Saturday, December 31

Rhymes With "Itch"

Faithful readers may recall that Indiana Governor Mitch "I'm the Lollypop Guild Member on the Right" Daniels began his first-year-long soak in boiling water by insisting he had no intention of living in the Governor's residence in the historic Meridian-Kessler neighborhood, preferring to remain in his far-north suburban Geist Reservoir-front* digs while he built a new McCastle in a moated gated community nearby. When it was pointed out that state law required the governor reside "in the seat of government", Mitch got surly.** He then released a report on the billions and billions of dollars it would take to bring the place up to what he'd deign to visit, let alone live in (the report included the fact that there were "too few bathrooms" and the kitchen appliances were "dated"). That didn't quell the uproar (some of which was coming from his decidedly Republican-leaning potential neighbors), and he finally announced an arrangement whereby contractors would donate the repair work (which now totals $800,000, a considerable drop from the initial estimates) and thus it wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime. At least until the quid-pro-quos show up. Daniels announced he'd be moving in once the renovations were completed.

Shortly thereafter Mitch, in one of his rare photo-ops, announced another of his publicprivate*** sector coups: the Governor's manse would be the 2006 Home Decorators Showcase House, and--again at no cost to taxpayers, excepting this time it mostly wasn't--the interior decor and landscaping would be handled gratis. This is a 45-year-old event run by the St. Margaret's Hospital Guild to benefit Wishard Hospital. It's one of those Social Register charity scams where rich people network goods and services out of businesses that cater to the carriage trade and everybody writes it off their taxes. I've seen enough of this to wonder how many wealthy people will starve to death once their taxes are reduced to zero.

But anyway, it's for a good cause. Somebody with a big house agrees to vacate the place and various decorators each do a room in exchange for getting their names in front of the public. And the governor signed on, only he didn't have to move out 'cause he'd never moved in.

But this week the deal fell through. The Governor's Residence Commission objected to some of the design plans, and the deadline for getting work orders going passed with the two sides still at loggerheads.

The public story from the guv's side has it that some of the designs were too outrageous for "the People's House". The particular little example given was baboon wallpaper in a jungle-themed room.

But Barry Lantz, who was to do the master bedroom, told the local news there never was any baboon wallpaper, and he pointed out that decorators are in the business of dealing with customer requirements. Still, the fifty or so decorators who were involved weren't doing it from purely altruistic motives, something our Entrepreneur†† Governor just wasn't familiar with coming from the business community.

Mitch did say he understood that decorators traditionally show their individuality at such show houses, but "this one year it was supposed to be about the home and not about the decorators." Sorta like he insists the five-fold increase in logging state forests is all about disease control. The Residence Commission spokesman didn't bring up the jungle motif on teevee, but said that the rooms didn't "flow". Of course, they understood it would be fifty different decorators doing the rooms in the first place, but apparently they thought this was the one business sector they could run roughshod over.

A lot of people here see the hand of First Lady Cheri "Talcum Powder By Mail"††† Daniels in all this, just as they whispered that she was the one who wasn't moving to the big city where they let minorities run free. And I'll admit, I've upped my standing offer for a genuine picture of her walking the dog in her new neighborhood, after dark and exclusive of photo-ops, to twenty-five bucks. But I have to admit a touch of genuine concern as she and the guv move into the new place without any furniture. So I'm willing to offer my suggestion as to what they can both sit on. Gratis.

* The story of Geist Reservoir is Indianapolis' Chinatown, on a smaller but no less venal scale.

** Okay, he's always surly.

*** "Public" and "private" are no longer separate words where Indiana government is concerned.

I don't mean to imply that the charity operation is anything but that, just that there is a permanent network which feeds and fêtes the wealthy who are so inclined to a degree that would probably astonish most people. As an example, I was once given a firsthand account of a local banquet for a national charity where, after the needy beneficiaries were fed and dismissed, the benefactors retired for a raffle where first prize was $10,000 in cash. Nobody bought raffle tickets; this was a kick-back of the year's take.

†† Mitch Daniels' private-sector experience consists of three years at the Hudson Institute (if you call that private) and seven years as Senior Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Policy at Eli Lilly. He's lived off the government the rest of the time.

††† Cheri, you might recall, did not (some say refused to) move to Washington when Mitch became OMB director. At the height of the anthrax attacks she called the Hamilton County sheriff after receiving an envelope in the mail which was leaking a white powder. Turned out to be talcum. The culprit has never been caught, nor has he mailed any hoax letters to any other basically obscure Bush administration officials wives at their home state addresses. Thank God.

Friday, December 30

Insane or Delusional?

Could be a regular feature....

Peggy Noonan, Where-Else-But-The-WSJ, "05's Big Five"

John Paul the Great has converted me, in a roundabout way, not to Roman Catholicism, but to making Peggers a weekly read. She's always been one of those rare delicacies I thought was best pre-digested by others. I'm not so sure that's wrong.

But then she turned up on the Colbert Report shilling her faux-peasant-girl mysticism (the Miracle of the Safety Glass!) meets middle-aged Catholic cafeteria worker (if I close my eyes, Vatican II ceases to exist!) premature hagiography of JP II (is there an ecclesiastical term for this? Womb saint?) and I had, well, not an epiphany, exactly. It was more like the feeling when you think a bird just shit on your hat.

Y'see, like many of you I've been perfectly happy to resign Peggy to permanent Crazy Dolphin Lady status, and given the circumstances which seemed to restrict the interview even more than most (you can poke a little fun at the Pontiff, just don't go tearing up his headshot) I wasn't expecting more than a couple of gags from the interview. But Colbert had prepared.

He led off with a little gag about her wordsmithing, praising her "It's great to be here" like it was a shiny new coin. He gave her a little flirt. She was beaming. Then he said, "You've written so beautifully for so many Presidents...could you start writing for this one?"

The smile vanished, and was replaced by the muscles from the cheekbones to the corners of the mouth that tighten when you discover the dog has pooped on the rug and you just stepped in it. It was a joy to behold. What emerged in that moment--and remained for the rest of the interview--wasn't the Crazy Dolphin Lady but the professional Republican apologist. And Colbert kept her off-guard almost to the end, before letting her up to plug her holy nonsense. "You took a two month leave of absence to work as an unpaid volunteer for the Bush campaign. Which accomplishment of the past year made you sit up and say, 'Gosh, it was worth it'?" Later he asked her, "Honestly, now, who won the Cold War--Reagan or John Paul II?"

As soon as the thing stopped taping I watched it again, twice. And I'm about halfway convinced now that Peggy is an act. She was just too quick to realize that Colbert had called her out in a way that was too subtle for loud disputation, and the professional veneer, though veneer it clearly was, kicked in immediately and completely. She didn't do the Malkin screech. Caught with a left hook early in the round she tried to hang on until the cobwebs cleared. A pro.

That's not to say her writing, or her thought processes, drip with lucidity. Here's Number Five from Peggy's year-end Top of the Pops:
[T]he rise and fall and comeback of President Bush. He was triumphant in November 2004, seemed lost in the months afterward, made strategic mistakes (Social Security), had bad luck (Katrina), made bad judgments (Harriet Miers). A fight not with his base as much as with the thinkers and leaders of his party ensued. Issues that had simmered (spending, immigration) ignited.

But history moves quickly. His people hit reset; he announced a refocus. The economy is an almost unnoticed triumph. Christmas spending is up 10%. Iraq votes yet again, amid pictures of purple fingers. Mr. Bush's numbers go up. He is dinged but not done. All will hinge on Iraq. History will say Bush was a dramatic and consequential president who broke through the wall of history and successfully reordered the most dangerous part of the world, or a dramatic and all-too-consequential president whose decisions yielded disaster. It's like looking at Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and wondering, How is this going to go?

I'm guessing pretty much the same: brutal federal military response to race riots and labor unrest, the imprisonment of Eugene Debs, another Red Scare, followed by a debilitating stroke and Laura runs things for the rest of his term. Then comes the Nobel Peace Prize, whitewashing by our history texts, and his place in the line of animatronic Presidents at Disney World. That what you have in mind, Peg?

So, the question is, do you have to be insane to know so little of the recent history of your own country or religion, or to gorge yourself on purple-fingered victories and two-decimal-point "comebacks"? Or is it possible that Peg's just pretty good at faking it? I hope 1920 will bring some answers.

UPDATE: Damn, I forgot to read the dingbat below the dingbat. 2006 predictions:
Katie Couric goes to the "CBS Evening News" and gets a talk show. Judy Miller becomes a columnist and blogger. She'll win a Pulitzer Prize, but not until 2016.

