Sunday, December 31, 2006

Why do Britons Get Drunk?

[posted by Callimachus]

Apparently, because they like to.

The difference is, in the U.S., this announcement would be the result of a $4.7 million study at MIT commissioned by some branch of the federal government. In Britain, it's the observation of a Cabinet minister named Hazel Blears.

But can any of my British or Anglophile readers tell me what "Britons" means in modern UK usage? I assumed it was adopted as shorthand for "citizens of Great Britain" and drained of ethnic content (it does have a historical meaning, but this isn't it), but here it seems to mean "Anglo-Saxons" and exclude the Scots and the Welsh. Help!

Common Sense

[posted by Callimachus]

This strikes me as a fair-minded, if necessarily simplistic, reading of the current state of the world. On the Middle East, for instance:

Muslims saw the creation of the state of Israel in the midst of Arab land as the ultimate proof of their decline. For Jews, the legitimacy of Israel was manifold; it combined the accomplishment of a religious promise, the realization of a national destiny, and compensation by the international community for a unique crime, the Holocaust. For Arabs, by contrast, it was the anachronistic imposition of a Western colonial logic at the very moment decolonization was getting under way.

The unresolved conflict between Israel and its neighbors has helped turn the culture of humiliation into a culture of hatred. Over time, the conflict's national character has shifted to its original religious basis — a conflict between Muslims and Jews, if not a clash between Islam and the West at large.

What's odd is that such straightforward rhetoric is so rarely seen. It comes courtesy of Dominique Moïsi, who has a long association with the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, and also able to write intelligently about the Franco-American grudgefest.


[posted by Callimachus]

Some of the best ones are the ones a reader will never see. Like this week, we ran a story on a group of local city kids taking a trip out to the country to visit a dairy farm. I wanted to head it "How the Udder Half Lives."

Not Half the Fun

[posted by Callimachus]

Kaliningrad: This airport has a sort of holding pen in which passengers are kept before being released onto the tarmac. Surveying the assembled crew, with their standard-issue gangster coats and tattoos, it becomes obvious why Kaliningrad has a reputation as a smugglers' haven.

It used to be Königsberg, city of Kant and celebrated Prussian architecture. By the time the Nazis, British bombers and the Red Army had finished with it, little of pre-war Königsberg was left. Then Stalin took a shine to it, deported the remaining Germans and incorporated the region into the Soviet Union. It is now an island of Russia in a sea of European Union—an anomaly that is profitable for a certain class of businessmen. As well as contraband, the exclave boasts most of the world's amber and Russia's ageing Baltic fleet.

The Kremlin worries that the Poles or the Germans might try to take Kaliningrad back; but, in truth, no one else really wants it. As the aromas of vodka and Dagestani cognac waft around the airport holding pen, the consolation for the nervous traveller is that if one group of dodgy passengers starts something nasty on the flight, another one will probably finish it.

From a delightfully written gazetteer of Russian airports in the Economist.


[posted by Callimachus]

I live in a place where one-room schoolhouses, farmers' markets, harness shops, and water-driven flour mills are not historical artifacts but living institutions. People who visit here to see this and spend a weekend come away with the impression that there are two communities, separate and unintegrated, living in different time frames. But this is a false idea. A grist mill from the 1850s burned down a few weeks ago. It ground grain for Amish farmers, but when it burned the giant sausage/hot dog plant on the west end of the city had to shift its operations because it, too, was a customer.

At the farmers' market where we do our food shopping every week, my wife, during her pregnancy, struck up an acquaintance with the young Amish girl who works at the stand where we buy our apples in season. The girl's sister was pregnant, too. When my wife went in there the other day for the first time with our newborn, she asked the Amish girl how her sister was doing. Turns out she had delivered, too.

Then the Amish girl says, "Want to see a picture?" and whips out her cell phone.

Friday, December 29, 2006


[posted by Callimachus]

Back in 2005, at Fort Bragg, George W. Bush gave what was billed as a major speech on Iraq. He didn't say "Saddam was responsible for 9/11," but he might as well have, to judge from the reaction he got.

Bush suggested the Iraq insurgents shared a common "totalitarian ideology" with al-Qaida, and if the U.S. didn't defeat them in Iraq they would turn that country into a rich base for further attacks on the U.S. That narrative leaves a lot out of the story -- things Bush didn't want to talk about and his domestic political enemies did. But it seemed to me harmless and unobjectionable on the face of it.

Not to the legacy media, however. The New York Times railed against any mention of "9/11" and "Iraq War" in the same speech (in an editorial lost behind the subscription wall). In the Boston Globe, Bush was guilty of "playing the 9/11 card." At Salon, by using the two terms "Iraq" and "9/11" in the same sentence, Bush was seeking a "Pavlovian response" from his audience. The Rocky Mountain News slammed any conflation of the two experiences.

Democratic politicians accused him of "exploiting the sacred ground," and the "progressive" bloggers shrieked like weasels.

In a tragic but arbitrary coincidence, the number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq passed 2,976 earlier this week -- coincidentally, the official number of people killed by terrorists in the U.S. on 9/11. You'd think, given this "absolutely-no-connection," "appalled-to-see-them-in-the-same-sentence" rhetoric from '05, that Democratic politicians, legacy media, and "progressive" bloggers would give it no attention.

You'd be wrong.

Now the death toll is 9/11 times two.

U.S. military deaths from Iraq and Afghanistan now surpass those of the most devastating terrorist attack in America’s history, the trigger for what came next.

The latest milestone for a country at war came Friday without commemoration. It came without the precision of knowing who was the 2,974th to die in conflict. The terrorist attacks killed 2,973 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

So, is big media seeking a Pavlovian response? Playing its 9/11 card? Trampling the graves of the honored dead?

Perhaps the Palme d'Or for hypocrisy goes to Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News, who, after Bush's 2005 speech, wrote, "Mentioning 9/11 and Iraq together is like giving a speech on Social Security and abortion ...."

What was his reaction this week? Social Security and abortion, anyone?

Labels: ,

I Am

[Posted by reader_iam]

Against "thought" litmus tests of all stripes generally, and specifically the expression of that mindset in requirements to prove a series of negatives as the magic ticket to gain admission into socio-politico philosophical debate, as such. For good measure, I Am Against propositions for a standard, insisted upon for use generally, that employs personal, and therefore by definition idiosyncratic, measures of sensitivity and callousness as broader benchmarks for integrity.

I Am For better faith than the attitudes to which I am objecting allow. Without better faith than that, what objection can there possibly be to unleashing all sorts of forces based on nothing more than personal offense, which itself diminishes the larger issue of respect for all persons and the individual humanity of each, and the collective human-ness of us all?

Off the Bus

[posted by Callimachus]

The family of '60s icon Ken Kesey want to get his old psychedelic "Merry Pranksters" bus back into running condition, but they can't find anyone willing to work with them on the job, or to play by their rules. They say they need $100,000, and they say they will only accept it if it doesn't make any money for anyone. That's to keep it "pure," you see.

More than 15 years ago, Kesey put the old bus into retirement in a swampy patch of woods on his farm in Pleasant Hill, and bought a newer one, which in typical Prankster style he tried to pass off as the original.

What a jolly bunch. Ho, ho, ho. Purity yes; honesty? Meh.

One of the surviving Pranksters says wistfully, "It would be nice to see it back out on the road again to bring the reality of the '60s into the 21st century."

Oh, gods, please, let's not. Let the hippies and all their futility stay buried in hazy memories. If resurrecting them would accomplish anything, it would make the current anti-war movement look benign and intelligent by comparison. At least Bush's haters haven't succumbed to the revolting stupidity of their '60s forebears and developed a romantic attachment to the enemy (Che/Viet Cong). Bring them back? Why, so we can see Hezbollah flags and Ahmadinejad posters in college dorms?

Given the number of people I know who are sick of the aging hippies and all they continue to stand for -- people who weren't even born in the '60s, and who have done well for themselves in their young lives -- I can tell you the quickest way for the Keseys to raise $100,000 would be to auction off the rights to push down on the T-bar of an old-fashioned detonator box that would blow the sucker up. But I think that would be deemed counter-productive.


Watchers Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

The latest round of Watchers Council winners has been posted.

First place within the council went to Follow Your Surges from right here. I'm grateful for the honor, especially considering some of the strong entries this time, such as The Coming of Neo-Multilateralism at American Future, which is a breathtakingly thorough and yet readable account of an important issue.

Votes also went to IRANIAN Military Seized in Raid on Iraqi Insurgents -- (And the NYT Deplores It) by Joshuapundit, on a much-noted and much-parsed news story, and the excellent The Dark Side of "Traditional Values" at Right Wing Nut House, which takes the Real American position on the controversy over a Congressman being sworn in on the Quran.

