Saturday, December 31, 2005

The New Year

So here we are, at the "final throes" of this foul year of Our Lord 2005, at the point when people suddenly stop for a second to wax pensive and poetic. I guess I'm among the worst of them.

It seems to me that, for the world at large, 2005 was an awful year. Of course, we didn't exactly kick it off in grand style; I myself nearly worried myself an ulcer wondering where W would spend that infamous "political capital." Perhaps the greatest harbinger of the year to come, however, was the main event of Christmas Day, 2004: a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 283,100 people, possibly the worst natural disaster of our time.

That deluge was followed some 8 months later by another one that destroyed the heart of Old Dixie: New Orleans. The president and congress were already having an awful year at that point, but the following days saw new lows in government approval ratings. Combined with corruption scandals, stalling legislative momentum, the final defeat of a Social Security overhaul that can only be described as "quixotic," and the first indictment of a sitting member of the Administration in over a hundred years, I think we can safely say it was a very, very bad year for the government.

We lost several of our best and brightest this year as well. Among those with "2005" chiseled under their names are Rosa Parks, Saul Bellow, Johnny Carson, and Pope John Paul II. We also should not forget Richard Pryor, the great Nazi hunter Simon Weisenthal and Luther Vandross. And yes Pat Morita (aka. "Mr. Miyagi"), we wax on and wax off in mourning for you, as well.

So everyone, let's raise a toast to 2005: Thank God it's over.

[This year actually turned out to be fairly good for me personally. I got my degree in May, a great teaching gig in the summer, and was hired for my first "real" job. I also got some great schadenfreude out of watching W have the single worst year of his presidency. But maybe that's just me being optimistic!]

Friday, December 30, 2005

Well, at least it's an investigation... I guess...

In the headlines today is the news that the Justice Dept. is investigating the domestic surveillance issue with the Bush Administration. That sounds good on its face; the problem, however, lies in the headlines. The Justice Dept. is not investigating whether people were spied on illegally, or whether the Administration was using some sort of Nixonian tactic of wiretapping political opponents or scapegoats or something. Instead, they're concerned merely with who leaked the information to the New York Times.

Methinks they're missing the point.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Something is on the march, anyway...

Apparently it's not just the Sunnis in Iraq who are, shall we say, considering all their options when it comes to how to best govern Iraq. From Knight Ridder (c/o Georgia10 at Dkos):
Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops who are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

Remember, people, the Kurds have been probably the single most cooperative group in this whole conflict. I think this shows pretty well how well our efforts to bring about a peaceful, democratic Iraq are going. This, of course, must be tempered by the counter-evidence of the elections (and vice versa), but then again, I dunno about you but I still haven't figured out just what the impact of those elections is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas blogging

Sorry I haven't been doing my requisite complaining over here in our little corner of the blogosphere. Amber and I went off to see her parents in Michigan over Christmas. I have to say, I made off like a bandit, but one of my best gifts was... a webcam! Sweet!

Now I can spray endless chunky malodorous streams of jpeg from my little Indiana lagoon all over the fallow fields and murky streams of the Ranch!

Behold the fertilization of the blogosphere!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bad Day for ID

The Intelligent Design people in Dover, PA got "pwn3d" in court today. Georgia10 from DKos read the decision (which was a big "hell no," in case ya hadn't guessed) and picked out the choicest morsels. Here's a snippet:
"The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision [to approve Intelligent Design] is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."

It appears the judge was not impressed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ooooh snap!

Here's a funny exchange between uber-douchebag John Cornyn (R-MobilExxon) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) (c/o DailyKos):
Cornyn: "None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead."
Feingold: "Give me liberty or give me death."

Telling, very telling.

War Powers

Update: Kevin Drum echoes my sentiments (well, he didn't read my post to come to this conclusion, but you get my drift).

Josh Marshall wrote a fascinating post discussing Thomas Jefferson's reflections on the possibility of the chief executive needing to bypass federal law for the sake of expediency or of protecting the Republic. Jefferson's idea is that, for sure, it may happen in some cases, but in such an event the President must then go before Congress/the people/the Supreme Court/whoever and admit that he broke the law, explain the necessity of his actions, and place himself at the mercy of the rest of the country to decide his fate.

Josh has some good commentary on this, and my perspective is similar, though perhaps not identical, to his. Jefferson's idea of what a president should do in such cases preserves the rule of law. The president is never above the law, but there are times when he must break it and then ask others with a greater share of sovereignty than himself to change the law to make an exception for him. Thus the rule of law remains inviolate.

This is substantially different from what W is doing. He is saying that, by virtue of being a wartime president during the War on Terrorism, he has the authority to set aside the law, answering to no one for his choices: not the Judiciary, not Congress, not even the Constitution itself.

Yet the point of the rule of law is that it cannot be bypassed or partially recognized. You either have it or you don't. W is by no means the first president to set aside the rule of law; many of even our greatest presidents have done so in wartime. All of those other cases, however, differ not only from Jefferson, but from W. Jefferson believed that the law was always supreme, even during wartime, while W is trying to lay the groundwork for an executive that is more or less permanently above the law.

Does that sound harsh or dramatic? Think about the War on Terrorism for a second. When does it end? When the practice of terrorism is wiped off the face of the earth, or perhaps when no fringe militant group has a beef with the U.S.? Such objectives are impossible, and therefore the "war" to achieve such objectives could last, in theory, forever. Thus every president from now on could be considered a "wartime" president, possessing the power to bypass standing law at his prerogative.

new revelations on Bush's domestic surveillance

Lots of news today on the Bush Administration's surveillance measures. The skinny of it so far is that, under current law, the president has the power to conduct domestic surveillance on Americans or others pending approval by court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In order to expedite that process, however, the President can authorize surveillance immediately as long as then seeks a retroactive approval of his actions within 72 hours. Furthermore, the court almost never denies such requests (estimates lie between 0 and 6 denials in 15,000 requests), so the President doesn't exactly have his proverbial hands tied here.

The problem with W's actions, however, lie in the fact that he decided that he doesn't even have to ask the court at all to spy on Americans on American soil.

For more on the nitty gritty of the issue, I'd suggest going over to Talking Points Memo: Josh, as usual, is all over this and has some great insights. Arguments from the Administration and their congressional/journalist cronies are weak and being pretty soundly debunked all over the place: Kos has the latest on such developments (I'm only linking to the general websites here, and not specific articles, because both sites are watching this closely and a number of posts worth looking at). For instance, AG Gonzalez is claiming that the congressional authorization of force in Afghanistan gave the president this ability, even though he also admits that the Administration didn't seek a specific resolution for this in Congress because even a congress dominated by the President's own party wouldn't pass it (here's a collection of legislators of both parties saying that the resolution does not allow the president to set aside the laws).

This is big; more to follow.

Monday, December 19, 2005

new job

Some of you may know that I've been unemployed now for a couple of months. Well, today I got a job! I'm now the Senior Library Specialist at the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame. It's my first real-life career gig!

Unfortunately, though, I won't be wearing any armor, nor do they allow broadswords or mead in the building (especially the two together!).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bowl game rankings

Here's a ranking and brief commentary on this year's bowl games. This writer tends to be a little pompous, even by sports writer standards (they never stop bragging about their predictions), but admittedly he is right much of the time.

He offers some pretty funny comments on several of the games, but here's a great quote for you Tech fans:
"7) Holiday (Dec. 29): Oregon (10-1) vs. Oklahoma (7-4). Hmmm ... a 10-1 Pac-10 team ticked off about its BCS snub playing against a potentially dangerous 7-4 Big 12 team. Where have we seen this before? Ah yes ... last year's Holiday Bowl."

Holiday Bowl 2004: Texas Tech vs. #4 California (Tech won 45-31)

He's a lot more optimistic about this one than I am (personally, I think the Sooners are gonna get blown off the field--and I can't wait to see it!), but it is a good point.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Chick-Fil-A Bowl?

I know it's petty, but this kinda crap ticks me off. The bowl game in Atlanta is the Peach Bowl; that name fits the venue, it's got class, and it's got a long tradition. Next year, however, it will be the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. What a lame game name. What's next? Will the Cotton Bowl become the Taco Bell Bowl? Or the Sugar Bowl become the Macy's Bowl? Why do these damn corporate sponsors have to taint everything they touch? What would've been wrong with putting Chick-Fil-A banners in the stadium and letting them put ads on during it? Hell, it would have even been okay to call it "the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl," sorta like "the Mobil Cotton Bowl." It still sucks, but at least that way it's still the Peach Bowl.

More on domestic surveillance

Holy cow. That story I posted earlier about the anti-war groups being "monitored" by the FBI isn't even the big domestic surveillance story today. The New York Times dug up evidence that the President also gave an executive order authorizing the surveillance of individuals. The argument about illegality and unconstitutionality that I posted earlier was actually made in reference to this latter action, not the former. Mea culpa for getting those two switched earlier (though I'm willing to bet the same argument applies to both cases).

