Friday, May 20, 2005

Dissing the jury pool

I have to say that, as a matter of principle, if as a prospective juror I am ever asked the kind of invasive, irrelevant and disturbing questions proposed in the Tobin case in New Hampsire (as reported here and here), I will absolutely and unequivocally refuse to answer them, whatever penalty the judge might be threatening.

I'm not some kind of radical libertarian, I understand and appreciate that a certain amount of my privacy is necessarily invaded in order to assure the fairness of a high-profile trial, but these questions cross the line egregiously into frivolous -- and dangerous -- invasiveness.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/20/2005 05:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


George sums it up

In yet another of the many instances of Freudian projection that come about when those on the right try to describe others, George W. Bush, in attempting to describe the Iraqi insurgents, has instead provided us with a good thumbnail description of the radical American right-wingers and neo-cons for whom Bush serves as the figurehead:

"I think [they are] inspired by their desire to stop the march of freedom. Remember, these are ideologues that murder innocent people in order to spread their dark vision of hate. ... I think they're inspired by an ideology that is so barbaric and backwards that it's hard for many in the Western world to comprehend how they think.

Well said, for once.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/20/2005 02:21:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Liberal Oasis on the value of compromise:

There are times when half a loaf moves the country forward, just not as fast as you would like. That’s when compromise is “common sense.”

Other times, it’s not much of a loaf at all. It sets the country backward.

That’s when compromise amounts to capitulation.

That’s when it’s “common sense” to fight like hell.


Ed Fitzgerald | 5/20/2005 03:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A pause, please

On my bookshelf, among a pile of unread books that I regret to say gets larger and larger all the time ("Unread books are like unmined gold," said a friend of mine, a thought that barely serves to comfort me as I get farther and farther behind in my reading), is a book by Susan D. Moeller about how sensationalistic American media coverage of crises such as famine, epidemics, genocide, war and assassinations leads to public insensitivity about them. The book is called Compassion Fatigue, and my thoughts have turned to it again and again recently. Not because I'm feeling any particular amount of compassion fatigue at the moment, but because years and years (and years) of Republican and right-wing bullshit have brought on in me a pretty intense case of "bullshit fatigue".

At this point, I'd be mildly satisfied if the new radical establishment would just shut up for a while and take a couple of months off from pushing their warped agenda of promoting irrationality and destroying secularism and give us all a little rest.

But I suppose that's pretty damn unlikely, isn't it? There must be something energizing about knowing exactly and precisely what is right and best for everyone. (How they can know that without knowing the simplest of proven facts about the natural world is beyond me.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/20/2005 03:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


They lie like dogs

Media Matters has the Top 10 filibuster falsehoods:

Falsehood #1: Democrats' filibuster of Bush nominees is "unprecedented"

Falsehood #2: Bush's filibustered nominees have all been rated well-qualified by the ABA; blocking such highly rated nominees is unprecedented

Falsehood #3: Democratic obstructionism has led to far more judicial vacancies during Republican administrations than Democratic administrations

Falsehood #4: "Nuclear Option" is a Democratic term

Falsehood #5: Democrats oppose Bush nominees because of their faith, race, ethnicity, gender, stance on abortion, stance on parental notification ...

Falsehood #6: Public opinion polling shows clear opposition to judicial filibusters, support for "nuclear option"

Falsehood #7: Filibustering judicial nominees is unconstitutional

Falsehood #8: Clinton's appellate confirmation rate was far better than Bush's rate

Falsehood #9: Sen. Byrd's alterations to filibuster rules set precedent for "nuclear option"

Falsehood #10: Democrats have opposed "all" or "most" of Bush's judicial nominees

See the article for the grisly details.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/20/2005 02:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


1,347 days

According to Calculated Risk at Angry Bear, today, Friday May 20th 2005 marks the 1,347th day since the attacks of 9/11. As it happens, there were exactly 1,347 days between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the end of World War II on VJ Day.

It took 1,347 days for the Allies to defeat Hitler's war machine and the Japanese army and navy -- what, exactly have we accomplished since 9/11?

