December 31, 2003

Foul Language

In my unending attempt to be the Responsible Parent, I do try to censor the cuss words around the kids. Never as much as I should, of course, but I usually manage to edit myself to "F this!" (pronounced "Eff this!") or "Oh, F me!" when I'm mad about something. At the park today, Sarah decided to pick up on it.

"I hate my F'ing brothers!" she yelled. Fortunately, it wasn't very crowded. I winced, but I let it pass. I mean, what am I supposed to do? She was watching my reaction, too. It was like the Simpsons episode where they were on their way home from Sunday school. Marge asked them what they talked about, and Bart said, "Hell!"

Marge said, "Bart!"

Homer said, "Now, honey, you asked him a question, and have gave you an answer."

Bart: "Hell, hell, hell, hell, hell, hell, hell, hell, hell, hell..."

So anyway, my implicit permission opened the floodgates. Pretty soon, every other sentence out of her mouth was "F this!" or "F him!".

I finally broke down and said, "Ok, look, Sarah, I'm not really comfortable with that. You need to cut it out. That's just not appropriate."

She agreed, but then she just started using random letters. "A that!" or "I hate my B brothers!" or "S you, Cody!"

I have truly begun to understand why so many people grow up to be lawyers.

Posted by Observer at 10:31 PM | Comments (1)

Choosing Sides

Eric Alterman has a good column recently about the press and Howard Dean. The media is choosing sides against Dean, just like they did against Gore (if you don't believe me, read Alterman's links to the so-called liberal Washington Post). Maybe Dean will win that pack of high-school "Heathers" back to his side by having a *really* good buffet on the campaign airplane, doing some backslapping and giving everyone a nickname. I really can't wait to see what effect Dean's internet organization (the Dean Defense Force) will have as they set out to actively publicize and correct the errors of the mainstream media and pundits. I'd like to think we won't have to suffer through another "intented the Internet" debacle, but I've always been an optimist.

Posted by Observer at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2003

Don't Make Me Roll Initiative

PVP Online has a funny take on Oscar politics and "Return of the King". Check it out.

Posted by Observer at 04:32 PM | Comments (0)


I've still got the leftover blahs from not eating for 36 hours, and I'm getting chills off and on. But, hey, no more puking! Unfortunately, as we feared, Michelle has come down with it now. If the baby can avoid it, it will be a miracle. If he can't avoid it, I'm certain a trip to the emergency room will be required. Bad stuff.

Meanwhile, of course I'm happy that the Cowboys are in the playoffs, and I'm much more excited about playing against Carolina than I would be about playing at Green Bay or at Minnesota. I don't think the Cowboys will win, but it will be fun to watch.

Posted by Observer at 09:30 AM | Comments (2)

December 29, 2003

The Streak Is Over

Apparently, at one of the houses we visited over the hoildays, someone was acting as the proverbial Typhoid Mary. All the kids came down with a highly contagious stomach flu a couple of days ago, and I was blessed with it last night. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that my Seinfeldian no-vomit streak of 7+ years is well and truly broken.

I hope none of you get what I got. Yuck.

Posted by Observer at 03:00 PM | Comments (3)

December 28, 2003

Right Hand, Meet Left Hand

This article from the British newspaper, the Guardian, pretty much speaks for itself:

Tony Blair was at the centre of an embarrassing row last night after the most senior US official in Baghdad bluntly rejected the Prime Minister's assertion that secret weapons laboratories had been discovered in Iraq.

In a Christmas message to British troops, Blair claimed there was 'massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories'. The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) had unearthed compelling evidence that showed Saddam Hussein had attempted to 'conceal weapons', the Prime Minister said. But in an interview yesterday, Paul Bremer, the Bush administration's top official in Baghdad, flatly dismissed the claim as untrue - without realising its source was Blair.

It was, he suggested, a 'red herring', probably put about by someone opposed to military action in Iraq who wanted to undermine the coalition.

'I don't know where those words come from but that is not what [ISG chief] David Kay has said,' he told ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme. 'It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me.'

Is there any doubt Paul Bremer has gotten a few phone calls from Washington within the past 24 hours about the importance of everyone telling the same version of the lie?

Posted by Observer at 08:29 AM | Comments (1)

December 27, 2003

I Have a Weight Loss Program

Catching up on blogs after a very busy, very fun three days of family, food and lots of presents. Atrios has some good stuff about the creeping "pessimism" meme that conservatives are trying to push on Dean. It will be interesting to watch it all unfold, because I think Atrios has it right on the money.

Dwight Meredith at Wampum has a funny take on Bush's view of Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction:

In Mr. Bush’s recent interview with Diane Sawyer, the following exchange took place:

DIANE SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still —

PRESIDENT BUSH: So what's the difference?

The benefits of Mr. Bush’s logic were suddenly apparent to me. Shortly after I arrived home, my wife asked whether I had remembered to clean out the garage. I informed her that although I had not done it, I had a “garage cleaning program.” “What is the difference?” I confidently asked. [...]

I called an old friend in Chicago. He is a die hard Cubs fan. “Congratulations on winning the World Series,” I exclaimed. After assuring him that I had not lost my mind, I explained that there was a possibility that the Cubs could win the World Series and that there is actually no difference between that and a championship.

I have since learned that my friend has a “no cursing program.”

Posted by Observer at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2003

Rules for the Lazy Media

Paul Krugman has a very good set of a guidelines we liberals would like the media to follow during the upcoming campaign season:

• Don't talk about clothes. Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean was a momentous event: the man who won the popular vote in 2000 threw his support to a candidate who accuses the president of wrongfully taking the nation to war. So what did some prominent commentators write about? Why, the fact that both men wore blue suits.

This was not, alas, unusual. I don't know why some journalists seem so concerned about politicians' clothes as opposed to, say, their policy proposals. But unless you're a fashion reporter, obsessing about clothes is an insult to your readers' intelligence.

• Actually look at the candidates' policy proposals. One key proposal in the State of the Union address will, we hear, be the creation of new types of tax-exempt savings accounts. The proposal will come wrapped in fine phrases about an "ownership society." But serious journalists should tell us how the plan would work, who would benefit and who would lose.

An early version of the plan was floated almost a year ago, and carefully analyzed in the journal Tax Notes. So there's no excuse for failing to report that the plan would probably reduce, not increase, national savings; that it would have large long-run budget costs; and that its benefits would go mainly to the wealthiest few percent of the population.

• Beware of personal anecdotes. Anecdotes that supposedly reveal a candidate's character are a staple of political reporting, but they should carry warning labels.

For one thing, there are lots of anecdotes, and it's much too easy to report only those that reinforce the reporter's prejudices. The approved story line about Mr. Bush is that he's a bluff, honest, plain-spoken guy, and anecdotes that fit that story get reported. But if the conventional wisdom were instead that he's a phony, a silver-spoon baby who pretends to be a cowboy, journalists would have plenty of material to work with.

If a reporter must use anecdotes, they'd better be true. After the Dean endorsement, innumerable reporters cracked jokes about Al Gore's inventing the Internet. Guys, he never said that: it's a malicious distortion of a true statement, and no self-respecting journalist would repeat it.

• Look at the candidates' records. A close look at Mr. Bush's record as governor would have revealed that, the approved story line notwithstanding, he was no moderate. A close look at Mr. Dean's record in Vermont reveals that, the emerging story line notwithstanding, he is no radical: he was a fiscally conservative leader whose biggest policy achievement — nearly universal health insurance for children — was the result of incremental steps.

• Don't fall for political histrionics. I couldn't believe how much ink was spilled after the Gore-Dean event over Joe Lieberman's hurt feelings. Folks, we're talking about war, peace and the future of U.S. democracy — not about who takes whom to the prom.

Political operatives have become experts at manufacturing the appearance of outrage. In the last few weeks the usual suspects have been trying to paint Howard Dean's obviously heartfelt comments about his brother's death in Laos as some sort of insult to the military. We owe it to our readers not to fall for these tricks.

• It's not about you. We learn from The Washington Post that reporters covering Mr. Dean are surprised — and, it's implied, miffed — that "he never asks a single question about them." The mind reels.

There's a great drinking game to be made out of all this somewhere. Too bad I don't drink.

Posted by Observer at 08:08 AM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2003

Favorite Things

Well, Christmas Eve, Morning and Afternoon have all come and gone, and they were pretty much everything we hoped for. The kids were overwhelmed with many things this year, I think. As usual, we probably overbought, but it is just so much fun to shop for them. I can't wait to get hold of some of the GameCube games and GameBoy games we bought for them, and my brother-in-law is coming by Saturday to show me some of the Star Wars games he has for his GameCube.

