March 31, 2005

Oh, If Only Someone In The United States Government Had The Ability To Read

So, the presidential commission on WMD intelligence has released its report:

"We conclude that the intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," the commission said in a report to the president. "This was a major intelligence failure"...

But the commission also said that it found no indication that spy agencies distorted the evidence they had concerning Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction...

Okay.

Now, no regular, non-cleared citizens can know for certain how thoroughly the commission investigated this issue. Their transmittal letter (pdf) says they conducted "a lengthy investigation, during which we interviewed hundreds of experts from inside and outside the Intelligence Community and reviewed thousands of documents."

However, we can certainly speculate. I suggest you read the below excerpts from the recent books Blowing My Cover by Lindsay Moran and Pretext for War by James Bamford and speculate away. (As you'll see, both books likely describe the same episode.)

And as you speculate, keep in mind something I discussed with Moran and Bamford for an article I'm currently writing: no one from the commission asked either of them about this.

From Blowing My Cover:

During my short tenure in Iraqi Operations, I met one woman who had covered Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program for more than a decade. She admitted to me, unequivocally, that the CIA had no definitive evidence whatsoever that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed WMD, or that Iraq presented anything close to an imminent threat to the United States.

Another CIA analyst, whose opinion I’d solicited about the connection between Al-Qa’ida and Iraq, looked at me almost shamefacedly, shrugged, and said, "They both have the letter q?" And a colleague who worked in the office covering Iraqi counterproliferation reported to me that her mealy-mouthed pen pusher of a boss had gathered together his minions and announced, "Let’s face it. The president wants us to go to war, and our job is to give him a reason to do it."

From Pretext for War:

...within a few months [after the September 11 attacks], for many [at the CIA] the morale once again began to drop through the floor as they began getting pressure to come up with Saddam Hussein's fingerprints on 9/11 and Al Qaeda.

One of those who felt the pressure was a DO case officer who spent years running agents overseas, but who had been reassigned to the unit charged with finding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq... According to the official, the group never found any indications of WMD in Iraq. "Where I was working, I never saw anything—no one else there did either," the person said.

Nevertheless, there was a great deal of pressure to find a reason to go to war with Iraq. And the pressure was not just subtle; it was blatant. At one point in January 2003, the person's boss called a meeting and gave them their marching orders. "And he said, 'You know what—if Bush wants to go to war, it's your job to give him a reason to do so'... He said it at the weekly office meeting. And I just remember saying, 'This is something that the American public, if they ever knew, would be outraged'...He said it to about fifty people. And it's funny because everyone still talks about that—'Remember when [he] said that.'"

March 30, 2005

Things And More Things

1. Rahul Mahajan has a depressing radio commentary about Iraq.

2. Imad Khadduri, the former Iraqi nuclear physicist, is always worth a visit.

3. Eric Carlson of New Revolution calculates that the cost of the Iraq war to date equals the annual GDP of the world's 65 poorest countries.

4. Bob Harris has finally come clean and admitted his jealousy of my left buttock.

I can certainly understand the bitter disappointment that Bob—and so many others—feel as my left buttock triumphs over and over again. Nevertheless, he at least can console himself with his site being the #1 Google search result for "rocket-fueled breasts"; "giant demon bunny"; "blurred squirrel"; "jazz hyrax"; "Team Chimpy"; "fish and wildlife hate America"; and "pudublogging."

5. You've probably see this already... but if not, here's some good advice on how—when the Elder Gods come—you can be among the first to be eaten. (Via Scratchings; hail Eris.)

6. Awwwwwww.

The Worst Historical Reference In History

Through mankind's history, many people have made many moronic historical references. But this weekend, John Gibson of Fox News may have made the moronicist:

Just to burnish my reputation as a bomb thrower, I think Jeb Bush should give serious thought to storming the Bastille. By that I mean he should think about telling his cops to go over to Terri Schiavo’s hospice, go inside, put her on a gurney and load her into an ambulance. They could take her to a hospital, revive her, and reattach her feeding tube. ... So Jeb, call out the troops, storm the Bastille and tell ‘em I sent you.

Let's compare and contrast.

STORMING OF THE BASTILLE

• undertaken by commoners
• revolt against executive (ie, the king)
• commoners faced armed forces of the executive

STORMING OF THE "BASTILLE," AS URGED BY JOHN GIBSON

• undertaken by the state executive, himself brother of the nation's chief executive
• revolt against rule of law
• armed forces of the executive would face staff of hospice

That's not to say there would have been NO parallels between the two situations. For instance, both involve humans.

(Via DC Media Girl, via Crooked Timber.)

March 29, 2005

Commission Recommends Changes In Titanic Deck Chair Arrangement

So, the government commission that examined how the government got Iraq and WMD so wrong is presenting its report tomorrow. It has some recommendations for improvement:

...the panel will propose more competitive analysis and information-sharing by intelligence agencies, improved tradecraft training, more "devil's advocacy" in the formation of national intelligence estimates and the appointment of an intelligence ombudsman to hear from analysts who believe their work has been compromised.

Whew, that's a lot of stuff to keep track of! Fortunately, my own commission just issued its own report and has a much shorter list of recommendations:

1. BE A COUNTRY THAT CARES ABOUT REALITY.

If we follow my commission's recommendation, we don't need to worry about restructuring 17,800 government departments, etc. We can leave everything as is, and everything will turn out fine. Conversely, if we don't follow my commission's recommendation, no Rube Goldberg-esque fiddling will help.

Right now, we don't care about reality. But maybe we'll start to care if reality punches us in the face a few more times.

UPDATE: Jared Diamond said this recently:

A society contains a built-in blueprint for failure if the elite insulates itself from the consequences of its actions.

By coincidence, here's a picture of George Bush giving George Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

March 28, 2005

"That History Is Absent" (Completely Non-Funny)

Via War and Piece, the Washington Post Sunday had an outstanding story by Dafna Linzer about the history of America's views on Iran obtaining nuclear technology:

Lacking direct evidence, Bush administration officials argue that Iran's nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said, "They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy."

Yet Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago.

Ford's team endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium -- the two pathways to a nuclear bomb...

The Ford administration -- in which Cheney succeeded Rumsfeld as chief of staff and Wolfowitz was responsible for nonproliferation issues at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency -- continued intense efforts to supply Iran with U.S. nuclear technology until President Jimmy Carter succeeded Ford in 1977.

That history is absent from major Bush administration speeches, public statements and news conferences on Iran.

Interesting. But the real history of the US and Iranian nuclear technology may be even more awkward than what Linzer reports. Here's a relevant excerpt from The Sampson Option by Seymour Hersh (p. 209-10):

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger approached inauguration day on January 20, 1969, convinced that Israel's nuclear ambitions were justified and understandable. Once in office, they went a step further: they endorsed Israel's nuclear ambitions.

The two American leaders also shared a contempt for the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty, which had been so ardently endorsed in public by Lyndon Johnson. Nixon, midway in his campaign against Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, dismayed the arms control community by urging the Senate to delay ratification of the NPT until after the election... Government arms controllers were hugely relieved in early February 1969 when Nixon formally requested the Senate to take up the treaty and then stated at a news conference that he would do all he could to urge France and West Germany—known to have reservations—to sign it: "I will make it clear that I believe that ratification of the treaty by all governments, nuclear and non-nuclear, is in the interest of peace and in the interest of reducing the possibility of nuclear proliferation."

