Saturday, September 13, 2003

Declare victory and screw them all

In her column yesterday, Helen Thomas wrote:

President Bush should take advice from a Vietnam-era Republican senator: Declare a victory in Iraq and get out.

The late Sen. George Aiken, R-Vt., gave that counsel to Presidents Johnson and Nixon when things were going from bad to worse in the Vietnam War, but they ignored him.

Both presidents would have looked better in the history books had they listened to the venerable senator. But, alas, neither wanted to be seen as retreating or losing a war.

I know this is a popular opinion on the left, but I disagree, for reasons I hope to make clear at some point -- but, for one thing, Vietnam was a war of liberation/civil war into which we poked our noses and gradually ended up taking over wholesale. We did not, however, fundamentally create the situation there, although we aggravated it and took it to new heights of destruction. Pulling out was an option there because (as we've seen, historically), doing so simply knocked the props out from underneath a puppet regime. It did not leave behind utter chaos and a complete power vacuum, which is exactly what would happen if we pulled out from Iraq. We are the cause of the chaos and near-anarchy in Iraq, and, as unpleasant as it is to consider, because of that we have an obligation to not simply "declare victory and leave" without first at least stabilizing things and turning over the basics of a viable country to the Iraqis.

I certainly don't advocate that we continue on as we've been doing, and I don't want to be in the position of having to support the efforts of the Bush administration, but by deposing Saddam Hussein, disbanding the army and tearing apart the infrastructure of the country, and without sufficient forces to provide security and basic civil services in the aftermath, we took on a moral obligation to the inhabitants of Iraq which will certainly not be serviced by just pulling out.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/13/2003 11:42:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, September 12, 2003

Meet the new boss, paid more than the old boss

On CalPundit, Kevin Drum asks about Corporate Compensation:

When are shareholders finally going to figure out that executive compensation in America is no longer just a few people making a little bit more than they should, and therefore not something that really affects the bottom line? The truth is that in most large companies today executive compensation is fantastically higher than it should be, and the overpayments are a serious drag on corporate profits. Reduce the pay of the top 5% of executives at Fortune 500 companies by 50%, and corporate earnings would improve measurably with no loss in the work habits of the top officers.

And perhaps also less need to lay off workers and lower-level management? That would be nice.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/12/2003 01:38:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bush sank to the occasion

I'll be posting a few things without a great deal of commentary. Here's Michael Tomasky, from The American Prospect, Memorial Day:

This could have and should have been an era of unprecedented national -- indeed, international -- unity against a common enemy. President Bush could have gone to the other nations of the world and made a case for a new age of international cooperation against terrorism and fundamentalism. That cooperation, and that fight, would have been aimed squarely at the Taliban and at the House of Saud, and, to a lesser extent, at the smaller terrorist networks that operate in the Middle East. To be sure, this wouldn't have been easy. There would have been (as there are) vast disagreements between the United States and nations of Europe over how to deal with the Palestinian question and what to do about Saudi Arabia. But a historical process would have begun, and the United States would clearly and unambiguously have occupied the moral high ground in such a case. That United States would have been proposing a new and forward-looking framework for foreign policy, much as the "Wise Men" of the post-World War II period did.

Yes, the post-World War II framework wasn't without its downsides, which became more and more apparent as the years went on. ... But it's important to remember that the framework did plenty of good, too -- the creation of the United Nations and the Marshall Plan, the stabilization of Israel, the rescue of Greece from a probable communist government. Whatever its flaws, it was a framework that recognized that we had entered uncharted historical territory that demanded new institutions and responses. On balance, the Wise Men rose to their historic occasion.

The Bush administration, by contrast, has sunk to its. It has not created a new framework of any sort. It has done exactly the opposite. It has used the occasion of the new era as cover for implementing some very old ideas, ideas the neoconservatives have been kicking around for at least a decade and perhaps since the late 1970s. ...

There were and have always been good reasons for removing Saddam Hussein from power. But this excursion was retailed to us on false pretenses by a bunch of used-car salesmen, and now the deceptions and obfuscations have piled up. Iraq is the center of terrorism, as Bush asserted in his speech Sunday night? Well, if it wasn't it sure is now, as fundamentalists flock to Iraq to have a bash at the Great Satan.

It all could have been very different. We could have had an administration that responded to September 11 by saying, "Let's think about the best way to unite the civilized world in this fight." Instead, we have one that responded by saying, "Now's our chance to do all the things we've been wanting to do for 20 years! And better still, now we can just label everyone who disagrees with us as unpatriotic!" Not very inspiring, and not much of a tribute to those 3,100 people who were forced two years ago today to look terror in the face in their final moments on earth.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/12/2003 12:57:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Soon come

Time constraints have hit me hard, as I prepare for the start of rehearsals next week. I hope to have some more time for blogging over the weekend.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/12/2003 12:20:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/11/2003 01:42:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Dean breaks the chain

A couple of days ago, Billmon predicted that Dean will win the Democratic nomination, but declared himself to be "deeply conflicted" about it. Today he seems less conflicted, to say the least:

For what it's worth (which probably isn't much) Howard Dean now has Whiskey Bar's endorsement for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Why? Because the good doctor has dared to utter the unmentionable truth: That the United States simply cannot afford to continue its current policy of absolute, unqualified support of the state of Israel.

I'm already partial to Dean, so I'm pleased that he would take such an intelligent position. This from the story in the Washington Post:

Howard Dean came under fire yesterday from two rivals for the Democratic nomination for saying the United States should not "take sides" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Five days after Dean told supporters in New Mexico that "it's not our place to take sides" in the conflict, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) accused him of advocating a "major break" from the United States' long-standing policy of explicitly siding with Israel in the Middle East.


In an interview, Dean sought to clarify his statement but did not back down from his belief that the United State cannot negotiate peace unless it is seen as a neutral party in the region. "Israel has always been a longtime ally with a special relationship with the United States, but if we are going to bargain by being in the middle of the negotiations then we are going to have to take an evenhanded role," he said.

I've been in several serious arguments (knock-down-drag-out fights, practically) with generally liberal friends who cannot see any criticism of Israel as anything but an instance of anti-semitism, but it seems clear to me that the policies of Sharon, Netanyahu and Likud haven't made Israel any safer, and can never do so except by reducing Palestine to a state of complete vassalage under the economic and political thumb of Israel. I don't think that's the result that most Israelis want, and it certainly shouldn't be the kind of thing that the U.S. is associated with.

While I have absolutely no truck with nutty and dangerous anti-semitic conspiracy theories which posit Jewish cabals in charge of, well, just about everything it seems, it is an open question how much the neocons' strong feelings for Israel are currently driving American foreign policy.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/10/2003 02:29:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


My problem with Kerry et al.

From Media Whores Online:

The media should stop pretending they don't understand Senator Kerry's nuanced position on the Iraq resolution and subsequent invasion.  They do.  What's more, so do the vast majority if Americans, including the more "impressionable" segment Kerry detractors hope to convince he's a "waffler."

The voting public will understand Senator Kerry's explanation because their view has evolved in precisely the same way.  There was a surge of public support for the invasion when the invasion became an inevitability, followed by increasingly expressed doubts and criticisms.  When Senator Kerry says he believed the resolution was necessary for the US to negotiate from a position of strength, people will get it.  Despite the willful obtuseness of his critics, context matters, and any voter can easily discern the difference between actions such as voting for a resolution out of "statesmanship" and strategy (or voicing support to pollsters during the invasion) - and "flip flopping."

What's more, Kerry is on record as voicing conditions for an invasion similar to those voiced by the public.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Kerry's vote in favor of the Iraq resolution would not a liability in a Kerry-Bush matchup, except for tiny minorities who opposed any invasion under any circumstance and will not vote for either as a result, or who believe affording a liar a degree of trust for defensible reasons is worse than being a liar.

[via Atrios]

I agree with Atrios that MWO is absolutely correct that Kerry's stance is not inconsistent, but do not, as he does, hold it against him. However, the same is not true for many of my discussion group friends, who are dead set against any candidate for the Democratic nomination who voted for the use-of-force resolution. My complaint is more specifically that Kerry, and other Senate Democrats, did not insist on the resolution carrying restrictions on how it could be used and under what circumstances. Instead, they gave Bush a virtual blank check, which enabled him to engage in the stupid bull-in-a-china-shop "diplomacy" which characterized the run-up to the war, since he knew he had the Ace up his sleeve and could invade any damn time the military was ready to go. (Or, actually, before, as I recall.)

