Friday, October 29, 2004


Good article on Arafat by Lee Smith.

The man who essentially created the Palestinian nation and put its cause at the center of world attention will leave his people a political culture in which the only constants are violence and corruption. As Barry Rubin wrote recently in Arafat's End, "Having refused to create viable institutions or to name a successor for so long, the result [of Arafat's death] may be chaos." Without a successor or political institutions—like regular, free elections; an independent judiciary; and checks on executive power—to create and sustain political authority, the upcoming struggle for leadership will consist largely of various groups and factions vying with each other to establish supremacy. They will be judged largely according to how forcefully they are capable of warring against the common enemy: Israel. It is a variety of civil war in which the armed groups will be killing Israelis while they are in fact fighting each other.

I think that pretty well encapsulates the tragedy of Arafat: a man who dedicated his life to achieving a state for the Palestinian people, but who ultimately couldn't close the deal.

I'm really not looking forward to the spate of sanctimonious op-eds which will accompany Arafat's passing. Yes, it's true he was a terrorist, but so are many of those whom he fought. I certainly don't approve of or defend Arafat's terrorism, but like Israel's own founders, Arafat used the tools available to him, and I simply cannot stomach the indignation of those who condemn him while preposterously praising the war criminal Sharon as a hard-nosed leader and statesman.

No one should make the mistake, as I'm sure many will, of conflating Arafat's Palestinian nationalism with bin Laden's hyper-revanchist jihadism. The PLO, and Arafat's al Fatah faction which assumed PLO leadership in 1969, were nationalist movements inspired by Nasserism. The Palestinian struggle did not take on a significant religious aspect until the first intifada in 1987 and the rise of Hamas in the Occupied Territories. It's worth pointing out that Hamas was aided in its infancy by the Israeli government, which was hoping to create an Islamist alternative to the PLO which could undercut Arafat's authority. In this, the Israeli government was successful. Needless to say, there were some unintended consequences.

It's encouraging that Arafat's impending end seems at a glance to be unifying Palestinian factions in observance. There are indications that this solidarity could lead to elections and real reform. Moderates Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia have taken control of the PLO and PA, respectively, and from what I've read, both seem genuinely dedicated to creating viable, accountable Palestinian political institutions. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyyeh has called for "formation of a united national leadership or a high Palestinian authority based on a political program and to prepare for Palestinian general elections," the first time that Hamas has ever done so. I'm taking these as signs that Smith's darker predictions may not come to pass.

Arafat's legacy is complex. His unwillingness to share power or support reforms in the PA has had extremely negative consequences for the Palestinians, not least in providing Israel an excuse not to negotiate. But Arafat is a man who would not quit, and it's hard to imagine how the Palestinian people could have come this far without him. Inasmuch as his leadership and charisma held the movement together during the toughest times, his passing ironically may prove to be a decisive event in the eventual creation of the Palestinian State.


Today's Pentagon briefing, which attempted to explain the missing al Qaqaa explosives, seems to me to have been worse than saying nothing.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An Army unit removed 250 tons of ammunition from the Al-Qaqaa weapons depot in April 2003 and later destroyed it, the company's former commander said Friday. A Pentagon spokesman said some was of the same type as the missing explosives that have become a major issue in the presidential campaign.

But those 250 tons were not located under the seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency -- as the missing high-grade explosives had been -- and Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita could not definitely say whether they were part of the missing 377 tons.

Maj. Austin Pearson, speaking at a press conference at the Pentagon, said his team removed 250 tons of TNT, plastic explosives, detonation cords, and white phosporous rounds on April 13, 2003 -- 10 days after U.S. forces first reached the Al Qaqaa site.

``I did not see any IAEA seals at any of the locations we went into. I was not looking for that,'' Pearson said.

Di Rita sought to point to Pearson's comments as evidence that some RDX, one of the high-energy explosives, might have been removed from the site. RDX is also known as plastic explosive.

But Di Rita acknowledged: ``I can't say RDX that was on the list of IAEA is what the major pulled out. ... We believe that some of the things they were pulling out of there were RDX.''

Further study was needed, Di Rita said.

No shit?

It probably would've been easier and a lot less time-consuming if Di Rita had just lit off a smoke bomb from the podium, yelled "YOINK!" and then run away.

You know guys, in the future, it might be good to give someone a clipboard and pencil and have him/her keep track of exactly which and how much ammunition you're destroying. That way, when questions come up...

Just trying to light a candle.

Thursday, October 28, 2004


Just watching Crossfire (I only watch a couple times a week, I swear!), they were "discussing" the missing explosives at al Qaqaa, and G. Gordon Liddy (yeah, I know) blamed-- are you ready for this?--The Soviets.

LIDDY: It was not the duty of George Bush to stand with an M-16 in front of the door of that place.

The fact is that the Soviets, Spetsnaz people, came in with special forces troops and a transportation company and moved a lot of stuff out of there.

BEGALA: We let the Soviets in there?

Pure gold.


Yes, indeed. I would just like to say, though, that watching the abominable Scott Stapp yarling his way through America the Beautiful during the 7th inning stretch was one of the more uncomfortable musical experiences of my life.

It sounds good when Van Morrison does it. Buddy, you are no Van Morrison.


Shame on my assistant for not reminding to post a tribute to John Peel, the BBC radio DJ whose contribution to music, cutting-edge rock music in particular, is immeasurable. He was a fellow who loved giving new acts a hand up, and loved turning people on to new sounds.

I own several Peel Session recordings, my favorite being the Cure from 1978.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Disingenuousness, thy name is Bush:

"Now the senator is making wild charges about missing explosives when his top foreign policy adviser admits, quote, "we do not know the facts." Think about that. The senator's denigrating the action of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts."

Memo to President Goofball: The Senator isn't denigrating the action of our troops, he's denigrating you for being incompetent. Just as those who brought up your National Guard service weren't denigrating the Guard, they were denigrating you for taking refuge there to avoid combat in a war which you supported.



