Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Busy Few Weeks

--are in store for me: work and other, personal things. So I probably won't be posting anything much. But don't think that, after a two week run, I've given up on the site -- I'm just taking a rather premature hiatus. Deus volent, I should be back 'round bout the middle of July.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Who knew?

...that chickadee calls contain complex information about predators? (And that birds rehearse and dream about their songs?)

...that Norman Mailer -- yes, I said Norman Fracking Mailer -- is now blogging?

...that the Oxford English Dictionary is being rewritten in limerick form?

...that Darth Vader hold press conferences?

...that the Bush administration is downright Orwellian in their rewriting of history?

Well, okay, you knew that last one. Still, y'know: strange world.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Eminently suitable

So via No Mister Nice Blog, we have this New York Times story (registration required) which digs into precisely why the military is having such trouble getting armored Humvees to our soldiers on the front lines:

The Defense Department continues to rely on just one small company in Ohio to armor Humvees. And the company, O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, has waged an aggressive campaign to hold onto its exclusive deal even as soaring rush orders from Iraq have been plagued by delays. The Marine Corps, for example, is still awaiting the 498 armored Humvees it sought last fall, officials told The Times.

In January, when military officials tried to speed production by buying the legal rights to the armor design so they could enlist other venders to help, O'Gara demurred, calling the move a threat to its "current and future competitive position," according to e-mail records obtained from the Army.
Now, Steve M. asks a quite reasonable question:

...if it was believed that O'Gara's refusal to share the armor design was endangering troops, why didn't Bush call O'Gara's CEO himself and say Hello, this is the President of the United States and I think a little flexibility on your part will prevent a certain number of soldiers from coming home in body bags?

As I said, a reasonable question -- although the actual answer is (as the querist knew perfectly well) utterly obvious. But let's assume for the sake of argument that Bush tried that and it didn't work -- that the CEO of O'Gara didn't care.

Well, the Supreme Court just upheld eminent domain for a wide variety of public purposes. Putting aside the merits of their decision (on which opinions vary), is there a more eminently suitable (so to speak) case for eminent domain than this? Here is a piece of property -- intellectual property -- which is standing in the way of the safety of our soldiers in the field. Is there a better public purpose than protecting them? If O'Gara won't sell willingly, why not just take the property under eminent domain (properly compensating the company, of course, as eminent domain requires)? Unless, of course, we only believe in taking the property of poor citizens and not, say, companies and the wealthy citizens that own them.

Credit Where Credit is Due

I understand why conservatives would want to but the blame for the Iraq war's calamitous course on Rumsfeld, not on Bush: it allows Dear Leader to look like the victim of other's incompetence, and to keep his image of perfection pure. But why in the 'verse do otherwise sensible liberals keep saying things like this:

It's long past time for George Bush to either find someone who's serious about winning this war or else someone who's serious about getting out. Rumsfeld is neither.

Rumsfeld is implementing Bush's policies. The idea that this is some sort of a technical mistake -- oh, we thought we could do with fewer soldiers, but we were wrong -- has long since lost any plausibility it might have had. It's not that Rumsfeld is neither serious about winning this war (putting aside the question of what precisely that might mean and whether or not it's still feasible if it ever was) nor about getting out. It's that Bush is serious about neither. These are Bush's policies, which he is pursuing as he wishes to. To blame them on Rumsfeld is to allow Bush to evade responsibility for his policies. It's just wrong -- factually, morally, strategically.

(This is not to deny that if Bush wanted to reverse course, firing Rumsfeld would be a sensible place to start -- if only for symbolic reasons, which in a war like Iraq might have a real effect. But until then, the responsibility should be placed squarely on Bush's shoulders.)

Or, as a different sensible liberal said (in a different context) today:

Republicans actually like the way things are going right now. The current state of the country is the Republican dream.

They're doing what they want to do. We need to avoid rhetoric that Bush is simply the victim of others' mistakes and incompetence. He has complete control of the government. If things are going wrong, the buck stops with him.

Begin at the Beginning

I've always liked Matt Yglesias's "Weekend Update" feature on TAPPED -- his snarky dismissals of columnists are hilarious and usually spot-on. (My favorite part, though, is the question that opens them: a small invocation of a general, national culture, a description of what one might have been busy with if you were like everyone else. Of course they're often jokes; of course they are rarely if ever genuinely fully national. But it's a nice touch.)

One thing he always includes is an "op-ed you actually need to read". Today he links to Charles Krohn's Sunday op-ed in the Washington Post on the military's recruiting troubles. I get why he did -- the disastrous state of our armed forces is a very serious issue, one that -- in one way or another -- the country needs to confront. Krohn raises some important issues and possibilities. I get that too.

I think what got me so riled, though, are not any of the points Krohn made so much as what he didn't say. There is an air of unreality about the piece, as if Iraq was not, well, Vietnam 2: This Time It's Desert Heat. Here's what I mean. Krohn writes:

The Gates Commission, in considering the transition from a draft to a volunteer force, optimistically assumed that young Americans would come to the colors if the nation went to war with any country that presented a conventional threat. Unconventional, non-state warfare didn't enter into the commission's calculus.

