Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A guy writing in Microsoft-owned Slate tells people to abandon Internet Explorer for Mozilla. What a Scob!
You may have heard frustrated anti-Bush types disgustedly talk about how Bush and his Republican stooges are going to travel down to Ground Zero during the convention so they can shamelessly exploit Sept. 11. It turns out that Bush will not visit Ground Zero, after all.
I have to say, although I'm generally not one to question the veracity of such claims, the Al Qaeda manual Iraq of Jihad: Hopes and Dangers seems sort of, well, suspect.

Highlights include:
1. A strategy of targeting Spain first, Spain being the "weak link." "We consider that the Spanish government cannot suffer more than two to three strikes before pulling out (of Iraq) under pressure from its own people," is a quote. Two or three? They sure underestimated themselves.

2. It also allegedly says, "They should not carry out any operation targeting the daily life of the Iraqi people or its future, such as the basic services or education, except for oil which should not be exploited under occupation." If even Al Qaeda doesn't condone attacking civilian targets then the fuckers actually doing that stuff must be really bad!

3. Finally, the U.S. plan would be "the first step toward the eradication of hardline Islam in the entire world." Interesting that they seem to differentiate the moderate version with something more "hardline." I don't think anyone would disagree in substance with that take.
The whole thing comes across as almost too pat, though -- similar to Zarqawi's "This is the democracy" statement in that other letter. We'll see, I guess.
Futhermore, I can believe this Safiristic fuel for the fire actually does come from Republo-nihilist oppo attack dogs, since it serves to make other more realistic candidates look like a letdown by comparison. But, what if it's true?
THIS . . .
This seems less likely after you read politically intelligent quotes like what's in this, all of which will makes more acute the feeling of this.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Think you know what's going on in Iraq? Think again! (The piece is actually interesting, but I wanted to point out that I'm pretty certain I went to grade school with the Post reporter in question; I am totally jealous of him even in spite of his shoddy reporting!)
We interrupt your steady diet of unrestrained and ill-conceived right-wing idiocy to note something important about search engines.

I've noticed that in searching for pages, Google does not read "alt text," or the text embedded within pictures and graphics. Ask Jeeves, on the other hand, does! This makes Jeeves a more complete search, in my opinion. It also made me wonder if I should break my Google habit in favor of the stupidly named Jeeves . . .

If anyone knows of other search engines' strengths and deficiencies, let me know . . .
Not only is Michael Moore a bad man for pre-empting Bruno and the Professor but also because he manipulated Moveon.org's membership in order to boost his box office take -- and therefore stay in the news after the weekend. The shameful truth is here!

UPDATE: Hey, he really is a bad man! A bad man who wrote and directed Canadian Bacon!
I know it's anathema to compare two movies like this, but whatever. Gunner Palace sounds about fifty times more interesting than you know what.

Monday, June 28, 2004

I've thought for a while that Juan Cole is a gigantic pain in the ass, and although he comes off as fairly balanced when he's on PBS's News Hour, his blog is often difficult to get through. That's why it's a joy to read this.
IF . . .
If you have a strong stomach for bullshit, compare this post with this post. I don't believe either one of them, actually -- they're obviously both shills for competing agencies. As with most things, let your understanding of what's real accrete -- slowly, over time and with multiple sources.
If you were inclined to argue that the alleged push to unseal John Kerry's divorce records is part of a Drudge-like Republican oppo-attack, please think again.

Do you really think Republicans would want to be on the losing end of a Ryan Scenario (named for disgraced Illinois Republican ex-Senatorial candidate Jack Ryan, who dropped out after sordid details from his sealed divorce papers were released to the public), where a weak candidate is pushed off the ticket story so that a stronger candidate can emerge?
The Times reports that Fahrenheit 911 is now the "highest-grossing documentary of all time," which begs the question: Is it really a documentary? Glorified op-ed ("It is an op-ed piece. It's my opinion about the last four years of the Bush Administration and that is what I call it. I am not trying to pretend that this is some sort of fair and balanced work of journalism.") or satire ("First of all, it’s satire.") -- fine. But a documentary?

And I got the sense, anecdotally, that many people saw it because it was the thing to see. The last time I noticed this was during the anti-war marches in March 2003 when people asked each other whether they were going, as if it were a social event and not a major movement with strident popular backing. I wonder if it's the same thing with the film . . .
Places to look for interpretations of what went down: Intel Dump, Volokh Conspiracy, and SCOTUSBlog.
An unbelievable string of stories are unfolding this morning, giving folks with internet radio programs ample material for discussion:
1. The Supreme Court has tentatively upheld the government's right to detain of American citizen Yaser Esam Hamdi, provided such detainees have their day in court.

2. The handover of power to Iraqis has been completed -- two days early, ostensibly to prevent possible terror attacks from overshadowing, or undermining, the handover.

