Saturday, June 30, 2007

Aaaah, iPhone

[Posted by reader_iam}

I do. I do.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Dear Opposition Friends

[posted by Callimachus]

Lest you think this is all so easy, and decide too soon whose side you ought to be on in the tug-of-war between the White House and Congress over executive privilege, remember this wrestling match will last longer than just one administration. And in a few cycles, who knows? The balance and loci of political power may reverse.

Remember, too, that some of the dearest achievements of the last century -- desegregation, for instance -- were accomplished largely by unilateral executive action. By contrast, the Palmer Raids, perhaps the most flagrant abuse of government power in modern American history, took place under Congressional fiat, at a time when the executive branch was effectively paralyzed (by a dying president) and the much-loathed McCarthy hearings were a pure assertion of Congressional authority against the executive branch.

Just Because

It's Friday. Cat blogging? Scratch that. How about some Rachel Brice:

It's like the almost-unnerving musical savant quality of perfect pitch, translated into human form. One of my wife's dreams is to take a seminar with her. By all accounts, she's a real sweetheart, too.


Gut Busting

[Posted by reader_iam]

Or at least it would be, if--in context of the predictable reactions from the predictable quarters to every foiled bombing attempt and to every break up of a suspected terror cell--one weren't forced to ask the question: Is there any attempt at terrorism that these people would think worth taking seriously?

Unfortunately, the most likely answers are real humor-killers.

Yeah, Yeah, I Know I Am A Sinner

[Posted by reader_iam]

You'll just have to forgive me for finding this site to be an absolute hoot. If, when and where the parody fits, it's fit to be worn.

So, go ahead, bring on the fits.

A fitting hat tip.

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Beep You

[Posted by reader_iam]

When is a horn not a horn?
Banned from honking their horns, drivers in China's commercial hub of Shanghai are switching to music or voice recordings to make themselves heard, a local newspaper reported Wednesday.

Shanghai banned honking in the downtown area beginning this month, threatening fines of up to 200 yuan ($13) for those leaning on the horn. Not even police cars are exempt, with the use of sirens banned in all but emergencies, the rules say.

Yet some drivers who still feel the need to express themselves are spending up to 800 yuan ($100) for customized horns, the Shanghai Daily said.

It said at least one taxi driver has converted his to a recording of a woman's voice saying, "Please mind the car, we are making a turn." Other horns play music, similar to a personalized cell phone ring tone.
Hey, it's Friday--come out and play! Nominate the best song lyrics, or lines from movies, or whatever for a customized car horn.

I'll start: How about a verse from Devil in my Car?

(Sorry for the quality of the video, but you work with what you can find.)

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Friday Fun

[Posted by reader_iam]

Perusing this blog, including archives (scroll down and down).

Excess of Snark

[posted by Callimachus]

I tried to read a page of Atrios today. It was impossible. The writing is so coded, so terse, so self-referential, so masturbatory with in-jokes and snide asides to the regulars, so tilted toward the ironic instead of the literal, that "Atrios" seems to me to now qualify as its own language. It is hived off and sealed from the mainstream, and deliberately so: More support for the suggestion (which actually was made proudly on an Atrios-like blog) that the oppositional leftish anti-administration/anti-war blog crew really fancies itself the cool, artsy kids occupying their one table off in a corner of the high school cafeteria. There they all sat, convinced they were alone because they were exclusive, not because everyone else found them, in one way or another, insufferable.

That is where reliance on snark will get you.


Gore-l Warming [Update]

[Posted by reader_iam]

... to the idea of another stab at the presidency?
Former US vice president Al Gore will not be able to make it to Taiwan this September to address the issue of global warming, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said yesterday. Tien, who invited Gore to visit Taiwan to promote awareness on global warming, told reporters yesterday that she received an e-mail from the Harry Walker Agency, which has the exclusive right to arrange Gore's speeches, saying that Gore had canceled all his scheduled events in the next six months. The visit to Taiwan had been postponed to next year, she added. Tien said the reason for the cancelation was that Gore was considering a presidential bid.
Let's see who gets all hot and bothered by this--and why, how and in what way. Stormy weather ahead?

Hat tip.

Update: Sorry if this dashes anyone's hopes. OTOH, why should they be dashed?



[Posted by reader_iam in Central Time]




5 hours, 302928 minutes... .



A Pillow In Chief

[Posted by reader_iam]

That's what women supposedly want?
"I think he has a great chance of capturing the women's vote. He's majestic. He's a soft, safe place to be and that could be Fred's ticket. Women love a soft place to lay and a strong pair of hands to hold us," ex-girlfriend country music singer Lorrie Morgan told the Sunday Times.
Oh, ugh. I don't know about you, but stuff like this makes me want to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head.

Speaking Of Pot

[Posted by reader_iam]

Meet a kettle of steam.

Speaking of Kathryn Jean Lopez, she's the #1 reason I stopped reading The Corner on anything approaching a regular basis. (Oh, dear: Would that be considered too snark-like? Well, too bad, if so; it's not as if I've made it my mission to snark out even a small but statisically significant percentage of those who displease, disgust or dismay me, on a regular basis. )

Shorter version of the previous paragraph:
"Speaking of idiocy... (Oh, dear: I'm not sorry, given the context and track record)."

Give Me Lies

[Posted by reader_iam]

In the name of desiring "peace on earth," people who supposedly would say they find the following song inspiring, for one reason or another and from one perspective or another, in their actions day by day betray their disbelief in almost every idea expressed therein:

In the immortal words of Linus Van Pelt: "I love mankind! It's people I can't stand!"

Life's a bitch, ain't it?


In a twist of the hand, Peanuts also once offered up this gem, via big sister Lucy Van Pelt: I know the answer! The answer lies within the heart of all mankind! The answer is twelve? I think I'm in the wrong building.

On another hand, there's this: Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia.

Oh, wait!--that one has has no place in the narrative anymore, does it? So silly to have forgotten. Well, pardon me.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bottoms Up!

[Posted by reader_iam]

Modern jeu d'esprit volleys with tradition:

(Photo from the Daily Mail, U.K.)

Fancy that!

Trespassing Speech?

[Posted by reader_iam]

See here.
LOGAN, Utah - A 76-year-old woman has been barred from the bus station after giving unwanted birth-control advice to mothers with large families. "I think it's wrong. It's a violation of my First Amendment rights," Laura Stevens said.

She was arrested Tuesday for trespassing, a misdemeanor, according to police records.

"She's been making comments to some of the Hispanic passengers that they should be on the pill, that they're taking over our society," said Todd Beutler, general manager of the Cache Valley Transit District.

"The passengers have a right to ride and not be intimidated," he said.
Do you need more information to render judgment?

Dishonest Headline Of The Day

[Posted by reader_iam]

"Resegregation Now"

Post-It Modernism

Terry Eagleton weighs in in support of Reader's theory that most of what's going on nowadays is unresolved tension from the late Cold War period:

[P]ostmodernism springs in large part from the rout of modern Marxism. In the work of Baudrillard, Lyotard and others, it began as an alternative creed for disenchanted leftists. Its obsession with discourse makes sense in an age short on political action. Instead of setting fire to campuses, American students now cleanse their speech of incorrectness. If Marxism had been shamefully coy about sexuality, postmodernism makes a fetish of it. The warm, desiring, palpable body is a living rebuke to all those bloodless abstractions about the Asiatic mode of production. Instead of grand narratives that lead to the gulag, we have a plurality of mini-narratives. Since doctrinal absolutes dismember bodies, relativism is the order of the day. If castrating homosexuals is part of your culture, it would be ethnocentric of me to object. Revolution is no longer on the agenda, but sporadic subversions may stand in for it. Class politics yields to identity politics. The system cannot be overthrown, but at least it can be deconstructed. And since there is no political hope in the heartlands of capitalism, where the proletariat has upped sticks without leaving a forwarding address, the postmodern gaze turns mesmerically to the Other, whatever passport (woman, gay, ethnic minority) it happens to be travelling on.

Surfeit of Democracy

[posted by Callimachus]

Bryan Caplan is someone I wholly agree with -- half way. We both have great skepticism about unfettered democracy. That, far from being sacred, it is dangerous. Here's his version:

In our society, we are used to the idea that we should do whatever the majority wants. In fact, people often treat the majority opinion as the standard of both truth and value - how often have you heard a pundit say, "The American people want X" as if that were a sufficient reason to do it? I emphasize that popular policies can be very bad - and when they are, I don't see why we should give the American people what it wants.

