Monday, March 31, 2003

Reports of my demise...: First of all, if Saddam isn't dead, he's stupid. About all he has going for him in terms of keeping his troops fighting is the fear that he's still around to order executions and/or the hope that he'll come out of this on top, somehow, someway. In any event, these un-dated, taped "appearances" on state-run t.v. is not the way to instill confidence in your vitality. Secondly, what does the war and how it's been conducted say about the true state of our military? On the one hand, it's only been about 10 days, and we've only lost about 50 troops. Additionally, we're only meeting real resistance within a two-hour's drive to Bagdhad. On the other however, we see that no engagement, whether it's Panama, Yugoslavia or downtown Baghdad, is a cake-walk, and with a cunning, desperate opponent, life can be miserable for a while. Having said that, I still think the past few days have really just been a preparation to invade, and we're letting the massive pounding of our bombers settle in before we march. This no small advantage when your opponent doesn't dare send up an airplane. So, let's say we bomb the ever-loving shit out of the Republican Guard for 3-4 days, while our troops rest up, re-fuel and re-engergize. Meanwhile, the Iraqis have GOT to be thinking whether enough is enough, and maybe life in uncle's store isn't so bad. Taking that type of situation in a best-case scenario, we're left with minimal opposition until we get to downtown. Of course, then what? We've said we won't engage in a siege. Rather, we're going to rely on reconaissance to pick out leadership and other cells of influence, then rush the scene with special ops, helis, and artillery. Then back out to wait for the next spot. This kind of raiding activity could really unsettle the Iraqis, but it will undoubtedly take a lot of time to finish off. If we could parade around Saddam in a cage, I think things would go much faster.
Tax Cut Ideology, Continued: Eugene Volokh unwinds a very leading poll question from the Washington Post:
As you may know, Bush has proposed a 726 billion dollar tax cut over the next 10 years. The Senate has voted to reduce that to 350 billion dollars in order to help pay for the war, reduce the deficit and shore up the Social Security fund. Do you support or oppose this reduction in Bush's proposed tax cut?
I'll leave the fairness of the poll in Eugene's capable hands. What struck me was one of the "pushes" in the question: using the money "saved" by reducing the tax package to "reduce the deficit" (i.e., treating tax policy like spending policy). The ultimate cause of the deficit is that the government spends more that it takes in. Imagine if I blew my salary on a trip to the islands, went into hock to pay for food for my family, went to my boss to ask for a raise to "reduce my deficit," and then (when he rightly refused) complained that he's heartlessly denying my children food. Well, as soon as there was a foreseeable surplus, back in the 90s, the government took a trip to the islands.
Drudge has an excerpt from the latest DNC spam. Key line: "But Now Bush Is Using the War to Justify [a] Risky Tax Scheme." Isn't it about time to retire that old chestnut? Al Gore beat that line into the ground when he was running for president. Plus, the idea has been around since the days of Reaganomics (remember when that was code for "risky tax scheme"?). Now, back then the supply-side argument was looked upon as a flat-earth kind of theory. I think those days are gone.
What Poppy Has: George H.W. Bush, though also endowed with his son's ability to tie the English language in huge knots, is also capable of a very original and laconic humor. From Newsweek's interview with the former president, on the subject of diplomacy giving way to war:
Newsweek: What do you think is going on with France?

Bush: [Pause] They're French.

Newsweek: Any elaboration?

Bush: Nope.

For those who think that the cold winds blowing from Paris are some new development, "Poppy" Bush seems to think it's old hat.
It's All About Oil: Claudia Rosett explores the tortuous alleys of the UN-Iraqi oil-for-food program, which is full of perverse incentives for both sides of the deal.
History's Echo: Lileks has a make-me-squirm miniessay on "Eye of Vichy," a movie made up of newsreel footage from occupied France:
It’s “The Sorrow and the Pity” without the interviews, really. It makes you realize how much the Occupation corrupted the country and defiled the national consciousness. The French narration assures us that this is the version of real life that the Vichy government wanted the population to accept - it wasn’t the true nature of French life during the war. Perhaps. But those crowds that showed up to cheer Petain were quite large and enthusiastic. As were those who showed up to cheer DeGaulle when the war ended, of course.

There were some interesting parallels to modern times - the collaborators all insisted that France had not just a role to play in the New Order of Europe, but a crucial role. A uniquely French role, carried out with French methods and French ideas and French ingenuity. (Specifics not available at press time.) There’s this desperate need to insist not only on France’s relevance in an era dominated by Germany, but France’s indispensability.

There is an element of French thinking that is habitually obtuse.
Fly me to the ...: Good on McCain for giving it to the air carriers. See, the problem is that Southwest is seen as an aberration (smallish outfit, limited geographic scope, etc.), and that when push comes to shove, it's simply impossible to run an airline in a profitable manner - that is without government hand-outs. Now, on the one hand there may be a point somewhere in all that crying. Railroads have NEVER been profitable without massive government assistance - hell, they were built on the backs of the taxpayers. Highways (certainly a major means of transportation) aren't expected to be profitable. Indeed, most are funded entirely by the government. Look at your local bus/subway system (if you have one). I bet most if not all are running in the red, or are at below-subsistence budgets. I don't know that anyone would argue that mass transportation shouldn't receive some form of government assistance. It's just that if you want the pretense of being a for-profit company, then you're going to have to shoulder some of the blame when you don't turn that profit.

Friday, March 28, 2003

McCain Digs In: I'm not the type to pound on CEOs for how much they get paid. That said, when they come to me for a handout, as the airline industry is doing, how much the CEO earns becomes very much my business. John McCain went to bat on this yesterday:
But McCain said that if he saw Mullin, head of the No. 3 U.S. air carrier, among other airline representatives visiting lawmakers' offices this week to plead industry poverty, he would tell him: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
I'll be dipped in shit if these thieves get another bailout. As Chuck Grassley told the big carriers this week (paraphrase), "Southwest seems to be doing fine."
Dead Civilians: Pardon me while I indulge some cynicism. CENTCOM is still saying that they're reasonably confident that the explosion in the marketplace in Iraq a few days ago was not caused by us. (I've heard some convincing arguments that they're right. Plus, I wonder why we were so accurate for a week, then suddenly missing by, literally, a mile.) It may turn out to be otherwise, but let that slide for a moment. Today comes this report of a similar occurence. The point to keep in mind here is that, no matter what CENTCOM says, this is getting a lot of play on al Jazeera. No matter where the explosion came from, it's a propaganda coup for Saddam. Thus, I smell a new Saddam strategy. I think he's begun to deliberately bomb his own city, knowing that it will get major play on Arab TV, with all fingers pointing to the Yankee jackals at the gates of the city. Another worry is the discovery of stockpiles of chem/bio gear in Iraq. The official Iraqi position is that the gear is needed for when the Allies use WMD on Iraq. This may be the preparation for the market bombing story writ in large, toxic letters. What Arab "news" outlet isn't itching to run the story on America chem bombing civilians? Like I said, this is a plainly a cynical analysis of stories just beginning to develop, but definitely a concern anyway.
Back to The Senate: Priscilla Owen returns to face a potential filibuster. As I said recently, I'm not sure what the Dems hope to accomplish by filibustering judicial nominees this way. Owen, Pickering, and Estrada are being blocked as though they are Supreme Court nominees and ideological Scalia-clones. (All have received the imprimatur of the ABA, which has never been friendly to conservative ideologues.) Again, I don't denigrate partisanship as a motivation -- and partisanship it clearly is, as displayed in the hysterics of New York's Chuck Schumer, who said that the nomination of Pickering was an assault on "basic civil rights." In fact, on his web site, Schumer publishes his manifesto on ideological challenges to judiciary nominees, based on a Senate hearing on the subject. Said Schumer:
Having one or even two Justices like Scalia and Thomas [on the Supreme Court] might be legitimate because it provides the Court with a particular view of constitutional jurisprudence. But having four or five or nine Justices like them would skew the Court, veering it far from the core values most Americans believe in.
Interestingly, Eugene Volokh testified at that hearing. Volokh:
The chief point I’d like to make today is that the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence, including the views of the Court’s more conservative members, has been firmly within the mainstream of American constitutional thought. One may agree or disagree with this jurisprudence, but one has to acknowledge that it’s entirely mainstream.
It's a great window into the Dems' strategy as formulated by Schumer. Be prepared to hear this argument against any Bush nominee: he or she is just not in the judicial "mainstream." That's fine. As I said, partisanship is an acceptable political strategy, though not without its risks.

But look, too, for the kind of subtle smearing Hentoff takes apart here. Schumer's attempt to pin the crypto-racist label on anyone outside the "mainstream" (as Schumer sees it) is the quieter, more sinister part of the strategy. That's the part that risks the backlash.

Eye Opener: This is surprising, if true. An article by a Turkish journalist claims that the reason the Iraqis haven't risen against the Baathists since the war began is that we asked them not to, fearing that the civil disorder would only be worsened.
Ribbing the Allies: Since we’re working so closely with the British in this war, I figured it would help if I learned a little more about our close allies. It turns out their an interesting bunch, despite the misperception that they are our "cousins across the pond." Take, for example, this foolish notion that we share a common language. This, of course, is a ridiculous claim. I watched the press conference with George Bush and Tony Blair, and I was only able to understand one of them. The language the other was speaking was totally foreign.