Outside the council, the winner was From Khomeini to Ahmadinejad by Matthias Küntzel (the piece has been translated from German), which looks at the current confrontation between America and Iran in the light of 1979.

Second place went to Is Federalism Tainted by Slavery and Jim Crow? by Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy. This post interested me particularly, not just because of my long study of pre-Civil War U.S. history and my fondness for the old federal republic this place used to be. It also tickled me to see one of my own web sites, Slavery in the North, figure into the discussion.

Ilya writes an honest post, and overall makes his points. But I can't quite agree with him that "in 1787, a unitary national rule on slavery would have probably resulted in nationwide slavery ...." If you look at the map, it's true, just about every state in the new union had legal slavery. So you'd naturally conclude a nearly universal institution would receive constitutional sanction if it was put to a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote.

But if you look at American attitudes in 1787, you'd see a high degree of agreement that slavery was dying, and ought to die, and was an unhealthy institution for a young republic as well as being unprofitable. There was more agreement on this issue, North and South, at that point than at any time before or after, until 1865. In fact, the leading proponents of ending slavery came from Virginia.

If it had come down to a vote by states, I am pretty certain every delegation but South Carolina and Georgia would have agreed to setting a firm end date for slavery in America. The Georgians at that point were too weak and too reliant on the federal government for protection from the Indians and the Spanish to go it alone. Only South Carolina might have raised a ruckus and walked out.

Three years later, of course, a Yankee invented the cotton gin and the whole picture changed.

Votes also went to The Sandy Berger Experiment: Bush Official Destroyed 9/11 Documents by Doug Ross, which cleverly imagines the media response if it had been Condi Rice, not a Clinton official, who ended up getting caught stealing and destroying 9/11 documents from the National Archives.

Also getting votes were Emaciated or Emancipated? by The Possum Bistro, which looks at some of the proposals kicking around for what to try next in Iraq, and Nifong's Sinking Ship by Durham-in-Wonderland, which has been the Blogging Johnny on the Spot in the Duke University non-rape case.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Thought It Impossible, But

[posted by Callimachus]

The War of the Words, which in American public discourse has creepingly replaced the Clash of Civilizations, just got stupider. Kevin Drum, again [UPDATE: Actually, one of his guest bloggers]. I should just drop him, but he still manages to give me a grimy window I can peer through into the festering madness of the anti-war left without getting any of it splattered on me.

Here he quotes a certain Spencer Ackerman, pointing out something I noticed too: "Surge" is the Iraq Word of the Week, but people most prone to using it don't have any common conception of what it means.

Frederick Kagan, one of the leading proponents of the idea, seems to be talking about what I'd call a muscular re-commitment. A mulligan, a re-do of the entire project. Which, if we actually do that, is the one form of "surge" I'm inclined to believe has a chance in hell of working.

Ackerman calls this an "escalation," which is how it ought to look from an anti-war view. But then Drum and Ackerman veer off into Silly Land by claiming their definition of "surge" is the real one and effectively pouting that those evil neo-cons are stealing their language.

"This need not be complicated. A 'surge' suggests a brief increase in troops. Jack Keane and Fred Kagan, leading proponents of the idea, explained today that they want a 'surge' that 'is both long and large.' [Drum]

"Well, enough of this. Liberals, journalists, I'm calling on you. We must never talk about a surge unless we're actually talking about a surge -- a temporary infusion of troops. We should resist that as well. But now, if the proponents of escalation have escalation on their agenda, we must bring this out in the open and defeat it. Deal?" [Ackerman]

Let's look at that ol' dictionary, shall we?

1. to rise and fall actively : TOSS [a ship surging in heavy seas]
2 : to rise and move in waves or billows : SWELL [the sea was surging]
3 : to slip around a windlass, capstan, or bitts -- used especially of a rope
4 : to rise suddenly to an excessive or abnormal value [the stock market surgeed to a record high]
5 : to move with a surge or in surges [felt the blood surging into his face -- Harry Hervey] [she surged past the other runners]

Nothing in there about brief, small, or short. Nothing in Kagan's position about rising, but never falling back. Even though the 5th definition seems to allow such a meaning for "surge." When "she surged past the other runners" there's no implication that they then all overtook her again.

There's even a geological "surge" that stretches over millions of years.

I agree we need different words for the idea Kagan has and the one some folks have of a temporary flood of troops in Baghdad, to be quickly pulled back. But I don't agree "surge" automatically ought to belong to proponents of the latter. And to get all catty about a word is, again, what you do when you've willed yourself to stop thinking about reality.

Labels: , ,

Ford's Legacy

[posted by Callimachus]

Apparently a couple of years ago Gerald Ford gave some interviews in which he questioned the White House's rationale for the Iraq war and the domestic surveillance program.

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction. And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

"Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him. But we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does [Bush] get his advice?"

"[Bush's domestic surveillance program] may be a necessary evil. I don't think it's a terrible transgression, but I would never do it. I was dumbfounded when I heard they were doing it."

All of which I essentially agree with. But not the method in which it transpired. Ford gave the interviews on condition they not be published during his life, which in 2004 he certainly knew would not last much longer.

As an ex-president, you will think some things you won't say in public. Because as a member of the world's most exclusive club, you're one of the few men fit to judge the current incumbent, whoever he may be.

Yet even if you aim them only at the incumbent, you know your words will ripple. Ex-presidents have been particularly, and wisely, careful with their words when American men and women are dying in battle. You don't have to sit in the Oval Office to realize the power to send brave and good people to their deaths is a horrible responsibility.

If Ford felt these things were important enough to the whole nation that they ought to be heard even amid the battles, he ought to have said them outright. If he felt they were important to note historically, but that it was not his place, as an ex-president, to say them during an ongoing crisis, he ought to have given the interviews under condition they not be published until after the last American troops had left Iraq.

He seems not to have thought in these terms at all. It's not how I would have done it, but then nobody is going to propose me for president. Or even ex-president.

Ford was an essentially decent man who was perhaps the least powerful president in modern memory. This won't effect my essential opinion of him, which I think is forever encapsuled in this photo:

Of the leader of the Free World comforting the child of a Vietnamese refugee woman. I think he would have done more for the Vietnamese people if he could have, but for once the American president was more decent than the American people. It was a mood with us, and thank the gods it passed.

You Gotta Believe

[posted by Callimachus]

Not necessarily religion. Just belief.

When George W. Bush addresses the nation with his Iraq proposals in early January, a great many people will be disappointed. They will be so because the president is unlikely to change the position he has held all along: that in Iraq victory, or something that looks to the world like victory, is still essential, crucial even.

How could it be otherwise? George W. Bush is not, strictly speaking, a politician; he came, after all, to politics late. He is instead a believer. It may well be in his nature to believe, as witness his midlife conversion to earnest Christianity. But there can be very little doubt that, on the morning of September 11, 2001, he also acquired political religion. He believes American security is being challenged; he believes this challenge must be met directly and with force; and he believes that he knows what is best for the country which he has been chosen to lead. The question of the rightness of his belief may be debated; but about the sincerity of his belief there can't be much question.

Four or so years ago, I heard the comedian Jackie Mason mock George W. Bush's slender rhetorical powers. "He stumbles, he stutters, he mispronounces. He goes arghh, he goes ahhh; he twists himself up in words; it's hopeless. Unlike Bill Clinton, who speaks with never a pause, never a miscue, never a hitch of any kind. You know, when you come to think of it, it's a hell of a lot easier to speak well when you don't believe a word you're saying."

More than merely amusing, this comic bit is provocatively suggestive. What it suggests is that American presidents can be divided into those who are true believers and those who are something else: managers, politicians, operators, men who just wanted the job. While in office, Bill Clinton, who seems to have had as little true belief as any politician in recent decades, sensed that the country wanted to move to the center, so he moved to the center along with it: changing the welfare system, doing nothing radical about health care, rocking no boats, giving the people what the polls told him they wanted.

Belief in itself, in a political figure, is not sufficient to make him either good or bad. Everything of course depends on the content of the belief. I do not know American history well enough to run through all 43 of our presidents, designating the believers and nonbelievers among them. But I think I can do so fairly quickly from the presidency of Harry S. Truman, the first president in my lifetime of whom I had awareness, through the present day in a way that, I hope, is instructive.

An interesting exercise; useful, as far as it goes. Especially because it doesn't set out to use "belief" as either a touchstone for good presidencies or for bad ones. Of the two, arguably, most successful presidents of the Cold War, Reagan was a believer, in Epstein's sense of the word; Ike wasn't. How would Reagan have handled Hungary 1956?

