Friday, December 09, 2005

Extraordinary Rendition

If the moral case against torture isn't persuasive enough for you, here's strong evidence that it doesn't work, either. This particular case is apparently just coming to light, but we've known for months that our torture techniques are derived from techniques designed to extract false confessions. First, today's piece:

The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

Jane Mayer has been reporting on this phenomenon in several outlets, especially the New Yorker. Here's a bit from her February expose on extraordinary rendition:

Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, “just began beating on me.” They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. “Not even animals could withstand it,” he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. “You just give up,” he said. “You become like an animal.”

There you have it. Our intelligence-gathering bodies are no longer in the business of gathering intelligence, but rather creating false intelligence. Not particularly useful for fighting a war on terror, but a handy way to skew information to support your pre-set agenda.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Privatisation and the Wider Good

I thought this was an interesting Newsweek interview with the head of Fred Hutch on the development of an AIDS vaccine - particularly this bit:

There are several aspects organizationally of how we make vaccines that have been very tough. Initially we left it to the private sector. In retrospect, that was not the best idea.


Society will benefit more from an HIV vaccine than any company will.

Conservatives may tend to believe that there isn't anything that couldn't be improved and streamlined via privatization, but this is a clear counter-example to that viewpoint.


I think pieces are starting to come together which help explain why the GOP went so quickly and intensely on the offensive in smearing John Murtha after he suggested that troops should begin withdrawing within 6 months. It seems that this is precisely what the GOP wants to propose themselves, and the last thing they want is to have it seem that they were bowing to Democratic pressure. Thus the House resolution that the GOP put forward in an attempt to embarrass Murtha (a resolution no Dem was suggesting, i.e. no one wanted immediate withdrawal). Thus Rep. Jean Schmidt calling Murtha a coward. And then Bush saying that he will only withdraw based on the advice of Iraqi leaders, and subsequently saying that withdrawal will be based solely on advice of US officers in the field. So expect Bush to report in the next few months that they have been given the go-ahead for the beginning of withdrawals (in time for midterms), and get ready for the GOP attempting to claim that this was their idea and that Dems had wanted immediate withdrawal regardless of the consequences (obviously not true).

Murtha was on All Things Considered today.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

2 P.M.

Steve Clemons advocating the citizens' arrest of Ahmed Chalabi is one of the most brilliant things I've heard in a while.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Hooray for the NYT's bold venture into irrelevance!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What Would Philip Do?

Philip Pullman, author of the great His Dark Materials series, has an op-ed piece in The Guardian today about how the UK Conservative party can regain power by revisiting some old conservative ideas which have no manifestation in modern conservatism. This seems very relevant to the post-Katrina debate about conservative social policy in the US.

Similarly, it's a conservative idea that provision of such things as healthcare and education should not be the subject of trading in the marketplace. The old-fashioned idea here is that looking after the sick and educating the young are matters of charity, not of business: you do them because they are good things to do, not because you can see profits to be made.

I would be curious to find out if anyone has written extensively on how so many conservatives and especially Christian conservatives became associated with you're-on-your-own social darwinism and market determinism.

Anyway, we'll see if the Tories take heed of Pullman's advice. Of course, he doesn't mention this, but a truly ascendant party would also have a magical knife that would allow them to visit multiple universes at will.

Monday, September 12, 2005


As the countdown begins to Brownie's Medal of Freedom and eventual replacement of Sandra Day O'Connor on the bench, I wonder why I keep expecting Ahmed Chalabi to be named as the new FEMA director. It fits some sort of pattern, though I can't figure out what that is. Spectactularly defying expectations, I guess. Ah, no - W's blind loyalty to the most discredited and slimy of his friends. Yeah, that's it.

Public Service

Simon Schama in the (new Berliner!) Guardian today, on helpful humane government:

Historians ought not to be in the prophecy business but I'll venture this one: Katrina will be seen as a watershed in the public and political life of the US, because it has put back into play the profound question of American government. Ever since Ronald Reagan proclaimed that government was not the answer but the problem, conservatism has stigmatised public service as parasitically unpatriotic, an anomaly in the robust self-sufficiency of American life. For the most part, Democrats have been too supine, too embarrassed and too inarticulate to fight back with a coherent defence of the legitimacy of democratic government. Now, if ever, is their moment; not to revive the New Deal or the Great Society (though unapologetically preserving social security might be a start) but to stake a claim to being the party that delivers competent, humane, responsive government, the party of public trust.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Clueless, Compassionless Conservatism

From the Houston Chronicle blog via The Washington Note, this shocking Tom DeLay anecdote:

DeLay to evacuees: 'Is this kind of fun?' U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's visit to Reliant Park this morning offered him a glimpse of what it's like to be living in shelter.
While on the tour with top administration officials from Washington, including U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao and U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, DeLay stopped to chat with three young boys resting on cots.

The congressman likened their stay to being at camp and asked, "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?"

They nodded yes, but looked perplexed.

Yes, Mr. DeLay, we're learning outdoor skills!


Cornel West in the Observer today, on the nature of conservative social policy.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I was preparing to go to Lisbon and was in Lisbon during the hurricane and its immediate aftermath and that's why there hasn't been a post on it up till now. There is a massive amount of things to comment on, many of which have already been commented on more eloquently than I can muster at the moment. The onset of flooding and descent into chaos was horrifying, made more so by the obvious lack of governmental intervention during the first days. The lack of both short-term and long-term preparations is beyond baffling, it is infuriating. Both in Edinburgh and Lisbon I had conversations with people asking why my government was so slow to move, and all I could tell them was that most Americans were asking the same questions and being increasingly strident in demanding answers as the hours and days went by. Such a shameful episode for America, to fail our most vulnerable people this profoundly.

From my perspective, there are two major failures. The first one is a governmental organizational failure, and that is obvious enough and has been commented on everywhere. There was lack of communication, lack of preparation, lack of mobilization, and no over-arching game-plan agreed on between various levels of government. But the second failure is an ideological one, and is a kind of rot that has been setting in in our country. It's this large-scale shift to the right, in which the gospel of small government, gutted infrastructure, tax cuts for the wealthy, reduced social spending, social darwinism, opposition to equal opportunity measures, denial of affordable health care, and massively expensive (not to mention horrendously misguided and dangerous) foreign policy has been pushed forth repeatedly. Like David Wessel wrote in the Wall Street Journal (article subscription only), Katrina ended the era of small government. Note that this opinion is coming from the conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. Even they can apparently see the writing on the wall, that it is desirable and the right thing to do to have a strong government that looks after its people, can respond to crises, can make sure that no one falls through the cracks as hard as the poorest residents of New Orleans did. This doesn't necessitate massive, bloated bureaucracy. The Grover Norquists of the world had their day and blew it big time, dragging our country down with them. Look at what even the conservative Friedman has to say to the despicable and massively influential GOP guru Norquist. Theirs is a failed ideology.

One silver lining was the performance of the media, who did brilliantly and refused to play nice with the administration, and other local and state officials, when the incompetence became painfully obvious (e.g. FEMA head Michael Brown commenting on Thursday that he had only just found out that people were stranded in the Superdome). So you had people like Anderson Cooper, Aaron Brown, Tim Russert, Ted Koppel, even Shephard Smith at Fox, asking for accountability and generally tearing Michael Brown a new one. Eric Alterman commends them here and here.

There had better be soul-searching long into the future with regards to both of the types of failure mentioned above, because there is a hell of a lot of rot in our country. I think Katrina could cause a shift in our national consciousness much more profound than even 9/11 did, and I so strongly hope that the introspection over time leads our country to a more compassionate, socially just and fair society. I can't tell you how much this episode has soured my view of the current state of the US.

All of the Daily Show hurricane segments are worth watching, and I thought Brian Williams's interview was particularly good.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fukuyama's Regret

Francis Fukuyama, perhaps the foremost conservative thinker of the past 20 years, has a fairly scathing opinion piece on the folly of Bush's foreign policy. I expect this will make pretty big waves in conservative discussion circles over the next few days. Who will be the first stooge at The Corner to argue that Fukuyama has lost his conservative credentials?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Oh, Jonah

He did it! Godwin's law has been upheld yet again. Jonah Goldberg took the Cindy Sheehan discussion to a predictable conclusion, and realized along the way that he had dug himself quite a hole. Watch him backtrack here and here.