Okay, crazy. Forget I said anything.

Thursday, December 29

2005 Magic™ for Excellence in Elocutin'

"He may have tooken that shot too early"
-Earvin "Magic" Johnson

Plus an apology to MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell for the opprobrium that came her way for calling the Crawford protestors "extremists," since it never occurred to us to ask if English is her first language. From her fill-in-for-Tweety spot on Wednesday's Hardball:
"But we know now, you know, he [Bush]'s down in Crawford, Texas, and the White House let us know that he's broughten some books with us..."

Broughten! The mind reels; the "with us" goes by like a puff of air. The incontinent -en is a feature of English as she is spoke by three-to-five year olds. We're not picking nits off a confusion of "flout" and "flaunt" here, or the temporary confusion of pronoun and antecedent. The woman said "broughten". Which suggests a) they've only recently weaned her away from "he brung", and b) that "extremist" line may simply mean she sees too many ESPN2 promos or Sierra Mist commericals. Maybe she just thought a lot of them looked like skateboarders. It's the holidays; let's be charitable.

But the thing that gets me is that having just uttered what even she must have recognized as the grammatical howler of the season, does she correct herself, or make some self-deprecating comment about it so we all know she knew she slipped? No. She gave a little hair toss and showed about twenty-six teeth, as if to say, "Let's see Edward R. Mungro, or whatever his name was, do this.

(Which reminds me: my Christmas present from my wife was the absurdly expensive DVD of SCTV's third-season, and the highlight so far is a conversation with two titans of comedy, Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short. O'Hara tells the story of how she came up with the Lola Heatherton character--the lip quiver from Falana, Joey's hairdo, etc. And how through a mutual friend she received a photo of Joey in a mesh top, braless, signed, "Dear Catherine, try this. Joey Heatherton.")

The flub almost made me miss the underlying idiocy. Bush reads! And he's reading Robert Kaplan's Imperial Grunts, which--gasp!!--has a pull quote from page 369 that calls the Bush administration feckless and incoherent!! And we know he doesn't like criticism! Wow!

Which means that somebody, and I'm guessing it wasn't Norah, knew enough about Kaplan's Beltway buzz to have read his book and been able to dredge up the quote. Of course no one's going to suggest that maybe the White House is tossing off titles with some PR purpose in mind, but since someone somewhere at MSNBC was familiar with it, could we have noted that the "criticism" of Bush is that Kaplan thinks he's insufficiently Cowboyesque? Or that the quote in question refers to the "failure" to obliterate Fallujah the first time around, the better to have inspired the Sunni insurgency that much earlier? Is it of any significance that the President's "reading" list is war porn and half-baked (or twice-half-baked) neo-neo-con American Empire nocturnal emissions? Does anyone believe he'll actually make it to page 369?

Anyway, here's your award, Ms O'Donnell. You've earnded it.

Wednesday, December 28

Harboring Germs and Illusions

I have some sort of wasting disease where I'm awake for three-four hours then asleep for an equal period. So here's a little something from my Poor Wife's Reward/Diversion lesson plan file:

There are no circles.

The tabletops are the same size.

The horizontal lines are straight and run parallel to the top of the frame.

(My wife claims not to see these.)

The vertical lines are straight. It's the figures in front that are crooked.

Tuesday, December 27

Pierre Menard Pop Culture Awards 2005

The season of year-end lists is my mostest favoritest time of the year. I love the obligatory obscurantist entries, which occasionally lead to real musical gold, and I get a kick out of noting who's desperate enough to include Madonna.

I, of course, have been swimming upstream in the cultural waters for many years now. I buy maybe two dozen CDs a year and download another half-dozen songs a month, across all categories. I won't shell out for satellite radio, I don't go clubbing. Even my young musical hipster friends are aging rapidly. And Ed Sullivan's been dead for decades. I don't buy enough new releases in a year to make a top ten list. Hardly seems fair.

But then, who got to decide this? Not me. My 2005 wasn't your 2005. I change my oil every 75 days. Do you? The light from Rigel is 1000 years old. Bamboo flowers about once a century. There are any number of people I refuse to acknowledge share my planet, let alone species. "Reality", and "release date", are just a state of mind, man. Anybody telling you any different is trying to tie you to the whole consumerist trip.

There was a time--it was long past the point when it should have--when the fact that I'd discovered The Red House Painters about two years after their fourth album mattered to me. It meant I was slipping. But eventually acceptance of the withered visage in my mirror and the need for replacement windows came around. And now I embrace it. So what if it took me nine years to get around to buying a Gillian Welch CD? An awful lot of people didn't hear Nick Drake until he was thirty years in the ground. (I used to push Pink Moon, John Cale's Paris 1919, and early Richard Thompson on every young person I knew with reasonable musical tastes. This was saved from being really obnoxious only because I presented the things as gifts. Shortly after Nick became a Volkswagen commercial I got an email from one recipient who said, "Shit, I never imagined Nick would sell out like that!" I had to explain to her he didn't have any say in the matter.)

It occurs to me now that if you adopt the Hopi attitude that what's news to you is news, and when it "actually" occurred is a meaningless question, all sorts of possibilities open up. With judicious planning Punk can still obliterate any deserving contemporary musical trend. Italian neo-realist cinema can be an answer to the career of Vin Diesel. Dylan could abandon the electric guitar for folk. Hell, if you want, Dylan can become The Next Conor Oberst, and the Beatles four Brits with a Klaatu fetish.

So here's my best of my 2005:

1) Ray Charles, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

2) (tie) Gillian Welch, Revival and Time (The Revelator)

And just imagine...they came out on the same day!

4) The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema

5) Elvis Costello and the Imposters, The Delivery Man

6) Spoon, Kill the Moonlight

7) Tom Waits, Real Gone

8) Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Laughter

9) Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak

10) Teenage Fanclub, Grand Prix

The War on MLK Day

Isn't about time somebody addressed this? The man was a Christian, after all.

A quick check of the suburban school districts surrounding Indianapolis finds one in session January 16th, one with "early dismissal", one not listing the holiday but noting it as a "make-up day, if needed", two more with no school due to "Teacher Record Day" or "Professional Development Day", two listing the day as a holiday "unless used as a snow make-up day", and one with the wrong date.

I admit that's a better record than just a few years back when only the big urban districts observed the day, but still...where are the culture warriors on this one?

Sunday, December 25

Friday, December 23

Heck Of A Job

If you have the time, read both parts (here and here) of Susan B. Glasser and Michael Grunwald's WaPo series on the internal and external squabbles surrounding the Department of Homeland Security.

I'm not gonna take the time for a long quote-and-comment; it's 9000 words, and I want to talk about some attendant drama. But a few observations:

• It was Joe Lieberman's idea, the Bush administration was responsible for implementing it, and they put Tom Ridge in charge. I remind you of that just to lessen the shock several dozen paragraphs of FUBAR might engender.

• Indiana governor Mitch "I Don't Look Down On Anybody" Daniels makes an early appearance in his guise as OMB director, managing by insisting that the new department not exceed the combined budgets of all the agencies it subsumed to torpedo the creation a department "policy shop".
White House cybersecurity czar Richard A. Clarke, the counterterrorism chief sidelined by Bush after urging more decisive action against al Qaeda before Sept. 11, blasted Ridge's office with a memo about the new department's design flaws, warning that the failure to include a policy office would leave the secretary helpless to control its independent fiefdoms.

"Creating a significant policy shop is like Bureaucracy 101," said Clarke deputy Roger Cressey. "We never heard anything back."

This set the stage for all the interagency squabbling to follow, which was probably the #1 concern about DHS from its inception. Aren't you glad he's just got Indiana to fuck over now?

• Everybody on the planet knew that Ridge was put there because he was ineffective and had no power base with the administration. Everybody but Tom Ridge. But he certainly was appraised of that quickly enough. Considering all the high-soundin' platitudes about the Global War on Terra of those days, why didn't Ridge quit when the thing proved to be a lightly-regarded PR effort in the eyes of the White House? If Katrina exposed just how little was actually done in the interim (that's a misnomer; we went backwards) this shows that the actual matter of preventing and preparing for future terrorist attacks was considerably less important that making political hay out of the threat was. Like you didn't know that already. Ridge, of course, waited until after the election to resign, something all cabinet secretaries should expect to do anyway. He put party in front of country. If he hadn't, the embarrassment his resignation caused might have served as a public wake-up call.

• Michael Brown's "Can I go home now?" actually gets a backstory: he'd already tendered his resignation before Katrina, apparently. But Brown, another partisan hack playing turf games at a time of Grave National Crisis is in all likelihood even more culpable for FEMA's Katrina response than we imagined from the headlines. Once again, you can't read his story without asking, "Why didn't you resign right away if you thought things were so fucked-up?