And what about countries that presented no threat at all? Did the Gates Commission consider those? What about rather conventional wars of colonial occupation (a pattern familiar from France in Algeria, Israel in the West Bank, the US in Vietnam, Russia in Afghanistan, among others)? To say the Gates Commission didn't consider "unconventional, non-state warfare" is to -- subtly -- elide the current problems in Iraq into the War on Terror. The Al-Qaeda threat is one of "unconventional, non-state warfare" -- and is not the problem. The problem is Iraq -- a disastrous war that has, and has always had, nothing to do with the War on Terror, and is not in any way an example of "unconventional, non-state warfare". It's conventional colonialism -- complete with the conviction that we can help the colonized country build better institutions, lies about our motives, the whole bit. It's a conventional war of occupation against a guerrilla force. Oh, to be sure, there are unique features (these guerrillas seem particularly indiscriminating in their murder: I mean, don't guerrilla's usually try to kill the occupying forces, not their own citizens?) -- but then, there are always unique features in any conflict. But to write this way is to perpetuate the fundamental, intolerable deceit of the Bush Administration, that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11.

Then there are the paragraphs that just seem to be written from the moon:

Such a commission could consider why recruiting incentives seem insufficient to attract today's youth. Should we consider a new approach based on a different set of inducements?

Um, why recruiting incentives seem insufficient? Surely it's that people are getting killed daily, with no end in sight, no admission of trouble from our supposed leaders, no clear idea what we are trying to accomplish or how we'll get there, to say nothing of a war whose justification turned out to be a pack of lies? Are we really going to fix this with "a different set of inducements"? -- Unless that's a code phrase for a draft, i.e. the inducement being serve or go to jail, in which case, yes, we'd get more soldiers -- although a draft raises a large number of problems of its own, not the least of which, in my view, are moral.

Ah, but that wasn't the whole paragraph. Krohn follows those questions with:

If young Americans and their parents understood why a favorable outcome in Iraq is in our nation's vital interest (and is not just a do-good effort to deliver the Iraqis from oppression) perhaps some of the stigma of serving would disappear.

First of all: "stigma of serving"? I don't think there's any stigma to serving. There's a basic and extremely rational fear of death and injury.

But the basic point here is right: if Americans believed the war in Iraq was a vital security issue, this would help immensely. Unfortunately, it's far from clear that it is in our nation's vital interest. And to the degree that it is (certainly a civil war and/or a failed state in Iraq would do even more damage to American security than the vast amount that the war has already done, insofar as it would provide terrorist recruiting, training & bases), the entire reason that it is is the horrendous decision to go to war in the first place based upon a pack of lies. (After all, the only reason for the war that has stood the test of time -- the only reason that was even remotely plausible to begin with -- was the notion that the war was "a do-good effort to deliver the Iraqis from oppression". And, after all, Hussein is gone.) As someone I once heard of somewhere asked one time, how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

To be fair, Krohn does approach these points in his next paragraph:

Those who see value in a preemptive approach to public affairs make the case that our commitment to Iraq should be explained clearly before growing disenchantment becomes more widespread. How hard is it to acknowledge the obvious -- that the war we have now in Iraq bears little resemblance to the war we began? Yet the war we have today against fanatics and insurgents is far more serious than the one we started.

And if there was a convincing argument that our presence there was helping rather than inspiring the insurgency (it's a muddy issue with arguments on both sides so far as I can tell) that would help. For that matter, if we had any leadership that was even remotely competent -- beginning with being even remotely connected to the disastrous reality on the ground -- that would probably inspire confidence as well. But then, if we had any leadership that was even remotely competent -- that cared at all about American lives -- we simply would never have gone in the first place.

This goes on through the whole article: the Gates commission "did not foresee a time when economic incentives would be insufficient. A new study might fill this void." -- yeah, a new study is just the thing, I'm sure. "Our country will be threatened in the future, and some of the challenges will be ambiguous." -- and how many will be fictional, invented by malevolent politicians? "A high school valedictorian thinking about enlisting in the Army sees the reduction of minimum standards for his or her potential peers as a disincentive." -- yeah, bad peers, that's right up there along with dying in a bloody, mismanaged, lie-based and quite probably pointless war.

But you get the point. We won't be able to have any reasonable conversation on the rebuilding of the army until we have a reasonable conversation on Iraq. And we won't be able to have a reasonable conversation on Iraq until we get thoroughly straight the war's origins: it's utter non-necessity, its utter lack of any connection to the assault on our country on 9/11, its utter lack of any basis in American security at all. If we got this straight, then maybe would could have a conversation along these lines: now that we are, disastrously, there, would our staying or withdrawing be better -- more likely to benefit the suffering people of Iraq, more likely (therefore) to minimize the horrible damage done to American security by the invasion. (I'm leaning towards withdrawal, but it's hardly obvious (a subject for a future post.)) But that's where we need to start.

Update: In comparison, Bob Herbert writes a column about this issue which doesn't drive me crazy -- even though he doesn't include the sort of firebreathing rhetoric that I did above. All he does is not obscure the main issue, which is that "there are limited numbers of people who will freely choose to participate in an enterprise in which they may well be shot, blown up, burned to death or suffer some other excruciating fate." Sure, I think there should be more focus that this is not simply a war where people are dying, but a seemingly endless, seemingly pointless war begun under false pretenses in which people are dying. (I'm not certain that Americans would oppose a war, even with higher casualties, that seemed genuinely necessary (although after this administration, I suspect that the necessity will need to be pretty conclusively demonstrated -- as, indeed, it should have to be.)) But at least Herbert doesn't duck the central issue the way Krohn did.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Rove 2

A number of liberal bloggers have suggested that we should not respond to Karl Rove's slander. (Also in various comment threads, e.g. here.) Some of the various responses to Rove which I linked to yesterday reply (either before the fact or explicitly) to this argument. But for the best response, I suggest reading what Digby has to say. This has been a theme with him since last November's election, and I think it is a key piece in the 'why-are-we-loosing' problem. While some of his earlier Rove responses also deal with this issue, I will quote his latest one in full, where he addresses this most directly:

"I've been reading around the blogosphere this morning quite a bit of advice that the Democrats should ignore Rove's comments. That by responding we are "playing into his hands" and "doing exactly what he wants us to do." I would reiterate what I wrote below and say that Karl's not playing chess; he's playing dodgeball.
"Neither did Rove invent this technique of derisively referring to Democrats as liberal hippie fags and dykes. Republicans have been doing this for a long, long time. As long as we've been losing they've been doing it with gusto.
"Dukakis didn't respond. Gore didn't respond. Clinton did respond, (although I suspect that the real reason it didn't work as well with him was because his womanizing problems made it difficult to subtly label him unmanly.) They just spent a hundred million dollars calling Kerry a "flip-flopper" which in case you didn't get it, was designed to make you think of a flaccid penis. These guys aren't very subtle.
"The truth is that to ignore this stuff it is to play into Rove's hands. Because the whole point is to make us look weak. When you don't respond when people call you weak, you reinforce the charge.
"Now, how you respond is the real question. I would like to have seen some Democrats say "Karl, why don't you say that to my face." I'd like to see women like Hillary and Pelosi pull out the ferocious mother card and angrily say "how dare you say that I would recklessly put America's children at risk the way you people have done!" No demands for apologies --- veiled threats. Bring it on.
"Or we could respond with laughter and eye-rolling derision designed to make them look ineffectual and silly. The Republicans are also very good at doing this. I can't think of a single time we ever have.
"This is ultimately about simple leadership archetypes. (The "gender studies set" will know what I'm talking about --- king, warrior, lover blah, blah, blah.) And we are failing to embody them on a very basic level. Asking for an apology is better than nothing. Hitting back in simple ways that convey strength and conviction is even better. If we could come up with something more sophisticated that would work, I'd be all for it. But ignoring it is the guaranteed wrong thing to do.
"Republicans are very successful at connecting with the primal instinctive feelings voters have about people in charge. We aren't. It is their greatest weapon against us and it has nothing to do with policy or positioning or demographics. It has to do with the fact that a lot of people make their decisions about leadership on the basis of who looks the strongest. It's primitive shit. And the Republicans strip it down even more simply than it has to be. There is some room for experimenting with this in innovative ways if we would just accept that it exists and work within it.
"It's very hard for me to believe that a party led by limp, myopic chickenhawks and closet cases is getting away with this, but they are. And they have for a long time. We are fools if we let it continue.
(Original is here.)

Look, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk about the fact that it is the Republicans -- specifically the Bush administration -- who have in so many areas failed to keep us safe (ignoring Al Qaeda before 9/11, failing to do common-sense things like improve safety at seaports and power-plants, ignoring the needs of Afghanistan, failing to catch Bin Laden) -- who, indeed, have done so many things that have made us distinctly less safe (invading Iraq is the big one here, but mishandling North Korea, pissing off the entire world, etc, could be mentioned to). Their safety record is a disaster, and we should call them on it, loudly and often. But politely pointing these things out didn't work for Kerry. We need to point them out with some fire in our eyes and anger in our voice.

The Bush administration is filled top to bottom with bullies. If a bully hits you, you gotta hit back.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rove Blogging Roundup

Some reactions from 'round the web:

"Rove's a hack. His strength comes from his immorality. There are no barriers." -- Glenn Smith

"I actually think Rove's rant should be seen as a somewhat encouraging sign. Rove and his idiot chorus aren't roaring at the top of their lungs to try to drown out the liberals... No, Rove's hate rally is aimed squarely at suppressing the growing doubts of the great silent majority -- and even, to a certain extent, those of the conservative true believers, some of whom are showing ominous signs of war weariness.
" ... So Rove is falling back on his classic strategy of rallying the base. What's more, he's mainlining it a much rawer and more savage version of the conservative message than the White House usually permits itself... But, like fellow psychopath Mike Tyson, Rove isn't just telegraphing his punches, he's also displaying the depths of his fear. The rhetorical ear chewing and head butting is a clear sign the champ doesn't have the juice any more, and knows it. Rove is trying to get by on sheer intimidation. He's pushing as many primordial conservative buttons as he can -- leaning on them, in fact -- in hopes he can once again make the dreaded liberals the story, not the march of folly currently sinking into the Iraqi quicksands." -- The always astonishing Billmon (who adds more sarcasm here). (Update: yet more from Billmon here.)

"The Democratic Party had better realize that these people declared war today in a big way. We do not let this issue go until Karl Rove resigns. There IS no other issue in town, until Karl Rove resigns." -- John Aravosis, who is on a roll on this topic; he adds more here, here, here, here, here, here and here -- for starters!

"It IS really worth spending time on. Take it from an ex-marine. If someone hits you, you got to hit back harder. If you don't, you look like a wimp and nobody likes wimps (on the right or the left)... Also go on the offensive and push for accountability for the Iraq war, etc. Also point out all their failings over and over again. Americans are waking up to what the Whitehouse is doing and the Bush team is scared." -- Commentator at AMERICAblog

[to Karl Rove]: "You were NOT there on 9/11. I was. I was standing in the street watching when the towers went down. I inhaled those buildings and those dead people for weeks afterwards. ... YOU saw 9/11 as an opportunity to sleaze every unctious, despicable plan you and your cronies had on the back burner into American life. YOU saw 9/11 as a way to play on America's fears to attack the wrong country. YOU saw 9/11 as a way to keep Americans afraid, obedient, and ready to look the other way while you destroyed everything that America stands for." -- Shakespeare's Sister (more here)