I also greatly boosted the power of the kids' Yu-Gi-Oh decks with a few carefully chosen rare cards bought individually online. I think the days of my 30 game winning streaks are well behind us. The kids have so many new things, they don't know what to play with first. Sarah latched on to Harvest Moon, which is like Animal Crossing (think "Sims" for kids with animal and cartoon characters), but a different sort of storyline for the GameBoy.

The big gifts this year were a GameBoy Advance SP, an adapter that lets you play GameBoy games on the TV via the GameCube (and the games look really quite good), and a few new games for each type of system. The holiday isn't quite over yet. We get to show off the new carpet tomorrow along with my wife and mother-in-law's prodigious cooking skills when we have a big chunk of the family down for a Boxing Day turkey dinner. Yum!

Posted by Observer at 07:30 PM | Comments (2)

A Christian Nation?

Art Silber had occasion recently to point to a long, thoughtful post from his archives on the question: "Are we a Christian nation?" Silber gives some of the background of the concept of individual liberties during the Enlightenment and how that influenced the thinking of the founding fathers, etc. Very good Christmas reading (unless you are a nutball conservative).

Merry Christmas to all. I'll do the whole Christmas story rundown if I have time later today or tomorrow. Should be great fun.

Posted by Observer at 12:40 AM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2003

What Are They Selling?

Lots of holiday shopping, wrapping, kid-watching, etc. has meant I'm not keeping up with my blogs. Well, ok, that and I was trying out a new video game (renting) to see if it sucks before I bought it. I ended up buying it (which is an amusing story for another time). Anyway, wrapping's all done, so time to catch up...

Wampum has some good stuff on the lies told by tort reform supporters. It's really amazing how urban legends about huge lawsuit awards make the rounds and get people all geared up to slap limits on juries. And then you come to find out no such awards were ever made. Makes you wonder who's looking out for you, eh? Here's a hint: Not corporate crony Republicans (and to a lesser extent, because they're not as ruthless and efficient at it, Democrats).

Juan Cole has some informed commentary on the recent Libya news. Libya has been making a big show about giving up its WMD (which basically just consists of some World War I era mustard gas it probably used in its little brushfire war with neighboring Chad many years ago) and trying to rejoin the community of nations. Conservatives *of course* are making huge noises about this, saying it is the result of Bush's use of force scaring these tinpot dictators into line. If you look at the history, though, you find it is the economic sanctions that worked with Libya, and this latest step is part of a process that began during the Clinton administration.

Yes, that sound you hear is the crickets chirping as we await conservative plaudits of Clinton's canny, patient diplomacy that turned around Libya. It's the same sound you heard when we last awaited conservative praise for the armed forces that built up to such an effective level under Clinton. You remember that, right? After the first Gulf War, Dick Cheney was saying very loudly that he was on the phone to Ronald Reagan thanking him for the military that George Bush inherited, because presidents always inherit the military of their immediate predecessors. I think Clinton is still waiting for Cheney's congratulatory phone call.

Oh, and human rights abuses? Torture chambers? Rape rooms? Lack of Democracy? Sinister authoritarian government? All big players in Libya, our newest bestest friend.

So, umm, remind me again: why are we at war in Iraq?

They say I'm supposed to feel safer now that Saddam is in custody or because all the terrorists are flocking to Iraq instead of here or something. I'll feel safer when that countdown timer in my sidebar gets to zero and we're welcoming somebody who isn't the Boy King as our 44th president. At this point, I don't really care whom. I just want the grownups back in charge.

Posted by Observer at 08:10 AM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2003

Media Labels

There was a long and deeply stupid column in yesterday's paper about liberal and conservative labels in the media. The author quoted a recent study by a (conservative) Hoover insititute fellow named David Brady and his assistant Jonathan Ma. This study claims to find that conservatives are labelled as such by the mainstream media far more often than liberals. Further proof, they argue (as if any is needed), that the media is liberal.

I can't find out anything about this study. Even the original column (which I only found excerpts in various conservative blogs) doesn't seem to discuss in any detail the methodology of the search. As Al Franken, Eric Alterman and others have shown, you can prove just about anything you want with a Lexis-Nexis search of the media database. Alterman's book (and associated website) has all the details of a study done by one of his colleagues (Geoffrey Nunberg) so you can see for yourself. The results come out exactly the opposite. The term "liberal" is associated with liberal politician's names more often than "conservative" by a mile, even if you just limit yourself to the supposed bastions of the mainstream liberal media, the New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times.

This kind of thing is what makes the conservative propaganda machine (the mighty wurlitzer, as it is known across liberal blogs) so effective. They have tons of these well-to-do respectable sounding think tanks that put out all these boring policy papers that few people ever care about, enough to give the institutions the veneer of credibility they need so that journalists don't even think twice about quoting them as a reliable source. And there's just so *much* crap they put out all the time, there's no way you can just refute it all.

Of course, if you *do* spend your time refuting it all, you becoming just another shrill Bush hater, and pretty quickly, out come the position papers and columns on that, signaling to the media to ignore you (Paul Krugman only survives ... well ... I don't know how he survives. Probably gets a lot of supportive letters to the editor). So there's really no way to win except to play the conservative game and open a bunch of non-bullshit think tanks and try to keep the voice of reason loud enough to be heard. It would be better if newspapers actually did some research before re-publishing some of this crap, but I'm long past hope for that.

I got so mad after I read that column that I didn't even finish the paper. Just got up, came to the computer and wrote a (too long) letter to the editor over it. We'll see if it gets published. God, it makes me sound like I'm old and cranky. Nope, just middle-aged, pissed off and on holiday.

Posted by Observer at 08:21 AM | Comments (5)

December 22, 2003

Shopping Chaperone

Today is the day I take the kids shopping. They've been doing a good job earning money (via chores) over the past month, and now they're ready to spend on each other and on other members of the immediate family. I have been designated to help them shop, so I'm taking them out one at a time into all that nasty traffic. It's busy, but it's also kinda fun. Or maybe I'm just on a lack-of-sleep high.

Christmas morning is going to be big fun around here.

Posted by Observer at 01:03 PM | Comments (4)

December 21, 2003

Review of the King

Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

All in all, I was very satisfied with the whole thing. There were some nits to pick, but there always will be. I don't remember the book well enough to really give it the working over it deserves (even though I last read them for about the 3rd or 4th time a couple of years ago before Fellowship came out), and I'm sure I'm forgetting some parts of the movie. Let me break it down into things I liked and things I question (there really wasn't anything to dislike, nothing important anyway).

Things I really, really liked:

- The dynamic between Frodo, Gollum and Sam on the way to Cirith Ungol. It was *very* easy to forget that Gollum was basically a CGI character. The whole sequence with Shelob was very true to the spirit of the book and very good.

- The relationship between Gandalf and Pippin. "Fool of a Took!"

- Legolas in combat outside Minas Tirith and Gimli's "That only counts as one" line.

- Eowyn and Merry vs. the Witch King of Angmar. This rang very true to the way it was done in the book (except one detail below) and was probably the one highlight I'd pick from a wide selection.

Things I questioned (not necessarily bad):

- I saw the giant question marks forming over the audience over the repeated references to Gandalf as "Mithrandir". I got it, but was that set up previously? I don't remember.

- Didn't Eowyn die in the book on the battlefield? No big deal, but I thought she did. I understand the whole happy ending desire and all, but I think it was better when she died after finally getting the glory in battle without having to hang around afterwards and watch Aragorn run off with Arwen.

- The end of the ring. The way I remember it, Gollum bit off the ring and danced around while Frodo was helpless, and ultimately Gollum slipped and fell. Also, wasn't Frodo visible when he wore the ring at the end? Maybe not, but anyway, I liked it better when it was just Gollum. It made Gandalf's earlier line in Fellowship, "The pity of Bilbo may yet save us all," more meaningful.

- The fires of Gondor sequence. I don't recall the details of this from the books, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the audience thinking, "Who has the crappy job of manning those 24/7?"

- The fadeouts. Frodo and Sam are on the side of Mount Doom, and there's like a three second fade out. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the movie half-thinking, "Wait, that's not the end, is it?" Why such a long fade-out before the scene with the eagles showing up? And why so many other fade-outs between there and the true end?