Between part one and part two I ran into Kevin Drum's entry about Thursday's article:
One of the worst results of all this is that because George Bush treats terrorism mostly as a handy partisan club to make Democrats look weak and cement his own support with his corporate base, he's managed to convince a lot of liberals that the whole thing is just a game. Unfortunately, this is pretty understandable. At this point, I don't really blame liberals for feeling that terrorism is little more than a Republican bogeyman that's pulled out whenever the president's poll numbers are down. After all, that's pretty much how Republicans treat it.

But it's not. Osama bin Laden really would like to find a way to kill a whole bunch of us, and we really should all be working to keep that from happening. Maybe someday Karl Rove will figure out that that's more important than bringing back the glory days of William McKinley and his 30-year Republican reign.

I hate to bring up Kevin only when he irritates me, because he does some really good work, but Kevin, Stuff It. There were enough liberals concerned about terrorism a couple years back that George W. Bush found considerable support among them for invading Iraq. One of them even shared your name. And there were plenty more who acknowledged the threat but did not buy into the idea that invading Iraq was going to do anything about it. Presumably they, and the people like you who have since changed their minds about it, are still cognizant of the danger of terrorist attack. And no doubt there are lots of people who now believe the threat is relatively minor, and plenty who realize it's been overblown for political purposes, but identifying them exclusively as "liberals" is inexcusable. Suggesting they don't reach your level of political acumen is, given the circumstances, mildly amusing.

So, thank you very much, I'm not gonna be lectured about the real threat of terrorism from someone who imagined, however briefly, that invading Iraq was the way to fight it. The gaseous nature of the threat was clear even then, as was the administration's gamesmanship.

"Bin Laden wants to kill us all" is a Letter to the Editor. It's not a policy argument, and it may not even be much of a factual statement. If bin Laden is still around, and if he controls this SMERSH-like empire, he's certainly well aware that the attacks of a single day drove America to start eating itself. We're doing a pretty good job of killing off Americans all on our own. Of course terrorism is a threat, but it's not the only one we face, and pasting bin Laden's poster over the Kaiser's, Hitler's, Stalin's, and Mao's on the giant Wall of Hate doesn't do a goddam thing to make us any safer. Had we responded to 9/11 with counter-insurgency, interdiction, and the nuts-and-bolts grunt work of identifying and securing possible targets, we'd be a lot better off today. You just read the same article I did. We're not floundering for want of sufficient bin Laden hatred.

Thursday, December 22

Rum Squeezins

Robert Burns, AP Military Writer: Rumsfeld Doubts Bin Laden in Full Command
CHAKLALA AIR BASE, Pakistan Dec 20, 2005 — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he doubts that Osama bin Laden is in position to assert full command over the al-Qaida terror network.

Rumsfeld, who arrived Wednesday morning local time for an unannounced visit to Pakistan, said he found it interesting that bin Laden has not been heard from publicly in nearly a year.

"I don't know what it means," Rumsfeld told a group of reporters traveling with him. "I suspect that in any event, if he's alive and functioning that he's probably spending a major fraction of his time trying to avoid getting caught. I have trouble believing that he's able to operate sufficiently to be in a position of major command over a worldwide al-Qaida operation, but I could be wrong. We just don't know."

Wow, I can't think when I've had so much fun from just a few lines--uh, that is, a couple of stanzas--and I credit the AP for its coup in hiring a 350-year-old Scottish poet as a military reporter. Although "Ye Flowery Banks" is still my favorite.

I mean, I just love this sort of story. First, it's reported as though it means something. And it's reported as though it was pried out of Rumsfeld through some serious traveling ensemble reportage, when it's precisely what Rummy wanted announced.

But mostly there's this: it's a sort of weird twist on the palindrome. The meaning of the sentence runs both forward and backward while you read it! Rumsfeld doubts ObL is in position to assert full command..." Can't that also mean he never was? That al-Q is not the SMERSH of popular imagining? That we've overstated its size, extent, cohesiveness, for oh, I dunno, some political purpose or other I can't quite figure, and bin Laden was the obvious choice to head it since we already knew him? Or did we make bin Laden up, too?

Here's the thing: we all bought all this intel from The Bush Administration. With what we know about this bunch now, isn't it obvious we need to revisit everything they've ever told us, and keep doing so every time they switch realities on us? Inconvenient, I admit; that's two or three times a day when they've really got it cranked. But not only are these guys capable of telling us anything, and that's anything, they deem necessary, they're capable of being fooled by almost anyone. They were swindled by Chalabi, a convicted swindler! That's like giving Willie Sutton a tour of your bank's security arrangements. After you found out he's Willie Sutton.

Yes, I know this is treading mushy ground. We may be within shouting distance of the people who claimed all the Jews were tipped off about the World Trade Center. On the other hand, if you'd bought yourself a couple of Vermeers in 1938 you'd have probably had some bad night sweats after they arrested Han van Meegeren.

Aw, but our pack of yapping news hounds* isn't finished:
The defense chief also discussed a Pentagon announcement that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan will drop by about 3,500 to roughly 16,500 next spring. He said the cancellation of a planned deployment there by a Louisiana-based brigade was an example of the way the Pentagon is likely to reduce the American troop presence in Iraq next year.

Rumsfeld and officials at the Pentagon said the 4th Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, from Fort Polk, La., will stay home instead of going to Afghanistan as part of a normal 2006 troop rotation.

The deployment change was described earlier this month by Pentagon officials who had spoken on condition of anonymity because the plans were not finalized.

In an interview aboard an Air Force C-32 airplane carrying him from Washington to Pakistan, Rumsfeld said when U.S. commanders conclude that a smaller U.S. presence is advisable, some units scheduled to rotate into Iraq will have their tours canceled. At other times, units already in Iraq will be sent home early, he added.

So did anybody bother to ask if these troop reductions are actually driven by our inability to support these levels anymore? What's happened in Afghanistan that we can affect a roughly 20% drawdown? Three years ago the CBO said that after December 2005 we'd have about 65,000 troops available for Iraq. We've been making up the difference by extending tours. Is that the reason US commanders are concluding a smaller presence is advisable? Because current levels are no longer supportable whether they're a good idea or not?

* Firesign Theatre, "The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra".

Wednesday, December 21

Happy Birthday

Francis Vincent Zappa December 21, 1940--December 4, 1993

also: me

Gimme an "F" !

So I'm catching up with a few blogs this evening, looking for something other than the NSA to write about, and TBogg has an item about Roger Simon savaging the house librul:

I feel sorry for people like David Corn who have put themselves in such a box that they de facto are rooting for failure in Iraq, no matter how much they deny that.

Well, I'd already read Juan Cole for the latest update on just how good things are de facto looking for the people "like David" (my fourth grade teacher would smack your knuckles for confusing "like" and "as", Roger) who are rooting de facto for failure. And it occurred to me to google "rooting failure Iraq" in hopes of finding a quote chain and some de facto humor.

It didn't work out that way. First, I found a lot of links to people responding to the notion instead of perpetrating it. Then I noticed that the phrase seemed specifically connected to the various Iraqi elections, as though "rooting for failure" meant "party pooper" in hyperbolical Rightspeak. I stumbed upon The Politburo Diktat (commissar), and Protein Wisdom (Jeff Goldstein), and a curious feature of the phenomenon.

Both jumped last Thursday at the opportunity to claim that anti-war leftist bloggers were ignoring the Great Day. Der commissar:
You would not know from reading AMERICABlog, dKos, Atrios, TalkLeft, TBogg, Bitch Phd, Mustang Bobby, Talking Points Memo, firedoglake, pandagon, Left Coaster, Brad deLong, or (surprisingly) Kevin Drum* that there is an election being held in Iraq today.

[The apostrophe led to the following: "I expect Kevin to have something reasonable and positive to say later on. (He did.)" It also noted that Mustang Bobby wished the Iraqi people well. So there was time for an update, and a single apostrophe, but curiously, no time to shorten the list.]

