November 30, 2004

The Art of the Fallback Position

I've always enjoyed watching America's political class engaging in the art of the fallback position. This art involves taking a position, and then when that's proven false, immediately falling back to another position that vindicates you. The greatest practitioners of the art sometimes execute the fallback nine or ten times without breaking a sweat, and (most importantly) without ever really admitting their previous positions were wrong.

For instance, regarding Iraq and WMD, it went like this:

1. Iraq has terrifying WMD.

2. Iraq doesn't have terrifying WMD because they were moved to Syria.

3. Iraq doesn't have terrifying WMD and they weren't moved to Syria, but it's not our fault because everyone thought they had WMD.

4. Iraq doesn't have terrifying WMD and they weren't moved to Syria and not everyone thought they had WMD, but we were fooled because even Saddam thought they had WMD.

5. Iraq doesn't have terrifying WMD and they weren't moved to Syria and not everyone thought they had WMD and Saddam didn't think they had WMD, but Iraq would have had them after two seconds if we'd turned our backs.

6. Michael Moore ate the WMD.

In this article, we can admire the artistry of the same people regarding global warming. They have now (after heavy incoming fire) abandoned positions #1 and #2 on the list below, and fallen back to a position somewhere between #3 and #4. I assume fairly soon they'll fall back to #5, until we get the real excitement of #6.

1. There is no global warming.

2. There is global warming, but it isn't caused by man.

3. There is global warming, and it's caused by man, but not so much so as to get all upset about it.

4. There is global warming, and it's caused by man, but it's not worth getting upset about because parts of it will actually be GOOD!

5. There is global warming, and it's caused by man, and it's worth getting upset about but it's too late to do anything about it now.

6. Let's invade Siberia since we can't grow food anymore in the US.

Lazily Easing Back Into Things

1. En Ming Hee sends along this trailer for an upcoming George Bush biopic, starring Don Knotts. Perhaps this has been zipping around and you've seen it before, but it's new to me, which is all that really matters.

2. Oily Mess here transcribes an interesting interview with Thomas Powers and Chalmers Johnson, and here points to a terrifying/exciting post about America's onrushing economic disaster on the website of NYU professor Nouriel Roubini.

3. Dennis Perrin has several worthwhile things to say. Re Terry Southern, I especially recommend this interview with him. (Via Mike Gerber.)

4. Harriet writes amusingly of her ardor for the TV program "Lost." I particularly enjoy the phrase "Barf Fiction."

5. While I don't believe he's mentioned it on his website, Mike has coined the term "FUV" to refer to larger SUVs, particularly when driven aggressively. Or at least, we believe he's coined it. It seems like such a natural joke, perhaps someone has coined it before him. I know I wish I had.

I Have, Exactly Like Douglas MacArthur, Returned

And when I say "exactly like Douglas MacArthur," that's what I mean. I have crushed the Japanese Imperial Navy, have a corncob pipe clenched in my teeth, and am ostentatiously wearing sunglasses.

O my sweet beloved website. How I ached for you in my absence! How every news story I read reminded me of you! Let us promise each other never again to part.

November 24, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving Eve

I'm going to be away for a while for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I suggest a visit to the brand new site of Dennis Perrin, author of the first and best biography of Michael O'Donoghue.

UPDATE: Mr. D. Perrin is also the author of American Fan, about sports culture in the U.S. And he says that, regarding the recent NBA brawl, he agrees with Rush Limbaugh about something for the first time in his life. Dennis cites this Limbaugh comment:

"We have a sports culture that practically encourages [violence] and promotes it, by rewarding the most obscene behavior with the most television time and the most attention, and the most appearances on the highlights reel, and so one thing feeds off the other. So I don't know what they're going to do to get hold of it."

You can judge for yourself whether Limbaugh could just as well be describing American POLITICAL culture.

November 23, 2004


I truly enjoy getting up every morning. Because every morning there is something new to enjoy about all us shrieking lunatics on this ever-more preposterous planet.

Just for instance, here's Rush Limbaugh speaking yesterday about the recent NBA brawl (via Atrios):

LIMBAUGH: There is something about this hip-hop culture business... You know what the common theme that I'm hearing is? "Well, I'm not going to be dissed. I'm simply not going to be disrespected. Somebody disrespects me, they're going to pay for it"...

This is gang behavior on parade minus the guns... So if anybody will be honest with you about it in the NBA, and a very few will have the courage to, because saying what I just said is going to be tagged as racist, but I, my friends, am fearless when it comes to this because the truth will out... this hip-hop culture is: "I'm not going to tolerate being dissed. I'm not going to be disrespected," and "disrespected" is now so broad that it includes somebody looking at you the wrong way.

What is SO INCREDIBLY WONDERFUL ABOUT THIS is that Limbaugh is actually describing himself and the Bush administration.

Compare to the "senior administration official" who, in a recent issue of Esquire, explained the real reasons we invaded Iraq. Apparently Saddam had dissed us:

"Every day [Saddam] succeeded in flouting us was another day in which the message to the Islamic world would be that America could be defied."

Very few people have the courage to be honest about the gang culture that prevails in the government of the USA, because they'll be tarred as racists. (After all, anti-Americanism is racism.) But I, my friends, am fearless.

Of course, I don't want to say Limbaugh's description of the NBA's "gang behavior minus guns" and the reality of the US government are exactly the same. After all, Limbaugh et al really do have guns.

Poetry Tuesday

You know what this site needs? More poetry.

This is by Adam Wasson, co-author of The Self-Destruction Handbook. A little out of date, but still well worthwhile.

My State is Blue

Today you are joyous while I’m filled with rue
I canvassed, I voted, what more could I do?
I said invasion and you said “rescue”
Your state is red; my state is blue

You protect companies I want to sue
I’m pro-first amendment, you like number two
You promote abstinence; I like to screw
Your state is red; my state is blue

You say “be strong” and I say “be true”
I say “homophobia,” you say “value”
You’re killing health care and I’ve got the flu
Your state is red; my state is blue

You like the Cowboys, I side with the Sioux
My pets go “meow” and your pets go “moo”
You think that crap in the Bible is true
Your state is red; my state is blue

I fought the good fight, did all I could do
There are millions of me, and yet more of you
Oh Cheney, Cheney, you bastard, I’m through
Your state is red; my state is blue

November 22, 2004

Everything Is So Cheap When YOU Pay For It!

The American press corps has many members who specialize in frothing, terrifying nincompoopery. But perhaps the nincompooperest is Ralph Peters of the New York Post. When Mr. Peters in on the case, you know any situation will be resolved -- resolved with massive firepower. In fact, if Peters has his way, not only will the situation be blown up, so will the table on which the situation was sitting, plus the house the situation was in, plus if at all possible the town, country and planet where the situation was located.

Here are some of his latest words of foamy-mouthed wisdom:

We need to demonstrate that the United States military cannot be deterred or defeated. If that means widespread destruction, we must accept the price. Most of Fallujah's residents -- those who wish to live in peace -- have already fled. Those who remain have made their choice. We need to pursue the terrorists remorselessly.

There are several wonderful aspects of this.

First, note his fervor about showing the US military can't be deterred. I suspect this was the REAL fear about Saddam Hussein ever getting WMD... not that Saddam would use them on us in a first strike, but that they would allow him to deter us from doing whatever the hell we wanted in the mideast. There is a worldview embedded deep, deep in American consciousness that goes like this: we must be allowed to attack any country on earth. If anyone resists, they are vicious, mindless scum whom we can destroy without compunction.

Second, I'm glad to know "those who remain have made their choice," since we prevented men aged 15 to 55 from leaving Fallujah. I guess the choice they made was to be 15-55 year-old men. Too bad they didn't choose to be three year-old girls, or they would have been home free.

Finally, I enjoy the concept that "widespread destruction" in Iraq is a price "we" pay. This is probably a surprise to Iraqis, who may be under the impression this is a price they're paying. This is another thing deeply embedded in America consciousness -- that we may cause others to die, gosh darn it, but we're the ones who really suffer. Compare to this famous 1996 exchange on 60 Minutes:

LESLIE STAHL: We have heard that half a million children have died [in Iraq due to sanctions]. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it.

You know, it's been a very hard choice for me to use your money to buy myself nineteen mansions and a Porshe carved from one huge diamond. But the price -- I think the price is worth it.

UPDATE: Here's another excellent part of the Peters column:

Even if Fallujah has to go the way of Carthage, reduced to shards, the price will be worth it. We need to demonstrate our strength of will to the world.

Yes... if we can demonstrate our strength of will in this way, well, what can I say? It would be a real triumph. Maybe a talented female director could even make a black and white documentary about this triumph. But what would we call it? Does anyone have any good ideas?

Is Noam Chomsky A Senior Bush Administration Official?

This recent article by Walter Russell Mead in Esquire quotes a "senior administration official" on the "real reasons" for the invasion of Iraq. DO NOT MISS THIS. What the senior administration official says could, with tiny modifications, have come out of the mouth of Noam Chomsky.

Here's the relevant section:

But what were the real reasons for going into Iraq? I'd asked a senior administration official.

There were two basic reasons, the official said. "One was to be rid of the Saddam Hussein regime, whose defiance of the world community had multiple consequences -- not the least of which were very bad consequences for America at the strategic level."

The other was containment. Most people who opposed the war argued that containment was working, that, as the phrase went, "Saddam was in his box." "The containment of Saddam, while not as costly in the short term as war, was still a very costly endeavor. It cost money, obviously. But that was a small part of it.

"It resulted in large American forces being stationed in Saudi Arabia. It resulted in a very bad message to the world, including to Islamic terrorists, that America and the world could be defied successfully. It advanced the radicalization of certain Saudis and the glorification of Saddam. Every day he succeeded in flouting us was another day in which the message to the Islamic world would be that America could be defied."

And the connection between containment and Al Qaeda? I asked. Between our Iraq policy and September 11?

