Tuesday, January 30

Happy Birthday

Saul David Alinsky
January 30, 1909--June 12, 1972

'08. My God, I'm Talking About '08.

Like most people, I have no use for Tim Russert. No, check that. Most people have no use for Tim Russert. I think he can always serve as a bad example.

Recently--holiday week, I think--Fresh Air filled out some vacation time with Terry Gross interviews with Rock n Rollers, and I caught part of the Iggy Pop piece (as I recall it, Jimbo's the only Godfather of Punk who can not only use the word "inchoate" in a sentence but pronounce it correctly) and Terry had asked him something about his childhood influences and he talked about the experience of having Crosby Stills and Nash, e.g., as countercultural icons one minute and turning around the next to find they're all fat.

Russert's fat. In Iggy's sense. Bill Bennett fat. He's fat not because he spends too many free hours at home in the kitchen, surrounded by the best ingredients he could find, fussing over some sensuous delight of Irish cuisine (joke). He's fat because he gets too many meals and cocktails comp'd and sees too many checks picked up by the sort of people he's supposed to have an adversarial relationship with. Under the circumstances it should, in fact, be far too easy to remain thin. This may explain why I'd rather listen to George Will for an entire afternoon than a half-hour of Russert, not that I'm not volunteering as a test subject. (There was some sort of weird antipodal synchronicity on this point Sunday when Will started spouting off in favor of "delinking the economy and the health care system", by which he meant using tax powers to tell private enterprise it was okay to pull the plug on workers' health coverage. Funny how junkets and country club memberships and limo rides to the studio never count as burdensome expenses.)

So anyhow, it's not that Russert's an ideological hack but that he's a celebrity hairdresser with a book deal. On the rare occasions when I tune him in and he's not playing schnauzer for Dick Cheney he's relentlessly grilling people on their relationship with the conventional wisdom, which has, over the years, become indistinguishable from Tim Russert's wisdom. (He used to be good, children, as a young reporter in the 70s, but maybe it's just that the warm breezes of convention were at my back more often in them days.) And then there's the matter of his spilling over onto the regular news, a sort of reverse Barbara Walters, which is just a bad idea in the first place made worse by that little voice in your head that tells you, as Russert is busy "explaining" some fine point of politics that might escape the average Joe, that you should remember to check the crankcase for sawdust.

Anyhow, the first half of Sunday's Tim Russert Comedy Hour, which I missed, included an interview with Mike Huckabee (recounted by Mustang Bobby, per Norbizness. ) And it looks for all the world like Russert was coming close to grilling Huckabee, at least in Russert terms, and that piqued my interest. I don't think Timmy takes marching orders from the Grand Republican Council of Evil or anything--why would they bother?--but I had to wonder whether that meant anything.

It's the case of the Dog That Didn't Bark. I don't remember Russert grilling Honest John McCain about his spiritual rebirth. Could some deeper purpose be glimpsed here, if only in shadow?

Now, let me join millions of Americans in saying "I don't give a shit." No, check that. Millions of Americans don't give a shit; I say it doesn't matter whether I do or not. Still, an interesting line of thought opened up, if by "interesting" you mean "boring shit about an election two years away that nobody, especially me, is going to handicap accurately at this point".

First, it's interesting that the respective races appear to turn on precisely opposite qualities: Democrats aren't going to be able to hide their records, while Republicans may be forced to (viz. McCain, Romney), since the fundamentalists still control the primaries.

You may remember that along about the time of the Schiavo brouhaha the moneyed Right caught wind of the existence of the so-called social so-called conservatives and realized there might be a problem down the road. This, of course, was merely the cusp of Everything Turning To Shit for them, so the calculations may have changed somewhat. But our operating principle here is that the money boys want Rudy. McCain stepped on his dick two years ago, on his way to fluff the C-in-C, and that was pretty much it. He had to blow Falwell after that, and now his support among "moderates" and "independents" (or as we like to call them, "the uninformed") has disappeared. He's was forced to jump in front of the war parade just as the thundershower hit. Besides he's a "maverick", which means that while he's venal enough he can't be counted on not to do something sensible when the chips are down.

Everybody else is competing for the Brownback Dollar, notably Mitt, who has shown the sort of enthusiasm for the process that could get a group of bikers acquitted of gang-rape charges. So I can't quite understand why someone's trying publicly to push Mike Huckabee to the right of where he already is. The earlier he has to compete for Fundamentalist Fun Bucks the earlier he's out on his ass, and the bigger the pile left for Stem Cell Sam. Early knockouts are great for Brownback. Rudy needs everybody to stay in as long as possible.

On the other hand, supposing you think Rudy's already toast despite that early "lead", you prefer Mitt's "What's my position supposed to be today?" over Huckabee and would want to push the latter off his "conservative with centrist sympathies" track. Again, I'm not sayin' this is what Russert was up to; maybe it was something he ate. It was just an interesting distraction for an idle moment. And I'm still sticking to what I said in December 2000: the fundies are going to name the nominee this time, not get sold out in some backroom by Ralph Reed. Despite having made every attempt over the last half-decade to convince the rest of the country they are indeed an bunch of toothless inbred snake-handlers, they've still got the reins. The leadership may now be wishing they didn't have to follow George W., but there you are, and besides, we might end up with a woman or a Muslim otherwise. I give the edge to Brownback. Is it too early to call Vegas?

Monday, January 29

Why Must Everybody Laugh At My Mighty Sword?

Sabrina Tavernise, "It Has Unraveled So Quickly" New York Times January 28

Sens. Joseph Biden and Richard Lugar, interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulos plus other Sunday morning gabfests

No shit I pranged my back Thursday opening the clothes dryer door, and not by moving awkwardly or doing something stupid; I just reached for the door and felt a twinge I immediately recognized as Not Good, one of those no real immediate pain but you know it's going to be awful later deals. And it was.

So Sunday morning I was still avoiding chores while alternately sitting for some heat treatment and standing and walking around to keep from stiffening up too much from sitting while reading the Times and watching the Sundays, respectively. First there's this from Tavernise's inexplicably-titled piece:
For those eager to write off Iraq as lost, one fact bears remembering. A great many Shiites and Kurds, who together make up 80 percent of the population, will tell you that in spite of all the mistakes the Americans have made here, the single act of removing Saddam Hussein was worth it. And the new American plan, despite all the obstacles, may have a chance to work.

It's a fact that a great many people who benefited greatly from the removal of Saddam Hussein will tell you it was worth the lives of the people who aren't around to voice an opinion. Okey-dokey. It is also a fact (and in this instance fact means "reasonably defensible observation about the physical universe" instead of "meaningless commonplace asserted as enlightening reportorial discovery") that the relative political autonomy of those groups has not been a big positive for minorities living within their reach, and that oppression, terror, and murder have occurred in those regions at a pace which likely rivals if not exceeds Saddam Hussein's own. For those eager to see just what shit will stick to the wall, it bears remembering that facts frequently come with at least two sides, even if New York Times' reporting does not.

Not that Ms Tavernise has missed the implication:
But the odds are stacked against the corps of bright young officers charged with making the plan work, particularly because their Iraqi partner — the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — seems to be on an entirely different page. When American officials were debating whether to send more troops in December, I went to see an Iraqi government official. The prospect of more troops infuriated him. More Americans would simply prolong the war, he said.

“If you don’t allow the minority to lose, you will carry on forever,” he said.

The remarks struck me as a powerful insight into the Shiites’ thinking.

If it's not too presumptuous of me, speaking for the readership of the Sunday New York Times, I'd like to say how grateful I am that 22 months in Iraq has led Ms Tavernise to a conclusion that might otherwise have been reached by thinking about the situation for five minutes.

That "quick unraveling" is a trick of perception--or rather misperception. Yes, Baghdad has become much worse in the past twelve months, but it can only be considered rapid or unexpected if at that point one was ignoring the facts of the previous three years, the sort of thing that's required to make pleasant cooing sounds at the thoughts of more bright young officers marching off to get it right, and This Time We Mean It.

