Friday, October 30, 2009

Quote of the Day -- Hell, Quote of the !@#$%ing Week

Anyone notice that the president signed a $680 BILLION defense appropriations bill in the midst of our heated debates about $90 billion a year for health care?

-- Chris Hayes (via)
(Translated from the Twitter by your Humble Blogger)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In Days of Yore People Used To Ponder the Deep Philosphical Questions

...communicants in the congregation were asking themselves not only "What must I do to be saved?" but also "Shall I move to Ohio?"

-- Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History
of the Early Republic, 1789 - 1815
, p. 605

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wasn't the Whole Point of Letting Lieberman Keep His Committee Chair (&c) So That He'd Caucus With the Democrats on Domestic Legislation?

And now Lieberman is saying he will or might (reports differ somewhat) filibuster the health care bill because of the public option.

When Lieberman ignored the results of his party's primary, and ran as a "Connecticut for Lieberman" candidate against the Democrat, and won, he was allowed to keep his Committee Chair & other perks because we might need his vote some day. (For that matter, most of the establishment democrats (including, to his shame, Obama) failed to campaign for the actual Democrat -- campaigning that might have turned the tide and gotten a real Democrat into this crucial seat -- for the same reason.)

When Lieberman endorsed - and campaigned for - the Republican candidate in the Presidential election, he was allowed to keep his Committee Chair & other perks because we might need his vote some day.

Surely "some day" is now. This is the signature piece of domestic legislation that Obama has been working on, that the Democratic caucus has been working on, that progressives in the U.S. have been struggling for since Harry Truman.

All we need Lieberman to do is not filibuster it. He can vote against it. But we need him to allow a vote by the Senate.

If he won't do that, on this... then it seems to me that there is nothing left to wait for. Toss him out of the caucus. Strip his committee chairmanship and seniority. Do everything you can.

I trust the Democrats to do the right thing here like I trust the Red Sox to prevail in the postseason, but it seems to me this is the time to pull out all the stops. After this, there is nothing left to save the firepower for. (And, if he won't be with us on this -- to this limited extent -- he never will.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Small Asymmetries are an Essential Element of All Great Works of Art

Both introduced and bade goodnight:
Red balloon
Picture of the cow jumping over the moon
Three bears sitting on chairs
Two kittens
Pair of mittens
Little toy house
Young mouse
Bowl full of mush
Quiet old lady whispering "hush"

Bade goodnight but not introduced:
Noises everywhere

Introduced but not bade goodnight:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Quote of the Day

If you’re graduating from college this spring, you’ll be sitting around at the age of thirty-five still suffering from the fact that Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Ben Nelson, and Kent Conrad decided to make the stimulus bill stingier in order to better bolster their credentials as preening centrists.

-- Matt Yglesias, "Graduating During a Recession Has Big, Long-Lasting Negative Consequences"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Refuting the Strongest Argument Against Afghanistan Escalation

Via, Johann Hari makes strong counter-arguments against three basic arguments for Afghanistan escalation. Here is his rebuttal of what he (and I) think is the strongest of the three:
By staying, we are significantly improving Afghan human rights, especially for women. This, for me, is the meatiest argument – and the most depressing. The Taliban are indeed one of the vilest forces in the world, imprisoning women in their homes and torturing them for the "crimes" of showing their faces, expressing their sexuality, or being raped. They keep trying to murder my friend Malalai Joya for the "crime" of being elected to parliament on a platform of treating women like human beings not cattle.

But as she told me last month: "Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords." Outside Kabul, vicious Taliban who enforce sharia law have merely been replaced by vicious warlords who enforce sharia law. "The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women," she said. Any Afghan president – Karzai, or his opponents – will only ever in practice be the mayor of Kabul. Beyond is a sea of warlordism, as evil to women as Mullah Omar. That is not a difference worth fighting and dying for.
Click through to read his answer to the other two arguments, the notions that "We need to deprive al-Qa'ida of military bases in Afghanistan, or they will use them to plot attacks against us," and that withdrawing from Afghanistan will reinvigorate Al-Qaida.