The official pointed out fatwas from Osama that cited the effects of sanctions on Iraqi children and the presence of U. S. troops as a sacrilege that justified his jihad. In a real sense, September 11 was part of the cost of containing Saddam. No containment, no U. S. troops in Saudi Arabia. No U. S. troops there, then bin Laden might still be redecorating mosques and boring friends with stories of his mujahideen days in the Khyber Pass.

As it was, the administration took what looked like the path of least resistance in making its public case for the war: WMD and intelligence links with Al Qaeda. If the public read too much into those links and thought Saddam had a hand in September 11, so much the better.

Let's examine this in detail. From the article, it seems likely Mead's source is Cheney or Rumsfeld, or possibly Wolfowitz or Scooter Libby.


Mead's source sometimes refers to Saddam defying "the world community," and sometimes just defying "America." We can ignore the boilerplate reference to the world community. Obviously if anyone was defying the world community in this situation, it was the US.

But what does it mean to say Saddam was "defying" America? Iraq had in fact disarmed; as we now know, it hadn't had any actual banned weapons since 1991. And it had readmitted inspectors in 2002. Moreover, we also now know Saddam was trying to make peace with the US throughout the nineties.

My take is that it was not that Saddam was defying us in the present. It was that Saddam had at one time defied us, by not capitulating immediately on Kuwait. And if you defy us once, there is nothing you can do to atone. While the sanctions were supposed to be removed when Iraq disarmed, both the Bush I and Clinton administrations repeatedly said we would not allow them to be lifted until Saddam was ousted, whether or not Iraq disarmed. (The hope was the sanctions would make Saddam's ouster more likely.) In other words, there was literally nothing Saddam could do to stop "defying" us short of leaving power, which given Iraq and his rule would likely lead to his death.

Now, why was it so important to punish Saddam's defiance? Look at this critical sentence: "It resulted in a very bad message to the world, including to Islamic terrorists, that America and the world could be defied successfully."

This is literally incoherent. It resulted in a bad message to the world that the world could be defied? Obviously this isn't what the source meant. What the source really was saying was: "It resulted in a very bad message to the world that America could be defied."

Sure, we didn't want Islamic terrorists to be encouraged. But our concerns go far, far beyond that. It's important that Hugo Chavez in Venezuela see America can't be defied. It's important that Palestinians see that, that China see that, and France, and Canada. Mead's source probably thinks it's important that US Democrats see that the Bush administration can't be defied.

When you're running the world, every now and then you have to make an example out of somebody. Some might object to this worldview, and say this isn't international relations, it's organized crime. Well, you say potato...


Thank God Mead's source thinks: "In a real sense, September 11 was part of the cost of containing Saddam."

Because as I've said before, if they really believe we were attacked "for our freedom," then we're in REAL trouble. That would mean they're truly nuts. Fortunately, they're just power-mad greedheads with utter contempt for the America people and humanity in general. That we might be able to deal with.

In other words, they know very well we were attacked because of US foreign policy. The "they hate us because we're free" bullshit is just a cover story for simple-minded Americans.

Of course, this raises an interesting question. I'm friendly with Seth Ackerman, a writer whose perspective on these things is extremely well-informed. He contends that this second reason makes no sense, because the Bush administration could not possibly have thought an invasion of Iraq would lessen the Arab world's sense of grievance at US foreign policy. So Seth suspects this was not part of their pre-war thinking, and Mead's source is just using it as a fancy ex post facto justification now that Iraq has turned to shit.

I'm not so sure. I think the Bush administration IS so out of touch with reality they believed Iraq could be transformed into a "democracy" (ie, pliant client state) that would somehow make Arabs love us. At the very least, they probably thought it was better than the status quo. After all, Wolfowitz has been making this argument since May of 2003:

There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed--but it's huge--is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia... It's been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things... it's a huge improvement.

There's no way to settle this. Wars happen for all kinds of reasons, and even the people who made the final decision might disagree on the most important factor. All I'll say is, I think Reason Two may well have played an important part in the Bush administration's thinking.


The Mead article also contains the best evidence we're likely to get that the Bush administration suspected the WMD nonsense was false. Mead writes that Wolfowitz "reminds me that [Dean] Acheson decided to be 'clearer than truth' in explaining the communist menace to the American people."

This is a reference to something Acheson, Truman's Secretary of State, wrote in his memoir Present at the Creation. Acheson believed that the world was too complicated to explain to the governmental bureaucracy, much less normal Americans. So you had to, uh, bend the truth a little bit.

So, the smarter Bush administration figures may well have thought Iraq was WMD-free now, but that -- as Wolfowitz also famously said -- Iraq "floats on a sea of oil," so Saddam would have had the resources to acquire banned weapons in the future if he remained in power. But that was too hard to explain to us rubes, so a little exaggeration was required.

And here we are. I just hope the Bush administration doesn't get in trouble for plagiarizing Professor Chomsky's ideas.

November 21, 2004

Duelfer V. Duelfer

Here's what Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group and former deputy chief of UNSCOM, said before Congress on October 4, 2001:

If I may expand my remarks beyond Iraq's WMD capabilities, I would like to make a few observations drawing upon several years of experience in dealing with Iraq and senior Iraqi government officials.

The regime in Iraq sees itself at war with the United States. It is a military and economic war that is ongoing.

Now, here's what Charles Duelfer said in the final Iraq Survey Group report last month, on page 4 of its "Transmittal Message" and pages 31-32 of its "Regime Strategic Intent" section:

Saddam derived prestige from being an enemy of the United States. Conversely, it would have been equally prestigious for him to be an ally of the United States -- and regular entreaties were made, during the last decade to explore this alternative... [emphasis in original]

On multiple occasions very senior Iraqis close to the President made proposals through intermediaries (the author among others) for dialogue with Washington...

Saddam did not consider the United States a natural adversary, as he did Iran and Israel, and he hoped that Iraq might again enjoy improved relations with the United States... [emphasis in original]

In 2004, Charles Duelfer of ISG said that between 1994 and 1998, both he and UNSCOM Executive Chairman Rolf Ekeus were approached multiple times by senior Iraqis with the message that Baghdad wanted a dialogue with the United States, and that Iraq was in a position to be Washington's "best friend in the region bar none."

Huh. I wonder why Duelfer's take on the situation changed so much between 2001 and 2004. I wonder if some sort of event transpired during that period -- an event for which it could have been much more difficult to mobilize Americans if Duelfer had said this before the event? Well, some mysteries will never be solved.

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From The Iranian Ayatollahs, Part 2 of 7,894

We know that many Bush supporters call his administration "revolutionary." For instance, here's Steve Forbes in the Wall Street Journal:

President Bush's goal is... revolutionary.

And here's Richard Viguerie, an extremely important figure in right wing politics:

Exulting in their electoral victories, President Bush's conservative supporters immediately turned to staking out mandates for an ambitious agenda...

"Now comes the revolution," Richard Viguerie, the dean of conservative direct mail, told about a dozen fellow movement stalwarts...

We also know the Bush administration doesn't negotiate with the forces of darkness:

"We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it," Cheney declared.

Maybe you think this is all good, maybe you think it's bad. But at least we can all thank god our leaders are completely different from the Iranian ayatollahs:

...many in the administration say that Iran is not likely to enter into talks with the United States, as the Europeans want, because the revolutionary clerics who control the government are unalterably opposed to engaging with a country it considers the enemy.

"You can't call yourself a revolutionary regime and also negotiate with the Great Satan," said an administration official.

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From The Iranian Ayatollahs

This appears in a recent New York Times story: administration official said that Americans believed that Iran was supporting suicide bombers and insurgents in response to the pressure over its nuclear program - and specifically to warn Israel not to consider the kind of airstrike on a nuclear reactor that it carried out in Iraq more than two decades ago.

You read this kind of thing and you think: good god, Iran's leaders are nuts. Obviously any Iranian support for terrorism against Israel only strengthens hardliners in Israel (and the US). It only makes it more likely Israel or the US will attack Iran.

Then you read this in the same story one paragraph later:

But an administration official said that a military strike or sabotage was not out of the question - "you never take the military option off the table," he said - and that in any case it was "money in the bank" for Iran to be concerned about such an option, because it might be goaded into a more conciliatory approach to the United States.

Thus, the psychos in America, Israel, and Iran walk hand in hand toward catastrophe. Too bad we share the same planet with them.

My Wonderful Friends

I guess everyone thinks their friends are wonderful, or else they wouldn't be friends with them. Plus, calling your friends wonderful allows you to brag with a thin veneer of modesty; the implication is that you're pretty special since someone so wonderful is friends with you.

Fortunately, none of this applies to me and my wonderful friends.

1. Nicely put by Bob Harris.

Favorite sentences: "In the daily swirl of fresh abominations, it's easy not to notice. But America, at its very finest, still exists. In some places, in giant vivid glorious colors."

2. Beautifully put by Mike Gerber.

Favorite sentences: "Frogmen in rubber boats would tirelessly sweep the oceans free of choking trash, camoflauged so as not to alarm the fish... Kids would play anti-army, sneaking up on each other for triumphant small gestures of support."

November 19, 2004

Actual Good News!

I don't know much about Burma, except that their hideous military junta calls themselves SLORC. The only thing better might be to refer to themselves as "Darth Vader."

But -- I have several friends who work on Burma human rights issues, and I hear years of effort have paid off with some very good news: Min Ko Naing, a former student leader who's been imprisoned since 1989 for pro-democracy activities, has been released.

You see, not everything is horrible all the time. People work and work and work, and the immovable rock is moved. Congratulations to all the activists, in Burma and elsewhere, responsible for this fantastic turn of events.

Ix-Nay On The Iscredited-Day Erminology-Tay

Dear State Department,

I have a suggestion for you. Do remember when Secretary of State Powell appeared before the UN to talk about Iraq's WMD, and he declared "every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources... What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence"?

I know it's hard to recall things that happened back in the hazy, distant past of 2003. But I just bring it up because -- and I know this isn't a big deal -- the Secretary turned out to be wrong about a few small details.