This story gets bigger, however: it appears the NYT sat on this story for about a year. Sitting on such an important story, one about a serious breach of public trust, not to mention the law, would be a bad enough idea. The Times, however, may have had the goods on this story before election day, thus impacting the election by their choice not to inform us about our candidates.

This, of course, is not the only little nugget of information that the media sat on until after the election. There was also the Valerie Plame affair and the CBS report undermining the Administration's case for war in Iraq. As Will Brunch put it:
"Voters could have gone to the polls on Election Day, Nov. 4 [sic], 2004, knowing that Bush was spying on Americans, that a key White House aide was charged with felonies, and that the initial rationales for Iraq were bogus.

And so it turns out that the media had the power to alter this country's disastrous direction back in 2004, after all. And we didn't even have to click our heels three times.

We'd only needed to do our job."

The White House gets Blitzed

Check this out. It's a rare blog scoop: a memo from the presidents of the major networks that fell out of Wolf Blitzer's pocket and recovered by a reporter.

The shorter version: W, you lied to us about the dems having the same info, it makes us look bad, screw you.

Ya think they'll back that up?

W's intelligence

Yes, I know, it's an ambiguous title. And yes, I know, this news is all over "the internets," so I'm being repititious. Nevertheless, I think this bears repeating.

So you know that the president's newest justification for the war is the argument that Democrats had the same intel as he did when they voted to authorize force.

Well, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), aka. "DiFi," authorized the Congressional Research Office to investigate this allegation.

Ready for a shocker, everyone? The president... wait for it... was lying to you.

I know, it's shocking. An interesting interpretation of "a new era of accountability" that younger Bush has.

Read your Orwell

Creepy. Now it seems the government is spying on its own citizens. I can't help but wonder if the Ranch has its own FBI file now.


Here's a piece from a DailyKos writer named Obsidian Wings explaining why this is not only illegal, but unconstitutional. Though I would hope that's fairly obvious.

Your Government's Priorities

Why the sudden need to cut education (for the first time in a decade) and poor people's health care, you might ask? Simple: to help pay for the $100 billion in rich people's tax cuts our oh-so-Christian congress passed last week!

It just makes me feel so warm and fuzzy inside.


Go see it. It's good, and important.

What's up with Clooney's political movies lately? This one, like Good Night, and Good Luck, is very good. The difference lies in the complexity: Good Night is very simple and straightforward, but Syriana is almost baroque in its complexity. It's the kind of movie that I think you'd have to see several times to catch it all. I know I'll have to. Even the first time, though, it's gripping and has a great plot, but the central idea-- oil-- is written all over every scene. Everyone's lives in the movie are shaped and dictated by the struggle for it, some in interesting ways.

It will definitely make you think the next time you stop at the gas station.

Monday, December 12, 2005

the politics of capital punishment

In the headlines today is Governor Schwarzenegger's belated decision not to grant clemency to Crips founder Stanley "Tookie" Williams. I'm tempted to say Williams got a raw deal on this one: One must consider his continuing and effective work to end gang violence (people balance that with his unwillingness to admit guilt for his crime, which is construed as "lack of remorse," but this argument is not convincing, especially considering his free admittance of the fact that he did plenty of other awful things as a Crip). I'm not crystal clear on all the details, however, so that's not exactly what this post is about.

I want to point to one snippet from the article to make a point about the death penalty, however:
"Schwarzenegger, weakened by a loss on all his initiatives in a special election he called last month, would have risked alienating his Republican party if he granted clemency."

This is not to say that der Gropenfuhrer definitely made the decision because he caved to his base, but it is possible. And the fact that external politics is a possible factor in decisions to kill someone or not is, in my opinion, a huge argument against the death penalty.

In other words, if the decision whether or not to let you live is being made by someone thinking more about their next election (and it would, in almost any case, be made by such a person), then maybe giving them that decision in the first place was a bad idea.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Read your Kafka

Well, this is bizarre, yet chilling. Did anyone else know that we have "secret laws," laws passed by Congress that aren't allowed to be told to the American people? That's news to me. I can say, though, that I'm just tickled pink to know that I or anyone else could be in violation of a law I can't be told about.

Folks, Kevin Drum asks a great question: what could possibly be the point of a "secret law"? Isn't such a thing oxymoronic, as the whole point of a law is that it keeps people from doing certain things (thus implying that they have to be told it's against the law)?

There is an answer to this question, people: entrapment. The point of having a secret law, as opposed to a real law, is to get people to break it, not follow it. Thus it is an excuse to haul people in almost willy-nilly. The fact that such a law must, by definition, be in violation of a bushel of constitutional rights should be both boneheadedly obvious and truly frightening, given that these things exist and have not, as of yet, been contested.

An Interview with Mary Mapes

Today Hunter from DailyKos conducted an email interview with Mary Mapes, the reporter who broke the story of, among other things, the Bush Texas Air National Guard story and the Abu Ghraib story. She discusses the TANG case, supplementing it with additional documents to disprove claims that the docs were forged. She also discusses why that conversation ended prematurely when their authenticity was called into question, and CBS essentially didn't try to fight back.

As a supplement to this interview, I want to take a moment to point out something that got shockingly little airtime during the whole TANG debate, so little, in fact, that even people I know who paid fairly close attention to this debate don't remember.

The story that supposedly broke the back of the "authenticity" argument was an interview with Marian Carr Knox, the secretary of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, W's squad commander and the man who allegedly dictated the memos saying that W failed to live up to his Guard commitments. Knox told CBS that she didn't write the memos, which everyone in the media jumped on immediately as exoneration for W (and damnation for Mary Mapes and Dan Rather). What they didn't pay much attention to, however, is that she also said that the information contained in the documents was true:
“I know that I didn’t type them," says Knox. "However, the information in those is correct.”

She then corroborates that Bush didn't take the required physical (a major item in the docs), got in through preferential treatment, and acted as if the rules did not apply to him.

How was this information portrayed by the press and pundits? Well, here is the headline from USA Today: "Secretary: Memos are Forgeries."

Your "liberal" media at work.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Here is an interesting comparison of speechifying during the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Take a look at how eerily familiar some of it sounds.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The War on Christmas

In all of the media obsession with this supposed "debate," I figured I oughta post something on the "War on Christmas" as described in some circles in our country. I'm not 100% on one side or the other, I think both have valid points, but there's also some faux argumentation going on.

First of all, I think it's pretty obvious that the conservative argument of retail companies "banning Christmas" from their stores is horse hockey. Have you been to the mall lately? Most choose to use "Happy Holidays" (a phrase that's been around for a long time) so that they can capitalize on every holiday going on right now (there are, last time I counted, no less than five). The number of people that are actually offended by "Merry Christmas" is tiny indeed, and besides that, Christmas has been largely secular for some time now (take the American preference for secular "Santa Claus" type imagery over Nativity/Incarnation images, for instance, which has been the rule ever since I can remember).

I'm also more than a little suspicious of attempts to lay the blame for the war at the feet of "liberals" or "political correctness." Those arguments tend to be little more than the stock knee-jerk "blame the left" approach to everything imaginable, no matter how preposterous, and I doubt that such instances in the Christmas debate are any different. Bill O'Reilly has made this his favorite cudgel, and has gone f*&king bonkers in his ranting and screaming. Yet he can't make any coherent case for his insinuations about "leftist" anti-Christmas machinations.

At the same time, something about the way we've been celebrating the holiday, or something about our religious sensibilities, perhaps, has led to the perception that there is a growing stigma against saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." I'm not sure if that's true or not, but I do think it's possible. If such a thing really is happening, then I think people have a perfectly legitimate complaint. There's no stigma against any other holiday, so why should there be for Christmas?

All in all, I suspect that this whole thing might just a lot of hot air, with the O'Reilly's out there blowing a gasket about something that doesn't really exist.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Larry Kilgore: Fighting for the Republic of Gilea...err, Texas

Unreal. This is the campaign website for Larry Kilgore, candidate for Texas governor. I'm assuming he's an independent, as no party would ever abide this character. This dude is mad as a hatter; in a nutshell, he wants secession and the legislation of Old Testament biblical law (because, of course, you can't have just one!). Just check out the "issues" link.

Utterly bonkers.

Monday, December 05, 2005

3 receivers? SAYS WHO?!?

For you Tech fans out there, Michael Lewis of the New York Times Magazine wrote a long but positively superb piece on the most successful misfit in college football: coach Mike Leach.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Mercenaries in Iraq Get Away with Murder

Complementing this video, ostensibly of "independent contractors" (aka. mercenaries) shooting at Iraqi civilians just for kicks, is this article from the LA Times (c/o Atrios):
"Private security contractors have been involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, but none have been prosecuted despite findings in at least one fatal case that the men had not followed proper procedures, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Times.

