Thursday, May 31, 2007


The great Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski is it's latest victim in Poland.

His secret was revealed this week through the process that Poland calls "lustration," an uncommon word meaning purification. In ancient Rome, lustration involved sacrificing animals. Today, Poland sacrifices reputations.

The power of the state in the Soviet satellites meant that the secret police were pervasive in all aspects of society. It was almost impossible not to be an informant (and now that it's gone, there seems to be as great a motivation to out former informants as there was to inform on their neighbors in the old days).

That's why it is so important to oppose secret wiretapping at the discretion of the president. Once we cross that line in the interest of "Homeland Security (and how Eastern bloc does that sound?)," and permit the state to spy on citizens with no check on its power, you begin sliding down that slope.

The NFL's and NBA's fascination with dog fighting

Tipped off to this story from an interview with the SI author on Mike & the Mad Dog. It is horrifying.

"[Fighting dogs] is a fun thing, a hobby, to some [athletes]," says an NFL Pro Bowl running back who asked not to be named. "People are crazy about pit bulls. Guys have these nice, big fancy houses, and there is always a pit bull in the back. And everyone wants to have the biggest, baddest dog on the block."

Certainly most athletes who own pit bulls, a breed that's growing in popularity across the U.S., keep them strictly as pets. "People who don't know anything about pit bulls see one and immediately think people are fighting them," says Sean Bailey, a University of Georgia football player with a breeding operation in Alpharetta, Ga. "I breed blue pit bulls, and the 'gameness' dogfighters talk about has been bred out of them."

Still, HSUS officials, who pay for information that leads to a conviction, say they regularly get tips about athletes' participation in dogfights and pass leads on to local law enforcement. Two weeks ago John Goodwin, the HSUS's animal fighting expert, received a tip that a former NBA player ran a fighting ring in Virginia not far from Vick's property. "We hear about athletes all the time," Goodwin says.

"There's a fine line between having a dog as a macho display and having that animal display those characteristics in a fight setting," says Pacelle, the HSUS president. "Athletes get pulled into the subculture. These are competitive people. They are competitive on the football field and on the basketball court, and they get competitive about their dogs."

Or, as the Pro Bowl running back put it, "Sometimes you just want to see how tough a dog you got."

I had no idea this was so prevalent in the sports.

Michael Vick has already been convicted in the press for supposedly concealing pot in a water bottle which turned out to be bullshit (a verdict you almost never heard). But if you've got a dog fighting pit on your property there's no way you don't know about it. And it is a sick, sick thing.

Mr. Brooks receives mail

As Somerby implies, citizens are no longer taking the rampant Gore bashing at the Times lying down.

David Brooks (“The Vulcan Utopia,” column, May 29) criticizes Al Gore’s style (although the sentence he cites is clear and perfectly understandable), speaks disparagingly of Mr. Gore’s “best graduate school manner,” pans his knowledge of history and distorts the central message of Mr. Gore’s new book, “The Assault on Reason.”

My question to Mr. Brooks: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a president who read and understood history, who could write a book (“An Inconvenient Truth”) that has captured the imagination of the world, who takes time to look into the future and who respects reason?

Mr. Gore’s call for more rational discourse in light of an administration that seems to have abandoned such discourse in favor of extreme partisanship, blind authoritarianism and faith-based foreign policy seems exactly the kind of clarion call our nation needs.

An earlier Age of Reason, also called the Enlightenment, countered the excess of superstition, emotion and irrationality that had prevailed in the previous centuries and paved the way for much of the progress in the West since.

Robert A. Rees
Brookdale, Calif., May 29, 2007

To the Editor:

Here we go again! Al Gore isn’t even a candidate (yet), but the attacks are already happening.

David Brooks suggests that Mr. Gore doesn’t relate to people, just to machines. At least Mr. Brooks isn’t accusing him of claiming that he invented the Internet, just wondering if he ever “actually looked” at it.

Also, how awful that Mr. Gore writes in his “best graduate school manner.” At least the “almost president” can write.

One can only imagine what the Republicans will dredge up about him this time.

Of the two candidates who ran for president in 2000, the one with the true intellect, who can actually write a coherent book, is the one bombarded with these absurd attacks.

Gloria Sklerov
Woodland Hills, Calif., May 30, 2007

To the Editor:

Regarding David Brooks’s critique of Al Gore: a chilly worldview, maybe. But I bet a Vulcan Utopian president would have listened to, and not squelched, professional scientists; would have consulted scholars, and not cronies, before invading a country; would have regarded other nations with respect, and not with pridefulness; and would have made appointments on the basis of competence, not loyalty. Sounds to me like a pretty good way to “live long and prosper.”

B. A. Krostenko
South Bend, Ind., May 30, 2007

To the Editor:

It seems that David Brooks couldn’t provide constructive criticism of “The Assault on Reason,” so he had to resort to ad hominem attacks, calling Al Gore “exceedingly strange” and pompous. Even if he were, that does not change that Mr. Gore was right on the war, the environment and the deficit.

Mr. Brooks implies that leaders who are emotionally absent and concentrate only on reason and logic make bad decisions. I think that his thesis could much more fruitfully be applied to Dick Cheney, a poster-boy for both emotional numbness and bad decisions.

Aurora Mendelsohn
Toronto, May 29, 2007

To the Editor:

In “The Assault on Reason,” Al Gore asks, “Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?” I might ask David Brooks a similar question because I cannot see why Mr. Gore’s ideas provoked such a visceral response. In fact, it seems a perfect example of his point that ideas are attacked harshly before they can be fairly discussed.

Frances Briggs
Austin, Tex., May 29, 2007

To the Editor:

I learned exactly one thing from David Brooks’s column: the Republicans are afraid of Al Gore.

Bruce Hunt
Austin, Tex., May 29, 2007

I gotta tell ya, Eve was fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine

Inside the Creation Museum

For generations, paleontologists have shown that dinosaurs and humans never trod the Earth at the same time, that in fact with the exception of birds (modern-day dinosaurs), they never got within 60 million years of each other on the timeline of natural history. Not so, says Looy. "They all had to exist at the same time because they were all made on the same day. There may not be any fossil evidence showing dinosaurs and people in the same place at the same time. But it is clearly written that they were alive at the same time."

January 2009

Josh Marshall notices the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

A-Rod's call

Madame Cura didn't like it, but I thought it was one of the funnier things I've seen in a long time.

With his team leading by two runs following his RBI single in the top of the ninth, A-Rod was running between second and third after Jorge Posada had popped up the potential third out.

As Rodriguez went behind third baseman Howie Clark, who had camped under the ball, he appeared to shout something toward Clark, causing him to back off the play. The ball fell in for a single, allowing a run to score and extending an inning that wound up breaking the game open for the Yankees.

"I said, 'Hah,' that's it," Rodriguez said. "I was almost past third base. I was surprised the ball bounced."

The Blue Jays didn't see it that way.

"I was under it and I heard a 'Mine' call, so I let it go," said Clark, who thought the call came from shortstop John McDonald. "This is my 16th season, granted most of them are in the minor leagues, but it's never happened once. It happened tonight."

That's why most of them have been in the minor leagues, buddy.

And, hell, the Yankees won for the first time in about a week.

But what about the purity of the sport?

UPDATE: Emma Span gets it exactly right, as does one of the comments to her post:

"if that's what he did..."

nobody can even be sure, but we're ready to throw him under the bus anyway.

it is a little league play. like the hidden ball trick, which is usually recounted with an attitude that such plays harken back to a time of innocence and youthful whimsicality or some such nonsense.

this isn't watergate.

what it is is funny.

if the tables were turned and it happened to the yankees, i'd be pissed that they fell for it, not that it was tried.