In the secrecy of their offices, however, as only a few in the government knew, Nixon and Kissinger had simultaneously issued a presidential order to the bureaucracy undercutting all that was said in public. The classified document, formally known as National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) No. 6, stated that "there should be no efforts by the United States government to pressure other nations, particularly the Federal Government of Germany, to follow suit [and ratify the NPT]. The government, in its public posture, should reflect a tone of optimism that other countries will sign or ratify, while clearly disassociating itself [in private] from any plan to bring pressure on these countries to sign or ratify."

"It was a major change in American policy," recalled Morton H. Halperin, then Kissinger's closest aide on the National Security Staff. "Henry believed it was good to spread nuclear weapons around the world. I heard him say that if he were the Israelis, he would get nuclear weapons. He did not believe that the United States should try and talk them out of it." Kissinger also told his staff in the first months of 1969 that Japan, as well as Israel, would be better off with the bomb than without it. He was convinced, said Halperin, that nuclear weapons were essential to the national security of both nations. Kissinger's view was essentially pragmatic, added Halperin: most of the major powers would eventually obtain nuclear weapons, and the United States could benefit the most by helping them do so rather than by participating in futile exercises in morality, such as the Nonproliferation Treaty. [emphasis added]

UPDATE: Here's another interesting section of The Samson Option, p. 272n:

The shah was admitted for medical treatment into the United States on October 22, [1979], triggering a renewed wave of anti-American rioting in Tehran... During the tense discussions before the shah's arrival, recalled Nicholas Veliotes, then serving as the assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs, the ousted leader confided that he had been negotiating with the Israelis for the purchase of long-range missiles capable of firing a nuclear warhead. "He said the Israelis had told him not to tell us," Veilotes added. Veliotes' information, like most intelligence data about Israeli nuclear intentions, was not made known to other American officials. [emphasis added]

Strange that these aspects of history are also "absent" when US policy toward Iran is discussed. It reminds me of some old book, but I can't remember which one, because it just had some confusing numbers in the title. But it's probably dumb anyway, like all books are.

Dear Lord, I Wish I Had Found This

You must read this from Billmon.

You know, people are sort of crazy.

Because Some Penguins Are Serial Killers

Rudolf's Diner favors us with this extremely important sign from a South African beach. Note the graphic includes two penguins. One is standing beside your car, and one is lying under your car face up—either like a concerned penguin mechanic or a penguin serial killer preparing to slash at your achilles tendon with a straight-edge razor.

(Via two feet in.)

I Am Embarrassingly Easy

Recently I got email from Amelia Field of M&R Strategic Services, asking me to link to the website of California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides. I assume Angelides hired M&R to do "e-outreach," and somehow this site has gotten into the M&R database.

I'm embarrassed to say I was flattered by this. How exciting to be deemed worthy of entry in the world-famous M&R database! Even more excitingly, the database includes my first name, because the email began "Dear Jonathan"!

I will try to remember all of you little people now that I've made the big time. (No promises.)

All of the little jokey-jokes aside, though, here's the Phil Angelides link.

BUT BUT BUT

I don't know anything at all about Angelides or California politics generally. I just like anyone willing to take on Arnold Schwarzenegger, because I loathe him. Not only did he steal my name and then defile it with extra letters, he's also the embodiment of evil. See, for instance, this Washington Post article, plus an email posted at Talking Points Memo.

As a friend of mine once said: "Perhaps it's unfair, but whenever I hear 'Schwarzenegger' I can't help hearing 'Schikelgruber.'"

AND: What I'd really love is to hear from someone in California who follows politics there and can tell me more about what's going on. More details about Angelides would be nice but aren't necessary.

March 27, 2005

And, Happy Easter

As Bob Harris says, nothing commemorates the resurrection of the Prince of Peace like an Easter basket filled with toy guns.

And via Eschaton, you can't go wrong with an article by Matt Taibbi subtitled, "Three Years Early, Democratic Swine Position Themselves."

Modern Existence Too Much For Monkey Man

Once I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with Peter Bergman of the Firesign Theatre. At one point he expressed his belief that television has proven too much for humanity. He suggested that we should gracefully admit defeat, obliterate television, and then possibly match wits with it again after another twenty million years of evolution. As Bergman put it, "TV too much for monkey-man. Will try again later."

My perspective is: it's not just television. I think modern existence in all its facets is proving too much for humans.

Take the "quotations written on millions of coffee cups" facet. Apparently Starbucks has started putting quotes on the cups of coffee it sells. And some people are upset that almost none of the quotes are from conservatives:

Yvette Nunez, a 27-year-old Republican from Tampa, said she hadn't noticed the quotes on her weekly caramel machiattos. On "tall" cups, the text is obscured by a cardboard sleeve.

"There are a lot of great conservative quotes, but oh well," she said. "I'm not surprised. I'm used to being under-represented."

What I find notable about this is that Ms. Nunez is completely insane, if you define sanity as having some connection to reality.

I guess what I'm saying here is, I'm perfectly happy to let Ms. Nunez put whatever quotes she wants on Starbucks coffee, if in return she will cede me control of corporate America, the media, the military, and all three branches of the US government.

BONUS WEIRD FACT: I once temped at a law firm in Beverly Hills. I got to know everybody in the mailroom, one of whom was from Compton. Interestingly, he had been in a kid-rap group when he was 14 that had opened for N.W.A. on their first nationwide tour (after Straight Outta Compton). He said he found the experience mostly unpleasant.

Anyway, for his birthday someone else in the mailroom gave him a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook, which has an introduction by Peter Bergman.

I was touched by this and the general mailroom atmosphere. It was one of the best examples I've ever personally experienced of the Holy Grail of progressive politics: class-based solidarity across racial lines.

(Starbucks story via Stupid Evil Bastard, via Scratchings.)

Happy Birthday To Everyone

What this says about my family is unknown, but today's the birthday of three of my cousins, Peter, Nev, and Dwight. And my grandfather (my father's father, thus also Peter's grandfather) would have been 100 years old today. Happy birthdays all around.

I believe this kind of birthday clustering within families is somewhat common, so I'd be curious if anyone else has experience with it.

Today is also the 41st anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake.

March 24, 2005

More Horrible Anniversary


Every day is the anniversary of something horrible! Today is the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador.

Bruderhof has published an excellent article about Romero here.

Jesuit priest John Dear writes about Romero here.

There are very few articles about Romero in the regular press, but the Boston Globe published something, and so did the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

More Stuff

1. Definitely check out Dennis Perrin's story about debating Stephen Rosenfeld, then-editorial page editor of the Washington Post:

When the day came and I sat through Rosenfeld's opening statement, I realized that the guy had done no homework and was relying on conventional wisdom and the fact that he was a WaPo heavy hitter. It became one of my easier debates. The guy had nothing. And his contempt for my argument for greater media independence and news consumer awareness deepened when, after asking me where I'd gone to college, I replied that I hadn't.

"Well then, how do you know all this stuff?"

The best part about this is that Rosenfeld (Harvard '53) has it exactly backward. It's only by going to a fancy college that people like Rosenfeld pick up the ability to not know anything.

2. Zeynep at Under the Same Sun follows issues connected to AIDS closely. Check out her important post "Due to Today's Developments, Tens of Millions of People Not-Named Terri Schiavo May Die."

3. A reminder: April 1st is the deadline for submissions to the 2005 Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest. Previous winners can be found here.