A very weird aspect of his latter post is where he decries the left doing guilt-by-assocation with groups such as the so-called "Minuteman" (the border vigilantes), when that is precisely what he's trying to do with Sheehan. It seems that his own follow-up point argues against his original post. I emailed him with that point and he promptly responded:

not really. the point is that when the left does it, as in that example, it's

So, to summarize Jonah: implying that a grieving war mother is in cahoots with Nazis is okay, but questioning the motives of border vigilantes is crossing the line. Or, a more concise summary: it's only wrong if you're on the left.

Jonah is actually one of my favorite conservative writers, along with Andrew Sullivan, but like Sullivan he feels obliged to make at least one bat-shit crazy post per year.

Friday, August 19, 2005


I haven't commented on this story about Cindy Sheehan and her son Casey, partly because it has been so grotesquely used by pundits and bloggers on the far right and left. Juan Cole calls her a media whore and Michelle Malkin employs the improbable phrase "grief pimps" to describe Sheehan's supporters, while the likes of Michael Moore try to capitalize on the Sheehan family's misfortune. But I support her very strongly and find it very distressing to see the amount of vitriol hurled at her from the Right. I found Walter Kirn's passing comment on the matter to be a simple and profound summary:

...a war that can't survive a mourning mother shouldn't be going on at all.

What does it say about the uneasiness of the few remaining war supporters, that even the act of a mother mourning her dead son amounts to treason in their eyes?

Some Candor on the Right

The administration is losing its own party members as this war goes on:

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska on Thursday said the United States is "getting more and more bogged down" in Iraq and stood by his comments that the White House is disconnected from reality and losing the war.

The longer U.S. forces remain in Iraq, he said, the more it begins to resemble the Vietnam war.

Hagel mocked Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion in June that the insurgency in Iraq was in its "last throes," saying the U.S. death toll has risen amid insurgent attacks.

"Maybe the vice president can explain the increase in casualties we're taking," the Nebraskan told CNN.

"If that's winning, then he's got a different definition of winning than I do."

Monday, August 08, 2005

Savage Blogging

Hooray for Dan Savage guest-blogging over at Andrew Sullivan's site for the week.

Worst Advice Ever

Michael Lind suggests that, in order to regain the majority, Democrats must become socially conservative and economically liberal. Seriously, is this guy a plant? That's the exact opposite of what a party seeking centrist votes should offer. There are a lot of what Andrew Sullivan dubs "Eagles" -- socially liberal, fiscally conservative, fairly hawkish on defense -- out there, and very few, I imagine, social conservatives with leanings towards liberal economics.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

State's Rights

I was watching some Daily Show clips and came across the recent interview with the despicable Senator Rick Santorum, wherein he discussed his new book on virtues with Jon. My biggest impression from the interview regards a comment he made that is very surprising coming from a conservative of his ilk. Jon asked about virtues today compared with virtues of the segregation era, and part of Santorum's reply was that we had needed a strong federal government to eradicate segregation. This comment may not seem particularly interesting until you consider that most people in his region of the far right use "state's rights" and "local government" as codewords for segregation, in order to woo certain white Southern votes. I think it's no small matter for a uber-conservative like Santorum to admit that strong federal authority was the cure for that ill. The Southern strategy that has stretched from Nixon to Reagan to George W. is one of the most disgusting political tactics of our time, and Santorum is right not to play into it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

From Your Lips to Goss's Ear

This cracked me up. Maybe I'm wrong, but the current CNN QuickVote survey seems like a sharp jab at the CIA:

If U.S. intelligence officials have an ‘excellent idea’ where Osama bin Laden is, should they go get him?

No prizes for guessing how the responders weighed in. It's currently up at the CNN main page.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


British televison documentaries always have titles which are perfectly descriptive of the content, in a way that for some reason I find quite funny: The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off, Sleeping with the Au Pair, The Secretary Who Stole 4 Million Pounds, and tonight...She Stole My Foetus. Seriously, it's on Channel 5 tonight. Just hearing the name I feel that I know all there is to know. Which is to say, too much.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Live 8

Nice to hear from you, Jeff, though I have no idea what that post meant. Boy, it's been a while since I've posted...stretch...

This just in: Bob Geldof encourages every Briton to build a homemade rocket and "fly to the moon against poverty." I laud Geldof for all the reasons he should be lauded, but encouraging amateur British sailors and rowers to re-stage Dunkirk, combined with encouraging a million protesters to converge on Edinburgh before planning or consulting with the city, sounds like a lot of potential disaster. I'm glad I'll be gone for July.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Perhaps the US's own Michael Bolton could help out in the U.K.? I mean, he does a mean cover of "Sittin' on the dock of the bay". Really, someone should look into this.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


So maybe the Southern strategy doesn't fly over here. They've been showing these Tory commercials the past few days in which Michael Howard refers to Britain's "forgotten majority." What with Labour having staked out the middle-ground, the Conservatives are starting to look a bit like the BNP.

Ambassador to UN


I don't like John Bolton's management style. Nor am I a big fan of his foreign policy views. He doesn't really believe in using U.S. power to end genocide or promote democracy.

But it is ridiculous to say he doesn't believe in the United Nations. This is a canard spread by journalists who haven't bothered to read his stuff and by crafty politicians who aren't willing to say what the Bolton debate is really about.


Bolton's bold and often-abrasive style has has earned him many critics over the years. In a now-famous 1994 speech at the World Federalist Association, Bolton declared that "there is no such thing as the United Nations." He added: "If the UN secretary building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


For a sign of how much disarray the New York Times is in, look no further than the headlines of today's op-ed pieces:

What's going on?

Whose team am I on?

Krugman's is worth reading; Brooks brings more fluff. Specifically, the former touches on religious extremism and the Schiavo case specifically. It ties in nicely with Andrew Sullivan's recent quote:

The important point is that religious zealotry cannot be incorporated into conservatism. It is the nemesis of conservatism. And it has to be purged in order for conservatism to be revived.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Lebanon and Iraq

The always excellent Dexter Filkins has a piece in the Sunday NYT drawing contrasts between the situations in Lebanon and Iraq, and pointing out how the view of Lebanon being a domino toppled by the Iraq war is too simplistic.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Well this is nice.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


Is this the most inane NYT op-ed ever? What happened to David Brooks?

Sunday, March 06, 2005


The last week or so has seen some enormous stories that I would normally be writing a lot on, and my silence shouldn't be seen as significant beyond just meaning that I have been very busy. Hopefully Harmony and Jeff will start making some more appearances too.

The recent developments in the Middle East are stunning, so much so that I would say they are not receiving as much media attention as they deserve (at least not in the British press). Not that Lebanon's or Egypt's slow movements to democracy are being ignored, but if these trends continue then it is just as big of a deal as the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I am skeptical, however, of those who would attribute the protests in Beirut to the liberation of Iraq. I think that the correct summation of the situation is that Lebanese protesters are emboldened by the Bush administration's words of support and presence in the region, but it is much too simplistic to say that the Iraq election was the first domino in the region. From the NYT article linked to above:

Another factor, pressure from the Bush administration, has emboldened demonstrators, who believe that their governments will be more hesitant to act against them with Washington linking its security to greater freedom after the Sept. 11 attacks. The United States says it will no longer support repressive governments, and young Arabs, while hardly enamored of American policy in the region, want to test that promise.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

John Tierney

I was a bit surprised that the NYT did not snag a bigger name for Safire's replacement, but anyway, Editor and Publisher has the goods on John Tierney.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Broke by 1988

It's interesting that in 1978 George W. Bush was already giving speeches predicting the demise of the current Social Security system within 10 years:

Social Security "will be bust in 10 years unless there are some changes," he said, according to an account published the next day in The Midland Reporter-Telegram. "The ideal solution would be for Social Security to be made sound and people given the chance to invest the money the way they feel."

