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November 30, 2003
“We excuse sins in ourselves that we punish in others.” Jim Henley rocks.

[11:23 PM : 5 comments]

And how was your Thanksgiving? There’s been something of a rush by liberal bloggers to praise Bush’s visit to the Baghdad airport. Ezra Klein of Pandagon says:
So the message was right on, let’s have no bones about it. The troops are in a hard position and they deserve all the special treatment they can get.
That was my first reaction, too. Sure, it was a stunt, and I don’t for a moment think that George W. Bush really cares about the personal well-being of the average soldier, but like my man La Rochefoucauld says, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. I’m generally in favor of that tribute being paid.

In that light, though, it’s interesting to see these observations from a former member of the United States Air Force, quoted in Kevin Maroney’s LiveJournal:

First, let me say these little photo opportunities do nothing in raising the morale level. The people who Bush dined with were most assuredly hand selected. Most likely known by their peers as brown-nosers. Here is how it goes. Commander to First Sergeant, “I need five bodies from our unit to dine with a VIP.” First Sergeant goes to the other senior enlisted and selects only those individuals that are as gung-ho enough. Did you hear the “whoops” as Bush was addressing the troops? These people never had low morale to begin with. Most likely, they are selected from career soldiers or people who just reenlisted. Now, did you notice their uniforms? Everyone looked they just got it back from the dry cleaners. Not your average Joe who has been turning a wrench on a Hum-Vee the past 12 hours. Also, everyone had their sleeves pulled down. After all, we want everyone to look the same for the photo. I can’t tell you how many times we had VIPs visit in Las Vegas and we all had to have our sleeves down. It did not matter if it was 120 degrees, and believe me it often was. You also did not see people who looked like they may be pushing their max weight restriction. That does not make for good photos either. Nobody wants the president taking pictures with a big, fat slob.

As the morale for the others who were not selected…not so good. While these folks are eating turkey with Bush, you get something a little less palatable. Since the work does not go away, you have to perform their job too while they are munching away.

Now that you mention it, of course it’s impossible to imagine that Bush’s Thanksgiving-dinner companions weren’t vetted to within an inch of their lives. So much, then, for “the troops are in a hard position and they deserve all the special treatment they can get.” They are and they do, but it’s passingly unlikely that the ones who really deserve a morale booster are the ones who got one.

Said Bush in his Baghdad airport speech: “We did not charge hundreds of miles through the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.” Of course, as Joshua Micah Marshall reports this morning, retreating before a band of thugs and assassins is exactly what we’re desperately trying to do, and the main thing holding up the Bush administration program of (as Matthew Yglesias put it) “retreat combined with the rhetoric of stay the course” is the fact that we’re being gamed six ways from Sunday by Iraqi political players who know perfectly well that we’re leaving.

Meanwhile, it’s good to know that at least one outfit in Iraq is taking the fight against Islamic fundamentalism to the streets, rather than hunkering down in barricaded compounds. As the Economist reports on this particular group:

It holds coming-out parties for Baghdad girls who shed the veil, and, with reports of women being mugged, it has opened a refuge on the top floor of a Tigris-side bank…A comrade with a huge bush of facial hair proposes Molotov-cocktailing a mosque for each liquor store or cinema torched.
Who are these tough-minded antiterrorists? Well, actually, they’re the Workers’ Communist Party of Iraq. Far away, over the horizon, comes a soft popping sound as several dozen warbloggers’ heads explode.

[11:15 AM : 90 comments]

November 29, 2003
False colors. Matt Taibbi can be a sharp journalist at times, but this is just dumb:
It had always troubled me that people opposed to the war could have seen something in Wesley Clark. Because it seemed to me that no person who found the Iraq war morally repugnant could have gone on television and talked sunnily about how this or that weapon was ravaging Iraqi defenses. I remember watching Clark on CNN, and at one point he was actually playing with a model of an A-10 tank-killer airplane, whooshing it back and forth over a map of Iraq, like a child playing with a new toy on Christmas morning. A person who was genuinely opposed to the war as wrongful killing would be sick even thinking about such a thing.
I’m not a Clark supporter, and I’m definitely opposed to wrongful killing. I’m also opposed to being ignorant about military matters. Clark was on CNN specifically to explain what was happening, based on the fact that (unlike me or Matt Taibbi) he has actual experience of being in charge of a war. Characterizing him as “like a child playing with a new toy” because he uses a prop is a cheap shot, and unfortunately typical of the sort of attitudinizing and mind-reading that runs through this entire Nation cover story. As far as I can tell, Clark is bad because anyone who talks about the technical details of combat without displaying enough sick-at-heartness to please Matt Taibbi must obviously be part of the problem.