Instead, security contractors suspected of reckless behavior are sent home, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. officials, raising questions about accountability and stirring fierce resentment among Iraqis.
The contractors function in a legal gray area. Under an order issued by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority that administered Iraq until June 2004, contractors suspected of wrongdoing are to be prosecuted in their home countries. The contractors have immunity from Iraqi courts and have so far not faced American prosecution, giving little recourse to Iraqis seeking justice for wrongful shootings."

Would this qualify as freeance or peeance?

This Year's Bowl Schedule

Alright everyone, the bowl games have been announced, here's the breakdown (it's a long list, so I cut out the lamer ones):
Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas
BYU (6-5) vs. California (7-4)
Las Vegas, Nev. Dec. 22
8 p.m. ESPN

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Colorado State (6-5) vs. Navy (7-4)
San Diego, Calif. Dec. 22
10:30 p.m. ESPN2

Fort Worth
Kansas (6-5) vs. Houston (6-5)
Fort Worth, Texas Dec. 23
8 p.m. ESPN

Champs Sports
Clemson (7-4) vs. Colorado (7-5)
Orlando, Fla. Dec. 27
5 p.m. ESPN

Arizona State (6-5) vs. Rutgers (7-4)
Phoenix, Ariz. Dec. 27
8:30 p.m. ESPN

MPC Computers
Boise State (9-3) vs. Boston College (8-3)
Boise, Idaho Dec. 28
4:30 p.m. ESPN

MasterCard Alamo
Michigan (7-4) vs. Nebraska (7-4)
San Antonio, Texas Dec. 28
8 p.m. ESPN

Emerald Bowl
Georgia Tech (7-4) vs. Utah (6-5)
San Francisco, Calif. Dec. 29
4:30 p.m. ESPN

Pacific Life Holiday
Oregon (10-1) vs. Oklahoma (7-4)
San Diego, Calif. Dec. 29 8 p.m. ESPN

Gaylord Hotels Music City
Minnesota (7-4) vs. Virginia (6-5)
Nashville, Tenn. Dec. 30

Vitalis Sun
Northwestern (7-4) vs. UCLA (9-2)
El Paso, Texas Dec. 30
2 p.m. CBS

South Carolina (7-4) vs. Missouri (6-5)
Shreveport, La. Dec. 30
3:30 p.m. ESPN

Chick-fil-A Peach
Miami (9-2) vs. LSU (10-2)
Atlanta, Ga. Dec. 30
7:30 p.m. ESPN

Meineke Car Care
South Florida (6-5) vs. NC State (6-5)
Charlotte, N.C. Dec. 31
11 a.m. ESPN2 Houston
TCU (10-1) vs. Iowa State (7-4)
Houston, Texas Dec. 31
2:30 p.m. ESPN2

AT&T Cotton
Texas Tech (9-2) vs. Alabama (9-2)
Dallas, Texas Jan. 2
11 a.m. Fox

Iowa (7-4) vs. Florida (8-3)
Tampa, Fla. Jan. 2
11 a.m. ESPN

Toyota Gator
Louisville (9-2) vs. Virginia Tech (10-2)
Jacksonville, Fla. Jan. 2
12:30 p.m. NBC

Capital One
Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Auburn (9-2)
Orlando, Fla. Jan. 2
1 p.m. ABC

Tostitos Fiesta
Notre Dame (9-2) vs. Ohio State (9-2)
Tempe, Ariz. Jan. 2
4:30 p.m. ABC

Nokia Sugar
West Virginia (10-1) vs. Georgia (10-2)
Atlanta Jan. 2
8:30 p.m. ABC

FedEx Orange
Penn State (10-1) vs. Florida State (8-4)
Miami, Fla. Jan. 3
8 p.m. ABC

The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi
USC (12-0) vs. Texas (12-0)

I have to say I'm pretty pleased with the turnout. It looks like many of these are gonna be competitive games (the only BCS one I think is a no-brainer is the Sugar-- the Dawgs are gonna clean house!). I know people wanna poop on Florida State's abilities, but don't forget what they did to Miami and Va. Tech. Penn St.'s gonna have their hands full.

As far as the non-BCSers, I'm pretty excited about the Gator, Cotton (I hate that I won't be able to rout for the Tide this year-- go Red Raiders!), Peach, Music City, Holiday, Emerald, and Alamo Bowls.

It's gonna be a great bowl season, but at the end of the day I think it's gonna be a bad year for the Big 12. I think the losers will include:
Iowa State- TCU's got the numbers, it's theirs to lose
Missouri- South Carolina's used to a lot tougher competition, and has upset some of them
Oklahoma- laugh all you want at a football team called the Ducks, but they only have 1 loss... and it was to USC. I would say Oklahoma shouldn't even bother to show up to this one, but I just love watching them get their clocks cleaned. This is gonna be a blowout.
Nebraska- this could be close, but Michigan will pull it out
Colorado- Clemson beat Florida State. Need I say more?
Colorado State- they suck. Navy sucks. But Navy sucks less.

It, of course, goes without saying that the only 2 good teams in the Big 12 will have their hands full with USC and 'Bama, and could very well join this list. At the moment, though, I have faith that Tech and Texas can pull it out.

The Political Compass

I've had conversations with several of you about the meaning of the words "liberal" and "conservative." The gist of the conversations was that the words are hard to pin down for various reasons, among them being that:
1. the meanings in changing as we speak,
2. often we envision not liberals or conservatives but rather caricatures of liberals or conservatives, and
3. the words simply often mean different things to different people.

Here is a site that plots you on a 2-dimensional graph, which (so it claims) gives a more accurate representation of your beliefs than simply the liberal/conservative axis. It has a left-right horizontal axis, which is economic (the further right you are, the less you like government/co-operative regulation of the market), and a libertarian/authoritarian political axis (the more "authoritarian," the more you support deference to tradition/the government).

I'll let you decide how accurate a portrayal it gives of people's dispositions, but mine sounds fairly close: -6.25, -4.92, which makes me a libertarian leftist (I suspect most people who identify themselves as "liberal" would fall in this category, as it appears to say you believe government has the responsibility to provide basic needs and ensure fair play, but not the right to tell you how to live your life).

Take the test, and tell me where you landed.

Walk the Line

I've been a little antcy about seeing this movie, being a Johnny Cash fan and worrying about how well the impersonations would hold up. No matter how good the soundtrack, script, and cinematography, this movie's effectiveness would depend entirely upon the mimicking abilities of Juaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. The issue was further complicated by the fact that, unlike, for instance, Jamie Foxx in Ray, Phoenix neither looks like Cash, nor sounds like him, nor is a competent musician.

Of course, David Straithairn did it, acing an impersonation of Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck, but not everyone is David Straithairn.

Despite all that, Phoenix nailed it. Ebert says he couldn't tell it wasn't actually Cash's voice in the soundtrack; I dunno about that, but there was an almost uncanny resemblance there. There is one moment that not only immediately put my worries to rest, but should probably earn Phoenix the Oscar. Before Cash develops his signature sound, he is auditioning in Sun Studios in Memphis, and is asked to play a song he wrote. He clumsily wades into "Folsom Prison Blues," and as the song progresses, he figures out what The Man in Black should sound like, gradually dropping an octave and doubling the pace, and Phoenix transforms into Johnny Cash right in front of our eyes.

As far as the rest of the films goes, the story was good if fairly typical of musician bios, Witherspoon was really good (she was flawless in some really difficult acting moments where she has to walk offstage and onstage, shifting her personality on a dime), and the writers had some fun with the cast (you get to Elvis offer Cash a chili dog during a show and Waylon Jennings letting Cash crash in his hippied-out Memphis shithole apartment).

The best part is, you walk out of the movie with Johnny Cash tunes stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Prairie Chapel Ranch

Came across this article where the Free Press reporter listens to Jim Hightower (former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, currently writer/pundit) talk about the formation of W's cowboy persona. I've complained before about W's overdone accent (honestly, who pronounces our country "Merrka"?) and overuse of cowboy metaphors, considering he's a Connecticut yankee who went to Yale, but this is just priceless.

Just how old is Prairie Chapel Ranch, W's Crawford haven? Well, folks, it dates all the way back to... 1999. Apparently, Karl Rove decided that the best way for W to win the presidential election was for him to build up a cowboy image, which meant he needed a ranch. It has no horses (W doesn't ride horses, and rumor has it he's afraid of them), and the cattle aren't his. The old-timey ranch house was built in 2000, and was finished around election time.

And the best part? According to Hightower, "But the real irony is that the ranchette is a former pig farm, which is quite fitting.”

What a phony.

the new "victory in Iraq" plan

So the written complement to the President's speech today on victory in Iraq is available here, in PDF format. If you have time, have a look. I have to warn you, it's verbose and propagandistic, which makes it a little irritating, but I suppose we should expect nothing less.

The release is notable mainly for its almost utter lack of detail. How they managed to fill 38 pages with nothing but generalities and platitudes is a true testament to politics. Its intent is not to set out a detailed plan of action, but rather simply to convince us that the present one is solid and progressing well, and uses lots of cherry-picked statistics to achieve that end. Think of it as the PDF of a Fox News broadcast.