Comforting to know that some things never change.

Rowan Williams

It's interesting to see the U.S. and Canada standing side by side on a socially progressive issue, when Canada is usually seen as much more liberal on these things than its neighbor to the South. The Episcopal Churches of these two countries risk being expelled from the Anglican Communion as they stand their ground over the issue of homosexuality in the Church (both in the form of gay marriage and the allowance of gay bishops). Frank Griswold of ECUSA should be lauded for not backing down on this.

I certainly take issue with the way the Guardian characterizes the impending split:

The North Americans have precipitated the split because of their progressive stance on homosexuality, still regarded as anathema in many other parts of the communion, particularly in the developing world.

No, it's conservatives and homophobes like the archbishop of Nigeria who have precipitated the split. The North American churches did not intend to split the Communion, though perhaps they should've foreseen such an effect given the rabid nature of people like the Nigerian archbishop:

[Griswold] told the Guardian: "I can't imagine a conversation saying we got it wrong. I can see a conversation saying we should have been more aware of the effect that the decisions we took would have in other places."

He added: "It does not mean that our point of view has fundamentally changed. We have met this week at the level of the heart. There is an integrity we share across the communion, though in quite different forms."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has lost all credibility in his pursuit of a via media on this. If the Canadian and American churches are expelled, the Anglican Church will surely deserve its remaining company: a collection of homophobes and far-right conservatives. Let them have their communion. Meanwhile, there is the little issue of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion's money coming from the States. Hope they don't miss it too much.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


You know it's a divided country when even individual states are discussing an even split. This is of particular interest to me since it's my home-state and I have background on both sides (geographical and political). It's hard to imagine many places with such stark contrasts in proximity to each other. The Cascade Mountains really make a clean cut of Red and Blue as well as desert and sea, and the recent acrimonious and drawn-out governor's election has brought long-standing tensions between the two sides to a head.

There have always been those in Eastern Washington who felt that they were not represented by the powers that be in Olympia, and Dino Rossi's refusal to draw a line under the election seems to be encouraging some of the more fanatical of these folks to propose a drastic solution: partitioning the state into two, with Eastern Washington become the 51st. First things first: the separatist movement, as far as I know, has always championed "Lincoln" as the name for the new state, and this has a much finer ring than "Eastern Washington". We don't want to be like the Dakotas, do we? No, Lincoln it is.

Anyway, the plan is clearly a non-starter, but interesting for a couple of reasons. First, as noted in Jamieson's piece, Eastern Washington benefits greatly from the wealth of the Western side of the state, and separation is probably not in its best interest. Second, the entire issue is indicative of an issue in our country as a whole: what unites us? Why are we one country if there are two distinct sides that often seem to loathe each other? What precisely constitutes the common identity?

I can't say that there is an easily describable over-arching Washington identity that is as well known as, for example, the liberalism of Western Washington or the rural conservatism of Eastern Washington, but I am proud to be from a state of such diversity and would be sorry to lose half of it.


I think it's interesting that Bush referred to the spinning of his youthful indiscretions as "schtick":

When Mr. Wead warned that he had heard reporters talking about Mr. Bush's "immature" past, Mr. Bush said, "That's part of my schtick, which is, look, we have all made mistakes."

So how much of his cleaned-up, born-again image is really schtick?

Maybe he can make some amends with Old Europe by telling them that the Iraq War was part of his schtick too.

Back and in Effect

Was out of the country for a few days - things should shortly be back to normal.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Culture of Failure II

I thought of another great example of Britain's love of failure: the current London bid for the 2012 Olympics. British papers have been saying for months that London's bid is doomed and doesn't stand a chance compared with Paris's, and this is a loser's attitude that will surely go a long way toward convincing the IOC that London doesn't deserve the games.

Culture of Failure

Apparently a C4 exec's comments regarding Scotland are causing a bit of an uproar:

Scots, once regarded as the most innovative risk-takers in the world, have become an unimaginative, inward-looking people who like to celebrate failure and poverty, according to one of the country's leading broadcasters and cultural commentators.
In a controversial address to be delivered as part of the prestigious Edinburgh Lecture series, Stuart Cosgrove, Director of Nations and Regions at Channel 4, will condemn what he describes as the Scots' 'love and indulgence of the culture of poverty' which, he says, has become deeply embedded in the nation's collective psyche.

This story is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, I don't think Cosgrove is wrong, but this phenomenon is certainly not limited to Scotland. I see it in all of the UK and Ireland. They are obsessed with national failure and wallow in misery when the opportunity presents itself. Why do you think the English love Tim Henman? When Ellen MacArthur recently completed the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe by sail, did the country rejoice? No, there were stories about how she had complained too much during the trip and how it wasn't really possible to love her. As for Scotland and Ireland, there is certainly a lack of dimensionality in current arts and entertainment depicting these countries. For Scotland it's the Trainspotting effect I suppose. For Ireland, Angela's Ashes and a slew of others. There is a demand for these depictions, to be sure; Americans, for example, love their romantic image of dirt-poor, lousy Ireland.

The second interesting thing about this story relates not to the subject matter itself, but to the way the story is presented. In fact, this is typical of British newspapers. They have either an exclusive interview or a guest editorial in their comment/op-ed section, and then they run a front-page article about how said commentary is so controversial, as if that were hard news. Can you imagine the New York Times running a front-page article proclaiming "Krugman Criticizes Social Security Plan"?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

the time of the quasi-leader

I wonder why we have so few truly courageous leaders across the world today. When someone like Abbas does something bold and logical the media often tears them to shreds, villifying them and labeling them 'radicals' or crackpots. Guts is what our (US) leaders have lacked for so long the American public scarcely recognizes it anymore.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Why we need Abbas:

The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, dismissed three security commanders yesterday after a Hamas mortar barrage of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, just two days after the ceasefire declaration.
In response, the Israeli government called off a meeting with senior Palestinians to discuss an array of confidence-building measures, including lifting some roadblocks and releasing several hundred prisoners.

But it said it would not undermine confidence in Mr Abbas's commitment to curb violence, provided the Palestinian security forces dealt with those responsible.

Also here. Abbas smartly recognizes that these mortar barrages are not in Palestinian self-interest. Let's hope he can convince others of this.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Senator Franken

Listening to Air America at the moment to see if Al Franken announces that he will run for Minnesota Senator next year. I personally think it's a great idea. Some might have qualms about how it would look to have a comedian running for a national Dem position, but I think that the Dems precisely need to start putting forth candidates who capture the public imagination. Not to mention that Franken is smarter on policy than he probably gets credit for.

Update: Apparently not.


The word "legacy" has been thrown around a lot lately. The way that history remembers the Bush administration seems almost to take priority over what is actually happening under the Bush Administration. Despite all the pomp and triumph following the election, in the days before the inauguration, things weren't looking so good for the GOP. Polls were steadily dropping as the media aired more and more dirty laundry from Iraq. Social Security reform was unpopular on both sides of the aisle. The air was ripe for dems to say "I Told You So."

Then, there was the election in Iraq.

Personally, I was ready for the worst: insurgent interference, corruption, low voter turn out or at least a general disillusionment with the so-called liberation process. But even nay-sayers have got to admit, the Iraqi election went well. It went so well, in fact, that some liberals are left with a bad taste in their mouths. How do we resolve all the mistakes and cover-ups and crap with this genuine public demonstration of independence and determination? I tend to agree with Biden, who suggests that Iraqis see elections as a step towards ending the American occupation. But no matter what the reasons and impulses, a happy ending in Iraq will put a Bush legacy in the bag. As Jonathan Schell writes,

There was, I confess, a momentary temptation for someone like me, who has opposed the war from the start and believed it would lead to nothing good, simply to scant the importance of the event, or react to it defensively, or speed past it on the way back to an uneasy confirmation of previous views. But the impulse passed. After all, hadn't I been irked that the war's promoters, including the President, had refused to admit a mistake when they had not found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, when they had failed to foresee the insurgency that soon broke out after Baghdad was taken, when American forces, encouraged by memos penned at the top levels of the Administration, had committed widespread acts of torture? More important, when masses of ordinary people act with courage to express deep and positive longings, shouldn't one give them their due? But most important of all, wasn't full acknowledgment of the magnitude of the event necessary for any real understanding of what might happen next in Iraq?