Real cash prizes! An opportunity to strike back against Big Poetry!

4. The genuinely funny song "The Drugs I Need" from Consumers Union has been downloaded over half a million times and generated 75,000 emails to Congress in support of prescription drug policy reform. If you haven't already, you can send your own email here.

5. Eric Carlson, a student in Oregon, was nice enough to write and let me know of his new website, New Revolution.

Disclaimer: This site, New Revolution, Communications Revolution, Marginal Revolution, Conservative Revolution and Blue Revolution are part of Revolution, Inc.'s expanding Revolution-themed online network.

March 23, 2005

Good For Licking & Not Good For Licking

Several days ago, Dooce posted a picture of her friend Heather whimsically titled "Heather is Good for Licking." This has apparently inspired a funny series of pictures of other things that are good for licking.

Meanwhile, she has also written about her exploding pus-swollen knee cyst—here and then here. This is how she describes the cyst's interaction with her husband:

I was just as interested in the dissection of the primitive life form in the back of my knee, so I contorted my body in wholly impossible ways to see what was happening as he squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. I will spare you the details of the consistency and make-up and amount of foreign substance that leaked out of my knee, but what I won’t keep my lips shut about is the part where the pressure was so intense that it suddenly popped and hit Jon in the eye...

Yes, we may use the bathroom with the door open and share a bed and talk about poop, but the line has to be drawn somewhere AND THAT LINE IS GOO BEING SHOT FROM ONE PERSON’S KNEE INTO THE OTHER PERSON’S EYE.

I’d say that line is fair.

Attention Weirdos!

Max Sawicky will be covering, live on his website, the 12:30 pm ET press conference today on the release of the 2005 Social Security Trustees report. Go here or possibly here.

As a longstanding weirdo, I will certainly be there myself.

UPDATE: HOLY CRAP!

The Trustees have moved the trust fund exhaustion date up from 2042 to 2041. This is (almost) certainly bogus and politically motivated.

Mr. Sawicky will soon have more details.

UPDATE UPDATE: Mr. Atrios is also digging into the report.

UPDATE TO UPDATE, UPDATED: For genuine freaks, Dean Baker's dry-as-bone take on the Trustees Report is here.

UPDATE ON MY COMPULSION TO UPDATE: My assumption of political hanky-panky is probably unfounded. See more Max Sawicky. The culprit appears to be reality: if I understand the cause of the change, it's that—while GDP and productivity growth were high last year—wage growth sucked and was lower than projected. (Ie, the economy's doing great, but Americans are having trouble.) Any corrections and/or further information appreciated.

People Say All Kinds Of Stuff

Bush's case for changing Social Security seems to be descending into total gibberish. This is him in New Mexico yesterday:

PRESIDENT: I can think of a couple of positive things when somebody opens up their own savings... All of a sudden—tax policy, spending policy, debt policy—all of a sudden it makes a lot more sense to you if the effects of government affect your asset base. Secondly, I think it makes a lot of sense for people just to watch things grow. And we want that extended throughout our society.

Sometimes I think I can sort of tell what he's trying to say by "it makes a lot of sense for people to watch things grow." But then a second later I have no idea again.

In any case, if Bush is right maybe there are other ways we could improve society rather than monkeying around with Social Security. For instance, here are some things that grow. So, I guess it would make a lot of sense for people just to watch them:

• Flowers
• Other Plants
• Children
• Foreign debt of the United States
• Time it takes the earth to rotate (an additional 0.0016 seconds per century)
• Buboes of those afflicted with the Black Death
• Parts that the bathing suit covers (only grow under certain conditions)

Is there anything I'm leaving out?

March 22, 2005

Presented Without Comment

From Dennis Perrin.

UPDATE: And Get Your War On.

I Demand You Say What You're Interested In

Despite appearances, I have essentially no interest in politics. Or at least, I don't care about "politics" as it's generally defined. By generally defined, I mean what the Washington Post, etc. considers to be politics. This is two things:

1. Micro-level political maneuvering. Who's going to be appointed Assistant Undersecretary of State for Russo-Polynesian Affairs? What's the whip count on H.RES. 2831, the Keeping America's Puppies Strong And Healthy Act? What member of the cabinet was allowed to use the Toilet of the President of the United States (TOT-POTUS) at Camp David last week, thus indicating that he/she is particularly favored by the President?

2. Macro-level sociological wankery. When politicians and political funders want to give the impression they're Serious People who Think Big Thoughts, they hire somebody to do this. That somebody goes away for a while and then comes back with a book titled Whither Eurosclerosis? Then the politician endorses it in an interview with Newsweek. Then the Newsweek reporter is overcome by being the presence of such a great man, and ejaculates all over himself.

I guess #1 can be interesting if you live in Washington and are of a certain class, just like it's interesting if you live in Hollywood to talk about who Miramax is going to hire as their next Vice President for Period Dramas. But everyone else in America just cares about whether there are any good movies to see this weekend.

Likewise, #2 is fascinating if you're a tenured professor at Stanford who's terrified of humanity and prefers to deal with sweeping abstractions. And it's useful if you're a politician and want to get Newsweek reporters to ejaculate all over themselves. But other humans are focused on more mundane topics, such as "I hope I don't die tomorrow" and "what's for dinner?"

So, no normal person cares about either of these things. Neither has anything to do with the way normal people experience being alive.

Nevertheless, I think it's very very very very very very (very) important to pay attention to politics. #1 and #2 aren't inherently interesting, but taken together they have a huge impact on whether we live or die. And I think everyone can agree that living or dying is EXTREMELY interesting. If you have the mindset that politics has that level of importance—that it has an impact on whether or not the plane you're on tomorrow will be hit by a ground-to-air missile and you'll be torn in two, tossing your own beloved intestines into the air at 29,000 feet—it makes politics much more compelling.

Furthermore, politics is also a small subset of human psychology. And I believe almost everyone is interested in human psychology. And whether everyone is or not, I am.

As an example of this, I don't have much interest in proving the Bush administration lied about Iraq and WMD. Proving that politicians lie is like proving the sky is blue. However, I AM interested in what proportion of Bush administration lying is conscious deception of others, and what proportion is self-deception.

So, here's a short, almost exhaustive list of what I'm interested in:

1. Are politicians (in America and elsewhere) going to kill me?

2. Are politicians going to kill people I care about?

3. How can we work together to prevent politicians from killing us?

4. What does politics tell us about human psychology generally?

5. How can we use the answer from question #4 to answer question #3?

Anyway, I say all this because I wonder: what are you, the person reading this right now, interested in? And what does that have to do with you reading this in the first place?

Please don't be shy! I very much want to know.

March 21, 2005

David Swanson, Hardest Working Man In Progressive Politics

Jeff Cohen, co-founder of FAIR, once dubbed David Swanson "the hardest working man in progressive politics."

And he was right. If you don't already, check out David's website and the nine columns he writes every day. (Except weekends, when he writes thirty-four.) One recent column I found particularly interesting is about an inspiring effort to fight back against predatory lending organized by ACORN.

This Day Has Been Bloody From The Beginning

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is one of the best mainstream Washington reporters. But... he just wrote a piece for the Post's Outlook section that makes some people (ie, me) want to rip off our own heads.