At this point I couldn't sit still without pain, but I'm not sure if it was my back or the article, so I stood up and turned on, briefly, the end of the Tim Russert Comedy Hour--a panel discussion where the reliable idiocy of Michael "Mushroom Cloud" Gerson was reliably faux-balanced by Ken "Let's Hope the MIT Ph.Ds Who Handle Plutonium Are Minimally Competent" Pollack. Chuck Schumer, on board, I thought, to discuss how federal banking regulation would affect the surge, was actually there because he's written a book Tim Bob could portray as "critical of Democrats". Louisiana's junior Senator David "New Orleans Is Not Filling Up Like a Bowl" Vittner was on hand to make sure Schumer didn't gang up on the other three.

And even so it is impossible for war critics to lose an argument these days, which was made manifest in the next ten minutes as This Week began with Biden and my senior Senator, and when Joe Biden not only makes you look foolish but you make him look like Fred Astaire while he does it, it's time to do something you haven't done in seven terms in the Senate, namely serve your constituents instead of your own ego and get the fuck off the stage. Lugar, as ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations committee, has been assigned the water-carrying position in opposing the various non-binding, anti-surge resolutions, and it's amazing to note that thirty years of doing this sort of thing hasn't yet turned him into someone who can lie believably. And it sure as hell isn't about to turn him into Chuck Hagel; the last time anything like an honest opinion unvetted by the Republican power structure left his mouth it involved instituting a national sales tax to replace the income tax and resulted in his Presidential campaign sinking faster than Michael Richard's career.

By this time what Democrats there were had been asked six times whether a non-binding resolution that Everyone Knows George W. Bush is a Moron wouldn't "hurt morale and embolden the enemy", which had begun to sound like a wounded lover's plaint. And then I realized the whole matter had become a bad Lifetime domestic abuse movie, where the hyperviolent spouse, pleading for just one more chance (This Time I Mean It!) had somehow become convinced that one last ninety-second lovemaking lesson would rekindle the magic and wipe out years of bad memories. Pathetic, really, if it weren't so serious. The old pols in this country apparently believe that Viagra™ can fix anything.

Saturday, January 27

Happy Birthday

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart
January 27, 1756--December 5, 1791
composer of "Leck mich im Arsch" and other popular classics

Friday, January 26

Don't You Wish Your Senator Was A Moderate Republican And Respected Foreign Policy Expert Like Me?

January 25, 2007

Lugar in minority on vote against troop surge
Despite misgivings about Iraq strategy, Hoosier thinks congressional opposition could be harmful to U.S.

By Maureen Groppe
Star Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Despite his lack of confidence in President Bush's Iraq strategy, Sen. Richard Lugar voted Wednesday against a nonbinding resolution condemning the decision to increase U.S. troop levels. And he might lead GOP opposition to the Democrats' measure when it moves to the Senate floor next week. "It is unclear to me how passing a nonbinding resolution that the president has already said he will ignore will contribute to any improvement or modification in our Iraq policy," Lugar, R-Ind., said Wednesday. His comments came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-9 to approve the resolution saying that sending 21,500 additional troops to Iraq is "not in the national interest...."

...Lugar said having Congress go on record opposing the president's plan could do more harm than good. It could make the administration even less inclined than it has been to consult with Congress on Iraq, and "it will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray."

That would be the same Dick Lugar who voiced his misgivings about the Iraq war just before voting for the Iraq War Resolution.

And then when it had unmistakably turned to shit said, "I warned you about it."

How, exactly, does someone once known as "Nixon's Favorite Mayor" still have a political career?

Carrying Coals To Newcastle To Provide Power For Eskimos To Run Their Freezers

At the top of yesterday's show, Diane Rehm apologized to the listening audience for her touch of laryngitis.

Thursday, January 25

If I Have Seen Farther Than Others, It Is Because I'm Standing On This Little Box Thingie

Here's a surprise (via Indianapolis Star):
Audit: BMV accounting flawed
By Theodore Kim

January 24, 2007

Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles has few safeguards in place to keep track of its finances and cash on hand, leaving the agency open to fraud, according to a state government audit released today.
The State Board of Accounts, which oversees the books of state and local government bodies, concluded the agency in recent years has failed to correct long-standing inadequacies in its record-keeping methods.
The board also found problems with a new BMV computer system installed last summer. The installation led to mass customer confusion and myriad problems with vehicle registration records. That system, known as STARS, "does not have an associated comprehensive accounting system, including the maintenance of a ledger balance," according to the report.
"As a result, bureau personnel cannot know at any given point in time what the balance of their receipts or cash on hand should be or to which fund it is due," the report said.
Former BMV Commissioner Joel Silverman resigned in September under pressure following the botched installation of STARS.

That would be Joel Silverman the former CFO of The Limited. The Joel Silverman who prior to becoming part of Governor Mitch "Lollypop Guild" Daniels' team of experienced entrepreneurs who were going to make "historic changes" in how state government was being run, had been the COO of Galyan's, the Indiana-based sports retailer which unfortunately sorta went out of business due to a competitor showing up. The Joel Silverman who brought 25 of his closest underlings along to work at BMV.

Hey, it's not like Indiana's BMV wasn't the worst in the nation before these guys took over--successive Democratic and Republican administrations had refused to end the patronage system. But at least every district whose vote was needed somewhere had its own branch, before Silverman decided to close half of them after the legislature adjourned as part of the big Let's Tell The Rubes We're Saving Them A Lot Of Money campaign. (The Rubes, to their credit, weren't buying.) At least in the old days when the cops pulled someone over they could run down the license plate.

(A personal note: I think ol' Joel was out the door by this time, but my own license renewal, which I'd been doing online since 2000, was sent to my Indianapolis address from 15 years ago, and finally arrived after spending six weeks somewhere in Northern Indiana. I never gave it much thought, since the computer program was so screwed up I couldn't imagine the cops would want the aggravation of pulling someone over for an expired tag.)

I haven't had time to get through all 35 pages of the auditor's report yet, but I think there must be an Easter egg on every page. So far I've learned that the bureau--touted in one of Mitch's "Official Governor's Pat on the Back to the Governor" reports as saving $2.3 million for renegotiating that same computer software deal--paid out an extra $2.3 million to the software firm with no agreement or authorization to be found. And the same operation which won a Mitchie (I think I'm making that up, but after six years of George W. Bush and two of Daniels, not counting his OMB stint, I can't really be sure) for saving $30,000 by cutting out free employee bottled water and making everyone bring his or her own toilet paper, was simultaneously losing $11.274 million by not charging consumers the credit-card transaction fees required by law.

Joel Silverman told the Indianapolis Star back in the heady days of April, 2005, when he was busy making history, that he had been frustrated by the 800 pages of laws and regulations governing the operation of the BMV. Which, he added, he hadn't read. Which, we add, he really needn't have bothered to add.

Tuesday, January 23

Slow News Day

Cordell Eddings, "Colleges are hotbeds of ambivalence over war: Indiana students see both sides, hesitate to discuss topic", Indianapolis Star January 22

It seems there wasn't quite enough Colts news and AFC Champions teeshirt ads Monday to fill an entire issue, and the reporters and editors assigned to the filler took it out on the readership. The guy assigned to cover the brewing controversy over male practice players in female college athletics seems to have decided to just cover one side of the debate and knock off early; no doubt some peeve or other regarding the free buffet was at the heart of someone else's decision to run David "The Dean" Broder on the opinion page ("If the streets are safe, it will be easier to insist that the Iraqis working in the ministries do their jobs, without fear of retaliation against their families or themselves"). Then there was Mr. Eddings' piece.

The amazing universal claims of the headline are the result of interviews with four students spread out over two Hoosier campuses, or roughly double the Star's usual rigor.

The other remarkable discovery Eddings made, but does not seem to have realized, is that 100% of ambivalent college students are, in fact, war supporters whose ambivalence stems from the apparent failure of their personal good wishes to have any effect on events 6500 miles away. Or so the methodology suggests.
It's getting more and more difficult for Indiana University senior Lauren Schafer to read news about the war in Iraq.
But as a political science major from a military family, she really can't escape it.
"I have to make myself read about it," said Schafer, who has become largely disillusioned about the war -- not because she is against current actions, but because she's conflicted.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she was for the war. "It was the 'rally around the flag' idea," she said. But her views have shifted....