And, for the record, Madame Cura said after the play, "Derek Jeter wouldn't do that." But Derek Jeter decoys runners at second All. The. Time. Often successfully. He's applauded for that. Head's up baseball. A-Rod decoys that day's call-up from the minors who was "camped under the ball" and it's splashed across the back page of the tabloids, proof -- together with his choice of companionship -- of his moral failings.

And I suspect that the next time Toronto's in town there will be an "HBP" next to A-Rod's name in the box score the next day. It's why I watch baseball every night. Ya never know.

And yes, I've written more about this crazy play this morning than I have about Joe Lieberman's one-on-one with the troops, the latest revelation from US Attorney-gate, or the proposed "cease fire" (not even the defeatocrats have suggested that one). So what? I got my priorities.

"A leading sexologist"

Glad we've cleared this up.

Ewa Sowinska, the conservative government’s watchdog for children’s rights, said she no longer suspected the television series “Teletubbies” and its purple, bag-carrying character, Tinky Winky, of promoting homosexuality. After widespread criticism and ridicule, even from her own party, she said her fears had been allayed by “the opinion of a leading sexologist.”
That sound you hear is Jerry Falwell belching from the grave.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"If we reported it, it's a fact"

Intrigued by the whole "leprosy" emergency this country is apparently not in, David Leonhardt does a little fact checking and finds lots of, as he puts it, "Orwellian chestnuts."

For one thing, Mr. Dobbs has a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. He has said, for example, that one-third of the inmates in the federal prison system are illegal immigrants. That’s wrong, too. According to the Justice Department, 6 percent of prisoners in this country are noncitizens (compared with 7 percent of the population). For a variety of reasons, the crime rate is actually lower among immigrants than natives.

Second, Mr. Dobbs really does give airtime to white supremacy sympathizers. Ms. Cosman, who is now deceased, was a lawyer and Renaissance studies scholar, never a medical doctor or a leprosy expert. She gave speeches in which she said that Mexican immigrants had a habit of molesting children. Back in their home villages, she would explain, rape was not as serious a crime as cow stealing. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a list of other such guests from “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

Finally, Mr. Dobbs is fond of darkly hinting that this country is under attack. He suggested last week that the new immigration bill in Congress could be the first step toward a new nation — a “North American union” — that combines the United States, Canada and Mexico. On other occasions, his program has described a supposed Mexican plot to reclaim the Southwest. In one such report, one of his correspondents referred to a Utah visit by Vicente Fox, then Mexico’s president, as a “Mexican military incursion.”

When I asked Mr. Dobbs about this yesterday, he said, “You’ve raised this to a level that frankly I find offensive.”

The most common complaint about him, at least from other journalists, is that his program combines factual reporting with editorializing. But I think this misses the point. Americans, as a rule, are smart enough to handle a program that mixes opinion and facts. The problem with Mr. Dobbs is that he mixes opinion and untruths. He is the heir to the nativist tradition that has long used fiction and conspiracy theories as a weapon against the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews and, now, the Mexicans.

CNN is no longer a serious news source, the honest competitor to Fox News. Even though Fox News' audience skews older (where products go to die) and that their conservative bias -- so suddenly popular in September of 2001 -- no longer meshes with the rest of the country, CNN is trying to emulate them. So, not only are they not a serious source of news (Ted Turner must be seething as he watches his baby turn into a monster), they are stupid, too.

But it certainly would be great if the news media -- maybe a regular feature -- fact check the bobble heads on cable news. Until then, I guess it's up to the rare economics reporter, like Leonhard, and the blogosphere.

"Verschärfte Vernehmung"

Andrew Sullivan finds an eery similarity between the Bush administration's defense of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and the Nazis'.

And Hilzoy notes, if we are going to turn in our collective soul like so many shoes at the bowling alley, shouldn't we make damn sure that we're losing our soul over something that works?

If you're serious about war, you should ask yourself, at every juncture, what will best achieve your objectives, rather than embracing some sort of Rambo fantasy. That would require asking very serious questions about the effectiveness of torture, and also about the effect it is likely to have on our long-term objectives, and the possibility that by forfeiting our moral authority, we lose much more in the long term than we could gain even if torture did work. If you're serious about loving your country, you should never be willing to degrade it, or to embrace in its name the kinds of techniques that made us rightly despise Stalin. And if you're serious about morality, you should know that there are lines you cross only at the risk of losing your soul. It's bad enough to lose your soul because you had to choose between two great evils, and you chose wrong. But there's no excuse for letting your soul slip through your fingers because you're too busy striking a stern and heroic attitude to notice.
Striking an attitude has been our current leadership's approach to governing and conducting war for six years now and they have never been curious about the state of their respective souls.

More war

It is really amazing to me that the motives of these so called serious men are not called into question. After all, they seem to have the same objective as Osama bin Laden: continued violence against U.S. forces in the Middle East.

More boffo reviews

It's official: The Yankees are the "Ishtar" of the 2007 Major League Baseball Season. Well, "Ishtar" without the consolation prize of Isabelle Adjani.

Trying to frighten our citizens

As he did for Social Security privatization and, more recently, defending the Iraq War, George W. Bush on the stump is no doubt dooming his beloved immigration bill. But he did say something innerestin' yesterday.

“If you want to scare the American people, what you say is the bill’s an amnesty bill,” Mr. Bush said at a training center for customs protection agents and other federal agents here in southeastern Georgia. “That’s empty political rhetoric trying to frighten our citizens.”
I'm pretty sure he said "tryin' to frighten," but anyway, he should know. Here's his national security adviser, "Dr." Rice, in September of 2003.

"The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
And here's preznit just last October.

"However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses," Bush told a raucous crowd of about 5,000 GOP partisans packed in an arena at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, one of his stops Monday. "That's what's at stake in this election. The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq."
And here's his veepee on the same day.

Cheney, meanwhile, said in an interview with Fox News that he thinks insurgents in Iraq are timing their attacks to influence the U.S. elections.

"It's my belief that they're very sensitive of the fact that we've got an election scheduled," he said. Cheney said the insurgents believe "they can break the will of the American people," and "that's what they're trying to do."

Of course, in Iraq we're preventing chaos, according to this address last February from the man who now decries "empty political rhetoric trying to frighten our citizens."

One of the interesting things that I have found here in Washington is there is strong disagreement about what to do to succeed, but there is strong agreement that we should not fail. People understand the consequences of failure. If we were to leave this young democracy before the job is done, there would be chaos, and out of chaos would become vacuums, and into those power vacuums would flow extremists who would be emboldened; extremists who want to find safe haven.

As we think about this important front in the war against extremists and terrorists, it's important for our fellow citizens to recognize this truth: If we were to leave Iraq before the job is done, the enemy would follow us home.

I could go on.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What is and what should never be

And no, the song's title was not a premonition of a Bush/Cheney administration.

Vulcanator Utopia

I would suggest that a guy who spends his days blogging about gadgets should not be linking approvingly (I assume) to a column denouncing Al Gore for being "a radical technological determinist."


In the long love note that the NY Times sent Rudy! Giuliani this morning, comes this delightful passage,

As Mr. Giuliani told an appreciative audience in Alabama, “I’m tough, I’m strong, but I’m rational.”

And yet the reporter, Michael Powell, doesn't question the "rational" former mayor when he says this,

He has not sanded down all his edges. At Oglethorpe University here, where he met with 200 voters, he does not hesitate to challenge that woman who asks about jihad. But he does so in a fashion that leaves her ambulatory.

“They hate you,” he says of the Islamic terrorists, bringing his hands up to his chest. “They don’t want you to be in this college, or you, or you — —.”

Mr. Giuliani wheels around and points toward another middle-aged woman in the front row, who looks momentarily startled. “And you can’t wear that outfit because you’re showing your arms.”

“This is reality, ma’am,” he continues, his voice streaked with just a touch of exasperation. “This isn’t me making it up. I saw reality after 9/11. You’ve got to clear your head.”

