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Wednesday, November 30, 2005
 
Stand Up, Stand Down, Sit Back, Shut Up
Today the White House released its national strategy for victory in Iraq, cleverly entitled "National Strategy For Victory in Iraq". The administration was worried, you see, because up until now it didn't actually have a national strategy for victory in Iraq, except for a pet George W. Bush phrase: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down".

Very alliterative. But that isn't really an Iraq policy, it's a campaign slogan. It doesn't mean anything.

The solution? Simple enough, for the MBA President: pad the slogan to fill a 35-page Powerpoint presentation. Lard it with more quotes from Dear Leader than Mao's Little Red Book. And make sure there are plenty of bullet points hammering the same theme over and over: the war is going great, great, great!

If we and our Iraqi partners prevail in Iraq, we will have made America:

* Safer...

- by removing Saddam Hussein, a destabilizing force in a vital region, a ruthless dictator who had a history of pursuing and even using weapons of mass destruction, was a state sponsor of terror, had invaded his neighbors, and who was violently opposed to America;

- by depriving terrorists of a safe haven from which they could plan and launch attacks against the United States and American interests;

- by delivering a strategic setback to the terrorists and keeping them on the run;

- by delivering a decisive blow to the ideology that fuels international terrorism, proving that the power of freedom is stronger than a perverse vision of violence, hatred, and oppression.

* Stronger...

-- by demonstrating to our friends and enemies the reliability of U.S. power, the strength of our commitment to our friends, and the tenacity of our resolve against our enemies;

-- by securing a new friend and partner in the fight against terrorism in the heart of the Middle East.

* More Certain of its Future ...

-- politically, by bolstering democratic reformers -- and the prospects for peaceful, democratic governments -- in a region that for decades has been a source of instability and stagnation;

-- economically, by facilitating progressive reform in the region and depriving terrorists control over a hub of the world's economy.

Anybody here ever write a Powerpoint presentation? Hell, did you ever sit through one? This document is structured like a strategic planning presentation from corporate America. Notice how each point begins with a power verb?

Removing! Depriving! Delivering! Delivering! Demonstrating! Securing! Bolstering! Facilitating!

By golly, you can't read that and not conclude that America Is On The Move!

The captains of doublethink at the conservative blogs were making themselves dizzy this morning trying to take it all in. He's changed our Iraq policy! Great! Finally! Who says this administration can't recognize and correct mistakes? Wait, maybe he hasn't changed our Iraq policy! Great! Stay the course! Wait, maybe we still don't have an Iraq policy! Great! An Iraq policy would tip off our enemies!

The Bush acolytes like to compare this war to World War II. They like WWII's sense of urgency, the sense of shared sacrifice, the fact that we won. Stuff like that.

But can you imagine Roosevelt giving a speech like the one Bush gave today? Can you imagine the White House in 1943 issuing a 35-page booklet trying to explain why we were at war with the Axis powers?


Tuesday, November 29, 2005
 
The Ticking Bomb
It does not surprise me -- not in the least -- that Charles Krauthammer is an advocate of state-sponsored torture. Krauthammer is a morally stunted jackass who is openly contemptuous of such namby-pamby liberal notions as democracy, modernity, equality and the rule of law. To him the Enlightenment was a liberal plot and the holy chore of "movement conservatives" is to eradicate all traces of it from the face of the earth.

So no surprise that he wrote a lengthy piece in the Weekly Standard advocating the government's use of torture. I wish he had at least made a sensible argument, but of course this is Krauthammer we're talking about:

Let's take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking.

Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?

Now, on most issues regarding torture, I confess tentativeness and uncertainty. But on this issue, there can be no uncertainty: Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.

Ha! Moral duty. How glibly Krauthammer tosses off that phrase. Choosing the lesser of two moral evils, he asserts, is itself a moral virtue. Who was your ethics instructor in college, Charles -- Vlad the Impaler?

But this isn't an ethics class. This isn't an episode of 24. This is real life, and in real life the choices are never that stark. What if the city in question isn't New York. but Saint Cloud? What if a million lives aren't at stake, but a thousand? Or a hundred? Or five? What if you're not 100% sure you have the right guy, but 60% sure? Or 40% sure? What if you're not sure that he knows what you think he knows?