However, he is an economist, and his alternative looks not toward the balancing power of the aristocracy or the states (the old American system), nor even toward any modern equivalent in the elite and educated. This economist wants to balance democracy with -- economists. Really, the problem is that, as an economist, he tends to see the national challenges as mostly economics ones.

Economists can often figure out ways to make markets work better, but the democratic process tends to adopt policies that makes markets work worse.

Well, my impression is that economists don't always agree and don't always get it right. I don't suppose putting them in charge of the economy would be any wiser than putting sociologists in charge of public education.

The consequences of the gradual democratization of America's original "mixed-government" system go a lot further than economics. A few posts back I pulled up a story from Dean Acheson's biography, about the difficult process of America supporting Tito in his break with Stalin in 1948, without appearing too cozy with the dictator, or making the dictator look like a lackey of the capitalists.

There's a coda to that story. Moving arms and aid to the communist dictator of Yugoslavia, to fend off an invasion, was a delicate process, since Congress had set so many hurdles up to ensure aid only went to free governments and capitalist economies. One of the key allies of the State Department in accomplishing this contortionist act was a South Carolina Democratic senator who headed a key committee.

But in the next electoral cycle, a primary challenger sprang up, drawing unfavorable comparisons between the amount of money the incumbent had helped move to Yugoslavia and the amount of pork he had managed to bring to the home district in the same period. And furthermore, the challenger demanded to know, who was this fellow Tito, and exactly what kind of government did he run.

The incumbent, whose seat had been cast-iron safe, barely survived the primary. After that he was much more hesitant to help the State Department implement policy.

When the Senate was given a large hand in foreign policy and treaty-making, in 1787, it was not to be a popularly elected Senate. Not necessarily, at any rate: The decision was up to the states, but it clearly was anticipated that senators would be appointed and answerable to the state capitols, not the whims of the voters, and this was how it generally happened. The Founders, in the debates over ratification of the Constitution, specifically defended this arrangement. It's why the Senate, not the House, was chosen to have this power.

Inherently Unlevel Fields

[posted by Callimachus]

Almost all rich countries got wealthy by protecting infant industries and limiting foreign investment. But these countries are now denying poor ones the same chance to grow by forcing free-trade rules on them before they are strong enough.

Full argument here for affirmative action in globalization.

I am not an economist; I do see economic globalization as essential to the best available future for humankind. But as someone who studied at close range the tariff issues in the U.S. in the early 19th century, and employing my schoolyard sense of fairness (which might not be appropriate here) I think this makes a lot of sense.

The Rise and Fall of Man

[posted by Callimachus]

Born today, in chronological order, were:

  • King Henry VIII of England
  • John Wesley
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Richard Rodgers, American composer (d. 1979)
  • Mel Brooks
  • Hans Blix

Oh and also Norika Fujiwara:

Whom I've never heard of, but what the hell.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Speaking of News Photography

[posted by Callimachus]

Michael J. Totten has an interesting collections of observations on its use and misuse in the Middle East. And it features our friend Ahmed Anger!

One of his points is that if the photographer who shoots the anti-Western protests and violence would take a wider-angle shot, he'd end up showing you how sparse they are, despite the way the protesters crowd around the camera. And how many people don't take part in them.

This matters a great deal, I think, because these pictures, more than words, tilt the American public's perception of the attitude of people in the Middle East toward us. It may be conflicted and confrontational, but even in spite of the relentless anti-American propaganda, it is hardly the mass of flaming hatred the pictures show us.

The Sound You Hear ...

[Posted by reader_iam]

... is me crossing another person off the list.

Not much of a surprise, perhaps, given my suspicions--not to mention my deep skepticism--with regard to Mitt Romney. Yet I was withholding I'd prefer to wait until, at bare earliest, some time around March-ish next year to start rendering judgment (for myself, I mean--and specifically in terms of the Act Of Voting, as opposed to mere opining as one goes along). However, as in another case, sometimes one's hand gets forced. Telegraphing and telling "stuff" happens.

So: weed out and move on.

With Snark

[posted by Callimachus]

Snark is the wit's pleasure in his own stink.

Snark mistakes grafitti for architecture.

With snark hath no man a point of good persuasion. Solzhenitzyn came not by snark. Nor Mark Twain; Galileo came not by snark.

Snark lacks courage. It is the self-satisfied snort of slaves and eunuchs. It is a smug cakewalk entertainment for chattels that makes the performer feel special and changes nothing.

No tyrant fears snark.

Snark is rhetorical junk food. All salt, no meat. Stuff your face with it all day and you gain no nourishment.

Snark is to inquiry and discourse what Westboro Baptist Church is to Christianity. It is a swamp of poisons into which nothing thoughtful goes and from which nothing emerges untainted.

Snark is not opposition. It is not honest invective or keen satire or moral outrage. It dulls the blades of all those.

Snark is the smacked ass smirking at the hand that slapped it.

Savvy modern tyrants, if they could, would prescribe the voice and tone of dissent. And they would choose snark for that voice as the least effective one imaginable.

Snark is the chirp of minds that choose to be small yet can't cease to feel important. It is the trade of shiny feeble tugs that can ply no rough waves or tow no thought longer than a slur.

Snark gives the lazy thinker an excuse to write anyhow, sans imagination, sans purpose. It finds no truth; it exposes no error. It is wit borrowed on interest and spent wastefully. It debases the coinage of commentary.


The Vanishing Artist

[posted by Callimachus]

Graduation speech:

Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O'Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk, Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead, and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a broad range of human achievement.

I grew up mostly among immigrants, many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show or the Perry Como Music Hall, I saw—along with comedians, popular singers, and movie stars—classical musicians like Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong captivate an audience of millions with their art.

The same was even true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman, and James Baldwin on general interest TV shows. All of these people were famous to the average American—because the culture considered them important.

Today no working-class or immigrant kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.

I've been thinking about this passage for days and still am not sure -- not whether I agree or not; I think he's right -- but why, exactly, it changed.

One idea, and not necessarily the most important, is that 50 years ago we were still a newly minted world power, still more than half thinking of ourselves with the inferiority complex stamped on us by generations of British and French snobbery. We still half suspected we were the stunted, illiterate yahoos they told us we were.

So an American being good at something was worth newsprint, was worth celebrating -- the root of "celebrity." Even if -- especially if -- it was a foreigner who had chosen to come here or fled here. Because most of us were, then, closer to having an immigrant ancestor (the 1900-1910 period was, I believe, the peak of immigration). That was part of America: "We may be stunted, illiterate yahoos, but we will embrace every genius who's tired of living in your little country."

Now, we expect all the prizes, all the medals, all the Nobels and Pulitzers. It's almost a scandal when we don't sweep the board. Yeah, our kids don't test out as well as the Singaporeans, but we have an excuse for that.

Another feature is the relative monopoly of the media back then in a few hands. Monopoly is supposed to be a bad thing, but I laugh when modern anti-capitalists decry the contemporary media as monopolized. You can tell they're under 40. Back then, Ed Sullivan could literally put an opera singer into every American neighborhood. Perhaps it was one man's taste, or his sense of responsibility, or just the sponsors' wishes, but it gave us something we lack, and miss.

That doesn't explain the loss of poets and opera stars, which probably is more due to those art forms being swept into irrelevance by new ones we invented, which are as tasteless as paper and no substitute for the bread of life that was in old poems.

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When is a Riot

Not a riot?

When it's happening in Iran and you're someone in America who has only the vaguest notion of Iran but is absolutely obsessed with Dick Cheney.

Setting fire to one petrol station and chanting anti-government slogans does not constitute a riot. Protest, maybe. Hyperbole, definitely. Now it's up to 12 petrol stations that have been torched, so we're getting close to "furious," but riots have not broken out. BBC gets it right: Iran fuel rations spark violence.

Gas rationing can make unhappy campers of anyone.

Sure, sure, we all remember the massive torching of gas stations across Europe and the U.S. in the '70s. Just business as usual.

Because Iran doesn't really matter. It's nuclear weapons program doesn't really matter. The freedom and pursuit of happiness of its millions of human beings don't really matter. All that matters is that man in the White House (and his puppetmaster).

