Friday, December 31, 2004

Wild Changes
In a few hours, 2004 will be history. I'd be tempted to say, "good riddance," if I wasn't afraid 2005 is going to be worse. Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee:
But never in the memory of the living generation have the errors, falsifications and unreason of policy come in such rapid and overwhelming succession that each buries its predecessor before it's even partially absorbed, much less understood.

The result is an historic dynamic of error, dishonesty and corruption that's far more frightening than any individual event. The counterpoint of revelations of flawed and myopic foreign policy decisions against the deepening quagmire overseas is itself so overwhelming that most people must have trouble keeping track of it.
There's little reason to think that one morning in the coming year, the American people will collectively awaken and suddenly see their country clearly and whole, and thus, little reason for optimism as we approach 2005.

But then again, as I wrote before Christmas, "Hope is the last thing left in Pandora's Box after all the world's evils are loosed." Which is why--in full acknowledgment of my own pessimism--I'd like to leave you for the year with a post from Tom Engelhardt's blog, TomDispatch (another good one I don't read often enough). Engelhardt posts an article by Rebecca Solnit, who is as optimistic about the future as anyone I've read in a long while. She says that while events of 2004 looked hugely important to those of us in the middle of them, historians will see the year differently:
[H]istory will remember 2004 not with the microscopic lens of we who lived through it the way aphids traverse a rose, but with a telescopic eye that sees it as part of the stream of wild changes that exploded in 1989 in one of the greatest years of revolutions the world has ever seen, the first great harvest of seeds sown years and decades before.
She's talking about Tienanmen Square, the Solidarity movement in Poland, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and other liberations in other places. In this year alone, she says, progressivism was on the march in places not accustomed to it, such as Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, and in the Ukraine. And all of these movements came not from the primary political actors of the time, but from below, when people decided they'd had enough.

Solnit finds no reason to believe that the "stream of wild changes" won't keep flowing.
The US election was bound to be depressing, since its very nature was to fix our gaze upon national electoral politics, the arena in which they have lots of power and we have hardly any. At these times, the world is organized like a theater; politicians are what's on stage; and the message is that this and nowhere else is where the fate of the world is decided. It's easy to let your gaze lock onto the limelight, helped along by all the mainstream media. And staring at a bright light makes it hard to see in the dark areas around and beyond. It takes time for your eyes to adjust. The brightly lit stage is an arena of tremendous power, but of almost no creativity. Much is decided there, but what is at stake comes from elsewhere. I wonder nowadays if the fear of the Other -- communists, gays, lesbians, immigrants, terrorists -- displaces into safe terms the very real recognition that change comes from the edge. Those with a stake in the status quo are there to protect the center not just from assault, but from imagination and transformation. But change will come anyway.
The question is whether that change can come fast enough to save our asses. As Engelhardt writes in his introduction, "I fear we don't have the stretches of time that all complex movements need to come into their own, not with an administration so intent on eating the Earth." That's my fear also. Buckle up and we'll see what happens.

In his introduction, Engelhardt writes of another hopeful sign for the future:
In a mere three years, the flickering of a historical eyelash, he [George W. Bush] almost single-handedly has given life and vitality to the political Internet, while creating an antiwar and anti-him movement of surprising size, one that nearly lifted a recalcitrant candidate into the presidency. What took the right in America years and years after the Goldwater debacle of 1964, we -- whoever or whatever we are in this strange, new world -- seem to be doing at a double-march pace. It's invigorating to watch. Imagine, then, along with all the expectable destruction and mayhem, what our President might be capable of producing in the four years to come.
Despite the electoral defeat of the left in 2004, despite all the rhetoric from the right that says we should sit down, shut up, and do as we're told, this defeat does not necessarily represent destruction. We have the will to rise again.

And so, 2005, here we come. This is the final Daily Aneurysm post for 2004. If you'd like to revisit some of my favorite posts of the year, they're here. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year to all.

The Secretary Does Not Do Windows
You can't possibly read every worthwhile year-in-review piece that's out there, and if you have a life (unlike, for example, your blogger), you may not have time to read all of the ones below, either. But here I go:

We have to start somewhere, so how about World O'Crap's Wingnuttiest People of 2004? This blogger, whomever he or she might be, is one of the hardest-working people in the 'sphere, if only because it must take a lot of energy and effort to read Townhall.com and WorldNetDaily so closely and so regularly without whacking out.

Alternet has a couple of good ones, too: First, the Center for Media and Democracy's inaugural Falsies Awards, going to those "people and players responsible for polluting our information environment" in the year just ending. Next, Daniel Kurtzman collects the "25 Dumbest Quotes of 2004." My favorite belongs to pop star Jessica Simpson, who told Interior Secretary Gale Norton, "You've done a nice job decorating the White House."

In case you missed it over Christmas, my list of Quotes of the Year, culled from the Quotes of the Day at this blog, is here. One of those quotes is from James Ridgeway of the Village Voice, who wrote in September that "Bush's entire social policy is organized around sex roles, so that you qualify for things like welfare, tax breaks, unemployment insurance, and health care based on where you do it, how you do it, when you do it, and, of course, with whom you do it. To the Christian fundamentalists, fucking makes the world go 'round." Lara Riscol summarizes 2004 as the year conservatives made sexual perversion an art form.

Some of the people most worried about the decline of American culture are the same people who spend hours keeping track of celebrity gossip on TV channels such as E, VH1, and Court TV. But even that's not your thing, even if you actively try to avoid people like Jessica Simpson, or Britney Spears, or Scott Peterson, or Paris Hilton, they're going to barge into your life anyhow--if only via this link to Salon's recap of the year in gossip.

Not all of the yearend pieces are lists or collections of links. Several worthwhile stories appeared in various places this week that summarize lessons learned this year and point the way into 2005. One of them is from Teresa Whitehead, who's noticed, as I have, the deepening anti-intellectual streak in this country. It's not a new phenomenon--Americans have always preferred down-home, school-of-hard-knocks-acquired wisdom to book learnin', only in the age of Bush, the tendency is getting worse exponentially. Whitehead's title says it all: "Careful Not to Get Too Much Education . . . Or You Could Turn Liberal". Another must-read is from Robert Fisk, whose most recent report on Iraq contains more historical and geopolitical wisdom than you'll find in the whole year's transcripts of White House briefings. Finally, Ed Kilgore of New Donkey looks back on the impact of "culture" and "values" on the presidential election, and has some suggestions for how Democrats should incorporate values into their thinking. Kilgore is a DLC guy, and so it's natural to think of him as one of those Bush-lite Republican appeasers--but his reasoning is pretty good in this post.

Some final thoughts on 2004 are coming later today, along with my favorite Daily Aneurysm posts of the year.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Worst of the Worst
It's time for the finals of the Most Loathsome Conservative of the Year contest. The survivors, having made it through the quarterfinals and semifinals, are:
--Sean Hannity and Fox News generally
--James Dobson and the radical clerics
I realize that by straying from my original post on the subject and lumping the rest of Fox News with the loathsome Hannity, and other radical clerics with the loathsome Dobson, I have watered down the contest a bit. Nevertheless, you still have the chance to pick the poison you find most offensive--baldfaced propagandizing or hypocritical moralizing, each in the service of untruth.

If you don't have a strong visceral reaction to either contestant, or--more likely, I think--if you have an equally strong visceral reaction to both contestants, here are some links to help you decide who is more loathsome:
Media Matters' year-end review of Fox News' falsehoods, distortions, and smears.

A review of Hannity's 2004 book, Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism .

People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch fact sheet on Dobson's Focus on the Family organization.

An old but still useful site called "Know Your Enemies," which summarizes the activities of many major groups and figures of the religious right.
The winner will receive absolutely nothing except the opprobrium he deserves. Vote now.

Narrow Margins
It seems to me there's a test in life we could apply whenever we're tempted to do something that could have a potentially negative effect on another person: If the shoe were on the other foot, and that other person wanted to do the same thing, thus producing the same negative impact on us, would we object to it? If the answer is "yes," then maybe we ought to rethink what we're tempted to do. That simple test points up the silliness of Repug gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi's call for a revote in the Washington state governor's race. If it were Rossi who'd been certified the winner by 129 votes out of 2.8 million, and Democrat Christine Gregoire were the one calling for a revote, Repugs from coast to coast would be overcome with the fantods. For them to call on the Democrats to be gracious in this situation is pretty ridiculous, then, because they'd never for one second consider doing the same thing themselves.