Anymore, though, any article that includes the name George W. Bush but isn't totally driven by some white-hot pseudo-psycho-sexual need to justify his reputation or destroy it is likely to seem interesting to me. Like all simplifications, it only goes so far. But it helps me see why Barack Obama reminds me so much of Clinton (the Y-chromosome Clinton), and why, though I prefer John McCain to most of his GOP rivals and generally like him even when I disagree with him, I don't quite trust him:

John McCain has the look and feel, not least the testiness, of a believer, but the question in his case is in what exactly does he believe, apart from his own integrity, which seems genuine. Or is he merely pugnacious (instead of wily) for the public good? Nobody knows, and one wonders if McCain himself knows in what, politically, he truly believes.

* * *

Believing doesn't make you right or wrong. It makes you determined. Lincoln believed, and either killed 600,000 people needlessly to speed up something that would have happened in a few generations anyhow, or else led the nation out of darkness into light by the only painful path available. Depending on your view of the thing and what side of the Pennsylvania-Maryland boundary your family has lived on.

Believers tend to do awful things. Non-believers tend to allow awful things to continue to happen.

It explains something I noticed back in the '80s covering anti-abortion marches, which invariably attracted pro-abortion counter-protests. Beneath the superficialities of hairstyles (conservative Catholic housewife coifs on one side, pink spikes on the other), the people on each side struck me as remarkably alike. Each believed, passionately, on an issue that to me was a matter of abstractions of constitutional law and of mitigating the cruelty of a necessary evil. They had much more in common with each other than either had with me.

I still see them in my head today when I read about the radical ecology movement. Actually, I don't have to read about it, because I have a brother who's on the fringes of it.

"We are now witnessing the final days of Western Civilization," declared a recent posting on the Portland Independent Media Center website. "As this civilization decays around us—as the wars spread and the natural disasters increase in frequency—and as those trapped by western culture slowly break from their cognitive dissonance and open their hearts and minds, a new reality will begin to reveal itself. Our task is to let this transformation take its course, and to speed it along where we can."

Historically and scientifically ignorant, but doubtless sincere. That's from this thoughtful piece about what some have called (probably incorrectly in most cases) "eco-terrorists."

Here's what activists like Rodgers believe: They believe we face a crisis of mass extinction, caused by civilization. They believe the atmosphere is being spoiled, the climate pitching on the verge of ruinous change, because of civilization. They believe our bodies are being poisoned and so are our spirits, by civilization.

They've considered the state of the planet and they've decided against some hopeful half-critique. They've looked all the way down into the pit and, rightly or wrongly, come to the conclusion that the whole damn thing is undeniably, irretrievably messed up. The government is wrong, mainstream culture is wrong, the tokenist sellout environmental community is wrong, civilization itself is wrong.

The green anarchists are historical determinists, as are Marxists and Christian fundamentalists. Their worldview is based on more, though, than extrapolations of weighty political treatises or divinations of holy texts. It is based on the work of scientists such as E. O. Wilson and Jared Diamond and respected, peer-reviewed biologists and climatologists and ecologists the world over whose work suggests that human activity is having a calamitous effect on the Earth's natural systems.

Globalization. Capitalism. Greed. Civilization. Call it what you will. It will end, the green anarchists insist, whether by means of environmental collapse, violent revolution, or the collective enlightening of human consciousness.

* * *

Negative belief. Some see things that are, and ask, why? Some see things that never were and ask, why not? Some close one eye and stare hard through the other and say, "It's all buggered. Burn it down."

* * *

Was there ever a culture more in need of poetry than ours? Was there ever a nation more awash in it? Everyone writes poetry now. It's therapy, not art. As therapy, it can't be judged, therefore everything is poetry and nothing is poetry. Those who call themselves poets are either street people or academics. What they all really want to be is bloggers, apparently. The poetry I see in the "New Yorker," for instance, is just anti-Bush screeds with interesting line-breaks; artful hand-shadow performances in front of a projector showing CNN reels.

What's missing? What Keats called "Negative Capability" -- "that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."


Council Winners Catchup

[posted by Callimachus]

Among the many things I missed or forgot when Lily was born is the post announcing the Watchers Council winners for Dec. 15.

First place in the council went to The Peace Myth by Andrew Olmsted.

First place outside the council went to The Clash of Convictions and the Remaking of the World of Wars by Winds of Change.

Just Piddling Around

[Posted by reader_iam]

So does this mean one could discern higher levels of, say, Bud Light in the water at the height of the summer season? Or does piss just register as piss?

(My original title for this post was "Trickle Down Effect." Man, I'm feeling so indecisive--disengaged?--these days, I'm having to carry around coins for flipping just to get through a simple blogpost.

And by the way, you DON'T flush your unused medication down the toilet, do you? Because that really is a nasty habit, and unhealthy, too.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I Remember Dancing in Baby-Doll Pajamas

[Posted by reader_iam]

... to this song and wondering, among other things, "What do those old ladies*** see in that old man with the accent?"
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen
This is Walter Klondike from
Convention Hall, Miami Beach
Bringing you the first get together convention
Of Republicans and Democrats alike

We have Henry Kissinger
And Vice President Agnew standing by
On the right side of Convention Hall
Come in, David Stinkley

Thank you, Walter, ah, Mr.Kissinger
Amid this historic moment with all
The pomp and grandeur of the political
System of America all around you
Tell us, Sir, what are your
Innermost thoughts at this very moment

(Gotta find a woman, gotta find a woman
Gotta find a woman, gotta find a woman)

Vice-president Agnew
What are your thoughts, Sir

(Right on, right on)

Mr. Agnew, when you heard the rumors
That President Nixon might not
Select you as his running mate again
What did you say to him
(You never should have promised to me
Give it here, don't hold back, now
Give it here, don't say nothing
Just give it here, come on)

Ah, Mr.Agnew if you were
In Senator McGovern's place
Who would you have chosen
As a running mate


Bertha who

(Bertha Butt)

Who's she, Sir

(One of the Butt sisters)

(Do you agree, Mr.Kissinger)

(Gotta find a woman, gotta find a woman
Gotta find a woman, gotta find a woman)

Thank you, Mr.Kissinger
And Vice President Agnew
Back to you, Walter
Thank you, David
Now, Sidney Buntley is
Over on the left side
He has Sargent Shriver with him

Sargent Shriver, what did you say
To Senator McGovern when he finally
Asked you to be his running mate

(You just call on me, brother
When you need a hand)

How did you finalize your
Agreement with Senator McGovern

(Sealed with a kiss)

Oh, shades of excitement
One final question, Sir
What kind of offer did
Senator McGovern make you

(He made me an offer I couldn't refuse)

Sidney, forgive me
But our roving reporter, Larry Reasoning
Has Martha Mitchell on the microphone
Take it away, Larry Reasoning

Mrs. Mitchell, would you
Like to talk to our listeners

(I'll sock it to you, daddy)

Now that your husband
Has resigned from politics
How do you feel, ma'am

(I'm the happiest girl in the whole USA)

Mrs. Mitchell, your complaint was
That your husband didn't have
Any time to spend with you
Now that you are alone, ma'am
What do you talk about

(Ah, ah, ah.....)

Well, I can understand that, Mrs. Mitchell
Now back to you, Walter

Sidney Bruntley is on the
Left side of the floor with Mr. and
Mrs. Eagleton and Senator McGovern
Take it away, Sidney

Thank you, Walter
Senator McGovern, how did you feel
When you and Senator Eagleton
First separated, Sir

(Alone again, naturally)

Oh, yes, what did you do then

(Called the doctor, woke em up)

And what did your physician advise

(Put the lime in the coconut
And call me in the morning)

Everyone was turning you down, Sir
If Sargent Shriver had also refused
Who would you have turned to then

(A horse with no name)

Oh, I love horses
Now, Senator Eagleton
How does one feel in the morning
When his world has been shattered, Sir

(Well, you wake up in the morning
And your hands are shaking and
Your nerves are all uptight)

Well then, Senator
Why didn't you resign immediately

(Am I wrong for trying to hold on
To the best thing I ever had)

Yes, and what are your feelings now
Towards the people who opposed you

(They smile in your face
All the time, they wanna take your place
The back stabbers)

One final question to you, Senator Eagleton
What did you say to the newspaper
Columnist when you met him face to face

(Liar, liar, liar)

Senator McGovern
What are your feelings on that, Sir

(How can a loser even win)

Mrs. Eagleton
Would you like to answer him

(Who do you think you are, Mr. big stuff)

Who do you think will vote for
Senator McGovern now that
Your husband is out

(Gypsys, tramps, and thieves)

Ma'am, do you think you could have done
More for your husband during those trying times

