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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

All in All, It's Just Another Brick in the Wall
The Rude Pundit wrote yesterday about a parents' group in Overland Park, Kansas, that maintains a website listing all the "objectionable" parts from books they want removed from their school district's library. While the group claims to be protecting some set of agreed-upon community values, the Rude One believes that their true purpose is thought control--and that their book-banning efforts are only a part of the drive to achieve it:
[Y]ou connect the fuckin' dots, between the parents of Overland Park, Kansas, the federal government spying on us, even the latest "let-me-see-your-I.D." movement in Miami, and you realize that those kids don't stand a fuckin' chance. 'Cause all they're gonna learn is that power can strip away rights indiscriminately, all under a mad rubric of "protection," from terrorists, from impure thoughts, from each other. And they're gonna learn it's just easier to give in than to fight it.
But the Rude One is a bit behind the curve on this issue. Many students have already learned that a world is a place in which constituted authority (however it chooses to constitute itself, from a group of "concerned parents" to an administration in Washington) can place limits on what people are permitted to think, and that those limits are necessary to the continued functioning of society, and so it's prudent to go along. Nearly a year ago, I wrote about a poll that showed one-third of high school students believe the First Amendment "goes too far," and that half think newspapers shouldn't publish stories without government approval. This doesn't represent some kind of philosophical turning away from settled ideals Americans used to hold dear, like the 60s kids turned from 50s ideals. It's the intended outcome of a propaganda campaign--perhaps not one orchestrated from a central location like the Kremlin was supposed to be orchestrating worldwide Communism, but one with many facets, all leading to the same desired outcome:
Think about the world your average teen has grown up in over these past several years. They've been repeatedly told by parents, teachers, political leaders, and other authority figures how much danger they're in--from strangers, drugs, sex, and, for the last three years, terrorist evildoers under the bed. Some authority figures are fond of suggesting that bad thoughts--political, sexual, cultural--represent the worst dangers of all. Why shouldn't kids who've been brought up on such talk think that the people charged with protecting them from danger should have the right to do so by any means necessary, even if it's by censoring opinions and thoughts that used to be OK? After all, this is an era like no other, right?
You Can Talk Plainer Than That: Headline on The Capital Times, our local liberal afternoon newspaper today, regarding Bush's Iraq speech: "'Time, Patience'". They musta thought "Yada yada yada" was a little too strong.

The Daily Aneurysm: Apparently Not Smearing Bill O'Reilly Enough
Boy, am I disappointed. A couple of weeks ago I sent an e-mail to Bill O'Reilly explaining why I should be on his list of media enemies. Yesterday, he revealed the list, and I'm not on it. Of course, practically no one else is, either.

I'm thinking maybe that if Bill didn't take time to explain why he picked the three lucky ducks he picked--posting only their names and nothing else--maybe he didn't have time to read my e-mail. He's a busy guy, what with being the general-in-chief defending Jesus against the people who are making war on Christmas--and with his latest gig, analyzing Bush's Iraq speech on the Today show this morning. I kid you not. Out of all the people in the world, he was NBC's chosen "expert," even though MSNBC is one of the entities on his enemies list. Today's producers are so dim that they probably don't know about the enemies list (hey, if they don't know that O'Reilly is a half-crazy ideologue and not an actual journalist . . .), so you have to let them off the hook. But what about Big Bad Bill himself? I don't imagine the contradiction is a problem for him. If his head hasn't exploded from cognitive dissonance in the last five years, it isn't going to explode now.

Recommended Reading: Great loads of it. On the subject of cognitive dissonance, The American Prospect features a quick piece by Robert Reich on the odd spectacle of conservatives dissing Darwin's theory of evolution while wholeheartedly embracing the thoroughly discredited theory of Social Darwinism that arose from it more than 100 years ago.

On the subject of Democratic Senators admitting they were wrong to vote for the Iraq war, the Prospect reminds us that they can't merely claim that they were snookered--there was plenty of evidence before the vote was taken that the case for war was a sham and the intelligence the administration was selling equaled garbage. Admitting they were wrong to vote the way they did doesn't explain why they ignored that evidence.

The inestimable Juan Cole examines the question of whether He Who Shall Not Be Named wanted to bomb the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Qatar. Cole's evidence indicates he most likely did--after all, we've already bombed Al Jazeera's bureaus in Baghdad and Kabul. (But don't tell--those were supposed to be accidents.)

Last of all, the Los Angeles Times published a revealing look at abortion in the red states yesterday, profiling a doctor who runs the clinic in Fayetteville, Arkansas. What's most striking about it are the quotes from patients--the real people dealing with unwanted pregnancy sound a lot different from the breast-beating activists (on both sides) that you see on TV.

OK, that oughta hold you for today.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Boneheads
Conservatives often act like they're from some other goddamn planet where the muddled and dopey is self-evidently clear, and the self-evidently clear is fraught with ambiguity and danger and Must Be Stopped Before All Is Lost.

Currently visiting the spot on the Earth we call Wisconsin is State Representative Mark Gundrum of New Berlin--Republican-occupied territory in the Milwaukee suburbs. Gundrum says Wisconsin needs a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman (as opposed to the state law we already have that defines marriage as between a man and wife) because if we don't have it, students will be confused. According to a news report on a packed hearing held today on the bill, "He argued that the Wisconsin school system would have to teach teens about families with gay parents if gay people were allowed to marry in the state." Apparently teaching about gay parents is confusing if you have a bone in your head that makes you afraid of gay people--for the rest of us, it's not all that complicated.

I'm more confused, however, about why the amendment would be better than the law I already have--but maybe if I had that bone in my head, I wouldn't be.

Gundrum also said that society needs to be protected from "protected from gay parents who couldn't provide 'gender equality' for their children." I've been to college (twice) and I consider myself a well-educated person, but I have no idea what that means. Truly I don't. And I'm not just saying that. I honestly cannot imagine what that means.

(Don Quixote at Silent Speaking is on the other side of the world from Wisconsin, but he's confused about about homophobia, too.)

Nice Try: But not enough. Go to your room and think about it some more.

Flavored Water and Other Weak Stuff
Just before the holiday weekend, a friend set me a link from the Daou Report featuring a list of ten pro-war fallacies and the facts about each one. I should have passed it on in time for Thanksgiving, in case you ended up in a discussion with your pro-war relatives--but here it is now, and Christmas is coming.

One paragraph struck me particularly, since it responds directly the assertion that I've been making for a good long while, and I'm not alone--Democrats as prominent as Howard Dean have said the same thing, and lots of war supporters use the argument, too: Since we're in Iraq now, never mind why we're there, we have an obligation to fix what we broke.
For those who counter with the Pottery Barn rule (we broke it we should fix it), the question is: What's the statute of limitations on that rule? What if we can't fix what's broken in Iraq? Is there a point at which we acknowledge we can't fix it and stop trying? Is our attempt to 'fix' Iraq breaking it even further? Also, are there other things we've broken that we're obliged to fix before we try to fix Iraq? Is there a reason our limited resources should go to fixing Iraq and not saving poor, sick, and hungry children in America?
I got an entirely different e-mail from another recipient recently. He regularly forwards stuff to every person on his e-mail list without much regard for the politics of the recipients, so I get Clinton-bashing e-mails, recycled Rush Limbaugh riffs, and various syrupy/cute religious messages. (At one point, I had a filter set up to automatically trash the guy's e-mails.) Every now and then something worthwhile slips through, however, like this list of New Rules. A couple of them are particularly funny:
New Rule: There’s no such thing as flavored water. There’s a whole aisle of this crap at the supermarket, water, but without that watery taste. Sorry, but flavored water is called a soft drink. You want flavored water? Pour some scotch over ice and let it melt. That’s your flavored water.
Although I'm a flavored-water drinker myself, perhaps I will start flavoring it with Jack Daniels a little more often.
New Rule: Just because your tattoo has Chinese characters in it doesn’t make you spiritual. It’s right above the crack of your ass. And it translates to “beef with broccoli.” The last time you did anything spiritual, you were praying to God you weren’t pregnant. You’re not spiritual. You’re just high.
Sometime somebody needs to explain to me the popularity of those lower-back tattoos. Or even better, of tattoos in general. The best explanation I've yet read for their renewed popularity the last 10 years or so had something to do with people's desire to reclaim their physicality in an era of virtual reality. Maybe. Or maybe they're just high.