3. Has world-class thug Abu Musab al-Zarqawi been arrested? Is the military playing down reports in order to extract information from him? Or is the story disinformation designed to throw terrorists for a loop?

4. The Canadian elections (seriously!)
Too much, too quickly!
In an op-ed encouraging Saudi Arabia to reform, the New York Times notes, "Encouragingly, the overwhelming majority of Saudis rejected Mr. bin Laden's political leadership and terrorist tactics."

Osama bin Laden's "political leadership?" They're kidding, right? This has got to be some kind of op-ed mumbo jumbo error.
The Saudi amnesty offer is working:
The most senior member of al Qaeda so far has turned himself in to Saudi authorities, Saudi sources say.

Othman Al-Omari, number 21 on Saudi Arabia's most wanted list of 26, accepted King Fahd's offer of amnesty, which was made last week, according to Saudi sources Monday.

Al-Omari, who turned himself in on Sunday night, was a business partner of Shaban Al Shihri -- the first al Qaeda member to accept the offer when he turned himself in Friday.
Why do I feel somehow skeptical of what's going on here?

Friday, June 25, 2004

The comments expressed herein in no way pain me. For me, supporting Bush has always been more of a matter of whether intellectually I could do it. So in the spirit of the President, I say, "Bring it on!"

Now if Al Gore keeps equating conservative pundits to Brownshirt Nazis, that could change, but for the time being, I can't say that either candidate would be so terrible for the country.
The Washington Post actually spelled out which F-word Cheney used in his exchange with Senator Leahy! To paraphrase Bono, that's fucking brilliant!
Abu Zarqawi should be blown to smithereens, Bugs Bunny style, smashed like a tiny insect or whatnot -- it appears that the military is trying as hard as they can to accomplish that. In fact, it's the third airstrike in Fallujah this week to destroy safehouses linked to his network. That's actually big news! Were it not for everything else going on, it probably would have been big news, too.

The frustrating thing for me is the lack of details -- something very big is happening there and I want to know what. Only five days to the handover.

On another note, the interim Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan was on Nightline last night and he sounded good -- confident that the insurgency would peter out soon. We'll see after next week, of course. For the time being, though, I just want to say that it seems weird that even smart guys like Kenneth Pollack seem to be jumping the gun by pronouncing it all a dismal failure. I think we'll know when it's a dismal failure, believe me!
Examples of Al Qaeda Fatigue and New Nihilism below notwithstanding, when you read something like this you realize that the imminent arrival of the New Dark Age is overblown. There are many people out there who are not succumbing to the New Nihilism; that they're participating in the war effort should be reassuring to everyone.
Is this perhaps the reason Dick Cheney singled out the New York Times the other day over their "Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Ties" headline? Note in particular:
Contacts between Iraqi intelligence agents and Osama bin Laden when he was in Sudan in the mid-1990's were part of a broad effort by Baghdad to work with organizations opposing the Saudi ruling family, according to a newly disclosed document obtained by the Americans in Iraq. . . . The new document, which appears to have circulated only since April, was provided to The New York Times several weeks ago, before the commission's report was released.
Could be . . .
A similar E-mail supposedly from Michael Moore has been floating around as well. Titled "A Little Perspective," Moore notes that the figures he puts forward represent "nail in the Iraq War's coffin for any sane, thinking individual, regardless of their political stripe."

Did he actually write it? Yes and no. It comes from a message to his listserve from September 15, 2003, just after Bush proposed an additional $87 billion towards the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. So he actually sent it, but as he makes clear, he took it from the TomPaine.com site, which used figures from the Center for American Progress.

The original seems to have been written on September 11, 2003 and Moore's name seems to have been attached to subsequent forwarded E-mails, making it look like he wrote it. Very Genesis-like, if you ask me!
Actually, it's more like the authorship of the Book of Genesis, where ideological markers are folded in along the way.

According to some, the most likely place the highly forwarded "I am a Bad American" originated is the FreeRepublic.com website -- back in September 2000! It was originally titled "I am a Bad Republican" and if you read it, it is a lot more coherent and less insane than what it eventually morphed into! (In fact, it seems to be more about Libertarian Republicans than about Political Correctness or anything else.)

For example, the opening line in this later version reads "I like big cars, big guns, and big tits."

The possibly original FreeRepublic.com version, on the other hand, begins, "I like big cars, big cigars and naturally big racks." Kind of a different thing . . .

Meanwhile, the version attributed to Andy Rooney starts with the tame-by-comparison "I like big cars, big boats, big motorcycles, big houses and big campfires." Rooney always seemed like more of an ass man anyway.

Read several and see how the original text becomes more ideologically strident and, not surprisingly, a lot less funny.
On a day when Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi is blamed for causing over 100 deaths and nearly 400 injuries his wife is quoted as saying, "There’s no way that my husband could be a terrorist. He is friendly and a good man.”