Pro-torture advocates like to use the most extreme scenario they can think of, in order to justify what even they, in their sick, sadistic little hearts, know is morally wrong. But even so, these guys have to allocate large portions of their brainpans to maintain their dizzying levels of doublethink:

Even though terrorists are entitled to no humane treatment, we give it to them because it is in our nature as a moral and humane people. And when on rare occasions we fail to do that, as has occurred in several of the fronts of the war on terror, we are duly disgraced.

The norm, however, is how the majority of prisoners at Guantanamo have been treated. We give them three meals a day, superior medical care, and provision to pray five times a day. Our scrupulousness extends even to providing them with their own Korans, which is the only reason alleged abuses of the Koran at Guantanamo ever became an issue. That we should have provided those who kill innocents in the name of Islam with precisely the document that inspires their barbarism is a sign of the absurd lengths to which we often go in extending undeserved humanity to terrorist prisoners.

Got that? We are moral, they are depraved; we are good, they are evil; we are civilized, they are not. See how well we treat them? Who can say we don't hold the moral high ground?

What a fiasco this has become, what a juncture we've reached in this country, when our government can torture its enemies and then crow about how moral, how humane, how civilized it is!

Can torture be justified? I suppose it can be. You can justify anything, can't you? Anything at all. Just as long as you don't think about it. Just as long as you don't ask too many questions.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005
 
A Moderately Optimistic Scenario
Many liberal bloggers are already licking their chops and imagining a political Judgement Day for Republicans in November 2006.

Not so fast.

The Republicans aren't real smart, but they're not stupid, either. They're not going to just lie there on the railroad tracks, especially since the train won't arrive for almost a year.

For all the administration's huffing and puffing about how counter-productive a timetable would be, don't be fooled. These guys have a timetable, and it's carefully designed to take the Iraq war off the table for the 2006 election cycle:

Barring any major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number of U.S. forces there early next year by as many as three combat brigades, from 18 now, but to keep at least one brigade "on call" in Kuwait in case more troops are needed quickly, several senior military officers said.

Pentagon authorities also have set a series of "decision points" during 2006 to consider further force cuts that, under a "moderately optimistic" scenario, would drop the total number of troops from more than 150,000 now to fewer than 100,000, including 10 combat brigades, by the end of the year, the officers said.

By now, you'd think that this bunch has used up their "moderately optimistic scenario" chits.

[...]All the officers who spoke about the troop plans stressed that final decisions will come only after the Dec. 15 vote. But they described the moves as likely, assuming no major turn for the worse in Iraq. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to discuss the plans. They also were unable to provide an exact figure for how many troops would remain in Iraq after the initial reductions take effect next year.

You can see how this is going to play out, can't you? Regardless of the outcome of the December 15 elections, the administration declares it a glorious victory and throughout the spring and summer a draw-down of troops is announced. Two or three brigades will return as a sort of down-payment. We'll be treated to tearful reunions and yellow-ribbon-festooned ceremonies through the election season -- all to give the American people the idea that we're through the worst of it and that the war is winding down.

Of course, replacement brigades will be stationed just across the border in Kuwait, so the actual number of troops in the region won't really drop at all. And after the 2006 elections we can get back to prosecuting the war in earnest, just like before. And anyone who gets fooled along the way will get what they deserve.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005
 
Cue The Swift Boat
Sorry about the dearth of posts lately. I've been under the weather. This old brain of mine is still chugging away diligently, but posting has become a real bear. But I'll try to keep up with posts from now on.

By now everyone out in the blogosphere has weighed in on the Prince of Darkness and his Iraq policy speech yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute. What comes across most clearly is that the administration bungled it when they tried to swift-boat Rep. John Murtha.

After Murtha declared his intention to present a resolution calling for a complete troop withdrawal from Iraq in six months, the Repubs released the hounds. Cheney suggested that the Democrats lacked "backbone". Scott McClellan compared Murtha to Michael Moore during the press gaggle. And the Republicans rushed a resolution to the floor calling for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. All of these steps, of course, were designed to put the Democrats on the defensive, to shame them into backing down.

But the GOP's handling of the issue was ham-fisted from the start. The Iraq-pullout resolution backfired badly on the GOP when freshman representative Jean Schmidt (who staved off an unusually strong showing by Iraq war vet Paul Hackett a couple of months ago) stated that she was delivering "a message" from a U.S. Marine in Iraq to Rep. Murtha: "Cowards cut and run, Marines don't". Probably knocked 'em dead back in Kooksville, Ohio. But in the House of Representatives her remarks were met with a cascade of boos and shouted insults from the Democratic side and from the gallery. Schmidt later whined that she didn't know that Murtha had been a career Marine (interestingly, the Marine reservist she quoted -- a career GOP hack -- denied he'd said what Schmidt quoted him as saying). In the end she asked to have her remarks stricken from the record.