I don't really have a problem with the omission of "The Cleansing of the Shire" in which the hobbits return and have to roust out Saruman and Wormtongue from their homeland. I understand why it was in the books, and I understand why it was left out of the movie. I also don't really have a problem with the major cutting of the adventures of Frodo and Sam within Mordor (though it made it seem somewhat forced when Gollum suddenly reappeared on the side of Mount Doom). It was weird to see everything happening simultaneously as it did when I am so used to the book's treatment in which the stories are each fully told in turn.

Like every other fan, I definitely am looking forward to the "director's cut" of this one to see what was left out. I imagine around next Thanksgiving weekend, we'll be spending a good 12+ hours watching all three extended versions on DVD. I hope the last one is even longer. I just didn't want it to end.

I would also like to add that the previews prior to ROTK were the lamest set of previews before a major movie event that I think I've ever seen. Crap, the Spidey vs Doc Ock trailer was probably the best preview, and that's pretty sad. Most of the others just made me want to wince, although the time travel "Butterfly Effect" movie looks like a neat concept. I wanted to see some damn-I-can't-wait-for-that previews, and there weren't any.

Posted by Observer at 07:31 AM | Comments (4)

December 20, 2003

All Over But the Shouting

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 04:01 PM | Comments (5)

December 19, 2003

Lessons From the War

Billmon has another good post recently (good comments, too ... you should follow the link if you have time), this time quoting an interview with a general reflecting on the war and lessons we should learn from it:

1. We misjudged then -- as we have since -- the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries ... and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions.

2. We viewed the people and leaders of the target country in terms of our own experience. We saw in them a thirst for--and a determination to fight for -- freedom and democracy. We totally misjudged the political forces within the country.

3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people... to fight and die for their beliefs and values -- and we continue to do so today in many parts of the world.

4. Our misjudgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.

5. We failed then -- as we have since -- to recognize the limitations of modern, high-technology equipment, forces and doctrine in confronting unconventional, highly motivated people's movements. We failed as well to adapt our military forces to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.

6. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate of the pros and cons of a large-scale U.S. military involvement ... before we initiated the action.

7. After the action got underway and unanticipated events forced us off our planned course, we failed to retain popular support in part because we did not explain fully what was happening and why we were doing what we did. We had not prepared the public to understand the complex events we faced and how to react constructively to the need for changes in course as the nation confronted uncharted seas and an alien environment. A nation's deepest strength lies not in military prowess but, rather, in the the unity of its people. We failed to maintain it.

8. We did not recognize that neither our people nor our leaders are omniscient. Where our own security is not directly at stake, our judgment of what is in another people's or country's best interest should be put to the test of open discussion in international forums. We do not have the God-given right to shape every nation in our own image or as we choose.

9. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action -- other than in response to direct threats to our own security -- should be carried out only in conjuction with multinational forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the international community.

10. We failed to recognize that in international affairs, as in other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are no immediate solutions ... at times, we may have to live an imperfect, untidy world.

11. Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues.

These were our major failures, in their essence. Though set forth separately, they are all in some way linked: failure in one area contributed to or compounded failure in another. Each became a turn in a terrible knot.

At first blush, you might think this is General Wesley Clark talking about Iraq, but no. It is Robert McNamara (former Secretary of Defense during part of the Vietnam war) talking about the lessons we should've learned from Vietnam in a recent interview for US News and World Report.

But, hey, comparing Iraq to Vietnam is *totally* unfair, right? ... Right?

Posted by Observer at 06:47 AM | Comments (1)

December 18, 2003

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Thanks to The Sideshow for this pointer. More than any other blog, I think Sideshow's Avedon Carol (an older woman who apparently earned her leftist stripes during the Vietnam protests) does a good job of pointing to blogs that don't get a lot of attention (hell, she even pointed to me once when I did my Cargo Cult Science post long ago, though I don't know how she found me). Anyone can point to Atrios (I frequently do) or TPM or the equivalent high-traffic blogs (see the Ecosystem for a sort-of ranking of blog importance based on inbound links), but few people cast a wide enough net to capture some of the really good stuff out there that would get lost in the sea of blogging and meta-blogging (Wampum is working on a best of blogs list that is worth checking out, too).

Liberal Oasis has some interesting stuff from David Burke, who recently finished a book about Al Qaeda's background. In the light of Saddam's capture, it is important to keep in mind that the enemy is Al Qaeda, and Saddam has nothing to do with them (in fact, was more enemy than friend prior to the war ... now it's sort of an "enemy of my enemy" thing, if any relationship existed at all). It's nice that he was captured because this may give us an opportunity (that I pray we don't squander) to turn things around in Iraq, but it doesn't have a whole lot to do with the war on terror, about which what Burke has to say makes a lot of sense:

Burke quoted by Liberal Oasis: "The biggest myth is that all the various incidents that we are seeing are linked to some kind of central organization. One of the reasons the myth is so prevalent is that it’s a very comforting one. Because if you clearly get rid of that central organization, if you get rid off, particularly bin Laden…and a few score, a few hundred people around him…then the problem would apparently be solved.

Unfortunately, that idea is indeed a myth and bears very little resemblance to what’s happening on the ground ... if we're talking about the phenomenon of modern Islamic militancy, within which the threat that we all face is rooted, you have to look beyond bin Laden."

Burke goes on to say that while the war on terror had weakened bin Laden and his inner circle, it also had strengthened the broader militant Islamic movement. The fact is, bin Laden’s freedom has been a useful symbol of Bush’s neglect of the true threats to American and global security. But the actual problem is far larger than Osama’s ability to elude justice.

And while it may be difficult to walk away from a useful symbol, smart policy and forward-thinking politics demand it. It’s time to start stressing that the problem of radical Islamic terrorism is bigger than just one man. It’s time to start criticizing the Administration for losing the hearts and minds of the Islamic people. And it’s time for the Dems to articulate their own long-term, comprehensive strategy for winning those hearts and minds, based on multilateralism, real democratic reform, and improving the quality of life for all in the Muslim world.

Is Howard Dean up to this task? I really don't know. I'm not even sure it is within the power of the American presidency, no matter how "imperial" and concentrated the president's power may become. The bottom line, of course, is that I am quite certain Bush will make things worse. He already has a brilliantly established track record at doing so. So I'll flip the bird to the bush and take the Dean with two hands. Or something like that.

Oh by the way: The 9/11 commission, chaired by the former Republican governor of New Jersey (who was appointed by the Bush administration) is now saying that the 9/11 attacks could have and should have been prevented, promising lots of revealing public testimony in the months ahead. It would be nice if the media actually paid attention to this, but I'm not counting on it.

CBS News broke this story Wednesday evening, and the local CBS affiliate's lead story was about a kid who wasn't allowed to pass out candy bags for Christmas at his elementary school because his parents stuffed a little bible story in the bags. Also, Billmon has a fascinating story about how the ultra-liberal socialist New York Times massaged a story about US efforts (led by James Baker) to relieve Iraq's debt. The story now (as opposed to the earlier version posted online) more purely reflects the administration's spin rather than the objective truth. Thanks, liberal media!.

It shouldn't be too hard to connect the dots with what's already out there in the public domain (like National Security Advisor Condi Rice saying no one had thought about the possibility of hijacked planes as weapons when it is clear the president was likely briefed on that very possibility weeks before the attacks and did nothing). What will it take to convince people that if we're going to fight a war on terror, we've got a disastrously incompetent administration to do it? And when will we have the commission on who made Saddam into such a tyrant, who helped him gas his own people and slapped him on the back with a good laugh (cough - the Reagan administration - cough) and so on? Moral clarity, anyone?

Posted by Observer at 07:04 AM | Comments (3)

December 17, 2003

The Context of Events

Eric Alterman, whose web site is really screwed up by MSNBC at the moment, has what I think is the proper take on the effect of Saddam's capture on the "War on Terror", similar to Howard Dean's stance on the whole thing:

The capture of Saddam makes America no safer. America was never threatened by Iraq. Every single one of the scare tactics employed by the administration in their game of bait and switch designed to exploit the trauma of 9/11 to deploy the neocons’ longtime plan to invade Iraq has proven an exaggeration, a chimera or a lie. There were no WMDs; no nukes, and no connections to Al Qaida. Saddam was being effectively contained at the moment George Bush chose to plunge the world into war.

Meanwhile, the men who attacked us REMAIN FREE TO DO SO AGAIN—in part due to the fact that we have wasted our resources—and the world’s good will--on Bush’s Iraqi obsession. And we are hardly much better prepared than we were last time. Our nuclear and chemical plants remain all but unprotected; so too our ports and infrastructure. Our first responders are untrained and our cities starved for resources to defend themselves. The mass media might not remember that a “war on terrorism” is supposed to address actual terrorists, but we do.