I’ve read, too, that we share a political heritage with the British, the heritage of democracy. This is also bunk. Now it is true that they have a citizen assembly in Britain that bears some superficial resemblance to our own. For example, their House of Lords is said to be roughly analogous to our Senate. Insofar as nothing really happens there, this is true. Plus, both are populated by old farts. But their old-fart house seems to be a sort of hall of fame for repeat winners of the upperclass twit of the year award. Ours, instead, is a menagerie of pumpkin-roller selectmen and huckleberry dog wardens who capture the Peter Principle like Sargent captured fading twilight. This difference can be shown by the hyphenation in names. They hyphenate the last name (e.g., Smith-Smythe) while we hyphenate the first (e.g., Billy-Bob).

The House of Commons is roughly like our House of Representatives: members represent the interests of regions of the country. However, given that England is smaller than North Carolina, and contains this many members of Commons, we can safely assume that being an MP (as they jauntily call members) is a bit like being a member of the town council in West Petunia, Massachusetts: everyone gets a chance sooner or later, and you just hope your turn doesn't coincide with the chairmanship of the 90-year-old retired bureaucrat who has memorized Roberts Rules of Order.

Another odd difference is the whole "Commons" thing. In America, we would react pretty harshly to being labeled "common." Oddly, in the land that pretty much invented class hatred, this seems to bother members of the House of Commons little or not at all.

Finally, there is the issue of royalty. I wonder what benefits a monarchy confers when the monarch wields the power of, say, Mamie Eisenhower. Really, what's the point of being King (or Queen, for that matter) now that the off-with-your-head routine is pretty clearly out of bounds? You've got to figure that either you're a monarch because god said so, or you're not. If god said so, that's dandy (who am I to quibble with god, plus the very monarchical off-with-your-head stuff is back on again). If not, why exactly is it that we're all supposed to treat you like it's the 1980s and you're Mike Ovitz? In the end, though, I suppose an impotent figurehead chosen by a lucky-sperm accident is no sillier than our method of relying on palsied pensioneers wheeling their medicare sleds around the streets of Florida to stab blindly at odd-shaped ballot sheets.

Paris Calling: The French continue to follow an Inspector Clouseau path back to a "close and trusting relationship with the United States."

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Save us from ourselves: More belly-aching from the airlines. The taxes they pay are too high and they shouldn't be shouldering the burden of added security costs - instead the government should foot the bill. Sounds like the lobbyists for the AARP. Anyway, I thought the federal government had just replaced the private (airline and airport-funded) security staff with a whole new federal workforce. Oh, and those sky marshals - don't our tax dollars already pay for those? This is called competition. Some of the airlines will survive and even thrive; some will die and fade away. It is not a matter of national security that each one stay in business. The airlines view themselves as sacred cows. More like rump roast.
D.P. Moynihan: A fitting conservative tribute to the Senator.

More: George Will on the course of Moynihan's career: "Along the way he wrote more books than some of his colleagues read and became something that, like Atlantis, is rumored to have once existed but has not recently been seen -- the Democratic Party's mind."

So the best we can say is that Bush knows when to shut up? I can live with that.
Bush and Blair: I just caught a bit of the Camp David press conference after US-UK "mini-summit" and was again struck by the differences between the President and the PM. Bush can't answer a question without babbling; he wanders and forgets the thrust of the question. His handlers need to really sit him down for a course in impromptu speaking. However, at one point Blair gave a wonderfully lucid, complete answer to a question on the war's schedule and progress. The reporter from the Beeb had directed the question to both men, and he turned to Bush to hear his answer. Bush looked right at the reporter and said, "I have nothing to add to that." Beautiful. I can think of a number of former presidents (along with some current presidential hopefuls) who wouldn't have resisted the urge to walk all over Blair's fine answer.
April 1: There's a movement afoot for bloggers to devote their April 1 spaces to make fun of Dick and Lynn Cheney due to their recent attack on for its audacity in making fun of Lynn and her wacky background. Spread the word.
Larry Miller: I was working out late last night and caught the re-broadcast of Politically, whatever Bill Maher's recent HBO show is. The show was taped on Mar. 21. His guests were Tim Robbins, Connie Rice (the attorney/activist, not the Nat. Security Advisor), and Larry Miller (who has been on before). You can well imagine what Robbins was talking about, and Rice was pretty much there with Tim except when they moved to the Oscars as a topic. Anyway, Miller, who is so good in writing for The Weekly Standard, is actually quite weak live and in person. Sure, he was funny, but he's very hesitant and a bit slow on the uptake in terms of asserting himself. It's a shame, because it would have been good to see some balancing of the Robbins/Rice act.
Far be it from me to call you an ass: My good friend here at work is a Commander in the Navy Reserve, and was in Bahrain last summer (he's crossing his fingers still about being called up). Anyway, he pronounces Qatar as "CUT-ter" - and scoffs at me when I say "kuh-TAR". I remind him that military personnel are not to be looked to for guidance on the pronunciation of anything, since half of their vocabulary consists of acronyms. The French pronounce VanGogh as "van-GUGGH" which, when you think of it, is about how it looks. My favorite mispronunciation, actually it was a malapropism, that crept into everyone's speech was "Afghani." An afghani is a form of money. An afghan is a person from Afghanistan. Use like this: "I feel sorry for the Afghan people."
Language Note: Since the beginning of the war, I've noticed that some of "our" reporters have aped their BBC colleagues by saying that so-and-so hasn't "taken that decision yet" and other similar constructions. I've always been of the impression that Americans "make" decisions, while Brits "take" them. Is this just fancy-pantsing by our wannabe-sophisticate press corps? Likewise, there is this issue over the pronunciation of th country name "Qatar." I've always said "kuh-TAR." It's not right, but it's clearly the standard westernized pronunciation. MSNBC has instructed its correspondents to say "CUT-ter" like the name of a ship. Now, I can pronounce the name as the Arabs do, and it isn't pronounced "CUT-ter." (If you do a good, throat-clearing German "ch" [let's call it "#"] sound while pronouncing "HOT-ter" you can come right close.) This is all neither here nor there, but I've noticed that many of these "CUT-ter" folks still say "eye-RACK" rather than "ee-RAH#" and "BAG-dad" rather than "bah#-DAHD." It reminds me of the people who insist on pronouncing Johann Sebastian Bach as "BA#," but still say Vincent van Gogh as "van GO" and wouldn't think of saying "vahn GO#." I think both "BAHK" and "van GO" are both fine, by the way. I just hate it when people get persnickety about one but not the other, like with Qatar and Iraq. Am I being an ass?

More: Nordlinger had a funny column on this at National Review last year, and he was particularly cheesed off at media types talking about the Olympics in "Torino" (i.e., Turin). Plus, he (kind of) backs me up on Van Gogh, and he should know.

Reason 118: Geez, a rock star who isn't civically responsible. His excuse: "I haven't voted in many years and it was a mistake." Wow, knock me over with a feather. Someday people just might realize that rock stars and actors don't speak up in political venues as agents of change or dissent. No, and repeat after me... It's all about publicity. Even the Dixie Chicks, sure some of Bush's relatives are melting their CDs, but really, I bet overall, they haven't suffered too terribly.
Sod off: I've been thumbing through my old Constitutional Law books and still haven't found the part where it says the government can enact laws to "uphold the traditional family values of white heterosexuals". The problem even Scalia has to have is that where is the threat from consensual sodomy? Banning that doesn't somehow rid the world of homosexuals - it just makes them more pissed off. "Well, John, since I can't bugger you legally, I better go straight - after all, it is a choice you know." The fall back is that it's not for the judges to decide what is good for Texas (certainly we've learned the Dixie Chicks are not), but that strategy is an obvious whiff at the plate. Plus, the law is so overly discriminatory, that I can't see what basis any dissenting judge could have in today's world. I agree that I don't see Thomas being one to shoot down sexual freedom.
Supremes and Sodomy: Two great tastes that taste great together? I suppose not, but it was interesting to hear news reports of the oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas. As I thought, the court sounded open to overturning the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision that upheld the legality of sodomy laws. Of course, Rheinquist and Scalia were clearly suspicious of overturning, and sympathetic to the argument that Texas "has the right to set moral standards ... for its people." The enigma here is Clarence the Silent. How might Justice Thomas vote? The usual line is that he is simply a Scalia clone, but Thomas has a (small) libertarian streak that Scalia surely does not have. In addition, Justice Thomas is the only sitting member of the court who is in a romantic relationship that was once against the law. I smell 7-2.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

This is taking the fetish too far: From Drudge comes this report of Celine Dion's first day wowing the savvy Vegas (Baby) crowd. Apparently her shoes fell off her feet and into the crowd while she was being flung around in a harness (pity it was only the shoes and not their wearer). Anyway, the shoes didn't make it back to Celine. Of course the question is why the hell would anyone want her shoes? What does one do with them? Do I want to know?
Hear no evil...: I think you covered the angle earlier of why it's healthy and necessary to feel pain. Apparently, this sentiment is not shared by radio program directors in Europe. MTV Europe is not showing any videos that have war footage or even show explosions, a la Billy Idol's "Hot in the City", which apparently has a nuclear mushroom cloud. This is France's doing, I know it. Thanks to FARK for the site.
Dictators and Information: The handy Robert Lane Greene, in TNR, wonders whether Saddam gets a clear picture of what's going on in the war.
Democratic governments are often criticized for being inefficient. Hopelessly subservient to a capricious and ill-informed electorate, decision-makers must make ugly compromises and short-sighted policy. But the upshot is that democracies tend to put a premium on shared, high-quality information, honest analysis, and open internal debate--the absence of which, if Nazi Germany is any indication, can be disastrous. Instigating perpetual terror may be a good way to amass power, but it turns out to be a bad way to run a government.
Thus, he speculates that Saddam, like Hitler, may only get news that reflects favorably on the bearer. Does Saddam, he asks, believe his own propaganda?
Secretary Powell says he's not leaving. It's been a Democratic wet dream for two years that Powell would end up repudiating his boss and leaving the administration. It would be a shame if it happens, since I think Bush relies heavily on Powell's wisdom, even if they end up disagreeing. Besides, Powell is mature enough, and enough of a career military man, to know that he won't always get his way. He's right, too, that his work through the UN was a triumph, and that 1441 is significant, legally and diplomatically. Part of the Democrats' problem with Powell is that they hate to see a black man on Bush's team (hence the "race traitor" talk). As much as they may call him a sellout, what's really going on is that they wish he was on their side.