It's called "My Bias for Mainstream News," and is a defense of Washington Post-style reporting. Milbank says he's concerned Americans are being steered "toward ideologically driven outlets that will confirm their own views and protect them from disagreeable facts... the consequences are ominous for the country." As evidence for this ominosity, Milbank points out that in an October, 2004 survey, 72 percent of Bush supporters believed that Iraq had either stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction or major illegal weapons programs.

Now, that IS ominous. I said exactly that, back in October, 2004. But then Milbank engages in the type of bogus balance that makes some people engage in own-head-ripping-off:

This is not to pick on Bush followers. Many on the left harbor their own fantasies that they consider fact—about how Bush knew of 9/11 in advance, or how he was coached during one of the presidential debates via a transmitter between his shoulder blades.

There are at least two things wrong with this. Can you spot what they are?

1. How many is "many on the left"?

Who the hell knows? It sure would be interesting if comparable numbers of Kerry voters thought such things. But Milbank gives us no evidence for his claim. My guess is that's because he has no evidence for it, beyond angry email he's received. There is therefore no equivalence here.

2. Have these two beliefs been as definitively proven to be fantasies?

I think it's essentially impossible Bush knew of 9/11 in advance. And I believe it's unlikely Bush was coached during the debates via a transmitter (though this is peculiar).

But:

A. Although I'd question their judgment, I wouldn't slag anyone for believing either of these things. Governments lie. They lie all the time. They lie about everything. And the Bush administration, you may have noticed, is quite a government indeed.

Now, I don't think governments lie in quite this way. But given the Bush administration's extraordinary mendacity (including about what they knew pre-9/11) it's not surprising some people don't give them the benefit of the doubt.

So I feel the same way about Milbank's tut-tutting as I do when white Americans tut-tut black Americans for being "conspiracy theorists." Sure, sometimes some black Americans believe crazy things. But perhaps that has something to do with white Americans lying to black Americans every day for the past 500 years. When people with power lie so consistently, sometimes it's hard to tell when they slip up and tell the truth.

B. The investigations into the Bush-knew and Bush-transmitter issues are absolutely not comparable to the Iraq/WMD issue. Perhaps Milbank has forgotten, but we invaded Iraq. We have all the top government officials in custody, and spent $1 billion investigating whether Iraq had WMD.

Now, if France invaded us, using the rationale that Bush knew about 9/11 and was coached via transmitter during the debates, and if France captured all the top Bush administration officials, and spent $1 billion investigating this, only to find there was nothing to their rationale for war, AND some huge numbers of French people still believed—THEN the situations would be comparable.

We are not in that situation. The WMD issue is about as settled as anything on earth can be. The beliefs of 72 percent of Bush voters are almost as crazy as those of Holocaust-deniers. Whatever "many on the left" think, these things cannot be compared.

AAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go reattach my head.

ALSO: Bob Somerby has similar head-ripping problems. And Kevin Drum says some stuff.

March 20, 2005

And Best Of All

This site is the #1 Google result when you search for "my left buttock".

VICTORY IS MINE!

Jerry In The West Bank And Gaza

Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser is a close friend of Mike Gerber's from high school, and I've been lucky enough to get to know him too. Jerry just returned from a trip to the West Bank and Gaza. His impressions, along with pictures, are below.

Because this is a small world—apparently the size of a grape—while there Jerry ran into the Jewish American Medical Project group with whom Andrew Schamess was traveling. (Links to Andrew's take on HIS trip are here.)

"May you live in interesting times"—old Chinese curse

Is it ever not an interesting time in the Middle East? Even so, now seems particularly interesting. The cease fire to end the second Intifada seems to be holding, despite isolated clashes and the suicide bomber in Tel Aviv in late February.

The Sharon government continues plans for disengagement from Gaza. (Though to my ears that means they'll cede Gaza, essentially now a walled-in ghetto, and redouble their efforts in the West Bank to make a contiguous viable Palestinian state impossible.)

My trip last week to the West Bank and Gaza felt like those old fortunately/unfortunately children's stories: people's optimism seems convincing at the time "fortunately..."), but not an hour later I'd think about all the reasons peace is still so far away ("unfortunately...").

Fortunately, consensus seems to be that there's more reason to be hopeful now for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, all the usual problems, esp. Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements, are just as thorny as ever.

Fortunately, when Abu Mazen was elected it was clear he's about ending the violence and cooperating with US-led peace initiatives. Unfortunately, he was one of the main contributors to the Olso accords, after which things degenated till the second Intifada. Fortunately, there's a cease fire, but unfortunately what makes Palestinians feel so desperate that they choose martyrdom and the deaths of innocents is all still worsening. The Israelis continue to develop new settlements in the West Bank.

Fortunately, Bush seems to be using the right loaded terms like "a viable contiguous independent sovereign Palestinian state", but unfortunately the US seems just as supportive of Israeli militarization as ever.

Fortunately, the security wall around the West Bank should afford some feeling of security to Israelis. Unfortunately, it will only worsen the frustration and the situation for the Palestinians, provoking more desperation and violence.

The wall cuts through town and blocks a street.
The wall is 30' high and most imposing. I didn't write 'Seattle supports Palestine'.

Mustafa Barghouti, who got 20% of the vote in the recent PA elections, said that at a rally he told the people to be impatient. Unfortunately, we heard in Gaza that the Fatah party is now so weakened by the corruption and leadership vacuum after Arafat that they aren't viable, and Hamas won a great deal of seats in municipal elections throughout Gaza. A critical opportunity arises for moderation & progress, at the same time that extremists gain control. And unfortunately, there is no strong non-violent resistance tradition or community in the occupied territories.

Unfortunately, Palestinians are increasingly walled into ghettos. And unfortunately the ironic parallel with the Jewish ghettos in the late 1930s seems lost on the Israelis.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

PSR

I was part of a delegation from Physicians for Social Responsibility, whose goal was to look into the health care situation in the occupied territories, and into the effects on both Israeli and Palestinian society of military occupation. Over a week we met with doctors, bureaucrats, NGOs such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, journalists, activists from Ta'ayush, Rabbis for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and an amazingly inspiring support group for bereaved families on both sides, called the Family Forum.

We heard inspiring tales of people trying to make it in a crazy violent disrupted world, to find a way to tell the world what they see as the truth, and to help others. And we heard 101 different perspectives on what makes Israel and Palestine so complicated. Hey, if solving it were easy, they'd have done it.

Not lost amid these heavily politicized meetings was the beauty and history of the place. The rocky hills around Jerusalem, the spring flowers rooted in the mortar between stones in the old city wall --- there's so much to see. The historical sites, where Jesus was born and crucified, where Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac and where Muhammad ascended to heaven, are beautiful and fascinating. And have been fought over for centuries.

Dome of Rock from my hotel room.
Dome of the Rock, with the Western Wall in the foreground.
Kids playing in the old city of Jerusalem.

Layered on top of all the history, new history continues to be made: the 2003 siege of the Church of the Nativity, the horrible 1994 killings at Abraham's tomb, where now a wall runs down the middle of the monument to keep each side safely on its own side. Even while we were there, two Israeli soldiers were killed in Hebron near Abraham's tomb, and the city was under curfew.

The West Bank

The open-air market at the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem's old city is bustling. You can get everything from fruit to shoes to cordless drills, and most vendors speak enough English to allow you bargain.

Jerusalem market, at the Damascus Gate in the wall of the old city.
A camera vendor and I at the market.

