The Personal and Political Ramblings of one guy in Texas.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Schools Out! 

Today is my son's last day of school for the year. Amazing to see him go from struggling to read simple words to basically reading. And not just "see spot run" stuff, either. He's grown and changed a lot, but still wants to be hugged. That can't go more than another year or two, I guess. He'll need less minding then, which will be nice, but I know I'm going to miss that totally unselfconscious willingness/need for affection.

Next week I'll be helping out with Vacation Bible School. I think the church council president would look askance on my getting directly involved (we board leader are supposed to plan, not work directly) but I think they needed the help. And its only in the kitchen. But I'll be busy and probably not blogging very much for a while.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Pet Peeve 

I was reading an article the other day that referred to "self-appointed moralists". Are self-appointed moralists much worse than the appointed kind? How do you measure that?

I hate the idea of "self-appointed" being used as some sort scare term. Because its more of the typical "my guys are okay, but yours are scum (in this case, self-appointed scum)" meme that you can find everywhere in public discourse.

Nobody "appointed" the Sierra Club as guardians of nature. They just decided to do it. Nobody "appointed" the NRA as defenders of the Second Amendment, or the ACLU as defenders of the others. They just decided to do it.

That, my friends, is the beauty of America. No one has to be appointed to a position of concern. They just have to be concerned, and if you think they are full of it, you don't need to listen. Don't like that? Too bad.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Potshots Again 

Looks like there probably was a wedding at that site attacked by US forces in Iraq. Of course, it looks like there might also have been more than a wedding out there too. The only certainty is another tragedy.

I got an email from the propetier of Lying in Ponds. Note the lack of a link. It seems some domain name weirdness has essentially shut him down for a while. He hopes to get back in business soon, but he didn't give me a time frame. I hope he can get going again soon.

Josh Marshall is crowing over the Presidents low poll numbers (and they are low -- 41% job approval is not a re-election number). I can't help but continue to think how politics has not really followed the rules we are used to since 1992 or so. In other words, people looking to history as a guide are looking in the wrong direction this time. This election has at least a couple more good twists in it before November.

Finally, I'm about to embark on a sort of project. I'm going to try and examine the reasoning given by the leftist magazine The Nation for opposing the Kosovo War, Afghanistan, and Iraq. If I feel up to it, I might also look at Somalia, Haiti, and even "Desert Fox" as well. These various military actions, taken at different times, for very different reasons, and by different administrations should have elicited very different reactions, at least in my opinion.

My plan is to create categories of argument, specific ones that can really only be made with regard to a specific time and place, and generic ones, where merely changing the names of the places and the players could bring it up to date. I'll also look for inconsistencies, i.e., to see if an article complains about antagonizing Russia, while another complains of coddling Russia. Obviously, there will be a lot of room for subjectivity here, with the bias issues that sort of thing raises. All I can say is, I'll do my best.

I don't really know where this will go, or how long it will take. I recognize that principles could also create similar reactions, not just a sort of anti-US power reflex, but in my opinion, this just doesn't seem as likely across a wide variety of activities. The Left as a whole has been tarred with being reflexively against any use of American power, no matter where or why. The existence of the same arguments, made over and over again, would in my view buttress that argument.

Now granted, the Nation is not the whole of the Left. But so far as I can tell it represents the mainstream view of that nebulous mass we call "the Left", so it is as good a proxy as any.

Thursday, May 20, 2004


This is pretty funny, especially if you've ever played a Real-Time Strategy game. I think its funnier if you're a hawk, and I think he loses it near the end (it was probably asking too much NOT to bring in Col. Jessup), but its still good.

Chris in the comments on the Hersh piece below points out that Newsweek has the same story. Well, a lot of people also had the "attack is stalled the troops are doomed" story last April. I reiterate that its mostly from "unnamed sources", though it has some more specifics in terms of charges. The only smoke though, is in the form of some memos discussing the issues around denying POW and Geneva status to prisoners taken in the Terror War -- and that is mostly old news.

One interesting thing is that I've seen headlines and little quotes from it where Alberto Gonzalez, White House Counsel and author of one of the memo's, describes some provisions of the GC as "quaint". This was generally presented as awful. It was interesting to read the memo and see the examples of these quaint provisions. Namely: commissary privileges(!), scrip (i.e., money of some sort)(!), athletic uniforms(!) and scientific instruments(!). Ye Gods. Not exactly the effect most of the headline writers were going for, I'd wager...

