Saturday, May 29, 2004

Jaw To Floor (But In A Good Way)  

Highest bridge in the world:
Engineers brought the two central ends of the Millau road viaduct in southwest France together, completing the span of the highest bridge in the world.

The road surface is 270 metres above ground, a world record, and the total structure, with suspension cables added will be 343 metres (1,132 feet) above ground at its highest point or 23 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower.

The crowing part of the operation will be the raising of seven pylons above the platform of the bridge from which are to be suspended supporting cables.

These will take the total height at the highest point to 343 metres. One of the main supporting pylons beneath the platform, known as pylon 2, stands 245 metres high, making it the tallest pylon in the world.
And be sure to click on the photo of the bridge. Wow.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Time To Burn Beatles Records Again  

McCartney speaks out against war.

Oh and for you kiddies who are too young to remember, yeah, they burned Beatles albums once:
[Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave] had spent the day[with John] Lennon, whom she described as "imperious, ... unpredictable, indolent, disorganised, childish, vague, charming and quick-witted." He took her on a tour of his mansion, talking about books and fame, and the gorilla suit he bought so he could drive around wearing it. When they reached the subject of religion, Lennon said, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. ... We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first-rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

The British public took the comment as what is was: An opinion voiced by an artist known as much for his hummingbird mind as for his considerable talent. In July, however, an American teen magazine called Datebook quoted the infamous Jesus statement without reprinting the original article. It appeared as part of a cover story called "The Ten Adults You Dig/Hate the Most." The American reaction was instantaneous. Radio stations across the country, but especially in the South and in the Midwest, stopped playing Beatles records. Death threats began pouring in, directed against not only John, but the other Beatles as well. Bonfires appeared, with Beatles pictures and albums providing the fuel. Maureen Cleave tried to explain that "John was certainly not comparing the Beatles with Christ. He was simply observing that so weak was the state of Christianity that the Beatles were, to many people, better known. He was deploring, rather than approving, this," but to no avail. In Cleveland, the Reverend Thurman H. Babbs threatened to excommunicate any member of his congregation who listened to the Beatles. In the South, the Ku Klux Klan burned the Beatles in effigy and nailed Beatles albums to burning crosses.
By the way, people of George Bush's age were the first Beatles fans. Surely, Bush likes the Beatles, right? Right????'
"There was not only a new sound," said Al Gore, speaking about the Beatles to the editor of Rolling Stone. "There was something else that was new with the Beatles. A new sensibility...that incredible gestalt they had." The great exception to all this is George W. Bush. He was at Yale from 1964 to 1968, and liked some of the Beatles first records. "Then they got a bit weird," he has said. "I didn't like all that later stuff when they got strange."
I suppose he means things like "It's been a Hard Days Night, and I've been working like a dog." 'cause, you know, Bush never had to work too hard so it must have sounded really weird.

Political Hate Speech  

Atrios catches CNN's Kelli Arena spouting GOP bullshit:
[Kelli] ARENA: Neither John Kerry nor the president has said troops pulled out of Iraq any time soon. But there is some speculation that al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House.
Here are the numbers to call to complain, and please complain mightily:

CNN Atlanta:

CNN Washington:

Some emails to write to: (CNN's chief news executive.)

While you're at it, you might remind them that there is far more reliable speculation that Bush is al Qaeda's first choice for president, because they think he's so stupid. See this Reuters report.
"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization. Because of this we desire you (Bush) to be elected."

Shorter President Gore  

This ain't no party.
This ain't no disco.
This ain't no foolin' around.

Shorter Shorter President Gore

The president's crazy!
Did you hear what he said?!!?!

(With apologies to Talking Heads.)

Shorter Paul Krugman  

Toldja so.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics, And Then There's Max Boot  

I'm in a foul mood today. I'm sick of liberal hawks trying to find some good in their thoroughly discredited position. You were wrong, guys. Admit it, now just say you're sorry, and please think twice the next time someone tempts your immortal soul by waving the seductive bling-bling of a foreigner's blood in your face.

But however angry I am at the lib/haws, that's nothing compared to the steam erupting from my nostrils after I made the mistake of reading Boot's latest bull, and I don't mean papal. Max gives us just scads 'n scads of statistics proving beyond a shadow of doubt that, as wars go, well, Iraq ain't so bad, 'specially given it's a major war.

Well, Max, you're wrong. Remember what the clowns holding your leash said? Iraq is just one bloody battle in the War on Terror. And as battles go, this one's lasted over a year, caused 800 American deaths, 2500 plus US casualties so serious the soldiers can't return to combat (and that's serious, believe me, although Max tries to hide it with some dishonest statistical balderdash), and literally uncounted Iraqi casualties.