"College students honestly don't know what should be done. We don't know what should be done. We don't like what's being done, but we don't have any better ideas," Schafer said.
Butler sophomore Cindy Gil agrees that many students are confused about the war, which is reflected in the way the topic comes up on campus.
"In class, it is not something people really want to talk about that much because it's such a sensitive topic," said Gil, 19, who said the events of 9/11 still have people on guard when discussing politics.
"It affected so many people . . . a lot of people are not really willing to delve into that issue," she added....

IU freshman Michael Rinehart remains optimistic but says it will take time before the United States sees success in Iraq.
"I know mistakes were made, but reconstruction always takes time," Rinehart said. "It will definitely show more results. It's a good start, and we should be able to see progress at least."

Butler freshman Terry Heimemann, 19, said he thinks Bush's plan is justified but also understands the sacrifice involved.
"I have a lot of friends whose brothers, boyfriends and girlfriends . . . are in the armed forces, and many of them are upset," he said. "I think it changes people's opinions when their family is going out there."

I'm not quite sure how Mr. Eddings found his sample audience, but I'm guessing it wasn't when he lectured the local American History Club:
War traditionally has not been popular with students, going back to the Civil War, when people burned draft cards...

Now, I know what you're thinking: these ambivalent kids today, with their ambivalent rap music and ambivalently belted trousers! But we shouldn't lose hope. I have a feeling that someday these future ambivalent leaders will point the way to America's wishy-washy rebirth:
"If I get drafted, I get drafted," Rinehart said. "It's my duty to my country."

And if he volunteers...I'll volunteer.

Monday, January 22

Sports Update

i m bleve that i survive colts win game spite more ten shun then man my age shud go threw no hart tack ha ha i shud no for shore morrow if i wake up live bye

Sunday, January 21

Sunday Olio

So the first thing is that we sorta half-redecorated the living room after the holidays, and the old walnut church lectern which holds the New Shorter OED got moved from back wall anonymity to relative prominence along the front windows, and my wife used that as an excuse to make suggestions, such as "the top's too small" and "when was the last time you bathed?" She also pointed out that the lip was way too small for the books, so their covers have sagged a bit.

The first thing I did was check the Yellow Pages, or rather all six versions of the Yellow Pages for the address of the specialty woodcrafter store, and when I didn't see it listed I gave up and ran over to Lowe's, which is guaranteed not to carry solid pieces of walnut 3/4" thick, and doesn't. I bought some 4" molding for the front lip and a couple hundred feet of matching 3/4" for the trim, which I planned to stain. I got home and pried off the old lip to find that it wasn't just lap-joined, it also had an odd little hand-cut miter at the bottom, and I was admiring that when my wife got home from shoe shopping...

And here's the thing about that . I have basically three things to preach about health: wash your hands, frequently, and pretend you're a surgeon when you do; eat real yogurt; and never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. So my wife starts to tell me about her new shoes, and she lets slip she's been wearing the pair they're meant to replace every day, and I said some things that woke the cats up. Okay, that was probably more due to volume than content. And then she went out and bought a second pair.

She reported that the entire shoe selection was "girly". The first pair she got were Addidaseses, and the three stripes were a sort of sky blue, until I moved away and realized they were reflective, and that there were little reflective details all around them, including some in the front which were the approximate size of immature lemon pips. "Those'll save a life," I says. "Oh, thank God I saw your toe reflectors just in time to run my car over the curb!" At this I made a drastic steering wheel wrenching motion and a loud tire squeal, which woke the cats up again and actually had Stinky running for the basement. "Seems to me they'd be more useful to a stalker." I think that's when she decided she needed to do more shopping.

Anyway, I was fortunate that before she left for that second pair I showed her the odd little mitre on the lip, since that led to the incidental discovery that her earlier expressed desire to see a larger top on the lectern didn't actually mean she wanted a larger top on the lectern. I tried explaining this again to her, from the beginning and with direct quotes, but it didn't work, and I'm sure not gonna waste any more time trying to explain it to anybody else. Just say it eventually dawned on me that I could construct a book tray with the 4" molding in front that could sit on top of the lectern and solve the cover sag thing and keep me out of the return line at Lowe's.

And again I spent a Saturday proving that no project is a simple one where I'm involved. I'm not quite sure how three mitred corners resulted in the use of not just a compound mitre saw, circular saw, hammer and nails and band clamps and glue, but also two sizes of nippers, every form of carpenter's measuring device I own plus a level, lineman's pliers, screwdriver, scratch awl, coping saw, end plane, two chisels, four grades of sandpaper, the Shop Vac, a torque wrench, plus I had to replace two fuses and I was seriously eyeing the adze hanging on the pegboard to my right when I finally left the whole mess to be picked up tomorrow (today). Glad the Colts play the late game.

This gave me the idea that one might combine the average Food Network show (basically that woman who makes everything out of Cheez Wiz, but really it fits at least half the Talent over there), with HGTV and TLC and all those other programs everywhere where people in hipster garb, let by a woman who imagines a bare midriff is the perfect accompaniment to a nail gun, gab unceasingly while painting something the color of an old mustard stain, or a combination of Early Spring Pea and Eerie Plutonium Mishap Glowlight. Call it The Good Enough Carpenter, and have him stain some pine molding he didn't want to return to Lowe's without bothering to do whatever it is you're supposed to do to softwoods before staining them, and then he'd just announce he was too tired to put the tools away and go for coffee.

Which reminds me that I've managed to partly cure my wife of her quasi-addiction to watching those remodeling shows--at least in my presence--and you're welcome to my method if you face the same thing. I began to notice that as the explosion of such programming diluted the, you should pardon the expression, talent pool, that shrinking carpentry skills, knowledge of design principles, or simple color vision was met with a corresponding reduction in the amount of clothing the stars wore, so I started entering the room and saying, "Oh, time for more soft-core porn?"

Makes her change the channel, every time.

Happy Birthday

Huddie William Ledbetter
January 21, 1885 (date obscure)--December 6, 1949

Friday, January 19

Happy Birthday

Alexander Humphreys Woollcott
January 19, 1887--January 23, 1943

Martin Lee Anderson, 1991-2006. He Died For Our Tresspasses. But Mostly His.

Melissa Nelson,
Associated Press, "7 guards, nurse to plead not guilty in teen's boot camp death," Orlando Sentinel, January 18

Ron Word, Associated Press, "Boot-camp-case examiner can keep working," Orlando Sentinel, January 18
PANAMA CITY -- Attorneys for seven former juvenile boot camp guards who were videotaped manhandling a teenager and a nurse who watched the altercation entered not guilty pleas today on behalf of their clients to manslaughter charges stemming from his death. The seven guards and nurse face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated manslaughter of a child. Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet also agreed to modify bond conditions for the eight defendants during the brief hearing, allowing them to leave Bay County while the case is pending. The eight worked at the now-closed Bay County sheriff's boot camp in January 2006, when Martin Lee Anderson, 14, collapsed there while doing exercises. The guards said they were trying to revive him, but Anderson's family and others were outraged at the footage showing the boy being kneed and struck. He died a day later.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- A medical examiner who performed a disputed autopsy on a teenager who died after an altercation with guards at a Panama City boot camp can continue working under supervision for the rest of his contract, the state Medical Examiner's Commission said Wednesday. The commission unanimously approved a quality-assurance program under which Dr. Barbara Wolf, a medical examiner in Fort Myers, will review all of Dr. Charles Siebert's work.... The commission's review of cases did not include Siebert's findings in the autopsy of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who died in January 2006 after he was roughed up by guards in a videotaped encounter at a Bay County sheriff's boot camp. Siebert, medical examiner in six Panhandle counties, ruled that the teen's death was caused by natural complications of sickle-cell trait, a genetic blood disorder.... "I'm happy with the outcome," Siebert said. "It's been a difficult year. . . . Politics has played a part in this."

Well, Doc, politics didn't do Martin Lee Anderson much good, either.

In case you don't remember, don't know, or read the Wikipedia entry, in which case you don't know, Martin Lee Anderson entered the Florida Juvenile Justice System when he went joyriding in his grandmother's Jeep one Sunday after church. He was a passenger; two cousins had taken the vehicle.

He was put on probation. He violated that probation by walking across a school lawn on his way to visit a friend. His parents were given the choice of sending him to Juvenile Detention of one of Florida's boot camps. They chose the boot camp. He survived it for 24 hours.