Monday, November 28, 2005

What He Said, and Him, Too
We have periodically noted here examples of mainstream media criticism of blogs--particularly the idea that since bloggers aren't necessarily trained journalists, or because they don't have editors or fact-checkers, they are not merely not journalism, but represent some kind of threat to Truth, or to The Public's Right to Know, or something. Atrios (who, in real life, is a fellow at Media Matters named Duncan Black) periodically talks about this too, but his post on the subject today is a good candidate for being the last word on the subject.

Atrios picks up on a characterization of the mainstreamers as "gatekeeper media," which is--according to them--engaged in filtering out the false, defamatory, and the generally ungood to keep it from interfering with the high-minded discourse that occurs in the public square:
However, it isn't blogs that destroyed the Gatekeepers. It wasn't blogs that put Rush Limbaugh on as an election analyst. It wasn't blogs that gave Bill O'Reilly the flagship show on a major cable news network. It wasn't blogs that gave Michael Savage his own television show on a cable news network. It wasn't blogs that put Ann Coulter on the cover of a major national news magazine. It wasn't blogs that created all of the various and often fact free screaming heads shows. . . .

Gatekeeper media may be dead, but to a great degree they dug their own grave and dove right in. Blogs didn't really get there until after the funeral.
Recommended Reading: Tom Tomorrow has said that he's heard criticism of his strip, This Modern World, for using too many words in a medium that's supposed to be visual. Not this week. Also from the comics page, The Onion's AV Club talks with Aaron McGruder about putting The Boondocks on TV, and about revolution, and other stuff.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Fat Geese and Others
Today, of course, was Black Friday, apocryphally famed as every year's gonzo-hugest orgy of capitalist excess. Let me start by saying that if I hear one more time how it's not really the biggest shopping day, I'm going to scream. I don't care if it is, and I don't care if it isn't. The whole myth has been bastardized and rebastardized simply to herd more loose-walleted sheep into the retail slaughterhouses around the land. As if we aren't already trained to shell out more than we can afford each holiday season anyway.

You may have heard of the various "don't spend a dime" campaigns through which, we are to believe, a one-day purchasing boycott will send the message that we're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. As symbollic gestures go, I suppose it's less personally demanding than a hunger strike, and if it makes you feel better to hang onto your pennies until the 26th, then more power to you. But the cold fact is that it won't make a bit of difference. You and I and everyone that either of us will ever know could all collectively decide not to buy anything today, and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. Heck, we can all skip the whole season, and the ghost of Sam Walton won't even notice.

The problem with such a boycott is the same as with any "don't buy X today" effort. Chances are that yesterday you bought whatever it is you're not buying today. And if you didn't buy it yesterday, you'll probably buy it tomorrow. And even if you won't buy it yesterday or tomorrow, that just means that somebody else will buy two of it instead of one. Voting with one's dollars is mostly a myth and, in the end, seldom hurts anyone other than the entry-level employee whose position is eliminated due to poor sales.

So if you want to buy, buy. And if you don't, then don't. But by all means don't fool yourself into thinking that your boycott will result in anything more than odd stares when you mention it at work on Monday. Or on Tuesday, if you have Monday off for buck season.

In the coming days we must brace for all kinds of nonsense about the state of the economy vis a vis the huge outpouring of middle class dollars this season. Bush-apologists will hail it as a confirmation of his wise fiscal policy, followed by calls to cut even more taxes for the wealthy (because the economy is so strong, see). There'll be talk of rising consumer confidence and the longterm prospects for the dollar and the stock market and blah blah blah. Any economic windfall will be credited to Bush, while any shortfalls will be blamed on, oh I don't know, Democrats bashing the War or trying to fund Medicare. In any case, I'm sure that a Liberal is to blame, somehow.

Fact: The state of the economy is independent of Presidential policy unless the economy is strong and the President is Republican or if the economy is weak and the President is a Democrat.

Christmas comes, the goose gets fat, and we all put a penny in the old man's hat. January rolls around and the buying frenzy continues until the post X-mas sales are exhausted, and then we decide whether to forego food or heat when the credit card bills start coming home to roost. But to hear the media tell it, it's a big and tragic surprise when retailers suffer dramatic revenue drop-offs beginning in February or March, and it's shocking that the nation's employment numbers take a dive as all of those seasonal workers are let go. What's apparently forgotten each Season of Avarice is that the whole damned thing is cyclical.

Are we to weep for the retailer whose March numbers don't match those from December? Boo-hoo! If only there were a way to guess that sales would dwindle every year at about the same time! Sorry, but if you can't plan for a well-known, well-understood and well-predicted downturn, then maybe you should run FEMA, but you certainly shouldn't helm a retail establishment.

So buy whatever gifts you're planning to buy, and buy them today or tomorrow or the next day. But don't shop on December 17th, because for several years running the Saturday before Christmas has been the real gonzo-hugest sales day, and no one wants to have to deal with that.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

To John Dillinger, In Hope He Is Still Alive
By my count, we're 384 years since the first "Thanksgiving" dinner, celebrated by Pilgrims and assorted native persons, the latter of whom hadn't yet tasted the fruits of religious freedom and tolerance brought forth upon this continent by those trying to escape the persecution of the homeland.

Thanksgiving has, especially recently, become a quasi-patriotic expression of the JudeoChristian roots of our nation. Hey, if it makes you feel better to believe that Deist/Freemason founding fathers were actually full-blown fundy evangelicals, that's fine, as long as you don't elect an unqualified President on those grounds. Or if you do, then don't let him use his God-granted authority to appoint equally unqualified cronies to positions of power or responsibility.

Last year, JB posted a question that he heard and rightly identified as "boorish" (and which I paraphrase here): To whom do atheists give thanks? This is a paraphrase of the old joke that atheists have no one to talk to during orgasm (and, presumably, nothing to say when someone nearby sneezes). The joke assumes that one can't metaphorically "thank" circumstance and that God-as-idiom equates to God-as-deity.

But the big problem with that fairytale is that God wants to have His unleavened cake and eat it, too. That is, he's responsible for the presents under next month's tree, but the coal in your stocking is all your own fault. Nuts to that. If I'm required to give thanks to the Alpha Primate In The Sky for the good things in my life, you'd better believe that I'm going to take him to task for the crap, too.

But you didn't drop by to hear another of my God-As-Deadbeat-Dad screeds.

I am thankful every day for my happy, healthy family and for having a job good enough to keep a roof over our heads. I am thankful also for being able to afford to heat the house under that roof and to keep the lights on.

I am thankful not to have had to work today, but despite my thankfulness, Mother Nature wrought an unexpected chill upon Western Pa, resulting in snow and a whole lot of arctic wind. At around 1:00 this afternoon it was 15° with a windchill of about -1,000,000. And then our electricity went out. We have natural gas heat, but the furnace is powered by electricity.

I am thankful to own a home, but it's about 85 years old with windows to match, which is to say that it retains heat in the summer and cold in the winter. Responsible citizens, we keep our thermostat at 65°, but the temperature began dropping about one degree every fifteen minutes.

I am thankful that my wife had the remarkable foresight to prepare most of today's meal yesterday and to have put the turkey in the oven at around 10:00 this morning. So when the power went out we were basically in the home stretch anyway. Ultimately the lights came back on at about 3:30, and our dinner was saved. And delicious, I might add.

I am thankful for my wife's level-headeness. At some point while I was cursing the power company's inadequate and automated voice-response system, she offered a note of perspective. We were in the dark for two hours or so, but lots of people have had no reliable electricity for weeks or months or longer. And it wasn't a cold snap that knocked out the power lines—it was our JudeoChristian nation bombing the hell out of every power generation facility in Iraq so that, you know, we don't have to fight them here.

Not to be outdone, I replied "But Iraqis don't celebrate Thanksgiving."

Much of what we in God's Country are thankful for, in essence, is that we're not suffering the consequences of our righteousness and that we don't have to hear too much about them, either. Michael Moore recently made the excellent point that our media report the name of every Palestinian bomber, but a suicide bomber in Iraq is an anonymous Insurgent from outside of Iraq, of course. We can be thankful that our enemy is a swarthy and faceless Saracen (probably with turban and scimitar) rather than a desperate man whose children were killed by a bomb dropped from miles overhead.

We can be thankful that some in the world still know that the crimes perpetrated in our names are committed without our awareness or consent. Be thankful that we know the name and location of our nation's most dangerous enemy. And give thanks that Cheney and Goss are laboring to sanctify democracy through a doctrine of torture in secret prisons.