As it happens, I know a lot of people who don’t like war, who would like for there to be fewer wars, and who are opposed to this war. Several of them are current or former members of the United States military. Any of them might have made a point, in a conversation with me, by using a model airplane as a prop, if one happened to be to hand. Perhaps that makes them morally obtuse children, as Matt Taibbi would evidently have you believe. You know something? Perhaps not.

Elsewhere in the piece, Taibbi makes some decent points, most notably that there’s something a bit disquieting about the messianic fervor with which Clark supporters view their guy. As Taibbi reminds us, there are good historical reasons to be dubious about Men On Horseback. However, with all due respect, the news that Clark jokes about his favorite dessert being “a napoleon” does not really seem to me to rise to the level of Reason For Alarm. Indeed, the news that Clark cracks jokes would seem to contradict Taibbi’s earlier characterization of him as disturbingly blank-eyed and flat-affected, and suggests that the real problem is that Matt Taibbi doesn’t get the wavelength on which guys like Wesley Clark joke. Then again, I really don’t get the sense that Taibbi is interested in making an argument, as opposed to appealing to an old sentimental sensibility—the belief that, war being bad, the way to oppose war is to oppose and condemn anyone who knows anything about war.

[10:34 AM : 45 comments]

November 25, 2003
Lazy blogging. Polytropos says everything I would have said about the extended version of The Two Towers, and does it more crisply than I would have, as well. Recommended: both the extended TTT and Polytropos in general.

In other news, Hugh Kenner is dead. Not many critics of 20th-century literature have been as much sheer fun.

UPDATE: Language Hat has more on Kenner.

[09:31 AM : 38 comments]

November 22, 2003
Hello out there? Our email provider, the usually-reliable Panix, seems to have been down all day, so we won’t have seen anything sent to us since late last night. If it’s a real emergency, leave a comment, I guess.

[02:21 PM : 7 comments]

November 21, 2003
Annals of not-entirely-convincing economic nationalism. From the back of a tin of “Cafe Intense Double Espresso” coffee candies:
We may not make anything, but we package! Rockin’, dudes! USA! USA! USA!

[05:20 PM : 18 comments]

November 18, 2003
And looking very relaxed… Electrolite postings may have been few and thin lately, but you can see Whisperado, featuring me on guitar and (new feature!) backing vocals, this coming Thursday, November 20, 7 PM at The C-Note, 157 Avenue C at 10th Street, New York City. Experience the big-beat sounds of Brooklyn’s most electrifying pop combo! Then come see us.

[03:38 PM : 26 comments]

November 13, 2003
Nothing to see here, move along. Observes Dan Gillmor:
61 Democrats in the U.S. House have cosponsored a bill requiring voter-verifiable paper printouts, but not a single Republican has signed on—and the bill is buried in committee.
But there’s nothing to be suspicious about. Perish the thought.

MORE: Julian Sanchez has a measured and excellent piece on the subject in Reason.

[06:57 PM : 15 comments]

November 12, 2003
November 11, 2003. In Washington, DC:
“The United States has made an unbreakable commitment to the success of freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq.” (—George W. Bush)
In Baghdad:
American soldiers handcuffed and firmly wrapped masking tape around an Iraqi man’s mouth as they arrested him on Tuesday for speaking out against occupation troops.

Asked why the man had been arrested and put into the back of a Humvee vehicle on Tahrir Square, the commanding officer told Reuters at the scene: “This man has been detained for making anti-coalition statements.”

[11:09 PM : 21 comments]

November 11, 2003
“He was guarding God.” Happy Veteran’s Day. Normal service will resume tomorrow.

[11:38 PM : 7 comments]

Things that don’t change. Continuing our coverage of November 11.
Melissa, I have never been as blessed as the day I met you. You are my angel, soulmate, wife, lover and best friend. I am sorry. I did not want to have to write this letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A lifetime’s worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That’s how long I will be with you. Please keep my babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone….Teach our babies to live life to the fullest, tell yourself to do the same.

I will always be there with you, Melissa. I will always want you, need you and love you, in my heart, my mind and my soul. Do me a favor, after you tuck the children in. Give them hugs and kisses from me. Go outside and look at the stars and count them. Don’t forget to smile.