(I know it's not my fault, I did my best)

Thank you very much
Now back to you, Walter

There's a commotion on the left side of the floor
We've got Senator Kennedy standing with
Jane Ronda, take it away, David Stinkley

Senator Kennedy, people are taking about
Your political future because of your
Good looks, your smile, and the sound
Of your voice, why

(I am the magnificent)

If you decide to run for President in '76
Who will be your campaign manager

(The Candy Man)

Miss Ronda. Miss Ronda
Just one question, please
What do you think of President Nixon

(I don't know how to love him)

Thank you, Miss Ronda
Uh, Mr. Kissinger, what are you doing
All the way over on this side of the hall

(Gotta find a woman, gotta find a woman
Gotta find a woman, gotta find a woman)

That's it from here, Walter

Thank you, David, thank you, Sidney
Thank you, Larry, thank you, America
We now return you to your local stations

When I went around singing, in imitation and mockery, "Gotta find a woman! Gotta find a woman!", my mom was so offended (not, however, because she was conservative, much less Republican, neither of which applied--nor was she in "thrall" to the particular person in question), and I got in trouble. Maybe it was the fact that rather than being unable to explain myself and why I thought this was funny, I did so rather explicitly and, no doubt, uncharitably. (And without wisdom or generosity, either, I am sure--ah, youth!)

Or maybe I was just airing certain insights at a younger age than she'd've preferred?


***Heh. Heh! How many years older am I now than those "old ladies" in my mind were then??? Shaddup already, will ya?

War and Consequences

[posted by Callimachus]

Conventional wisdom in the 1970s saw the war in Vietnam as an unmitigated disaster. But that has been proved wrong. The war had collateral benefits, buying the time and creating the conditions that enabled noncommunist East Asia to follow Japan's path and develop into the four dragons (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) and, later, the four tigers (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand). Time brought about the split between Moscow and Beijing and then a split between Beijing and Hanoi. The influence of the four dragons and the four tigers, in turn, changed both communist China and communist Vietnam into open, free-market economies and made their societies freer.

Written by Lee Kuan Yew, who might be admitted to know something about it. Certainly Johnson and Kennedy never articulated that exact path as their goal. They talked generically of freedoms, even when it seemed hypocritical. Yet, there it is.

[Hat tip: Tigerhawk]

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Gerald Ford Has Died [Updated]

[Posted by reader_iam, 11:04 p.m. central, via TV)

The White House (.gov)
The Mercury News

Gerald Ford turned out to be more the right man for the right hour than he was given credit for at the time and, to a degree, later.

You agree? You don't agree? Well, then, hold your thoughts for later. Later. (You know what later means, don't you? Pucker up and listen {or at least pause your tongue, in case that should benefit others more than the words you can't help spilling forth}.)

My mind's compassion and my heart's warmth go out to President Ford's family, and his close friends and associates.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fig You

[posted by Callimachus]

Reader, were we the only two people in our camp who didn't dive into the Jamil Hussein story, which alleged the Associated Press used a non-existent Baghdad police captain as a source for some of the more horrific stories they report from Iraq?

I wouldn't put it past them, but this one didn't seem like the smoking gun some made it out to be. For one, Arabic names can be transliterated into English many ways. There were other explanations, such as protective pseudonyms (which, however, the AP ought to acknowledge in this case).

I was working the wire that night, and I saw the AP story come over the transom with the six burned-alive Sunnis featured prominently in the lede. The New York Times story that night, however, contained essentially the same information but made no mention of the burned six.

That rang an alarm bell for me, since typically the NYT would not omit such a dramatic (and negative) tidbit from its reporting. Even if it was an AP exclusive, and the Times could not independently verify it, the Times typically would swallow its pride and print the narrative, attributing it to AP (or Reuters, or whoever was the source).

But the fact that they passed it up entirely, making no mention of it even as an unconfirmed report, really raised a red flag for me. Someday I'd like to know how that decision of omission was made on 42nd Street. I ended up running the Times Iraq story that day instead of the AP's.

I suppose one of the lessons here is how unusual it is for the supposedly competing Big Names of the legacy media to take a different tack on an Iraq story.

However, one of my favorite chunks of fallout from the flap is this, in which Allah, certainly one of the more ferocious defenders of the American effort in Iraq, pushes back against the prevailing lie on the anti-war side that people who still want America and Iraq to succeed are blind to the current state of the country.

At the risk of suggesting that I know What Warbloggers Believe better than Eric Boehlert does, let me assure you that we’re not using this story as a fig leaf for the war. There are Shiite death squads roaming hospitals in Iraq — just one of many “bona fide, grim realities on the ground,” as Michelle puts it, but gruesome enough in itself to convey the magnitude of the emergency. No one, or almost no one, is under any illusions about how awful conditions are and how Bush mismanaged the occupation when we had our best chance to get it right. On the contrary, it’s Boehlert who’s using the war as a fig leaf for yet another credible accusation of shoddy, possibly ideologically motivated war journalism. He’d have you believe that to challenge this report is, essentially, to be guilty of historical revisionism, which is not only ironic vis-a-vis the AP but a nifty way of cowing a critic into backing off. It’s more important that Michelle Malkin be wrong, you see, than knowing for sure whether the world’s biggest news agency is passing off crap stories about the most important issue of our time.

True dat, as the kids say. You know, as a journalist, I can be sued by a convicted mass murderer for libel if I misidentify him in a headline as a mass murderer and chicken thief. The ethics and practice of my profession matter, and were deemed important enough to safeguard by no less than the Founders of America. Independent of whether Iraq is a mess, and whose fault that is. They matter to me, and they ought to matter to you, because even if you don't tune in, the guy in the next voting booth does.

It's All Coming Back to Me Now

[posted by Callimachus]

This parenting thing. Like the first time I did it, 16 years ago. Last week I changed Lily's diaper and then dashed out to run six errands in less than an hour, and was feeling pretty impressed with myself till I got to the last stop on the run, the Chinese restaurant to pick up dinner, and happened to look down and notice, in the middle of my white T-shirt, a yellow pee stain.


[posted by Callimachus]

Over the course of the war I've taken my whacks and what has come to be called the "chickenhawk meme." I assume you all know the one I'm talking about. If not, click a link, any link.

Part of what fascinates me is those who really push it -- those who go blog-to-blog and troll up the comments sections with demands the blogger enlist (even bloggers who are physically incapacitated or already veterans). Are they aware of the logical consequences of the position they outline? Do they ever lift their heads up enough to see past the situational ethics?

Oh, I know the answer, too. And since I disagree with the ethical underpinnings of the chickenhawk meme in the first place, I don't want them to live up to it, even when the chickenhawk comes home to roost.

But it is amusing to ask them to at least go through the motions of being true to their morals, and since blogging is essentially about amusing yourself, here are two suggestions:

  • Anyone who is fond of writing about America's "defeat" or "failure" in Iraq should have to makes such pronouncements, not from the safety of a keyboard in his home, but out loud, standing on a tabletop in a bar full of U.S. Army and Marine veterans of the war.

  • Any American who advocates an immediate and precipitous withdrawal of American forces from Iraq should have to take into his home one Iraqi family who inevitably will be driven from its home by the subsequent chaos.


Historians on the War

[posted by Callimachus]

A good, rollicking discussion here between Max Boot and Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

Needless to say, I'm mostly in the Boot camp, and find many of Wheatcroft's comments factually odd ("...deposing Saddam was specifically not the reason we were told we were going to war"), airily condescending ("Could I possibly have touched a raw nerve?"), and contradictory (After having quoted Lear's ""The worst is not, So long as we can say, 'This is the worst' " he then reacts to the title of Christopher Hitchens' column "How to Avoid a Bloodbath in Iraq" with "Hello? To avoid? To avoid what?").

As for Boot, here are some of his highlights:

The dreadful outcome in Iraq has seemingly validated the naysayers, of whom there were many before the hostilities started (though not nearly as many as you would think; a lot of prewar hawks have magically become birds of a different feather). It's all too easy to say, Why didn't the administration listen to those who warned that an invasion of Iraq would turn out to be a disaster? Perhaps because many of these critics were Chicken Littles who had been making dire predictions before every American military intervention of the past several decades. It is all too easy too forget how many seemingly respected voices warned of disaster before the 1991 Gulf War and subsequent interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. While congenital optimists have been discredited by the recent turn of events in Iraq, congenital pessimists were discredited by the course of earlier wars. This helps to explain why the Bush administration didn't give greater credence to voices critical of the decision to invade Iraq. Explain, but not necessarily excuse.