That's just ol' Rudy! talkin' tough and applying his rough hewn edges to jihadifascicommies!.

But, um...who's "they?"

As Paul Krugman in the pages of the same newspaper just last week,

Here’s the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a “movement” that “has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he should be treated as a lunatic.
Rational, he's not. Stupid? Maybe. More Bush ideology over reason? Definitely.

Bob Somerby promises more on the display of Giuliani pandering from the Times in tomorrow's Howler.

The five stages, from denial to acceptance

Yes, it's true. $180 million plus worth of mediocrity.

I am not one of those calling the 'FAN to complain and treat this as a personal affront to what I have coming as a Yankee fan. I have thoroughly enjoyed the last 12 years. In that time, this is the first time -- and there have been bad starts to seasons past -- that I didn't assume the Yankees would find their way into October.

As SG writes, I'll still watch the game and hope to see more amazing plays by Derek Jeter and mythic home runs from Alex Rodriguez. But this weekend I realized that I no longer expect the Yankees to win every night. Maybe Hughes and Clemens will help them make a run for the wild card, but the Yankees don't have a bullpen that can remotely be relied on, they get no offensive production from first base, the center fielder looks like the reincarnation of Mickey Mantle at the end of his career, the right fielder looks lost at the plate, and the DH can't walk. Cabrera's regressed and Cano is having the sophomore his third year.

Maybe last night was the bottom. Maybe the Yankees will win the next two in Toronto and win two of three in Boston this weekend. But the way they're currently playing, I doubt it. And I suspect there will be a new manager before the end of the season with the GM following closely at the end of the season.


Shorter David Brooks (behind the firewall, where it belongs): Al Gore is goofy and, by the way, what's the big deal about the printing press, TV, and the Internet? Family values are all that really matter.

But Gore’s imperviousness to reality is not the most striking feature of the book. It’s the chilliness and sterility of his worldview. Gore is laying out a comprehensive theory of social development, but it allows almost no role for family, friendship, neighborhood or just face-to-face contact. He sees society the way you might see it from a speaking podium — as a public mass exercise with little allowance for intimacy or private life. He envisions a sort of Vulcan Utopia, in which dispassionate individuals exchange facts and arrive at logical conclusions.

This, in turn, grows out of a bizarre view of human nature. Gore seems to have come up with a theory that the upper, logical mind sits on top of, and should master, the primitive and more emotional mind below. He thinks this can be done through a technical process that minimizes information flow to the lower brain and maximizes information flow to the higher brain.

The reality, of course, is that there is no neat distinction between the “higher” and “lower” parts of the brain. There are no neat distinctions between the “rational” mind and the “visceral” body. The mind is a much more complex network of feedback loops than accounted for in Gore’s simplistic pseudoscience.

Without emotions like fear, the “logical” mind can’t reach conclusions. On the other hand, many of the most vicious, genocidal acts are committed by people who are emotionally numb, not passionately out of control.

Some great philosopher should write a book about people — and there are many of them — who flee from discussions of substance and try to turn them into discussions of process. Utterly at a loss when asked to talk about virtue and justice, they try to shift attention to technology and methods of communication. They imagine that by altering machines they can alter the fundamentals of behavior, or at least avoid the dark thickets of human nature.

Although I'm only 175 pages into the book (and pompousness, Mr. Brooks, is in the eye and ear of the beholder), but this seems to me a total misreading of the thesis. Whether it's an intentional misreading or not is not something I'll speculate on. Gore doesn't claim that the brain is structured that way. What he does say is that our lizard brains react to fear more quickly than they do to reason. That's why fear has worked so well for Republicans in 2004. It was fear of brown people, Islamofascist whatevers, that helped Republicans secure control of Congress, allowed them to openly question the patriotism of Vietnam Vets, and led more than 70 percent of the country to believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Reason works more slowly. It would take a couple of years of Katrina, Falluja, etc., for people to come to the reasonable conclusion that those in power have fucked things up on a grand scale.

Moreover, in fact, Gore does concede that history is full of movements that supported eugenics and genocide in the name of "reason," but that it was demagogues who appeal to fears that actually made these ideas come to life.

As for "virtue and justice." Gore does reference those attributes, but sees them more as something hard to attain, which is why the Founders used reason, rather than naive assumptions of people's innate goodness, when devising the Constitution. Gore's main point, really, is that the Bush/Cheney administration has proven to be beyond the Founders' worst assumptions. That their appeals to people's fears (and the Republicans running for president are using the same appeals), led to a disruption of reasonable discourse in this country. The media have played their part in this as well, by not more forcefully questioning the president in their coverage of everything from his tax cuts to the war in Iraq, and instead (the television media) is fixated on the abducted blonde woman of the week. That disruption of discourse led us to a war that was hardly debated before the invasion.

Oddly, Brooks doesn't mention that. But that would undermine his claim that "it is still possible for exceedingly strange individuals to rise to the top."

I guess he means Gore by that, and not George W. Bush or Richard M. Nixon.

But I forgot, David Brooks is our nation's armchair sociologist and clearly knows more about family and neighbors than that ol' podium thumper.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Where have all the flowers gone?

The convergence of politics, baseball and power

Via Kevin Drum, it seems that many in Congress put more stock in an immigrant's college degree and fluency in English than in On-Base Percentage. Not to worry, though, baseball fans. Club owners are powerful, so therefore they will be exempt.

Professional sports organizations, agents and players groups are still assessing the bill's potential impact, but the short-term effects would probably vary across fields and skill levels. Most foreign-born professional baseball players, for instance, come to the United States on temporary "team" visas that anticipate their ultimate return to their home nations. But some -- including the Yankees right fielder, Abreu, according to his agent -- have used EB-1 status to gain permanent residency. That avenue would become far tougher for many sports stars who do not have advanced degrees and excellent English skills.

Barry Frank, a top official at IMG, which represents sports, fashion and entertainment personalities, said: "Look, baseball is basically becoming a Hispanic game. And don't forget who their employers are -- men of considerable means and power. The owners are not going to let their stars get away because of some silly Washington law. I think you're going to hear some noise."

"A code of honor...and torture"

Dick Cheney calls on graduating West Point cadets to consider the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and to embrace torture.

Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the notion of applying the Geneva Conventions to individuals captured in the course of the war on terrorism in a Saturday commencement address at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.

"Capture one of these killers, and he'll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States," the Vice President said in the Saturday morning speech. "Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away."

Cheney delivered the remarks in the context of moral and ethical lessons that the graduating cadets at West Point had learned in the course of their study.

"You have lived by a code of honor, and internalized that code as West Point men and women always do," he said. "As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for."

Recently, West Point instructors have complained of the difficulty of persuading Army cadets to adhere to the principles of the Geneva Conventions in the war on terrorism. A February article in the New Yorker highlighted a dialog on the problem between West Point's dean and Joel Surnow, producer of the hit Fox television program '24.'

MSNBC, in its coverage, apparently finds this too unremarkable to mention. The Bush/Cheney era has shifted the parameters of our discourse on human rights, torture, voting rights -- you name it -- so far to a place I would have thought impossible six years ago.

Memorial Day

What do the troops think?

BAGHDAD — Staff Sgt. David Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents.

“In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place,” he said. “There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.”

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber’s body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

“I thought: ‘What are we doing here? Why are we still here?’ ” said Sergeant Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. “We’re helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us.”

His views are echoed by most of his fellow soldiers in Delta Company, renowned for its aggressiveness.

A small minority of Delta Company soldiers — the younger, more recent enlistees in particular — seem to still wholeheartedly support the war. Others are ambivalent, torn between fear of losing more friends in battle, longing for their families and a desire to complete their mission.

With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in the company. But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers in this 83-man unit over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.

They had seen shadowy militia commanders installed as Iraqi Army officers, they said, had come under increasing attack from roadside bombs — planted within sight of Iraqi Army checkpoints — and had fought against Iraqi soldiers whom they thought were their allies.

