Battlepanda: August 2006


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dumb, dumber, dumbest

Instapundit et. al. falls upon this dumber-than-a-box-of-hammers article from WaPo with glee.
How does this rate compare with that in other groups? One meaningful comparison is to the civilian population of the United States. That rate was 8.42 per 1,000 in 2003, more than twice that for military personnel in Iraq.
If you want to use totally specious logic and compare some apples with oranges you can also probably say that over the past five years, your risk of dying from terrorism as an American is roughly three thousand divided by five all over 298,444,215 or 0.00000201. Meanwhile, your annual risk of dying from a lightning strike is (according to the National Lightening Safety Institute) 1:280,000 or 0.00000357. So hey, what's the big whoop about terrorism, right?

Let's put it this way: I wouldn't spent $1075 on a contraption that purports to protect me from lightning strikes. It's how much each American is paying on average for the Iraq war.

I have no words, at least of my own. I will steal Crooked Timber's snark though -- The Plural of Data is not Anecdote. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Representative Mike Pence (R-Duh!).
Mr. Pence argued that tax cuts help the poor by revving the economy. That may eventually prove true, but despite large tax cuts the poverty rate has risen in each of the last four years.

“That’s anecdotal,” Mr. Pence said in an interview last fall. Then he offered an anecdote — a story President Reagan told about a pipe fitter pleased to see the rich prosper, “because I’ve never been hired by a poor man.”
You think that's dumb? Wait til you see the next item. I have saved the dumbest for last.

Mark Steyn, you're it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

In war's wake

I've not been posting on my blog often of late...being away and internetless will do that to ya. So I thought it would be nice to link to a few wrapups of the Israeli/Lebanese conflict.

Kevin Sites is on the ground
literally and figuratively between Lebanon and Israel. His is a rare evenhanded voice.

I've been giving Der Spiegel's English site a lot of love lately, so I'll link to Ilan Goren's wrapup of feelings inside Israel on the Spiegel site.

Finally, Yglesias sees the Incompetence dodge at work in Israel as well as in the U.S. after Iraq. By blaming Israel's failure to obtain its objectives on the incompetence of the execution, larger and more serious questions about the premise of the war are elided. I have to add "the incompetence dodge" to my list of short, snappy concept-summing terms along with "dolchstosslegende" and "nutpicking".

What of Lebanon's future? It seems that the Saudis and the Kuwaities are staunching the wound on a national level with a big influx of funds. Meanwhile, Hezbollah is busy splashing out cash from Iran to those whose lives and homes were destroyed, gaining prestige in the process. Meanwhile, the World Bank is lifting a rather meagre poisoned chalice to Lebanon's lips -- $40 mil. in loans with just a few strings attacked (they'd want to look over Lebanons expenditures for hospitals and schools, for instance...) The IMF, on the other hand, is still deciding how generous to be...depending on how open Lebanon is to the usual package of "politically difficult economic reforms", I suppose.

For what it's worth, my Dad is bullish on Lebanon -- "Good time to buy real estate in Beirut!"

Meet the Press...Taiwanese style

This was the view from my front door this morning. Somehow, they did not press the doorbell but merely congregated outside quietly, waiting.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
My husband was up before me..."Uh, are you expecting a whole bunch of reporters this morning?" Wha?

Turns out the matter was regarding my landlady's sister, who used to rent out this apartment. She was apparently one of those devil landlords who took your rent and deposit and kicked you off the premises on some pretext. You can read all about it in today's Apple Daily if you so desire and you happen to live in Taiwan. Actually, the Apple Daily reporters were already here a few days ago. I didn't give them anything either. The evil sister was (with the exception of one memorable instance) before my time here. Despite Apple's lurid reputation, they were a lot better behaved and more polite than this bunch today, mainly from the cable outlets, I think. I saw TTV and TVBS microphones.

Here's a picture of them barging into my apartment after I hesitated a milisecond too long in telling them not to. When told to back off, they apologize while they keep shooting.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
A few thoughts:
1) Apple Daily is definitely the initiator of the feeding frenzy around here. I've always kind of known this to be the case, but here was the confirmation on my doorsteps. Reporters were literally waving around a copy of today's Apple, even though this story merited only just a small side column.
2) As if you didn't know, the cable news here is batshit insane. How are months-old landlord-tenant disputes newsworthy enough to merit about a dozen reporters waiting at my door for me to finish my morning routines? Apple got the scoop, such as it is, and the rest of the bunch feed on their leavings.
3) OMG I'm glad I cleaned yesterday. There might be two-second clips of my living room making the rounds between stories about kids with their head stuck in grates and exposes of filthy conditions in the prepared lunch industry.

D.I.Y. Profiling

British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed.

The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.

Passengers told cabin crew they feared for their safety and demanded police action. Some stormed off the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320 minutes before it was due to leave the Costa del Sol at 3am. Others waiting for Flight ZB 613 in the departure lounge refused to board it.

In their defense, in addition to being brown and talking funny, the men drew suspicion by wearing leather jackets in summer and checking their watches regularly.

The worst part of it is, the 'fraidy cats didn't even have to pay for their bigoted paranoia by missing their flight -- the two men were forcibly removed from the flight instead.

Jumping to conclusions about people being terrorists simply because of their religion and ethnicity does nothing to make us safer. Don't often agree with a Tory, but Patrick Mercer, the Conservative Homeland Security spokesman gets it exactly right: "This is a victory for terrorists. These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bookblogging: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I suppose I should start this review with a disclaimer that spoilers lie ahead. But honestly, folks. This is not the Sixth Sense. Being a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, this is "Literature" with a capital "L" despite the sci-fi trappings.

The narrator, Kath, is your typical Ishiguro first-person narrator -- conversational, confessional and oddly emotionally detached. The boarding school Hailsham is seen as though through a scrim on a bright summer's day, brilliant, yet hazy. How does one write a dreamy and contemplative book about a subject matter as gruesome and dystopian as an English boarding school churning out organ donors to be harvested in their prime after an idyllic childhood? Yet Ishiguro has done it. Never Let Me Go never, never dips into sensationalism. It never goes 1984 on you. It is not a cautionary tale. Ishiguro wrote not to illicit horror, disgust, moral indignation or fear, but convey a crushing, poignant sadness. A big and universal sadness that pervade all his books.