Medical team arrives at Arafat HQ
A team of doctors has arrived at Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah where the ailing Palestinian leader's health is thought to have deteriorated.

An ambulance pulled up at the compound in the West Bank and medics went inside shortly after Israeli TV reported a decline in Mr Arafat's condition.

He is said to have been suffering from a bout of flu as well as a gallstone, thought to be easily treatable.

Tests on Mr Arafat this week are said to have shown up no major illnesses.

A senior adviser to the leader, Nabil Abu Rudeina, confirmed that doctors were examining the 75-year-old leader late on Wednesday.

"A team of Tunisian and Palestinian doctors is examining the president," Mr Abu Rudeina said in a statement read out to journalists in front of the compound.

Unidentified officials also told reporters that Mahmoud Abbas, Mr Arafat's deputy leader in the PLO, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia were at his bedside.

An unconfirmed report on Israeli radio said Mr Arafat had lost consciousness.

Sharon's isolation of Arafat has had the twin negative effects of increasing Arafat's flagging popularity among Palestinians and of strengthening extremist groups such as Hamas, who were able to point to Sharon's refusal to deal with the elected representative of the Palestinian people as yet more proof that Israel was not interested in a negotiated peace, only in consolidating it's control over valuable Palestinian land in the West Bank.

If Arafat dies, one of a few things could happen, none of which I suspect will please Sharon very much:

1. Arafat's nepotistic inner circle retains control, things stay much the same, making #2 more likely.

2. In the ensuing struggle for control of the PA, extremists come out on top. They then point all of their resources and the PA infrastructure, such as it is, toward war against Israel.

3. In the ensuing struggle for control of the PA, genuine moderates come out on top. Their control of the PA infrastructure, such as it is, is tenuous at best. Either Sharon recognizes the new leadership and begins going through the motions of negotiation, or he doesn't.

3a. If he does, and moderate control holds long enough to produce results for Palestinians (i.e. a steady and noticeable reduction of Israeli control of the West Bank), it could begin steadily depriving Hamas et al of some of their juice.

3b. If Sharon doesn't recognize the new leadership, see #2.

Even in the best case scenario, genuine, sustainable peace and security are a ways off. The key here, as always, is the participation or non-participation of the U.S. At this point, only pressure on Israel to recognize Palestinian leadership would have any positive effect, as Bush's numbskullery has ensured that any Palestinian leader's credibility will be inversely proportional to how close he is perceived as being to the U.S. In any case, given Bush's record of service to the Christian-Zionist nutballs, I'm not optimistic.



The president portrayed Kerry as out of step with his own party on security matters. "He stands in opposition not just to me, but to the great tradition of the Democratic Party," Bush said in an appeal to Democrats.

"The party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and John Kennedy is rightly remembered for confidence and resolve in times of war and in hours of crisis. Senator Kerry has turned his back on 'pay any price' and 'bear any burden.' And he has replaced those commitments with 'wait and see,' and 'cut and run.' "

Leaving aside the President's obvious misrepresentations of Kerry's stance on security, it's nice that Bush recognizes Democrats' essential contributions to the Cold War. Somebody tell Ann Coulter.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Great piece on faith and politics by Andrew Sullivan. Compare to this irate little fart by Jonah Goldberg for a laugh.

It seems to me that Kerry understands, as Bush apparently doesn't, that while it's fine to use faith to guide and inform one's political positions, religious doctrine alone is not sufficient justification for creating legislation. Kerry may in fact be out of step with the Catholic Church on abortion, but that's between Kerry and his priest, and certainly not for unserious little punks like Goldberg to condemn Kerry's "God talk" as "morally and religiously empty," especially given the God-talk of Goldberg's own candidate, George W. Bush (and of course the crowning stupidity of "Kerry's not a good Catholic" arguments is the implication that it should somehow then be more acceptable for Catholic voters to cast their ballot for a heretic Protestant, but I digress...). I see it as a positive that Kerry seemed to strugle to thoughtfully and accurately describe the role that faith plays in his politics.

I've been dubious about Bush's professed faith ever since his response to the question "who is your favorite political philosopher?" during the 2000 GOP primaries. His glib reply, "Jesus, because he changed my heart," told me a lot about the depth of his faith, or lack of it, and his awareness of it political utility. Bush's answer was essentially a non sequitur; Jesus was not a philosopher, certainly not a political one (though he can reasonably be seen as the source of some political philosophy). It seemed pretty obvious to me then that Bush, while unable to name a single political philosopher, was at least savvy enough to provide an answer that he knew both wouldn't be challenged and would make conservative Christians purr with delight. Frankly, I couldn't have been less impressed if Bush had answered "Richard Simmons, because he helped me lose weight." Both responses are daft, but the second doesn't indulge in the transparently cheap, pandering religiosity of the first.

Bush's presidency has been rife with this sort of easy spirituality. His speeches are peppered with born-again Christian code words, references to the "wonder-working power" of "our awesome God," phrases which may not mean too much to the un-churched, but which I recognize from a childhood and young adulthood in the born-again Christian community. From what I've read as well as observed of him, I also recognize Bush as the sort of man who doesn't so much let religious faith guide his political decisions as much as use it to sanctify his preconceived political convictions. Ron Suskind's article of last week would seem to confirm this.

I'm not going to presume to guess at the genuineness of Bush's faith, of whether he actually believes what he says he believes. I will assume that he does. But I think it's reasonable to also assume that he attends his faith with about as much rigor as he's attended most other of his life's endeavors, which is not much. For example, asked what Jesus Christ would have thought of capital punishment, Bush said that Jesus hadn't addressed it. Of course, Jesus did in fact address capital punishment in one of the more famous episodes of his ministry, the pardoning of the adulterous woman. There is a debate to be had about how Jesus' words and actions in that situation relate to the right of the State to execute criminals, and various theologians have struggled with the question, but it is simply ignorant to assert, as Bush did, that Jesus was silent on the matter.