Which isn't to say that the part where he worries about people getting prosecuted later don't make you wonder what the heck they were talking about. Boilerplate, or something more?

Belmont Club has a great post today dissecting some aspects of the potentially awful story of an attack on a Iraqi wedding. The short version is that there some interesting details you might not catch unless you pay attention (read deeply), which call into doubt the wedding story. A couple of examples of these details? The wedding was attacked at 2:45AM local time, at a house 50 miles from the nearest town. Okay, 50 miles isn't that far when you live in a rural area (or Houston), but its getting there. Its also rather late at night, though maybe Iraqis go in for that (even here some parties will go until dawn or past it). And why were the wounded apparently taken to a different town 150+ miles away? Rather, why were the dead taken to a town 150+ miles away (do you really have to go that far for a death certificate?)? Because the reports has a doctor from Ramadi counting the dead. Nothing about wounded (yet), about whom you would expect to have anywhere from 90 to 200, depending on the size of the group attacked. And then there are the US claims of Syrian passports, money, weapons, etc. etc.

By the by, the AP story I linked to in that Boston paper was the most recent of no less than 5 looking into the details. Credit to the AP reporter who continues to dig, but the headlines will all be "US Attacks Wedding Party".

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Attacking the Messenger -- Because That's All There Is 

Seymour Hersh of My Lai fame wrote this long and scary article about how the Abu Ghraib abuses are part of a wider black ops program that plays fast and loose with Geneva Protections and other rules in order to get results about terrorists and their cohorts. Its one of those scary but sometimes maybe necessary sorts of things, and Hersh says it was authorized from the top. Thing is, he says, it got out of hand and led to the sort of thing we saw at Abu Ghraib.

If all true, it would be...Well, it would be bad. All kinds of bad.

Is it? All true? Part true? If so, which parts? The people at Real Clear politics remind us that Hersh has got it wrong before:

There are serious maintenance problems as well. "The only hope is that they can hold out until reinforcements come."
Last week, plans for an assault on Baghdad had stalled, and the six Republican Guard divisions expected to provide the main Iraqi defense had yet to have a significant engagement with American or British soldiers. The shortages forced Central Command to "run around looking for supplies," the former intelligence official said. The immediate goal, he added, was for the Army and Marine forces "to hold tight and hope that the Republican Guard divisions get chewed up" by bombing. The planner agreed, saying, "The only way out now is back, and to hope for some kind of a miracle "that the Republican Guards commit themselves," and thus become vulnerable to American air strikes.

That quote is from this very downbeat article by Hersh back in late March/Early April of 2003.

This was about 9 days before Baghdad fell.

If you read both articles, you will notice one very similar thing: lots of quotes from unnamed sources, often "senior intelligence officials" or "senior military officials." No documents provided to back things up. No one going on the record by name. But, specific administration officials are named as screwing up, and screwing up badly.

You can expect people hostile to Rumsfeld, and the rest of the administration of be flogging this article hard, and to attack anyone citing Hersh's errors as "attacking the messenger", and not dealing with the allegations. The problem is that is all Hersh has given anyone to attack. No names, no dates, no documents. If there were no orders, you can't show documents that don't exist.

We have some of the most explosive allegations since I don't know when, and all we've got to examine them is -- vapor.

I don't want say "nothing to see here, move along" -- these are serious allegations, and we have plenty of evidence of real misdeeds -- but I do want more than unamed sources and no paper trail.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

In and Out 

Its kind of scary when a simple psychological idea can describe so many of your reactions to a tee. Check out this post and the attendant comments for an example of what is called "in-group, out-group behavior".

Its the sort of thing that is obvious when you hear about it. Put simply, people who are in your in-group always get the benefit of the doubt. People from the out group do not. If someone from your in group does something awful, it doesn't affect your opinion of the rest of the group; it was just one person, after all. But if someone from one of your out groups does bad, it just confirms what awful people they are.

I've had occasion to complain about this on this blog, even though I've been guilty of it myself from time to time. But you can watch it happen and its really amazing.

This article at the website Lying in Ponds does an excellent job of summing up why this sort of behavior is bad:

But it is also harmful. It destroys the climate necessary for honest debate and encourages cynicism in voters. Further, it is harmful because the Mankiws of the world more and more are deciding that public service is not worth the bother. Those choices may hand the public policy terrain to the lowest common denominator

I hope Ponds is still a going concern -- as I write this, the main site is inaccessible; I'm working from the Google cache. It would be too bad if something bad happened to it. LiP tries to track partisanship (which is in-group vs out-group type behavior).