It's likely that such amendments would not have passed, but they really did nothing of consequence to try, and that I do hold against Kerry.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/10/2003 01:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Put up or shut up

I thought that Steve Gilliard, whose writing about Iraq I have praised a number of times, went a little overboard in his fisking of Bush's recent speech, but he's right on when he writes today:

It's put up or shut up time for Bush. What does he want? Tax cuts or Iraq. It's time to choose. Oh yeah, neither is an option. Remember, if Bush fails, he's done. Keep that in mind.

The neocons may be counting on another distracting move, an invasion of Iran or Syria, but they won't get a use-of-force resolution to cover it (they might try to stretch the previous one, but they'll be rebuffed by the uproar from all sides), there's no money to pay for it, few armaments left to do it with, and the US doesn't have a sufficiently large military force to carry it off.

So, yeah, put up or shut up time, indeed.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/10/2003 01:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Fascist art

From the New York Times:

Leni Riefenstahl, the German filmmaker whose daringly innovative documentaries about a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1934 and the Berlin Olympics of 1936 earned her both acclaim as a cinematic genius and contempt as a propagandist for Hitler, died Monday night at her home in Pöcking, south of Munich. She was 101.

After the defeat of Germany in 1945, she was pronounced a Nazi sympathizer by the Allies and never again found work as a movie director. But her revolutionary film techniques deeply influenced later generations of documentary makers and television commercial makers, keeping alive the debate over whether her talent could be separated from her prewar political views.

For many students of her life and legacy, Ms. Riefenstahl was both propagandist and genius. A popular dancer and actress before becoming a movie director in 1932, she enthusiastically put her talent at the service of the Nazis.

Yet, without her exceptional artistic vision, her two most famous documentaries, "Triumph of the Will" and the two-part "Olympia," would neither have caused a sensation at the time nor be considered classics today.

Ms. Riefenstahl never denied her early conviction that Hitler could "save" Germany. She also said that her idealized image of him fell apart "far too late," near the end of World War II. But, amid widespread skepticism, she insisted that she was never a Nazi and that "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia" were apolitical, inspired only by her desire to create works of art.

Strangely enough, I was in the midst of writing about "Carmina Burana":


In his review of the NFL-season-opening concert/extravaganza, Washington Post TV critics Tom Shales notes that aside from Pepsi Vanilla commercials

there was also a super-kinetic blitz of a commercial for Reebok Vector shoes, scored to the opening chorus from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," one of the most frequently appropriated pieces of 20th-century classical music.

When Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini included a bit of "Carmina Burana" in his borderline-obscene film "Salo," he explained he did so because he considered it "fascist music." We just note that in passing.

So noted. (And also noted is Shales' sliminess in managing to slam Rebok for using "fascist music" for its commercial, while simultaneously not avoiding endorsing the idea that Carmina Burana is fascist music in the first place. Way to go, Shales, McCarthyesque technique at its best.)

Now, I happen to like "Carmina Burana", quite a bit, and a wonder what, exactly, qualifies a piece of music as being "fascist." What I mean is, it's difficult enough for political scientists to agree on a defintion of what defines fascism as a political system, so how can we possibly know what "fascist music" is?

So, curious as to what I'd find, I Googled "Carmina Burana" and "fascist music" to see what I'd find, but unfortunately nothing there shed any light on the subject. Several of the citations there did point out that "O Fortuna", the opening section of Carmina Burana, is a piece of music widely used for various purposes, and that material from Carmina Burana is frequently appropriated or reinterpreted by popular musicians, so if it is a piece of fascist music, there must be a lot of people who are drawn to fascist music.


That's pretty much where I left off, except to ask the question: is a piece of music "fascist" if the composer is himself a fascist or has associated himself with fascists (or has been said to be associated with them by others), or is there some inherent quality in the music itself with makes it fascist? Does the fascism flow from the creator or from the music?

There's no question with Riefenstahl's work that both are true, but I somehow feel that the case is not so open-and-shut with "Carmina Burana" (despite this argument) -- at least, I hope that's the case.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/10/2003 12:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Traveling with unwanted baggage

Kevin Drum has a number of good posts today on traveling and privacy rights (here, here, and here) and manages to get a land a good one on David Frum at the same time.

I believe we've already had a case here in NYC where Metrocard data has been subpoenaed as evidence in a criminal case. (For those unaware, the NYC subway system has done away with tokens completely, and the bus system will do the same next year. Everything's done with electronically with Metrocards, which are actually much more convenient than having to carry a pocketful of coins everyday.)

Here's that Metrocard story, from a widely-distributed piece published in Legal Affairs, Your Cellphone is a Homing Device by Brenda I. Koerner.

Congress has always been slow to recognize the privacy implications of new technologies. Unauthorized wiretapping wasn't outlawed until 1967, 91 years after "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you," and 77 years after Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren's famous Harvard Law Review article on the importance of privacy as a legal concept. As Rosen writes in The Unwanted Gaze, "The politics of privacy tends to be largely reactive, fired by heartstring-tugging anecdotes that capture the public imagination." Not until after The Washington City Paper published Judge Robert Bork's video-rental records in 1987, for example, did Congress pass the Video Privacy Protection Act, which outlawed that kind of disclosure. At the intersection of privacy and technology, the legislative wheels require considerable grease to start turning.

There's also a substantial anti-privacy lobby, composed of industry front groups that view tough privacy laws as potential revenue killers. The Online Privacy Alliance and the Privacy Council may sound like muckraking Naderite organizations, but they're pure "Astroturf," fake grass-roots lobbies that hammer home the message that privacy restrictions hurt American business.

Law enforcement likewise views privacy laws as an impediment, especially now that it has grown accustomed to accessing location data virtually at will. Take the MetroCard, the only way for New York City commuters to pay their transit fares since the elimination of tokens. Unbeknownst to the vast majority of straphangers, the humble MetroCard is essentially a floppy disk, uniquely identified by a serial number on the flip side. Each time a subway rider swipes the card, the turnstile reads the bevy of information stored on the card's magnetic stripe, such as serial number, value, and expiration date. That data is then relayed back to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's central computers, which also record the passenger's station and entry time; the stated reason is that this allows for free transfers between buses and subways. (Bus fare machines communicate with MTA computers wirelessly.) Police have been taking full advantage of this location info to confirm or destroy alibis; in 2000, The Daily News estimated that detectives were requesting that roughly 1,000 MetroCard records be checked each year.

A mere request seems sufficient for the MTA to fork over the data. The authority learned its lesson back in 1997, when it initially balked at a New York Police Department request to view the E-ZPass toll records of a murder suspect; the cops wanted to see whether or not he'd crossed the Verrazano Narrows Bridge around the time of the crime. The MTA demanded that the NYPD obtain a subpoena, but then-Justice Colleen McMahon of the State Supreme Court disagreed. She ruled that "a reasonable person holds no expectation of confidentiality" when using E-ZPass on a public highway, and an administrative subpoena—a simple OK from a police higher-up—was enough to compel the MTA to hand over the goods.

What McMahon was advancing, in effect, was an extension of the rationale behind the rules governing "pen register" and "trap and trace" surveillance of phone lines. While police need a warrant to listen in on the content of calls, they do not need judicial warrants to monitor the phone numbers a person calls or is called from. The phone company already knows what numbers you are dialing, and their existence as a knowing third party means that you should not expect this data to be kept private—or so the logic goes. On the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, how could a toll transaction between a driver and the MTA be private, since the bridge is a public space with a zillion other drivers (third parties all) around to witness it? It doesn't take a genius to see how this argument could be extended to location data obtained through E911; if the emergency operator can get access to your GPS coordinates, how can you expect privacy? It's not like the cops are asking to know what you talked about, only where you were.

The 2002 Washington State case State v. Jackson is perhaps the only other instance of the use of location data being contested on appeal, and the conclusion was similar. In the absence of laws specifically addressing GPS, the court ruled that the police didn't need a warrant to attach a tracking device to a suspect's vehicles. The vehicle was in plain view, and the cops weren't intercepting any "communication"; in other words, the tracking conformed to the "trap and trace" standards. Never mind the obvious stretch of applying wiretap laws from the 1960s to such a novel technology.