Senior administration policymakers should have been able to listen to critics who had good ideas about implementation even if they disagreed with the fundamental decision to go to war. I am thinking in particular of people like retired General Tony Zinni, a onetime Central Command chief, who had prepared earlier plans for military action in Iraq and was happy to share his expertise with the administration. But he wasn't seriously consulted because he was seen as an enemy of the Bushies. There is a tendency in every administration to separate the world into "us" and "them," but it proved particularly costly in this case because the president and his senior aides failed to consider the full range of scenarios and to prepare for worst-case outcomes.

And this:

Since you want a clash, I'll oblige by taking exception to Geoffrey's casual slur: to wit, that this war was "dreamt up" by "zealots." I know this has become part of the accepted mythology, but is this really a helpful way to characterize such disparate and distinguished supporters of the invasion as Fouad Ajami, Peter Beinart, Paul Berman, David Brooks, Eliot Cohen, Ivo Daalder, Les Gelb, Vaclav Havel, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff, Martin Indyk, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Bernard Lewis, Michael O'Hanlon, Ken Pollack, Dennis Ross, Natan Sharansky, Tom Friedman, George Will, Fareed Zakaria, and the editors of the Washington Post, Daily Telegraph, and Wall Street Journal? To say nothing of politicians like Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jose Maria Aznar, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Michael Howard, William Hague, and John Howard. Are they all "zealots"? What about the overwhelming majority of Americans who supported the war when it began? More zealots? Or were the zealots only those people within the U.S. government who supported the war: the likes of Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, George Tenet, Steve Hadley, and Tommy Franks?

I can't speak for my fellow "zealots" but as someone who supported the invasion—and who, unlike some others, is still willing to admit it—I have always assumed that "genuine democratic elections" in Iraq or anywhere else might well produce outcomes that were "highly unpalatable to Washington." After all, I'm far from happy with many of the actions taken by freely elected governments in Paris, Berlin, Ankara—and, for that matter, Washington D.C. Why should Baghdad be any different? The point that Geoffrey elides is: Was the pre-2003 status quo in the Middle East a palatable one? Obviously not, since it was this status quo that produced the 9/11 hijackers and numerous other terrorists and tyrants. And despite the terrible time we've had in Iraq in the past four years, I am still convinced that in the long run greater liberalization and democratization will change the region for the better. And I'm not the only one. Let me quote an article from the current issue of Newsweek:

"For all his intellectual shortcomings, Bush recognized that the roots of Islamic terror lie in the dysfunctions of the Arab world. Over the last 40 years, as the rest of the globe progressed economically and politically, the Arabs moved backward. Decades of tyranny and stagnation—mostly under the auspices of secular, Westernized regimes like those in Egypt and Syria—have produced an opposition that is extreme, religiously oriented and, in some cases, violent. Its ideology is now global, and it has small bands of recruits from London to Jakarta. But at its heart it is an Arab phenomenon, born in the failures of that region. And it is likely only to be cured by a more open and liberal Arab culture that has made its peace with modernity. Look for example at two non-Arab countries, Malaysia and Turkey, whose people are conservative and religious Muslims. Both places are also reasonably successful economies, open societies and functioning democracies. As a result, they don't produce swarms of suicide bombers. Iraq after Saddam presented a unique opportunity to steer history on a new course."

Which wild-eyed "neocon" penned the preceding paragraph? Doug Feith? Paul Wolfowitz? Bill Kristol? Actually it was none other than Fareed Zakaria, a famous "realist" who wrote a book ("The Future of Freedom") about the dangers of illiberal democracy. But even Fareed realizes that in a region as dysfunctional as the Middle East, a greater dose of freedom is needed.

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Revision Revulsion

[posted by Callimachus]

Ken Pollack, who was one of the people whose writings helped convince me (and a great many other skeptical liberals) of the case for overthrowing Saddam in 2003, is, of course, furious at the way the victory was mismanaged. But he still says it could have worked. And so do I.

Perhaps at some point in the future, revisionist historians will try to claim that the effort was doomed from the start, that it never was possible to build a stable, let alone pluralistic, new Iraq in the rubble of Saddam Hussein's fall.

I don't think Ken gets out much. He certainly doesn't read the blogs. Because that's not a hypothetical future-history position; it's the prevailing paradigm in the anti-war movement. An unexplored paradigm, to be sure (at least on the left side of the anti-war movement) because of its uncomfortable corollaries about the nature of Western and Arab societies.

However, that is decidedly not the view of the experts, the journalists covering the story, or the practitioners who went to Iraq to put the country back together after the 2003 invasion. Americans returning from Iraq -- military and civilian alike -- have proven unanimous in their view that the Iraqis desperately want reconstruction to succeed and that they have the basic tools to make it work, but that the United States has consistently failed to provide them with the opportunities and the framework to succeed. Indeed, perhaps the most tragic evidence of this unrealized potential is that even three-and-a-half years after Saddam's fall, with Iraq mired in a deepening civil war and no sign of real progress on the horizon, over 40 percent of Iraqis still clung to the belief that Iraq was headed in the right direction -- with only 35 percent saying it was headed in the wrong direction.

That's been my experience, too. You can't blame this on the Iraqi people. They got shafted. If they've by and large reverted to tribal loyalties and ways, that's probably because nothing else post-2003 offered them any kind of protection or security.

So How was Your Christmas?

[posted by Callimachus]

Among the prominent topics of conversation at my family's gathering: Everybody wear orange on Friday as a "secret code" message meaning "Impeach Bush." "Secret", so, y'know, they don't send you to Guantanamo. Also, Al Gore, how great thou art. And so on, and so on. I'm beginning to prefer the conversation of my sister-in-law's extremely senile mother. Introducing myself every five minutes is, by comparison, quite pleasant.

The Trouble with Scapegoats

[posted by Callimachus]

Mary Eberstadt also notices the illogic at the heart of BDS:

The trouble with putting Bush personally at the center of what ails us is much like the related trouble of relocating the illegal [immigrants] or the theocrats there instead: i.e., it tries to explain too much. In this, too, the parallelism of the scapegoats can be seen. He is a child of privilege who believes in nothing. No, he is an ideological Christian possessed of an unwavering and therefore dangerous faith. Which is it? He is a tool of the oil interests, of the neoconservatives, of the Christians; no, he is a puppet master of them all; no again, he is himself a puppet of Karl Rove. He is "someone who likes to compete and win at all costs" (Frank Rich); he is someone who has had everything handed to him and doesn't know what it is like to struggle (also Rich). And so on.

And so on, and so on.

[Hat tip: Spinning Clio]

12 Years of Christmas

[posted by Callimachus]

Seventh photo: Dec. 25, 1968.

Two words: Hot Wheels! I seem to remember they cost about a dollar apiece back then. Which was a lot of money. Thirty years later, when I had a son of my own, I saw the same models, cast from the same dies, two for a buck. That's 1968 dollars to 1998 dollars. The difference? Made in China.

Notice my little brother, too, in his footie pajamas, drifting intently over from his toys to my toys.

Follow Your Surges

[posted by Callimachus]

Frederick Kagan writes about the latest buzzword in a buzzword war: surge. "Surge" seems to be that rarest of things, a Latin word with muscle. (surgere "to rise," contraction of surrigere "to rise," a compound of sub "up from below" and regere "to keep straight, guide;" which is related to right).

Which makes Kagan's use of it appropriate, because he advocates a particularly muscular surge.

It is now time to abandon the failed strategy of “transition” and return to the basics of counter-insurgency and stability operations by bringing peace to the Iraqi people.

A war and an anti-war driven by a politicized mass media naturally devolves into an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole experience, where words matter more than realities. The new SecDef seemingly had to pass only one confirmation test: Use the words "not winning in Iraq" in front of Congress. Anti-war types get all apoplectic over whether Bush calls it a "civil war" or not. "Stay the course" ... "mission accomplished" ... "cut and run." Everybody knows these; what kind of war is it where everybody on the home front can bicker about slogans and no one can name a hero?

"Surge" is just the latest of them. And like all the rest, it means different things to different people who use it. Some against the war seem to regard the "surge" as a fig-leaf for retreat and defeat, providing the excuse that, well, we gave it all we had. To others it's all about nothing but blaming the liberal peaceniks.

Talk about hubris. Kevin Drum used to be the kind of anti-war person I could respect. But this?

Conservatives long ago convinced themselves against all evidence that we could have won in Vietnam if we'd only added more troops or used more napalm or nuked Hanoi or whatever, and they're going to do the same thing in Iraq unless we allow them to play this out the way they want. If they don't get to play the game their way, they'll spend the next couple of decades trying to persuade the American public that there was nothing wrong with the idea of invading Iraq at all. We just never put the necessary resources into it.

