Saturday, July 31, 2004

But Why Would A Terrorist Want To Lie To Us?

High Qaeda Aide Retracted Claim of Link With Iraq

In the paranoid ravings within Karl Rove's mind, Al Qaeda exists solely to see John Kerry elected president. Personally, I don't think they give a damn who the president is -- they attacked US embassies in Africa during Bill Clinton's administration, planned portions of the September 11th attack during the same, and yet carried them out under George W. Bush because they were unbowed and undeterred even though there was a new sheriff in town. Whether Bush is re-elected or Kerry wins, they will try to strike again. Al Qaeda seeks destruction for the sake of chaos, not towards a determined end, despite what they might say. And there is no surer way of creating chaos than by playing competing factions within the infrastructure of your enemy against one another.

Why would you take the word of a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative? Why would you decide that this person, now in your custody, would choose to tell you exactly what you want to hear when what you want to hear provides them with a tactical advantage? "Yeah, we're all over Iraq. Saddam and Osama are tennis partners." Aha! We knew it! Pull the troops out of Afghanistan and send them to Iraq, we're hot on the trail of the evildoers! Meanwhile, this guy is thinking, "Suckers," while Al Qaeda has a chance to retrench in Afghanistan, unmolested, and even pick up and move operations elsewhere.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I'm Not Worried Now

Oh, well, if they're going to let Jerry Falwell give the opening prayer at the Republican National Convention, then I'm not going to worry about anything they might have to say about the Democrats letting Sharpton speak.
God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.

Hell, I don't think even Noam Chomsky or Susan Sontag said anything like that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Oh, So True

The Apple Product Cycle

I Hate To Say It, But...

Al Sharpton just gave an amazing speech.

He's a repugnant person in a lot of ways -- I don't think I could ever vote for him -- but damn. That was good. A lot better than I would have expected. And the segue into Ray Charles singing "America The Beautiful" was perfect. I was worried, but I'm glad they invited him. The Dems are going to take some hits tomorrow, but it's worth it.

I really hope that Edwards and Kerry don't get blown off the stage.

Um, Right...

I found this via Boing Boing: "Fear of Hell Might Fire Up the Economy". The "theory" seems to be that a well-developed belief in -- and therefore a fear of -- hell staves off corruption and promotes honesty. Oooookaaaaayy. Now, I'm no economist, but that "Corruption and Fear of Hell" chart at the bottom of the page doesn't seem to show a correlation between anything. The "GDP per capita and Corruption" does, but the other chart would seem to suggest that fear of hell, or a lack of it, has absolutely no bearing. In fact, I would think that a large, healthy economy is better suited to weather the corruption within it, where a smaller, less evenly distributed one would be held in the thrall of the small number of people who control it.

The question that's begging to be asked is: What Federal funds were used to produce this piece of crap? And at whose directive was the "conclusion" drawn in advance?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Good Speeches Tonight

Remarks by former and shoulda-been presidents:

Bill Clinton: "Strength and wisdom are not conflicting values—they go hand in hand."

Jimmy Carter:"Without truth—without  trust—America cannot flourish. Trust is at the very heart of our democracy, the sacred covenant between the president and the people."

Al Gore: "I prefer to focus on the future because I know from my own experience that America is a land of opportunity, where every little boy and girl has a chance to grow up and win the popular vote."

Tour d'Ennui

Am I the only person who doesn't really care that much about Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France?

I mean, it's great for him, and it's certainly an accomplishment to win it six times, but it's not like it's news. He's won it five times before and he was the favorite going in. And in other news, this morning, the sun rose in the east...

What I also find puzzling are the people who are beating the "Go, Lance, Go!" drums so loudly are the ones whom I would normally suspect of treating a sport that involved a lot of men in spandex taking bike rides through the scenic French countryside with heaping helpings of derision. They're praising Armstrong in one moment, then mocking John Kerry for wearing the same get up and pedaling around Boston the next because no real American would go in for such a sport. You're never going to give a boost to the expensive racing bike manufacturers with that kind of an attitude.

Of course I know the reason why they're happy: The French. Somehow, we've defeated the Frecnh. Even though a German was the nearest competitor, we've triumphed over the French. Hooray for us! And now, diligent researchers are scouring the countryside, looking for someone, anyone, to berate and belittle the massive achievement of Lance Armstrong -- JUST LET THEM TRY! And they'll finally content themselves with finding some poor drunken sop, probably a Belgian on holiday, to say something mildly inflammatory after considerable prompting and the promise to buy the next round, as proof conclusive that the French are not to be trusted.

