Thursday, June 30, 2005

MORE RED QUEEN CONSERVATISM

Via Ezra Klein, North Carolina Congressman Robin Hayes continues to insist that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 (I guess I don't need to mention that he's a Republican, do I?).

[Hayes] told CNN on Wednesday that the "evidence is clear" that Iraq was involved in the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001.

"Saddam Hussein and people like him were very much involved in 9/11," Rep. Robin Hayes said.

Told no investigation had ever found evidence to link Saddam and 9/11, Hayes responded, "I'm sorry, but you must have looked in the wrong places."

Hayes, the vice chairman of the House subcommittee on terrorism, said legislators have access to evidence others do not.

Saddam Hussein and the people like him. I wonder what that could mean? Mustachioed authoritarian presidents who like to fish? Megalomaniacal novelists from Tikrit with a penchant for military dress? Or does he just mean Arabs in general, because one's as good (or as bad) as another? Close enough, right? This seems to be an underlying principle of conservative foreign policy right now. No, we didn't find WMDs, but we found evidence of possible WMD programs. Close enough. Saddam did not, as was claimed, have significant connections to al Qaeda, but he knew people who knew people who knew people. Close enough.

To point out the obvious once again, it's the continued parroting of conclusively discredited theories like this one that creates space for the the real nutballs to work. And the scary thing is that Hayes is squarely in the mainstream of his party.

CARLSON

Sometimes a headline can brighten your whole morning. This did.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

RETARDED

The view from the Wall Street Journal:

The history of the Vietnam War could repeat itself in Iraq if the Beltway class decides to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Damn that Beltway class! Why won't they let us win in Iraq?

HERO

Mukhtar Mai.

SPARKLING BIT OF IRONY FOR THE DAY

I know it's early, but as soon as I saw this I knew we had a winner. James Lileks commenting on a Woody Allen interview in Der Spiegel:
In any case, the interview reminds you that Allen's schtick - the smart neurotic who can dash off the name of Deep Thinkers with the ease of someone steeped in ethical particulars - is just that: schtick.

In any case, the post reminds you that Lileks' schtick- the Eddie Bauer-outfitted suburban dad channelling his impotent rage into tapping out hackneyed chunks of clogged prose in a vain attempt to validate his Blockbuster Video/Home Depot existence- is just that: schtick.

One could spend hours unpacking the silliness of Lileks' rant, but I'll just focus on this stunning blooper:

You can argue about which films were the best, but of the post-"Manhattan" period – the longest artistic coda in American culture - the ones that have the most emotional appeal are the ones that connect with the America of his childhood. “Radio Days,” “Purple Rose of Cairo” – indisputably American in tone and spirit, and both movies that profit from the absence of the director’s acting.

Figures that Lileks would submit two of Allen's most unchallenging films as his favorites. Post-Manhattan, to name but two, we have Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Hannah is a personal favorite, but it's clearly better than either of Lileks' mentions. Crimes is not only inarguably one of Allen's best films, it's one of the best American films of the last several decades. Some coda.

HAS YORK BEEN VACATIONING ON THE MOON?

Conservative supergenius Byron York asks, all earnest-like:

Is [Bill] Frist using the judicial fight in his run for president?

I think we can safely file that under D for duh.

Friday, June 24, 2005

ROVE

Yes, Karl Rove is a shameless propagandist, and a liar. Did we not know this? Is this news? Can we cut the feigned shock already that the president's top adviser is out there shovelling chum to stark-raving conservative audiences?

I doubt there's really anything to be gained by protesting Rove's comments. This is a man who is smart enough to know that his characterizations of liberals were cartoonish, simplistic, Coulterite bullshit, but who clearly lacks the the decency to care. There is definitely something to be gained, however, from observing and learning from the White House's response to the controversy (Dick Durbin, pay attention): When faced with criticism, no matter how well founded, brazen it out. Attack the critics. Use the word philosophy a lot. Blame the media. Wonder aloud why some people are so darn sensitive. Then get in the car and go to the next fundraiser.

THE JOSHUA GENERATION

Very good article in the New Yorker about Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Pennsylvania.

In the last days before the 2004 Presidential election, Patrick Henry College, in Purcellville, Virginia, excused all its students from classes, because so many of them were working on campaigns or wanted to go to the swing states to get out the vote for George W. Bush.