Innocent until proven guilty. No problem here. The accused can answer to the video and their consciences. A pathologist incompetent enough to be placed under supervision without referencing his finding of "sickle-cell trait" in a detainee who'd been beaten and suffocated? Difficult to imagine, but it is Florida.

Here's who I'd like to ask a question of: all the fat white guys who sat around Jeff Greenfield's table in May of 2001 chortling about how "everybody had a fake ID in college" just like Jenna Bush. And that question is: where the fuck were you when this fourteen-year-old kid got arrested for riding in a Jeep?

Thursday, January 18

I Dunno. Why Don't You Bring Him In and We'll Ask Him?

"Ask a simple question: if the US withdraws, does it make Osama bin-Laden happy or sad?"

-Tony Snow to John Gibson, FAUX News

Three Dicks in Search of a Piece

Christopher Hitchens, "The Iraq Jinx: How Bush is blowing our last chance in Iraq" Slate January 16

First off, there's that title: Royal "we", Journalistic "we", or "we" as in George and myself, and by extension all the other warfloggers with our dicks in the dirt? It's not "we" as in "all of us" because many of us in this country had no more voice in the matter than the Iraqis did. My last chance in Iraq ended when Colin Powell went to the UN.

And there's no reason to accept that "last chance" as epistemological. Our last best chance might come from getting the fuck out. But like that President many now feel free to distain or disown, the warfloggers as a group simply refuse to let go of the notion that Iraq's one "chance" is The United States of America.

As for the "Jinx", well, it provides almost as much sick fun as the "New" Iraqi flag that illustrates it (honest to God, there are so many fuckups connected to our little Mesopotamian adventure somebody needs to produce a catalogue. That flag has bounced in and out of my consciousness for three years now):
Turning his [Patrick Cockburn's] pages [The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq], I got the feeling that I have sometimes had before: the slightly ridiculous but unshakeable sensation that there is some kind of jinx at work. One strives, in other words, to think of a blunder that could have been made and was not.

And one strives to remember which of them Christopher Hitchens took the administration to task to before the conclusion was undeniable.

This is, in fits and starts, if not the pre-9/11 Hitch then at least one whose monocular vision returns occasionally, long enough to bring up some truth:
under Bush the US has now, in the face of getting caught in the middle of a civil war, has foolishly decided to aid one side (a point lost on most of our punditocracy); the bungled hangings take on more importance for him than Abu Ghraib ever did. But--holy barking spitz!--Clinton's cock makes an appearance in paragraph five (our thanks as always to Roy) followed closely by Bush's "more monogamous, for what that's worth" one. Really, how much more is a monogamous cock worth in Hitchen's world do you think? We know the value of the Democrats' lack of moral courage is considerable, being unsurpassed (because they might vote symbolically against a surge which is all that four years of Republican moral cowardice has left). NATO forces and US Air Force "became the Kosovo Liberation Army", which is supposed to serve as an omen for Iraq, provided one ignores the fact that defending Kosovo was the only way to prevent genocide, while invading Iraq is what has led us to the edge of one.

But it was a weird cautionary tale in the penultimate sentence that grabbed my attention:
In all the recent ignorant burbling about another Vietnam, it ought to have been stressed that there is just one historical parallel worth noting: the early identification of the Kennedy brothers with the Catholic faction in Saigon over the Buddhist one.

The idea behind that sentence is too absurd to even deal with: it's not the competing nit-picked, high-school textbook versions of Vietnam which are the point, but the way in which this war was prosecuted by a faction seeking to rewrite the war's history. Whatever, "the Kennedy brothers identified with the Catholic faction"? That's who we were there propping up. The Buddhists in the South weren't the descendants of the French. We didn't have enough manpower in country during the Buddhist crisis to do anything about it; we continued to rely on the same Viet strongman system that had eliminated every other religious faction (plus the Vietnamese Mafia) which stood in its way. After which we had him eliminated. I'm not even sure what the Kennedys "backing the Buddhists" would have meant. Hitchens seems to have fallen into a bottomless G&T of ethnic binary opposition.

Tuesday, January 16

Boy, That's A Hell Of A Mess We Left In Your Yard There. Here's How We Think You Should Clean It Up...

Helene Cooper, "The Best We Can Hope For," New York Times, January 14

Cooper's piece shared the front page, above-the-fold, of Sunday's Week in Review section with a Photoshopped triptych of Miss Brazil 2005. Miss Brazil got two out of the page's three-column width. This would usually be seen as an outrage, but after reading the article I felt they had the proportions just about right.

Consider, dear reader, if you will, a think piece on the front page of the Sunday Times Op-Ed section, following by some five days a prime-time Presidential novella on the most important subject of our day. It will, from all appearances, cast a critical eye at the President's policy and his recent public prayer that the natural consequences of that policy could be somehow avoided at least as long as he's still in office and liable to pay for them. Got the program set in your mind? Okay, are your three interviewees:

A) An administration spokesman, a long-standing Congressional critic of the war, and a professor of Middle Eastern studies?

B) An Iraqi government official, a retired US Army general, and an expert in humanitarian disasters? Or

C) A guy who writes for Foreign Affairs. the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes a magazine called...wait, I have the note somewhere...

I'm going to be charitable here and assume that when Ms Cooper found a pay phone she realized there was only 50¢ in her purse.

Then again, about eight paragraphs in we get this:
Remember the Spanish Civil War? The best America can hope for, some experts said, would be for Iraq to turn into today’s version of the Spanish Civil War.

For readers without immediate access to Wikipedia, the Spanish Civil War lasted three years, from 1936 to 1939, when the Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, defeated the Loyalists of the Second Spanish Republic. The death toll was huge — estimates put it between 500,000 and one million. People in just about every European country were passionate about the fight: the Loyalists got weapons and volunteers from the Soviet Union, while the Nationalists received help from Italy, Germany and Portugal.

Times readers without immediate access to Wikipedia are not expected to know anything whatsoever about the Spanish Civil War. Okay. So maybe a better choice of metaphor would have been season three of Survivor.
“In the best-case scenario, we’ll be in Iraq for 15 or 20 years,” said Stephen Biddle, author of “Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle.” He offers the example of the Balkans, where everyone seems to have forgotten about the United States troops who have been there for years, helping keep a peace brokered in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.

Okay, this is the thing I hated about high school physics. Around Chapter four you were Introduced to Light. You did an experiment which was supposed to show you that light acted like a particle. Then you did another which was designed to prove that light behaves like a wave. This was supposed to soften you up for quantum mechanics, but all it did was make me suspect a swindle. "You haven't proven that light behaves both as a particle and a wave," I told the teacher, or would have if it had been the sort of class, and he the sort of teacher, I felt like talking to. "You just wound up with two experiments that conflict. If you want to show that light behaves both as a wave and as a particle you have to do that in the same test, or separate but consistent tests." Which I guess you can do, but the lab equipment is prohibitively expensive for most public schools.

Of course I didn't disbelieve any of it. I just didn't much like being told I had been persuaded when I wasn't. Plus there was no Plan B designed to reassure balky matriculators; you were required to accept it and move on, or flunk, I guess.

So forgive me if I think this whole exercise stinks beyond the phone-it-in sourcing and the actual suggestions themselves account for. Pointing to the Balkans (which everyone's forgotten?): is that supposed to assure me that this little contretemps we have on our hands will all be down the memory hole in a couple of ticks? That the UN will ride to our rescue? Now that you've reminded me (I'm not sure why anybody even slightly interested in Our Current Predicament will have forgotten the other overseas areas where our dwindling manpower is parked) I seem to recall that the US death toll in the Balkans is smaller than the toll in Iraq. By roughly 3022. I spit on your particles!

Okay, okay, so we'll play by your rules for a minute. Nobody wants a greater bloodbath in Iraq. Least of all the people who opposed sticking our big know-it-all, technologically enhanced noses in there in the first place. Listening to the same people who urged us forward four years ago is the express train to battered spouse syndrome. If you know so much about it now, where were you then? What reason is there to believe that the dire predictions about Iraq "after we leave" are any more accurate than the opposite, that our presence is itself the cause of much of the violence and the basis for the Sunni insurgency?