"I've seen more bloodshed, war, and violence, and shot more guns than most of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists combined. I wouldn't presume to question the strength or dignity of a stranger, and I pity those who blithely push the right=strong, left=weak rhetoric. It says far more about their inadequacies than it does about the target of their scorn. Today, Karl Rove took that rhetoric to a new, filthy low." -- Peter Daou

"The Republican party stands for nothing if they aren’t demonizing the Democratic party as anti-American.... That is what they’re doing now. They’ve got nothing more than passing legislation that does nothing to actually help America, preferring instead to gin up the slack jawed folks who are their most ardent supporters with a neverending river of bigotry, hate, and bile. To date the left has become their enablers, preferring to play to some form of mythical “moderation” while these idiots defecate on our national foundations. Many Democrats (including myself in the past) have preferred the path of least resistance, trying to appeal to the mythical center while at the same time ignoring our core values. We have to stop this now. In order to preserve this nation, we must stop giving in to the Republicans and their hatred of America’s diversity of race, thought, ideology, and values... We have to stand up for the right things, even if you’re in the minority, even if you’re not doing the politically expedient thing, because standing up for what’s right is the moral thing to do. To the Hillary Clintons, Harry Reids, John Edwardses, Joe Bidens, and other leaders of our side - it is time to draw a line in the sand. It is time, at long last, to cease with the smiles and the well-wishes and to make clear that the time to declare open political warfare on these people is long past due." -- Oliver Willis (more here, here and here)

"I'm pissed as hell at Rove. I am a democrat and have been forever. (I'm 54) ... my two kids who just happen to be in the US Army serving are also democrats. My son and daughter both joined as soon as they possibly could after 9/11... My son and daughter both emailed me last night wanting to know just who in the hell the Rove guy is. They both want to plaster his face everywhere around the bases they are stationed. It seems that Rove didn't know that a good percentage of enlisted folk were Democrats." -- Email to DailyKos

"Some people are misunderstanding the nature of the backlash against Karl Rove and his latest attack against fellow Americans. There's nothing planned about it. It is real, and it is huge. Karl Rove, widely described as the most corrupting, immoral, "pathological" political hack in a nation awash in immoral political hacks, has taken it upon himself to attack a broad and deeply patriotic swath of Americans, including troops in the field, New Yorkers who lost loved ones in the towers, and anyone else who might actually have issues with the incompetent manner in which George W. Bush has cowboyed around the world roundly making a mess of the war on terror." -- Hunter at Dailykos; see also here.

"The remarkable thing about the excuse-making for Karl Rove is how intellectually dishonest so much of it is.... On a broader point, rhetoric such as this is simply unbecoming to a White House that purportedly seeks to lead the whole of America." -- Hunter (no relation) on the conservative website (via)

Americablog suggests some phone numbers; Steve Gilliard seconds the idea.

"Junior got less than a quarter of the New York City vote last November, as I recall. Yeah, the people most closely affected by 9/11, who are most intimate with it, are less than impressed with Junior and his war on terra. You have to go away from New York City, to places where people barely remember watching the towers collapse on television, to find people still willing to listen to the crap that spews out of Karl's mouth. All 9/11 means to them is an excuse to advance their hard right agenda and pound the stuffing out of Muslims. And any Muslims will do. Justice for the dead of 9/11 went on the back burner as soon as Bush decided to invade Iraq. (9/12?) I want Karl to apologize. Hell, I want him to apologize to me. Personally." -- Mahablog

"Rove spoke at Washington College in Maryland in April and urged respect in political discourse. He said, 'Commentators should answer arguments instead of impugning the motives of those with whom they disagree.' ... Republicans and conservatives succeeded in forcing Durbin to apologize and admit a wrong that had not transpired. Once they had done that, Rove still found it useful to kick Durbin further and accuse him of harboring anti-US motives and engaging in traitorous conduct. Rove is not merely a hypocrite. He's a thug." -- David Corn

"Bush administration clearly believes that creating this controversy will result in turning down the heat on Iraq and boosting their prospects on other issues. I think they are counting on the press and the distracted public to see "partisanship" running amuck, which is how the Republicans have already positioned themselves for the '06 elections. Bush and his speech condemning the Democrats as the "party of the stop sign" has already laid out the roadmap. But the immediate agenda is to rile up the base with red meat attacks on "liberals," re-brand Democrats as wimps on national security and intimidate ... wavering Republicans.
"There are two ways we can play this. We can step back in the hopes that the Republicans will look like slavering beasts, or we can slug it out and see who comes out on top. The first is probably the instinctive reaction of the Dems because we keep relying on the public to "wake up" and realize what crazy fuckers we have running the country. But I think that works against us --- they may look like slavering beasts but we look like a bunch of wilted pansies. No matter how crazy the Bushies are, wilting pansies aren't an appealing alternative. I don't think we have any choice but just keep pounding away. The Democrats really have one meta-issue that they must contend with --- wilting pansy-ism. Everything else flows from that.
"We need to stop worrying about Karl and play our own game. And right now that's keeping the heat on Iraq, stifling any SS plan (it's important that Bush gets NOTHING) and continuing to fight back with fury and authority when we are unfairly attacked. The only way Rove's plans ever work is if the opposition rolls up. Let's not do that."
-- Digby, who has more here, here and here.

