Archive for January, 2007

Senator Pat Roberts: Tool

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Showing what a real newspaper reporter is capable of doing, Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy papers has an interesting update from Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the newly ascended chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee: Rockefeller: Cheney applied ‘constant’ pressure to stall investigation on flawed Iraq intelligence.

According to Rockefeller, Dick Cheney regularly pressured former committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) to go slow on the investigation into pre-Iraq-war intelligence failures.

“It was just constant,” Rockefeller said of Cheney’s alleged interference. He added that he knew that the vice president attended regular policy meetings in which he conveyed White House directions to Republican staffers.

Republicans “just had to go along with the administration,” he said.

It’s not a surprise. But it’s good to get it on the record.

Carey: On Magical Thinking

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Interesting article from the New York Times’ Benedict Carey: Magical Thinking: Why Do People Cling to Odd Rituals?

Children exhibit a form of magical thinking by about 18 months, when they begin to create imaginary worlds while playing. By age 3, most know the difference between fantasy and reality, though they usually still believe (with adult encouragement) in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. By age 8, and sometimes earlier, they have mostly pruned away these beliefs, and the line between magic and reality is about as clear to them as it is for adults.

Unless they’re the current US president, in which case they continue to make speeches manifesting their magical beliefs all the way to the age of 60…

The Sideshow: Why Did Anyone Support the Invasion of Iraq?

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

This posting from The Sideshow sums up exactly what my mental state was back in early 2003, as the Iraq War was lumbering into motion despite all the emerging evidence that the justification for it was nonexistent: Why did anyone support the invasion of Iraq?

As long as we’re on the subject, why did Hillary support the invasion, and more to the point, what makes her think I’ll be excited about supporting her candidacy for the presidency in light of that support?

Thanks to Jonathon Schwarz, the conscience of the blogosphere, for both links.

I’ve Seen the Future… And It Consists of Very Long, Unbroken Camera Shots

Monday, January 15th, 2007

So, I went with Linda to see Children of Men yesterday. If I could go back in time and tell myself what I was about to experience, I’m not sure I’d want to, since I think my lack of foreknowledge probably added to the movie’s impact. But I’ll say this: The movie is absolutely riveting. That’s a cliché, I know, but in this case it’s apt. There was an almost physical sense of being bolted into my seat for what was (and yeah, I know it’s another cliché) a ride. And not a fun, squeals-of-joy thrill park ride, but an intense, forward-rushing journey into and through and out the other side of a dark, violent, intense place that you simply have to experience to understand.

I don’t want to get hung up on technique, because that doesn’t really do the movie justice. It’s more than the sum of its parts. But having been through the transformation I feel compelled to talk about it, and what do you talk about? You talk about the nuts and bolts, the trappings and artifice, because you hope it will connect with the person you’re talking to and get them to go on the ride themselves, and then they’ll know why you’re so excitetd.

I’ve always been a sucker for the long, unbroken shot. I get giddy watching the several-minutes-long set pieces in the recent Pride and Prejudice, for example. But in Children of Men there are so many long, unbroken shots that I lost track. Indeed, I was so caught up in the story unfolding that I don’t think I even noticed most of them. It’s only now, as I watch the clips from the movie and read interviews with Clive Owen and Director Alfonso Cuarón that I realize that many of the movie’s most-intense moments, images that are seared into my brain (again with the apt clichés), were actually delivered in unbroken, hand-held sequences that last as long as 12 minutes. Twelve minutes.

I don’t want to go all film-school geeky about this. Again, it’s not so much the technique. Children of Men isn’t merely realistic; it’s real. And it’s what Cuarón has chosen to do with that reality that has left me so stunned.

I don’t think I’m really conveying what I want to convey about the movie. I keep thinking of different things I could say about it. I could say that it has replaced Blade Runner atop my personal list of amazing, immersive visions of the near-future, and not just replaced it, but obliterated it, but that comparison (while an obvious one to make, which is why many people are making it) isn’t really fair to either movie. Children of Men isn’t competing with Blade Runner, and shouldn’t have to. But for what it’s worth, if you’re making me choose, I have to choose Children of Men.

And none of this, again, really gets at the heart of what this movie does. I’m forced to turn to someone else’s words. From Miss(ed) Manners’ What I did over Christmas vacation:

You’re terrified, but you feel for the characters, even though they are only sugar.

That’s my reaction to Children of Men. I can’t wait to see this movie again, to immerse myself in the world it creates, not because the world it creates is a particularly nice place to visit (very much the opposite), but to experience again the black magic that lets a person go somewhere like that without actually going anywhere.

See this movie.

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words. Even If It Only Has Two.