The role of religion in politics is going to be a major issue in the 21st Century. Secularism, the separation of church and state, is a major component of liberal government. It's also a crux of the conflict between Islamism and liberalism, and of political modernization that we hope to cultivate in the Middle East. As Sullivan rightly notes:

Who will win this religious war? It's still too close to call. But, in as much as people's deepest and most mysterious beliefs are being dragged more and more into the public square, America loses. It is one thing to have religious rhetoric and language in public. That is the American way. It is another to base political appeals on religious grounds - whether crudely or subtly. And it is one of the saddest ironies of our time that as America tries to calm the fires of theocracy abroad, it should be stoking milder versions of the same at home.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Thank goodness the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson cares about us enough to take some time out of his daily regimen of drug and firearm use to share his thoughts on the 2004 campaign:

Kerry came into October as a five-point underdog with almost no chance of winning three out of three rigged confrontations with a treacherous little freak like George Bush. But the debates are over now, and the victor was clearly John Kerry every time. He steamrollered Bush and left him for roadkill.

Did you see Bush on TV, trying to debate? Jesus, he talked like a donkey with no brains at all. The tide turned early, in Coral Gables, when Bush went belly up less than halfway through his first bout with Kerry, who hammered poor George into jelly. It was pitiful. . . . I almost felt sorry for him, until I heard someone call him "Mister President," and then I felt ashamed.

Back in June, when John Kerry was beginning to feel like a winner, I had a quick little rendezvous with him on a rain-soaked runway in Aspen, Colorado, where he was scheduled to meet with a harem of wealthy campaign contributors. As we rode to the event, I told him that Bush's vicious goons in the White House are perfectly capable of assassinating Nader and blaming it on him. His staff laughed, but the Secret Service men didn't. Kerry quickly suggested that I might make a good running mate, and we reminisced about trying to end the Vietnam War in 1972.

That was the year I first met him, at a riot on that elegant little street in front of the White House. He was yelling into a bullhorn and I was trying to throw a dead, bleeding rat over a black-spike fence and onto the president's lawn.

For those who haven't read Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, do. It is simply the best piece of American political journalism I have ever read, and any study of the American way of politics is incomplete without it. I have a first edition paperback which my dad gave me, which I treasure.


I'm sure I'm not the first to notice the distinct possibility and significance of a Massachussetts-Texas matchup in the 2004 World Series. Not many people realize, though, that President Bush will have even more of an interest in the game if it's a Sox-Cardinals series.

The owner and chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals is Bill DeWitt, personal friend and financial savior of George W. Bush.

The year was 1982. Young George W. Bush had spent the previous three years losing money with his oil-exploration company, Arbusto, even though Bush family friends continued, inexplicably, to invest in the project...

(from Joe Conason's Notes on a Native Son):
But just as his company was heading toward failure, George W. met William DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds, a pair of Ohio investors with their own small oil firm, called Spectrum 7. DeWitt, who had graduated from Yale a few years earlier than Bush, happened to be the son of the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, and he shared Bush's passion for baseball. After a quick courtship the Spectrum 7 partners agreed to merge with Bush Exploration, naming George W. as chairman and CEO and awarding him a substantial share of stock. Although the vice president's son helped Spectrum 7 to raise additional money, catastrophic losses continued. During a six-month period in 1986, Spectrum 7 lost $400,000, and the partners feared creditors would foreclose their remaining assets.

Once more George W. attracted a financial savior. That September, Spectrum 7 was acquired by Harken Energy Corporation, a medium-sized, diversified company. After Bush joined Harken, the largest stock position and a seat on its board were acquired by Harvard Management Company, the private firm that invests the university's endowment. The Harken board gave Bush $600,000 worth of the company's publicly traded stock, plus a seat on its board of directors and a consultancy that paid him up to $120,000 a year. His partners understood perfectly what had happened. As Spectrum 7's former president, Paul Rea, recalled later, the Harken directors "believed having George's name there would be a big help to them."

Thus, it was DeWitt who helped George W. Bush discover his true life's calling as a figurehead.

And then...
Toward the end of the 1988 campaign, George W. heard from his former Spectrum 7 partner Bill DeWitt that the Texas Rangers were on the market. To make a successful bid, DeWitt would need Texas backers, and the son of the incoming president was perfectly situated to find them. George W. also had a powerful advantage in dealing with the team's owner, an aging Midland oil millionaire named Eddie Chiles, who had been a Bush friend since the 1950s.

For George W., an ardent lifelong fan with no real job, DeWitt's proposal was a providential opportunity. His duties as a director of Harken Energy, though undemanding, offered little chance to improve his resume. His hopes of running for governor in 1990 had been squelched by incredulous party insiders, who complained that he had never "done anything." To acquire the Rangers and thus keep the franchise in Texas would be to do something of profound significance to Texans.

...DeWitt was instrumental in providing Bush the opportunity to establish credibility among Texas voters by giving him yet another high-visibility, low-responsibility position, this time in the Rangers baseball organization. Bush quite literally has DeWitt to thank for his career, for the small bit of business success which Bush was able to parlay into substantial political success, and we quite literally have DeWitt to thank for President George W. Bush.

Go Sox.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


I haven't enjoyed watching baseball this much in years. I'm rooting for the Red Sox against the Yankees, which is pretty significant heresy for a born and bred New York boy, even one who hasn't been a serious follower of the game for a while. I went to college near Boston, and it was pretty tough going for a default Yankees fan whose childhood hero just happened to be Bucky Dent. Mentioning Dent's name in Red Sox company, which I of course did at every opportunity, is a bit like waving a Union Jack in an Irish Pub, or pinching an intern's bum at Ms. Magazine, or yelling "multilateralism works!" at a Bush rally, and so on and so forth. It tends to, shall we say, set people on edge.

Anyway, if/when the Red Sox do win the World Series, it will probably be worth jumping the next redeye to Boston to participate in the week long Mardi Gras that will occur. Or else take the first redeye out of Boston if massive quantities of beer, sexual perversity in the streets, and dumpsters set on fire aren't your thing.

