Saturday, May 24, 2003

Life Cycle of the Blogosphere Story  

Very useful info. Basically, you can't force the story, and to understand the blogosphere story, you need to read a bunch of blogs. Also, discussion of how stories develop:
Each blogosphere story has a definite beginning, develops along quite predictable lines and comes to a predictable end. Stories develop over a period of between 7 and 27 days.

* * *

Each weblog post is not meant to be a complete story in itself, but rather is part of a larger story that develops across a number of weblogs and other information sources to build what we call a blogosphere story.

* * *

The smallest blogosphere stories can have as few as fifteen bloggers, the average story has between 40 and 60 bloggers, while the largest one to date had about 285 bloggers involved. A blogosphere story can be as small as 180 posts in total, while the largest we studied has numbered 7,540 posts in total.

* * *

When a story starts in mainstream media which cuts across blogger opinion, it is likely that a blogosphere story gets started on three or four blogs almost at the same time and sometimes even more. Then within a day, the story becomes more focused with each of the initiators acknowledging the other comments on the other blogs and adding further to the story.

* * *

Blogosphere stories most often start with an opinion type blog, usually reacting to something in mainstream media. Then, almost within hours several voters point to those original opinions giving either a negative or positive vote. Other opinion writers then add more to the story with reaction posts giving more than just a vote. Reaction posts react to an opinion posts, or to the voters. After sometime, a blogger will summarize what the story is about and draw together some of the opinions, reactions and note the voters. Voters then react to the summary and create another round of voting, reaction and opinion. A story usually ends with an online personality providing a summary of the story, reasonably even-handedly. However, some stories die without a final summation occurring.

* * *

Stories tend to have waves of posts. The first wave of posts tend to be bloggers simply reacting to each other in what is most usually a closed group who often blog about each other. The second wave occurs when Google indexes those sites. This next wave tends to be people outside normal blogging groups, such as from different languages. A third wave occurs when these blogs in the second wave are indexed by Google. By then the blogs interactions is rather less obvious as the list in Google gets longer people tend to react to any of the waves of blogging.

* * *

Rarely can an individual blogger get a story going. It is far more usual that several bloggers blog about an occurrence, an event or a comment elsewhere and then after that bloggers in groups get going. Even a so called influential blogger blogging about a story can rarely get others going. It is only when there are several bloggers writing opinions does a story really get going.

The best blog stories are those that are branded with a word or phrase that is highly identifiable with that story. The blog stories that die the quickest and sometimes are not even summarized are those that are either very technical by nature, highly polemic (almost quackery), or are so bland as not to be worth writing about.

* * *

While individuals offer their opinions, it is usual that a blogging story cannot be orchestrated by an individual. When an individual tries to orchestrate a story by asking for people to point to something, or to vote against something, then it is likely the story will die quickly. When bloggers action is not requested, most often stories get up and running for longer.

Perhaps the last conclusions we came to in this study is that blogs cannot be read in isolation from each other. Blog stories are understood and appreciated in aggregate and not in isolation. On the other hand, mainstream media stories tend to be read in isolation rather than read and compared.

In total, Microdoc News believes blogging to be a radically different world than that of mainstream media.

"The Greatest Intelligence Hoax of All Time"  

Even before the war, some C.I.A. analysts and British spymasters were complaining of puffed-up intelligence. Now Congress wants to know if it was flawed as well.

As Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, put it: "This could conceivably be the greatest intelligence hoax of all time."

Her innocence is touching.

The Iraq WMD's and ties to Al Qaeda were merely MacGuffins, as Alfred Hitchcock called devices that drove the plot but were otherwise inconsequential.

The plot was always to remake the Middle East, while remaking a Bush into a Reagan. And the Bushies were not above playing on American fears and desire for 9/11 payback.

Far from being chagrined about the little problem of having no casus belli, and no plan for smoothly delivering Pax Americana to Iraq and Afghanistan, the hawks are hawking the next regime change. If Iraq was not harboring Al Qaeda and going nuclear, then certainly Iran is.

Voting Machines  

Here is a terrific collection of links regarding the story. Bottom line: there must always be a paper trail.

Support Rep. Holt's Voting Record Bill  

Kevin Drum at CalPundit drew my attention to Congressman Rush Holt's legislation to require a paper trail for voting machines. This is an extremely important bill and should be passed. Pleae write and tell him even if you are not from NJ.

I've met Rep. Holt. He is extremely smart and no friend of the Bush administration's foreign policies, among other matters. Please support him. I did.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Defense Lawyers Have No Chance At Gitmo  

Go read TalkLeft, which consistently has fascinating posts on law during BushTime. Apparently, the tables are so tilted against the defense that it is considered unethical for defense lawyers to even pretend to represent Guantanamo Bay Afghan prisoners during the upcoming tribunals.

Josh Has Delay's Number  

Josh Marshall is all over Tom Delay and the Texas Democrats. No chance it will bring Delay down, but it may get him to think twice about using Homeland Security to track political opposition parties.

Scroll down from May 23, 2003 to read his articles. Josh confirms my suspicion that the legislature's excuse for destroying all paperwork was bogus.

Nukes In Afghanistan?  

What went on in Afghanistan? Check out this report from that conspiracy mongering network, the BBC:
A small sample of Afghan civilians have shown "astonishing" levels of uranium in their urine, an independent scientist says.

Critics suspect new weapons were used in Afghanistan

He said they had the same symptoms as some veterans of the 1991 Gulf war.

But he found no trace of the depleted uranium (DU) some scientists believe is implicated in Gulf War syndrome.

Other researchers suggest new types of radioactive weapons may have been used in Afghanistan.
via Atrios

Bush The Grown-Up  

A rare glimpse at Young Churchill the way he really behaves.
Bush, who can by several accounts be snappish and harsh with his staff, even his highest-placed advisers (and has a fearsome temper), hates leaks and tolerates no open disagreement among advisers in other matters. He has fired some members of his administration for raising questions about his policies, in particular his economic program; yet he tolerates open conflict among his national security team. Some people argue that Condoleezza Rice should foster greater cooperation, but a former high State Department official says, "You can't coordinate people who refuse to be coordinated." The President himself seems unable or unwilling to impose order.
In other words, Bush acts like an imperious twit who screams at even the highest cabinet officials, who will brook no one, but no one, disagreeing with him, and can't rein in the behavior of his out of control defense minister.

What's amazing is that this behavior is noted so sporadically. This is a man that has often lost his temper in public and exhibits open contempt towards anyone that dares to dispute his divine mission. (Frankly, I see no reason why Democrats don't call him out on his religion and make him say all these idiotic things in public rather than have flacks leak it to the press.)

By the way, The New York Review of Books is well worth your money for a subscription. They have been superb in coverage of the war and unstinting in their objections to the Bush administration. But before you dismiss them as arch liberals, their music criticism, their philosophy reviews, and many other areas are quite conservative, even to the point of being paleolithic in their approach. And their review of The Clinton Wars was by an ex Times editor who tore it apart.

Bush Redfines The Term "Puppet Administration"  

Another story via the absolutely indispensable Cursor.

At a party at the US Ambassador's house in Venezuela, a comedian used a puppet to mock the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Now, the Bushites have said the puppet (and the comedian) don't speak for the White House (I assume they mean the puppet and comedian in Venezuela) but the Venezuelan government is apparently prepared to expel the ambassador.
If you ask me, Venezuela's overreacting. Put it this way:

If the Canadian ambassador held a party in Washington with a male comedian dressed up like, say, Paula Zahn, and had a puppet call George W. Bush a "moron," why we'd just laugh it off as all in good fun.