Well, screw that. There's nothing we can do to stop them anyway, so give 'em the resources they want. Let 'em fight the war the way they want. If it works -- and after all, stranger things have happened -- then I'll eat some crow. But if it doesn't, there's a chance that the country will actually learn something from this.

Kevin doesn't believe for a moment that we can win in Iraq. He believes people -- American troops and Iraqi civilians -- are dying for nothing, for a mistake, for a lie. Yet he's willing to let more of them die, to support something that assuredly will kill more of them, for no other reason than to deprive his domestic political opponents of their bragging rights.

Not even his genuine domestic political opponents. Certainly I'm one of those who thinks invading Iraq was the least crappy of a short list of crappy options, or that South Vietnam was viable and defensible and we ought to have honored our commitments there, once made. But here he's dealing with the cartoon version. With Cindy Sheehan's Bush and Lyndon Johnson's Goldwater.

Can anything say more about the disconnect between even the thoughtful anti-war intellectuals and the real people who wear the uniform of the U.S. armed services, or the 24 million real people who call Iraq home? Does Kevin Drum know anyone personally in either group? Does he go to sleep at night worried about any of them?

Decision-making on that level is the kind of damnable commerce the anti-war movement attributes to the neo-cons.

Kagan, thankfully, still is thinking in terms of getting it right in Iraq. For him, the surge is an assertive and positive bid to pull the rabbit out of the hat. To me, it looks more like a re-do.

The increase in US troops cannot be short-term. Clearing and holding the critical areas of Baghdad will require all of 2007. Expanding the secured areas into Anbar, up the Diyala River valley, north to Mosul and beyond will take part of 2008.

It is unlikely that the Iraqi army and police will be able to assume full responsibility for security for at least 18 to 24 months after the beginning of this operation.

Whether you do it for Drum's reasons (to make politics easier for future Democrats in America) or Kagan's, you're going to get people killed. But at least with Kagan's version, a muscular and committed second attempt actually could work, and could save lives -- American and Iraqi -- in the long run.

But here we are, in the media, debating about words, debating about numbers, paying no attention to the spirit of the thing, the commitment. And to how to do it right.

Whatever is done differently now in Iraq will necessarily have to be dramatic and visible, so the Iraqis -- and the men and women in country -- will know this time we mean it. Those who fret only about a "broken" military in the current situation don't talk to many soldiers, at least not the same ones I learn from, or else they don't really know what "broken" means. Kagan can sense it:

This strategy will place a greater burden on the already overstrained American ground forces, but the risk is worth taking.

Defeat will break the American army and marines more surely and more disastrously than extending combat tours. And the price of defeat for Iraq, the region and the world in any case is far too high to bear.


Invented Language

[posted by Callimachus]

If you read Tolkien's non-fiction writing, or his biographical material, you start to understand that his original passion was languages, and that he was an elite in that select tribe of people who invent languages for a hobby. You could make a case that the entire "Lord of the Rings" saga came about because he had constructed an Elvish language and needed something to do with it.

There are still language inventors in the world. It's a delightful quirk, especially if they invent a tongue for a fictional or hypothetical people instead of trying to force one on the rest of us.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Whatashock! Santa Came

[Posted by reader_iam]

... and fulfilled a heart's desire ...


... and ate his Christmas cake and drank his eggnog, too.


I hope your day was bright, however you spent it.

Next up: Boxing Day!

There Was No More to Give

"People already know his history, but I would like for them to know he was a man who preached love from the stage. His thing was 'I never saw a person that I didn't love.' He was a true humanitarian who loved his country." — Charles Bobbit, friend of James Brown who was with him when he died.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Season's Greetings

[Posted by reader_iam]

Dear Readers:

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Holy Spiked Eggnog, or whatever your personal greeting preference may be, those wishes I send to you with the hope that you find and revel in some joy, and--more important--take or make the time to spread some, as the year winds down.

I'm signing off for the holiday (except that I will complete the blogging calendar series elsewhere) and leaving the fights--good, bad or indifferent--to those who get their jollies from them.

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest man that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

May we be willing to have it be so!

Tilting a virtual toasting cup of Wassail in your direction and wishing you the best,


Thursday, December 21, 2006

12 Years of Christmas

[posted by Callimachus]

Sixth photo: Dec. 25, 1967.

I think this was the year they let me help set up the presents on Christmas Eve. Most of these are for my little brother. I am sure it was me who had the idea to make the dinosaurs attack the car track.

For God's Sake

[posted by Callimachus]

Why is this so hard?

OLYMPIA -- Holiday trees are a longtime tradition in the rotunda of the Washington state Capitol, and this week the governor also lit a menorah.

Now a Nativity scene has been ruled out on the advice of the state attorney general's office.

It's the latest permutation of this story -- the Seattle-Tacoma airport Christmas tree flap. It's also the latest example of what you get when you let a country be run by agendas that can afford lawyers.

At the airport, a rabbi saw a plastic Christmas tree display and asked to place a menorah next to it. My reading of what happened next is that the airport managers might have been OK with that, but they also realized granting the request would mean they'd have to let anyone put up any sort of religious display there, or else be guilty of discrimination.

So instead, they pulled the trees. Then the pundits let loose the Dogs of War on Christmas, and so a deal was cut: The rabbi agreed not to sue, and the trees came back.

The same rabbi earlier had convinced Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire to install, and personally light, a menorah in the statehouse rotunda. You can guess what happened next.

A local real estate agent saw the menorah and asked to place a creche next to it. The state turned him down.

Steve Valandra, a spokesman for the Department of General Administration, officials were concerned that in comparison with a tree or menorah, a Nativity scene might carry a stronger impression of government endorsement of religion.

Unlike, say, the governor lighting a public menorah in the capitol rotunda.

Forget for a minute the First Amendment; this is about civil society in a multicultural nation, as we inescapably are and always have been. This is family.

A private entity can do as it pleases. But the government's buildings are everyone's house. Yet in this case the airport managers saw something the state's lawyers missed: The one thing you can't do is play favorites with religions. And in a diverse nation, that forces you into the unhappy corner of "all or nothing." It's the elementary school talent show: Everyone gets a turn in the spotlight, or no one does. Which probably is why public life in the U.S. so often resembles an elementary school musical.

Embrace it all or ignore it all. If you're a government, probably wisest to ignore it all and thereby encourage it to flourish on its own. The government's hand has the Midas touch when it reaches out toward religion.

Personally I can't wait to get off work and go light the Rastafarian menorah.


Ho Ho Ho

[posted by Callimachus]

"Cut and run" = Big laugh-line of the night. "Colbert Report." "Krugman" = uttered in hushed and reverential tones. "Bush is insane. Republicans are pure evil. Our troops are stupid criminals. Europeans/Canadians are so much better than us." = safe consensus topic of conversation. It's the newsroom Christmas party, of course! Last night; we have them in the office, while working. But it means for a couple of hours the reporters and editors stop working and start talking. And, well, you can just imagine that. I spent the time in the library, reading. Even though I chipped in for the food, I don't think I could have kept it down.

Who You Gonna Call?

[posted by Callimachus]

Back in 1798, when a president overstepped his authority and reached for what were deemed authoritarian powers, Jefferson and Madison reacted with alarm -- in part because they were the opposition party. Looking to oppose Adams, they went, correctly, to the states. The result was the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, and a step down the path of disunion.

Where would you go today, O ye who so fear Bush? Supreme Court? Madison explicitly rejected that as the check on presidential tyranny. Lincoln taught Taney how futile it was for the court to oppose the Commander in Chief. Ah, but slavery was evil!

Where would you go today? And who took the brakes off the car? And was it such a clear-cut case after all in 1861?


Growing the Military

[posted by Callimachus]

Is what you do when you're out of ideas. It's a throwback notion, a 19th century idea. God no longer marches with the biggest battalions.

The current U.S. military is "strained" by these two concurrent wars because the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not the thing the current U.S. military is well-prepared to do. So adding more of what doesn't fit is not a prescription for success. It's buying a bigger belt instead of going on a diet.

If you want to add a special division of peacekeepers, security checkpoint men, police trainers, heart-and-minds winners, that would be a smart idea. This isn't a smart idea.

Rumsfeld, whatever his faults as a battlefield manager (which isn't his job anyhow) had it right: Leaner, smarter, more flexible -- and better integrated branches of service including Reserves. This latest announced plan advances none of those necessary things. Unless you expect a return to the Cold War and fear Red Army tanks pouring through Fulda Gap, this gets us nowhere.