Any time the police are allowed to act without obtaining a judicial warrant, it is natural to be concerned about whom they're accountable to. How much evidence must a detective present before he or she is given access to someone's subway habits? How easy would it be for the men and women of the 10th Precinct, right behind my apartment in New York City, to find out that I'm fond of taking the F train to East Broadway on Sunday mornings? How about the GPS data from my Motorola? The NYPD's lips are apparently sealed about this matter; despite repeated phone calls and a formal written request, spokesman Detective Walter Burnes did not respond to questions.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/10/2003 12:18:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

To fund or not to fund?

Krugman's column in the Times today is a well-justified "I told you so" to Bush about Iraq, but I am surprised that he concluded:

So will Congress give Mr. Bush the money he wants, no questions asked? It probably will, but it shouldn't. Mr. Bush created this crisis, and if he were a true patriot he would pay a political price to resolve it. Maybe it's time for him to do a couple of things he's never done before, like admitting mistakes and standing up to the hard right.

"Surprised", because Krugman seems to be ignoring the dire consequences of not funding the Iraq occupation, and he seemed to me to be much more sensible than that.

I do agree that the ideal would be to force Bush to pay a price, a severe one, for the abomination which has been his Administration's handling of Iraq, but if that's not possible, isn't it more important to consider what our moral obligation to Iraq is, now that we've taken their country apart violently, and haven't been able to put it back together again, or even keep the peace? Will the chaos we're responsible for causing in Iraq get any better if we just pull out?

Isn't that rather like the mindset of the Greens in the 2000 election, preferring to be ideologically pure by voting for Nader rather than doing the pragmatic thing and voting for the candidate who most approaches their ideals but also has a real chance of being elected?

At this point, I certainly hope that the Greens have had a change of heart about that, now that we've had to live through 2 years of disastrous Bush policies, and I see signs that this is the case, that many Greens have decided that getting rid of Bush is more imporant that being pure. Myself, despite what I wrote below about the need for the party not to move more into the center, I am being entirely pratical and will support whoever wins the Democratic nomination as the only viable candidate to get rid of Bush, even if that person is Lieberman, the most centrist of the Dems. Such practical pragmatism is necessary because we are in a distinct and severe crisis, since (and I'm trying not to be overly hyperbolic about this) I think it very possible that this country won't survive as the America we know and love if Bush gets the chance at another 4 years to wreck havoc on the liberal underpinnings of this country, and the infrastructure of international governance (which is not in any way perfect, but which has done, at the very least, a credible job of preventing us from continuing to add roman numerals to the list of World Wars).

So pragmatism really needs to win out over ideological purity (something that is alien to the neocons, clearly), and that means we need to concentrate on, at the very least, stabilizing Iraq before we even think about pulling out. That, of course, is going to take money, which, as I said, is why I'm surprised that Krugman would encourage Congress not to fund the Iraq operation.

Now, if there's some way to fund it while at the same time putting conditions and restrictions on that funding, the way that there should have been conditions and restrictions on the use of force resolution (as I said at the time), that's another matter entirely. Aren't the Democrats, and those realistic Republican critics of the Bush mishandling of Iraq, in a good position to insist on that?

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/09/2003 11:13:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Clark's right stuff

In the Washington Post, David Ignatius thinks that the mess in Iraq gives a leg up to Clark in particular among Democrats:

The Democrats' larger problem is that Iraq is now their war, too, since they mostly agree it would be disastrous for the United States to cut and run. Their critique of Bush doesn't answer the question of how to exit Iraq in a way that protects U.S. national interests and keeps faith with the Iraqi people.

It is in these delicate areas that Clark may have a special advantage if he decides to run. Indeed, but for the Iraq factor, the politically inexperienced Clark wouldn't merit serious attention.

On the big issue, Clark has the right stuff. He has commanded troops in battle and he won a decisive victory in his war -- the 1999 NATO campaign in Kosovo. He also stuck his neck out in criticizing planning for the Iraq invasion at a time when many Democrats were running for cover.

Clark's critique of the war touches all the now-obvious points: Because it deployed a thin force and couldn't invade through Turkey, the United States "trickled in, especially from the north and west" and didn't take decisive control of Saddam Hussein's strongholds. Worse, it failed to prepare seriously for postwar occupation, bungling what Clark says were obvious tasks:

"Where was the radio network that could have allowed the U.S. to communicate with the Iraqi people? Where were the thousands of Arab Americans ready to translate? Where were the trained Iraqi judges? Where was a new, mobile Iraqi police force that could have kept order? Where were the economic-development programs with contractors ready to go?"

They're all good questions, but that's not what makes Clark an interesting candidate. It's the fact that, like Dwight Eisenhower talking about Korea in 1952, the retired general can argue that he's the man to get America honorably out of a war others created.

A final reason to pay attention to Clark's version of "I told you so" is that it's linked to a broader analysis. He will argue in a book to be published next month that the administration showed "a fundamental misunderstanding of modern war." By rushing into battle, it lost the biggest advantage of American power, which is "the incredible leverage to bring other allies on board to help us."

Bush's mistake, he argues, was not in overestimating U.S. power but in underestimating it. Rather than alienating allies by crowing about America's new empire, the administration should have understood that "we already have a virtual empire," Clark says. The power of that virtual empire lies in America's inescapable dominance of the global economy and the international organizations that underpin it.

[Thanks to Shirley for the link]

Of course, Bush & the neocons couldn't possibly commit to working in that manner, because they are clearly interested in tearing down that infrastructure, the very one we were instrumental in creating and developing.

I don't have a good enough handle on the history of this, but isn't it true that conseravatives were once opposed to the U.N. because they were isolationists who didn't want us to continue to be embroiled in the problems of Europe and the rest of the world? If so, then it would be ironic and noteworthy indeed if today's conservatives, the neo-cons, objected to the U.N. and other international bodies because they potentially stand in the way of America exercising the power which they clearly feel it is our right to use as we see fit.

Ignatius also points out the Big Problem of the moment -- what should we do in Iraq? Or, in the words of The Clash: Should we stay of should we go?

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/09/2003 10:39:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



After sharing a fervent anti-Bush rant from a libertarian, Kos addresses the question of which party libertarians should support:

I've long advocated that libertarians had to make a choice. Neither major party advocates shrinking government. God knows the Democrats never will, nor should they. Republicans pretend otherwise, but they are even more eager to increase the size of government (the better to pay off their political benefactors like Halliburton).

So libertarians can either vote Libertarian, or vote for the party that is less hostile to personal liberties. The Republicans are the party of the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft, and imperial conquest. And they don't trust individuals enough with the truth, so they lie and lie to hide their true agenda.

Dean and/or Clark would take the gun issue off the table, but yeah, Democrats would repeal the tax cut to restore fiscal sanity. Democrats would enforce environmental laws that sometimes intrude on property rights. And Democrats are more apt to try and regulate businesses for a variety of (mostly altruistic) reasons.

So, to libertarians, which is more harmful to your personal liberties? The Republicans who lie about their intentions and then trample on your civil liberties while growing the size of government, or Democrats? The choice is yours.

(And to the purists who gag at the thought of welcoming libertarians under our tent, deal with it. I don't want to just eke out a victory against Bush, I want him to go down in a landslide loss, repudiating everything he and his cabal stand for. And to do that, we are going to have to welcome, with open arms, every group disaffected with the state of the nation, be it libertarians, or Greens, or -- heck -- even Southern whites.)

The tent really does have to be big if we're going to take out Bush against the background of his enormous war-chest, the systemic GOP advantage in fund-raising, and their clear no-holds-barred/take-no-prisoners attitude towards "winning" elections and retaining their deathgrip hold on the reins of powers, so I am all for welcoming almost anyone onto the ABBA bus, as long as the cost of doing so isn't even more drifting of the party to the right. We're already in a position where right-wing positions which would have been laughable and completely on the fringe 25 years ago are now totally acceptable, thanks to the right's very successful effort to bulldoze the center and push it farther and farther into wingnut territory.

We can't afford to allow that to continue.

it's not a necessity that the Democratic candidate be a "flaming liberal", but it is essential that if he's a "centrist", he's one as defined some decades ago, and not measured against where the center is today. It should clearly be part of the mission of liberal and progressive institutions to reverse some of that forced shift and return the center to where it should be.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/09/2003 02:17:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Josh Marshall sums it up

From the ever-essential Talking Points Memo:

So here the whole sordid business comes full circle. The administration games the public into an endeavor by exaggerating the gains and minimizing the price. Then the gains are revealed as not quite so great. And the price is revealed as very much greater. And if all that weren't bad enough, the operation is bungled on several fronts. So the gamers and the scammers say it's the fault of the critics who tried to carve through the mumbo-jumbo in the first place. And when the public has a touch of buyers' remorse over a product that was peddled on false advertising, the answer lies in the public's own degeneracy and division.