That being said, I want to focus on just a couple of spots that I myself found particularly disturbing. The first is this quote:
"It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances, to be in place less than 3 years after Saddam was finally removed from power."

Umm, was it realistic 3 years ago, when Rumsfeld told us: "Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that..."? We never signed on for years, and wouldn't have if we knew that was the consequence of going to war. Combine this with Murtha's statement on Hardball that generals have told him it would take 25 years to prepare troops for a stable Iraq, and we have an unacceptable situation (1,000 American deaths/year X 25 years...).

The other major concern (though admittedly one we've known about for some time) is this passage from the "long term goals" section:
"An Iraq that is stable, united, peaceful, democratic, and secure..."

Sounds obvious enough, but are these goals really viable? Is a united, democratic Iraq that "is a partner in the global war on terror" a realistic goal? I think not, for reasons I ennumerated here. A more realistic goal (in fact, the inevitable conclusion to this whole snafu) would be "An Iraq that is divided, oppressive, Islamist, and wrapped around the Ayatollah's little finger."

Of course, we should not be surprised. We've been cycling through impossible goals in Iraq for several years, from findng WMDs that weren't there, to finding links to terrorists that didn't exist,...

Monday, November 28, 2005

what some people will do for an M.D.

People always seem to think I'm joking or hyperbolizing when I bring this up. From UPI:
"Frist acknowledged in a 1989 book that he routinely killed cats while an ambitious medical student at Harvard Medical School in the 1970s. His office said it had no record on how many cats died. Frist disclosed that he went to animal shelters and pretended to adopt the cats, telling shelter personnel he intended to keep them as pets. Instead he used them to sharpen his surgical skills, killing them in the process."

To be fair, our illustrious Senate majority leader denounced his felicidal practices in the same book. Still, as an avid cat owner I wonder about the character of someone who would ever do something like that. No treats for Fristy!

And if he ever comes near my house, he'll be faced with the The Ghost and The Darkness!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Our Options in Iraq: the Case for Immediate Withdrawal

Like many people, I've been wrestling with the question of what to do about the troops in Iraq. Should they stay how and where they are now? Should we increase the number? Just leave?

There is no satisfactory answer at this point, mainly because our objectives themselves were faulty and fleeting. As Atrios aptly if crassly put it, there's no way to "unshit this bed." I could go on forever about WMDs and how the objective changed to "bringing democracy to the Middle East" and how the president would never have won approval from Congress or the people with the democratizing objective and the misinformation etc. etc. etc. That diatribe, however, provides little insight into what path we should walk now.

We should start with a couple of questions.
1. What exactly constitutes "victory"?
2. What are the reasons for staying?
3. What is the effect of the presence of troops in Iraq?

1. Victory, in its latest articulation, appears to be the creation of a stable Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq. I would argue that such a "victory" is not only impossible, but it never was possible to begin with. One of the little geography lessons we learned after the overthrow of Saddam (but that we should have guessed before) is that Iraq is composed of 3 major groups, all of whom insist on sovereignty and all of whom insist that everyone else's preferred type of government is wrong, not only politically or ideologically but religiously. It took a heavy-handed dictator to keep the country from tearing itself apart.

The one thing they do all seem to agree on, however, is that they don't want a secular Jeffersonian democracy.

2. Why stay, then? Arguably, to protect and train the Iraqi security forces; to keep the country from civil war; to keep from "emboldening the terrorists" by our withdrawal; to salvage something that, in some watered-down sense, we can call a "victory" so that the troops will not have died in vain. The first begs the question: how is keeping our troops there gonna help that, when 3 years down the road, they have nothing to show for their efforts? The civil war question is also, I think, misinformed: there will almost certainly be a civil war in Iraq, and the longer we stay, the closer we come to get sucked up into it. Besides, what do you call it when a group's violent attacks on the government are supported by half of the people? We call it an insurgency, but is it really that far away from civil war? For the next one, the terrorists are emboldened not by our withdrawal but by our presence there. Also, just having the goal of not "emboldening the terrorists" implies that we're gonna stay there into the foreseeable future, which is unacceptable. The final rationale, for some diluted "victory," is unpersuasive. Is such a victory going to be worth the casualties occurring from now until the realization of that victory? The answer must almost certainly be no.

3. It appears that the troops are not containing insurgents as much as they are generating and training insurgents. Surveys have shown that more than 8 in 10 Iraqis want US forces the hell out, and some 45% believe that attacks on coalition forces are justified. People are angered by our presence, and then are recruited by terrorist groups.

Furthermore, the presence of troops in Iraq has not just made Iraq a terrorist haven, but a terrorist training ground. They get practice bombing and observing and planning against our troops in Iraq, and then they can take their new skills abroad.

It seems, then, that keeping/increasing the troops there is a bad idea. The American people have already figured that out, too: according to the latest poll, 63% of Americans want the troops out within 12 months. There are other arguments for bringing the troops home. For one, our Armed Forces are overextended at this point, and the Iraq War is causing people to stop enlisting. By bringing troops home, our National Guard will be better prepared to assist in natural disasters etc, while our military will be able to redirect its forces to hunting Al Qaeda and putting the pressure on potential enemies, like North Korea. Also, we save money at a time of enormous deficit spending. Finally, it may convince the Iraqis that their country is theirs to lose, and when it's all on them, they might step up and take care of their own matters.

Yet this option is reviled in Washington, and politicians and pundits are lambasting it as the "cut and run" strategy. The reason for this is that Republicans don't want to admit that Bush was wrong and Democrats are terrified of being labelled as "soft" or "weak." This applies especially to those with presidential hopes; notice how so many of them (Hilary, Biden, McCain) advocate increasing the troops, despite the lack of approval within their own party?

Perhaps they're all convinced that the Bush "strong and wrong" approach was vindicated in the last election.

The Truth (gasp!) about the ACLU

For no particular reason, I was thinking about the ACLU and the deluge of vitriol that some groups, most notably Falwell and the Christian conservatives, spew at them on a weekly basis. I remember reading somewhere (unfortunately I don't remember where) that the ACLU, being committed to protecting both the free expression clause and the establishment clause of the First Amendment, has actually defended religious people (including Christians) periodically, but I wanted to check the veracity of that claim. Here's what I found, from the American Civil Liberties Union's own website:
September 20, 2005: ACLU of New Jersey joins lawsuit supporting second-grader’s right to sing “Awesome God” at a talent show.

August 4, 2005: ACLU helps free a New Mexico street preacher from prison.

May 25, 2005: ACLU sues Wisconsin prison on behalf of a Muslim woman who was forced to remove her headscarf in front of male guards and prisoners.

February 2005: ACLU of Pennsylvania successfully defends the right of an African American Evangelical church to occupy a church building purchased in a predominantly white parish.

December 22, 2004: ACLU of New Jersey successfully defends right of religious expression by jurors.

November 20, 2004: ACLU of Nevada supports free speech rights of evangelists to preach on the sidewalks of the strip in Las Vegas.

November 9, 2004: ACLU of Nevada defends a Mormon student who was suspended after wearing a T-shirt with a religious message to school.

August 11, 2004: ACLU of Nebraska defends church facing eviction by the city of Lincoln.

July 10, 2004: Indiana Civil Liberties Union defends the rights of a Baptist minister to preach his message on public streets.

June 9, 2004: ACLU of Nebraska files a lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman barred from a public pool because she refused to wear a swimsuit.

June 3, 2004: Under pressure from the ACLU of Virginia, officials agree not to prohibit baptisms on public property in Falmouth Waterside Park in Stafford County.

May 11, 2004: After ACLU of Michigan intervened on behalf of a Christian Valedictorian, a public high school agrees to stop censoring religious yearbook entries.

March 25, 2004: ACLU of Washington defends an Evangelical minister's right to preach on sidewalks.

February 21, 2003: ACLU of Massachusetts defends students punished for distributing candy canes with religious messages.

October 28, 2002: ACLU of Pennsylvania files discrimination lawsuit over denial of zoning permit for African American Baptist church.

July 11, 2002: ACLU supports right of Iowa students to distribute Christian literature at school.

April 17, 2002: In a victory for the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the ACLU of Virginia, a federal judge strikes down a provision of the Virginia Constitution that bans religious organizations from incorporating.

January 18, 2002: ACLU defends Christian church's right to run “anti-Santa” ads in Boston subways.

Note, these are just their most recent cases (I have taken the "liberty" of removing the cases where they opposed religious groups for the sake of brevity, but the pro-religious cases actually outnumber the anti-, just look for yourself). I went ahead and checked about 4 of these, just to make sure the website is honest (it would've taken forever to fact-check every single one of them), and so far as I can tell, it is.

Did you notice that second to last entry there?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Saddam gassed his own people... with Willie Pete

More complications in the thorny White Phosphorus debate. I wrote earlier about my belief that the argument over whether WP qualifies as a "chemical weapon" in the legal sense of the term isn't relevant, because there's nothing to argue. It's not legally a chemical weapon. Nevertheless, the debate over the ethics of using WP against personnel has been a long time coming, and is a debate we need to have, because it appears that WP, when used in that capacity, acts like banned weapons like, for instance, chemical agents.