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I don't intend to see it for the same reason I never read Rush Limbaugh's books. Just as "The Way Things Ought to Be" is hardly a reasoned political treatise, Moore's movie is hardly a documentary. They're both pornography (the classic definition), intended to excite and arouse.

And just as Rush's book did little to unseat Clinton, I have to assume Moore's movie will likewise do little. Ditto for Al Gore's ravings. Both lack seriousness, and on a day with horrendous violence in both Iraq and Turkey, it seems obscene to be so focused on it.
Fahrenheit 911 basically epitomizes Al Qaeda Fatigue. I won't dignify it by calling it a documentary; even Michael Moore doesn't portray it as one.

As we pass from the era of Al Qaeda Fatigue into the era of New Nihilism, artifacts like this will be simply forgotten, like Rush Limbaugh's books, or seen as a quaint relic of a bygone era.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Saudi Arabia is offering amnesty to terrorists who turn themselves in:
Saudi Arabia announced a limited amnesty Wednesday for Muslim militants who surrender in the next month, saying they will not face the death penalty and will only be prosecuted if they committed acts that hurt others.
This is a country that beheads criminals in its public squares -- and I'm not really sure suspects there necessarily get a Johnnie Cochran-caliber defense . . . is this really supposed to work? I guess if not, then no one can complain they weren't warned. Assuming all-out revolution doesn't take down the royal family, I wonder if Fareed Zakaria will be right in the end.
The idea, perhaps, is that the seizure of the British boats and troops was intended as a display of muscle on the part of the hardliners in Iran:
For some hard-liners, that meant the near crisis held hope of a confrontation. One newspaper Wednesday morning appeared ready to relish a diplomatic tussle, when it wrote of a British "conspiracy" to export violence from Iraq to Iran.

"The hard-liners are trying to assert themselves, and say it is not without any cost to push Iran around," says the veteran analyst. That message is an "angry reaction" toward the West, with the "assumption that the Europeans are much closer to the US now, so it's no use to distinguish between them."
The images of blindfolded British troops reminds one of the 1979 hostage crisis, making this a media event on par with the beheadings in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Other examples of New Nihilism include but are not limited to:

1) John Kerry's "stability can take several different forms" argument for what we should look for in Iraq; is this like saying that not everyone is cut out to go to college?

2) Apologies for torture

3) Pat Buchanan

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

How does one feel less dirty after hearing about Anonymous' suggestions on avoiding a new Dark Age? How does one avoid sliding into an ideology of New Nihilism?

Fareed Zakaria's pieces on Saudi Arabia are a good place to start.

Zakaria touches on the power grab taking place in Saudi Arabia between the disputed heirs of ailing King Fahd. Worries about civil war, he suggests, are overblown:
To reverse course, Saudi Arabia needs a real government. Crown Prince Abdullah is a decent man, honest by the standards of the family, and appears to want to modernize his country. And yet he cannot put a stop order on a 32-year-old prince's checks. The crown prince's brothers have power bases independent of him. Some of them support the very religious bigots Abdullah is now fighting. That does not spell civil war, as some have suggested. But it does make for ineffective, incompetent government. A succession of men in their late 70s simply cannot provide Saudi Arabia with the leadership it needs. And a governmental structure of fiefdoms, secret accounts and slush funds cannot win the support of its people. A better model exists within the kingdom: the Saudi minister of oil has never been a royal, and is always chosen for his competence. The country should be run like the one thing that works in it—the oil industry.
The good news is that Zakaria thinks at least the terrorist threat will be dealt with:
After years of inaction and obfuscation, the regime is beginning to move forcefully. Saudi officials believe that the killing of Abdelaziz al-Muqrin, the leader of the group that murdered Johnson, will stop much of the domestic terror. "His group, with 50 to 60 members, was the one that planned almost all recent attacks," said one official. "It's now leaderless." The killing of Muqrin and three other wanted militants, this official argues, is the culmination of months of similar efforts. "It is because the regime has begun fighting these terrorists that they have been lashing out in response," he said. Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi government consultant, claims that the kingdom's security spending is up 50 percent over the past two years, to $5.5 billion
The New Nihilist can live with that.