Wednesday afternoon, after school, I took my son bike riding on the bike path along the Hudson River, here in Manhattan. It was a sunny and warm spring day with a bit of a breeze, but not enough of a headwind to make the biking difficult. On our way, we saw two fire department ambulances and a FDNY mobile command post heading south with sirens blaring. As we approached Battery Park City in lower Manhattan, I noticed several helicopters hovering over the area. Such occurences have become fairly normal since 9/11, but they still give me a chill when I see them.

I recalled sitting in the Jane Street Theatre, which we had just passed on our ride moments before, in the dressing room on the 6th floor in the days following the attacks (after they re-opened lower Manhattan and we could start performances again), with a view right down West Street, watching a steady stream of emergency vehicles and trucks hauling out wreckage from Ground Zero. I recall riding my bike home from the theatre past one after another parked refrigerator trucks which were probably waiting to preserve and transport human remains that were never recovered. I remember for weeks afterwards, all traffic would stop as motorcades of ambulances and police cars delivered bits and pieces of human bodies to the medical examiner's office not far from my home.

I'm not claiming I'm the victim of any kind of post-traumatic stress disorder: I've been able to go about my life fairly normally in the past four years -- but, on the other hand, I'm still not "over it" completely either. And nothing, not one single blessed thing, that the Bush administration and their neo-con and religious right allies have done since that day has made things any better, for me or for the rest of the world. Instead of using that awful event as a springboard to something good, a potential revolution in the way the world works, they seized on it as a convenient catch-all excuse to put across their warped agenda of rights rollbacks and tax giveaways to the rich and powerful, and leveraged it to reinvigorate the right-wing's culture war against rationality and secularism.

In short, they've gone and fucked up this country and a good part of the rest of the world, and it's going to remain fucked up for a good time to come, no matter how soon we oust them from power and replace them with adults blessed with both good sense and empathy for other human beings.

If I weren't an atheist, I suspect that I'd believe they all deserved to rot in Hell forever.

Postscript: You'll find my own personal list -- not definitive, by any means, and growing all the time -- of those I'd be happy to see burning in eternal damnation -- if I believed in eternal damnation, that is -- in the "I've got a little list..." section of the sidebar on the right.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/20/2005 12:45:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Fool on the Hill

Bob Brigham at the Swing State Project has the details on the (quite deserved) blogswarm of commentary directed against Sen. Rick Santorum (Rep.-Congenital Idiocy) for his remarks comparing filibustering Democrats to Hitler's occupation of Paris.

(I'm anxious to see what Jim Capozzola at the Philadelphia-based Rittenhouse Review has to say about it.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/20/2005 12:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Reading the tea leaves

PSoTD looks ahead:

There's going to be a point of realization, sometime soon, within the next year I think, among Republicans that this Presidency is over. This isn't going to be some ordinary lame-duckedness that two-term Presidents go through. This is going to be the dirty-bomb ending that preceded Nixon's demise. Every effort by Bush is going to be championed and doubted vociferously and the clash will continue. Respect for the other side erodes constantly.

It's not going to necessarily lead to a premature end of the Bush's term. It isn't about impeachment. It's about a President who has lead his party to dividing a nation in a way that casts Americans against themselves. It's about leadership that has left the right pissed off about the left, and the left pissed off about the right, and no atmosphere to find any middle ground. It's all about fear, and it's nothing about hope. And it's about an inability to get anything important done - most importantly, starting to heal the divisions that are fracturing America and the rest of the world.

Bush is sunk. He cannot be a uniter at this point, he has no credibility with the other side to be such - and that is required. He can continue to divide, but someone is going to have to lead this country in 2008, and Republicans are going to want it to be them. There is no hope for Bush's numbers to go up substantially at this point short of another foreign attack on this country, and even that will bring considerable if perhaps muted doubt and debate about the cause. There will be a subtle effort to push Bush back further into the shadows, and it will be widely practiced.

Somebody prominent - somebody with aspirations - in the Republican Party is going to find a cause or event to position themselves as the anti-Bush. It is going to happen, and I would bet that it'll be sooner rather than later. That person's visibility and approval numbers are likely to go WAY up. I don't know who it's going to be, but I bet whoever it is will use the 2006 elections to position himself/herself. No way it will be Bill Frist - it's too late for him. Nor anyone in the Bush Administration - they are tarred by the same brush as well. But it'll be somebody with political skills and a background that allows him/her to push Bush around.