“In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,” said Sgt. First Class David Moore, a self-described “conservative Texas Republican” and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. “Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.”

It is not a question of loyalty, the soldiers insist. Sergeant Safstrom, for example, comes from a thoroughly military family. His mother and father have served in the armed forces, as have his three sisters, one brother and several uncles. One week after the Sept. 11 attacks, he walked into a recruiter’s office and joined the Army.

“You guys want to start a fight in my backyard, I got something for you,” he recalls thinking at the time.

But in Sergeant Safstrom’s view, the American presence is futile. “If we stayed here for 5, even 10 more years, the day we leave here these guys will go crazy,” he said. “It would go straight into a civil war. That’s how it feels, like we’re putting a Band-Aid on this country until we leave here.”

Meanwhile, how's that "flypaper strategy" working out?

In an April 17 report written for the United States government, Dennis Pluchinsky, a former senior intelligence analyst at the State Department, said battle-hardened militants from Iraq posed a greater threat to the West than extremists who trained in Afghanistan because Iraq had become a laboratory for urban guerrilla tactics.

“There are some operational parallels between the urban terrorist activity in Iraq and the urban environments in Europe and the United States,” Mr. Pluchinsky wrote. “More relevant terrorist skills are transferable from Iraq to Europe than from Afghanistan to Europe,” he went on, citing the use of safe houses, surveillance, bomb making and mortars.

A top American military official who tracks terrorism in Iraq and the surrounding region, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said: “Do I think in the future the jihad will be fueled from the battlefield of Iraq? Yes. More so than the battlefield of Afghanistan.”

Militants in Iraq are turning out instructional videos and electronic newsletters on the Internet that lay out their playbook for a startling array of techniques, from encryption to booby-trapped bombs to surface-to-air missiles, and those manuals are circulating freely in cyberspace.

And tactics common in Iraq are showing up in other parts of the world. In Somalia and Algeria, for example, recent suicide bombings have been accompanied by the release of taped testimonials by the bombers, a longtime terrorist practice embraced by insurgents in Iraq.

I've been reading The Assault on Reason (and boy, Al Gore can be shrill). The fact that every news story about Iraq does not include the following sentence -- Iraq is proving to be the worst strategic blunder in the history of the United States -- proves Gore's thesis.

Trust and Betrayal

Today's Memorial Day Krugmaniad (Time$elect).

“In this place where valor sleeps, we are reminded why America has always gone to war reluctantly, because we know the costs of war.” That’s what President Bush said last year, in a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Those were fine words, spoken by a man with less right to say them than any president in our nation’s history. For Mr. Bush took us to war not with reluctance, but with unseemly eagerness.

Now that war has turned into an epic disaster, in part because the war’s architects, whom we now know were warned about the risks, didn’t want to hear about them. Yet Congress seems powerless to stop it. How did it all go so wrong?

Future historians will shake their heads over how easily America was misled into war. The warning signs, the indications that we had a rogue administration determined to use 9/11 as an excuse for war, were there, for those willing to see them, right from the beginning — even before Mr. Bush began explicitly pushing for war with Iraq.

In fact, the very first time Mr. Bush declared a war on terror that “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated,” people should have realized that he was going to use the terrorist attack to justify anything and everything.

When he used his first post-attack State of the Union to denounce an “axis of evil” consisting of three countries that had nothing to do either with 9/11 or with each other, alarm bells should have gone off.

But the nation, brought together in grief and anger over the attack, wanted to trust the man occupying the White House. And so it took a long time before Americans were willing to admit to themselves just how thoroughly their trust had been betrayed.

It’s a terrible story, yet it’s also understandable. I wasn’t really surprised by Republican election victories in 2002 and 2004: nations almost always rally around their leaders in times of war, no matter how bad the leaders and no matter how poorly conceived the war.

The question was whether the public would ever catch on. Well, to the immense relief of those who spent years trying to get the truth out, they did. Last November Americans voted overwhelmingly to bring an end to Mr. Bush’s war.

Yet the war goes on.

To keep the war going, the administration has brought the original bogyman back out of the closet. At first, Mr. Bush said he would bring Osama bin Laden in, dead or alive. Within seven months after 9/11, however, he had lost interest: “I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s at the center of any command structure,” he said in March 2002. “I truly am not that concerned about him.”

In all of 2003, Mr. Bush, who had an unrelated war to sell, made public mention of the man behind 9/11 only seven times.

But Osama is back: last week Mr. Bush invoked his name 11 times in a single speech, warning that if we leave Iraq, Al Qaeda — which wasn’t there when we went in — will be the winner. And Democrats, still fearing that they will end up accused of being weak on terror and not supporting the troops, gave Mr. Bush another year’s war funding.

Democratic Party activists were furious, because polls show a public utterly disillusioned with Mr. Bush and anxious to see the war ended. But it’s not clear that the leadership was wrong to be cautious. The truth is that the nightmare of the Bush years won’t really be over until politicians are convinced that voters will punish, not reward, Bush-style fear-mongering. And that hasn’t happened yet.

Here’s the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a “movement” that “has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he should be treated as a lunatic.

When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of “Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” wants to “bring down the West,” he should be ridiculed for his ignorance.

And when John McCain says that Osama, who isn’t in Iraq, will “follow us home” if we leave, he should be laughed at.

But they aren’t, at least not yet. And until belligerent, uninformed posturing starts being treated with the contempt it deserves, men who know nothing of the cost of war will keep sending other people’s children to graves at Arlington.

© 2007 The New York Times Company

Staying the course

Obama hits exactly the right note: McCain and Romney continue to wholeheartedly endorse Bush's course in Iraq.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Summertime Blues

There ain't no cure.

Taking the long view

Big Media Matt doesn't entirely agree, but I think E.J. Dionne's right when he writes that the Dems played the spending bill just abut as well as they could. He writes,

Democrats, in short, have enough power to complicate the president's life, but not enough to impose their will. Moreover, there is genuine disagreement even among Bush's Democratic critics over what the pace of withdrawal should be and how to minimize the damage of this war to the country's long-term interests. That is neither shocking nor appalling, but, yes, it complicates things. So does the fact that the minority wields enormous power in the Senate.

What was true in January thus remains true today: The president will be forced to change his policy only when enough Republicans tell him he has to. Facing this is no fun; it's just necessary.

Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said recently that no one remembers how long it took to reverse the direction of American policy in Vietnam. Obey is hunkered down for a lengthy struggle.

In a divided system, democracy can be frustratingly slow. But it usually works. Critics of the war should spend less time mourning the setbacks of May and begin organizing for a showdown in September. They would profit from taking Barry Goldwater's long view.

Now, it can't be fun to be called a "pussy" by Jon Stewart, but the effort to end the war has lived to fight another day.

The dilemma

Didn't happen then. Won't happen now.

Johnson: And we just got to think about it. I'm looking at this Sergeant of mine this morning and he's got 6 little old kids over there, and he's getting out my things, and bringing me in my night reading, and all that kind of stuff, and I just thought about ordering all those kids in there. And what in the hell am I ordering them out there for? What in the hell is Vietnam worth to me? What is Laos worth to me? What is it worth to this country? We've got a treaty but hell, everybody else has got a treaty out there, and they're not doing a thing about it.

Bundy: Yeah, yeah.

Johnson: Of course, if you start running from the Communists, they may just chase you right into your own kitchen.

Bundy: Yeah, that's the trouble. And that is what the rest of that half of the world is going to think if this thing comes apart on us. That's the dilemma, that's exactly the dilemma.

But what struck me about this is the reminder -- based on the photos of Johnson during this time and the anguish he expresses on the tapes -- that Johnson was truly conflicted about our role in Vietnam and his role in history. He had doubts. He gave a damn about the dead.