Now, the Shiite and Sunni leaders in Iraq are calling for a timetable for American withdrawal. The wingnuts are gamely trying to spin this one too, but there's clearly a feeling that events have gotten out of their control.

That wasn't how it was all supposed to go down. It's been a steep and bumpy decline from the "Mission Accomplished" days, but the administration is simply out of ideas. Nothing to do now in their view but hang on -- bash anyone who disagrees with you, and hope like hell that things get better on their own. Wishful thinking is not one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The MBA President ought to know that.


Friday, November 18, 2005
 
Wait For The Punchline
Over at The Corner, "K-Lo" quotes the following from Roll Call:

Republican lawmakers say that ties between Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and his brother's lobbying firm, KSA Consulting, may warrant investigation by the House ethics committee...

According to a June 13 article in The Los Angeles Times, the fiscal 2005 defense appropriations bill included more than $20 million in funding for at least 10 companies for whom KSA lobbied. Carmen Scialabba, a longtime Murtha aide, works at KSA as well.

KSA directly lobbied Murtha's office on behalf of seven companies, and a Murtha aide told a defense contractor that it should retain KSA to represent it, according to the LA Times....

The punchline? Her post is entitled "Republicans Fight Back".

I've got a better title: "Ten Pounds Of Shit Stuffed Into Five-Pound Bag"


 
Raise The Bet
Yesterday Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) called for the Iraq war to end and for all troops to be brought home. The Republican reaction was unusually vituperative, even for them.

Murtha's been accused of being irresponsible, of providing aid and comfort to the enemy, even -- gasp! -- of bearing ideological similarities to Michael Moore!

And that was just in Congress. The GOP's Giant Spinning Wurlitzer of Doom is already whirling at full tilt and barreling at John Murtha, but this time the Dems shouldn't cringe in fear.

The hysterical pitch of Republican rhetoric makes clear their desperation, but at least it gave them time to think. Today they hatched a new strategy: force an up-or-down vote on Murtha's resolution, calling for an immediate Iraq withdrawal -- before the Thanksgiving recess, before the representatives can hear what their constituents have to say about it.

Such a vote, of course, has no chance of success. That's the idea:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans, seeing an opportunity, maneuvered for a quick vote and swift rejection Friday of a Democratic lawmaker's call for an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq.

''We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan,'' said Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. ''We will not retreat.''

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California had no immediate reaction to the idea of a quick vote before Congress leaves Washington for two weeks.

Now, the Democratic leadership in the House doesn't consult me on legislative matters (or any other matters) but here's what I would do:

Raise the bet.

Agree to the vote only if the Republican majority agrees to a second resolution: one that calls for a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq within one year.

That resolution would pass. And the Republicans know it. They have to make the resolution an all-or-nothing one. Withdraw the troops today or keep them there forever. But it's a false choice.

The Dems should demand a vote on the second resolution -- and block any attempt to adjourn the House until both votes have been taken.

Do you think the Republicans want to stand around in the House chamber throughout the Thanksgiving recess? Not very likely.

The Democrats can't roll over on this. They can't fold and they can't call. Not now. They have to raise, because they have the stronger hand.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005
 
Bring It On
Make sure you take a few minutes today to read this intriguing post from Josh Marshall. It's a very eloquent explanation of why the Bush administration's cynical "third campaign" won't work:

President Bush and his administration spent 18 months trying to convince the American people that there was a tie between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida and even to the 9/11 attacks. There wasn't. There was never any evidence for that. But they knew the charge would be effective. And, for them, that was more than enough...many Democrats ran scared in the face of this once-popular president's onslaught and said many things they probably now wish they hadn't. Let's catalog those statements and let them answer for their cowardice and wobbliness.

Paging John Edwards!

But the president was president -- a fact of accountability he never seems to grasp. He drove the train. He and his advisors cynically worked to convince the public that Saddam was tied to 9/11 -- an explosive claim in the aftermath of the 9/11 horror. That's something they knew wasn't true and which none of the president's critics, to be the best of my knowledge, ever agreed with or argued for. President Bush and his administration are on the line for that.