I'm looking at the tags on her post. They include "Iran (262)" and "Republicans" (1262)." Yep. Sounds about right.

You remember how silly some of the supporters of the administration looked when they got all vein-popping about the use of the term "civil war" in reference to Iraq? I still think it was the wrong term, by the way, but that's a technicality; the more important thing is to solve the problem than to name it. You remember how deftly the left skewered them over it?

Look in the mirror now, friends.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

War of Shadows

[posted by Callimachus]

Stories like this won't get as much ink as ones that feature dead Americans, but they're devastating:

A stealthy suicide bomber slipped into a busy Baghdad hotel Monday and blew himself up in the midst of a gathering of U.S.-allied tribal sheiks — a blow to efforts to forge a front against the extremists of al-Qaida in Iraq. Four of the tribal chiefs were among the 13 victims, police said.

I don't think I have to tell you the name of the organization that likely pulled this one off. (If you shouted "CIA/Mossad!" you're on the wrong blog).

Al Qaida understands perfectly something we Americans still don't get -- our political leaders and wanna-be leaders least of all: Prestige. Prestige is a curious word, but the roots of it mean "to bind in advance." Prestige is the shadow cast by your power. Right now, America has enormous power with a short shadow. Al Qaida knows how to make its shadow as long as the world.

Different, But the Same

[posted by Callimachus]

Alerted by this E.J. Dionne column, I went to the Web site of the Center for a New American Security to see the paper he described on a strategy for American retreat from Iraq. The Center is, well, "centrist," having on its staff names of both nonideological Republicans and Democrats-who-really-have-done-foreign-policy.

Here is the short version of the three-point recommendation:

Even as forces in Iraq are drawn down, the U.S. has enduring interests in that besieged country and the surrounding region, and these interests will require a significant military presence there for the foreseeable future. These vital long-term U.S. interests in Iraq can be boiled down to Three No’s: no regional war; no al Qaeda safe havens; and no genocide.

  • No Regional War: The United States has an enduring interest in Iraq’s internal chaos not triggering regional conflict, and in external actors not further exacerbating Iraq’s civil war.

  • No Al Qaeda Safe Havens: The U.S. has an enduring interest in preventing Iraq from resembling Afghanistan on September 10th, 2001.

  • No Genocide: The U.S. has an enduring interest in preventing genocide in Iraq.

That's not a bad starting list. But I'm not sure how largely it differs from what we're doing now, except on entirely ditching the more hopeful "nation-building" part of the mission, which was the icing on our neo-con cake.

It seems to involve us in refereeing a civil war like a pro wrestling match: Check the turnbuckles, make sure everyone fights by the rules, no foreign objects in the ring.

All the while pretending to be disengaged.

And pretending they won't keep shooting at us.

Frankly, I liked this cake better with the icing on it. Still, I applaud them for trying.


Picture Imperfect

[posted by Callimachus]

This piece, co-written by a New York Times photographer and his journalist wife, is worth reading. It will stay with you. It is insightful on a personal level, and no doubt it will be read straight by many people opposed to the American project in Iraq.

But take a step back, and it is disturbing on any number of levels. First, there's the basic image of the Australian-born New York Times-employed photographer with a clear anti-war commitment itching to press the shutter button and snap photos of wounded or dead Americans wallowing in their blood, while the comrades of the fallen men glare him off:

Only his feet were visible, sticking out. If I had taken the photo, I would have been lynched by his comrades. When corpses are around, every eye in the zone, teary or angered, is on me, ensuring I don’t get too close and take a picture.

Earlier in the piece he blamed the military bureaucracy for blocking such images with a paperwork maneuver -- "If you’ve ever wondered why photographers don’t take many pictures of death and horrible injuries—the ugly facts of war—now you know." But this later bit suggests, in fact, you didn't know when he told you. He let you know, inadvertently, after he showed you. The situation would be the same even if there were no Pentagon paperwork.

Along the way, he inadvertently shows you something else disturbing: Torture can work.

I left the courtyard stunned, intensely conflicted. By breaking up this al Qaeda cell, the raid had saved lives. No question about it. And the information couldn’t have been gathered in a timely manner if the Geneva Conventions had been followed. Again, no question. But I hate torture and will never condone it.

Nor will I. But no wonder he's a good spot-news photographer. That's the job of the man with the camera; to show you, not tell you. Even when he despises what he sees. And no wonder his experience in Iraq haunts him. I don't think even he sees the full range of the haunting yet. His conclusion:

I’m just recording history now, documenting the decline, in the hope that the people who don’t recognize it now may one day look back at my pictures and see the war for the mistake-riddled quagmire it was—and is.

He's trying to imprint a template on his experience, one that gives it meaning and validation in the framework of his world. A bad war, prosecuted by bad politicians. As before, though, I think he is showing more than even he realizes. He's not chronicling one war. He's showing you all of them, and a good deal more of human experience that can't be contained in the chapter heading "war."

"Rather than never dying before they get old

[Posted by reader_iam]

... they'll just read Newsweek articles declaring that whatever age they are isn't really old at all."

Creak. Ouch. Poke. Stir. And, by the way... .

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Instead ...

[Posted by reader_iam]
... we’ve party maschinistas and maschinistos, and scary types. Both seem to want the Federal government in every aspect of our lives, something I’m not to keen on. It’s just one wants to monitor our every play in the bedroom, the other wants to be the Super Nanny–both seem to have no limits on spending our taxes on God knows what and who knows who gets bombed. Whatever happened to Rockefeller Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats? Of a certain national humility about thinking we can set the world right because causes lead to predictable outcomes without unintended consequences?
Hey, Christopher: I'm still reading you. Didn't stop (seamless move from your old to your new place).

And for good reason.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Nice Piece

Here. You may have to hit the "open video link in new window" prompt to see it. At least I did.

Council Winners

Watchers Council winners for the week of June 22 have been posted.

First place in the council went to Gaza Becomes Hamastan, Part 2 -- Clarity and an Opportunity by Joshuapundit.

Also getting votes were Muslim And Christian? In One Body? by Cheat Seeking Missiles; Happy Father's Day To the "Dragon Slayer" by ‘Okie’ on the Lam; The New York Times Spins Away by Bookworm Room; and A Tragic Case from right here.

Outside the council, the winner again was a Michael Yon piece, Be Not Afraid

Votes also went to Beware: Misleading Income Statistics Are Coming Your Way by Back Talk; The American Left's Silly Victim Complex by Matt Taibbi at Adbusters; Twenty Years Ago in Berlin, Seeing the Rally Against Reagan by Gay Patriot West (and remember, this generation now is largely in control of the media and political institutions in Western Europe); Stacking the Deck Against Justice Thomas by Pillage Idiot; and A French Lesson for America's Grand Old Party by Newt Gingrich at American Enterprise Institute.

I also believe I neglected to post the winners from June 8.

First place in the council went to 3 Spies and Six Days by Soccer Dad.

Votes also went to The Six Day War In Real Time by Bookworm Room; Smelt Stink by Cheat Seeking Missiles; and It's Not Dead. It's Resting by Right Wing Nut House.

Outside the council, the winner was Four Modest Proposals for Getting Out of Iraq by Dan Simmons.

Votes also went to Six Day War -- Israeli Perspective History News Network; The End of the Bushes? by Captain's Quarters; and RCTV Protests Spread To Atlanta, San Francisco, Mexico City by Publius Pundit.

Faith Hijackers

[posted by Callimachus]

Can you hijack something that is unmoved? Some think so.

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois said Saturday that the religious right had “hijacked” faith and divided the country by exploiting issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and school prayer.—“But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together,” Mr. Obama said. “Faith started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hijacked.”

I'm not aware of "togetherness" or "civic cohesion" being part of the definition of "faith," or inherent in its roots, in the religious sense of the word. The trust or compact there is between a person and his god or gods. That may or may not be a political virtue. No hijacking is required to make a Fred Phelps, say, or an Osama bin Laden. You may deplore these things, but it is ridiculous to pretend that faith must have any beneficial civic "use."


[posted by Callimachus]

There Were No WMD

For that matter, one in five Americans (20%) believe that we did find chemical/biological weapons "hidden by Saddam Hussein's regime."