And here's a list of other things to be thankful for, still relevant almost two decades later.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Short Attention Span Theater
Time for another edition of our occasional link dump/quick comment feature, in case you need to be spending your time cooking a turkey or picking up your house for company instead of surfing the Internets.

Item: Teen People has spiked a story on Prussian Blue, a white-supremacist singing duo featuring 13-year-old twins--but not before "a junior employee" made "unauthorized assurances" that the article would downplay the racist angle.

Comment:
There's nothing so sad as an unemployed junior employee at holiday time.

Item: On two recent high-profile votes in the House, not a single Democrat voted with the Repugs.

Comment: If Nancy Pelosi and the leadership can keep it up, we'll turn the country blue yet--only this time it won't be because we're holding our breath to keep from smelling the GOP stench. Party unity: It's what's for dinner.

Item: The administration's plans to combat a bird-flu outbreak aren't so much "plans" as they are carelessly developed notions that will serve mostly to close the barn door once the horse escapes--although they will protect the drug companies' right to make as much money as possible off the pandemic.

Comment: Quelle surprise.

Item: Conservative thinker Bill Kristol says "the administration looks weak right now."

Comment: "Right now"? Where you been the last few months, Bill?

Item: FEMA is out with its list of top accomplishments in 2005. Heading the list is its response to Hurricane Katrina.

Comment: I'm sorry, I can't think of a joke that's any funnier than that.

Item: Tom Cruise has bought pregnant fiancee Katie Holmes her own sonogram machine.

Comment: OK, that's funnier.

Although the Sage of Pennsylvania may post here at some point in the next few days, I will be out of blogging range entirely for much of the weekend. (I'll have a Thanksgiving-themed post at The Hits Just Keep On Comin' tomorrow, however.) So may your turkey be tasty and your buns unburned--and may you not run out of wine until you're damn good and ready to stop drinking anyway.

Sophistry Is as Sophistry Does
The big media story this morning is about whether He Who Shall Not Be Named actually wanted to bomb the headquarters of Al Jazeera, or he was just kidding around. (I'm on the fence: He may have been serious, or it may have been the Jack Daniels talking. In any event, it's a distinction without a difference.) To me, an even bigger story is the tempest surrounding the Great Dick Cheney X-Out.

Did you hear about this? On Monday, Cheney was performing his Theater of the Absurd show somewhere, and CNN was carrying it. For approximately one-seventh of a second, a large black X appeared over Cheney's face--which caused Matt Drudge to go into conniptions that in turn proliferated all over Wingnuttia: Those goddamn liberals at CNN, how dare they make such an obviously political statement about the vice president! (I tried finding the link to Drudge's original article, but his archives, which appear quite exhaustive, are actually quite difficult to navigate, so the hell with it.) CNN has explained that the X was a technical glitch, which I knew within one-seventh of a second after I first read the story, and so did Drudge, I would imagine. But the opportunity to bash CNN was too good to pass up, so off they went--even though it made them look pretty stupid.

If you're gonna be a wingnut, I guess you can't be afraid of looking stupid. Speaking of which, you should read the Poorman's explanation of "the wanker/wingnut continuum." I haven't laughed so hard at a blog post in a long time.
We define our zero of wingnuttery as Charles Darwin’s classic “The Origin of Species”, and our zero of wankery as Steve McQueen, the only man to live through the 1960’s without ever having a stupid haircut. Moving upwards from our axis of wingnuttery we pass through lines of increasing wingnuttiness, while moving to the right from our zero-wankery line implies ever higher degrees of wankitude, until, after many, many sheets of graph paper, we find ourselves at the Burning Man festival. With this as our guide, we can objectively plot the wingnut and wanker ratings of any individual, and determine what relationship exists between these two seemingly unrelated characteristics.
Clearly, that's a Nobel Prize in the making right there.

Recommended Reading: The Poorman also noted a story from last week about a ballot initiative to be voted on in South Dakota next year that would create special grand juries to look into complaints about judges. (Website registration is required to read the story: get a login at BugMeNot.com.) The grand juries would deal with everything from accusations of graft, which is the kind of thing state legislatures are supposed to deal with, to accusations of "sophistry," which opens a can of worms the size of the Spanish Inquisition. What looks like a way to make judges be fairer to everyone is actually yet another attempt to tilt the playing field in favor of the kind of people who are likely to get all up in judges' business about "sophistry." Folks like this.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

November 22, 1963
A reader of Talking Points Memo was wondering why there's so little mention of the Kennedy assassination today. It's the 42nd anniversary of that fabled day, which changed American history quite a bit--and it's arguable that it changed American culture even more. Like the TPM reader, I've seen very little myself--actually nothing, at least on the news sites and blogs I frequent. (Even the today-in-history page of this very blog neglects to mention the assassination.) On TV, the History Channel, which has traditionally been all-JFK, all the time on the anniversary, isn't running any Kennedy stuff until the weekend. A&E and Discovery are similarly JFK-free tonight.

Perhaps, at 42 years on, the assassination has reached the outer limits of pop-culture relevance. Perhaps all the good stories have been told, and all those worth retelling have been retold to death. Perhaps what we've witnessed in our country the last two years--the spectacle of our country being repeatedly shamed before the world by our leaders' war, deceit, cruelty, and arrogance--is so psychologically overwhelming that it makes black-and-white filmed memories of something even so monstrous as a presidential assassination seem quaint.

Perhaps that last sentence is an exaggeration.

If the assassination is fading into history, certainly that's how the Kennedy family would want it. Several years ago, they stopped participating in any public observance of November 22, preferring instead to honor JFK on his birthday in January. We might do well to make the same change--but we can't. To us, the people who experienced the assassination as news and/or very recent history, we can't separate Kennedy the man from Kennedy the victim. Later generations might find it easier--the same way we can think of Abraham Lincoln today without automatically imagining him shot in his box at the theater. But we can never see JFK saying "ich bin ein Berliner," or challenging us to reach the moon, or playing touch football on the Hyannisport lawn, without thinking of November 22, 1963, at the same time.

So JFK is a bittersweet figure to us for that reason. And for this reason, too, as I wrote on the 40th anniversary of the assassination, two years ago today:
It seems as though the world began to accelerate in the weeks after November 22, 1963--accelerate and come apart at the same time, as many truths we thought were firmly settled before then began to seem less so afterward. In the middle of history, we can never fully assess it for what it is--that's left to generations of historians whose grandparents are toddlers now--but it surely seems as if we have never stopped the spiral that began 40 years ago, that things move faster and continue to fragment. So when we mourn JFK and remember that afternoon, we mourn a world that was younger, whose dangers were more knowable, whose challenges seemed achievable.
I noticed tonight on the Weather Channel that the record high for this date in my town was set in 1963. And the thought instantly occurred to me, "So, it was a warm afternoon when Walter Cronkite broke in with his first bulletin. . . ."

(A similar version of this post appears at Gather.com)

It's Not Cutting and Running, It's a Graceful Detachment in Retrograde Motion
The hottest headline in the blogosphere today comes from the AP via The Guardian, about a conference on Iraq being held by Arab nations:
Leaders of Iraq's sharply divided Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis called Monday for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country and said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right" of resistance.

The final communique, hammered out at the end of three days of negotiations at a preparatory reconciliation conference under the auspices of the Arab League, condemned terrorism, but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.
Or, as John at AMERICABlog put it, the Iraqi leadership has adopted Congressman Murtha's position. (By Cheney's definition, that means they're now giving aid and comfort to the enemy.) More ominously, as Nitpicker said, "Iraq's leaders just painted a bullseye on the backs of American soldiers and said they're fair game." Which prompted Pandagon to observe, "The crazy thing is, this probably doesn't change anything. Not for Bush. Not for Biden. Not for Hillary."

But if the more-specific report in an Arab newspaper is true--that U.S. officials proposed the timetable the conference is talking about (U.S. out by sometime in 2007), this is actually the administration's pretext for getting out. They could spin it as neither cutting nor running, but as bowing to the wishes of the duly elected peoples' representatives in Iraq. Imagine how such a plan might play when tossed into the 2006 campaign. It would change the political calculus of the war in an instant, and put Democrats of all stripes into a hell of a box.

Never mind how dishonest it is for the administration to attack people for the remotest suggestion of withdrawal while at the same time making arrangements for it. We're long past the point where this administration's dishonesty is even worth noticing anymore.