The organ harvesting process is never treated in the book as anything other than completely normal. Ishiguro throws up a host of convincing terms, conventions, slang, and lore that gives his descriptions an air of mundane reality. The harvesting process is called "donation". "Donors" are cared for by "carers", who become donors in their turn. The organs are taken in a series of operations. Dying in the first or the second is considered dreadfully unfortunate, and not talked about much. But surviving til your fourth is considered a triumph and everybody would want to shake your hand. As if there is a meaningful difference between whether or not one had the extra months of languishing in a hospital room, waiting. All donors are clones and they wonder about their "possibles", the original person they're cloned from. When they finally die, they are said to have "completed". These are not sinister euphemisms but manifestations of the societal conventions that keeps the protagonists tightly bound to their fate much as the butler Stevens was bound by his narrow definition of "correctness" in Ishiguro's classic, The Remains of the Day. In that book, Stevens would not defy societal expectations to seek love and happiness. In Never Let Me Go, the lovers Kath and Tommy would literally not defy societal expectations to save their lives.

There are no physical barriers, it seems, between the world of the "students" (clones) and normal society. There are no fences around hospitals and schools. They're allowed vehicles, freedom to travel, even their own apartments. The students are disciplined through the mere inculcation of norms. I find it interesting that the only instance of actual punishment we hear about (and even then only as a rumor among the students) concerns a girl who ran away from Hailsham. She was simply kept out and died at the gates begging to be let back in.

It's not that the students don't try to avert their fate, but they only attempt to do so through bargaining with the system somehow. It never occurs to them to get in their cars and drive away. One of the most wrenching scenes in the book takes place in a restaurant where two students from a less 'prestigious' school asks Ruth about the rumor, which Ruth has been encouraging, that Hailsham students sometimes got "deferrals" if they can prove their intrinsic worth by showing that they're really in love. What they ask (a three-year stay) is so paltry, yet their furtive attitude betrays how they feel they have stepped over the bounds, have asked for something that was not their lot.

What is better in the long run in the face of a reality that is ultimately merciless? To let futile hopes blossom while they can, or to snuff them out to save them from becoming dashed? Miss Lucy, one of the teachers at Hailsham, was determined to put a stop to adolescent fantasies of becoming football players or movie stars among the students. In order to have "decent lives", she believed, the students needed to come to terms with their reality. Miss Emily, the founder of the school, on the other hand, believed in sheltering the students for as long as possible so that they may develop into whole persons without the burden that full acknowledgement of their ultimate purpose would bring.

Most of the students, it seems, choose something of the middle route. They cherish their dreams in their youths before putting them away one by one like toys they've outgrown, hopefully before they collide with reality. Until at long last they give in to complete acceptance.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday Catblogging

Monkey likes sleeping under quilts.

Crunching the numbers

Tuesday, I linked to a post by conservative economist Greg Mankiw, in which he gloats that conservative breeding success will lead them to overwhelm liberals at the voting booth.

The article that prompted the gloating by Prof. Mankiw was this OpinionJournal article by Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University. In this article, Prof. Brooks claims
Alarmingly for the Democrats, the gap is widening at a bit more than half a percentage point per year, meaning that today's problem is nothing compared to what the future will most likely hold. Consider future presidential elections in a swing state (like Ohio), and assume that the current patterns in fertility continue. A state that was split 50-50 between left and right in 2004 will tilt right by 2012, 54% to 46%. By 2020, it will be certifiably right-wing, 59% to 41%. A state that is currently 55-45 in favor of liberals (like California) will be 54-46 in favor of conservatives by 2020--and all for no other reason than babies.
Steve Reuland at Sunbeams from Cucumbers wonders what sort of newfangled conservative math Prof. Brooks is using to make his calculations:
You don't really need to do the math to know that this is certifiable nonsense. But let's do it anyway, starting with Ohio. It's a fairly simple thing to see if we can start with Brooks' assumptions and end up with his results.

The population of Ohio is roughly 11.4 million. In 2002, there were 159,192 births, and 111,550 deaths. Assuming those numbers haven't changed much, and that they'll remain the same going from 2004 to 2012, that would be 892,000 Ohioans that will have died between those years, and 1.27 million that will have been born. We'll ignore the fact that some of those being born will also be the ones who die. What this basically means is that the total population in Ohio in 2012 (ignoring migration -- more on that later) will be roughly 11.8 million, 10.5 million of whom were alive during or before 2004.

If those 10.5 million were split 50/50 between liberal and conservative, and the 1.27 million extras are split 41/59 between liberal and conservative, how much would this change the overall split? We can just multiply the numbers by the percentages to get the totals. We get 5.77 million liberals and 6 million conservatives in 2012. That's less than a 49/51 split. For all practical purposes, unchanged.

How the living hell does Brooks come up with a 46/54 split? I'll have to email his ass to find out.
Personally, I don't see the point of gloating about the supposed demographic success of one's political faction, since this obviously has nothing to do with the inherent superiority of one's political position.

But if you're going to gloat about it, you should at least get your numbers right.

(Via PZ Myers.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Osama Jong-il

It seems that Osama bin Laden has been taking a page out of Dear Leader's book:
"He said that he had a paramount desire for Whitney Houston, and although he claimed music was evil he spoke of someday spending vast amounts of money to go to America and try to arrange a meeting with the superstar.

"It didn't seem impossible to me. He said he wanted to give Whitney Houston a mansion that he owned in a suburb of Khartoum.

"He explained to me that to possess Whitney he would be willing to break his colour rule and make her one of his wives.

"Whitney Houston's name was the one that would be mention constantly.

"How beautiful she was, what a nice smile she has, how truly Islamic she is but is just brainwashed by American culture and by her husband Bobby Brown, whom Osama talked about having killed, as if it were normal to have women's husbands killed."

Boof, who once claimed she had to take her son out of a Los Angeles school after rumours surfaced that bin Laden was his father, also claims the Al Qaeda mastermind read more than the Koran.

"In his briefcase I would come across photographs of the Star magazine, as well as copies of Playboy," she writes.

She also says his favourite television shows were The Wonder Years, Miami Vice and MacGyver.

Now he sees it, now he doesn't

John Cole just can't see what was so offensive about Conrad Burns calling his house painter a "nice little Guatamalan man". After all, I suppose it is possible that the painter in question is short in stature, and it's perfectly appropriate to refer to those who are short in stature as "little man" or "little woman", right? I suppose John wouldn't see what would be so racist about a white man calling a black man "boy" either.

Maybe John Cole is one of those Conservatives who can't stand political correctness, wants everyone to take a chill pill and cool it with insinuations of racism on any but the sturdiest evidence.

Unlike the John Cole of a week and a half ago who accused Juan Cole of being a Jew Hater because Cole had the temerity to point out the impropriety of an Israeli armed forces chief selling his stocks before the plans for war in Lebanon was generally known. You see, even though Juan Cole did not talk smack about the Jews in general, he did on this occasion describe the action of one Jewish person with regards to pecuniary matters in a disapproving manner. In John's book, this reinforces the specious stereotype of the "money-grubbing Jew". Of course, Juan Cole did not mention this specious stereotype in his critique at all, but since John had the special ability to read Juan's mind at a distance, Juan has nevertheless been exposed as an anti-semite. Good work, John.