[snip]

Patrick Henry’s president, Michael Farris, is a lawyer and minister who has worked for Christian causes for decades. He founded the school after getting requests from two constituencies: homeschooling parents and conservative congressmen. The parents would ask him where they could find a Christian college with a “courtship” atmosphere, meaning one where dating is regulated and subject to parental approval. The congressmen asked him where they could find homeschoolers as interns and staffers, “which I took to be shorthand for ‘someone who shares my values,’ ” Farris said. “And I knew they didn’t want a fourteen-year-old kid.” So he set out to build what he calls the Evangelical Ivy League, and what the students call Harvard for Homeschoolers.

[snip]

[Karl] Rove has built an entire campaign around mobilizing Christian conservatives. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute after the 2000 election, he said that the President had lost the popular vote because fewer than expected “white, evangelical Protestants” had come to the polls. One of Rove’s principal strategies for victory in 2004 was working to increase this group’s numbers, and on Election Day four million more evangelicals voted than in 2000.

Farris’s manifesto for the school, “The Joshua Generation,” embraces the Rove principle: the “Moses generation,” he wrote, had “left Egypt,” and now it was time for their children to “take the land.” (emphasis added)

I was aware that there is a network of organizations, colleges, and think tanks dedicated to training the future Christian Dominionist apparat, but that last bit really caught my attention. The Joshua Generation. Who was Joshua? For those of you who didn't spend as many hours of your childhood in Sunday school as I, Joshua was the fellow who, in the words of the old spiritual, fit the battle of Jericho. Another, more accurate, way of putting it is that Joshua is the guy that God commanded to go into the Promised Land and commit genocide so that the Israelites could take it over. A couple choice verses:

"And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword." Joshua 6:21

"So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded. And Joshua smote them from Kadesh-barnea even unto Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even unto Gibeon." Joshua 10:40-41

All this smiting and smoting and mass slaughter of children, elderly, and livestock obviously took place some time before God switched gears and decided that He was "Love."
So, in Mr. Farris's little analogy, if the Christian Domininist apparatchiks he's turning out are Joshua's army, who gets to be the unlucky people of Kadesh-barnea? Why, it's us, friends! And not just the commie, gay, liberal, drug-taking pornographers, but all of us, Christian or not, who don't happen to subscribe to this tendentious and theologically suspect reading of the Bible. These people literally feel that they have a divine mandate to take control of the machinery of American government to the end of erecting a fundamentalist Christian state. And they are actively being courted and facilitated by the Bush White House.

Understand: this is jihad.

ANNA OSTAPENKO DUSS, 1928-2005

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to share this, the sadness is still rather overwhelming. But I'd like you to know.

Anna Ostapenko was born in Ukraine in 1928, in the village of Lubovychi in the Zhytomyr region northeast of Kyiv. When she was a child, her father, Josip, a landowning peasant, or kulak in the Soviet pejorative, was sent to a Siberian forced labor camp for resisting Stalin's collectivization of Ukrainian farms. Anna, her mother Jarina, her brother Serhiy and sisters Nadia and Dunya were ejected from their home and forced to beg for food and shelter. Their neighbors and the people in their community were forbidden by the Soviet authorities from helping them, and eventually the family had to be broken up. Anna was taken in secretly by a woman, and her sisters and brother were placed in orphanages.

In 1941, Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union. As the Germans moved eastward, Stalin began emptying out his prisons and transferring the inmates to the western front to serve as cannon fodder in an attempt to stall the German advance. Josip escaped from a railroad car while en route to the front, and was able to track down his wife Jarina, and his daughters Anna and Dunya. By 1944, the Germans were in retreat from Soviet territory. Josip decided that the family would have a better chance of survival under the Germans than the Soviets, so they fled westward, staying just ahead of the retreating German lines. They were unable to locate Serhiy or Nadia, and had to go without them.

Many years later, during d├ętente in the late 1970s, Anna was able to locate Nadia and to arrange the first of several visits to the United States for her. Anna never again saw her brother Serhiy; he cut off all contact with the family and eventually became a Soviet prosecutor in Leningrad.

When the Ostapenkos arrived in Germany in 1944, they were placed in a labor camp in Anspach. After the Germans surrendered to the Allies in 1945, Anspach came under U.S. administration, and Anna and her family were reclassified as “displaced persons,” or refugees. Had they the misfortune of ending up in a Soviet-controlled zone, they would have been immediately shipped back to the gulag. They lucked out. In the camp, Anna met Kiril Duss, another Ukrainian refugee who had fled with his son, Slavko. Anna and Kiril married in 1949. My father was born in 1950, and Anna named him Serhiy, after her lost brother.

The Dusses, along with Anna’s parents and sister Dunya, arrived in New York in 1952, and made their home in the Slavic immigrant community of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She had two more children, daughters Eileen and Natalie.