Capturing Saddam Hussein is a blow for justice; and it will be a good thing for Iraqis, no doubt. But if all this war was about was making Iraqis safer, well, then, Bush should have said so. But then, of course, it would never have happened. And we would all be better off.

As I've said before, capturing Saddam may well turn out to be a watershed moment in Iraqi history and the Iraq war, leading us to better times, but only if this administration takes advantage of the opportunity to dramatically change the way they are carrying out this occupation. Overall, it is undeniably good news, and it undeniably sends a major message to tinpot dictators around the world to be careful with America, but even that message has to be greatly muted by the fact that so many other evil men remain in power with our friendship and assistance (CalPundit quoted a few examples in my post recently).

So in the end, this may be good for Iraq, but I still do not see how it helps America (other than to possibly get us out of the mistake that is the Iraq war sooner rather than later). The sooner we can extract ourselves with some face, the better, and if Saddam's capture hastens that, then bravo.

Posted by Observer at 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2003

Oil and Water

Steve Gilliard's blog is fast becoming my first read of the day. He talks about many different things with an impressive command of the details, and his analysis is usually really sharp. He's got good stuff lately (very pessimistic) on post-Saddam Iraq. I hope he's wrong, but unless we take this opportunity to truly change our approach to dealing with the Iraqi people during the occupation (not to mention our allies, whom we need to commit troops if ours are ever going to leave in the next few years), I fear he's right.

I was talking with my Dad on the phone the other night. We were exchanging Christmas lists and what not, and he brought up the war. Wanted to know what I thought about Saddam being captured. I said it was great news for us, that I hoped we took advantage of the opportunity to change the outlook of the war so that the whole thing doesn't turn in to a giant mistake. I could hear him do a double-take, I swear, "A mistake?" he asked. "You think the whole Iraq thing is a mistake?" He couldn't believe it.

I said, "Too early to tell. It might turn out that way. I hope it doesn't, but I can't say I'm optimistic." Dad leans to the conservative (a philosophy he came to naturally, I think, being a self-employed entrepeneur for most of his life), but he doesn't pay much attention to politics. Conservatism is just kind of his default position, so he is naturally inclined to support Bush. After getting burned a couple of years ago and getting into a bitter argument with my Mom, I'm not about to repeat that same mistake again. No matter how mad I get, I am *not* going to start a political debate with a family member. If they want to start something, I'll maybe say my little piece and word it diplomatically, but I'm far more likely to just change the subject.

Dad said something like, "Well, I think it's good that we're fighting the terrorists on their turf and not here." As tempted as I was to ask, "Exactly what makes you think that the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 had anything whatsoever to do with Iraq? Hell even your own president specifically, publicly disavowed such a connection a month ago," I simply responded with "Yeah, well, anyway, let me give you some more ideas for the kids for Christmas that you can farm out to the relatives..."

As passionate as I am about politics, I am more passionate about family, and I don't want to risk weakening those ties when it just amounts to arguing with a brick wall anyway. Hell, even if I did convince Dad to come around to my point of view, he'd probably be too embarrassed to face his conservative friends if the conversation ever got around to politics. Like me, he feels that personal relationships are more important than politics, and so it's best to just leave it alone.

Posted by Observer at 07:07 AM | Comments (4)

December 15, 2003

Busy Bodies

We had an exhausting weekend here and got a lot done. After the nice new carpet was installed, it took us most of the rest of the weekend to move everything back into its rightful place (including all the boxes of books). We also got our Christmas tree up.

We have about a 9-foot high artificial tree that we bought two years ago. Michelle did the lion's share of the work "fluffing" out the branches after we got it out from storage, and she hung a lot of lights on it (lots of scratches on her arms now as a result), then red strands of beads, ribbons and we all finally helped out with all the ornaments. It's a nice, crowded, homey tree, and finally the house feels right. Meanwhile, I have been checking out bunches of holiday music CD's from the library each weekend and dumping them into iTunes. I whittled the list down to the best version of each Christmas song last night, so we have a nice holiday soundtrack now.

Everything had been on hold for the carpet, so now it seems like the whole Christmas season is accelerated. We haven't done much shopping yet (just bought a few things for the kids online), but I finalized all the lists with family members over the weekend, so I'm going to be going out on a lot of quick search-and-destroy gift buying missions this week during hours that I hope the shopping district isn't too crowded. I want to get a lot done so we'll have time to sneak away for "Return of the King" this weekend instead of having to Christmas shop.

I took the kids to Toys R Us on Saturday during library day and spent an exhausting hour following them around with a pad and pen. We basically went not so much to add to the list but to whittle it down. You say you really want this action figure? Come on, now, you don't play with action figures. You want that stuffed animal? Well, ok, would you rather have that or the Finding Nemo DVD? It was that sort of day.

It'll pay off on Christmas day, though, because we were able to farm out a lot of things the kids really really want to the relatives, so they'll be happy seeing how excited they make the kids when they open presents at the various houses we'll visit. We're going to visit relatives on Christmas Eve and Christmas day afternoon. Christmas morning is for us, as is Boxing Day (something I never even heard of until Michelle moved down here).

Oh, and Justin ended a long Yu-Gi-Oh losing streak to me last night (over a month of nightly duels). He was as excited as I've seen him in a long time. He and the other kids will be even tougher to beat after they get a few high quality individual cards for Christmas. He made the mistake of running to Cody's room to gloat about it, but Cody said something like, "So? I beat Dad five times in the last month!" That little twerp!

Posted by Observer at 07:13 AM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2003

Head on a Pike

It seems that we've finally managed to capture Saddam Hussein. It remains to be seen exactly what effect this will have on the Iraqi people and the Arab world in general. We can only hope for our sake that it is a huge positive payoff to the mighty neocon Iraq gamble.

My feeling is that in the next couple of weeks, anti-US attacks will be stepped up as various disgruntled Iraqis try to bury the good news and show that they are serious. After that comes the real test. Will Iraqis look around in two weeks and realize that things are very, very different now that Saddam is gone, or will they look around and still feel that life sucks under US occupation?

Now would be a good time for a philosophy change, I think. Time for the US Army to say, "Hey, you know what? Now that Saddam is gone, maybe publicly taking advice from the Israelis on insurgency suppression tactics isn't a great idea if we're trying to win Arab hearts and minds. We need to abandon that 'encircle the town with barbed wire and hand out ID cards' thinking and the 'they need a healthy dose of fear and force' ideology and start playing a little nicer, even if it makes it maddeningly easier for troublemakers for a while."

If we're going to offer the Iraqis a realistic alternative to Saddam, we need to run the reconstruction with less of an "iron fist" and more with a "guiding hand". We're going to have to make some major sacrifices to win this conflict, sacrifices of lives. It's time to accept that instead of trying to clamp down to prevent any and all problems, we need to let them blow off some steam and see that we're still here ready to help them with no hard feelings.

Is this administration smart enough to play this potential watershed moment to the maximum possible effect? I hope so, but as I've said before, I definitely don't trust them to. Our awesome armed forces have given these leaders a second chance after they squandered the opening of this chess match. I hope for America's sake that they know enough to play a good midgame.

Posted by Observer at 09:52 AM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2003

Why We Fight

CalPundit has a good summary of our current administration's passionate view on Democracy in other countries. Keep in mind that the main argument now being used (at least by thoughtful conservatives, not the frothing-at-the-mouth braying fools) about the invasion is that it was the right thing to do because we removed a brutal dictator (the WMD argument is out the window and the whole "world is a safer place" nonsense gets more embarrassing every day):

Neither George Bush nor any other American president, with the possible and partial exception of Jimmy Carter, has ever been especially concerned with democracy in foreign countries. Yes, Bush talks about it a lot, but it's just talk. Let's roll the tape:

Taiwan? Deserving of little more than random bitch slaps if we feel like it might buy us some help from China over trade deficits and North Korea.

Saudi Arabia? Our finest friends in the world. Why, we fought a whole war so that we could remove our troops from their soil.

Pakistan? Their military dictatorship is a good thing as long as they help us out with the Taliban occasionally.

Uzbekistan? Why make trouble over boiling people to death as long as we're allowed to set up a military base or two?

I could go on, but you get the point.