Friday, October 15, 2004


I just watched Jon Stewart, in his way, lecture Begala/Carlson on their responsibilities at journalists. Try to catch the rerun later tonight, if possible, he really hands it to them.

I loved this:

STEWART: I would love to see a debate show.
BEGALA: We're 30 minutes in a 24-hour day where we have each side on, as best we can get them, and have them fight it out.
STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great. To do a debate would be great. But that's like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.
CARLSON: Jon, Jon, Jon, I'm sorry. I think you're a good comedian. I think your lectures are boring.
CARLSON: Let me ask you a question on the news.
STEWART: Now, this is theater. It's obvious. How old are you?
CARLSON: Thirty-five.
STEWART: And you wear a bow tie.

In a way, Stewart is the anti-O'Reilly. He's under no illusions, as O'Reilly is, that he's a serious journalist, yet Stewart's program does more to shed light on the absurdities and hypocrisies of modern politics than any other program on TV right now.

Apparently, CNN doesn't rerun Crossfire, but here's a link to the Stewart segment.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was already drinking before the debate began, or that I watched it with Leslie and Sean Uberoi Kelly with the three of us mocking Bush inna MST3K style, but to me this seemed liked the clearest Kerry win of all three debates. He was calm, in control, and very good at saving his haymakers for the final 30-second responses, knowing Bush wouldn't have an opportunity to counter. Bush just hates that.

And this was gold:
BUSH: Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those...exa-gger-A-tions.

This wasn't Bush channelling his father, this was Bush channelling Dana Carvey's impression of his father. The kicker, of course, is that Kerry's statement wasn't an exaggeration at all.

"I am truly not that concerned about him."
- President Bush, responding to a question about bin Laden's whereabouts, 3/13/02

Now begins the avalanche of right-wingers falling over each other to parse the difference between "worried" and "concerned," to condemn the mainstream media for ignoring this difference, and to attack Kerry for twisting the president's words.

This was tiresome:
BUSH: My opponent, the senator, talks about foreign policy. In our first debate he proposed America pass a global test. In order to defend ourselves we have to get international approval. That's one of the major differences we have about defending our country.

In other words, pay no attention to what my opponent actually said, but to what I say he said.

NRO's The Corner has gone from apologism to outright comedy. Big thanks to Jonah Goldberg for this gem:

I think you could see him thinking. What I mean is that when he got asked a question he should have known the answer to as a matter of character or values he had to run through his mental database for the answer. On abortion, on religion, on affirmative action you could tell that he was calculating the best political answer rather than his heartfelt answer.

On policy questions he usually didn't miss a beat. But on values questions he really seemed like he didn't know what to say about where his own gut and heart are. I think that sort of thing hurts him a lot with people who are still trying to judge the man, not the policies.

Imagine that, a candidate for the presidency, actually thinking about how best to explain his values, rather than just reflexively running through some tired sunday school pablum. Within the conservative pathology, thinking about one's answers is a fault.

Leaving aside the presumption, which NRO-niks take as given, that Kerry is most concerned with "calculating the best political answer" (both candidates try to phrase their answers in the most politically advantageous way, and feigning shock at this is just silly), I think Goldberg's item says a lot about the differences between the conservative and liberal mindset. Even though Bush clearly has a lesser understanding than his opponent of the details and consequences of his own policies, he is to be favored because, presumably, he "answers from his gut," and "knows what he believes," whereas his opponent has to think about it (as often happens when one actually considers facts in generating an opinion).

Listen, I'm no Bush-hater. I get really annoyed when I see those "Bush Is Not My President" bumperstickers, which I do quite a bit around Seattle. He is my president, and this bothers me because there's no ignoring the elephant in the room anymore: Bush was underqualified and underprepared when he announced his candidacy, was underqualified and underprepared when he took office, has proved himself underqualified and underprepared throughout his administration, and we as a people have been underserved by him. I've got nothing against the man personally, and think he'd probably make a good mayor of a very, very small town, sports-game tester for XBox, or greeter in a Las Vegas casino. But it's time for him to go.

Kevin Drum is on lie patrol.

Once again, Wonkette's sort-of live blogging is not to be missed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


I have a lot of respect for Yossi Alpher, I think he's one of the more reasonable commentators on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but I have some serious problems with this op-ed in the Daily Star:

The Palestinian refugees who abandoned their homes in 1948 were casualties of a war started by the Arab world with the objective of preventing the creation of a Jewish state. Some of the refugees fled at their own initiative; others were, in modern parlance, ethnically cleansed. The nascent state of Israel was fighting a war of existential survival. It owes no apologies for its behavior in 1948.

This is very misleading. It ignores the decades previous to 1948 in which an invasive, well-equipped, well-organized, and virulently nationalistic Jewish minority had initiated a campaign of harassment and terror against Palestine's indigenous Arab majority, with the stated goal of taking Arab land for a Jewish state.

Alpher's assertion is based on the ahistorical idea that the main source of the I-P conflict can be located in Arab "rejectionism," the refusal of Arab states to accept the existence of a Jewish state in their midst. While it is true that Arab states rejected the existence of a Jewish state (they quite reasonably saw it as a Western colony in their midst), this is neither the cause of nor even most significant factor in the conflict. It should also be mentioned that the UN "deal" which created Israel required Palestinian Arabs to give up half of their land.

"Say, you've got twenty bucks there. How about giving ten to that guy? Sound like a good deal? No? What are you, a rejectionist or something?"

Would anybody take such a deal, or consider it reasonable?

I understand political Zionism, in its abstract, to be about Jewish nationalism and the right of the Jewish people to exist within a clearly defined, self-governing state. While I support this right, the unfortunate fact is that in 1917 Jews did not exist anywhere as a majority, at least not anywhere that was acceptable to Zionism's founders, and thus the objective reality of Zionism in Palestine has always necessarily involved the expulsion of an indigenous population and the expropriation of their land. This is the inconvenient, unavoidable, and too-little recognized truth about the birth of Israel.