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

Via Larry Downing of Reuters, via First Draft:

Brooks on Bush’s Iraq Exit Strategy

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Earlier today I talked about Bush’s Iraq troop increase as a manifestation of his vanity. But in her column in today’s L.A. Times, Rosa Brooks points out the following interesting parallel with Vietnam (How Republicans win if we lose in Iraq):

By 1971, Nixon and Kissinger understood that “winning” in Vietnam was no longer in the cards — so they shifted from trying to win the war to trying to win the next election. As Nixon put it in March 1971: “We can’t have [the South Vietnamese] knocked over brutally … ” Kissinger finished the thought ” … before the election.” So Nixon and Kissinger pushed the South Vietnamese to “stand on their own,” promising we’d support them if necessary. But at the same time, Kissinger assured the North Vietnamese — through China — that the U.S. wouldn’t intervene to prevent a North Vietnamese victory — as long as that victory didn’t come with embarrassing speed.

As historian Jeffrey Kimball has documented, Kissinger’s talking points for his first meeting with Chinese Premier Chou En-lai on the topic of Vietnam included a promise that the U.S. would withdraw all troops and “leave the political evolution of Vietnam to the Vietnamese.” The U.S. would “let objective realities” — North Vietnamese military superiority — “shape the political future.” In the margins of his briefing book, Kissinger scrawled a handwritten elaboration for Chou: “We want a decent interval. You have our assurance.”

It’s the same in Iraq, writes Brooks.

Bush’s “surge” is the “decent interval” redux. It’s too little, too late, and it relies on the Iraqis to do what we know full well they can’t do. There is no realistic likelihood that it will lead to an enduring solution in Iraq. But it may well provide the decent interval the GOP needs if it is to survive beyond the 2008 elections.

The surge makes Bush look, as Goldberg suggests, like he really wants to win, even as he refuses to take the necessary and honest steps to mitigate the terrible damage we’ve already done. The surge buys time — and meanwhile, the Democratic Party is placed in the same untenable position it was in during the last stages of the Vietnam War.

Mission Creep

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Sorry for the long absence.

Last night I listened to Bush explain how “we” believe sending more troops is the solution for Iraq. Funny how the Decider-in-Chief backs away from “I” and “me” as the consequences of his decisions become harder to deny.

I’m not going to go point-by-point through the idiocy. I don’t think it’s necessary. No one is fooled any more. But I did want to mention a few of the things I’ve been thinking about lately.

One is the quote that Jonathon Schwarz pointed out a few weeks ago:

Q What can you say tonight, sir, to the sons and the daughters of the Americans who served in Vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: That’s a great question. Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament… it’s very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won’t change. Our mission is precisely what I just stated.

That was Bush back on March 6, 2003, a few days before the invasion.

The latest escalation is simply, as Josh Marshall has been pointing out, a way for Bush to “kick the can” down the road. He’s spending lives and dollars for his own vanity. It’s a way for him to avoid embarrassment, to continue pretending his emperor’s clothes look good after everyone realizes he’s naked.

The boy in the crowd who was brave enough to be the first to speak out is John Murtha. Every time that guy opens his mouth these days it’s shocking how much honesty comes out. He reminds me of Howard Beal in Network after his breakdown.

My new page-a-day Onion desk calendar (thanks, Mary!) had this item the other day:

It’s not really a funny subject, I realize, but sometimes you just have to laugh.

But the reality is pretty grim. We will be paying a collective price for this for many, many years. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Chris Whitley, especially his War Crime Blues, and as I listen to songs like Invisible Day, which he recorded under the Albert Bridge in Dresden, I listen to the sound of the swallows, and the water flowing past, and I wonder what he was feeling that day. It was the spring before his last healthy summer, his forty-fourth summer, and he sang with an earnestness that leaves me aching for all that we’ve lost these last few years.

Invisible Day (mp3 file)

Where do we go from here?
Where do we go from here?
All my defenses dissolve in the air
Where do we go from here?

Michael come take this blade
Michael come take this blade
Steel for the plow to bury the dead
Saint Michael take this blade

The children witness
And the ghosts can see
The still invisible day
Of victory

How will the harvest ride?
How do the fallen rise?
Up in the air, behind your eyes
Oh, how the harvest will rise

The children witness
And in ghosts can see
The still invisible day
Of victory

Roll away the stone
Rollin’ away the stone
Rise to shine
From the buildings of bone

Children witness
What the ghosts can see
The still invisible day
Of victory

Some kind of light in the sky
Some kind of light in the sky
Some kind of guidance
To get us by

— Chris Whitley, 1960 – 2005

(Flickr photo by mamamusings)

US Deaths in Iraq for November and December, 2006

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Here are the updated graphs for November and December of last year. (My apologies for being late with these during my extended blogging hiatus.) There were 69 US deaths in Iraq in November, and 115 in December.

As always, I’m comparing the US military casualties in Iraq to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below). The data come 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 47 months of the comparison. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

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

Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There were more troops in Iraq in the early going than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeds the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as having resulted from the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be better. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.