Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Worst. People. Ever.

Just when you think it can't get any stupider, the American right throws a hail mary pass and scores a touchdown in the Stupidbowl:
Dunkin' Donuts pulled a television spot featuring talk show host and Food Network personality Rachael Ray this weekend after a Fox news commentator associated it with terrorists.

In the ad, Ray is wearing a scarf that Michelle Malkin said in her nationally syndicated column resembled a kiffiyeh, Middle Eastern garb that is "popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos."
Please, keep telling me how the left is intolerant. She wore a fucking scarf, and was called a terrorist.

(Of course, won't my face be red when Racha el-Ray detonates her explosive vest in the middle of a crowded book signing.)


Chet, you're missing the point: McClellan is a traitor because, after the Patriot Act was passed, "The United States" means the Bush White House and providing aid and comfort to the enemy means telling the 70% of the population who hates Bush America that the dirty fucking hippies have been right all along.

The anger never left

Through the magic of the Internets, I just finished watching Recount by HBO. It's fantastic and enraging all over again. One of the things I wonder, after watching it, is if James Baker sleeps well at night. He played a pivotal role in arranging the Bush coup. 8 years later, he's the author of at least one official document repudiating, well, everything about the Bush Presidency. You could be forgiven for thinking, hey, maybe Baker doesn't think President Bush was such a good idea after all.

When Baker dies he'll have to answer for what he, and others, did to put Bush at the hands of the world's most powerful killing machine. And now that it's gone like a thresher through hundreds of thousands of lives, even if Baker is allotted even a small, infinitesimal fraction of the guilt for those killings, I doubt a God of justice would put him on the up escalator, if you know what I mean.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Suck it, Zapruder

What you're looking at is a picture of the Phoenix lander, during its descent. This isn't a recreation or anything -- the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, operated by remote from 90 million miles away, with a window of only minutes, caught Phoenix's landing on camera.

Way to go, NASA. And congratulations on the whole "not smashing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hardware" thing, too.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it

Can anyone think of a Federal cabinet minister more incompetent, with more bungled moments in his brief tenure, and with an exit more ignominious, than Maxime Bernier?

Has to be three of three to count.

Mission impossible, indeed.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

If you count her votes twice, she's winning!

Kudos to Jonathan Alter for pointing out that the Clinton campaign's latest talking point -- that Clinton is "leading" in the popular vote count -- is a pack of lies. Basically, Clinton's strongest argument relies on counting all of her votes from Florida and Michigan, but not counting 4 of Obama's caucus states, nor counting any of the people in Michigan who clearly intended to vote for Obama. It was this last bit of Alter's that intrigued me:
With a big win in Puerto Rico, Clinton could possibly erase that margin (plus several thousand more that Obama is expected to net in Montana and South Dakota). She could then proclaim that with the help of Puerto Rican voters who cannot vote in a general election, she is the popular vote winner.

The shorthand many Clinton supporters are already taking into the summer is that she won the popular vote but had the nomination "taken away" (as Joy Behar said on "The View") by a man.
So I went over to RealClearPolitics to check their popular vote counts. If you take only the states that actually have electoral college votes in November, and award Obama 100% of the uncommited votes from Michigan, he's still ahead by more than 170,000 votes. (The corrollary is that you can award Obama substantially less than 100% of the Michigan vote, and he'd still be ahead.)

There are two further questions here: One, should Obama get 100% of the uncommited votes, and two, should Michigan and Florida be seated at all? On question one, I think it's only fair to answer yes, definitely. Democrats were encouraged to vote "uncommitted" by their state leaders if they wanted to vote for Obama, Richardson, Edwards or Biden. Obama always led all of the other candidates, and in the intervening time Richardson and Edwards have endorsed Obama.

Call me a tyrant if you must, but I come down pretty hard against seating Florida or Michigan with any serious voting rights at the convention. They knew they were breaking the rules, they knew what the consequence was going to be, and unless there's a very strict penalty for breaking DNC rules, we'll all be here again when 2016 rolls around.