Less satisfying are prospects for reform:
I want to be hopeful—and there are some hopeful signs. But I fear that governments change when they have to. Saudi Arabia will probably weather this storm and beat back the terrorists. The oil money will buy off other critics for at least another decade or two. The royal system will muddle along. But without wrenching change, Saudi Arabia will not achieve the promise of genuine modernization that its liberals and reformers hope for. The young Saudi who lamented the lack of role models ended our conversation poignantly: "Perhaps history will call us the country that could have been."
Again, the New Nihilist can live with such an outcome. Not quite scorched earth, but not exactly noble either.
Niall Ferguson warns us of "a new Dark Age of waning empires and religious fanaticism; of endemic rapine in the world's no-go zones; of economic stagnation and a retreat by civilization into a few fortified enclaves":
Waning empires. Religious revivals. Incipient anarchy. A coming retreat into fortified cities. These are the Dark Age experiences that a world without a hyperpower might find itself reliving. The trouble is, of course, that this Dark Age would be an altogether more dangerous one than the one of the ninth century. For the world is roughly 25 times more populous, so that friction between the world's "tribes" is bound to be greater. Technology has transformed production; now societies depend not merely on freshwater and the harvest but also on supplies of mineral oil that are known to be finite. Technology has changed destruction, too: Now it is possible not just to sack a city, but to obliterate it.
And is it true that "Sooner or later Liberals and Conservatives must form a coalition of national unity to face the barbarian horde as one"? Or are we destined to bicker over the details?
There, I said it. It's true.

I often say that Ann Coulter is conservative porn and Michael Moore is liberal porn, but I'm kind of beginning to think that Moore is the bigger blowhard. I just don't get the sense that Coulter walks around with as inflated a sense of herself as Moore does. Does he actually believe that Fahrenheit 911 is sort of a filmic Madrid? I think he does!
Christopher Hitchens is keeping Chris Lehane busy:
If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq. And Iraq itself would still be the personal property of a psychopathic crime family, bargaining covertly with the slave state of North Korea for WMD. You might hope that a retrospective awareness of this kind would induce a little modesty. To the contrary, it is employed to pump air into one of the great sagging blimps of our sorry, mediocre, celeb-rotten culture. Rock the vote, indeed.
I kinda figured I wouldn't be seeing Fahrenheit 911 anyway . . .

Monday, June 21, 2004

WILL . . .
Will Iran's seizure of three British Navy vessels turn out to be a silly little diplomatic gaffe or the start of something more sinister?
WILL . . .
Will The Professor break his blog hiatus and comment on today's launch of a privately financed manned spacecraft?
WILL . . .
Will Anonymous make much of a dent with charming stuff like what you read here? See in particular: "To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing . . ."

He/she may be correct, cynical as it sounds, but if he/she is a disgruntled CIA person, and backing a State/CIA coup d'etat with Kerry at the helm, I'm not exactly sure how much support we'll see from the man on the street.
Why do I say this? How else to explain Bob Herbert's seemingly out of left field column regarding tort reform? (Note also the approving quote he pulls out asking -- ironically -- why tort reform "is even on the national agenda" -- I didn't really realize it was, but maybe I don't pay that much attention to things in general.)

Columns like this -- which amounts to an apology for trial lawyers -- show where so-called progressive thought cleaves with so-called conservative thought. In what universe does it follow that the trial lawyer lobby automatically leans liberal except in the outdated laws of Democratic constituencies? Is there any real ideological or philosophical reason Democrats pander to trial attorneys?

If you are eager to see this kind of pandering, feel free -- I think it's a large reason why people remain uninterested in voting.
UPI reports that "[t]he commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks has received new information indicating that a senior officer in an elite unit of the security services of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein may have been a member of al-Qaida involved in the planning of the suicide hijackings, panel members said Sunday."
Mickey Kaus posits the idea that terrorists are the undecided swing voters. Funny.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Michelle Cottle wonders why hypocrisy bothers liberals but not conservatives. I have an idea that is a little oblique, so, as usual, bear with me, but it's really rather kind of simple: It seems like there are many people who start out as liberals but whose beliefs over time evolve into something a little more conservative. If that's true then obviously these same people aren't too troubled by hypocrisy.

James Lileks -- who absolutely fits this ex-liberal mold -- said it best, I think:
That’s one of the reasons I like living here. When you confront the government, you’re not always met with a glacial wall of indifference. Maybe I’m just on a lucky streak - the last several times I’ve had to deal with anyone behind a desk, be it the rental car agency, the car-repair garage, the mortgage closer, various receptionists and clerks, I’ve been treated with brisk friendly efficiency. Even the gas station clerk who gave me the Powerball ticket said “good luck!” Yes, yes, it’s all a mask, a facade, a way of hiding the deep & malignant parochialism and passive-aggressiveness that lurks at the heart of the Minnesota soul, but I’ll take a cheerful civic lie over bald flat prominent disinterest any time. They’re necessary falsehoods, and civilization depends on them. Who believes that hypocrisy is somehow the greatest sin of all? Adolescents. Which ought to tell you something. [Emphasis mine.]
Draw your own conclusions, of course . . .
We watched the documentary about the Weather Underground recently and it put a lot of things in perspective for me.

The big question is how and why a group of educated middle- or upper-middle class kids came to the conclusion that "bringing the war home" through violence was an appropriate response to the Vietnam War. Brian Flanagan, who was the most contrite of the bunch, at one point explains that the war made them crazy, that they weren't seeing tangible results from their protests and that violence seemed the logical next step.