So just for public relations purposes, maybe it would be better if -- when Secretary Powell starts talking about exactly the same subject regarding a neighboring country whose name shares three out of four letters with Iraq -- you guys not use exactly the same term, "solid," quite as frequently:

"We believe there's solid information to substantiate clandestine Iranian efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems"... [deputy State Department spokeman Adam] Ereli said, adding that the United States is on "very very solid ground."

The Exciting World Of Wireless Communication

I'll be on the Los Angeles Pacifica station KPFK at 7:30 pm ET, 4:30 PT today. It's the show of Lalo Alcaraz, the cartoonist behind the syndicated strip La Cucaracha. KPFK is at 90.7 FM in LA, or you can listen online here.

We'll be talking about the lighter side of US covert operations, past, present, and -- most excitingly -- future.

November 18, 2004


1. Via this Fresh Air interview with Michael Moore, I learned of this review of Fahrenheit 9/11 by Scott Simon, the host of NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday." Terry Gross specifically mentions this part of what Simon wrote:

In what is perhaps the most wrenching scene in the film, an Iraqi woman is shown wailing amid the rubble caused by a bomb that killed members of her family. I do not doubt her account, or her sorrow. I have interviewed Iraqis about U.S. bombs that killed civilians. People who agree to wars should see the human damage bombs can do.

But reporters who were taken around to see the sites of civilian deaths during the bombing of Baghdad also observed that some of those errant bombs were fired by Iraqi anti-aircraft crews. Mr. Moore doesn't let the audience know when and where this bomb was dropped, or otherwise try to identify the culprit of the tragedy.

There are no words sufficient to describe how morally obtuse this is. Let's just say: if Iraq had invaded America, and in the course of the invasion Scott Simon's family were killed by a bomb, he WOULDN'T CARE if the bomb were Iraqi or an American anti-aircraft shell. HE WOULD BLAME IRAQ EITHER WAY, for the very simple reason that THEY STARTED THE WAR. And he would probably want to murder any Iraqi who believed this was an important distinction.

2. Some time ago James Fallows, nice liberal par excellence, wrote an extended article for the Atlantic about the death of 12 year-old Mohammed al-Dura in Gaza. Because the shooting of al-Dura was captured on video in a particularly dramatic way, it's become iconic in the mideast as a symbol of Israeli brutality.

Mohammed al-Dura

Fallows' article isn't available online, but it's a lot of back and forth about how the ballistics seem to show Israeli soldiers couldn't have shot al-Dura from where they were, so maybe he was accidentally shot by Palestinians, etc., etc. On CNN Fallows said this:

...what impressed me, after the time I spent in the Mohammed Al-Dura case, is the basic difficulty of ever knowing the truth, how elusive the truth of many of these matters can be. And to an extent, finally, perhaps it doesn't matter, because the Palestinian side of this will never believe it was anything other than Israeli soldiers shooting...

Mohammed al-Dura

Again: let's say Iraq invaded America and occupied Northwest Washington, DC, where Fallows lives. Then, imagine one day Fallows were in the position of al-Dura's father, getting caught with his 12 year-old son in a gun battle, desperately trying to protect him and being unable to.

Would Fallows care whether the bullet that killed his son came out of an Iraqi gun or an American one? And would other Americans? NO THEY WOULDN'T. The point would be that if Iraq weren't occupying Northwest Washington, FALLOWS' SON WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. And what would Fallows think about a well-fed, privileged, educated Iraqi who wrote a long article investigating this and then went on Al-Jazeera to muse about "how elusive the truth of many of these matters can be"? Would Fallows perhaps want to fucking strangle him?

This ability to be extremely smart yet miss the truth staring you right in the face is the distinguishing plumage you should look for when tracking the nice American liberal in the wild. Everything is so very complicated... everything is so terribly nuanced... and who can really say where the blame lies for anything that ever happens anywhere, particularly if such things involve the US government?


November 17, 2004


Via Under the Same Sun, I see Margaret Hassan of CARE may well be dead. Zeynep rightfully predicts we'll "Watch the very politicians that spent their lives killing the people she tried desparately to save weep crocodile tears for her, as they read eulogies from teleprompters."

... well, that was quick:

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said: "I want to express my deepest sympathy and condolences to Margaret's family. They have been through a month of the most terrible uncertainty and torment. To kidnap and kill anyone is inexcusable. But it is repugnant to commit such a crime against a woman who has spent most of her life working for the good of the people of Iraq."

Next Straw and his pea-brained ilk will lunge forward to explain we've got to level Fallujah, since Hassan's murder proves these monsters understand nothing else. And if in the process innocent Iraqis die, well, you've to break some eggs to make a delicious democracy omelet.

Likewise, I guarantee Al Qaeda psychos are at this very second finding the most heartbreaking pictures possible of dead civilians in Fallujah. They will then use them to explain how they've got to obliterate some American city, since these monsters understand nothing else. And if in the process innocent Americans die, well, god will treat 'em great in paradise.

This hellish reality we inhabit is straight out of THE GREATEST DESCRIPTION OF POLITICS EVER WRITTEN. It appears in High Weirdness by Mail, a work of the Church of the Subgenius. I believe this to be exactly right... except I think Larrys are merely sleeping Curlys:

* * *

From High Weirdness by Mail by Rev. Ivan Stang:

There are three kinds of people -- I call them Larrys, Curlys, and Moes. The Larrys don't even know that there are three types; if they're told, it's an abstraction, because they cannot imagine anything beyond Larry-ness. The Curlys know about it, and recognize the pecking order, but find ways of living with it cheerfully...for they are the imaginative, creative ones. The Moes not only know about it, but exploit and perpetuate it.

The naive, pleasant believers of all kinds are Larrys -- ineffectual, well-meaning do-gooders destined always to be victims, often without once guessing their status. Like sheep, they don't want to hear the unpleasant legends about "the slaughterhouse"; they trust the strange two-legged beings who feed them. The artists, unsung scientific geniuses, political writers, and earnest disciples of the stranger cults are Curlys -- engaging, original, accident-prone but full of life, intuitively aware of the Moe forces plotting against them and trying to fight back. They can never defeat the Moes, however, without BECOMING Moes, which is impossible for a true Curly.

The Moes, then, are the fanatics, the ranters, the cult gurus, the Uri Gellers AND the Debunkers; they are the Resistance Leaders and the Ruling Class Bankers. They hate each other, but only because they want to control ALL the Larrys and Curlys themselves. They don't actually enjoy their dominance; it's simply part of their nature. Nor are they less foolish for the fact that they make the decisions. They suffer a chronic paranoia that is unknown to their less demanding underlings. Larrys and Curlys die in wars started by rival Moes -- the Larrys willingly, the Curlys with great regret. Concepts like "Hell" and "Sin" were invented by Moes to keep Larrys in line; the Larrys in turn, being far more numerous, exert social pressures on the Curly minority to also obey...mainly so the Larrys won't feel like suckers.

The Moes also invent myths, like that of the "Grouchos, Harpos, Chicos, and Zeppos," to throw the more rebellious Curlys off their trail and keep them unsure of the real situations. [When the Curly's finally die of overwork, the Moes find that they cannot live in an all-Larry world; they select special Larry's and vainly try to mold them into False Curlys...but it isn't the same.]

I am a Moe, though not a particularly powerful one; that is why I know these things, and it is also why I dare to tell you -- for most of you will think it's just a funny joke. A few will know it is the truth, but will fight far harder against my Moe enemies than you will against me, a relatively harmless Moe. My fellow Moes -- enemies and uneasy SubGenius allies alike -- will know what I'm REALLY saying, and chuckle in appreciation while plotting my downfall. In vain. ALL in VAIN, boy.

A Brief Respite From Jokiness

Right this second I am wearing a shirt from No Sweat Apparel that was a present from my mother. No Sweat sells "100% union-made apparel," and while I haven't investigated them enough to vouch for them completely, they do seem to be serious people trying to improve labor conditions in the garment industry. I recommend you check them out yourself and consider buying their stuff.

In other non-joke news, the article I recently did for Parade Magazine about Waste Reduction Partners has been posted in their archives. Unfortunately it doesn't include the snazzy pictures, so I'm pasting them in below.

Waste Reduction Partners

Waste Reduction Partners

Kudos To Elisabeth Bumiller For Being A Smug, Barking Cow

Congratulations to Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times, newly-crowned winner of the NY Press Wimblehack competition. My favorite part is the reference to Bumiller coming across on TV "like a smug, barking cow."

I've had a crush on Bumiller for some time, but she truly won my heart when she explained why reporters asked Bush no hard questions at his press conference just before the invasion of Iraq. You see, they're cowards:

ELISABETH BUMILLER: I think we were very deferential, because in the East Room press conference, it's live. It's very intense. It's frightening to stand up there... You are standing up on prime time live television, asking the president of the United States a question when the country is about to go to war.

There are several entertaining things about this:

1. I'm sure it's scary to ask the president a question on live national TV just before a war. But...

(a) If you can't handle it, maybe you should get another job. It's also "intense" to be an NFL quarterback and, whenever you drop back to pass, have six men weighing a collective ton trying to crush you. But if this makes you stay at home in bed on Superbowl Sunday, perhaps professional football is not for you.

(b) As scary as it may be to ask the president a question just before a war, I've heard tell it's even scarier to FIGHT IN A WAR. It may be scarier still to be in a country about to invaded by the most powerful military in human history, and know you and your family may soon be converted into scraps of red, wet flesh. Perhaps Bumiller could think of this at such times and fucking get ahold of herself.

2. The New York Times has been owned by the same family for 108 years. When they bought it, the new publisher Adolph Ochs wrote a famous front page editorial:

It will be my earnest aim that The New York Times... give the news impartially, without fear or favor...

"Without fear or favor" is so much a part of the Times self-image that it was used as the title of an authorized history of the paper. Yet Bumiller explicitly acknowledges giving the news with fear. And we can throw in favor too, because "favor" is quite close to "deference," as thesauruses will tell you.