But at the end of the day, the whole popular vote count is a red herring -- Clinton knew the rules of the game, she just played it badly. Now she wants to change the scoring, so that if you count all of her votes but only 90% of her opponents, she's in the lead. And, as an added bonus, she's going to tell her supporters that she "earned" the nomination but the old boys club (known universally as a friend of blacks everywhere!) took "her" nomination away. Simply awful, and I would have thought, before this primary season, that it was beneath a Democratic politician.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Resource depletion

Chet has a very good corrective to some of the accusations that have been levelled at Sen. Clinton in the wake of what I'm calling "hey, you never know, bang bang bang click"-gate. I agree with Chet that we should extend more charity to politicians, given that none of them are 100% perfect electoral cyborgs. But.

But Sen. Clinton has exhausted any reserves of charity and goodwill that I had towards her. Consider: as Chet mentions, there was a previous controversy involving Barack Obama, one where the word "bitter" featured prominently. And did Sen. Clinton issue a short statement saying she regretted the Senator's words, but she took him at his word that he meant no offense? Fuck me she did. No, she, the multi-millionaire policy wonk, became the whiskey-shooting, duck-hunting, "hard working white American"-loving darling of Appalachia. She clung to the "elitist" charge and ran with it for weeks. And that's only the most prominent charge against her. She ran with the William Ayers thing, she ran with Rev. White, and when all of that fizzled she brought up Hamas during the ABC debate.

So no, Sen. Clinton doesn't get charity from me anymore.

I've resisted the calls for her to drop out, but here's the funny thing: looking back on this campaign, I'm thinking she's going to wish she had dropped out sometime before Pennsylvania. If she'd dropped out after Texas and Ohio, people would remember her as the most serious female candidate ever, she'd be better-suited to argue for herself as VP, and she'd have capped off a series of losses with two wins.

And nobody would have ever heard of Bosnian sniper fire.

Nobody would have heard of "hard-working, white Americans".

And nobody would have heard about how hey, you know, RFK was killed in June.

The Dirty Hippies were right, once again

It's worth repeating: the IMF and World Bank suck, big time. They suck a lot. And good evidence of how much they suck is that when developing countries are given any other alternative to the IMF or World Bank, they usually take it. And they don't just take it, they flee the Bretton Woods system like East Germans trying to get over the wall.

I know you all saw the same front-page story on the Washington Post that I did:
As Global Wealth Spreads, the IMF Recedes
This is one of those seriously good-news stories from the last half-decade or so. Basically, the rise of China and India (and other suddenly-flush states) with the concommitant collapse of Argentina and other IMF projects has created lending competition that the IMF, with its rigid insistence on ideological and fiscal straitjackets, is losing.

(One of the underreported aspects of the clash over the World Bank and IMF in the early part of this decade was the fact that these institutions derived operating funds from their loans, so they had an interest in seeing loans and interest rise as high as possible. With the collapse of the IMF lending system, the IMF has been in a pretty severe budget crisis.)

The usual liberal tic here is to bemoan America's waning influence in the developing world, as China provides aid without America's allegedly high-minded concern for free markets or human rights. But there's no reason -- absolutely none -- that America, or the countries who control the IMF, should be losing out to countries that are still quite poor. The IMF and World Bank collectively are, as Dean Baker has said, the OPEC of money. If China is offering developing countries cheap money, America, the UK, and other rich countries have every ability to offer more money for cheaper, if this is really about geopolitical influence.

But what's clear, at this point, is that the competition isn't really over money. It's about respect for national sovereignty. The IMF and World Bank were able to get away with incredibly abusive treatment of the developing world during the 1980s and 1990s, as the influence of America's competition on the world stage waned and collapsed. The abuse of poor countries included starving Malawians in the name of the free market, among other things. As money from different sources becomes available, a large number of developing countries could be forgiven for telling the Bretton Woods organizations to go pound sand, no matter what money they offer.