It's everyone's fault but theirs. 'The terrorists', domestic enemies, cultural declension, the French, perhaps tomorrow the decline of reading, the end of corporal punishment in the schools, permissive parenting, bad posture, rock 'n roll, space aliens. The administration is choking on its own lies and evasions. And we have to bail them out because the ship of state is our ship.

So the question which faces us at the moment, which I see people in the liberal blogosphere wrestling with, and coming up with vastly different responses for, is what is the right thing to do in Iraq? It clearly raises several moral and practical issues and is difficult to resolve because there are a number of legitimate concerns which essentially conflict with each other.

Of course, I have a solution, but this blog-entry is too small to contain it , and there's a certain four-year old who desperately wants me to play with him. Priorities.... I hope to return to this point tonight.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/09/2003 12:58:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


First Zinni, now Turner

Admiral Stansfield Turner, former DCI, sees hubris in Bush's Iraq policies in this piece from the Christian Science Monitor.

Hubris repeats itself ... in Iraq

By Stansfield Turner

WASHINGTON – The Greeks have a word for it - hubris.

Thucydides, the Greek historian, reminds us that in the 5th century BC the Athenian Greeks learned a lesson about having too much hubris - arrogance. The citizens went to the agora and voted to send a military expedition to what in those days was a distant Sicily. There the Syracusans were harassing a small nation-state that was something of an ally of Athens. On the day the expedition rowed away in 134 triremes - warships with three banks of oarsmen on each side - most of the populace of Athens came down to the harbor at Piraeus to cheer and send them off.

There was no reason to doubt victory. Syracuse was no more than a backward, uncultured nation-state on the outskirts of civilization. When the Athenians arrived, however, the military of Syracuse tried some new tactics that confounded the Athenian generals sufficiently that victory did not come quickly, as anticipated. Instead, the Athenians had to send home for reinforcements. After two years of war, the Athenian force in Sicily was so decimated that few managed to return home. This was only the beginning of problems for Athens, however. In another nine years the Athenians had lost their empire abroad and their democracy at home. The hubris that had carried them to Sicily had started them on the road to their downfall.

Is it not time for us to recognize that there was a good deal of hubris behind our decision to invade Iraq? It impelled Congress to pass a resolution in support of an attack, the president to decide to invade, and the American public to give wide support to his doing so. The initial fighting went well, but the enemy's tactics since have not been what we anticipated.

In fact, most of the assumptions behind our invasion have been proven wrong: The intelligence did not support the imminence of a threat, the Iraqis have not broadly welcomed us as liberators, the idea that we could manage this action almost unilaterally is giving way to pleas for troops and money from other nations, the aversion to giving the UN a meaningful role is eroding daily, and the reluctance to get involved in nation building is being supplanted by just that.

Despite these reversals of course, our current policy appears to be to "stay the course." The problem with not acknowledging that we are changing course is that it makes us do so begrudgingly. The longer we hesitate to increase our troop strength in Iraq; to pour billions of dollars of our own money into reconstruction; and to invite the UN to play a substantive, decisionmaking role, the more the chance of failure increases.

Failure in Iraq is simply unacceptable. It would not be just a severe embarrassment, as it was in Vietnam. It would be caving-in to terrorists, and not just to terrorists in Iraq. The president's worldwide "war on terrorism" would be seen as having folded up the minute the going got tough. Whether Al Qaeda has operated out of Iraq in the past or not, it almost certainly would do so in the future.

There is, of course, a possibility that muddling along on the fallacious assumptions we have been employing will succeed after all. The problem with risking this is that so much is riding on our performance in Iraq.

We cannot take that chance. Only the president can declare a change of course. His acknowledgment that we have made some mistaken assumptions and are changing direction would help to repair our strained relations with much of the world community. And from the president's viewpoint it would also be a good insurance policy against our being mired down in a chaotic Iraq 12 months from now, when the election campaign heats up.

Adm. Stansfield Turner, former director of central intelligence, is on the faculty of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland.

[via Thinking It Through]

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/09/2003 12:57:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Hesiod has a good idea

From Counterspin Central:

Now that Bush is attempting to steal their "internationalize Iraqi security" argument, it's time for the players in the Democratic party to step up, and propose something that would be good for U.S. long-term security interests, good for the Iraqis, good for regional cooperation...and also something, therefore, Bush will avoid like the plague.

An international "Rebuild Iraq" conference.

Set it in, say, Egypt...and invite all the regional and international players, including Iran, to develop with Iraqi representatives, a comprehensive, time-table and plan for reconstructing Iraq, restoring security, and developing democratic institutions and a Constitution.

Make it part of the new UN resolution we are seeking.

Offer all of these players a seat at the table. Thus, if they refuse to show up...they have only themselves to blame for being frozen out of any reconstruction effort. They need a vested interest in the outcome before they lift a finger to help George W. Bush extricate himself from this predicament.

This, of course, will require the United States to relinquish a great deal of control over how the reconstruction will take place. I suspect that most countries would be more than willing to let the U.S. keep control of the "Iraqi security" portfolio, however.

More about this, and the related question of what could conceivably be a reasonable exit strategy for the US in Iraq, later.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/09/2003 12:07:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, September 08, 2003

Bookman: Fire these guys

Incompetence, pure and simple. Incompetence engendered by ideologically-induced blindness, the inability to clearly see the nature of reality, because one's dogma requires that it be something else.

A few days ago, I referred to a report issued by the Army War College in February which warned against the difficulties involved in occupying and reconstructing Iraq. Today, in Jay Bookman's op-ed (which Atrios calls "essential") he refers to the same report, as well as to studies made by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (A Wiser Peace, issued in January) and the Council on Foreign Relations (Guiding Principles for U.S. Post-Conflict Policy in Iraq, which came out in December).

Here's Bookman's piece, which is hardly in need of additional commentary from me.

What about the 90-day occupation?


Last February, with invasion just weeks away, sources in the Bush administration told Newsweek that they were expecting a postwar occupation of Iraq of 30 to 90 days.

"Every day you get past three months, you've got to expect peacekeepers to have a bull's-eye on their head," the sources explained.

Even at the time, a spokesman for Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith suggested that three months might be too optimistic. It was probably wiser to think five or six months on the outside, Lt. Col. Michael Humm said.

At the time, Pentagon officials also claimed that Iraq's oil wealth would make it unnecessary to ask other countries for financial help with reconstruction. "I don't see the need for panhandling like that," the Pentagon source said.

A month later, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz issued his own warning of how tough the occupation would be. Ruling Iraq, he said, would be like ruling liberated France after World War II.

He and his colleagues ought to be fired. Not only did they believe those fantasies, they also made their ideological pipe dreams the basis of our postwar planning, and today we're reaping the consequences.

Just last week, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni fiercely lambasted our postwar planning, warning that "there is no strategy or mechanism for putting the pieces together." As a result, "we're in danger of failing." His audience, comprising Navy and Marine officers, broke out in prolonged applause.

A day or two earlier, someone in the Pentagon had leaked a top-secret analysis -- commissioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- that had also been harshly critical of the Pentagon's occupation planning.

In response, defenders of postwar planning in essence ask, "Who knew . . . ?"

Who knew Iraq's oil industry was so decrepit? Who predicted guerrilla war? Who knew it would cost so much? Who knew that the Iraqi army, which we disbanded back in May, would have been so useful in keeping peace?

Well, a lot of people knew. The administration simply did not listen.

Nine months ago, the well-respected Center for Strategic and International Studies warned that we were sorely ill-prepared for an occupation, listing 10 key steps the United States had to take before invading. Not one was achieved.

The CSIS report cautioned that Iraqi oil proceeds could not begin to cover reconstruction costs. It warned that the Iraqi army had an important role to play, and recommended a donors conference be convened even before war began.

It stressed, in underline and in italics, "Do not underestimate post-conflict security needs."

Another report, this one by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy, also stressed the importance of maintaining the Iraqi army, and it too warned against "a great deal of wishful thinking about Iraqi oil." Released in December, it estimated that up to $100 billion would be needed to reconstruct Iraq.

But perhaps the most perceptive work was done by the U.S. Army War College, the military's own think tank. Its report, issued in February, reads like an after-the-fact autopsy:

• "Having entered into Iraq, the United States will find itself unable to leave rapidly, despite the many pressures to do so."