Like I said, am I the only one who doesn't really care?

They're So Busy, They Don't Have Time To Look For Osama

But at least a blow has been struck against fanboy tyranny.

Boing Boing: Stargate fan-site operator busted under anti-terrorism law

A New Kind of Left Behind

Fred Clark takes issue with one of the authors of the "Left Behind" series vision of The Great Hereafter: "LaHaye portrays heaven as a (pearly) gated community in Orange County."

If only I could remember where I read something last week about how most religions have elaborately constructed hells, but only sketchy notions of heaven. Those just rewards always come across like: "Yeah...it's a lot like...um...where you already live. Just...more so." Which undermines the idea of death as a transformative event -- especially so if you truly believe in an afterlife -- and completely neuters paradise into a vague promise that being good means that things won't change very much, even if you're dead.

How sad is that?

A Little Bit o' History

I'll stop picking on the Tribune long enough to link to this: A History of the Loop.

(Previously: Unauthorized Chicago and Unauthorized Suburbia)

As Long As They're Covering The IMPORTANT Stuff

From the Chicago Tribune "Daywatch" e-mail this morning:
BLOGGING FROM BOSTON.
Charlie Madigan on the return of Bill: MORE »
Ellen Warren on Kerry's whitened teeth: MORE »
Eric Zorn: Can voters trust the presidency to "a man who can't throw a baseball all the way from the mound to the catcher behind the plate?" MORE »

Policies? Platforms? Anyone?

Okay, I'm going to check these out, but Eric Zorn had better be careful. When you work for the same company that owns the Chicago Cubs, you'd better be willing to go out to Wrigley Field and throw a pitch yourself, just to see how "easy" it is. And to do it in front of thousands of spectators would be even better. Do you think he'd -- naaahhh.

UPDATE: Madigan's piece is all right. He writes about the tradition of front-loading a lot of ex-presidents and former candidates at the convention as a measure of respect, but also to get them out of the way and to make room for the new nominee.

Ellen Warren takes a chance to dredge up the Botox rumors again. Worthless. And if Kerry hadn't whitened his teeth, something would have been made of that.

Eric Zorn does about what I'd expected:
CONVENTION BOUNCE

Can America trust with the presidency a man who can't throw a baseball all the way from the mound to the catcher behind the plate?

I groaned and swore last night when Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) bounced the ceremonial first pitch of the Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Fenway Park, part of a surprise early appearance here in the convention city where he will be nominated Wednesday night..

With the nation watching on ESPN, Kerry, whose major message this week will be what a tough, strong president he'd make, short armed it .

His sissified toss died in the dirt in front of ceremonial first catcher, Massachusetts National Guardsman Will Pumyea, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Weak throws do sometimes afflict strong people. Earlier this year at Wrigley Field, on the day of Mark Prior's first post-injury start, new Bears coach Lovie Smith bounced the ceremonial first pitch well before home plate.

But, fellas, how hard could it be?[Emphasis mine. -G]

A week ago, before the Cubs vs. Cardinals Monday night game, a little boy with one leg got out on the mound and threw a strike.

Even now, I'm envisioning the GOP campaign commercials using footage from Sunday night:

John Kerry...Can a man who throws like a girl keep us safe from terrorism?

John Kerry...Coming up short in so many ways for America.

George Bush...America should keep its starting pitcher.

I don't know, Eric, how hard could it be? Like I said, I think you need to show us. Then, when your pitch bounces in the dirt, we can use it as an analogy for your lame blog: "Zorn started promising as he stepped up to the mound, but his post -- much like his pitch -- quickly went nowhere."

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Lawrence Lessig Takes On Bill "Splotchy" O'Reilly

Oh, it's a thing to behold.

(Found via Boing Boing.)

Also good: After O'Reilly claimed that the French economy was suffering untold horrors after the American boycott of its exports for refusing to support the Iraq War, citing "The Paris Business Review," some people pointed out that no such publication exists. Or at least it didn't, until someone threw this together.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Where I'm Calling From

A piece by Rebecca Solnit in the London Review of Books, "Check Out The Parking Lot". Ostensibly it's a book review, but it seems more of an ambivalent meditation about life in L.A.