This is one of the reasons that John McCain's "League of Democracies" is so unlikely. The young and developing democracies of the world do in fact have wildly different conceptions of what the world should look like, and despite wealthy white countries' pet ideologies like "the responsibility to protect", old Westphalian notions of sovereignty, autonomy, and equality among states have a great deal of currency among the middle and lower class of nations.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fuck you and go away

Hillary Clinton:
My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.
She's already apologized, and well she should. Seriously, is Sen. Clinton sticking in the race in the hopes that a tragedy befalls Sen. Obama?

About Edumakayshun

So, when I was at Carleton I took a class called "Moral Panics", about, uh, moral panics. The class spent the term learning about how easily urban legends and outright falsehoods spread when the dominant group in society has concerns about a minority group. And you can pretty much apply this model to any dominator/dominated model, whether it be white/black, hetero/homo, man/woman, or yes, adult/child.

But then, some idiot in the class watched a Dr. Phil episode about the raging epidemic of pre-teen sex that had gripped America in late 2005. (Don't you remember it?) And -- in a class where everyone had just spend two months learning about moral panics, and how they're universally full of shit -- I was one of I think three people pointing out that, maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't take Dr. Phil as gospel.

In particular, they laughed at the idea that a raging sex epidemic among 11-year olds would, in all likelihood, produce some documentation: whether a school principal's report, or a lawsuit between two aggrieved parents, whatever. When these kinds of things happen, they produce paperwork. You know, that thing North American society excels at producing?

But no, I was unable to convince anyone in the class who didn't already agree with me that, in all likelihood there is no national-scale orgy of tweens going on. In a university-level class. In a class that was all about these urban legends being totally and universally false.

So much for the benefits of higher education.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

That's impossible, even for a computer

Vicki and I have a game we play -- not so much a game, as a verbal tic. We basically bring Star Wars quotes in to the conversation at every opportunity. And, believe me, the opportunities are endless. The following, totally not-made-up conversation is just one example of many we've had over the last 7 years and a bit.

Me: So, did you see this video of the flying penis that interrupted Gary Kasparov's press conference?

The Girlfriend: No. Wait, what?

Me: Somebody attached a remote controlled helicopter to a sex toy. Presto, flying penis.

TGF: Okay.

Me: Yup. You can imagine it derailed the press conference.

TGF: I bet. You know what they should've done?

Me: What?

TGF: Land the penis in some dude's mouth.

Me: Humiliation for everyone, then?

TGF: Absolutely.

Me: Well, except for the dude flying the helicopter. Landing a flying penis in some guy's mouth must be about as hard as bullseyeing whomp rats in your speeder back home.
And that, kids, is how we do that.

And because my parents aren't yet convinced I need to be written out of the will, the video.

Somebody needs to be killed, is all I'm saying

Adam Blickstein reminds us all of the most infuriating aspect of the stream of undiluted bullshit coming from the White House, Pentagon, and McCain campaign over Iran. McCain continues to claim that Barack Obama said he would negotiate unconditionally with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, when all Obama's ever said is that he'd negotiate with Iranian leaders. (Which is, you know, the perfectly sane policy the US should follow.)

In any case, Ahmedinejad makes a useful (anti-semitic, scary-man-with-facial-hair) foil for McCain, even if he has to lie about his opponent. But (to repeat myself) the important point to make here is that Ahmedinejad has absolutely zero impact on Iran's foreign policy. He can want to destroy Iran until the cows come home and he's less dangerous to Iran than I am. Iran's military and foreign policy is set by Khamenei and the other clerics, not the elected President or legislature.

Even more offensive, however, is the current emphasis on Ahmedinejad as the face of Iran. If you cast your minds back to the hallowed days of 2003, Blickstein reminds us, the same weakness of the Iranian Presidency that McCain is deliberately obscuring was seen as the very reason that you couldn't negotiate with Iran -- the reformers who were currently in power would easily be overruled the clerics.

So, the status of US-Iranian relations, 2002: The President may be a reformer, but he doesn't count, so we can't negotiate.

2008: The President is a maniac! We can't negotiate!

Basically, the strategy is to never talk until after the war I guess. At a certain point, though, we should ask why it is that American politicians keep finding it convenient to twist themselves in to knots, so long as it involves killing people of different religions and skin tones.