Now they want to go back and try to wriggle out from under the past we all remember. So to use his words, bring it on.

This, I believe, is exactly the right approach. The administration is trying an old trick -- putting its opponents on the defensive by talking tough. The last thing they're expecting is for us to push back hard. So that's exactly what we should do.


 
Rick Santorum Gets Religion
From Pennsylvania, a deathbed conversion of an entirely political nature:

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said Saturday that he doesn't believe that intelligent design belongs in the science classroom.

Santorum's comments to The Times are a shift from his position of several years ago, when he wrote in a Washington Times editorial that intelligent design is a "legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in the classroom."

But on Saturday, the Republican said that, "Science leads you where it leads you."

At the moment, it's leading Santorum on a holy quest to save his political ass.

Santorum was in Beaver Falls to present Geneva College President Kenneth A. Smith with a $1.345 million check from federal funds for renovations that include the straightening and relocation of Route 18 through campus.

This from a guy who made his career railing against out-of-control federal spending. Anyway, couldn't he have just mailed the check?

Santorum's comments about intelligent design come at a time when the belief that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power, an alternative to the theory of evolution, has come under fire on several fronts.

A federal trial just wrapped up in which eight families sued Dover Area School District in eastern Pennsylvania. The district's school board members tried to introduce teaching intelligent design into the classroom, but the families said the policy violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

No ruling has been issued on the trial, but Tuesday, all eight Dover School Board members up for re-election were ousted by voters...

Ah, yes. The political corpses of those eight school board members are still warm and now -- less than a year from the election, badly trailing Bob Casey in the polls -- Santorum has suddenly made a death-row conversion. Science classes, he proclaims, ought to teach science!

Yikes. He's going out on a limb, all right. But it gets better:

With Santorum running for re-election next year, and with Bush and the Republican Party taking some significant hits in public confidence in recent months, Santorum insisted he is not trying to distance himself from Bush.

Santorum said he still supports President Bush, even though on Friday, he said in Philadelphia that mistakes had been made in the Iraq war, and that at least a portion of the blame lies with the White House.

Saturday, Santorum said of Bush, "I don't agree with everything he does," but said that overall, he considers Bush a good president and that he has "done a lot" for the country and for Santorum himself.

A real profile in courage, this guy.


Monday, November 14, 2005
 
Rex Non Potest Peccare
The claque of torture apologists in government and the media is shrinking, but as a group they are as determined as ever. Vice-President Cheney is still pulling strings on Capitol Hill. Cheney is rumored to be somewhat out of favor at the palace these days but he is still regarded as a dangerous man to cross. The Wall Street Journal recently published a lengthy pro-torture editorial. And at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg has been carrying a lot of water for the Bush administration on this issue:

The proponents of the McCain amendment, it seems to me, have generally demanded more disclosure, more reporting, more revelations of these "atrocities." If the objection is that the images from Abu Ghraib will hurt our standing in the world and cause us to lose our soul at home, why do they push for ever greater exposure of these cases? In other words, if your objection is practical -- i.e. the publicity is bad for America -- why the clamor for more of it?

Now, this is a very glib sort of argument, but let's examine it a bit.

People who argue against the use of torture by our government employ a sort of two-pronged approach. First, they perceive a moral imperative against torture. The idea is that there are certain acts that human beings are tempted to commit that debase them, that rob them of their essential humanity. It doesn't matter whether or not you personally commit these acts; to allow others to commit those acts in your name amounts to the same thing.

It is ironic that the self-appointed guardians of "moral values" are incapable of understanding this. Goldberg's post brushes aside the moral argument entirely. I don't think Goldberg is an immoral person per se. Rather, I think he is engaging in what conservatives like to call "moral relativism": if you do it, it's wrong; if we do it, it's okay (note that Goldberg chooses to put the word atrocities in quotation marks, as if it's offensive to even suggest that an atrocity could be committed in America's name).

I think this was what President Bush meant last week when he quite emphatically said "We do not torture". He wasn't making a statement about the interrogation methods employed in American detention facilities. Instead, he was making the rather Orwellian supposition that any act of brutality committed in the name of the United States government could not possibly be regarded as torture, no matter how closely it might resemble torture.

To put it simply, torture as defined by Bush and Goldberg is something "bad guys" do; we are the "good guys", and since torture is bad and good guys don't do bad things, then "we do not torture". Quo erat demonstrandum.