Goldstein took a slightly different tack: listing the items run that day by our All-Star anti-war leftist blogs and bolding "relevant" stories to demonstrate the relative paucity of coverage. He concluded with a nice flourish:
Note : I’m not passing judgment on these sites; I’m just trying to give you some idea about how the anti-war sites are reacting to the elections. Perhaps some sites are waiting for results. Or a really nasty explosion or something. You can draw your own conclusions. [emphasis in original]

Now, I'm sure you're ahead of me at this point. You already expect a blogger would recognize the distinction between a blog and the daily tree-killer they toss on your doorstep. And most, if not all, of those folks The Diktat mentioned are opinion writers, not news blogs. I sure didn't click on Brad DeLong last Thursday hoping he'd update me on what CNN was saying about the elections, and I don't turn to Mr. Boggioni for a soothing recap of what everybody already knows. And Goldstein's choices were even odder: The Huffington Post Blog had entries on other topics? Crooked Timber was also covering a dispute between the Irish Department of Justice and the European Parliament? The Poor Man hadn't updated? Wow. Draw your own conclusions. Mine is that anybody who tosses Wonkette into a "Leftist" mix is intending to fudge the data.

Okay, we're all caught up now. Time for an update. Tuesday, December 20, headlines: "Shiite alliance takes commanding lead in Iraq elections"; "Secular candidates not doing well in Iraq elections"; "Sunnis decry Iraq election results"; "Coercion marred Iraq elections : experts"; "Iran wins big in Iraq's elections";

And here are yesterday's relevant blog entries from Goldstein and the commissar:
[this space left intentionally blank]

Hypocrite, am I? Doing the same thing these guys did, expecting a blogger to jump right to the keyboard and get to work? Okay, well, let's look at the days since the election to see how they've been keeping up with this major story. Commissar: two posts--a link last Friday to "the acid-tongued, anti-American, anti-Iraqi government blogger Riverbend" which will surprise the reader "familiar with her diatribes and lies", and a post last Sunday, calling Juan Cole a liar for claiming “The elections in Iraq will install an Islamic Republic". Need I mention that Cole said no such thing? He reported on early returns, according to al-Zaman and the AP, that the religious Shiite parties were sweeping the south, and that Allawi was doing poorly. I'm left feeling a bit dirty for having to mention the two in the same paragraph.

Then Goldstein: four posts which even mentioned the elections, only one of which actually concerned the actual election, a link to a UPI story via the Jammies kids saying that insurgents had prevented violence at the polls. The other three: an ABC link stating the elections were partly responsible for Bush's improved poll numbers; an insistence (seconding Fred Barnes) that Democrats are lying about poll numbers showing Iraqis want the US out, and will use the "high voter turnout" as evidence; and a claim that the NSA story came out in order to distract from the success of the elections.

You can draw your own conclusions about people who insist the acid-tongued, anti-war, anti-American left is insufficiently enthusiastic about an election whose actual results they themselves lose interest in almost instantaneously. A skeptical man might suggest they know the high point has already been reached and would appreciate it if the rest of us remembered how great the party was and not all the broken furniture we found the next day.

Ah, you say, but they've been busy covering the NSA story, right? Well, some. But since Goldstein listed what those lefties were finding to blog about instead, let's have a look at some of the important stuff he's been doing in the interim:

• A satirical conversation in which John Murtha disagrees with his mechanic, implying he doesn't know anything about cars or the military, not like George W. (and Goldstein, presumably).

• A discussion of literary criticism and somebody's column on King Kong.

• A magical realist interview with Tucker Carlson's bowtie.

• Anna Nicole Smith's Christmas Card [note: not real card].

• Steven Spielberg--"Zionist-hating prick".

• A review of The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005, in case you'd forgotten).

• An imaginary conversations with his progressive friends at his first holiday party of the season [he wins, with a single laser-like retort].

• Cindy Sheehan.

Tuesday, December 20

"The President Is Not Above The Law"...

...or so the common retort went in the late 90s whenever you suggested to a Republican that "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" meant something more substantial than lying about a blowjob.

I have a headache. It might be forced-air related due to being entertained at three holiday celebrations in two days, feted by people who either heat their houses to 80º as a rule or turned the heat up to be thoughtful, not to mention driving with my wife, who sets the car heater to "Smelt". But it's probably from a couple day's worth of reading "conservatives" of all those factions David Brooks keeps insisting are regularly duking it out over every possible issue line up almost to a man behind their boy and whatever the latest excuse for spitting on the Constitution is.

So here, from Professor Bérubé's comments, the observations of rootlesscosmo (livejournal page here), which I couldn't have said any better anyway.
I think most of the nominal pillars of “conservative” faith were never more than packaging for their real beliefs. Opposition to “big government” was never a principle; it was a way of wrapping racism, anti-unionism, anti-regulation and vigilantism (the gun nut routine) in Jeffersonian drag. Simultaneously, government could never be too big as long as it was fortifying the Mexican border, silencing doctors and public health professionals on matters that might enhance women’s freedom, disrupting and spying on even the mildest, most pacific Left groups. In short what calls itself “conservatism” has been--at least since the Goldwater era--a piece of rotten hypocritical cant. That’s why, unfortunately, calling attention to its hypocrisy now, as Earnest does with regard to the NSA spying practices, is a wasted effort. I’m sorry he was deluded, but if he imagines the people responsible can be made to feel shame for deluding him, he’s liable to be disappointed as well.

Is there a "conservative" "principle" left standing?

Monday, December 19

Mo' Bobo

David Brooks: "Taking a Long View of the Iraq Conflict", New York Times, Dec. 18; Shields and Brooks Analyze President's Speech, PBS "News Hour", December 16 (check local listings for time)

Last week at the TPM Café Todd Gitlin posted a letter the Times hadn't seen fit to print. Gitlin actually went back through Brooks' war columns looking for any evidence of Bobo's intelligence "being insulted by administration officials ignoring the realities of Iraq," as Brooks claimed in that execrable "Multiple Reality Syndrome" column a couple weeks ago. He didn't find any. Oh, I should have warned you to sit down first.

Smattered among the comments were the usual "Everyone knows Brooks is a shill," and "Why do you bother to read him?" Now, I understand these comments are conversational, the way your brother-in-law might say, "I never liked Sandra Bullock" around the dinner table, but still I've never quite understood them. Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist in the friggin' Times. He's on "News Hour." His various prevarications are largely road-show versions of the GOP's manufactured talking points. He doesn't go away when you close your eyes.

I'm not being defensive, by the way, because nobody cares whether I waste my time on him or anything else. It must be something chemical. My mother was throwing a fit at my sister one time because she found crayon all over her bedroom wall, and I sheepishly admitted I was responsible. "Oh," she said, sternly, "that's different." But I'm watching Shields and Brooks on "News Hour" the other night wondering why nobody ever calls him on his ever-morphing worldview. This is Jim Lehrer, after all, the guy who's so concerned about the morality of politicians that in the 2000 Debates he went out of his way to prove Al Gore was a liar, even if he had to make up the evidence himself, and then was enough of a man to apologize when he was caught, except he tacked on another lie at the end to explain the first one. But "journalists" get the courtesy rate.

Anyway, here's David:
Over the past few years, the Iraq war has morphed from a war of liberation against Saddam into a civil conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.

You just have to marvel, don't you? He can't even reach the first comma without a curious distortion of the facts. Few means "not many but at least three". But we've been in Iraq just shy of 33 months, and it's been a couple less than that since the one morphed into the other (although it didn't). Nit-picking? No. It's the opening freaking sentence of the piece. I glanced at the thing and thought, "What the hell are you talking about? How difficult is it to recast that sentence so it's accurate? Brooks may be famously sloppy in the construction of arguments, but he usually has a program in mind to start off with. Is there some reason to say the war has been going on "a few" years? We'll see.

And beyond that, a single declarative sentence disperses with WMDs, Operation Shifting Rationale, the mishandling of post-war Iraq, and the complex nature of the insurgency, then sinks the foundation of his current argument on the loose sand of the historical rewrite. It's the last twenty-five years of Right-Wing talking points in a nutshell. The Iraq war did not "moph into" a Sunni-Shiite civil war. An insurgency rose in response to our incompetent occupation after the war had ended. I know "Mission Accomplished" and "major combat operations have ended" are painful memories for your side, Dave, but the point has never been that Bush spoke prematurely. The point is that we got into a war without the people in charge having an inkling we might face a significant popular uprising as a result of occupying the country we'd just "liberated". But Brooks has found an explanation for that:
American policy makers and think-tank Johnnies have not really looked at Iraq in the broader context of these other conflicts. That's in part because when Americans think of civil war, we tend to think of our own Civil War, which was utterly atypical.

Well, that explains the CNN expert retired Lt. General I saw a couple years back, the one who was insisting we needed to get the cavalry more Springfield repeaters.
It's also because American experts were almost all trained to think about wars between nations, even though civil wars are nine times more common.
If, however, you do happen upon the Journal of Peace Research, where specialists do write about civil wars, you find that their broad perspective helps you see Iraq in clear and refreshing ways.