So, as battles - not wars - go, how we doin'? Well, I'll grant you, Maxie, it ain't Gettysburg. Always look on the bright side of life (cue the crucified whistlers).

But, anyway, your stats are no consolation to the tearful girlfriend who opens up her lover's coffin for a final look and finds a nidorous heap of rotted flesh inside instead of the noble corpse she was led to expect from Jerry Bruckheimer movies.

And your stats ain't gonna consle the mother who tries to kiss her homecoming daughter, only to find that her daughter can't return the kiss 'cause her face was shot off and, Jesus! she can't even embrace her mom because she left an arm in a sandpit somewhere back north of Najaf and the other one's paralyzed and useless.

Funny, when you look at it a little closer, how many stats escaped Max Boot's notice in that article. Like the number of non-combat deaths and wounded. Yeah, but they're losers, like that other Max, you know, Cleland, so they don't merit counting in Boot's bull anymore than those dead Iraqis do.

Oh, and then there's the class thing Max plays, didja notice it, with the Abu Ghraib debacle. No, Max, Pfc England's not the sadist. She's just the whip. The sadist, he's a rummy nice guy. Very rummy. You probably know him and like him.

So. You think it's not so bad over there, Maxie? Go over and take a look. Contact me. I'll donate $1000 towards your airfare to Iraq. Seriously.

What's the catch? Well there's a slight, small one. I want you to report accurately on Iraq. And that means you, um, have to stay a while. You just can't fly in and out like your bosses do, dispensing a turkey here, or dodging a single hotel attack there. Nope, you gotta stay there for two months, minimum and tour the country. Without escorts or embedding.

Like Nick Berg, another statistic that somehow didn't get counted your little lists. Dead non-Iraqi civilians. Damn, there's a lot missing from your bull.

And Furthermore, Kevin...  

Kevin Drum, in a post to Matt's comment board writes, ""Yes, it's possible things could have worked out."

I responded:

Kevin, for heaven's sake, on what concrete evidence are you basing such an assertion? There is no proof from history: previous millitary interventions by the US to establish democracies have all failed, with some notable and very specific exceptions, none of which apply in the slightest fashion to Iraq.

Are you saying "we" could have established democracy in Iraq "if we had more troops," or "if we had more allies," or "if we had a more sensible government" or "if we had a little more time?" Don't you get it?

There are always too many ifs for democracy to be imposed by force. Foreign policy at best is a complex, non-linear system. It is chaos, in other words. You seriously screw with chaos and more often than not, you don't get order. You get anarchy and death.

Iraq was not a gamble, my dear friend. Would that is was something so noble. History and commonsense prove it was simply a fool's errand.

If it wasn't an incredibly stupid idea, it is no longer enough to assert that it was a good idea. Prove it. Show us specific historical parallels to Iraq which worked. Show us a detailed plan for making the world safe for democracy, a plan that was actually implemented, and that actually worked.

If you can't - and, with all due respect, I know you can't because there is simply no evidence at all that forced democratization can work under Iraq-like pre-existing conditions, leaving aside whether such action would ever be morally acceptable - then just give it up, admit you were wrong, and let's go on.

A "great" foreign policy, like a "great" Christianity, can never depend on evangelism. You simply must strive to embody greatness in your own country (and in your soul). You can't ram greatness down someone's throat because, by definition then, it can't be that great.

Computer Voting Update  

How on earth could anyone expect a gizmo called IVotronic to be any good at all?
For the second time in two weeks, an internal memo from a Miami-Dade County election official in Florida has exposed a new round of auditing flaws that have plagued the iVotronic touch-screen voting machines used in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The memo also indicates that the problem had been brought to the attention of Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Constance A. Kaplan two months earlier than she had said she first had learned of it. Its disclosure has prompted charges that Kaplan violated state open records laws by failing to disclose the memo sooner.

The latest memo, dated Oct. 10, 2003, and addressed to Kaplan, said a review of the Oct. 7, 2003, mayoral and City Council primary election in Homestead, Fla., found that the iVotronic system's audit log failed to account for 162 ballots cast.

The 64 Bazillion Dollar Question  

Kevin Drum draws attention to a question asked today by Dan Drezner:

"Was the very idea of bringing democracy to Iraq ill-conceived, or did the problem lie in our implementation?"

Of course, Drezner sez it's just the implementation. If we only had 450,000 or so troops, bingo! Instant Democracy from a can! And Kevin still thinks it "might" be possible.


Read this from April, 2003:
The record of past U.S. experience in democratic nation building is daunting. The low rate of success is a sobering reminder that these are among the most difficult foreign policy ventures for the United States. Of the sixteen such efforts during the past century, democracy was sustained in only four cases ten years after the departure of U.S. forces. Two of these followed the total defeat and surrender of Japan and Germany after World War II, and two were tiny Grenada and Panama. Unilateral nation building by the United States has had an even rougher time—perhaps because unilateralism has led to surrogate regimes and direct U.S. administration during the postconflict period. Not one American-supported surrogate regime has made the transition to democracy, and only one case of direct American administration has done so.
The article goes into detail.