That's an opportunity and a risk for Democrats. In 2008, the opponent won't be Bush. The Republican lite-version of Anti-Bush would be a much tougher candidate. Running against the 8 years of Bush won't be enough. The Democratic candidates will need to bring substantive plans for the future.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/19/2005 11:54:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Living a double life

An article in the current New Yorker (unfortunately not available online) tells a fairly amazing story: Time magazine's last reporter in Saigon during the Vietnam War, Pham Xuan An, turns out to have been a spy for North Vietnam throughout the war. The double life that Thomas A. Bass describes is fascinating enough, but what was even more interesting to me was the response of other American reporters when they learned (well after the end of the war, of course) that their colleague, source and friend was a Communist agent. Almost unanimously (with the exception of Peter Arnett and Time's chief correspondant, Murray Gart) they understood the position An was in and the choices he made:

With these few exceptions -- and even Arnett ends our conversation by praising An as a "bold guy" -- An's colleagues are united in support of him. "Was I angry when I learned about An?" says Frank McCulloch, who was the head of Time's Asian bureaus when he hired An to work in the Saigon office for seventy-five dollars a week. "Absolutely not. It's his land, I thought. If the situation were reversed, I would have done the same thing."

"An was my colleague and star reporter," says McCulloch, who is now retured after a distinguished career as the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, and other papers. "An had a very sophisticated understanding of Vietnamese politics, and he was remarkably accurate." McCulloch bursts into laughter. "Of course he was accurate, considering his sources!"

"There but for the grace of God go I." That in itself is a sophisticated (and intelligent) response to a provocative revelation, one that is almost impossible to imagine occuring in the current media world, distorted as it is by the ravages of the culutre wars and the influence of right-wing ideological imperatives. Instead we have an almost opposite situation, where a liar, thief and spy like Ahmed Chalabi is unmasked, and still has his legions of supporters both in the Bush government and in the press -- despite the fact that the "intelligence" coming from him (unlike the information that An provided both in his dispatches and as a source for other reporters) has consistently turned out to be biased, untrue and radically spun to serve Chalabi's personal interests. (Not one of the reporters interviewed about An complained in any way about the value and accuracy of the information he provided -- quite the contrary.)

As I said, it's an interesting article that tells a fascinating story, so if you see the May 23rd issue of New Yorker in the doctor's office or your lawyer's waiting room (on the cover it's got a picture of a psychiatrist driving a taxi cab while his patient lies in the back seat), pick it and and take a look.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/18/2005 08:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A concise evaluation

As part of a scathing crtique of Senator Carl Levin's performance in questioning George Galloway yesterday, The Green Knight writes:

The USA is living in a post-factual, mendacious little bubble of bullshit, and it has no idea how to handle people who want to talk about what actually happened in real life.

Galloway's prepared statement, which is well worth reading if you didn't see his testimony, is here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/18/2005 11:51:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Times is changing

Kevin Drum has the right idea:

This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but I think I'm going to stop linking to New York Times op-eds and columns starting now. Yesterday's announcement made it clear they no longer want to engage with the hoi polloi, and in any case their op-ed page will be off limits to all of us nonsubscribers in September anyway. So why wait?

If everyone follows this advice, the people who run the Times (who clearly don't understand at all the nature of the new Internet-driven media world) might get the message that access is everything, and by hiding their opinions behind a subscription wall, they're cutting off their nose to spite their face. It's a really stupid decision.

We really should all get behind this right now, to give them a chance to change their minds.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/17/2005 10:50:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, May 16, 2005

Who could it be?

Some people seem confused -- they seem to think that a "democracy" and a "republic" are in some way mutually exclusive. They call up C-SPAN and say, with a bit of smarm in the voice, "You know, we are not a democracy, we are a republic."

Well, that's just plain incorrect. It turns out that we are both a democracy and a republic.

Let's look at the definitions. First, "democracy":

  1. Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.

  2. A political or social unit that has such a government.

Check -- that's us. Now "republic":

  1. a. A political order whose head of state is not a monarch and in modern times is usually a president. b. A nation that has such a political order.

  2. a. A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them. b. A nation that has such a political order.

Check here too.

So, in short, we are a democratic republic, a representative democracy in which the sovereignity resides in the people, who elect others to govern them in their name.

