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October 25, 2002
Paul Wellstone. Dead in a plane crash. Son of a bitch.

I don’t trust myself to be reasonable at the moment.

UPDATE: Discussions active at The Daily Kos, in the comments sections attached to this post and this one.

[02:02 PM : 30 comments]

Sometimes, very little needs to be added. Tapped:
Bush has lied with obvious forethought and deliberation. Bush and members of his administration have openly lied about the evidence linking Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. They’ve dissembled about the consequences of Bush’s 2000 Social Security privatization plan. Most recently, the administration withheld information that North Korea had obtained nuclear weapons until after the Iraq vote—a lie of omission. The Washington media was extraordinarily antagonistic to Al Gore and treated him as almost a pathological liar for nearly any misstatement. (In fact, reporters often distorted the misstatements beyond recognition.) But Bush has lied to his country on matters far more consequential than almost anything Gore was ever accused of lying about. What, Gore once mistakenly said he and Tipper were the basis for the characters in Love Story—basing his remarks on an erroneous story in a Tennessee newspaper—when actually he was only part of the inspiration for one of the characters? Christ, we can’t have this man’s finger on the button!

Bush’s lies are Big Lies. They are important lies. The difference between his lies and Gore’s lies is the difference between saying you had a hot dog for lunch on Tuesday when you actually had one on Wednesday, and saying a tax cut is aimed at the middle class when in actuality 40 percent of it goes to the top one percent of Americans.

There was a moment in early 2000 when some of us began to suspect that George W. Bush was more than just a conservative politician, but rather the spearhead of something much more sinister in American life. Richard Cohen marks it:
Equally disturbing, we are beginning to realize that Bush’s campaign tactics in the Republican primaries against Sen. John McCain were not an aberration. When Bush’s allies and minions in New York distorted McCain’s position on breast cancer research and earlier attacked him in personal terms in South Carolina, we got a first peek at Bush’s willingness to tolerate almost any tactic on his way to a goal.
Paul Krugman will be trashed by the usual suspects for this:
It’s tempting to view all of this merely as a question of character, but it’s more than that. There’s method in this administration’s mendacity.

For the Bush administration is an extremely elitist clique trying to maintain a populist facade. Its domestic policies are designed to benefit a very small number of people—basically those who earn at least $300,000 a year, and really don’t care about either the environment or their less fortunate compatriots. True, this base is augmented by some powerful special-interest groups, notably the Christian right and the gun lobby. But while this coalition can raise vast sums, and can mobilize operatives to stage bourgeois riots when needed, the policies themselves are inherently unpopular. Hence the need to reshape those malleable facts. […]

Right now the administration is playing the war card, inventing facts as necessary, and trying to use the remnants of Mr. Bush’s post-Sept. 11 popularity to gain control of all three branches of government. But then what? There is, after all, no indication that Mr. Bush ever intends to move to the center.

So the administration’s inner circle must think that full control of the government can be used to lock in a permanent political advantage, even though the more the public learns about their policies, the less it likes them. The big question is whether the press, which is beginning to find its voice, will lose it again in the face of one-party government.

“There is, after all, no indication that Mr. Bush ever intends to move to the center.”

“A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it.”

[12:53 PM : 3 comments]

I’m far from the only weblog writer to be struck by this observation in this morning’s Washington Post. But struck by it I am:
In the end, it was television reports of information that was not released by the police — the type of car and license plate of the sniper suspects — that helped crack the case.
After weeks of the police chiding the media and withholding information from the public, these guys were finally caught because the public got hold of information the police didn’t want to release.

As Jim Henley has remarked, one wonders why, in urgent cases like this, the authorities don’t help us be — not a herd, but a pack.

The answer, of course, is that doing so goes against the institutional DNA of most law-enforcement operations and “security” professionals. Success, to their way of thinking, comes from having information that other people don’t. Of course, in the real world, success also often comes from adding your information to other people’s information. But when the chips are down, this idea doesn’t stick in the minds of law enforcemeent types, unless repeatedly administered with a very large bat.