I used to worry because every time I'd take on a Brooks column it seemed I spent way too much time on the first two paragraphs. But I've come to realize the reason for that is he never has enough of an argument to last much beyond the first 100 words. You can now fill in the rest of the column for yourself. David Brooks, columnist for the once-important New York Times, has written an entire column explaining, nay a topic about which he knows next to nothing, but which he was able to google up, put a subscription on his Times credit card, and learn enough to lecture everybody else on the subject. Because, miraculously, the facts precisely support his argument.
And when you look at this civil conflict -- or civil war if you want to call it that -- you see how typical it is of many of the civil wars we've seen in the world over the past six decades. Over that time, there have been 225 civil wars, and many of them have featured the same sort of insurgency and counterinsurgency, the same ethnic feuding and the same pattern of elections intermingled with violence that we see in Iraq today.

Wars are too important to be left to the generals--call in the actuaries! Brooks may just have googled himself up a way to morph the Iraq war into one of his pseudo-sociological Bobo tales.

I think this is the idea behind that "few years" remark. One of the lessons Professor Brooks wants to school us in is that the "median" civil war last about six years. So if we're a few years in, it's just a few more till we're out again. Hang in there, America.

[Is it really necessary to point out that Israel has been fighting an insurgency for sixty years now, with no end in sight? Or that most of the civil wars of the last six decades were Cold War proxy fights? And that's without addressing whether any of Brooks' uncited studies actually apply here. Do they accept this level of reasearch from underclassmen at Chicago?]

Of course, not only must America stick around until the clock runs down; the recent orgy of finger-dyeing is an important piece of the puzzle, too:
But the best news out of Iraq last week was that the Sunnis voted joyfully and in large numbers. In what they said and the way they acted, both the Sunnis and Shiites made it clear that while they are engaged in a fierce rivalry, they fervently believe in a democratic and unified Iraq. This is not yet a to-the-death struggle.

What, I wonder, was the second-best news out of Iraq last week? Two things and I'm done with this. One, how is it that David Brooks hasn't "happened upon" Juan Cole, who, among other things, has been pointing out that the Sunni insurgents were actually guarding the polls while encouraging people to vote; voter participation and continued violence are not mutually exclusive. They may tell you that at the Journal of Peace Research, too, but my expense account here is woefully inadequate.

And two, whatever became of the "Detroit is worse than Iraq" routine? We aren't in the middle of a civil war here, but the Right used to insist that despite our stable, centralized government we can't keep the peace in our big cities. But now, Iraqis go to the polls and that spells the eventual dehydration death of anti-government terror? Dammit, there's that vertigo again.

Okay, over to Brooks discussing Bush's speech (sorry, I've lost count. Number six?):
DAVID BROOKS: I was very much struck, and I'm always, when he speaks, A, he is a lot more comfortable then he used to be in these things, but B. the commitment to winning, where he said our objective is winning. I do think that's at the core of who he is and it's always political analysis of, you know, he's going to the midterms; he's got to get them out. I think what we saw there was the real Bush; his objective is winning.

Well, I'm just not going to bother anymore about pointing out that we've been hearing "Bush is much more comfortable speaking in public now" since May 2001, but we've never heard a single pundit who admitted previously that he sounded like a first-grader at a recital with stage fright and a full bladder. But yeah, that "commitment to winning" thing was a real corker, wasn't it?

Saturday, December 17


Bush approved warrantless spying on US citizens.

Excuse me for asking, but this administration believes it doesn't have to obey the laws of the Space-Time continuum; whatever gave anyone the impression they were concerned with what mere words mean?

New York Times sat on the story for a year before publishing it.

I think I've said this before, but if your car won't start and you take it to a mechanic who finds that the battery is dead and tells you to come back in an hour, and you do but then he tells you the alternator is bad, too, you'd chalk it up to bad luck. If you went there daily for two years and every single time the simple problem had a much more expensive problem behind it you might get suspicious. Why does anyone bother asking Bill Keller for an "explanation" at this point, when the process involves shouting into Karl Rove's pocket so Keller can hear you?

Keller: "It is not our place to pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions involved in such a program ."

That's funny, it seems to me that sitting on the story is the one way you're guaranteed to be passing judgment. I thought your news reporters were highly trained in reporting stories without passing judgment. At least I think that's what I've heard. You can lower the pocket flap now, Mr. Rove. Thanks.

• Via Julia, John Harris, Bill Keller without the competence, in his online chat: "I did refuse to answer questions posed by a blogger named Brad Delong [sic] asking whether I knew that one of the people on record complaining about the confusion over White House Briefing was affiliated with Republicans."

Saying Patrick Ruffini is "affiliated with Republicans" is like saying Ronald Reagan "had a little trouble with forgetfulness."

Digby: Tom Brokaw is on Matthews boo-hooing that this NSA story stepped on Junior's wonderful Iraq triumph. He explains that when you are at war you need to do things that are difficult and believes that most people in the country will agree that the administration needed to spy on Americans after 9/11.

That would be the same Tom Brokaw who met with Judy Miller in her cell? The Tom Brokaw who's a member of the Committee to Protect Journalists? The one who said, "I really thought that was outrageous that she was jailed and we needed as journalists to draw a line in the sand in a strong but thoughtful way," ? I thought so.

Bob Novak to leave CNN, join FAUX.

First, let's take a moment to consider the innocent victims in all this: without Novak around CNN will probably have to lay off a couple of lawyers, three staff psychologists, and at least one janitor. Second, you gotta love how FAUX has become for "journalists" what VH-1 is for Z-list "celebrities": a place to go and pick up the last few bucks you can squeeze out of the spectacle you've made of yourself. And finally, it's amusing to note that there exists a network where the addition of Bob Novak to the staff actually makes it skew more centrist, not to mention the humanizing factor.

Tobin guilty in New Hampshire phone jamming case; Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow resigns after admitting he took Jack Abramoff's money to write op-ed pieces favorable to his clients (again via Julia); and from Lawyers, Guns and Money, Big Pharma PR flacks are ghostwriting an increasing number of medical journal reports.

Are you starting to get the feeling that Republicans have been consciously trying to fill up every available space in our nation's prisons the last twenty-five years so there'd be no room left for them?

Friday, December 16

Happy Birthday

William Melvin Hicks: December 16, 1961--February 26, 1994

"Why don't you just hit fruit with a hammer?"

That Settles It. There Really Ain't No Sanity Clause

One question for the really politically-tuned-in reader: just how many bills attempting to ban references to Christmas will be affected by this?



1st Session

H. RES. 579

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected.


December 6, 2005

Mrs. JO ANN DAVIS of Virginia (for herself, Mr. BARTLETT of Maryland, Mr. GOODE, and Mr. JONES of North Carolina) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Government Reform


Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected.

Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and

Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States would prohibit the establishment of religion, not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved , That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;

(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and

(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions.

Purple Passion

sure enough has been said, the last time around, about this purple-finger business. I woke up to it this morning, switched on the teevee news just long enough to switch it off again. Caught a pic of an ink-stained Joe Biden this evening. I think it was his finger; maybe he was holding up someone else's.

When did we become the nation of cheap grandstanding tricks? When are we going to learn that "reality", at least that portion of it that hurts when your toe rebounds off the rock, is impervious to cheerleading? I lived through the flag decal bit in the early 70s. At that time I think I was probably more insulted by the cheap and degrading appropriation of what should be a revered symbol than I was by its being hijacked by a particular political point of view. It never really went away, and I was completely inured to the fashion craze that followed 9/11.

Actually, let me restate that. I fully understood, even sympathized with, all the flag-waving that went on then, even though I felt strongly that we were headed for a big mistake partly on account of the stirring up of cheap nationalism at the expense of rational thought. In truth the thing I really find objectionable is the mistreatment of the flag, which is not intended as a car decoration, is supposed to be lit at night if it's not taken down, and displayed at half-mast when ordered by the President or a governor (and not, as happened here a couple years back, a mayor, let alone the elementary school down the block that lowered the flag because a staffer died). That means a black ribbon on the staff if the flag is immobile. If you don't treat the thing with respect it amounts to nothing more than hanging your balls out in public. Worse, really.

Why do NFL referees have a flag patch on their uniforms? So we're sure we're not watching Canadian football? There's a 30 x 50 footer flying day and (unlighted) night over my grocery store. On those rare occasions I'm feeling a mite crabby in the presence of some "patriot" in an Old Glory tee-shirt I nudge my wife and say, loud enough for him to hear, "Look, honey. American! You got chocolate bar, Joe?"