So Bumiller very publicly whizzed all over her employers' founding credo. For this, she retains one of the New York Times' highest profile and most prestigious positions. But I guess this makes sense in a country where you can only be Attorney General if you hate the Constitution.

UPDATE: NY Press link fixed.

November 16, 2004

Not Enough People Interviewed Saddam While Stoned

I am a big fan of Paul William Roberts, author of -- among other books -- The Demonic Comedy: Some Detours in the Baghdad of Saddam Hussein. You should read The Demonic Comedy if for no other reason than to learn about how Roberts interviewed Saddam Hussein in 1990 after he had accidentally taken Ecstasy (Roberts, not Saddam). I believe the only other journalist to have done this is Dan Rather.

Via Roberts, I learned about Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist who was tortured by Saddam's regime and later escaped to London and opposed the invasion. In a recent column Zungana says this:

Western governments, led by the US and UK, supported Saddam's regime against the will of the Iraqi people for decades. They are committing a similar crime now.

I think this is just about right. We used to be allies with Saddam, now we're allies with Allawi. But our enemy has remained the same: normal Iraqis. They have a terrible flaw, which is they would like to run their own country.

November 15, 2004

I've Looked At Love From Both Sides Now

No, wait -- I mean, I've looked at terrorism from both sides now.

Here's one side. This is from the autobiography of Colin Powell, who just resigned. He's explaining what led to the bombing of the Marine corps barracks in Beirut in 1983:

McFarlane, now in Beirut, persuaded the President to have the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey start hurling 16-inch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would... And since they could not reach the battleship, they found a more vulnerable target, the exposed Marines at the airport.

Note the two sentences in bold. True, realizing that

(1) other people are just like us, and
(2) striking from impregnable fortresses leads to retaliation on whoever's within reach

does not make Colin Powell a supergenius. But certainly in comparison to the rest of the Bush administration, he is The World's Wisest Man.

Now compare and contrast to Osama Bin Laden:

I say to you, Allah knows that it had never occurred to us to strike the towers. But after it became unbearable and we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the American/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind.

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorised and displaced.

I couldn't forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining down on our home without mercy...

And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.

What I take from this is that when Colin Powell said "other people will react much as we would" he was RIGHTER THAN HE KNEW. This is complicated, so bear with me.

It's not simply, as Colin Powell meant, that other people also get mad if they're attacked. It's that, just like among us, among other people there are those who will fetishize attacks on their "side" and turn them into victimization porn that gives them license to seek vicious revenge.

Osama: "I couldn't forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere."

Republican National Convention: "September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11... September 11, 2001"

Also, other people will use the suffering of those on the same side who they don't care about as an excuse to do what they wanted to anyway. Osama bin Laden, as a fundamentalist Sunni, surely does not care about the Shiites who were the main victims of the US bombardment of Lebanon. In fact, he probably sees them as deadly rivals in a battle for control of the Arab world.

Likewise, George Bush has shown through his actions that he could not care less about the people of New York. But it's actually worse than that -- the Republican party sees New Yorkers and people like them as deadly rivals in the struggle for control of America.

Yet an attack on people bin Laden doesn't care about serves as a handy pretext for attacking America as a demonstration of Al Qaeda's strength. And an attack on people Bush doesn't care about serves as a handy pretext for attacking Iraq as a demonstration of Bush's strength.

And lastly... when other people can't get at our battleships they strike at easier targets. Likewise, when we couldn't get at bin Laden, we "found a more vulnerable target."

It's really too bad Bush and bin Laden can't hang out together, since they have so much in common.

This Website Is Working Better Than I Ever Expected

The original purpose of this website was simply to save me the hassle of emailing jokes to my friends every day. A subsidiary purpose was to allow me to keep these friends by not sending them these emails. This humble beginning is why, despite promises made before god and man, the site still looks like crap.

But as this site has aged and metastasized, it's had an unanticipated side benefit: it's brought me into contact with many like-minded oddballs, malcontents, freakazoids, nice-n-plentys, and so forth. I had no idea there were so many of them (us) out there.

One such visitor is the proprietor of the excellent Oily Mess log de web. He shares many of my peculiar fixations, such as the energy industry, the coming decline of the dollar, and mocking those with incorrect opinions.

November 14, 2004

Let's Work Together To Make America Incredibly Stupid

Via Bob, here's an extremely encouraging story about the Bush administration and the CIA:

The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources.

Ah, purges. I'm trying to remember... how have purges generally worked out for the country in question? Really well, right?

Among those victimized by the Great Purge were large numbers of experienced Red Army officers and even high-ranking generals. This left the armed forces incompetent and leaderless, and left the country vulnerable to invasion, and may actually have encouraged Hitler and Nazi Germany to launch Operation Barbarossa after they learned of its weakness.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: from the largest superpowers to the smallest schoolboard, the only goal of leaders is to remain in power themselves. They do not care in any way about the well-being of the people they supposedly lead. If making us vulnerable to attack helps them retain their exciting plush executive offices, well, that's a small price to pay.

UPDATE: Chris W. in comments points to this NPR story on the same subject, as well as this post by Phil Carter at Intel-Dump. Carter draws the same promising parallel with Stalin's purges.

Do Not Read This Unless You Are Weird

I share with Bob Harris a fascination with the energy industry... specifically, the possible onrushing disaster we face as oil production peaks. Let's just say it will be: no fun.

So, this article from tomorrow's issue of Barron's caught my eye. It's an indication that even the business guys, traditionally the most reactionary people on earth short of feudal lords, are concerned about this.

However, this article will be quite boring unless you are Weird Like Me. Consider yourself warned.

The Gathering Storm

The dean of energy analysts sees a difficult future

THE ENERGY CRISIS WE ARE IN today is entirely different from the temporary problems we experienced in 1973-74, 1979-86, 1990-91 and 2000. Then, there were political issues: Some nations were willing and able to produce oil for our use and some were not. There was always sufficient worldwide geological capacity to produce additional barrels of crude oil to meet the world's needs.

No longer. In the next major energy crisis, that capacity will likely be eroded. So the crisis should have a severe impact, be global in scope, and be difficult to solve. Plainly, it will be unprecedented. What may emerge could well be a restructured world, as well as a restructured oil industry.

Over the next 25 years, a new world energy economy will arrive in three waves. We are near the top of the first and smallest one, a warning wave. A second more powerful wave likely will hit in the 2009-2010 period when the non-OPEC world may reach its all-time highest output of crude oil, subsequently declining to become ever more dependent on OPEC for incremental barrels of production. The final wave should break around 2020, or earlier, as even OPEC's vast reserves are tapped at a maximum rate of production. After that, oil volume should head down and keep falling, never to revive.

Then the world's energy companies and governments finally may begin to address new sources of energy to replace oil, and this issue should become the principal economic and political preoccupation for the rest of the century.

An international economic disturbance of this magnitude will create potential conflicts between nations and civil competition within societies. These could be a trial for us and for our children, made worse in the early years by our lack of preparation and our failure to understand what is already happening to us. There could be a good deal of time wasted in recrimination while we seek to pin responsibility on culprits and conspirators and demons: The oil companies, government regulators, Wall Street, the automobile companies, OPEC, the Arabs, gas-guzzling U.S. consumers and so on.

Eventually, we will have to get down to addressing the real issues. They are geological -- the limits on supply -- and they are human -- the tendencies toward greater consumption.

There will be many who claim that the root of the problem is that we are "running out of oil." This is not an accurate way to describe the situation. We are running out of the ability to produce 2% more barrels each year to meet world demand that increases about 2% annually. The potential loss of the incremental barrels of output in the non-OPEC world as early as 2009-2010 would put the availability of additional barrels -- and power over the price at which the world's consumers might purchase them -- in the hands of five OPEC nations: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. (Under some circumstances, Venezuela might be an additional member of the club.)

Depending on their perception of their own political and economic strength, these countries might decide to lift crude prices much faster than the rate of dollar inflation, thus initiating economic and social changes in energy use on a global basis.

For the period 1987 to 2003, the historical range of oil prices was approximately $10 to $40 per barrel, with an average of $20. For 2004 to 2010, the price range could be $30 to $60, with an average of $40. For 2011 to 2020, the range could be $50 to $100, with an average price of $70 per barrel.

Such prices would unleash both destruction and creativity throughout industry and finance. As occurred in the 1970s, the design of cars, trucks, ships, planes and trains would change, commercial buildings and homes would be modified; chemical and industrial processing and most machinery would be redesigned to emphasize fuel economy or substitute fuels; tax systems would be thoroughly overhauled, with changed incentives and penalties. Urban planning and residential patterns would change. Living standards might slip a bit and they would recover in different shape: Cooler rooms in winter and warmer rooms in summer, changing clothes instead of thermostats, taking quicker showers and buying fewer hot tubs, using less lighting, indoors and out, accepting smaller and lighter cars, walking and bicycling more, and using public transportation; these are the obvious changes to come. Europeans, who long ago forced themselves to accept this lifestyle by imposing high energy taxes, might at last receive an economic return on their investment, while the U.S. struggles to change.

Could all this really result from the lack of a few extra barrels of oil in the non-OPEC world, and only five or six years out? Actually, a crisis could develop even earlier if one or two of the main OPEC producers were closed down for an extended period by a political or military emergency.

Close to 40% of global energy consumption is based on petroleum. Currently, we are utilizing about 98% of our world crude oil-producing capacity. The system should be considered stressed at a 95% utilization rate. We are no longer investing enough to lift capacity additions above the level of future demand growth on a consistent basis.