A revote isn't a bad idea in theory. Trouble is, revoting close races is not the way the game is played now--and it's hard to imagine a system in which revotes might work. What if there were a law that said any election decided by less than 0.00005 percent of the vote had to be revoted? That's 140 votes out of 2.8 million. There would always be a magic number at which the lawsuits would begin to fly. And because we're dealing with human beings, there's always going to be a margin of error. The only sure way to avoid it is to stop having elections altogether. (Give us time--we might get there.)

The statesmanlike thing for Rossi to do at this point would be to put his energies toward reforming the election system to help make sure the kind of irregularities seen in Washington and in other jurisdictions around the country (hello, Ohio; how ya doin', Florida) don't keep every vote from being fairly and consistently counted. He could be Exhibit B for why such reforms are necessary. Exhibit A, of course, would be Al Gore.

Recommended Reading: At Daily Kos, a contributor observes that gay families are the canary in the coalmine of social repression, and wonders if it will soon be time for his family to leave the United States. And at Editor and Publisher, editor Greg Mitchell collects some of the e-mails and letters he received after his magazine noted USA Today founder Al Neuharth's pre-Christmas column, which innocuously suggested that it was time to start bringing troops home from Iraq. They'll make you feel a bit like a canary yourself.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Rules of Arithmetic
There's a must-read post at Daily Kos that examines the casualty rate of American forces in Iraq, and what the rate means to our war effort. Diarist Stirling Newberry writes that when you examine the numbers from the Battle of Fallujah, in which we took out three insurgents for each American soldier lost, it looks good at first. But when you compare it historically to similar battles against insurgency, well, not so much.
[T]hat number is well below the historical victory rate for occupiers or established military forces against an insurgency. The grey zone is around 4 or 5 to 1. If an established force is only disabling at 4 to 1 against an insurgency, it is very likely to be headed for defeat, not victory. To give an idea of scale, the US coalition inflicted 1000:1 during the first Gulf War, and 100:1 during the invasion. In the most intense days of fighting [in Fallujah], the ratio dropped to 2:1. In short, a rate which is headed for defeat.
And it's not just gross casualty rates for all personnel involved that tell the story--it's who's getting taken out.
In Vietnam it was not, ultimately, the attrition of enlisted personnel that was fatal to the US war effort, it was the attrition of low level officers. While the casualty rates for "grunts" in Vietnam were high, they were more sustainable than the Korean conflict, or the American Civil War. What was unsustainable was the attrition to the officer core - which was at rate comparable to the worst conflicts in American history. There was a leadership drain. This is a continuing pattern: in Afghanistan, it was the loss of high level officers and helicopter pilots that doomed the Soviet occupation.
When you lose those officers, as well as fighters with special skills such as pilots, you lose leadership and training capacity. Because this is not easily replaced, sacrificing such personnel is like eating your seed corn.

At the current rate of attrition, Newberry sees a crisis point about 18 months from now, when we simply will not have enough skilled troops on the ground to compete with the insurgency. And Iraqi security forces, a key cog in the administration's plans to pacify the country, aren't going to be much help.
[I]t is clear that the Iraqi security forces are completely ineffective against the insurgents, the insurgents are killing or disabling more security forces, than in reverse, and are able to execute strategic attacks on infrastructure as well. Taking out the insurgents killed by the coalition, the insurgents are outkilling the government by at least 3:1. . . .

The Iraqi military isn't even a modern mechanized force. It is, essentially, a World War I level force taking on a similarly equipped insurgency. It does not have mobile hospitals, control of hard points. It does not have chopper forces, tanks, high level command and control, training facilities, or safe places to rotate forces.

In short, the Iraqi security forces are fighting on a roughly equal footing with the insurgents.
And even with our help--the chopper forces, tanks, training facilities, and so on--they're getting their butts kicked.

If the situation gets worse in Iraq during 2005--and given what we've seen throughout 2004, how could it not?--I'd be willing to bet Newberry's 18-month deadline gets moved up. And that means the United States is going to have a serious choice to make, likely before the end of 2005:

1. Wish the Iraqi government elected on January 30th good luck and get the hell out, bringing on the civil war sensible observers have been predicting all along.

2. Continue the present course with the present force, which chews up what Newberry calls "the elite warrior pool," the cutting edge of American military power, making it less effective in the war it's already fighting, and with with grave consequences if trouble breaks out elsewhere in the world.

3. Continue the present course while taking measures to build up the American forces. Since no other country is going to offer us anything more than their best wishes, that means a draft of Americans.

Given Bush and Rumsfeld's dogged insistence that no mistakes have been made in Iraq and that the status quo is just fine, Numbers 2 and 3 would have to be the early betting favorites. And when the inexorable power of arithmetic becomes undeniable even within the faith-based community running this war, Number 3 will come to pass. But if Newberry's arithmetic is correct, we'll be drafting people into a military force that's less able to properly train and lead them, decreasing the likelihood that we'll be able to achieve something that looks like victory while increasing the likelihood that the draftees will be killed or wounded.

Happy New Year, indeed.

Another One-Car Funeral Screwed Up
Bush's decision to devote $15 million to tsunami relief, later raised to $35 million, is a neat little lesson in what's important to his administration. As Rob at AMERICAblog pointed out this morning, that's what Bush spends on his Iraq adventure in five hours. As for why he's staying on vacation in Crawford, well, to run back to Washington and look all concerned and compassionate would be too much like something Bill Clinton would do. And, as Juan Cole and others have observed, by dawdling on a response and then coming up with one so small, Bush has actually missed an opportunity to show Muslims in the region that the United States really doesn't hate them and their religion.

It's one thing to screw up the hard stuff. War and peace, global economics--even smart people can have trouble getting a complete handle on them. But the proper response to the Asian tsunami from the world's wealthiest nation isn't an issue that's difficult or nuanced. Doing the right thing--even if some of it is largely symbolic--should be easy. But they blew it.

It's another proud day to be an American. Only 1482 more days left to be so proud.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

That's What I Should Have Said, Dammit
It's a fact that almost everything I write about on this blog will be discussed in a more intelligent fashion somewhere else. Thus, Liberal Oasis has more on the Democratic leadership's [sarcasm alert] brilliant idea of moving right on abortion, and John at AMERICAblog suggests that of the party's many problems in 2004, John Kerry was one of the biggest.

I suck, really.

Rebirth Day
Distance brings perspective, and it's clear now, eight weeks after the election, that John Kerry's biggest asset as a presidential candidate was that he wasn't George W. Bush. That was more important than being a war hero, or being a veteran senator, or being tough on terrorists. And because of that, just about any Democrat, except maybe Al Sharpton or Barbra Streisand, would probably have done about as well.

There's a plausible argument that progressives are somewhat better off in the long run thanks to Kerry's defeat. "Anybody But Bush" would have at least stopped the bleeding in 2004, but it would also have fed the illusion that the Democrat status quo was still OK. Lots of thinking Democrats knew long ago that it wasn't, but if we'd become consumed with the day-to-day battles of running the country, the party's necessary rebirth would likely have been postponed.

Even if you've dipped into lefty journalism and blogs only a little since November 2, you've been exposed to many opinions about how best to remake the party. One thing is pretty sure: What we believe in is not really the problem. Poll after poll shows that large majorities of the electorate are with us on Social Security, the environment, and other key issues. So if there's nothing wrong with what we stand for, the kind of sellout on abortion that some Democratic Party leaders are floating is exactly the wrong way to begin a transformation. Congressman Tim Roemer, reportedly urged to seek the DNC chairmanship by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, thinks the party should become more "tolerant" of pro-lifers, by promoting adoption and supporting parental notification laws and late-term abortion bans. The first idea ain't bad, and it fits quite consistently with Bill Clinton's line about keeping abortion "safe, legal, and rare." The other two are problematical, however. They're likely to keep alive the kind of fault lines that already make the Democratic Party a marriage of convenience between dissimilar groups. For every swing voter they attract, they could just as easily cause an abortion-rights supporter to defect to a third party or stay home. And as evidence of what other political strategies party leaders might have in mind, it doesn't make me too optimistic. Roemer's gambit sounds like another exercise in swing-voter-peeling, the same dishwater that's turned the Democratic Party into a punching bag for the Repugs. It presumes that the Democratic coalition--a dysfunctional family if ever there was one--is OK, and that it needs only some fiddling at the margins to be a winner again.