Anna was diagnosed with cancer this past January, and declined somewhat rapidly in the subsequent months. I made a trip to East Brunswick, New Jersey to see her in February, and that was the last time that I was with her. Her three children were at her bedside when she passed away on June 8.

I called her Babsha. Who she was is an inestimably huge part of who I am. The events she lived through and memories she shared with me were instrumental in awakening my interest in history and politics, and her love for music (she was a singer and guitar player in her younger days) and poetry (the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko was her favorite) were also very important. I can barely describe how much she meant to me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

WANNA BUY A ROCK?

Remember Flypaper Theory? The idea was that the U.S. military presence in Iraq would attract Islamic extremists ("Bring 'em on!")who may have otherwise intended to attack inside the United States. In Iraq, these militants could be quickly disposed of by the mighty U.S. machine. It was an interesting little theory. At this point, however, I think we can safely say that it has turned out to be bollocks. From today's NY Times:

A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda's early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.

The assessment, completed last month and circulated among government agencies, was described in recent days by several Congressional and intelligence officials. The officials said it made clear that the war was likely to produce a dangerous legacy by dispersing to other countries Iraqi and foreign combatants more adept and better organized than they were before the conflict.

Because I'm a lazy so and so, I'll just paste in what I wrote
back then
about Flypaper Theory (scroll down to the 9/8/03 post entitled 'Bush's Speech'):

I think this is a bad idea for three reasons. First, it assumes that there's some limited pool of bad guys, and if we can just exhaust that pool, then terrorism will go away. Second, it assumes that terrorists potentially planning attacks in the U.S. will abandon those plans and travel to Iraq and, rather than attacking defenseless civilians, will attack guys carrying machine guns and wearing body armor (Back then I was naive enough to think our soldiers would actually be provided body armor.-ed). Third, creating a pretext for international jihad is just. plain. foolish. It will backfire. Possibly the most pivotal event in the history of trans-national Islamic fundamentalism was the mujahedeen's war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, sponsored by the United States, in which Muslim men from around the Arab world went to Afghanistan to join the fight, were radicalized, and took their newfound ideology, convert's zeal, and international connections back to their home countries. Flypaper Theory proposes hosting an International Fundamentalist Islamic Jamboree in Iraq, where zealots will meet and live and fight together, then carry the stories of their fallen brothers-in-arms back to their home countries, where they will inflame and activate countless others and, if not carrying out terrorist activities, will at least become a domestic counter-balance to attempts at political liberalization.

The report does say that "for now, most potential terrorists were likely to focus their energies on attacking American forces [in Iraq], rather than carrying out attacks elsewhere," (I'm curious how the CIA investigators were able to deduce that) but also that "Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries would soon have to contend with militants who leave Iraq equipped with considerable experience and training," which I'm sure has Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries very excited. Riddle me this: How does flooding the region with highly trained, well-networked jihadists comport with Bush's goal of cultivating democracy in the Middle East?

I suppose one could, if one were intent on carrying Bush's water, point to the absence of stateside attacks as proof that the Flypaper strategy has worked. In that case I'd refer one to this exchange from the Simpsons:

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

Anybody want to buy George W. Bush's rock?

TARGETED

In a move that seems designed specifically to discredit Abbas in the eyes of the very Palestinian radicals who he is expected to control, Ariel Sharon's government resumed assassinations of Islamic militants just as Abbas and Sharon began their summit.

Israel has confirmed it tried to assassinate a militant from the Islamic Jihad group in a targeted air strike.

The attack happened soon after leaders of both sides sat down for important talks in Jerusalem, later described as disappointing by the Palestinians.

Targeted killings of Palestinian militants by Israel had been on hold since a truce was agreed in February.

A senior Israeli official warned such attacks could continue if Palestinian leaders do not stop the militants.

[snip]

A senior aide to Mr Sharon said such air strikes may continue during Israel's withdrawal of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip if militant attacks continue - even if it means "major collateral damage".

"Israel will act in a very resolute manner in order to prevent terror attacks and [militant] fire while the disengagement is being implemented," said Brigadier-General Eival Giladi was quoted by the paper as saying.

"If pinpoint response proves insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting danger to surrounding people."

Translation: we may have to kill your elderly, women, and children.

Shockingly, the summit failed to make any progress.

BATMAN BEGINS

Pretty darn good. What a relief. A few thoughts:

Casting Michael Caine as Alfred was a masterstroke. I enjoyed that he was given a more central role in Bruce Wayne's crimefighting project, in keeping with Frank Miller's interpretation. Not just bringing him soup down the Batcave or making excuses for him when he has to abruptly leave dinner, but serving as Bruce's adviser, confessor, and combat medic.