Boy Scouts rescue toddler

Although I'm an Eagle Scout, my opinion of Scouting has fallen in recent years, after the national leadership went on their "no fags or atheists" campaign. Still, things like this make me proud I was part of Scouting.
A troop of Boy Scouts on a camping trip saved an 18-month-old girl who had fallen in a river upstream from them and was floating face down, officials said.

The boys were swimming in the Platte River at Two Rivers State Recreation Area, about 20 miles west of Omaha, on Saturday when 11-year-old Christian Nanson spotted something floating in the water. It turned out to be a young girl.

Nanson and John Fitzgerald, 9, both members of an Omaha Scout troop, reached the girl and brought her to shore, while others called for help on a cell phone, assistant scoutmaster Matt Fitzgerald told the Omaha World-Herald.

Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy David Brock said the little girl, Stephanie Pacheco, was treated for hypothermia and released from a hospital Monday. The child had slipped away from her mother upstream, said Duane Arp, a conservation officer with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
I think that's something like a year's worth of daily good turns.

The latest horror in flavored vodka

Flavored vodka is wrong, wrong, wrong; but this is taking it to a new level.
eGullet member Andrew Fenton recently posted about his current success with making what he calls Weeniecello, vodka infused with hot dogs. Apparently the Hebrew National all-beef franks were treated to a five-week soak in 100-proof Smirnoff. The vodka was then strained and used in a Weenie-Tini, Fenton's blend of Weeniecello, dry vermouth and sauerkraut brine. Fenton says the cocktail has "a richness and subtle beefiness not to be found in traditional vegetarian cocktails." One eGulleteer pointed out another page with more pork martinis.
(Via apostropher.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

How to ruin a smart kid

From Megan at From the Archives:
There is one sure way to ruin a smart kid. If you take a smart, hurt kid, and give him anything by Ayn Rand, all hope is lost. I haven’t read any Rand, so I can’t argue content with anyone. But I can tell you how Rand works as a black box. You put a hurt, smart kid through Rand, and you get out an insufferable, pleased-with-himself Libertarian. It is a loss to all of us, of course, but more of a personal tragedy for the kid. You can hope that one day that kid will want to get laid enough to rejoin society, but too many of those kids are irrecoverably lost.

Things I don't understand about conservatives

Even the relatively sane conservative economist Greg Mankiw is prone to gloating about how conservatives are out-breeding liberals.

Do they think that political opinions are transmitted genetically?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Catblogging: Monkey the Can-licker

The Monkey is fond of soda -- soda cans that is, which are cool to the tongue.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Vanity of the Word-Gobblers

(An excerpt from my 5th-grade reading workbook, The Scratch Papers, now out-of-print. Previous excerpts: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.)

It may surprise you to know that the face of a Word-Gobbler has a great deal of expression. Strange as it may seem, a Word-Gobbler is very concerned about what it looks like. I estimate that a W.G. spends about three hours a day convincing itself that it is handsome. When it can find a mirror wedged someplace deep in Moog's cavern, the W.G. will admire its gummy, fleshy self until its own head becomes quite swollen with pride.

Unfortunately, when a Word-Gobbler's head swells, it really swells. Nothing can embarrass a W.G. worse than a swollen head, since it thinks it is so handsome. The only way to get rid of this condition is for the W.G. to make gestures with the rest of its body until the head grows long and skinny. So flattened, the W.G. can navigate through narrow openings in the cavern rocks. The W.G. must often brave dangerous slopes and tight squeezes. The narrow openings help push the W.G.'s head back into shape. Then it can happily look in the mirror again and flirt once more with the hazards of having too much pride.

Going against our instincts

Sometimes, it's hard for people to go against their instincts even though doing so would clearly be in their best interests. It's in your best interest not to thrash in the water when you're drowning. It's in your best interest not to drop the burning pot on your foot even though the hands you grabbed it with is in shocking pain. I feel like our response to 9/11 was kind of like that -- the stress and fear of the attack drove us into panic mode. It's as if our national consciousness was flooded with adrenalin. Fight or flight! We fought. Nay. We lashed out.

But it's now damn well near five years later, as seventy percent of you would know. Time to calm down and cease acting so, you know, terrorized.

Kevin Drum wrings his hands some and wonder how to break it to the nation that we're acting like a chicken with its head cut off and it's not making us any safer:
FORBEARANCE....Over at, Robert Wright mentions something that's been on my mind for a while. He's talking with Ann Althouse about the war in Lebanon and makes the following observation:

What I think is actually sometimes the smartest thing to do in response to terrorist provocation, which is forbearance, is very hard to counsel. [But] if you ask what kind of shape would Israel be in if they had done a day's worth of retaliation, and since then just endured any missiles, and said, "OK, look, at this point there's no excuse for what they're doing, we're not even fighting them," I think Israel as a nation would be more secure than they are.
But it's very hard to convince people of that, and I admit that rhetorically it's hard to make that a winning strategy. [snip] It's human nature to demand action following an attack. Any action. Counseling restraint in the hope that it will pay off in the long run is politically ruinous.

But our lives may depend on figuring out how to make this case. If it wasn't obvious before, it should be obvious by now that conventional military assaults are usually counterproductive against a guerrilla enemy like the ones we're fighting now. We can't kill off the fanatics fast enough to win, and in the meantime the war machine simply inspires more recruits, more allies, and more sympathy for the terrorists. It's not the case that conventional military force is always useless in these cases — the Afghanistan war still holds out hope of success — but as Praktike says, it usually results in a terrorism own goal.

Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to figure out how to formulate this argument in an effective way. [snip]

I'm just meandering around the point here, trying to marshal my own thoughts by setting them down on the blog. If that seems a bit pointless, I apologize. But I'm probably going to keep doing it from time to time. After all, I'd hate to think that this is a flatly impossible problem.

How about the direct approach:
I am just not going to wet my pants every time some guys get arrested in a terror plot. I will do my best to stay informed. I will support the necessary law enforcement agencies. I will take whatever reasonable precautions seem, um, reasonable. But I will not be terrorized. I assume that the terror-ists would like me to be terror-ized, as that is what is says on their nametag, rather than, say, wanting me to surrender to ennui or negative body image, and they're just coming the long way around.

Osama Bin Laden got everything on his Christmas list after 9/11 -- US out of Saudi Arabia; the greatest military in the world over-extended, pinned down and distracted; the greatest proponent of democracy suddenly alienated from its allies; a US culture verily eager to destroy freedoms that little scumfuck could never even dream to touch himself -- I would like to deny him the last little check on the clipboard, i.e. constant terror. I panic, they win. To coin a phrase, Osama Bin Laden can suck my insouciance.