In other words, if the choice is between catching the sniper by empowering the populace, or grasping at secrecy even while the sniper continues to kill people, your basic cop impulse is to run headlong in the direction of secrecy. Are you kidding? Let people have the information they need to protect themselves? What kind of cockamamie idea is that?

Here’s something libertarians know and liberals and conservatives often don’t: The number-one task of most organizations is to preserve itself and its perquisites. Fulfilling their ostensible charter is number two at best. Liberals are clear on this principle when it comes to the military or the cops. The hyper-statists who, these days, pretend to the label “conservative,” tend to discover this same principle when what’s at issue is the behavior of the EPA or the Civil Rights Commission. This is one of many reasons that, despite strong libertarian tendencies, in the context of modern American politics I’m a liberal.

[10:45 AM : 11 comments]

October 21, 2002
Christopher Hitchens has his moments, but like a lot of his readers I’ve become weary of being bludgeoned with the charge than anyone who doesn’t toe his line is a perfect example of just what’s wrong with the Left, and what a contrarian hero he, Christopher Hitchens, is for resigning from The Nation and bravely opposing terrorism and evil and stuff. Just as George Orwell would have done. I tell you, it’s a proud and lonely thing to be a heroic contrarian, I can barely keep up with my proud and lonely speaking engagements. Have I mentioned George Orwell yet?

Or, as Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote in the Times of London about Hitchens and his friend Martin Amis (quoted in the New York Times by Alan Cowell):

Their cockiness and conceit were hard to take many years ago, and now they’re worse, what with their self-important pomposity, with their pub bore’s buttonholing manner and with their assumption that we are all as obsessed with them as they are with themselves.
So when I saw that “Hitch” (as we pundits call him) had a new peroration in the Washington Post, I suddenly realized I had an urgent appointment to read something else. Jeanne D’Arc, though, is made of sterner stuff. She read the whole thing and manages to both nail the execrable and find the nugget of truth:
I always have a problem reading Hitchens, although I don’t dismiss him as easily as most leftists do. And this essay is not just typical Hitchens, it’s Hitchens ratcheted up several levels beyond his day to day obnoxiousness. As always, his point is overwhelmed by ad hominem attacks, the refusal to comprehend any position but his own, lying about other people’s ideas, and his godawful self-congratulatory tone. Now that he’s left the Nation, and doesn’t see himself as communicating with the left at all anymore, the negatives have only gotten worse. The lies about the left have reached pathological levels. Ramsey Clark is the center of the anti-war movement in the United States? Leftists see Saddam Hussein as a victim and bin Laden as a “slightly misguided imperialist?” Has Hitchens left the planet entirely? Statements like that are either the ravings of a lunatic, or deliberate lies intended to court and pander to a new, right-wing audience.

But the reason I’ve never been able to dismiss Hitchens is that he often buries some point that has to be made—and that no one else on the left is making quite as forcefully (if at all)—deep in the crap. And that’s true here too: There’s a glimmer of sanity in Hitchens’ ravings. In his brief moment of lucidity, he argues that the left should not be supporting an oppressive status quo—whether in Iraq or any other country where human rights violations are routine—in the name of keeping the peace, and he’s absolutely right about that. Peace, as Dr. King reminded us, is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. That doesn’t mean the left “supports” Saddam Hussein. It means that just saying “Of course we recognize that Saddam Hussein is an evil man but there’s nothing we can do” is not an answer that people who believe in the importance of human rights ought to wrap themselves comfortably in while they settle down for a long nap.

Later, Jeanne says everything that needs to be said about Hitchens’ support for the Administration’s war plans:
Hitchens doesn’t seem to realize that his laudable desire to get people out from under the yoke of Saddam (and after that the other tyrants in the region) is not in any way, shape or form Bush’s goal.
Or, to put it another way, just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they’re on your side.

[01:58 PM : 52 comments]

Don’t forget, the advantage of Professional Mass Media over those scummy bloggers is that Professional Newspapers have real editing, as epitomized by this finely edited line from the Seattle Times:
Linux also holds the advantages of being free and can be customized, as well as considerably more secure than hacker-plagued Windows.
Also, Bizarro am paperclip the stoplight, puny Earthling!

