Saturday, November 29, 2003

Go forth and blog no more

No, I'm not dead yet. I've been getting ready for a month-long trip to Australia and New Zealand. Needless to say, blogging will continue to be light until I return in January (not that I seem to have a huge cadre of regular readers clamoring for material, but I thought I'd post this just in case anyone was wondering what has become of me).

So I wish a happy, prosperous, and peaceful new year to all. See you in '04.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Where are the Republicans when you need them?

An editorial in the Sacramento Bee (a great paper, by the way) points out that the Republican party has abrogated its traditional position of fiscal conservatism. The Democrats are the tax-and-spend party, and now the Republicans are the borrow-and-spend party.

"On the evidence of the expensive energy and Medicare prescription drug bills that Republicans have written and are poised, with President Bush's enthusiastic support, to push through Congress, the Republican Party has gone through the political equivalent of a sex change operation. Donning the garb of the Democrats they once berated, Republicans have become the party of spend now, pay someday."

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Faith in science

I've been having a very interesting email exchange with a self-professed Christian about various theological and philosophical issues, so when my wife discovered an odd message on our answering machine yesterday I briefly entertained the possibility that this was a Sign from God. The message was garbled and barely understandable, but still unmistakably my voice. Trick is, I was absolutely 100% sure that I hadn't left any messages on the machine.

What is interesting is that even before I figured out what had happened I was very confident that I would figure it out despite the fact that I was seeing with my own eyes (or at least hearing with my own ears) a situation that on its face had no logical explanation. I have faith in science. I believe in science even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

The difference between my faith and religious faith, I think, is that my faith in science is only temporary. Sooner or later a logical explanation has to present itself. If I am ever faced with a situation that stubbornly resists all attempts at a logical or scientific explanation then I might discard my faith in science. But so far nothing has even come close, not even my own voice on an answering machine with no memory of my having put it there.

The crucial clues to figure out the puzzle turned out to be these:

1. Not only was the message garbled, but it was also very long, about ten minutes, most of which was just silence.

2. My wife noted that she hadn't heard the phone ring, and indeed, she thought the ringer was broken. It wasn't.

3. The answering machine is mounted on the wall above a small counter in the kitchen where we keep our cat's food dish.

(Getting good, isn't it?)

4. The answering machine keeps a time stamp, and the message was recorded at about the time I left for work.

So what happened was that our cat somehow managed to push the "memo record" button on the machine and record me saying goodbye to my wife as I left for work that day. It took about half an hour to figure this out. It was an interesting half hour.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

What's wrong with this war?

One of the things that supporters of the war in Iraq don't seem to realize is that what wrong with war and what's wrong with this war are not the same thing. Because they don't realize this they often make the mistake of assuming that people who oppose this war oppose all war. They then proceed to knock down this straw man by arguing that not fighting a war can result in more suffering than fighting one, often pointing to World War II to bolster their case.

That this is a mistake is easily seen by observing that support for the war in Afghanistan was vastly greater than support for the war in Iraq, so there must be significant numbers of people out there who supported the Afghan war but do not support the Iraq war. I am one such person. I am not so much against war as I am against this war. There are times when it is necessary to go to war. World War II after the German invasion of Poland was one of those times. Afghanistan was not so clear-cut, but I still came down on the side of invading at the time, though I am not in retrospect certain that my position was driven by principle so much as emotion and expediency. I can remember bursting into a spontaneous cheer when George Bush on the evening of September 11, 2001 said, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." I remember being very worried about Afghanistan spinning out of control, and being very impressed when it didn't. If we hadn't gotten distracted in Iraq I might be a George Bush supporter today. But we did, so I'm not.

When it comes to Iraq it's just clear as day that we didn't have any business being there this time. Yes, Saddam was a bad man (probably still is). Yes, that is a significant understatement. No, that does not make it right for us to start a war to get rid of him. If it did, why is there no talk of invading North Korea to depose Kim Jong Il? It can't be because Kim isn't a bad man; we know he is. He's killed more of his own people than Saddam ever did. He is much closer to having nuclear weapons than Saddam ever was. He is much closer to having the means of delivering those weapons to our territory than Saddam could ever hope to be. And he has made overt threats against us. Saddam never did. The idea that we invaded Iraq on principle is untenable in light of our spineless mamby-pambying on Pyongyang. Standing on principle only when it's convenient is not standing on principle, it's demagoguery.

We did not invade Iraq because it was the right thing to do, we invaded Iraq because we could. We invaded it not on principle but on expedience. And now we find what should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all George Bush whose own father prophesied it ten years before, that occupying Iraq isn't very expedient after all.