Somehow I get the feeling that if that huge cache of WMDs we haven't found yet accidentally went off tonite, taking all of Mesopotamia with it, the great majority of purple-stained fingers in this country would find themselves attached to people who didn't give a shit about vaporized Iraqis.

They've voted. That's great. Everyone should. But we've heard it twice before and we've listened to the echo die out while reality returned. We're going to wind up with a government we don't like, but one which we will continue to die for, until we're gone and they can set about settling old scores in earnest. But that's okay, the ink will have worn off long before then.

Thursday, December 15

Memo To Medved

Seems like maybe the Old West wasn't quite as you imagine it.

"Ewww, America isn't ready to watch icky gay sex" is not a review. I know, you don't actually write reviews, and the wordsmithing game has gotten a lot tougher for you now that you can't order them to stop tape so you can steal Jeffrey Lyon's best lines anymore (it sure would be interesting to finally learn who was really bankrolling that sad little PBS circus of yours). But you've made up for that by finding an audience that can't tell the difference. Fine. But a review is supposed to confront a work on its merits, not on the projected amount of popcorn it'll move. Isn't it?

PS, you might at least congratulate me for holding on to that graphic instead of throwing it away earlier for a cheap laugh.

New Ideas. Please.

One of the worst features of our current political mess is that it takes all of your efforts just to answer the latest Republican talking points and there's precious little energy left to pummel the arguments of deserving DLC types. That's ameliorated somewhat by the fact that the two are often indistinguishable, so one stone easily serves two birds. Unfortunately, most DLC talking points usually surface only when it's time for them to sink the potential Democratic opposition to the latest crackpot maneuver by the administration or the House, so your voice doesn't count for anything.

In years of talking politics while sitting in my underwear I've rarely encountered Democrats to my right * who act anything like the Beltway daisy-chain-gang of the DLC. Even Amy Sullivan. Yes, from time to time certain positions gain in popularity despite their playing right into the hands of the GOP, but for the most part moderate arguments are sound.

I was casting around this evening for news of the Froomkin Flummery and I checked in with Slate. There I managed to meet up with Bruce Reed, former Clinton staffer and the byline behind "The Has Been", which would be a pretty good title for a column by a Democrat insider if it were meant ironically. The link, and the headline, promised to address Why Democrats Don't Have To Be the Party of the History Channel.

I don't read Slate much, but I should know by now that you're burned by their links as often as not--a couple of times I've found myself clicking something that sounds good and finding Mickey Kraus instead--and this was no exception. I expected something along the lines of "The History Channel, when it's not turning over entire evening blocks to UFOs or Jesus or Jesus on a UFO, tends to present political history as a comfortable script." I was wrong. What Reed meant, apparently, was "FDR is History, and so are Democrats unless they turn right." Here's a bit of that good ol' DLC "which party do you work for, again?" rhetoric:
In the run-up to 2004, some of us naively hoped that the fight for the nomination could be a battle of ideas. Instead, it turned into a spirited debate over whether to hate Bush for being a liar, a scumbag, or just a "miserable failure." (Dick Gephardt, who coined that last phrase and even created a Web site around it, had to drop out after finishing a poor fourth.)

In 2008, Democrats won't have Bush-Cheney to kick around anymore. Saying goodbye to your favorite bogeymen isn't as easy as you might think. The last time Democrats contested an open seat, when Reagan was departing in 1988, his name still echoed through the primaries. Democrats sounded like John Birchers who had failed to notice the end of the Cold War.

Sheesh, but Republicans are Birchers who failed to notice the end of the Cold War, except insofar as it allows them to behave with even less restraint. Were those words were intended to leave a mark, instead of a rut? By the next paragraph he name-checks The Seven Dwarfs. What party do you work for, again?

Lemme just remind you: the "Seven Dwarfs" were Bruce Babbitt, Joe Biden, Michael Dukakis, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, and Paul Simon. If you don't find at least a couple of names to be reasonably proud about there I don't know why you label yourself a Democrat. Arrayed against them were these titans of statecraft: George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Pete DuPont, Al Haig, Jack Kemp, and Pat Robertson. That is, in order, the guy with one of the finest resumés in American political life who accomplished nothing whatever beyond enriching himself; the long-time Senator from Archer-Daniels-Midland; nobody in particular; Al Haig; the unholy love child of Newt Gingrich and Bill Bennett, minus the charisma; and God's Own Bullhorn.

Please. I know you guys of a certain age seem unable to understand that history actually began before you learned to read, and if I ever discover how the Reagan Kool-aid managed to replicate itself so successfully I'll expect a Nobel in chemistry. Democrats "recited their tired anti-Reagan talking points"? Like that Republican bunch was chock-a-block with dynamic policy proposals? "Let's stop taxing the rich" is a startling new insight?

Sure, when it comes to campaigns, 1988 is the dregs of the modern era. Would that our fucked-up campaign process could be tied to something as simple as idea-bereft Dems. The biggest problem with the '88 campaign is that there wasn't enough anti-Reagan rhetoric, because Democrats were too afraid it wouldn't play. And that's due in no small part to the fact that the media, and the "Reagan Democrats"--the forerunners of the DLC and its Big Ideas--were so busy genuflecting every time his name was mentioned and whining about any perceived slight from "anti-Reagan rhetoric". As a result, the greatest swindle in the history of the world, at least until we get a full accounting of Iraq in twenty-five years, never became a campaign issue, despite the fact that it was St. Ronnie's administration which had let go the reins on S&Ls in the first place. Taxpayers picked up that bill. $1.4 Trillion dollars. $1,400,000,000,000. We're still paying it, though it's hard to find under the mountain of debt from the next Bush we idiotically put in office. That figure includes $1.6 billion to bail out Neil Bush's Silverado Savings & Loan, and $4 million to make up the difference between the defaulted amount and the actual value of the suspiciously-appraised collateral on a loan from Broward Federal Savings to Jeb Bush. I guess we can agree on one thing: Dwarfs rarely get the opportunity to reach that high.

Y'know, as you age you're supposed to gain some sort of perspective. That's really the only good reason to do it. So it's interesting to hear Democrats lectured about remaining in the past when it comes from someone who's still running against Reagan in the hopes of electing a Reagan with a D after his name. This was the corker:
Post-Bush Syndrome could easily turn the 2008 contest into a debate about "What did you do in the Iraq War, Daddy?" As Tom Friedman points out, Democrats are still debating the 1993 vote on NAFTA vote. That means some in the party may still be arguing about the 2002 Iraq vote during the primaries in 2016.

Okay, saying "as Tom Friedman points out" is now grounds for commitment in six states, but beyond that, What party do you work for, again? Republicans are still arguing about Brown. They're still finding Commies under every bed. They're peddling theological nonsense that was rejected in the 19th Century, and they're holding up Cornelius Vanderbilt as a paragon of capitalist virtue. 2002 looks like the future from there. And changing your lies about your real values every few years does not qualify as coming up with new ideas. Now if you'll excuse me, the History of Concrete is on.

* Again, I'm not a Democrat. It's just my default setting.

Reader Q & A

Anonymous writes:
btw...if you have the time, could you archive your blog?

Hmmm. You mean, like, assigning categories to posts? I'd love to. You could do that quite easily at blogsome, when I was there for a week, but I don't think Blogger lets you do it.

Am I wrong? Does somebody out there know how to do it?

Ground rules: 1) Understand that when I was born, Alan Turing was still alive. 2) That I had graduated from college before the first do-it-yourself home computer kit was available. 3) That I managed to survive the DOS era without harming myself physically. 4) That I then acquired over the next decade enough knowledge of the Mac OS to be able to fix most anything that went wrong and write a reasonably decent Hypercard script. 5) That practically all that knowledge was thrown overboard by OS X.

Oh, and I'm positively redolent of laziness and I have better things to do, sometimes. Bearing all that in mind, if there's an answer I'll try it.

Wednesday, December 14

1000 Days

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

-- President George W. Bush, January 28, 2003, State of the Union address.

Cakewalk In Iraq
By Ken Adelman
Washington Post, Wednesday, February 13, 2002; Page A27

"There are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists."

--Bush, October 7, 2002

"It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

--Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, February 7, 2003 to U.S. troops in Aviano, Italy

"The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder."

--Bush, March 19, 2003

"The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator."

--Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, March 11, 2003

"I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly...weeks rather than months."

--Vice President Dick Cheney, March 16, 2003, on Meet the Press

Saddam May Have Been In Compound During Missile Strike

WASHINGTON (AP) March 20, 2003 — Iraq's forces appeared cut off from their leadership after a U.S. attack on a Baghdad compound that intelligence officials believe struck while Saddam Hussein and possibly his sons were still inside, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no definitive word whether Saddam was caught in the pre-dawn attack, or whether he was alive or dead. But officials said they believed medical attention was summoned to the compound after the attack.