Visiting the West Bank is easy for Americans. I felt safe the whole time in the West Bank. More than one Palestinian reassured me that they understand the distinction between the US government and individual Americans. There are checkpoints and closures everywhere, but Americans are whisked right through.

Most Palestinians don't try to drive through the checkpoints. They get a cab to one side, walk through, and get another cab on the other side.

For Palestinians, it's not so easy. In places, the wall divides neighborhoods in half. It separates olive growers from their trees, children from their school, sick people from their doctor. The disruption that people have to deal with in their daily life isn't just hours of hassle in traffic. Sometimes it's human rights violations, and it's always the chance of that, which is demeaning and insulting. Sometimes people are humiliated or beaten. Sometimes they're turned away, even with the requisite permits. Usually the wait is long, and it's always unpredictable. New closures pop up all over, when a bulldozer blocks a street with a six-foot-high rubble pile.

I wonder what my home life would be like if getting to work took anywhere from an hour to three hours, and maybe some days I wouldn't be able to get to work at all? A woman who worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres told us there is basically no average time for her to get to work; she allots three hours each way.

We heard that the average ambulance response time in Palestinian areas disrupted by the wall is 1 hour. One hour, just for the ambulance to reach the person. 80% of Palestinian children have moderate or severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gaza

Gaza is worse. Israelis aren't allowed in at all. Even we Americans were held for hours at the Eretz checkpoint, guns aimed at us from pillboxes, floodlights in our eyes, orders to proceed one at a time barked out over a loudspeaker, with mud and rubble and barbed wire all around.

The long NoMan'sLand corridor at the Gaza checkpoint.
The Palestinian side of the Eretz checkpoint to get into Gaza. Relaxed, despite some barbed wire.

In Gaza, 70% of the people are below the poverty level, which is $2 a day. The children seem curious and friendly, and they play in the street. But it's filthy and blighted.

Gaza graffiti.
Not much of a place to grow up.

In Rafah, at the Egyptian border, where Rachel Corrrie was killed in 2003 trying to prevent the demolition of a doctor's house, there are broken half-demolished houses still half-standing, and rubble piles that used to be people houses. And the demolitions continue.

Rafah, in Gaza, at the Egypt border. The whole town is a mess of rubble and bombed and half-demolished houses.
The wall being built near the Egypt border. All houses have been demolished. This one is still lived in.

To me it was terribly grim. How do people keep on? But they do, and that's part of the whole story. Parents still send their children to school, because that's what parents do. Kids still play outside, because that's what kids do. Doctors still do the best they can to care for their patients, because that's what doctors do. The resiliency is inspiring: what choice do people have? It's amazing that 99.9% of people don't strap dynamite to their chest and board a bus in Tel Aviv.

Apartheid

How much is South Africa's apartheid a parallel? Israel has built a network of bypass roads, that Palestinians can't drive on. Palestinians can't vote. The Israelis face a 'demographic problem', meaning that soon they will be in the minority of the population.

On the other hand, South Africa never enjoyed the unwavering economic and military support of the world's only superpower, as Israel does today. In fact it had become a pariah. We heard that the international community will not tolerate a non-viable Palestinian state; but on the other hand the US and Israel have never felt responsible to UN or the international community.

Whereas South Africa had De Klerk and Mandela, Sharon is as hardline as it comes; it may be too early to know about Abu Mazen yet. He seems to have a mandate from the Palestinians though he won something less than the vast majority of their votes. But does he have the power to give the Palestinians enough of what they need, which is dignity and independence, to ease their desperation?

The Palestinian leaders seem to have learned that suicide bombings, as a method, make it hard for anyone to champion their cause. Can they keep angry, frustrated young men from acting out—18 year olds who were babies when the first intifada broke out and who have never known a peaceful time, and who say what they want to be when they grow up is a martyr for the cause, because there's nothing else they can aspire to? Can they marshall the restless energy of the Palestinians to non-violent demonstrations and civil disobedience, like in South Africa?

Fortunately, what I heard most from Palestinians was that they are hopeful that things will get better. Unfortunately, as my tax driver put it, every time they come to an agreement, the Israelis break it.

—Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser, March 18, 2005

(Thanks to Dan Charlson for originally hosting the pictures. More can be found here.)

March 18, 2005

I Have Gathered All The John Ralston Saul Freaks Unto Me

Before starting this site, I had no idea how many people shared my intense-to-the-point-of-unhealthy interest in John Ralston Saul. The internet has allowed us to come together and comfort each other in our affliction. I understand we have even spread the virus to the previously uninfected, such as Charlie of Sacred Begging.

So for those of us also suffering from Ralstonsaul-itis, John McGrath of Dymaxion World points out a recent John Ralston Saul speech, given when Saul received an honorary degree from the University of Ottawa:

Socrates laid it out once and for all with his phrase, "the unexamined life is not worth living". That was true before Socrates and it's been true for the last 2,500 years.

Now, some of the professors on the stage might point out that Socrates didn't end up too well. But he was 80 at the time when he decided to drink the hemlock, and it was a conscious choice.

The interesting thing is that 2,500 years later, we're still talking about Socrates. But we don't talk about the people who voted to condemn him to death. We don't really know who they were. We've forgotten most of their names because they carry the dishonour of not having acted as responsible citizens. We tend to erase the names of these sorts of people in the memory of our civilizations. But Socrates is always there, with us, as a central example. Perhaps you would prefer not to have a complicated, tough life. Perhaps you would rather take the easier road. It's your choice. The only thing I can tell you is that those moments of acting with the self-confidence of a responsible citizen and those moments of taking the risks of a responsible citizen are the moments when you will really be alive...

On another subject, but also via Dymaxion World, here's an essay comparing Denis Leary and Bill "Chomsky with Dick Jokes" Hicks.

March 17, 2005

Ari Fleischer: Liar Or Dolt?

Kevin Drum recommends a review by Jonathan Chait of Ari Fleischer's new memoir:

I have always believed that Ari Fleischer is a duplicitous genius. During his tenure as White House press secretary, he elevated the mundane practice of misleading reporters and avoiding their questions into an art form...

I'm not sure exactly what I expected from Fleischer's new book, Taking Heat. I hoped it would offer some insight into the mind of a brilliant con man. At the very least, I figured it would be interesting as propaganda. But it was maddeningly dull propaganda, mainly operating at a sub-ideological level....

While I was slogging through the book, I happened to be e-mailing with a conservative I know. My correspondent thought my Ari-as-virtuoso theory was silly: "When Ari worked on the Hill he was widely considered to be a moron even by other press secretaries, who are mostly a bunch of ignorant dolts themselves." But how, I asked, could he have run circles around the Washington press corps? "Ari is a genius like the [Peter] Sellers character in Being There," he replied. "He was too stupid and too ignorant to know he was telling lies."

Chait concludes that he's still not sure where to come down on the "liar or dolt?" question. But as he puts it, "If I ever found out he wasn't lying, I'd be so disillusioned."

I feel the same way—I too always thought Fleischer was some kind of genius of evil. And I'm not persuaded by Chait's review. Can anyone really be THAT stupid? I mean, and still be able to dress themselves?

It just doesn't make sense to me. For instance, check out this exchange between Fleischer and Russell Mokhiber:

Russell Mokhiber: Ari, does Israel have nuclear weapons?
Ari Fleischer: That's a question you'll have to ask to Israel.
Mokhiber: Do you know, does the administration know, whether they have...
Fleischer: I don't personally know.