For me, hearing that and watching the contempory footage put in context -- to a certain extent -- how Al Qaeda is able to turn educated, upper-middle class people into brutal killers.

Watching the documentary, the only difference was that for the group, a botched bomb-making experiment led them away from violence against innocent people. In this case, three members were killed in their Greenwich Village townhouse while preparing a bomb that was to be used at a dance at New Jersey's Fort Dix military base. Just to be clear, had the three succeeded, they would have killed many military personnel. Flanagan in particular noted that that was a turning point for the organization; they were successful in causing a lot of damage in subsequent months, but no one was killed.

I could easily see how by mixing in a theocratic justification and a firm sense of the other (e.g., Westerners, Christians, etc.), one could get their mind around massacring innocents.

The big question -- again -- is to what end. The Weather Underground had a sort of goal -- stopping the war. Beyond that, of course, it got hazy -- they supported the usual leftist goals, but for the most part, the organization ceased to be relevant once the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam.

It seemed like the interviews took place before Sept. 11 -- it would have been very interesting to see how the group responded to that kind of terrorism. Flanagan was sheepish enough talking about the first World Trade Center attack and Oklahoma City. I feel like he probably sees the danger of Al Qaeda converts.

This Guardian article is the best of the press from the Weather Underground documentary which I've read so far. You really get a sense of how moral righteousness can twist one's logic. For kicks, read this as well -- their general sympathy for the ELF/ALF of today seems awfully dangerous. Like I said, it's worth seeing if only to visualize what's truly scary about Al Qaeda. Watch it and see if you can draw a line -- what's inescapable in my mind is how grey the supposedly black-white distinctions can be. Truly frightening stuff.
You sort of knew it could end this way, but it's obviously upsetting once it happens. The situation in Saudi Arabia is bad, bad, bad and it's unclear how it's supposed to get better -- it almost looks as if Al Qaeda has the entire country held hostage. And I don't think it's a stretch to say that there's a real danger of the entire world economy being held hostage as well. The question is To what end?
I think I've cracked the code . . . bear with me here for a second.

It finally occurred to me what all this talk about Kerry's Vice Presidential pick is like -- your single friend who you've been desperately trying to match up with someone. Isn't it true that while you mix and match potential mates for the person, he or she always ends up becoming prettier, smarter or more desirable the more you mix and match? I've noticed this, for sure!

Of course, once the match is made, the ex-single friend basically gets cut down to a realistic size and the mystique disappears.

In short, the longer they stretch this out, the more desirable Kerry appears. So, here's a quick superfluous prediction: as long as it's not a John McCain or even a Joe Lieberman, Kerry's numbers will slide back down in the period after the announcement and before the Democratic Convention . . . and I apologize in advance if Dick Morris or James Carville already explained this somewhere.

On another note, check out this puff paragraph in the Post article from above:
Kerry told American Urban Radio Networks on Thursday that a prerequisite is "somebody who has the ability to fill in as president if something terrible were to happen." Most presidential candidates say this, but Kerry seems unusually sensitive to that possibility, according to several people who have talked to him. Kerry is a student of history and an ardent fan of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated. Kerry also saw death up close in the Vietnam War, and he faced prostate cancer in 2003. [Emphasis added.]
Just wanted to point that out to everyone because, well, it's funny -- I can just picture Kerry's advisers pressing this detail . . .

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Is it true? Gephardt will be Kerry's choice? I understand why, but come on -- Gephardt is supposed to energize Kerry's campaign?

Of course, seeing that expectations for Kerry's VP pick are so high -- people are still talking about McCain! -- maybe Kerry needs to define down expectations. And what better way to do that than leak Gephardt's name?
The big news that the news is focused on is the revelation that Iraq had no link to Al Qaeda:
The staff of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks sharply contradicted one of President Bush's central justifications for the Iraq war, reporting on Wednesday that there did not appear to have been a "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
Well, perhaps not on Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. in particular, but no matter.

Still, Andrew McCarthy writes again why this falls short.

I still think it's a little CYA on the part of the Administration -- as many have said before, if Iraq and Al Qaeda collaborated, it appears that Iran -- at the most senior levels -- did as well. Not to mention Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But it's worth noting that Bush appears to be pushing back on this point:
"There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida," Bush insisted following a meeting with his Cabinet at the White House.

"This administration never said that the 9-11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaida," he said.

"We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, for example, Iraqi intelligence agents met with (Osama) bin Laden, the head of al-Qaida in the Sudan."
It's all somewhat academic at this point, but I suppose we'll see where this all shakes out.
If I may, I'd like to take a minute to complain about New York State's Bottle Return Law. Bottle deposits, in case you don't know, are a small sum -- five or ten cents -- at the time of purchase, to be refunded when one returns the bottle to the point of purchase.