Is there any other kind?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Here We Go Again

This perceptive and perhaps prescient post by Dave Johnson at the american street: "Berger - Missing the Point!" is worth keeping in mind. It's not the act that has everyone in an uproar, it's the nefarious motivations that everyone can ascribe to it. All one talking head needs to ask another talking head is, "What could he have been thinking?" or "What possible reason could he have had?", and they're off and running. No need for facts, it's pure speculation.

Fred Kaplan at Slate (can't get the link right now; I'll post it later) says that at most, Berger has destroyed any chance he had of being appointed anything in a Kerry administration. It's the way the story keeps getting inflated and more ridiculous that is baffling, except as political fodder. Berger stuck documents in his socks? Really? And no one thought to stop him? Just wait 10 months and then tell Fox News? Or that Berger swiped the documents to pass them on to Kerry's campaign. Except that Kerry had access to the documents himself as a Senator:
This makes no sense. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry could obtain the documents -- which had also been supplied to the 9/11 commission -- of his own accord. More than that, Kerry's chief national security adviser, Rand Beers, was a staff member of the National Security Council, working on terrorism, under Presidents Clinton and Bush. He saw these documents, probably helped write some of them; he could certainly tell Kerry about them.

It's back to the Days of Clinton, when the slightest misstep (and believe me, it was a serious misstep. Berger shouldn't get an appointment after this. It was sloppy and inexcusable, and just because nothing happened didn't mean that something couldn't have happened.) launches a thousand conspiracy theories, and perception trumps reality.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

True Believers

I can't quite get through this. I think I'm going to have to keep coming back for small doses over the rest of the afternoon. Taking it all at once isn't a good idea.
The Village Voice: The Church of Bush by Rick Perlstein

Found via TBogg.

Connections

David Brooks wrote a column today bemoaning the lack of engaging teachers in favor of specialization. (It pains me to do this, but here's a link.)

Ezra Klein at Pandagon chimes in with his perspective.

Which is all interesting in light of this account of the MLA convetion in the Believer.

Click-click-click, it all comes together.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Jeebus

Yahoo! News - Man Sought for Photographing Texas City Refineries

Mon Jul 19, 2:59 PM ET

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Law enforcement officials said on Monday they are looking for a man seen taking pictures of two refineries in Texas City, Texas.

Texas City, located on the Texas Gulf coast about 30 miles south of Houston, has three refineries including the largest U.S. plant operated by BP Plc., which is the third-largest U.S. refinery, processing 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

The man, described as white with dark hair, was seen taking pictures outside the refineries, all located on the same highway, at about 5 p.m. CDT on Saturday, said Bruce Clawson, emergency management and homeland security director for Texas City.

While it is not illegal to take pictures of a refinery from a highway or street, officials would like to talk to the man to find out his reason for taking the photographs.

"This is based on the idea that al Qaeda does its homework," Clawson said. "That's not to say we don't have enough home-grown idiots already who might want to do something."

The man was seen driving a white van.

Valero Energy Corp. operates a 243,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery in Texas City. Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC, a joint venture between Marathon Oil Corp., and Ashland Inc., operates a 76,000 bpd refinery in Texas City.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has repeatedly warned refiners that they are possible targets for would-be terrorists. U.S. refinery security officials say their security guards regularly report people observing or taking pictures of refineries.

During the Independence Day holiday, ExxonMobil Corp. tightened security at the largest U.S. refinery, the 538,000 bpd plant in Baytown, Texas, 30 miles east of Houston, because of general warnings about possible terrorist activity.

A guy took pictures of a place that it is legal to take pictures of, from a place that it is legal to take pictures from, and that is readily viewable from any freakin' spot along the highway, and yet there's something suspicious about a white guy with dark hair in a white van taking pictures of it?

At least there's mention of "home-grown idiots" this time around. Still, as someone with an amateur interest in photography, it's troubling that anyone who just wants to quietly pursue a hobby is going to be harassed like this.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

slacktivist: The Vision Thing

What I think I like best about Fred Clark is the way he cuts to the heart of the matter:
If a candidate has a clear vision and a clear agenda, and if that candidate has a plan for the policies to make that vision and that agenda a reality, then the candidate will want to spend as much time as possible talking to the American people. That's how one builds support for one's agenda. That's how one creates a mandate for leadership in a democracy.