But we paid $5000 an Hour for Bush to tell us it was over!  

No, Iraq is not over, not by a long shot.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress on Thursday that American forces in Iraq still face "several tens of thousands" of fighters who are sufficiently armed and organized to be considered "something close to light infantry."

This is in addition to the 20,000 criminals that Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said were released from Baghdad jails during the war.

* * *

He said unrealistic expectations had arisen from "a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the security problem in Iraq, and, in particular, a failure to appreciate that a regime which has tens of thousands of thugs and war criminals on its payroll does not disappear overnight." [I wonder who failed to understand all this?]

Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, the chairman of the committee, told Wolfowitz that "victory is at risk" in Iraq.

"I am concerned that the administration's initial stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate," he said.

Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the committee, said he found "no surprise" in reports that the United States had underestimated the potential for looting and lawlessness in Iraq and didn't have enough troops there to restore order.

In some parts of Iraq, electricity remains out and water is still in short supply. But the biggest problem may be violence. Across Baghdad, rampant gunfire has changed how people live. Many parents keep their children out of school, and women who usually drive around the city have stopped venturing out. Stores and restaurants close early. People avoid driving at night, well before the 11 p.m. curfew.

Biden said the Bush administration needed to "level" with the American people and admit that American forces might have to remain in Iraq for "five, six, seven, eight, 10 years."

Pace told the committee that the Pentagon now had 145,000 troops in Iraq. An additional 18,000 from the 1st Armored Division will arrive soon from Germany and Ft. Riley, Kansas.

* * *

Wolfowitz, who publicly criticized Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, for telling Congress that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" could be needed to stabilize Iraq, deflected Biden's efforts to get him to give his own estimate of how long - and how many - troops would have to stay. [Because he's clueless and incompetent.]

Wolfowitz said U.S. troops had experienced 50 hostile incidents in the previous two weeks, in which one soldier was killed and 17 were hurt.
That averages 3.5 incidents per day.

via Cursor

Even The New Republic!  

Even Peter Beinart:
To conservatives, the Bush administration is everything its predecessor was not: decent, ethical, honest. It doesn't abuse government power or the public trust. As Wall Street Journal columnist and presidential hagiographer Peggy Noonan [sic: Bush's hagiographer Peggy Noonan] has put it, "Bush brings character to the table."

That's the claim. Here's the record over the last eight months:
Insert here a small sampling of the Republicans', especially Bush's, egregious lies, distortions, and anti-democratic behavior. Beinart concludes:
These stories of Bush administration dishonesty and abuse have not been denied in the conservative press as much as they have been ignored. In researching this column, I could not find a single substantive defense of Bush's UAV claim, or his filibuster plan, or his uranium allegation, in any elite conservative publication. Fred Barnes last week defended the Texas redistricting plan in The Weekly Standard but, incredibly, never acknowledged the key issue: that states traditionally limit themselves to one redistricting per decade. For conservatives, it seems, this administration's decency and honesty are ideological axioms that require no empirical defense. President Bush is not President Clinton. That's all they need to know.

Rumsfeld Hoist On His Own Petard  

Ha Ha Ha!
The Central Intelligence Agency has begun a review to try to determine whether the American intelligence community erred in its prewar assessments of Saddam Hussein's government and Iraq's weapons programs, several officials say.

The director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, has named a team of retired C.I.A. officers to scour the classified intelligence reports that were circulated inside the government before the war on a range of issues related to Iraq, including those concerning Bagdhad's links to terrorism and unconventional weapons, officials said. The team plans to compare those reports with what has actually been discovered in Iraq since the war ended.

The previously undisclosed C.I.A. review was initially prompted by a request last October from Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to Mr. Tenet, a senior intelligence official said Monday...

"Rumsfeld and Tenet regularly have lunch," one senior administration official said. "And last fall, they were having a conversation, and Rumsfeld said: `If we go to war with Iraq, what are the things we should look at?' "

"They agreed that we would have an opportunity to learn a lot about our intelligence, and how it stacks up against reality," he continued.

But the review comes at a time of increasing tension between the Pentagon and C.I.A. over the handling of intelligence. Intelligence officials said that several C.I.A. analysts had quietly complained that senior Defense Department officials and other Bush administration officials sought to press them to produce reports that supported the administration's positions on Iraq. In addition, several current and former C.I.A. officers who have been upset about what they believe has been the politicization of intelligence concerning Iraq were the first to disclose the existence of the new C.I.A. review

Why I'm Not A Lefty Or A Knee Jerk Liberal  

I was rather amazed that Emma over at Late Night Thoughts... believes that I serve up “good lefty politics.” I just thought it was plain commonsense. Therefore, I would like to set the record straight and prove, once and for all, that I am not, and should never be mistaken for, either a lefty or a knee-jerk liberal:

Do you indiscriminately bash anyone on the right? Absolutely not. I direct your attention to an earlier post on Newt Gingrich. In response to blistering criticism of the State Department from Mr. Gingrich, a State official called Gingrich an “idiot.” I examined this charge in detail and concluded that it is totally inaccurate. Indeed, as anyone with access to a dictionary can easily confirm for themselves, Newt Gingrich better fits the definition of “moron.”

I never indiscriminately bash right-wingers, but rather choose my words carefully and openly criticize others who are sloppy.

Are you opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances? That is a very good question. I have bluntly stated on many occasions that no society can call itself “great” or even “civilized” if it presumes to have the right to kill its own citizens, regardless of the heinousness of the crime.

However, should a clear-sighted Senator propose that Republicans, and only Republicans, be exempt from a ban on the death penalty, I might need to seriously reconsider my opposition.

Are you pro-choice? I fly totally in the face of liberal orthodoxy here. While it is not what liberals might want to hear, I believe that there are simply no circumstances whatsoever by which I would ever have an abortion. It would a terrible tragedy for all concerned. However, I do not see any contradiction between what I want for myself and full support for women's right to choose whatever they wish when it comes to their own bodies.

Are you a latte-lapping liberal? Again, I deny this without hesitation. I have not even seen a latte in at least 6 months. My preferred caffeinated beverage at home is strong coffee brewed in the American style. When out and about, I usually order a capuccino or espresso (sometimes a double) if either are available, but never a latte.

Are you opposed to family values? Of course not. That is why I support without qualification all efforts to legalize gay marriages and remove all obstacles and stigmas from adoption by same-sex couples. I cannot imagine anyone being so anti-family as to exclude gays and lesbians from full participation in the benefits of marriage, let alone deny them the joy of raising children.

However, I must make it clear that unlike Senator Santorum, I believe that marriage and the adoption of human children must have clearcut limits.

I do not believe, as he does, that man/dog affairs should receive the state’s blessing, or that if a woman was intimately involved with, for example, a grasshopper that the grasshopper has the right to custody of any human child if that relationship cools, even if the relationship was a heterosexual one.

However, due to the Senator’s efforts, sexual norms may change and future citizens may approve of sexual practices that today nearly all Americans find a little silly. So I remain open to discussing, say, legalizing polygamous unions with both one’s natural brother and the neighbor’s horse when our culture is a bit more comfortable with such relationships.

Do you believe that creationism and intelligent design deserve equal discussion time in public schools as evolution? Of course I do. I believe that all high school students should be required to take not one but two courses on the vital controversy regarding the origin of species.