It's all well and good if one, say, has a car -- you go try returning four cases of beer bottles to some bodega ten blocks over! Or, if you get your groceries online, then there is basically no way to return the bottles. Which makes the smug apologies for bottle deposits all the more galling; I don't have a problem recycling -- it's not a problem to sort recyclables if they'd pick up the fucking things. Just don't penalize me because I can't return the bottles.

The details of the New York State Law make it particularly annoying -- instead of the state getting the money from unreturned bottles, the unclaimed deposit goes back to the distributors. So in this respect I'd like to amend what I just wrote -- I don't mind a bottle deposit so much as long as the unclaimed deposit at least goes back to the state where, theoretically, the money could be put to good use. Which brings me to a funny story that just happened.

The non-profit government agency where I work recently received a donation of soda from a major soda company for an event. When the delivery guy showed up with the ten cases of soda, he asked in behalf of the distributor for ten dollars for the bottle deposit. Now how cheap is that? I'm more convinced than ever that the law must be changed.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

What to make of Cheney saying, yet again, that there were clear links between Saddam and Al Qaeda? It almost seems as if he's trying to sabotage Scott McClellan's job. The Vice President sure doesn't make it easy for him.

It's possible, of course, that Cheney is falling on the sword to undercut the 9/11 Commission's finding that Iraq did not cooperate with Al Qaeda on the Sept. 11 attacks, but it just strikes me as strange -- why be so stubborn, even now? Does Cheney know something the rest of us don't? (I'm sure he knows many things the rest of us do not, but I'm talking about this in particular!)
Anyone wondering why bin Laden hasn't been captured already need only look at the recent kidnapping of an American citizen in Saudi Arabia. The kidnappers' message is clear:
"If the tyrants of the Saudi government want their master -- Paul Marshall Johnson -- to be released, they must release the mujahedeen held in the prisons in Haer, Ar-Ruwais and Allecha within 72 hours," the gunman said. "Otherwise, we will execute him to avenge our Muslim brothers whose blood has been spilled freely in several parts [of the world.]"
If holding hostages is becoming the norm, imagine for a second what would happen if bin Laden himself were to be taken into custody. Add to that fears that Al Qaeda perhaps has access to WMD (a big if, but I'd be surprised if this didn't enter into the government's thinking), and you have the mother of all hostage scenarios.

Incidentally, it's worth pondering whether something similar happened -- or is happening -- with the anthrax case from 2001. A lot of things don't add up in the case of the FBI's "person of interest." The frightening thing is whether something larger is going on.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

In the interest of periodizing history while it is happening (an ignoble, unworthy thing to do), I would like to suggest that perhaps the end of the Era of Al Qaeda Fatigue arrived with Reagan's death. I say this because, if I recall correctly, the front-page news on the morning of Sept. 11 was something about stem-cell research. Reagan's passing, to a certain extent, rekindled the stem-cell debate, leaving us right back where we started on Sept. 10.
Christopher Hitchens expands on his outrage regarding Abu Ghraib and, unlike his earlier idea to shoot the perpetrators, he makes some good points:
Yes, but what about the ticking bomb? Listen: There's always going to be a ticking bomb somewhere. Some of these will go off, and it's just as likely to be in my part of Washington, D.C., as anywhere else. But we shall be fighting a war against jihad for decades to come. And the jihadists will continue to make big mistakes based on their mad theory. And they are not superhuman: They can be infiltrated, bribed, and turned. You don't have to tell them what time of day it is, or where they are, or when the next meal will be served. (Though it must be served.) But you must not bring in that pig or that electrode. That way lies madness and corruption and the extraction of junk confessions. So even if law and principle didn't enter into the question, we sure as hell know what doesn't work.
The question is where this all came from. And Hitchens notices the big issue here:
As Seymour Hersh has pointed out, the original imperative for harsh measures came from a Defense Department, and by extension a White House, that was under intense pressure to get results in the battle against al-Qaida and felt itself hampered by nervous lawyers. Almost the whole of public opinion is complicit in this, as is shown by the fury over the administration's failure to pre-empt the Sept. 11 assault: a pre-emption that would almost certainly have involved some corner-cutting in the interrogation room.
An interesting piece to read alongside Hitchens' commentary is former U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy's contextualization of the infamous Justice Department "torture" memo:
We want — we need — our decision makers, particularly the president in wartime, to be acting on the best, most candid, most comprehensive advice of top aides. In times of crisis, the options posed will be dire because dire may be what is called for to thwart an imminent terrorist attack or an act of brazen aggression by a rogue state. In such circumstances, it may be irresponsible not to consider, say, an aggressive interrogation method or a tactical nuclear strike. We have to be clear-eyed. We have to know what our capabilities are. We have to struggle with the shifting balance between security and decency. It is perilous, if not suicidal, to live in a world where an adviser is cowed from giving his unvarnished assessments because he knows an irresponsible legislator may someday use it to mug for the cameras, or an opportunist may betray it in a cash-in, tell-all book.
The problem, it seems, is that there is a difference between "water-boarding" Abu Zubaydah and brutalizing innocent Iraqis pulled in off the street (if that's in fact what they were).