• "A small number of terrorists could reasonably choose to attack U.S. forces in the hope that they can incite an action-reaction cycle that will enhance their cause and increase their numbers."

• "If the United States assumes control of Iraq, it will assume control of a badly battered economy."

• "To tear apart the [Iraqi] army in the war's aftermath could lead to the destruction of one of the only forces for unity within the society."

Most chilling of all, however, is the report's conclusion:

"Without an overwhelming effort to prepare for occupation, the United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making."

Like I said, these guys ought to be fired.

Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 11:51:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Mel Gibson, true Christian

It's been quite a while since I've been even nominally Christian, so perhaps things have changed in the meantime. Is this excerpt from a piece in the NY Daily News really supposed to represent Christian values?

Gibson also lays his lash on New York Times columnist Frank Rich. Responding to remarks about the Holocaust made in The Times by Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, Rich accused the actor's camp of using "PR spin to defend a Holocaust denier."

Mel Gibson says of Rich, "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. ... I want to kill his dog." (Rich told us, through a Times spokeswoman, "I don't have a dog.")

[via Roger Ailes]

Sounds rather barbaric and bloodthirsty to me. Didn't Jesus say something about "turning the other cheek" and wasn't he generally in favor of loving one's fellow man?

I guess Mel's father, who's apparently more Catholic than the Pope, didn't do such a great job of teaching his son Christian morality. I sure hope this atheist is doing a better job with his kids.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 10:34:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Are you a {gasp!} neo-con?

From the Christian Science Monitor, a very interesting quiz to help determine if you are a neo-con, part of a special report called Empire builders: Neoconservatives and their blueprint for US power.

There are 10 questions, each dealing with a different foreign policy conundrum, and 4 possible answers to each one. At the end, you're typed as either an Isolationist, a Liberal, a Realist or a Neoconservative, so my assumption is that each of the four responses represents (broadly speaking) those four philosophies. It's relatively easy to identify the responses representing the two outlier ideologies (Isolationism and Neoconservatism), but rather more difficult to separate the Liberal response from the Realist response, which either indicates that these are both essentially centrist positions which overlap considerably, differing primarily in emphasis, or, alternately, that as I age, some Realist ideas about the use of American power begin to make sense to me.

In any case, I still scored as a "Liberal", so I guess I haven't strayed too far from my youthful ideals.

[via Follow Me Here]

Update: "I guess I haven't strayed far from my youthful ideals." At least as far a being a "liberal" as defined by the Christian Science Monitor!

Seriously, some of my friends took the test and had the same reaction as I did, that it was difficult to choose between the answers that presumably represented the "Liberal" viewpoint and those that represented "Realism". In the end, for several of the questions I chose one of the two responses by eliminating the other because of relatively small matters of emphasis.

What I'd like to do is take each question, and the four responses, and delete any statements which I can not agree with, then string the remaining statements together and see if they more accurately represent my foreign policy inclinations.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 07:54:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Chocolate-makers' delight

Since I seem to be dwelling on irony, let me say that I entirely missed one obvious recent instance, which is that soon after a State department spokesperson publicly derided Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Germany as "chocolate makers", the Woman's Final at the U.S. Open was an all-Belgian affair between Kim Clijsters and Justin Henin-Hardenne, who won.

Not exactly the comeuppance deserved, but a nice little irony.

(Gee, but it's been great having adults in charge again, isn't it?)

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 07:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More shorter George Bush

This time from Billmon, who writes:

Short form George Bush: "Iraq is now the central front in the global war against absolute evil, but it's not so important that we have to roll back any of my tax cuts, send more U.S. troops to Iraq or do anything else that might make swing voters slightly less likely to vote for me next year. Thank you and God Bless America."

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 05:08:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


First day of school

Today was the first day of school here in New York City, and for the first time the crowd of children descending on city schools included my son, Connor, who began Pre-K this morning. A pretty momentous day, and one we've been looking forward to for a while. He did a great job, raising his hand when he wanted to talk and paying good attention to the teacher. I do believe he may require some remedial "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes" instruction, as he got lost along the way, and didn't have a clue what to do during the complex "Eyes & Ears & Mouth & Nose" section, but I'm sure he'll pull it together before the end of the school year.

Afterwards, he did even better at the eye doctor, where we found out that he'll need glasses, at least for a while. Then pizza for lunch, and home for a nap and the Yankee game.

(So much for no "what I did today posts." I'd better stop making rules for myself and just write what I feel like writing, and hope that someone out there finds it interesting.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 03:43:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bush delivers

No one can ever say that the Bush administration doesn't service its clients:

Bush administration fulfills wish list for corporate America

By Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration eased a series of important environmental regulations in a quiet flurry of late-summer activity, delivering almost every rule change on corporate America's wish list.

In the past few weeks, the administration diluted federal rules governing air pollution from old coal-fired power plants; emissions that cause global warming; ballast water on ships contaminated with foreign species of plants and animals; sales of land tainted with PCBs; drilling for oil and gas on federal land; and scientific studies that underpin federal regulations.

In every case the business community got what it wanted, and environmentalists got mad.


Bill Kovacs, the vice president for environmental issues of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the business community won more environmental battles during the final week of August than it had during the entire eight years of the Clinton administration.

"We certainly had a number of victories this week; I don't think anyone can deny that," Kovacs said on the Friday before Labor Day.

He and two big-industry lobbyists said the Bush administration had delivered nearly every environmental regulatory change business put on its to-do list in January 2001. Their industries got every change they wanted, the lobbyists said.

"This administration is dismantling anything that's impairing industry or the private sector's ability to develop, use land or produce energy," said Carl Reidel, professor emeritus of environmental policy and law at the University of Vermont.

Experts say the timing of the changes wasn't accidental.

"They need to get this stuff out of the way before they get into an election year; they need to get enough below the radar," said political science professor Stephen Meyer, the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Project on Environmental Politics and Policy.


The decisions included:

- Two controversial changes in a rule governing expansion of old coal-fired power plants, dramatically easing the rules requiring companies to install new pollution controls when they make big upgrades.

- Two legal opinions ruling that carbon dioxide, which most scientists say is the chief cause of global warming, isn't a pollutant that the EPA can cite to regulate emissions from cars and power plants. The rulings reverse a Clinton administration legal opinion that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

- An EPA legal opinion declaring that it won't regulate ships' ballast water under the Clean Water Act, turning the issue over to the Coast Guard. The ballast water contains billions of tiny fish, plants and other foreign invasive species that scientists say are major threats to native species in American waters.

- An edict changing a 25-year-old rule to allow the sale of land tainted with toxic PCBs.

- An order to Bureau of Land Management field offices in the West telling them to speed up the process permitting drilling for oil and gas on federal lands.

- A new Office of Management and Budget policy governing scientific studies used to justify costly federal regulations. The policy orders more stringent peer review; environmentalists fear it will slow the enactment of environmental regulations.


Unable to get bills that would weaken environmental laws through Congress, the administration made all these changes as administrative rulings.

"They leave the laws in place, but undermine the regulations below them, undermine the rules and undermine the agencies," said MIT's Meyer. "The details get lost because the average person doesn't have the details or the time to follow it."

[Thanks to Shirley for the link]

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 02:23:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A Journey Across Uncanny Valley

From Popular Science via and the Philip K. Dick Mailing List

The Man Who Mistook His Girlfriend for a Robot

by Dan Ferber


It's the fourth day of a scientific conference in Denver—four busy February days in a huge rabbit-warren convention center with long hallways and fluorescent lighting and serious scientists giving serious PowerPoint presentations in darkened auditoriums; four days of breakthroughs and advances—nanotech to biotech, anthropology to zoology, the whole mind-spinning stew. Four days, for the assembled journalists, of making sense of it all and banging out stories on the fly—and now comes word of what could be a light interlude: Keep an eye out for the guy carrying the head. Say what? The robotic human head. The press people for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the conference's sponsor, say the demonstration's on for tomorrow morning.

For now, though: another darkened auditorium, another presentation, this one on biologically inspired intelligent robots, robots that emulate the form and function of real creatures. Yoseph Bar-Cohen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a roundish, gray-haired dynamo, gives a whirlwind tour of the possibilities, which he says are not far off—insect-like bots that walk and fly and crawl and hop, others that dive and swim. Cynthia Breazeal from the MIT Media Lab shows videos of the world's most lovable robot, the infant-like Kismet, looking up innocently at a woman who's practically cooing at it; Breazeal talks about how she gave Kismet emotions and why. Finally, there's David Hanson, a grad student in interactive arts and engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas. He's got thick dark hair, a square jaw, urban-hip artsy sideburns, and he's moving a bit jerkily in a nervous-but-trying-to-stay-calm sort of way. This, it turns out, is the guy with the head—but the head is out of commission today and he's just showing slides: a smiling urethane self-portrait, a tan bot named Andy-roid, a pirate robot with earring and eye patch. Overlook the fact that they're disembodied heads and they all look remarkably lifelike.