[12:00 AM : 2 comments]

October 20, 2002
Why, no, I haven’t been posting much, how kind of you to notice. I’ve been absorbed in some editing projects, but I’ll be back presently. Meanwhile, Teresa explains medieval recipes for how to make good meat appear rotten, and posts to her own comment section that:
I find I care less than I used to about the hairsplitting fine points of a politician’s positions, and more about hearing his or her disintermediated voice. It isn’t just a matter of aesthetics. I believe there’s a largely unacknowledged divide between politicians who still believe we’re all members of the same polity, all citizens together; and those for whom I’m just a member of the voting audience, watching but not otherwise a participant in our regularly scheduled pantomime of democracy.

[11:16 PM : 0 comments]

October 17, 2002
The consistently excellent weblog of The American Prospect, Tapped, has a new location. Long may they wave.

[12:02 PM : 0 comments]

October 15, 2002
Just a thought: If you are a retail manager or a construction supervisor in suburban Washington, DC, take a minute to read Jim Henley’s two Action Items, here and here.

[04:04 PM : 9 comments]

October 14, 2002
Matthew Yglesias has the ultimate blog post opening. Blogging is over now. Everyone, go home and reintroduce yourselves to your spouses and significant others.
Chris Bertram has a discussion of this Thomas Pogge article (which I will read as soon as I’m done blogging about it)

[12:15 AM : 8 comments]

October 13, 2002
Jim Henley, liberal Electrolite’s favorite right-winger, has a post blowing holes the size of aircraft hangars into one of the more persistent liberal pieties about Afghanistan. Read it and see.

[10:51 PM : 15 comments]

October 11, 2002
“Intelligence,” a utopian fantasy: Republican rancher, EFF co-founder, and sometime Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow on how the American intelligence community is broken:
If, in 1993, you wanted to see the Soviet Union still alive and well, you’d go to Langley, where it was preserved in the methods, assumptions, and architecture of the CIA.

Where I expected to see computers, there were teletype machines. At the nerve core of The Company, five analysts sat around a large, wooden lazy Susan. Beside each of them was a teletype, chattering in uppercase. Whenever a message came in to, say, the Eastern Europe analyst that might be of interest to the one watching events in Latin America, he’d rip it out of the machine, put it on the turntable, and rotate it to the appropriate quadrant.

The most distressing discovery of my first expedition was the nearly universal frustration of employees at the intransigence of the beast they inhabited. They felt forced into incompetence by information hoarding and noncommunication, both within the CIA and with other related agencies. They hated their primitive technology. They felt unappreciated, oppressed, demoralized. “Somehow, over the last 35 years, there was an information revolution,” one of them said bleakly, “and we missed it.”

It doesn’t get better in more recent years:
There is also the sticky matter of budgetary accountability. The director of Central Intelligence (DCI) is supposed to be in charge of all the functions of intelligence. In fact, he has control over less than 15% of the total budget, directing only the CIA. Several of the different intelligence-reform commissions that have been convened since 1949 have called for consolidating budgetary authority under the DCI, but it has never happened.

With such hazy oversight, the intelligence agencies naturally become wasteful and redundant. They spent their money on toys like satellite-imaging systems and big-iron computers (often obsolete by the time they’re deployed) rather than developing the organizational capacity for analyzing all those snapshots from space, or training analysts in languages other than English and Russian, or infiltrating potentially dangerous groups, or investing in the resources necessary for good HUMINT (as they poetically call information gathered by humans operating on the ground).

In fact, fewer than 10% of the millions of satellite photographs taken have ever been seen by anybody. Only one-third of the employees at the CIA speak any language besides English. Even if they do, it’s generally either Russian or some common European language. Of what use are the NSA’s humongous code-breaking computers if no one can read the plain text extracted from the encrypted stream?

The pundits of the “blogosphere” like to bray about how the Church Committee, in the mid-1970s, emasculated American intelligence by making it harder to overthrow Central American governments on behalf of United Fruit. But when a mushroom cloud goes up over an American city, it’s likely to have a lot more to do with an intelligence establishment in which only one-third of the employees speak any language besides English, than with Congressional disapproval of dime-store hanky-panky. Bloody hell. Grow up.