It is what the Pentagon wants, of course, because the generals always want more. The vague idea of more troops coming up means the brass will be able to march up to Capitol Hill every year with vague ideas of more money and new systems to meet the influx. And who will gainsay them? A smart Defense Secretary -- and this was Rumsfeld -- would know this. A smart president would listen to such an advisor.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Sound and the Fury

[posted by Callimachus]

Well, I'm going to take a contrarian position here and say I think Joseph Rago's criticism of blogs in today's Wall Street Journal is trenchant and correct. Bloggers would do well to take the scolding to heart.

Just because he's "MSM" doesn't mean he's wrong. Much of the ire unleashed against him seems to feature prominently the phrase about fools and imbeciles, which, if you read the piece, is in fact a quote -- about newspapers. There's a big fat Christmas present sitting there waiting to be opened. I almost think Rago put it in there as a test case to prove how easily the bloggers react without reading.

Savage Indignation

[posted by Callimachus]

After the monsoon rains abate, the draining earth offers up fragments of clothing, human teeth and bones as final testimony of the restless, wronged dead. Murdered on this now sacred ground, thirty or more years ago, they are among the millions of souls sacrificed to a fevered ideology that was completely broken only a decade ago. The remains that seep up through the mud under my feet in this Killing Field are from a different war, but they echo a mournful reminder of how jarringly common it is for societies at war with themselves to descend into madness. Death squads under holy orders, suicide bombers in mosques, machete-wielding mobs in Rwanda, industrialized gas chambers in Europe, fire-breathing Janjaweed militias in Darfur, and here the tree named for its function as “killing tree against which executioners beat children.”


I had turned to the wilderness really, not to Mr. Kurtz, who, I was ready to admit, was as good as buried. And for a moment it seemed to me as if I also were buried in a vast grave full of unspeakable secrets. I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable night.

Darkness has no heart. The heart is in him who rips it open with the light of his eyes.

Success! (Sigh Of Relief)

[Posted by reader_iam]


New Harvest of Shame

[posted by Callimachus]

Today, Captain Ed joins some others in warning against getting too carried away by the "liberal media" meme.

Certainly the media has its biases, but it simply cannot be as wrong as many of us would like to believe. Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets undermine their own credibility when they continue to insist that obvious examples of egregious malfeasance, such as Rathergate and the Eason Jordan scandals, never occurred.

Someone commented here a few days ago that we go to war with the media we have. In this case, we have done better than that -- we have found sources on the front lines who report directly to us, so that we can hear good news when it occurs. However, the bad news is also occurring, and we cannot write all of it off to bias. Lowry talks about realism in the non-political sense, which is to base policy and decisions on fact and not wishful thinking. Again, though, the issue is still one of credibility: can we trust the media sources that have played fast and loose in the past?

The thing about the media is, we're natural crusaders. We love a good crusade. Almost the entire history of the modern mainstream American media (by which I mean since circa 1960) is a balance sheet of power and crusading.

You build up the authority-capital of a large readership/viewership by your accurate and aggressive reporting. And then you spend it by using the power of influence that comes with a large, trusting readership in a democratic society. You bring the public's attention to a perceived problem so often, and with such dramatic skill, that the public can't ignore it. The problem then automatically becomes an issue. Ed Morrow's "Harvest of Shame" remains the classic example.

The structural risk in that, of course, is that the walls between the reporting and the crusading only hold up if you, the journalist, walk them carefully every day and re-stack the stones. It's hard ethical drudge-work. Good fences make more than good neighbors, but the will to do that is weak among too many reporters.

Iraq 2003 was a particular trial for this muddle-headed media. Because it was, in its conception, just the kind of crusade the media loves: Right an old wrong, overthrow a dictator, empower his victims, aim for a birth of freedom and liberty in a wretched region. It was everything Morrow wanted out of "Harvest of Shame."

As I observed them, the neo-conservatives were more like the media people I work alongside, temperamentally and ideologically, than any set of people I have ever seen in U.S. government. Perhaps it's not the first important movement in U.S. politics whose founders and leaders were, primarily, media minds with day jobs in the publishing business (Kristol, etc.). But it's one of the first.

Yet Iraq 2003 ran the media's idealism headlong into the other mission of the modern U.S. media: To oppose and distrust presidential power and attempt to bring it into disgrace. And George W. Bush, in himself and in his chosen inner circle, aggravated that tendency in a high degree.

When the war began, many important voices in the media privately were committed to Iraq's failure, because any other outcome would mean Bush's success. Their words and views have been noted and execrated. But a great many people in the media, I strongly suspect, felt torn loyalties to their clashing ideals when the thing began. The enthusiasm of the embedded reporting was real. The neo-con hopefulness caught like a spark in much of the media mind. Few dared say it openly in print, as Michael Kelly did, but many, I suspect, felt it. Might a president and the U.S. military, this time, for all their glaring historical faults, be right?

The tipping point in the media mind arrived quickly; probably around the time of the looting of the antiquities museum in Baghdad (as confused and exaggerated as the reporting on it was) and the first Iraqi family accidentally gunned down at a U.S. military checkpoint.

After that, Iraqi violence was "spiraling out of control" in the headlines on a daily basis, regardless of the ups and downs of the reality in-country. I have long sensed an other-than-objective quality in the U.S. media's reporting of this war (the European and Middle Eastern media have their own agendas here, much less complex than ours).

Its reporting has a vindictiveness I have come to feel as rooted in a dimly sensed betrayal. Read Andrew Sullivan (a journalist, though not a reporter), among the many turning leaves of the neo-anti-war blog movement, to see it in a high and refined degree. The war teased their idealism, an idealism that never felt quite at home anyhow with these journalists' sense of themselves as hard-boiled and unfoolable and contrarian to presidential authority. And it quickly let them down.

Had the post-Saddam era gotten off to a better start, the same media we now endure could have embraced the birth of a free Iraq. Not all of them, of course. The hardcore BDS cases would remain. But there is a movable mass in the trade that could have come down on either side of that phony "good war/bad war" split.

You'd still have had the same set of facts, the same templates of the news story. But the facts would have been fit into the frame differently: The reconstruction and hearts-and-minds "good news" would have turned up in print, instead of being dismissed as boondoggle and propaganda. The "bad news" would have been put in context and regarded as tragic missteps, not the true story. They would not be reporting the Iraq we see today. Because the coverage changed the war, changed the perceptions of everyone involved in the war. Not everyone agrees with me about that.

Instead of watching with naked glee as U.S. public support for helping the Iraqis eroded, the U.S. media would have felt obligated to redouble its efforts to shore up the public's awareness of how much that help was needed, how vital it was to the overall balance of good and evil in the world, including our own children's future. It could as easily have become the next crusade. And a precipitous and humiliating "exit strategy," instead of being seen in the media as the only viable strategy, would have been presented, correctly, as the dawn of a new "Harvest of Shame."

Goodness Gracious Great Balls O' Shavin'

Posted by reader_iam

Put this post in the category of "it just goes to show that you never know where blogging will lead you."

Ruth Anne, living proof that being conservative and devout does not necessarily a prude make (and not just due to this, btw, not by a long shot), comes up with this Farrah Fawcett video at YouTube ...

... as a consolation prize for poor Bill, who had expressed--in the comments attached to this post featuring a Christmas-themed, TV advert for Coke supposedly aired in Germany--a desire to see the original Norelco Santa ride again.

Any typos here are strictly the responsibility of Ruth Anne and Bill, who caused me to laugh too hard to care about typing straight.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bright Idea

[posted by Callimachus]

Eve proposes one of the best blog-rules ever:

I propose a new rule for the internet: If you have not read at least four books by Andrea Dworkin--read them stem to stern--you are not allowed to type her name. If you have read zero books by ditto, typing her name will cause you to spontaneously combust.

There are only two problems with that:

1. It doesn't go far enough. I'd make a list of about 100 people nobody should be able to blove about without reading, not one. And as penalty mere spontaneous combustion is insufficiently severe.

2. It would stop the Internet cold in its tracks and replace the Niagra of Stupid with a howling silence.

Understand the Chronology

[posted by Callimachus]

The Iraq narrative already has been well-framed, by the big legacy media and the left-leaning academic pundits (with a minor assist to the BDS bloggers). It's a venture based on impossible premises and doomed to failure from the start. That's nice, because everyone who opposed the war from the beginning is validated and vindicated and everyone who thought it was a good idea is supposed to now eat poop and die.

"Defeat, doom, failure, folly" thud like jungle drums beneath the text of most of what you read these days on Iraq. Very well, the media always has a tendency to fall into ruts, and pundits serve themselves best when the present can be twisted to fit their narratives.

[Even as I write this I have a smug conversation flowing around me in which professional journalists mock and laugh at a despised America they see as sinking in the quicksand of Iraq.]