UN General Assembly Resolution 194 was adopted in 1949 with the aim of ending the new refugee problem quickly by means of return and compensation. When you go back and read it, it invokes a degree of moderation: If refugees agree to "live at peace with their (Israeli) neighbors," then they "should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date." There is plenty of qualifying language here that has enabled Israel, over the years, to insist that Resolution 194 is not feasible because it is still effectively at war.

The Palestinian national movement, for its part, has turned Resolution 194 into a blatant demand that Israel accept the refugees' "right of return" - a phrase neither mentioned nor implied in that resolution - as a condition for peace.

On the contrary, Res. 194 clearly implies such a right, if it doesn't state it outright. Here's what Article 11 of UN Resolution 194 says:

11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;

That seems pretty clear to me.

There's no denying the existence of widespread European anti-Semitism which gave birth to modern political Zionism, but it doesn't follow that Palestinian Arabs should be made to pay for the sins of Europe, which is essentially what the UN partition plan (which was itself basically a way for Britain to wash its hands and split out of a rapidly deteriorating situation) did.

There is also no question that Palestinian Arabs have been very poorly served by their Arab brethren, however it's ridiculous to claim that this somehow cancels or ameliorates the crime that was committed, and is still being committed, against the Palestinians by Israel, or that Palestinians should be held hostage to negotiations between governments in which they have no representation.

So, on the one hand, you've got the Palestinians being made to suffer for European anti-Semitism, and on the other you've got the Palestinians being made to suffer for the unwillingness of other Arab governments to accomodate a Jewish state. I can recall no other parallel situation in history.

So what to do now? The answer cannot be re-interpreting UN Resolutions in ways that redefine the problem, which is what Alpher tries to do here. Any true reconciliation will, sooner or later, have to admit and account for the wrong that was committed against Palestinians at Israel's founding.

Many Palestinians understand that it is simply not realistic at this point to expect that every descendant of every refugee will have the right to return to land that was taken, and that most of them will have to accept monetary compensation and resettlement in a future Palestinian state. What is so disturbing to me about Alpher's piece is that he has taken this beyond an argument over what is "practical" and tried to argue that Res. 194 does not express a right of return; that it does not in fact say what it clearly does say.


(via Josh Marshall) A database of companies which advertise with Sinclair Broadcasting. Take a moment out of your day, won't you, to contact two or ten of these companies to register your displeasure at Sinclair's airing of an anti-Kerry documentary two weeks before election day?

Monday, October 11, 2004


The usual suspects are up in arms over the Drudge-posted memo from ABC News's Mark Halperin:

From the Halperin memo:
...the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done.

Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win.

We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that.

It's about damn time. Journalist objectivity should mean holding both sides to the same standards of accuracy, not merely "hearing from both sides" or "giving both sides equal time."

Predictably, the wingnuts are claiming Halperin's demonstration of basic common sense as more proof that the media are liberal. Conversely, Sinclair Broadcasting's decision to air an anti-Kerry documentary, which charges that Kerry's anti-war activities amounted to a betrayal of American POWs in Vietnam, proves that the wingnuts are full of crap.


I'm a little late coming to this discussion, but I thought I'd throw in my 2 credits anyway. Jonathan Last (via Matt Yglesias) raises various questions regarding the chronology/timeline of the Star Wars films vis a vis the prequels and the newly released DVDs of the original trilogy.

The issue that most interested me relates to the end of the Jedi order and what became of their legacy in the intervening twenty years between episodes III (Revenge of the Sith) and IV (A New Hope). Last writes:
If Anakin Skywalker is in his early twenties when he becomes Darth Vader, and Star Wars introduces us to a Luke Skywalker who is also in his twenties, that means that (a) When Darth Vader dies, he's only in his forties; and (b) the reign of the evil Empire has been barely 20 years--not nearly long enough for all the drastic changes we're led to believe have happened since the Emperor took over. For example, after only 20 years, would people already be regarding Jedi knights and the Force as "old wizards" who practice a "hokey religion"?

I'm thinking of the classic scene in Episode IV where Bill Kristol (okay, his name is Admiral Motti, but he looks enough like Bill Kristol for me to derive immense pleasure from repeated viewings of the scene) gets uppity with Darth Vader, and Vader corrects him:

MOTTI: Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it!

VADER: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

MOTTI: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel's hidden fort...

Suddenly Motti chokes and starts to turn blue under Vader's spell.

VADER: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

TARKIN: Enough of this! Vader, release him!

VADER: As you wish.

Yeah, that's pretty much how meetings go at the American Enterprise Institute, err, on the Death Star.

Personally, I don't find it that hard to believe that the memory of the Jedi had been reduced to a misbelieved rumor within 20 years (of course, I want to believe), I'm assuming that the Empire had complete, or very near-complete, control of the media, and that this would enable them to thoroughly color people's historical perceptions. I mean, look at it this way: a Presidential administration, with the aid of one news channel and a bunch of warbloggers have convinced over half of the American public, against all available evidence, that Saddam Hussein had substantial connections to al Qaeda. Many Americans will go to their graves believing this. Given twenty more years and complete control of the media by the government, who knows what people would believe?

It wouldn't be too hard for Palpatine to propagandize against the Jedi, as I think that the general population of the Republic/Empire would harbor some measure of resentment against them, given that they were basically a natural aristocracy: you either had Force potential or you didn't. If you did, you got a fresh lightsaber and wore robes, and if not you were ass out of luck and had to eke out a living mining tabana gas or smuggling spice or something.

It's also entirely in keeping with the whole Sith modus operandi that the Emperor and Vader would encourage skepticism of the Jedi legacy, even of the very existence of the Force, keeping the extent of their own powers on the very lowdown. It was only in a moment of characteristic impetuousity that Vader openly got his Force on and put the choke on Bill Kristol, I mean Adm. Motti.