Viewers of 24 or Alias know in their gut how the "ticking time bomb" works, and I think most people understand it. Again, I think Alan Dershowitz is right in saying that there needs to be more discussion about when and how tougher interrogation tactics should be used. It must be depoliticized -- fat chance, though, seeing the climate we're in.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Just in case you thought I was being unfair to anti-Reagan critics, here's one pro-Reagan dude who needs to be slapped down:
The best example of the kind of false note [George W. Bush] struck was the following line: "He believed that bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of." I doubt that Reagan believed that proposition, and if he had, his holding of that view would not have been praiseworthy. I am sure, on the other hand, that Bush believes this proposition, or thinks that he does.
Problem is, Reagan did say this. Not just once:
I happen to believe that the greatest part of the problem lies in the hearts of men. I think that bigotry and prejudice is probably the worst of all man's ills the hardest to correct...
But at least twice:
I was raised from childhood by my parents who believed bigotry and prejudice were the worst things a person could be guilty of. My father once slept in his car during an Illinois blizzard rather than stay in a hotel that wouldn't allow Jews. He was Irish Catholic.
By this point I'm finding the week-long partisan spinning of Reagan's Presidential record tiresome, to say the least.

Actually, I'll say a little more: it's fucking retarded to think that people -- some of whom barely aware of world events during his tenure in office -- can evaluate an entire Presidency in, say, a 750-word op-ed. Thank goodness Paul Krugman spent two 750-word op-eds doing it! (Save it for the PBS special, thank you very much.)

I also think it's funny how bemused and even angry some people are that this is all happening. It's like laying on the horn because you're stopped for a funeral procession; it doesn't happen often -- let it unfold -- besides, it's over after today anyway.

I will note one thing that I feel is actually important, and it relates to Reagan's Alzheimer's. If you have ever spent even two seconds pondering how debilitating and frightening Alzheimer's is, you will recognize the lyricism and almost reassuring nature in one particular line of Margaret Thatcher's eulogy:
For the final years of his life, Ronnie's mind was clouded by illness. That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again - more himself than at any time on this earth.
So, so true -- anyone who witnesses a loved one deteriorating finds solace after death in the memory of the way the loved one was, not what they later became.
It's true, Thomas Ricks' essay today is good.
Miss the last commuter train home and you will be faced with extortion-level car fares, a harrowing night on Park Avenue or, worse, the Grand Central information booth which, lo and behold, has been hijacked by Landmark Forum followers:
Gaits unsteady and faces flushed, the businessmen with ties askew make their way to the information booth, where Heidy Tejeda doles out track information and a sympathetic smile. "You can smell the booze through the window," she says.

A follower of the Landmark Forum, the personal transformation group once known as EST, Ms. Tejeda is supposed to close shop at 1 o'clock but says she often feels compelled to stay at her post until 1:25. "I like to help people in need," she says. "And I hate having to tell people the next train is at 5:40."

The height of self-indulgence is not Nation writer Calvin Trillin's mind-numbing political "comic verse" but rather listening to Calvin Trillin discuss his mind-numbing political comic verse on the WNYC's Brian Lehrer show. Spare me.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I'm listening to Cornel West discuss Ronald Reagan's passing right now (now there's a historical moment!). There's a lot to take away from Reagan's death about what Presidents mean to people and how that affects candidates today.

Something else you notice is that if you read the New York Times obituary it sounds like Reagan barely accomplished anything while the National Review piles on in exactly the opposite way. It occurred to me that both are probably correct.

Reagan's passing is, for election news, the equivalent of the grounding of planes after Sept. 11 in the sense that it gave scientists a rare opportunity to study the effect of jet contrails on temperatures.

And while Cornel West disses the Reagan legacy, it occurs to me that there's a lot going on in the news today. For example -- and Mickey Kaus says it's not a "Jo Moore" moment -- but the debate about when torture is acceptable has hit the light of day. Are more provocative Alan Dershowitz op-eds on the horizon? That at least would be preferable to Joe Biden's teeth-baring grandstanding ("That is my son! Give me back my son!").

And the Kurds -- the latest Iraqi crisis. William Safire says don't sell out the Kurds (Christopher Hitchens' piece should be appearing shortly, I'm guessing). I have a feeling this could be the story to follow, by the way; the rest of Iraq doesn't seem to be as complex as this one issue.

And did you happen to hear that Boston will be randomly checking subway and train riders ahead of the Democratic convention?