Now, there's nothing necessarily wrong with these positions. I'm not a big league Saudi basher myself, China is a major power that needs to be dealt with realistically, and sometimes the fight on terror is going to make for strange bedfellows in central Asia. Still, it's pretty tiresome to hear conservatives endlessly extolling George Bush's commitment to democracy when it's clear from his actions that he has no such commitment at all, not even in Iraq.

As I've said before, I don't mind the speeches. They sound pretty and they might even do some good. Just don't take them seriously, OK?

Bush makes one or two eloquent speeches about Democracy, and conservatives do a double-take as the world flips him off. "See?" they say, "You can't win with those Europeans, stubborn socialist bastards." Well, maybe we could win if we had a president, you know, with a little bit of integrity. Maybe with a leader who didn't just give Democracy a little lip service when the going gets tough. Maybe a leader with a realistic view of the world, with a grasp of actual politics instead of an arrogant, comical ignorance. Someone who understands what all those eloquent words really mean.

At the very least, it would give some meaning to why we fight this war. As it is, why would any other country *not* believe it is about "rolling out a new product"? If it were really all about Iraq instead of crony capitalism and stupid neocon pipe dreams, why would we be excluding other countries from directly helping out with the reconstruction (we recently told France, Germany, Russia and Canada (!?!) to take a hike), denying them the chance to bid competitively on projects against HalliBechtel in Iraq? Don't we need all the help we can get over there?

When oh when will the grown-ups be back in charge?

Posted by Observer at 08:39 AM | Comments (1)

December 12, 2003

Carpet Datum

Eleven hours and a whole lot of moved furniture later, we have brand new carpet in the house. A nice, bright, high-quality berber that with any luck will last and look good for a long time. Of all the major investments we plan to make in this house, new carpet was the first. Now we can start talking about some furniture...maybe when our tax refund comes in. It took us over an hour just to set up all our computing stuff again. So many cords!

Tomorrow, we will finally be free to set up the tree. We had to wait to keep space in the (tiled) living room clear for the furniture shuffle as they installed carpet (of course, today was the one day in the last month or so that it poured rain pretty much the whole day). And then we have to do some Xmas shopping for the kids! Gah, it's coming up so fast this year.

Posted by Observer at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

Fightin' Words

That flaming icon of the famously ultra-liberal (maybe even Marxist) ABC, Ted Koppel, had this question for three of the candidates on the liberal end of the Democratic spectrum last night, who some consider to be unelectable:

"This is question to Ambassador Braun, Rev. Sharpton, Congressman Kucinich. You don't have any money, at least not much. Rev. Sharpton has almost none. You don't have very much, Ambassador Braun. The question is, will there come a point when polls, money and then ultimately the actual votes that will take place here, in places like New Hampshire, the caucuses in Iowa, will there come a point when we can expect one or more of the three of you to drop out? Or are you in this as sort of a vanity candidacy?"

Other quotes by Koppel indicate that it is awfully inconvenient for ABC to have a debate with too many candidates. It isn't as neat and dramatic. It's a real snooze for people, so Ted wanted to spice it up and make the candidates mad. Dennis Kucinich, who is a really decent guy, but he just can't get momentum away from Dean, Kerry, Liebermann and Gephardt, who are the only ones getting much coverage, responded appropriately:

"Ted, you know, we started at the beginning of this evening talking about an endorsement. Well, I want the American people to see where the media takes politics in this country. To start with endorsements, to start talking about endorsements. Now we're talking about polls. And then we're talking about money. Well, you know, when you do that, you don't have to talk about what's important to the American people.

"Ted, I'm the only one up here that actually, on the stage, that actually voted against the Patriot Act. And voted against the war. The only one on this stage. I'm also one of the few candidates up here who's talking about taking our healthcare system from this for-profit system to a not-for-profit, single-payer, universal health care for all. I'm also the only one who has talked about getting out of NAFTA and the WTO and going back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers rights, human rights and the environment. Now, I may be inconvenient for some of those in the media, but I'm, you know, sorry about that."

It's about freakin' time Democrats fought back against the lazy corporate media whores, all those damn millionaire pundits who care more about the easy story, the horse race, the gossip, than any kind of substance. Ted Koppel is usually pretty good about not being lazy and stupid, but if you look at the questions he asked (Atrios has laid it all out), there's hardly anything of substance there (he got to a policy question on question number 19, about halfway through the 90-minute debate).

And if you haven't been following the stupid media, Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler has. Ever since Gore endorsed Dean, the "Gore says he invented the internet" myth has been repeated at least a dozen times (to be fair, mostly on Fox). I've mentioned this before, but a *thorough* refutation of that incredibly stupid, dishonest and corrosive myth can be found in the Howler archives. Not that it matters to your public servants! Why let the truth get in the way of a good chuckle at the expense of our policial discourse, eh?

Thanks, liberal media!

I don't hate, but yeah, I'm mad. Crap, I get mad at the kids, too, but it doesn't mean I hate 'em! I'm mad, and I've got good fucking reason to be. And if you read what passes for conservative thinking these days, you would be, too. The media is lined right up behind people like this who claim that a vote for Democrats is a vote for Al Qaeda, that if only we had kept on fighting instead of giving up in Vietnam, we would've "won"!

Art Silber is good about digging up history lessons comparing the Iraq rhetoric with Vietnam rhetoric (standard stupid disclaimer: I *know* they aren't the same, but there are undeniably many troubling parallels). This is the mentality driving the base, the voters Bush is pandering to, and to some extent, the Moron American, who reads in the corporate media about how Dean dodged the draft and flip-flops and probably wants to surrender to Saddam Hussein. Just like they read Gore was a liar.

This level of discourse by conservatives (and the mainstream media, which isn't nearly as vicious but definitely knows better) is an abomination to this great country, and it is damn well time we liberals stand up and say "enough"! The lazy corporate media isn't going to do it. Millionaire pundits couldn't care less as long as there's good gossip and a good horse race. And most Moron Americans are more concerned about the latest titillation or holding down multiple jobs while raising families than they are about facts and logic when it comes to politics. They grew up trusting the media to inform them, and they are being very poorly served.

I damn well have a right to be passionate, because my weapon is the truth. If conservatives want to start talking about some difficult truths, then more power to them, I say. But quit shovelling the crap about "Bush hatred" or "dissent = treason" along with the various stupid labels the lazy media pins on the candidates. It's shameful, cowardly and totally un-American.

Posted by Observer at 07:00 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2003

Crunch Time

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 08:40 AM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2003

Sim Nerd

If you don't normally follow the online cartoon over in my sidebar, PVP Online, now's a good time to start. Recently, a new storyline started in which they're playtesting a new role-playing game where they role-play gamers. So far, just about every strip in the bunch has been good for a smile or a laugh. You can start reading the sequence here and then just keep clicking forward until you catch up (10 or so strips).

Posted by Observer at 05:51 PM | Comments (3)

Off Message

Jim Hightower poses a good hypothetical. In the unlikely event that one of Bush's daughters were to come home in a "transfer tube" as a casualty of the Iraq war, do you suppose Bush would risk going "off message" to greet the plane? Just asking.

Oh yeah, and Atrios points to this summary of a Democratic debate, an AP story. Read this summary yourself and tell me with a straight face that media is liberally biased. Gawd, it's pathetic, reads like a damned White House press release.

Posted by Observer at 06:48 AM | Comments (2)

December 09, 2003


The new Bushco spin regarding the apparently fictional WMD in Iraq? Just like Florida: Get over it. Or as Andy Card (White House Chief of Staff) put it: "It's a moot point.". This group has certainly brought new moral standards to the White House. What honor. What integrity. They're making Clinton look like a saint.

Meanwhile, John Kerry pulled an idiotic manuever out of his hat, saying that Bush "fucked up" in Iraq in a Rolling Stone interview. I mean, it is idiotic in the context of today's so-called liberal media, which is prominently reporting that the prim and proper and oh-so-offended White House is expecting an apology. Such language! Oh dear! Where's the context, liberal media? Where's Bush talking about "Pussy" with dear old dad? Where's the reference to the "major league asshole"? Where's the old "Fuck Saddam." quote from the Boy King?

In other news, here's a promising quote from a Colonel commenting on the Iraqi people: "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them," Colonel Sassaman said.

We are *so* doomed.

Posted by Observer at 06:55 AM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2003

Tree-Hugging Hunters

Recently, we had a good discussion about hunters and the environment. I was reminded of that when I read this article about a nascent environmental movement among hunters opposed the extreme nuttiness of Bushco environmental policies.