[09:48 PM : 69 comments]

Part of me wants to agree with [Peggy Noonan] that America has changed, but that part has to disagree with her on the date. I’m an “America changed on December 9, 2000” kinda guy. That was the day that the Supreme Court decided to stop the vote counting in Florida, casting a permanent shadow on the last branch of government that we thought we could count on. In theory, untainted: in reality, corrupt to the bone. We ceased knowing how our government would work from that point forward because each branch of government went to war with the other, and it seems like we’ve been off-balance ever since. From secret trials to secret meetings, from month-long Presidential vacations to indeterminate sentences, from government by lack of mandate to government by quiet executive orders. Everything is done on the sly now […]

[09:28 PM : 0 comments]

Uncle Sam, global patsy: Canadian blogger and military guy Bruce Rolston asks the interesting question:
Arguing solely from the position of rational, national self-interest, I’d like anyone to give me one reason why, in today’s world, with the recent American policy statement that they will never allow another nation to become militarily competitive with them ever again, Canadians NEED to spend one more dollar on defence. Need to. No altruistic, or “for the good of the world” arguments allowed.

[09:22 PM : 20 comments]

October 10, 2002
Happy Birthday: Thelonious Sphere Monk, 1917-1982.

I’m not a jazz musician. What I play is rock, blues, folk. Guitar music. White-guy American music.

But when I listen to Monk, I hear someone who splits up the line, syncopates the beat, and knocks the chess pieces awry the way I try to.

There’s life, and there’s music, and music endures. Happy birthday, Monk.

[10:01 PM : 3 comments]

October 08, 2002
Outstanding post from William Burton, one of the best new weblog writers of the past several months, staking out a sensible, reality-based position on the fraught issue of Americans and guns.

[07:49 PM : 1 comments]

Hendrik Hertzberg:
The vision laid out in the Bush document is a vision of what used to be called, when we believed it to be the Soviet ambition, world domination. It’s a vision of a world in which it is American policy to prevent the emergence of any rival power, whatever it stands for97a world policed and controlled by American military might. This goes much further than the notion of America as the policeman of the world. It’s the notion of America as both the policeman and the legislator of the world, and it’s where the Bush vision goes seriously, even chillingly, wrong. A police force had better be embedded in and guided by a structure of law and consent. There’s a name for the kind of regime in which the cops rule, answering only to themselves. It’s called a police state.

The Bush doctrine’s answer to this objection is essentially this: Hey, we’re the good guys. People—especially people who share our values, like the citizens of democratic Europe, but everybody else, too—should embrace American hegemony, because surely they know that we would use our great power only for good things, like advancing democracy, keeping powerful weapons out of the hands of terrorists, and facilitating peaceful commerce. And so we have done, most of the time; and so no doubt we would do, most of the time. But what a naive view of power and human nature! What ever became of the conservative suspicion of untrammelled power, the conservative insight that good intentions are not, are never, enough? Where is the conservative belief in limited government, in checks and balances? Burke spins in his grave.

In other news, I just want to say that I’m fantasted to be living in a world where the part of Eugene McCarthy is being played by Robert Byrd.

[05:44 PM : 16 comments]

The Dilbert administration: In case you were under the impression that the Executive Branch is in agreement with itself on the subject of our forthcoming (and, evidently, foreordained) war with Iraq: here’s the Houston Chronicle, with a story venturing otherwise.

Indeed, it appears that growing numbers of “military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats” who “work in a number of different agencies” and “have long experience in the Middle East and South Asia” are beside themselves:

These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses — including distorting his links to the al-Qaida terrorist network — have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East.

They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary.

“Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A dozen other officials echoed his views in interviews.

No one who was interviewed disagreed. […]

(Via TalkLeft.)

[02:06 PM : 5 comments]

How about that: Sam Coppersmith asks:
Why do people who find the government utterly clueless, inefficient, and worse-than-useless when it comes to airport security find the same government utterly trustworthy, prescient, and correct when it comes to Iraq?