I'm not going to get into the other questions that Last raises, interesting though I find them, about the DVDs, but I would just like to add that "Greedo shoots first" is one of the stupidest ideas ever, EVER. Stupider than new Coke, stupider than Vance and Coy Duke, stupider than Newt Gingrich's 1996 RNC speech about beach volleyball. Just stupid.

(Thanks to Rob for letting me know about this discussion.)

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Great column from Robert Malley on the current crisis in the Palestinian Authority:

Few Palestinians question their share of responsibility. However, American cooperation with Israeli efforts to marginalize and divide the historic Palestinian leadership contributed to the political paralysis. The stated goal was to reduce Yasser Arafat's hold. But has this been achieved? In the past decade, the legitimacy of PA and Fatah leaders rested essentially on their capacity to govern, their ability to achieve statehood and their aptitude at obtaining support from the outside world. They now manifestly cannot deliver on any.

Arafat, in contrast, can count on what a majority of Palestinians still consider unimpeachable personal, historical and democratic credentials. He is weaker, no doubt, but most around him are even more so; what power he has lost in absolute terms he has made up for in relative ones. A policy intended to debilitate him has instead left him the one man standing.

Sharon's attacks upon the PA and attempted isolation of Arafat have been completely at odds with his goal of ending terrorism against Israeli civilians. Rather than strengthening and helping to constructively combat corruption within the PA, Sharon has taken it as given that Hamas and the PA are essentially one and the same, and thus severely weakened the one Palestinian organ that could have credibly and effectively combated Hamas. As I said, Sharon's actions are at odds with ending terrorism, but they are completely consistent with his implicit goal of preventing the existence of a Palestinian state.

I'm more and more convinced that the only viable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict at this point is a Federal Republic of Israel and Palestine, which Andrew Reding and others have suggested.

Whether they like it or not, Israel and Palestine need each other. Israel needs Palestine for its security and Palestine needs Israel for its economic viability. However far-fetched it may seem under present circumstances, that points to a federal solution as the only viable alternative to chronic conflict.

...Israel and Palestine would each be internally self-governing, with the exception of defense, foreign affairs, the national treasury and economic policy. These would initially be in Israeli hands (the status quo), but would be transferred to a new federal parliament once it became clear the federal experiment was succeeding.

Jerusalem would follow the example of Brussels. It would become the third entity in the federation -- and its capital. Both Jewish West Jerusalem and Arab East Jerusalem would have their own democratically elected councils, much like the boroughs in New York City.

Jewish settlers would be free to remain where they are, subject to the lawful authority of the regional government, which would be bound to respect their constitutional rights. They would be protected, as would all citizens, by an integrated federal police.

The borders between the two states would follow strictly along the Green Line, and Jewish settlers would be free to stay as taxpaying citizens of Palestine.

Another important consideration are the Jewish holy sites contained within the West Bank, to which Jews and Christians must be allowed access, just as Palestinian Muslims must be allowed continued access to the Haram al Sharif in Jerusalem.

Granted, this is a long way off, but I think it's the only way to create real security for both peoples while still recognizing the unique economic and religious realities involved.

Federalization might also be a potential solution for Iraq, but I don't want to get into that right now. I don't mean to suggest that federalism is a some kind of political solve-all or magic bullet, it's not. Iraqi federalism will likely look as different from Israeli-Palestinian federalism as it does from American federalism, and each with their own Gordian knots to struggle with, but as a way for starkly different cultural groups with competing interests, not to mention intense, long-standing grievances, to live within a single nation-state, it's something to explore.


Last time, we got grouchy, grimacing Bush. This time we got querulous, high-strung Bush, at least for the first half-hour, at which point the Ritalin kicked in. This qualifies as an improvement.

A few highlights:

- Bush referencing the Dred Scott decision as an example of justices "making law."
"Another example [of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process, as opposed to strict interpretation of the Constitution] would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges years ago said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights. That's personal opinion. That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all - you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America."

No, the Dred Scott decision was based upon an "original intent" interpretation of the Constitution. Nice try, though, to put conservatism on the right side of history. Unfortunately, we keep records.

- Bush on the environment:
"I guess you'd say I'm a good steward of the land. The quality of the air is cleaner since I've been the president."

Yes, the air is cleaner during your presidency because of regulations which have been in place for the last thirty years, which your party has consistently opposed, and which your administration has specifically tried to weaken.

-Bush on why he blocked the reimportation of inexpensive drugs from Canada:
"When a drug comes in from Canada I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you. And that's why the F.D.A. and that's why the surgeon general are looking very carefully to make sure it can be done in a safe way. I've got an obligation to make sure our government does everything we can to protect you. And my worry is, is that, you know, it looks like it's from Canada and it might be from a Third World."

I actually heard the Baby Jesus starting to cry when Bush floated this biscuit. He did this to protect us, not to protect Big Pharma, because, you know, there's been a rash of deaths across Canada from poisonous third world drugs. Right. Could he at least respect us enough to come up with slightly believable lies? (Also, a Third World? Is this something one finds on the internets? Additionally, it's possible that when Bush was talking about third world drugs, he was thinking of coke.)

Although Bush clearly did better this time, it's still quite obvious that he has only a tenuous grasp on the details of his own policies. He continues to spout words like "freedom" and "liberty" without giving any indication whatever that he understands the processes involved in securing those things, other than that it's "hard work."

Kerry rightly perceived that the onus was on Bush to improve from last time, and I think Kerry was correct to dial down somewhat the stridency of his attacks, while still maintaining the offensive. It wasn't as clear a win as last time, but my feeling is that Kerry came out on top.

p.s. I must recommend Wonkette's Cliff's Notes version of the debate.

Friday, October 08, 2004


It says a lot that the best Charles Krauthammer can come up with in support of Bush at this point is to claim that the terrorists want Bush to lose.