Read it, Kevin. For cripes sake.

[UPDATE] And y'know, the Carnegie Endowment has been trying to say this since October, 2002. See "The Democratic Mirage in the Middle East" available as a pdf from this page But no one bothered to pay attention until Rick Hertzberg mentioned it in The New Yorker after the war began.

[UPDATE:] Matthew Yglesias writes, or should I say, harrumphs:
You can see that The National Review has already retreated into the most retrogade possible sort of bloody-minded conservatism while the real peaceniks on the left feel that they've been completely vindicated by events and should never listen to the voices of liberal hawkery again.
Well, Matt, let me put it a little differently:

The neo-cons and the conned liberal hawks were completely fucking wrong. Why should anyone listen to them?

And why isn't anyone listening to people like Pei, Ottaway, Tuchman Matthews, et al, et al, who were right?

[UPDATE:] Obsidian Wings also agrees with Drezner and Yglesias. But wait! He actually has a plan to deal with things in Iraq The Way They Are Now:
This means, perhaps, preferring more expensive Iraqi oil to a cheaper Saudi alternative; continuing to invest in Iraq's infrastructure -- it's roads, bridges, harbors, oil fields. It means giving tax credits to companies that do business in Iraq. And, most importantly (and most difficult for some to swallow), it means making real progress on the Israel/Palestinian conflict.
Oh, I have no problem making real progress on Israel/Palestine.

But I have a totally major problem thinking that anyone will go along "more expensive Iraqi oil to a cheaper Saudi alternative." I think he must be dreaming. In fact, there's a song that makes the point far better than mere words alone can.

Micheline And The Irrepressible Peter J. Swales  

Here is the marvelous Belgian singer Micheline live in concert in New York. Micheline is presently concentrating on the music of Jaques Brel and she makes a great case for his songs. Making a Slothropian cameo (remember "Harmonica, kazoo-a friend" from GR?), on musical saw, is none other than Peter Swales, who is the bane of arch-Freudians, pro-Sybillians, and all those who substitute woozy ideologies for common sense; who is the heroic Third Man in Janet Malcolm's "In the Freud Archives"; who was on the roof with four Liverpudlians at their last concert ever; who is an expert on the life of Marilyn Monroe and the early writings of William S. Burroughs when he (Burroughs) was in analysis; who has all but found the smoking sperm to prove a love affair between Freud and his sister-in-law; and who has uncovered ominous evidence that the hirsute Viennese cigar addict very well may have contrived to push his dearest friend, Dr. Wilhelm Fliess of Berlin, off a cliff.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

James Chace: Strategic Realism  

Read this article:
At this perilous moment, when the Bush administration is planning to turn over "limited sovereignty" to a provisional Iraqi government on June 30, what the early Cold War realists were trying to do in postwar Europe is never more relevant. Their belief in the value of pragmatism and power, their avoidance of ideological crusades, and their respect for their friends and allies produced one of the most generous and successful foreign policies in American history. If John Kerry intends to challenge the democratic imperialism of George W. Bush, he would do well to reflect on their history and resurrect their wisdom.
In fact, the Wise Men were far from hard core realists, but had a healthy streak of idealism as well.

In this excerpt Chace gives some specific policy recommends that are all but Aronian in nature:
The likelihood that the United States will be successful at building a democracy in Iraq is very low. A functioning democracy depends not only on providing internal security through an honest police force, an independent judiciary, and an impartial bureaucracy but also a decent standard of living for its people, some reasonable degree of social cohesion, and more than merely adequate political institutions. These conditions do not exist in Iraq, and it would be quixotic to think that they will emerge in the near future, if ever. Today in Iraq, there are calls from the Shia for something resembling a theocratic state, and from the autonomous Kurds in the north for an all but separate nation. As for the Sunnis, many of them appear nostalgic for an autocratic state similar to what they experienced under Saddam Hussein, which would restore their minority domination of the country. Creating a democracy along the lines of what was accomplished after the Second World War in Germany and Japan, as the Bush administration believes can be done, is delusional.

Rather than embracing the idea that a democratic Iraq can become a model for other Middle Eastern countries, the United States should put more effort into distancing itself from autocratic regimes. (On a recent scale of democracies in the Arab world, published by The Economist, Saudi Arabia placed last and Egypt not too far above it.) Washington can press for reforms in these countries by cutting back on military sales and economic aid. Egypt, for example, ranks second to Israel as a recipient of U.S. aid.