The Right, of course, is quick to raise the specter of Adolf Hitler. The problem is that they only have this specter to raise because Neville Chamberlain (and Stanley Baldwin before him) gave Hitler the opportunity to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Chamberlain had been wrong. The difference between Iraq and Germany is not the difference between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, it's the difference between 1933 and 1939. Imagine what the world might be like if Stanley Baldwin had launched a successful pre-emptive invasion of Germany in 1933, before there were any death camps, before the ghettos, before the invasion of Poland, before the Anschluss. At best we would not remember Adolf Hitler today not as the very personification of evil, but rather as a democratically elected leader who was deposed by force. At worst we would remember Baldwin as the villain who started World War II for no good reason.

The reason we had moral authority in World War II was precisely because we waited until Hitler demonstrated himself to be an actual threat. That's the reason we had moral authority in the first Gulf War too. We ceded our moral authority the day George Bush the elder failed to support the popular uprising against Saddam that happened in the wake of that war and at his behest. Thousands of Iraqis rose up to fight for their freedom and were left dangling in breeze by an indifferent Bush administration.

Porphyrogenitus, whose blog entry I cited earlier, writes that we have a blood debt to the Iraqis. That is true. But we cannot pay it off by invading and occupying their country, and we certainly can't pay it off by exhibiting contempt for them in the process. If we're serious about paying off this debt, then getting on our hands and knees and begging them to forgive us for betraying them ten years ago would be a good start.

But of course, we won't do that. because this war isn't about principle, and never was.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

And they know this how?

General John Abizaid says there are no more than 5,000 Iraqis fighting the U.S..

I wonder how he knows that in light of the fact that U.S. intelligence has a less than stellar track record when it comes to figuring out what's what in Iraq.

Or maybe he (or someone) just pulled a number out of a hat to help put a brave face on things?

Nah, they'd never do that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Yeah, right.

Yasser Arafat has turned over a new leaf.

"Arafat Urges an End to Violence as He Swears In New Government"

And if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.

Spawning a new cycle of violence

I don't like linking to the LA Times because they aren't permalinks, but this time the Times seems to have an exclusive.

U.S. Military Responding More Fiercely to Iraqi Guerrilla Strikes

By John Daniszewski and Patrick J. McDonnell, Times Staff Writers

MAMUDIYAH, Iraq — U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police arrived at the sprawling three-family farmhouse just after 4 p.m. with orders for the 15 or so people still living there: Grab what you can in the next 30 minutes, and then leave. Your house is about to be bombed.

And so begins another endless cycle of violence just like the one between Israel and Palestine. The locals begin to resent an occupation and fight back in the only way they can. The occupier responds with disproportionate force and without due process, thus breeding more hatred and resentment.

There was a time about 230 years ago when we Americans were on the other side of this equation. The perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party were, by the standards of their day, terrorists. How ironic that the occupier in that case was also named George, and how fortunate that he did not have B1's at his disposal.

Texas justice rides again

Robert Durst has been acquitted of murder despite the fact that he confessed. The crime and the trial occurred in Texas.

Can anyone really believe that Durst would have gotten off if he had been a poor black man instead of a rich white one?

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

It means "fuck you" in Arabic

This story appears on MSNBC, but I read it in Newsweek. Seems the local bombers in Iraq paint warnings on the roads that only the locals can read because they are in Arabic. But the Americans are learning the local customs:

"The Americans are leaning the universal language of insult. They catch on now when Iraqis in the seething Sunni Triangle flash them a backhanded V sign, which conveys roughly the same message as an extended middle finger back in the States. When Americans wish to demonstrate their contempt to the locals, they point to the soles of their feet, deeply offensive to Iraqis."

Whoa. Hold on there. Wind that back. "When Americans wish to demonstrate their conempt to the locals..."? Excuse me? In case you'd forgotten, we invaded them, not the other way around. And we wonder why the world hates us? The world hates us because we're a bunch of self-righteous assholes whose proudest achievement in mastering the local customs of a country that we have invaded is learning how to express our contempt for them! Unbelievable! I am at an utter loss to express how outraged I am. (I'm not sure what outrages me more, that this is happening, or that no one seems to be outraged about it.) I am ashamed to be an American today. On Veterans Day. I think I'm going to be sick.

The market knows...

... that the economic good news from the third quarter is probably bogus.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Republican hypocrisy

The main reason I loathe the Republicans so much is not because I don't believe in what they stand for. I do. If the Republicans actually followed their rhetoric I might be a Republican myself. But they don't.