To be fair, this is not Biddle's "solution" to the Iraq problem; it's his answer to a reporter's stupid question, and it's not even his prediction of what will happen. He's said, elsewhere, that an announced US withdrawal would leave the various factions in Iraq without reason to compromise. He's on record as favoring using military force as a leverage for change, including alignment with one or more factions (read: stick it to the Sunnis). Unfortunately, for that to work we have to hope the Sunnis don't call our bluff, unless we're willing to have "caught in the middle of a civil war" changed to "active participant in ethnic cleansing". Having gotten them to the table we then have to hope they'll choose to agree to do something they don't want to do rather than die fighting to do what they want, another matter that might have worked our way three years ago, in the run-up to the first Iraqi elections the administration was too busy waving its purple finger about to worry about Sunni participation.

Biddle has also acknowledged that such a course "might [require the US to] keep its forces in Iraq for longer than the troops could endure or than U.S. voters would tolerate". That "might" is a nice touch there, even if he was writing nearly a year ago; now, with twelve month's more desperation, we are able to conjure up 20,000 troops to send in for maybe six months , at who knows what risk. Put that another way: in our hour of (continued) need we were able, with some slight of hand, to muster a force the size of Albania's standing army. Behold my works, ye Mighty!

There was a nice bit on last Thursday's Daily Show in which Rob Riggle explained that we could join with the Shiites to eliminate the Sunnis, then join with the Kurds to eliminate the Shiites, then join with Turkey to eliminate the Kurds. Which would leave Iraq's smallest minority: the Amish. "And they're used to doing without electricity." The fake news show has been a better source of news than the real teevee news shows for some time. Now it's beginning to overtake newspapers.

This is the answer: we shouldn't have gone there in the first place, we should have applied the brakes before we went through the guardrail. A draft, an international coalition, a timely Senate trial for high crimes and misdemeanors--if we'd taken honest steps then there'd be no question of inconvenient public backlash now. We all watched the same incompetent administration and its criminal buddies in the Congress--or is it the other way around?--gin this thing up for a year, game the legislative process, stomp on the Constitution, mishandle the invasion and its aftermath, sink to, then excuse and downplay, and cover-up, systematic human rights abuses both in Iraq and elsewhere, put politics over competence, toss billions like confetti, with no interest in oversight, and lie, baldly, repeatedly as the thing went from bad to unspeakable. And now the cry is "Oh, the humanity!"? Where ya been the past five years, anyway?

Monday, January 15

A Modish Proposal

As I mentioned, I watched some of the Sunday morning newsfests yesterday. On This Week Fareed Zakaria says, "I think most people would like to see this given one more chance to succeed," to which Georgie Stephanopolous replies, "70% say they're opposed to the surge." (Say what you will about Stephanopolous, he's the only network pundit who can perform the complex task of listening to what someone else says and setting off a bullshit alarm using facts, or at least factoids, rather than his own ponderousness.)

Anyhow, two minutes later Zakaria responds to a Katrina vanden Heuvel remark about the majority wanting us out of Iraq by saying that majorities aren't always right, using as an example the majority support for the war! Never once did he mention his own support for the war, and of course it's against the rules for someone else to have said, "Uh, you supported your own position by making up a fucking majority opinion, then you dispute someone else's proper use of actual majority opinion by damning majority opinion!"

And there also was no chance that Zakaria would resign from public life there on the spot, so I got to thinking about what sort of legal sanction would be appropriate. Bear in mind that this is a country which went to pieces when a sitting President, in a civil procedure centering on his dick, asked the attorney for the opposition to clarify a verb tense. Shouldn't the pitchforks and torches come out when someone urges spilling more blood to preserve the standing of his Newsweek byline?

Well, it turns out there are laws against such matters unless you're under oath, so my solution will have to be voluntary, but I stand here today to urge that every warflogging pundit remit to the US treasury the value of any and all wages, remunerations, emoluments, enticements, junkets, annuities, hair and skin-care products received while flogging said war to aid in paying for it. It's probably not gonna total $500 billion, but it'll be a good start.

Question for the Internets

During the Pats-Chargers game, while I was trying to get some chores done but still keep up, my wife grabbed the remote--which was unguarded since I hadn't planned on doing any surfing while watching a game--and started flipping through channels at the usual Subliminal Image Speed, and she rolled like an SUV onto someone's interview with Madonna. I'm not going to ask why someone would be interviewing Madonna, nor filming it for presentation to a national audience, preferring that those remain two of life's little Mysteries, but could someone tell me how many geologic eras must pass before the sort of people who god knows why are interested in such things stop referring to her as The Material Girl? Fer chrissakes, that little adenoidal classic and the attendant slack-jawed adoration of its video (She's dressed like Marilyn Monroe! Quite a thrill, I suppose, unless you'd ever lived somewhere where they had drag queens) happened, what, in the 1940s? The 1780s? I was just beginning to wonder whether the next guest would be That Vagabond Lover himself, the exhumed remains of Rudy Vallee, when the channel changed again.

Sunday Funnies

Yesterday afternoon my Poor Wife was off checking out the weekend student show she'd mounted in a frenzy on Friday and Saturday due to someone's screwing up the paperwork, so I tuned in a few minutes late to Face the Nation. And who is facing the nation in question but one John Sidney McCain III, (M-AZ). It's good to see the nets finally getting around to giving the man airtime.

The political history of John McCain is to me akin to the rousing popularity of some teevee preacher or surgically and sonically enhanced bimbo popstar: you know you'll have to endure more contact with them than you'd ever choose were it left up to you, and you know their influence will exceed any limits common sense could apply, but mostly you will wonder when the easily satisfied throngs will begin to see the conniving little weasel for what he is. Those people who haven't figured out that he's wasting a lot of perfectly good oxygen sure weren't going to be informed of this by Bob Schieffer, who seemed to think he was hosting a Rainbow Party. Now, one of my New Year's resolutions (okay, I really don't have any) was to avoid sounding like those Outrage of the Last Few Minute types as much as possible, but Schieffer operated as an utterly shameless flack, period. Here's a warmup pitch:
The Democrats, some of them, are derisively calling [the surge] the McCain Doctrine. Does that bother you in any way?

And speaking of All Outrage All The Time he introduced one I'd missed:
The debate up on the Hill has been not only really fierce, it's sometimes gotten very personal. There was one episode that got a lot of attention last week....Senator Barbara Boxer talking to the Secretary of State:

Now, before we roll tape--I think it's important we quote Boxer precisely here--was anyone you know anywhere where this got a lot of play last week? I hadn't heard anything about it, but then I have something I like to think of as a life, and it looks for all the world to me like Bob Schieffer is the Last Journalist On Earth still accepting Republican blast faxes. Here's the Boxer tape he played, followed by his response:
Boxer: Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families.

Schieffer: Obviously, it's the American military that's going to pay, but was Senator Boxer out of line, Senator McCain? Because she's suggesting that because--or some say she's suggesting that because Condoleezza Rice is single and has no children that she can't understand sacrifice.

Did you understand her to say anything of the sort? Could you point to it? I was utterly flabbergasted at the time, and I'm flabbergasted by it now, and that's without mentioning that CBS came back from the video clip directly to a 1 shot of McCain sadly shaking his head. That would be the same Senator "Sensitive John" McCain who told the Why is Chelsea Clinton So Ugly? joke. I half expected Schieffer to give him a little hug and maybe dab at a tear or two.

About fifteen minutes later I was fiddling with videotape--ask your grandparents--and the VCR tuner happened to be set to MSNBC, where I caught of couple minutes of Carrie Lukas, director of policy for the Independent Women's Forum, which apppears, following the Holy Roman Empire, to be neither Independent, nor about Women, nor a Forum, and Ms Lukas' I-play-a-feminist-on-teevee hackles were raised over--you've jumped ahead, haven't you?--Barbara Boxer's insulting, anti-feminist suggestion that Condi Rice shouldn't have a voice in this country's war policy because she doesn't have children. So that cleared up where it was the episode got all that attention last week.

[I was still in news junkie mode, and my Poor Wife still wasn't home when This Week came on afterwards. A word about the respective guest lists momentarily, but later, doing panel, George F. Will noted that McCain's support among independents has dropped 15 points since September, about which Will, who must be taking political pointers from that Indiana governor he admires so much said:
You don't have to hold a brief for John McCain to say that this is what leadership looks like.