Except, we did.

But, but, but: not a "stockpile" ... degraded ... pre-1991 .... Fine, all true. But if you want to argue that it wasn't the mushroom-cloud inducing sort of weaponry, and that belief in such things was a major cause of going to the war, you have to go ahead and say that. Don't shortcut for the sake of mental laziness to "no WMD," because when you do, and you know better, you're a liar. It's worded wrongly in the original Newsweek article, too.

More on this gripe here and here.

What's amazing is that at most only one in five knows this. Or will admit it and risk being mocked by their betters.


Just Misunderstood

[posted by Callimachus]

No, no, no, the Hollywood left doesn't say Bush is as bad as Hitler. Don't you dare accuse them of that. They say he's worse.

You could argue that even the world's worst fascist dictators at least meant well. They honestly thought were doing good things for their countries by suppressing blacks/eliminating Jews/eradicating free enterprise/repressing individual thought/killing off rivals/invading neighbors, etc. Only the Saudi royal family is driven by the same motives as Bush, but they were already entrenched. Bush set a new precedent. He came into office with the attitude of "I'm so tired of the public good. What about my good? What about my rich friends' good?"

How can anyone not see it? It's not that their policies have been misguided or haven't played out right. They. Don't. Even. Mean. Well.

Of course it doesn't help Bush's case when someone attempts a push-back against this nonsense and of the two examples that come to mind, one is the "stated dream of a manned mission to Mars." Hell, Hitler could have dreamed that, too.

This all reminds me of the sort of thing that was said, and believed, about Reagan back in my youth. And, I have read, about FDR in his day.

Somehow it's so easy to lose sight of the fact that we all broadly agree on the challenges that face us as a nation, and the goals we have of peace and security and protections of freedom and rights here and around the world. We disagree sharply on the tactics or the best paths to get there.


Wire Editor's Dilemma

[posted by Callimachus]

So it's a slow news night, after the few top stories, and I have a big hole to fill on page A3 (whoops; there goes out ratings, down a notch).

And there's a nice big story on the Gay Pride parades around the country, full of flamboyant pictures, or pictures of children, and flamboyant descriptions and flamboyant quotes. It's a veritable flambe of flamboyant.

Do I run that? Knowing that a lot of gays and lesbians really don't identify with this sort of event and it makes them cringe? That these may well be the only images of gays and lesbians -- identified as such -- that get into this paper for months on end? That this presents gays and lesbians not as people with sexualities, but walking sexualities and sexual agendas? That they are exactly the kind of stereotype-confirming images that do no good to the cause of letting people see past their least-pleasant ideas of someone else?

And do you want your local wire editor to even be thinking in these terms?

Iran by Night

[posted by Callimachus]

UPDATE: And a great, big, fat "never mind." According to Ali, New York Times now says it got the story wrong. Not that the pictures aren't still disturbing, but it's a different kind of disturbing -- I guess, as long as you don't get worked up about cops abusing and humiliating people while arresting those who probably are guilty of something. Which we all know is never a concern of the leftish side of the spectrum.

So we're left with a false alarm that nonetheless let people act out their inclinations while it lasted. One of the curious things, to me, is how many people chose to see this and respond to it through the Malkin version, not the Ali version, though both were mutually linked. Maybe it's easier to talk to extremists than to more complicated realities.

* * *

Ali Eteraz, who does not want anyone to invade Iran, nonethleless wants you to see what the regime there does to its own young people.

Welcome to Islamic Theocracy. Phallocentric, every last one of them. Here is a police clusterf*ck. When Giuliani’s thugs did this kind of crap in NYC every Muslim was pissed. Now American Muslims are sitting around talking about Neo-Con appropriation.

Go and see.

And of course he get slammed for it in his comments section:

These duplicitous peon tools of the Bush administration have no sense of justice. They are a blind mob of imbeciles who support American_Israeli aggression no matter the cost of lives or American good will. Fringe lunatics.

Where do you stand, Ali?

How about "for what is decent, against what is dehumanizing and repressive?"

UPDATE: And of course the push-back on this from the anti-war left is directed at the little Philippina lightning rod, not the realities.

Complete with what purports to be a balanced presentation of photos of Iran abuse and photos of Abu Ghraib abuse -- two from Iran, three from Iraq, but lo and behold, as least as of right now, the Iran photos are just empty boxes with error messages.

Here's the attempted justification:

Let me be the first to tell Ms. Malkin that being concerned for human rights, really and truly concerned does not depend on the color of the victim's skin or their religious background. It is an absolute moral position. This is not something Malkin can understand, because her outrage is purchased.

Fine, but then the next sentence takes all that "absolute moral" stuff back by claiming the Abu Ghraib terrors were so much worse and the outrage spilled over them so much more justified -- apparently because of the nationality of the people committing them.

The reason there was so much national outrage over Abu Ghraib is because in the pictures shown, there were not masked Iranian police committing atrocities, rather, they were US soldiers committing atrocities. And the horrors depicted are stunningly graphic and obscene on levels I cannot even comprehend. I hope she understand the difference, but that would be asking too much of her and her ilk.

And this is from a self-professed "journalist."

As for the "these photos vs. those photos" discrimination, she passes on the invitation to run the Muhammad cartoons:

Now, I am not for censorship, but I am not for pure hate garbage either. I do not agree that the cartoon should have been censored, but I can understand the argument from the other side.

Yes, but the issue here never has been censorship. You're not a government entity; you have no power to "censor" anything. It's about you as a journalist. And you just told us plenty.

She then goes on to cite a more intelligent anti-war, anti-Iraq response to the Iran pictures, from someone whom she claims "reads this latest Malkin entry much the same way I do," yet says things she never says and makes arguments she seems incapable of framing on her own.

All that being said, I don't go for the bullying tactic used often by Michelle M., and others on all sides, of calling attention to something going on in the world, then saying anyone online who doesn't weigh in in opposition to it is essentially for it.

Doesn't work that way. I don't pretend to be publishing a complete picture of the world here, and if you're getting all your news and views from me, please don't. I write about what interests me enough to waste time writing about it. I write about what I know well enough to feel my opinion on it is worth you wasting your time reading it.

Other than that, I know there are very important things happening in the world -- economics of globalization, immigration debate, "partial-birth" abortion, drug-resistant bacteria, failed states in Africa -- that I simply have nothing useful to say about because I am too ignorant. When you know you're ignorant, keep your damned mouth shut and listen. Or else ask honest questions.

Now if a blogger or news source had staked out its identity entirely on the issue of human rights, and ignored the situation in Iran, that site could rightly be called out for it. Or if, as in the case above, a blogger claims to have elevated an issue to the status of an "absolute moral position." That's an invitation to bypassers to poke for the hypocrisy. The rest of us, I suspect, can be cut a break.

Got Your Parent Or Guardian With You?

[Posted by reader_iam]

Online Dating

Rating via Mingle2.

The explanation:
This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
* death (3x)
* gay (2x)
* zombie (1x)
Well, I'll be ... nevermind.

Hat tip.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

See If You Can Tell

[posted by Callimachus]

The regular editorial writer was on vacation this week, and the boss, knowing I had done this job before elsewhere, asked me to fill in for a day. Mainly this involved pagination and editing, but he also wanted me to write two editorials to cover him for the weekend. I suggested a topic for one. He suggested a topic and a point of view for the other. I didn't entirely agree with his point of view, but he's the boss, so I wrote it that way. But at the end of the night it was amusing to me to see how differently I wrote the one than the other.

I offer them here, not as a lesson in my own perfidy, but as an example of shades and subtext in journalism.

Here's one:

After the Hamas putsch in Gaza last week, President Bush rushed to embrace Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian who now rules unopposed in the West Bank.

With the Israeli prime minister at his side, Bush said Abbas "is a voice that is a reasonable voice amongst the extremists in your neighborhood."

You could almost imagine Abbas cringing, as you could when Bush in the same news conference referred to Abbas' prime minister Salam Fayyad as a "good fellow."

There's an art to this diplomacy business, and American president once knew how to do it. It involves a firm belief and commitment to the transcendent ideals of America and their transformative power in the world. Bush certainly has that.
It also involves a dash of realism.