Semester 1: Evolution And Its Central Role In Understanding Biology and Reality.

Semester 2: Creationism and Intelligent Design: Sheer Stupidity Or Thinly Disguised Right Wing Religious Nutcase Propaganda?

I believe that anyone who approaches the subject of evolution objectively and honestly would instantly approve of such a curriculum.

Are you the kind of liberal that is just masturbating rather than actively engaging conservatives on important issues? Are right wingers so full of themselves that they think that other people actually become stimulated, let alone sexually aroused, whenever they talk to them? Where does THAT come from, I wonder? I've heard this at least 5 times in the past three months!

Hey! Mr/Miss/Mrs. Conservative! If you really wanna know the secret lusts of a liberal, go sear your eyeballs on this hottie. And then you just try to keep your hands off yourself.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

A Joke. I hope.  

from a friend via email:

Attorney General Ashcroft is visiting an elementary school. After a
typical civics presentation, he announces, "All right, boys and girls, now
you can ask me questions."

A young boy named Bobby raises his hand and says, "I have three

1. How did Bush win the election with fewer votes than Gore?

2. Why are you using the USA Patriot Act to limit Americans' civil
liberties and violate the Constitution?

3. Why hasn't the U.S. caught Osama Bin Laden yet?"

Just then the recess bell sounds and all the kids run out to the
playground. After recess, the kids come back to class and Ashcroft says,
"I'm sorry we were interrupted. Now you can continue with your questions."

A young girl raises her hand and says, "I have five questions:

1. How did Bush win the election with fewer votes than Gore?

2. Why are you using the USA Patriot Act to limit Americans' civil
liberties and violate the Constitution?

3. Why hasn't the U.S. caught Osama Bin Laden yet?

4. How come the recess bell went off 20 minutes early?

5. Where's Bobby?"

Jeanne d'Arc On Bush's Aids Bill: It's Not Entirely Real  

courtesy Body and Soul which is a must read.

Fifteen Billion Reasons Why I Don't Trust George Bush
President Bush got some great headlines back in January when he vowed to triple the amount of money the U.S. would spend to fight AIDS in Africa, to $15 billion over five years. He even managed to squeeze some gratitude and applause from me, and that doesn't happen often.

I take it all back.

On Friday, the Senate approved the AIDS initiative -- all $15 billion of it. That sounds good, and it will give Bush cover to say he kept his promise, but if you look a little closer, the games that are being played with that $15 billion -- and with people's lives -- are sickening.

Now you see it, now you don't
The Senate bill promises to spend $3 billion this year. But it doesn't actually provide any money, it just gives legislative authority to spend the money. The actual funding, of course, is decided in the appropriations process. There's a little oversight in Bush's budget plan for 2004, though. It only includes a little over half that amount -- $1.7 billion. In order to spend the full $3 billion, Congress would have to make cuts in other programs.

It gets worse. The House is also considering cutting $2 billion out of Bush's proposed budget for international programs. If they do so, even the $1.7 billion that Bush proposed would probably have to be scaled back.

Sex tips from celibates
A provision inserted by conservatives in the House requires that a third of the money spent on prevention go to programs that promote abstinence until marriage. Another enables groups to participate without agreeing to distribute condoms or use any other AIDS-fighting strategy they object to. Opponents argued the restrictions would impede prevention efforts. What's more, it will peel off more of the money for useless programs that aren't much more than proselytizing. Denying people health care in the name of religion -- this administration is turning it into a well-established tradition.

Americans are the only ones who know anything about AIDS
The measure authorizes the United States to donate as much as $1 billion next year to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS -- the already operating, but drastically under-financed international program -- but caps American contributions at a third of what foreign donors provide. And, once again, it doesn't provide any money, it just gives authority to spend up to that amount. The Senate turned down a proposal to spend at least $500 million on the Global Fund, and the Administration plans to spend no more than $200 million. That's actually a decrease in funding -- we contributed $350 million to the Global Fund this year.

What's in it for my buddies?
The Senate rejected proposals to require that AIDS drugs be purchased at the lowest possible price. Pharmaceutical companies, by odd coincedence, were among the biggest backers of the bill.

This is the way it looks like the game is played:

  • Announce that you will spend a lot of money on an important program and pass a bill that will allow you to spend it.
  • Don't allocate the money.
  • Waste whatever's left on political pay-offs and schemes for your friends.
  • Pat yourself on the back for all the good work you've done for needy people.

Chris Hedges' Commencement Speech  

[UPDATE] Hedges' speech has attracted considerable fury from the right-wingers; I was unaware of the full extent when I wrote what I wrote below. This illustrates perfectly the problem I have with publicly criticizing those I basically agree with. I believe that the differences that I have with Hedges are reasonable, but there is no point in raising them in such a polarized climate.

Surely, anyone who can call down upon his head the full wrath of the wingnuts fury is more right than wrong.

Some of it is magnificent, but there's much that troubles me, still. Especially in the second half, which I will briefly point to. I've blogged about my concerns with Hedges' take on the war before (see here). Unfortunately, I still have them, while I'm grateful that he is so opposed to war, and willing to write about it from a literary background.
Killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq. Although blood will continue to spill -- theirs and ours -- be prepared for this. For we are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power, and security. But this will come later as our empire expands and in all this we become pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment and we are very isolated now.

* * *

As we revel in our military prowess -- the sophistication of our military hardware and technology, for this is what most of the press coverage consisted of in Iraq -- we lose sight of the fact that just because we have the capacity to wage war it does not give us the right to wage war.

* * *

"Modern western civilization may perish," the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned, "because it falsely worshiped technology as a final good."
I've never agreed with this quote. Technology, its manufacture and use, is one of the things that makes us human. We derive, as we always have, great pleasure from our tools, and great good has come from them. And great evil. To the extent that anything whatsoever is worshipped and not questioned, it has the potential for evil. I do not agree that today we worship technology and that that is the root of our peril. Most of us, I know, believe that our tools are amoral. I know no one, not even Edward Teller, who would "worship" - idolize - a thermonuclear warhead. The closest I can come, perhaps, is believing that some people, a small minority, fetishize advanced technology.

Instead, I believe that many in the world worship false idols that are incarnated, paradoxically, as an idea. It is an ultimately narcissistic idea, that God is merely an extension of a rigid, demanding, authoritarian, and uncompromising parent figure, a figure who loves "us" if we obey but demands the murder of our enemies. All religious faiths, including (especially?) the monotheistic ones, have an unhealthy obsession with this vision of God.
The real injustices, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, the brutal and corrupt dictatorships we fund in the Middle East, will mean that we will not rid the extremists who hate us with bombs. Indeed we will swell their ranks. Once you master people by force you depend on force for control. In your isolation you begin to make mistakes.
Fear engenders cruelty; cruelty, fear, insanity, and then paralysis. In the center of Dante's circle the damned remained motionless. We have blundered into a nation we know little about and are caught between bitter rivalries and competing ethnic groups and leaders we do not understand. We are trying to transplant a modern system of politics invented in Europe characterized, among other things, by the division of earth into independent secular states based on national citizenship in a land where the belief in a secular civil government is an alien creed.

* * *

Hedges stops speaking because of a disturbance in the audience. Rockford College President Paul Pribbenow takes the microphone.

"My friends, one of the wonders of a liberal arts college is its ability and its deeply held commitment to academic freedom and the decision to listen to each other's opinions. (Crowd Cheers) If you wish to protest the speaker's remarks, I ask that you do it in silence, as some of you are doing in the back. That is perfectly appropriate but he has the right to offer his opinion here and we would like him to continue his remarks. (Fog Horn Blows, some cheer).