Now, death tolls are back up to pre-election levels, but nobody seems to notice. Moreover, “success” in Iraq makes me nervous about what’s next. Confidence, in the hands of the current admin, is a dangerous trait. It leads to situations like this.

Face of the Administration

More Ash:

Yet there's no doubt that the new US secretary of state has conducted an impressive charm offensive during her lightning tour of Europe. She has presented a more elegant face, spoken a more nuanced language and played a sweeter mood music than those whom most Europeans have come to associate with the Bush administration over the past four years.

It has been pretty surprising to me that the European press, which was no friend of Rice up to a month or so ago, has been fairly universal in praising her visit as the warming of relations between the two sides of the Atlantic. Colin Powell was easily the most respected member of the administration in international circles during the last term, and he put a friendly, multilateral facade on a unilateral, occasionally beligerent administration. So while Powell was often lauded for breaking from the Bush administration's talking points, it is Rice the loyal who is now being praised for thawing of relations. Why would that be? The answer, of course, is in the tragic story of Powell. While he was rightly recognized as a moderate and as being somewhat of a dove, the world knew that he only spoke for himself, whereas Rice speaks for Bush. When Rice speaks in conciliatory tones, it means something. The tragedy of Powell is that he was merely a 'nice' guy railing against the hawks in the administration, and who didn't have enough spine or a loud enough voice to make a difference in the cabinet.

The Gorby Moment

Timothy Garton Ash has a typically great piece about Rice's first trip abroad as SOS and the coincidental ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians. Corner types were falling in love with Condi and proclaiming that she had single-handedly solved the Middle East crisis (tongue perhaps slightly in cheek, but only slightly I think). Ash isn't the first to note that she has benefited from some great timing and received credit where it was most likely not due. The Gorbachev analogy is great:

What's more, she's been lucky. Her conciliatory speech in Paris earlier this week coincided with the handshake of peace between Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas. That was a gift only in small measure of Washington's own making. The president whom Dr Rice serves so faithfully, George Bush, has long been inspired by the example of Ronald Reagan. Like Reagan, he wants his first term, in which he was demonised as a warmonger by many Europeans, to be followed by a second term in which he writes himself into the history books as both peacemaker and freedom spreader. (Into some history books, depending whose you read.) But Reagan could do this because the US's main geopolitical challenger produced a leader called Mikhail Gorbachev. Until recently, it was hard to see where Bush's Gorbachev moment would come from. Now there is a chance that Bush's Gorbachev will be called Mahmoud Abbas.

Arafat's death is, quite simply, a blessing. Abbas is as moderate as we can hope for at the moment, and Sharon is stubborn enough that we wouldn't have been at this stage right now if not for Arafat's demise. So do the Cornerites heap praise on Abbas? From what I've seen, the right-wing blogosphere prefers to pick him apart for his past unsavory comments about the Holocaust, which indeed were repugnant but which should not obscure the hope that lies with his ascension.

Have to run right now, but will have some more comments about Condi's trip real soon.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Below the Belt

They've straightened out gay marriage. They've liberated Christians to proselytize (er, pray) in public buildings. Now, the Virginia House of Delegates has cracked down on "below the waist undergarments." Here's the low down: any one publically exhibiting indecent display of such undergarments is subject to a $50 fine.

My favorite part of this is that they defined underwear as "garments intended to cover a person's intimate parts." I'm confused by what, exactly, is the crux of the offense: the garments themselves, or the parts that they are supposed to be covering? If the garment is serving the purpose of covering said intimate parts, then at least those parts are not on display, so the flesh itself can't be offending anybody. The implication, then, is that it is not the body itself that offends, but the actual garment, because it suggests naughty things.

What seems like a joke today actually establishes a disturbing sort of precedent: the out-lawing of something which suggests the indecent. In the future, who is to set the standards of decency? What is indecent: brown shoes with black pants? What about my Run Against Bush t-shirt -- is that offensive? I'm sure it is.

Clearly, the trick to avoiding such fines is to go commando. No undies = no illegal display of undergarments, guaranteed. In that case, the House of Delegates closed this loop hole just in time!

Honestly, if you want to be offended, check out the Cost of War. Look at the pictures from the Tal Afar shooting. Ask yourself why most Americans never saw those pictures -- were they too offensive? Too graphic? Too revealing?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

New Members

There are a couple of new contributors to this blog, though I'm not sure how soon their introductory posts will be. I think Public Editor should be a little more interesting with a variety of takes on the news of the day, and we'll be able to bounce ideas off of each other. I am waiting with bated breath.

Policy Divide

It's interesting how so many neoconservatives think that the only serious foreign policy debates relate to the divisions within neoconservatism itself. How else to explain this passage from Jonah?

A foreign-policy realist might have said, "Oops, no WMDs" — and then bugged out. We called Saddam's bluff, which was our perfect right given the stakes, but it's not in our interests to stay. That's realism. And it's funny to hear Ted Kennedy, Michael Moore, et al. keep invoking it.

How dare a liberal take a foreign policy position!

The next point is more interesting:

Bush decided to stay partly out of a different realist analysis of our national interest: A democratic Middle East, he believes, is the best chance for stopping the production of terrorists.

I have made a similar point here several times before, that there are not a lot of foreign-policy idealists or democratic globalists in the administration, and that they do in fact believe they are operating in the country's self-interests. The problem is that so many of these people have a fundamental misunderstanding of our national interests. Anyone who still believes that taking resources away from the war on terror in order to invade Iraq was in our self-interest is simply nuts.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Social Security

To say the least, it's interesting that Bush has chosen to begin his second term by touting a plan that is wildly unpopular, dubious economically, and likely to be a giant embarrassment if the privatization scheme does in fact fail. Even at this early stage of the discussion, when Bush is just embarking on a sales tour, the plan seems dead in the water. Josh Marshall, who along with Paul Krugman has made swiss cheese of the proposal, notes that it is unpopular not just in liberal, Blue America but in areas where Bush is extremely popular:

This isn't particularly surprising when you think about it. These are areas are often older, more rural and have more voters with lower incomes. These are states where President Bush has campaigned on a pseudo-populism which is belied by his own economic policies. Phase-out is bringing the contradiction to the surface.

This is certainly one of the great tragedies of American politics, that so many people vote Republican when it is clearly not in their self-interest. That's the topic for another post, as the point here is how much Bush has gambled on a plan that makes no sense and which he doesn't understand anyway. Check out this horrifying attempt to explain the plan to a friendly Florida audience:

PRESIDENT: Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Shariah Don't Like It

Is this the worst possible outcome in Iraq?

With religious Shiite parties poised to take power in the new constitutional assembly, leading Shiite clerics are pushing for Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution...

Such a constitution would be a sharp departure from the transitional law that the Americans enacted before appointing the interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. American officials pressed Iraqi politicians drafting that law in early 2004 to guarantee equal rights for women and minorities. The Americans also persuaded the authors to designate Islam as just "a source" of legislation. That irked senior Shiite clerics here, who, confident they now have a popular mandate from the elections, are advocating for Islam to be acknowledged as the underpinning of the government. They also insist that the Americans stay away from the writing of the new constitution.

"It is Hard to Remain Uninvolved"

One of the most damning critiques of neoconservatism, in my mind, was written well before what we know as neoconservatism even existed. Graham Greene published the excellent book The Quiet American, about early American intervention in Vietnam, in 1955, and yet many of the quotes about the title character could be applied just as easily to Bush, Rumsfeld and others in the administration. Alden Pyle, the quiet American who meddles without considering the ramifications of his actions, is described as such:

He was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance...

Pyle had been silent a long while, and I had nothing more to say. Indeed I had said too much already. He looked white and beaten and ready to faint, and I thought, 'What's the good? he'll always be innocent, you can't blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.'

He comes blundering in and people have to die for his mistakes.