Monday, November 21, 2005

News Vulture
In 1999, I was working as an editor for a publishing company. For a period of several months that fall and winter, I had no assignments. Literally, actually, none. I would come to work at 8:30 and surf the web until 5--and I soon discovered that hours of diversion were available at Salon.com. Even six-plus years ago, Salon was positively elderly by Internet standards, having first appeared in November 1995. For years after I first discovered it, it remained a regular stop on my daily Internet rounds, and I became a paying subscriber to it--having sworn for years that I would never pay for online content--a few days before the September 11 attacks. This blog was born in March 2003, and I wish I had a nickel for every Salon article I've linked to since. (Maybe they do, too.)

Salon's actual 10th anniversary was yesterday. Executive editor Gary Kamiya--who is probably the best writer Salon has ever had on-staff--published an anniversary reminiscence last week, and it's worth a look. You might guess that the Florida recount and September 11 would rank as important moments in Salon's history, and they do. But Kamiya observes that the 1997 death of Princess Diana represented the first great evolutionary leap forward for Salon:
For the first time, we understood that Salon could play an important role in the media world as a kind of news vulture, not so much reporting on the big events as feasting on their remains. Fast, smart, opinionated stories making sense of events, or simply offering cathartic responses, were in demand, and we discovered we were good at them.
Kamiya also describes what it was like to be on the rising edge of the dot-com bubble--and the fall, during which the tax on the stock options he cashed in during the boom cost him $110,000--and how Salon survived and began to thrive (albeit with smaller, more manageable goals) during the Bush years. And as a kind of news vulture myself, I am grateful that it's still around to help me pick my way through the remains of each day. So salute, Salon, and happy 10th--well done.

Word Up, Word Down: Well, I didn't think it would take very long: Within days of the premiere of The Boondocks on Cartoon Network, columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson criticized it for its liberal use of the word nigger. I have opinions about lots of things, but when it comes to the word nigger, I am good and truly agnostic. On one hand, I tend to agree with George Carlin, who said a generation ago that there are no bad words, only bad thoughts. But on the other, I certainly understand how much of a bludgeon that word can be when used in certain contexts. The only thing I take a firm stand on is that I will not call it "the n word," which seems utterly juvenile. That euphemism actually works to make nigger seem even more forbidden than it already is, which in turn interferes with our ability to talk about the word and its connotations in a meaningful way. (And it leads to such rank stupidities such as the case of a city official in Washington, D.C., who was thrown into hot water a few years ago for using the word niggardly during a meeting, a word that means "grudging or petty in giving or spending" and has absolutely no connection to nigger.) But apart from that, I've got no opinion on whether the word should be banned for all time from all mouths, or just from the mouths of white people, or what. What do you think?

Can't This Wait Until We've Had Thanksgiving Dinner?
Buckle up, everybody, because here we go:
Evangelical Christian pastor Jerry Falwell has a message for Americans when it comes to celebrating Christmas this year: You're either with us, or you're against us.

Falwell has put the power of his 24,000-member congregation behind the "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign," an effort led by the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel. The group promises to file suit against anyone who spreads what it sees as misinformation about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces.
Last year, I attributed nattering about "the war on Christmas" to post-election dick-swinging by emboldened wingnuts. Twelve months later, nothing has changed. The right, with the aid of two prominent Fox News commentators, is going to war against the war again this year.

That they'd go after Macy's is one thing--Macy's is old New York money, after all, and from a snobby blue state at that. But to get an idea how extreme the Christmas crusaders really are: this year they're pissed at Walmart. Walmart--the CD-censoring, book-banning retail embodiment of red-state culture; Walmart--the high tabernacle at which Americans demonstrate their love of country by buying as much landfill crap as possible. The day Walmart becomes too liberal for these people is the day the rest of us should start pricing flights to Auckland.

As is the case with many popular wingnut cultural crusades, it's almost unnecessary to point out that the supposed liberal assault on Christmas is a paranoid fantasy, as Salon's Michelle Goldberg demonstrates today. (She didn't suggest that Falwell's first lawsuit for misinfomation-spreading should logically be directed against himself--but I will.) And apart from its ramshackle nature--isolated instances of secularist overreaction converted magically into a vast, coordinated plot--this crusade rings false for another reason: Falwell, Fox News, and the rest are closing the barn door after the reindeer has escaped.

Contrary to Falwell's fightin' words, most Americans are neither with him nor against him. If they choose to do so, most American families are perfectly able to make room for both Jesus and Santa--the religious aspects of the season and the secular ones. They'll go to church on Christmas Eve to hear the story about Jesus' arrival, and then hurry home to await Santa's arrival, and see nothing disrespectful to Jesus in doing so.

If ever there were a case of a small minority raising hell over something out of all proportion to that something's actual significance, this is it. The number of benighted fools who honestly believe liberals are out to eliminate the religious dimension of Christmas is tiny. There's a far greater number of political opportunists who see the idea as a seasonally appropriate way to carry on their same old fight, just like you put a wreath on your front door in December.

But if Fox News is really serious about fighting the secularization of Christmas, they'll prove it--by refusing to accept advertising from companies that don't extend holiday greetings in Fox's approved fashion. In fact, maybe they shouldn't accept advertising from people trying to make money off such a sacred holiday in any way.

(Insert sound of crickets chirping here.)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

C'mon Baby, Give it Up, Don't Do a Man Like That
Here's a reason why, contrary to the NPR commentator who seems to think blogs are either a threat to the Republic or the world's largest circle jerk, we need 'em. It's because bloggers, by way of expressing their opinions, often get at truths the mainstreamers wouldn't think of, or couldn't touch:
I'm growing alarmed by the rhetoric being employed by those on the right who don't want to admit Iraq was a mistake and get the fuck out of there. Luckily, the sex-obsessed porn liberal side of me is noticing a certain, shall we say, metaphor that is being riffed off of in the propaganda blitz to convince people we need to "stay the course". It was this headline that did me in:

Heading toward a pressured and premature pullout?

And this:

Withdrawal mania

Shameless, no? If public opinion continues to turn against this war, I'm sure it's just a matter of time before you start seeing headlines at Townhall that say things like, "Don't castrate the war effort". There's definitely a certain pouty, frat boy-style date rape mentality that's permeating the excuses that are coming from the right when it comes not only to Iraq but to the misleading of the Democrats and the American people generally into the war under false premises.
That's Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon, providing me with an "of course!" moment regarding the war and its supporters. But once she turns the light on, the whole idea makes a lot of sense. The hardcores on the right are obsessed with sex: who does it to who, how it's done, what the results of it are--and so it's no wonder that they might react to other aspects of public policy through the lens of sex, even unconsciously.

On the subject of Repug attitudes demonstrated over the last couple of days, John at AMERICABlog has worked through the meme that the Repugs really don't give a damn about the soldiers in Iraq, or, in the broader sense, potential soldiers of military age anywhere in the country. (The Rude Pundit goes further, and says they don't really give a damn about anybody but themselves.) They're insisting that we will stay in Iraq no matter what--which means that even if it meant the death of every single American under the age of 40 on a battlefield somewhere, that would be a proper price to pay. To pay for what? Neocon fantasy and Bush's political cojones.

As war aims go, they ain't exactly making the world safe for democracy, or the Four Freedoms, are they?

Recommended Reading: Hunter at Daily Kos on the changing face of the media as the Iraq meltdown continues.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Go Ahead, Make My Day
The budget reconciliation bill that passed early this morning made it by two votes. Nancy Pelosi and the leadership managed to hold the Democrats together--nobody crossed over to vote for it, and 14 Repugs voted against it. Now let's see if she can hold them together on this: Tonight, the Repug leadership in the House is forcing a vote on a resolution that says, "Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." In other words, they want Democrats to have to vote up or down on Congressman Murtha's statement of yesterday that it's time to get out now.

Kos suggests that Pelosi should simply get everybody out of town: "[T]he smartest thing to do would probably be to simply disappear for the vote. A 218-0 vote would be pretty useless as a political weapon for the GOP. No need to give them the satisfaction of a vote." John at AMERICABlog says Democrats ought to put forth a resolution of their own saying that He Who Shall Not Be Named is doing a great job running the war in Iraq, which he believes would be killed by the Repugs, requiring them to explain why. (I'm not sure I agree--a lot of Kool Aid has been consumed on the Repug side, after all, plus, they have a way of coming together to defend this president--although those days look like they're gone, the price of a failure on this vote could be astronomical.)