As the ghost in the haunted house says to the stupid people who stay anyway in an uncountable number of horror movies: GET OUT.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quote of the Day

OZ: Didn't figure you for missing school.
WILLOW: You think I'm boring.
OZ: I'd call that a radical interpretation of the text.

-- Joss Whedon, Doppelgangland (Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3.16)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

There is the Potential For Some Seriously !@#$%ed Up Slash Fiction Here

Rule 34 of the internet: "If you can imagine it, there is porn of it."

Rule 34 in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "...governs the process of discovery, in particular, the production of electronic and tangible evidence as well as the circumstances under which one party to a lawsuit may enter the land of another party for inspection "or other purposes.""

"Other purposes"? Oh my. Anyone for some Rule 34 p0rn?*

(Rule 34 google search brought to you by Gerry Canavan's reminding me of this news about Marge Simpson. GC links to the actual pictures; click through if you're curious. Not that NSFW, really, but definitely NS. Oh, and that link at the head of this paragraph? Goes to the image search. As Scott Eric Kaufman wrote in a different yet equally apt context, "Just remember those are the only eyes God gave you and some images can't be stabbed out of them no matter how hard you try." Sort of covers this whole subject, actually.)

Unrelated postscript: I really wish blogger's spellcheck would recognize the word 'internet'. I mean, really.

* Of course, going by the former Rule 34, we can deduce that this already exists somewhere. My brain hurts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Random Question Inspired By My iPod's Shuffle Feature

When John Lennon thrice sings, in "A Day in the Life" (from Sgt. Pepper -- and not any of those fancy re-mixes either, just the good old-fashioned CD release from 1987), "I read the news today, oh boy", how are we to understand those last two words? Is it a simple groan, or is it sarcastic glee? What struck me is how both meanings would fit equally well with the rest of the song -- the worldweary overwhelm of Lennon's newsreading.

Indeed, I can't quite make up my mind whether there is in fact any difference between those two options, or whether something said with sufficiently sarcastic glee might as well be a groan.

Perhaps one way to capture the difference -- if there really is one -- would be two possible punctuations of the line:
I read the news today (oh boy)
I read the news today -- oh boy!

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Must-read of the Day: Bacevich on Afghanistan

Via Glenn Greenwald, Andrew J. Bacevich writes an op-ed for the Boston Globe about the stakes in Afghanistan:
If the president approves the McChrystal plan he will implicitly:

• Anoint counterinsurgency - protracted campaigns of armed nation-building - as the new American way of war.
• Embrace George W. Bush’s concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label “global war on terror’’).
• Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.

Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose - despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq - is to preserve the status quo....

If the president assents to McChrystal’s request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned.... As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That “keeping Americans safe’’ obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial.
I think this puts into words my sense of why I am for deescalation and withdrawal from Afghanistan, as quickly as possible. I don't want the U.S. to be an empire. I want to see us move away from our globe-spanning network of military bases, our quick reliance on the threat of war (and, all too often, on war) as our "number one instrument of diplomacy". I want us not to spend huge sums of money on making weapons. I don't want us engaged in any number of military actions not in response to a direct threat. I want us, in other words, to stand down -- militarily -- unless it's really necessary.

And since no one has articulated why Afghanistan is really necessary -- certainly not from the point of view of American interests, and certainly not in a way consonant with the resources it is taking (and will take) -- we should get out.

Of course, this is a focus on what Afghanistan will mean to us, and to the planet more broadly, and not to the people most directly affected, i.e. those of Afghanistan. This is because I know a fair bit about the U.S., and some about the globe, but very little about Afghanistan. I also think that Americans should make their decisions on these matter on the joint bases of what is best for us, i.e. Americans, and for the planet as a whole, rather than in the interests of any other country -- about which, in any event, we are generally quite ill-equipped to judge. -- Still, I admit that there may be an argument for staying that is made genuinely and convincingly on their behalf -- although given recent politics any such arguments should be, in my view, guilty until proven innocent of being mere pretense for neoconservative (or neoliberal) war mongering and empire building. Imperialists always claim (at least in the modern age) to be acting in the interests of their imperial subjects, but those subjects, oddly enough, rarely see it that way.