* * *

This is a war of liberation in Iraq, but it is a war now of liberation by Iraqis from American occupation. And if you watch closely what is happening in Iraq, if you can see it through the abysmal coverage, you can see it in the lashing out of the terrorist death squads, the murder of Shiite leaders in mosques, and the assassination of our young soldiers in the streets. It is one that will soon be joined by Islamic radicals and we are far less secure today than we were before we bumbled into Iraq.

We will pay for this, but what saddens me most is that those who will by and large pay the highest price are poor kids from Mississippi or Alabama or Texas who could not get a decent job or health insurance and joined the army because it was all we offered them. For war in the end is always about betrayal, betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians, and of idealists by cynics.
And here is where Hedges and I part company. At first it's just an academic quibble. War is not about betrayal. War is about slaughter. It is the meanings given for war that are always about betrayal. This minor confusion of war with its justifications, just a rhetorical flourish at first, provides Hedges an opening into some seriously wrong projections and assumptions.
War, we have come to believe, is a spectator sport. The military and the press -- remember in wartime the press is always part of the problem -- have turned war into a vast video arcade came. Its very essence -- death -- is hidden from public view.

* * *

The seduction of war is insidious because so much of what we are told about it is true -- it does create a feeling of comradeship which obliterates our alienation and makes us, for perhaps the only time of our life, feel we belong.
I do not believe this to be true. This is a projection. Others, maybe most, may get a sense of comradeship when directly exposed to mass murder. But I do not. I would suspect that those who experience the slaughter most directly - the victims and even a majority of the perpetrators of the slaughter when it's done up close and personal - may also be deaf to war's siren call.

* * *

War allows us to rise above our small stations in life; we find nobility in a cause and feelings of selflessness and even bliss. And at a time of soaring deficits and financial scandals and the very deterioration of our domestic fabric, war is a fine diversion. War for those who enter into combat has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it the lust of the eye and warns believers against it. War gives us a distorted sense of self; it gives us meaning.
And here's the problem, grown from a quibble to a major error. The causes given to war provide many with a false sense of meaning. But war has none, other than death, annihilation. War is nihilism of the most absolute sort, an Augustinian evil, an abcess. That's why the few true nihilists who find eros in war deflect discussions of war back to its justifications. But the focus must be concentrated upon where it belongs, on slaughter, and never diffused back to rationalizations for war.
We feel in wartime comradeship. (Boos) We confuse this with friendship, with love. There are those who will insist that the comradeship of war is love -- the exotic glow that makes us in war feel as one people, one entity, is real, but this is part of war's intoxication.

Think back on the days after the attacks on 9-11. Suddenly we no longer felt alone; we connected with strangers, even with people we did not like. We felt we belonged, that we were somehow wrapped in the embrace of the nation, the community; in short, we no longer felt alienated.
I have never felt more alone in my life than in the days after 9-11. Never. I saw a vision of decimated Afghanistan, which was already suffering unimaginably, but destroyed now because of US bombs, bombs I'd paid for, as had all Americans. I saw that we were being led by bin Laden down a primrose path to our own slaughter, by proving to his world that the US really was behind their tragic present. I tried to find this voice, but few were saying it and they were silenced. I have never felt so alienated from my country or my culture.
Think finally of what it means to die for a friend. It is deliberate and painful; there is no ecstasy. For friends, dying is hard and bitter. The dialogue they have and cherish will perhaps never be recreated. Friends do not, the way comrades do, love death and sacrifice. To friends, the prospect of death is frightening. And this is why friendship or, let me say love, is the most potent enemy of war.
No. Love is not the most potent enemy of war.

To understand war as what it really is: That is the most potent enemy of war. War is only a horror. There are only victims in war, but there are two kinds of victims: those that die or are mutilated and those that aren't. But no one, and no country wins a war. Ever. There are no heroes in war. Ever. They are all victims. War is a nothingness, an abyss. It is empty.

And it behooves those of us who truly see war's reality to find ways to tear off the disguises behind which war masquerades and expose war's nothingness to those who, whatever the reason, cannot or will not see it.

And so again, while I'm grateful that Hedges is against the war and appreciate his writing, I part company when he muses on war's meaning. I think the effort is futile, for it leads, by definition, to nothing.

TIA: New Name, New Logo, Same Sleazy Boss  

Here it is, boys and girls, the latest logo for TIA. It used to be called Total Information Awareness but a few people thought that sounded just a mite, eh, Orwellian. So now it's Terrorism Information Awareness. Convicted felon John Poindexter heads it. Well, it takes a crook to catch a crook goes the reasoning, I suppose.

Gone from the log is the groovy pyramid with the eyeball that watched the world. But is just me or is that crescent just a little too obvious as a symbol of Islam? How about our own homegrown McVeigh-style terrorists? Or the morons who blow up family planning clinics? Or the Israeli settlers on the West Bank? They'll start to feel left out!

[DOUBLEPLUS CREEPY UPDATE] via Cursor, we learn of yet another Pentagon program to collect info on everything you've ever done into a searchable database called LifeLog. As Noah Schactman asks, "What national security experts and civil libertarians want to know is, why would the Defense Department want to do such a thing?"

Blowback: Iraq War Helped Recruit Terrorists  

How could they not know this?
The U.S.-led war on Iraq gave Al Qaeda the opportunity to reinvigorate its weakened terrorist network with new recruits and more funding, say experts on terrorism.

The Iraq war "clearly increased the terrorist impulse," said Jonathan Stevenson, senior fellow for counter-terrorism at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The U.S.-led invasion, at least in the short term, drew more people toward Osama bin Laden's vision of a global clash between Islam and the West, Stevenson said yesterday.
It partly explains the series of co-ordinated, multiple attacks last Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where 34 people died, and on Friday in Casablanca, Morocco, where 41 people, including 13 attackers, were killed by five bomb blasts.

Stevenson believes U.S. President George W. Bush's administration knew full well the war would initially increase support for Al Qaeda. But U.S. officials estimated the long-term impact of setting up a democratic government in Iraq would outweigh the short-term pain of more terror attacks, he said.

Other experts, however, believe that the U.S., and those European countries that supported the war, badly miscalculated.
That, to put it mildly, is an understatement.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Records Destroyed In Texas Democrats/Homeland Security Connection  

A commander with the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered the destruction of all documents and photographs gathered in the search for the Democratic state legislators who fled to Oklahoma to block a congressional redistricting bill.

The order was issued via e-mail on May 14, a day before the Democrats ended their boycott and returned to Texas, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats on the House floor in Washington pushed for more information Wednesday from the Homeland Security Department on its role in the search.
The DPS issued a statement Wednesday saying it destroyed the records because federal regulations prohibit it from keeping intelligence information that is not part of a criminal case.

"Watergate Turned On Its Head"  

Sid Blumenthal interview in Salon. It's great, and has lots of great advice for Democrats, but I'm going to post essentially what Atrios, bless his heart, posted:
[Whitewater] was much more damaging to journalism than anything that Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass did --- the New York Times' and the Washington Post's persistent pursuit of the empty, politically manipulated story of Whitewater. The fact that these leading papers adhered to this hoax over the years by suppressing contradictory, relevant and exculpatory facts that disproved their premises, including the Pillsbury report and many other facts -- that's the real journalism scandal of the past decade or more. And the top editors at these newspapers arrogantly confused all efforts at correcting the facts with assaults on the integrity of their institutions. They couldn't think their way through the Watergate syndrome -- they'd lost their ability to reason. This was Watergate turned on its head -- they became part of the dirty tricks. When the Clinton administration objected to these groundless probes, these journalists simply got their backs up and redoubled their efforts...