Greater use of natural gas would help, if adequate supplies were available at reasonable cost. However, in North America, the problems of obtaining gas are similar to those of obtaining oil. The U.S.'s natural-gas output appears already to have peaked. Canada can produce a bit more, but not enough to meet its own needs, along with ours, for the next decade. Europe might have an easier situation switching some oil demand over to gas, but new gas supplies would have to be transported long distances by pipeline from Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran, Algeria, and four or five countries of the Arab Middle East or by liquid-natural-gas tanker from Nigeria, Trinidad, or the Gulf. These incremental gas volumes would not come cheaply, quickly or without political risk. Some major gas-production developments are starting up in China and Southeast Asia, but the infrastructure to transport this gas and distribute it to local markets is not yet ready for use, and may require many years before it is. Most critically, gas cannot easily or cheaply take over the role of oil as the major transportation fuel. So, in the next decade, natural gas can only stand in for some oil consumption.

Our ability to substitute more coal for oil is also circumscribed since the technology to burn coal cleanly is still under development, and our vast coal supplies cannot yet be utilized without changing public opinion on the environmental consequences or changing the technology to avoid pollutants. That goes double for nuclear power. Using a lot more of these two fuels in the near term cannot be done in any case, since it would take many years to bring new plants and equipment on line.

If substitution is not immediately available, what about increasing production beyond conventional estimates? Surely, if prices rose a bit, a substantial new supply could be made available to the market? In many commodities, this would be correct. But, not in crude oil. The great Shell Oil geophysicist, M. King Hubbert (1903-1989), outlined the reasons for this in the mid-1950s when he predicted that the peak of U.S. oil production would occur in the early 1970s (and, despite considerable skepticism about his prediction, he was right on target). His case was that oil explorers, entering a new geological basin searching for petroleum, would always choose the largest and most accessible fields to drill first, because that would maximize their early returns. This selection would delay until later the harder work, at higher unit costs, of finding midsize and smaller fields in the mature years of basin production.

In addition, he observed, as oil reservoirs approached the halfway point of the production levels they were eventually going to yield, daily output would peak and subsequently start down.

Hubbert's two principles do work in practical terms in oil fields. The depletion of recoverable reserves in oil fields whose production levels have gone beyond their halfway point is causing a decline today in the output in certain mature oil-producing areas of the U.S., Canada, the North Sea, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and Indonesia, among the major producers. Each year now, some 4% to 5% of world crude production is depleted, and an equivalent amount must be found, developed and brought onstream to maintain the original production volume. A further 2% must be found, developed and made available to the market to cover global growth needs.

Few people outside the oil industry understand that 6% to 7% more oil must be found and made available to the market each year in order to meet 2% growth in world consumption. It's a huge job; and it is getting harder to do, as the potential reserve size of prospects we are drilling today is smaller, and the large, prolific fields found in the past are advancing along their decline curves. Currently, some 70% of the oil that is consumed comes from fields discovered 25 or more years ago.

Most of the likely oil-bearing basins of the world have now been prospected, and the odds of vast new reserves suddenly making an appearance are low. Of course, relatively large individual discoveries will occasionally turn up in the years ahead, but not in size and number to suggest these finds can equal the substantially greater amount of supplies that are being burned up. Today, the world is consuming some 30 billion barrels a year, and we are finding less than one-third that amount. This is a far cry from the mid-1960s, when the world discovery rate peaked at an annual figure of over 45 billion barrels, and we were using something less than 15 billion barrels each year.

Perhaps new technology can produce more? New equipment and methods do allow us to produce more from present fields, and to exploit some smaller fields at lower cost. However, the last decade brought the greatest application of oil-field technology ever seen, and the angle of the downtrend in the number of barrels discovered each year has hardly changed. Furthermore, no devices are known to be under development now in the oil industry's labs that would dramatically change the basic trend. Technology doesn't seem to be moving fast enough to save us.

Our country's leaders have three main choices: Taking over someone else's oil fields; carrying on until the lights go out and Americans are freezing in the dark; or changing our life style by deep conservation while heavily investing in alternative energy sources at higher costs.

The first two choices can be only temporary palliatives. Taking over foreign energy fields would be against this country's principles, and, like most violations of principle, it wouldn't work. This strategy wouldn't protect us from war, terrorism and the exhaustion of our military and moral resources. Carrying on as we are until we crash looks more like "surrender" than "adjustment."

By elimination, if not by wisdom, we will eventually turn to a massive national and international conservation effort. It should be launched with further development of coal and nuclear energy, along with imported liquid natural gas, tight-sands gas, coal-bed methane, gas-to-liquids conversion, tar sands and wind power. (Solar and biomass are not yet sufficiently developed to play a leading role.)

Whenever we decide to confront this reality, the resulting program surely will require many years of investing vast amounts of capital. It could, therefore, pre-empt some other lines of investment in economies already strapped for adequate returns to support the promises they have made to their aging societies. Without discipline, mental and physical preparedness and an intelligent selection of priorities conceived early enough to keep us from wavering, we will not pass the oncoming test.

CHARLES T. MAXWELL is a senior energy analyst at Weeden & Co., in Greenwich, Conn. He has been working in the energy field for 36 years.

Visit People I Know

I recommend this by Mike Gerber on the red state/blue state non-divide.

Also, I require you to start reading this website, by my friend Harriet. Specifically, check out this, in which she refers to Strawberry Shortcake dolls as "Hydrocephalic imps who smell like bad room freshener."

Matt Taibbi: Is He Secretly Jesus?

You should read this story by Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone, in which he travels to Orlando to volunteer for the Bush campaign. As I've said before, if you are not familiar with Taibbi's writing, your life is a barren and empty one.

The thing about Taibbi is that, beyond being damnably funny, he's also genuinely insightful. For instance, he says that for America's right wing

...permanent war isn't a policy imposed from above; it's an emotional imperative that rises from the bottom. In a way, it actually helps if the fact is dubious or untrue (like the Swift-boat business), because that guarantees an argument. You're arguing the particulars, where you're right, while they're arguing the underlying generalities, where they are.

Once you grasp this fact, you're a long way to understanding what the Hannitys and Limbaughs figured out long ago: These people will swallow anything you feed them, so long as it leaves them with a demon to wrestle with in their dreams.

THIS IS SO TRUE IT MAKES MY FACE BLEED. Let me explain why I think this.

Everyone is a mixture of emotions and impulses. For instance, part of me would like to rob a bank, because that money is rightfully mine. And part of me would like to be President of the World, because then everyone who disagrees with me would get what's coming to them.

But problems arise when people don't recognize and accept the negative aspects of their psyche. (Or to be more accurate, the parts of their psyche they perceive as negative.) The more people are unwilling to accept these parts of themselves, the more they MUST project the characteristics they don't like about themselves onto others. Thus, such people absolutely must have enemies. Without enemies, without someone to fight, they will feel as if their mind is going to fly apart. Without enemies, they run the risk of examining themselves, AND THAT MUST BE AVOIDED AT ALL COST.

That's why in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" It was precisely for asking such questions that Jesus had to be killed by the powers of first century Judea. They were desperate to avoid examining themselves, and were willing to crucify anyone who suggested they should. Not so much has changed in the past 2,000 years. (See: Chomsky, Noam.)

November 13, 2004

Stupid? Insane? Evil? Or A Heady Combination Of All Three?

Zeynep at Under The Same Sun points out the US government's latest attempts to get us all killed. And by "us" I mean "all mankind." As Zeynep says, it's increasingly difficult to tell if whether we're being monstrously offensive by accident, or on purpose.

Zeynep here also provides contact information for the Israeli government, and urges everyone to write/call them right now about the rearrest of Mordechai Vanunu. This article claims many Israelis "despise him as a traitor," by which they of course mean he has committed the ultimate crime of "telling the truth."

November 12, 2004

Battle Hymn Of The Imperium

Yesterday was Veterans Day (via Talking Points Memo):

Marine Cpl. David Antonio Garcia stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier Thursday and was sworn in as an American citizen - after already serving under the U.S. flag in Iraq.

The native of Mexico was among 80 sailors and Marines from 25 countries - from Canada to Syria - who became citizens in a Veterans Day ceremony aboard the USS Midway, a reward for putting their lives on the line for their adopted country.

Those who remember anything that happened before yesterday might be reminded of this:

The imperial army consisted of some 300,000 men... Auxiliary units of colonial troops drawn from the provinces backed up the legions. The auxiliary soldiers, who drew less than half the pay of the legionaries, were granted citizenship on their discharge.

Republics don't have trouble raising large enough armies for any war, because republics go to war only with the full support of their people. (See article I, section 8 of this boring old document.) By contrast, empires often engage in wars their citizens don't support enough to fight themselves. So finding the necessary soldiers is a constant problem. Dangling citizenship in front of non-citizens is a tried and true method.

Some might say we're still different from the Roman Empire, because the Romans gave citizenship both to soldiers and to soldiers' families. Uh huh:

...there are several bills pending that, if passed, will make the path to citizenship more flexible and far-reaching for not only non-citizen soldiers, but also their families.

Maybe if things go really well, we could even adopt certain Roman symbols, like rods bundled around an ax, and name our political system after them.

UPDATE: Apparently we're also giving chariot races a shot (via

November 11, 2004

Don't Make Me Come Over There And Be Generous To You

The death of Yasser Arafat is a good time to bring up one of my favorite subjects: geopolitical generosity.

After the peace talks at Camp David ended in 2000 without an agreement, everyone in the US media starting talking about how Arafat had inexplicably turned down Israel's "generous offer." For instance, here's Charles Krauthammer:

At Camp David, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an astonishingly generous peace with dignity and statehood. Arafat not only turned it down, he refused even to make a counter offer!

At the time, I didn't know exactly what had happened at Camp David. But hearing about Israeli generosity, I thought -- oh man, the poor Palestinians. That's because of what I call the Iron Law of Generosity: whenever one group of people talks about being "generous" to another, it means they're BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF THEM.

Take Andrew Jackson. Here's what Jackson said in a famous address to Congress in 1830:

Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous.

Yes, how true. One particularly generous thing Jackson's soldiers did at the Battle of Horse Shoe Bend in 1814 was cut strips of skin off dead Creek Indians and then use them as bridles. And of course as president, Jackson generously enabled the Cherokee to experience the Trail of Tears.