Second, torture opponents lay out the practical arguments against torture. John McCain has done an excellent job fielding these arguments. He understands that under most circumstances torture isn't really useful as an information-gathering tactic. Under torture, most people will say whatever they think their torturer wants to hear. Moreover, the use of torture works against our stated global aims of spreading the values of civilization and modernity, and works against our goal of winning over the hearts and minds of people in foreign lands. It's hard for us to snort in righteous indignation at the atrocities Saddam committed at Abu Ghraib prison when we're doing the same sorts of things once we take over.

Goldberg spends most of his post addressing the practical rather than moral arguments against the use of torture, and he offers a simple solution: if all these revelations of torture are hurting us abroad, why not just keep it quiet?

And the simple answer is: because you can't. Sooner or later, what we do in secret will come out. History is thickly larded with people who did the worst things imaginable in the name of amor patriae thinking that they were untouchable -- only to end up paying a brutal price after all. And the people in whose name these atrocities were committed inevitably paid as well.

The whole idea behind our republic is that the people choose leaders to represent them, but the people are ultimately responsible for what their leaders do. A secret global network of prison camps, outside any sort of regulation or oversight, beyond the checks and balances so carefully constructed by the Founders, flies in the face of every principle upon which this nation claims to stand. Our leaders cannot abandon those principles unless we consciously allow them to. And if we do so, we will become an empty and distorted culture, just another empire -- rapacious, debased, and headed for the dustbin of history. Revera linguam latinam vix cognovi.


Thursday, November 10, 2005
 
Ahmed Chalabi, The Neocon's Pet Rabbit
The American Enterprise Insitute gave a heroes' welcome to Iraqi expat loony and professional grifter Ahmed Chalabi on Wednesday. Josh Marshall linked to a great blogger account of the event. One passage in the blogger's post really leaps out.

Seems the blogger met up with war apologist Chris Hitchens and got a chance to ask a simple question. Hitchens gave him a simple answer

I mean, real simple.

Hitchens then turned the subject back to Chalabi, his good friend. I asked him if he thought Chalabi had been passing American intelligence to the Iranians. "No," he insisted. "It's possible that with his training, you know, at [The University of] Chicago that with his own ability he was able to crack the codes. He is a mathematical genius. His expertise is cryptology. It is possible that he broke the codes himself."
Ah ha! It's possible that he broke the codes himself.

Chalabi is even more amazing than the neocons thought. You see, he was just sitting around one day, with an encrypted American intelligence communique in his lap, and thought, oh what the hell, let's see if I can crack this bad boy.

Turns out, it was easy. And later, when he'd had a few drinks and was swapping dirty jokes with members of the Iranian intelligence community, he...

Oh, why spoil it for you? No doubt Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will question Chalabi very closely on this point when Chalabi testifies on the flawed intelligence that led us to war. Why, even a yahoo Senator elected by the spraypaint-huffing hooligans of Kansas should be able to ask--

What's that? Is there a question from the back? Well, now that you mention it, I guess Chalabi hasn't been called to testify before the committee. In fact, I guess no American investigator has ever asked Chalabi a single question.

Well, I'm sure they have their reasons.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005
 
Here's Your Head, Former Mayor Kelly
This morning the beautiful minds at The Corner are debating whether Michael Bloomberg can fairly be described as a Republican. The consensus is that technocratic and decidedly non-ideological mayor of New York, who coasted to victory last night, is indeed one of their own. They can't afford to be choosy; the Republicans lost elections nearly everywhere else last night.

Despite President Bush's last-minute appeal to voters in Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine beat Republican Jerry Kilgore. In New Jersey, John Corzine prevailed in an exceedingly bitter contest against Republican Doug Forrester. In California, all four of Arnold Schwarzenegger's ballot initiatives went down to defeat. In Dover, Pennsylvania, the entire slate of pro-Intelligent Design school board members were swept from office.

And in Saint Paul, a political bloodbath took place. Randy Kelly, the Democratic mayor, paid a very expensive price for his endorsement of George W. Bush in last year's presidential election:

Randy Kelly suffered a crushing defeat on Tuesday, the first St. Paul mayor in 33 years to lose his job at the polls.

Former City Council Member Chris Coleman beat the first-term incumbent by 22,398 votes, a better than 2-to-1 margin over Kelly's 18,203.