In the January/February 2005 issue of Mother Jones, Todd Gitlin writes about the fusion of movement and machine necessary to revitalize today's left and turn it into a credible force around which people can rally. What Gitlin argues for (and what Michael Kazin seconds in another Mother Jones article) is a change in the way we think about our side as a political force. It would involve employing the same sort of grassroots strategy the Repugs have used so well over the last 20 years. It would involve enlisting the same ground troops who fought against Bush in 2004 to fight for progressive causes in years to come--if we want to stop being the people who win elections only by default (when the Republicans run ineptly), and start winning on the demonstrable merits of our case.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Is it Encomiums or Encomia?
We take our football seriously up here in Wisconsin. It's why churches adjusted the start times of Christmas Eve services to accomodate the Packers' game against Minnesota, and it's why we were more shocked than most to learn yesterday of the death of Reggie White, who played for Green Bay from 1993 through 1998. At a time when few prominent players (especially African-American players) wanted to come to what is essentially rural Wisconsin, Reggie chose to sign with Green Bay. Other talented players followed, as did a Super Bowl championship after the 1996 season.

White tarnished his legacy by making racist remarks in a speech before the Wisconsin Legislature, by failing to rebuild a burned-out church in his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, after Wisconsin fans donated thousands of dollars for the project, and by apparently failing to come through on other charitable pledges he made. (A sports reporter who covered the Packers in White's era told me over beers one night that White was, in fact, the biggest hypocrite he had ever met.) But all of that is getting lost in the encomiums being heard today. And thanks to the contradictions of sports fandom, all of that will eventually be forgotten entirely in favor of happier memories. One of them is Reggie running the Super Bowl trophy over to the contingent of Packer fans after the game, as if to say, "This is yours." Which we firmly believed it was, because that's how we are about football up here.

(Coverage of White's death is sharing the spotlight today with the Asian tsunami, which has killed upwards of 23,000 people. But that's America for you. One of the first stories I heard yesterday focused on the fact that there were "only" two American casualties among the dead. We are truly the navel-gazingest people on Earth.)

Quote of the Day: Atrios says that since Christmas is over, it's time for godless liberals to start discussing strategies for the war on Easter. Several hilarious comments ensue, none funnier than the one from NTodd:
Jesus died for our sins, right? And all good Christians will be resurrected and get to rule the world with Him, right? So why don't we just kill all the Christians and then say we're really sorry that we sinned, but we're really glad Jesus got nailed to that tree so can we please go to Heaven with all the dead Christians?

Just thinking out loud here.
And now, NTodd's concluding remark, which is the quote of the day: "Please note that I can't actually be in charge of the killing because I'm a Quaker. But I'm cool with outsourcing."

Fudge Coma Now, Subversion Later
I am back home in my office after four days of holidaying with the niece and nephews (pictures to come later in the week) and things are pretty quiet. It's likely to be quiet all week, and we ought to enjoy it. In January the new, even-more-wingnutty Congress is coming back and Bush will be inaugurated for a second term with the kind of military pageantry Mussolini would admire, to be followed by assaults on Social Security, civil liberties, and common decency that are likely to leave us nostalgic for 2004, as bad as it has been. But right now, our biggest problems include which football game to watch, and the question of whether the Christmas treats will hold out through the New Year's weekend.

One thing to keep in mind during the coming storms of 2005 is that in 2004, one could often forestall weeping by laughing instead. Salon's TV writer, Heather Havrilesky, notes that 2004 was the best year ever for satire, from The Daily Show and the movie Team America to Aneurysm favorites like The Onion, The Boondocks, and Doonesbury. Although enjoying subversive humor does not automaticaly make you a subversive person yourself, maybe it's a start.

When is subversion not subversion? I was one of the people who found it curious that Desperate Housewives, a TV program whose characters break several commandments in each episode would explode into public consciousness at the same moment we supposedly went to the polls for Jesus. (The show has stronger ratings in some red-state markets than in blue-state markets of equivalent size.) Richard Goldstein wasn't surprised, however--he says that yes, Desperate Housewives looks like an act of rebellion against wholesome suburban values, but it's actually conservative at its core.

Recommended Reading: Before I left for Christmas, I posted a few of the usual half-baked thoughts on the AP's top news stories of 2004. Over at Daily Kos, they've been discussing the list and what should have been on it. (Scroll past the first few comments, which have to do with an HTML coding problem in the original post that has been corrected.)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Quotes of the Year
It is never easy to pick a quote that sums up the year, and especially not in 2004. One good candidate might be what a friend said to me just yesterday: "I keep hearing stories about the inauguration coming up, and I think--my God, haven't the next four years even started yet?"

But I keep returning to a quote that was first uttered in 2000, and which became the guiding mantra of this blog last year. During the Florida recount, Hunter S. Thompson wrote a column that still gets at the tenor of the times as well as anything written in the intervening four years, or uttered in 2004. He wrote:
We are living in dangerously weird times now. Smart people just shrug and admit they're dazed and confused. The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we knew it. Doom is the operative ethic.
An accurate appraisal of 2004, I think. Thompson concluded the column by promising:
Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness. Get familiar with Cannibalism.
Good advice for 2005, I think. Some more Quotes of the Year 2004, as featured in this blog, are here.

With that, this blog is going on hiatus until at least Monday, December 27. (There's a Christmas post up at The Hits Just Keep On Comin', if you need a fix.) Your homework assignment in my absence is to click at least two sites in my links list that you've never visited before. And also to have a wonderful holiday celebration, whatever it entails and wherever it takes you.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Conventional Narrative, 2004
The Associated Press came out with its list of the year's top stories yesterday, just in time to be widely disseminated over the holidays when there's little other news to report. And the list is symptomatic, it seems to me, of precisely what's wrong with mainstream media coverage of the world nowadays--it treats complicated stories as if they were simple.

Take Number One: "U.S. Election." The raw vote total on November 2 is one story, but only one, and not the only one that mattered. There was the influence of corporate cash on the electoral process; the Swift Boat Liars and how their story propagated; the vote-Bush-or-die scare tactics from prominent Republicans; the debates; the allegations of vote fraud by both parties; the exit-poll controversy; the Ohio recounts; and that's just off the top of my head. You could argue that the influence of the religious right and the way their views shaped the electorate and George W. Bush himself, is a story equally as important as Bush's victory itself. But the AP conveniently lumps it all under the heading of "U.S. Election."

The same is true of story Number Two, "Iraq." How many sub-stories are there beneath that umbrella? At least the AP editors had the sense to recognize that Abu Ghraib (checking in at Number Four) was a separate story, but there could have been lots of others--the continued insurgency, the handover of power, the battle of Fallujah, or Rumsfeld's dance around the soldier's question about armor. All of these stories shaped the meaning of "Iraq" in 2004, some more significantly than others.

So it's no wonder that the biggest news stories are dimly understood. Following the broad narrative is like skimming a literary novel to get the plot. At the end, you'll understand some of it, but you will have missed much of what the author put in for you to get. So it is with news coverage. If all you take in are the broad outlines of the big story--the election or Iraq--without trying to grasp the other elements of the story, you will have missed much of the story's meaning. If you do that with a novel, well, no harm is done. Do it with a major news story, however, and bad consequences can ensue. Like, for example, reelecting the worst president in American history.

The trouble with stories like Iraq and the election is that they're ongoing stories, which are fabulously hard for the mainstream media to tell effectively. When you have 45 seconds for a story, there's no time for context, and in ongoing stories, context is the whole ballgame. Where the AP list succeeds, however, is where the mainstream media still excels: at spot news stories, discrete events not part of a broader continuum--stories with a conventional narrative, beginning, middle, and end. The AP's list includes the Florida hurricanes, the deaths of Yasser Arafat and Ronald Reagan, the train bombings in Madrid, and the seizure of a school in Russia followed by the killing of over 300 hostages. The Boston Red Sox World Series victory even got one first-place vote in the AP editors' poll.

While all of those stories seem significant at this moment, they won't matter one whit a year from now. But some of the glossed-over sub-stories in the broader narratives about the 2004 election, Iraq, and the economy will still matter--and in some cases, remain matters of life and death, either metaphorically and literally.

When they're not being incompletely reported, the big stories are often underreported. If big umbrella titles like "U.S. Election" and "Iraq" were worthy of the AP's 2004 top ten, surely "the economy" should have made it, too. Like the election and Iraq, it's also a constellation of significant stories: the murky employment picture, the ballooning deficit, outsourcing--pick your favorite flavor. How basic pocketbook issues that affect every American every day could miss the list would seem mysterious if we hadn't already discussed the difficulty of covering big, ongoing stories comprehensively.

I'm not a journalist; I'm just a news consumer with an attitude. And since this is entirely my opinion, I could be wrong. But it seems to me that as a meta-commentary on what mattered most to the American media in 2004--and how they saw what mattered most--the AP top ten list is enlightening.