If, on the other hand, a candidate desires power but has no clue what he would use that power for other than to preserve it for himself, then the less the people are told about his agenda, the better.

[snip]

When George W. Bush appeared on Meet the Press back in February, Tim Russert asked him to explain why he thought he deserved a second term. The president dodged the question, saying only that he "looked forward" to having the opportunity in the months ahead to talk to the American people about his plans for a second term. This was a bit odd -- here he was speaking directly to the American people on network television, but all he told them was that he looked forward to having the chance to tell them something later. Since then spring has come and gone and it is now high summer and still we hear little more than chants of "four more years" and the continued assurance that President Bush looks forward, someday, sometime in the future, to explaining his vision.

This is not how someone behaves if he actually has a vision for the future. Bush doesn't. He's still just stalling for time while his advisers and aides work to cobble together something that could pass for an agenda for a second term, provided no one looks too closely.

"The bad news is we're lost and we don't know where we're going," the captain says. "The good news is we're making excellent time."

Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Burgundization of Network News

Frank Rich's new column in the Times. Nothing all that new, but still interesting, in his comparison of the new Will Ferrell movie "Anchorman" to the current pathetic state of television news.

This Crap Bugs Me


Yahoo! News - Questioning of Photo Student Challenged


Fri Jul 16, 2:49 AM ET

By ELIZABETH M. GILLESPIE, Associated Press Writer

SEATTLE - Ian Spiers had just hours to finish an assignment for his photography class. He was taking shots of a railroad bridge near the Ballard Locks when an officer with a German shepherd approached him, asked him what he was doing and requested some ID.

Later, he was questioned and photographed by a Homeland Security agent.

It was the second time in less than two months that Spiers had been questioned about taking pictures of a landmark that attracts hundreds of tourists a day, many of whom snap photos of the ships passing between Lake Union and Elliott Bay.

A growing number of photographers around the country have been similarly rousted in recent years as they've tried to take pictures of federal buildings and other major public works, said Donald Winslow, editor of the National Press Photographers Association's magazine.

"We've seen the constant erosion of our civil liberties amid this cry for homeland security by doing things that have an appearance of making us safe, but in reality it's a sham," Winslow said. "No one showed up at the World Trade Center and took photographs from nine different angles before they flew planes into it."

The morning of May 26, Spiers explained he was a photography student at a community college, showed a copy of his assignment, then asked the officer if he was legally obligated to show his ID.

The officer said no and walked away. But soon after, several armed officers approached him, including three from the Seattle Police Department and three from the federal Homeland Security Department.

"I was trying to be calm, but the truth was I was scared out of my mind," Spiers said.

This time, Spiers said, a Seattle police officer told him he had no choice but to show his ID. A Homeland Security agent who flashed his badge told him he had broken a law by taking pictures of a federal facility.

"We've never seen such a law," said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) in Seattle.

Spiers said he complied, spent half an hour answering questions and let a Homeland Security agent photograph him — after being told he had no choice.

The ACLU has written the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and runs the locks, asking for the agency's assurance that Spiers will not be arrested if he returns there.

Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said her agency had no involvement in the incident and questioned an order Spiers said a homeland security agent gave him — that he could not return to the locks with his camera without getting permission in advance.

"Everyone — all members of the public — are welcome on the locks property, and photographs are allowed, and there's no need to get prior permission," she said.

Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said the department has a duty to respond to reports of suspicious activity.

Calls to the Homeland Security Department were not immediately returned.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Spiers kept his distance from the spot where he was questioned, and wore a button on his camera bag that said: "Annoying but harmless photography student. Do not bend." He made it in early April, after two police officers showed up at his door, saying they were responding to a report about a suspicious man taking pictures at the locks.

Spiers said he'd like to hear one of the officers who questioned him say if they hassled him because his mocha-colored skin and short black hair made him look like a terrorist.

"I'm trying to figure out how not to attract attention," said Spiers, 36. "So far the only thing I can think of is that I can never ever pick up a camera."

In early June, about 100 photographers crowded onto New York City subway trains and snapped pictures of each other in protest of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's proposed ban on photography in subways and other public transit.

