’s just a few insignificant explosives that may or may not actually have disappeared, when the truth is that we successfully destroyed more than 243,000 munitions, and have secured another 163,000 (or maybe another 363,000). Why aren’t our political opponents talking about that?
  • Okay; the missing munitions actually are significant in terms of their dangerousness and the quantities involved, but they were already gone when our troops first got there in early April of 2003. They must have been moved out by Saddam’s troops, or taken by someone else, in the final few days before the war, or during the early phase of the war itself.

The more evidence that comes to light, though, the more clear it becomes that the munitions actually were there when the US troops first arrived, but that those troops didn’t bother securing them, because that wasn’t the mission they’d been given. And the arrival and swift departure of those US forces was what opened the door to widespread looting that continued unchecked for days, or possibly even weeks.

See this item from the New York Times today, in which they interview some of those who carried out the looting: 4 Iraqis tell of looting at munitions site in ’03. Also, see this story, about a local TV news crew from Minneapolis/St. Paul that was embedded with US forces, and videotaped large quantities of munitions at the facility on April 18, 2003 (more than a week after the explosives were already gone, in the Bush people’s latest version): 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS video may be linked to missing explosives in Iraq.

Meanwhile, after two days of silence on the issue earlier in the week, Bush himself has started hitting back on the campaign trail. According to Bush, the whole story just illustrates how John Kerry is willing to make wild charges unsupported by the facts. It’s an example of a craven political attack that denigrates the competence and patriotism of our troops in the field. “A political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander in chief,” the irony-challenged Bush actually said at one rally.

This is all so familiar to me. It’s exactly how my daughter acts when she’s trying to avoid responsibility for her math homework. Instead of actually addressing the real problem (she wasn’t paying attention when this material was covered in class, so now she doesn’t know how to do the problems), she spins off into a big confusing mass of self-contradictory excuses, which all have as their unifying theme the notion that whatever the problem is, it’s somebody else’s fault.

When my daughter does it, I just assume it’s normal adolescent blame-avoidance. She’s not pursuing this as a conscious strategy (at least I don’t think she is); it’s just the most emotionally appealing of the various coping strategies she sees available to her. In the case of the Bush team, I give them credit for doing at least a little more actual analysis of the political implications of various responses they might make. But the end result is the same.

The facts pretty clearly indicate that this was a direct result of the lame planning for the war’s aftermath that Kerry has been hammering them about for months now. Since the facts don’t help them, they obscure the facts. They amp up the rhetoric, make a bunch of wild charges about Kerry, and try to minimize the impact on the electorate by getting as much of the media as possible to cover it as a your-word-against-mine political argument.

Notice how this is exactly the same approach Bush’s handlers took when Richard Clarke’s book came out, and he testified before the 9/11 commission about how the Bush national security team had been asleep at the switch in the months leading up to 9/11. They couldn’t challenge his argument on the facts, so they raised a fog by ratcheting up the personal attacks on Clarke himself, and (at least somewhat successfully) getting the media to cover it as a garden-variety political dispute.

This really gets to the heart of the Jon Stewart case against the news media, by the way. It’s their susceptibility to covering stories in this way, and the ease with which either side can game them into doing so, even when the facts clearly show that one side is bullshitting, that leads me to think our democracy could very well be doomed.

Anyway, it’s just incrediby obvious to me when my daughter’s trying to avoid responsibility in this way. And I think it’s equally obvious when the Bush people do it. We seriously need to hold these people accountable, and get the grown-ups back in charge of our government. And the news media need to stop being their monkey.

kid oakland on Mosh

Thursday, October 28th, 2004

So, Eminem’s Mosh video is #1 at MTV. As it should be.

Meanwhile, Daily Kos diarist kid oakland offers a detailed deconstruction: The politics of Mosh.

Publius Gets Excited About a Kerry Victory

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

He doesn’t want to jinx it, and I don’t either. But Publius at Law and Politics senses something in the air: Kerry’s going to win.

Six more days.

The New Yorker’s Editors Make the Case

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

Sometimes I indulge in snark. Sometimes I go too far in an emotional moment. But sometimes — when I’m at my most reasoned and rational — I actually try to speak the truth as best I can discern it, divorced from my preconceptions.