A 2006 Gallup survey of Palestinian opinion showed it is "widely hostile to U.S. leadership" and, "More than four in five Palestinians (82%) have a 'very unfavorable' opinion of President Bush ...." Those numbers are unlikely to have changed since then.

In 1948, Yugoslavia's leader, Tito, broke away from the Soviet bloc, and the U.S. carefully moved to protect him without undermining him. The matter was so delicate Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State, kept it under his personal direction. Any presidential statement on Yugoslavia was carefully vetted, and usually delivered second-hand, by an ambassador, for instance.

The Truman administration knew Tito should be supported because his independence weakened Stalin, but it also knew "it would be bad politics and bad morals to represent him as an ally of the West," Acheson later wrote. "He was and would long remain a staunch Communist and the dictator of a police state. To represent him otherwise would injure both him and us."

Bolstering Abbas and his new government is the wise thing to do now. It should be good for the Palestinians, good for peace, and good for America's interests in the Mideast.

But Bush should do it very quietly, from a great distance, and through international agencies as much as possible. He should almost seem not to be doing it at all. Picking a minor fight with Abbas now and then wouldn't hurt, either.

The practical difference between Fatah and Hamas may amount to what President Carter artlessly suggested this week: Hamas is just more effective at murder and extortion than Fatah is these days. Bush sees good fellows, but goodfellas might be closer to the case.

Another unpleasant truth is that a big hug for Abbas from the American president might be the kiss of death.

Here's the other:

"That's why they call them deadlines."

Maybe you heard that some time in your career, from a teacher or a boss or a landlord. You know, the one who would brook no excuse, however heartfelt your plea.
Well, you can put a national face on that character: Antonin Scalia.

Scalia has advocated such strictness in the legal realm for many years now. This week, he got a chance to join a Supreme Court majority (the usual 5-4 split) in bringing it about.

A man sentenced to 15 years to life for helping to beat another man to death was told by an Ohio judge he had 18 days to file an appeal. The judge was wrong: federal law allowed him only 14 days.

On the 17th day, the murderer's lawyer filed his papers. Eventually, the mistake was discovered. The appeal was thrown out. The case went to the Surpreme Court.

The petitioner's situation would seem to fall under the "unique circumstances" doctrine the Supreme Court began crafting in the 1960s.

As Justice David Souter protested (in dissenting from this ruling), the court had been making that doctrine more flexible for several years.

Things are different now.

In an earlier case this month, the court overturned a pay-discrimination verdict, also over a missed deadline that even the justices agreed was probably too short to be fair. Now some congressional Democrats are trying to write new legislation to change the bad law.

Which is how the system is supposed to work, in a strict view.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority in the most recent case, pointed out that, "If rigorous rules like the one applied today are thought to be inequitable," Congress, not the Court, should change them.

That certainly is reasonable. But when the accidental coincidences of Supreme Court replacements and presidential politics combine to change the entire judicial philosophy of the court, and a case that would have been ruled one way since the 1960s is entirely reversed this year for no other reason, it's hard not to feel an arbitrary element is at work in the system.

"It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way," Souter complained. "There is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch."

Especially when the fault, as all the justices agreed, lay not with the murderer's appeal, but with the system itself.

Animal Cracker


[posted by Callimachus]

A new nationwide survey, using high-tech methods to solicit candid answers on sexual activity and illegal drug use, finds that 29 percent of American men report having 15 or more female sexual partners in a lifetime, while only 9 percent of women report having sex with 15 or more men.

Isn't one way to read this that a lot of guys are having sex with the same handful of women? Which really isn't looking to me like anything to brag about.

Or maybe that all depends on what you mean by "having."

Which Takes Courage?

Doing this in Iran ...

A student holds a sign reading, 'Fascist President, Polytechnich is not your place', as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unseen, speaks at the Amir Kabir Technical University, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Dec. 11, 2006, in a rare demonstration against the president.

... or doing this in London:

Muslims protest outside Regents Park Mosque in central London against the knighthood of Salman Rushdie, Friday June 22, 2007. Muslims angered by Britain's decision to honor author Salman Rushdie with a knighthood held a rally in London Friday, warning the furor threatens to match the fierce reaction to publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark in 2006.

Both photos by Associated Press.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

An Entity Unto Itself

[Posted by reader_iam]

That's pretty much how V.P. Cheney's office thinks of itself, since it is disavowing its connection to the executive branch and nothing on God's green earth, or in the transcendent cosmos, will ever make me believe it truly identifies itself with the legislative one, no matter how much it wants to claim the mantle of the latter to duck requirements for the former.
Officials at the archives and the Justice Department confirmed the basic chronology of events outlined in Mr. Waxman’s letter.

The letter said that after repeatedly refusing to comply with a routine annual request from the archives for data on his staff’s classification of internal documents, the vice president’s office in 2004 blocked an on-site inspection of records that other agencies of the executive branch regularly go through.

But other officials familiar with Mr. Cheney’s view said that he and his legal adviser, David S. Addington do not believe the executive order applies to the vice president’s office because it has a legislative as well as an executive status in the Constitution.

Other White House offices, including the National Security Council, routinely comply with the oversight requirements, according to Mr. Waxman’s office and outside experts.

The dispute is far from the first to pit Mr. Cheney and Mr. Addington, against outsiders seeking information, usually members of Congress or advocacy groups. Their position is generally based on strong assertions of presidential power and the importance of confidentiality, which Mr. Cheney has often argued was eroded by post-Watergate laws and a prying press.

But the National Archives is an executive branch department headed by a presidential appointee, and it is assigned to collect the data on classified documents under a presidential executive order. The archives’ division that oversees classification and declassification, the Information Security Oversight Office, is an obscure part of the federal bureaucracy.
Psssssstttt: Classified documents--even those considered state secrets--ultimately, and always--belong to the United States of America. Its people. And to history. I want them collected somewhere, and preferably not under the control of those who have the most personal, individual interests at stake.

That doesn't meant I think it's sensible to maintain continuous, in-real-time, self-defeating (no, I'm not referring to individual people here, much less V.P. Cheney) transparency. Given particular contexts, quite, quite the opposite, temporally speaking. Nor am I missing the political maneuvering here on the part of Rep. Waxman, as well--ooooohhhhh, no.

But the bottom line is that I don't want ANY branch, much less a single office, no matter which, of our government to consider itself an entity unto itself, detached from any and every branch (except when it's convenient to attach itself to one or another), with maverick pretensions that its work, and the documentation thereof--and this is the implication--only belongs to particular, individual, specific people at a particular, specific time. Which in turn implies that that the documentation could, and likely will, vanish along with those people, at a time of their choosing or upon their preparing to leave office, which ever is later most efficacious for them. As is right!--apparently, according to their estimation.

I say no: It's not right. It's wrong. It's dangerous. And it's cheating, on the contract with We the People, and of history.

Should I be giving the VP's office more of the benefit of the doubt? Sorry; at least for me, not at this point, and not for some time. Come on, we're talking secrecy here, and specifically in terms of V.P. Cheney and David Addington, God help us:
Remember Scott Pritchard (Will Patton), the creepy aide to Defense Secretary David Brice (Gene Hackman) in the 1987 movie "No Way Out"?

I couldn't help thinking of that Machiavellian (in the sense of "The Prince," not the author), blindly zealous political operator yesterday... .

I wonder if David Addington, former counsel and currently chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, has seen that flick? One could hope such a reference point might occasionally cross his mind (and those of others like him) when he looks in the mirror in the morning. But then, one could just piss in the wind, too.
These people are entities unto themselves, people. Beware.

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No News is No News

I'm having a hard time seeing the point of this. Does it really surprise anyone to learn that Air America and NPR and "Rolling Stone" journalists give to Democratic/liberal causes? Does it impact your sense of media fairness to know that the movie critic for the "Washington Times" or a sports reporter for the Allentown "Morning Call" donates to Republicans? Gods know I'm as hard on the mainstream media as anyone out here, but I also am embedded in it, and I can tell you when an attack is just smoke. This one is just smoke.

I know some of these people personally, or have been friendly with them in past incarnations -- her, for instance -- and I can attest to the fact that whatever she may contribute to politically, it has very little chance to taint the writing she does, and that contributing to a cause hardly makes you a zealot for it. There's not a name on this list that surprises or disturbs me to see it there.

Nor does the D-to-R ratio. "125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 17 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties."