It was the widest election loss by an incumbent mayor in the city's 151-year history. It even topped the 17,630-vote gap in 1972, when Larry Cohen defeated one-term Mayor Charles McCarty, who had been dubbed "Supermayor" for his crime-fighting exploits.

I think the reporter is pulling our collective leg. Charlie McCarty's incompetence as mayor was almost mitigated by his entertainment value. I'm not aware of any "crime-fighting exploits" that McCarty ever accomplished (Nemo could address that better than I) but he was always said to have a police radio close at hand, and he supposedly rode around in a "supercar" that could switch the traffic lights from red to green. He had a great time as mayor -- a super time, you might say -- but I think his super-duper activities all occurred outside the mayor's office.

I have to say that after getting a drubbing in most recent elections, it's finally nice to see the Dems pick up some solid wins. That's how we take the country back -- one race at a time, one election at a time. And it doesn't seem a coincidence that the Democrats started winning again right about the time they found their voices again.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005
 
In Terms Of Irony, Anyway, You've Come A Long Way, Baby


Who needs brains when you can buy a T-shirt like this?

I guess I've spent the last ten years in a time warp. Abercrombie & Fitch used to sell overpriced sportcoats and polo shirts to the preppie set. Overpriced clothing for the overdressed, I suppose you'd say.

Then seemingly overnight, they changed their target market. Suddenly they were selling designer casual wear to high-school and college-age kids.

Maybe because they still have that fussy, upper-crust name, I still think of them the old way, with their shop windows covered with gigantic posters of snobby-looking guys in pin-striped suits checking their watches or sneering imperiously out into the distance. Today, I'm always startled when I see giant posters in their windows depicting some teenage kid self-consciously loafing around in his boxer briefs.

Recently A&F got into hot water over some of its idiotic and tasteless T-shirts aimed at women. One read: "Who needs brains when you have these?" And Echidne paused to ask the question: what is a woman who wears a T-shirt like that trying to say?

It could be taken at face value (in which case the breasts should be a lot bigger and preferably false) or it could be seen as a satirical joke on the society and its way of assessing women. Then there is the totally different question: How will it be taken by others who see the t-shirt around a real live wearer? That's the really important question, and I bet that most of those others will take it at face value. Or tit value.

That's the problem with defiantly wearing a stupid T-shirt for its irony-value -- as irony-soaked as our culture is, there's still a lot of people who don't get it. So the women who fight against the patriarchy end up fighting for it; they end up outsmarting themselves.

Seems like the better route was taken by women who weren't afraid to break the crockery. A number of bloggers called attention to the T-shirts and Abercrombie and Fitch pulled them.

These kind of companies like a little controversy; it makes them look edgy and it garners free publicity. But when the controversy threatened to cost money, they changed their tune. It's a good reminder that merchants always -- always -- think with their pocketbooks. And who needs brains when you have one of those?


Monday, November 07, 2005
 
This Is A Joke, Right?
Bill Kristol, smirking pennyboy of the American right, claims he just can't understand. The Bush administration is winning the war in Iraq and it's armed with all the superior arguments at home. So why are the American people turning against it?

Hmmm. It's a head-scratcher, all right. But Kristol has a theory. Those doggone Democrats are winning the day only because Bush & Co. are too noble to fight back!

...the administration paid a price for its virtual silence on Iraq during the spring and much of the summer. Now the administration seems to understand not just that they have to do everything they can to win in Iraq--but also that they must make, and remake, the case for the war. Do they also realize that they have to aggressively--not to say indignantly--confront the "Bush lied" charge now emanating from leaders in the Democratic party?

Last Tuesday, Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate and asserted that the Bush administration had "manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions." This is a serious charge; if it were true, it might well be an indictable offense.

(It is true, and it is an indictable offense. Which is why the Republicans have been dragging their feet on an independent investigation for three years.)

But it is, in reality, a slander. Shouldn't the president defend his honor?

...Bush has been in a similar position before. We forget how much trouble he seemed to be in early in 2004. Then Kerry was nominated, and the Bush team focused the country on the real choices before it. In the contrast, Bush did fine.

Whew. This last bit of revisionist canon has seeped so far into the brains of Republican myth-makers that they now clearly believe it themselves. Do these guys really think they won the last election on the issues? Perhaps they actually do. Earth to right wing: you won the last election the way you've been winning elections since 1988: through old-fashioned, home-brewed, 200-proof character assassination.