Right, holding a brief for completely brain-dead public utterances will do. For cryin' out...leadership? If the McCain Doctrine (ooh, that is satisfying) shows us what anything looks like it's naked political pandering from a man who backed the wrong horse in 2004 and now has no way out but desperation paid for in American blood. But noting that McCain's been paying for it already, without even being on the campaign trail, is remarkably like a delicious creamy nougat you weren't expecting.]

This Week interviewed Steven Hadley and John Murtha, which was an interesting distinction to CBS' McCain and Barack Obama (GQ-IL), as the former two are actually involved in the debate. McCain, whatever his value as poster boy for Endless Quagmire, is already on the losing end in the Senate, where a good half-dozen of his fellow Republicans are already in the lifeboats. As for Obama, while I'm willing to overlook his facile anti-Boomerisms (hey, dude, distaining problems is a lot easier than solving them) if he's going to go on with the Is He Or Isn't He Tour 2007 and turn up on teevee news programs somebody needs to tell him he's going to be asked about Iraq. He had a good one-liner about McCain being consistent--"he's consistently pursued the course we're on right now,"--but for someone who wants to score points off his opposition to the war from the Illinois Senate, empty platitudes and a refusal to come out solidly, and now, for defunding the war isn't going to get you through fifteen minutes with Bob Schieffer, let alone to the nomination. Especially not when John Murtha's on in the next half hour showing how it's done.

Saturday, January 13

Today We Are All Knicks Fans (Or Should Be)

When I was a sprout there was no major league team in Indianapolis, just the venerable minor-league Indians and the sporadic appearance of something called the Continental Football League, a sort of semi-pro factory-league affair if I'm recalling the games I saw correctly. This had a significant effect on my rabbit-eared youth (that is my rabbit-eared set; my own ears are fairly well-proportioned the freakishly massive skull they bookend), in that I was forced to watch Chicago Bears football (good: Gale Sayers; bad: I hated the Bears and wanted to watch Jim Brown) and Cincinnati Reds baseball (good: Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion; bad: everything else about that organization can be summed up by Pete Rose's hairdo, plus after the Amazin' fans got a little rambunctious in left field during the '69 playoffs George Lee "Sparky" Anderson told the assembled press the crowd must have been on the Marihuana or something) as these were deemed my Regional Favorites.

Then, of course, the Hudnut administration stole the Colts (screwing over in the process, thank you very much, not just Balamer but the late Robert Welch, local wealthy person and driving force behind building the Hoosier Dome (have I told you that "Hoosier Dome" was the winner of a Name That White Elephant contest? Or that the entry rules emphasized creativity?) who reportedly had an agreement with the Mecom family to move the Saints here, presumably in broad daylight an' everything). Oh, and prior to that the ol' Red White and Blue Ball League stopped off at the State Fair Colosseum for the most entertaining professional basketball ever played, which "merging" with the NBA (on terms resembling your own "merging" with your prison cellmate) soon put an end to.

As a result Indianapolis fans, and the Indianapolis media, amount to the nicest, most hospitable, and least incisive consort in all of North American professional sport. It's changed slightly over the years, as the possibility of getting your own network show simply on the merits of your bad behavior has filtered into the Silurian limestone hereabouts and gotten into the water supply, but absent the bi-monthly Pacer felony sports fans here are more or less just mild-to-moderately uninformed Good Joes, who grouse when things go wrong but do not bring supplies of used batteries to games.

That's not the way they do it in real major-league towns, where even legends get raked over the coals and where high-priced talent is expected to produce not just wins but championships. "Chicago fans are the greatest in the world," Bruce the Goose told me over twenty-five years ago, "They're the only one who stand up to boo."

And in that vein I'd like to know what we've gotten for military spending which has topped the rest of the world combined for twenty-five years? More bloated procurement, more high-tech gadgetry at the expense of safety, a culture in which too many value careerism over courage, not to mention spying on American citizens? And not to mention mishandling a half-a-trillion bucks and counting?

Throw the bums out. Wholesale. Every last general officer who facilitated Rumsfeld. It doesn't even have anything to do with how one felt or feels about the war. It doesn't contradict the mess the civilian leadership has made of things. It's the least that can be done to honor one Eric Ken Shinseki, USA (ret.)

Friday, January 12

Curs of the Pundit Class

the big idea

Dogs and Democrats
Why Congress won't stop Bush's surge.

By Jacob Weisberg
Posted Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, at 3:32 PM ET

Several decades ago, psychologist Martin Seligman developed his theory of " learned helplessness ." Subjected to repeated punishment, animals and humans often come to believe they have no control over what happens to them, whether they actually do or not. In Seligman's original experiment, dogs subjected to repeated electrical shocks would prostrate themselves and whine, even when escaping the abuse lay within their power.

As with canines, so with congressmen. In theory, Democrats now control a co-equal branch of government. In practice, they seem so traumatized by their years of mistreatment at the hands of a contemptuous executive that they continue to cower and simper whenever master waves a stick in their direction.

The first response one is tempted to make is that if there were no such thing as a self-professed Democrat and political pundit named Jacob Weisberg who supported for nine months the Iraqi war he now suggests Democrats should end, unilaterally, within days of taking power perhaps Democrats might be a tad less twitchy. Weisberg is still a charter member of the The War Was A Great Idea, It's Just Too Bad The Bush Administration Mismanaged It club; as such he might be expected to grant some leeway to Democrats (or wavering Republicans) who agreed with him then and still feel the war is worth one more push. But as we know, that's not how punditry operates.

Our second quick response is a two-parter: that's what you get when you ignore the requirements of Article I, Section 8, in the interests of so-called efficiency and a nostalgic wish for daddy to make those big decisions for everybody; and in a similar minor but controversial conflict in Indochina some years back it took a proposed escalation into another country before a rebellious Congress ever moved to cut off funds, and that was a good six years into complete debaclehood. Expecting the Democrats to do so now in a matter of days is absurd. Blame the voters in 2006 if you'd like; I'll save some for the staff of Slate circa 2003.

But our real answer is that in a less than perfect world (make that far from) it is the right move for Democrats to avoid using the purse at this point. It's wrong on the merits, it's wrong militarily, and it's wrong by all standards of decent behavior, but it's necessary that George Bush be saddled with the complete failure of his handling of the war and the Presidency (and by extension, that John McCain be toasted over the fire of a 120,000-troop "surge", but that's just a tangent). Everybody knows this is a last-gasp CYA and nothing more; not even the Bush administration believes what it's peddling. And the desperate final act is gonna blow up by next autumn, and by then maybe even Jacob Weisberg will have it figured out, provided Ken Pollack explains some of the finer points to him.*

*In that now-famous Slate Liberal Hawks' Mea Culpa coffee klatsch Weisberg said that so long as Pollack was fooled about WMDs then he, Weisberg, felt pretty good about having done likewise. It's a remark which, among other things, demonstrates the almost total lack of interest in fact which was required to have believed the Bush administration in the first place. It's an interesting re-read, since you get to see what sort of self-delusion had, by January of 2004, replaced the original self-delusion.

Wednesday, January 10

A Big Bowl of Whipped Cream With Chocolate-Covered Glass Shards

But Baby, I can change!
Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror — and our safety here at home.

"Safety at home" is a multi-faceted issue just brimming with nuance, which George W., of course, doesn't do. But "the direction of the global war on terror"--we're returning to the old brand name I guess--has already been determined by the profligate spending, miserable results, and demonstration of our relative powerlessness that is the last four years in Iraq.
When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation. The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement. We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together — and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.

But in 2006, the opposite happened.

And in 2006 I don't recall you admitting a word of it. Or were you waiting for the year-end report?
The violence in Iraq — particularly in Baghdad — overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al-Qaida terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause.

This is, of course, another Bush administration attempt to put an acceptable public face on an ugly idea--this time, making the Sunni the enemy since they're numerically weakest, something that's been floating around on the Right for a couple of months. It's going to be interesting to see how we wipe out the Sunni insurgency, make Anbar Province Public Enemy #2, and rally the Saudis to our side while suppressing Iranian power in the region.
The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people — and it is unacceptable to me.