And Brian Fitzgerald, the chief photographer at the Yakima Herald-Republic, said a uniformed security officer tried to prevent him from taking a picture of an immigration office, citing a "law," then calling it a "directive" that gave the officer the right to confiscate any film with pictures of a federal facility.

An officer in charge eventually let him take his photos, and he's since been told there's no reason he can't take them.

"It's frustrating mostly," Fitzgerald said. "I'm not outraged because I didn't get to the point where I didn't get my photos. It just reminds me again how much disinformation there is, even in these agencies that are supposed to know."

National Press Photographers Association

Spiers' Web Site

Post at Margaret Cho's website about similar things.

And an article by Daniel H. Pink in Wired magazine, "Little Brother Is Watching," that seems convinced that the photographs of Abu Ghraib is proof that the system does work, even though he seems to conveniently avoid the fact that certain people were outraged less at the horrific abuse and more at the ability to take photos at all.

Failure Is Their Only Option

Via Ezra Klein at Pandagon, there's an interestingop-ed piece by Thomas Frank in the New York Times. How much more cynical can we get when politicians start picking hot-button issues to exploit, fully knowing that they're going to fail, but in their failure will so rile up the masses that they'll win elections and get to push through the stuff that's really important to them, like getting cushy government contracts for their friends and campaign contributors?

Does anyone actually stand for anything anymore? I mean really, truly stand for something, declare their belief in it, and vow to fight for it until the bitter end?

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

'Doonesbury' Artist Trudeau Skewers Bush

Huh, I didn't know that Garry Trudeau and GWB had crossed paths in the past.

Yahoo! News - 'Doonesbury' Artist Trudeau Skewers Bush

NEW YORK - Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, who has skewered politicians for decades in his comic strip "Doonesbury," tells Rolling Stone magazine he remembers Yale classmate George W. Bush as "just another sarcastic preppy who gave people nicknames and arranged for keg deliveries."

Trudeau attended Yale University with Bush in the late 1960s and served with him on a dormitory social committee.

"Even then he had clearly awesome social skills," Trudeau said. "He could also make you feel extremely uncomfortable ... He was extremely skilled at controlling people and outcomes in that way. Little bits of perfectly placed humiliation."

Trudeau said he penned his very first cartoon to illustrate an article in the Yale Daily News on Bush and allegations that his fraternity, DKE, had hazed incoming pledges by branding them with an iron.

The article in the campus paper prompted The New York Times to interview Bush, who was a senior that year. Trudeau recalled that Bush told the Times "it was just a coat hanger, and ... it didn't hurt any more than a cigarette burn."

"It does put one in mind of what his views on torture might be today," Trudeau said.

Having mocked presidents of both parties in the "Doonesbury" strip since 1971, Trudeau said Bush has been, "tragically, the best target" he's worked with yet.

"Bush has created more harm to this country's standing and security than any president in history," Trudeau said. "What a shame the world has to suffer the consequences of Dubya not getting enough approval from Dad."

Rolling Stone was publishing the interview Friday.

And this guy has been at it since Nixon.

(Here's the link to the Rolling Stone piece.)

Update: Shoot, he knew Howard Dean, too:
You were two years behind Bush at Yale?

And four years behind Kerry. Joe Lieberman was also at Yale, and Howard Dean was in my class. My feeling is, there should have been a cap this year on Yale graduates running for president [laughs]. Howard Dean I knew quite well from boyhood. We'd gone to a summer camp together. When Howard became governor, he told some reporter that he'd gotten his sense of humor from me. I wrote him and said, "That's utter bullshit. When you knew me as a teenager, I didn't have a sense of humor. Life was much too grim."

I think Howard did an astonishing thing with his campaign. When people look back at 2004, it'll be obvious just how much he turned an election that Bush could have walked away with into a real competition. He forced everybody to take on the war issue. And his fine, righteous anger got the base motivated, in a way that might not otherwise have happened.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Oh, The Mistakes That Have Been Made

In the Columbia Journalism Review: How Chalabi Played the Press by Douglas McCollam.

(I originally posted this without crediting it to Joshua Marshall at Talking Points Memo. Apologies.)

How Often Has He Been Right About Anything?

DVDs will be obsolete in 10 years: Bill Gates

Tue Jul 13, 1:23 PM ET

FRANKFURT (AFP) - DVDs will be obsolete in 10 years at the latest, Microsoft boss and founder Bill Gates (news - web sites) predicted.