State of Israel is insufficiently pro-Israel

Negotiating with a state sponsor of terrorism, one that nearly destroyed the Israeli state itself in the 1973 war. What would George Bush say?

It's worth repeating Daniel Davies here:
As I’ve argued elsewhere, although the Mearsheimer & Walt “Israel Lobby” does have a referent which is a real and definable set of groups and institutions, this lobby really doesn’t have all that much to do with Israel. Every time this slightly scary bunch of warlike, paranoid and rather right-wing people are asked to make a choice between the national interests of Israel and their own vanity politics, it’s Israel that gets shafted. Any concern over “divided loyalties” or what have you is completely misplaced – the “Israel Lobby” are nationalists of a completely imaginary state, one which has no meaningful politics of its own, no need to compromise with reality and no national interests other than constant war.
And my favourite Yitzhak Rabin quote, after an American supporter talked about how she "remembered exactly where we all were when the scuds started falling."

Rabin: So do we -- you were in America.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I read the news today, oh boy

I wake this morning to a sensation I've almost never felt: giving the National Post more credence than the Toronto Star. via, two rather interesting articles:

Ignatieff rubs some Liberals the wrong way

The shocking revelation is that Ignatieff is losing the popularity contest to Bob Rae. What to say here except, gee, who could have thought that a man with zero previous serious political experience would be pushed aside by a more experienced pro? It's almost as if broadcasting your contempt for the current leader, month after month, might make you some enemies in the party...

Meanwhile, James Travers gets the "overreaching hypothesis award" of the day: after discussing the regressive nature of a carbon tax, he writes
Dion occupies the flip side of the history and politics equation. Whatever his motives, he deserves full marks for identifying the threat and challenging the conventional wisdom that it's suicidal to engage voters in a serious campaign debate.

But he also gets failing grades for misunderstanding the Liberal situation.

Canadians will be skeptical about Liberal big-government solutions until he and his party exorcise their big-program ghosts.
Uh, really? The implication seems to be that the Liberals lost the last two campaigns because of big-spending government programs, when every possible shred of evidence indicates they in fact lost because of (mostly unfounded) suspicions about Liberal criminality. Given that the Conservatives in 2006 ran on reduced waiting times (in plain english, more health care spending) and a child care tax credit (yet more big spending) it's diffifult to argue, I think, that they won because of government restrain. What they won on, if anything other than Liberal malaise, was a more appealing form of big government, not less of it.

But then, you'd have to read something other than Jim Travers to know that.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Talking to you means you're awesome

A 2-Yglesias-post day. Responding to McCain's idiotic notion that merely talking to someone enhances their prestige, Matthew Yglesias asks:
Our guys talk to their guys, the meeting happens, and this gives Khatami enhanced prestige in the eyes of whom? And what does this enhanced prestige allow him to do? What, in other words, are we afraid of?
The answer is that this isn't foreign policy, it's imperialism. When you believe yourself to be the center of all that is right and good in the world, you believe that legitimacy is something that you have a monopoly on, and distracting people who speak different languages are best ignored, lest we Simply by talking to people we don't like, we give them legitimacy and prestige -- something that we have a monopoly on, and they certainly don't get by such tawdry means as winning elections.

Or, as Winston Churchill said of another insurgent back in the day:
"It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor."
Unfortunately for Churchill, the King-Emperor, and the Empire itself, monopoly didn't flow downhill from Buckingham Palace, it also flowed uphill from those pesky Indians themselves. And whether we like it or not, we don't get to pick and choose who runs which countries in the world.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Random politics thoughts

You know, before Edwards pushed it out of the TV news cycle, I was really enjoying the few hours everyone spent asking "Gee, why is a black candidate failing so badly in West Virginia and Kentucky?"

Yes, it sure does defy rational thought that those two states might not welcome black leaders. I mean, what could possibly explain it? Kentucky -- which never seceded from the Union -- likes to teach its schoolkids about its "Confederate Heritage", and let's not even talk about West Virginia.