Since when?
Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.

I can't believe that line was vetted. Not that I don't believe George W. Bush and his handlers are capable of saying anything at all if it serves some temporal need; I just can't believe they'd consciously echo that "I can't think of any" bit. Did they think that the admission (sure, he weasels, but whaddya expect?) would convince us this is Bush 2.0? Say it again: these guys spent 25 years talking to themselves. They only know how to convince toadies.
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions.

Somewhere along the line the American people are going to have to learn that everyone officially designated The Enemy does not think exactly like us but do precisely the opposite just to bedevil us.
Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents.

And there aren't going to be when there's 20,000 more, or 50,000 more, or 100,000, no matter how many virtual Iraqis we imagine to go with them.
And there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have.

Uh-huh. Blowing up the innocent, the time-honored way to convince people you're on their side.
Let me explain the main elements of this effort: The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort — along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations — conducting patrols, setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.

'Cause nothin' gains your trust like the police pounding on your door. I'm not sure how they're supposed to come up with 18 Iraqi brigades, or when, but I am sure that had we taken this sort of approach on our own four years ago it might have prevented the rise of the insurgency. Too late now.
So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence — and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I have committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.

And why 20,000? Brain-trust sessions with the Joint Chiefs? Advanced super-computer simulations at the War College? Nope. It's because that's all we can muster.
Our troops will have a well-defined mission

I gotta admit, that's one we haven't tried in a while.
Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. Here are the differences: In earlier operations, Iraqi and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents — but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. This time, we will have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.

Not with 20,000 Americans and some Iraqi vapor battalions we won't. We had more US troops in the field in 2003-04, plus some actual allies. Why didn't we clear and hold then, many listening tonight might ask?
In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter these neighborhoods — and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.

I guess that's one of those unreasonable restrictions we're eliminating. Problem is, of course, that a) we wind up taking sides and b) we wind up running roughshod over Iraqi citizens and we find out they will make common cause of it. So again, we've decided to enforce sectarian divisions in Iraq without admitting we're doing so, in the interest of extricating ourselves from a problem we wouldn't have had if we'd have acknowledged those differences in the first place. Brought to you by New Coke™.
I have made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended.

Another sentence I can't believe made it though a six-week's vetting process. Since fucking when? Or, to put it another way, then who was that man who kept insisting we were there until the job was done? If the "Iraqi government" now fails us, and we leave, doesn't that turn the country over to the bad guys?
This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering.

Just like our enemies at the networks, then.
America will change our approach to help the Iraqi government as it works to meet these benchmarks. In keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units — and partner a Coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division. We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped Army — and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq.

Ever since all the other essential U.S. security missions turned to shit. Y'know, it's interesting how often Iraq has proved to be Vietnam in reverse, and here's another: now we're advisors again. But you do not train an army by putting US officers in their midst; you train one by putting new soldiers into the existing Army structure.
We are, at any rate, about to take Americans we've been trying to protect as much as possible, Americans who are in their third, even fourth tour, and expose them to much greater risk in the name of small political gain at home. I didn't expect George W. Bush to actually do something about the mess he'd made; he long ago decided the only way out was to let it become someone else's problem. All the nonsense about Democratic control of Congress means squat: this is a steaming pile which is going to remain a stinking mess no matter what we do. What little honesty the man now displays might have made a difference three years ago, but of course that might have spoiled the reelection plans the whole thing was designed around in the first place.

It went on, of course, but I gradually withdrew one ear, even as he was telling Anbar Province to Bring It On and threatening Syria. The speech began to resemble what someone (John Simon?) once said about Japanese films: each one has a beginning, a middle, a six ends. But I did perk up again near the fourth or fifth end:
Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.

Right. This one'll be on an aircraft carrier, and it'll come at the beginning instead of the end. Who vetted this thing?

Ghost Dance

It's the season when I eat dinner alone on a too-regular basis as the big Indiana high school arts competitions take place. My Poor Wife and her cohort will hang, tear down, and rehang three shows in the next five weeks, including the two big ones, just so they can be judged by people who, if not actually visually impaired, at the very least have proven incapable of noticing that School X's artwork seems so remarkably consistent stylistically as to appear as if finished by the same, unknown hand.

But I digress. This was how I found myself watching the NBC Nightly News last night instead of the usual 63 channel remote-controlled stroboscope show I get at that hour when my wife is home. And that's how I found out that NBC's two expert commentators on the subject of out latest product rollout in Iraq were...Kenneth Pollack and David Frum! No, really.

This followed having heard (previously, on your local news) at least three plugs, tosses, or exit lines about "Bush's New Way Forward", or whatever the re-branding exercise is being called. You'd think by this point at least one talking hairdo would have had enough of this shit and would refuse to mouth the drivel any more, but it appears not. New Way Forward! Now with Ginkgo Fucking Biloba or Something! And Stool Softeners! Three or Four Stool Softeners, At Least. Hey, that Howie Mandell Show is on later.

Bush's ad men say he wants to Bring the Public Back to the War, which is no doubt the explanation for Blowing Shit Up To No Purpose Beyond Claiming We Think We Got al-Qaeda's #2 Man Again yesterday. But even the purveyors of televised pablum don't operate that way. No one ever says, "We know you hate this show, and that everyone in the country stopped watching it two years ago, but won't you please please please just watch it for the two years left on Anne Sweeney/Les Moonves/Freddie Silverman's contract so they won't have to leave in disgrace?" They just fire 'em. For that matter, nobody brought back the World's Least Funny Canadian just so he could blow up condoms with his nose again.

When I was a student, back in a previous century, you couldn't get through a semester of any entry-level or child- psychology course innocent of the late-60s study where they had young children watch film of an adult taking a ball-peen hammer to one of those always-rocks-back-upright punching bags with the clown on the front, immediately after which they put the kid in a room, seemingly unsupervised, with a hammer and the same punching bag, and they discovered...spoiler alert...that the kid did precisely what the adult had done, thus proving that television causes violence. (If you happened to endure this bit of empiricism on the hoof at Indiana University in the mid-70s, I was the guy in the back making snorting noises throughout.)

Of course the real question there was Who's Getting Hosed? Not the kids, who got to beat a clown with a hammer, something any sensible child would do (and who, one might add, were at least old enough to tell the difference between a rubber blow-up doll and Grandma). It might have been the researchers, except I have a feeling they made out okay; I've seen that thing cited recently as proof that violent video games cause violence, so the study was remarkably upgradable for its time.

Buttressed with the evidence of the Bush years, I can now offer the theory I had only half-formed (the other half of me was asleep) in those days: that the study shows (intentionally or no) that a sizable portion of the population will believe anything so long as it can be connected to the teevee screen somehow. And that's the President's audience tonight.

Tuesday, January 9

Crypto Opera Buff

If memory serves I bought exactly two hardback books in 2006, excluding gifts--the third volume of Taylor Branch's M.L. King-centered history in January, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City last month. That's partly because I'm cheap (which is relative, anyway: 12-year-old car and retied shoelaces meet $80 bottles of wine at dinner) and partly because in a three-bedroom suburban dream there's roughly 2-1/2 bedrooms of books, shelved, unshelved, piled on nightstands, queued in the 'loo. Trade paperbacks are at least compressible.

So the Times Book Review gets the short shrift from me much of the time, but if I find myself with time to kill I may go through it with an intensity somewhere between window shopper and toy collecting geek who's just found a Hot Wheels catalogue from 1965.

Sunday was more on the former end of the scale, and I'd seen nothing to change that, although there was this line in Dave Itzkoff's review of Next:
...surely history should reserve a special place for the day in 2005 when Michael Crichton was invited to the White House to meet with George W. Bush. Imagine: the modern era’s leading purveyor of alarmist fiction, seated side by side with Michael Crichton.

And I was about 3/4 of the way through when I turned the page and found myself looking at an improbably young Martin (he was not yet forty when that bullet found him) in 1960, and I looked up to find it was a review of the two volumes of American Speeches, and I looked down and saw the review was written by one William F. Buckley, Jr.