So, in the meantime, I'm for trying to wrest America back from its status as an empire and back towards its status as a democratic republic.

Alas, there isn't really a political party that supports this position (the closest you can come is Ron Paul -- and he's odious on lots of other grounds). Our current political debate is more or less divided between insane imperialism (Republicans who want to go to war at the drop of a hat) and sane but still quite imperial imperialism ("centrist" Democrats) -- and Obama is definitely the latter. During the campaign he had mixed messages on this point -- he was able to win because of the space for an anti-Iraq candidate that Hillary Clinton's support of the war had opened up, and the foreign policy people supporting him tended to be Iraq skeptics and otherwise on the somewhat less militaristic side of the spectrum -- but then he brought the hawks on board, appointed Hillary Clinton his Sec of State, and pushed ahead with all the wars and executive power that comes with them. Hoping for much else was fairly far-fetched -- but I hoped for better than we've gotten, and not, I think, for no reason.

Do read the entirety of Bacevich's op-ed. It's a strong articulation of a crucial point -- maybe the crucial point -- in the Afghanistan debate.

Although I must admit I can't bring myself to be as hopeful as Bacevich about there being any possibility other than a decision for more war and the national security state, government of, by and for the military-industrial-political complex. (For more on the "political" angle here, see Greenwald.) I find it almost impossible to imagine the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate choosing anything other than more war -- at the very least, than a continuance of the American empire in all its fetid splendor.

Monday, October 12, 2009

RIP Leila Abu-Saba

Philip Weiss is reporting that Leila Abu-Saba, who blogged at Dove's Eye View, has died (she had been battling cancer for several years). I never got to meet Leila, but she and I exchanged a number of emails -- I'd begun reading her blog at the time of Israel's 2006 war against Lebanon, and she in turn was quite supportive about the various pieces I wrote about the war at the time. I definitely thought of her as a friend, in that odd shadow way that one is friends with people online that we never get to meet.

She was a passionate advocate for peace, and a fine writer. I am terribly sorry to hear of her untimely death, and my thoughts are with her husband and children.

Rest in peace, Leila. Your voice will be greatly missed.

Update: If anyone out there in the ether finds a link to an obituary about Leila, or (particularly) somewhere where I could write a condolence note to her family, I would be very grateful if you would leave a note in the comments. Thanks.

Second Update: Memorial page, at which people can leave memories or condolences, here. Thanks to Julie Feinstein Adams for leaving the web site in comments.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Quotes on the Obama Nobel

"Too tired to work anyway" edition:

• Too long to quote, but I think that Glenn Greenwald has the most balanced, reasonable take.

More briefly:
The especially weird thing about Obama receiving an award for not being GW Bush is that he hasn't actually been doing a very good job of it. As others have pointed out, he's continuing both of Bush's wars, adopting Bush's "surge" tactic for Afghanistan, covering up Bush's torture regime, and continuing Bush's domestic wiretapping.

-- Avram at Making Light

Surely it ought to be a basic criterion for winning a peace prize that you shouldn’t be currently fighting a war, or at the very least that you shouldn’t be increasing your commitment to a war you’re already fighting?