Actually, Josh Marshall has a really interesting take on Obama's "Appalachian Problem". When Obama's winning white-bread states like Iowa and the entirety of the black working class, Obama's "weakness" among primary voters basically boils down to not winning the Deliverance vote. Which, btw, doesn't vote Democrat. (WV may have to be abandoned by the Dems -- so long as any Democrat is serious about climate change, the heart of coal country is going to be tough going. Ross Gelbspan has written intriguingly about Big Coal's role in handing WV to Bush in 2000.)

Anyway, in other primary news this interview Clinton did with Wolf Blitzer made me feel much, much better about her. I think she's struggling to find a way to stay in the race until the end without lashing out at a rival candidate who's ended a dream of hers -- I can't say I blame her for the occasional slip up, even if rhetorically linking "white" with "hard-working" has a bad, bad history. Still, if you can catch the video I'd recommend watching it.

The explanation as to why Clinton is staying in the race that I buy -- that I choose to believe, given the evidence -- is that she believes she's got a historic role as the first female candidate to make it this far, and she'd like every woman in America who wants to vote for her to have the opportunity to do so. She's got to raise some money, too, but if that was all it was I've got to believe she'd still leave. It's been a year and a half of campaigning, so 3 more weeks makes no difference.

That's right, it's been a year and a half. And for about 75% of that time, Clinton has been the prohibitive favourite to win the nomination. She had the money, she had the vast majority of endorsements, and she had a lot of the party aparatus lined up in her corner. People who (still!) say Obama is unelectable need to answer a basic question: if Clinton got beat by Obama, with all of her inherent advantages in the primary, how can she win against McCain, against whom she'll have no similar leg up?

I wonder what the reaction of her supporters will be when she strides up to a podium to endorse her party's nominee?


Edwards is endorsing Obama.

I'm actually quite surprised. I figured he wouldn't endorse at all. I REALLY want to know what the divisions were between him and his wife.

Update: The Caucus says Edwards may be President Obama's Attorney-General, something that actually gives me chills. In the good way.

President Obama, red districts going blue, and Attorney-General Edwards. This November is going to be awesome.

Friday, May 09, 2008

When McCain said "100 years", this is what he meant

It would make me very happy if people realized that the US presence in Japan, South Korea, and former European adversaries has not been without controversy, crime, or killings.
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- A U.S. Marine accused of raping a 19-year-old Japanese woman last year was found guilty Thursday of "committing wrongful sexual contact and indecent acts," the U.S. military said, but he was acquitted of rape.
The soldier in this case was found innocent, but he's literally only one of dozens of cases like this -- in just the last few years. So exactly how many Iraqi women does McCain think should be raped over the next century?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Harvey Weinstein: Jackass

A high-profile example of the kind of thing that concerns me about Clinton supporters:
WASHINGTON — In a heated phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late last month, Hillary Clinton supporter Harvey Weinstein threatened to cut off campaign money to congressional Democrats unless Pelosi embraced a new plan by the movie mogul to finance a revote of the Democratic presidential primaries in Florida and Michigan, according to three officials who were briefed on the contents of the conversation.
Weinstein denies it but, well, I don't believe him for a second. These reports have been coming out without naming Clinton supporters for a while now, with Dean and Pelosi both getting threatened this way.

There's an interesting wrinkle about this, though: Weinstein is acting to protect himself just as much as he's acting to protect Hillary. The Iron Law of Institutions say a person would rather be more powerful within an institution than have the institution be more powerful without them. Obama has managed to build a coalition that not only doesn't include Weinstein, but is dramatically less reliant on large donors. Weinstein isn't just backing Clinton because of sincere political belief -- though I believe he is -- but you can also explain his behaviour as a form of self-defense: he and other large donors have been used to having one hand on the tiller of the Democratic Party for almost 20 years now, since the ascendancy of Bill Clinton.

The rise of Obama is shuffling the deck in the Democratic Party, and the knives are gonna keep coming out for a while yet.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Dreams of his father

Jon Schwarz is a genius, so I'm just going to steal this post in its entirety.
It's September 12, 2001. You're sitting in front of a TV, watching footage of the World Trade Center collapse over and over and over again.