Buckley's Latinate stuffing has always convinced some people his ear was gold rather than brass-plated tin, and I suppose the Review's editors are all too young to remember the sort of things that slithered across the pages of the National Review while King was still alive (and long after he wasn't anymore). I kept reading, knowing that something was going to turn up. It took two paragraphs:
You can read the enormously influential speech of Ronald Reagan paying tribute to the candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, but you would need to be told by Grandpa, or your history book, that the speech catapulted Reagan from Hollywood to the White House.

Sixteen years later. Wow, that's some catapult.

Buckley seems to have two things to add to the subject. The first is that kids today would prefer to play video games than listen to a two-hour oration. (As such we have to wonder what reader of two volumes of speeches needs his Grandpa to explain Ronald Reagan's career to him, or, needing him, would actually find him still breathing.)

The second is that speechifiers don't always write their own speeches! As exemplified by--wait, I have the note here somewhere--Bill Clinton.
And who (who-all) actually wrote the speech delivered by President Clinton? Parts of it were manifestly in his native tongue: “Folks, in 1957 I was 11 years old, living 50 miles away in Hot Springs. ...” That was Clinton speaking, but changes in gait and style come along a few pages later — at whose prompting?

At least the man gets credit for being to ad lib his own biography.
Reading backward on the contents page of Volume 2, you need at least several decades before you feel safe with your own conjectures. Obviously William Faulkner wrote his own speech when he accepted the Nobel Prize . But Jesse Jackson ’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1984 — who did that? And there are modest questions about a score of others. Robert Kennedy, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Mario Savio, Goldwater, Malcolm X , MacArthur, Margaret Chase Smith, Truman, Oppenheimer, Patton, Huey Long.

Uh, Ronald Reagan? Again, isn't anyone who picks up one of these volumes likely to know that 20th century politicians didn't write every last word of the speeches they gave?
You get to Herbert Hoover, speaking in 1928 on the subject of “rugged individualism,” and you can be confident that the words you are reading are those of the speaker. Hoover was a man of great learning and zero eloquence, here confirmed.

So I'm supposed to know this about Hoover, but how Reagan went from playing cowboy on Death Valley Days to playing one in the White House is lost in the mists of time?

It's allowed as how Martin rolled his own, though, and delivered with flair:
Martin Luther King was grand opera. He deployed his hortatory words to full emotional effect. “Now I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that he’s allowed me to be in Memphis” — where, one day later, he was assassinated. “I can remember [Applause]... when Negroes were just going around, as Ralph [Abernathy] has said so often, scratching where they didn’t itch and laughing when they were not tickled. [ Laughter, applause ] But that day is all over. (Yeah) [Applause]”

I interrupt myself and Dr. King to observe, You can hear his voice, can’t you? (Yeah)

And I interrupt to observe, He must mean on tape, 'cause he sure didn't listen to Martin when he was alive. (Right)

Monday, January 8

Great. First Day Back From Vacation and I Get Stuck on a Class Project with that Goddam Band Nerd Who Won't Leave His Retainer Alone.

David Brooks, "Making the Surge Work," courtesy the Sunday New York Times which, it needs to be added, has now been publishing his crap for two years beyond the point where he had anything to say, not that what he did have to say way back when was anything important.

Let the record show that when the time came to stand up for the US of A, the Bobo Brookses of the world instead chose to cover their asses to the bitter end.

I know, I know, it's not a surprise to you. But we are now well past the time when people who have been hoodwinked about it need to begin to understand that here--and it was exactly the same thing with Vietnam--that lying about military situations does nothing but cost lives. American lives, if those are the only ones that matter to you.

Oh, not Brooks' lies, which increasingly serve only to demonstrate the folly, on top of the dishonesty and the lunacy, of the Times' insistence on giving "The Right" a voice on its Op-Ed pages, not to mention planting a big wet smooch on all those Red state values voters. They breathe virtue but soon run out of breath, to steal one from Anatole France.

I thought you'd enjoy a bit:
Over (the last three years) a chorus has arisen to oppose (turning over policing responsibilities to the Iraqis). The members of this chorus--John McCain, The Weekly Standard, whispering dissenters in the middling rankings of the military--argue that it's simply unrealistic to expect human beings in these circumstances to become impartial nation-builders. These dissenters have argued, since the summer of 2003, that the U.S. must commit more troops to establish security before anything else becomes possible.

Dissenters. Dissenters! That's like saying someone on the Reynolds American board who argues for aiming more cigarette advertising at children is a Corporate Rebel. Two major warfloggers. The Standard, as befits Bill Kristol's estimation of his personal military expertise, has been nit-picking the war since it started turning to shit. BFD. If they'd said something ahead of time it might have meant something.

McCain, now, I'd like to see where he seriously criticized the war effort before the 2004 elections were over, let alone, oh, you know, used his position as one of the two most influential US Senators on military affairs to actually do something about it.

McCain has no excuses; he well knows we do not have the troops to make a difference in Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country. He knows we went to war four years ago without sufficient numbers, and he knows we did so for purely political reasons, just as we now plan a CYA "surge" (things are so bad that we can't even brand the thing as a needed correction, because The Best We Can Do is a temporary patch with a three-six month shelflife.)

McCain knows all this. Does Bobo? Does he care? If you move precisely five columns to the right from his breathtaking list of Dissenters you find that Frank Rich has actually read the new Army Field Manual on Counterinsurgency, or enough of it to have calculated a minimal requirement of 100,000 additional troops for Baghdad. Brooks, on the other hand, seems to have read nothing beyond the Standard and some Bush hagiographies, like some weepy dateless sophomore on Prom Night poring over the signatures on her 8th-grade yearbook:
For over three years , President Bush sided with the light-footprint school. He did so for personal reasons, not military ones. Casey and Abizaid are impressive men, and Bush deferred to their judgment.

So the straightforward answer is that Brooks, having gone eighteen months between his "I may need to rethink the overwhelming success of the Iraq war" moment and the 2006 elections, has now decided that Iraq had nothing to do with the Global War on Terror, that its every rationale, all of which he trumpeted to some extent or another and the major one of which his paper famously created, are like last week's Christmas wrappings, and that Bush is to be forgiven for not taking any of that seriously because the main requirement of a President of the United States is to serve as a shining example for future Cub Scouts.

Thursday, January 4

"He Healed Us"

"Didn't you hear me say, 'God bless George Washington'? 'God bless my mother'? Now what kind of Indian would say a fool thing like that?"

"He healed us", no shit, was the comment some guy who identified himself as "sixty years old, so his presidency happened right in the middle of my life," made about Gerald R. Ford sometime last October, when the teevee wall-to-wall coverage of his untimely passing seemed to begin.

I've been busy. Too busy to really feel anything was lost as I periodically turned on cable news the past ten days and admired their willingness to stay with static shots of more-or-less nothing for hours. I'm not gonna jump up and down just because we were subjected to another needless demonstration that teevee news has nothing much to say and very little sense of when to say it. I don't really have anything nasty to say about Gerald R. Ford, Accidental President, though I could if I tried. The Nixon pardon was a long time ago. His family seemed nice. I'm sure he was kind to trick-or-treaters.

But if we owe the dead the sort of respect we routinely deny them in life, we don't owe anything to amateur hagiographers and semi-professional composers of teevee panegyric. It's not that I personally resent the implication that I was somehow assuaged by The Pardon, or that Jerry Ford's remarkable grace in office mended my tormented soul; I do resent it, but that's beside the point. How can someone say a darn fool thing like that? Who's supposed to believe it? Why is it that the same people so enamored of these public displays of meaninglessness are the same ones who aren't satisfied until we're actively lying about indisputable truths in the name of making them feel better? It's one thing to measure out your life with coffee spoons. It's quite another to use restaurant sugar packets (with apologies to Abe Simpson).

Today in History

January 4, 1966: Ronald "I Resent the Implication That I Am a Racist" Reagan tapes his speech announcing his candidacy for governor of California, complaining that "after dark our city streets are jungle paths"; Georgia legislature refuses to seat newly-elected Representative Julian Bond because Bond replied, "Yes, I do" when a reporter asked if he agreed with the SNCC position that concerned Americans should work for the civil rights movement as an alternative to conscripted military service in Vietnam.

Wednesday, January 3

Happy Birthday

Maurice Jaubert
January 3, 1900--June 19, 1940
killed in action at Azerailles