I disagree with Powell on a lot of things, but the man has gravitas to spare. Some people earn the right to be a comfortable dissenting voice in an administration (a role I imagine David Gergen played for Clinton, domestically).

Mr. Alterman, meet Mr. King: Alterman is the Larry King of blogging (and I'm not convinced his isn't a blog in name only): "Boy I sure don't like Bush - link"; "These tax cuts stink like week-old fish - link"; "Nothing says right-wing extremism like -- link". He's all about filling up space, but woefully short on analysis or even just a sustainable opinion. Yeesh.
Alterman: It's worth reading him for amusement, though, as Jonah Goldberg says today, Alterman sounds like he's cheering on the bad news. Anyhoo, here's how his post goes, in part, yesterday:
Oil prices are going sky high and the market had its worse [sic] day in six months, during which time it had a lot of bad days.
Let's start with oil. For the oil price news, he cites a Washington Post story, which has this to say:
The rebound in oil prices was fundamentally a backlash from the optimism of oil traders at the war's outset, analysts said. "People now perceive the war is not going as quickly as they thought," said Thomas J. Herlihy, a broker with Spectron Energy Inc. in New Caanan, Conn. Many large energy companies and financial firms stayed out of the oil market yesterday, he added. "You don't get a clear picture where the market wants to go."
First of all, a sky-high crude price of $28 and change is a bit of a laugh when you consider that, not long ago, crude was pushing $40 a barrel -- and supposedly threatening to go higher if war broke out. Second, if even the analysts in the energy industry (quoted in the story he links) don't have a clear picture on what this means, what's the point of citing it?

Next, the market: Yeah, the Dow took a 300-point hit on Monday. So what? Does Alterman want to challenge my theory (expressed here and here) of our relative cluelessness on market moves? Even if you ask the traders themselves, you'll likely hear that they suspect Monday was a profit-taking day, which an up-80 Tuesday seemed to reinforce. Besides, the market took an 800-point leap the week before, when the guesses on war were no more certain than on Monday or Tuesday. What did that mean, Eric? This is simply gloomy-gus stuff, from a guy who really seems to enjoy the gloom. He can barely contain his bladder, apparently, that it's happening on Bush's watch. (Scroll down on his post for the hilarious and oh-so-original Give-Bush-a-Slick-Willy-Style-Nickname contest. First prize is a mention in Eric's blog -- wow! Who could resist?)

You're so un-hip: AskJeeves is hip in that way it's hip to wear "Mr. Bubble" t-shirts. Technically, it's not any better, just more forgiving with its search vernacular. Actually, AskJeeves had its moment in the sun as a result of its response to a very particular question. Pretty funny actually.
Mind you, I still want my tax cut, and $750 billion sounds fair to me. I am more convinced, every day, that the only way to rein in federal spending is to not give them the money in the first place.
Entitlements: A story on the local news last night mentioned how a retired couple would be affected my cuts in our state's prescription drug assistance programs. They currently pay about $2500 per year in prescriptions, out of a total bill of $13,000. This means that the state (l'etat, c'est moi, as far as spending is concerned) is picking up in excess of ten grand in drug costs! It's belt-tightening time in Massachusetts, so this is being viewed as a short-term issue (also based on hopes that Medicare will start to cover drugs). But this has to be viewed as a national issue. Think of the Social Security crisis, caused by significant demographic shifts in the past half century. (Politicians like to talk of how they're fixing Social Security, but unless they're causing lots of tax-paying workers to be born, it ain't fixing.) Add to that the drug costs of a baby boom generation that will live well into its 70s and 80s, at least. Drugs are able to do more, and come to market faster, which adds to their cost (partly to pay for research, partly because no generics are available), and the boomers will want them all. The "greatest generation" grew up in the bootstrap, small-government era, yet they have taken to entitlements like ducks on junebugs. Imagine what will happen when the generation weaned on a Great Society-style, cradle-to-crypt philosophy gets ahold of the goose that lays the Social Security/Medicare eggs. Entitlement reform has been a buzzword since the Reagan administration, but any reform has always been cosmetic. The ultimate vote-buyer is government largesse, in the form of tax breaks, pork, and entitlements; thus, if McCain-Feingold really wanted to give government back to the people, it would restrict how much free crap these knuckleheads in Washington can promise us without having to consider the costs of delivery.
Military Ops: The Volokhs have a link to this page providing the operation names of U.S. actions (e.g., Restore Hope, Desert Sheild, Just Cause, to name three famous ones). Eugene himself likes Operation Nimrod Dancer, the first Panama op, which became Just Cause. My favorite is a 1987 Persian Gulf op called Operation Ernest Will. Yeah, Ernest will what? Can you call him Ernie? (Note: It does actually read Earnest Will when you click through to the detail page.)
Google: Isn't it funny to be saying, "I was using Google way back when ... you were brushing your teeth this morning." By the way, is AskJeeves actually hip? I thought it was just for people who couldn't get their brains around simple search criteria, which makes it the least likely to return the item you want without pages and pages of silliness.
Ready for the Backlash: I think Kerry, for all his opportunism, is too savvy to say anything meaningful in criticism of Bush or the war. Kerry has been able to play both sides of the war fence for years, stretching back to when he was the anti-war vet who supported the troops in Vietnam but wanted them withdrawn bad enough to hurl his medals at the steps of the Capitol except they were somebody else's medals and his were back at home in a polished walnut box or something. (Deep breath.) I think the Dems have to consider this very seriously. The first effect of bad news will not be to turn Americans into anti-war types overnight. Remember that even 10 years and thousands of dead Americans into the Vietnam war, Nixon still won re-election without making any serious moves toward withdrawal. The smart thing to do is what Daschle did: voice support for the troops, but attack Bush for failing to convince the French to bless our endeavor. Daschle took a big risk, and took some major criticism from the GOP and some veiled criticism from Dems. But he achieved one major victory -- he got to be the last major voice you heard slamming Bush before the bombs fell. If things go well, nobody will remember that; if things go poorly, Daschle hopes, everyone will.
Everybody....Google!: Here's a wonderful article about Google, from the National Post - which I've discovered has some great writers. Anyway, I remember using Google way back when in 1999 or so, when it wasn't even in beta-testing, really. It was just sort of un-known and un-appreciated, as everyone stuck to Yahoo (remember when Yahoo was a search engine?) or Lycos. Oh sure, Dogpile still has its adherents, and some people like the hipness of AskJeeves, but no one can seriously argue that Google isn't the champeen of meta searching (take that Teoma). Plus, no annoying pop-ups. The only ads are off to the side without flashing, jumping or popping. The thing is quick, and in my experience, unerringly accurate (granted I can data-retrieve like no body's business). Anyway, there's no need to go on and on, but yea gods, this thing was only invented in 1998!
The knives come out: Now that the war has officially taken longer than 5 days, I'm on the official watch for the Democrats to go on the attack. Book-makers have already closed the bet that Kerrey will be first. However, it will be interesting to see who else will make a stink. When it started, even Daschle was saying we had to get behind the President. I don't think any senior official at the White House or Pentagon ever said that the war would go quickly, but certainly the rhetoric of "awe"-inspiring bombing made it clear that everyone was expecting the Iraqis to throw down their guns. Why? Well, besides the obvious point that we were better armed, equipped and trained, everyone assumed that the majority of Iraqis hated Saddam and therefore loved the U.S. In reality, it seems more likely that if the Iraqis hate Saddam, it's only because their own guy isn't in power. Stated another way, reverse the tables about 30 years ago, and who knows, Hussein could have been our Karzai, promising to bring stability to the region after we kicked out the evil Kurd or Shia ruling forces. Anyway, I think what we're seeing is that fear is a tremendous motivator, but also that we're not fighting to liberate a bunch of democratically-minded Americans. The game over there is about 100 times more complex than what we deal with over here.
It seems Rush is not the only one to "turn a deaf ear": Yes, that was bad, but I couldn't resist. I listen to Rush on occasion, because for all the bombast and one-sided arguments, he is smart, and has a firm grasp on one version of conservatism, which can certainly make some good points. I, like you, am not sure how the comparison gets made of Hearst to Rush (or is it vice-versa?). What Goodman is really complaining about, and you and I have discussed before, is that there simply aren't any good left-leaning talk radio hosts. Why? Because lefties come across as whining, which no one likes to hear about ("it isn't fair, it isn't fair!"). Conservatives, on the other hand, do a much better job of being entertaining, because they can make fun of the liberals, which everyone likes to hear -- even if you're a liberal (we're all self-loathing anyway).
Turning Point: The Supremes are hearing a case in which two Houston men were arrested when police burst in (based on a false illegal-weapons tip) as the men were having sex. The men were arrested and fined for acts of sodomy. The appellants seek to overturn the sodomy laws of Texas, whereby they were punished for engaging in conduct that would have been deemed legal had they been heterosexual. The Supremes upheld sodomy laws in 1986. Has the court changed enough since then? I think it has. This one's going to get struck down, by a 6-3 or 7-2 majority, in a decisive victory for equality under the law.
More Media: Part of the Goodman problem is the issue of media bias. No, I don't believe in a left-wing conspiracy, but I'm convinced that Goodman really thinks that her opinion and the truth are the same thing. That's why talk radio hosts have to be, according to Goodman, "fact-free opinions delivered by a cast of angry baritones." Change the word "baritone" to "alto" and you get a pretty accurate description of Paul Begala, who is certainly (in the minds of the Goodmans of the world) a reasonable and fair "commentator." Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, is "yellow journalism." How does this make any sense?
Media Confusion: How is it that people who spend their lives and make their livings in the media can be so moronic when analyzing it? Ellen Goodman provided a great example this week with her Boston Globe whine about talk radio. (This is not, by the way, her first screed on the subject.) She says, making an implicit comparison to talk radio:
Remember reading about the Spanish-American War in 1898? Publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer built a war constituency and circulation in symbiotic frenzy with headlines like ''The Country Thrilled with War Fever.'' According to legend, William Randolph Hearst sent a telegram to his reporter that said, ''You supply the pictures and I'll supply the war.''
Let's play a bit of Occam's Razor here. You tell me which of the following scenarios is likely: First, Ellen Goodman doesn't realize that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their sound-alikes are not news outlets. She is unaware that they are commentary, that their purpose is to give an opinion, bias, partisanship, slant. Or, second, Goodman does in fact realize this, but she ignores it because she wants to rant against the right wing menace. So which do you suppose is correct? Is she a shrill harpy spreading her own "yellow journalism," or is she just plain ignorant?

