Back to November 2003

To Electrolite's front page

Forward to January 2004

Our Admirable Sponsors
December 30, 2003
“He was the train we did not catch.” John Clute reviews the finally-published first Heinlein novel.
I’m not about to suggest that if Heinlein had been able to publish openly in the pages of Astounding in 1939, SF would have gotten the future right; I would suggest, however, that if Heinlein, and his colleagues, had been able to publish adult SF in Astounding and its fellow journals, then SF might not have done such a grotesquely poor job of prefiguring something of the flavor of actually living here at the onset of 2004.

[02:23 AM : 183 comments]

Bitter harvest. Puzzled by a “war on terrorism” in which imaginary Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction justify hundreds of American deaths, but actual WMDs in the hands of right-wingers in Texas are consigned to page 492? David Neiwert is too:
If anyone wanted evidence that the “war on terror” is primarily a political marketing campaign—in which war itself is mostly a device for garnering support—they need look no farther than the startling non-response to domestic terrorism by the Bush administration. […]

Making the public aware of the threat from domestic terrorists, especially as part of a real war on terrorism, would require getting the public to confront the reality that the “axis of evil” comprises not merely brown-skinned people with turbans and fanatical gleams but also that surly white guy next door with the pipe-bomb arsenal in his basement. […]

Moreover, no one is going to be mistaking most domestic terrorists (except, of course, the ELF/ALF contingent) with liberals. If anyone’s patriotism is likely to be impugned by association with the right-wing extremists who have consistently been involved in the considerable bulk of domestic American terrorism in the past decade, it would be Republicans.

Yes, well, don’t hold your breath. The “war on terror” stopped being a war in your defense a long time ago. You’ll die when it’s convenient for them that you die. And Ray Davis is right.

[12:59 AM : 30 comments]

Nailing the “Information Please” fifth column. Okay, so “shortly” is a relative term. In this holiday season, I’m more and more finding myself stripped of the power of speech. Most recently, by the news that “the FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs.”

(Via Arthur Silber, who seems nearly as stunned as I am.)

[12:26 AM : 26 comments]

December 24, 2003
Merry Christmas. And the eucatastrophe of your choice to you all. Actual posting will recommence shortly.

[11:57 PM : 29 comments]

December 11, 2003
“…Basis for a system of governance.” Dwight Meredith and Mary Beth of Wampum are now taking nominations for their “Koufax Awards,” i.e., various categories of left-leaning blogitude. Dwight and Mary Beth seem to be running this in an admirably informal way, prodding people’s memories with a few categories and asking them to suggest other categories as well. Skimming over the zillions of comments I can see that there are more than a few popular sites I’ve been overlooking. My own nominations, which no doubt omit at least a half-dozen essential weblogs written by close personal friends because I’m senile and at work and that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it, are well down the thread; search on “December 11, 2003 06:21 PM” if you’re curious.

(As an irrevelant side note, I don’t understand why Movable Type’s default templates put the name of a comment’s author after the comment, and I don’t understand why so few MT users fix this. Particularly when people write longer comments, I want to know whose words I’m reading before I get into the comment, without having to scroll down a screen or three.)

[06:52 PM : 13 comments]

And the winner of this week’s Best Weblog Sentence Anywhere Award is:
Engelbrecht is a boxer by profession, and like all Surrealist boxers, he92s a dwarf who fights clocks.
—Henry Farrell, on Crooked Timber.

[01:18 PM : 8 comments]

December 10, 2003
Get a grip. Atrios has outstanding advice for the Democratic candidates and all their supporters.
Stop ceding the goddamn debate. Who here thinks Howard Dean can beat Bush? Why Ted, you ignorant slut, Fred Flintstone could take Bush with Barney Rubble as his campaign manager. Wesley Clark should stop saying that he needs to be the nominee because someone needs to be able to match Bush at foreign policy. What Clark should say is that Joey Tribiani could match Bush at foreign policy, though he, Clark, has the most experience. Stop acknowledging that Bush is strong on anything. He’s a big loser. He’s a miserable failure. He’s lost 3 million jobs. He got us into a screwed up war. Our soldiers are being killed by terrorists. The Middle East is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess. OBL is alive. Hussein is alive.
Couldn’t have said it better. All this handwringing about who can possibly go up against the dread Bush has a real tendency to make George W. Bush seem like he’s ten feet tall. He’s not. He’s the incumbent, but how important is that? Of the four elections in the last quarter-century in which an incumbent President stood for re-election, they won twice (1984 and 1996) and lost twice (1980 and 1992). Not exactly overwhelming statistical evidence for the irresistable power of incumbency. Meanwhile, as Atrios bracingly reminds us, this particular fearsomely potent incumbent is an incompetent, vainglorious, delusional nincompoop. This makes him dangerous but it doesn’t make him Superman. Why are we having to explain this to supposed grown-ups?