Gary Oldman was also quite good as Jim Gordon, and the presence of his character corrected what I think was a mistake from Tim Burton's Batman, which played up the good/evil twin nature of the Batman-Joker relationship. Batman's twin is not the insane villain, but the honest, working class, (mostly) by-the-book cop. And Batman's not the good twin.

The presence of Morgan Freeman makes any movie better.

The whole League of Shadows plotline I could've taken or left. I love me some Liam Neeson, I actually thought he would have been the best possible choice to play Batman in 1989, but the whole Bruce-Wayne-trains-to-become-a-super-badass aspect could've been better handled with a simple montage, you know, a little capoeira in Brazil, some kendo in Japan, kali in the Philippines, head-butt training by some Scottish footballers, etc. I've got nothing against ninja-monks, friends, but it just took a little too long to get to Batman whupping up in Gotham.

Katie Holmes, eh. Every time she came on screen I started hearing that blasted Paula Cole song from Dawson's Creek, which I've somehow internalized even though I've never watched more than a few minutes of that show.

One minor change that I didn't like was having the Wayne family attending an opera before the murder. In the comic they see The Mark of Zorro, which obviously has a lot more resonance for the story. True, making young Bruce's panic attack the reason they left the theater was interesting touch, but on the other hand I think having your parents shot before your eyes is more than enough trauma to induce an eventual psychotic break.

Finally, Christian Bale. I thought he was great. Haughty and entitled as Bruce Wayne, all deranged menace as Batman. It was an excellent choice by the director to only rarely and briefly give us a shot of Batman's full form, much like in Alien. The bottom line is that I think this film, both in the script and Bale's performance, really got The Batman as a myth. I'm looking forward to the next one.

Monday, June 20, 2005

DEFENDING LOOMIS

Leading up the Iraq invasion, there was a really stupid right-wing argument (obviously one of many) that went a-something like this: "You oppose the war? Saddam Hussein opposes the war too! So that makes you a Saddam supporter!"

The fact that this line of thinking was, and is, manifestly stupid and transparently dishonest did little to keep from being repeated ad nauseum by wingnuts as if it were a most clever and agile riposte. But, of course, if manifest stupidity and transparent dishonesty were any kind of barrier to political success, the Republican Party would number in the dozens and hold its meetings in Karl Rove's mom's basement.

Though liberals generally do better with avoiding manifest stupidity and transparent dishonesty, there is unfortunately a leftie version of this ridiculous argument, and it goes a-something like this: "You don't think the U.S. should immediately withdraw all troops from Iraq? Neither does George W. Bush! That makes you a chickenhawk-war supporter!"

Here's Steve Gilliard using that argument, such as it is, against Erik Loomis. Unfortunately not satisfied with merely holding an unserious and indefensible position, Gilliard goes one worse by making his argument almost entirely ad hominem, always a sure sign of intellectual insecurity.

I'm a reader of both Loomis and Gilliard. Both are usually good, thoughtful writers. I've met Loomis before, he's taken money from me in poker and I've taken money from him, so maybe I'm a little biased, but the fact is that Erik's opposition to the Iraq war is a matter of blog record, and his suggestion that maybe complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq isn't the best thing to do at the moment was made in good faith. I've never met Gilliard, and though I usually appreciate his no-holds barred style, I think his post ably demonstrates that there is a very thin line between style and schtick.

There is, of course, a vigorous debate to be had among liberals about where to go from here in Iraq, and about the implications for future military interventions. But Gilliard's rant against Loomis is unwarranted, counter-productive, and frankly embarrassing for Gilliard, who in the future should probably think twice about blogging while drunk.

IT IS COLD AS F*** UP HERE

The Old Negro Space Program. Hilarious. Going to the moon in a rocket-powered Cadillac DeVille is what takes it over into genius, though.

BACK

Lord, it was hot in New York. Hot like when you step out of the shower you're drenched in sweat before you can reach your towel hot. Reminded me why I moved to wonderful, rainy, mild Seattle.

I sure enjoyed my ham, egg, and cheese on a hard roll for breakfast, though. They just don't have hard rolls like that in Seattle. Shame. And the pizza, obviously. Had almost forgotten what real pizza tasted like. Nice, thick slice of sicilian, too. Oh yeah.

But the heat. I can still feel that oppressive heat. Nowhere to run. Nothing to do but sit in front of a fan. HOT!