That about says it, doesn't it? This administration is 'innocent' in the worst sense: naive, overidealistic, careless, blundering and, most of all, ignorant.

Iraq and Iran

These past days the British media have seized on every Bush or Rice reference to Iran as a sign that an invasion is imminent, but I haven't heard much comment on the effect that invading Iran would have on the situation in Iraq. If anything, the Shia ties between the two countries have been used by some on the right as a justification for invading Iran, to prevent Iranian clerics from gaining strong influence in post-war Iraq. I think that this misses the point. Bush's greatest victory regarding Iraq will be if the election results are respected by all Iraqi parties involved and there is a transition to a relatively peaceful democracy in the next months. It is a given that the new government will be Shia-dominated. Now imagine how an invasion of Iran, controlled by a Shiite theocracy, could so easily upset any peaceful balance of power in Iraq. The US certainly needs to ensure that Iran doesn't gain influence in Iraq, but an invasion would only serve to agitate Shias in Iraq.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

MSN Search

I have no intention of switching from Google, but it looks like MSN Search is after my heart.

Toy Soldiers

I like Jonah's response to the kidnapped toy:

I do think the doll-napping is really bad news for the insurgents, no matter how the story plays out. It looks so desperate and pathetic how can it do anything but undermine the credibility of the insurgents' tough-as-nails image? The Khmer Rouge never captured anybody's doll.

Today's Guardian features the photo prominently on page 2 without any mention of it possibly being a fake.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Kaus Calls Andrew 'Faker'

Here's a great example of Sullivan being all over the place in terms of positions, all within a very short period of time:

A Rock in Turbulent Times: Here's Andrew Sullivan on television a week ago, answering Chris Matthews' question about the Iraq elections:

MATTHEWS: Define success.

Mr. SULLIVAN: Success is 80 percent turnout in--in most of the regions, extremely enthusiastic voting among the Kurds and the Shias, and better than expected among the Sunnis.

Here's Sullivan yesterday on his blog:

Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered. Any other suggestions for relevant criteria? Am I asking too much? I'm just thinking out loud.

And today:

My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. [Emphases added]

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sully's World

Sometimes Andrew can't help himself:

I think the anti-war left's failure to believe in democracy is a greater failing than the pro-war right's failure to grapple with some of the serious failings of the endeavor. But I hope today that everyone, whatever their view of the war or occupation, can rejoice in the defeat of evil and terror. It's truly inspiring.

So opposing an unjustified war that has put the U.S. in greater danger means that people like me don't believe in democracy? One trait I can't stand about Andrew Sullivan is that his positions are all over the place so that he can hedge his bets. He has been as hard on Bush/Rumsfeld these past months as anyone else, yet one encouraging day at the polls puts him back in "told you so" mode. You know what, you can't have it both ways. The war was wrong, Andrew, and sometimes your better angel convinces you of this. What happened in Iraq today was a turning point from a disaster to a more promising future, but that future still needs to be salvaged from a very deep and regrettable quagmire.

Election Day

It's still early, but at the moment it seems that election day in Iraq has been a best-case scenario of high turnout and relatively low violence compared to what was predicted and what was threatened by people like al-Zarqawi. If the turnout is really 70+ percent then the result will have a very strong air of legitimacy. Whether or not you supported this war -- and I didn't -- this bodes very well for Iraq and for the eventual return of American soldiers.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Right Way

Timothy Garton Ash has a good piece comparing Iraq and the Ukraine, highlighting the wrong and right ways to spread freedom. With increasing talk of engaging Iran in some capacity, the U.S. would do well to learn that freedom should be encouraged within, and I have made that point here previously. An Iraq-style invasion is the last thing we want with Iran, though if it is necessary and possible to cease urnanium enrichment via target strikes I would probably support that. We need to be engaging the pro-democracy factions within Iran as much as possible, so that it will be their revolution and not ours. As Ash says regarding the Ukraine:

Ukrainians did it for themselves. With a little help from their friends, to be sure. But whatever the role of western support, this was the Ukrainians' own idea, and the people I met on the ground taking risks for democracy, in the freezing camps of Kiev's tent city and on Independence Square, were Ukrainians.

Dobson and Crew

It is both sad and hilarious that SpongeBob's sexuality is being discussed so seriously within the national conversation of the U.S., and this lede just heightens the absurdity:

CLEVELAND -- Joining the animated fray, the United Church of Christ today (Jan. 24) said that Jesus' message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob Squarepants - the cartoon character that has come under fire for allegedly holding hands with a starfish.

Everyone knew that social conservatives were emboldened after helping to win the last election, but who knew they were willing to become laughingstocks. I never realized that "doing the right thing" sometimes means standing up for a cartoon sponge and his gay starfish, but so be it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


World's biggest philanthropist and God's gift to women.


For all the talk of it being the sole remaining superpower, is it possible that the world is in fact passing the U.S. by? Michael Lind makes the case.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Michael Howard

There was an interesting placement of stories in The Observer yesterday. On the left side of one page was a story about anti-semitism in Britain, in which Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality said that there is a common attitude in Britain that Jews are not "our kind of people." Next to this story was a piece about the Conservative party's anti-immigration stance, in which Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, a British Jew, "raises the spectre of race riots" to support his case for reducing immigration to Britain. You would think that someone of Howard's background, of all people, would know better than to stoke people's xenophobia to make a point.

Friday, January 21, 2005


So Peggy Noonan didn't like the speech, though I'm not sure what that means given that she's nuts. My favorite part of her commentary is her 'explanation' of the foreign-policy divide, in which she tries to come up with a more palatable word for whatever the opposite of realism is:

It was a foreign-policy speech. To the extent our foreign policy is marked by a division that has been (crudely but serviceably) defined as a division between moralists and realists--the moralists taken with a romantic longing to carry democracy and justice to foreign fields, the realists motivated by what might be called cynicism and an acknowledgment of the limits of governmental power--President Bush sided strongly with the moralists, which was not a surprise.

A rose by any other name, Peggy. I still pick the reality-based one.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Getting Real

Say, who is Jonah kidding, trying to paint the current administration as a bunch of realists and insisting they are as far from Wilsonianism as possible? Let's at least wait till the administration is history before we try to falsely rewrite it.

Friedman on Iran

Thomas Friedman touches on the complexity of the Iran issue:

Funnily enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Mr. Bush is not in Europe, but the Middle East: it's Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.

An Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were "loving anything their government hates," such as Mr. Bush, "and hating anything their government loves." Tehran is festooned in "Down With America" graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Somebody give this headline writer a raise.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


As the discussions of the Hersh article unfold, I think it's important to ask two separate questions:

1) Should the U.S. take military action against Iran?
2) Should the Pentagon be able to conduct military activities without congressional oversight?

Of course, some will answer 'yes' to both or 'no' to both, but I think a surprising number of people would answer 'yes' to 1 and 'no' to 2.

Site Issues

1) As you may have noticed, I changed the website a little bit and would love to hear any feedback on it. Is it a better layout? Do you like the color scheme?

2) I have a new email address for the website,, so send any of the suggestions from above to this address.

Plausible Denial

As is standard process with Seymour Hersh articles, the Pentagon is denying the central claims. I finally got around to reading the piece in full last night, and one thing did jump out at me:

Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, U.S. military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists.

If this really is a developing plan, it's amazing that inside sources would be open about this with a journalist. I have always marvelled at Hersh's ability to get inside information, but the flip side of the coin, as people like Robert Baer and Michael Scheuer have pointed out, is that U.S. intelligence is quite leaky.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Hersh on Iran

Looks like Sy Hersh has a scoop on U.S. actions against Iran, though I don't see the piece up on the New Yorker website yet.

Update: Here it is.


So maybe libelling groups as racist and uncaring before you have all your facts is unwise.

Lazy Sunday Blogging

I was at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg a couple of months ago and was introduced to Tom Thomson's work, as they were having a temporary exhibition of some of his landscapes. I thought I would share a couple of them here.