-- D Squared at Crooked Timber

I'd rather Obama had won it after Congress agreed to substantial cuts in greenhouse gases comparable to what Europe is proposing, after he brought Palestinians and Israelis together to accept a two-state solution, after he got the United States out of Afghanistan and reduced the nuclear arm's threat between Pakistan and India, or after he was well on the way to eliminating the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons. Any one of these would have been worthy of global praise.... Giving the Peace Prize to the president before any of these goals has been attained only underscores the paradox of Obama at this early stage of his presidency. He has demonstrated mastery in both delivering powerful rhetoric and providing the nation and the world with fresh and important ways of understanding current challenges. But he has not yet delivered. To the contrary, he often seems to hold back from the fight -- temporizing, delaying, or compromising so much that the rhetoric and insight he offers seem strangely disconnected from what he actually does. Yet there's time. He may yet prove to be one of the best presidents this nation has ever had -- worthy not only of the Peace Prize but of every global accolade he could possibly summon. Just not yet.

-- Robert Reich

Some Analysts Warn Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Complicates War Efforts

-- Headline at Fox News Website (via via)

The Nobel Announcement Was Somewhat Unexpected

In keeping with the theme of the day, I found this delightful story at A Tiny Revolution:
Years ago, a rug cleaner in LA got an early-morning phone call from Stockholm to inform him that he'd won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Oops, wrong number. The lucky man ended up on the Tonight Show: "I was surprised. I mean, I know I do a darn good job cleaning carpets. I can tell you which chemicals work best for ketchup stains, red wine spills, etc. But the Nobel Prize? I thought, maybe that's a bit excessive." There was an honest man.
I was trying to figure out if Bernard Chazelle was simply making that up, but a bit of googling turned up this independent version of the story:
In the predawn darkness of 16 October 1987, the phone rang in the Altadena, California, bedroom of Donald Cram, owner of a rug-cleaning business. In a fluting voice, an unknown caller congratulated the sleepy Cram on winning the Nobel Prize. Thinking he recognized the voice of a pal known for practical joking, Cram hung up. But the man with the strange accent called back and insisted that Cram's work on molecular structure had indeed taken science's top honor. That's when the former chemistry major groggily realized that his frustrated caller wanted the Los Angeles area's other Donald Cram, the one who taught at the University of California, (UC) Los Angeles, and had an unlisted phone number. [Link added] perhaps it's true after all.

For what?

Honestly, I just saw this headline on Washington Monthly and thought that he must be linking to the Onion or something.

I mean, I think Obama's rhetoric on nuclear reduction is good and all, but he hasn't done much yet.

My first instinct is that giving the prize prospectively -- or, as I've already seen a few people suggest, for not being George Bush and/or John McCain -- lessens the value of the prize more than helps Obama or peace. But who knows.

If the prize is being given for not having a lunatic in charge, shouldn't the recipient have been the American electorate rather than Obama?

(Josh Marshall makes a valiant attempt at defending the "not GW/JM" award here. Update: Steve Benen adds to what Marshall said here.)


Update: It's a sad day when I find the snark at the National Review's blog on the mark: "...what about Physics and Chemistry? Are we just going to ignore the president's contributions there?"

Update 2: My precise reaction -- that this reads like it was from the Onion -- has been shared by a large number of others. Which leads to the following idea: wouldn't it be funny -- a sort of meta-joke, as well as a news commentary -- if The Onion simply published this story straight? Just buy the rights to the AP version or something and run it as if it was an Onion story. It would be a good joke on the story, I think, as well as a nod to the Onion's own role in our cultural consciousness...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Funny Enough That It's Worth Posting Almost a Week Late

Anyway, it's before Shavuot, so it's still timely. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Swiped from somewhere, but I totally forget where. Sorry.

Happy Shavuot to all those who are celebrating it tonight.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Quote of the Day: How Small Everything Has Grown

I have never been back to Crossgates. In a way it is only within the last decade that I have really thought over my schooldays, vividly though their memory has haunted me. Nowadays, I believe, it would make very little impression on me to see the place again, if it still exists. And if I went inside and smelled again the inky, dusty smell of the big schoolroom, the rosiny smell of the chapel, the stagnant smell of the swimming bath and the cold reek of the lavatories, I think I should only feel what one invariably feels in revisiting any scene of childhood: How small everything has grown, and how terrible is the deterioration in myself!

-- George Orwell, "Such, Such Were the Joys...", Final Paragraph