In The New Yorker this week, there's a terrific round up of the recent literature about Abraham Lincoln. In Gopnik's piece, he writes about Soldier's Home, just outside of Washington, where Lincoln spent his summers.

The one place in America where you can get a sense of Lincoln the President at work and at play is the Soldiers’ Home, on the outskirts of Washington, about three miles from the White House. After the death of his son Willie, in 1862, Lincoln used a cottage on the grounds as a kind of retreat, a proto-Camp David, and spent summers there from 1862 to 1864. Every other place associated with him either predates the Presidential years or has changed so much that it is unrecognizable. But Lincoln’s cottage, which has been largely neglected, still resonates with the period. It was an odd location for him; though it was cooler than central Washington in the summer, it was also a soldiers’ retirement home, with a cemetery just alongside, where the Union dead were sent to be buried.

Think of it. The one place Lincoln can go to relax is also a daily reminder of the toll his decision to go to war to maintain the Union took.

Johnson and Lincoln faced and understood the consequences of their decisions. For all the literature that has come out from the various "insiders" at the White House and the "as told to" books by Bob Woodward, I haven't heard of a single doubt, a single regret, a single moment of weariness in our current president.

Take this, for example.

Yet, undeniably, as the war and his Presidency progressed, Lincoln spoke increasingly of God—inserted God, as it seems, into the Gettysburg Address—and evidently had some kind of complicated and rich sense of “necessity” and a supernatural presiding power. The second Inaugural is the most famous instance, with its insistence that “if God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ ”

This is a darker vision of Providence, and of God, than is quite compatible with any kind of ordinary Protestantism. In a review of James Takach’s “Lincoln’s Moral Vision,” Lucas E. Morel writes, “Lincoln’s perplexing piety comprised a fiercely independent admixture of Enlightenment rationalism and Calvinist fatalism.” His faith was rooted mainly in a kind of mystical inner sense of predestination, not so far from that youthful doctrine of necessity. He found no serenity in the idea that he was doing God’s work. His point in the second Inaugural is not that he is doing God’s will but that God’s will is going to be done, no matter what Lincoln does. He thought not that God was on his side or the other but that God had determined on this conflict, perhaps as a collective punishment for the sin of slavery, perhaps for reasons permanently mysterious to men. He came increasingly to believe in Providence, but it was a Providence that acted mercilessly through History, not one that regularly interceded with compassion. That was left to men, and Presidents.

Compare and contrast:

This week, the president acknowledged that the violent uprising against U.S. troops in Iraq has resulted in "a tough, tough series of weeks for the American people." But he insisted that his course of action in Iraq has been the correct one in language that echoed what he told Woodward more than four months ago.

In two interviews with Woodward in December, Bush minimized the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction, expressed no doubts about his decision to invade Iraq, and enunciated an activist role for the United States based on it being "the beacon for freedom in the world."

"I believe we have a duty to free people," Bush told Woodward. "I would hope we wouldn't have to do it militarily, but we have a duty."

The president described praying as he walked outside the Oval Office after giving the order to begin combat operations against Iraq, and the powerful role his religious beliefs played throughout that time.

"Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. . . . I'm surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for personal strength and for forgiveness."

The president told Woodward: "I am prepared to risk my presidency to do what I think is right. I was going to act. And if it could cost the presidency, I fully realized that. But I felt so strongly that it was the right thing to do that I was prepared to do so."

Asked by Woodward how history would judge the war, Bush replied: "History. We don't know. We'll all be dead."

God help us.

Ginkgo huggers

In a day of otherwise unremitting bad news, something to cheer y'all up.

Two apartment buildings in Seoul, the crowded capital, will be torn down to save an 840-year-old ginkgo, the newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported. The 82-foot tree is the oldest tree in Seoul and is venerated by residents in the Dobong district who bring fruit and other offerings once a year and pray for their safety. It also attracts pregnant women who believe it will help them have a boy. With approval from the residents, the district government will spend $4.3 million to demolish the apartment buildings, whose foundations are interfering with the tree’s roots, the newspaper said. A park will be built around the ginkgo.

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Happy birthday, Bob

A day late and a dollar short, I'm afraid...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Carl Pavano Era is over

The Yankees finally announce he's going to undergo "Tommy John Surgery." I think that's his closest connection to the Yankees since he's come here.

Dr. Madam Cura diagnoses Carl with Munchausen Syndrome.

The war spending bill

I agree with Publius on this one. With all due respect to Sen. Feingold, Dems really had no where else to go, but to put to a vote support for endless war and more blank checks for Bush. Bush wanted a shutdown on war funding so that he could lay future blame on those who "didn't support the troops" and cut off funding just as the glorious surge would no doubt have mysteriously, inexplicably been just about to succeed.

Instead, they gave Bush his vote and his endless war will go on. And members of Congress will have to vote whether or not they support continuing his feckless, disastrous, and murderous war or not.

I'm looking at you, Chris Shays (R-CT).

One Democrat who is in a difficult spot is Hillary Clinton. She's been thinking about the big picture for quite a while, not wanting to set a precedent where Congress usurps presidential prerogatives that she intends to hold before too long. How she votes will be interesting.

I don't mean to be cynical. I realize young American men and Iraqis of all ages and genders are dying and our presence in the country is the main reason for that. But the truth is, as Publius pointed out, this war is not going to end while the 43rd president continues to hold office. Setting the stage for 2008 is the goal here and this vote is a very good way to isolate Republicans in contestable races. Are they "pro-Bush" and blank checks, or are they against a war the vast majority of Americans have come to regret and want ended.

However, one thing is important. I've already seen press reports framing the feeble benchmarks that are in the bill as "a GOP idea." That must be shot down. If not for Democrats initiating this showdown, there would be no accountability at all.

Dems should also not allow the press to label them as "split" or "disheartened" by this either. They showed spine and forced concessions from this most inflexible of presidents. The fact that some want an end to the war now and others are concerned about abandoning Iraq too quickly is not something to be embarrassed by. It's the same conflict felt by most Americans.

Dire Wolfie

In sympathy for the Wolfman who's been dumped by the girlfriend for whom he'

Of course, his $400,000 goodbye gift from the World Bank should be ample consolation.

Dear Maureen

The Vega writes a letter to Maureen Dowd.

You are a disgrace. Al Gore's prescient speeches outlining the outcome of our invasion of Iraq were ridiculed by the news media. He was called "loony" by your own Michiko Kakutani in her "review" of "Earth in the Balance." His candidacy in 2000 was harpooned by a press corps obsessed by "cosmetics," the color of his clothes, and an off-hand comment by Naomi Wolf. You spread lies and misperceptions about Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.

But, for you, as evidenced by today's column, all that matters is: "Al Gore fat."

I realize you're paid to be irreverent, to provide the "Heathers" take on American politics. But do you ever lie awake at night pondering your role in helping to elect George W. Bush? Or is it all some funny game to you, this "politics" thing.

What is found on the pages of The New York Times has consequences. It informs the public discourse in both subtle and not so subtle ways. You and your editors are irresponsible. Again, a disgrace.

Blood and dust

No timetables. "Benchmarks" that will continue to go unmet. George Bush's war goes on.

Seconds later, the word came down that the unit up ahead did not have a medic. Captain Bright’s unit did, so the group ran several miles to the house only to find that a helicopter had already picked up the wounded soldier. His friends sat on the floor, on stairs, their faces showing they had been crying. A flak jacket with some blood on it rested next to a soldier leaning against a set of white kitchen cabinets. The body armor belonged to the soldier who was shot.

Captain Bright, 29, the battery commander, said the group would have to keep moving. “We have some more objectives we have to hit,” he said.

The search operation continued in the midday heat. Captain Abercrombie’s unit walked through farms, searched houses and struggled through a wide swath of mud that nearly claimed a few pairs of boots.