And that, it turns out, makes Hanson's heads unique. The humanoids that have made news the past few years—Asimo, Grace, Kismet—are fine robots all, talented, versatile, smart, friendly. Asimo, the plastic-suited Honda humanoid, walks on two legs and welcomes visitors to the factory that builds it. Carnegie Mellon's Grace, a six-foot-tall conglomeration of metal parts on wheels topped with an animated computer-monitor face, registered itself for a conference last year, found its way to the right room, and gave a presentation. Kismet, the media darling of a few years back, looks people in the eye, smiles when they do, and learns just like a baby would, by watching and copying. Who wouldn't like these three? Other robots are being designed to work as nurses, tutors, servants and companions. But despite their talents, every one of these robots looks ... well, like a robot. They're sometimes appealing in a cartoonish sort of way, but they're metallic, awkward, clunky.

Not Hanson's heads. And for that reason, the next morning at 10:30 sharp the reporters are waiting—a roomful of them—and TV cameras are here to capture the debut of Hanson's latest, most advanced model. Hanson, 33, walks in and sets something on a table. It's a backless head, bolted to a wooden platform, but it's got a face, a real face, with soft flesh-toned polymer skin and finely sculpted features and high cheekbones and big blue eyes. Hanson hooks it up to his laptop, fiddles with the wires. He's not saying much; it might be an awkward moment except for the fact that everyone else is too busy checking out the head to notice. Then Hanson taps a few keys and . . . it moves. It looks left and right. It smiles. It frowns, sneers, knits its brows anxiously. Now the questions start, and Hanson is in his element: The head's got 24 servomotors, he says, covering the major muscles in the human face. It's got digital cameras in its eyes, to watch the people watching it, and new software will soon let the head mimic viewers. Its name is K-Bot, and it's modeled after Kristen Nelson, his lab assistant.

And K-Bot is a hit. In the weeks following the head's debut, stories appear in newspapers and television on six continents. Hanson receives an abundance of e-mails and phone calls: from scientists who want to collaborate, from companies that make prosthetics and surgical-training devices, from movie producers, from companies that make sex dolls., a Web site that serves up humanoid parts, software and news, places Hanson's robot at the top of its list of 22 head projects, enthusing: "WOW—this guy is clearly one of the top head builders in the WORLD."

For a 33-year-old UTD grad student, it's an extraordinary burst of attention. But at least in the short term, the whole thing plays out just the way the buzz had billed it: Hanson's K-Bot serves, for a moment, as a light interlude. No one asks why, of all the roboticists in the world, only Hanson appears to be attempting to build a robotic head that is indistinguishable in form and function from a human. No one points out that he is violating a decades-old taboo among robot designers. And no one asks him how he's going to do it—how he plans to cross to the other side of the Uncanny Valley.


In the late '70s, a Japanese roboticist named Masahiro Mori published what would become a highly influential insight into the interplay between robotic design and human psychology. Mori's central concept holds that if you plot similarity to humans on the x-axis against emotional reaction on the y, you'll find a funny thing happens on the way to the perfectly lifelike android. Predictably, the curve rises steadily, emotional embrace growing as robots become more human-like. But at a certain point, just shy of true verisimilitude, the curve plunges down, through the floor of neutrality and into real revulsion, before rising again to a second peak of acceptance that corresponds with 100 percent human-like. This chasm—Mori's Uncanny Valley—represents the notion that something that's like a human but slightly off will make people recoil. Here there be monsters.


Breazeal, creator of Kismet, has, like many of her colleagues, taken both inspiration and warning from the Uncanny Valley. Kismet's gentle expression and enormous baby-blue eyes are designed to get the robot as close as possible on the acceptance curve to Mori's first peak, but it's so indisputably still a robot that there's no chance of it toppling over the precipice. To relate socially to a machine, Breazeal says, people must accept it. A mechanical human face that doesn't look quite right is "disquieting," she says. A realistic face that doesn't move right would be "doubly creepy."


[D]espite its status as dogma, the Uncanny Valley is nothing more than a theory. "We have evidence that it's true, and evidence that it's not," says Sara Kiesler, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University who studies human-robot interaction. She calls the debate "theological," with both sides arguing with firm convictions and little scientific evidence—and says that the back-and-forth is most intense when it comes to faces. "I'd like to test it," she says, "with talking heads."


[Thanks to ecritoire for the link]

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 01:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What's New

For anyone interested in science and the politics of science policy, I recommend a subscription to Robert L. Park's What's New e-mail newsletter. Here's an item from the current issue:

THE POWER GRID: IS IT A METAPHOR FOR THE MODERN WORLD? The lights over most of the northeastern United States and parts of Canada began to flicker at 4:11 pm on Thursday, August 14. It was the most extensive electrical blackout in history, yet no one seems to understand how it happened. At least five electric power organizations that share a common grid are pointing fingers at one another. The purpose of the grid is clear: because electric power cannot be stored, power companies must generate the exact amount of power that is being used, literally responding to every electrical switch that is thrown. Linking power companies in a vast grid relies on better statistics to smooth demand, thus reducing local blackouts. But the grid has grown so complex no one understands it. That makes it perfect for congressional hearings. This week Energy Secretary Abraham and two governors testified before the House Energy Committee, chaired by "Billy" Tauzin (R-LA), without clearing anything up; more hearings today.

Opinions are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the University or the American Physical Society, but they should be.

Archives of What's New can be found at
To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to:

Update (9/12/03): I inadvertantly left the "unsubscribe" link in instead of the "subscribe" link as I had intended, and some kind person was nice enough to use it to unsubscribe me from the "What's New" list. I do hope it was an error, a mere slip of the mouse, because otherwise it seems a very petty and childish thing to do.

Update (9/15/03): Well, if it was an error, it's one that's occured twice now.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 01:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Daily Snopes

The Urban Legends Reference Pages at (aka "Snopes") has a new feature, Daily Snopes, which they describe as:

[A] daily collection of links to news articles and web sites of interest to readers of our web site. ... Stories are chosen for inclusion here purely on the basis of their entertainment value; we make no claims about the reliability of information linked from this page

On another front, Atrios said Snopes should apologize to Michael Moore about their handling of the bin Laden family being allowed to fly out of the US story, and, apparently, they did.

I love Snopes, my first stop whenever I want to debunk a dubious e-mail circular.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 01:01:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



From an article in the Times by Warren St. John about political couples

There is at least one other source of friction in the lives of political marriages: politics itself. Couples with differing but passionate political views face the risk that every dinner table gathering can turn into a "Crossfire" episode with no time limit. Mr. Schwarzenegger has tried to turn his political differences with Ms. Shriver into an asset: he said recently that he thought he was well suited to bipartisanship because "I have lived with a Democrat for 17 years."

If the political differences become too acute, Ms. Shriver can always follow the example of Thomas Wilde of Portland, Ore. In 1996, Mr. Wilde was the campaign director of a bid by his wife, Melinda Wilde, for a State Senate seat, when, frustrated by their constant bickering over political issues, he resigned and announced his own candidacy for the seat.

Mr. Wilde won. The marriage survives.


Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 12:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I'm not really a sports fan in general, just a baseball fan and occasionally watcher of tennis. Football, basketball and hockey I'll watch once in a blue moon, gymnastics every four years is quite enough, the same for ice skating (my apologies to my very good friends who adore the sport), and golf doesn't even appear on my radar screen. (I did really get into curling in the last Winter Olympics. I always thought it was a pretty silly activity, but I changed my mind after some real exposure to it. Oh, and I got caught up in watching snooker when I was in the U.K. a while ago.) But baseball's a passion, and I watch a lot of tennis during the U.S. Open, and, sometimes, Wimbeldon.