All of a sudden, someone from seven years in the future walks out of a tiny temporal vortex, and tells you: George W. Bush is going to fuck this up so badly that in 2008, the United States of America will likely elect as president a black man whose middle name is Hussein and whose father was Muslim. Oh, and he also admits he's used cocaine.

I think it would have been easier to convince me of the reality of time travel. "No, no, I believe you really are from the future. But the other stuff, that's CRAZY."


Okay, so my two-week (poorly observed) hiatus from blogging about the primary is over. And, just in time, because the press is finally coming to see what was pretty obvious as of early-mid March: barring a meltdown of Dean-esque proportions, Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee for President.

Going back, I don't remember calling for her to drop out of the race, nor does a quick search of my archives reveal one. And as much as I think staying in the race now will accomplish very little, I also think leaving now would accomplish little except to tell the people of Montana they suck. To rephrase that slightly, if she was going to drop out early, she's months overdue. So as far as I'm concerned, she can stay in the race if she likes, just keep it clean and stop giving McCain ammunition for November.

All that said, I'm seriously concerned about the state of Sen. Clinton's supporters. I'm read about a half-dozen of their blogs regularly, and (continuing my policy of not naming names in the hopes that these people will realize how crazy they sound) they're freaking me right the fuck out. The following things have all been written in the last 24 hours:

1) There should be a unity ticket. With Clinton as President, and Obama as Vice-President.

2) The Obama campaign deliberately engineered a racial divide in the party, which the Clinton campaign is in no way responsible for.

3) If Obama is the nominee, they will vote for McCain, or not vote at all.

In short, some Democrats have gone absolutely looney tunes. 1 is clearly bizarre, as most reputable organizations don't make a habit of giving the first prize to the runner up. (Imagine if Jeopardy ran that way...) 2 is only "subjective" in the same way gravity is, and otherwise is clearly false. Even if we put aside most of Sen. Clinton's surrogates, surely her husband's remarks have some bearing here? But 3 is what really boggles my mind.

Look, in 2000 a non-trivial number of lefties voted with their narcissism, not with their brains. And the result has been, and will continue to be, a catastrophe. To do so again would be petty, arrogant, and self-defeating. (Just what we've come to expect from the Democratic Party!) But for a number of her supporters -- most vocally self-described feminists -- to threaten to do so when the other side is running John McCain, a man who wants to criminalize abortion and whose only complaint about the current Supreme Court is that it's not partisan enough, is insane.

I've recently warmed a bit to the idea of a unity ticket, though I still think overall it's a bad idea. If having Clinton's name on the ballot is what will keep her supporters in the tent, then I say fine, whatever. The Vice-Presidency isn't an important post anyway. But the idea that Obama -- a pro-choice Democrat -- has to buy feminist votes against an anti-choice Republican at this point is absurd, and I hope they come to realize that.

Monday, May 05, 2008

BREAKING: Jesus hates me

TORONTO -- The '90s boy band New Kids On The Block are taking their reunion tour to Canada this September.

The pop quintet says they'll be bringing hits such as "You Got It, (The Right Stuff)'' and "Step By Step'' -- as well as new music [WTF??!!] -- to cities including Montreal and Toronto.
Correction: Jesus hates everyone.

Stupidity is the leading cause of stupidity among the stupid

Wonderful. All three leading candidates for the US presidency repeat the bullshit claim that vaccines can/might/do cause autism, rather than correcting the public perception which is, as has been demonstrated over and over and over, bullshit. (The preservative in question has been almost entirely phased out. Autism rates, sadly, persist in their upward climb.)

The results? Gee, lower vaccinations and increased infections among children. Way to go, American leaders. While I suppose a measeles infection is preferable to the usual hospital stay American presidents visit upon children, we'd all still be better off with fewer sick kids, right?

And to break my pledge momentarily, I'll readily concede that while none of the candidates is on the side of the angels, Hillary Clinton comes away best on this count -- pledging "funding" without outright stating a falsehood.