In a house close to where helicopters would later deliver bottles of water in black body bags, they rested once again. Sgt. Stephen Byers, 31, of Detroit said that Friday night was the first time he had a chance to call his wife and kids since the search started.

He said that he was too tired to say very much, but that his wife was clearly worried. He had begun to wonder himself if the search was becoming more dangerous. “The more we chase them around,” he said, “the more they know where we’re at.”

But, he said, in a war without front lines and goals that are hard to achieve, the search offered the comfort of certainty, of a clear and noble goal. “If we find them, we accomplish something specific,” Sergeant Byers said. “It’s not like trying to bring peace to the area then finding out later that you didn’t.”

Saturday’s searching turned up nothing significant. The three soldiers — Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif.; Specialist Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich. — were not found.

Today, Iraqi police found a body wearing a U.S. uniform floating in the Euphrates.

But no "surrender date," as Mitch McConnell likes to put it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Who do you love?"

The Vega wishes Bo Diddley a speedy recovery.

Open mic night for terrorists


"Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic, according to a senior official who oversees the program.

That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces.

Fredo's revenge

"In a world..."

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When former presidents attack

Carter may not be able to criticize Bush II, but Al Gore can.

He ascribes the failure to have a full-throated debate on Iraq back in 2002 -- when he spoke out against the looming war, to much nasty jeering from the right -- to the administration's decision to politicize the issue before the midterm elections, but also to "meekness" and "timidity" in both "the legislative branch of government" and in "the press corps."

"A lot of people were afraid of being accused of being unpatriotic," he says. "One of the symptoms of this problem -- the diminishing role for reason, fact and logic -- is that what rushes in to fill the vacuum are extreme partisanship, ideology, fundamentalism and extreme nationalism."

If the Bush administration came to mind as you read those words, Gore wouldn't object. Historians who need a catalogue of what went wrong after, oh, Dec. 12, 2000, the day of a certain U.S. Supreme Court decision, will find it all in his book.

Gore, so gracious after that unfortunate court ruling, lets it rip against Bush on Iraq, civil liberties, global warming and much else. Gore writes of "something deeply troubling about President Bush's relationship to reason, his disdain for facts, and his lack of curiosity. . . ." [sic]

That sentiment will speak to the multitudes disgusted with the Bush presidency -- and draw vituperation from the same people who accused Gore of trying to "steal" the 2000 election simply because he wanted Florida's votes recounted.

Meanwhile, did Michiko Kakutani read Gore's book, The Assault on Reason, or just do a word search for "Bush?" Because from what I understand (I haven't read the book, but I intend to), one of the main points is the news media's role in the dumbing down of American politics, forcusing on "the cosmetic," as he said to Sawyer yesterday. And no news outlet committed a greater offence against reason during the 2000 election than Kakutani's own New York Times. But the role of the Times and other purveyors of established opinion go unmentioned in her review this morning. I look forward to Somerby's reaction. Especially regarding this:

And yet for all its sharply voiced opinions, “The Assault on Reason” turns out to be less a partisan, election-cycle harangue than a fiercely argued brief about the current Bush White House that is grounded in copiously footnoted citations from newspaper articles, Congressional testimony and commission reports — a brief that is as powerful in making its points about the implications of this administration’s policies as the author’s 2006 book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” was in making its points about the fallout of global warming.

This volume moves beyond its criticisms of the Bush administration to diagnose the ailing condition of America as a participatory democracy — low voter turnout, rampant voter cynicism, an often ill-informed electorate, political campaigns dominated by 30-second television ads, and an increasingly conglomerate-controlled media landscape — and it does so not with the calculated, sound-bite-conscious tone of many political-platform-type books, but with the sort of wonky ardor that made both the book and movie versions of “An Inconvenient Truth” so bluntly effective.

Ah, yes. Bluntly effective. And yet, Ms. Kakutani had a different take on a previous book by Al, Earth in the Balance. Written in 1992, it was considered "brilliant" at the time, and was evidence that no one in Washington better understood or could articulate the peril we were facing because of our own actions against the environment. But in 2000, Kakutani, in Somberby's words, "had a different take."

Everyone knew about Earth in the Balance. Everyone knew that Earth “contain[ed] a great deal of valuable, clearly explained scientific information” combined with “a strong thread of values and ethics.” But soon thereafter, the 90s began—and as Hemingway self-pityingly said, “the rich came into our lives.” Their interests were driven along by their simpering tribunes—and by their hatred for the Clintons. By 1999, they were using their loathsome TV “news” programs to say that the Clintons were multiple murderers. And they were using their vicious “book reviewers” to say that Al Gore was a nut. At the Times, Gore’s “results” were no longer “impressive.” Their most damaged concubine, Maureen Dowd, was in the midst of her series of columns in which she portrayed Gore (“a little crazy”) conducting conversations with his bald spot. (There were six such crackpot columns in all.) And then, in December, Michiko Kakutani took over. My, how different Gore’s book now seemed—on page one of the debauched New York Times.

Kakutani’s lengthy, front-page report concerned the books written by five White House hopefuls. She devoted roughly 800 words to Earth in the Balance. Her message? Al Gore is a nut.

Sorry. As far as we can tell, Kakutani’s report isn’t available on-line, except behind the New York Times’ wall. But then again, if we were the Times, we’d want to hide this nasty hit-piece too. Kakutani’s treatment of Gore is a grisly reminder of the political culture of the late 1990s, as played out by the fatuous class which we still were describing as a “press corps.” It explains how George Bush ended up in the White House; it explains why the U.S. is now in Iraq. The Times set out to massacre Gore; it massacred your nation’s interests instead. We think you should remember Kakutani’s remarkable work if you see Gore on stage Sunday night.
Here's the link (sorry, Time$elect), from (actually) November 22, 1999:

Vice President Al Gore emerges from ''Earth in the Balance'' (Plume), his 1992 book about the environment, as the quintessential A-student who has belatedly discovered New Age psychobabble. Like his speeches, his book veers between detailed policy assessments (predictably illustrated with lots of charts and graphs) and high-decibel outbursts of passion, between energetically researched historical disquisitions and loony asides about ''inner ecology'' and ''spiritual triangulation'' -- asides that may help explain his curious affinity with his feminist consultant, Naomi Wolf.

One of his book's main themes concerns the mind-body dichotomy and the perils of a ''disembodied intellect,'' and yet strangely mechanistic images repeatedly surface in its pages. In one chapter, he describes the Constitution as ''a blueprint for an ingenious machine that uses pressure valves and compensating forces to achieve a dynamic balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community.'' In another, he argues that people divide most tasks into ''two conceptual halves'' and ''assign each half to opposite sides of the machine our body resembles.''

''At breakfast this morning,'' Mr. Gore writes, ''I consolidated my grapefruit with my left hand to keep it from moving on the plate and then manipulated it with my right hand, first by cutting portions away from the whole with a knife, then by eating them with a spoon.''

It was exactly that type of twaddle -- more concern for Gore's "psychobabble" than the fact that he was concerned with these issues decades before anyone else in Congress -- that put the idiot in the White House that we have now. It played along with the script -- Gore was a bit of a nut, "ozone man," a wonky drone, etc., etc. Nor did she mention in her hit piece, that Gore's book was not a "campaign book" which was the case for all the other books she compared it to (by Bradley, McCain, and Bush).

You can bet, should Gore decide to run, our political pundits (and Kakutani, despite her camouflage as a book reviewer, is very much a pundit at the Times) will most certainly turn on him again, assaulting reason once again.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Solace for the beleaguered Yankee fan

It has been a strange season. I found myself not particularly juiced about the weekend's series with the Metropolitans (note to self: they are a very good team) or even with the Bosox who come in tonight to play three. By that I mean I don't feel any more excitement -- or, really, nervousness -- when the Yankees play their famed rivals than I would were they playing the Kansas City Royals tonight.