I was glad that Andy Roddick won the open, especially considering the fabulous comeback he had to make to survive his semi-final match with David Nalbandian. He looked overwhelmed to have won, and seems like a nice kid, running crying into the stands after the match to hug his friends and family, but the match itself was pretty boring. If Roddick wasn't bombing Ferraro with a ~140 m.p.h. serve (it's really unbelievable that anyone could even get to a serve hit that fast, let alone return it), the two were slamming away at each other from the baseline. Neither of them came into the net more than a couple of time, as far as I can recall, and great gets weren't all that common. For someone whose introduction to U.S. Open tennis was John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, it just wasn't that interesting to watch. Once you'd awed by Roddick's serve...

Still, considering that they played almost no tennis for 3 or 4 days, it was pretty amazing that they managed to get everything in on time and didn't have to extend the tournament another day. (CBS would have had a cow, I assume.)

Incidentally, why did CBS not use the "Hawkeye" computerized technology that USA used in their coverage, to examine close calls on the lines? CBS had their lame "MacCams" (excuse me, "Dupont MacCams") which were fuzzier and (at least apparently) less definitive. If CBS passed up the opportunity to use "Hawkeye", they made a big mistake, especially considering that Ferraro complained about a number of calls.

Earlier in the day, on the baseball front, I was happy that the Yankees managed to beat the Red Sox this afternoon, avoding the sweep and taking the edge in the season series, 10-9. The Bombers got bombed by the BoSox on Friday (9-3) and Saturday (11-0) and it seemed as if they were falling apart, since they got clobbered in a similar fashion by the White Sox just about 10 days ago. Unfortunately for me, that series came almost immediately after I had picked the Yankees to win it all, confident that the Red Sox would do their annual dive and get out of the way. Now, that doesn't look like it's going to happen (the Yankee announcers are right in saying that this is the best Red Sox team in a long time, with more power than the Yankees have, and with pitching that's almost as good).

I guess I'll stick with my prediction for the time being: Yankees vs. Atlanta in the World Series, New York wins it.

Incidentally, I'm not one of those New Yorkers who believes you can only root for one of our resident baseball teams at the expense of the other. I follow and enjoy both the Yankees and the Mets, and have been doing so since I was a kid. (Actually, I've more of a serial team follower over the years: first the Yankees, then the Amazin' Mets, then the Yankees, then a long period without baseball, then the Mets, then the Yankees, now, both, with an edge to the Yankees.) When I have to choose which team to watch, I pick the one playing the most interesting brand of baseball at that moment.

This year's Mets are in no danger of winning anything at all, and in mid-season they were very bad indeed, but since they've started their rebuilding effort, fielding a team full of rookies, they've been sort of fun to watch. I think they have already the nucleas of a team which can compete decently next year, assuming, of course, they find some pitching and plug up a few holes.

No matter, with great confidence, I pick the Mets for the NL East cellar.

(Incidentally, the Yankee/Mets divide is, I believe, primarily geographical, with Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island going with the Mets, and New Jersey, the Bronx and most of Manhattan favoring the Yankees. The fact that I grew up in Westchester may have been a factor which allowed me to go either way. I was somewhat closer to Yankke Stadium, but I saw my first Mets game at the old Polo Grounds, right across the Harlem River from the Stadium. With the move to Shea, they were farther away, but not too far.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2003 12:11:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, September 07, 2003

More on "Violet Hour"

This week's Sunday NY Times Arts & Leisure section had a nice profile of Richard Greenberg, the playwright of The Violet Hour, the play I'll be starting rehearsals on in a week. (There was also a largish ad for the play -- it's always nice to see my name in print, I'll admit, since it doesn't happen all that often.)

At first glance, Mr. Greenberg hardly seems the type of playwright to engage a Broadway audience weaned on show tunes and one-liners. His plays don't fit easily into traditional categories of comedy or drama; they are often funny and sad at the same moment. And while the subject matter may range from materialistic yuppies ("Eastern Standard") to pack-rat eccentrics ("The Dazzle"), all of his plays — and characters — share a loquacious intelligence and a taste for touching on big philosophical issues.

"The Violet Hour," which had its world premiere in November 2002 at the South Coast Repertory Theater in Costa Mesa, Calif., is no exception. Set in 1919, the play tells the story of an idealistic young publisher, John Pace Seavering (to be played on Broadway by Robert Sean Leonard), who is forced to choose between publishing a book by his best friend, Denis, an aspiring writer (Scott Foley), or his lover, a soul singer named Jessie Brewster (Jasmine Guy). Into this fairly straightforward scenario, however, Mr. Greenberg introduces a supernatural conceit: a machine that spews pages from history books — written in the future — about all the characters' lives.

"I really don't know where it came from," he said of the plot, in a recent interview in the theater district office of the play's publicist. "It's not like me at all. I don't really respond to fantasy or science fiction. But somehow it just seemed intrinsic to this."

While the specific dramatic device may be different with "The Violet Hour," Mr. Greenberg still is returning to topics that obviously fascinate him: time and destiny, and how free will plays a part — or doesn't — in the story of one's life.

"I'm always trying to construe time," Mr. Greenberg said. "I'm constantly trying to make constructions on it and make the passage of it real to myself. Nowadays, when I see someone who is old and withered and down, I'll think, `How old was he in 1968?' and realize he was much younger than I am now."

It is an obsession that is evident in plays like "Three Days of Rain," a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998, in which three grown children try to discover the mystery of their parents' personal and professional relationships. (The three actors in the cast play the children in the first act and their parents in the second.) Or in "The Dazzle," in which two eccentric brothers, the real-life Collyers, who died together in a crepuscular Harlem mansion in 1947, slowly waste away their lives as their possessions literally swallow them up.

Both "The Dazzle" — which covers several decades in the early 20th century — and "The Violet Hour" betray another point of fascination for Mr. Greenberg: the past, which he views as a vast, and remarkably flexible, source of settings and material.

"I like the past because it doesn't change as quickly as the present," he said. "You start with an imaginative leap when you're working in the past — you're not relying on verisimilitude, you're not relying on echoes of what you've heard that day on the street and you're not responsible to whatever is the common wisdom of the day. There's an expansiveness to the language there that I find very comfortable."


The first impetus for "The Violet Hour," in 2000, had derived from an idea to write a part for Lynne Thigpen, the accomplished black actress whom Mr. Greenberg knew only casually. (Ms. Thigpen died in March.) Her character, Jessie, the singer, was soon joined by a pair of wounded men: John, the rich boy with a wide streak of guilt, and Denny, the poor boy with a taste for pretentious, slightly unhinged women.

Soon he had visualized all five characters — including Rosamund (portrayed by Laura Benanti), Denny's love interest, and a peculiar assistant named Gidger (Mario Cantone) — and a not quite complete story. What followed was months of thinking about the play, periodically jotting down snippets of dialogue and scenes and putting them in a pile on his desk (he always writes on a typewriter), notes that would later act as structural supports for the rest of the show.

So it was that when Mr. Patch from the South Coast Rep called, Mr. Greenberg said, he just typed it out, though he added that the speed at which he writes is in large part an illusion.

"I always pretend to write really quickly because I don't actually start writing until the play is practically finished," he explained. "I had been walking around with this idea for at least a year by the time I decided to write it. So it's almost secretarial when I sit down to write."


"The Violet Hour" marks his seventh production with the Manhattan Theater Club, but the first to open on Broadway without a previous Off Broadway run. (The club's two other theaters, at City Center, are both Off Broadway-size.)

In the Biltmore, however, "The Violet Hour" may have found an ideal home; the theater was built in 1925, just after the time in which the play is set, an era in which new plays on Broadway were as common as the sunrise. Much of the theater's interior has been preserved or restored as part of the building's $35 million renovation, including its domed ceilings.

And its intent, said [MTC Artistic Director Lynne] Meadow, will be to recreate a taste of that period. "This will be a home for new work," she said.

For a writer so entranced by the detail of history, both personal and societal, that would seem to be a perfect fit.

"I'm not really interested in this idea, this homogenization that people pursue to show that the past is in fact just a version of the present," Mr. Greenberg said. "I'm interested in how the past isn't anything like the present. For me, that's the exciting part."

And Bruce Weber, one of the Times' theatre critics, also referred to it as
"A highlight of the fall season, or so it is to be hoped."

(So much for "More commentary, less excerpted material.")

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/07/2003 11:06:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Common friends

There are some funny things about this new Internet-intensive digital e-life some of us lead. It builds up strange sorts of relationships that don't quite fit into any of the normal categories.