And don't forget that Bill Kristol was one of the wingers screeching over the nomination of Harriet Miers. Now that she's out of the way -- and Bush has been dealt a humiliating and politically expensive defeat -- the Weekly Standard crowd can go back to lauding themelves for their unflinching loyalty.

Amazing. Eleven years after the so-called "Republican Revolution" -- and all the big talk associated with it -- the whole conservative movement has descended into nothing more than an endless series of peevish complaints, a petulant sense of entitlement. Anyone who remembers the eight years of vicious and extremely personal attacks on Bill Clinton can only smile at Kristols' ersatz declarations of outrage. Shouldn't the President defend his honor? Kristol simpers. I don't know, Bill -- shouldn't you worry about your own first?


Thursday, November 03, 2005
 
You Had Me At Hello
In my younger days, when the world still seemed beautiful and just, and when I still believed there was a perfect job out there for me, I began crafting what I thought of as the perfect cover letter. My theory was that I could compose a cover letter so strong that I would have the job before a prospective employer even had time to look at my resume.

The result of my labors was something I called the "Ninja Letter". What employer, I reasoned, could resist a cover letter that included a compelling story about ninjas?

The letter started out something like this:

Dear Mr. Peabody:

You are probably tired of reading letters from people who try to convince you why you should hire them. Therefore, I have decided to outline three scenarios under which you would deeply regret hiring me.

1. We're in your office, discussing my latest mind-bending achievements in the service of your company. Suddenly, a band of crazed, homicidal ninjas bursts in through the window. They have arrived to exact revenge for some real or imagined slight that you committed many years ago, when you were living a fast but decidedly reckless life on the streets of Kyoto. I fight bravely at your side, but because the phrase "Ninja Fighting Skills" does not appear on my resume, I am quickly overwhelmed.

Later, as you are being carried to the Ninja Master's Torture Dungeon, you say to your captors, "I never should have hired that guy".

Needless to say, I was not inundated with job offers as a result of this letter. But
I was reminded of the ninja letter when my brother sent me a link to a New York Times restaurant review. The restaurant, called Ninja New York, sounded like the kind of place I had always longed to visit.

The Times reviewer, however, was less than impressed:

You are greeted...by servers in black costumes who ceaselessly bow, regularly yelp and ever so occasionally tumble, and you are asked to choose between two routes to your table.

The first is described by a ninja escort as simple and direct. The second is "dark, dangerous and narrow," involving a long tunnel and a drawbridge that descends only when your escort intones a special command, which he later implores you to keep secret.

Are you kidding? I've been waiting all my life to be presented with that choice at a restaurant.

I recommend a third path: right back out the door. Granted, you will be denied the sating of any curiosity about what a $3.5 million design budget permits in the way of faux stone walls, make-believe gorges and mock torches. You will forgo an iota of modest amusement.

An American offshoot of a restaurant in Tokyo, Ninja intends to evoke a Japanese mountain village inhabited by ninjas, a special breed of stealthy warriors. In this case they come armed not only with swords and sorcery but also with recipes, which may be their most dangerous weapons of all. And they roam, romp and perform dopey magic tricks, including sleight of hand with rubber bands, over 6,000 square feet of darkened crannies and well-separated, quiet nooks....

If a restaurant wants to charge between $12 and $18 a glass for white wine and $15 for weak specialty drinks, it should respond to an expressed interest in sake with a presentation of its sake list, not with the words "I'll bring half a liter," which is what a ninja said. It should not run out of sparkling water, as it did one night....

That frog dessert was just $10, but it was little more than a cloying blob of cunningly molded cream cheese. A ho-hum amalgam of chocolate cake, green tea cake and vanilla and green tea ice creams (also $10) was another triumph of shape over substance, resembling a bonsai.

For a toddler with a trust fund and a yen for udon and maki, Ninja might be a valid alternative to the Jekyll and Hyde restaurant.

For just about anybody else it's nonsensical, and its climactic illusion may well be a disappearing act.

I have a feeling that the real disappearing act will ultimately be done by the reviewer himself. One night he will be fast asleep, chortling to himself about his devastating review of Ninja New York, only to awaken in the Ninja Master's Torture Dungeon. That's when he will learn that you don't mock ninjas, even the ones who run restaurants. And that's when he will regret that "Ninja Fighting Skills" appears nowhere on his resume.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005
 
Remember To Use The Word We Choose To Use


"Stunt! Stunt! Hahahahahaha!