Fact is, the country is moving far ahead of the Repugs on the withdrawal issue. More than half the country favors a withdrawal in the next year--which makes them traitors by the administration's definition. So here's the $64,000 question: Could this resolution actually pass? Are there enough brave Republicans--perhaps a few of the same ones who bucked the party on the budget votes in the last couple of days--to queer the whole deal? I doubt the leadership would risk it if they thought there were, but their luck has been lousy of late.

Must-see TV, C-SPAN, 6PM Central, tonight.

Late update, 5PM: It looks like Pelosi's gambit is to have every Democrat vote against the resolution. She must not think she can hold the caucus together, and on short notice, she's probably right, although some of the Kool-Aid drinkers will likely use the vote later on as an excuse to say "They voted for it before they came out against it." Of course, given the say-anything nature of the Repugs' talking points, they're also liable to say that Democrats are opposed to puppies and kitties, love and affection, and chocolate-chip cookies.

Talking to Myself
The administration's pushback on Iraq seems feeble and stupid to those of us who are intimately familiar with the history of spin, misdirection, and outright lying involved in the decision to go to war and the ongoing defense of that war. But I wonder how feeble it seems to Mr. and Mrs. America, who have jobs and kids and lives and, most importantly, lack the kind of time we political geeks have to keep track of the spin, misdirection, and outright lying.

It's true that the media, especially the cable channels, are being tougher on the administration than ever before, and occasionally even calling bullshit on the bullshit. But at the same time, their tendency to oversimplify must pull on them mighty hard. Just read Josh Marshall's explanation of why so many of the Repugs' talking points are so silly. It provides an overarching framework for evaluating those talking points--but how would it be translated into TV terms? Not easily, I don't think. Could it be done without simplifying to the point at which the simplicity becomes its own distortion? I don't know. All day today MSNBC's been headlining the controversy "War of Words." But doesn't that give the subconscious appearance, at least, of turning the controversy into another case of he-said/she-said, like everything else that comes out of Washington? If so, that perception devalues what's happening now, from the exponentially worsening blizzard of lies that it is, down to the kind of Beltway brouhaha that parents of two in West Overshoe don't think they have time to worry about.

But then again--He Who Must Not Be Named is down to something like 34 percent approval, so clearly, what's happening is getting through to some of the citizens of West Overshoe. And just yesterday, I adamantly insisted that good citizens of a democracy can tell the difference between truth, lies, analysis, and spin. So let's not be impatient. It's taken a year to get this far. In just the past two weeks, thanks to the administration's political weakness, we've stopped the oil drilling in ANWR and slowed the budget-cutting train (albeit not enough). In another year, at the current rate, Dear Leader will be less popular than either Nixon or jock itch, and who knows what that might bring?

Geek Stuff:
Be sure to notice the box on the right that shows where the last 10 readers of this blog were located. I have no idea how it works, but it seems pretty cool. Also, take a trip over to Gather.com. I'm occasionally contributing there, and would appreciate the clicks on my stuff--but you will probably also find other stuff worth reading there as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Too Smart to Blog, Too Dumb to Explain Why
Realizing full well that if you clicked the link on last night's post and actually listened to "Bush Was Right" by the Right Brothers (soon to be burning up the charts on MTV, and if not, then MTV is biased against conservatives), you may not be ready for something else that's so stupid it will make you beat your head against the table--but here goes.

Via the News Blog, check this transcript of an NPR commentary in which Amy Alexander, self-described "author and media critic," explains why Blogs Are (Mostly) Bad. Alexander complains that because blogs don't have editors, they're contributing to the problem of Americans being unable to tell the difference between hard news and opinion. Plus bloggers write about trivia too much.

It's hard to believe that there are so many people (especially among the ranks of "media critics") who are still so goddamn dumb about blogs. Most of us who live in the blogosphere on a regular basis understand that blogs are not stone tablets engraved with Truth and handed down from the mountaintop. We make decisions every day about which blogs and bloggers to trust, and which not to--and we do it without an editor holding our hand. We know what's news and what's commentary--and we are capable of separating the two, even when they appear within the same blog, or blog post. Amy admits to doing it herself with the few blogs she deigns to read--so why aren't the rest of us permitted the same privilege? Good citizens of a democracy are supposed to be smart enough to tell the difference between truth and lies, between analysis and spin. Seems to me a half-savvy blog reader is at least as able to tell shinola from the other stuff as the editors at the New York Times (who printed Judith Miller's Chalabi-fueled Iraq propaganda), or the editors at the Washington Post (who swallowed the administration's discredited case for war and pushed it on their editorial page) or the editors at the various broadcast networks (insert your own example of egregious dumbassitude here).

And as for Amy's criticism of the minutiae that some bloggers indulge in, Steve Gilliard has it right: if you don't like it, don't read those posts, or those bloggers. I skip posts all the time, even on blogs I rely on, because I'm not interested--and I'll bet you skip posts on this very blog sometimes, too. It's no more offensive to the average blogger than skipping over a story in the newspaper should be to the editors of the paper--or aren't we permitted to do skip newspaper stories anymore? Goodness knows, each story has been selected by a highly trained professional editor, and they're the only people in America fit to decide what matters and what doesn't.

What a load.

Recommended Reading: You may have seen news stories yesterday and today talking about a Patriot Act reauthorization "compromise" that's supposed to fix some of the more egregious abuses in the original act, and how the compromise supposedly curbs the power of the FBI. Well, not so fast there, Potential Terror Suspect. The compromise bill being voted on this week actually retains most of the worst abuses, and adds a few more new ones for fun. So take a minute to click here, find the Washington phone number of your representative or senator, and call their office to tell them to vote against it. It's important to call, unless your senator is Russ Feingold--anybody else just might vote for the damn thing.

And then, treat yourself to a painful chuckle of recognition courtesy of Tom the Dancing Bug. And at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This Is the End
Somebody get me a screwdriver, so I can puncture my eardrums, because I'm afraid of hearing this again, even by accident.

Play me a Tiny Tim record, or Frank Yankovic and the Yanks, or Slim Whitman. Or pass me a gallon of brain bleach. Anything to get that goddamn song out of my head.

Oh, the humanity. . . .

Jane Fonda's War
A whole generation of Americans knows Jane Fonda only as the former Mrs. Ted Turner, or the inventor of the celebrity workout video. You have to be a little bit older to remember her as one of Hollywood's A-list actresses--and if you remember that, you also remember her antiwar activist days. No one who spoke out against the Vietnam War is more reviled all these years later than Fonda. Millions of Americans have never forgiven her for her controversial trip to North Vietnam in 1972.

However, like a lot of what we think we remember--and like a lot of what gets used as political bludgeons by people on both the right and the left--we don't remember Fonda's antiwar activities or Vietnam visit accurately. They were a lot more nuanced than those "American traitor bitch" bumperstickers you still see now and then would make you believe. Author Mary Hershberger has written Jane Fonda's War: A Political Biography of an Anti-War Icon, and it's reviewed by Rick Perlstein in the London Review of Books.

There's a tremendous amount of stuff to absorb in Perlstein's review, but one of the most striking bits for me was this:
It’s remarkable how many things that we think of as permanent features of American culture can be traced back to specific political operations by the Nixon White House. We now take it as given, for example, that blue-collar voters have always been easy pickings for conservatives appealing to their cultural grievances. But Jefferson Cowie, among others, has shown the extent to which this was the result of a specific political strategy, worked out in response to a specific political problem. Without taking workers’ votes from the Democrats, Nixon would never have been able to achieve the ‘New Majority’ he dreamed of. But to do so by means of economic concessions – previously the only way politicians imagined working-class voters might be wooed – would threaten his business constituency. So Nixon ‘stood the problem on its head’, as Cowie says in Nixon’s Class Struggle (2002), ‘by making workers’ economic interests secondary to an appeal to their allegedly superior moral backbone and patriotic rectitude’. (One part of the strategy was arranging for members of the Teamsters to descend ‘spontaneously’ on protesters carrying Vietcong flags at Nixon appearances. Of course it’s quite possible that the protesters too were hired for the occasion.) It’s not that the potential for that sort of behaviour wasn’t always there. But Nixon had a gift for looking beneath social surfaces to see and exploit subterranean anxieties.
Many of the POWs Fonda visited in 1972 were openly against the war. Anti-war warriors meant political disaster for Nixon, both in terms of political support for the war, and for the broader project of peeling off those blue-collar voters. So the orchestrated reactions to Fonda's visit and to the return of Vietnam POWs about a year later were both intended to change the politics of war support.
The pows were released in the spring of 1973 with the signing of the Paris accord – the same negotiated settlement that the anti-war pows had called for. A carefully selected group of hard-line returnees was paraded around the country in a Pentagon-scripted pageant called Operation Homecoming. These hard-liners were an interesting group. They were older officers, mostly, captured in the early years of the conflict, at a time when its insanity wasn’t quite so obvious. They treated their captivity as an extension of the battlefield. And as the mission to which they had pledged their lives collapsed around their ears, their attitude hardened, their resistance to their captors’ authority becoming ‘a mark of their personal heroism and endurance’. While the nation had been busy losing the war, they were ‘almost desperate’, Steven Roberts, the New York Times reporter who covered the repatriation, wrote, to ‘believe the Vietnam War was worth it and that the president would, in fact, gain “peace with honour”’. They were uniformed prophets of national redemption, preaching, to honour-starved congregations in America’s Knights of Columbus halls and school cafeterias, the message people needed to hear: ‘I want you all to remember,’ they said, ‘that we walked out of Hanoi as winners.’