It's nice to be reminded of how great the weather is here in Seattle. Love it. Good to be back.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

BACK SOON

The staff of What is the War? will be taking a brief hiatus, returning on Tuesday, June 14. Blogging may happen from remote locations, but probably not. I leave you, for now, with this quote from the Bard of Pasadena.

"I used to jog but the ice cubes kept falling out of my glass."
David Lee Roth (1954- )

NOONAN!

Okay, one last post before I skip town. I just can't resist a couple shots at Holy Dolphin Girl's latest bit of unintentional hilarity:

I don't know that Democrats understand how Republicans experience the attacks Democratic leaders make on them. I'm not sure they know how they sound to us.

In America there is a lot of political integration. Democrats and Republicans are friends. Life forces them to be if they need to be forced, which most don't. They know each other from the office, Little League, school meetings, the neighborhood. Actually America is mostly filled with people who say not "I'm a Democrat" and "I'm a Republican," but "I voted for Bush" and "I like McCain" and "I voted for Kerry." They identify by personal action more than political party, at least in my experience.

Leaving aside Noonan's flat-out, fall-over-laughing-and-then-fling-yourself-into-trafficly preposterous contention that the current level of Democratic ire would be shocking or surprising to Republicans (when it's obviously nowhere near the level of vitriolic spew which Democrats have received from Republicans over the last twenty years), what's really funny about Noonan's complaint is that both Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton, who she goes on to criticize for their anti-Republican rhetoric, could have taken their speeches straight out of Newt Gingrich's playbook. Back in 1995, GOPAC, Gingrich's political action committee, circulated a document to freshmen Republican congresspersons which instructed them in the uses of rhetoric, and gave them a list of specific terms to use.

Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.

decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, "compassion" is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor...) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage.


Did Peg "feel embarrassment" about this? Was she among the (nonexistent, of course) "legions" of Republicans who denounced Gingrich's exhortation to label Democrats "traitors"? Of course not. Why not? Well, to put it in scientific terms, because she's full of crap. I think a better line of attack for Noonan at this point would be to go after Dean and Clinton for not citing Gingrich as inspiration.

Whether it is a good thing for Dean and Clinton to be making speeches in this style is for another post.

As to Noonan's presuming to speak for what "most Americans" think or do, she is representative of that certain species of conservative media elite which, though rarely venturing out of the coastal enclaves which they make so much money insulting, would have us believe that they have their fingers on the pulse of Real America. This particular species, known as Conservitus Americanus Fullofshitae, likes to scold liberals for being "out of touch" with the kind of people "America is mostly filled with." And they know what America is mostly filled with because they see it when they wander off the interstate while travelling between speaking engagements and book signings, or when they stop for gas on their way to their vacation homes (the millions of people who live and work in the cities where Conservitus Americanus Fullofshitae resides apparently don't count as "real Americans"). David Brooks is a prime example of this, as is Bill O'Reilly and probably most of the staff of National Review.

Then there's Peggy Noonan, who made her bones writing speeches for perhaps the greatest fake populist of the twentieth century, Ronald Reagan, and now carries on that legacy by consistently apologizing for yet another Republican administration which has conclusively demonstrated that it could not care less about the problems and needs of working people. This woman is going to lecture us about what "most Americans" think? I think not.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

ROSSI, SHARKANSKY, AND STALIN

So long, Dino. Thanks for playing.

Republican Dino Rossi said yesterday he would not appeal a Chelan County judge's decision that upheld Gov. Christine Gregoire's slim victory, acknowledging that after Judge John Bridges rejected all of the GOP arguments, he had little chance of prevailing.

I enjoyed this story, too.

After spending millions of dollars, months on investigations and two weeks in trial, the net result for the Republicans yesterday was that Dino Rossi lost four votes from his total, pushing Gov. Christine Gregoire's victory margin to 133 in what is still the closest governor's race in the nation's history.

Finally, let's all take a moment, shall we, to laugh at poor Stefan?

Will Judge Bridges side with common sense and rule that election officials can't just keep counting ballots again and again and get different numbers every time without also showing that every ballot has a voter and every voter a ballot? Or will he side with the Democrats and Josef Stalin and rule that he who counts the votes makes the rules and doesn't have to obey any laws?

We now know the answer to that question.

Coming a little more than a week after Irene Khan's unfortunate "Guantanamo has become the gulag our times" comment, Sharkansky deserves thanks for reminding us that when it comes to preposterous political hyperbole, conservatives really know how to stay several laps ahead.

In sympathy, people do tend to say regretful, stunningly absurd things when the cause for which they've defiantly crusaded for the previous six months collapses like a bad souffle.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

LGM

I'll be guest blogging over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money for a few days. Come on over and check it out.