The Republicans say they stand for fiscal conservatism, but every time there's a Republican in the White House the budget deficit goes up. Every time there's a Democrat in the White House the deficit goes down. It's really quite striking how good the correlation is. Take a look a the graph on this page. In 1980, Jimmy Carter lost the White House to Ronald Reagan. The budget deficit immedately shot up and remained high through the first Bush administration. Then in 1992 Bill Clinton took over and the deficit went down every single year for eight straight years. Then in 2000 Dubya took over and in three short years drove the budget back into deficit by amounts that dwarfed any of his predecessors. (Some say that Clinton's deficits went down because he had a Republican Congress and that Reagan's and Bush's went up because they had a Democratic Congress, but the last three years refutes that theory, to say nothing of the fact that deficits were going down during the first two years of the Clinton administration, when Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress.)

The Republicans say they stand for individual freedom and responsibility, but then they want to outlaw abortion and doctor assisted suicide (to say nothing of allowing the state to force-feed people in a persistent vegitative state against the wishes of their immedaite family). They say they stand for Democracy, but then they send John Ashcroft to Oregon to overturn a popular initiative permitting doctor assisted suicide that was passed not once but twice, and to California to overturn a popular initiative permitting the medical use of marijuana. The Republicans say they stand for Democracy, but in their actions they continually reveal their utter contempt for it.

The Republicans say they stand for small government, but then they pass the Patriot Act, and bring us closer to being a totalitarian state than at any time in our history.

The Republicans, at least as represented by their current leadership, are, in short, hypocrites, idealogical wolves in conservative sheep's clothing. This is not to say that the Democrats are saints; they aren't. I could probably write a good rant about them too, but they are not at the moment a clear and present danger to freedom and democracy. The Republicans are.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Plus ca change...

What I found most striking about the image of George Bush signing the ban on late-term abortion is that there is not a single woman to be seen. (Not a single non-white person either.) The reason I find it striking is because the Bush administration generally sets new standards for weaseling (What? That "Mission Accomplished" banner was put up without your approval? You can't find the person who leaked the name of that CIA agent? Hmmm...) but here, in a rare moment of candor, however subtle, they show their true colors.

Make money fast!

Here's a new way to make a quarter of a million dollars.

1. Write a Windows virus and release it into the wild.

2. Plant the source code on someone else's machine. (If you're smart enough to write a successful virus you are surely smart enough to be able to do this.)

3. Call Microsoft

Another one bites the dust

Microsoft has set its sights on yet another company. Time to sell your Macromedia stock.

Another reason to vote Democratic

Democrats have better taste in software than Republicans.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Read between the lines of this story and see how the Turks have played the Bush administration like a cheap accordion.

It went like this:

1. Washington offered $8.5 billion worth of loans on "attractive terms" (those are scare-quotes, not real quotes) in exchange for Turkish "cooperation" in Iraq for one year.

2. The Turkish parliament voted to "offer" to send troops to Iraq.

3. Subsequent (and predictable) objections from the Iraqis and concommitant foot-dragging by the Turks has delayed the deployment of those troops almost certainly for the duration of the on-year "commitment".

Bottom line: the Turks got our money and we got nothing in return.

P.T. Barnum would be so proud.

Monday, November 03, 2003

A response to Chris Hall

Blogspeak, the service I use for my blog comments, seems to be down so I'll reply to this in a full-fledged post.

Chris Hall writes in a comment on my "Keep off the Grass" post:

If a suicide bomber, say, gets on an airplane,
slashes the stewardesses throats, kills the pilots and flies the plane into a
building (just hypothetical, mind you), well, he's dead. so, would you say
\"Hello! You can't hunt them down. They're already dead.\" ? Or would you
recognize that that fellow is part of an organization, and then go after the

Well, both actually. The point of that post was not so much that invading Iraq was wrong (I think it was, but that's another story) as that it was done ineptly and is now spinning very badly out of control, and that I find George Bush's attempts to rationalize the situation comical.

there is ironclad proof of Saddam/terrorist connections

Really? Where?

What do you suggest?

Vote for Howard Dean.

Seriously though, I believe that the only long-term solution to terrorism is to create a world where no one wants to be a terrorist because everyone thinks they have more to lose than to gain by becoming one. Force can help a little in the short term, but is ultimately doomed to fail. Because of that, force must be used with great discretion, much like antibiotics. If used indiscriminatly both lose their effectiveness and ultimately make the situation worse.

Another thing that I suggest is to keep things in perspective. The destruction of 9/11, horrific as it was, is still just a blip in the grand and glorious scheme of things. More people die in car crashes every month than were killed in the WTC attacks, but no one bats an eye. It's a price we're willing to pay for the freedom that comes with being able to drive. I didn't suffer any personal loss on 9/11 so it's not my place to speak for those who did, but I've said this before and I'll say it again: if, God forbid, I am ever the victim of a terrorist attack I hope no one will use that as an excuse to wage war or restrict civil liberties. I hope instead that they will honor my memory by saying that I paid the price of freedom. It is a price that I would gladly pay.