Well, Kos has found evidence that the CIA considered WP a chemical weapon when Saddam used it against Kurdish insurgents. From a 1995 intelligence document:

For the record, I do not think that this means the CIA actually considered WP to be legally a chemical weapon. All that would show is that this source is incorrect on the classification of WP. Rather, I think there's a touch of sensationalism in the document (note also, for instance, the phrase "the coalition forces' overwhelming victory-- how is that adjective pertinent?): if I were a betting man, I'd say this piece was designed to convince someone to take further action against Saddam.

What the document does imply, however, is that the CIA believes the use of WP against human targets has the same ethical problems as using a chemical weapon.

McCain: Dream Candidate?

Ever since Bush's swiftboating of McCain in the 2000 primaries, the senior senator from Arizona has been hailed as the moderate, thoughtful Republican. Lately, however, people on both left and right, including myself, have been starting to question the veracity of the conventional wisdom regarding McCain.

My curiosity on this subject was picqued today when I found this from Atrios:
I'll never understand certain liberals love affair with John McCain. I'll set my bar slightly higher than "not as obviously incompetent and evil as George Bush" thank you.

Now we find out that McCain is speaking at a fundraiser for George Wallace, Jr, someone who gave a speech to the Council of Conservative Citizens four times, including once this year.

The CCC is one of those rare explicitly bonafide racist organizations: one that considers African Americans "a retrograde species of humanity," and fought previously for segregation (it currently takes a stand against "integration of the races").

That McCain was willing to fundraise for such a despicable organization's congressional mouthpiece is bad in itself, but it seems like merely the latest in a pattern of McCain pandering to hard-right groups. The Carpetbagger notes that, in 2000, McCain took a stand against Falwell and Robertson (calling them out by name) during his presidential bid, but that McCain has reconsidered such principles now that Christian conservatives appear to hold the keys to the White House. Earlier this year he met with Falwell, too, which wouldn't be all that significant by itself, but it follows on the heels of McCain's endorsement of Intelligent Design and an anti-gay amendment in Arizona (nota bene: contrary to popular belief, the anti-gay marriage actually jives with his beliefs as late as last year when he opposed a similar ban on the federal level: he's just always believed the states should be the ones to enshrine his bigotry).

In a mediocre article called "The Bushification of John McCain" Ari Melber notes that McCain has even caved on Bush's tax cuts, in September supporting keeping them despite rising Katrina costs. Yet McCain opposed those very tax cuts and voted against them previously.

So, how exactly is McCain "moderate" or a "maverick"? Are we supposed to consider him "reasonable" just because he's against torture now, 2 years later, when EVERYONE is angry about what's going on? Is that really how low our standards have sunk? Or on the other hand, is he actually moderate, but willing to sell out on his principles for a stamp of approval from the wackos, the lobbyists, and the bigots? Is that any better?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

CIA torture tactics revealed

From AFP:
"CIA agents have revealed details of six interrogation tactics approved by top brass for use at secret CIA jails in Asia and Eastern Europe, ABC News reported.

The techniques have lead to questionable confessions and the death of one man since March 2002, the network said, after interviewing current and former CIA officials.
CIA sources speaking on condition of anonymity described six techniques: "Attention Grab, Attention Slap, Belly Slap, Long Time Standing, Cold Cell, Water Boarding."

The last three techniques are the ones that are the most controversial. "Long Time Standing" amounts to forcing an inmate to stand in place, shackled for 40+ hours. It is a technique eerily similar to a KGB tactic (also allegedly used by the CIA) in which the prisoner is made to sit in a "stress position" without moving for hours on end. A monk I met at ND tells me this tactic was used by the Soviets against Christian priests and monks.

"Cold cell" involves sitting a naked detainee in a 50 degree cell and regularly dousing them with cold water. "Waterboarding," the most egregious of them all, is when the victim is convinced that they are drowning by pouring water into their nasal passage, and is alleged to be equivalent to a "mock execution." The article mentions that mock executions are a violation of international law.

This little tidbit follows the descriptions of the techniques:
"Earlier this month, CIA inspector general John Helgerson said techniques used by the agency appeared to violate the international Convention Against Torture, according to current and former officials who described the report to The New York Times."

Remember how news came out recently that the CIA has been using old Soviet prisons to torture detainees outside the bounds of international law? Those prisons were being used quite early in the War on Terrorism, as was the "extraordinary rendition," the shipping of detainees to countries that are known to use torture so that we can get information out of them.

Some are now trying to defend the use of torture against "enemy combatants." With regard to such despicable arguments, what Chuy said. As a corollary to Chuy's arguments, I refer you to the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Al-Libi was the Administration's source for the allegation that Saddam was training Al Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons. Not only was his information bogus, but it appears that it was probably obtained through the techniques listed above. The use of torture, as the now-notorious Al-Libi story proves, has already burned us once, and it burned us in a big way.

If all this is true, then pulling back to look at them all at once creates a sickening picture. At the beginning of the War on Terrorism, we allowed ourselves to become what we've always hated. We starting using the tactics, the ideology, even the very places of those we villify, like the Soviets and Fascists, and in the process we are divided at home and loathed abroad, problems which could well be costing us victory in the WOT. Torture is an example of something that has been biting us in the ass from the moment we embraced it.

In giving up our principles, we only undermine ourselves.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"Illuminating" the WP discussion

I'm glad to see people are talking about the white phosphorus matter. Chuy has a good post on it, for instance, and I want to continue this conversation.

There are some issues in the conversation that everyone seems to be harping on, but that I don't think are particularly relevant here. The first is the semantic argument over whether WP qualifies as a "chemical weapon." I don't find this enlightening or relevant because, though the use of chemical weapons is illegal, the use of incendiaries against people is arguably unethical for the exact same reasons: namely the gruesomeness of the injuries and the lack of precision targetting.

Same thing with the use of WP against civilians. As odd as that sounds, my point is that the use of any weapon against civilians is a big no-no, so if civilians were attacked then the fact that it was WP is immaterial. It would be just as bad if it were conventional bullets and bombs.

The civilians angle is only relevant (and even then, obliquely so) in the matter of the use of WP against personnel, which I think is really the crux of the WP issue. In a quasi-guerilla war such as this, where insurgents are often mixed among the populace, using a weapon that ignites everything within a certain radius is likely to hit some civilians. This is a concern, for sure, but bombs have the same drawback, and few people cry foul in that case.

The issue is whether or not WP was used against insurgents as more than solely "illumination" (which the military admits it was), and the ethics of that decision. As I said earlier, it seems that incendiary weapons have similar drawbacks to chemical weapons, which are illegal to use against personnel. I also understand that army artillerymen are taught not to use it except for purposes of illumination, so apparently the army normally considers the use of WP against personnel to be a bad idea.

I imagine one of the reasons, which we are now experiencing firsthand, is the potentially catastrophic effect on PR caused by pictures of corpses partially melted by WP. And in the new age of warfare, where the war of ideas and reputation is considered by military experts to be equally important to the actual physical combat, PR is a very serious matter.

And the hits just keep on comin'

Yet more bad news for W. One of the central arguments in his counteroffensive against "Democratic" (really bipartisan) opposition to his choice to go to war is that Clinton had the same intelligence he did. Unfortunately for him, the former president, a man who Americans say was more trustworthy, says it was a bad idea:
Former President Clinton told Arab students Wednesday the United States made a "big mistake" when it invaded Iraq, stoking the partisan debate back home over the war.

Clinton cited the lack of planning for what would happen after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

"Saddam is gone. It's a good thing, but I don't agree with what was done," Clinton told students at a forum at the American University of Dubai.

Never underestimate the political savvy of the former president. With this admission, he has effectively cut the legs out from under W's retort. It's now going to be much tougher for W to continue this extension of the tried and true "blame Clinton" meme.

At the same time comes vindication for his arch-nemesis Howard Dean:
Following electoral triumphs this fall, House Democratic leaders are meeting with Democratic lobbyists today in a bid to translate the party’s widespread enthusiasm into cash to fill campaign coffers.

Yet the meeting, one of a number of its kind, comes as some lobbyists are grumbling that they have not been enjoying the same access to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) as they have in the past.

I say vindication for Dean because it was largely his idea to crack down on the influence of K Street (a term for the collection of lobbyists in Washington), and shift the financial base of the Democratic party to voters. In fact, it was one of the planks of his platform in his bid for party chairman. Not only has he managed to cut off the lobbyists and big money corporate contributors, but he's managed to replace them while increasing revenues (c/o MyDD):
As a fund-raiser--the first duty of a party chairman and Dean's claim to fame in '04--he isn't quite the disaster some critics suggest. Early in the last "cycle," in 2001, the Republican National Committee outraised the DNC by a 3-1 margin. So far this year, that ratio has been cut to 2-1. More important is the way it was raised. In the past the party relied on "soft money" from millionaires. But such donations are now illegal. Officials estimate that $12 million of the $14 million the Dean regime has collected so far this year has come from those who gave less than $250. "For people who really look hard at the numbers, he's wowing people," says Elaine Kamarck, a respected DNC member.