Krauthammer's presupposition, which I don't grant, is that Bush is the one who will take the fight to the terrorists, whereas Kerry is basically not interested. Thus, Chuck reasons, al Qaeda would prefer that Kerry win the election because President Bush will more effectively confront them than would President Kerry.

Quick question: is there more terrorism now than when Bush began his War on Terror? Quick answer: Yes, there is. Bush's mishandling of the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq has proven to be a bonanza for jihadi recruitment the Muslim world over, and may eventually, regrettably prove to be as much of a galvanizing event for radical transnational Islamism as was the mujahedeen's long war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. I really hope I'm wrong on that, but it's hard to see how anyone can argue that that possibility, in addition to the increasing isolation of the United States that has resulted from Bush's unilateralism in conducting the war on terror, has done anything other than delight Osama bin Laden.

Krauthammer is representative of a lot of conservatives who seem unable to consider that any plan other than Bush's could be effective in combating terrorism, or that anyone who believes such a thing is at all serious about it. It's Bush's way, or surrender, they seem to say. I think Kerry, unending distortions of his positions notwithstanding, has demonstrated that he has a better plan for confronting and defeating jihadism, one that understands that it must be a united, global effort, and one that doesn't involve going out of our way to make the world hate us, or result in a massive jump in jihadist recruitment.

But while people can differ on who would more effectively conduct the war on terror, the main difference between Krauthammer and me, other than that I'm not a congenital sourpuss, is that I wouldn't ever suggest that we take our cues on whom to vote for from Osama bin Laden. I mean, who really gives a damn what Osama wants? Maybe he wants to visit Dollywood someday, does that mean we should burn Dollywood to the ground? Nay, let Dollywood be, says I. Pretend like we're not looking for Osama anymore (this won't be hard, as Bush has been pretending this for quite some time now), let him visit Dollywood, then slap the cuffs on him as he's coming off the Tenessee Tornado, all discombobulated. That, friends, is the way to fight terrorists: lure them to our country & western theme parks. Those that don't commit suicide immediately will still be dazed and confused enough for our agents to throw sacks over their heads, toss them into vans, and spirit them off to Guantanamo or whichever site we're currently using to skirt the Constitution.


Talk about being called to heel. This op-ed by Paul Bremer reads like he had Dick Cheney standing over him, hand firmly grasping his shoulder (and Bush probably sprawled upon a nearby couch, fiddling with a Rubik's Cube) as he wrote.

In recent days, attention has been focused on some remarks I've made about Iraq. The coverage of these remarks has elicited far more heat than light, so I believe it's important to put my remarks in the correct context.

...It's no secret that during my time in Iraq I had tactical disagreements with others, including military commanders on the ground. Such disagreements among individuals of good will happen all the time, particularly in war and postwar situations. I believe it would have been helpful to have had more troops early on to stop the looting that did so much damage to Iraq's already decrepit infrastructure. The military commanders believed we had enough American troops in Iraq and that having a larger American military presence would have been counterproductive because it would have alienated Iraqis. That was a reasonable point of view, and it may have been right. The truth is that we'll never know.

The correct context? This is nearly a full reversal, and an unconvincing one at that. That we had too few troops in the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion is now pretty much accepted wisdom, even by much of the conservative press. Bremer's main excuse for his gaffe (which is what they call it when a politician accidentally says what he really thinks) is the lame "well, reasonable people can differ."

One has to respect Bremer for taking on a difficult and largely thankless job in the worst possible circumstances, i.e. under the direction of an administration that wanted to vindicate its own ideology more than it wanted to actually do the job right, but I find Bremer's suggestion that a larger post-invasion troop presence would have alienated Iraqis more than has an extended occupation, especially since that occupation hasn't come close to providing real security, rather silly.

Also very revealing was Bremer's immediate excuse for his candor: that he didn't know that his remarks would be recorded. That's thinking on your feet.

What he meant to say was that, of course, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


Ariel Sharon's version of good faith:

A top Israeli official has claimed that Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan was deliberately formulated to block peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat.

"The significance of the plan is the freezing of the peace process," Dov Weisglass told Haaretz newspaper, adding the US had given its backing.

Palestinian statehood, refugees and the status of Jerusalem had effectively been dropped off the agenda, he said.

When asked by the U.S. to clarify:

Weisglass does not deny that the main achievement of the Gaza plan is the freezing of the peace process in a "legitimate manner."

"That is exactly what happened," he said. "You know, the term `peace process' is a bundle of concepts and commitments. The peace process is the establishment of a Palestinian state with all the security risks that entails. The peace process is the evacuation of settlements, it's the return of refugees, it's the partition of Jerusalem. And all that has now been frozen.... what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did."

Sharon, he said, could also argue "honestly" that the disengagement plan was "a serious move because of which, out of 240,000 settlers, 190,000 will not be moved from their place."

No canny observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is surprised by this. Ariel Sharon's actions, his past support for the settler movement, his attempted isolation of Arafat and attacks on the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, have always been at odds with his claims to support the peace process and the creation of a Palestinian state. And Sharon is smart enough to realize that the time to give a stiff middle finger to his number one patron is right now, in the middle of campaign season.

So, to sum up, we have Ariel Sharon signing on Bush's road map, then undertaking actions which aim specifically to frustrate the implementation of that road map. I'm curious if, and to what extent, Bush is aware that he was party to a charade, one that will result in the deaths of more Palestinians, Israelis, and, very likely, Americans?


What a great debate season this has been.

It took Cheney a whole fifty-nine words before he mentioned 9/11, which for him qualifies as being severely off-message. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that he's still pimping the Saddam-al Qaeda connection, but there he was, shamelessly flogging away.

I was a bit nervous going in about how Edwards' spritely boyishness might appear next to Cheney's grumpy fatherishness, but was pleasantly surprised that Edwards seemed able to get his gravitas on, while pulling the neat trick of communicating optimism at the same time he was going after Cheney for his daministration's manifold failures.