"Two hours [after the attacks], while Mr. Bush was scurrying around the country, “trying to get out of harm’s way”, 343 men from the NYFD would be dead, along with 60 NYPD and Port Authority officers, and 2,420 other people, as WTC1 and 2 collapsed. Thousands of people - New Yorkers - labored to clean up the smoldering ruin, and to remove the bodies, and pieces of bodies, of their family, friends, and neighbors. Three days later, Bush showed up at Ground Zero with a megaphone, and vowed to get those responsible. He didn’t." -- Thepoorman

Kristen Breitweiser, 9/11 widow, address Karl Rove: "It was only after your invasion of Iraq, that Bin Laden's goals were met. Because of your war in Iraq two things happened that helped Bin Laden and the terrorists: al Qaeda recruitment soared and the United States is now alienated from and hated by the rest of the world. In effect, what Bin Laden could not achieve by murdering my husband and 3,000 others on 9/11, you handed to him on a silver platter with your invasion of Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with 9/11." (via)

"This is how Republicans play the game. Ignoring it and calling it a bullshit distraction will not make it go away. If, immediately after Durbin backed down and apologized, Democrats were to do nothing about Rove's comments, we will have gone a long way toward further branding ourselves as the party and the ideology of wimps and cowards. ... Yes, of course we want to get back to the failure of Bush's policies. But no one is either going to like or admire someone who whines out that line when a bully has them pinned down on the playground. If we don't keep fighting back, for the zillionith time we will have lost this sort of battle. When has ignoring this sort of "bullshit distraction" ever worked for us? When has backing down ever worked for us? ... If we don't fight back against this sort of bullying, and fight back openly, publicly and with the courage of our convictions, we are in a lot of trouble. Not three days ago we all criticized Durbin for backing down. Now, when its our turn, we cannot back down. We need to put a fist in their mouths, and we need to do it now." -- Chris Bowers; more here.

" This is all to do with the bottom ratings of the Bush administration. Whenever this happens the wingnuts look for an external enemy which can be used as a scapegoat, which can be used to redirect the anger of the population. And now the American left is an external enemy. We have come far in a few years of this administration." -- Echidne of the Snakes

Sign the petition to fire Rove. (via)

Update: More quotes added. There may be more to come depending on time and mood...

Oil Worries

A fairly recent interest of mine is in energy issues, particularly the issue of oil. I went through a brief period of obsession about the notion of "Peak Oil" a few weeks ago (see below if you're not familiar with that term). Eventually I calmed down and decided that while things were going to be bad, it would merely (merely!) Second Great Depression bad and not End of Civilization As We Know It bad.

Now, I am not at all sure that I am not thinking this simply due to confirmation bias -- I have a very strong confirmation bias in favor of the idea that things will be okay (as many of us do), and in particular that Civilization Will Endure. So I may well be misreading the evidence. But while I do find the arguments that we will soon hit a peak in world oil production convincing, and the arguments that this will cause severe oil shocks (like 1979 without the quick alleviation) leading to a global depression convincing too, I don't find the arguments that we won't be able (eventually) to pull out of it using alternative fuels (rather then spiraling down out of industrial civilization altogether) convincing. Perhaps in a later post I'll go into the details about why so you can judge for yourselves whether or not I am judging the evidence well (at least within the limits of your own confirmation biases, if any).

But I do worry about Depressions. And this issue is not only tied to Peak Oil; regular old politics, war, terrorism, economics and suchlike can cause it too. And, I fear, probably will soon. There was a war game held in D.C. yesterday in which the players tried to imagine what the U.S. would do in response to a disruption in the oil supply -- a scenario which one of the players described as "absolutely not alarmist [but] realistic". You can read more about the war game in this Washington Post write-up of it, and in this blog post about it. (Update: another news account here.) Scary stuff.

Nor are these the only scenarios out there. Juan Cole suggested just the other day (follow-ups here and here) that withdrawing from Iraq would lead to an oil shock which would in turn lead directly to a Second Great Depression. How this fits in with Peak Oil, and the possibility (probability?) of future oil shocks for other reasons, I don't really know; nor have I yet quite figured out if this changes my mind on my current position on Iraq (withdrawal as soon as is possible; I may lay out my reasoning in a future post). But it's a point of view worth taking into account.

Finally, in the current issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows -- who has written some excellent articles in The Atlantic recently, including quite prescient stuff on Iraq which should give, in my view, his most recent article the benefit of the doubt -- spells out a scenario for a future U.S. economic meltdown in which an oil shock plays a key role (although it's only one factor among many in Fallows's scenario.) Fallows article, alas, is not online; but if you are a print subscriber to The Atlantic you can read it here (the rest of you can read the opening paragraph -- not its best section, however).

Even without Peak Oil, oil shocks are coming soon. If only we had a government that might do something productive to prepare.

(PS: If you're new to the notion of Peak Oil -- e.g. don't have the slightest idea what I mean by that phrase -- there are a number of primers around on the web. A calm, sober, non-hysterical version is spelled out by Kevin Drum here; that's probably the best place to start. Another good primer is here; a particularly brief primer is here; and the more End-of-the-World-as-we-Know-It viewpoint can be found here.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Fire with Fire; Lies with Truth

I'm sure that if I surfed around more I'd see other people making this point, but I haven't yet, so here goes. What Democrats need to say in response to this piece of odiousness from Karl Rove:

"Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year?" Mr. Rove asked. "Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals." (cited from)

-- seems totally obvious. We need to say something approximating the following:

Al Jazeera now broadcasts the acts of the Bush Administration -- in Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere -- certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of the Bush Administration, or their efficacy in protecting America.

The point is, or should be, really clear. It's not Durbin's (supposedly but not of course really) comparing Americans with Nazis that endangers our troops. It's the Bush administration's encouragement of, toleration of and promoting policies which lead to acts more befitting Nazis than Americans which endangers our troops. And their failure to accept any real responsibility for it -- no: their active rewarding of those who are most responsible for it -- is simply the venomous icing on the poison cake.