I took particular interest in this because it was "my" question. I know someone who knows Mokhiber, and I kept pestering him to ask this.

I didn't expect Fleischer to respond, "Yes Russell—at least 200 nuclear weapons! Which means all U.S. military aid to Israel violates U.S. law!" I was just curious to find out what he'd say. But I certainly never expected Fleischer's answer would be that he didn't "personally know" whether Israel has nuclear weapons.

This to me sealed my perception of Fleischer as a True Master. His answer seems so reasonable yet so confusing—why of course he doesn't personally know! Why are you troubling him with these foolish questions? You are stunned into befuddlement while Fleischer slips away.

It's only later that you think—wait, that makes no sense whatsoever. After all, it would have to mean that Fleischer is unwilling to say something on any subject unless he personally knows it. It implies that every single thing he says has been verified by him directly, rather than him reading it or someone telling him about it.

If so, here's what Fleischer has personally verified, just from that one press conference:

• That the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, the University of Maryland men's basketball team, the University of Minnesota-Duluth women's ice hockey team, and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities men's ice hockey team all have won national titles.
• That Russia is about to begin a "new era of relations with Europe, as well as with the United States."
• That there are small groups of terrorists with the means and desire to strike us.
• That "as a result of the American military actions in Afghanistan, Afghanistan is now safer than it was before."
• That the International Security Assistance Force "is there currently in Kabul, and is being very ably led by the Turkish."
• That the U.S. and Europe engage in $2 trillion worth of trade every year.
• ... and much, much more!!!

March 16, 2005

I Think There's Something Wrong With Google

While it's flattering, I'm not sure this site should be the #1 Google result (out of 4,230,000) when you search for God Damn It.

UPDATE: This site is also the #1 result (out of 3,680,000) when you search for uh oh.

Again: nice, but perhaps not exactly how the world's information should be organized.

UPDATE UPDATE: Thanks to the tireless investigative work of Harry and Grillo, we now know this site is also the #1 Google result for stupid insane evil AND "Hero of the Oppressed".

Moreover, my own inquiry reveals this is not all: this site claims the #1 slot for short stories by Michael Crichton and elizabeth bumiller press conference question.

This is all encouraging, if confusing. Nevertheless, our rankings for both "sex" and "britney spears naked" remain disappointing.

We Were All Wrong That Charlize Theron Wanted To Bear My Children

It's terrible when we all get something wrong. But what can you do?

Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, defended himself on Tuesday against Democratic lawmakers who say he contributed to soaring budget deficits by endorsing President Bush's tax cuts in 2001.

Mr. Greenspan acknowledged that he and many others had been wrong to expect trillions of dollars in surpluses that never materialized...

"I look back and I would say to you, if confronted with the same evidence we had back then, I would recommend exactly what I recommended then," Mr. Greenspan said. "It turns out we were all wrong."

As David Kay pointed out, the same thing happened with all of us and the Iraq/WMD issue:

It turns out that we were all wrong.

Likewise, we all made a significant error in late 2004; because I believe in honesty, I even testified to this under oath:

We all believed that Charlize Theron was eager to bear the children of me, Jonathan Schwarz—and that it was therefore critically important that I disable her home's security apparatus, sneak in, and wait on her bed, nude, oiled and perfumed.

It turns out we were all wrong.

The important thing is that, in all three cases, it would be height of injustice to punish anyone. EVERYONE agrees on that.

(Via Digby and Maxspeak.)

Stuff

1. Check out Watching America, a site that translates overseas news stories about America into English. Extremely useful. (Via Bob Harris.)

2. I've been re-reading pieces by Bernard Chazelle, a political writer who apparently does some math on the side. (He's also kind enough to occasionally comment here.)

So if you haven't seen them already, I recommend "Why the Children in Iraq Make No Sound When They Fall," "What Anti-Americanism is Really All About," and "Bush's Desolate Imperium."

3. Via Dennis Perrin, here's a personal remembrance of Susan Sontag that makes me incredibly glad I don't know anyone like her and her friends.

4. Billmon has another dueling quotes post, about this extremely unpleasant Los Angeles Times article.

5. Helena Cobban of Just World News has some informed thoughts about Lebanon, with useful comments by Jonathan Edelstein among others.

6. Andrew Schamess of Semitism.net has returned from the West Bank, where he went to work with the Jewish American Medical Project. Andrew writes about the trip (in order) here, here, here, here, here, here and here. His mother Stephanie was there and has her own account of part of it here.

March 15, 2005

I Feel Unexpected Affection For George Bush

I don't like the "look at this picture of [someone I disagree with] looking stupid!" school of commentary. If you take enough pictures of any person, they will look stupid in a least a few of them. So, all you're proving when you do this is that the person you disagree with is a person. What an achievement.

So that's not what I'm getting at with this picture. On the contrary: it reminds me of George Bush's berserk humanity. Nothing, not even the power of the presidency, can protect human beings from the silliness within us all.

ALSO: When you saw this picture, did you try to make this face yourself? Be honest.

March 14, 2005

What I Am Wrong About

There have been several requests in the comments here for me to admit that I'm wrong about various matters. (Scroll down.)

However, my impression is that these requests do not go nearly far enough. I am wrong about so many things that keeping track of them must be a group endeavor; mere individuals, no matter how dedicated, will be overwhelmed. I therefore request that everyone reading this chip in here and mention at least one thing I'm wrong about.

Here are a few to get you started:

1. George Orwell never dated Madeleine Albright, even for a very short time.
2. Cats will not consent to wear little hats, whether or not you offer them money.
3. There IS such a thing as too many piercings.
4. Being called a firebug is not a compliment.
5. Sandra Bullock is not turning down my marriage proposals because she "loves me too much."

But as I say, this barely scratches the surface. Please add your thoughts below.

Sitemeter Question

For some time I've been using Webalizer to track site traffic here. It came with the hosting package.

However, because so many people use Sitemeter, I signed up for it, too. But I immediately noticed a huge difference between the site visits as recorded by the two systems. Generally Webalizer reports 5-6 times as many visits per day.

So... I'm wondering whether anyone has any idea why this is—and which one is right. I'm hoping Webalizer is correct, of course. I believe it is, because I used to use Modlogan as well, and its numbers were actually higher than Webalizer.

The site uses Movable Type 2.64, and I suspect the problem may be that at the beginning I only added the Sitemeter code to the main index template. Just now I added it to the date-based archive template and the individual entry archive template. So perhaps that will bring the numbers closer in line.

You can find this site's Webalizer statistics here. Sitemeter statistics are here. For comparison's sake, you can see that last Thursday the 11th, Webalizer recorded 1964 visits, while Sitemeter said there'd been about 280.

Any help/suggestions are appreciated. Particularly welcome would be news that not only are the Sitemeter numbers low, but Webalizer is undercounting traffic by a factor of twelve million.

March 13, 2005

Sunday Is Late Night Art Day

I just put up something here and here about people who flee reality. To me, the strangest thing about such folk is that they almost always ALSO fear imagination. You'd think they could get behind one or the other.

Anyway, here's:

"Highboy" by Rodger Roundy.

... and "Peonie Security" from the Homeland Security collection by John Douglas. (Via wood s lot, via Scratchings.)

Gregory Mankiw: Hero Of The Oppressed

Gregory Mankiw is one of America's most prominent conservative economists. He recently finished up a stint as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for the Bush administration, and is now back full-time as the Allie S. Freed Professor of Economics at Harvard.