This made their younger comrades, the kind that met with the likes of Fonda, no better than VC sappers. They were charged with collaboration. The pows who wished to preserve their honour by maintaining that the war was wrong and that they had had a right to criticise it were cast as the agents of American defeat.
And that was where things stood as we moved into the '70s period of forgetting about Vietnam, which was followed by the 1980s, and Ronald Reagan's talk of Vietnam as a "noble cause," the rise of political conservatism, and the development of what Perlstein calls "the anti-Fonda cult." Twenty years later, the cult's virulence hasn't dimmed very much--for what were the swift-boat attacks on John Kerry last fall if not a manifestation of the kind of aid-and-comfort stuff people have been saying about Fonda since the 70s? Remember that photo --a fake--of the two of them together?

Why does this matter now? Well, we're losing another war at the moment, and the current administration, which is wedded to its continued prosecution no matter what, desperately wants to define the "patriotic" view of that war. And with ex-POW John McCain's likely involvement in the 2008 presidential race, the ever-malleable concept of "patriotism" will be a critical part of the debate. Which means that what Jane Fonda did--and didn't do--will be part of the debate once again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?
Ooo! Ooo-oo! Ooh! Bill O'Reilly, who has finally had enough of big bad liberals smearing him on the Internets, is going to publish an enemies' list on his website! In hopes of finally making the big time, I just sent him this e-mail (oreilly@foxnews.com):
Bill:

I rang doorbells for Kerry on Election Day. I voted for Bill Clinton. And Dukakis. And I would have voted for McGovern if I'd been old enough. And if Satan himself ran for office against any Republican from dog catcher on up, I might not vote for him, but I'd send money.

Speaking of Satan running for office, I think Hillary would make a fine president.

I'm sorry I am not a woman so I can't get pregnant and have an abortion for fun.

I have a blog (The Daily Aneurysm) which I think qualifies as part of the liberal smear machine. At least I hope it does. I work very hard to subvert conservatism every chance I get.

Can I please be on your enemies list?

Happy holidays,
jb
How I Spent My Tuesday: I have been blogging extensively elsewhere today: at Best of the Blogs, where I reported the real reason why He Who Shall Not Be Named is in Mongolia today, and at The Hits Just Keep On Comin', where I tell more strange tales of my radio days. So go read already.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Once a Critic
Think of the biggest jerk you encountered today, whether it was that guy who cut you off with a left turn on red, the woman in the opposite cube who doesn't cover her mouth when she sneezes, or whoever. Then multiply that person's jerkiness about 65 times. And then give him a goofy moustache.

I give you Michael Medved.

Medved used to be a film critic first and foremost, but I guess the dirty words and boobies got to be too much for him, so now he pays his bills by vomiting forth whatever rightwing insanity occurs to him. In a way, that's an improvement, because I recall that as a film critic he was dreadful, as though he never quite fit the role assigned to him. At least as a purveyor of hatred, he seems to be in his element.

France, land of fries and kisses, has lately been embroiled in ugly riots resulting in, at last count, a zillion dollars worth of damage. Unlike in America, where we love freedom and justice and riots sparked by 2:00 a.m. bar closings, in France they're rioting because of two deaths by accidental electrocution following what was apparently an unjustified police chase. Most of the rioters are young, angry, and of non-French descent.

I don't pretend to understand the tensions and conflict bubbling beneath the surface of French society (all the French I know I learned from Pepe LePew), but it's generally recognized that the forcible and flawed "assimilation" of multiple ethnicities is at least partly to blame.

But, silly me, I thought that inter-cultural tensions and xenophobia were the cause in a nutshell. Then I heard Medved's screed tonight on Beyond The News, and I realized how wrong I was. In a scant 156 words, Medved manages to put the blame on the immigrants themselves, their religious outlook, the alienness of Islam, France's secularism, the welfare state, and Jerry Lewis.

Okay, he didn't mention the last one, but the other "causes" are given with no more justification than Medved's sayso, so we might as well throw The Nutty Professor onto the heap with the rest. Argument-by-assertion is very popular among the far right because it appeals simultaneously to the sheep-mentality and to leader-fetishism, and if you're into that flavor of Kool-Aid, then you'll probably enjoy every nugget excreted by Medved's mouth.

But I'll say this much for him—he's concise. It's taken me about 400 words so far just to set up my blog entry, while by this point in his article he'd already hit "post" and sat back to stew in his righteousness.

I don't fault you if you lack the stomach for even a brief perusal of Medved's prose, so I'll sum up: France is rioting because the country is too French with too much immigration and not enough God. No doubt if a rural town in France had just voted to reject creationism, then Charles Darwin would be to blame. Maybe it's the gays. They have gays in France, right? Or maybe it's the general tolerance of boobies. Heck, maybe it's Voltaire's fault, when you get right down to it.

Frankly (no pun intended), I don't know the cause of the riots, and I don't know how they might be curtailed. But neither does Medved, and at least I'm up front about it. For now, France is imposing strict curfews that appear to be having at least some positive effect. But I'd suggest that the riots are simply the oozing sore that signals a much deeper infection.

But that's too complicated for Medved, and for Rightwingers in general, to accept. Better to say that the riots are the inevitable result of secular socialism and make the victims suffer the smug "I told you so" smirks of Compassionate Conservatives.

For the record, this is an opinion-based blog making no claim of objective journalism, implied or otherwise. If you're going to be an honest purveyor of opinion pieces, then you should have the integrity not to use the word News in your title, even if your stuff is Beyond it. Unless your whole niche, like all of Rightwing punditry, consists of nothing more than "cuz I sed so."

While I'm on the subject, ask me sometime why Jesus, despite our esteemed President, is really bottom-of-the-barrel, as philosophers go.

Trembling Lips
One of the popular stereotypes we have about the British regards their fabled resolve. No matter what terrible thing happens, they're supposed to be able to greet it with a wry remark and go on about their days. Anything more--certainly any sign of being unable to cope--was, for a long time, considered to be unseemly. But in the November Harper's (not yet available online), veteran journalist Charles Glass compares British attitudes toward the July 2005 bombings in London, in which 56 people were killed, with their reactions to the Blitz during World War II.
Between September 1940 and May 1941, the Luftwaffe bombarded London with thousands of tons of high explosives and incendiaries to prepare the ground for an invasion that never came. During that first month, amost 7,000 people died and another 10,000 were wounded. Blacked-out London, with its Anderson shelters and air-raid wardens, may have been horrifying. It was also romantic. The British politicians and newspapers who insisted the London of July 7, 2005 resembled London in late 1940 were wrong. London's past--the bulldog spirit, the stiff upper lip, phlegm, and that greatest of lost British virtues, understatement--had become another country. Tony Blair's London, the extension of Margaret Thatcher's, is a fantasy city of hyperbole and, when confronting the slightest threat, hysteria. . . .

Two days before Christmas 1940, the Daily Telegraph's Frederick Salfeld wrote, "Every morning, no matter how many bombs have been dropped in the night, London's transport runs, letters are delivered, milk and bread come to one's door, confectioners get their supplies, and the fruiterers' windows are filled." [One day after the July bombings] I found one open restaurant called Automat on Dover Street that was owned by an Argentinean and staffed by Poles. A month later, Transport for London announced that use of the tube was down 10 to 15 percent during the week and 30 percent on weekends.
So what happened? Glass doesn't really know, either, except to suggest that when we burrow in upon ourselves as people did after the London bombings, it distracts us from the reality that the Iraq war, and "a century of British and then American interference in Muslim lands" has come home. If we recognized the reality, we'd ask impolite questions and make uncomfortable demands on our leaders. So it's useful to the Blair government (as it is useful to the current administration on our side of the puddle) to stoke fear, thus keeping citizens dependent on the government for their security and less likely to question its actions.