PS: Googling the words "Guantanamo Bay" -- to be sure I'd spelled it correctly -- led me to the official web site of the Guantanamo Bay military base, including profiles of available housing (in all the standard language of a real estate agent's brochure) and a recent (PDF) profile of the graduates from the local high school. As Elijah Snow might say: Strange world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Even Worse Than That

"It's worse than you know."
"It usually is."

-- Trailer for Serenity

Atrios has a good post up riffing off of a Crooked Timber post which argues, essentially, that the Bush administration lied about their evidence for WMD to back-up a sincerely held belief that Saddam actually had WMD. This point itself may or may not be true -- as I argued a few days ago, we really just won't know until we see the relevant documents. But Atrios points out that, right or wrong, this hides a crucial distinction: whether or not they thought Saddam actually had WMD, they definitely lied about the threat they posed -- the WMD that Saddam was most widely thought to have had (chemical weapons, Anthrax) aren't really a threat the way that, say, a nuclear bomb or smallpox virus would be. (This lie about the threat was, of course, necessary to push a war they already wanted.)

But I think that Atrios (uncharacteristically) doesn't quite get the true level of perfidy here. He says that 'We have a bit of a language problem, calling anything nasty a "weapon of mass destruction" when frequently we're talking about things which are very unlikely to produce a mass casualty event. A true "weapon of mass destruction" is capable of killing massive amounts of people.' But my distinct memory is that we didn't just happen to call a wide range of things WMDs (a term which previously referred only to nuclear bombs); the Bush administration deliberately began using the term in an obfuscating way -- presumably to make easier precisely the deception Atrios highlights, between "WMD" and a genuine threat to the U.S.

We didn't just stumble into "the shitty definition of that word we've embraced": we were pushed into it. All part of the Grand Deception necessary to get us into a war they wanted.


George Burns once said, "sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." (Some on the web attribute the quote to Groucho Marx; any definitive sourcing will be appreciated & noted in an update.) This joke is funny, of course, because it gets at a terribly simple point: the best way to seem sincere is to be sincere.

This is a lesson that many (not all) Democrats need to learn. Above all -- dare I say it -- "center" seeking Democrats such as the DLC likes to promote. They are always trying to figure out what position appeals to the American people. But as much as anything, what appeals to the American people is sincerity: the sense that a politician is acting on principle, not just on what seems popular. This is why supposed 'mavericks' like McCain are so popular: they seem sincere. (Even if in some cases they are taking a Burns approach rather than a genuinely sincere approach to creating that impression.)

This is true, bizarrely enough, even if "what seems popular" is what the voter in question them self believes. People will support a position they oppose over one they support if they think the politician is acting out of genuine principle. (There is a marvelous exchange on this point in a (typically exceptionally) brilliant This American Life episode: in the first segment of a show on undecided voters, Ira Glass talks to a Republican who is having doubts about Bush. Over the course of the interview the Republican says (separately) that while he hated Clinton at the time, he now misses him, and that he despises that Kerry is so poll-driven. At one point Ira points out that Kerry's poll-driven policies are ones that the Republican himself supports (e.g. on abortion, if memory serves), and that the reason he now, retrospectively, likes Clinton so much is that Clinton was poll-driven to support majority positions, i.e. the positions the voter likes! The Republican is taken aback, and says (paraphrasing), 'I never thought of that. I'll have to think about it.' But eventually he comes around to support Bush anyway.)

Given this, it seems that the best thing that Democrats and progressives could do is simply to stand up for their principles. By being sincere -- by not looking to what is popular or polls well but simply speaking out of belief -- they will eventually come to seem sincere -- with all the benefits that provides. And, of course, in the meantime, we'll be, y'know, standing up for our principles, which is sort of a good thing in itself. Who knows, we might even change the dialogue of the country.

This necessity is why I think that Bernie Sanders -- currently independent Representative from Vermont, and a candidate for the Senate from Vermont in 2006 -- is so wonderfully correct when he points the way to victory for Progressives:

There is one point I want to make clear because all too often I see this discussion of progressivism vs centrism as merely one of gaining tactical advantage in an election. I am a progressive because that is what I believe at my core. It is not some position of convenience to be shed the next time some Washington wonk decides it's more advantageous to be a centrist. And in my experience, voters are much more sophisticated in being able to spot insincerity than those inside the Beltway give them credit for. When American people believe someone is truly fighting for them and their families, they respond.

It is this, Sanders says, that allows him to win rural conservatives in Vermont who disagree with him on issues such as abortion and Iraq: they know that, centrally and powerfully, he fights for the middle (and working) class. And it is this path that Democrats should follow out of the political wilderness: not compromising on issues -- soft-selling pro-choice views here, shading slightly into bigotry on gay rights there -- but by fighting sincerely, directly, without apology and consistently for middle-class and working class economic welfare. (This is basically the same analysis of Thomas Frank, in his superb recent book (post-election update here.)) This is why I, like many others in the liberal blogosphere, are so excited about Sanders' Senate candidacy. (And why I, like so many others in the liberal blogosphere, regard Joe "Fighting for the Bankruptcy Bill" Biden's impending candidacy for the Democratic nomination as a joke -- a bad joke, at that.)

The last thing we want is to give the appearance of being like Groucho Marx (in a genuine quote this time) when he said "These are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others." The best way not to seem that way is simply not to be that way.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Around the Web

I may have more of my own later today. But, in the meantime, here are some links to some good and important pieces published elsewhere on the web in recent days.