It seems to me that someone is perhaps trying to make cheap debating points by denying we are a democracy while simultaneously emphasizing that we're a republic.

But who?

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/16/2005 08:19:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bush's baseball record

Provoked by a comment from a correspondant that Bush considers himself an expert on baseball, I took a look at how he fared as the putative owner of a baseball team.

How good were the Texas Rangers under the ownership of the group Bush figureheaded from April of 1989 to December of 1998 (when the team was sold to a Bush ally at a tremendous profit)?:

1989 4th* 83-79 .512
1990 3rd 83-79 .512
1991 3rd 85-77 .525
1992 4th 77-85 .475
1993 2nd 86-76 .531
1994 1st** 52-62** .456
1995 3rd 74-70 .514
1996 1st*** 90-72 .556
1997 4th 77-85 .475
1998 1st*** 88-74 .543

* In the 7-team Western Division of the American League

** In the realignment put into effect before the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Rangers ended up in a 4-team division.

*** The Rangers lost to the Yankees in the first round of the play-offs, 3 games to 1 in 1996, and 3 games to 0 in 1998.

So, in ten years of ownership, Bush's Rangers finished over .500 seven times (pretty good), but won their division only 3 times, and one of them was in the strike-shortened season. Their division wins came only after the realignment put them in a 4-team division (as opposed to the other 5-team divisions), and they never went beyond the first round of the play-offs.

Not bad, but not really very good either -- and there's no real indication that the team got better under Bush's regime. Certainly, there's nothingto show that Bush has any great expertise at putting together a winning baseball team.

Postscript: To be fair to Bush (although I'm not at all sure of why he deserves fairness from anyone), the team hasn't done very well since it was sold, either:

(I've thrown in the Yankees for comparison, not because they're my team, but because they are a team which started off even worse than the Rangers in the same time period, and got better.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/16/2005 05:18:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Chafee's going down

On this weblog, I've publicly invited, and indeed urged, Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee from Rhode Island to take a look around him at who's running his party, and make the decision to leave, for his own good and for the good of the nation. I understand that it would be very hard for him to just out-and-out become a Democrat, but the Jeffries option (of going Indepedent) is still available to him, and would allow him (and his fellow moderates, should they also make the switch) to formalize their swing position in the Senate.

Unfortunately, Mr. Chafee has ignored my entreaties, and continues to try and hew some kind of role within the party while maintaining his status as a "moderate". (Which, considering the radicalness of the GOP, doesn't necessarily mean all that much).

Now, it seems that, poor dear, Mr. Chafee may suffer politically for trying to have it both ways.

Ah, if the idiot he'd only listened to me!

P.S. Steve Clemons wrote the real post on this subject.

[Via Daily Kos]

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/16/2005 12:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Compare and contrast

By way of comparison: I have trouble paying my rent, and Senator Bill Frist just spent over $500 on two pairs of shoes.

Of course, he's a real rich guy and I'm not, so I guess it's OK after all.

But, hey, how about this: how about we have an economic system in which Frist can drop half a thousand dollars on pretty things for his feet, and Iget to earn enough money to pay my monthly obligations, with perhaps enough left over for an occasional trip with my family to some fun location, like Allentown, PA or Kingston, NY?

That seems fair enough, doesn't it?

(Bitter? Not me!)

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/16/2005 12:40:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Grim, grim, grim

Kevin Drum describes

the astonshing real-life pessimism of modern conservatism. Among advanced economies, the United States is by far the richest, youngest, and fastest growing country in the world. By far. And yet, we're supposed to believe that an increase in Social Security costs from 4% of GDP to 6% over the next 50 years is cause for panic. We're supposed to believe national healthcare would bankrupt us — never mind that our current dysfunctional system is the most expensive and most unfair on the planet. We're supposed to believe that broader unionization would ruin American industry, home of the highest profits and most highly paid executives in the world. We're supposed to believe that the nation's millionaires, having already had their tax rates slashed by a third over the past two decades, are still being bled to the bone by federal taxes.

It's a grim view. But then, modern conservatives are grim people, with little hope that things can ever be made better than they are today.