Dean is thus managing to purge the party of its unseemly association with lobbyists and such at the same time that the Republican party is growing closer to such ilk and thus becoming more reliant upon them. The reputation of lobbyists and big money contributors amongst the electorate has been deteriorating for some time, but they used to patronize both parties relatively equally, which made the Republican idea of getting more intimate with K Street a good idea. Dean has suddenly turned the tables, setting up the Democratic party to be perceived as the people's party and the Republicans as the party of monied interests.

Combined with the current PR skunk that is Halliburton, this is going to look increasingly bad for the GOP.

More thoughts on blogs

Thinking about the last post, I've noticed a fair bit of hostility emanating from old guard journalistic types regarding the blogosphere for at least the last year or so. Obviously, there's the issue that blogs criticize them often and harshly over their cherry-picking of information and apparent inability/unwillingness to do things like fact-check partisan talking points. Yet even beyond that, it seems that these outlets are feeling increasingly threatened as blogs increase in number and readership.

In my opinion, the reason for both the growth and the threatened feeling is that blogs offer two things conventional journalistic outlets can't.

1. Participation: After reading the contents of a blog, one can post comments, in effect discussing the matter with both the poster and other bloggers (many of whom are capable of providing significant insight, being doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc.). Sites such as Kos, MyDD, and others even allow a particularly productive individual to post on the frontpage.

2. Multiple levels of information: Blogging is, in a sense, a more sophisticated form of media than conventional outlets are capable of providing. Conventional news outlets are somewhat confined in their approach: they can only present the facts, without perspective and without commentary. To do otherwise would be a breach of their "objective" journalistic ethics (though some still fudge that part occasionally). "Punditry," that is perspective and commentary, are confined to the op-eds or political shows, and it's nearly always journalists speechifying on them.

Blogs, however, offer people of all professions the ability to present both news and commentary without unduly combining the two. Atrios, for instance, presents an easily corroborated bit of news (where one can find the article and read it for themselves), and then offers insight and perspective. That insight and perspective is considered useful to his readers because of his education and credentials (in Atrios' case, he's a professional economist, or at least was before he started Eschaton). Different bloggers have different areas of expertise, so in the blogosphere one can read the perspectives of not only journalists, but also lawyers, economists, religious leaders, writers, and politicians.

It seems to me that blogs offer a symbiotic relationship with journalists. Journalists go out and report on the information discussed in blogs, and bloggers keep reporters/editors/publications honest by scrutinizing their work, as well as often providing them with leads for new stories (one such case being the latest hoopla over white phosphorus). If the old guard would just wise up to that, there wouldn't be this undue animosity.

Perceptions of the Blogosphere

From Atrios (sorry about the long quote, but it's necessary in this case):
Copyright 2005 National Public Radio (R)
All Rights Reserved
National Public Radio (NPR)

SHOW: News & Notes with Ed Gordon 9:00 AM EST NPR

November 14, 2005 Monday


Some friends recently asked me why I hadn't set up a blog, you know, a personal Web site that a lot of folks these days use as a diary or to advocate a political viewpoint. I admit that I've entertained the thought of setting up a blog, usually when I'm ranting at TV newscasts or shouting about something I've seen in the day's newspaper. And as I get older, I realize that my opinions have gotten stronger, even if my journalistic experiences have become less varied.

Before I had children, I was the kind of run-and-gun journalist who lived for adventure--riots, earthquakes, forest fires, you name it. If it was jumping off within a thousand miles of me, I was there. But one of the biggest lessons I took away from the many years I've spent in newsrooms is this: Without editors, you are dead, specifically without a copy desk. You might as well be standing in your living room, ranting away, facts be damned.

That brings me back to my point about blogs. Not all blog readers know the difference between pure unfiltered, unedited opinion and good old-fashioned solidly reported news. Yes, I know that bloggers lately have been credited with everything from drumming up mainstream media interest in the overlooked plight of missing black and Latino women to exposing any number of government hacks and mischief-makers. But much of what appears on many blogs is speculation, however well-informed.

And as I read the growing numbers of blogs, it seems to me that the ones that have gained the most popularity in recent years, such as Daily Kos and Atrios, are big on promulgating the same kind of back-slapping, mutual admiration society, white-guy networking that drove me nuts back when I worked in newsrooms, same elite dynamic, different medium.

Some of these political blogs are funded by advertisers which, of course, means that they must, at least to some degree, answer not to ostensibly objective editors but rather to business entities that have a stake in whatever it is the blogger is saying. Thus the veneer of citizen journalist that has been bestowed upon the most successful bloggers is really a misnomer.

Then there is the amount of space that many bloggers spend on minutiae. Who cares where they went over the weekend or how their children did in the science fair and what movies they saw? I mean, if I don't have the time and patience to read such ephemera, I suspect that you don't, either. I certainly don't have the time to write such mundanities or the stomach for having the flotsam and jetsam of my life zapping around the globe, courtesy of the Web. The unfiltered me is fine for my living room, but I am loath to inflict her upon the world.

Don't get me wrong; I do read a few blogs, from Mark Anthony Neal's sober observations on fatherhood and black masculinity to James Wilcox's trenchant observations on politics and social life. At the same time, the proliferation of blogs troubles me. Which brings me to the final reason why I don't blog. Why write for free? Until the day comes when a deep-pocketed benefactor turns up to bankroll such a venture, I'll refrain. And should they emerge, they'd better be fronting an editor, too, an extra pair of eyeballs to keep me from ranting right into the Internet abyss.

GORDON: Amy Alexander is an author and media critic living in Maryland.

As an avid traveler in the ol' blogosphere, I think this woman is very confused about blogs. As far as her first point goes, the distinction in most blog posts between "pure unfiltered, unedited opinion and good old-fashioned solidly reported news" is pretty obvious. There's a link to the article they're posting on (that would be the "news"), followed usually by a block quote, and then after that the commentary. Anyone who can read and think at the same time can see the clear dividing line where the reporting ends and the commentary begins; frankly, most professional bloggers are pretty anal about keeping the two separate, as well as telling you when they're "speculating" (after all, most are academics and have it ingrained in them to maintain some measure of intellectual honesty). Furthermore, unlike with conventional media, readers can fact-check the information they're given almost instantly, be it searching the web for corroboration (it's called "googling," Ms. Alexander; try it sometime), or ( heaven forbid!) clicking on the link.

Her argument about the "back-slapping, mutual admiration society, white-guy networking" is similarly fallacious. I'll use DailyKos as the exemplum here, but my argument applies to many blogs, like MyDD and TPMCafe. Kos (who isn't white, by the way) doesn't do much of the frontpage posting on DailyKos. He is one of probably upwards of 10 people (many of whom aren't white and/or male) who contributes daily to the frontpage content, and disagreements on the site are both common and heated. Armando, for instance, is notorious for rocking the boat, but nearly everyone on Kos' blog (Kos included) is regularly faced with raucous opposition. A back-slapping, mutual admiration society it is not. Bloggers on different blogs also regularly disagree, even ones with the same broad political affiliation.

The advertising bit is false, quite simply because many blogs don't choose their advertisers. They use ad services that use software to scour the content and pick ads that suit the atmosphere of the blog. Furthermore, bloggers regularly disagree with groups that advertise on their site. There are plenty of Sherrod Brown haters on Kos, and every site with Dem party ads does a fair bit of criticizing Dems, sometimes obsessively so. I understand it's the same with the Repub ones. And how can she claim, on the one hand, that bloggers are unduly beholden to their contributors, and on the other that she doesn't want to do reporting for free (and after all, doesn't the mainstream media also depend on advertising revenues?)?

On to the "minutiae" rant. What the hell does this have to do with DailyKos and Atrios? All of a sudden we're off of political "newsy" blogs, and onto personal ones, which frankly are designed solely for keeping up with friends and family. And for that they are quite efficient. By slipping this into the middle of an argument about journalistic blogs, she is implying that this somehow applies to them (which it doesn't).

This woman is supposed to be some sort of expert?

Johnny Cash

(It's weird that I'm feeling the need to comment on TV today.)
Dunno if y'all saw the Johnny Cash tribute on CBS today. I'm not sure if I liked it or not. There was actually some good talent on the show covering Cash's songs, which was a nice change. It seems like usually TV shows sporting lots of music end up being one artist (typically Norah Jones) in a sea of charlatans, but this time she performed alongside the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Of course, they had to equalize all that good taste by bringing on expert song-butcher Kid Rock to bring a swift end to the hope that Lewis would pull off a just cover of "Walk the Line." Plus, I'm still not convinced that the show was much anything more than an extended plug for the new Juaquin Phoenix movie.