It's nice to see. I'll still stick with what I asserted in the beginning, though. While it is nice to see hunters come out in favor of the environment, they're really only doing it to protect their own domain (pristine hunting grounds, including clean streams and lakes, etc). When it comes down to a choice between a Democrat who (we will all be told endlessly) plans to rip the gun out of every single American's hands (even though they may just be for modest gun control, like taking away assault rifles, or have very little difference from Bush's position, like Dean) and the kind of environmental tragedy foisted upon us by Bush, is there any question whom the majority of hunters will vote for?

I mean, it seems possible from this article that instead of a 90/10 split in favor of Bush, it might go to an 85/15 or 80/20 split, but I'm skeptical. I'm thinking the hunters making the noise are part of the 10 anyway. If Bush actually substantially changes some environmental policies because of this sort of thing, it will mean the hunters really mean it. I don't expect that to happen.

Posted by Observer at 06:44 AM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2003

Not Ready for Duty, Sir!

I thought the exact same thing when I saw it in the paper yesterday morning, and Atrios helpfully provides the relevant links for then:

Democrats were infuriated when Governor Bush said at the Republican convention in Philadelphia last month that two U.S. army divisions, if called into action by the president, ''would have to report 'not ready for duty, sir.'''

Those divisions are now combat-ready, Democrats argued, a fact confirmed by General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

and now:

Four Army divisions -- 40 percent of the active-duty force -- will not be fully combat-ready for up to six months next year, leaving the nation with relatively few ready troops in the event of a major conflict in North Korea or elsewhere, a senior Army official said yesterday.

The four divisions -- the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Airborne, the 1st Armored and the 4th Infantry -- are to return from Iraq next spring, to be replaced by three others, with a fourth rotating into Afghanistan. That would leave only two active-duty divisions available to fight in other parts of the world.

Ok, wait, now let's play the game. Let's predict the Republican response to this criticism. I pick the "dissent = treason" response. That is, Republicans will say that it is disloyal and treasonous for liberals to be talking about our military's weakness while we are in the midst of a global war against terror. The liberals just want the terrorists to win.

Not that the Republicans need to bother. This ridiculous hypocrisy, like all the rest of it, will soon be forgotten by the mainstream media just like everything else as soon as Paris Hilton accidentally on purpose releases another sex video or another celebrity goes on trial or the Ohio shooter decides to go nuts now that he's getting attention, etc.

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2003

Dean Didn't Dodge

I can already feel the rumblings of the Mighty Republican Wurlitzer cranking out the song of the day: Howard Dean is a draft dodger. This is going to come up again and again, so we might as well set the record straight now. Steve Gilliard does a fine job with it:

Anyone claiming Dean dodged the draft is lying. I would suggest Dean supporters note the following: Howard Dean reported for induction, he was examined by an Army doctor. The Army declared him 1Y, not 4F, which is to say that he was in the second rank of people eligible for induction. So he followed the rules.

The condition Dean has was discovered while he was a teenager and had been treated and noted before he entered Yale. It was not invented for the exam, and if it had not been judged serious enough, he would have been inducted on the spot. He didn't try to get a reserve unit posting, nor claim dependents or anything which would have mitigated his service. All he would have had to do was get a civilian job which would have exempted him and given his family connections, that would have been easy. There were no furtive phone calls, no favors, no claims of homosexuality or long hidden illness. Dean acted as ethically as someone who opposed the war could have acted. He also faced induction in New York, not the most liberal of draft boards, given the large number of New Yorkers who served in Vietnam.

People think the draft was an open option exam, and it's not. Many people were rejected for military service based on any number of conditions. Gregory Peck was declared 4F because of a boating injury he had at UCLA. During WWII, people lied to get inducted and several committed suicide when they were declared 4F. A draft classification is not up to the individual and while middle class and wealthy kids did present medical conditions to the draft board, Dean seems to have acted ethically. Poor kids were rejected by the same classification system as well.

I was surprised that Max Clelland attacked Dean for skiing after his induction physical. Dean never claimed to be physically unfit. He didn't claim a sudden illness. If there had been no war, he would have still had the same condition. The reason he was considered 1Y, and not 4F was that he had enough mobility, but with his condition, service would have been difficult. Carrying a 50lb pack or sitting in a tank all day with a bad back is not a good combination. Especially when the pain imobilizes you for minutes at a time.

Sure, he could lay bricks or ski, because no one was shooting at him and he didn't have 11 other men depending on him at the time. If he stopped for a moment, no one was going to get a bullet in their skull. Which is why they have draft classifications and not press gangs. [...]

Dean played by the rules, Bush and Cheney did not. Bush used his family influence to avoid Vietnam service and was AWOL to the best of anyone's recollection, for an entire year, an act which should have gotten him busted and sent straight to Thailand as a ground officer. Cheney got four deferements and hid behind his wife and graduate school. [...]

Dean didn't game the system. He followed the rules. Even if Dean had volunteered, his condition would have probably precluded service if he had been honest about it. To whip around and claim he did something unethical or illegal when he clearly did neither is dead wrong.

Bookmark this for future reference, because I *ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE* that Dean will be referred to as a draft dodger by the mainstream media (quoting Republican operatives, of course) an average of about once a week from here until the election (assuming Dean is the nominee). I look forward to the time this issue comes up in a debate, because I would love to see Bush talk about his going AWOL from his cushy National Guard post. While we're at it, let's compare the first 40 years of Dean's life with the first 40 years of Bush's life. Please, let the comparisons regarding honorable behavior begin!

Posted by Observer at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2003

Bait and Switch

The headlines in various papers are "EPA plans to cut emissions that cause smog and soot" or "EPA plan would cut power plant pollution" or something like that. The initial paragraphs seem to indicate that Bush is going to override Congress to protect the environment and impose these tough new rules to prevent pollution, that he'll make power companies pay billions to comply (my eyes were already rolling, and then my jaw dropped when I saw the implication that somehow power companies were going to be made to pay for their own upgrades ... not with this administration). USA Today prominently subheads a quote from the latest Bushco stooge fronting for the EPA saying this is "the largest single investment in any clean air program in history."

Think again. Your "liberal media" is doing the old bait and switch, selling you the administration spin and then putting the relevant facts down at the bottom. If you read through the whole story, you find out the pollution controls are scheduled to go into effect in *2015*! Even, better, "environmentalists" were quoted in the article, "complaining" about the new rules.

Don't you just love that? Here's the spin from your so-called liberal media: "the Boy King is trying to do something good for the environment and those whiny liberals are complaining that it isn't good enough! Gah, will nothing make them happy?" This is why the 2004 election will be close when by all rights, Bush should be ridden out of town on a rail. I can't decide which is worse, this administration or the embarrassing state of journalism today. I truly think the latter may be more harmful to us in the long run, and that's saying a lot.

Posted by Observer at 08:40 AM | Comments (0)

Evolution of a Conservative

David Neiwert at Orcinus has an excellent discussion of his changing opinions about conservatism over the past ten years. It's quite long (20-30 minute read) and quite good.

I think the most interesting part he talks about is how politics has become personal and why. I had a bad experience exchanging emails with my Mom a few years ago during the Bush/Gore campaign, and Neiwert's description of his disappointment at the way some conservatives believe and behave mirrors my own. Anyway, some highlights:

What became especially clear was that -- even though I had always believed, and still do, that upper-class and urban liberals are prone to a phony compassion that only extended to various victim classes, rather like a parlor game, often rationalized with a tortuous intellectualism -- conservatives likewise were fond of wrapping themselves in my old-fashioned, working-class values (along with the American flag, of course) while utterly undermining the ability of ordinary, working-class people to make a decent living and obtain equal opportunity.

Conservatism, especially in the past 20 years, has come less to represent those old-fashioned values, and instead has become a watchword for rampant, unfettered corporatism. Republicans in Idaho particularly were fond of gutting my state's heritage -- letting "free enterprise" pollute our streams, wipe out fish runs and wildlife habitat, destroy the forests in which I used to hunt and fish -- while proclaiming they were doing so in the name of "liberty." They weren't the party of the little people, despite their pose, which so many people I knew bought into. They were the party of the fat cats who bellied up to the public trough, trashed our lands, and walked away fatter and fancy free. [...]

Over the past 10 years or more, I've become much more concerned about conservatism, largely because it has itself morphed from a style of thought, like liberalism, into a decidedly ideological movement. One never hears of a "liberal movement," while the "conservative movement" proudly announces its presence at every turn. Conservatism has become highly dogmatic and rigid in its thinking, allowing hardly anything in the way of dissent -- indeed, it is nowadays practically Stalinist itself, especially in the way it punishes anyone who strays from the official "conservative" line.