Partisanship is not the same as ideology; of course a self-described liberal would be more likely to support Democrats and attack Republicans; the reverse is also true. But no party is without its hacks and attack dogs; and even good people have bad moments. Furthermore, even people who you disagree strongly with may have honorable intentions. Its in failing to smack those on your "side" who behave badly, or ignoring honorable motives on the other side that partisanship is revealed.

George Orwell was one of the few people who seemed able to get outside of that paradigm. He attacked humbugs of the right and left with equal vigor. We could use some more of that sort of courage.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Some Small Bright Spots on the Prison Scandal 

In light of the horrible prison story, I suppose we can take some small solaces. The investigation was announced in January. The report had been sent up the chain of command, and had been signed by Gen. Abazaid on April 30. The initial suspensions had already taken place. The first courts-martial was ready to go. All of this before the pictures had appeared in the media.

We are better than this. Sometimes we even show it.

Abu Ghraib Reactions 

The horror of the Abu Ghraib story has of course, several levels. The first being the simple human reaction to inhumanity. After that, you get the political reaction, which is...well, less than edifying. And this should not be surprising.

There had to be a political reaction, and you knew that some people were going to use the horror to attack the administration in the most lurid and disgusting ways possible. And you could also bet that some supporters of the administration would engage in some of the most mind boggingly bad justifications you could imagine. And some you couldn't imagine they would actually put into print.

In the latter category, there was, for example, Sen. Inhofe of Oklahoma: I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment... If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.

In essence, they deserved it. No they don't, because we don't do that kind of thing, even to murders and rapists, and especially since at least some of the people were innocent, anywhere from 60% to 90%.

And there is Rush Limbaugh's comment where he initially compared some of the photos to a "Skull&Bones" initiation rite.

Lastly, the utterly amazing John Derbyshire gives us this:

My mental state these past few days:

1. The Abu Ghraib "scandal": Good. Kick one for me. But bad discipline in the military (taking the pictures, I mean). Let's have a couple of courts martial for appearance's sake. Maximum sentence: 30 days CB.

2. The US press blowing up the Abu Ghraib business: Fury at these lefty jounalists doing down America. They just want to re-live the glory days of Vietnam, when they brought down a president they hated. (PS: They hated him because he was an anticommunist, while they themselves tought communism was just fine.)

3. GWB apologizing to some barbarian chieftain for Abu Ghraib: Disgust. Correct approach: "Mind if we film some footage in YOUR jails?"

Why does this guy get to write for National Review?

Jesus Christ, people. It IS possible to defend the administration without either making light of or trying to defend the indefensible, namely what went on at that prison.

Now, on the other side, we have...

The normally level-headed Josh Marshall: The president's stylized expressions of outrage and disgust are further revealed, I believe, as play-acting, like his feigned outrage over the outing of Valerie Plame by one of his top advisors and his pretended efforts to discover the culprits. More echoes of the search for the 'real killers'.

Pete Stark, California Congressman who states that the DoD "forced" the soldiers there to torture and abuse the prisoners in their care.

John Kerry himself is about to step into dangerous territory: What has happened is not just something that a few, you know, privates and corporals or sergeants engaged in...This is something that comes out of an attitude about the rights of prisoners of war. It's an attitude that comes out of how we went there in the first place, an attitude that comes out of America's overall arrogance as policy.

Ted Kennedy said that Saddam's torture chambers were open again "under American administration."

In other words: its Bush's fault. And he probably encouraged this behavior, to boot.

That's some low stuff.

It must be said that so far no one I have seen on the left has yet to match the flaming idiocy of John Derbyshire's comment. But its probably out there, just places I don't read, fringe sites like Democratic Underground and Indymedia. I'm not even sure they count.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Scattershooting, 12 May 2004 

A series of semi-connected observations based upon current events and books I've been exposed to recently.

I'm about done with "Hitler's Willing Executioners". A very dense book, I must confess to skimming a page here and there. Nevertheless, despite some resonable complaints about certain points, I think the author does a good job of making his case that "ordinary" Germans did indeed know about and approve of the whole eliminationist policy towards the Jews. Another point is that Hitler didn't really have to convince the German people of anything; that there was a very strong strain of anti-Semitism strongly rooted in German society.