Pine Country

Woods in Winter

Friday, January 14, 2005

Cutting Ties

The election of Mahmoud Abbas heralds an increasingly hopeful time in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and seems to have been the best possible outcome of the election. Even if some bloggers and pundits relentlessly harp on him and point out ridiculous and dangerous things he has said in the past, it is simply a fact that he is more moderate than Arafat and more inclined to negotiations. Unfortunately, a lot of people on the right will always criticize somebody in Abbas's position merely for being a Palestinian leader, and it is certainly an unfair double-standard that Abbas will be judged by the actions of the worst element of Palestinian extremists, when the same is not done of Sharon. Israel can no longer claim that it has no serious negotiating partner, as has long been their stance (more justifiable when Arafat was in power). Thus, this news is particularly troubling:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the suspension of all contacts with the Palestinian Authority on Friday, following an attack by Palestinian gunmen that killed six Israelis civilians, Israeli officials said...The Karni attack, and Israel's response, follow the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the new president of the Palestinian Authority, and observers speculated that the attack was intended as a challenge to show Abbas that he cannot control militants in Gaza...Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said he got a call from Sharon's office. He said he asked the Israelis not to suspend contacts. "You cannot hold Mahmoud Abbas accountable when he hasn't even been inaugurated yet," he said.

This is pretty unbelievable. Like I said above, Abbas is judged according to the actions of a few people who are not even necessarily loyal to him. In fact, the attack was likely mounted as a challenge to his ascension. So what is the benefit of cutting off contacts with him? Sure, he will issue a denunciation and communication will resume, but Israel acting like this only weakens the Palestinian Authority (which, contrary to what some might say, is not good for Israel).

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Helping the Needy

When does the post-election season end? The reason I ask is that I am so tired of reading condescending op-eds by right-wingers telling the Dems to buck up, and giving suggestions on how to get back in the game. Safire's wasn't nearly as bad as this one by Noonan (thanks to Harmony for the link):

No one wants to be head of the Democratic National Committee. This is bad but understandable. A fractious party has been further fractured by a hard year...You need someone who makes the Democratic Party look nonsleazy, nonmanipulative and nonweak on TV.

So no one wants to be DNC chairman? Noonan goes on to say that Dean is neither moderate nor "normal-seeming." No one has been as mischaracterized by the media, at the behest of the conservatives, as Dean has; not since, well, Kerry or Gore.

But more Noonan:

The Groups--all the left-wing outfits from the abortion people to the enviros--didn't deliver in the last election, and not because they didn't try. They worked their hearts out. But they had no one to deliver. They had only money. The secret: Nobody likes them. Nobody! No matter how you feel about abortion, no one likes pro-abortion fanatics; no one likes mad scientists who cook environmental data. Or rather only rich and creepy people like them.

Hmm, where did all that money come from? Did the Dems and peripheral organizations like MoveOn raise a record number of money despite every single human despising them? And as far as "mad scientists," I think Noonan has been reading too much Michael Crichton propoganda.


I'm sure I'm not the quickest in catching the inside allusions of the press gaggle, but I was wondering if this was a little 9/11 humor from today's briefing:

Q Since we're not going to see you tomorrow, can I ask to look a little bit --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're not going on the trip?

Q No. Well, we're not going to see you on camera tomorrow. The inaugural --

MR. McCLELLAN: Is that a promise? (Laughter.)

Q Well, last time we went to Florida for an education event -- (laughter.)


From the NYT:

At the urging of the White House, Congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure last month that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by American intelligence officers, Congressional officials say...The Senate had approved the new restrictions, by a 96-to-2 vote, as part of the intelligence reform legislation. They would have explicitly extended to intelligence officers a prohibition against torture or inhumane treatment, and would have required the C.I.A. as well as the Pentagon to report to Congress about the methods they were using.

From today's press briefing:

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made very clear what our policy is, and he expects the policy to be followed. The policy is to comply with our laws and with our treaty obligations. The criminal statutes of the United States specifically talk about -- you bring up an issue about people outside the United States -- the criminal statute of the United States specifically says that -- or imposes criminal penalties on "whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture." So there are already laws on the book that address this issue.

That's why I said that their provision -- or the provision in this legislation is something that we viewed as not necessary because it's already addressed in international treaties, in our laws, and in the Defense Authorization Act.

Q What legal protections shouldn't those prisoners have in the President's view?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just made very clear what our view is when it comes to the treatment of detainees.

I think his real logic is "we're already incriminated, so why make more laws to incriminate us further?"

Prince Harry

This story is like a wet dream for a lot of British papers: anything that allows them to put "Royal" and "Nazi" together on a headline is going to sell.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Social Spending

I forgot to comment on a line of Safire's piece that rang false, and sure enough, Media Matters has the goods.

Imminent vs. Incipient

There has been an interesting and sometimes amusing debate in the past two days, taking place at several blogs and originating at The Washington Note, concerning the difference between incipient and imminent (a debate in which I play a very minor role). A few days ago, Brent Scowcroft warned that we may be witnessing an incipient civil war in Iraq. Cue David Frum of National Review, warning of the dangers of Scowcroftian cynicism and misquoting Scowcroft as having said "imminent" civil war.

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note, who had chaired the gathering at which Scowcroft spoke, quickly took issue and demanded a correction. Steve's issue was about more than merely a misquote, as he believed that imminent is a more forceful, and perhaps fatalistic, term than incipient; in other words, Steve was calling it blatant mischaracterization.

Well, the comment threads started filling up pretty fast. Here was my contribution, though I was admittedly unsure:

I don't agree with Bertignac's characterization of Scowcroft, but I do have to say that 'imminent' would probably have been more of a cautionary word than 'incipient,' as the Cambridge dictionary lists 'imminent' as meaning "coming or likely to happen" while 'incipient' means "beginning."

Incipient: 1. Beginning; commencing; coming into, or in an early stage of, existence; in an initial stage.

That is from the OED. The definitions from both Cambridge and Oxford certainly make 'incipient' sound less cautionary than 'imminent'. Scowcroft would be suggesting that the Iraq Civil War had begun, rather than suggesting that there was a danger of civil war as was his intention. On the other hand, 'imminent' is usually used in a point-of-no-return sense, so using either word is quite strong in this case.

So, I understood that Scowcroft was warning of the danger of civil war, but I took issue with Steve's interpretation of imminent being a harsher assessment. Another commenter then assured me that in oncology and war incipient has a special meaning:

In warfare (much like in oncology), "incipient" has the special connotation of the formation or presence of detectable precursors or conditions precedent, perhaps bounded by embryonic initializing at the latest. In any event, it implies advance warning, and that the potential event or outcome may or may not materialize.

That seemed to satisfy most people, but then a particularly grumpy David Frum awoke:

Clemons accuses me of accidentally or purposely sensationalizing Scowcroft by substituting the word “imminent” for the word “incipient” in my paraphrase. You might think that’s a rather flimsy basis on which to build 500 words of scolding and sneering. But look again at those dictionary entries that Clemons pasted into his piece, and you’ll see the truth is rather more embarrassing for him even than that, which is that Clemons jumbled the meaning of the two words he lectured me on. Even with a dictionary open in front of him, he still managed to tumble down the linguistic stairs and end up, as the saying goes, with his head where his tail should be, thus:

The word “imminent” in English describes something that is about to happen. The word “incipient” describes something that actually has commenced

Frum went on to be quite rude to Clemons and Sully. Even Josh Marshall looked up from his Social Security crusade to take note.

Steve consents to leave the debate up to the linguists, but ends with a mightily painful jab for Frum.

Where do we stand now? I thought incipient meant something like "early" or "embryonic" (and Steve assures me that his significant other agrees), but if we can find some oncologists who will attest to this special meaning then I am open to being convinced. And I am already convinced that Frum is a dick.

More Chuck Than I Ever Wanted

Little Green Footballs manages to mischaracterize both Chuck's accusations and the backlash to them. He didn't just use the aftermath of the tragedy to attack Soros, but to claim that liberals must not care about "brown people half a world away." This is cheap, and LGF and Glenn Reynolds should both be ashamed for condoning Chuck's statements. Calling these right-wing blogs out on this does not constitute a "vicious attack."