I am absolutely buffaloed by the people who insist I man up and take it in the teeth for the great Clash of Civilizations -- "Come ON, people, this is the EPIC LAST WAR!! You just don't have the stones to face that fact head-on!" -- who at the whiff of an actual terror plot will, with no apparent sense of irony, transform and run around shrieking, eyes rolling and Hello Kitty panties flashing like Japanese schoolgirls who have just realized that the call is coming from inside the house!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Schneier on Airport Security

Bruce Schneier on airport security:

Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-ons won't make us safer, either. It's not just that there are ways around the rules, it's that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.

It's easy to defend against what the terrorists planned last time, but it's shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we've wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we've wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets -- stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people before airport security -- and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that require us to guess correctly don't work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It's not security, it's security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.

Airport security is the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. Sure, it'll catch the sloppy and the stupid -- and that's a good enough reason not to do away with it entirely -- but it won't catch a well-planned plot. We can't keep weapons out of prisons; we can't possibly keep them off airplanes.

I've long said that it's a good thing that Richard Reid wasn't the ass-bomber, or we'd all be dropping trou for the TSA.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Wilbur and the Jungle Gym

(An excerpt from my 5th-grade reading workbook, The Scratch Papers, now out-of-print. Previous excerpts: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine.)

In the schoolyard there is a jungle gym. Almost nobody ever plays on this jungle gym anymore because there are so many new things to play on, such as the Super Squiggly Slide. But Wilbur still likes the jungle gym because he finds it a good place for deep thinking.

Whenever Wilbur wants to think, he goes out to the jungle gym and climbs to the very top. Its bars are old and rusty now and it really isn't all that high. but Wilbur thinks it is a nice place to go and be alone. Once, he sat on top of that jungle gym all through a rainstorm. Several of the other kids thought Wilbur was trying to discover electricity, but, as usual, he was only deeply thinking.

Not only do they blow up planes, they're dirty and smelly too.

Either we live in a society in which it is OK to break out the crude, degrading ethnic stereotypes, or we don't. Just like a smoker is never going to be able to kick the habit if he keeps making excuses for why he needs just one more cigarette, we're never going to kick the racism habit if there's a secret stash of vile caricatures we'll only dip into for really, really bad people.
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLink.
Now, if the cartoonist is drawing Nasrella and decided to give him a really big turban, no foul. It's the same as giving Bush really big ears. However, terrorists do not go about trying to blow up planes while wearing anything that can be described as "garb". To depict them as doing so is nonsensical unless one is making a broad swipe at Islam in general. Note also the charming suggestions of flies buzzing about the "terrorist's" beard, tying in with the speech bubble's suggestion of incredulity that a muslim is carrying shampoo. Classy.

Pass the Popcorn: Conservative Cannibalism edition

Hmm. Goldstein, as well as many other commenters on the right, thought that it was a dreadfully bad move on the part of the Democrats to have turfed out Lieberman. Goldstein even called it Political Cannabalism. I wonder what he thinks of the Club for Growth's latest target -- Lincoln Chafee. If this moderate Republican is replaced by a hardliner, it seems probable that a seat in the senate would be lost to the Republicans.

I can't wait for all the commentators on the right who blasted the netroots for intolerance and extremism go at the Club for Growth. They just took down one candidate who had the backing of not just the GOP but the NRA, now they've got another in the crosshairs despite the fact that he votes with his party most of the time and holds a precious senate seat in a Blue state. If you want to fault Lieberman's detractors for being too single-issue, surely that disapprobation must be extended towards the Club for Growth, whose raison d'etre is to be a single-issue advocacy group. In the light of all the boviating over Lieberman's defeat, it sure can get awfully tempting for a Democrat to start tut-tutting about how the extremists in the Republican Party are just shooting themselves in the foot here.

But hey, I actually recognize how ridiculous it would be for a Democratic blogger to be giving Republicans free political advice. Instead, I'm just going to be enjoying the show:
Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the Main Street Republican Partnership, which is backing Chafee, said the Club's efforts will only help Democrats gain more seats in Congress.

"(House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi should make sure that Pat Toomey is on her Christmas card list," Resnick said after Schwarz's defeat.
Pass the Popcorn.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Supermarket Sweep Strategy

Even as cautious optimism for the diplomatic route to peace progresses, Israel is racheting up the pressure. It seems they want to push as far as possible into Lebanon before the referee's whistle blows? It's hard to see what Israel is trying to accomplish by expanding their offensive operations at this point. Maybe they want a hedge should the negotiations fail. Or maybe it's just a last-ditch facesaver. I can see how they would want to say that their boys controlled everything south of the Litani before they were yanked back by the diplomatic agreement, although I don't know exactly who they would be fooling.

According to Ian Welsh of The Agonist, we are going to have a new Middle East. Unfortunately it might not be the one Condi had in mind.

Meanwhile, more southern Lebanese, including the soldiers, are legging it northwards.
MARJAYOUN, Lebanon (Reuters) - Thousands of civilians prepared on Friday to leave two Christian towns in south Lebanon occupied by Israeli forces this week, witnesses said.

They said hundreds of cars gathered near the Lebanese army barracks in Marjayoun as U.N. peacekeepers were evacuating about 350 Lebanese soldiers and policemen under an agreement with the Israelis.

"Everyone wants to leave with the Lebanese force," one resident said by telephone. "No one will feel safe with the evacuation of the Lebanese force, we'll be trapped between Hizbollah and Israel."

The witnesses estimated about 3,000 people were in Marjayoun and nearby Qlaia town with a few hundred people who had left nearby Shi'ite Muslim villages.

The civilians plan to drive behind the bus convoy carrying the Lebanese security men and accompanied by U.N. peacekeepers.

As Greenboy of Needlenose put with unkind bluntness: "Say, aren't the Lebanese soldiers supposed to be going in the other direction? It's a sad statement when the Smurfs have to save your bacon."


Frankly, it stuns me that there are still people out there who think that abandoning the Democrats for a third-party is a good way to make this country more progressive. Even after Nader. Even after the revealation that the Green party candidate Carl Romanelli got ALL his money from the Republicans. When will people realize that there is no third-party solution to the two-party problem?

So, kudos to Neil for knocking this one out of the park.
Any movement big enough to make a third-party candidate remotely competitive in a general election can easily win a Democratic primary. This is mostly because there are far fewer Democratic primary voters. 283,055 people voted in Tuesday's primary; 1,253,571 people voted in Lieberman's 2000 general election victory. Democratic primary voters, furthermore, are more accepting of left-wing views than general election voters are. So if you have a movement that's big enough to be competitive in a general election, you can easily swing through the Democratic primary and pick up the nomination on your way. When the general election comes, you'll get the votes of all the straight-ticket Democratic voters, and you'll be the clear choice for every left-of-center voter. It's a lot easier to take over the Democratic Party and win elections that way than it is to build a successful third party.