For instance, as I mentioned in the last post, I'm a member of an e-mail discussion group which has been going on, in one form or another, for 6 or 7 years now. I've been corresponding with some of those folks for the entire period of time, reading their e-mails and responding to their thoughts and feelings on a daily basis. Certainly, I know certain aspects of their personalities very well, and yet of the two dozen or so current members of the group, I've spoken to at best 2 or 3 of them a couple of times on the phone, met a few of them once (I missed a big group meeting that took place early on), and otherwise know them almost entirely from our semi-private (and occasionally private) correspondence across the years.

Are these people "friends" to me? "Acquaintances"? Mere "correspondents"? Does any word accurately catch the complex nature of my relationship to them? I dunno, maybe we need a new word, but I've opted to use "friend", because I think it comes closest to describing the nature of my connections to them.

We've argued with each other, and supported each other in arguments with others; we've shared some of the joys and disappointments in our separate lives, and have also undoubtedly disappointed each other at times; we've survived major public disasters by acting as a support group to rely on, but we've also fractured on the cleavage points created by other events; we've waxed close and waned distant, but, collectively, we've not been able to give up our addiction to each other's e-pistolary company. (Sorry.)

There are some people in "real life", in the "meat world", who I call my friends, but who I do not know as well as the folks in my group, and with whom I've exchanged fewer complex thoughts over the years then I have with the members of the group, so "friend" seems entirely appropriate.

P.S. I intended this to be the beginning of a longer piece about what the nature of "knowing" someone is in the age of celebrity and in the context of the Internet, but that part never really got off the ground, so I abandoned it. This first part, however, I thought was important to say.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/07/2003 10:27:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Week evaluation

It's the end of my first week as a greenie tyro blogger, and time, therefore, for a brutal self-evaluation:
  • I have yet to find the right tone of voice to use in writing here. While for the most part I thnk I've been fairly successful at avoiding the folksy overly-colloquial voice, I think I have strayed a bit into an overly formal voice that feels a bit strained to me when I read it back. My assumption is that it's just a matter of time until I settle into a groove that feels right. I hope that's true.

  • More commentary, less excerpted material.

  • It's harder than I anticipated to write to an audience the size of which probably hovers somewhere around zero.

    For a couple of years now, I've been doing what I thought was a very blogging-like thing with a private e-mail group of which I'm a member (about which more later), surfing the web and selecting interesting stuff to post, but the ratio of commentary to quoted material in those messages was usually quite low (unless the material unleashed me in some way) and I was always aware of the collective personality of the 20 - 40 people who were (I assume) reading the message. I feel a little at sea without a definite audience to aim at, inhibited by both the idea that no one could be reading, and by the possibility that people I don't know at all could be reading. Since in real life I also suffer from stage fright, despite having acted in high school, college and summer stock, I recognize the feeling: it's not quite fear of failure, more like fear of looking ridiculous.

    The sum total is that blogging turns out to be somewhat different, and somewhat harder, than I imagined.

  • Also not quite settled is the balance of material. While I'm primarily focused on the political, I realize that there's no way I can perform up to the standards of the political bloggers I most admire. I just don't have it in me to search out stuff in every little nook and cranny on the Web, which means that I'm bound to end up commenting on the same major stories that everyone else is commenting on, and, most of the time, what I have to say doesn't differ all that much from what they have to say. (In fact, one factor which kept me from starting up this site for quite a while is that I usally agree with about 97% of everything Kevin Drum writes for CalPundit -- or, rather, everything that he writes on subjects about which I have an opinion -- which raised the question of why I should bother, since he was pretty much representing my viewpoint. In the end, my ego finally won out over my sense of trepidation, and I thought it worth a try. The jury remains out, though.)

    While I really do want to stay away from the "What I did today" style of blogging, I think I'm going to try to allow my activities and interests and what I'm reading at the moment to trigger what I write about, even if that means that some days I write something, and some days I don't, and that I don't end up commenting on every event of the day, simply because it's "political".

    (I'm also operating at something of a disadvantage, since I really can't bear to see or hear George W. Bush, and have no intention of subjecting my sensibilities to him just in order to comments on what he says -- not when I'm also taking blood-pressure medication to control mild hypertension. I'm also full of admiration for those who can monitor the weblogs and websites of the right-wing, as I have absolutely no patience with their brand of patent nonsense, and rely on others to report what they're up to online.)

Bottom line? After a week of blogging, I'd give myself a "C".

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/07/2003 10:13:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Confirmation of more irony

An article in Sunday's Washington Post lays out some chilling details on what many of us were certain was true, that the Bush administration didn't make us any safer with their bungled and poorly planned invasion of Iraq, it simply created a new opportunity for al Qaeda:

Two years after the attacks on the United States, Osama bin Laden's leadership cadre has been isolated and weakened and is increasingly reliant on the violent actions of local radicals around the world to maintain its profile. But the al Qaeda network is determined to open a new front in Iraq to sustain itself as the vanguard of radical Islamic groups fighting holy war, according to European, American and Arab intelligence sources.

The turn toward Iraq was made in February, as U.S. forces were preparing to attack, the sources said.


"The monster is already near you," said one Arab official who is familiar with the intelligence and who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name or nationality. "I don't know if you can kill it."

The official added: "Iraq is the new battleground. It is the perfect place. It will be the perfect place."


Crossing Iraq's borders with Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent with Jordan and Turkey, hundreds of foreign fighters have begun to flow into the country, according to both U.S. and Arab officials.

A U.S. military official said in a recent interview that there were already 220 foreign fighters in U.S. custody in Iraq. But American and Arab officials also said that al Qaeda has not yet coalesced in Iraq, and Zarqawi's mission to form a new network and manage these fighters in the country is still embryonic.

The occupation of Iraq -- once the home of the caliph, or universal leader, of Muslims -- is a galvanizing symbol for radical Islamic groups. On Internet sites and in mosques across the Islamic world, thousands of potential fighters are hearing -- and heeding -- calls to go to Iraq to fight the infidel, according to European and Arab intelligence sources who have tracked some of the movements of the recruits.


"They are coming," said an Arab official from a country that borders Iraq. "They are coming from everywhere."


Firm numbers on foreign fighters in Iraq are impossible to come by, but estimates in the intelligence community in Washington on how many have already entered the country range from 1,000 to several thousand. U.S. military officers in Iraq, and officials with the occupying authority led by L. Paul Bremer, say the figure is much lower but don't deny the potential threat the fighters represent or the difficulty of policing Iraq's borders.


But even in the muted language of those attempting to put the best face on the situation in Iraq, the fear of al Qaeda is apparent. "There is a significant concern about the people moving in here," said a senior U.S. official in Baghdad. "I don't feel they have the capacity right now where they're sitting and organizing and being very strategic." But, he added, it "could be a threat down the line."

There is a lot more in the article, so read it.

Josh Marshall has some comments, which are also (as ever) worthwhile, but it's too late for me to whip up any deep thoughts tonight -- it'll have to wait til the morning.

Update: In a later post, Marshall expresses some doubts about the Iran part of this story (which I didn't include in the excerpt above), based in part on JuanCole's comments about it. But I think Marshall is correct when he writes:

1) The chaos in Iraq has opened the place up to serious infiltration by all manner of bad-actors from around the region -- a development which is not a justification for administration policy, but an example of its failure. 2) The administration is far from weaned of its propensity for using manipulated or just plain bogus intelligence to advance its policy or cover its tracks.

Whatever the current scale of the al Qaeda/radical Islamist presence in Iraq, there seems to be little doubt that they're there, and there's no doubt at all that the Bush administration has created a rallying point for these people such as they haven't had since they first came together to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

Is no one in this administration aware and concerned about the historical parallels? Granted, there's no equivalent power to provide the Iraqi guerillas with weapons and money the way the U.S. did for the mujahadin in their fight against the Soviet Army, but still, it raises the concern that the historical quagmire we should be concerned about is not ours in Vietnam, but the USSR's in Afghanistan.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/07/2003 05:07:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I'm sure many folks have commented on this before, but I find it highly ironic that the Bush administration, by bungling the reconstruction of Iraq so very badly, has demonstrated to the entire world the limitations of American military power, fundamentally weakening the U.S. in the process. How much power we have is not only a function of armaments and manpower, but of how powerful we are perceived to be by other countries, and there can be no doubt that their perception of us has fallen significantly as they watch us floundering our way through Iraq, unable to even secure things so that we can start the reconstruction we so grandly promised.

Weakening the United States -- isn't this what the right-wing spends a fair amount of time blaming liberals and Democrats for doing?

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/07/2003 03:56:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
2005 koufax awards


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2003 koufax award
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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but credit all you take.

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