Quote of the Day: From Kid Oakland at Daily Kos, quoted by Ryan at The Higher Pie: "I've been reading some of the noxious media tripe about attempts all over, I guess, to put the 'Christ' back in 'Christmas'. . . . I'm sorry, but I'm still waiting for them to put the Christ back into Christianity." World O'Crap takes down more of the noxious media tripe here.

Conserve What?
"Conserve: (1) To protect from loss or harm; preserve: calls to conserve our national heritage in the face of bewildering change. (2) To use carefully or sparingly, avoiding waste: kept the thermostat lower to conserve energy."

By a simple dictionary definition, thus is the word "conservative" revealed as an utter misnomer. Our so-called conservatives are in fact radical beyond description, and they intend to conserve nothing. They're supposed to be so great at economic policy, but they're taking the country down the road to default; they're supposed to be experts in national defense, but they're getting whipped by the insurgency in Iraq; most of them in government are in flat violation of the oath they took to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Over at Best of the Blogs, Leftcoast takes the critique further: "Bush and his merry band of incompetents neither generate new capital nor constructively leverage any of our existing resources. They either squander what we have, or worse, unilaterally appropriate what they want. In other words, steal." International capital, financial capital, human capital, environmental capital--all resources worth conserving, and spending carefully, and taken over by the Bush gang for purposes that have little to do with the best interests of the American people as a whole.

That they call themselves "conservative" is only half of the hypocrisy, of course. The other half is the way they say one thing and do another. They're for states' rights until a state does something they don't like; they're against abortions until their daughters need one; and so on. And they're never more hypocritical than in matters of religion. The lefty blogosphere gleefully noted this week that Bush wished the press corps and the American people "happy holidays" at his press conference on Monday, thus buggering the meme that the phrase is anti-Christian. But the Gadflyer reported yesterday on an even more interesting bit of hypocrisy: the Bush family's support for an association of pastors who sponsor something called "Tear Down the Cross," which has as its goal taking crosses out of churches. To a blue-stater such as myself, I read the article with my mouth half-open, wondering A) what a group of Christian pastors could possibly have against the cross and B) how come the morally righteous citizens of red-state America aren't losing their minds over the fact that God's President supports what this group is doing. And I don't know the answer to either A or B.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Beaver Cleaver, Phone Home
The idea that things today aren't as good as they once were must be hard-wired into the human species. As long as people have been writing, they've been complaining about it, even at the height of ages we now think of as golden. In fact, I am pretty sure that the third generation of cave people told their children that the world of 456,349 B.C. was going to hell, and that it was better when they were young.

In our own time, at least since the days of Reagan, many Americans--Republican voters, mostly, but not necessarily--have had their own myth of a lost American Golden Age. It was a time when there was full employment for dads and moms presided over a blissful domestic existence at home, like on The Donna Reed Show, where the kids were always well-scrubbed and polite. Minorities were rarely seen and never heard, everyone went to church and flew the flag, and nobody had sex except for procreation. And our society today represents a terrible backsliding from that solid and upstanding era, and It Must Be Put Right.

According to Publius over at Legal Fiction, that's what the culture war is broadly about--those who want to "arrest the slide" versus those perceived to be responsible for it. The current lame brouhaha over "Merry Christmas" is just the latest micro-level manifestation of it. This is one of the best blog posts I've read anywhere all year, so go there, read it, read the links, and read all the comments, too.

More Recommended Reading: The ACLU has released a bushel of confidential memos written by FBI agents about conditions and procedures at Guantanamo Bay. As bad as they are, what's worse is that the authorization for these conditions and procedures--this torture of prisoners accused of no crimes and not permitted legal counsel--most likely came from Donald Rumsfeld and Bush himself. Read the memos and forward the link, so this doesn't get lost in the holiday rush and the cable channels' obsession with the Robert Blake trial.

Also worth reading today is Russ Feingold on the road in Alabama, and reporting in Salon.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Bells
Even though I am a liberal (and thus, as we've been told all month, an enemy of Christmas) and not religious (which makes me an enemy of America), I celebrate Christmas without cognitive dissonance and no feeling of hypocrisy. Christmas was long ago transformed from a religious holiday into an event so thoroughly secular that the wingnuts' efforts to force it back to its religious roots, annoying though they are, represent closing the barn door long after the horse is gone. Santa and Jesus are side-by-side elbowing for space under trees from coast to coast, and I daresay in most households, they co-exist peacefully, making no demands on one another.

Christmas music plays constantly at our house each December, everything from Nat and Bing to Elmo and Patsy, and I count a few religious carols among my favorite Christmas songs. One of them is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." It was originally a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow titled "Christmas Bells," and although all of the words are his, the stanzas have been rearranged (and some removed) to make a song of it. Longfellow didn't intend it as a Christmas carol, writing instead after the death of his wife in a fire and the wounding of his son in battle during the Civil War. This is Longfellow's original text:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
Never mind how appropriate the lyric is on this, our fourth straight wartime Christmas (equal to World War II now). To me, it's always rung true. In despair, I, too, have bowed my head, seeing that there is no peace on earth, seeing how strong hate is, seeing how it mocks our pretensions of being better than we really are. When I bow my head, it's not to pray, but to avert my eyes from the sight of humankind doing what it does so well and with such relish. In those moments, I understand the appeal of religion, and how comforting it would be to believe, as Longfellow did, that "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep." Better to believe somebody's in control, even an arbitrary, capricious, illogical, mysterious-ways-working God, than to look squarely at the chaos and randomness that defines existence as a creature on this planet.

Living with chaos and randomness is one thing--you can learn to accept it, and even begin to thrive on it. What's harder to accept is the knowledge that whatever good comes in this chaotic and random life must come from human action. Yep--if the Wrong is to fail and the Right prevail, it will be through the actions of the same flawed human beings who make the cannons thunder.

Once again this year, there's little evidence that we're capable of silencing the cannons and living in peace with our fellow creatures. But there is something about Christmastime that sparks up a small flare of hope, even in one as pessimistic as I, that someday, perhaps we might. Hope is, after all, the last thing left in Pandora's Box after all the world's evils are loosed. So maybe, the little kindnesses we do for one another at Christmas as individuals might somehow, someday percolate upward and spread to the world at large. Maybe not. But at Christmas, it's easier to be hopeful. And it's a happier way to be.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Snark: It's What's for Dinner
Above all else here at the Daily Aneurysm, we love being snarky. So here's an all-snark post to get it out of our system for the weekend.

Be sure to read Wonkette's report from the White House Press Corps Christmas party, and a commentary from Wonkette's stand-in, "Joe Klein," who presents his list of five things he wishes she had said to the president.

Nothing makes a better snark target than America's sexual obsessions. If you'd like to start looking back at 2004 a few days early, here's Salon's Rebecca Traister on "a year of monumentally bad sex."

Each year, The Onion presents its annual Cheap Toy Roundup, which is utterly snark-o-riffic. Wonder Woman Crazy Foam and the WWE Septic Sludge Medical Mess will leave you in awe, but of what I can't say. Either the creative capabilities of the human species, or the utter gall required to think that somebody could be persuaded to part with actual spendin' cabbage for the stuff.

Our final snarky link comes thanks to my brother Dan (who is not the White House flack of the same name, because if he was, I'd have had to kill him years ago). It's an extensive comparison of red state culture versus blue. Blue states have better drivers, better educated populations, and better sports teams, among other things. Snarky mostly in its cumulative effect.

One More Thing: If you haven't voted in the semifinals of the Most Loathsome Conservative of the Year contest, please do. Votes don't carry over from the quarterfinals, so it's a whole new game.

Out of the Mouths of Babes
When I was a kid, I never believed in the literal six-day creation of the world, but I wasn't willing (at that age, anyhow) to cut God out of the picture entirely. So at some point during a discussion of the creation (either in Sunday school or at home, I forget which), I asked why couldn't God have created the world slowly, over millions of years, through the processes taught to us in science class about the ways that life began. Nobody ever told me it was impossible. Well, it turns out that there is a school of scientific/religious thought that accepts this very premise: It's called theistic evolution. And it is, as the linked article says, "the only form of creationism which is 100% fully consistent with modern science."

The advantages of theistic evolution for putting God back into the creation story seem pretty obvious. It's more sophisticated than intelligent design, the current theory-of-choice among those who think no science class should come without a sermon. ID merely dresses up old creationist tenets in more educated language. Sooner or later, if you're going to buy ID, you will be asked to buy the off-the-charts silly idea that the Hebrew God created the Earth 6,000 years ago. Theistic evolution doesn't require you to sign on to the specifics of the Old Testament Judeo-Christian philosophical model at all if you don't want to. And it's close to the model of God as America's deistic Founders saw him--as a prime mover or first cause. So as creationist models go, it's as scientifically, politically, and historically correct as such models are likely to get.