Friday, June 04, 2004

I just heard this piece on public radio's "The World" about TJ's Pizzeria in Flushing, which serves Kim Chi Pizza. Another must-do . . . located at 136-88 Roosevelt Avenue. (Here's a Columbia J-School story about it.)
Because using illegal drugs just helps the North Koreans.
Sorry, but this worries me a lot more than even some kook blowing up himself on a subway:
The terrorists hope that carrying out additional attacks on foreign workers will eventually scare them away, creating a vacuum in the oil industry. Such actions will force the Saudi oil companies to start hiring domestic workers, something that is already happening.

The "danger" in hiring local workers is that among the hundreds, or maybe even thousands of new recruits that will fill the various posts left vacant by departing foreigners, you can bet your bottom petro-dollar that a few -- and most likely more than a few -- will be faithful followers of al-Qaida.

These will infiltrate the oil installations, management offices, pipeline control centers and every aspect from drilling to shipment in the main oil centers such as Khobar, Ras Tanura and Abqaiq. It will put the sensitive oil infrastructures within the reach of al-Qaida and their affiliates.

Their next step could involve one of the following two scenarios, both of which would be detrimental to the Saudi state.

In the first scenario, the terrorists could seriously undermine the
infrastructure, hampering the flow of oil. To take a page from Robert Baer's book, "Sleeping with the Devil," where Islamist terrorists sabotage the oil installations, this situation could now become all too real.

Baer, a former CIA Middle East operative, describes a hypothetical situation in which Islamist fundamentalist terrorists sabotage Saudi
Arabia's oil facilities in the country's eastern province, severely hindering the flow of oil to the West. Although imaginary, the scenario is nevertheless worrisome and the threat now very real.

The second scenario could involve the terrorists infiltrating the oil production and distribution process and positioning themselves in key jobs where they could control, or possibly interrupt, the flow at a pre-determined time. It would allow them to be in a position to take over the system once they felt the time was right.

And I took Al Qaeda's money and blew it all in Atlantic City. So far, I have lived to tell my story to NBC. At the very least I should be the poster child for Gamblers Anonymous. "Compulsive gambling -- it can drive you to do terrible things!"

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Try making this link in polite company:
Of the utmost urgency are indications, continuing to emerge, that Iraq forged operational ties with al Qaeda, sought to conduct terrorist attacks against the United States, and may in fact have had a hand in the 9/11 attacks.
Most of your friends will think you're some kind of nut or, worse, that you're among the 70 percent who, you know, foolishly believe that Iraq was involved in 9/11.

I never thought the link was airtight, nor did I ever think it was the primary reason Iraq should have been invaded. Let's just say that of the truths that accrete in my mind, it was perhaps at comet level -- nothing major but something to keep in mind.

That said, Stephen Hayes' new book sounds fascinating. You get a glimpse of the evidence (e.g., the block quote above) in Andrew McCarthy's National Review piece.

The question that comes up is why the Administration hasn't been more forceful about getting this message out. I know that Dick Cheney was slammed for saying on Meet the Press that it wasn't clear that Saddam wasn't involved. That doesn't quite do it. And equivocations like this seem like CYA more than anything else. Point being, I'd like to hear more from war critics about this stuff (and I'm hoping a New York Times Book Review is being prepared as we speak).

Even if you distrust everything in the McCarthy piece, be sure to read the final parts for a glimpse of the strategic policy questions behind tying Iraq to 9/11, because they're heavy -- more so than WMD, which you could argue was a special one-off UN Resolution-backed issue. Basically, it's this: if you attack Iraq because of ties to Al Qaeda, then you have to go after a bunch of other countries as well. And that's not pretty.
Read it only if you can stomach it and if you have a couple of minutes to spare. Bwahahahaha!
William Safire is tired of hate mail so he's changing the subject to abolishing the penny. He's got a point, actually. (And risking pointing out the obvious, I'll note that he's making a funny point about sweating details at the expense of the big picture.)

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Forget that fawning retardo article they ran in the Times about Jose Padilla's clueless family, you have to read the Justice Department's Summary of Jose Padilla's Activities with Al Qaeda. Verrrry interesting. Yes, there were plans to blow up apartment buildings, but what I hadn't read yet was how he was tasked to work with Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, one of the creepy guys who showed up in the recent FBI alert.
Even with the renter's market, I wonder whether Jose Padilla could really rent an apartment in a NYC high-rise for the purpose of blowing it up. This is a guy without a job and a jail record. Plus, you gotta have three paystubs and in-state references, bub!
Three points. 1) If she's a journalist, how come she doesn't understand that thing about never repeating the negative? 2) That Chris Lehane guy sounds like a cock (so much so that I changed my hotmail password to "chrissucksdick"). And 3) It actually sounds like Kerry was taking one for the team by hooking up his finance director -- a very manly thing to do . . .

At any rate, it's all here in the New York Magazine article "Falsely accused of having an affair with John Kerry, the 'intern' sifts through the mud and the people who threw it":
Cobbling together information from the Web, she said I looked like Monica and had poor taste in movies, and compared me to Paris Hilton. I wept.

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