Shouldn’t anybody with an “Impeach Norm Mineta” bumper sticker call for war in the Middle East with, at the very least, a sense of irony?

[01:00 PM : 20 comments]

October 07, 2002
New pundit on the block:
Marvin the Martian is malignant
by R. Robot

We should invade Mullah Omar’s country, kill him and convert him to Episcopalianism. Marvin the Martian, what kind of a man are you? Just like his fellow adulterers, who have long refused to commit to war until the administration “makes its case,” Marvin the Martian wants to get all the credit for taking on Dick Cheney from the left, while distancing himself unmistakably from the topic of war altogether. I suppose some notice should be paid to the performance that the Chomsky-like Marvin the Martian delivered Monday in an interview with Seymour Hersh. “What’s so civil about war, anyway?” he said. This is why I could no longer write for Z Magazine, not with a clear conscience. Amiri Baraka, sneeringly, is a appeasing, naked opportunist.

The leftists of the cunningly dishonest cultural elite are not capable of rational thought. So they accuse fair people like George W. Bush of whatever pops into their heads.

Wildly, when Condie Rice asks for a tough truth, bigots would rather shroud in a smokescreen depraved deception. Isn’t it clear by now that a madman has already gassed his own people? Last week Marvin the Martian went so far as to leave the mainstream completely and enter a kind of handwringing alternate universe of Chomsky-like anti-Americanism.

How St. Teresa of Avila and the leftoids impose moral equivalence
by R. Robot

The most breathtakingly ad-hominem of the slanderers, St. Teresa of Avila, mischaracterizes Paul Wolfowitz again. “What kind of a skeeza is Condoleeza?” she said in an interview with Seymour Hersh. This kind of defeatist disgrace is as appeasing as it is absurd.

The hot-tubbers of the elite have become more cunningly ad-hominem in their cheap treason than I could scarcely have imagined last week.

One day, Saddam’s rule will be at an end. On that day, we want to be able to look these people in the eye and tell them that we cared about them, too.

The appeasing elite makes reasonable political discourse impossible when they resort to moral equivalence and anti-Americanism every time George Bush says something accurate.

To oppose proud opportunity is to hate America. St. Teresa of Avila has changed her tune again. “There could be some unwelcome consequences,” she says. This is why I could no longer write for Z Magazine, not with a clear conscience. “Maybe we could compare this to another war besides World War II for a change,” said St. Teresa of Avila on Nightline, refusing to disclose her own position, which is clearly dishonest and anti-dreams.

Get yourself a lifetime supply of “warblogger” wisdom here.

[04:22 PM : 11 comments]

Where we work: A pleasant overview of the Flatiron Building, of which Tor Books occupies the 14th floor, on the occasion of the building’s 100th anniversary.

I do enjoy being able to point to Alfred Stieglitz photographs, designer shopping bags, and Marvel Comics splash panels, and say “That’s my office window.” (I’m on the Broadway side, looking out over Madison Square Park with a fine view of the Metropolitan Life tower and the Chrysler Building.)

(Thanks to Moshe Feder for pointing out the Times article.)

[02:14 PM : 3 comments]

Elevated discourse: Seattle editor/columnist Dan Savage lays it on the line:
The Chicago Transit Authority’s elevated trains—or the El, as the entire system is collectively known—is everything fear-mongering critics claim Seattle’s monorail will be. The El is big, loud, and dirty. Streets that run under the El are dark and gloomy, and there’s no parking near any of Chicago’s El stations.

So does Chicago’s El prove that monorail critics are correct? Hardly. Despite the fact that Chicago’s El is big, loud, dirty, and dark, people in Chicago clamor to live near it, and streets that are served by El stops—even those dark and gloomy streets under the El—are vibrant and alive. […]

As I rode the Orange Line last week, I could see hip, expensive condos going up all along the route; apartments near El stations—apartments that abut the El tracks—rent for considerably more than other apartments. […]

Chicago has rapid transit—which is why someone who complained to Chicago’s mayor about how long it takes to drive downtown would NOT be told that the best minds at city hall were hard at work on the problem. What the driver would be told—once the mayor stopped laughing, of course—was where he could find a map of the El. Thanks to Chicago’s rapid transit system, the mayor of Chicago doesn’t have to pretend that congestion is a problem that he can fix. If you don’t like sitting in traffic, he’ll tell you, take rapid transit. If you don’t want to take rapid transit, don’t complain about sitting in traffic.

