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."

Staying Fit in Jet City

I love the cliches that national writers always resort to when writing about Seattle:

"Eighty-five percent of Seattle residents get some exercise every month, and that's a really significant thing," Boulton said. The city's jittery love affair with espresso might fuel some of that activity, he noted: "There's not only a lot of it, it's pretty darn strong."

Are you sure it's not because of all the grunge we listen to?


No matter what anyone says to the contrary, it was Jon Stewart who destroyed Crossfire. Tucker Carlson sinking into the anonymous depths of MSNBC sounds about right.

Social Security

Josh Marshall, with the help of a Rove underling's leaked memo, gets to the bottom of what the Social Security debate is really about: not a debate about an unsustainable course, but a disagreement over what Social Security represents in the first place.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Buruma and Van Gogh

After being gone for a few weeks, I'll be posting more regularly starting in the next day or so. Till then, check out Ian Buruma's account of the fallout from the Theo Van Gogh murder in last week's New Yorker.