Safire on Character

Today's Safire op-ed is an interesting combination of fluff, cheap-shots, and some genuinely good points about the states of America's two major parties today:

We also see the mark of character, or lack of it, in political parties. The Republican Party today is characterized by a mission to defeat terror while exporting freedom abroad, and a policy to restrain taxes while increasing social spending at home...The G.O.P. personality will split in a couple of years, as all huge majorities do in America. Idealistic neocons will be challenged by plodding, pragmatic paleocons, who, by fuzzing the party's present character, will someday lead it down the road to defeat.

First of all, I think he's dead-on that the G.O.P., and American conservatism in general, are going to undergo a major internal crisis during this next term. However, I don't believe that the "idealistic neocons" are going to be simply dragged down by the paleocons, but rather by a combination of their own naivete and hubris. You can see Safire predicting the downfall of the neocons and trying to ready an explanation that will put the blame on a simple inability to get others on board with their agenda.

If I were starting out in politics or its commentary today, I'd become a Democrat. That's because the party now is six disconsolate characters in search of an author.

Adlai Stevenson called 1952 Republicans "out of patience, out of sorts and out of office." That tight shoe now fits liberals, who have been drifting toward isolationism abroad and fiscal conservatism at home, which for Democrats is out of character. The spirit of Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson is needed to return the party to ideological consistency: interventionist at home and abroad.

He makes some cheap shots about the pathetic nature of the Dems and says that they are "bantam-weight," but he is right that the party would do well to remember the spirit of Scoop Jackson, and not to eschew the late Senator simply because his proteges are failures.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Paying for Bush

This is beyond comprehension.

Good Press

Tsk tsk, Allawi is going to have to learn to be discreet just like the Bush administration. Thanks to Atrios for the tip.

One Voice

From today's Guardian:

A rightwing Christian group last night vowed to step up the campaign against the BBC after its screening of Jerry Springer - The Opera as details emerged of how a small number of determined activists was largely responsible for the biggest-ever protest against the broadcaster.

[emphasis mine]

Remind you of anything?


Kevin Drum and Atrios have some good -- and similar -- responses to the CBS investigation of the Killian memos. Like Kevin points out, it is unbelievable that the story ever made it to air, and clearly CBS bypassed any normal journalistic background work that would've made sure the story had been watertight (which would have been impossible in this case) in order to ensure that the story made it to air.

What is not the case, however, is that this is an example of liberal media bias. One thing that conservatives are good at is crowing louder than anyone else, and so of the many journalism scandals of the past years, it is the ones from supposedly liberal outlets that garner big headlines. Nothing pleases conservatives more than seeing their favorite targets crash and burn, and being able to paint any mistakes as examples of liberal bias is a bonus. It's not just the double-standard itself that is worrying, but the eventual ramifications of that standard: media outlets towing the conservative line.

What Rather and Company are guilty of is rushing for a big election-time scoop, not a partisan hack-job.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Chuck "Anonymous" Simmins

Holy crap! I was feeling a bit guilty for giving this Chuck Simmins guy a wider forum and wasn't planning to feed him anymore than I already have, but this stuff is too good. To summarize, I posted below in response to his accusation that liberals don't care about "brown people" and made a similar rebuttal on his blog, and he sends me several rambling emails about the U.N. and compares Egeland to John Gotti and Ted Bundy. That was already enough to give me a hint about him, but then this priceless comment by "anonymous" shows up on his site after mine. Here are the choice bits:

What is real petty criticism is bashing Chuck Simmins, a blogger with a small but growing readership...Chuck, in his career as a fireman and EMT has put his life on the line, many times, for his fellow man. Can the disgusted Gabriel say that? I doubt it...The US is there [in South Asia] now and will be in 6 months. Long after Gabriel’s attention has shifted to the impending extinction of the South American rhino weasel, or whatever.

This kind of bat-shit crazy talk is like the holy grail for me, and it's hard to explain how excited I am about it. Just when I thought our nutty exchange was over, "anonymous" comes along and makes my day. Anonymous indeed.


It is amazing that Glenn Reynolds links to this disgusting post approvingly, in which some hack blogger blames liberals and "Hollywood types" for not giving enough toward tsunami relief:

Sandra Bullock gave $1 million, Spielberg $1.5 million, Linkin Park $100,000, Ozzie and Sharon Osbourne $190,000, Leonardo DiCaprio an undisclosed sum... don't hold your breath waiting for more. A bunch of Asian stars have made donations in their own region. Lots of musicians are holding fund raising concerts. But, I just listed all the donations.

Google is bare, beyond bare.

Where are the liberals? Or don't poor brown people half a planet away matter? Soros, and the other who gave tens of millions to defeat George Bush and yet not a penny for this, a far more worthy cause. Where are the screaming horses from MoveOn, the Deaniacs, the folks from ANSWER?

Nowhere to be found. The silence on the left is profound.

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, when many Americans were asking that the government give more than $15 million, some conservatives such as David Brooks couldn't help themselves and lashed out at these comments as being liberal politicization of the tragedy. Now this blogger and Glenn Reynolds are going even further and suggesting that liberals don't care about the tragedy. I couldn't care less what the anonymous blogger above thinks, but Reynolds is supposedly the preeminent conservative blogger in the US, and this is what he comes up with. Talk about an obscene politicization of tragedy.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Goldberg on Pragmatism

It's worth checking out Jonah Goldberg's critique of Pragmatism before I make a few comments on his own conclusions. Like Jonah, I rely on the excellent book The Metaphysical Club for most of my knowledge about Pragmatism, in addition to some old college philsophy courses. Oliver Wendell Holmes's impact on legal theory was partly due to his belief in creating law based on the idea of the "reasonable man." From Jonah:

How does one determine what is reasonable? By in effect taking a statistical average of the community's standards. Early Pragmatists were deeply enamored with statistical techniques like the law of errors, which held — sorta kinda — that you could find the true answer to a problem by averaging out the wrong answers.

So Pragmatism in this sense is seen as a stripping away of "metaphysical irrelevancies," and in their place creating law based on the common, or average, man's standards. In such a way, there would be no need and no place in the law for talk of morality or for overly sentimental criteria. As Goldberg quotes Holmes saying, "A man may have as bad a heart as he chooses, if his conduct is within the rules." The epitome of this reasonable man doctrine is the trial jury, where a defendant is supposedly being judged by a representative sample of the community who are, by Holmes's statistically-inclined thinking, themselves representing the community's standards.

Jonah's objections, roughly, seem to be the following:

1) The reasonable man doctrine leads to "corrosion," so that eventually it is the fringes of society that are defended at all costs regardless of where the common man stands.

2) Law should be based on what is right and wrong, not on what is efficient.

Jonah is eloquent and thoughtful in his arguments for both points, particularly the second. If there are only utilitarian underpinnings for a society's laws, rather than learning any sense of right or wrong people merely learn to "play the odds" with regard to the law, i.e. to see what you can get away with. The question is how we agree on right and wrong, and Jonah's conclusion that the law is not value-free and that the only question is "which values will triumph" suggests that his piece is simply a long-winded reminder that this is a culture war.

He is less convincing on the first point and never really explains his fatalistic attitude about the corrosion of the reasonable man doctrine. His description of the mainstream having to bow to the fringes of society is typical of the conservative reaction to the gay rights movement, and I think he actually gets the weakness of the reasonable man doctrine completely wrong: if this doctrine were always upheld, would integration have ever occurred in the South? The reasonable man doctrine is precisely not overly concerned with outliers. In other words, Pragmatism in law doesn't exactly look out for the fringes of society.

The other weakness of using statistics in law, which Goldberg seems to miss in his critique, is that it is not the most helpful technique in a country that is neatly polarized on key issues. If 50% support the availability of legal abortion and 50% oppose abortion, who is the reasonable man? Where does the compromise lie?

I have my own problems with Pragmatism. On a general note, it seems like an excuse to let religion back into serious philosophy (which I think was precisely William James's goal), though that has little bearing here on Holmes and legal theory. As far as creating a society's laws, I find the Rawlsian approach to be the most persuasive, especially the veil of ignorance. It basically poses the hypothetical question of what kind of society you would create if you had no idea what role you would play in that society. Rawls argues that fairness would be your priority when constructing a justice system, as you would want good opportunities regardless of the lot in life into which you were born.