Look at how it happened in Connecticut, where Ned Lamont is going to be the Democratic nominee. He'll most likely win the election. Over the last half-century, 24 incumbent Senators have been denied renomination in primaries. None have gone on to win the general election, which bodes pretty badly for Lieberman. The only one who tried to keep campaigning all the way to November got 11% of the vote. Instead of sending your third-party candidate into the general election, go for the Democratic nomination, and make these numbers work for you.

There's an important flip side to this. If a left-wing candidate can't win a Democratic primary, that candidate clearly doesn't have a movement big enough to win a general election. Then there's no point in running a third-party candidate in the general. The Democrats won't move left to prevent a third-party candidate from stealing their votes -- for them to break even with this strategy, they have to win 2 votes on the left for every one that they lose in the center. (Losing a centrist voter to the Republicans means they need one left-wing voter to make up the loss and then another left-wing voter to match the Republican gain.) And while moving left will turn out Democratic base voters in larger numbers, it may turn out the Republican base in larger numbers as well, and Democratic incumbents know that.

Running third-party candidates in general elections, then, won't substantially change Democrats' behavior. But especially with Lieberman's defeat fresh in their minds, the possibility of a primary challenge will. Take a look at this post from mcjoan, where she talks about how Jane Harman came out against war with Iran and warrantless wiretapping after Marcy Winograd challenged her from the left in a primary. That's a strategy that can succeed in several different ways, and it's one that I invite progressives who are unhappy with the Democrats to try.
My emphasis. In fact, it's such an important point that I'm going to repeat it again:
If a left-wing candidate can't win a Democratic primary, that candidate clearly doesn't have a movement big enough to win a general election. Then there's no point in running a third-party candidate in the general.
Wishful thinking and ideological purism is not going to save us.


Head Heeb on the the right way to end a conflict: everybody gets a little something. It looks like the latest compromise offer has a fighting (no pun intended) chance:
If all these hurdles are overcome, then the Israel-Hizbullah war will end on terms that allow everyone to gain something. Israel will have weakened Hizbullah and will get a stable northern border for the first time in more than 30 years, Hizbullah will be able to claim that it fought the IDF to the end, and the Lebanese government will obtain sovereignty over the entire country as well as a chance to resolve its outstanding disputes with Israel. France, as Lebanon's once and future patron, will increase its regional influence, and even the United States will (against all odds) have played a critical role in brokering the settlement.

This means that the proposed resolution is, at this point, about the best possible end that can be imagined for the whole sorry mess. A war in which all parties can claim achievements is one that is less likely to fester and more likely to provide a foundation upon which the underlying issues can be settled. As Israel has learned from bitter experience, a draw that leads to a resolution of the root conflict is preferable to a victory that doesn't - the Yom Kippur War ultimately resulted in peace with Egypt while the Six Day War led to nothing but an endless nightmare of occupation. If this war, like the war of 1973, leaves all parties proud but chastened, the not-defeat may have better results in the long term than an unequivocal battlefield victory.
Everybody can claim victory and go home, while knowing deep down that this war ain't worth it.

Some might say...

Think Progress:
Today on CNN Headline News, anchor Chuck Roberts discussed the impact of the foiled British terror plot with Hotline senior editor John Mercurio. Roberts asked Mercurio, “How does this factor into the Lieberman/Lamont contest? And might some argue, as some have, that Lamont is the al Qaeda candidate?”
If the anti-war candidate is the al Qaeda candidate, I guess the 60% of Americans that are against this war according to the latest polls must be the al Qaeda segment of the population, right? Why does Chuck Roberts hate 60% of Americans?

Snarkees aside, I think we should embrace the right-wing talking point that this latest attack can be put at al-Qaida's door. If we accept this, instead of arguing about whether or not it is or isn't al-Qaida, then it means they can't waffle over the next obvious point -- our approach in fighting the GWoT or whatever it is now is not making us safer. Majikthise has to say the obvious, because people are obviously not getting it yet:
This argument is absurd. I don't understand how anyone can repeat it with a straight face. Democrats and Republicans on national security is the Republicans' kooky idea that invading and occupying distant countries will really show those Al Qaeda sleeper cells in London and San Francisco. This time, the would-be bombers were British and they were caught by conventional police work. Even Dick Cheney doesn't think we should invade Great Britain to stop terrorism.
Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman is not recognizing a sinking ship even when he's going down in one:
“I’m worried that too many people, both in politics and out, don’t appreciate the seriousness of the threat to American security and the evil of the enemy that faces us — more evil, or as evil, as Nazism and probably more dangerous [!!!] than the Soviet Communists we fought during the long Cold War,” Mr. Lieberman said.
Is there any justification for a statement like that except for a hysterical attempt to whip up fear in a last-ditch effort to grasp at political survival?

Friday, August 11, 2006

I'll have a side of tax evasion with that bribery, thanks

According to the IRS, you must declare any bribes you recieve as income. Thus Duke Cunningham got put away for both bribery AND tax evasion (sharp eye, Will).

Honestly though, what kind of an anal-retentative freak do you have to be to take your ill-gotten gains into account when you do your taxes? Well, the thinking goes I'm not planning to get caught for this, but just in case, I want to be on the right side of the tax man. Furthermore, can you really trust the taxman not to turn you over if you duly report however much you recieved in "cash bribes and illicit gifts" in that fiscal year?

My only comment on the foiled plot

There's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

A voice of reason from the not-so-distant past

People always talk about how 'complicated' the Israeli/Arab issue is. How intractable it all seems. Sometimes they try to ignore it altogether because of the sheer impossibility of pinning down a definitive version of the situation amid so much suffering and such strongly conflicting claims. Its easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the Jews and the Arabs must have hated each other from the dawn of time and will continue to hate each other until the day of judgement. Except, of course, that's not the way it happened.

Sixty years is a long time in terms of the human individual. Enough time for a newborn babe to grow tall and strong, and eventually stooped and withered. But in terms of human history, compared to the lifespans of nations and civilizations, 60 years is not so very long at all.

It was almost sixty years ago, that King Abdullah wrote this. He wrote with devastating clarity that has become all but impossible to achieve as the ensuing years as bloody hands on both sides blurred the outlines of the debate.
Our case is quite simple: For nearly 2,000 years Palestine has been almost 100 per cent Arab. It is still preponderantly Arab today, in spite of enormous Jewish immigration. But if this immigration continues we shall soon be outnumbered—a minority in our home.