It's long past time for the Times and Post to review their Whitewater coverage, and to learn from the experience, in order to avoid being used politically in the future.
I agree.

Before Bush Picks A Fight With Canada  

He should read this in the Wall Street Journal today (need an online subscription, get it at the newstand):
Last year, an Ipsos-Reid/Hewlett Packard poll in Canada found that 12% of Canadian assaulted their photocopiers, with an additional 30% indicating they came to blows.
This is a warrior culture. Imagine if all that violence was unleashed at US tanks. Let's not go stirring up trouble over some measly pot laws, ok?

Shooting Toms In A Barrel  

It's getting to be no fun knocking Friedman around. Anyone past the 5th grade can see immediately he can't write. But not everyone's Russell Baker or Mark Twain and they can still create powerful prose (I'm thinking Dreiser or Thomas Wolfe). But in Tom's latest column, we know we are in majorly serious trouble almost from the first phoneme.

In an inadvertent homage to the latest difficulties that have afflicted his paper, poor Tom, describing the Iraq war, actually rips off one of Maureen Dowd's best lines, "In socioeconomic terms, we were at war with the Flintstones."

Dowd, who can write like a demon even when her soul wrestles with the foul Creature that plagues her, famously compared al Qaeda to Fred, Barney and pals about a week after 9/11. It was a perfect analogy, capturing the contempt and awe many Americans felt when they first stared at the videos from Afghanistan and took a long, hard, look at the men who had attacked us. And it was funny: we could easily imagine bin Laden and al-Zawahiri scurrying around Kandahar inn their feet-powered stone cars.

But poor Tom, who has never met a metaphor he couldn't wreck or a joke he couldn't tell, seems unaware of the difference between ancient history and pre-history, for his invocation of the immortal Flintsones gets set up by describing Iraq in the previous paragraph as, "ancient Babylon with electricity poles." Ouch, double ouch, doubleplus ouch! 200,000 plus years of history just got mixed up worse than the bones at the La Brea tar pits: the humor is entirely drained. If you're going to steal, for goodness sakes, use your theft well and everyone will forgive you.

But that's not fair. Really, it's the ideas that matter. And of course, I'm joking. This is Thomas Friedman, after all. Here's the end of the column:

Most Eagerly Asked Question From an Iranian Journalist I Met in Iraq: When are the Americans going to take over Iran?

Most Eagerly Asked Question From a Lebanese Journalist in Iraq: When are the Americans going to take over Syria?

My Basic Answer to Both Questions: Until we prove we can do Iraq right, don't even ask.

Best Quote From a U.S. General, When Asked if We Can Do Iraq Right: "It is doable — I just don't know if we can do it."  
This gets painful to unpack, so I'm going to ignore the awful literary conceit Friedman employs here out of some consideration for my readers' sensitive nature.

First up: the unspeakable display of white man's burden, particularly egregious coming from a Jewish white man talking about the takeover of Muslim countries. Second, the assumption Friedman makes that the eagerly asked questions were meant seriously. Third, the incredible inappropriateness of using the language of rape ("do Iraq right"). Fourth, the astounding notion that there is a "right way" to "do" Iraq, instead of recognizing the obvious: the US will have only minimal control over the rebuilding of the country, unless they are prepared to drop any pretense of being liberators.

As I said, this is getting to be no fun. It's too easy, and Tom is too well respected, heaven knows why. In fact, it is downright sad to think that at the paper of record, such low standards are not only tolerated but enshrined.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Daily Kos Nails Two Democrat Talking Points  

Here's Kos's summary, but the whole post is worth reading. I don't agree that Afghanistan was a good idea to invade, but no matter. He's basically right. And this is certainly spot on:
Bush's war against Iraq has repercussions. You are less secure from terrorist attack, while your community doesn't have the money to offer basic services.

The Clinton Wars Just Arrived  

Be sure to get your copy of Sidney Blumenthal's memoir of Clinton. My copy just arrived. All the cool kids in Left Blogistan are devouring it. You don't want to be left out, do you?

Frank Rich's Revenge on Bennett  

And it's the sweetest sort:
The puncturing of his dishonest public persona is a huge nail in the coffin of the disgraceful national culture wars in which he served as a particularly vicious commanding general during the 1980's and 1990's...

Mr. Bennett's compulsive, prolonged visits to a town that exuberantly epitomizes everything he was against in American culture is the hypocrisy that truly resonates — far more so than the gambling itself. If his slots habit has wreaked havoc on his family and bank account, that's his own private business. But the hypocrisy he has long practiced as a cultural warrior inflicted damage far beyond his immediate household.

Mr. Bennett was recognizable as a phony (at least to anyone outside the Beltway) long before he was captured on video at a casino. He was always out to score a jackpot for himself first — and let culture take the hindmost. Even as he lambasted Time Warner for trafficking in gangsta rap and told a fellow anti-rap crusader (Bob Dole) to return some of his Time Warner campaign contributions, he took money from one of that company's divisions, the Book of the Month Club. When caught by The Washington Post in this apparent philosophical conflict in 1995, he defended it by saying that the club "doesn't give me that much money" (the sum was a mere bagatelle to him — only six figures). At the height of the mid-90's Republican revolution, he joined Newt Gingrich in the campaign to vilify public television — and then sold his own "Children's Book of Virtues" to PBS as an animated TV series. To answer charges of hypocrisy on that occasion, he said that only private money would be used to produce the program, conveniently ignoring the fact that public money is essential to support the stations that would broadcast his cartoons.

In the aftermath of the Columbine shootings of 1999, Mr. Bennett went on a rampage against Hollywood. He testified before Congress about "the Edgar Bronfmans, Howard Stringers, Michael Eisners and Oliver Stones" who spew cultural "rot." Somehow he forgot to name the name of Rupert Murdoch, a benefactor of conservative causes like his own. Mr. Murdoch's Fox was then preparing to market the ultraviolent film "The Fight Club..."

Mr. Bennett has victimized the public at large, the most instructive example is his shell game with the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the 1970's, he secured a $970,000 grant from its coffers for the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, of which he was then director. In the Reagan administration, he became the endowment's chairman. During the 90's, without missing a beat, he called for the endowment's abolition...

To say that Mr. Bennett lost all his culture wars as decisively as he lost his $8 million would not be an overstatement. Hip-hop is the dominant youth culture of the land, and a number of its top acts, including Eminem and 50 Cent, are at Interscope. The entertainment companies Mr. Bennett testified against in Congress are bigger than ever.

Liberals Criticizing Liberals  

In other posts, I've jokingly alluded to my reluctance to criticize fellow liberals in public. I address this briefly and specifically below and I won't return to the subject. I'll simply refer anyone interested back to this post and let the rest of my writing make the same points in a more subtle fashion.

Of course, I'm willing to criticize any liberal in public. But not on the right wing's playing field, and not with the right wing's ball and bat. To do so is simply foolish. What is often meant by insisting liberals criticize liberals is "clearly, you must admit that liberals were wrong about x..." which adds nothing helpful, as far as I can see, to any argument. There is no point in going there.