Asked what home entertainment would like in the future, Gates said that DVD technology would be "obsolete in 10 years at the latest. If you consider that nowadays we have to carry around film and music on little silver discs and stick them in the computer, it's ridiculous," Gates said in comments reproduced in German in the mass-circulation daily Bild.

"These things can scratch or simply get lost."

Gates' vision of television of the future was: "TV that will simply show what we want to see, when we want to see it. When we get home, the home computer will know who we are from our voice or our face. It will know what we want to watch, our favourite programmes, or what the kids shouldn't be allowed to see."

Gee, Billy, don't forget to mention that while you can buy a DVD today and watch it over and over and over again for years to come, having only paid for it once, in your scenario, we'd all have to pay you $5 every time we wanted to watch "Kangaroo Jack." And while I can get that super-special DVD of that movie that I and no one else liked, in the Gatesian future, I'd be out of luck since I'd have to hope that someone somewhere wanted to devote the server space to store it and the bandwidth to transmit it. Who'd bother? Especially when you can make money hand over fist from "Kangaroo Jack."

Perhaps I'm being unfair. Billy-Boy's prediction is awfully vague -- will the TV content be streaming or stored? Could I conceivably buy a movie the way I can buy an album off of iTunes today? I own the file, despite its future availability or unavailability. (I assume that the music I've bought from iTunes is mine for as long as I care to keep it. I don't have to relinquish any of it if, say, the estate of Ray Charles decides that "What'd I Say?" shall no longer be available.)

Billy's been smart about two things, and they've made him rich. While I'm no fan of Windows, I think he was right to make the operating system separate from the computer. I'm a die-hard Apple user, but it does suck sometimes when you're stuck with the hardware you're stuck with. That's one. The other is Microsoft Office. And with that, it's less that they came up with a revolutionary word processor or spreadsheet, but that everything got locked into a proprietary format that required everyone else to have Microsoft Office to open it. Sure, there are ways around it. Most interoffice memos really don't need to be much more that a plain-text file, but the default setting is to save it as a Word document, and that's money in Billy's pocket. Just about everything else has been either vague or off the mark. MS was late to the internet because they were convinced that the future lay in CD-ROMs. (Ironic, when you consider that now the guy is saying that those little silver discs are archaic.) Sure they made up for lost ground, but by trampling everyone else and getting sued by the US government in the meantime. Smart Tags, .Net, Passport -- who needs 'em?

More to read about nobody reading

Everybody's got an opinion. Here's Kevin Drum's concerning Harold Bloom's. ("So get thee to an internet cafe, Harold Bloom! It is a rich and exciting world that awaits you.")

And here is Rivka at Respectful of Otters with hers. (Short version: If no one is reading, why are there so many bookstores and how come they're always filled with people? And what do they mean by "literature," anyway? If you read a book but it didn't fit the NEA's definition, did it not count?)

I think I'm going to have to read the actual report -- everyone is getting their pantaloons in a bunch, but they're all referring to news accounts of the study and not the study itself. These questions of definitions and parameters may very well be answered within the pages of the final report -- that nobody is reading!

Sunday, July 11, 2004

New York Times Items for Later Reading

A couple of things from today's New York Times Sunday Magazine that I want to read, although I'm not sure when I'll get the chance:

How to Make a Guerrilla Documentary

and

Not Funnies

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Hmmm...

Fewer Noses Stuck in Books in America, Survey Finds

Everyone is shocked, yet no one is surprised.

I suppose that in a survey of 17,135 adults, only 56.6% reading a book of any kind in the previous year is pretty shocking. Especially so to those of us who easily read a few dozen books in a year just for the hell of it. But the survey also took account of those who attended a live arts performance in the previous year, and I must admit that I would have skewed that part of the survey towards the negative. If you only have so much time and money, you're going to pick your entertainments. For many, books require too much of both. (Yes, yes, libraries. "Borrow them!" Sure. But depending upon what's going on in my life, I've often taken weeks to finish simple, relatively short books just for the lack of time. Three weeks with a borrowed book is no guarantee that it'll get read. Then there are other times when I can devour 400 pages in 2 days. Not to mention that my eyes are always bigger than my, er, stomach? brain? when I go to the library.)