When Ted Koppel asked which of the candidates thought Dean could beat Bush, and only Dean put up his hand, it was a disgrace to the Democratic party. I’d like to see one of the other eight—it can be Lieberman or Sharpton for all I care—come out and say so. In fact a solid majority of the candidates could beat George W. Bush, and even the long-shot candidates could do it given the sort of improbable circumstances that would lead to their getting the nomination. The first candidate to acknowledge this and say that they all should have raised their hands, just as Dean should raise his hand if he’s asked the question about Clark or Edwards or whoever, will get big props from me. No matter which one of them it is.

It would be one thing if the bad guys were waging some kind of brilliant psychological warfare, but these particular head-trips are straight out of high school. If you saw it being done on a TV comedy you’d know it for what it is. If you fall for it you’re an idiot.

[05:53 PM : 70 comments]

Mighty hunters. Say what you will about Theodore Roosevelt, but his idea of sportsmanship wasn’t a bunch of guys at a private club taking pot shots at cage-reared ducks.

I eat meat, and I’m fully aware that the treatment of animals in a lot of abbatoirs is worse than it is at these clubs where rich people pay to shoot trophy animals. But it requires no sentimentality about animals to observe that this sort of “recreation” reeks of the entertainments of an elite far gone into decadence, like some staged cruelty at the court of Louis XVI. Visualize Cheney and his pals in the clothing of 18th-century French courtiers and it all makes appalling sense.

I’m also reminded of Bored of the Rings—perhaps the most-quoted fantasy novel of the 20th century—in its description of the race of “boggies”:

They seldom exceed three feet in height, but are fully capable of overpowering creatures half their size when they get the drop on them.
(Story via BoingBoing.)

[03:01 PM : 88 comments]

More on unions in Iraq. Reader Carlos, commenting on this post, makes a point that sent me (via Google) to this op-ed column from last July’s Los Angeles Times, co-authored by a former Secretary of Labor:
When Gen. Douglas MacArthur was given the task of creating a democratic system in Japan after centuries of imperial rule, one of the first things he did was encourage the creation of independent labor unions. To achieve this goal he incorporated the U.S. National Labor Relations Act verbatim into Japanese law. Unions in both nations remain a key element in the stable fabric of society. […]

There are many reasons why dictators hate unions and why they are needed when dictators fall. Unions are an independent source of power and almost always bring together groups that totalitarian regimes seek to keep separate and antagonistic—for instance, whites and blacks in South Africa and workers, intellectuals, miners and farmers in Poland. In Iraq, real trade unions would inevitably unite Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish workers. […]

There is reason to doubt that the Bush administration will follow the path taken so successfully by its predecessors.

One suspects so.

[01:31 PM : 3 comments]

Evidence of intelligent life in the universe. Daniel Davies articulates the “not this war now” position. A sample, but you should (all together, now) read the whole thing:
I never quite understand why the pro-war crowd, left and right, seem to think that injecting the phrase “Bush is a moron” into the debate is in some way unsportsmanlike, unmannerly or evidence that one’s opposition is partisan or not serious. It’s an entirely germane point in considering the costs and benefits of a war whether or not it’s being run by a moron, and it is by no means established that the option of a war not run by a moron was completely out of the question.
Of course, enthusiasts of the war on Iraq like to argue as if their opposition consists entirely of unworldly pacifists and supporters of Saddam Hussein. Much easier that way.

[12:22 PM : 5 comments]

Beacon of democracy to the Middle East, Part 764. Nathan Newman, Tim Dunlop, and Robert Corr all link to this report of American troops attacking the headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.

What is the IFTU? Well, according to this report from Eric Lee, it’s an attempt to rebuild normal trade unionism in Iraq after the collapse of the Saddam’s sham unions. Its stated goals are:

  • workers’ rights;
  • a new democratic trade union movement actively involved in influencing economic and social policies and rebuilding civil society, together with other social movements;
  • the increased role of women at all levels within unions and civil society;
  • cooperation with international and regional labour movements, and also to seek their help and cooperation to equip Iraqi working people with new skills and knowledge;
  • special attention to social and economic needs of disabled people (of which there are many after Saddam92s war).
According to the press release cited by Newman, Dunlop, and Corr, American soldiers
ransacked and destroyed the IFTU’s possessions, tearing down banners and posters condemning acts of terror, tarnishing the name of the IFTU and that of the General Union of Transport Workers (on the building’s main front) with black paint and smashing windows glass, without giving any reason or explanation.
And took away eight staffers, in handcuffs, to an unknown destination.