This became abundantly clear over the years, on a personal level, as I became increasingly accused of being a "liberal" merely for questioning conservative dogma. Of course, my truly liberal friends always suspected me of latent conservatism (probably true), but in the past decade especially, I've had to finally accept the "liberal" label simply because it has come to be plastered on anyone who is simply "not conservative." [...]

There were two crucial turning points: December 12, 2000, and September 11, 2001. When the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Bush v. Gore, (which I will discuss in more detail sometime this week), it became clear to me that not only had the conservative movement grown into a dogmatic ideology, it had metastacized into a power-hungry, devouring claque of ideologues for whom winning was all that mattered. [...]

What I observed over time was that none of my conservative friends would seriously defend Bush v. Gore but would switch subjects or revert to a "get over it" kind of response. None would acknowledge that there were perfectly good, perhaps even patriotic, reasons not to get over it. None would acknowledge that, were the shoe on the other foot, they too would be seriously outraged -- and I mean long-term outrage. [...]

What seems to have really ripped things apart, though, was the aftermath of September 11. And this came down not so much to my feelings, but to theirs. [...]

[Painting dissent as treason] has become the worldview of mainstream conservatives in all walks of life. It's manifested itself not just in nationally prominent scenarios like the attacks on the Dixie Chicks and other entertainment folk, but in other smaller and lesser-known ways, too, like the way conservative officers are driving liberal soldiers out of the military. The clear message in these cases: Dissent is disloyalty. [...]

One of the important things I learned as a cops-and-courts reporter lo these many years ago was something about crime victims: That they often make themselves vulnerable to violent crimes because they are not prepared to deal with people who are sociopathic, or who exhibit antisocial or narcissistic personality disorders, or in some cases outright psychoses. That they project their own normalcy onto these other people -- they really cannot believe that someone else would act in a way substantially different from their own decent, sane base of operations.

In a way, I think this is a large part of what is happening to our national body politic: People in key positions of media and conservative ideological prominence (Coulter, Limbaugh, even Bill O'Reilly) exhibit multiple symptoms of being pathological sociopaths, either antisocial or narcissistic, or a combination of both. And not only their fellow participants in the conservative movement, but mainstream centrists and even liberals are unable to figure out that there is something seriously wrong with these people because they are projecting their own normalcy onto them. They cannot perceive because they cannot believe -- that, above all, these people are not operating within a framework guided by the boundaries of basic decency that restrain most of us. [...]

How is any kind of normative political discourse possible in this environment? How is it possible to be civil to people who constantly are placing you under assault? How can there be dialogue when the normative rules of give and take and fair play have not only been flushed down the drain, but chopped into bits and swept out with the tide? Do the advocates of civility place any onus on the nonstop verbal abuse, and absolutely ruthless, win-at-all-costs politics emanating from the conservative quadrant? And do they really expect liberals to refuse to defend themselves, when even doing so gets them accused of further incivility?

I don't mean to pick on my highly valued and respectable commenter (who is sort of conservative), but this last paragraph is a big recent frustration. I wrote an entry praising Bush's trip to Baghdad (at a time when many liberals were bashing him relentlessly ... see the articles I linked in comments to that post) and putting it into the broader context of my overall disappointment and frustration over the war. In response, my commenter accused me of calling everything Bush does "evil". As Neiwert said, "How is any kind of normative political discourse possible in this environment?"

I admit I come from a subjective worldview that disagrees with many current conservative philosophies, but I am also open-minded, as any person interested in the truth should be. I should be allowed to point out flaws (even using course humor, like "the Boy King" or "Bushco") without being accused of frothing at the mouth. I'm angry, but just because I'm angry doesn't mean I'm irrational. I think the points I raise deserve to be addressed, and I also believe that the mainstream so-called liberal media has thrown up its hands and said, "Not our job!" for some reason. So it gets kicked around in blogs and the vast majority of Moron Americans remain blissfully unaware of the big picture because they don't have the time or the interest, because they aren't willing and able to look through the smokescreen being put up by this administration and its compliant press corps.

Back during the 2000 campaign, as I said, I had a big political disagreement with my Mom. I don't remember who brought it up, but Mom and I began debating politics over email. But it was frustrating because she wouldn't respond to points I was making about, say, Bush's record in Texas or the real story about Gore and the Internet or what have you. I would explain to her why I thought a repeal of the estate tax was a bad idea, for example, and she would respond with "What do you think of this?" and it was a link to an article from some wingnut saying Al Gore committed actual treason by secretly negotiating away too much to the Russians during some obscure peace conference in 1994 or something.

It went on like that. I would debunk some silly conservative story that she got forwarded from the fore-runner to sites like the Drudge Report or InstaPundit or whatever. She wouldn't even comment. She would instead send another (what I thought was) silly story. I would get mad at her, and she would say, "Hey, I'm only forwarding this to see what you think. I didn't say I believed it." But I feared that deep in her heart she did believe these things at some level, and worse, she was selectively digesting facts that fit with her worldview (the whole of which was a big surprise to me, because I had always thought she had more liberal tendencies). What little debate we did have had her repeating stuff verbatim from Rush Limbaugh (stuff that is definitively disproven by a variety of sources) and me trying without much luck to talk about issues I thought mattered (I'm sure she thought I was being pretty pig-headed, too, of course).

Eventually, I got really mad and said some things I deeply regret. She got mad, too. We patched it up, but our relationship has never been quite the same since. I don't dare bring up politics with her, even now when I think about it so much, because I don't want to fight any more with her. I value our relationship too much to risk it. Politics has really become personal, and I think Neiwert has hit the nail on the head as to why, and his frustrations are my own. It's a good piece he's written there, and I hope you'll read the whole thing.

Posted by Observer at 06:44 AM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2003

Stupid Conservative Myth #13

Here we go with another in the occasional series of myths held mostly by know-nothing conservatives who think Bush is a real ass-kicking hero:

Liberals believe that taxes are too low, but ATM fees are too high.

In political discussions, I am occasionally confronted with the conservative question: How high do you think taxes would be? What would satisfy you? Honestly, I don't know. What I do know is that there are some great liberal programs in America that I think deserve funding. You want to ask how much? I would respond by asking what value of M1 (the money supply) would make the economy prosper the most efficiently right now.

What's that? You don't know? What, I thought you were an expert on economics, being a Republican who supposedly knows all about how taxes and everything else affect the economy. Well, then, can you estimate how many joint strike fighters we should purchase in order for our country to be safe? How many warheads (with how much mega-tonnage and what distribution) should we keep on hand? Not sure? Hey, I thought you were an expert on defense, being a conservative, so what are you whining about?

You see, in the end, the details of taxation, economic and defense policy (not to mention other areas of government) should best be left to the professionals. All liberals and conservatives are really there for is to provide guiding principles. My guiding principles are that everyone should have an equal opportunity at a quality education, quality health care (though I agree cost controls are needed, and I like Oregon's system as the best of a bunch of bad choices I've seen), employment and legal rights. I also believe in progressive taxation, because in general, I believe the wealthy can afford to put back in more than the poor because the wealthy couldn't have made it happen without this country.

They owe a social debt to America to help keep it strong, and it doesn't hurt them to pay it. Does it act as a disincentive? Only a very mild one. A tax dollar that goes back in a poor person's pocket perhaps doesn't stimulate as much economic growth as one in a rich person's pocket (depends on what they do with their money) necessarily, another drawback. So I recognize that there is a balance to be struck there. A flat tax isn't it, and the current regressive taxation system is *definitely* not it. Do I think taxes should be higher? Yes, on a certain segment of the population, but not across the board.

ATM fees? Who cares. Maybe that's something consumer protection laws (something conservatives in power right now abhor) should deal with for low income citizens who get ripped off by banks, but that's pretty damned far down on the totem pole of the problems this country faces today. Anyway, this whole series has me thinking a lot about what it means to be a liberal, and I found a great post the other day in Steve Gilliard's blog on this subject, but I can't link the exact entry. So I'll quote it at length:

You know, I've studied history, I've read about America and you know something, if it weren't for liberals, we'd be living in a dark, evil country, far worse than anything Bush could conjure up. A world where children were told to piss on the side of the road because they weren't fit to pee in a white outhouse, where women had to get back alley abortions and where rape was a joke, unless the alleged criminal was black, whereupon he was hung from a tree and castrated.