News roundup

  • I haven't really written anything about this whole "Tar sands kills wildlife" story because my first reaction was to scream at my monitor. Specifically, I wanted to scream, "WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU THINK WAS HAPPENING? DO YOU THINK THESE ARE THE FIRST CREATURES TO DIE FOR TAR SANDS OIL???!!!" Come to think of it, I don't really have anything to add.
  • Nope, still not writing about the primaries. Feels pretty good, actually.
  • If you're going to object to Grand Theft Auto 4 on feminist grounds, this is the wrong way to do it. Especially when there's way more substantive grounds, such as the tightly interwoven themes of prostitution and female characters who are either duplicitous or stupid throughout the GTA franchise. But to say that GTA4 is misogynist because you shoot women in it misses the point that, in the GTA games, you shoot everyone.
  • And speaking of bullet-riddled games with the number "4" in them, I installed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on my computer two nights ago, and boy that's a misnomer. "Modern Warfare" has shockingly little to do with... modern warfare. Aside from the fact that it apparently involves killing lots of brown people. An alliance between Islamic terrorists and Russian ultra-nationalists? You may have noticed that, in fact, Russian nationalists of the non-ultra-variety still find plenty of reasons to hate on the Muslim. In little-known places like "Afghanistan" and "Chechnya". Actual Russian ultranationalists have a multiculturalism policy that needs to be translated from the original German. For a game that obviously put huge amounts of research in to weaponry and so on, an even-somewhat-more-plausible plot would have been nice. Still. Awesome friggin game.

It's the Pentagon's world, we just live in it

When Fareed Zakaria writes this:
we magnify small differences. We define deviancy down, so that any expression of national pride or interest by Russia or China becomes evidence of inevitable great power conflict... My fear is that the United States continues to have a maximalist view of international security - which sees any deviation from what we want - as evidence of evil.
and Matthew Yglesias writes this:
It's really bizarre how, in the context of war, totally normal attributes of human behavior become transformed into into mysterious cultural quirks of the elusive Arab.
What they're both really talking about is the fractured lens through which the US sees everything that happens beyond its own borders (and quite a bit of what happens within them.) You see this is the mysterious view that Europe is in the process of being conquered by multiplying Arabs, that France is basically a third world country, that China is relentlessly pursuing aggressive military buildups, etc etc etc. Now, this is annoying when any nation does it. (And we all do it.) But it becomes truly terrifying when great powers do it, because it leads to tragedy.

Which brings me to a very interesting article (via) comparing two very different views of the Cold War, even though they're almost precisely contemporary -- the views of George Kennan and Paul Nitze, embodied in the Long Telegram and NSC-68 respectively.

To grossly summarize the article, the author basically argues that the difference between Kennan and Nitze was a matter of worldview: Kennan saw the Soviets as motivated almost entirely by a sense of inferiority and fear of the more advanced western powers, while Nitze saw them as motivated by a crusading desire to destroy the capitalist west. (Again, gross summary.) Now, if you were going to mark these two men, I think you'd have to give the match to Kennan on points. He called more things right -- though he was not without error -- than Nitze, even if we restrict ourselves to a comparison of these two documents. Kennan saw that the USSR was fundamentally weaker than the west, and called basically for non-military competition except where necessary to contain. Nitze saw the USSR as stronger -- at a point when the US was already vastly more powerful in relative terms than it would be for the rest of the 20th century -- and called for massive arms buildups.

Now, it's not like Nitze was solely responsible for what happened. Nitze's work, however, was the one that got the military-industrial complex really rolling. After NSC-68, as Richard Rhodes writes in his most recent book, the defense budget became basically uncoupled from the rest of the fiscal process. Before NSC-68, in peacetime the budget was determined then the military budget was sized within that box. After NSC-68, the military got whatever it wanted, and then everything else the US government does got shoehorned in to the remaining fiscal room.

You can see that in many ways we still live in the world Paul Nitze helped build.

But, NSC-68 wasn't the only impact Nitze had. He was also, to his everlasting discredit, one of the key members of the Team B, Committee for the Present Danger fiasco which provided so much impetus to the Reagan buildup. In so doing, he helped the forces that may have brought the world closer to nuclear war than any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This isn't incidental -- Nitze was one of the strongest voices calling for an aggressive, confrontational policy with the USSR, and it nearly led to disaster. Can we assume he did this for the same reasons that he wrote NSC-68? That is, isn't this view a product of a fundamentally flawed view of the USSR's power and it's intentions?