However, criticism also means the refining of an argument. In that sense, I am criticizing all the time. But that is different than liberal bashing. I will not engage in it, because it doesn't help anyone better define the issues.

Of course, I do not extend the same courtesy to the right. But whenever the issues are serious, I never distract from the argument (or I shouldn't) in order to take a gratuitous swipe. I reserve my right wing bashing for stupidities, like Santorum's remarks, that don't deserve better. And there's no reason not to be blunt and pungent, hopefully with an occasional bit of humor.

Now, for specifics. No doubt, right wingers will notice that, with one or two "easy" exceptions, I've hedged my criticisms. This is quite intentional: first, I am sincere about my hedges. Second, I have no interest in stoking any liberal munging machines. I have zero interest in detailed knockdown fights about x's alleged perfidy when she wrote y. They only end with the ultimate, utterly irrelevan, putdown, "Don't you know we're at war?" All I care about is to make it clear that I will criticize anyone, but only on my terms, not the right's.

I have publicly (and privately) criticized David Brock in very strong language. I trust him as far as I can throw him. The excerpts I've read from "Blinded by the Right" sure sound spot on, but I know what Brock is capable of. The smear job he perpetrated against people I know and whose integrity is beyond reproach is something I may be able to forgive someday, but never forget. I think he's quite a troubled person and will eventually find himself as disillusioned with liberals as he was with the cons, therefore I don't trust him.

I have not criticized Michael Moore publicly because it never occurred to me that anyone could ever take him seriously. Anyone who does and then gets angry at him is, from my viewpoint, missing the point of Moore. To me, it's like taking Oliver Stone's JFK seriously. Whatever genuine ideas either might have – good, bad, or indifferent – there's no point in discussing them in such a context. Moore's movies are very enjoyable, often hilarious. As anyone who's ever worked on a movie knows, that's an incredible feat. At heart, Moore is a master of hysterical vitriol and a brilliant comedian; therefore, those best qualified to take him on are his approximate colleagues on the other side: killer clowns like Limbaugh or Coulter, not me. The problem is, as Limbaugh and Coulter well know, they can't come close to matching wits with Moore: he's funnier and far more focused.

Regarding three more, Vidal, Zinn and Chomsky, Vidal is easy. His recent tome, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace is worthless. I haven't read much Zinn. What I have read seems interesting, but I don't know enough and so far, I've wanted to read other things more than him. Chomsky, whom I used to think of as over the deep end has come to seem more reasonable since 9/11, but he's not one of the people I read very often. I have problems with meta-theories as they rarely seem to add up, and Chomsky loves overarching theories of foreign policy. I have exactly the same problem with ideas like The End of History or the Bush Doctrine. Unlike Chomsky, it's very important to criticize these because influential, powerful people actually believe them to be sensible.

Those political writers currently whose ideas I admire, in no particular order, are:

Paul Krugman, Susan Sontag, The Nation writers (Cockburn strongly excepted), Washington Monthly, Lee Griffiths,Todd Gitlin, Alterman, the blogs listed on the left and many others, Jessica Mathews, Walter Mead (with strong reservations), Brady Kiesling, Joseph Stiglitz, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Joe Conason, Gene Lyons, Garry Wills, and many more, far too numerous to list.

I have no intention of strongly criticizing them for a very simple reason: I agree with them. Entirely? Not necessarily, but it's not worth the effort to get into the relatively minor quibbles I may have or blow up a strong disagreement on one point and risk obscuring their overall worth. And it's certainly not worth while now, in an atmosphere poisoned by Reaganesque manicheism ("never speak ill of a fellow Republican"), to do so publicly.

Not to mention when there's a huge elephant in the room that's on a rampage.

Arguing With The Right: "A Great Little Racket"  

Atrios linked to this interview with Matt Labash. Labash is a senior writer for The Weekly Standard. He explains, candidly, one of the main techniques used by right wingers when they argue.
We bring the pain to the liberal media. I say that mockingly, but it's true somewhat. We come with a strong point of view and people like point of view journalism. While all these hand-wringing Freedom Forum types talk about objectivity, the conservative media likes to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective. We've created this cottage industry in which it pays to be un-objective. It pays to be subjective as much as possible. It's a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It's a great little racket. I'm glad we found it actually.
Yes, it is a great little racket.

He's saying: conservatives criticize others for not being objective and then they deliberately continue being subjective themeselves.

I call this clever little technique Be Reasonable, Liberal Scum! And it's fantastically effective. It's often combined with non sequiturs to bash liberals, as in, "Ok, let's just cut down on the overheated rhetoric and look at the facts here. Liberals don't have a leg to stand on because in 1962, when JFK said [fill in the blanks]."

The only thing to do, as far as I can tell, is call them on it immediately:

- Wait a minute. We're all supposed to believe you're objective when you change the subject for no other reason than to bash liberals again and again?

- I'm not changing the subject. I'm merely saying that in 1962...

- There you go again! We're talking about 2003. Let's stick to that and let's lay off the liberal bashing. Otherwise, you won't get a chance to make your point because I 'm not going to sit here while you duck the subject just so you can beat me up.

- I'm not beating you up! That's ridiculous! I'm just trying to inject some needed objectivity here.

- Good. Start by knocking off your liberal bashing and we'll take it from there.

Now, the situation can get complicated because there actually are rightwingers who genuinely believe no objective person would seriously entertain a liberal idea. And there's some corruption of postmodernism at work as well in this tactic. But all that's for another time.

Quote of the Day  

From the comments board at Atrios:

The people who advocate the "invisible hand of the market" have their all too visible thumbs on the scale.

Disaster and Selflessness  

A minor epiphany from the Science section. This is Dr. Lee Clarke, who studies disasters, and how people behave during them.
How do we normally make our way through Times Square at 5 p.m.? There's organization there. People organize themselves so that movement can proceed. Those rules don't disappear because we are terrified, or because the environment is falling apart around us. Society stays with us, even in disaster...

Anyone who's studied past disasters will tell you that panic is rare. In fact, people have to have fire crawling up their backs for them to panic the way they do in disaster movies. Actually, people often do not become alarmed fast enough...

Very tight command and control may work well in the military, where all the tasks are contained within the organization. In a disaster, that can't work because ordinary people are not a part of the formal organization.

...our officials need to trust us, need to see the public as part of the solution rather than as a problem to be managed. Money, training, all need to be pushed downward. There needs to be devolution of authority: that's the key implication for policy.

I would summarize the findings as: People are resilient, organizations should not be trusted, the person in the street is generally quite trustworthy...

The way we plan for disasters now is top down and unrealistic...

Q. In all your studies, what have you learned about people?

A. That human nature is more benign and even benevolent given certain conditions. I believe that under the right conditions, human nature is selfless and not selfish. Human nature is social, not antisocial.

Q. Can you prove that human nature is selfless under the right conditions?

A. Exhibit 1: Complete strangers helping each other out of crushed buildings in the Loma Pieta earthquake. Exhibit 2: Otherwise unconnected people helping each other out of the American Airlines crash in Arkansas where they put their own lives at risk from fire. Exhibit 3: The World Trade Center, which was the largest waterborne evacuation in the history of the United States.

A half a million people evacuated Lower Manhattan by water and there was no plan for it. People in barges, sailboats and ferries with no instructions put into the port after seeing those buildings on fire. If you're out in the water in a pleasure craft and you see those buildings on fire, in a strictly rational sense, you should head to New Jersey. Instead people went into potential danger and rescued strangers. That's social.
Marvelous. But alas, not the whole story. During the sinking of the Titanic, lifeboats stayed away from the people in the water out of fear of being swamped by too many survivors. As a result, many people needlessly drowned while some lifeboats were less than half full.