Every. Game. Matters. Now.

Yes, the next three nights give the Yankees a chance to at least get back to single digits in the loss column behind the mighty Sawx (and the alternative scenario is ugly), but the truth of the matter is if they don't start winning games -- against anyone -- very soon they are going to not only be too far out to make a run for the division, they are going to be too far in the hole behind Detroit or Cleveland or maybe even the ChiSox to snatch the Wild Card.

And that would be a very bad thing.

But...quietly, two of the stalwarts of The Dynasty are reeling off remarkable seasons. Derek Jeter has hit in 73 of his last 76 games over the course of this season and last, a truly DiMaggioan feat.

But there's a lot more to what Jeter is doing that already separates him from those four and puts him in a place right below DiMaggio in the modern age of baseball. When, on May 4, Jeter had his 20-game hitting streak for this season snapped, he had previously hit safely in 59 of 61 games dating back to last August. Excluding DiMaggio (who hit safely in his next 17 games after having his record 56-game streak snapped in 1941), the last player to have only two hitless games within a streak of 56 or more was Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty, who hit safely in 61 of 63 games in 1899. This research was compiled by Trent McCotter in the most recent Society of American Baseball Research journal. In other words, without any fanfare, Jeter has already accomplished something not done by anyone other than Joe D in this century. After yesterday, Jeter's streak was 73 of 76 games. According to McCotter, there have been 12 such streaks of more than 56 in which players have had only three hitless games, the most recent being Johnny Damon, who hit in 57 of 60 games from June 10-Aug. 20, 2005. But, again, Jeter's surpasses the previous longest - George Sisler's 67 of 70 in 1917.
And Posada? Not only is my favorite jug-eared backstop hitting an astounding .382/.441/.618 -- leading the league -- (and yes folks, that's an OPS of 1.059) he's doing so while having had to shepherd 11 different starting pitchers this year, seven of whom were brought in from the minor leagues fpr emergency starts. That's a lot of intense intellectual labor he has to produce each day, figuring out the best sequence of pitches by pitchers he barely knows. And he's forced to play every single day since Wil Nieves, his backup, simply cannot hit and the Yankees can't afford a sure out if it's not named Doug Mnkwtz.

Posada is having such a great year I'm beginning to think he may have a chance to overcome how the Yankees handled him when he came up. The Yankees refused to give him the starting role for way too long, Torre trusting the veteran Girardi over the switch-hitting youngster. I've thought for a long time, the two or three years that they cheated Posada out of probably killed his chances to get into the Hall. But if his hitting continues on at this pace, all bets are off. And why he's not being talked about as the league MVP, early as it is, amazes me.

He'll be a free agent at the end of the year.

In addition to those two, there's Andy Pettite, who's no doubt thinking that if he wanted to lose 3-2 every five days he could have stayed in Houston. Nevertheless, Pettite, Posada, and Jeter at least allow us to think back to the days when they were the youngster core of some great teams.

Ah, solace.

"Yes, Mr. Gore, we are tools. But enough about us...

...Tell us what you think of the horse race."

Diane Sawyer proves Gore's thesis while interviewing him. Classic.

Via Ezra.

UPDATE: Crooks & Liars has the videotape. You go, Al.

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Working for al Qaeda

We are, that is.

Basing your decisions upon your stated enemy's threats and taunts and holding fast so they can't yell "psych!" is not a foreign policy --- it's a WWF advertising campaign. It isn't real and it doesn't address any real problem. The US is the most powerful country on earth and the Islamoboogeymen are not going to take over our government and make us all wear burkas and pray to mecca. Really. Sophisticated thinkers would find solutions to the real problems of islamic fundamentalism and energy dependence and Israel and all the rest rather than launch invasions as PR exercises, but this is what we are dealing with. Marketing is the only thing the Mayberry Machiavellis know.
This has been another edition of "What Digby Said."

Never look weak

Wouldn't the White House have been smart simply to let this one roll off their proverbial back?

Oh, right, this is the Bush/Cheney White House. And you know how they think.

Don't move or I'll shoot myself

Drop the Googlebombs and move away slowly. Be sure to read the comments.

Time flies when you're mired in depression

Four years. Sheesh.

Recycling computers

Getting rid of old computer equipment is something that's bedeviled me for years, so this comes as good news I hope. Kudos to Staples.

Gore and "The Assault on Reason"

Traub seems to be trying not to be too snarky, though he can't help referring to Gore's physical size and appetite (what is up with that?), and he manages to sneak in a few interesting tidbits amidst the anti-intellectual snipes, such as...

Al Gore has given a great deal of thought to why some people still don’t recognize the cliff we’re about to drive over. “The Assault on Reason” is Gore’s own attempt to explain, as he put it to me, “why our public discourse is so vulnerable to the kind of rope-a-dope strategies that Exxon Mobil and their brethren have been employing for decades now, and why logic and reason and the best evidence available and the scientific discoveries do not have more force in changing the way we all think about the reality we are now facing.” The very fact that Gore feels that this requires an explanation shows what a high-minded rationalist he is. He says he believes that ideas were given a fair hearing on their merits until television came along and induced a kind of national trance. This is a hoary line of argument, but Gore adds a novel neuropsychological twist, explaining that the brain’s fear center, the amygdala —“which as I’m sure you know comes from the Latin for ‘almond’ ” — receives only a trickle of electrical impulses from the neocortex, the seat of reasoning, while sending back a torrent of data in return. This explains why “we respond to spiders and snakes and claws and fire, but we are less likely to feel urgency and alarm if the threat to our species is perceptible only by connecting a lot of dots to make up a complex pattern that has to be interpreted by the reasoning center of the brain” — well, it’s quite a challenge for the explainer.
Still, like all political reporters, Traub seems chastened that an idiot was named president instead of Al Gore, yet refuses to admit political reporters' role in the take down of Al Gore. He hints that Al Gore probably doesn't want to put himself through it again, but doesn't explain why.

Blue Monday, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee edition

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The U.S. version

"The Office" -- as darkly humorous as "The Bicycle Thief."

Thompson bravely carries on


LAKE GENEVA, Wis. - Tommy Thompson cited a dead hearing aid and an urgent need to use the bathroom in explaining on Saturday why he said at a GOP presidential debate that an employer should be allowed to fire a gay worker.

Via the not-evil Roger Ailes.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Broderella and the discovery of America!

David Brooks as the Jane Goodall of mid-America. Teh funny.

Mr. Soul


This is insane.

A Navy lawyer was found guilty of communicating secret information about Guantánamo Bay detainees that could be used to injure the United States and three other charges of leaking information to an unauthorized person. The lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Diaz, was acquitted of printing out national defense information with the intent or reason to believe it would be used against the United States. Commander Diaz, 41, of Topeka, Kan., did not testify in the court-martial hearing at the Norfolk Naval Station. He faces up to 14 years in prison. Prosecutors contended Commander Diaz mailed to a human rights lawyer a printout of the names of 550 detainees tucked into an unsigned Valentine’s Day card. Defense lawyers said that the information was not labeled classified and that Commander Diaz had no reason to think the document could be used to injure the United States.

Diaz was simply trying to draw attention to the fact that we are holding hundreds of individuals without divulging their identities. In other words, he was acting as an advocate for his clients and trying to draw attention to injustice.

Oh, but I forgot, they're the "worst of the worst."

More Bushes

Today's Krugmaniad (Time$elect).

Don’t Blame Bush

I’ve been looking at the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion: maybe we’ve all been too hard on President Bush.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Mr. Bush has degraded our government and undermined the rule of law; he has led us into strategic disaster and moral squalor.

But the leading contenders for the Republican nomination have given us little reason to believe they would behave differently. Why should they? The principles Mr. Bush has betrayed are principles today’s G.O.P., dominated by movement conservatives, no longer honors. In fact, rank-and-file Republicans continue to approve strongly of Mr. Bush’s policies — and the more un-American the policy, the more they support it.