Heck, I could give you a quick lesson in that just be listing the bumper stickers in the newspaper parking garage. Journalists here march in stop-the-war marches within a 300-mile radius and show up with signs to protest President Bush. Whenever we run photographs of protersts, they have to be gone over with a magnifying glass to make sure none of the staff happens to be in them.

Media bias is a more subtle thing than this, and more complex in its causes.

And sometimes it's not. This is the kind of quote I might here sometimes in my newsroom:

"But there's a rule against murder. If someone had murdered Hitler — a journalist interviewing him had murdered him — the world would be a better place. I only feel good, as a citizen, about getting rid of George Bush, who has been the most destructive president in my lifetime. I certainly don't regret it."

That it comes from a "New Yorker" writer hardly surprises me. As another "New Yorker" writer, George Packer, put it: "My readers know my views on politics and politicians because I make no secret of them in my comments for The New Yorker and elsewhere." And the quote from the magazine's chief copy editor, a donor, is priceless: "I've never thought of myself as working for a news organization."

Fan Mail from Germany

[posted by Callimachus]

I try. Really, I try. In both the common senses of that verb.

thank you for answering my mails and your good will to explain to me the seemingly absurd ideas of US Citizens. Obviously US Citizens think they never die and are gods. Obviously US Citizens are complete idiots, good luck to them all. At least there is one advantage, when you are dead: idiotic ideas don't touch you.


Blue Moon

[posted by Callimachus]

Sen. Carl Levin tells a
Lincoln story in defense of his Iraq war funding vote, and as far as I can tell he doesn't do any gross injustice to the reality, which is rare for a politician invoking Lincoln in this war. It helps that it's not a Civil War anecdote, but a much simpler account of "Spotty Lincoln" in Congress in the Mexican-American War.

Lend a Hand

[posted by Callimachus]

"I want to leave here knowing I came, I fought and I made a difference in someone's life here."

You may not care much for Shrubbie McChimplerburton and his imperialist war for corporations and oil, but I'm willing to bet Staff Sergeant Steven Gardner and those kids he lives among in Iraq never did anything to earn your wrath. Maybe it's possible for you to put aside the righteous indignation long enough to lend him and them a hand?

Soldier's Wife Faces Deportation

[posted by Callimachus]

John Kerry is absolutely right about this:

"Under no condition should our country ever deport the spouse of a soldier who is currently serving in uniform abroad."

Unfortunately, the woman in question is enduring her tragedy while being strung up simultaneously in two of the biggest red-tape traps in human history: The U.S. military and the U.S. immigration authorities.

This is nothing new; I've found similar stories in the official records of the families of Irish immigrant volunteers in the Union army in the American Civil War. It's nothing new, but it's time for it to stop.

I expect sanity and patriotism to show up soon in this case, and with their twin swords hack this Gordian knot. So this woman can be free of her lesser anxiety while she endures the greater.

The media and the anti-war bloggers do well to call attention to such cases, the better to resolve them with due speed. Let's hope they also notice and praise the resolution, if and when it comes, which would be the other half of the job.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Back America

[posted by Callimachus]

There's something going on in Washington called the "Take Back America 2007 conference," and it seems to be validation therapy for netroots bloggers. They go, they see, they speak, they blog about going and seeing and speaking. Fulsome praise showers down on speeches given by other bloggers who mention the names of the bloggers who write and praise the speeches. No doubt there's a conservative equivalent somewhere. If the back of a book jacket could become a whole building of people, it would look like this. The major Democratic presidential contenders have made the obligatory pilgrimage.

The title is perplexing. "Taking back" something sounds like a petulant activity, undemocratic, regressive, a -- horrors -- conservative thing to do. Take America back to -- what? When was it ever the enlightened, green, peace-and-social-justice progressive paradise so many of these conferees yearn to make it? The closest I can imagine was when FDR tried to rewrite the social order and bypass the Supreme Court and Henry Wallace was a heartbeat away from the White House, but Roosevelt also was mongering for a war and I don't think the late Depression is the American Golden Age.

Or maybe it's a subtle Jack Benny joke. "Take Back America ... please!" That would seem more appropriate in this case.

The money speech, so the attendees assure us, was by a progressive/anti-war blogger named Digby. Who in it seems to name or allude to other big-name progressive/anti-war bloggers at a rate of about one per sentence, which maybe is why it's money.

But it's a good rally-speech, and one worth reading. Especially if you don't typically agree with that hemisphere of the national brain. Because she's preaching to the choir, which means there's not so much time for snark about how utterly stupid you are because you disagree with the spun narrative. That eats up about 60 percent of a lot of progressive/anti-war blog posts. Also, because of the context, her speech lacks the un-examined linking to dubious online sources, which pulls down another 20 percent.

Her speech will let you see the common commitments shared by many of us who seriously disagree with each other. There's a certain amount of faux populism and tactical and cynical co-opting of patriotic imagery and rhetoric among the "blame America first" writers (or its sub genus, "blame corporate/Republican America exclusively"), but don't let that lead you to deny the authentic forms of those qualities when they dwell there.

You'll recognize your own world, your own concerns, among hers. And you'll see some of the ways the world on that side looks different than yours.

Like this. Think about what got you started in this storefront political commentary racket. What motivated you to start reading online, and then start writing here yourself. It's not true of my co-blogger here, but I bet in many, if not most, of your cases, you can remember ... well, the exact date.

In Digby's passionate articulation of her own journey to this place, here are the milestones:

During the last decade, there have been three catalyzing events that drove people like me to the Internet, to research, investigate, and write about assaults on democracy itself. In 1998, the political media lost all perspective, and aggressively helped the Republicans pursue a partisan witch-hunt against a democratically-elected president and against the will of the people. The coverage of the presidential election of 2000 was legendary for its bias and sophomoric personality journalism. The press actually joined the Republicans in telling the majority who had voted for Al Gore to get over it. I don’t know about you, but I never got over it. And the third event (I don’t need to tell anyone in this room) was the almost gleeful support of the invasion of Iraq, a journalistic failure of epic proportions. If you had not been sufficiently aroused from your complacency by this time, you never would be.

So that one date -- which is never mentioned in the speech, and the entire topic is only alluded to briefly in one clause -- was less "catalyzing" than the press coverage of the Starr Report? I think we've begun to measure the difference between the passions.

Front and Center

[posted by Callimachus]

Would you sign this?

We, the undersigned, are Republicans.

Through separate but cooperative organizations, we are a growing force within the Party, and Republican candidates will need to increasingly reckon with us in the months and years ahead, as we mobilize for no purpose less dramatic than the rescue of our Party and the refocusing of its platform on the bedrock principles of individual liberty and limited government; lower taxes and free markets; a strong national defense and collaborative foreign policy.

We intend this letter as an encouragement to GOP leaders who: (a) embrace those bedrock principles but recognize that the narrow-minded strategies of certain social conservatives have made our Party a shadow of its former self, and thus (b) reject these social conservatives’ alienating approach and prefer what former U.S. Senator John Danforth has labeled a politics of “reconciliation,” a politics wherein we seek to emphasize what unites rather than what divides us. If you fit in this category, we encourage you to speak up and boldly state your beliefs, without equivocation. And if certain social conservatives attack you for doing so, we – the real Republican base – will be there to lend our support.

Well, if you would, you can. Go read the rest. For, among other things a lesson in how to be challenging without being confrontational.

Not Bloomberg, But Maybe

[posted by Callimachus]

I'm not fond of Mike Bloomberg, but I'm really enamored of the idea of a third party president now, more than ever.

Three problems that have been evolving in America for a couple of generations or more seem to have converged in the current White House:

  • 1. concentration of governmental power in the executive, and within the executive in the White House staff

  • 2. politics as the principal motive of every act and aspect of the federal government's functioning

  • 3. the infusion of extreme or absolutist ideas into the mainstreams of the two political parties. (More obvious right now among the Republicans).

A third-party president necessarily would be a very weak one; that is not necessarily bad, and perhaps helpful at this moment in history. He or she would have to draw on administrators from both political parties to form a government; those chosen would be more likely to rise to authority through competence than political chicanery. He would not have to be looking over his shoulder at the length of his coattails, or fear the wackos in the base getting obstreperous.