Nevertheless, I remember that my first instinct, like many, many others, was to rush immediately downtown when the Towers fell. I had family obligations, but like what seemed half the population of the upper West Side, after dropping my daughter off with friends, I hailed a cab and headed to the Red Cross. Thousands waited in line to give blood, construction workers standing behind actors standing behind women in full goth black, out the door. I quickly realized that the Red Cross knew that extra blood was not going to be needed: you either got out, mostly intact, or you were burned or crushed to death. That was the horror of it. But I stuck around to see if some of my psych training might be helpful. But hundreds of social workers and therapists had also dropped everything and shown up. There was nothing to do.

In some sense that was one of the hardest things to accept that day. There was nothing to do to make it better.

We were very lucky. We didn't lose friends or neighbors, some of whom worked in the buildings but got out. But a friend of ours was doing a lot of work with Cantor, Fitzgerald. He lost 30 co-workers.

But one of the most interesting things about that day is that the thought never crossed any of our friend's minds to flee the city until late in the evening. Well, except for one person, who grabbed her entire family, and before 1:00 drove to the country - she swore everyone who knew about it to secrecy.

So, I tend to think Dr. Clarke is on to something. That there is an instinct to help during disasters, that somehow that instinct is comforting and consoling, but that it is a fragile instinct, and the reasons why we might help, flee, or become paralyzed are far from clear, and may never be.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Al-Qaeda's Structure  

This basically jibes with what I pieced together from readings. The fellow's an expert on al Qaeda apparently. I do have some questions.Read the whole article:
It is dangerous in the world. In fact, it is becoming more dangerous with every passing day. This is because the President and the men who answer to him and his allies are not winning the war on terror, they are losing it...

[Bush] believes eliminating al-Qaeda will end the threat of Islamic militant terrorism. Though this is rubbish, as a close analysis of recent terrorist attacks shows, it is the conventional wisdom among most of those charged with ending the violence that we are now being subjected to.

Al-Qaeda, conceived of as a tight-knit terrorist group with cadres and a capability everywhere, does not exist in that form. It barely existed before the war in Afghanistan in 2001 destroyed Osama bin Laden's carefully constructed infrastructure there. It certainly does not exist now. Instead, we are facing a different kind of threat. Al-Qaeda can only be understood as an ideology, an agenda and a way of seeing the world that is shared by an increasing number of predominantly young, predominantly male Muslims. Eliminating bin Laden and a few hundred senior activists will do nothing to counter this al-Qaeda. Hundreds more will come forward to fill their ranks. Al-Qaeda, however understood, will continue to operate. The threat will remain and it will grow.

* * *

The hard core of senior al-Qaeda figures operating in Afghanistan until late 2001 acted as a clearing house for projects that were submitted to them, not vice versa. Most of al-Qaeda's terrorist operations originated in the minds of volunteers all over the Islamic world who then made their way to Afghanistan and bin Laden to seek help in executing them. That would imply that, even if bin Laden and his associates are eliminated, there will still be young men with dreams of destruction.[I suspect that the type of projects of interest were made quite clear to the men who submitted proposals and that spectacular 9/11 style projects are developed quite differently.]

* * *

It is the local factors that are crucial, not the activities of an ill-defined entity dubbed al-Qaeda. Just because the Afghan camps have been shut does not mean that the reasons that motivated so many young men to travel there have disappeared. This is what Bush and many of those charged with conducting the war on terror fail to understand.

So what does this mean for all of us who are caught in this nasty crossfire? Will we ever be safe again? Sadly, the answer, at least in the short term, is no.

* * *

There are two major differences from the pre-1996 situation, however. First, 11 September, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the crisis in Israel-Palestine, and the actions of governments and Islamic campaigners all over the Muslim and non-Muslim world, have led to an unprecedented wave of anger and resentment that easily translates into violence. The Islamic world is a far more radicalised place than it was previously. That the conflict in Iraq led to a rise in recruitment for radical groups is now so clear that even US officials admit it. This is a huge setback in the 'war on terror'.

Second, the militants' targets are not, as they once were, merely the regimes in their own countries. The target now is the so-called 'Crusader-Zionist Alliance' and that means all Westerners are enemies. There are no civilians. There are no safe havens. [This last paragraph is not as I'd been led to understand al Qaeda's earlier success. I've understood that bin Laden focused specifically on western targets as a means of uniting Muslims against a clearcut external threat. He would then turn his attention to individual infidel governments in the Muslim world in order to re-unite the Caliphate.]

* * *

This movement is as diverse as the many countries from which its members come. Unless this is understood, and a fundamental change made in the way al-Qaeda is viewed and combated, we will all suffer for a long time to come.
I don't think it matters now whether Bush understands. We are in for what looks to be a century of terror. We may be able to ameliorate it to some extent if Bush is not elected in '04. But we are in deep trouble whatever happens now.

Today's Reason To Conquer Iraq: Eliminate Ambiguities  

They never give up, do they? I think they realize that they are in serious trouble if nothing is found, despite saying otherwise.
Top Iraqi scientists still swear that their country has no such weapons. No nukes, no anthrax, no VX gas. Are they liars trying to cut a better deal for themselves? Or might they simply be telling the truth?

It doesn't matter.
Only if you care whether the Bushites were acting in accordance with international law.
The real story here is less about the failure of intelligence, inspections or diplomacy than about the end of America's tolerance for state-sponsored ambiguities explicitly designed to threaten American lives.
Saddam Hussein was not involved with 9/11 according to public evidence. Saddam Hussein never had the delivery systems to threaten a single American. (Insert obligatory imprecations of Saddam and comparisons to Hitler. Follow up with obligtatory indignation that I don't need a moral midget like George Bush to remind me, either).
Does an American policy to deny unfriendly nation-states the policy option of creating ambiguity around WMD possession and the support of terrorism make the world a safer place?
My dear sir, Saddam was quite unambiguous. He said he didn't have them. They may not turn up, but so far, according to public evidence, nothing's been found. Apparently, he may not have been ambiguous. And remember, most of the stuff Powell presented has either turned out to be false or crude fabrications.
Iraq provides the single most important and dramatic case study in the Bush administration's efforts after Sept. 11, 2001, to eradicate ambiguity as a viable strategic deterrent for unfriendly regimes. Hussein's Iraq may or may not have had impressive caches of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. But his regime surely behaved as if it might.
How? And ambiguity is impossible to eradicate for friendly regimes, let alone unfriendly. Who'd ever think that Canada - Canada! - would act so "ungratefully" to America as to loosen pot laws, but it has (joke).
Even after Sept. 11, the Afghanistan campaign and the controversial "axis of evil" address, Iraq took no public actions to reduce the level of ambiguity surrounding its WMD programs.
Indeed, Saddam did. He said he didn't have any. Remember, most the evidence presented to create ambiguity was false or fabricated. According to Sy Hersh, it came from Chalabi's cronies, who clearly couldn't be trusted: Chalabi himself had been convicted of fraud in Jordan! And remember, Saddam Hussein was not involved with 9/11 according to public evidence. It was not up to Iraq, as it was not up to Peru for example, to jump before Bush ordered him, or even after.
Inspections agreements -- no matter how coercive -- never could have worked because they never addressed the fundamental issue: Hussein's desire to preserve WMD ambiguity in order to preserve Iraq's perceived influence and power.
Nonsense. No one was interested enough to try. In a way, the conquest of Iraq was the ultimate "coercive" inspection. Are you saying it, too is not enough? Are you hinting the invasion and conquest of Syria or Iran may be imminent?
Iraq's perfunctory compliance and deceitful history guaranteed that the United States would distrust the U.N.'s lackluster assurances of compliance.
This is rewriting history. The assurances of compliance the inspectors were hedged, as any honest ones had to be, but they clearly showed Iraqi cooperation. Perhaps Iraq didn't cooperate fully because, for very good reasons, they didn't trust Bush. But they moved reasonably quickly, except to men and women who had decided a year before that whatever Saddam did, they were going to invade.
Or, after Sept.11, he could have preemptively invited in U.N. inspectors as a prelude to lifting sanctions.
Well he did, if I rightly recall in the spring of '02 and Bush rejected it because he wanted to invade, no matter what. Later Bush was pushed to the UN. Then, Saddam did comply with 1441, but Bush had no intention of letting Saddam stay in power. Saddam had no reason to immediately after Sept 11 because...once again, boys: Saddam Hussein was not involved with 9/11 according to public evidence.
The Bush administration, appropriately interpreting Iraq's refusal to remove WMD ambiguity in violation of numerous international agreements as an overtly hostile act, has sent an unambiguous signal that it will take all steps necessary to eliminate such ambiguity.
To propound a policy to eliminate ambiguity about WMD as a reasonable foreign policy objective is either a declaration of war against every country in the world or it is the insane ramblings of an idiot. Or both.
To be sure, this sort of policy may not inherently make the world a safer place.
To be sure, that is an understatement.
But policies that permit rogue states to wield greater influence by creating greater uncertainty about their weapons of mass destruction are guaranteed to make the world an even more dangerous place.
And what make the world an even dangerous place than that is a trigger happy American president, ignorant of foreign affairs, under the delusion he has been called by God, prepared to invade whomever he wants, whenever he wants, while the rest of the world watches helplessly.