(Army Pfc. Jesse A. Givens, 34, of Springfield, Mo., in a letter written to be delivered to his family if he died. Private Givens was killed in Iraq on May 1, 2003.)
If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you, nor that when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been!

But, 0 Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you, in the brightest day and in the darkest night…always, always. And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

(Major Sullivan Ballou, 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, July 14, 1861, in a letter to his wife. Sullivan Ballou fell a week later at the first battle of Bull Run.)

[01:50 PM : 16 comments]

Armistice Day.
The unearthing of the bodies of First World War soldiers, in this case six British and one French, is not unusual. About 60 bodies are uncovered each year on the 1914-18 battlefields in France and Belgium—an annual “harvest of bones.”
From the Independent. Teresa has much more.

[11:10 AM : 0 comments]

November 10, 2003
Open thread 2. Remark on the sidebar links. Or the weather. Or the leadership travails of the British Conservative Party. Or milk cartons that don’t open right.

[01:51 PM : 71 comments]

Way busy. So here’s some good stuff from elsewhere on this internet web thing.

Jacob Weisberg in Slate:

The assumption that events will conform to a preconceived model is a failing to which neoconservatives are notably vulnerable. Part of this may be Marxist residue that never quite washed off. The intellectual descendants of Trotskyists, the neocons find the idea of revolution from above, in which intellectuals and ideas play the crucial role, instinctively appealing. Many neocons also tend to buy into overly deterministic, Hegelian theories of history (see Fukuyama, Frank). In this sense, the assumption that Iraq was destined to become a liberal democracy with just a nudge from the United States is an error akin to Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick’s Hannah Arendt-inspired view that Communist totalitarian societies could never reform from within. There was nothing wrong with that theory either, except that it happened to be completely wrong.
Mark A. R. Kleiman:
I don’t really want to see Rush Limbaugh spend the next twenty-five years of his life in prison, which is what would happen if the laws of the State of Florida were enforced. But I really do want to see the politicians and pundits who support both Limbaugh and the drug war explain why that particular law shouldn’t be enforced in this case, and why it shouldn’t be repealed.

And I’d also like to hear their defense, if they have one, for sending a woman to prison for thirteen years after convicting her of murder when it turned out that her stillborn child had traces of cocaine in its bloodstream. Of course, it’s obvious that homeless people with borderline mental retardation ought to be held strictly accountable for their actions, unlike multimillionaires with logorrhea and strong political connections.

Matthew Yglesias:
It’s important to remember that our current policy has created a classic moral hazard problem for our allies. Looking at the situation narrowly, it’s very much in their interests for us to succeed even if that requires some sacrifice on their part. At the same time, the jam we’re now stuck in is one they specifically cautioned us against getting into. If they bail us out now, the message will be that the US need no longer give allied opinions any consideration whatsoever since we’ll know that when things go wrong we can get help. So they don’t want to help us. But they do want us to succeed. And to succeed we need their help.
Matthew Yglesias again:
The right spent a lot of time in the leadup to the Iraq War pointing to various loony figures on the left and explaining why they were wrong. During that same leadup, I was literally surrounded by such loony figures and, frankly, I did the same. In retrospect, this seems like a big mistake on my part. Not that the arguments I was hearing against the war on campus made much sense or that the people offering them would run American foreign policy in a wise way (God forbid), but at the end of the day, the bad arguments being offered by the people actually running the country were a more significant problem, and one that I too often got distracted from. Once bitten, twice shy, I suppose, and I’m now very reluctant to get back in the whole “damn that far left!” game.

[01:43 PM : 0 comments]

November 07, 2003
Light of reason. Arthur Silber is one of the blog world’s authentic voices: a free-market capitalist, Ayn Rand-quoting libertarian who isn’t awed by power or transported by dreams of Middle Eastern empire. An inconvenient voice, if you will.

Here’s a good example of why this liberal holds Arthur Silber in high regard.

Anyway, Arthur Silber’s in a spot of non-trivial difficulty. Consider hitting his tip jar. We need more Arthur Silbers, definitely not fewer.

[10:33 PM : 77 comments]

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of data disasters, business trips, World Fantasy Conventions, and exciting varieties of minor illness, I will fear no evil, for I’ll get back to posting regularly here any minute now. Meanwhile, for a thoroughgoing and comprehensive takedown of a certain stripe of modern “conservatism,” read this magnificent post by John Holbo about David Frum’s Dead Right.

[04:36 PM : 0 comments]