Mankiw just wrote an article for the New Republic about Social Security. This is the first sentence:

Harvard University is, by some measures, one of the most left-wing institutions on the face of the earth.

God, that's SO TRUE! Likewise, this website is one of the most anti-Jon Schwarz institutions on the face of the earth. This is completely obvious, so there's no need to think about it further.

Frankly, given this website's unremitting hostility toward me and my ideas, it's really a testament to me that I've come as far here as I have.

March 12, 2005

It's Very Important That I Write This IN ALL CAPS

Yesterday I wrote something about the recent Hezbollah demonstrations in Beirut, and how they helped show the disturbing way technology now allows people to live in an all-encompassing fantasy world. Given certain comments there, I think it's worth expanding on it a little.

As I said, everyone tries to fit new information into their pre-existing mental schema. You can't be alive otherwise. However, this phenomenon is potentially dangerous. The best explanation I've ever seen of this appears in Life and How to Survive It by John Cleese and Robin Skynner.

So, I've pasted the Cleese/Skynner explanation below. It's worth reading all of it.

P.S. You may be wondering whether Reliapundit is real, or an extremely sophisticated psy-op run by me. I'm not telling. However, either way, it works out the same in the end.

Or, perhaps I should say: IT WORKS OUT THE SAME IN THE END.

From Life and How to Survive It, p. 236-239.

SKYNNER: Thinking back over what we've said so far, what would you say are the most important indicators of real mental health?

CLEESE: ...The most compelling measure of health seems to be the degree to which you face reality; that is, the degree to which you perceive it, and accept it.

SKYNNER: Well, let's examine the idea of "reality" a little further. Man's achievements are due to his extraordinary capacity for abstraction. Without it neither our science, nor our art, nor our literature, nor our philosophy could exist. All our most positive achievements arise from this gift for abstraction; that is, for simplifying things by selecting our those aspects of reality that we want to concentrate on, while ignoring the other aspects as if they don't exist...

However, the snag is, all our most negative qualities also come from the same gift... madness, crime, evil, everything that's unhealthy. All of it arises when we get hold of the wrong ideas—in other words, when our abstractions have gone wrong, when our simplifications have ignored aspects that were important.

CLEESE: ... what determines whether we use abstraction positively or negatively?

SKYNNER: The easiest way to answer that is to look at the scientific method. A scientist observes certain available facts and then "abstracts" a theory that fits them. Then he carries out further experiments to test the theory. If it holds, he regards it as "true," but only in the sense that it's "the best to date" for explaining and predicting what happens. So, when some new fact is observed which the theory doesn't cover, he has to go back to the drawing board to try to come up with a new theory that covers all the old facts, and the awkward new one too...

So the essential feature of the scientific approach is that facts come first, theories second. Theories are adjusted to facts, not the other way around. It's the same with maps. If you look at a map, and then at the piece of territory it's supposed to represent, and on the territory there's a river, and on the map there isn't... which would you rely on?

CLEESE: I'd tear up the territory. Sorry! I panicked.

SKYNNER: You ignore the map—if you don't want to fall in the real river and drown! So the principle is—never confuse the territory with the map...

But the problem comes when we move from ordinary maps to our famous "mental maps." We must have these mental maps, because we couldn't operate in the world without them. We couldn't know what to do—because they're our guide to how the world works, and how we work, and we relate to the world. And, of course, they're abstractions in the same way. They're never comprehensive, and sometimes parts of them are wrong. They're not reality.

CLEESE: I sense that you're about to say something interesting.

SKYNNER: Here it is. To answer your question: whether we use our capacity for abstraction positively or negatively depends on whether we make reality primary, or the map primary. Everything hangs on that... If you are constantly open to "reality," if you're always checking your mental map, your perception of "reality" will slowly clarify. But that all depends on your fundamental orientation being toward the primacy of reality.

CLEESE: So if being in contact with reality is a measure of good mental health, that means that, at the lower levels, people will prefer their map to the real world. In other words their belief system will run them, and they'll have no interest in checking it with reality. In fact they'll reject any bits of reality that intrude by accident. [emphasis added]

SKYNNER: Yes, people like this are completely out of contact with reality. They have withdrawn into fantasy, the kind of insanity you get in lunatic asylums; or in Nazi Germany, where a particular crazy idea led to six million murders.

March 11, 2005

The Restraining Order Is Still Working Its Way Through The Legal System

Those of you who share my peculiar fixation on John Ralston Saul should check out his recent article "The End Of Globalism" (via Scratchings).

From This Day Forward

As it happens, Mike Gerber and I went to college with Peter Beinart, now editor of the New Republic and Thinker of Thoughts. Neither of us knew him much. Nevertheless, because Mike and I have various friends in common with Beinart, we were speaking about him recently. In my rush to express my opinion about Beinart, I accidentally crushed his two names together and referred to him as Pe-Nart. (Pronounced PEE-nurt.)

Again: this was not on purpose. Nevertheless, it struck us as funny, and somehow excruciatingly apt. Also, it saves time.

I therefore decree that, starting now, Peter Beinart must be referred to in all public fora as "Pe-Nart."

I Have Spoken.

P.S. Many progressives have been miffed by Pe-nart's decision to purge them from the Democratic party. (Pe-Nart realized they love Osama bin Laden too much.) I sympathize with the progressives' emotion, but don't share it.

Because, frankly, who the hell cares what Pe-Nart thinks? I mean, if you want to run the Democratic party and can't out-organize Pe-Nart, that's no one's fault but yours. Moveon.org has several million members, while the mighty battalions marching behind Pe-Nart consist of three 22-year-old New Republic interns.

More News From The Frontiers Of Crazy

I'm mostly a techno-optimist, particularly where communication is concerned. (The part I'm pessimistic about is getting eaten by nano-bots.) However, I understand the pessimism of those of like my e-colleague Alexis. He may well be right, despite residing in the Great Northern Wastes.

Alexis' point is that technology allows people to live in an echo-chamber of their own construction. As since people are people, this makes it easy for them to go bonkers.

Recently tex of Unfair Witness pointed out an excellent example of this. As anyone interested knows, there was just a gigantic demonstration in Beirut organized by Hezbollah. For obvious reasons, this does not fit a storyline in which our Fearless Leader is marching from triumph to triumph in a middle east that loves US foreign policy with all its heart.

So what could be done about this unacceptable reality? Seemingly nothing. After all, you can't be for democracy but against 500,000 people (or however many) expressing their opinion.

And yet. As tex points out, one astute individual quickly realized that the demonstrators must have been men bused in from Syria! Not actual people from Lebanon AT ALL!!!

This enticing information was quickly seized upon by the hive mind. Thus, in the twinkling of a keyboard, the momentarily-roiled waters became placid again. Residents of the echo chamber now know the Hezbollah demonstrations can be safely ignored... or better still, understood as yet more proof that our Fearless Leader is marching from etc., etc.

All people are vulnerable to this phenomenon, since all people (consciously or not) seek out information that confirms their world view. And people have always used the available technology to indulge in this side of human nature. Still... people have always wanted to fly, too. That doesn't negate the fact that F-16s are a lot more dangerous than hot air balloons.