"There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be US taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people," he said. "On a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50bn and $100bn over the course of the next two or three years."

--Wolfowitz, March 27, 2003 to House Appropriations committee

"When it comes to reconstruction, before we turn to the American taxpayer, we will turn first to the resources of the Iraqi government and the international community."

--Rumsfeld, March 27, 2003

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, weapons of mass destruction. Key goal of the military campaign is finding those weapons of mass destruction. None have been found yet. There was a raid on the Answar Al-Islam Camp up in the north last night. A lot of people expected to find ricin there. None was found. How big of a problem is that? And is it curious to you that given how much control U.S. and coalition forces now have in the country, they haven't found any weapons of mass destruction?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Not at all. If you think -- let me take that, both pieces -- the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

This Week with George Stephanopoulos, March 30, 2003

She Was Fighting To The Death

"Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting March 23, one official said. The ambush took place after a 507th convoy, supporting the advancing 3rd Infantry Division, took a wrong turn near the southern city of Nasiriyah.

'She was fighting to the death,' the official said. 'She did not want to be taken alive.'

Lynch was also stabbed when Iraqi forces closed in on her position, the official said, noting that initial intelligence reports indicated that she had been stabbed to death…

--Washington Post, April 3, 2003

"Jessica was being tortured. That was the urgent word from an Iraqi man who alerted American troops where to find Pfc. Jessica Lynch - and her injuries seem to bear out the allegation.... Her broken bones are a telltale sign of torture, said Amy Waters Yarsinske, a former Navy intelligence officer and an expert on POW and MIA treatment. 'It's awfully hard to break both legs and an arm in a truck accident,' Yarsinske said.

--New York Post, April 3, 2003

Saddam Statue Toppled In Central Baghdad
Wednesday, April 9, 2003 Posted: 12:45 PM EDT (1645 GMT)

Crowds cheer as a statue of Saddam Hussein falls.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqis danced and waved the country's pre-1991 flag in central Baghdad's Firdos Square after a U.S. Marine armored recovery vehicle helped topple the square's huge statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Army Report Confirms Psy-ops Staged Saddam Statue Toppling

by Jon Elmer, July 3, 2004 - An internal Army study of the war in Iraq has confirmed that the infamous toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in central Baghdad on April 9, 2003 was stage-managed by American troops and not a spontaneous reaction by Iraqis. According to the study, a Marine colonel first decided to topple the statue, and an Army psychological operations unit turned the event into a propaganda moment.

At one point during the stunt Marines draped the statue of Saddam Hussein with an American flag. When the crowd reacted negatively to that gesture, the US flag was replaced with a pre-1990 Iraqi flag, missing the words "God is Great," by a sergeant from the psychological operations unit. The Marines brought in cheering Iraqi children in order to make the scene appear authentic, the study said.

"...we have won a great victory in Iraq, and an even greater one in the world. The next time we say to someone, "Don't make us come over there", they won't. America's already-great diplomatic power has now been massively enhanced, through a clear demonstration that any explicit or implicit threats of military operations we might make are not empty."

Steven DenBeste, April 11, 2003

Jubilant Rumsfeld Takes A Swipe At Critics
David Rennie, The Telegraph, April 29, 2003

The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, yesterday allowed himself the luxury of mocking his many critics who predicted a long, bloody war in Iraq.

"There were a lot of hand-wringers around, weren't there?" he told cheering troops at the coalition military headquarters in Qatar.

Though the war has not been declared officially ended, a beaming Mr Rumsfeld congratulated coalition commanders and predicted that future historians would regard the Iraqi action as a model conflict.

"When the dust has settled in Iraq, military historians will study this war," he said.

Commander in Chief Lands On USS Lincoln

Friday, May 2, 2003 Posted: 7:47 AM EDT (1147 GMT)

ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CNN) -- President Bush made a landing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln Thursday, arriving in the co-pilot's seat of a Navy S-3B Viking after making two fly-bys of the carrier.

...Bush was taken in by plane because the Lincoln was too far off the California coast for a helicopter to bring him aboard.

Explanation for Bush's Carrier Landing Altered
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2003; Page A20

President Bush chose to make a jet landing on an aircraft carrier last week even after he was told he could easily reach the ship by helicopter, the White House said yesterday, changing the explanation it gave for Bush's "Top Gun" style event....

White House officials had said, both before and after Bush's landing in a Navy S-3B Viking jet, that he took the plane solely to avoid inconveniencing the sailors, who were returning home after a deployment of nearly 10 months. The officials said that Bush decided not to wait until the ship was in helicopter range to avoid delaying the troops' homecoming.

But instead of the carrier being hundreds of miles offshore, as aides had said it would be, the Lincoln was only about 30 miles from the coast when Bush made his "tail-hook" landing, in which the jet was stopped by cables on deck. Navy officers slowed and turned the ship when land became visible.

"Today, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the United States declares its strong solidarity with torture victims across the world. Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law.

"Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize their own citizens. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice. "

--Bush, June 26, 2003 Statement by the President, United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

"We've found a couple of semi-trailers at this point which we believe were in fact part of [a WMD] program," Cheney said. "I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction."

--Cheney, January 23, 2004

"Beautification Plan for Baghdad Ready to Begin."

--Office of Strategic Communications press release, March, 2004

"We ended the threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction."

--Bush, July 17, 2003

"I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

--Cheney, June 20, 2005

"Never have so many been so wrong about so much."

--Rumsfeld, April 29, 2003

"I don't feel in a bubble."

--President George W. Bush, December 12, 2005

1000 days after the German invasion of the USSR, the Soviets were staging the Byelorussian campaign, which would throw the Germans back across their borders. The Lenningrad-Novgorod offensive, which had lifted the seige of Lenningrad after 900 days, was on its way to annihilating the German forces in the Baltic.

1000 days after Pearl Harbor, Allied forces in the West were pushing into Belgium, had broken the Gothic Line in Northern Italy and were moving toward Bologna, and had landed in southern France to link up with the other two forces. In the Pacific, still the "second theatre", US forces had captured Saipan, Tinian, and Guam in the Marianas, taken Tarawa, at a terrible cost, Kwajalein Island and the rest of the Marshalls, and Allied forces had recaptured New Guinea. Intense carrier bombings and submarine activity were preparing the way for the invasion of Leyte.

1000 days after the invasion of Iraq, we've produced a 38-page plan.

Tuesday, December 13


Ever since last year's festivities I've really been looking forward to this year's War on Xmas, and I was real excited when it began early enough to cross-merchandize with Halloween, but since then, nothin'. Where the Hell's the war at? All these bozos are doing is what they do twelve months out of the year: gin up the outrage and pass the collection plate. I've got this vision of Ol' Blood and Guts Dobson's battalion of lawyers sitting in total silence at a phone bank like some sad PBS pledge drive. C'mon!

The disappointment first set in when I read that James Lileks couldn't find his way to the front this year:
The War on Christmas seems a little less intense this season.

This seemed a little odd coming from the guy who last year was so outraged that he couldn't find the Christmas stamps at the Post Office website, seeing as how this year they've announced they're only selling off the old models and that all future Christian-themed philatelic offerings will come pre-packaged in a baggie full of urine. Plus you'd imagine that Mr. Fivehead might have noticed that his fellow warriors were storming the gates of the beloved Target, now wouldn't ya?

So I took on another recon mission. I wanted to see what was up with media coverage of the Great December Sitzkreig.

ABC News had an "Original Report" Sunday, which suggests that they need to check the definition of "original". It began:
Dec. 11, 2005 --Happy holidays! Merry Christmas!

They may sound like simple salutations, but they have become opposing battle cries in a wintry culture war — with conservative Christian groups going up against retailers, municipalities and even the White House.

Now, it seems to me that if this is your lead you might want to rethink the whole story assignment--do you really expect to get some juicy anti-Christmas sound bites from retailers and muncipalities, let alone the White House? Maybe "Kooks Shoveling Shit Instead of Snow This Christmas" would have been a better headline.

But there were a couple logs of cheery holiday warmth aglow in the story. First, Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe "Tent City" Arpaio has joined the fray, piping Christmas carols at his jail house charges, many of whom will thus be freed again to prey on Maricopa residents as soon as the "cruel and unusual punishment" motions are heard. Second, we have this from Wild Bill Donohue of the League of Catholic Blowhards:
"Elvis didn't sing about 'Blue Holiday.' Nobody says 'I'll be home for the holiday.' It's, 'I'll be home for Christmas.' If you can't say Christmas at Christmas time, when 85 percent of the population is Christian and 96 percent of the population celebrates Christmas, something's wrong."