Matt Taibbi Tom Friedman  

Just read it. It's hilarious. And then, you may want to check out a post of mine here. I am thrilled that someone else understands, finally. Hardware of democracy indeed.

Addenda to Reply to Michael Totten  

My smart spouse (MSS) says that I've been too harsh on Michael Totten in my previous post, and have attacked him personally. While it was never my intention to do so, in reading it over, she has a very valid criticism. Unless one takes a very charitable view of my intentions - and a reader should only bring to my texts what I bring to the work of others: the benefit of a doubt - the post can easily be construed as a personal attack. I'm sorry if Michael feels personally hurt in the way I said what I said. Since naturally, he would be the most sensitive to criticism of any of my readers about him, I doubt he could feel otherwise. But while I sincerely regret hurting him, I fully stand by the substance of the post (as I do of all of my work). I truly wish I was talented enough to put strong points in less hurtful language, and will seek to do better in the future, but I will not refrain from making such points.

And so, I would like to add something. Whether this makes Michael feel better or worse, I can't know, but I'd like to suggest another possible interpretation of why he wrote Builders and Defenders the way he did.

Michael Totten is clearly an intelligent fellow, and a creative one. While I believe that there is a strong possibility that Michael is being deceptive about his politics, it is also quite possible that he simply is oblivious to the right wing bias from which he writes, at least on foreign policy. If this is so, he needs to take to heart the advice he insultingly slings at liberals:

Study, Michael, study. And study the real stuff - the boring books Bush can't be bothered cracking - not National Review or the latest Horowitz rag (or The Nation or Michael Moore film). And travel, Michael, travel. Meet with government officials and citizens of all stripes in the countries that interest you. Then study some more. Learn Arabic. Get at least a smattering of Pashtun. Live in one of the 'stans or in the Middle East for awhile. Then write.

Of his bias in Builders and Defenders, I have no doubt.No fairminded observer prepared to be publicly truthful can miss it. Unlike Michael and many others, I do not claim either non-partisanship or lack of bias (it is clearly impossible for anyone to be so, but that's another argument). Put bluntly, the American far right wing, of whatever stripe - neo, paleo, religious, corporate - has little of value to offer my country or the world, morally, economically, or in terms of national security, to name just three vital areas. Among their most egregious sins is that they rarely ever dare to propose or argue a topic unless it is framed heavily in their favor, and they will stridently demand the frame be changed until it leans entirely their way. The far left repels me no less than the far right and for all the same reasons.

On the other hand, moderate American politics, which is quite broad, interests me. Therefore, it would be highly desirable to return to practicing it in this country in 2004 by denying Bush a victory.

As the far left in the US is utterly powerless and ineffective, while the far right is both powerful and effective, I find it a clear moral duty to focus on the alarming and increasing attraction to fascism and fascist tactics by the far right. (By the far right I mean - true moderates excepted - Bush and his supporters in the Republican party as well as all those even more extreme. No one who has examined both Bush's pronouncements or his actions with any knowledge of the history of presidential level political discourse over the past 40 years or so can seriously argue that Bushism is even moderately conservative.) I do not have David Neiwert's scholarly expertise and never will, but like anyone who is relatively smart and well educated, I can easily point to very disturbing events and trends. Nearly every day, it seems there are many more.

To admit to a bias does not mean one can't be fairminded. Case in point: When I first read Michael's post, I had no idea who he was, which is the best way to approach an author, with little knowledge a priori, no hype, no commentary, just the text. Michael's political orientation was patently obvious.

So likewise, Michael himself can be fairminded in the framing of his arguments if he wants, even if his politics differ significantly from mine. Therefore, if he genuinely believes I am wrong about his bias, he should prove it:

1. He must carefully document his all but incredible charge that there is virtually nothing of worth to read about foreign policy in The Nation but virtually all foreign policy articles in National Review are worthwhile. He needs to provide short analyses of each article as to why he believes so about each one, add up the totals and present all the data publicly. His data set should comprise an examination of both magazines over a minimum of 24 months but 5 years would be ideal. The further back he goes, the stronger his argument will be if he is right (and vice versa, of course) and he must note fully all trends, as surely the number of useful articles will wax and wane in interesting ways in both magazines..

2. He must unequivocally renounce Joseph McCarthy and not make excuses for him or praise his erudition, both of which are inexcusable and gross distortions of history.

Until he can prove even his first assertion in his post, I will maintain that he is quite biased towards the right, either deceptively or unwittingly so, a position I've backed up with considerable effort which he needs to refute directly and in depth in order to take his protestation of lack of bias seriously. The effect, when he insists that the views of "Builders and Defenders" are liberal when in fact they are quite conservative, is to shove the entire debate on foreign policy rightward, so that genuine liberal thought becomes entirely excluded for serious consideration. Every strategy he uses in the post, from the "liberal" fellow blogger who insists that what we liberals read is mostly indoctrination to the preposterous characterization that liberals mostly care about good Persian movies while conservatives focus more on threats, supports this reading.

MSS is right to point out that I've criticized Michael Totten too personally and now, I fear I have again. I am sorry.

But the issues I've raised are, for various reasons, ones I believe need to be taken very seriously. If I were a better writer, I may not have been so blunt and personal. But regardless, I stand by my words. And I bid Michael good luck in the future. I hope that I have no further cause to point out the vast discrepancy between his political views and what he says they are. It's exhausting, time consuming and painful, But I certainly will do so again if he presents them unfairly again and others insist he is being merely objective.

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