But that's the very fact that makes theistic evolution less useful to today's Christian crusaders than intelligent design. Theistic evolution doesn't further a specific flavor of religious dogma. And because its time scales are in the millions of years, its god is most likely uninterested in daily intervention in people's lives. He's unlikely to be the activist GOP god, opposed to Democrats and Desperate Housewives. As such, he's not much use in bludgeoning political opponents, or in forcing fundie religion on other people's kids--which is what the creation-versus-evolution debate ultimately shakes down to.

Personally, I don't need to know why the Earth was created, and who or what is responsible--I've got enough to worry about now that I'm here. But it seems to me that theists are missing a bet by ignoring the attractiveness of theistic evolution--especially if even hellbound atheist pukes can find nice things to say about it.

More Quotes of the Day: Jonathan Chait in the Los Angeles Times, writing about Martin Feldstein, the economist responsible for Bush's tax policy: "Imagine if one man had designed the Titanic and the Hindenburg, and then was put in charge of the space program."

Bill Moyers, who signs off from PBS tonight, accepting an award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard recently:
One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.
Hard to pick which one's better.

Shoot Yourself in the Foot for Jesus
We've noted here (and so have others) that the post-election, in-your-face religiosity displayed by right-wingers isn't a genuine upwelling of belief as much as the swagger of a bully who thinks he's king of the block. So Bill O'Reilly makes dark threats against an anti-Christmas secularist minority that "must be dealt with," and lawsuits flutter down like snowflakes against anyone perceived as standing in the way of unfettered religious expression anywhere, anyplace, or anytime.

With so many godly people waving their faith around like a giant spanking paddle, it was only a matter of time before some of them inadvertently smacked themselves upside the head. The good Christians of Mustang, Oklahoma, upset that a local elementary school principal refused to allow a nativity scene to conclude the school's annual Christmas pageant, took out their holy revenge on him by . . . voting down an $11 million school bond referendum. Nobody in Mustang explained to the AP why it makes sense for voters to stand up for Jesus by denying their own children the school improvements they presumably need. It's likely that not many of them bothered to think it through. One who surely did is Tim Pope, a former Republican state legislator and leader of the anti-bond group in Mustang. "You've got to tell them you're not going to sit by and let them take away your rights," he says. And if standing up for your "rights" can be conveniently co-opted by anti-taxers who may not give a damn for Jesus except as a tool to get people to vote against their real-world interests, so much the better.

Quote of the Day: From blogger Matt Yglesias, writing at Tapped yesterday about the Defense Department's announcement that missile defense will go forward even if tests of the system fail: "On one level, of course, the fact that the system doesn't work is irrelevant--there's no actual threat for it to counter, it's just a political bludgeon and a piece of pork barrel spending, so a non-functional system will work just as well."

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Hosed Again
I have pretty much stopped greeting each new revelation of Bush Administration deception with the question, "How dumb do they think we are?", because experience has proven that there is literally nothing they won't try, and thus no answer to the question. But the likelihood that Bernard Kerik didn't withdraw his nomination because of a nanny problem, and that there was probably never a nanny to begin with, has me asking purely on reflex. It seems fairly certain that the nanny excuse was whipped up to avoid having to talk about shady financial dealings, arrest warrants, extramarital affairs, and who-knows-what-else. Nope, they just trundled out a lie that would sound good, launched it at 7:30 on a Friday night when the whole country's out for dinner, and hoped they could count on people to swallow it whole. In another time--even a couple of years ago--they might have gotten away with it. Although nobody else has made this point (at least not that I've seen), it seems to me that this is another case where the blogosphere (and especially Josh Marshall, who is making a strong case for being our king) does the digging after other outlets have moved on, and keeps a story alive that would otherwise die.

By last Friday, it apparently became clear even to the Kool-Aid drinkers in the White House that the stink on Kerik was going to be too strong to hose off, and so he had to go. Why nobody smelled it at the White House any sooner is becoming clearer, too: Kerik was the man Bush wanted, and because the greatest sin you can commit in Bush's White House is to fail to follow through on presidential whim, nobody sniffed too hard at Kerik's record. Certainly not Attorney-General-designate Alberto Gonzales, who was in charge of the vetting. (It shouldn't give the Senate a great deal confidence about Gonzales' likely performance as the nation's top cop, and somebody on the Judiciary Committee ought to ask about it during his confirmation hearings next month. Russ? Herb? You listening?)

Radio Radio: I mentioned yesterday that Joe Conason is sitting in for Al Franken on Air America Radio this week. I caught a bit of the Franken show this morning, and learned that Al is on a USO tour in Kuwait and will be heading to Iraq in a few days. Also on Air America, Atrios co-hosted The Majority Report last night; Ana Marie Cox of Wonkette will sit in tomorrow night. Thank goodness for the seven-second delay.

Linkage: BuyBlue is another website collecting information on the political contributions of major corporations so that potential customers can see who's red and who's blue. Click the snappy website button at the top of the right-hand column to read more. (We don't love ChooseTheBlue any less, it's just that BuyBlue has a button.) Also this week, MoveOn.Org and several other progressive groups announced a campaign to protest Sinclair Broadcasting's continuing one-sided wingnuttery. SinclairAction offers an easy way for viewers in a Sinclair market to contact the station's advertisers--because as we learned during the pre-election effort against Sinclair's hatchet-job on John Kerry, pressure from advertisers is the only thing they'll listen to, and it works.

You Heard It Here First
August 23, 2004: In the midst of the Swift Boat Liars controversy, a regular reader of this blog commented, "This is our Willie Horton, folks." Two days later I observed that "If [Kerry] loses, we'll look back on the last two weeks as the critical moment."

December 15, 2004: "The campaign manager for Sen. John Kerry's failed presidential bid said Wednesday she regrets underestimating the impact of an attack advertisement that questioned Kerry's Vietnam War record."

And that's just the tip of the iceberg that is Mary Beth Cahill's cluelessness. The campaign thought originally that there would be "no reach" to the ad, and campaign officials were frustrated after the controversy continued to boil even after the central allegations of the Liars had been debunked. The first suggestion is at least plausible, to a point. Independent groups are always coming up with campaign ads on their own, and some of them are indeed loony and ignorable. But it shouldn't have taken the Kerry campaign more than a couple of days to figure out this ad was not one of them. As for their frustration, wasn't there one damn current or former journalist around the campaign who could have told them that in the August news doldrums, a story as juicy as that was going to have legs? And that in the 24/7 media world, having the truth on your side doesn't make you bulletproof? It was Cahill's job to know this stuff, and she failed at the worst possible moment.

In early September, I put up a post titled "Winner by Forfeit," in which I lamented Kerry's weak response to Republican attacks. In it, I quoted a Salon reader who wrote to the magazine about an article on Kerry's response to the Liars: "More and more, Kerry resembles not JFK so much as another Massachusetts politician, Michael Dukakis, who allowed the other side to define him and never fought back, believing points would one day be awarded for control of the moral high ground." Based on what Cahill said yesterday, that's pretty much what happened. Like the Dukakis campaign, the Kerry campaign simply couldn't believe that what the Repugs were doing would cause serious damage to their man. By the time they woke up, it was too late. Willie Horton was back in the house.

Way back last spring, I wondered if the Kerry campaign really understood that the 2004 election was not like every other election of the past 40 years. As the campaign unfolded, there were moments when you got the feeling that yeah, maybe they did. In the end, however, it's pretty clear they simply didn't. Not only were they incapable of understanding the nature of 2004, they were incapable of understanding the nature of 1988, after having had 16 years to think it over.

Recommended Reading: One of the great holiday traditions is back again: Norman Solomon's P.U.litzer Prizes for the year's most foul-smelling attempts at journalism.

And for more proof that there is no hole in Hell deep enough for George W. Bush, click here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Stand Together or Else
Josh Marshall has a great post up regarding the coming battle over Social Security reform, which you should rush over and read right now. It contains a paragraph that we all ought to memorize if there's a chance we'll be talking politics with our families over the holidays:
The Social Security "crisis" is manufactured; there is no crisis. To the extent there are long-term financing problems, the president's plan will gravely worsen them. The problem we face isn't over Social Security, which continues to run up huge surpluses (just as it was intended to under the early-80s reform), but that our non-Social Security budget continues to run massive structural deficits. Or rather, it has returned to running massive structural deficits after getting into the black in the late 1990s through the combined exertions of a Democratic president and a Republican congress. Social Security isn't the problem, but rather George W. Bush's reckless fiscal policy.
Marshall also gives advice to Democrats about how to fight the battle, which if the party has any sense at all, they'll take. So I am not optimistic.