At my best, I fall short of the standard achieved here, by the editors of The New Yorker, in their endorsement of John Kerry: The choice.

This essay contains truth in roughly the same density that a neutron star contains matter. The cases against Bush, and for Kerry, are laid out clearly, concisely, and with a shockingly nonpartisan honesty.

I still have my uncertainties about what will happen next Tuesday (or, God forbid, thereafter) to determine the next president of this country. But on one point, at least, I can put my fears to rest: I know that the case has been made, irrefutably, for anyone with eyes to see.

Schaller Believes Bush

Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

I really like this piece from Thomas Schaller, executive editor of the gadflyer: Believe.

Eminem Mosh Video

Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

Norm at onegoodmove points to both RealPlayer and Quicktime versions of Eminem’s new Mosh video. Even better with pictures! Eminem.

Fisher Does Bush

Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

Promoted from the comments, check out Michael Fisher’s catchy little George Bush remix: Prison system (mp3 file).

Welcome to the Future of Marketing

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

Viral marketing is something I’ve heard of before, usually in the context of neat little sponsored online games, or more recently in the form of things like I Love Bees, an alternate-reality game made as a promotion to the forthcoming Xbox game, Halo2 (which I know jbc will be waiting in line for). The idea is to make something that people naturally forward around to each other, usually with email subject lines like “this is 2 kewl!!!”.

But this little gem really brought it home for me. The inimitable, unending source of subversive online humor, recently posted as their “awful link of the day”, an honor reserved for the worst of teen fan pages, goth poetry blogs, and shameless fetishist webrings. And it falls right into that mold: a guy obsessed with flattening shit. But check the registration information for the domain name and you’ll find it belongs to Digital Oxygen Inc. which specializes in various forms of online marketing including creation and seeding of viral marketing campaigns. This probably explains why Hank makes it a point to mention in a few places on his page how cool (and flat!) his new Motorola RAZR cellphone is.

Score one for Motorola — somethingawful just got played. To quote now-dead web comic Leisuretown:

“All that cutesy-clever uNdERgrOuNd-type bullshit you’re into? Fun stuff that nobody knows about? Stuff that’s ‘sacred’ to you? We stuck it there.”

(Apparently this kind of thing is actually called stealth marketing, which is kinda more disturbing even.)

Lizza on Bush’s Campaign Strategy

Saturday, October 23rd, 2004

From Ryan Lizza in The New Republic: Backward. My favorite part:

The Bushies have become so frustrated by the fact-checking of the president’s statements that a spokesman told The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, “The Bush campaign should be able to make an argument without having it reflexively dismissed as distorted or inaccurate by the biggest papers in the country.”

Hey. I actually agree with a Bush campaign spokesperson. They should be able to make an argument without having it reflexively dismissed as being dishonest. They really should.

Plane Crash to Music

Saturday, October 23rd, 2004

Coudal Partners, via Boing Boing (again! again with the Boing Boing!) offers this cool Ethan Mitchell version of the NASA plane crash film set to electronica: Crash ballet.

Triumph Does Spin Alley

Saturday, October 23rd, 2004

Courtesy of Norm at One Good Move, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog does his shtick after the presidential debate: Spin alley.

Boing Boing on Eminem on Bush

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

Boing Boing: Eminem’s anti-Bush anthem leaked online.

Waldman: Watch Bush Go to Iraq

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

From Paul Waldman: Get yer October surprise here. Bush is at the ranch with “nothing” scheduled for two days.

Sharlet on Bush’s Magical Thinking

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

A really nice response to the Suskind piece on Bush’s faith is this item by Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer: Our magical president.

Bush feels. The press, so far, does not. In grappling with Bush’s presidency, it has expanded its range, developed a more nuanced understanding of traditional Christian fundamentalism, recognized liberal evangelicalism, and acknowledged the limitations of Enlightenment thinking. But it still can’t account for the kind of magic that says, If you believe you can do something — become president despite losing the popular vote, launch a war without evidence, and maybe, if you REALLY believe, get re-elected anyway — you can.

Cheevy: Sigourney Weaver for Queen of America

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

Janus/Onan was right: I did indeed like the following from Miniver Cheevy: Queen.