Still, it was good to hear some of the songs.

ahh, the Irish...

I can't find any clips online, but Conan O'Brien has a new skit where the ghost of a lounge singer from the 1930's appears onstage and Conan asks him to sing a couple of tunes. They're hysterical. The last one I saw was one where he said something to the effect of,
"I wrote this little song in the spring of '41. Hit it, boys!"
Dum dum dedum dum dum
"Ooooo let's stop fighting the Germans right away
and listen to what Hitler has to say
we should go tell Hirohito
that to serve him would be neato
'cuz you know that we can't beat him anyway, doobittydooo!"

Then, when Conan freaked out about the lyrics, he said,
"That's quite an Irish temper you got there! Ya know, I wrote a song about the Irish, it goes something like this, hit it boys!"
dum dum dedum dum dum
"Oooooh the Irish they have brains that're made of ham
and they smell bad but they just don't give a damn
they're drunken rotten scum
they just drink up all our rum
so they can puke all over Uncle Sam, doobittydoo!"

Ahh, the '40s!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nine El-who? Never heard of it!

From AP: "Congressional budget negotiators have decided to take back $125 million in Sept. 11 aid from New York, which had fought to keep the money to treat sick and injured ground zero workers, lawmakers said Tuesday."

This news, apparently, comes on the same day that Frist wrote an Op-ed for the Moonie Times about... you guessed it, how we need more tax cuts. (c/o Americablog.

"I call it 'Derek'"

Yes, folks, that's right. I am a bastard.

Patriotism, Limbaugh-style

Opportunistic scumbag exploiting people's patriotism. This is Rush's new "Adopt-a-Soldier" program, where listeners can pay $49.95 to buy for soldiers... well guess. Care packages? nope. Body armor? No sir. Plane tickets for their families? Hell no! Here's the answer. (c/o Crooks and Liars)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BWHAAAA? Alito against "1 person 1 vote"?

Nathan Newman has a post on his site about the revelations about supreme court nominee Samuel Alito's past views. His stance against has garnered lots of media attention, but he has another view that's even more disturbing.

It's about a little-known law concept called "reapportionment." I'll let Nathan explain:
"For the non-lawyers out there, Alito meant he was against the Supreme Court decisions requiring that all state legislative districts be designed to guarantee "one person, one vote", instead of giving some districts with very few voters the same representation as urban districts with far more voters.
You can be against judicial action to override the democratic will of the people -- as I am -- and still recognize that where legislatures cease to reflect that will, courts have a reasonable role in stopping elite minorities from manipulating voting rules to establish a tyranny over the majority.

But Alito's supposed deference to the elected branches isn't about deference to democracy, but deference to the racist power of states in our history to oppress majority power-- which is what makes his professed hostility to affirmative action and federal power and his decisions against plaintiffs making claims of discrimination even more disturbing."

Samuel Alito: one of the greatest minds of the 18th century.

google bombed!

Go to Google, type in "terrorist sympathizer" and hit "I'm feeling lucky." It's beautiful.

My thoughts on the Republican party

Following up on some of my thoughts in the last post, I also want to talk a little about the Republican party to which I've been so implacably opposed recently. I think it's easy to gain the impression from this blog that I'm a partisan Democrat to the point of wanting to see the Republicans permanently swept out of power. That's actually not true.

I'm of the opinion that the Republican party, in its current state, has lost its way. Its moral compass is shattered, and it has confused its priorities; it is adrift in a sea of corruption and cynicism. Figures like Delay, Pat Robertson, Frist, Cheney, and the ghost of Ronald Reagan have seduced them with the power of empty promises and false patriotism. The Republican grassroots are confused, and the American people at large aren't even sure anymore of exactly what "Republicanism" (or "conservatism," for that matter) even means.

And who can blame them (the grassroots and the citizenry, that is)? Are the Republicans for small government or big government? Libertarianism or legislating morality? Isolationism or interventionism? Suddenly Republicans are advocating all of these at the same time, or even worse, advocating one but legislating the other.

The Republican party is, in my opinion, suffering from an extreme case of power intoxication. They have no agenda to speak of other than granting ever-increasing tax cuts to their most generous patrons. They've resorted to corruption to maintain their hegemony, and they're so deep in it that its upkeep has usurped all their actual goals. They sold themselves off to an "ends justify the means" ideology; now the means have become the ends.

They should've seen it coming. History has shown that such an ideology always yields such results. It happened to Soviet Russia, to Cuba, and Chile. It happened to Rome and the Greek "Athenian League." And for a long time in the Middle Ages, it even happened to the Catholic Church.

I believe in a multi-party system. I believe the best government is the one where both parties share power. In fact, if I had my way, then the two parties normally would split the goverment, with for instance the Dems controlling the House and Presidency, and the Republicans the Senate and the Court. In such a case, both parties have to compromise, and it's generally only the best parts of their agendas that manage to become law.

Two parties also benefit each other: when one party gains control of the government, it's only a matter of time until they lose their way and succumb to corruption. Eventually the public outcry reaches a critical mass, and that party is knocked out of power, where it does some soul searching, re-evaluates and reconnects with its priorities, cleans house, and is rejuvenated. Usually, it becomes a better party.

I believe that this is what needs to happen to the Republican party. It needs to be soundly defeated for its own good, so that it can spend some time as the minority party, and soul-search, reconnect and rejuvenate. It will return to power eventually as a better party than it is today, as a worthy party.

Until that day, however, I will remain a partisan Democrat.

The Future, Conan?

I've been thinking a little bit about the President's choice to wage a new political campaign to fix his ratings problems, his "War on Unpopularity," if you will. It seems to me that W has staked not only the future of his agenda, but the future of the Republican congressional majority, on this campaign. I could be wrong here, but I think the chances of the campaign having zero effect on his approval ratings (and thus those of the Republican party) are slim to none; there will be an effect, be it positive or negative.

Obviously, if it works, then he can halt the Democratic march to congressional hegemony and salvage much of his agenda while giving Republican presidential hopefuls a boost for '08.

The problem is, I'm not sure if this result is all that likely. W's most politically foreboding PR problem right now is that the public no longer sees him as trustworthy (as the earlier poll I linked to suggests). How, then, is speechifying and pontificating and finger-pointing going to help if the people don't trust what he says? Furthermore, every time the Democrats call him on one of his misrepresentations (as they're doing now with his "the Democrats had the same intelligence as me" argument), the American people will feel that their view of him is further confirmed: namely, that he is not to be trusted.

At this point, if nothing changes in the polls, the Democrats stand to gain at least one house of Congress, and could possibly gain both. If W's campaign backfires and his credibility continues to slip, the Republican majority in either house will be all but lost, and the Dems could well end up with a huge House majority (the Republicans gained 52 seats in '94 when Clinton's approval ratings were better than Bush's current ones, and the Democrats only need 17 to regain control at this point). The Republicans would then have to rely on a Republican presidential victory in '08 to offset Congress.

This brings up some interesting questions: what would happen to Bush if his worst-case scenario transpired? For one, his agenda in its current manifestation would be sunk. His agenda is hard right-wing, and it as such it was designed with Republican majorities in mind. He would have to completely recalibrate his priorities to stave off utter lame duckery.

That possibility, however, could be the least of his problems. A month ago several major polls (here and here) asked the question, "Should the president be impeached if it is proven that he misled the country into war?" Some 51% answered yes. That number will certainly grow if Bush's campaign backfires. A Republican or split Congress would never consider the question of impeachment, nor in my opinion would a slim Dem majority. The bigger the Democratic majority, however, the more likely it is that they would consider an investigation, and possibly impeachment proceedings.

Would it be the right thing to do? I dunno, it would entirely on the evidence. Politically speaking, the drawback would be that W would probably be in his final year of office anyway by the time the trial would get underway. On the other hand, a successful removal would be a blight on the Republicans' reputation that would take a long time to live down. And right on time for the '08 elections.

What's your take on all this?

Evil little smiley face

Robert Greenwald (the maker of the fantabulicious film Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism) just released a a new movie called WalMart: The High Cost of Low Prices. It details allegations of union-busting, false advertising, bribery, worker exploitation, and fearmongering.

And that's just in the extra footage.

Monday, November 14, 2005

That has got to hurt!

New CBS poll shows W at 37%, a new record low for that poll. That, however, is not the painful part:
"A 53% majority say they trust what Bush says less than they trusted previous presidents while they were in office. In a specific comparison with President Clinton, those surveyed by 48%-36% say they trust Bush less." (emphasis mine)

I can almost see Rush Limbaugh's head exploding, reading this poll and figuring out that the American people are saying they want a return to the good ol' days when they had honest presidents. Ya know, someone they could trust, like Clinton.

Torture at Gitmo

Here is a very good expose on torture at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba by The New Yorker. It's thoroughly researched, and the prevalence of abuse and extent of the knowledge of it shown in the article is disturbing.