This would all be of mere historical interest if it weren't basically still the fundamental flaw in the worldview of American foreign policy. Differences are defined as threats, legitimate security concerns are seen as offensive actions, and the mere act of trying to keep up with American arms purchases is called "a military buildup". America has been so successful as a handmaiden to peace that the President and Presidents-to-be are reduced to trying to scare people with the specter of a bearded dude without a necktie in Tehran. (Whatever odious things Ahmedinejad says, even if he were an absolute ruler his power would still be limited by the fact that he's the President of Iran, a country 1/5th of America's population and 1/20th America's GDP.) Rather than celebrate this epochal success, the White House tries to scare the piss out of us, and too many in the media go along with it.

Imagine, then, how we would conduct ourselves differently if we were to acknowledge -- even for a second -- that other states have legitimate security interests too, and that we can even (gasp!) acknowledge them without sacrificing our own safety in the process. Imagine what we would have gained if men like Paul Nitze hadn't triumphed, and some more-sane-level of deterrence had been found. Imagine if we weren't, still, willing to spend ourselves in to penury to grapple with phantoms.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The wrong will never be punished, the right will never be forgiven (II)

...Part a billion-and-one in a series

Oh, and btw, we've been negotiating with the Taliban. You know, like certain voices were advocating for us to do years ago.

So at what point can we expect the calls for Stephen Harper's resignation? As of this morning he's got no excuse to not know about this, and the longer it goes on the longer he will be guilty -- as the right would inevitably label it if it were anyone else -- of negotiating with terrorists.

Oh. That's what I thought. Certain things are only "gaffes" or "unrealistic" or "naive" when the NDP calls for them. When the Liberals or Conservatives do it, it's called pragmatic.


The wrong will never be punished, the right will never be forgiven

...Part a billion in a series

You'd think there would only be so much room for horrible people who cast baseless slanders against their rivals, and certainly only so much room for people like that who share the same last name. But you'd be wrong. Jeffrey Goldberg, recent arrival at the Atlantic family of blogs (and one of the most egregious of the pro-war journalists in 2002) calls Ken Silverstein "ethically challenged". As Silverstein notes, if he's referring to anything at all, he's probably referring to Silverstein's Harper's piece where Silverstein pretended to be a representative from the autocracy of Turkmenistan and got Washington lobbyists to explain how they'd improve that country's image.

There's something much more important here, but first I want to deal with this issue: I don't think you would easily get a majority of journalists to agree that Silverstein's conduct in this case was unethical. I haven't done a poll or anything, but from the conversations I've had about Silverstein's piece, I'd bet that even if you got a majority to call it unethical, it would be a slim one. And many journalists I know would explicitly and loudly defend Silverstein's actions and tactics. What journalists really shouldn't do -- and this is j-school, day one -- is carelessly try to ruin someone's reputation. Like, if you're going to criticize someone's Iraq war coverage, you better bring evidence. And if you're going to call a critic ethically-challenged, you might want a consensus opinion about that, or a clear example of a broken policy. In this little spat between Silverstein and Goldberg, only one side has risen to the level of debate. Ahem.

But really, Goldberg (and I have to remember we're not talking about Jonah for once!) symbolizes everything that's wrong with American journalism today. Silverstein breached the formulaic straightjacket of journalistic ethics, but got at the truth. Nevertheless, he's "ethically challenged". Meanwhile, Goldberg checked off all the boxes for what you're supposed to do, but got his pre-war coverage disastrously wrong. (His commentary before the war was about as wrong as it's possible to be, but we're talking about his journalism here.) So Goldberg gets rewarded.

How about this for a standard: it is possible to bend, and even break the rules of journalism, but you have to get the story right -- you have to get the truth. (God help you if you don't.) And no amount of rule-following can excuse getting a story like "Saddam Hussein has WMDs and collaborates with terrorists, so we should invade" wrong.