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Reactive Politics: Nothing like well thought out analysis as to our country's future. Based on the recent war, the Senate voted down Bush's proposed tax plan. If this doesn't show how taxes are solely the province of vote-getting, nothing will. Just a while ago, with war looming, cutting taxes made sense. Just a while ago, with an already enormous deficit around the bend, it was important for the little people to get back $600 checks, and save a % on their taxes. Now, all of the sudden, it doesn't make sense. Huh? It's not like the war was going to only cost $5B a few weeks ago, and $70-something billion now. Senators want $100B to go into some sort of war fund. Flying by the seats of their expensive suit pants, they are.
Ambassador to Canada: There's a title that screams "milquetoast." I only wish Ambassador Paul Cellucci (who actually looks and speaks like Bobby DeNiro's kid brother -- really, look here) had been this forceful when he was governor of Massachusetts. Nonetheless, his comments are on target, and no doubt Bush-endorsed. Canada has been rude, supercilious, and flat-out idiotic in its response to our Iraq policy. Cellucci's message, that trade with Canada will take a back seat to our national security (a thinly veiled threat, at best), should scare the toque off Jean Chretien -- if he isn't already too deluded by self-righteous posturing to read between the lines.
Satire? It's not a funny story, but I couldn't help gaping at this. Here's ABC's story on Asan Akbar, the soldier accused of the Kuwait fragging. What's the laugh line when the psycho is finally caught? The neighbors all say how he was quiet, kept to himself. Wait for the punchline:
"I was shocked really because he was one of the quietest ones in the neighborhood, he kept to himself and you wouldn't expect anything like that from him at all," said [neighbor] Heather Dill.
Shouldn't that be the giveaway? Shouldn't the neighbors all say, "You know, come to think of it, he was quiet; he did keep to himself most of the time. Sounds like you got the right guy."
Our Media, and Theirs: Richard Cohen makes a point I raised yesterday, though he makes it more eloquently (but that's why he makes the big bucks, while I chop away pro bono).
No Water in Umm Qasr: The people there are low on food, and the city is without water. What's the story there?
Local residents say the water plant was damaged during the thunderous ground assault. Not true, say U.S. forces. They say water feeding the plant comes from further north near the city of Basra, and the taps have been closed on the orders of President Saddam Hussein.

"Saddam turned it off," said Major John Taylor, part of a team from the British Royal Engineers, specializing in civil infrastructure.

"The water plant has no military damage at all. Not a single bullet hole. The minute Umm Qasr was invaded the guys in Basra cut the supplies."
Sounds like something Saddam would order. General Franks? A round of Dasani for all my friends...

Violence Never Solved Anything: Tim Robbins threatens WaPo's Lloyd Grove with bodily harm. (Via Drudge.) Grove recently had a story on Susan Sarandon's mother (Tim's common-law mother-in-law?), who is a die-hard Republican. Said the not-exactly-hyper-masculine Robbins to Grove: "If you ever write about my family again, I will [bleeping] find you and I will [bleeping] hurt you." Oh, I see; it's pacificm with the Rosie O'Donnell flavor of moral consistency.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Business Cycle: The Dow retreated faster than the Iraqi regulars early today, down 200 within the first trading hour. I'm not surprised. Listen to Forrest Sawyer for long enough and you'd swear we're getting shellacked over there. My guess (and guess only, as I've said before) is that the market likes this war, in the long run. Success doesn't mean that all our financial problems are solved, but the economy likes safe oil wells ready to pump some Persian crude.

Side note: Crude prices continue to ride in the mid-20s. So why am I still paying $1.70 for regular? Yes, I understand that retail prices don't move as quickly as wholesale prices, but in a responsive market they should move almost as quickly.

Good News: We'll not know for sure until everything shakes out, but I think we got Saddam last week. Dead or not, he's at least out of the picture leadership-wise. The attempts to show video of him on state-run TV are hilarious. There's plenty of hand-wringing in our media over the danger of speculation, and every video must be put to "careful analysis." Humbug. These videos have been amateurish (charitably described), but mainly only disconnected from reality. In the latest one, Saddam praises several Iraqi divisions for their ability to repel the yankee jackals. Too bad for him some of those divisions surrendered days ago. I may be wrong, but I think the old shit is comatose, at least.
Bad News: I posted not too long ago on the inevitibility of bad news. I'd like to revise and extend my remarks, as they say. Firstly, read this WaPo piece, the gist of which seems to be that some Americans have been killed, wounded, or captured. Examine that headline: "U.S. Losses Expose Risks, Raise Doubts About Strategy." Ye gods, man! It's war! I confess to my own dreary feelings this weekend, but I never assumed losses on our side meant anything but that victory could be slow and painful. To say that the loss of 20 soldiers may indicate a faulty war plan is one of those moronic trueisms; it's not exactly wrong (after all, anything's possible, including the prophet himself showing up with a Kalashnikov), but it is painfully stupid. Sometimes I fear that what al Qaeda thinks of us is true: we can't take the casualties; we'll pull out as soon as the death toll takes a sharp climb; America has no stomach for a real war. The press is certainly hitting the panic button.

Second, think of what bad news means for our side. We have reporters traveling with units ... are you hearing me? We let our press tag along, for god's sake. You can be damn sure that an Iraqi unit taking a shell up the ass from an Abrams tank is not appearing on Iraqi TV. Nobody from al Jazeera is standing up in press briefings and asking the Iraqi version of Tommy Franks, "How can you explain how crappy this has all gone?" or "Given that 8,000 Iraqi regulars just surrendered in Umm Qasar, don't you think it's time to reevaluate your battle plans?" In addition, we have few reporters on the ground in Baghdad, and they're likely restricted to their hotel balcony. All the good news from the bombing is locked up for at least a few more days. That being the case, the networks have to show something, and bad news will sell as well as good.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Impressions: War sucks. I hate seeing this on TV, but I can't pull away. I'm very sorry for all the Americans who will lose a loved one over there; there can be nothing worse. I feel terrible for our allies who will die, including the innocent Iraqis. After seeing them pounding on posters of Saddam, waving to our troops, and holding up their Halal-specific MREs, I believe most of them to be our allies in this struggle.

Things looked pretty good for a few days there, but reality settled in quickly. There never will be a clean war, but goddamn was it nice to hope, for a moment, that the Baathist leadership was going to push Saddam out the front door and start rolling over like the French.

The POWs: God, this is all we need, those sympathizers over at al-Jazeera running Saddamite propaganda. I hope this won't cause some of our troops to seek a bit of payback. Listen: Dead Republican Guard troops won't cause me any loss of sleep, but let's be cricket about this. The nice thing is, we can play fair and still win.

In general, this is the worst thing I've ever seen. God forbid I ever have to see this up close. (And this is playground stuff, so far, compared to something like WWI.)