All over America, Republicans are weighing in on Minority Leader Harry Reid's bid to place the U.S. Senate into closed session yesterday.

And mysteriously, they're all using the same word.

"There is nothing that hurts the truth so much as stretching it," the Kansas Republican [Sen. Pat Roberts] said.
(That's funny coming from Roberts -- the guy does more stretching than Mr. Fantastic. Anyway:)

He referred to Democrats' use of a rarely invoked rule to shutter the Senate as a "stunt" at least half a dozen times.
Ah. That's just for starters.

Republican Senator Norm Coleman called the closed session a "political stunt" and a "partisan gimmick" by Democrats.
And the word gets picked up at The Corner:

There were dualing damage assessments. Democrats: Over 2,000 killed in Iraq. Republicans: Bill Frist feels as though he's been slapped in the face. Not a bad result for a stunt borne of impotence ("we're powerless around here and now we're losing the Supreme Court"). If Republicans hadn't risen to the bait the secret session would have remained a secret.

And of course Powerline dutifully used the word as part of its continuing quest to convince blog readers that it still has something to say:

The Democrats have forced the Senate into a closed session, demanding answers about the pre-war intelligence on Iraqi WMD. Minority leader Reid used the Libby indictment as a pretext for this meaningless stunt.
Hey, if everybody's using the same word it must be true, right? Especially when they all arrived at it independently.

I'm not sure if I'd call Reid's actions a "stunt". To me, a stunt requires an element of physical danger, like when a guy staggers around after being set on fire in a movie, or when Evel Kneievel jumps over 16 buses on a motorcycle.

Now that was a great stunt.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005
 
Lemmee At That Gordian Knot
Kos has an interesting post up about the looming Samuel Alito fight in the Senate. While many liberals are wondering how to filibuster Alito without the Republicans going for the nuclear option, Kos argues that the situation is actually simpler than it appears:

...given the tenuous hold on power of the Republican Party, do Republicans really want to ditch the filibuster? Because it won't be long before Democrats retake the White House and congress. And it sure will be nice to need just 51 votes to pass legislation and confirm nice, solid, liberal judges.

I say test the GOP. If we don't use the filibuster out of fear they'll pull the nuclear option, then there is no practical filibuster in existence anyway. Force them to pull the trigger. Let's see just how confident they are in their "permanent majority" status.

The premise, of course, is that the Repubs are in for a good shellacking in 2006 and 2008.

Dicey. Very dicey. But Democrats have got to start taking chances if they want to start winning.


 
Nobody Loves Xena


Who needs the damned IAU anyway, Gabrielle? At least we have each other.

A while ago we looked at the unhappy plight of Planet X, the recently-discovered 10th planet in our solar system. Unlike Pluto, which got a very warm reception by the public and the scientific community when it was discovered in 1930, Planet X was covered only grudgingly by the media and was quickly forgotten.

Now, there is no question that this new planet is as large as Pluto. In fact, it is almost certainly larger. However, that insidious scientific cabal known as the International Astronomical Union has decided, rather arbitrarily, to grandfather Pluto in as a planet and make admission into the Planet Club a lot more difficult from now on.

Yes, the snooty IAU is trying to change the admissions guidelines, but it gets worse: they're claiming there aren't any names left for new planets. Planets, you see, have to be named after gods in Greek or Roman mythology, and because this new kid showed up late to the party, it doesn't get one (a lot of good names, like Ceres and Vesta, were frittered away on the worthless asteroids). The discoverers of the new planet suggested Xena, which at least sounds as if it's from mythology, but the IAU said nothing doing. Neverthless, the nickname has stuck and it's now being referred to as Xena in news reports.

But strange things have been afoot since planet Xena was discovered in July. It's been found to have a moon (dubbed Gabrielle). Meeanwhile Pluto, whose moon Charon was discovered in 1978, has just been found to have two more moons.

This puts the IAU in a difficult situation: what names do Pluto's moons get? After all, the IAU has been claiming since July that no more names exist; but they have to be called something, and I'm betting they won't get dubbed Thing 1 and Thing 2. An exception or exemption will be found, and Pluto's new moons will miraculously get named. Will there still be no names left for poor Xena? Won't they let her keep the name she has?

Perhaps you think I'm taking this all a bit seriously. But I have three sisters and three brothers. By the time I came along my parents were sick of picking out new names; I was almost named Number 5 just out of convenience. So I know just how Xena feels. Poor kid.



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