Teddy Roosevelt felt just the same as Jackson:

In [our] treaties we have been more than just to the Indians; we have been abundantly generous... No other conquering and colonizing nation has ever treated the original savage owners of the soil with such generosity as has the United States.

Roosevelt was eager to extend this generosity to the Philippines. As one Kansas soldier sent there put it, "The country won't be pacified until the niggers [ie, Filipinos] are killed off like the Indians." We weren't able to be quite that generous, but did manage to give around 200,000 Filipinos the gift of not living.

We did a better job in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam period, where we generously massacred several million people. Or as David Lawrence, then-editor of US News & World Report, put it,

What the United States is doing in Vietnam is the most significant example of philanthropy extended by one people to another that we have witnessed in our times.

Unfortunately, Lawrence was wrong. The sad truth is that no Americans or Israelis have ever reached the philanthropic heights of the most generous man in history: Adolf Hitler. Just before the invasion of Poland in 1939, a British diplomat met with Hitler and filed this report:

Herr Hitler replied that he would be willing to negotiate, if there was a Polish Government which was prepared to be reasonable and which really controlled the country. He expatiated on misdoings of the Poles, referred to his generous offer of March last, said that it could not be repeated...

Of course, Hitler had an advantage over us -- he was leading the German people, the most generous human beings on earth. As Joseph Goebbels put it in 1943:

If we Germans have a fateful flaw in our national character, it is forgetfulness. This failing speaks well of our human decency and generosity, but not always for our political wisdom or intelligence. We think everyone else as is good natured as we are.

It was right around this time that distant relatives of mine were experiencing German good nature firsthand.

The point of all this is not to compare the Camp David offer to World War II or the holocaust. That would be idiotic; not all ways of beating the crap out of people are created equal. It's just to point out that when people get righteously worked up about how wonderful they are, and their enemy's lack of gratitude, you really need to keep an eye on them.

November 10, 2004

John Ashcroft's Real Religion

We all know John Ashcroft is a religious man. And now that he's leaving the Justice Department, let's remember what that religion actually is. Here's something he said in 1998 to Southern Partisan magazine:

"Your magazine also helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and [Confederate President Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."

No, I'm not saying Ashcroft's real religion is racism. (Although the link above has truly appalling instances of Southern Partisan "setting the record straight.") It's something else.

Ashcroft here is referencing the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

...for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Do you see what Ashcroft switched? The people who signed the Declaration of Independence mentioned their fortunes, but what they called sacred was their honor. Ashcroft changed it so as to refer to "fortunes" as being sacred.

I suggest this tells you what Ashcroft and the Bush administration -- despite their public piousness -- truly find sacred and truly worship.

November 09, 2004

I Don't Understand This New-Fangled Spam

Back in olden times, things made sense. Every day you'd get up, milk the cows, slop the hogs, and delete the 78 pieces of comment spam that accumulated on your website overnight. You understood the spam, and the spam understood you. You knew it was trying to get Google to notice the urls of the websites it was promoting. And while you didn't like it, you knew both you and the spam had a part to play in the grand cycle of life and death and free gay incest.

But now... well, sometimes it seems like the whole world's changed. Now you receive comment spam titled "Durffwurzle for President" that links to a site that doesn't even exist. Pretty soon it becomes a trend.

What's going on? you wonder. What possible point is there to this kind of spam? And what kind of world are we leaving for our children? But then, with a rueful laugh, you realize every generation has probably wondered the same thing about its comment spam.

Ou sont les comment spam d'antan?

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream And Scream And Scream

Bob Harris has a funny BUT NONETHELESS QUITE REAL suggestion for George Bush's Inauguration Day in January.

I will be participating, even if it's just Bob and me screaming, with the phone on so we can hear each other from 2,000 miles away. Of course, I plan to scream so loud the phone might not be needed.

Seriously, though, pass this around. As Banana Republic becomes less a brand of clothing and more a description of our country, we should learn from people who've survived in other banana republics. It would be particularly sweet if there were enough people screaming in Washington that it was audible on the steps of the Capitol. Perhaps people who live nearby could even rig up their stereos and phones to broadcast the sound from people in other cities.

Hersh On The Specter Of Nuclear Terrorism

I've been reading Chain of Command by Seymour Hersh. It has tons of amazing stuff in it. One particularly frightening section examines Al Qaeda's thinking about how to eject the US from the mideast. And guess what? It involves nuclear terrorism:

... if the Americans could be persuaded that the Al Qaeda threat was credible, they might decide that there was no Middle East war worth fighting... when Al Qaeda developed its first bomb in a suit case, Washington would be told -- and reminded that there was no way to stop Al Qaeda from smuggling a nuclear weapon across the border by automobile or into an American port by boat.

But that's not the most terrifying part.

The most terrifying part is that I was lying. I've actually been reading another book by Seymour Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy. It does contain the above paragraph, but with just a few different words:

Moshe Dayan's mission in late 1967 and early 1968 was to convince his fellow cabinet members that if the Soviets could be persuaded that the Israeli threat was credible, they might decide that there was no Middle East war worth fighting... when Israel developed its first bomb in a suit case, Moscow would be told -- and reminded that there was no way to stop Mossad from smuggling a nuclear weapon across the border by automobile or into a Soviet port by boat.

Which One Of Us Is The Doppleganger?

So, I was putzing around looking for stuff about "open source intelligence." Open source intelligence means intelligence from non-secret sources -- ie, journalism, books, snide websites, etc. -- and it's far more useful than you'd think. In fact, it's probably much more accurate than non-open source intelligence. For instance, I didn't have a Top Secret security clearance when I bet someone $1000 that Iraq had no WMD. I just had an internet connection, a phone and a library card.

The US government would probably have a much better picture of the world if we got rid of our expensive intelligence apparatus and used 1% of that money to hire people to sit around reading newspapers and books from all over the planet. Of course, that would require the US government to want a much better picture of the world. Unfortunately, accurate information would interfere with more important priorities, like attacking countries that pose no threat to us.

One article I found was this one by Charles Cameron. I liked Cameron's article so much I followed the link to his website.

At this point I became... unsettled. Cameron's view of the world is EXACTLY THE SAME AS MINE. I briefly asked myself: do I have a split personality, and does my other personality have a website of its own? It is possible that when I think I'm sleeping, I'm actually awake as "Charles Cameron," busily saying the same things Jonathan Schwarz does? Or is it the other way around, and when Charles Cameron goes to sleep he transforms into "Jonathan Schwarz"? And... is either one of us a superhero?

I then discovered the strangest thing of all. It turns out that unbeknownst to me (or "me"), Cameron was already aware of this website, and had linked to it twice.

So I recommend Cameron's site. I myself look forward to following it and his work. But he better not start hitting on my girlfriend, because she might like him exactly the same amount as me.

November 08, 2004

Comments Are Fixed!

After seeming years away, this website's prodigal commenting ability has returned. Let us slaughter the metaphorical fattened calf and prepare for the metaphorical feast.

November 07, 2004

O Dear

At the risk of revealing myself to be a blue-state mocker of all that is holy and good, let me direct you to a recent Jesus of the Week.

(Thanks once more to the mailing list run by Doug Henwood.)

Damn You, Comment Spam!

All the comment spam led to me installing Blacklist, which led to Blacklist all of sudden not working and breaking the comments with it. Now any attempt to post a comment gets a weird error message.

Hopefully I will figure this out before too long. But in the meantime, let me again state my distain for texas hold'em bestiality penis extender credit reports.

Jonah Goldberg: "America Is The Corleone Family"

How can it be that people can vote based on "moral values" that seem to have little relationship to, you know, values? How can moral values mean no to gay marriage but yes yes yes to a meat-grinder war based on lies?

If this confuses you, you should immediately run to a book store and buy Life and How to Survive It by John Cleese and Robin Skynner. No, there is no time for you to put on clothes beforehand. There is also no time, if it is the middle of the night, for you to wait until the stores opens. You must break in naked and READ THIS BOOK. This is important, the police will understand.

Cleese and Skynner spend a great deal of the book discussing moral values. Their main points are these:

(1) Everyone everywhere shares the same values: loyalty, honesty, caring for others, etc.
(2) BUT -- people interpret these values according to their level of mental health.

"Mental health," as Cleese and Skynner define it, is a measure of how in touch you are with reality. Thus, people more in touch with reality interpret these values in healthier ways. Those less in touch with reality interpret them in unhealthy ways.

What does this mean in practice -- say, concerning the value of loyalty?

Robin Skynner: Each person will bring their own family attitudes and feelings to their interpretation of myths about loyalty. So if they come from a very unhealthy family, they'll feel that the group should all hold practically identical views, and that anyone who questions these views is a "trouble-maker" who is being "disloyal"; they'll feel hostility toward outside groups, and a disregard for the rights of such "outsiders"; and they'll feel intense and demanding dependence on all the other members of the group...

John Cleese: In other words, loyalty, to unhealthy people, is simply paranoia dressed up and relabeled.

Robin Skynner: That's what it amounts to, seen from a level of health above it. Remember the Mafia refer to the requirements of silence about all their crimes as omerta -- honor! And of course it does represent a higher level of health than disloyalty, where everyone in a society is betraying everyone else.

Cleese and Skynner say that all this, on a larger scale, applies perfectly to politics. But can they be right? For instance, are there really people who view America as one big crime family?

YOU BET THERE ARE. Cue Jonah Goldberg, scion of Lucianne Goldberg and something-or-other at National Review:

On the worst day in a string of exceptionally bloody days for U.S. troops, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, serving as John Kerry's designated rhetorical bomb-thrower, said precisely what our enemies wanted to hear.

He shouted: "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, and this country needs a new president"...

Remember why Vito Corleone was gunned down in The Godfather? It was because Sonny let it slip that the Corleone family was divided -- just a tiny bit -- on a minor issue. This was all the incentive that opportunistic enemies needed to pounce.

It's not the best analogy in the world, but it does capture an important element of how our enemies think.