Friday, March 21, 2003

Observation: Okay, I'm not the first to observe that we're seeing the bloggers in their element, but the "private" coverage of the war so far has been a far sight better than the mainstream stuff. It's great to have the pictures on tv, but I just read a slew of interesting posts on the Turkish situation over at the Corner well before any details hit any of the news sites. By the time any big news services had any information on what Turkey was up to, I had read the opposing arguments, knew what I thought, and was ready for more. Sure, it's nice to know that the networks have to double check their sources. That aside, I'd much rather read Stephen Green blogging (and doing his bit to make up for the teetotalling Muslim world) than hear Brian Williams stumble through another "You are looking at the sky over Baghdad ..." The difference is that Green posts when he has something interesting to say. The network boys (and girls) will talk as long as the red light is on, no matter how vapid the content.
Rasputin and Irving Berlin: Only at the Onion do these two make the front page simultaneously.
Hee hee: La Marseillaise. I love the style notation, at the top, "supino e codardo, nel modo francese."
Will the real Slim Saddam please stand up?: First of all, my apologies to Eminem. Secondly, I've watched and re-watched the videotape of "Saddam" denouncing the first attacks shortly after they occurred (you know, the "decapitating strikes"). Either the bunker doesn't have hair-dye or he's just "keepin' it real". Either way, that guy reading stiffly from some papers didn't act or exactly look like Saddam. The glasses are the biggest problem. You wear glasses with that grey mustache and you start to draw comparisons to the drawn, grey Hitler from his last days. Not exactly the message you want to convey with the tanks rumbling in. Plus, Saddam has never been one to hold tight to script. Granted, his secret bunker doesn't have a full media center with teleprompters, but is a script really necessary to flick off the U.S.? Like Saddam has to reach for the right words to call us the "great Satan"? No, you only have a script when you're worried your actor might go impromptu all of the sudden: "Please, get me out of here. I just want to go back to my shop. You know, I just used to do a few parties when someone needed a telegram delivered from 'Great Uncle,' but this is ridiculous. Please, someone." Anyway, I have my doubts.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Undisclosed no more: Now that the electricity and phone lines are back up, I can forward this short missive from ground zero. That's right, I'm at City Hall, Philadelphia, where Police estimate anywhere from 50-60 people have shown up to protest the War in...well, wherever it is that the hegemony of the U.S. is occurring right now. It seems clear that the majority of the protesters are against war of any type, while a small faction seem to object to "war for oil," and at least one person was assured there would be sandwiches, and damnit, where are the sandwiches? The police seem to out-number the protesters, but that hasn't stopped me from strapping on the kevlar lest one of the anti-violence demonstrators try to kick my ass for the small U.S. flag that has been sewn onto the inside of my t-shirt tag ("These colors don't run [provided you use cold water].") Anyway, I managed to briefly infiltrate the tightly wrapped security of the perimeter of the group in order see what sort of internal agenda was behind the facade of war-protesting. It seems that several scruffy-faced young men were debating how to best approach the cute hemp-wearing girl with bullhorn (apparently some sort of cell organizer), and whether she'd like the tofu or seitan version of mock chicken curry at the vegetarian restaurant they're hoping to invite her too after, you know "this scene". Ahhh, code. I'll apply encryption software to it when I get back. Moving on I found another small knot of operatives discussing the merits of skipping tomorrow's lecture in Psych for the "rally" at the Liberty Bell. Note to self: stay away from Liberty Bell tomorrow. Anyway, they soon started singing some sort of spiritual they said Moby had written, and with that, I was the wind.
Great Idea: Based on a single, failed attempt to bring down an Israeli plane in Kenya, let's equip every commercial airplane with anti-SAM capabilities! Cost?
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat sponsoring legislation to fit missile countermeasures on commercial aircraft, told the briefing that the cost would be about $1 million per plane with 6,800 aircraft in the U.S. fleet.
If you have to ask, you can't afford it. There are two possibilities here. First, the anti-missile technology works well enough that would-be terrorists give up on shoulder-fired missiles and look for other ways to target commercial aircraft. This means paying 7 billion clams just to temporarily up the ante on the terrorists. Second, the technology might be, say, X% reliable. This means 7 billion clams and the terrorists can still succeed 100 - X times out of 100 attempts. Now it's not funny when you have to reduce human life to a number, but any policymaker with the IQ of rock salt is duty-bound to come up with an acceptable value for X before spending the money. (Those who don't meet the IQ qualification can stick with the "if we can, we should" justification. No math will be required.)

Another thought: Would putting these on commercial aircraft be cheaper?

Moving Along: The buildup to war has been a fascinating political show, sort of a dance of secret, prearranged steps. I'm sure there will be much more to comment upon as war progresses, but I'm trying to avoid mission creep, and the military stuff is not my forte. I'm sure the Razor will be more informative on that end when he returns from his undisclosed location. Anyway, I'm keeping an eye on the war, but other stuff contines to come up. Like this. One thing we haven't discussed here is what I see as a potentially suicidal attempt by the Democrats to tie up nearly all the Bush judicial nominees. Look, I don't mind partisanship, and it's at least refreshing to see the Dems roll out some kind of strategy. But the Dems have spent the last 10 years trying to convince the public that gridlock and partisanship are major no-nos. (As I said, I like partisanship. And gridlock is designed into the American system, and for good reason.) Perhaps they think the GOP is too inept to call them on obstructionism and sell it to the public. And they may be right; so far Bush's 2004 strategy seems to be focused on winning the war, with token attention to a domestic message. He would do well to remember his father's fate.
The Wait: The war is bound to begin with what will be seen as bad news; in fact, it's begun: We missed Saddam (maybe, maybe not); the oil fires have started (this was expected); Kuwait has been hit with Scuds (duds, apparently; our Patriot batteries got the live ones). One thing to keep in mind is that we're going to fight a non-linear war, as the Pentagon would call it. We're not interested in taking territory to garrison, or prisoners we need to guard, so some of the typical "victory" news that accompanies war is denied us. Another thing to remember is that, at this point, most of what is happening on the ground, from our end, is special forces action. We won't know about this for a while, if ever, but you can be pretty sure that we had units all over Iraq (including Baghdad, or its outskirts) weeks ago, ready to start silent missions targeting things like chem weapons and anti-aircraft installments (and Saddam). Good news will come for us -- a lot of it, and quickly -- but not yet.
Yesterday's WSJ: This is getting to be an old comment, about "yesterday's journal," but I leave for work well before my journal hits the front step. And I don't read it online, since I like reading the old-fashioned paper version. At any rate, Holman Jenkins explored the "war for oil" rationale yesterday. Definitively. It's not on Opinion Journal, unfortunately. Here's the bling:
In pursuit of such [oil] deals, Russia and France have persistently undermined sanctions and the effort to disarm Saddam and bring him into compliance with his own commitments by means short of war. "Politics is about interests. Politics is not about morals," Iraq's U.N. ambassador explained to the Washington Post a year ago. "If the French and others take a positive position in the Security Council, certainly they will get a benefit. This is the Iraqi policy."

Thus the huge Majnoun and Nahr Umr fields were reserved for TotalFinaElf, partly owned by the French government. Not even Jacques Chirac can pretend that such concessions weren't France's reward for acquiescing in Iraq's diligent strategy to escape sanctions and resume its pursuit of exotic weapons.

No wonder why the French want to worm their way back into Iraq after the shooting stops. Worth reading it all if you subscribe.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Diplomacy, Continued: With apologies to Steven Den Beste, captain of the good ship Clueless, who has put some smart game theory on France, I've been tossing about my own. France's best option has been a flat-out lifting of sanctions against Iraq, and until fairly recently this was the official French position. Such a solution allows France to exercise its oil contracts in Iraq and ramp up exports to an important client. The second-best option is the so-called containment strategy, whereby we continue to play the games Saddam has dominated for 12 years. That is, we use inspectors to again force the weapons production into hibernation, or at least more thoroughly underground. This helps Saddam, who has historically been a patient player of this game, and paves the way for an inspections success, like the "success" that in the late 90s led France to advocate an end to sanctions. This renews the possibility of France's best-case scenario, above. The worst scenario for France is the liberation of Iraq. The security council resolution was meaningless, since any invasion is a de facto American invasion. In any event, the U.S. would probably insist on invalidating any economic agreements made under Saddam's regime (this helps explain Russia's debt-focused opposition, too). Because such an outcome, in an invasion scenario, is almost inevitable, France was in such a position that brinksmanship was the only possibility, since it was the only way to create a fighting chance for its best or second-best outcomes.
The Arrogant Empire: Fareed Zakaria, writing in Newsweek, has a long essay on anti-Americanism, diplomacy, and Iraq. It's a thoughtful piece, though a touch one-sided. For example, he mentions America's desire to maintain global hegemony, while conceding that such a policy makes eminent sense; but he neglects to point out the ulterior motives that countries like Germany and France have for opposing U.S. foreign policy. He mentions that Bush has made enemies by cutting off the middle east "peace process" until Arafat is out of power, but fails to mention the absolute necessity of a trustworthy negotiating partner. I agree with Zakaria that this administration's diplomacy has been one of mixed messages, arrogance, and short-sightedness. But Zakaria again fails to mention that the Iraq situation has several times neared collapse as the European powers, aside from Britain, drifted away from the containment policy they now trumpet so strongly. Anyone writing on this subject is duty-bound to address the fact that, only a few years ago, France and Russia (for self-serving, and "unilateralist," reasons) actively campaigned for an end to economic sanctions and trade restrictions in Iraq. Those allies that oppose our action today, Zakaria fails to note, have played a dangerous game on Iraq. Our foreign policy may be self-serving and a bit coarse, but theirs has been slick and often downright duplicitous. I won't rehash the whole neocon argument for a muscular American interventionism, partly because Zakaria is not unfair in his own description of it, and partly because that policy, as articulated by politicians like John McCain and pundits like Bill Kristol, has been an occasional inspiration, though not a blueprint, for the Bush administration. Put bluntly, Bush is winging it, having opposed McCain in the 2000 primary on interventionism, calling it "nation building." Though officials like Wolfowitz and advisors like Perle advocate the neocon view, Bush's closest confidant, Cheney, is much more of a realist, and Donald Rumsfeld, who also came of age in the Ford administration, has an equal measure of realpolitik in his makeup. (See Bob Woodward's post-9/11 reporting to see Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz arguing opposing strategies, to the annoyance of Bush himself.)