"Morning in America", my left foot.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/16/2005 12:00:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Containing the insurgency

"The essence of any insurgency, and its most decisive battle space, is the psychological. [It's] armed theater: you have protagonists on the stage but they're sending messages to wider audiences. Insurgency is about perceptions, beliefs, expectations, legitimacy, and will. Insurgency is not won by killing insurgents, not won by seizing territory; it's won by altering the psychological factors that are most relevant."
Steven Metz
"Relearning Counterinsurgency"
from a AEI panel discussion (1/10/2005)
[slightly edited by Mark Danner]

Working hard has prevented me from blogging much recently, but, on the other hand, I've been able to catch up on some reading on the commute between my home in Manhattan and the performance space in Brooklyn. For instance, here's an excerpt from an article by Gordon S. Wood in the April 28th issue of The New York Review of Books:

Picture the following situation. The greatest power in the world is confronted with an insurgency thousands of miles away, which it expects to put down quickly and easily. It sends a large army to deal with the insurgents, but counts on many loyal supporters to flock to its standard. Recruiting soldiers, however, is difficult, and since the great power cannot enlist enough of its own troops to deal with the situation, it has to hire thousands of mercenaries. It occupies the remote land, sends increasing numbers of soldiers, spends enormous amounts of money, and suffers more and more casualties, all of which arouses a good deal of criticism at home. The hawkish cabinet minister in charge of the war remains confident and vainly tries to micromanage the war an ocean away. But finally the great power is unable to put an end to the insurgency. It carries on for many long years until its political will is sapped, and it is forced to abandon the distant country it invaded.

This could be the United States in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, or it could be what might happen with America's intervention in Iraq. But it is neither of these. Instead, it is the story of Great Britain's attempt in the 1770s and 1780s to put down the rebellion of its colonists in North America. Of course, there are enormous differences between Britain's experience with suppressing rebellion in its empire in the eighteenth century and America's recent experiences abroad. Nevertheless, the parallels between the British experience in North America over two centuries ago with recent American interventions abroad, especially in Vietnam, are eerie.

In its efforts to suppress the rebellion in North America, Britain, like the United States in Vietnam or in Iraq, could not realistically envisage a simple military victory. Even if it won a military victory, that could be only the first step in the restoration of peaceful relations and stability. Britain's ultimate goal had to be political, which is why the British shed, in Edmund Burke's phrase, "iron tears" in their efforts to hold on to their colonies with bullets. Since Britain had to win the allegiance of the colonists in order to bring them back into the empire, the commanders in chief, General William Howe and his brother Admiral Richard, Lord Howe, believed they could not wage a simple war of conquest and terror. They could not bombard the ports and ravage the countryside as Marlborough had ravaged Bavaria earlier in the century. Believing they had to fight a peculiarly delicate kind of war, the Howe brothers saw themselves at the outset as conciliators as much as conquerors. This probably blunted their ability to suppress the rebellion at the outset when the opportunity was greatest. At any rate their hard-line superior in London eventually accused them of a "sentimental manner of making war."

While the British objective was thus blurred, the rebels' objective, like that of the North Vietnamese and Vietcong or the Iraqi insurgents today, was clear-cut—defeat the British army and undermine the British will to continue the struggle. With the contest being a test of wills, the American rebels had the advantage: they had much more to lose than did the British. For them, as for the Vietcong, defeat would mean the end of their hopes of being a nation or, as in the case of the Iraqi insurgents, it will mean the end of their cause, anarchic and destructive as that cause may be.

But for Britain, like the United States in Vietnam or in Iraq, the situation was different. Britain did not have the same fear of defeat as the colonists had. Losing the struggle would not mean the end of the British nation, or the occupation of the realm; nor would it decisively affect the ordinary lives of Englishmen. "Oh! My dear sir," the notorious English gossip Horace Walpole remarked sarcastically to a friend in Italy in 1777, "do you think a capital as enormous as London has its nerves affected by what happens across the Atlantic?" Since defeat could not produce the same kind of fear in London as defeat did for the Americans, the British willingness to continue the fight inevitably turned out to be weaker than that of the insurgents.


All the obvious parallels between Great Britain's eighteenth-century war in North America and the United States' recent experiences in Vietnam and Iraq may suggest that the history of Britain's quagmire has something to teach us today, but that would probably be wrong. History has no lessons for the future except one: that nothing ever works out as the participants quite intended or expected. In other words, if history teaches anything, it teaches humility.