Then again, maybe I should be. Liberal Oasis reported yesterday on new Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid's plans to launch some investigations in the New Year, into things like contract abuse in Iraq, and his promise not to go quietly if the Repugs try to change filibuster rules to ram conservative judges through the Senate. LO and Josh make a similar point in very different ways: that an important task for Democrats is not just standing in opposition, but keeping their members from going off the reservation to support Republican bills. We've seen this over and over in recent years--red-state Democrats, or those who want to be perceived as statesmanlike or bipartisan (especially in the Senate), throw in with Repugs on different pieces of legislation, and they often do it for a pretty cheap price. The Repugs make a small change in a bill (snipping out something they may have put in as a bargaining chip to be thrown away anyhow, for instance) and the Democrat who insisted on the change can go back to his district, particularly if he's in a red state, and say "Look what I did." Even if what he did was give bipartisan cover to a piece of legislation no small fix can fix. As Josh observes, solidly Democratic opposition to the Social Security "reform" would help make the issue look more like the ideology it is than an honest attempt to serve the public interest, which it isn't.

Recommended Reading: Your mouth to God's ear, John.

The Few, the Proud, the Even More Loathsome
The people have spoken, and so today we move on to the semifinals of Most Loathsome Conservative of the Year 2004. Your semifinalists (in alphabetical order) are:

--Tom Coburn and the Pips, his four colleagues in the incoming Senate's freshman class
--James Dobson and the radical clerics
--Sean Hannity and Fox News generally
--Annie Jacobsen, frightened flyer, representing Americans whose fear has made them irrational
--Michelle Malkin, syndicated columnist

Before you visit the Useless Web Poll to cast your vote in the semifinals, refresh your recollections about the various loathsome activities of our semifinalists by clicking here. The top two vote-getters will throw down for the title over Christmas. We'd like to thank our other quarterfinalists--David Brooks, Tom DeLay, John McCain, and Alan Keyes--for playing our game. Our lovely parting gifts include a subscription to The Nation, a complimentary credit card (maxed out), and a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy DVD box set.

Today's Recommended Reading: The fabulously good Boston Globe columnist James Carroll takes the following as his premise--religion is to God what the clock is to time. The clock merely allows us a framework for discussing what time means. It is not time itself. Even when we don't have a clock, time continues to pass. So it is with religion. Its various tenets, dogmas, and thou-shalt-nots are not God itself.

And also, Mark Morford says that if rock and roll didn't die when Microsoft used the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" to sell Windows 95, or when Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" was adopted by Cadillac, Buick's flogging of Aerosmith's "Dream On" will finish it off for good.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Compromised Virtue
Christmas is under attack, as you may have heard, by raging secularists who do not love Jesus. Thank goodness for people like Rush Limbaugh, who stand up for traditional American values--like his right to use the word "dick" on the air, and in a non-Cheney context at that. Atrios has the details, and suggests you e-mail the FCC to complain, which I did. (By the way, Atrios guest-hosts The Majority Report between 6 and 9 Central on Air America Radio tonight; Joe Conason has been sitting in for Al Franken this week.)

Speaking of FCC complaints, FCC chairman Michael Powell announced today that nobody's getting fined for airing the obscene language in Saving Private Ryan last month--although as Kevin at Lean Left notes, there's no coherent rationale for Powell's decision in the Ryan case. He can apparently fine whomever he wants whenever he wants, and figuring out where the line is drawn is not his concern.

The FCC is running right up against the dilemma of Potter Stewart, the Supreme Court justice who famously said of pornography, "I know it when I see it." Back in Stewart's day, 40 years ago, it was assumed that some things are simply not able to be legislated, and while some regrettable activities might go unregulated as a result, better that than to slide down a slippery slope into legally unsupportable repression. Stewart wasn't presumptuous enough to try and codify his personal preferences in law, but Powell and millions of other conservatives are flailing about trying to do just that, so we can expect more regulation by whim, I fear. For example, yesterday we learned that Powell's minions are examining footage of the Summer Olympics opening ceremonies to determine if anyone's virtue was compromised by the outlines of penises, or something--even though you could see the same thing elsewhere during the Olympic TV broadcasts, and can probably find it tonight somewhere on your own cable system in other contexts. Powell's obsessions prompted John at AMERICAblog to sneer, "Michael Powell seriously needs to get laid. And then fired."

Quote of the Day: From Wonkette stand-in "Joe Klein," noting that Bush participated in a menorah-lighting cermony last week in honor of Hanukkah: "You wouldn't necessarily think a holiday that celebrates the victory of a small band of religious insurgents over an occupying foreign power would be one of Bush's favorites."

Also worth reading today is the other blog by Dave Pell of Electablog, Davenetics, in which he reviews how well his predictions for 2004 turned out. I didn't make many predictions for 2004, but I am working up a list of my favorite posts of the year on this blog. It'll be up sometime around Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2004

They Often Call Me Speedo
I am getting down to the end of my 2004 page-a-day George W. Bushisms calendar. I think my favorite was the one that wasn't a quote at all, but a reference to the day he waved hello to Stevie Wonder. Second on the list is this one from last week, a quote from the day in 2001 when Bush welcomed the University of Nebraska's national championship women's volleyball team to the White House: "It's important for young men and women who look at the Nebraska champs to understand that quality of life is more than just blocking shots."

I have read it several times, and I have actually found myself thinking about it when I am not at my desk because it is such majestic nonsense. It looks like a sentence and it sounds like a sentence, but it's as divorced from meaning as if he'd said "Ham sandwich going bucket of rubber glowing under water." Not only can't I imagine what he meant, I can't figure out what he was trying to say.

More Fun With Random Words: One of the tools available to me as master of this website lets me see how various visitors are referred to it--whether they type in the URL of the site directly, for example, or get here via some other link. If somebody searches on a particular phrase or group of words and my site is one of the hits that comes back, I know that, too. For example, over the weekend, somebody searched MSN for the phrase "photos of gay guys wrestling in speedos," and one of my posts came up eighth on a list of 1,476 hits.

I have no idea.

Recommended Reading: Sometimes a good website with a bad name can end up being unjustly ignored. (World O'Crap is an example I've noted here before.) I have tended to ignore Smirking Chimp for the same reason, but no more. If you haven't checked the Smirking Chimp news ticker on the right side of this page, I suggest you do so, and regularly, because the site is invaluable in collecting the best writing from the blogosphere every day. Two pieces no longer on the ticker but still worth your time, if you're interested in the religio-cultural struggle currently going on in our country, are "Seeds of the American Taliban" and "Is Bush the Antichrist?" Not happy stuff, but interesting, and only related by inference to photos of gay guys wrestling in speedos.

One More Thing: It's your last chance to vote in the Quarterfinals of the Most Loathsome Conservative contest. The semifinals begin later this week, so if you haven't voted, do.

And We Always Thought He Was Such a Nice Boy
Monday morning items and comments from here and there, hither and yon, etc.

Item: Karl Rove has another idea from the Evil Genius playbook--appoint Democratic senators from states with Repug governors to adminstration positions, thus opening the way for the governor to appoint a Repug replacement, thereby strengthening the Repug majority in the Senate.

Comment: First up: Joe Lieberman as Secretary of Homeland Security. If asked to take over Homeland Security, Lieberman will run to the press conference and accept--not because he isn't smart enough to see through Rove's gambit (even though he isn't), but because he still seems to believe that the problem in Washington is that not enough Democrats are willing to play nice with the Republicans. So he takes the gig and the Republicans move one vote closer to a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Rove twirls his mustache and thinks, hey, Joe, here's your lovely parting gift and thanks for playing our game.

Item: Today is the day the Electoral College meets in the 50 state capitals to certify a Bush victory. The votes are not officially counted until January, as they must be sent to Washington via stagecoach, packet boat, and carrier pigeon.

Comment: There will be protests in Ohio, although if John Kerry had won Ohio by means as questionable as Bush has, rabid Repugs would burn the fucking statehouse down. Last week, Slate's Timothy Noah dreamed of finding 18 faithless electors to turn the election for Kerry, but even he knows he's dreaming in vain. Because if they did, rapid Repugs would burn the fucking country down.