Note that even Goldberg draws back from the brink, and blames the necessity to act like the Corleones on "our enemies." You see, it's not that we want to squelch all internal disagreement, but what else can we do when surrounded by merciless killers waiting to strike?

Of course, Saddam Hussein -- whose favorite movie supposedly was The Godfather -- would tell you exactly the same thing.

Thomas Jefferson Was Smart Because He Agrees With Me

Okay, Thomas Jefferson was flawed. He enslaved other people. He almost certainly had a relationship with Sally Hemmings that was... unsavory. (My favorite part: Hemmings was the HALF-SISTER of Jefferson's late wife Martha, because Hemmings was the child of Martha's father and one of his slaves. The South didn't invent gothic literature for nothing.)

But Tommy also had many worthwhile things to say. Perhaps you've noticed I'm somewhat obsessed with the potential of new communication technologies. That's because I believe anything that makes it easier for people to exchange smutty gossip, kitten pictures, and frothing political screeds is a big net positive.

So I was pleased to discover that Jefferson would likely feel the same. He wrote this in an 1823 letter to John Adams:

The generation which commences a revolution rarely compleats it. Habituated from their infancy to passive submission of body and mind to their kings and priests... their ignorance and bigotry make them instruments often, in the hands of the Bonapartes and Iturbides to defeat their own rights and purposes. This is the present situation of Europe and Spanish America. but it is not desperate. The light which has been shed on mankind by the art of printing has eminently changed the condition of the world. as yet that light has dawned on the midling classes only of the men of Europe. The kings and the rabble of equal ignorance, have not yet recieved it's rays; but it continues to spread. And, while printing is preserved, it can no more recede than the sun return on his course. A first attempt to recover the right of self-government may fail, so may a 2d. a 3d. &c. but as a younger, and more instructed race comes on, the sentiment become more and more intuitive, and a 4th. a 5th. Or some subsequent one of the ever renewed attempts will ultimately succeed... all will attain representative government... to attain all this however rivers of blood must yet flow, & years of desolation pass over, yet the object is worth rivers of blood, and years of desolation. For what inheritance, so valuable, can man leave to his posterity?... You and I shall look down from another world on these glorious atchievements to man, which will add to the joys even of heaven.

So I think Margaret Atwood was right to say this to Americans:

The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn't dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; in the country's hour of greatest peril, he would return. You, too, have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.

(Jefferson letter courtesy of the mailing list run by Doug Henwood.)

November 06, 2004

Great News! Satan Is Cornered!

This is REALLY exciting. Apparently Satan has been spotted in Fallujah, and we're about to go kill him!

American commanders have assembled a force of Marines, Army soldiers and U.S.-trained Iraqi fighters around Fallujah, a major insurgent base 40 miles west of Baghdad.

They are awaiting orders from interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to launch an all-out assault.

Col. Gary Brandl voiced his troops' determination:

"The enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He's in Fallujah and we're going to destroy him."

True, everyone eager to kill Satan -- meaning, all of us children of light -- shouldn't count our chickens before they're hatched. We've been trying to get him for eight thousand years, ever since he fell from heaven and then earth was created and then (this part is fuzzy) he decided to come live here sometimes. And we haven't had much luck killing him yet.

Previously, Satan-hunters in Iran had tracked him to the United States. In fact, their greatest scientists of Satanology determined he had actually engulfed the country, turning the whole thing into one "Great Satan." Meanwhile, a small piece of him had split off and eaten Israel, turning it into the "Little Satan."

But clearly now he's escaped to Fallujah. So he's wily. But we already knew that!

So let's sit tight and hope Col. Brandl gets the Archfiend-Antichrist-Beelzebub-Lucifer-Old Scratch-The Great Telemarketer. Then all evil will be gone forever and I'll definitely be able to stop hitting my children and being an alcoholic and hating myself and everyone else.

November 05, 2004

Seymour Hersh Meets Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Saddam Hussein

Here's an interesting online appearance by Seymour Hersh. one thing i learned from it is seymour hersh does not type uppercase letters.

Also interesting:

the answer may come from our military, but they are extremely reluctant to tell the white house the truth. that must change... i'm worried about the inability to the men running the u.s. govt. to accept information that challenges their assumptions and their belief. it's very frightening and the fact is that our senior military are very reluctant to give bush and cheney and rumsfeld any bad news.

And then we have this LA Times story, in which four US soldier describe the looting of Al Qa Qaa:

[The soldiers] who spoke to The Times asked not to be named, saying they feared retaliation from the Pentagon.

Well, that's bad -- but thank god our leaders are completely different from Saddam Hussein:

Lying to superiors was driven by fear of the Regime... Lack of structural checks and balances allowed false information to affect Iraqi decision making with disastrous effects...

[Presidential Secretary] 'Abd said key Regime members "habitually" concealed from Saddam unpleasant realities of Iraq's industrial and military capabilities. Fear of loss of position motivated this deception, which continued until the final days of the Regime.

-- page 11 of the "Regime Strategic Intent" section of the final Iraq Survey Group report

I Have Conspired With The Masons And International Zionism To Write This

In the comments to what I wrote here about this Greg Palast article, Brian said this:

Maybe there is a reason that the DNC is not making all the arguments that Palast makes: that Palast's arguments are merely Roswell-type conspiracy theories that are simply not credible. If Palast's claims had any sort of foundation, the DNC would be acting on them, as they did in Florida in 2000.

He argues that "if all the spoiled ballots were counted." Well, they cannot be counted because they are, by definition, spoiled, or to use a more accurate term, ambiguous. To argue that these spoiled ballots were thrown out in some conspiracy to defraud the electorate by a bunch of Republican poll workers is beyond belief. Just consider the number of people who work at the polls and how many would have to be "in on it." This means that all of these people would 1) all have to be willing to commit a felony by intentionally mishandling ballots; and 2) would all have to keep quiet about the orders they got from the higher-ups. The numbers in just one county would be in the hundreds alone.

Plus, in my 26 years of voting, I have moved many times and voted in numerous differenct states, counties and precints. These are staffed mainly by senior citizen retirees, who, by all appearances, are inarguably law-abiding and scrupulous. To say that these people were all part of some big conspiracy defies logic and belief.

Here's my response:


This doesn't require any conspiracy, any more than water running downhill does. As I said, public services for poorer people in America tend to be crap. This includes the mechanics of voting. Older voting machinery tend to spoil more votes. There is no incentive for anyone with power to fix this. Thus, it doesn't get fixed.

Also, ballots are counted as "spoiled" because the tabulation machinery can't read them. This doesn't mean human beings can't. That's the reason why states have laws triggering recounts if the margin of victory falls below a certain threshold.

Regarding the Democratic party's motives, Palast says this:

No doubt, the Democrats know darn well that counting all the spoiled and provisional ballots will require the cooperation of Ohio's Secretary of State, Blackwell. He will ultimately decide which spoiled and provisional ballots get tallied. Blackwell, hankering to step into Kate Harris' political pumps, is unlikely to permit anything close to a full count. Also, Democratic leadership knows darn well the media would punish the party for demanding a full count.

(I would add a third reason, which is partly a combination of the first two: with the popular vote running against them, the Democrats probably felt it would be politically impossible to sustain a recount in Ohio.)

Finally, I'm always frustrated whenever someone refers to "conspiracy theories," particularly about something as basic as voting. The fact that anyone in the US finds this kind of thing plausible -- whether or not it's true -- is not a sign of mental deficiency on their part. It's a sign that they've learned through long, hard experience that powerful people do not play fair, and interpret the world through this lens.

For instance, the only thing I know about you is what you've written here. But that's enough for me to know that you're white. I also strongly suspect you're not Jewish. I almost as strongly suspect you're not Catholic -- certainly anyone Catholic knows big institutions can successfully cover up unpleasant realities for a very long time.

None of this is to say I'm right and you're wrong. (I don't take any particular position on this beyond the fact that it damn well deserves further attention.) I'm just pointing out that different people interpret events in different ways, and if someone interprets things in ways you wouldn't, that doesn't mean they're crazy. They often have quite legitimate reasons for believing what they do.

For instance, I interpreted the publicly available information about Iraq to mean Iraq had no WMD. Many people, including the person with whom I bet $1000 about it, thought I was crazy. In fact, I believe he said something similar about that to what you said about this; ie, "Just consider the number of people who work in the media and government and how many would have to be 'in on it.'"

But it turned out I had very good reasons for believing what I did -- much better than he did.

So let me ask -- did you believe Iraq had WMD? And if so, do you think you could be wrong about this issue too?

November 04, 2004

Voting Confusion Continues In My Apartment

Was turnout really that high on Tuesday?

A professor at the University of Illinois estimates that 59% of eligible voters cast ballots on Tuesday. This is the same as reported by CNN ("just under 60 percent").

But... CNN also reports this is the highest rate since 1968, whereas the other guy says no, not at all -- it actually was higher in 1992. So while they agree on this election (and 2000), they disagree on the past. I don't get it:

2004 59%
2000 54.2%
1992 University of Illinois: 61%; CNN: 55.2%

It would be simple to settle this if only there were some easy way to communicate with this fellow at the University of Illinois. Some type of machine in your home that you could speak into, and that would then transmit the sound of your voice into his machine in his office, would be great. Even better would be a way to send mail almost instantaneously. But I'm stumped.

Vote YES On The Lower Life Expectancy Act Of 2004

Speaking of public services, here's a story about Atlanta starting to turn off the water of people more than 30 days delinquent on their water bill. It's not a big deal, though, since this is only 25% of the city's population.

Perhaps as we return to bedrock religious values from the 19th century, we can also return to other bedrock values of the same period, like raging epidemics of cholera. In fact, you probably can't have the first without the second.

More Voting Weirdosity

Well, actually not weird. The mechanics of voting are a public service. America has always had many characteristics of a third world county, and one of those characteristics is that public services become crappier the poorer you are. Public schools for poor people are crap, libraries for poor people are crap, prisons for poor people are crap, the crap (sewage) systems for poor people are crap. And so forth.