As Savage makes clear, buses, trolleys, and “light rail” are transit, but they’re not rapid transit. Rapid transit is faster than traffic. New Yorkers don’t take the subway out of public-spiritedness. Whaddya think, we’re nuts? We take the subway because it’s faster and cheaper than getting around the city by car.

Savage’s best line: “As a kid growing up in Chicago, there wasn’t anywhere I couldn’t go on my own.” That’s why Chicago is a real city—and places like Seattle aren’t.

[08:29 AM : 40 comments]

October 03, 2002
We’ve been plenty ticked off lately, here in the glass-and-chromium-steel headquarters offices of Electrolite, at the “extravaganza of disingenuousness” cited by Michael Kinsley below. We’d be happy to personally push Saddam Hussein in front of a bus, but this current Administration has so disgraced itself that if Ari Fleischer were to announce that the sun rose in the east this morning, we’d want a second source just to make sure. (In pursuit of which surety, we think Ari should be willing to undergo a body-cavity search. As would any patriotic American. Of course you agree.)

That said, we acknowledge the presence of Moron-Americans in all walks of life, not just the tall grass of Pennsylvania Avenue. For instance, New Jersey, where state Poet Laureate (who knew?) Amiri Baraka—formerly LeRoi Jones—has distinguished himself with a work called “Somebody Blew Up America” which contains these thoughtful lines:

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
The New Jersey Poet Laureate position pays $10,000 a year.

Other poets from New Jersey: William Carlos Williams. Allen Ginsberg.

Other uses for $10,000 a year: [left blank as an exercise for the reader]

[01:09 AM : 47 comments]

Commenting on the controversies surrounding New Jersey’s senatorial election, decrepit-but-amusing gargoyle William Safire writes:
“Nothing is more fatal than a dodge,” young Winston Churchill told Commons in 1906. “Wrongs will be forgiven, sufferings and losses will be forgiven or forgotten ..but anything like a trick will always rankle.”
Not for the first time, I agree with Safire. Why, I’ve been making similar observations since, oh, December 2000.

[12:07 AM : 1 comments]

October 02, 2002
Michael Kinsley expresses the despair of the honest moderate at stampeding irrationality:
Let’s pretend we actually do have some role in deciding whether our nation goes to war. How should we go about it when our leaders don’t come PR-ratified by democracy and when crucial information for an independent decision is unavailable to us? We aren’t capable of answering the actual questions at hand: Is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to our national and personal security, and is a war to remove him from power the only way to end that threat? So, we must do with a surrogate question: Based on information we do have and issues we are capable of judging, should we trust the leaders who are urging war upon us?

The answer to that last one is easy. The Bush administration campaign for war against Iraq has been an extravaganza of disingenuousness. The arguments come and go. Allegations are taken up, held until discredited, and then replaced. All the entrances and exits are chronicled by leaks to the Washington Post. Two overarching concepts97”terrorism” and “weapons of mass destruction” (or “WMD” as the new national security document jauntily acronymizes)97are drained of whatever intellectual validity they may have had and put to work bridging huge gaps in evidence and logic. […]

To be sure, the fatuous hypocrisy of the Bush case for war is no reason to let Saddam Hussein drop a nuclear bomb on your head. Iraq may be an imminent menace to the United States even though George W. Bush says it is. You would think that if honest and persuasive arguments were available, the administration would offer them. But maybe not.

[07:05 AM : 52 comments]

Good morning, good morning: Here’s the actual plan.

Here’s some common sense from the left. (Also here and here.) Here’s some sharp analysis from the right. (Also here and here.)

Here’s a view from the thoughtful center.

Here’s how they plan to shout down any opposition. (Here’s someone calling them on it.)

Here’s what remains of my patience —> . (shown actual size)

[06:52 AM : 15 comments]