Palestine is a small and very poor country, about the size of your state of Vermont. Its Arab population is only about 1,200,000. Already we have had forced on us, against our will, some 600,000 Zionist Jews. We are threatened with many hundreds of thousands more.

Our position is so simple and natural that we are amazed it should even be questioned. It is exactly the same position you in America take in regard to the unhappy European Jews. You are sorry for them, but you do not want them in your country.

We do not want them in ours, either. Not because they are Jews, but because they are foreigners. We would not want hundreds of thousands of foreigners in our country, be they Englishmen or Norwegians or Brazilians or whatever.

Think for a moment: In the last 25 years we have had one third of our entire population forced upon us. In America that would be the equivalent of 45,000,000 complete strangers admitted to your country, over your violent protest, since 1921. How would you have reacted to that?

How indeed, would Americans react if legions of foreigners started establishing themselves in our midst?
While AP reported that there were 1,000 people in attendance, this was the one time when the mainstream media under-reported numbers at an extremist Muslim rally. There were easily 2,500-3,000 Jew-hating, anti-American bodies in the room that has a maximum capacity of 1,000.

Among the many speakers, several things were in common: multiple statements about the Jews, cheers for the total destruction of and end to Israel, and support for Hezbollah, the Mujahideen, and the Martyrs.

A very religious Islamic event, I sat with the many bitter-looking, hijab-encrusted women in black (the women were relegated to separate seating in the back). Every imam of every Shi'ite mosque in town was there, white turban et al. (...)

Haj Mohammed Turfe (...) repeatedly spoke of how "only a few thousand Jews will survive Armageddon." This mantra, repeated often throughout the event, got raucous, deafening applause and cheers. Well, for once--I thought--extremist Muslims have respect for Christianity...when they can twist it to suit their fascist hopes and dreams.
I don't want to focus on Schlussel. But the point is, when you introduce a hostile population into any community, panic and hatred is the natural result. If anything, the Arab/Israeli situation is remarkable by the lack of significant prior animus. King Abdullah's letter, tinged though it is with desperation, is significant for how cogently and reasonably it is argued, how it spared no pains to sympathize with the Jewish plight and also to appeal to the hearts and minds of Western readers. He spoke without anger or hatred. It's the kind of voice that the Arab world could sorely use right now.

The fine art of Understanding Weird, Scary foreigners

As somebody with Chinese heritage, there is nothing that drives me bonkers more than some moron who hardly knows anything about Chinese culture siezing one fun fact he gleamed from an article or heard from a friend and overinterpreting the hell out of it. "Taiwanese people like to end the workday by saying "you've worked hard" to their indicative of the culture of overwork here...ah, I see you have given me a tentative nod. Thus emboldened, I will now cross the line by asserting that Taiwanese people like working for work's sake and thus end up harming their own productivity." "I find it fascinating that siblings are addressed by their birth order -- Big brother, second brother etc. How well it meshes with my preconceptions of Chinese culture as a dehumanizing meatgrinder where individuality is stamped out from birth." Next time any of you think that a random nugget of information have given you a window into another culture that you otherwise know nothing about and that you must share your brilliant insight...don't.

It's good to know that we Chinese are not the only victims. I guess the Iranians also find themselves falling under the Inscrutable Oriental catagory, and thus fair game for the "x is the key to understanding their culture" approach. Michael Slackman writes himself a doozy:
There is a social principle in Iran called taarof, a concept that describes the practice of insincerity — of inviting people to dinner when you don’t really want their company, for example. Iranians understand such practices as manners and are not offended by them.
Basically, Ogged of UnFogged decided to tear him a new one, and deservedly so...
I'm trying not to scream after reading Michael Slackman's truly awful, simply wrong article in the Times about Iranian culture. I've mentioned tarof on the blog before, and explained it as "ritual politeness." There are certain phrases and gestures that are basically the boilerplate of interpersonal interactions: if you grow up in Iranian culture, you learn when to use them, what they mean, and how seriously to take them. Insisting that an elder enter a room before you do is tarof; so is staying standing until everyone older than you has sat down; so is refusing food the first time or two that it's offered; so is the cab driver telling you that the ride is free; so are ornate phrases that translate literally to things like "I'm your slave." You show respect and your good manners wtih tarof. Slackman explains all this with such a stunning lack of understanding that we should all go lay flowers at the grave of Edward Said and tell him he was right about everything.[snip]

"Ritual politeness" is "insincerity." Just like when the Japanese businessman bows before negotiations, he's lying, because you know he really wants your money.
So when an old-fashioned Brit say, "I am your humble servant", it means that they're placing themselves in indentured servitude under you, correct? And when an American say "Mi casa, su casa", they must mean that you are now part-owner of their real estate, right? Otherwise, aren't we all as insincere and mysteriously inscrutable as those weird foreigners?

By the way, you will note that Slackman has covered his back by getting lots of quotes from real-life Iranians who say things that seem to support his drivel. Unfortunately, it is a sad fact in every single country on this planet, you'll be able to fins some academic or another who is willing to pimp out simplistic cliches about his country for a foreigner who wants to hear them.

In short, we didn't like it when Bernard Levy did it to us, so let's not go around doing it to other people anymore, OK?


A collective fit of the stupids

I am now going to give in and conform to every awful stereotype about us elitist latte-sipping lefty bloggers ever -- Jesus wept, my fellow Americans are stupid.

The good news is, 60% of them finally wised up that the Iraq war was a bad idea. The bad news is, 39% thinks that making it mandatory for Muslim citizens to carry special I.D.s is a good idea.

Thirty percent of Americans no longer remember the year in which 9/11 occured. Credit where credit's due, 95% of them, are hep to the fact that 9/11 occured on 9/11.

And while we are not number one, we are number two in terms of being the country most likely to disbelieve evolution in this poll. Turkey had us beat, but we came out on top over just about every European nation plus Japan. In your face, Cyprus and Latvia!
Among the factors contributing to America's low score are poor understanding of biology, especially genetics, the politicization of science and the literal interpretation of the Bible by a small but vocal group of American Christians, the researchers say.

"American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalist, which is why Turkey and we are so close," said study co-author Jon Miller of Michigan State University.
And we're getting more fundamentalist by the month, so I wouldn't get too comfortable in that number one spot, Turkey.

Meme 'o the day: Nutpicking

Something that is very gratifying about the blogs is how quickly stuff happens. It was just yesterday that Kevin Drum, working on the suggestion of a reader, saw a semantic gap that was crying out to be filled. Before you know it, a contest was held and we now have a winner:

Nutpicking (v.) -- the moronic practice of trawling open comment threads to cherrypick nutball views, which can then be disingenuously held up as representative of your opponent's "side."

Example sentences:

I see that K Lo is busily nutpicking away over at The Corner.

Lanny Davis is now the official King of the Nutpickers.