Later on, in another article in the same issue, this one by Mark Danner, an Iraqi on Election Day, eighty-year-old former minister of agriculutural reform Dr. Ahmed Dujaily, gives his take on the people currently running his country:

[A]re [the Americans] good or bad?

"Good or bad?" A puzzled pause. "Not good or bad. They are the Americans."

No, no, what I wanted to ask...

He knew, of course, what we wanted to ask. He smiled and tried to be helpful. "Listen, we thank Americans for destroying the regime of Saddam but they did many things that were not required of the country. They made many, many mistakes here. I know what the Americans want." He smiled; he was matter-of-fact. "They want military bases. They want to dominate the new regime. They want the oil."

"Saddam was a criminal, a lot of people were killed. Now these others" —he gestured in the vague direction of the most recent explosion; he meant the insurgents—"they are bombing one place, another place. This doesn't help, this does nothing for the country." Then, a bit of history—from the 1920s but clearly relevant to him today: "When the British kicked out the Turks, the Shia, you know, fought the British also. But the Sunnis stuck with the British, and the British took those who stuck with them and formed a government."

Now, clearly, it was the Sunnis who were fighting, and the Shiites who were "sticking with" the occupying power, this time the Americans. "But the elections should be carried forward, whether the Americans like the results or not," he said. "This is determined by the people. We want an independent country." As for the Americans, "when they came people were happy but they made many, many mistakes in the occupation. After all these mistakes, now they will not leave. They will have their military headquarters established in Iraq and when they leave I do not know. The bases, the oil... And of course"—he gestured at the voters, grinned, and, with a philosophical roll of his eyes, said—"they are using Iraq for propaganda for their own elections: 'Democracy and the Republicans.'"

It seems as if Dr. Dujaily has a good handle on the situation, as do at least some of the Americans in Iraq. This is from a "top American intelligence officer":

We could stop [car bombings and other suicide attacks] entirely if we were willing to do what was necessary. We could stop car bombers if we stopped all driving. But that would be inconsistent with another, overriding imperative—letting Iraqis live a reasonably normal life. That would prevent the return to normalcy that we need to have. Politically at least, we can't take those steps. Which means that in the end these things are not a military problem, they are a political problem. We could stop them but to do it, we would have to shut the place down.

It was, of course, the refusal of the Bush administration to acknowledge and properly prepare for the political problems connected with overthrowing Saddam, which lead us to where we are now.

Postscript: It's interesting to see, in the Danner article, the difference between my perception that the American commercial news media is under-reporting the Iraq story (perhaps because of a conservative bias, perhaps due to its deference to power and authority) and the perceptions of an Air Force operations officer in Iraq:

A voice from the Muthana Air Base a few hours before floated into my mind. It belonged to Captain Aaron Kalloch, an operations officer, who at the end of a long interview, with both of us growing tired, had spoken about a suicide car bomb attack the week before, a high-profile attempt on the headquarters and, presumably, on the life of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. "Boom! Remember that, the other day, that IED [improvised explosive device] attack in Kindi Traffic Circle." He leaned forward and nearly shouted, as he gave his mocking version of the television broadcaster: "Boom!! Headlines on CNN: Chaos in Baghdad! Prime minister nearly assassinated! Boom!"

He leaned back in his chair. "Well, was it? Was it 'chaos in Baghdad'? I mean, let's take a look at that attack for a moment. What happened? The guy didn't get close to Allawi's headquarters. Allawi wasn't even there. The guy slightly wounded two people. And the guy killed...himself! I mean, he killed himself! That was it! And that was the lead story of the day on CNN. I ask you, should it have been?" He paused and glared at me, then answered his own question. "Nothing happened! Allawi was perfectly safe. The guy killed himself.... Nothing happened— except that they scored an IO victory, and that stuff really pisses me off!" IO was military for "information operation"—an event intended to turn the vital political war at the heart of any insurgency in one's favor.

"The simple fact is that how things are perceived here is almost as important as how things actually are. And here IO is everything. Insurgency is relatively easy for the enemy because he's got his own personal international IO platform...." He paused, waited.

And what is that?