What has conservatism given America? A stable social order? A peaceful homelife? Respect for law and order? No. Hell, no. It hasn't given us anything we didn't have and it wants to take away our freedoms.

The Founding Fathers, as flawed as they were, slaveowners and pornographers, smugglers and terrorists, understood one thing, a man's path to God needed no help from the state. Is the religion of these conservatives so fragile that they need the state to prop it up, to tell us how to pray and think? Is that what they stand for? Is that their America?

Conservatism plays on fear and thrives on lies and dishonesty. I grew up with honest, decent conservatives and those people have been replaced by the party of greed. It is one thing to want less government interference and smaller, fiscally responsible government. It is another thing entirely to be a corporate whore, selling out to the highest bidder because the CEO fattens your campaign chest. They are building an America which cannot be sustained. One based on the benefit of the few at the cost of the many. The indifferent boss who hires too few people and works them to death or until they break down sick.

Cheap labor capitalism has replaced common sense. "Globalism" which is really guise for exploitation, replaced fair trade, which is nothing like fair for the trapped semi-slaves of the maquliadoras. In the Texas border towns, hundreds of these women have been used as sex slaves and then apparently killed,the FBI powerless to do anything as the criminals sit in Mexico untouched by law.

For the better part of a decade, the conservatives made liberal a dirty word. Well, it isn't. It represents the best and most noble nature of what America stands for: equitable government services, old age pensions, health care, education, fair trials and humane imprisonment. It is the heart and soul of what made American different and better than other countries. Not only an escape from oppression, but the opportunity to thrive in land free of tradition and the repression that can bring. We offered a democracy which didn't enshrine the rich and made them feel they had an obligation to their workers.

Bush and the people around him disdain that. They think, by accident of birth and circumstance, they were meant to rule the world and those who did not agree would suffer.

Liberal does not and has not meant weak until the conservatives said it did. Was Martin Luther King weak? Bobby Kennedy? Gene McCarthy? It was the liberals who remade this country and ended legal segregation and legal sexism. Not the conservatives, who wanted to hold on to the old ways.

It's time to regain the sprit of FDR and Truman and the people around them. People who believed in the public good over private gain. It is time to stop apologizing for being a liberal and be proud to fight for your beliefs. No more shying away or being defined by other people. Liberals believe in a strong defense and punishment for crime. But not preemption and pointless jail sentences. We believe no American should be turned away from a hospital because they are too poor or lack a proper legal defense. We believe that people should make enough from one job to live on, to spend time on raising their family. We believe that individuals and not the state should dictate who gets married and why. The best way to defend marriage is to expand, not restrict it.

It was the liberals who opposed the Nazis while the conservatives were plotting to get their brown shirts or fund Hitler. It was the liberals who warned about Spain and fought there, who joined the RAF to fight the Germans, who brought democracy to Germany and Japan. Let us not forget it was the conservatives who opposed defending America until the Germans sank our ships. They would have done nothing as Britain came under Nazi control. It was they who supported Joe McCarthy and his baseless, drink fueled claims.

Without liberals, there would be no modern America, just a Nazi sattlelite state. Liberals weak on defense? Liberals created America's defense. The conservatives only need vets at election time.

It is time to stop looking for an accomodation with the right. They want none for us. They want to win, at any price. So, you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?

A bit over the top on some issues, like any good stump speech, but rousing nonetheless. We liberals have a lot to be proud of, a heck of a lot more than most conservatives can hang their hat on. We have the moral authority and the duty to this country to oppose the awful administration currently in power. As the saying goes (paraphrased), all that evil needs in order to flourish is for good men to stand aside and do nothing.

Posted by Observer at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2003

Institutionalized Dishonesty

Cursor points out a lengthy Rolling Stone piece by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. about Bush and the environment. It has to be long because Bushco has done so much damage in so many different areas. Think of any environmental issue: global warming, acid rain, mining, nuclear energy, superfund cleanups, fish populations, endangered species, national forests, clean air, clean water. On every single one of these issues, there has been a concerted effort by the Bush team to gut rules, suspend prosecutions, quash investigative reports and otherwise help out corporations.

Usually, it is done in secrecy, but when the issue is so public that many people know about it and pay attention to it, bought and paid for scientists are trotted out to parrot the corporate line and talk about how good these new policies are for the environment:

The very ideologues who derided Bill Clinton as a liar have institutionalized dishonesty and made it the reigning culture of America's federal agencies.

"Institutionalized dishonesty" is the perfect two-word summary of this entire administration. Not only on the environment but on just about every single issue they've addressed. Thank God there are so many good authors and bloggers out there who are documenting it all for the record. The "liberal media" sure won't do it, certainly not with even a tiny fraction of the zeal with which they pursued Clinton and then Gore.

Can you believe given the culture of this administration that during the election, *Gore* was portrayed as the one with honesty problems!? Like with the war, I knew then how stupid the media was being, and I said so (though I didn't have a blog at the time). So did many others (the Daily Howler being among my favorites).

It's a small but welcome consolation, I guess.

Posted by Observer at 06:50 AM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2003

Neil's a Diamond

For those conservatives who were in a froth over Clinton's supposed connection to the Chinese (stupid conservative myth #3 which I debunked back here), I'm wondering why I sense no outrage over Neil Bush, the president's brother, getting millions from the Chinese for "business advice" on things like semiconductors. Just asking.

I also thought it was rather ironic that while Bush was speaking out forcefully with the Full Moral Authority of the United States against the global sex trade, his brother was over in the Far East banging hookers. Do you suppose old Neil will be called to testify and share his experiences before Congress so that we can put an end to this seamy stuff? Maybe they can ask him about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage while he's there.

Posted by Observer at 07:00 AM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2003

He Doesn't Know She's His Sister?

I spent part of the long weekend unwinding and re-watching the original Star Wars trilogy. I really just wanted to watch Episode IV because I love the last battle scene so much. The kids saw what was on and kinda wandered in and out through the living room during the movie, occasionally sitting down to watch 15-20 minutes of it. During the last battle when Darth Vader was flying down the trench chasing Luke, Sarah asks, "How come he wants to kill Luke?"

I said, "Well, first of all, Luke is trying to blow up the Death Star, and Darth Vader doesn't want that to happen. Secondly, Vader doesn't realize that he's chasing his son."

Sarah looked surprised, "What?"

Innocently, I shrugged, "What?"

Sarah looked skeptical. "Wait a minute," she said suspiciously, "You mean Darth Vader is Luke's father? I thought that was Anakin!"

I smiled. "They're the same person, Sarah?"

A little shocked, Sarah looked lost, "I don't get it."

Noticing that the scene is coming to its legendary conclusion, I ask that we watch the rest of the movie and save the questions for later. Sarah reluctantly agreed, but after the movie was over, I got bombarded. I put in "The Empire Strikes Back," and she watched most of it, especially the parts with Yoda. She was pretty shocked to see Yoda, Jedi Master of Coruscant, slumming on Dagobah. I guess she must've forgotten the original trilogy or maybe never watched it very closely.

Later I realized that she didn't understand that Ben Kenobi from "Star Wars" and "Obi Wan Kenobi" from "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" are the same person. She complained in the form of a question, "But how come he's younger in the movies that came out later? Why didn't they just tell the story in order?"

I tried to explain what was going on, but every question I answered generated two more. And no, for the 10th time, I have no idea if there are any plans for an Episode 7. Sure, I hope for one, but I don't know. Well, it was bedtime by the time "Empire" was over, but Sarah watched "Return of the Jedi" all on her own the next day so she could see how the story concluded.

The whole Luke/Leia brother/sister thing really threw her for a loop. She also demands an explanation of what eventually happens to Queen Amidala and why Leia's last name isn't Skywalker and why is Anakin in that black suit and why did he fight Obi Wan and so on. Oh well, I'm glad it's got her interest now. Maybe she'll sit still for Episode 3 when it hits the theaters (unlike her half-bored behavior when "Clones" came out).

In the meantime, I gave her some of the books I have from the Bantam Spectra post-Jedi series that started coming out several years ago (the timeline begins with "The Truce at Bakura" and continues through "The Courtship of Princess Leia" and on into Zahn's really good three-book cycle). I think she's just skimming them for more details about what happens to Han, Luke and Leia, though.

When we went to the library on Saturday, all three kids loaded up on Star Wars books (not the original trilogy or Bantam books but the chapter books for kids). They have asked to stay up late the past two nights in a row so they can read. What great kids! Hmmm, what shall I hook them with next?

Posted by Observer at 06:40 AM | Comments (4)