March 10, 2005

Dear World: Yes, We Are Completely Insane

Via Kevin Drum, the New York Times says that:

After years of campaigning against Hezbollah, the radical Shiite Muslim party in Lebanon, as a terrorist pariah, the Bush administration is grudgingly going along with efforts by France and the United Nations to steer the party into the Lebanese political mainstream...

In other words, the Bush administration is acting in a non-crazy fashion. However, that doesn't mean the crazitude isn't still seething beneath the surface:

"Hezbollah has American blood on its hands," an administration official said, referring to such events as the truck bombing that killed more than 200 American marines in Beirut in 1983. "They are in the same category as Al Qaeda."

This is similar to a statement made a few years ago by Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's then-deputy at the State Department. According to Armitage, "Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists...They have a blood debt to us."

What so peculiar about these pronouncements are the assumptions underlying them. Of course, Hezbollah does have American blood on its hands. However, America had supported both an occupation of Lebanon (by Syria beginning in 1975) and an invasion (by Israel in 1982). Then we sent our own troops, and, as Colin Powell wrote in his autobiography:

... the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey start[ed] 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.

So, here's the reasoning of people like Armitage, etc.: We allowed to encourage countries to invade Lebanon. We are allowed to send our military to take sides in the Lebanese civil war. We are allowed to shell Lebanon. However, if some Lebanese attack the US military in Lebanon, THEY ARE BREAKING THE RULES.

To get an idea of how completely nuts this is, imagine some country—let's call it Lunaticistan—had a history of meddling in US politics, and had encouraged both Canada and Mexico to invade the US. Then Lunaticistan had sent its own troops to New York, while merrily shelling northern New Jersey. Then Americans attacked and killed some of Lunaticistan's troops. And twenty years later, government officials of Lunaticistan were still talking about the "blood debt" that Americans owed them. Meanwhile, no one in Lunaticistan noticed how nuts this was.

That might be acceptable from a country called Lunaticistan, since their name would involve a certain amount of truth in advertising. But as far as America goes, we should either (1) cut it out, or (2) change our name to the United States of Crazed Maniacs.

Anna In America

Anna Ghonim is traveling to the US from Egypt with her children this summer. On the website Ihsan she has an enjoyable story about her younger son's concerns that, despite her claims, America may not really have mosques. She also wrote a recent post on the liberation of Auschwitz that's well worth reading.

There's Life After Death For Dogs!

I have some very good news for those of us who love dogs: if certain people are right, a dog's soul lives on after death.

I learned this from Matt Taibbi's most recent column, in which he gives his reaction to the current, worldwide, extremely important controversy about his Pope piece. Taibbi reveals that:

The hate mail was a flood by Friday. A polite schoolteacher in Ottawa gently implored me to shoot myself. Another writer, who left his note unsigned, wrote simply: "Burn In Hell You Fucking Dog."

You see! Dogs may indeed have eternal souls! I will leave to the theologians the question of whether this is so only for dogs who can type (eg, Taibbi), and if dogs can go to heaven as well as hell. (It would be a drag if the only way we could meet up again with our beloved deceased dogs would be to be condemned ourselves to eternal damnation.) But any way you look at it, this is exciting news.

March 09, 2005

I Guess Disgustingness, Like Beauty, Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

I have a fun quiz for you!

Recently Chuck Schumer, senator from New York State, spoke of something as "The most disgusting thing I've seen in 30 years of public life."

To what was Senator Schumer referring? Was it:

A. Some words written on paper by Matt Taibbi?

or

B. This:

...and this:

... and this:

... and this:

...all combined with this?

Answer below!

The answer, of course, is B. No human being could be so stupidly vicious as to claim any words are as disgusting as torture, maiming, and the slaughter of parents in front of their children—all based on shameless lies.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

No, just kidding. Obviously the answer is A. Good god, Matt Taibbi is disgusting.

March 08, 2005

Which One Is The Made-Up Joke?

1. Check out this inaugural post on a new site, Cunning Realist. (Via Josh Marshall.)

The site's anonymous author describes himself (well, he/she sounds like a he) as:

...in my late 30's, a resident of New York City, and the founder and president of a Manhattan-based asset management firm. I have a BA from a top-ten university and an Ivy League MBA. I'm a lifelong conservative with a strong independent streak.

He has some first-hand impressions on the actual reasons Wall Street supports Social Security privatization. Here's one quote from an investment banker: "I want that dumb public money coming across my desk."

2. Deanna Swift of the Swift Report went on a listening tour of the richest parts of Florida and learned that everyone thinks privatizing Social Security is the most excellent idea ever!!!

March 04, 2005

A Thing

Via the crushingly funny Mimi Smartypants, I recommend you check out The Little Golden Book About Zogg. Remember to, as I have, devour any competitor spawn.

Extremely Peculiar Spam? Or A New Friend?

The thing about comment spam now is that some of it's so weird and pointless that you can't tell whether it is spam. For instance, a new comment just was posted on an old entry here called "Matt Taibbi: Is He Secretly Jesus?" The name given by the person (bot?) commenting is "FalaffelKerfuffelX" with the address michaelmoore@aol.com. The comment itself is:

You are diseased... and if not, go to a 'bug-chasing' party and get caught. Remember, be 'positive' about HIV!!!!

This is, of course, an extremely cogent point. So I'd hate to believe it wasn't directed to me personally. What do you think?

March 03, 2005

Is Today The Day Bob Somerby's Head Finally Explodes?

See the latest Daily Howler. Given that Bob Somerby's head hasn't exploded before now, after all the punishment it's been through, it probably won't happen today. And yet...

Meanwhile, if you would like your own head to explode with merriment, try this from Aaron Swartz if you haven't seen it already. It's a gripping expose on the shocking lack of intellectual diversity on our nation's campuses. I compliment Swartz on this achievement, despite the unfortunate way he spells his name. (Via Examined Life.)

It Seems Impolite That Neither Pete Nor Liz Has Written Me A Thank You Note

How do I love thee, o internet? Let me count the ways.

#1 This Google search for "Peter Wehner"

#2 This Google search for "Elizabeth Bumiller" (the actual post—as opposed to just the comments weirdly linked by Google—is here)

Now, if I understand this "computer" thingy correctly, if lots of people link to THIS post, there would be even more online admiration for Peter and Elizabeth. I'm just sayin'.

March 01, 2005

Thank God Our Leaders Are Completely Different From Vladimir Putin

Previous installments in this long-running series can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. These ones are actually written by me.

I'm quite pleased that Billmon wrote this, thereby saving me a great deal of effort. (As an added bonus, it's much better than what I would have done.)

For more on this grim subject, here's a column by Dennis Jett (reg. required), a former US ambassador and member of the National Security Council.

Dear Friends, Again

Please welcome Lee Tyler to the ever-metastasizing internet.

His site is aptly named "Lee Tyler's Carpet Warehouse," with the slogan, "All fire-damaged carpets 50% off! All carpets still on fire free!!!" Particularly recommended is his "Missed Connections" column.

Dear Friends

While Harry of Scratchings may not be aware of this, he and I are very close friends. And if he is aware of it, he may strongly object. However, there is nothing he can do. I am close friends with anyone who discovers, appreciates and shares pictures such as these.

BONUS: If you click on the sexy international proletarian, note that one commentator left the lyrics to "Communist Love Song" by Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman of the Firesign Theatre. For extra credit, note the Firesign Theatre reference in the title of this post.

Sexy International Proletarianism

Do Not Offer This Cat A "Wafer-Thin Mint"