First, a few links on pieces about the Downing Street Memos and related issues:

Cindy Sheehan's heartbreaking testimony before the Democrats' unofficial hearings on the Downing Street Memo. (via)
Tom Engelhardt and Mark Danner on the reporting of the Downing Street Memos, then and now
Billmon on the forthcoming scapegoating of antiwar liberals. (Update here.)
Publius on finding out why we invaded Iraq.
The Medium Lobster refuses to divulge why we invaded Iraq.

Second, a few pieces on Senator Durbin's recent condemnation of American torture and the reaction to it:

Slacktivist on Thresholds (also a good related piece here, with bonus Buffy quoting)
Orcinus on the eliminationist reaction to Durbin's remarks
Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden on why we can't rule out Nazi analogies.

Finally, a few random other pieces:

• PZ Meyers on whether religion is a threat to religious beliefs and on the Planet of the Hats.
Brad Plummer on who is really middle class in America.

Enjoy! (Well, they're not all really enjoyable: but "Benefit from!" isn't really idiomatic English...)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Batman Begins

Well, I loved it. It was unquestionably the best Batman film since the first Burton one (I always thought the second Burton Batman overrated) and probably the best ever. Oh, it's not Citizen Kane -- after all, it doesn't star Orson Welles, wasn't in black and white and isn't based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. Or if it is, I have to review my WRH lore.* But it's exciting and funny and visually absolutely knock-down gorgeous. And all the good things people are saying about the casting (especially Michael Caine) are completely right.

One thing I loved: the fight scenes. In this, the NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis (who was generally very positive about the film) was dead wrong. Oh, the later scenes (especially the one on the subway) were a bit messy. But what was great about the early scenes was that they were from the point of view of the villains -- Batman was a shadow, a hint, a flash which you didn't quite see: it was powerful and effective and got the idea of Batman (that is, Bruce Wayne's idea) just right.

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. I knew almost nothing about the film going in -- I had thought the trailer was eh, hadn't read any reviews and the last few Batman films were genuinely terrible. I probably wouldn't have gone if some friends of ours hadn't suggested it. But it was immensely enjoyable. Recommended to anyone who likes this sort of thing at all.

Pleasant to get a good summer action film after the disappointment that was Revenge of the Sith. As my wife said when we were walking out of Batman Begins, "Why couldn't they have written Star Wars?"

(* Citizen Kane joke adapted -- well, stolen -- from a Joss Whedon commentary. I forget which.)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

"I Cannot Understand..."

Andrew Sullivan writes:

...the administration told us that this was a critical venture for our very survival. If it is that critical, why take the kind of under-manning risks we've taken? If it isn't critical, then why did you tell us it was? My only fear all along is that we might fail. I cannot understand why this administration would have made decisions that made this process so much harder than it might have been.
And the truth is, of course he can't understand. You can't understand if you take as axiomatic the good faith of the administration -- not in the details of planning and execution (Sullivan has abandoned that), but in their overall intentions. But if you are willing to consider that the administration was not acting in good faith -- a proposition for which there has long been substantial evidence, and for which the evidence continues to mount -- then the two questions Sullivan asks have simple enough answers.

"If it is that critical, why take the kind of under-manning risks we've taken?" Because it was not that critical: they were simply lying about that.

"If it isn't critical, then why did you tell us it was?" To get us to go along, of course: they knewn very well that the American people would only support the war (to the extent they did) if they thought it critical. So they lied; and most people bought it. Lots of people still do.

Of course one might ask why they would risk under-manning the war even if it wasn't critical. Surely they wanted it to go well? The answer to that one is a bit more complicated. Some of it, almost certainly, was a genuine belief in their own propaganda: they really thought the war would be a cakewalk, and that we would be welcomed as liberators. Some of it may well have been a desire to prove Rumsfeld's theories about a reformed military that can do more with less (a belief convenient to a desire to use military force early and often, of course). But for the most part -- as has been frequently pointed out -- it was because the troops were never there to begin with. We didn't have enough people to do it properly. So if they'd tried, their motives would have been questioned more deeply; the war's being not "critical" (indeed, drastically counterproductive) would have come out. And while the American people might have supported what would have been really required (serious mobilization, possibly even a draft) for a genuine threat, they would not have for Bush's imperialistic adventure.

Ok: so why did we go at all? The answer to this, of course, is that we don't know. We won't know until we look at the interior documents of the Bush administration: which can either be decades from now, when it is far too late to do any practical good, or now... if the Congress decides to fulfill its constitutional responsibility and hold hearings and issue subpoenas.

Sullivan and the rest of the wingnuts had their reasons for supporting the war: some of which were noble (Hussein was a murderous tyrant), some of which were false (WMD), some of which were clearly false at the time (any threat to the U.S.), some of which were -- at best -- deeply misguided (creating a democracy as a model for the Arab world.) But these weren't the real reasons. What those are, we don't yet know. Someday -- eventually -- we will. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Very cool language-learning site

I found a really neat language-learning tool today. It's a site which has vocabulary pages for nine languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Mandarin and Japanese). For each language there are about sixty individual pages, each organized by topic (greetings, weather, time, plants, etc); in some cases, the topics cluster into categories, so you get several pages on animals (mammals, reptiles, pets), several more on rooms (bedroom, dining room, kitchen), and so forth. On each page there are pictures of 10 or more items. If you move your cursor over the item, a recording of a native speaker saying the item's name plays; at the same time, the written version of the word pops up (in pinyan as well as characters for Chinese; just in the Hebrew alphabet for Hebrew). A marvelous tool for learning vocabulary. Check it out:

The site only works properly in Mozilla browser (Netscape or Firefox) -- at least on the Mac. Don't let this stop you; it's a neat page.