Maybe it's also a symptom of our therapeutic culture, which encourages just the opposite of a stiff upper lip, with an imperative to Get in Touch With Your Feelings. In Britain, this first emerged with the death of Princess Diana in 1997, when the phenomenon of the spontaneous memorial--flowers, poems, stuffed animals--reached the gates of the royal family's palaces, and the way British public opinion demanded that the royal family, right up to Queen Elizabeth herself, participate in the spectacle of ostentatious public grief. Their refusal to do so at first was seen not as typical British behavior, but some kind of affront to Diana's memory. It certainly was not in keeping with the touchy-feely Oprah-ization of modern life.

But maybe the simplest explanation for the way people act now, in Britain and here in the United States when confronting the terrorist threat, is the most likely to be correct: Terrorists set out to terrorize us, and they've succeeded in doing so. Where once our society had some coherence, some conception of common goals and common good, we're now atomized, each of us living in a world of private choices. And so we see ourselves as individually vulnerable to terrorists, as if the Wicked Osama had declared jihad on us personally. Such an attitude is so unlike the Brits of 1940, who knew they were individually vulnerable, but had faith that they would defeat Hitler together, and make a better world in the process. Glass again:
Today, no one believes the world will be better than when the war on terror began. . . . That [unimproved world] is the world London anticipates, so why sing about pride and defiance at the foe? We are not, as in 1940, all in it together.
Those who died in the Blitz, then, could be said to have died for something worthwhile. And perhaps the reason we're so afraid of terrorists in 2005 is that we know, deep down, that dying in the "war on terror" is dying for nothing.

(A slightly different version of this post also appears at Gather.com.)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

And Now There Are Two
Just last week, I said that I couldn't support any Democratic senator for president who voted for the war in Iraq and who wouldn't now admit that he or she was wrong to have cast that vote. After being reported as creeping out into the light in The Nation recently, John Edwards joins Russ Feingold's party of one in today's Washington Post, beginning his column by saying "I was wrong."
It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake. It has been hard to say these words because those who didn't make a mistake -- the men and women of our armed forces and their families -- have performed heroically and paid a dear price.

The world desperately needs moral leadership from America, and the foundation for moral leadership is telling the truth.

While we can't change the past, we need to accept responsibility, because a key part of restoring America's moral leadership is acknowledging when we've made mistakes or been proven wrong -- and showing that we have the creativity and guts to make it right.
Which is what this crappy blog has been saying for over two years: We shouldn't be in Iraq at all because the administration's rationale for war was a lie, but now that we're there, we have a responsibility to fix what we broke. Edwards says, and he's absolutely right, that we've got to acknowledge what the United States is capable of and what it isn't, and we need to proceed without being hampered by pre-conceived notions, or by declaring certain ideas off-limits before we start.

It seems to me that this single op-ed piece could help turn Edwards into the anti-Hillary for 2008. As you may remember, I was not an Edwards fan during the '04 primaries, pegging him as a lightweight who was actually running for vice-president the whole time. But in the fall campaign, he started looking like a man with a mojo--and an economic message that Kerry was foolish not to embrace word-for-word. He's been polishing up the economic message over the last year--and now he's had his come-to-Jesus moment on Iraq, too. I suspect he may not be the last to do so.

Not that I don't still love me some Russ Feingold or anything. There's a profile of Feingold in The New Republic that is a pretty good roadmap of his career--his vote to confirm John Roberts is only one instance in which he's offended some Democrats and puzzled many more. For example, during the Clinton impeachment, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd put forth a resolution to dismiss the charges and end the whole circus, but Feingold was the only Democrat to vote against it, arguing that the impeachment process existed, and right or wrong, the Repug majority had the right to use it. It's just another instance in which Feingold has stuck to his own principles even when they conflict with the political "imperatives" of the Democratic Party, a tendency that is liable to make the nomination fight fairly uncomfortable for Feingold at times. (The New Republic requires free registration to use their site. Enter username tnrin and password tnrin1, courtesy of bugmenot.com)

Birthday Card: Today's the fifth birthday of Talking Points Memo, one of the most widely read and influential blogs on the left. Reading it will make you smarter. It's always worked for me.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Escar-gone
I love the Internet: instant news, home banking, unlimited pornography, and lots of other fine diversions, guaranteed to keep a person for performing actual remunerative labor as Friday afternoon turns into Friday evening.

Much more interesting than working, for example, are the details about this: "A Farragut [Tennessee] man says he's only the messenger, claiming his personal relationship with god [website's lowercase "g", not mine] has revealed to him, five cities in the United States that will face economic collapse Friday, November 11, 2005." (Click here to find out if it's happened yet. Surely it will make the front page.)

Also from Tennessee, a couple took their sick fox terrier, Buttons, to the vet, who told them it would have to be euthanized. After he'd done it, he even sent the couple a sympathy card. But then came The Resurrection.

In the spirit of the poll that declared the 20th century's greatest invention to be the capsule in the bottle or can of Guinness that gives the beer its trademark head, MSN Encarta presents nine of the most underrated inventions of all time.

The Chicago Sun Times reports on the latest way to tell if you have too damn much money: body sushi, all you can eat, $500 per person.

From the Top 26 Reasons Why the French Are Rioting: "12. Found out escargot is actually snails." And "7. Upset to be seen along with London and school children's underpants."

Curling is a weirdly fascinating sport, with people madly sweeping the ice in front of slow-moving 40-pound stones. It's the kind of sport that naturally makes you ask: What would these people look like naked?

Hmm. In the end, it all comes back to nudity.

John Edwards Finally Gets It
I've been saying here for a long time that until prominent Democrats who want to be president start saying they were wrong about their vote to authorize the Iraq war, they're going to be neutered on the issue. So hats off to John Edwards for standing up, as The Nation reports.
[In September 2002] Edwards wrote an op-ed headlined "Congress Must Be Clear," staking himself out as the Democrat most gung-ho to sic the troops on Saddam Hussein. Swallowing the WMD story hook, line and sinker, Edwards commanded his fellow senators to "send a clear message to Iraq and the world: America is united in its determination to eliminate forever the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." Though he made obligatory noises about "an effort to rally the international community" and "real steps to win the peace" before invading, Edwards threw himself fully behind the Congressional resolution to authorize Bush's go-it-alone invasion of Iraq.

"Either he was a hawk, or he didn't know what he was talking about, or he was guilty of the worst kind of political pandering," Kromm says. [Chris Kromm is executive director of the progressive Institute for Southern Studies.] "I thought, 'You're trying to appeal to progressives, but you've already lost them.' I'm not sure he ever recovered from that."

In an interview after the UNC speech, Edwards finally utters the words he'd assiduously avoided during the last campaign: "I voted for the resolution," he says. "It was a mistake." So far, so good. But he goes on, "The hard question is, What do you do now? Looking back, it's easy to say that it was wrong and based on false information. Anybody who doesn't admit that isn't honest, and that's the truth." So what now? "I myself feel conflicted about it," Edwards replies. "But we have to find ways--and I don't mean just yanking all the troops tomorrow--but we have to find ways to start bringing our troops home. Our presence there is clearly contributing to the problem." So does he agree with Senator Russ Feingold that Washington should set a withdrawal deadline? "No. Even if we're going to say that internally, that we're gonna have our troops out by X date, there's no reason to announce that to the world. I think that's probably a mistake." He doesn't agree, either, with Senator Clinton's call for more US troops to finish the job? "No sir!" Edwards says, sitting straight up in his chair. "Did she really say that?"
She did. And until she comes off that foolish, foolish idea and admits she was wrong to vote for the goddamn war in the first place, I can't support her--and you shouldn't, either.

Iraq is not really the focus of the Nation article, however. It's about Edwards' work directing the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill's law school--and how that might play into the 2008 presidential campaign.

Amazing, but True: Percent of Americans who think their country is headed in the right direction: 26. Percent of Iraqis who think their country is headed in the right direction: 47. Read that again and think about what it means, what with shit blowing up on a regular basis over there and all. (Think Progress has links to the polls.)

Also Amazing, but Also True:
Here's the newest accessory for your iPod--and a suggestion for some tunes to listen to while you're wearing it.