Evidently, while our occupying forces immediately set about rewriting Iraqi business laws, we’ve let Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical anti-labor laws stay in place. Nathan Newman summarizes:

Unions and collective bargaining are banned in all the companies left over from the old regime. The US Occupation is enforcing the same low wage scale that Saddam imposed in his last years. As one reporter notes, “Most workers get about $60 a month, a small group gets $120, and a tiny minority (mostly administrators and managers) $180. This is the same wage scale that prevailed under the last few years of the Saddam Hussein regime.”
Way to build a modern, peaceful middle class, guys.

Here’s more.

[11:38 AM : 7 comments]

December 09, 2003
I know what it’s like to be dead. Julia of Sysiphus Shrugged on John Lennon, who was shot down 23 years ago yesterday.
It was a little gap in the conformity-rebellion-conformity sequence that rolls through popular culture like a gilded hamster wheel every few years.

[11:17 PM : 15 comments]

December 08, 2003
Antecedent fun. Salon runs the 5,271,009th piece about That Controversial Atkins Diet.:
Gorran shared the podium at the press conference with other self-proclaimed victims of the diet and their aggrieved family members: a 51-year-old hairstylist whose cholesterol went from 160 to 258, suffered kidney stones and had to have surgery to remove her gall bladder […]
That’s some talented cholesterol.

[02:15 PM : 49 comments]

December 06, 2003
People I quote too frequently, part XXIII. Jim Henley:
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but doesn’t it seem like everybody on the planet has enemies who, they tell us, only understand force? Do we all have the same enemy or something? Because if we do, it should be easy to gang up on the bastards.

[11:33 PM : 9 comments]

December 04, 2003
Looks like rain. Ralph Nader, considering another presidential run, dismisses progressive enthusiasm for Howard Dean:
“Everybody is starved. If you have a garden and if it rains, you’re not excited, but if you’re in the desert and it rains, you’re delirious. But you know what rain in the desert produces? A mirage.”
Actually, what rain in the desert tends to produce is an extravaganza of flowers and other botanical exuberance, since desert plants tend to be optimized to make the most of any moisture they can find. Here’s a sample image.

A rainy spell in the desert is not the classic set of conditions that produces mirages. A mirage is an optical illusion in which atmospheric refraction by a layer of hot air distorts or inverts reflections of distant objects. It appears that Ralph Nader can’t tell the difference between standing water and hot air.

It’s sad, really. Ralph Nader (Princeton, 1955, magna cum laude) probably did know all this, before the dementia set in.

[11:18 AM : 72 comments]

December 02, 2003
Open thread 3. It’s not like we’re Making Light, but once in a while some of you seem to comment on the sidebar links. Or, alternately, those darn milk cartons.

[08:16 PM : 62 comments]

Things that are actually important. Nathan Newman remarks on the Eighth Circuit’s ruling that Elaine Chao’s Labor Department (not exactly a hotbed of pro-worker activism in the first place) may not require agribusiness giant Advanta USA to provide accessible porta-johns to seasonal fieldworkers.

After noting that conservative opponents of “judicial activism” seem to never have problems with interventions like this, Newman also observes that this decision will probably get next to no attention in the usual liberal talking shops. Gay marriage in Massachusetts is a big deal; the question of whether farmworkers are entitled to take a shit in dignity is dull.

Don’t miss out on Newman’s comment section, where some knowledgable folks are discussing the predictable consequences of making it hard for farmworkers to go to the bathroom. You may not want to eat canned tomatoes again any time soon.

[11:00 AM : 20 comments]

“Respecting your enemy is smart. Shrinking in awe is fatal.” Bill Scher at Liberal Oasis has some good advice for Americans going up against the right—or, for that matter, for anyone in a fight.

UPDATE: Chris Andersen makes some pertinent points of his own on the same subject.

[10:06 AM : 22 comments]

December 01, 2003
Background check. Alex Frantz argues that Matt Taibbi, author of the Nation article criticized below, is in fact a thoroughgoing nut.

One doesn’t have to be an unabashed fan of the late-1990s NATO intervention in the Balkans to be struck by this sample of Taibbi thought:

The Serbs are one of the tallest, most beautiful European tribes. Somalis, too, are tall and elegant, as are the Tutsi, who actually call themselves “The Tall People.” Why are the most beautiful tribes being wiped out by the squat and ugly?

[11:13 AM : 50 comments]