Of course, this is the optimistic view; things could as likely go the other way: If a newly elected independent president faces a Democratic Congress, for instance, its leaders could foist the worst sort of people on him or threaten to squelch his every initiative. But I prefer to be optimistic.

Earless in Gaza

[posted by Callimachus]

You just can't do what we're trying to do in Iraq, like this.

Of the 1,000 U.S. employees at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, only 10 have a working knowledge of Arabic, according to the State Department.

Of course, it's not just the embassy; it's endemic throughout the U.S. military, foreign services, and intelligence agencies. And it's literally killing us. How many have died in attacks that might have been prevented if intercepted information was translated better or faster? How many millions or billions of dollars do we waste trying to recover what is caused by simple errors in comprehension?

It's not new. It goes back to the Cold War, at least. And even then, when the relevant languages tended to be the European ones more familiar to a great many Americans, we had too few people who understood them. Now, when we're tangled in the polyglot world of the Middle East and South Asia, "too few" shrinks to "none":

When then-CIA field agent Robert Baer served in Tajikistan in the early 1990s, he saw a golden opportunity to collect information that might prove vital to U.S. interests. Thousands of refugees were pouring into Tajikistan from Afghanistan, where civil war was raging. The refugees represented a gold mine of intelligence from a nation at the crossroads of American interests in the region. But Baer, who spoke Arabic and Russian, didn't speak Dari or Pashto, the languages predominant among the refugees. So he contacted CIA headquarters and asked the agency to send Dari and Pashto speakers to debrief the refugees. The CIA couldn't - there weren't any, according to Baer. The refugees continued to come, and the United States missed an opportunity to get a life-saving glimpse into the brewing threat of radical Islam in Afghanistan.

Who's to blame? All of us.

[B]udget cuts at the State Department throughout the 1990s left the Foreign Service with about 1,100 vacancies by the time Secretary of State Colin Powell took office in January 2001. "These are positions that existed that we had no bodies to fill," says John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association. "The people we did have had to be rushed to post. In a lot of cases language training had to be shortened or not provided at all. That's a huge problem and a legacy of the lack of hiring in the 1990s."

But if the hiring pool was full of people who were fluent in these languages, that would not be a problem. But we don't teach them, and if we do teach them, the teaching too seldom reaches the kind of people who will work in the relevant services.


Born to Blog

In which the Boogie gives you fleeting glimpses of her look of tremendous concentration and power projection, which is known around the house as "the Il Duce face."

As the World Turns

This may explain the state of global affairs ...

One of our favorite ways to fill an 8-hour day of at-home fathering.


[posted by Callimachus]

I have no answers on immigration, and I confess I haven't had time to study it in any depth that would justify having an opinion about the recent bill. I am disturbed by the image of bloggers and pundits leading a stampede against Congressional compromise legislation as the worst symptom of pure democracy run amok. But I'm not sure that's what happened here.

Without a detailed understanding of all the social and economic complexities, I fall back on the "what seems fair" approach. Which seems to put me in the company of a great many Americans on this one, and for all I know it is a better way to find the right approach than months of issue-parsing.

This seems fair:

First, raise the number of legal immigrants by about 50 percent, to about 1.8 million a year. That meets the economy's demonstrated demand for workers.

Second, provide pathways to permanence. Bring in these 1.8 million people on temporary visas, say for three to five years, with the promise of permanent legal residency (a green card) if they stay out of trouble, pose no security risk, and work or get a college degree.

Third, don't micromanage who gets in. Allocate visas using a simple three-way formula that gives about equal weight to family, work, and education: 600,000 family visas for close relatives of citizens and green-card holders; 600,000 work visas for people who are sponsored by an employer and have less than a bachelor's degree; 600,000 education visas for people who hold a bachelor's degree or higher, with first call going to those who also have employer sponsorships or family ties.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Snorts of Derision

[posted by Callimachus]

Joshua Marshall, who I understand is one of the top "liberal" bloggers, writes SC State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel indicted for conspiracy to distribute crack. But I don't see any mention of crack, which is a specific type of cocaine, in any of the news reports. Yet this simple statement still stands, and Marshall's post is the one linked to, approvingly, by most of the left-siders.

I'm curious to see how this is going to be played on that side. Since -- so far -- all that's been published about the case deals with a one-time purchase of a limited amount of the drug to share with friends:

The millionaire is accused of buying less than 500 grams of the drug to share with other people in late 2005, U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd said. Ravenel, 44, is charged with distribution of cocaine, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Doesn't mean he had all of 500 grams; that's just the cut-off number for one type of charge versus another. "Less than" here could mean much less than.

So isn't this one of those recreational users caught in the web of the idiotic and rights-trampling "War on Drugs" that my fellow "Legalize It" types are supposed to hold up as examples of the stupidity of the crusade and the attendant waste of productive lives?

No, not when it's a rich GOP politician. Then it's going to be "hypocrisy" and pile on the snark as deep as you can -- as it is on matters of race or sexuality. I guess I'm not curious to see it after all. I think I'll skip the whole affair.

Got a Minute?

[posted by Callimachus]

Check this out. Protein Wisdom distills a 1992 Atlantic Monthly piece about American diplomatic attitudes toward the Arab world, as it then stood. You'll be surprised at some of the players and what they were -- literally -- playing. And at how far we haven't come since then. Whole populations of pundits have simply gotten up from one set of policy chairs and taken seats in what had been the chairs of their rivals. It bolsters Reader's contention that everything going on is just unresolved issues from 1989.

Prisoner of Conscience

[posted by Callimachus]

Edward Rothstein on the late Richard Rorty

One tendency of pragmatism might be to so focus on the ways in which one’s own worldview is flawed that trauma is more readily attributed to internal failure than to external challenges. In one of his last interviews Mr. Rorty recalled the events of 9/11: “When I heard the news about the twin towers, my first thought was: ‘Oh, God. Bush will use this the way Hitler used the Reichstag fire.’ ”

If that really was his first thought, it reflects a certain amount of reluctance to comprehend forces lying beyond the boundaries of his familiar world, an inability fully to imagine what confrontations over truth might look like, possibly even a resistance to stepping outside of one’s skin or mental habits.

I might humbly add, being neither philosopher nor New York Times critic, that, in light of the images of people plunging in flames to their deaths from the skies, if that really was his first thought, it reflects a certain lack of something else, too.


Doesn't Seem Possible

Born today, on the same date in the same year:

Chet Atkins and Audie Murphy (1924)

Eric Dolphy and Jean-Marie Le Pen (1928)

Affiliation Switch + Half a Bil O' Ambition

[Posted by reader_iam]

And this officially registered "no party," committed voter still ain't all that impressed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But time will tell.

(I heard the half-billion--expressed as up to $500 million--allusion to how much personal money Bloomberg would be willing to stake his own candidacy while flipping through news channels tonight. Here's a place where that figure was mentioned on line.)

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Speaking of "O's" And Diners

[Posted by reader_iam]

So, while I was out and away from the 'net and the tube, people started talking about the new Hillary spoofspot:

There's apparently some stunned backlash to this Althouse exegesis, mostly due to the connecting of onion rings with vaginas and (lengthwise-sliced) carrot sticks [to phalluses--like, you all hadn't already figured out what parallelism was missing in this sentence; still, for the record]. Well, I think that part of it is a bit of a stretch, though very funny. I think I'd be pretty safe betting that onions rings--the food, people, the food--have been one of Bill Clinton's favorites forever. After all (or should that be: on the other hand), remember the 1994 decorating of the White House's 22 Christmas trees (scroll down)? And just today, Bill's name came up in connection with onion rings in this story, "How to Eat Like a Politico in N.H." Also, saying that Bill Clinton--at least in this spoof video--is a better actor than Hillary is a distinction without a difference and I can think of LOTS of examples where he's done better--and even she, for that matter. But the areas covered in #1 and #2 bear some thinking about.

Or they might, if I weren't busy imagining Hillary taking on the role of Jack Nicholson in this famous diner scene...

... and trying very hard NOT to imagine her in this :

Oh, my. Please pass the onion rings.