No doubt about it, Cheney is a good debater. He never lets reality intrude on his version of the facts. I think it was pretty close to a draw last night, but I have to give it to Edwards because, well, Dick Cheney is a lying, crooked, mumbly old git.

My aversion to Dick Cheney goes back a ways, to the first Gulf War when he was Secretary of Defense and I was a senior in high school. There was just something about him that made me uncomfortable, a kind of workaday, ho-hum callousness that I found chilling, and still do. He wasn't a openly paranoid, authoritarian racist like Nixon, just a career bureaucrat, an apparatchik quietly and dutifully acting out the dictates of an ideology which I already knew then that I disliked.

I get the sense that Cheney is the type of fellow who has never, at least in the past twenty or so years, stopped to ask himself "Could I be wrong?" He takes it as a given that his political views are, have been, and will be correct, and thus no method is too shady to see those opinions translated into policy. Conservatives seem to find such lack of self-interrogation admirable, as always confusing stubbornness with steadfastness, ideology with principle.

I mean, come on, this is a guy without the moral sense to support a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela, and I'm very glad Edwards had a chance to bring that up. I suppose you could argue, as Jonah Goldberg tries to, that voting against an MLK holiday, as Cheney did, "reinforce[s] the image that Cheney is a man of conviction willing to buck politics for principle," but I think it only suggests that Dick Cheney simply has the wrong principles.

P.S. It so amuses me when conservatives try to argue that Edwards is somehow underqualified to assume the presidency. Have these jokers forgotten who their nominee was four years ago?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Looking forward to tonight's debate: Edwards will try to keep his cowlick down; Cheney will try to appear less like a Bond villain, if only a caretaker one.

A caretaker one? Yes, even though Cheney would not be out of place as a Bond villain, I don't think he would rank very highly in the pantheon unless he A) seriously renovated his wardrobe and B) replaced his wife with an attractive Filipino martial artist, male or female.

Which brings me to the Duss Unified Bond Theory. It's a simple equation for rating Bond films, based on the proposition that a Bond film is only as good as its villain (V) and villainous henchmen (H), gadgets (Ga), girls (Gi), and plot (P), in descending order of value. It looks like this:


For instance, let's take the greatest of all Bond films, Goldfinger, which gets the highest possible score of 9. As a villain, I give Auric Goldfinger a 10. Oddjob: 10. Gadgets: 10 (because I'm including cars in this category, and you can't beat that Aston Martin). Pussy Galore: come on, 10. Plot: 10 (Okay, irradiating the U.S. gold supply is enormously silly, but we're talking Bond here, people). Anyway, here's what the equation for Goldfinger looks like:

[(10+10/2)+(10 x.9)+(10 x.8)+(10 x.5)]/4 (+1*)= 9

Now let's look at a shitty Bond film, like A View To A Kill. Villain: Christopher Walken phones it in as Zorin, but he's still Christopher Walken, so he gets a 7. Grace Jones as May Day: 6. Gadgets: 5 (Wow, a cheque copier. Uh, cool...). Tanya Roberts: 3. Plot (there was one?): 5.

[(7+6/2)+(5 x.9)+(3 x.8)+(5 x.5)]/4= 3.97

How about a decent but not great Bond film, such as The Man With the Golden Gun.

[(10+8/2)+(6** x.9)+(8 x.8)+(6 x.5)]/4= 5.95

I suppose you could also factor in other things such as number of appearances by Q, number of martinis ordered, whether baccarat is played, inventiveness of deaths (Yaphet Kotto being inflated: 10), number/improbability/coolness of stunts/escapes, memorability of theme song, number of naked women silhouetted in opening credits sequence, and general level of playful misogyny, but I think the four I've chosen do the job.

As a Bond villain, I give Dick Cheney a 6. Mr. Cheney, you're no Scaramanga. Hell, you're barely a Stromberg.

(*Any Bond film with Sean Connery as Bond gets an automatic one point added.)

(**Though there is a serious lack of cool gadgets in TMWTGG, the false nipple pushes its score up a bit)

Monday, October 04, 2004


Knuckleheads is about as charitable as I can be with crap like this:

Led by American evangelist Pat Robertson, thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered in the Holy Land on Sunday to express support for Israel.

In two Jerusalem appearances, Robertson praised Israel as part of God's plan and criticized Arab countries and some Muslims, saying their hopes to include Israeli-controlled land in a Palestinian state are part of "Satan's plan."

Robertson did offer a hint of rebuke for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Only God could decide on transfers of biblical land, Robertson said.

And, of course, God will express his real estate decisions through his messenger, Pat Robertson.

While the pilgrims are welcomed in Israel, the belief of some in a final, apocalyptic battle between good and evil - in which Jesus returns and Jews either accept him or perish - causes discomfort among Jews.


I'd really like to see the question put to President Bush. We already know that he doesn't believe that Jews can get into heaven. As a Christian, what are his thoughts on the Jews being thrown into the Lake of Fire when Christ returns?


Thomas Friedman returns from hiatus (probably out on safari, hunting anecdotes), with a solid poke:

If only the Bush team had gone after the remnants of Saddam's army in the Sunni Triangle with the brutal efficiency it has gone after Senator Kerry in the Iowa-Ohio-Michigan triangle.

Quite right. I wonder how long he was sitting on that one?


I have returned from a weekend with the fellas in the mountains (near Twisp, WA) refreshed, revitalized, and (slightly) richer. The Gentlemen's Poker Retreat was a great success: meat was grilled, brown liquors imbibed, odors discussed, and moneys exchanged.

I love nature, that is I love nature when I look at it from the porch of a cabin with electricity and full kitchen, so this place was just what I needed. There was also a cedar sauna which I so enjoyed that I've tracked down a place in Seattle for a schvitz.

Frito has posted some photos. Here's the cabin we stayed in. Here's me making a bold move and/or about to lose my money on a stupid bet. Here's me the following day, enjoying a ciggie and a screwdriver. I'm still in my robe and slippers, so it's probably some time before 4 pm.