Zakaria is a great read, even if you disagree with him.

More: Michael Barone defends the administrations diplomatic efforts; concedes that they were, in some specifics, flawed; and concludes that it doesn't matter because France's security council vote was never really in play anyway.

Who's That Terrorist? Laurie Mylroie had a fascinating op-ed in the WSJ yesterday. She's dug up some evidence, albeit rather sketchy, to support her theory that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not who he claims to be, that he is, in fact, a planted agent of Iraq. The same is possible with Ramzi Yousef, who ran the first attempt on the WTC in 1993. Like I said, her piece is a theory, and a nebulous one at this point, but access to Iraqi state files could solidify the theory pretty quickly. I suppose this is just another way of saying, I think we may be surprised at what we find out when we crack open the archives.
The Whole Thing: Here it is, direct from Tony Blair. I wish it had been simulcast on the American networks, because he charts the only possible course with an eloquence missing here in the U.S. Yet he is eloquent without losing the frankness necessary for describing what we face. Blair won big yesterday, even without the help of the Tories. This speech is why. His support will only grow from here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Aussie Support: They're coming with us. This would be an appropriate time to tip my cyber-hat to Aussie-blogger Tim Blair, courtesy of whom the story above. Tim's page is a great read. (And, incidentally, he was my link to some more good news recently: I won't have to hold my nose when I go see Lyle Lovett next week.) Tim, I hope our boys are in Baghdad together a week hence, cracking a few foamy cans open.

Monday, March 17, 2003

"We're all gonna die! Ooops. What I meant to say was...": So, the world is not going to implode from over-population. Even the NYT says so. The link makes a reference to Bjorn perhaps being right as well. One can hope.
And their re-make of "Landslide" sucked: First you notice how she phrased her statement to maximize its effect: "...we're ashamed the [POTUS] is from Texas." Now you were generous and said she was making a principled statement. However, wouldn't it be more appropriate to say something like "You know, being a Texan is about [insert characteristics that only Texans have or that they have more of than your average, say, North Dakotan], and when we see the President doing [some shameful un-Texan activity] we are deeply saddened and want to revoke his boot-wearing privileges, you know, even though his father wasn't from Texas, and he went to the most elite, liberal East-Coast schools, and he helped drive one of our baseball franchises into the ground despite all that oil money from his dad's friends." So, having put their (chicken) necks on the line with their vapid, broad, snarky statement, it then backfires, so their record company makes them issue a retraction coupled with a non-apology ("not that what we said wasn't true, but we should have said it differently"). This, is of course, reason #249 why singers/movie stars shouldn't pretend they have a mandate to speak up on issues of actual importance.
Dixie Dregs: [With apologies to the fine hillbilly-jazz combo of the same name.] I have to admit, I'm not really one for protests, boycotts, and the like, but I can't help smiling at how this story is playing out. Natalie Maines, singer for the country-pop Dixie Chicks, and a Texan, said last week, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." Fine. A statement of principle. See post below. But when her fans began to dump Dixie Chicks CDs into the hopper and radio stations reacted to protests by dropping the Chicks off the playlist, Maines's "principles" were laid bare. "As a concerned American citizen," she said, "I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect." So it is, as the Razor would say, all about the Benjamins. She's against the war, except when it hits her in the demographic, in the pocketbook.
T-shirts and Free Speech: This column goes out of its way to be evenhanded. It's about a high school student who wore a shirt stating that our president is an "International Terrorist." (This is going to be come the new coin of the realm in politically conscious circles, particularly liberal ones, where the practice of calling you enemy a "Nazi" is getting a bit musty.)

Now, I tend toward a certain free-speech absolutism; that is, I think any doubt in a given situation must swing toward a presumption of legitimacy. However, the speech in this case makes for an interesting quandry. I am not of the opinion that Bush is a terrorist. I suppose this student is. (I am also not of the opinion that all anti-war protesters are "unpatriotic," although others do believe this. I've lately been told, though, that anti-war protesters think this epithet is grossly unfair.) Hmmm... Where does that leave us? Suppose the student wore a shirt that bore a picture of his principal, accompanied by the label "Pederast." That the student might actually hold this opinion seems irrelevant. Certainly, as the column points out, supposedly "liberal" administrators get their panties in a bunch when the free speech invades the zone of the politically correct.

I suppose I have to side with the free speechers on this one, though I lament that the parents allow their children to parade about with so little dignity. It's part of the complaint that I've voiced before that the rise of the "personal is political" ethos, and the resulting bumper-sticker culture, is really inimical to the idea of a civil society. It's a sign of those who are convinced, to the point of gross misperception, that their opinions on various political and social matters are of the deepest concern to their neighbors. It correlates highly with liberalism (i.e., showing your community how evolved you are, how correct your opinions are, how devoted you are to recycling); jingoism, in which it is usually voiced as a threat ("Don't tread ..." and all that); and religion (I need not lay out examples on this one). The connection is that all three are examples of people holding self-righteous beliefs, however irrational, that they seem to be repeating, mantra-like, as if determined to shout down any doubts that might creep into the fringes of their minds. I don't doubt that the desire to proselytize is at work here, though I suspect that the tendency to "spread the word" on any issue is based on a psychology that moves in deeper waters than the simple conviction of correctness.

Economy and War: The Dow charged out of the box this morning, after a brief hesitation. As I argued last week, those who make a facile case for why the markets move this way or that are often simply searching for a headline. Based on the latest moves, though, I think the market is showing a strong preference for the certainty of war over the uncertainty of more diplomatic posturing.
Here we go: Well, no one can say we didn't try. It appears certain that we are going in to Iraq, and probably in a couple of days. Your comments on Chirac's last-minute realization that he has put the final nail into his country's coffing pertaining to it being a world power is poignant. Consider reversing the tables. If France said it was going to bomb the Ivory Coast (for example) and the U.S. said not to, does anyone really think France would go ahead and do it? I'm not really concerned that this move hurts the U.S., but I see the polarization that has occurred, and will continue to strengthen, as simply unfortunate. Oh well.
Feel Good Society: Steven Pinker, speaking before Leon Kass's Bioethics Committee, makes a comment that seems (to me) to indict the utopia of self-esteem, as it is preached from pre-school to the psychologist's couch, that will sooner or later find a pharmacological solution to any "incorrect" feelings:
There is a syndrome studied by one of my undergraduate teachers, Ronald Melzack, in which some people are born without the ability to feel pain, and first you might think, "Wow, what a great thing. You know, you'd stub your toe and you'd walk away without, you know, swearing and feeling the agony and so on."

In fact, this is a bad thing. The people with that syndrome generally die in their early 20s. The reason is that they don't have the feedback signals that tell them when they're damaging their body, and they suffer from massive inflammation of the joints simply from not shifting their weight when it gets uncomfortable, something that's second nature to the rest of us that feel pain.