One cannot help wondering if something of that nature was going on in Abu Ghraib. Here you have what are supposed to be the worst of the worst sort of prisoner with soldiers and others in a pressure cooker situation, and what I suspect was not the best of racial attitudes towards Arabs in the first place. "Sand n*gger" is an old, old term. Just being ordered to do something awful won't get people to do something awful, despite that famous psych experiment. And the photos suggest these guys didn't even feel terribly nervous about it. Soon they'll be breaking rocks in Leavenworth, which is too good for them.

If its vitally important to jouranalism and free speech to run the photos of the Iraqi prison abuses, wouldn't it also be vitally important to run the photos of poor Nick Berg's beheading? Or would that be too "inflammatory"?

In reading on the French Revolution (Simon Schama's excellent book Citizens) and recalling my reading of the American Revolution, what has struck me is that half-measures just don't work. When things have got to that level, you can't use carrot and stick. You either give people what they want or you crush them.

Furthermore, you simply cannot tell ahead of time what is going to work. You cannot tell if they will be cowed or angered by force; if giving in will satisfy them or just convince them you are weak and make them want more. Cheery thoughts, eh?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Need a Dog? 

If you're in the Austin area, we are currenty fostering a 10-month old terrier/yellow lab mix. He's about 30 pounds or so, has his shots, and is very friendly and cute. He's good with our dogs, and with kids. Free to a good home. Drop me an email.

Employment Numbers are Out 

April was good, even for manufacturing. If job growth continues at this pace, the Prez may be at a net zero for job growth by election day. Which ain't good, but it beats being negative. But more importantly, it will allow him to point to positive trends, and will probably result in the brouhaha over outsourcing dying a deserved death.

Ripples of Rall 

I had a good post on this Rall thing yesterday that was destroyed by technical difficulties. And if you don't know what the Rall thing, is, you need to read a lot more blogs, m'kay? Just saying.

So, Andrew Sullivan was looking for Lefty bloggers that were willing to express their disgust. And he found some, which apparently cheered him considerably. And before you complain, he has from time to time complained of conservatives who have kept mum about various conservative outrages. So lets not debate that.

The real question is how far such ripples need to spread? I have no objections to any left/liberal person who wants to say Rall is an asshole. But how far need it go before you could be said to be implying assent by being silent? Sometimes its obvious. The New Republic, liberal, but not left and very hawkish, has no need to say anything. But what about Salon, which has published Rall's work from time to time? Okay, Salon's not a blogger, but they definitely have an editorial slant that is leftward. So should Salon's editor comer out and say Rall is a jerk? And when do you pull a guy for consistent jerk-dom?

Does Jesse Jackson need to apologize for something Louis Farrakhan says? Do I need to apologize for something Jerry Falwell says? Should the Austin Chronicle apologize for carrying Rall's cartoon, since they share some of his politics? Does Bush need to apologize for something David Duke says? Something Rick Santorum says?

Democratic Underground definitely should, but I think those guys all agree with Rall 100%, so I wouldn't hold my breath.

I suggest that if you've ever commented favorably on the person in question, you might want to say something. If you're politics are so close to the person as to be the same or even mistaken as the same, you might want to say something. And if you're in doubt, say something. It might not be fair, but it doesn't hurt.

Obviously, this can get wearying. And its playing defense, which may win championships, but its not going to take down your opponent in politics.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Ya Wanna Check Out My Navel? 

Okay, not the most appealing post title in the world, but I'm in a hurry. Recently on Southpaw, there was a discussion about...well, were they really being one-sided or was it simply legitimately expressed anger, and was I in fact hypocritical. Perhaps someone else might characterize the terms differently.

I'll confess that what I perceive as "meanness" (for lack of a better term) is a button of mine. Especially when its pointed at me or my "side". And I am a partisan. You Southpaw readers (if you're still coming by) know I'm pretty hopeless from an ideological standpoint. This is a matter of style and method, not so much a question of do I bash the Right as much as I should.

So the question: Apart from ideology, am I a hypocrite? I think I could defend the difference between what I do and what Chris and Bubba do, but if I have to defend it for you to see the difference, then its not different enough and I need to re-think. If you've the time, try and scan this blog from the beginning (that would be this January, so its not all that much), or at least one month's postings, and let me know.

I would need to either shut up about what I think is "meanness" elsewhere or try really really hard not to fall prey to it. And I do know how easy it is to do.

Note to Bubba: I already know your opinion. No double voting, please. :-)

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