'Course The Pelvis wasn't exactly a big hit with the Church back in his day, but you gotta keep up with the times, so why not plan an Elvis Christmas this year? Take a handful of Placidils, pay some teenaged girls to wrestle in green and red panties, and shoot out the teevee screen while the Yule log loop is playing. I know I'm going to.

Still, any good recon goes where the evidence goes. I've spent enough time at Religious to know that that "85% of the population is Christian" is fifteen years out of date (it's been dropping ever since--Go Wiccans!--and is now around 75%, a number which is itself pretty damned suspect since half those people never set foot in a church and since in 2002 only 50% of Americans were willing to tell a pollster they considered themselves religious). But where'd that 96% celebration rate come from? Lileks used it, also without attribution. So does the Alliance Defense Fund. So did Lionel Shriver in a cringe-inducing piece in the Guardian, and The Arizona Republic, (which noted, straight-faced, that "Even Sheriff Joe Arpaio joined the fray," as though this constituted the pushing of a sane and cautious man over a line), and the folks pushing the "School Okays Christmas Witch, Rewrites Silent Night" tale. Where'd that number come from?

Never underestimate the dedication of the recon squad. Or the power of Google, where the #2 result for "96% Americans celebrate Christmas" gives us:
96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, 2003).

Kee-rist. You think you've finally found a Good War, after all these years, and it turns out you're just peeping at a circle jerk.

Speaking of Christmas

The worst feature of Capitalism isn't the exploitation of the poor, trade union busting, the glass ceiling, or environmental rapine. The most demeaning feature of greed run amok is: forcing retail clerks to push some crapola plan, or special, or upgrade at you as a part of an innocent transaction.

Okay, it's me. Basically, I want nothing whatever to do with salesmen. If I want information I know where to get it, and if I don't I know who to ask for assistance. I can't think of a single thing I've ever been sold, even if I desperately needed it and had to go out in an ice storm to find it on my own. Woody Allen said he once tried to commit suicide by inhaling next to an insurance agent. Woody's an optimist.

I used to be polite about it, and under ordinary circumstances I still am. I don't blame the people who are forced to pitch shit at you when you choose to come into contact with them. It's different with people who call (Indiana's no-call law leaves a few loopholes), or come to the door. I understand folks gotta make a living, but then again, you chose annoying people rather than the more honest trade of breaking into their homes while they're gone. I have a whistle next to the phone ready to blow at salespeople who call and don't immediately apologize and hang up. And I answer the door with a sawn-off pool cue in my hand. Well, not really, but only because my countenance is scary enough in most circumstances. I hate this stuff so much that even if someone came to the door offering a demonstration of Avon's new line of oral-sex enhancing lipsticks I'd have to think about it.

So this afternoon I have to go to the bank. Attractive teller, evidently new, who was personable in a genuine as opposed to a professional manner, so I turned on the charm*. The transaction went smoothly, unlike my recent experiences with trainees, and after I'd signed for the cash I got back she looked up and said:

"Have you ever thought about investments?"
[Sheesh, don't I look seventy years old? They've probably kept me up more nights than you've lived through.]

No reason not to continue making nice, so I said, "All mine are hidden offshore."


[There's always a point where you lose people. I once met a young woman wearing a Herron School of Art tee-shirt. "Herron, eh?" says I, positively oozing charm, "do you know Professor so-and-so?"

"Yeah, I'm in his painting class. How do you know him?"

"We were in prison together in Juarez."

She looked at me like a dog looks at a ceiling fan.]

* "You were wonderful last night, Harold (?), when you turned on the charm," is a Thurber caption I inexplicably left out the other day.

Monday, December 12

Shut Up

David Crary, AP National Writer: As Boomers Age, Legacy Doubts Surface

NEW YORK - They partied and protested, then grew up to dominate America with their chutzpah and sheer numbers. Yet now, as the oldest of the baby boomers prepare to turn 60, there are glimmers of doubt within this "have it all" generation about how they will be judged by those who come next.

The ferment of the '60s and '70s — when boomers changed the world, or thought they did — faded long ago. Nostalgic pride in the achievements of that era now mixes with skepticism: Have the boomers collectively betrayed their youthful idealism? Have they been self-centered to the point of shortchanging their children?

I gave some consideration to just letting this post stand right there, but then there's Digby's fine tribute to Richard Pryor, including the backhanding he received from the gang at FAUX, which is really of a piece with this.

So let's start here. Richard Pryor was not a Boomer. Nor George Carlin nor Lenny Bruce . Not the Beatles, Elvis, Chuck Berry. Not Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, or Michael Schwerner. Kate Millett was born in 1934, Muhammad Ali in 1942. The Mattachine Society was fighting the New York statute that made gay bars illegal in 1965, before the oldest Boomer could take a legal drink at a heterosexual gin mill. The fight for civil rights, women's rights, and gay rights do not "belong" to Boomers. Neither, for that matter, does rock and roll, rebellion, or shag carpeting.

And, okay, one more bad wire-service story assignment isn't going to kill us (Crary, to be fair, manages to collect some interesting quotes along the way). And I bet that even people who find some sort of broad truth in this sort of thing don't imagine it runs too deep. The thing that irks me is how much this looks like the lazy stenography and easy Red Right/Left Blue coverage our politics receives in the very same papers. Isn't the whole Boomers/The Sixties/Change the World/Tune In Turn On just the Hippie/Leftist/Traitor/Pornographer bogeyman stripped of the overt politics?

How exactly do you square the Sixties Love-In March on Washington social agenda with our national politics since then? The massive defeat of George McGovern, Nixon's Southern strategy, a one-term moderate Southern Democrat followed by twelve years of Ronald Reagan (the man who ran against the Sixties for sixteen years before he got the nomination), the mass migration of Dixiecrats to an increasingly right-radical Republican party--is it reasonable to believe that millions of Woodstock attendees turned their backs on social consciousness the minute they had to earn a living? Or could the unthinkable be true--that our pet construct is too simplistic, or just plain wrong, to serve as anything but wire-copy fodder?

I was born at the tail end of 1953, which puts me right in the middle of the second Boomer quarter. It means I wasn't old enough to have a driver's license when the Sixties ended (if you're out there doing the math, the legal driving age was 16-1/2). I was in the last draft class of the Vietnam war. Much as I'd like to, I can't take personal credit for the '64 Civil Rights Act or ending the war. I was affected by them, as anyone is affected by his times. But the people I grew up with and have known all these years were just as conventional as their parents before or their children after. They smoked some dope and listened to Pink Floyd instead of packing phone booths and jitterbugging, or getting their eyebrows pierced and sharing files. They didn't go to socialist summer camp or make bombs in the garage. They went to college to get good jobs, as well as smoke some dope and listen to Dark Side of the Moon with headphones continually for four or five years.

Which brings up the attendant point. Boomers, apparently, have all the money:
The boomers — 78 million of them born from 1946 to 1964 — are wealthier and more numerous than any generation before or since. They have controlled political power long enough to stack the financial deck in their favor.

I gotta say I'm nearly speechless at this. I'd be happy to go on at length about dirty hippies turning into soul-dead Yuppie scum, and if you want to blame our numbers on someone the place to look is probably our parents, but "the wealthiest generation ever"? Is there some way to quantify this? Boomers are in their peak earning years. When I was young my parents' generation was the wealthiest ever. It's hard to imagine how, under a capitalist system, it could be any other way. Still, the incredibly wealthy people I know are either a) older than Boomers; b) Boomers who inherited wealth; or c) plastic surgeons. I don't know that many people who live much better than their parents did, or do now. I know any number of people who want as little to do with money as possible, and would probably ignore it entirely if they could.

And few of them are able to finagle the system, let alone for their own benefit. Compare what happened in the first Reagan term when he proposed tax withholding on dividend checks. It wasn't Boomers shot that one down.

In my youth we lived through two oil embargoes, wage and price controls, massive inflation, stagflation, spiraling interest rates, three recessions, and double-digit unemployment. Every Boomer family I know of, save a few of the very wealthy ones, is a two-income household at least in part of necessity. The 80s helped some, unless you went hog-wild for real estate, and the 90s helped a good deal more, same as the 50s and early 60s lifted my parents' generation. The explanation for tax-cut mania--which hasn't exactly benefitted the bulk of Whatever Generation You Give A Trendy Name To--is the rise of extremist anti-everyone else Republicanism. Go blame them.
NEXT: The younger generations offer their judgment on the baby boomers.

Yeah. Chewy.