That is going to be true of many of the negative psychological emotions that we feel. The ability to feel sad is the other side of the coin of the ability to feel love and commitment. If you didn't feel sad when you child died, could you have really loved your child? If you can't feel anxious, I'm sure I don't have to remind anyone in this room that anxiety gets us to do many things that otherwise we would not have done.
Franzen touches on this (albeit obliquely) in "The Corrections," and it's a part of the book I wish he had made more of. By the way, keep reading down for the Q&A after Pinker's presentation. Psychologist-turned-pundit Dr. Charles Krauthammer has the most interesting questions for Pinker.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Penetrating Analysis: Headline of this story from Reuters, based on a 1% hop in the Dow this morning: "Stocks Rise on Hope of End to Iraq Crisis." First, this morning was not exactly a time of clarity on the Iraq situation, as last ditch negotiations and trips to the Azores obscured exactly how much more of the diplo-game had to be played. Second, how is it possible to know what "caused" a minor (and temporary -- check the ticker) rally this morning? Third, yesterday's enormous gain came amidst news that France would veto anything and the US would drop the "2nd resolution" idea and just attack. Do you suppose Reuters would suggest that what the market needs is a good-old shooting war to help cement the gains?
Chirac's Tremble, Continued: I'm wondering if Steven Den Beste is on to something here. His theory is that all the diplomatic posturing has been a game of Old Maid, that is, gaming who gets stuck with the blame for making the UNSC irrelevant. Upshot:
Instead of holding a vote, having it be badly defeated, and letting the French be able to claim that they did not veto because there was overwhelming opposition, we can now decide to not bring it to a vote after all, because of the clear fact that France would not permit it to pass, thus putting the French in the position of having sole responsibility for the lack of UNSC approval for the war we're going to fight anyway.
Our turnaround on the "show the cards anyway" vote, coupled with the sudden French willingness to negotiate, may indicate that they've realized how badly they've overplayed things. All we (and, importantly, Blair) have to say is, "The French said they'd veto anything, so they've removed the UNSC as an option." Den Beste has more, much more, laid out in a sort of game theory. It's worth reading it all.
The Smart Kidnapping: It seems like a lot of folks smelled something fishy here right away. You can't pass up a story everyone gets a bid vibe from. Sure enough, Drudge is in the vanguard on this story. You hate to swing the axe into the heart of this story, since it seems like a happy ending, plus family privacy, all that. But something doesn't add up here.
Chirac's Minor Tremble: Does this mean anything? Probably comes too late to change anything significantly, since France has offered to negotiate their proposed 120-day waiting period, while Bush is pushing for a 120-second period. The real question is, What did Chirac hear that made him pause? This? God bless the Aussies, but I don't think they engendered a change of heart in the ol' hack Chirac.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Let's go to the charts: How does our force match up with the Iraqis? Go find out.
Odd Coincidence Dept.: UN weapons inspector dead in Iraq. An auto accident, it appears. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I thought the inspectors traveled in escorted groups, like motorcades.
More Silly Hypocrisy: French businesses fear a backlash because American consumers seem "ambivalent" about French companies and products. Poor dears. We wouldn't want French companies to be on the receiving end of a critical comment, or even an organized protest, would we? Keep in mind that, in their civilized country, they express their ambivalence about American companies and policies by tossing bricks through the windows of McDonalds.
John Kerry, Raising Money: Check out this puff piece. Odd that it was only one election cycle ago that George W. Bush was the name in that same story, raising record amounts of money. Funny, too, that the conventional wisdom was that he was just an empty-suit rich guy trying to buy the presidency.
Inflated Deflation: Kaus was confused about Krugman being concerned, in an apparent bi-polar moment, over deflation one day, and inflation the next. Luckily there are those who can explain what's going on; Mr. DeLong I presume. I won't rehash what others have already done in a much more understandable format than I could provide, other than to re-post a quasi-footnote from DeLong:

Ever wonder why supply-side non-economists like Robert Novak and Fred Barnes hate Alan Greenspan so much? It's precisely because Greenspan was not complaisant at the end of the 1980s. Greenspan did not deal with the strong upward pressure on interest rates resulting from the Reagan deficits by turning on the faucet, expanding the money supply, and raising the rate of inflation. And they have never forgiven him for it.

Just shows, politicians hate it when others are right.
Blair and Rumsfeld: Rummy got whacked pretty hard over his comment that, if Britain's "internal politics" so dictate, we'll fight without them. Yes, this was too curt a way to treat an ally like Blair, but it had two galvanizing effects: 1) It put the world on notice that no diplomatic setback will deter us. 2) It caused Blair to say, rather unequivocally, that he's willing to put his career on the line. Someone had to say, publically, that Blair is off the hook if he feels his government is in jeopardy, and Rummy did just that. Blair took the opportunity to instead say, "Thanks, but I'll roll my dice with the Great Republic." Bloody good show.
The Honourable Gentleman from South Pickenwedge is an Arse: Yes, I would say that "direct" questioning is an understatement. The loyal opposition in these things is usually not only blunt but often rude. The huzzahs from the back bench add to the feel that a brawl is about to break out. Faced with something like this, Bush would fall apart, I think. It's a tribute to Blair that, even as he's getting the worst of it from his own party, he stands up in the commons and takes the beating and still makes the case eloquently.
The Right Honourable Gentleman: The British papers are wringing their hands over Blair's steadfast resolve to stay in the Iraq game. I guess they'd rather rely on France for support in times of crises. In any event, I was watching C-Span last night and they had the recent Q&A at the House of Commons, which is a delightful process of direct, unstilted questioning aimed at the leader of the government, namely the P.M. Blair has to, in rapid-fire fashion, respond to question after question on a variety of issue (granted most are more hand-wringing types over Iraq). I'm sure Blair has his blind spots, but god, what a true leader. He is sharp, eloquent, witty, logical, and emotional without ever sounding wooden or like he's in denial. As you've said before, he presents the most compelling argument for going in. Too bad Bush can't muster half of what Tony has, but one takes the good with the bad.
This is called having it both ways. What else is there to say? Key quote:
But [French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte] said France was prepared to contribute to a rebuilding effort that is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars over many years. "We don't see participation in Iraq's reconstruction as a privilege," said Mr. Levitte. "We see it as a moral duty."
We'll take a share of the cheese, in other words, without helping to bell the cat. Sacre bleu! Rather bold, isn't it?
Terrorists: Radley makes an important point this morning. This is terror, too, and PETA is more than complicit. Remember the story of the wife of the Saudi ambassador, the one who gave money to the "Islamic charities" that were al-Qaeda fronts? Well, if you give money to PETA, guess what ...

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Speaking of Dead Horses: I know I've taken up this issue before, but the otherwise interesting and smart Stan Kurtz is wandering around the mall in his slippers again. His pet issue of late, the Defense of Marriage Act, has brought him to this. In short, a lesbian couple wants the biological father of their child to join them as an officially recognized parent. As Kurtz puts it, Heather would now have three parents. Okay. So what on earth could be wrong with that? Kurtz:
Once parental responsibilities are parceled out to more than two people — even to someone living outside the household — it becomes that much easier for any one parent to shirk his or her responsibilities. The very notion that parents can be added and subtracted at will tends to cut against the feeling of special responsibility for a given child.
This is an exercise in idiocy. Why the numerical barrier to shirking? Why is it when "parental responsibilities are parceled out to more than two people"? Who knows? Two apparently is the magic number. (I might suggest that this barrier is a fig leaf for family values; after all, taken to its logical conclusion, and without the false numericals, isn't it an argument for single motherhood, since it concentrates the responsibility and encourages the mother not to shirk?)

He follows with the fear that this three-parent family would open the legal door to polygamy (The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming!) and, thus, this startling news: "Marriage as an institution depends for its successful functioning upon the support and encouragement that the ethos of monogamy receives from society as a whole." That is, the only reason I haven't ditched my wife to live with a free love commune in Vermont is the "ethos of monogamy" in "society as a whole." (If he wasn't arguing right-wing doctrine, I'd swear that Kurtz had gone back to the left. This theory of societal pressure sounds pretty Marxist.) No argument remains too silly for the right on this subject.

Chabon: Is he a Pittsburgh boy? Just noticed that the "Summerland" review was from the Post-Gazette; and "Wonder Boys" (the movie, anyway) took place in Pittsburgh ...
More Iraq: In a word, yes. I think you've said it. A couple of points: First, going the UN route seemed like a good idea at the time. 20/20 hindsight, and all that. But 1441 appeared to have some teeth, and it passed unanimously. The fact that France and Russia now argue around it is truly a logical headstand. Perhaps we should have known that 1441 was too good to be true, but I don't fault Bush for being misled. Second, our government stated, quite clearly, in 1998 (and in defiance of Kofi Annan) that Saddam was a man we could not do business with. Bush's Iraq policy is simply Clinton's Iraq policy without the endless policy dickering that characterized the Clinton administration. (See Sully, here, for a better analysis.) All the resistance to a regime change policy now is on account of the messenger, not the message. Face it, Clinton could have proposed a capital gains tax cut and old school Republicans would have opposed it on deficit hawk terms, just to oppose the ol' randy Arkansan. Likewise, Bush could propose doubling the minimum wage, and die hard Dems would, reflexively, start looking suspiciously for how it benefits Halliburton. This is partisanship, and it stinks.
Chabon, chabon: "Wonder Boys" was very good. One of my favorite Michael Douglas performances because he wasn't playing the jilted lover or the ego-driven millionaire. Quirky, conflicted, funny. Shows what you can do when you try. I've only read "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay" by Chabon, although "Wonder Boys" is on my list - I'm doing some cyber-punk now with Gibson. TAAOKAK was a very stirring book, with some real ambition behind it. I found it a bit longer than I wanted, but he can turn a phrase, and without so much posturing as Franzen or, god-forbid, Wallace (probably because Chabon doesn't wear the "Kiss Me, I'm a Post-Modernist." button all the time). So, I can recommend the book without hesitation, as it has a little of something for everyone. Speaking of everyone, Chabon also has written for children, with "Summerland" (wasn't that a King's X tune?).
Iraq. Attack?: I think the biggest weakness was playing with the U.N. What I mean is that if we can safely assume that Saddam has been in violation of the various and sundry resolutions from day 1 (a la the argument that the war never ended), then one could safely argue that there was no agreement NOT to continue the war. Problem is, we and everyone else let it appear that the war was in fact over, and that to start it up again, we needed cogent, tangible reasons. By virtue of that (and feel free to blame Bush I or Clinton), we then tacitly said that unless he invades Kuwait again, or is testing nuclear weapons in Israel, we're not going to do anything other than contain him. Now, can you argue that Sept. 11 changed the deal? Well, sort of. The point is that there's no juicy evidence that shows Saddam helping out with that attack. Or, stated differently, Saddam hasn't really changed his tune over the past 10 years, so why now is it imminent to get him out? This then goes back to my central argument that by at least tacitly playing by the U.N. rules all along, and ignoring Saddam while the economy was so good (am I being too cynical?), we trapped ourselves into a corner. Now, we try to get out of that corner by arguing the rules of the game that the U.N. created...except when we don't. Basically, this is a microcosm of Bush II: good intentions, clear direction; bassackwards communication and persuasion.
Shifting Gears: On to the arts: I saw "Wonder Boys" last weekend. It was cute, in a madcap sort of way. I trust the book is better. The wife liked it and is interested in picking up some Chabon. Where should she start? Did I mention (that was rhetorical) that she has been invited to a conference on innovation in higher education? It's in Kiev. The boy and I will sit at home and eat Cheetos for dinner while she tours the art and culture of this ancient city. Well, he and I did get to see the Mardi Gras parades this year. About time she had some fun.
Dictators and Democracy: I second your point about "transitional" governance. Yes, Iraq will need a dictator for awhile. One of our boys would be preferable, at first. Going from Saddam to democracy in 5.4 seconds will involve a horrific strain, particularly after we bomb the infrastructure to flinders. (Afghanistan offers an interesting model. Hamid Karzai holds a strong presidency, but his mandate is for free elections and building a parliamentary regime that would vest power more in a prime minister. His job, then, is to phase out his own dictatorial powers on the way.) It will be interesting to watch, since centralized power tempts the finest among us. The nice thing is that, by all accounts, the Kurds are not too restless. They already have a proto-democracy in the north that, if nothing else, has tamped down the nationalistic urges lately. In the end, though, Iraq needs to be a functioning republic, or the nationalism will arise again. A coalition-style parliament might too easily create a destructive factionalism. I wonder, at times, why more emerging democracies don't choose an American-style federalism. It seems to strike a nice balance of local and central control, and in a sense it reduces the kind of splintering effect that makes every ethnic sub-group feel like they need their own political party.
Containment, again: Any strong feelings on the matter? You present the side of idealism well, but Mead is arguing a confined reality. Had we but world enough and time, sure I'd suggest a tick-off list of world dictators we should cool to room temperature. Nevertheless, the fact that we haven't the resources to do everything does not imply that we should, instead, despair of doing anything. In the business world it's called prioritizing, and I think there is a decent case to be made that North Korea is the top priority. Iran, too, given their recent steps toward nuclear power. (Debate the merits, but Bush put Iraq at the top of his list.) There's no reason not to take an idealistic approach into the confining realities, to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Secondarily, as to the sanctimony, I agree that Mead is conceding the argument to the "save the children" types. This is about our national interests and security; the benefits to the Iraqis, while not insignificant and wonderful to ponder, are tangential.