Item: Frank Rich of the New York Times examines the controversy over the movie Kinsey and observes that wingnuts are, in the end, not just anti-abortion or anti-promiscuity or anti-pornography, they're opposed to sex in general.

Comment: Well, sure they are. Because if they weren't, they'd be in favor of birth control, which they aren't. They're opposed to anything but in-the-dark, man-on-top, married, heterosexual couplings for the purposes of procreation, to make more little homeschooled pod-people who can grow up to do battle 30 years from now against whatever cultural rot offends people then. I am reminded of the words of that great philosopher George Carlin, who once said: "Have you ever noticed that the people who are against abortion are people you wouldn't want to fuck anyway?"

Item: The FCC has requested NBC's tapes of the opening cermonies of the Athens Olympics, reportedly because of one indecency complaint.

Comment: "Merle? I think I saw a penis! Did you see a penis? I think I saw a penis!" Apparently the FCC is going to start looking into individual indecency complaints one-by-one, without determining whether they're valid or just the hysterical reaction of someone with time on his or her hands--fitting for an agency that seems to have a similar problem. (What's offensive about the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, it's the relentlessly European artistic touches that leave Americans bored silly and waiting for A) something to blow up or B) a pop singer to jump out of it.)

Item: I have now used the words "fucking" (twice), "fuck" (once), and "penis" (three times) in this post. (Three times, twice, and four times if you count this summary.)

Comment: In this year's letter that goes in the Christmas cards, I mention that my primary hobby is blogging, and then give the URL. Good thing I haven't sent it yet.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Don't Go Away Mad, Just Go Away
My e-mail inbox is a continuing horror. If I go away for a couple of days, I come back to 40 or 50 messages, most of them newsletters from one place or another, and many of them containing stuff that is blogworthy. This morning I decided to turn to that stuff first--if only to make way for the next blizzard of stuff awaiting me in the next couple of days.

First up: You may have seen news articles about MoveOn.org's latest letter to its membership sent yesterday--a strongly worded criticism of corporate-beholden, centrist Democrats that essentially boils down to "MoveOn to Democratic Leadership Council: Drop Dead." The full text of these letters is never posted on MoveOn's website, so I'll excerpt the latest one here.
For years, the [Democratic] Party has been lead by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base. But we can't afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers. In the last year, grassroots contributors like us gave more than $300 million to the Kerry campaign and the DNC, and proved that the Party doesn't need corporate cash to be competitive. Now it's our Party: we bought it, we own it, and we're going to take it back. . . .

MoveOn includes Republicans, Greens, and independents. But all of us who are struggling for health care, clean air, decent jobs, and a sane foreign policy can agree on one thing: we're better off with a vibrant, populist Democratic Party that's strong enough to challenge the extreme-right Republican leadership.

Why haven't we had one? Under outgoing DNC chair Terry McAuliffe, the Party cozied up to many of the same corporate donors that fund the Republicans--drug companies, HMO's, media conglomerates, big banks, polluting industries. The result was watered down, play-it-safe politics that kept the money flowing but alienated traditional Democrats as well as reform-minded independents in search of vision and integrity. And so the Party lost ground.

But in 2004, something incredible happened: hundreds of thousands of small contributors gave millions and millions of dollars and changed the way politics works forever. New we have an opportunity to birth a new Democratic Party--a Party of the people that's funded by the people and that fights for the people.
MoveOn then offers members a way to get in touch with state Democratic leaders who will meet this weekend to begin the process of selecting a new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. A lot of the reporters writing about this story still seem to think of MoveOn as some kind of weird, fringe-type political aberration, a sort of electronic juice-bar for Deaniacs to hang out in. We'll know pretty soon if the Democratic establishment shares that view.

Along the same lines, David Sirota of the Center for American Progress is out with seven suggestions for Democrats who want to compete in and reclaim areas thought to be resolutely red. It's sparked a reaction from centrists whose natural impulse is to run screaming from anything like economic populism--which is all the more reason to believe Sirota is on to something. Kevin at Lean Left analyzes the controversy pretty well here.

Also in my e-mail is a forward from a friend about "Not One Damn Dime Day," which suggests a 24-hour national boycott of all consumer spending on Inauguration Day, January 20, "to remind our religious leaders and our politicians of their moral responsibility to end the war in Iraq and give America back to the people." While I admire the sentiment, I think the effort is meaningless. As a practical matter, it's damn near impossible to participate fully. You're spending money every day even if it doesn't flow directly through your hands--on electricity, on Internet access, as you use the gas you put in the car last week. As an act of protest, "Not One Damn Dime Day" is likely to make an economic dent practically nowhere--except at a few campus-area coffeehouses in places like Madison, Iowa City, Austin, and Ann Arbor, where they already know about our moral responsibility to end the war in Iraq and give America back to the people. Anybody serious about putting this type of economic pressure on Red America--which is where it needs to be put--would better spend their time concentrating on avoiding the companies listed at Choose The Blue and doing it 365 days a year.

And finally, one more thing, which has been clogging up my inbox for the better part of a week. With the Bush Administration declaring support for the public display of the Ten Commandments, it's worth noting again--because fundies never do--that there is more than one version of the Ten Commandments. Take, for example, this Wisconsin version:
1. Der's only one God, ya know.
2. Don't make that fish on your mantle an idol.
3. Cussing ain't Wisconsin nice.
4. Go to church even when you're up nort'.
5. Honor your folks.
6. Don't kill. Catch and release.
7. There is only one Lena for every Ole. No cheatin'.
8. If it ain't your lutefisk, don't take it.
9. Don't be braggin' about how much snow ya shoveled.
10. Keep your mind off your neighbor's hotdish.
Some good advice dere, ya der hey, whether ya believe dey came down from da mountain wit' Moses, r'not.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Say the Name, Dammit
Every year at Christmastime, somewhere around my hometown, the local Knights of Columbus chapter puts up a billboard featuring an old-fashioned-looking painting of the Nativity with the words "Keep Christ in Christmas." This year, they're getting some company. Emboldened by their supposed part in Bush's 48-state, 40-million vote landslide, the wingnuts have declared war on the phrases "happy holidays" and "season's greetings." One group is boycotting Federated Department Stores (Macys and Bloomingdales) for not using "Merry Christmas" in its advertising. A columnist at Concerned Women for America suggests that "happy holidays" is bigoted (although he never quite explains why he thinks so).

This is the sort of mischief that befalls people with too much time on their hands. Some of the people involved surely believe that if "Merry Christmas" were drummed into people's heads often enough, it would make them come to Jesus. But many more of the "save Merry Christmas" people are likely on board with the campaign as yet another way to bludgeon people they don't like--rubbing "Christmas" in the face of Jews, for example, or Kwanzaa-celebrators, or atheists, to remind them of who's really in charge in this country. So it's another manifestation of the loudmouthed bully strut we've witnessed from the wingnuts since the morning of November 3.

However, if they're serious, the "save Merry Christmas" people have got a lot more work to do. Why not get Santa Claus out of all Christmas advertising, and all secular Christmas music off the airwaves? And those Christmas creches with adorable cats or snowmen, like the ones The Mrs. collects? The Holy Family was a long, dark-haired woman and a man with a beard (and both Caucasian, by the way), so anything else shows disrespect for Christians. And don't be buying any damn iPods or XBoxes as gifts--gold, frankincense, and myrrh only. You shouldn't display snow in anything associated with Christmas because it doesn't snow in Palestine. The only fruit permissable in fruitcake should be those fruits growing naturally in the Middle East. Rudolph? Reindeer jerky. Frosty? Water my plants. No silver bells, no Christmas trees, no eggnog--it's all got to go because it's disrespectful to the original religious reason for the season.

It's the People's Republic of Christ, bubba, and we're just living in it.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Rumsfeld Speaks, We Translate
So Donald Rumsfeld met the troops in Kuwait today, and had to answer questions, including a few tough ones. The SecDef is famous for sentences laden with passive voice, subordinate clauses, and elaborate hypotheticals, but it's easy enough to translate him for an English-speaking audience:

Rummy on why the troops are forced to scrounge for armor to upgrade their vehicles: "As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want . . . You can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and it can [still] be blown up."

Translation: "This is the hand you're dealt. Live with it, and if you die with it, well, you may have gotten capped some other way anyhow, so que sera sera."

Rummy on stop-loss orders that prohibit soldiers from leaving the service even when their tours are up: "It's basically a sound principle. It's nothing new; it's been well understood . . . . My guess is it will continue to be used as little as possible, but that it will continue to be used."

Translation: "We own your ass. Get used to it."