Not True, Not Nice:
This is so wrong. I'm ashamed of myself for even linking to it. And of how much I laughed.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The End of Science
There's a good essay in Time magazine about intelligent design, in the wake of its advance in Kansas and its seeming defeat in Pennsylvania. Eric Cornell suggests that as theology, intelligent design is actually an exciting idea: "If nature is the way it is because God wants it to be that way, then, by looking at nature, one can learn what it is that God wants! The microscope and the telescope are no longer merely scientific instruments; they are windows into the mind of God." But as science, intelligent design turns the exciting act of discovering how the world works into the mere reiteration of Sunday-school lessons.

To me, the single most marvelous and unlikely thing about the human species is the ever-rising curve of our knowledge about the world. In 11,000 years of human development, we've grown from superstitious explanations of everything to unlocking the atom and beyond. What we could do in the next 11,000 (if we manage not to destroy ourselves with the products of our knowledge) leads a person to conclude that the world 11,000 years from now will be as unrecognizable to us as today's world would be to a caveman of 11,000 years ago. But what intelligent design does, in effect, is to stop that growth dead. As Carroll says, it's like drawing a box around all our scientific understanding to date and saying "Everything outside this box is God's will."

Intelligent design's smug certitude about the way the world works would render scientific investigation pointless. Worse, it would also render such investigation blasphemous: "God did it and that settles it. Who are you, Mr. Scientist, to question his will?" So intelligent design is not just another scientific explanation--it's actually the end of science.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Alito is making the rounds with my senators. He met with Russ Feingold yesterday and will meet with Herb Kohl today. Senators are making a great deal about Alito's "assurances" on this or that matter--but over at AMERICABlog, they wonder if he can really be trusted, given some other assurances he's failed to follow through on during his time on the federal bench.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Good Night, Good Luck, Good Movie
The story of the TV series See It Now and Edward R. Murrow's fight against the McCarthy witch hunt is well-known--although what the movie Good Night, and Good Luck makes clear is that Murrow didn't see it as a fight, exactly, but rather, as a matter of saying what conscientious Americans were obligated to say about McCarthy's tactics, and about the McCarthyite vision of America that inspired the use of those tactics.

Doing the right thing, even when we know it's the right thing, sometimes requires courage nevertheless. Murrow's courage is often taken for granted. From our distant vantage point in time, we assume that he knew what was right and he did it without a second thought. In the movie, we see him giving some of his most famous and eloquent speeches about civil liberties and citizen responsibility. But when the TV cameras go off, we also see the strain of taking those stands: Murrow's eyes close, he sighs, he swallows--he reaches for another of his ubiquitous cigarettes, which he often smokes down to his fingertips. We see a dry wit, but we notice that it's always used in an attempt to break tension--and that it often doesn't. Murrow feared for his own career, and for the lives and livelihoods of the people on the See It Now team. Yes, he and co-producer Fred Friendly knew what they had to do, but they didn't blunder blindly ahead without knowing what it could cost.

There are a couple of subplots in the movie: one involving CBS anchorman Don Hollenbeck, who's been caught up in the Communist witch hunt himself, and another involving Joe and Shirley Wershba, two members of the production crew who are secretly married. Joe is played by Robert Downey Jr. and Shirley by Patricia Clarkson. She's especially good (or at least I think she is; I've got a little thing for her, so I may not be able to judge). David Strathairn, one of our great chameleon-like actors, plays Murrow. I don't know what constitutes an Oscar-worthy performance, but I know a good actor when I see one, and Strathairn was great, as he's so often been in his other films. Director and co-writer George Clooney plays Fred Friendly.

The movie also uses performances by jazz singer Dianne Reeves as a framing device, and the music is superb. The first sequence in the film, in which an elegant old-school jazz number plays while the characters, whom we have yet to meet, socialize at a banquet that turns out to be in Murrow's honor, is positively luscious. Anybody who thinks black and white can't be as beautiful as color should watch that sequence, and the sensuous way the cigarette smoke curls around the actors in nearly every other scene.

Inasmuch as the movie contains lessons for our time, here's one: People in power don't get to suspend the rules just because they say the world is too dangerous not to. Their fear does not automatically have to become our fear. And this: Citizens never give up their right--their responsibility--to speak the truth about what the powerful are doing with their power. Or as Murrow put it in his famous McCarthy broadcast of March 1954:
We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
Another lesson from the film regards journalism as it's practiced today. Murrow is held in reverence by many journalists who claim to be carrying on his legacy--even as they are shilling for wars being waged under false pretenses or interviewing runaway brides, even as they're spreading fear and feelings of helplessness, even as they're providing far more heat than light. It's certainly possible to view the movie is as an indictment of modern media's fascination with the trivial. This isn't a modern phenomenon, however. The movie begins with Murrow giving a famous 1958 speech to a broadcasting industry group in which he criticized the industry's values. He even felt as though he was contributing to the vapidity of television with a celebrity interview program the network required him to host, Person to Person. Murrow's feelings about his own time aside, such fascination seems to be costing us a lot more in 2005 than it did in 1958--but some of his words should bear an uncomfortable sting even now:
But this nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans, determination and faith in the future. If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.
He was talking about being in competition with Communism, but his words can just as easily be applied to modern media-driven conservatism, or to our own enjoyment of media-saturated intellectual lassitude. Both keep us from seeing clearly the world that squeezes in on us, and both make it difficult for us to govern our affairs by truly free public opinion. And as it was in 1958, so it is today: It doesn't have to be that way.

I have written here before that I am not a movie-theater person. The appeal of the big screen and the communal experience of watching with a group of strangers are both grossly overrated. I'd much rather wait six months and watch a movie on DVD in my own comfortable living room. So if I am actually going to leave my house, drive to the theater, park, walk, and plunk down hard coin to sit there, the movie I see had better be something special. Good Night, and Good Luck certainly was.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dick Cheney, Evil Pool Boy
I'm off to see George Clooney's film Good Night and Good Luck in a minute or two. Until I write my review, here's some stuff to get you through. (Not deliberately trying to rhyme there, really. I swear)

Some people are latching onto the idea (as we noted here yesterday) that it might help Democrats next year if they had something like the 1994 Repug "Contract With America" to run on. Mark Schmitt of the Decembrist, writing at TAP Online, advises Dems to look to a different election for a model: 1974, the post-Watergate election:
So what are the lessons of the Class of ’74 for the Class of ’06? First, that good candidates -- independent, straight-talking, hardworking -- are more valuable in current circumstances than finding a common message or contract for them. Like the Class of ’74, they need to “get it” -- that is, understand the culture of corruption they are up against, that Democrats are an opposition party today, and that the political culture created by George W. Bush and Tom DeLay is not business as usual. They need to be willing to talk about the three big issues, which I would define as reform, economic security, and Iraq, but they don’t all have to say the same thing. They have to say what they think, in a way that works with their constituents.

And second, that good candidates may not come from obvious places. Like Paul Hackett in Ohio’s special election last August, they may not be the names that appear first when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee looks for popular state legislators or local millionaires who can finance their own campaigns. Like Richard Morrison running against DeLay last year or like [Bill] Clinton in 1974 [when he was closely defeated for Congress in a heavily Republican district], they may appear in districts that would never be targeted by standard electoral math but where a great candidate can at the very least soften up the incumbent for the next fight. It is also a lesson to campaign contributors large and small: don’t act like risk-minimizers, concentrating resources on a handful of targeted seats and discouraging challengers elsewhere, but taking the fight to as many districts as possible. . . .
Howard Dean has suggested the latter already, of course. Only 364 days to go until Election Day '06.

Recommended Reading: You heard it here first: The United States used chemical weapons in the Battle of Fallujah last December. Man, just when you think our image can't sink any lower, something comes out that drains just a little bit more water out of the pool. But to presume that there's no water left is to ignore just who the pool boy is. James Carroll of the Boston Globe sketched Dick Cheney's career briefly yesterday--briefly because because there's a limit to how much a person can stomach, as writer or reader.

On a lighter (humor of adjective choice will become apparent in a moment) note, the November issue of Discover magazine reports that the average bra size of an American woman has increased in the last 15 years from 34B to 36C. Some of it is due to the popularity of implants and the estrogen in birth control pills, but some of it is due to obesity. Among other interesting facts, the magazine reports that a pair of D-cups can weigh between 15 and 23 pounds. The magazine offers a Thanksgiving metaphor: that's about as much as two small turkeys.

Mmmm, turkey. . . .

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