Containment, Part Deux: Okay, I conveniently didn't address Mead's second part, that about the de-stabilization. I don't agree that we're only in Saudi because of Iraq. But, if we take over Iraq, there will be no reason to stay in Saudi, and in fact, good reason to get out, as Mead alludes to, because our presence there alone pisses the Muslims off. By invading Iraq and staging bases there, we then inhabit a land which has been essentially secular for decades, and we can assuage many of those who say we defile the holy land. Then again, if Mead is correct, and we're only in Saudi b/c of Iraq, we shouldn't need to stay in Iraq long once Saddam is gone. Hmmm, right. I'm sure we'll back right out of Iraq once we have a new dictator, I mean, President, in place in Baghdad. That brings up another issue that I heard on NPR last night. The guest said we will need a benevolent dictator as a segue to a democratic regime because you'll need some sort of iron fist to keep the three warring factions in check. A true democracy would devolve into a Haiti-type situation. And we know how well our policy has done on that tiny island.
Contain this: Noble argument, but don't buy it. Well, what I mean is it's a very compelling reason to go in, but dare I mention N. Korea once more? If Castro didn't put all of his money into healthcare and education, you'd have the same argument in Cuba. How about Somalia? Oh right, they kicked our asses already. Okay then, let's go to Nigeria, the Congo, or Ethiopia. Plenty of tyrants there hacking off limbs, starving their people for one more Mercedes. Hell, we're not even containing half of those I've mentioned - we're simply ignoring them. Why? Because Africa offers little strategic interest. They're doing a good job of killing themselves, so let's not worry right now. How about Egypt or Saudi Arabia? These regimes are extremely repressive but constitute two of the biggest donees of U.S. aid (Egypt is only behind Israel in terms of dollars donated - go figure). Listen, I don't pretend to be naive. I know we need to coddle those we depend on, while we whack those we can afford to whack. But don't, Mr. Mead, get sanctimonious on me.
Via the Corner: Goldberg links to this excellent piece of analysis by W.R. Mead in the WaPo, on the subject of containment. Check it out. It speaks for itself.
Sir, this horse is alive, sir! I think your N. Korea post is right on, and I don't think it's a dead horse. We've come pretty close to agreement on the Korea threat in the past, and I think our only real difference is that I think Saddam should clearly go first, whereas you seem to think that taking out Iraq before North Korea is akin to eating your vegetables first, so you can really enjoy your steak. There is an argument to be made for dealing with Saddam later and tackling the Korean difficulty now, but I don't subscribe. For one thing, Korea may or may not have the bomb. I bet they don't (we'll know when they do; I think they want us to know), but I wouldn't want to cover that spread. Saddam doesn't have one, and it seems reasonable that we not let him become another Kim. Also, Saddam has patience, something Kim can't afford, which is why Kim has been the little guy whacking at the bully. Let the impatient Kim do something foolish, so we have a good case for popping his cork. Besides, the policy we have now is working. Just a couple weeks ago, the South Koreans were babbling about scrapping the current SOFA. Rumsfeld says he's open to the idea, North Korea tests another missile, and suddenly South Korea is saying, "No, no, we're honored by the presence of your noble soldiers on our land!" (We should try this trick with the Germans.)

It's funny, we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. On Iraq, we're being too "unilateral." On Korea, the world wants to know why the hell we're insisting on a multilateral solution. America may be inconsistent, but so are her critics.

I'd pay to see this debate: "Honorable Assembly, I cain't see clear as to why we need to take the action that has been raised here. My sweet little Lula Mae back home is just tickled to death that I made an honest woman of her. I'll tell you what, it helps to be under the same roof when she needs help with her algebra."
God's on my side: I agree with you that TNR's piece on Bush's compact with Jehovah is cheap and desperate. I'm not big on any leader of a secular country that constantly refers to the divine for his inspiration. The reason being is that we know how actions are justified by religious "beliefs" (viz. Israel, Palestine, Taliban, Crusades....). Ideally, you have someone who states a position and then articulates its support based on reason and empirical facts. If Bush's determination and steadfastness is his strength, then it is also his weakness. Having said as much, I admire him for his ability to act and not waver (certainly Clinton, for all of his intelligence and articulateness, was not nearly as strong in his convictions). I don't think it's a worthy or proper subject for a magazine to take issue with unless you can really show that the religious beliefs have actually negatively impacted on his decision-making.
Last strike at the dead horse: N. Korea needs cash so bad it is flouting all prior agreements and willing to draw the already considerable ire of the Free World in order to ramp up its nuclear program. N. Korea has a proven history of selling missles and other short to medium range weapons to anyone with the Benjamins. N. Korea has an autocrat who is probably more deluded than Saddam (Saddam at least has tasted the sting of defeat). N. Korea has a huge military and a giant highway that leads right to Seoul. Yet, we are strongly considering more aid to N. Korea if it will simply abide by an agreement it voluntarily made only a few years ago (after receiving more aid) - Saddam had his "agreement" imposed on him after being humiliated in Kuwait. I understand that we're invading Iraq because we can, and because no one will really care that we did when it's all said and done. We have no policy with respect to Kim Jong other than to hope that China and/or Russia can contain him. The argument for Iraq is even more applicable to N. Korea, but we do nothing. Why? Because the rhetoric is only that. I hope Saddam takes it in the ass from a one of those new MOAB bombs we just tested. But as bad as the Frances and Deans (sounds like an early 60's folk group) of the world are, the justification offered by this Administration as to the "urgency" of getting Saddam is equally hollow.
Must Read: Sullivan plumbs the depths early this morning. I think he's right that we're in a Churchill moment (and Churchill had many of them). It's become a cliche to say that the world has changed, and it really doesn't even cover the range of danger we're waking up to. Is it fatalistic to say, as Sully does, that a major western city has to go before the world wakes up? It's only a matter of time before a terrorist organization gets its hands on the material to make a nuclear weapon. Think about the scope of atomic history, brief though it may be. One nuclear superpower, then two, then four, then eight. And dozens more have access to the fissile material and technology. In time, technology spreads, defiant of borders, restrictions on trade, or -- in this case -- non-proliferation treaties. And when that day arrives, when a terrorist organization has access to a suitcase nuke, what target will they choose? New York, again? Boston? DC? How about London, Paris, Brussels, or Berlin? If we don't take the threat seriously, it will happen. It's likely that it will happen even if we take it seriously. Terrorist networks are designed to be loose, nebulous, difficult to track. What's the upshot here? Saddam Hussein is building weapons. He's made it clear for 20 years that a nuclear arsenal is his fervent desire. Would he use it? Of course he would. At the very least he would use the implicit threat of using it nearly as effectively as the very bomb itself. Next: Would he share it, proliferate it, give it to terrorists? God knows; but the real answer is: Should we be willing to wait and see?

As for our Churchill moment, it seems unfair to have to suffer it without Churchill.