Dick Cheney also met the troops yesterday, over in Afghanistan. One of the bloggers reported this morning that soldiers were frisked before being admitted to the hall--which, if true, may say more than the Bush Administration means for us to hear about the military's opinion of the commanders.

Recommended Reading: Juan Cole notes that it took 600 UN election workers to set up the recent elections in Afghanistan. Number on the ground in Iraq with six weeks to go before the elections there: 35. Oh yeah, this is gonna be great.

There used to be, before it got lost in the government's collective overdose on neocon testosterone, a concept called "statesmanship." Daily Kos offers a contemporary example of it from Russ Feingold who, if statesmanship still mattered to Americans in picking their leaders, would be presidential material.

Shopping for Christmas, or just going out to dinner? Go here first.

And finally, a sign of the times: I had to read this twice to make sure the writer is just kidding--and I'm still not entirely sure he is.

Fear and Loathing, 2004
The folks over at Pandagon have opened nominations for Most Annoying Conservative of the Year. I tend to agree with the commenter who says "annoying" is too mild an adjective and suggests "loathsome"--so here's my top-of-the-head list of the Most Loathsome Conservatives of 2004, presented in no particular order. (I'm not including Bush, Rove, Cheney, or other administration officials on this list; their loathsomeness is a given.)

Michelle Malkin: Loathsome B-list pundit who made the leap to the A-list this year by arguing that internment, as practiced on Japanese-Americans in World War II, was OK, and that it might be a valid policy to pursue in the future. Ensured her position on the list for criticizing Theresa Heinz Kerry for taking her husband's name for political purposes while doing the same thing herself--using her maiden name, Maglalang, legally, and her married name, Malkin, publicly.

James Dobson: There are many loathsome radical clerics who'd qualify for this list, but I'll pick Dobson to stand for them all, because of the reach of his media empire and his belief that "he is sinless and morally perfect," according to former Dobson associate Gil Alexander-Moegerle. Not to mention his garden-variety racism, sexism, and homophobia.

John McCain: Was one of the few Republicans with the moral authority to have opposed Bush during his first term. Wants to be president in 2008 so badly, however, that he kept quiet on all issues that mattered. Is now leading the charge against steroids in baseball. Senator, is THAT why you spent all those years in a North Vietnamese prison?

Sean Hannity: A loathsome totalitarian whose worship of Bush comes right out of the Stalin/Kim Jong-Il playbook. In addition, the truth is not in him. Most recent example: His claim that every American taxpayer got the same amount of money from Bush's tax cuts. The kind of guy who would do play-by-play at executions.

David Brooks: I used to like him when he was just a social commentator, writing Bobos in Paradise and deconstructing the red vs. blue dichotomy in Atlantic Monthly. But then he got his column in the New York Times, became an apologist for Bush, and started pushing his red-state/blue-state contrast metaphors progressively further, from apt to cutesy to stupid. (A commenter at Pandagon made one up that caused me to laugh out loud--"Blue staters are the sort of people who like Taco, Red staters prefer Falco." If you get why it's funny, let me know.)

Tom DeLay: People sometimes call the likes of Dobson, Falwell, and Robertson "ayatollahs," but DeLay is closer to actually being one because of the political power he holds. Because he seems to believe that whatever he does is above the law and that he knows what's best for you better than you do, he's a loathsome enemy of democracy.

John Gard: Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, he's the most loathsome wingnut in our legislature, which is some damn accomplishment. Represents a northeastern Wisconsin district but lives in a Madison suburb. Acts as if he's swallowed Rick Santorum whole. Is a likely candidate for governor in 2006. Great.

Alan Keyes: Lifetime achievement award.

Annie Jacobsen: I admit I never would have thought of her on my own and lifted the suggestion a couple of other bloggers. She's the woman who got freaked out by a group of Syrian musicians on an airplane flight last spring, believing they were terrorists. She soon became the wingnuts' favorite poster girl for racial profiling, even though her story and its later justifications were revealed to be equal parts naivete and bullshit. (Salon's Patrick Smith covered the story extensively last August.)

If I were to pick the single most loathsome conservative of 2004, however, that would be Oklahoma senator-elect Tom Coburn. He could be another stand-in for a whole group--the freshman class of Republican Senators to be sworn in next month. They represent the modern wingnut in quintuplicate--religiously chauvinistic, anti-gay, totally on-board with whatever Bush wants to do, and hiding distasteful skeletons in their closets. Coburn, however, is clearly the largest almond in the Hershey bar. He's the one who said that girls in Oklahoma schools can't go to the restroom without being harassed by marauding gangs of lesbians. He wants the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions--even though as an MD, he did them himself. And he's the guy who criticized NBC years ago for showing Schindler's List, claiming it would encourage "irresponsible sexual behavior."

I wonder what color the sky is on his planet.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Smoke Without Fire
Quote of the Day: "We have long rested comfortably in this country upon the assumption that because our form of government was democratic, it was therefore automatically producing democratic results."--Robert LaFollette, 1911.

It ain't. Take the rush to dismantle Social Security. If we had a rational conversation about it, we'd understand that it's not in the dire straits the Bush gang says it is. And then, we'd weigh the alternatives and arrive at an intelligent plan for its future. But instead of encouraging such rational behavior, the Bush gang is treating Social Security like Iraq, Book II--oh my god oh my god it's in terrible, terrible trouble and we have to privatize it RIGHT NOW or the consequences will be so bad really bad really awful my god you can't imagine. Meanwhile, while they're thinking up worst-case scenarios for Social Security, a real economic crisis is getting treated like inside baseball that matters only to wonks. What I don't know about economics could fill volumes, but I know Stein's Law, first formulated by Nixon economic advisor Herb Stein: "Things that can't go on forever, don't." And we can't keep borrowing money to finance every conservative scheme--like another trillion just to cover the "transitional costs" of the unnecessary privatization of Social Security--without eventually collapsing the infrastructure that makes such borrowing a decent risk for the lenders. A couple of weeks ago, a Morgan Stanley economist said there was a 90 percent chance of "economic armageddon" involving the U.S. economy in the near future. That's a real armageddon, folks--not the Biblical one the wingnuts are waiting for. But that very real fact is considered wonk food unfit for mass consumption.

If our democracy was producing democratic results, we wouldn't be getting beaten over the head with a microscopic minority opinion about what constitutes "decency." Mediaweek reported that in 2003, 99.8 percent of all complaints to the FCC came from one organization: the Parents' Television Council, which hasn't seen anything that didn't offend its membership since Leave it to Beaver went off. (In fact, the very phrase "Beaver went off" would probably give them the fantods.) Writing in The Nation, Robert Scheer wonders how it is that in a nation as moral as this one, Desperate Housewives is the number-one show on TV. If the moral conniption that reelected Bush wasn't so much smoke, wouldn't it have been canceled by now?

"Things that can't go on forever, don't." Maybe we ought try consoling ourselves with that instead of being afraid of it. It's hard to imagine that we won't find out pretty soon whether it's true.

Monday, December 06, 2004

If All Your Friends Jumped Off a Cliff, Would You Do It, Too?
On ABC's This Week yesterday, the topic was the bogus information being ladled out by certain government-funded abstinence programs, including the nugget that tears and sweat can transmit HIV. The guest was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Host George Stephanopolous asked, "You're a doctor. Do you think tears and sweat can transmit HIV?" Weirdness then ensued.
Frist: "I don't know . . . I can tell you . . ."
Stephanopoulos: "You don't know?"
Frist: "I can tell you things like, like . . condoms . . ."
Stephanopoulos: "You believe that tears and sweat might be able to transmit AIDS?"
Frist isn't a doctor like some wingnuts are doctors, with a degree from some mail-order college and auto supply warehouse in New Mexico--he's a cardiac surgeon whose father established one of the biggest hospital chains in the country, Columbia/HCA. And he doesn't know if tears and sweat can transmit AIDS?

Frist later conceded it would be "very difficult" to transmit AIDS this way--but the transmission mechanism for HIV isn't one of those scientific theories wingnuts can claim is not definitively settled. It's settled as definitively as anything in science can be, and so Frist's concession is as wrong as his original contention.

It's a safe bet that the person they hire to swab the operating room floor after a cardiac procedure knows how AIDS is transmitted and how it isn't. And Frist knows it too--but it was more important for him to stay on the Repug message yesterday than it was to answer the question truthfully.

Ladies and gentlemen, the party of moral values. These people are playing politics with your health, my health, and the health of kids all across the country--and people are going to die because of it. And I'd like somebody who voted for them--preferably somebody not drunk on religious-right Kool Aid, but just a regular Republican voter, if there is such a thing, to explain to me why that's OK.

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