Update: And now I'm thinking of that Psychodots song, from back in '94, which referenced a president's wife. (OT, but what a great show that was, up in Philly, when they played during an Adrian Belew solo tour.) An excerpt from "Moaner":
She’s a president’s wife
But no we’ve never met
Once I saw her get angry
Something I’ll never forget
Maybe it’s only a dream
And I don’t want to be mean
But I’ll be willing to bet
She’s a moaner
A mo-o-o-oaner
She’s a mo-o-o-o-o-oa-ner
Don’t ask me how I know (she’s a moaner)
From her head down to her toes (she’s a moaner)
She’s a moaner
A mo-o-o-oaner
She’s a mo-o-o-o-o-oa-ner
Don’t ask me how I know (she’s a moaner)
From her head down to her toes.

LOL. Dialing that one right up.

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[posted by Callimachus]

A progressive, anti-war blogger discovers Michael Yon's latest piece, and is respectfully impressed.

It is the kind of honesty that we have thirsted for as we have sat on the sidelines and watched, not sure which soldiers to trust, growing more and more skeptical day after day as we see the promises of the administration fall flat and bloody in the desert sands of Iraq. There is the blatant admission of failure in the beginning, the mismanagement of the war, and a direct approach to what role we truly played in bringing al Qaeda into the fold.

Which makes you wish more progressive, anti-war bloggers would read Yon, but from what I've read they'd cross the street to avoid coming in contact with him, because he's 1. pro-military, 2. embedded, 3. believes in the potential salvation of Iraq. "Comments from Left Field" can get past that, and I suspect the fact that the blogger is himself a veteran goes a long way.

But it makes you wish such bloggers also read a lot more than the accounts of the right that are passed around on the left. You can find plenty of people who are still seeking a way to make something work in Iraq that we can be proud of, who will, like Yon, frankly admit all the stumble-bum blunders and honest errors we've made. The "right-wing echo chamber" exists principally in the heads of left-wing writers in their War on Straw.

"Comments" rightly praises Yon for the fair-mindedness of his disagreements -- and Yon has had them with friends as well as opponents. And here I agree with "Comments" that this is a model that would serve everyone well:

Even more refreshing is when Yon disagrees. He does not destroy wholely the argument and the arguer which has become the typical vehicle of action in modern debate. He does not stand for the simple formula of destroy the man first, and if there are any remnants left of his argument after, laugh them off.

When he detracts from a reporter who never served, he does not mock him for his lack of service, he does not throw his uniform in the man's face and blindly tells him he cannot understand the military life, or war. No, he instead lauds him, and seeks to respectfully disagree where so many of us, myself included, would launch a full on attack. Take no prisoners. We disagree so one of us has to leave the arena bloodied and destroyed.

Well-said and worth printing out and taping up on the space above your monitor where you write.

It is in this context that I find myself most closely turned in my own opinion of the war in Iraq, perhaps a model for those with whom I disagree to model their own arguments.

I stand not swayed, however, though this is no loss upon the author's arguments, no slight to his efforts. After all, what really does my opinion matter? And even if my opinion does matter, while it has not changed, from reading the article, I stand changed ... slightly.

It is not the least bit odd that the real to-the-heart warriors -- the ones civilians think are a bit batty for wanting to go back and do it again -- know how to write more persuasively than the snark-mongers and screed fiends.

I Remember 1989

[Posted by reader_iam]

Yeah, that was the year when I acquired personal copies of both Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ, deliberately, in response to all the waves of controversy in the wake of their respective releases the previous year.

Helluva time, from which it appears we simply cannot become unstuck. I mean, I feel like I'm livin' in some sort of absurdist Groundhog Day, but without the humor, or the brilliance, or the convenience of a genre which, for the most part, manages to wrap it up in a couple of hours. Or even the G-d'd or A-d'd popcorn, jujubes and over-priced, over-diluted soda pop.

Relatively recently, somewhere, to whomever(s), I made mention of toying with a personal theory that we, in this country (but meaning it more generally) are paying the price of an incomplete transition dating back to a period of years encompassing the later '80s and earlier '90s.

I realize that it is exceptionally and immensely difficult to get over and beyond grievances and incidents rooted in the ancient, or in times dating from more than a millennium ago, or even a century, give or take. But for the sake of any hope at all, can we at least strive to get beyond piling up the opportunistic political crap and pandering from the less than a flick of the eyelashes involved in a single wink which, relatively speaking, constitutes the past 20 years?

Knock it off, already. We have enough to do with resolving that older stuff, more deeply imbedded and with larger implications. Stop cynically using the more recent stuff. Stop tolerating those who do that. Quit enabling it. Muslims don't like The Satanic Verses or Salman Rushdie? Or cartoons, for that matter? Tough. There are bigger issues--more important, root issues, and even grievances--to be confronting. Christians don't like the Chocolate Jesus, or The Da Vinci Code, or want to keep bringing up Serrano's Piss Christ (circa 1989--well, fancy that!) and so forth? Tough. There are bigger issues--more important, root issues, and even grievances--to be confronting. Stop empowering those who keep dumping more--and ever more less critical--stuff onto the historical pile so that they can avoid looking at what's closer to the bottom. Much less at ground level.

Eh, enough.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cold War Warmed Over

[posted by Callimachus]

Interesting opinion piece by Andrew J. Bacevich, who generally falls into my personal "wrong-but-worth-reading" file. Here I find him less wrong than I usually do.

I've never been entirely persuaded by the short list of things we supposedly did wrong in Iraq that then caused all the trouble. Disbanding the Iraqi army, for instance, clearly caused a set of problems we were slow to address. But not disbanding it -- leaving the corrupt and incompetent brigades with their arms and their sadistic colonels in place amid the masses they had massacred a few months before -- would have led to another, and I suspect worse, set of problems.

Bacevich takes on another platitude: That the U.S. military is too small to meet current challenges. Here, though he never mentions the name, Bacevich agrees with Rumsfeld. He notes the way this issue has become a touchstone for reliability by the mainstream Democratic candidates trying to out-flank the GOP on defense:

Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama all promise, if elected, to expand our land forces. Clinton has declared it "past time to increase the end-strength of the Army and Marines." Edwards calls for a "substantial increase." Obama offers hard numbers: His program specifies the addition of 92,000 soldiers.

Bacevich takes a stick to this: "Any politician who thinks that the chief lesson to be drawn from the last five years is that we need more Americans toting rifles and carrying rucksacks has learned nothing." He says its the consequence of another failure of creative thinking: To see the current crisis in anything but "World War III" (or IV) terms.

This second consensus consists of two elements. According to the first element, the only way to win the so-called global war on terrorism, thereby precluding another 9/11, is to "fix" whatever ails the Islamic world. According to the second element, the United States possesses the wherewithal to effect just such a transformation. In essence, by employing American power, beginning with military power, to ameliorate the ills afflicting Islam, we will ensure our own safety.

I've had my own dalliance with the world war image, and certainly I've been enthusiastic for the transformative and elevating effects of freedom and popular control, as opposed to totalitarianism. But the depressing situation in Iraq and Afghanistan has me willing to look at alternative strategies.

Bacevich's prescription is another backwards-looker, however. Instead of World War II, this will be a new, multi-generational Cold War:

In fact, the great lesson of Iraq (further affirmed in Afghanistan) is that the umma — the Arabic name for the entire Muslim community — is all but impervious to change imposed from the outside. If anything, our ham-handed efforts to inculcate freedom and democracy, even if well-intentioned, have played into the hands of violent Islamic radicals. The Bush administration's strategy has exacerbated the problem it was designed to solve, while squandering American lives, treasure, moral standing and political influence to little avail.

Now I grew up in the Cold War, and I have no love for it at all. It was a necessary struggle, often brilliantly waged on our part, but just as often full of blunders, over-reactions, unwanted consequences, societal parasites, and crippling moral compromises. It warped this nation in ways that never will heal.

If Bacevich is going to go for that, he ought to honestly lay out the price to be paid, or some of the vicious policies of exclusion and endurance we will have to embrace. He doesn't. He goes no further than bland buzzwords like "limits of American power" ... coexistence without appeasement ... containment ... "quarantine."

"The candidate who can articulate such ideas might well merit respect and popular support," he writes. And I write, the candidate who tells you honestly what that will cost you, what you will have to accept in the name of your security, what your children will have to be taught to fear, what the people of the Declaration of Independence will have to take to bed with them -- the one who will tell you what even Bacevich blanches to spell out -- is going to make you sick.

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