The voting systems are probably even worse than other public services. The people in charge with the money have no incentive to provide regular public services for poor people, but they actually have a negative incentive to provide voting services. After all, the easier it is for poor people to vote, the less power the rich people have.

Greg Palast says a lot of interesting stuff about this here. His main points are:

1. 3% of ballots cast in the US are generally found to be "spoiled" and discarded. A lower percentage (just under 2%) is expected to be discarded in this election, but that's still a lot: almost two million.
2. The discarded ballots mostly come from poorer areas, because they have the worst voting equipment. In 2000, Florida discarded 180,000 ballots, of which 54% were calculated to have been cast by black voters.
3. Ohio isn't saying how many ballots were discarded this year, but in 2000 it was 1.96% of the total. A similar percentage this year would mean the votes of 110,000 Ohioans weren't counted.
4. The 110,000 ballots added to the 175,000-250,000 provisional ballots in Ohio equals 285,000-360,000 uncounted votes. Since currently counted ballots in Ohio give Bush a lead of 136,483, Kerry would have to get 69-75% of the uncounted votes to have actually won. Given the circumstances, this is not at all unlikely.
5. The situation is similar in New Mexico, where the election has yet to be called.

And while Palast doesn't say this, if you add spoiled ballots to the thus far uncounted provisional and absentee ballots, you get perhaps 7.5-8 million votes. Bush is ahead by 3.5 million in the counted votes. So it's possible that if every vote counted, Kerry would have won both the popular and electoral vote.

All of which is to say: good god almighty the Democratic party sucks. You'd think they'd be the ones making sure this didn't happen, just out of self-interest. But that's not how self-interest works in institutions. Within institutions, people generally act not so that the institutions will thrive, but so that they will retain their power within them. Thus, people with power within the Democratic party prefer losing elections, if the alternative is winning them in ways that dilute or eliminate their power within the party. The party winning does them no good at all if they lose personally.

Happily, from what I know, there's barely a Democratic party anymore. It is a husk, a shell, a candy wrapper with the candy eaten away by greedy ants all named Terry McAuliffe. It could be taken over by progressives, perhaps even more easily than the Republican party has been taken over by the religious right.

November 03, 2004

What A Peculiar Democracy This Is

According to this CNN story, 120 million people have voted, but only 114.3 million of their votes have been counted so far. The remaining 5.5 to 6 million voters -- that is, 5% of total voters -- cast absentee and provisional ballots that have yet to be counted. (I'm one of them, since for reasons I don't understand I was given a provisional ballot.)

Of the 114.3 million counted votes, Bush has 3.6 million more than Kerry. So it's highly unlikely the 5.5 to 6 million uncounted votes will change that. But they may well narrow the margin significantly.

This peculiar situation, added to electronic voting with no paper trail and many other problems, shows the voting system is completely fucked up. Fixing it so the results are quick and trustworthy (which would include clamping down on voter intimidation) should be one of THE main issues progressives organize around in the future.

The Last Empire

Mike and I just spoke about how the US is -- one way or another -- the last empire. Either humankind will find a way to live without empires, or this planet will find a way to live without humankind. I don't believe I'm being hyperbolic when I say this. And that's why being alive now is so... exciting.

Speaking of which, in comments here, Krimur mentions a favorite poem of mine, "Shine, Perishing Republic."

As apt as it seems right now, it was actually written in the 1920s. (See here for commentary on it.) So I believe this republic has more life left in it than it sometimes seems, particularly today. Here's hoping.

Michael Gerber Speaks

Here's email my friend Mike Gerber just sent his father:

Be optimistic, Dad--I know it's hard, it's hard for me, too. Their arguments change, but in the end, the GOP wants to stop the world from changing, and if there's one thing we know, it's that the world will change. Our country is getting more diverse, not less; more urban, not less; more global, not less. The GOP can rig elections and slice and dice the electorate all they want, but these are forces they can't control. This is why they're cozy with the end-of-the-worlders--they realize that their time is nearly over.

Bush may well be what he thinks he is--an instrument of God--but not in the way he believes. Wisdom--or if you like, God's grace--does not come without pain. We had to have a Civil War to have freedom; we had to have WWI to get votes for women; we had to have a Great Depression to get Social Security; we had to have WWII to have a UN. There is no Martin Luther King without Jim Crow. History shows this: our loving, accepting God is bigger than Bush's hating and punishing God.

We will win, because it's not about winning. It's about being our best selves, and our actions during this election were in harmony with that. The others will come around--the world is working on them, too. Our job is to be firm, clear, and above all, still here to show a more hopeful alternative. Sooner or later, it will fall to people like us to point the way up and out, and when it does, we need to be ready.

November 02, 2004

Thank G_d/Jesus/Allah We Are Completely Different From Osama Bin Laden

As far as I know, no one has pointed out the specific part of bin Laden's latest tape I've put in bold below:

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorised and displaced...

The situation was like a crocodile meeting a helpless child, powerless except for his screams. Does the crocodile understand a conversation that doesn't include a weapon?

Yes: bin Laden is saying that the United States only understands violence.

If there's one thing I know about this planet, it's that anyone who says another country or group "only understands violence" is actually saying they only understand violence. And holy cripes America has a lot of those people. Here are just a few:

We only want peace; all of us want that. But the road to peace is not paved with retreat or debate... Our enemies will not stop attacking us. They will never stop looking for American blood to be shed. They do not understand peace, or love. They only understand violence and destruction.
• • •

The violent only understand violence. Gentility emboldens them. Kindness disgusts them... The brutal respond to and understand brutal might, especially when it is delivered by the decent.

• • •

"We need to maintain the moral high ground as policy," says Christopher Bush, 47, of Fort Worth. "It's an unfortunate byproduct that even in the 21st century, we still have to have people willing to get dirty.

"A lot of these people, they only understand violence in extremes. Unfortunately, we at times need to lower our threshold of decency to get that message across."

• • •

The terrorists are not businessmen who amicably agree to disagree. They are violent, seething fanatics who only understand violence.

November 01, 2004

My Heady Experience In The Empire Of Cows

As a kid I found broccoli pretty boring. Not repellent, just... dull. Something I would avoid if possible. But as I've gotten older I've begun to appreciate broccoli, in particular lightly steamed broccoli with just a little garlic sauce. In fact, I now appreciate broccoli so powerfully that "appreciate" is too mild a word for it. I am doing more than appreciating as I cradle broccoli in my arms and croon to it softly. Please do not interrupt us during this period; this is private time, for my broccoli and me.

I've undergone the same progression with democracy. I didn't see what the fuss was about when I was younger. But now I just can't get enough, particularly democracy that comes with the garlic sauce of life and death implications.

For me, the most deeply enjoyable part of democracy-in-action is it's one of the few times in America when you get to meet everyone as straight up equals. Usually the people we meet want our money, or we want theirs, or they want us to promote them, or we want them to promote us, and so on. Somebody always has more power than somebody else, and both somebodies are deformed by it.

But here in Wisconsin, in the get out the vote work I've been doing, everyone I meet is just as important as everyone else. Everyone has just the one vote. And the strict roles we're used to playing, based on our skin color, or money, or status, or unwholesome fixation with broccoli, begin to melt slightly. You can catch a glimpse of who people (including you) might be in a different, better world.

I could go on in this vein for hours, but my broccoli calls, and I must fly hence. But here's another piece of writing by Ian Frazier from his book Great Plains, which expresses more eloquently what I've been trying to say.

(P.S. Based on what I've seen, Kerry's going to win.)

* * *

In Chapter 9 of Great Plains, Frazier visits Nicodemus, a small town in Kansas founded after the civil war by freed slaves. It's in the midst of its Founders Day Celebration weekend, and Frazier goes to the township hall:

...Next came a fashion show of ladies' hats designed by Billie Singleton of Topeka. The hats were big, in dramatic shapes, burgundy and gray and black and white. Mrs. Avalon Roberson modelled them. She put on each hat and strolled around the room so everybody could it. She got applause all the way around. Then Mrs. Juanita Robinson, of Nicodemus, introduced her daughters Kathleen, Karen, Kaye, Kolleen, Krystal, and Karmen...

Then the song "When Doves Cry," by Prince, began to play on the loudspeaker, and they began to dance. I looked past the people sitting on chairs against the wall, the women with their pocketbooks on their knees, past the portrait of Blanche White, who was like a mother to the kids in the town, through the tall open window, past the roadside grove of elms which Blanche White's 4-H Club planted in the 1950s, past the wheat-field horizon, and into the blank, bright sky. Sudden I felt a joy so strong it almost knocked me down. It came up my spine and settled on my head like a warm cap and filled my eyes with tears, while I stood there packed in with everybody, watching Mrs. Robinson's lovely daughters dance.

And I thought, It could have worked! This democracy, this land of freedom and equality and the pursuit of happiness -- it could have worked! There was something to it, after all! It didn't have to turn into a greedy free-for-all! We didn't have to make a mess of it and the continent and ourselves! It could have worked! It wasn't just a joke, just a blind for the machinations of money! The Robinson sisters danced; Prince sang about doves crying; beauty and courage and gentleness seemed not be rare aberrations in the world. Nicodemus, a town with reasons enough to hold a grudge, a town with plenty of reasons not to exist at all, celebrated its Founders' Day with a show of hats and a dance revue... For a moment I could imagine the past rewritten, wars unfought, the buffalo and the Indians undestroyed, the prairie unplundered. Maybe history did not absolutely have to turn out the way it did. Maybe the history of the West, for example, could have involved more admiration of hats, more unarmed get togethers, more dancing, more tasting of spareribs...

I was no longer a consumer, a rate payer, a tenant, a card holder, a motorist. I was home. The world looked as I wanted it to. My every breath was justified. I felt not the mild warmth of irony, not the comfort of camp, not the cheer of success and a full bank account; just plain, complete joy.