Man, the nutpickers were out in force after Tuesday's Ned Lamont victory.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Happy Couple

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Liz Jones writes a column, frequently about her husband, Nirpal Dhaliwal. Dhaliwal is also a writer, and recently wrote a column of his own, about how even feminists secretly want big, bad cavemen instead of sensitive blokes.
He said: Deep down, women love men who stand up to them, who won't be pushed around. They love men who will look them in the eye and tell them to shut up when their hormonal bickering has become too much.[snip]

I'm always telling my wife, the writer Liz Jones, to shut up. She gets into a prissy huff about it, but I know she respects me for not indulging her neuroticism. Long ago, I realised it is unhealthy for a man to embroil himself in arguments with women.

She said: Was it worth getting married? My husband asked me that question the other day after one of our pointless, whingeing arguments (was it about who had forgotten to buy Comfort, or put out the recycling box, or bought dinner, or fed Snoopy, or left a towel on the floor? I really can't remember). "Well, was it?" he said, trying to goad me into a response. I told him he had, yet again, "ruined my weekend, which is mean because I work really hard all week"

He said: Real men don't pretend or even try to understand women. They simply love them for being the mysterious, capricious creatures that they are. And they don't take them too seriously, either. They know the vicissitudes of the female mind, its constant insecurities and the fluctuations in mood.

Rather than pander to them, they simply watch them drift by like so many clouds on the horizon. They don't get entangled in a woman's feelings and listen to her prattling on and on until she's talked herself out. Such strong and stoic men are exactly what women need to anchor themselves amid the chaos of their emotions.

She said: We sat in silence for a bit and then he said, "Do you really want to be a mum?"

"Pardon?" I said.

"It's just I saw you holding that baby and you looked 10 years younger. If you do, then we'll do it."

"But we don't even know if we're going to stay together," I said. "You keep changing your mind."

"The reason I changed my mind about adopting was that I thought I'd be home all day looking after it while you went to work," he said.

"That's weird. I thought I'd have to do everything, and, as usual, you'd do nothing to help," I said.

"Hmm, well, we need to talk more."

He said: The female orgasm is the natural mechanism by which men assert dominion over women: a man who appreciates this can negotiate whatever difficulties arise in his relationships with them.

Last Christmas, my wife threw me out after discovering I'd been cheating on her. On the night we got back together, I made strong, passionate love to her. Unfaithful as I'd been, I was not going to let her have me over a barrel for the rest of our marriage. I needed to keep a sense of self and not allow her to mire me in guilt and a desperate quest of forgiveness.

I needed to let her know what she would be missing if we broke up for ever. I gave her a manful bravura performance that night, and at the height of her passion, I asked her: 'Who's the boss?'

The question threw her. Initially she wouldn't give me a reply, but I enticed it from her. 'You are,' she finally gasped. 'You are!'

She said: "My mum rang to ask me if I am really gay," he said miserably. Ah. I had written down all the reasons why we might not be having sex. Pointing out that him being homosexual was just one of 10 didn't really make him feel much better.
I'm not even going to pretend to be going into the sociological aspect of these columns. This is just one of those train-wreck moments -- hard to look away. Part of me would like to say that the problem is just down to Dhaliwal's odd notions about women, but's clear upon reading her column that Jones, though possessing more self-awareness, might also be somewhat lacking in the sense department. Writing intimate, lacerating columns about your relationship in the newspaper upsets the husband? You don't say?

Temptress Goat

Please, tell me this is an Onion article. Please!
This is how staggeringly pointless the killing in Iraq is getting: shepherds in the rural western Baghdad neighborhood of Gazalea have recently been murdered, according to locals, for failing to diaper their goats. Apparently the sexual tension is so high in regions where Sheikhs take a draconian view of Shariah law, that they feel the sight of naked goats poses an unacceptable temptation. They blame the goats.

I’ve spent nearly a year here, on more than a dozen visits since the early days of the war, and that seemed about as preposterous as Iraq could get until I heard about the grocery store in east Baghdad. The grocer and three others were shot to death and the store was firebombed because he suggestively arranged his vegetables.

I didn’t believe it at first. Firebombings of liquor stores are common, and I figured there must’ve been one next door. But an Iraqi colleague explained matter-of-factly that Shiite clerics had recently distributed a flyer directing groceries how to display their food.

Standing up a celery stalk near a couple of tomatoes in a way that might – to the profoundly repressed – suggest an aroused male, is now a capital offense.
Of course, it's not an Onion article. It's just some of the shit that's been going down in Iraq, where Democracy is on the March!

Introducing Percy

Yes, it's true. Gene and I have adopted a second dog from the pound. We didn't really mean to, at least not without much more Thought and Consideration. We merely went to the pound to get to know a few dogs and think about how they would fit into our lives. Well, the first dog we sprung from the cage was a little three-legged Shiba Inu. He seemed like an OK pooch. A little shy, a little distracted. I was all set to put him back and look at another dog whereupon he collapsed on his belly and refused to move in a most pathetic way. I knew right then and there that is was Game Over. I looked up at Gene -- "We can't put him back in there," he said, "let's give this guy
another chance."

So we took him home, and named him "Percy", after Gene's one-legged grandpa.

Percy have had a tough life. In addition to losing his leg in an automobile accident, he had a serious burn down one side that only recently ceased to be tender. He's been living on the street for quite a while, both his canines are chipped. They think he's about six or seven, but of course there's no way to tell. He's been in the pound since June, which means he was seriously living on borrowed time when we took him home, since dogs that are considered "unadoptable" (non-puppies, in general) are usually put down after ten days. One of the volunteer at the pound took a shine to him, apparently.

He was so shy and skittish when we first took him home. But since then he has really opened up. He's learned to climb stairs, and wags his curly tail when he sees Gene or me coming. Dodo is so curious about him, but he's keeping her at arms length for now. They get along OK, unless T-O-Y-S are involved.

By the way, it's been a while since we've had a picture of Dodo, so here's your belated schnauzer blogging too.
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Political Cannabalism?

Frankly, it puzzles me that the right-wingers are so obsessed with the Lieberman-Lamont primary. Even more puzzling is their widespread and loudly disseminated argument that Lamont is Trouble, that the Dems have shot themselves in the foot. That this is political cannabalism.