Now, Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney may have done a few things other Republicans wouldn’t. Their initial domestic surveillance program was apparently so lawless and unconstitutional that even John Ashcroft, approached on his sickbed, refused to go along. For the most part, however, Mr. Bush has done just what his party wants and expects.

There was a telling moment during the second Republican presidential debate, when Brit Hume of Fox News confronted the contenders with a hypothetical “24”-style situation in which torturing suspects is the only way to stop a terrorist attack.

Bear in mind that such situations basically never happen in real life, that the U.S. military has asked the producers of “24” to cut down on the torture scenes. Last week Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, circulated an open letter to our forces warning that using torture or “other expedient methods to obtain information” is both wrong and ineffective, and that it is important to keep the “moral high ground.”

But aside from John McCain, who to his credit echoed Gen. Petraeus (and was met with stony silence), the candidates spoke enthusiastically in favor of torture and against the rule of law. Rudy Giuliani endorsed waterboarding. Mitt Romney declared that he wants accused terrorists at Guantánamo, “where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil ... My view is, we ought to double Guantánamo.” His remarks were greeted with wild applause.

And torture isn’t the only Bush legacy that seems destined to continue if a Republican becomes the next president. Mr. Bush got us into the Iraq quagmire by conflating Saddam with Al Qaeda, treating two mutually hostile groups as if they constituted a single enemy. Well, Mr. Romney offers more of that. “There is a global jihadist effort,” he warned in the second debate. “And they’ve come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda with that intent.” Aren’t Sunnis and Shiites killing each other, not coming together? Nevermind.

What about the administration’s state of denial over Iraq, its unwillingness to face up to reality? None of the leading G.O.P. presidential contenders seem any different — certainly not Mr. McCain, who strolled through a Baghdad marketplace wearing a bulletproof vest, accompanied by more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees while attack helicopters flew overhead, then declared that his experience proved there are parts of Baghdad where you can “walk freely.”

Finally, what about the Bush administration’s trademark incompetence? In appointing unqualified loyalists to key positions, Mr. Bush was just following the advice of the Heritage Foundation, which urged him back in 2001 to “make appointment decisions based on loyalty first and expertise second.” And the base doesn’t mind: the Bernie Kerik affair — Mr. Giuliani’s attempt to get his corrupt, possibly mob-connected business partner appointed to head the department of homeland security — hasn’t kept Mr. Giuliani from becoming the apparent front-runner for the Republican nomination.

What we need to realize is that the infamous “Bush bubble,” the administration’s no-reality zone, extends a long way beyond the White House. Millions of Americans believe that patriotic torturers are keeping us safe, that there’s a vast Islamic axis of evil, that victory in Iraq is just around the corner, that Bush appointees are doing a heckuva job — and that news reports contradicting these beliefs reflect liberal media bias.

And the Republican nomination will go either to someone who shares these beliefs, and would therefore run the country the same way Mr. Bush has, or to a very, very good liar.

© 2007 The New York Times Company

Exactly so.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What's that, Yogi?

"It's getting late early."

On to Flushing for another tense weekend with the crosstown rivals. Keeerist.

And the Yankees announced that Chien Ming Wang will not pitch on three days' rest and will instead bring Tyler Clippard up from Scranton to pitch on National TV Sunday Night.

Please, not deja vu all over again.

Bald faced


Should be pretty easy to sort this out. Just ask the seven others besides Comey who were prepared to resign their senior positions over the legality of the program -- a program Abu Gonzales still insists elicited no strong objections from anyone.

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"Politics is partisan"

The Connecticut Post's Hugh Bailey has a simple message for Holy Joe: Do your job.

At least, though, Shays seems genuinely torn. Our junior senator, on the other hand, spends his time lecturing us on how we should all be nicer to each other — unless, apparently, his job is at stake. This is the man who had this to say last year about his opponent's push to end the war: "It will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

Sen. Joe Lieberman set it up as a vote between him and the terrorists. And he had the nerve to host a seminar on "civility" last week in Washington.

"The disease is partisanship," he said. "The lack of civility is one of the symptoms of that disease."

It may be hard to understand for someone who thinks of himself as above all that, but politics is partisanship. People align themselves with different parties because they have different beliefs, and different ideas. Not everyone agrees on the best way to, say, fund education or conduct foreign policy — or prevent terrorism. What kind of a political world are we looking for with no partisanship?

Maybe he wants the kind we had for most of the past six years. With one party running the legislative and executive branches, there was no oversight, no accountability, and now we're stuck in the middle of a war — we can't stay and we can't leave. Maybe more partisanship could have avoided all this.

Lieberman leads the Senate committee on government affairs, but apparently avoiding the "partisan politics of polarization," as he calls it, is a good excuse not to do his job. Campaigning last year, he said he would make sure the Bush administration turned over records on internal White House deliberations — likely to embarrass the president — from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After the election, he changed his mind.

"We don't want to play 'gotcha' anymore," Lieberman said in January when word came out he was backing off his pre-election promise. "We want to get the aid and assistance to the people of the region who need it," as though the two were mutually exclusive.

The leader of the House version of Lieberman's committee is Rep. Henry Waxman of California. Armed with subpoena power, Waxman has already delved into the Pentagon propaganda operation, which fictionalized the stories of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman; he's investigating the parallel e-mail system that may have allowed White House political staff to avoid laws on preserving communications; and he wants answers from the top about the lies leading up to the Iraq invasion. There is no chance of seeing similar investigations in the Senate committee — Lieberman knows which voters got him back into office last year, and they weren't Democrats. But he can take credit for one achievement. He succeeded in getting Republicans and Democrats to alternate seats with one another around the dais when they meet in committee, rather than splitting up on one side or the other. All the better for civility.

If the self-appointed arbiter of all things bipartisan is going to turn his back on doing the job he was elected to do, he can at least make sure everyone is nice to each other.

Hugh S. Bailey is assistant editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 203-330-6233 or via e-mail at

Well said, sir. Lieberman lied throughout the campaign, telling voters that he would hold the administration accountable for...something. In a civil tone, of course. All he's done since being elected by Connecticut Republicans is change the seating arrangement.

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Non-combatants killed in action.

There's a trial going on at Camp Pendleton in California that draws the curtain back on the indifference commanders in Iraq feel towards "N.K.I.A."

On Friday Major McCann, an experienced Marine lawyer, interjected some unsettling questions about how many civilian deaths it would take to constitute a violation of military regulations.

Alluding to Haditha, he asked, “At what point do we have to scratch our heads that we killed a lot more civilians than enemy?”

Because so many witnesses had testified that civilian deaths from “combat action” need not be investigated, Major McCann said, “I’m trying to figure out what authority they are citing.”

The witness testifying then, Col. Keith R. Anderson, a senior Marine Reserve lawyer now with the Department of the Navy, delivered a succinct and telling answer. “There is no authority,” he said. “I think it’s just a mind-set.”

The two officers had tackled some of the same issues that had troubled military investigators, including Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell of the Army, who bluntly criticized Marine commanders in a secret report last year for tolerating large numbers of civilian deaths in combat operations.

“All levels of command,” including the American command in Baghdad, “tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics,” General Bargewell wrote.

The report suggested that Marine commanders — from Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of ground forces in Anbar Province, to First Lt. William T. Kallop, leader of Company K’s Third Platoon — created “an unintended command climate” that did not encourage compliance with the laws of armed conflict.

This is one of the definitions of quagmire: a conflict in which our troops are battling an enemy that is all but indistinguishable from civilians so that civilian deaths become part of the landscape.

And, as with so many aspects of the way this war has been conducted from the very beginning, a few relatively junior officers are going to take the fall for a climate of brutality that is accepted -- if not encouraged -- at the very highest levels of the command structure.

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