Goldberg once dismissed Rawlsians as people who prioritized fairness over freedom, but I think he misses the crucial point that for a good majority of people -- especially on the lower ends of society -- fairness is a kind of freedom. Julian Baggini not long ago argued that conservatives fail to see that there are two types of freedom, negative and positive. The libertarian strain of conservatism really only recognizes the first.


Senator Bill Frist, a medical doctor, instructing Red Cross volunteers in Sri Lanka on how to purify water using chlorine tablets. This is the same medical doctor who recently told George Stephanopolous that you can contract AIDS through sweat and tears, so I'm not sure he should be instructing volunteers in anything. While touring areas destroyed by the tsunami, Frist posed for some pictures and told photographers to "get some devastation in back." Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Money and Missing Balls

Atrios was among the first bloggers to pick up on this startling USA Today story about commentator Armstrong Williams being paid taxpayer money from the Department of Education in order to promote the No Child Left Behind act, and now the story has made it to some of the other bigs, here and here. From the latter:

Williams called criticism of his relationship with the department "legitimate."

"It's a fine line," he told The Associated Press on Friday. "Even though I'm not a journalist -- I'm a commentator -- I feel I should be held to the media ethics standard. My judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again, and I learned from it."

Having said that, he doesn't intend to give the nearly quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money back anytime soon. I'm pretty sure that that call won't be his, and that some Department of Education officials need to go down with him. It's not only Democrats who are rightly noting that the whole thing stinks and needs to be investigated. Here's Jonah, a voice of reason on the right:

I think it was stupid and unacceptable for the Administration to give him the money. If the Clinton Administration had been paying off liberal pundits to promote his policies we would have gone batty, and rightly so. A better explanation is required. The whole thing seems gross to me.

The comparisons with Soviet media are apt. By the way, my favorite article on the Williams affair is from Howie; his piece is infinitely more amusing when you make your way through this.

Oh, and speaking of people who need to return things like really soon, do the right thing, Minky.

Friday, January 07, 2005


"I had no idea that if you want a show cancelled, all you have to do is say it out loud." - Jon Stewart

Taking it to the Max

Through the conservative blog Little Green Footballs I came across this hilariously biased "newssource" called NewsMax, which I'm not sure how I missed before. Note how they report on John Kerry's appearance in Baghdad:

Kerry Trashes Bush in Baghdad

Visiting with U.S. troops in Baghdad on Thursday, failed presidential candidate John Kerry trashed Commander-in-chief George Bush for making "horrendous judgments" and "unbelievable blunders" that have undermined the war effort.

In a series of demoralizing comments first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the defeated Democrat griped, "What is sad about what's happening here now is that so much of it is a process of catching up from the enormous miscalculations and wrong judgments made in the beginning."

Let's take another look, this time from the Chronicle's original article:

Kerry cheered in Baghdad, decries Bush team's 'blunders'
Once criticized for war stance, he says force alone won't win

Kerry, who repeatedly charged during the presidential campaign that President Bush had botched the war effort, was greeted warmly by U.S. soldiers in Baghdad...U.S. soldiers approached Kerry inside the restaurant of the Rashid Hotel, asking him to pose for photographs and sign T-shirts. The star-struck restaurant manager insisted on serving Kerry the restaurant's specialty, a plate of grilled chicken and lamb.

I won't keep picking on such easy targets as Coulter, Little Green Footalls, and NewsMax, but they are worth periodically checking out for a comic diversion.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Dick II

Holy crap, Jon Stewart really did destroy Crossfire:

The bow-tied wearing conservative pundit got into a public tussle last fall with comic Jon Stewart, who has been critical of cable political programs that devolve into shoutfests.

"I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," [CNN chief executive Jonathan] Klein told The Associated Press.

Jon Stewart, folk hero. And good for CNN for doing this.

More Coulter Deceit

In responding to those who have suggested that the original tsunami aid package of $15 million from the U.S. was not enough, Ann Coulter made this bizarre but not-surprising-for-Coulter swipe at Senator Patty Murray:

And has some enterprising reporter asked Sen. Patty Murray what she thinks about the U.S.'s efforts on the tsunami? How about compared to famed philanthropist Osama bin Laden?

In December 2002, Murray was extolling Osama bin Laden's good works in the Middle East, informing a classroom of students: "He's been out in these countries for decades building roads, building schools, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. It made their lives better." What does Murray say about bin Laden's charity toward the (mostly Muslim) tsunami victims?

It's amazing that conservatives are still trying to get some traction out of this lie. Patty Murray was saying that it is crucial to find out why bin Laden is so popular in much of the Muslim world, as U.S. attempts to crush al-Qaeda need to take these questions into consideration. Does Coulter understand what extol means? Any serious student of al-Qaeda and the war on terror would be asking the same question Murray was asking.

Ann Coulter, On the Edge of Reason

I try to avoid linking to people like Ann Coulter, as they are provocative precisely because it gets them more attention, even if it is mostly outrage. Coulter brings nothing to the table in terms of a national conversation, and she is barely coherent, but the sad truth is that a lot of people on the far right read her and The New York Observer saw fit to lavish more attention on her. Anyway, I couldn't skip this challenge:

"I’m thinking about putting up a reward on my Web page for any liberal who will mention either Afghanistan or the Kurds," she said. "I mean, 85 percent of Iraq is free, it’s beautiful—we have about 300 troops patrolling the entire Kurdish area. These poor beleaguered Kurds are free, are happy, are dancing in the streets, and liberals simply won’t mention them. I certainly thought Afghanistan was going to be a tougher nut to crack than Iraq—the Russians couldn’t take Afghanistan! They’ve basically been at war for a hundred years—even when nobody’s there, they’re at war with one another. We took Afghanistan in a month, and now they’ve had elections and women vote, and they didn’t vote for some crazy lunatic mullahs. So that’s a pretty good year."

During this "good year," the head of the CIA's bin Laden unit published a book called Imperial Hubris, and let's see what he thought about the U.S. tactics in Afghanistan 2001-2004:

Ignoring reality, Secretary Rumsfeld -- with the Taleban and al Qaeda intact, Karzai's writ fading, and guerilla warfare flaring -- went to Kabul in May, 2003 to declare victory. Mr. Rumsfeld, to be charitable, is ill-informed; America's Afghan war is still in its infancy.
Sadly, firsthand experience [of previous wars in Afghanistan] and sage advice were ignored. In the face of this reality, U.S. government leaders, generals, media, and experts nonetheless have spoken as if our endeavors had brought forth a budding mini-America in Afghanistan.
As noted in Chapter 2, the conduct of the Afghan war approaches perfection -- in the sense of perfectly inept.

If Coulter wants to argue that the situation in Afghanistan is better than we could have hoped, fine; but to suggest that our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq have been so positive as to be beyond criticism is nuts. So what's the reward she's offering, I wonder?

While we're at it, here are a few more gems from the Observer interview:

The Iraqi people didn’t seem to have that great a Christmas.

"That’s right! But they’ll be opening Christmas presents soon enough," she said. "And then they’ll be happy. We’ll see, but things are going pretty well, and in most cases better than expected. We’re going to transform the Middle East by the time Bush leaves office, or it will be within shouting distance of there. I think Arabs flying planes into our skyscrapers will be as likely as a Japanese kamikaze pilot."

Yep, that's our real goal: get Iraqis to celebrate Christmas.

"I’m getting a little fed up with hearing about, oh, civilian casualties. I think we ought to nuke North Korea right now just to give the rest of the world a warning."

Nuke North Korea?

"Right—and this is tied to my point that, in Iraq, let the Marines do their job. There may be some civilian casualties—that’s known as war. Americans can live with that. And when did we become the guardian of the world to prevent all civilian casualties, ever—how about our civilians?"


What should we remember about Bill Clinton?

"Well, he was a very good rapist. I think that should not be forgotten."