According to the article, the CIA reverse-engineered the torture resistance curriculum of the Green Berets, recruited some doctors and psychologists to help hone it, and went to work on the prisoners, while the Administration (from Rumsfeld down) mined the law books for loopholes to make the practice legal.

Your tax dollars at work!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Welcome to Chokesville (pop. 8)

Wow, what the hell happened? Tech loses to a team that had yet to win a game in the Big 12? What went wrong? Here they are, back to doing what they do best: choke. Suddenly this puts a huge question mark over that Oklahoma game next week.

At least 7 other ranked teams joined Tech in getting upset this week. Unfortunately, one of those was 'Bama (though everyone knew it would be tough going against LSU), but there was also Georgia and Florida. Oh well, at least Texas and ND pulled through.

Speaking of, I finally got to go to my first ND game yesterday against Navy. In fact, I think it was my first football game in some 15 years. I didn't know any of the cheers, but it was very cool nonetheless. Nothing beats a chance for some loud public swearing!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Cornyn-Abramoff tie

Just lovely. As many of you are aware, a super-lobbyist named Jack Abramoff has been in the news lately for all sorts of underhanded business dealings involving the Christian Coalition, various Indian tribes, and a number of state and federal officials, almost all Republican (most notably Tom Delay). It would take too much time and effort for me to outline the whole sordid tale, so if you're interested then just google his name and you should find plenty of info.

Anyway, it seems that one of the many politicians he had in his pocket was none other than Texas' own John Cornyn. (c/o Josh Marshall).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

GOP cancels hearings for Veterans' Organizations

For 55 years, The House Veterans' Affairs Committee has held joint hearings in Congress so that Vets' Organizations like the DAV can air their issues and have a voice in the government. Today the chairman of the committee, Steven Buyer (R-IN) ended that practice.

A slap in the face to our troops, and the day before Veterans' Day at that.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck

George Clooney's new movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, made it to South Bend theaters this week. It's about the 50's news anchor of CBS' See It Now Edward R. Murrow and his televised melee with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare, and it's very good. I would strongly recommend it, as do most critics.

Clooney, who directed, produced, and co-starred, focuses closely on the CBS newsroom during the final throes of McCarthyism, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else going on at the time. This is a good thing, as there is plenty of drama and story taking place within the narrow confines of the movie, and any outside stuff would, in my opinion, have detracted from the message. Murrow makes the tough choice to take on a senator chipping away at the Bill of Rights, and the lesson he learns about journalism is that objectivity does not necessarily mean "two sides to every story."

The movie's message is that the event in question displays what American news media could be like, and what it once was, even if only for the briefest of moments and in the smallest of circles. Its relevance to today cannot be understated, and it's painfully obvious that Clooney intended it as such.

PS-- There's a great editorial that David Straithairn makes about McCarthy in the movie. The audio of the original Murrow version is here.

French riots

I haven't posted anything about the riots, mainly because I don't know that much about comtemporary French society. Thus other than cringing at the seemingly ubiquitous "Well, of course, cuz ya know, them damn Muslims are causing trouble everywhere" or "Wow, 2 French groups fighting each other? Well why haven't they both surrendered yet?" type of rubbish, I don't really have much to offer to the conversation.

I did, however, run across a very good post here by Juan Cole (professor of history at UMichigan). It's a little oblique in that it really discusses popular American perceptions of what's going on, but there's some great insight in it about French society (in all its colors and manifestations) that are helpful in getting a handle on what the hell is going on over there. There are some arguments in it that I suspect of being straw men (I myself have never heard anyone say that the riots are the current manifestation of the 1300 year old struggle between French Christians and Arab Muslims), and other parts where it labels ideas as "right wing" that I think are more broadly American, but other than that, he has some sound arguments. It's brief and worth a read.

More on White Phosphorus

I've run across this Army report on the military operation in Fallujah, and this quote appears on page 26 (bottom of 1st column):
"WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

So my question, especially to Nick, is, does this passage imply white phosphorus being fired at personnel?

Election Smackdown

If quarter-term elections are a harbinger for midterms, then the Republicans are in deep doodoo. The Democrats practically ran the table today, including:
Virginia Governor: Tim Kaine (a late game appearance by W for Republican Kilgore ended up backfiring and sealed what should've been a close race)
New Jersey Governor: John Corzine
California: after $300 million (the most expensive such election in California history) and a month+ of maddening political ads, out of 8 ballot initiatives the Gropenfuhrer lost... 8. Not a single one passed, and Arnold essentially staked his political future on 5 of them.

In related news, the Dover, PA school board (the one currently in court because it mandated teaching Intelligent Design) got swept out of office en masse. 8 out of 9 Republican members lost re-election, and the board will now be run almost entirely by Democrats. Also, the Dems retook the city council in Tucson, AZ; defeated an anti-tax ballot initiative in Washington; and retained the mayor's office in Detroit (I actually wish they'd lost the last one-- Kwame Kilpatrick is corrupt and deserved to lose. We don't need his kind in our party.).

This thorough horsewhipping occurs, of course, less than a year from an election where the entire House of Representatives, 1/3 of the Senate, and 36 governorships are up for grabs. Judging from today's events, it will be magnificent.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

CIA prison leak

I've made a couple of posts about the release of news about the CIA taking detainees to prisons in the former Soviet bloc, apparently where they can be, well, tortured. There was interesting news today of Frist and Hastert (the Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House, respectively) demanding an investigation into the leak, followed by Senator Trent Lott admitting that the leaker was probably another Republican senator. Several points about this:

First, as Josh Marshall points out, this whole mess is closely related to the CIA agent outing at least in the generalities if not in the particulars. They are "cut from the same cloth," as he says, in that they both point to the Administration's practice of clandestinely using excessive and unethical means to achieve its military ends. Despite the fact that all the press for one has been momentarily deflected to Scooter Libby, and the other to some Senate leaker, both of these acts leave a sordid trail that unswervingly leads to the White House, and we would do well not to be distracted from that fact.

Second, leaking to the press the fact that our government is torturing detainees in the infamous sites of former abuse is no dishonorable act. I say that the person who leaked this information, be they Republican or otherwise, is guilty only of putting their country ahead of their president, and should be punished only by sonorous applause.

Monday, November 07, 2005


So is it ok for Senator Durbin to compare the treatment of enemy combatants to Soviet gulags if we're using, ya know, Soviet gulags?

Breaking video on the offensive in Fallujah

The Italian TV network RAI is airing a special called La Strage Nascosta (The Secret Massacre) on the American use of incendiary weapons on civilians in Fallujah, specifically white phosphorus and a new variant on napalm(!) called MK-77.

White phosphorus, ostensibly used for "illuminating the battlefield" (sorta like how napalm was used in Vietnam as a "defoliant"), doubles as an effective way to torch everything (or everyone) in a 150 meter swath. Once it touches skin, it attaches and burns all the way to the bone, sometimes leaving the clothing around the wound intact.

And if you try to wash it off, it re-ignites.

WP and MK-77 can't be targetted precisely, however, so they wreak indiscriminate destruction wherever they are dropped. Thus, the use of such incendiaries against civilian populations is prohibited by Protocol III of the Geneva Convention.

Here's the video (it's available in Italian, English, and Arabic). It includes interviews with American soldiers and Iraqis, video footage of Americans using white phosphorus, and pictures of Iraqi dead killed by WP and MK-77. Warning: the video is very graphic. Put your kids to bed before you watch it.

What the hell happened?

Wow, did y'all catch the college football happenings on Saturday? Let's count up the losers:
no. 23 California
no. 19 Boston College
no. 14 Wisconsin
no. 9 Florida St.
no. 7 UCLA (14-52!)
no. 3 Va. Tech (7-27, Marcus Vick had SIX turnovers!)
As a (dis)honorable mention, no. 13 Florida just squeaked by in 2nd overtime against... Vanderbilt?

Of course, all the important teams had great days. The Irish (8) pounded Tennesse 41-21 (I actually feel kinda bad for the Vols; the game really was closer than the score shows. They just fell apart in the 4th quarter). Bama (5) blanked MS State 17-0. Tech (16) absolutely flattened A&M 56-17, in the first Tech game this season I actually got to watch. And boy, did the wheels come off the Aggie D or what (Tech scored on all but 1 possession in the 2nd half)?. And finally, Texas (2) continued their march to the Rose Bowl without breaking a sweat (62-0 over Baylor). Did someone forget to remind the Bears that they had a game on Saturday?

Which brings us to today's release of the new BCS poll results:
1. USC
2. Texas
3. Alabama
11. Notre Dame
12. Texas Tech
Remember, folks: the top 12 in this poll at the end of the season aren't just bowl eligible: they're BCS Bowl eligible!

P.S.-- For the last time, it is absolutely impossible that ND and Tech will play each other in a bowl game. The massive explosion of my head would cause a rupture in the space-time continuum, irrevocably destroying the temporal fabric that holds the BCS together. In layman's terms: giant robotic winged monkeys flinging radioactive jalapeno-shaped feces. Bad news. Seriously.