Two interesting quotes, though. Well, more, probably, but these are particularly interesting. First:
On the other hand Kevin Starr, librarian emeritus for the state of California and a professor of history at the University of Southern California, said that if close to 50 percent of Americans are reading literature, "that's not bad, actually."

"In an age where there's no canon, where there are so many other forms of information, and where we're returning to medieval-like oral culture based on television," he said, "I think that's pretty impressive, quite frankly." Mr. Starr continued: "We should be alarmed, I suppose, but the horse has long since run out of the barn. There are two distinct cultures that have evolved, and by far the smaller is the one that's tied up with book and high culture. You can get through American life and be very successful without anybody ever asking you whether Shylock is an anti-Semitic character or whether `Death in Venice' is better than `The Magic Mountain.' "

This is a very glass-half-full approach. Most people not only don't need to know these things, they're openly suspicious of the kind of person who does.

Then there's this:
"It's not just unfortunate, it's real cause for concern," said James Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia University. "A culture gets what it pays for, and if we think democracy depends on people who read, write, think and reflect — which is what literature advances — then we have to invest in what it takes to promote that." [Emphasis mine.]

But does it? I mean, right now we have a president who claims that he's the best man for the job because he doesn't stop to reflect. That might only make him change his mind, and the surest test of a man is the courage of his convictions. Not their wisdom or practicality, but the fact that he'll never, ever put them to any intellectual test, he's that sure that they're right. I agree that true democracy is based upon thought and reflection on the part of an informed electorate, but the electorate would rather reflect upon which candidate they'd rather hang out with than whose policies make sense. They want bread and circuses, shock and awe, not thought and reflection.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

What the -- ?

Okay, what's up with this? The CIA failed to tell the Bush administration that the Iraqi WMD program had been abandoned? Um, hasn't it been pretty well established that anyone who dared to suggest such a thing was labeled a partisan hack who had no idea of how to collect intelligence in this new world (that had changed after September 11th, blah blah blah...)? The CIA knew but didn't tell? No, the office of Vice President decided to take raw data and cherry pick out the bits of information that was useful:
There were, of course, good reasons to worry about Saddam Hussein’s possession of W.M.D.s. He had manufactured and used chemical weapons in the past, and had experimented with biological weapons; before the first Gulf War, he maintained a multibillion-dollar nuclear-weapons program. In addition, there were widespread doubts about the efficacy of the U.N. inspection teams, whose operations in Iraq were repeatedly challenged and disrupted by Saddam Hussein. Iraq was thought to have manufactured at least six thousand more chemical weapons than the U.N. could account for. And yet, as some former U.N. inspectors often predicted, the tons of chemical and biological weapons that the American public was led to expect have thus far proved illusory. As long as that remains the case, one question will be asked more and more insistently: How did the American intelligence community get it so wrong?

Part of the answer lies in decisions made early in the Bush Administration, before the events of September 11, 2001. In interviews with present and former intelligence officials, I was told that some senior Administration people, soon after coming to power, had bypassed the government’s customary procedures for vetting intelligence.

A retired C.I.A. officer described for me some of the questions that would normally arise in vetting: “Does dramatic information turned up by an overseas spy square with his access, or does it exceed his plausible reach? How does the agent behave? Is he on time for meetings?” The vetting process is especially important when one is dealing with foreign-agent reports—sensitive intelligence that can trigger profound policy decisions. In theory, no request for action should be taken directly to higher authorities—a process known as “stovepiping”—without the information on which it is based having been subjected to rigorous scrutiny.

The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic—and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book “The Threatening Storm” generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was “dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.

“They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,” Pollack continued. “They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn’t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.”

The Administration eventually got its way, a former C.I.A. official said. “The analysts at the C.I.A. were beaten down defending their assessments. And they blame George Tenet”—the C.I.A. director—“for not protecting them. I’ve never seen a government like this.”

I mean, jeez, this Seymour Hersh piece ran back in March, for God's sake. And the New York Times is still buying the Bush Administration's take on reality?

(Link originally found at Talking Points Memo.)

Monday, July 05, 2004

Just trying a little something here.

Friday, July 02, 2004

A son goes to war

The most recent of these offers an interesting twist to the story:

Chicago Tribune | A son goes to war

There are going to be a lot of stories like this over the next few years, aren't there?