(Also, they need volunteers, apparently, so if you're a native speaker of one of those languages, you might consider donating a bit of time. Or, if you're rich, a bit of money.)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Happy Bloomsday!

101 years ago today a man named Leopold Bloom took a walk around Dublin, eventually running into Stephen Daedalus (for whom I was named, as it happens); it was written up in what has been called the greatest novel of the twentieth century, Ulysses. And it is an extraordinary book, one with passages like these:

Stephen, an elbow rested on the jagged granite, leaned his palm against his brow and gazed at the fraying edge of his shiny black coat-sleeve. Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart. Silently, in a dream she had come to him after her death, her wasted body within its loose brown grave-clothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood, her breath, that had bent upon him, mute, reproachful, a faint odour of wetted ashes. Across the threadbare cuffedge he saw the sea hailed as a great sweet mother by the well-fed voice beside him. The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting. [from Chapter 1]

-- He knew what money was, Mr Deasy said. He made money. A poet but an Englishman too. Do you know what is the pride of the English? Do you know what is the proudest word you will ever hear from an Englishman's mouth?
The seas' ruler. His seacold eyes looked on the empty bay: history is to blame: on me and on my words, unhating.
-- That on his empire, Stephen said, the sun never sets.
-- Ba! Mr Deasy cried. That's not English. A French Celt said that. He tapped his savingsbox against his thumbnail.
-- I will tell you, he said solemnly, what is his proudest boast. I paid my way.
Good man, good man.
-- I paid my way. I never borrowed a shilling in my life. Can you feel that? I owe nothing. Can you?
Mulligan, nine pounds, three pairs of socks, one pair brogues, ties. Curran, ten guineas. McCann, one guinea. Fred Ryan, two shillings. Temple, two lunches. Russell, one guinea, Cousins, ten shillings, Bob Reynolds, half a guinea, Kohler, three guineas, Mrs McKernan, five weeks' board. The lump I have is useless.
-- For the moment, no, Stephen answered.
Mr Deasy laughed with rich delight, putting back his savingsbox.
-- I knew you couldn't, he said joyously. But one day you must feel it. We are a generous people but we must also be just.
-- I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy. [from chapter 2]

The figure seated on a large boulder at the foot of a round tower was that of a broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freely freckled shaggybearded wide-mouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero. From shoulder to shoulder he measured several ells and his rocklike mountainous knees were covered, as was likewise the rest of his body wherever visible, with a strong growth of tawny prickly hair in hue and toughness similar to the mountain gorse (Ulex Europeus). The widewinged nostrils, from which bristles of the same tawny hue projected, were of such capaciousness that within their cavernous obscurity the field-lark might easily have lodged her nest. The eyes in which a tear and a smile strove ever for the mastery were of the dimensions of a goodsized cauliflower. A powerful current of warm breath issued at regular intervals from the profound cavity of his mouth while in rhythmic resonance the loud strong hale reverberations of his formidable heart thundered rumblingly causing the ground, the summit of the lofty tower and the still loftier walls of the cave to vibrate and tremble. [from chapter 12]

...and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down Jo me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. [final words of the book.]
I read Ulysses a long time ago, and loved it; and while I've read bits of it since, I haven't gone all the way through it again. I really should.

Anyway, to one and all: happy Bloomsday.

Who are you?

As Lewis Carroll noted, "This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation"; and I must admit I am rather tempted to reply, rather shyly, "I-- I hardly know, sir, just at present." But I'm always curious about just who is writing the blogs I read; and anyway I suppose that politeness requires an introduction, if only a brief one, so here goes.

My name is Stephen Frug. I'm 34 years old. I live in Ithaca, New York with my wife Sara. My wife works as the editor of the web site of the Legal Information Institute. I am a graduate student in the history department of Cornell University, studying American History, particularly intellectual/cultural history of the twentieth century. In my spare time I write fiction -- mostly SF -- and, now, a blog.

I think that'll do for now. The rest, hopefully -- my interests, my views, my temperament -- you'll pick up as I go along.

Update, Five Years Later: My wife and I still live in Ithaca, and she still works for the LII. On December 21, 2008, we had a son, Joseph, who is now rapidly approaching two (screaming with delight and waving a stick). I've gotten my Ph.D., and have been teaching history at Hobart and William Smith up in Geneva, an hour's drive away. I've been devoting most of my spare-time writing energy to a lengthy graphic novel I've been illustrating (although not drawing) as well as writing, although I have every intention of doing more prose fiction (as well as more comics) once this current project is wrapped up. More on this latter, deus volent.

And somehow, mysteriously, I am no longer 34; indeed, I am now rapidly approaching forty (screaming with confusion and waving a stick).

And at this point you have more than enough information to make your own judgments about my interests, views & temperament -- just browse in the sidebar.

Opening Words

The hour is late, the lines already long, the concert starts in a few minutes and there's no hope that there will be any tickets left: but stamping our feet in the cold, we stand in line anyway, hoping against hope that we'll somehow get in, and consoling ourselves that even if we don't, at least we'll enjoy the sight of the crowds milling around outside.

Or perhaps the party's already hopping, the few suckers who got here too early and were forced to stand awkwardly around the cavernous room feeling the space and devouring the piled hors d'oeuvres did their part in breaking in the room, and we can enter fashionably late, now that everything is in full swing and it's just the place to be.

Who's to say?

What is clear is that blogging has expanded like Shenzen: everyone who's anyone is doing it, and pretty soon everyone else will be, too. So I thought I'd sneak inside while there still might be some hors d'oeuvres left. I always like those chicken-fingers.

Welcome to my blog.