Conversely, the United States can reward countries for liberalizing their economies and their political institutions, which might lead to an enlargement of the middle class. Would such liberalization risk the possibility of an Islamist government coming into power? Yes -- but it is a risk worth taking. In Turkey, for example, an Islamist party that is relatively liberal now governs. The United States simply cannot go on binding itself to reactionary regimes out of fear of instability in the region. Instead, Washington needs to encourage every small movement toward a more open society. But if the United States chooses to pursue the path of democratic imperialism, the consequence will be endless war.

Messianic efforts to imprint an American model of democracy on a global scale should not be the centerpiece of American policy. It is nonetheless true that the United States cannot pursue a successful foreign policy without a moral component, as Roosevelt and Truman well understood. For it was FDR who had the idea that American liberty depends on our solicitous interest in liberty abroad. But liberty does not imply the imposition of American democracy. Instead, it is the condition that can help create the climate in which democracy can grow and then perhaps bring about the liberal institutions and habits of democracy.

That moral component should be inherent to a policy of strategic realism. A strategic rather than an ideological approach not only advances the nation's interest but also seeks allies among other governments and peoples who share those interests, linking them to a range of international institutions.

Strategic realism would also heed Kennan's warning that wars fought in the name of high moral principle can easily lead to some form of total domination. Our ends, moral as well as physical, must be compatible with our means. No one was more eloquent in this respect than Kennan when he urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to consider the advisability of a U.S. withdrawal from Indochina. "There is more respect to be won in the opinion of the world by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than by the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant and unpromising objectives," he said.

Above all, the postwar realists were aware of the limitations of American power and purpose. In 1949, Acheson explained that the Cold War was not a struggle between good and evil. "Today," he said, "you hear much talk of absolutes ... that two systems such as ours and that of the Russians cannot exist in the same world ... that one is good and one is evil, and good and evil cannot exist in the world." But "good and evil have existed in this world since Adam and Eve went out of the Garden of Eden." Pleading for balance and solvency, he urged his listeners to remember that the proper search is for limited ends. That is what "all of us must learn to do in the United States: to limit objectives, to get ourselves away from the search for the absolute."

Times Admits It Was Bamboozled  

Thank goodness that, finally, FINALLY, The New York Times has admittted, sort of, that much of their prewar Iraq coverage stunk to high heaven. But while I'm glad they are admitting their mistakes, that doesn't begin to cover the enormous damage that the Times, and many others did, by abandoning their obligation to report the news instead of reprinting administration boilerplate.

As Digby and surely many, many others will point out, no heads have rolled, particularly that of the egregiously spun Judith Miller, who was feeding Chalabi's line to her gullible editors for years. A furious Atrios accuses the Times' editors of having blood on their hands, and I'm afraid he's right.

Because as bad as the samples of their bad reporting are, the list is, even by their own admission, incomplete. In fact, it is truly hard to believe how awful coverage in the prewar era was unless you were following closely. As The New York Review of Books reminds us in the current issue, the memo describing illegal wiretaps at the UN by the UK and US which was leaked by whistleblower Katherine Gun was ignored by the US paper of record. And for those who were following it, the reporting about Turkey's role, or rather non-role, as a base of ops for US troops bore no relation to the truth, which could only be gleaned by consulting foreign newspapers and translations of Turkish sources.

In short, it was not a few bad articles, or bad reporters. It was a systematic refusal to seriously report and prominently articles that might have impeded the rush to war.

Those few months in 2002/2003 are a blot on American journalism. They will be studied and analyzed for years to come. Let's hope that they are never repeated and that the Times, and other media in the US, comes to its senses and starts telling the unvarnished truth about the Bush administration instead of continuing to cut them as much slack as they can.

Rooting For The US To Lose  

Every once in a while, someone on the right writes that criticizing US government policy in Iraq is tantamount rooting for the US to lose.

That is a canard. It is precisely because it is necessary that the situation in Iraq stabilize in a fashion that is beneficial for the people of Iraq (and for the rest of the world, including the US) that aggressive criticism of the Bush administration is important and a Kerry presidency critical.

Letter To The Times  

To the editor:

In her May 26, 2004 column, Joyce Wadler expresses her boredom listening to Al Gore explain, in detail, critical environmental issues the world is facing.

If Ms. Wadler is too dumb to pay attention to an important speech by Al Gore on a vital topic, she is too stupid to write for your newspaper.



(Yes, I know she's only a gossip columnist. But I can easily imagine a gossip columnist writing up the event like this:

"Had he bothered to attend, GEORGE BUSH would surely have nodded off even sooner than the man next to us at last night's 'Town Hall Meeting on Global Warning' presented by But for those attendees like KEVIN BACON and KYRA SEDGWICK who have a working brain and a pair of attentive ears, former Vice-President Al Gore delivered an organized and detailed illustrated speech on the ominous reality of global warming.")

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?