What's being missed amid all this morbid glee? Plenty. For one, the lives and work of some 140,000 Americans serving in that country. As I've shown here repeatedly, they are invisible in the mainstream media's coverage. They have been invisible almost since the liberation of Baghdad, after which, for reasons no one can clearly explain to me, the embeds disembeded.

The contractor/reconstruction effort, which was a huge and amazing piece of collective work, also never got any play except when the word "Halliburton" and "overcharge" ended up on the same page. Is it over now? Is it still going on? How would you know?

What about the U.S. military as a system? All we are told now is that it's "broken" or "almost broken." What is that supposed mean? It's words about words, like "civil war." It tells you nothing about the present or the future. It only tells you that the people who write this crap can't or won't break out of their cocoon of words and think about realities.

Which, again, is typical, because when it comes to military matters, the media generally is clueless, the military generally is content to keep them in the dark, and the pundits in their faculty lounges -- well, when they're not signing petitions to keep ROTC off campus they're carving off chunks of the departmental budget to form "Peace Studies" think tanks.

I want to know: Are our military managers learning from the things they did wrong in Iraq -- and the things they did right? Are we learning to fight this anti-insurgency? Because even if we pull up the tentpoles in Baghdad and go home today, this war will still out there, waiting for us. Next time, next country.

All the more so if we do get chased home, as so many of us perversely wish, because then every thug from Medellin to Mindanao will know: "That's how you can beat America and be a hero."

Nothing is more important to the next 15 years. Yet the silence on that topic is appalling. The closest thing to coverage of that issue I've seen in big media recently is from Germany, and if you can stomach Der Spiegel's usual catshit-for-a-breastpin condescending tone when writing about America and Americans (it's worse in the German original), you can at least see the topic addressed.

The important names all are in here: Mattis, Petraeus, William Wallace (U.S., not Scotland) -- the ones you don't see in the domestic media any more, and if you don't know their names you don't know enough.

I also highly recommend the companion piece, a Q and A with Petraeus. Just reading it will remind you of the thing most often deliberately buried in the prevailing narrative: Iraq was not necessarily doomed; creative and smart approaches were tried and they succeeded; the bottom didn't fall out all at once in 2003. It could have worked, and in places it did work, and in places it's still working.

SPIEGEL: During your time as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul you tried to do exactly that. Your work up there is considered the most successful example for a new security doctrine. But what went wrong after the first year?

Petraeus: The first year was quite a good period in Ninevah Province and northern Iraq. We did, indeed, have a tough patch there, too; but by and large it was a fairly good period. Certainly we had to deal with the dynamics of Sunni Arabs who started to question whether they had a stake in the success of the new Iraq or not, and that was yet another dilemma over time that accumulated along with the influx of foreign fighters and the return of Saddamists who merged with people in the neighborhoods who weren't sure about their future in the new system. And of course that dynamic is still there.

SPIEGEL: What do you tell critics who claim that your operations failed in Mosul? Despite the fact that things got off to a good start, the region has since fallen to pieces.

Petraeus: It's important to understand the chronology. The trouble really started about five months after the 101st Airborne left Iraq -- though there is no question that the insurgents and foreign fighters were already trying to make inroads in our area as early as the fall of 2003. In fact, when many other areas did poorly during the uprising across Iraq in April 2004, Mosul and the Iraqi security forces there did quite well. The eventual spiral downward was likely the result of political dynamics in the wake of the tragic assassination of the governor of Ninevah Province at the end of June 2004 -- just as sovereignty was transferred from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the interim Iraqi government led by (former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad) Allawi. But you'll always find these big, catalyst moments in history as one occured when the governor was killed, on the very same night of the transfer of sovereignty. The situation in Ninevah became very fragile. The Sunni Arab members of the province council largely left, in a province where Sunni Arabs make up more than 70 percent of the population. So that couldn't turn out well, and soon the situation started to go downhill at an increasing pace.

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Iraqi Bloggers

[posted by Callimachus]

Is it my imagination, or have regular links to Iraqi bloggers largely disappeared from the discourse (by which I mean "shit-fling-fest") of the U.S. blogosphere? I'm thinking of all sides here: There are hundreds of articulate Iraqis publishing online in English on the daily realities of their lives, as there were during and immediately after the war.

If you hate Bush and the war and American things generally, you can read Riverbend. If you believe in post-Saddam Iraq and its chances, you can read Iraq the Model. You used to see those blogs cited often on the U.S. blogs, but now it seems they are almost invisible.

I'm as guilty of it as anyone, so here's a meager attempt to atone. Iraqi Blog Count is devoted to tracking the Iraqi blogs in existence. Its sidebar links to all of them, and if you have some time, take a spin through it. You'll meet all kinds of characters and opinions -- as you would in a random cross-section of any people.

Some are quite cranky, and certainly I don't approve of them all, so the usual caveats apply. But don't let yourself lose touch with these people as you think about where you want the U.S. occupation to go from here.

Among my favorite new finds among the Iraqi writers is Asterism. But also check out this stream-of-consciousness post from the mostly dormant Iraqi Rocker (which Dave Shuler also linked to somewhere).

Don't leave them out of your calculations.

Brownback's Brain

[Posted by reader_iam]

Some of the "thinking" demonstrated in this article is why I would have serious problems with Sen. Sam Brownback as a presidential candidate. Brownback has agreed to remove his block on a judicial nomination to the federal bench, which was also holding up action on more than a dozen other nominees (!). He had blocked the nomination because Judge Janet Neff had attended the same-sex commitment ceremony of a long-time friend and neighbor.
Mr. Brownback, who has been criticized for blocking the nomination, said he would also no longer press a proposed solution he offered on Dec. 8 that garnered even more criticism: that he would remove his block if Judge Neff agreed to recuse herself from all cases involving same-sex unions.

In an interview last week, Mr. Brownback said that he still believed Judge Neff’s behavior raised serious questions about her impartiality and that he was likely to vote against her. But he said he did not realize his proposal — asking a nominee to agree in advance to remove herself from deciding a whole category of cases — was so unusual as to be possibly unprecedented. Legal scholars said it raised constitutional questions of separation of powers for a senator to demand that a judge commit to behavior on the bench in exchange for a vote.

He didn't realize the request was unusual and inappropriate? That says a lot about his thinking skills and judgment. And if he had no one on his staff smart enough to figure that out, or comfortable enough to question Brownback's thinking, then that says something about the level and type of people with which one could assume he'd surround himself.
Mr. Brownback said that he believed Judge Neff’s attendance at the 2002 ceremony merited further investigation, but that he had not meant to set any precedent with his proposal. “It was the last day of the session and I was just trying to provide some accommodation to see if we could make this thing go forward,” he said.

He said that “this is a big hot-button issue” and that Judge Neff had not made it clear that her presence at the ceremony did not mean she could not rule without bias in deciding cases involving same-sex unions. “I’d like to know more factually about what took place,” he said.

Further "investigation"? "Like to know more factually about what took place"? Judge Neff explained the circumstances. How does he want to "investigate"--interview all of the attendees? Scrutinize any photos and videotapes taken that day? What "facts"? What does he want to know? Whether Neff, who didn't perform the (symbolic only) ceremony but did contribute a homily, failed to slip in some disapproving, you're-going-to-hell message? Whether she congratulated the long-term friend of her family too enthusiastically about her happiness? What is he talking about? His attempt to put an investigative, "we-need-to-know-more" figleaf on his opposition is simply laughable. He should know it's laughable. I would say it's laughable to think of a man who doesn't know it's laughable as a serious presidential candidate, except that it's just not a funny thought.

Another thing that doesn't pass the laugh test is the implication that Brownback thinks judicial nominees whose personal beliefs comport with his own should be taken at their word when they say they won't be guided by their private views, but not those whose beliefs differ.
On Oct. 12, Judge Neff answered a long list of written questions from Mr. Brownback. In her letter, she said she would decide any cases that came before her according to the law and the Constitution and would not be guided by her personal views. That is the same pledge that several conservative Republican judicial nominees made when asked whether their blunt personal statements opposing abortion rights and same-sex marriages would affect their performance on the bench.

Brownback supported those nominations, of course. Guess he had all the "facts" he needed.

If Brownback doesn't want to vote for Neff because she doesn't reflect his beliefs or that of his constituency (in the larger sense), fine. If he wants to question her during hearings as to whether she took TWO sips of champagne during the ceremonial toast and what that really means, fine. He'll look like an ass, but fine. But to hold up a whole block of nominees; to request that a judge take an unethical, inappropriate pledge; and then try to say he just needed more time for an "investigation" into the "facts" of an event the judge attended in her private life?

Puh-leeze. How dumb does he "think" we are?