"The US media!" he said. He paused again. "The fact is, whoever wins the IO battle here, wins. And this thing tomorrow, this is the event. If Iraqis come out to the polls, if people vote... I mean, there will be violence but the question is how effective that violence will be. If the AIF"—anti-Iraqi forces —"come after this—and they will, they have to—and people do vote, then that is it. They are done, it's over. They may last one or two more years but they've lost. And they know it. And that's the IO. Whoever wins the IO battle here, wins."

This view seems dangerously close to the old Vietnam-era canard that the media lost that war for us. I have no doubt that Captain Kalloch comes by his views honestly, or even that thay accurately represent the opinion of many serving in Iraq, but, on the other hand, the Captain isn't here in the States to see just how deficient the media's coverage of the war has become, and how controlled by the Administration it tends to be.

Danner pegs it:

During the more than two years since the Iraq war began Americans have seen on their television screens its four major turning points: the fall of Baghdad, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the "transfer of authority" to the interim Allawi government, and now the Iraq elections. Each has been highly successful as an example of the management of images—the toppling of Saddam's statue, the intrusive examination of the unkempt former dictator's mouth and beard, the handing of documents of sovereignty from coalition leader L. Paul Bremer to Iraqi leader Iyad Allawi, the voters happily waving their purple fingers— and each image has powerfully affirmed the broader story of what American leaders promised citizens the Iraq war would be. They promised a war of liberation to unseat a brutal dictator, rid him of his weapons of mass destruction, and free his imprisoned people, who would respond with gratitude and friendship, allowing American troops to return very quickly home.

With the exception of the failure to find WMDs, the images have fit so cleanly into the original narrative of the war that they could almost have been designed at the time the war was being planned. And because these images fit so closely with the story of what Americans were told the war would be, they have welcomed each of them with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, after the images faded, the events on the ground that followed refused to fit that original narrative.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/15/2005 11:13:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Harding error

In her review of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking in the New York Review of Books, Sue M. Halpern re-tells the story of Warren Gamaliel Harding, the 29th President of the United States:

Gladwell also spends a lot of time in Blink writing about the muck-ups, telling the sorry stories of ordinary people who were hamstrung by embedded prejudices that clouded their better judgment, military personnel who were wedded to inelastic chains of command that left no room for intuitive decision-making, market researchers who asked the wrong questions and therefore promoted the wrong products, and voters who chose style over substance. This last is what Gladwell calls the Warren Harding error, and it is, he says, the "dark side of rapid cognition."

Harding, who until quite recently had the honor of being considered the worst president in American history, was launched on his political career by an Ohio political operative named Harry Daugherty who happened to be sitting next to Harding one day when they were both having their shoes shined. To Daugherty's quick, intuitive eye, Warren Harding looked presidential. He had the right bearing, the right stature, the right forehead. Other people—the voters of Ohio—thought so too. They sent Warren Harding—a man who stood for nothing—to the Senate in 1914. ("Why that son of a bitch looks like a senator," one of his supporters declared at a campaign banquet.)

In 1920, after Harding had served one term, Daugherty convinced him to seek the Republican nomination for president. (Apparently, as his hair grayed, he looked even more the part.) When delegates found themselves deadlocked over the top two candidates, Harding catapulted over them both:

In the early morning hours, as they gathered in the smoke-filled back rooms of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, the Republican Party bosses threw up their hands and asked, wasn't there a candidate they could all agree on? And one name came immediately to mind: Harding! Didn't he look just like a presidential candidate? So Senator Harding became candidate Harding, and later that fall, after a campaign conducted from his front porch in Marion, Ohio, candidate Harding became President Harding.
And that was before television.

The election of Warren Harding might have been, in Gladwell's terms, an error, but it's unclear that it was an aberration. Indeed, the "dark side" of Blink not only seems to permeate our political life, it seems to eclipse it. In politics, more than in almost anything else, people go on first impressions. As Democrats found in the last election cycle, when almost every piece of news coming out of Iraq and the budget office and the foreign exchange should have helped their cause, none of it mattered because more people "liked" Bush than "liked" Kerry. It was the power of thinking without thinking.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/15/2005 03:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Do this

Kevin Drum has some simple, but certain to be effective, advice for Americans concerned about their eventual retirements:


Sounds like a slogan we can get behind.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/15/2005 03:11:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I'm involved in what I think is an interesting discussion about religious ritual, based on this post, in this comments thread on The Green Knight.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/15/2005 01:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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