As that raging, foaming at the mouth Kossack Kevin Drum pointed out, there are plenty of examples on the right of groups much more fringe than the netroots putting mainstream Republicans in the crosshairs and taking them down. Who on the left really paid attention to the Schwartz/Walberg primary? Did we expend many pixels ruminating on what it bodes for the Republican party now that their moderates are being targeted by ideological groups like the Club for Growth and replaced with fundamentalist preachers? Did we advise them to cool it on the intra-partisan rivalry lest they alienate the voters and tear their party apart? No. If we did, we'd be laughed out of town, and rightly so.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Babies are Boring

I'm in the curious position of wanting to have kids one day, while being certain that there are certain aspects of childrearing that I would absolutely hate. I'm not talking about the inevitably nappy changing here, but the kind of "keeping the young 'uns entertained" type activities that would now forever be known to me as "rolling the ball":
A while back, I found myself chatting at a cocktail party with a much older man, a very distinguished and well-known attorney. He had had children late in life, so I asked him how he was enjoying fatherhood. He gave a long rueful sigh and said, "Well, you know it's a lot better now that they are 7 and 8 and can have an actual conversation. When they were smaller, it was just tedious being around them. All you do is roll the ball, roll the ball, roll the ball." I laughed out loud because anyone who has spent an afternoon trying to entertain a very young child knows that it can be incredibly boring and repetitive. I was also surprised by his candor.

Of course, you would rarely catch a mother making such an admission. And the mother is more likely to be spending larger chunks of her time rolling the ball, rolling the ball, rolling the ball. Now Helen Kirwan-Taylor of the Daily Mail has written an editorial entitled, "Sorry, but my children bore me to death!"
I've babysat enough to realize that the younger the kid, the more tedious the babysitting session is going to be (unless they are so young and non-fussy that you can ignore them altogether, the exception that proves the rule). I can imagine spending a lot of time and having a lot of fun with my kids when they get to the stage where they can handle more complex activities and absorb information more readily, but the "rolling the ball" part really gets old after about five minutes. Does this mean I'm destined to be a bad mother? Whenever I communicate these doubts to people who are already mothers, they inevitably say, after an uncomfortable pause, "well, it will be different when it's your own..." I never reply "Do you think I'm so narcissistic that I'll find my own children fascinating just because they're my own even though I find babykind in general a bit of a bust?" but it's what I'm thinking.

Of course, I am not intending on neglecting my children until I deem them interesting enough to hang out with. That would be tantemont to child abuse. So roll the ball I will. Around and around and around. What I will not do, however, is bow to the societal pressure to subscribe to the convenient fiction that parents, female parents in particular, find the ball-rolling indescribably precious and fulfilling. I feel like Helen Kirwan-Taylor, who wrote the controversial Daily Mail editorial, gave us a real "the emperor has no clothes moment."
I know this is one of the last taboos of modern society. To admit that you, a mother of the new millennium, don't find your offspring thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable at all times is a state of affairs very few women are prepared to admit. We feel ashamed, and unfit to be mothers. [snip]

Those of us who are not thoroughly 'child-centric', meaning we don't put our children's guitar practice before our own ambitions, are made to feel guilty. We're not meant to have an adult life — at least, not one that doesn't include them.
Doubtlessly, there are those who would ask "if babies are so tedious, why have them?" To me, this is quite the foolish rhetorical question. It presupposes that the whole point of having kids, of bringing a new member into society, is because they are such little precious pookies when they're babies. It also ignore the fact that for the male half of the population, the "babies are boring" viewpoint is quite widely accepted and mainstream, despite the odd SuperDad. If we disqualify them all from procreating, we'd hardly have any babies at all.

As it almost always is, facing up to the truth is preferable in the long run to the noble lie. I think it is incredibly positive for women to admit that they don't find every moment they spend with their child a little ray of sunshine. For some of us, keeping toddlers occupied is a joy, for others, it is a chore just like any other. The mothers and the fathers both need to do their share, and together they need to figure out how much of this child-centeredness is necessary, or even desirable. Historically speaking, the belief that little kids need to be permanently entertained by at least one parent or they come out all wrong is a very recent phenomenon. I've no desire to turn the clock back to Victorian times, but I believe that the pendulum has swung too far.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What's the more serious problem... America today? Anti-semitism or Islamophobia?

The answer seems self-evident to me. And yet I hear a lot about the former, often on quite tenuous grounds, and hardly a peep about the latter either on the right or the left. Josh Marshall complained about a lot of emails he's been getting with an anti-semitic spin. This I can well believe, there are lots of nutcases out there. But this is the example that he quoted for us in full:
Over the years I have been a strong supporter of Israel's right to be. Now I am wondering.

What kind of neighbor has Israel been? Would you want to live next door?

How would you like it if your neighbor annexed your land? Locked you up? Lied to you? Periodically threw bombs at your house?

What if Israel had taken a different path? What if they had been less afraid, less brutal? What if the billions spent on fences and bombs and soldiers had been spent on making sure their neighbors had a piece of the pie?

What if Israel hadn't relied on their military might so much? What if they had been the ones to help open health clinics, provide opportunities, help people build a good life (instead of Hezbollah)?

Maybe it's time for Israel to change its ways or move on.

To me, this is a prime example of something that is anti-Israel, but in no way anti-semitic. Much can be read into the implication of the "move on" part, but it seems the solution the emailer would like is one of peaceful co-existence. Unlike much of the anti-muslim stuff out there, it makes no mention of Judaism as being fundamentally evil or violent, or anything about the Jews in general. Much, much worse stuff have been said about the Muslims in outlets that are much more mainstream.

I think Yglesias said it best:
Certainly, that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim views exist doesn't make it okay for people to be anti-Semites. But while American political commentators seem very attuned to the fact that a certain proportion of criticism of Israeli policy is motivated by dislike of Jews or the idea of a Jewish state everyone seems oblivious to the obvious reality that a certain amount of praise for policies that involve killing Arabs or Muslims -- the American invasion of Iraq, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, proposed American strikes on Syria or Iran -- is likewise motivated by racial or quasi-racial bias.

Commenter jlkenney (@ Yglesia's post) also had some wise thoughts:
What about criticizing the idea of establishing an ethnic state by the forced expulsion of the previous population of a region? That's what's always seemed rather the most indefensible thing about Israel. On the one hand, one certainly has people who criticize Israel because they don't like Jews. This is clearly unacceptable. But people who criticize Israel because they don't like "the idea of a Jewish state" seems a more difficult question. If Matt means people who don't like the idea of a Jewish state because they don't like Jews, then Matt is kind of making a distinction without a difference. But what about people who don't like the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. Personally, in the abstract, I have a hard time sympathizing with the idea.

Now, saying that one thinks the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine which entailed the seemingly permanent forcible expulsion of a large portion of the previous inhabitants of the area was unjust, is one thing.

Saying that we should rectify this injustice by envisioning the permanent forcible expulsion of the current inhabitants of the area, most of whom personally had nothing to do with the founding crime of Israel, seems to be quite another. But envisioning, for instance, the establishment of a secular binational state in which both Israelis and returning (and remaining) Palestinians would be welcomed, seems more naive and unrealistic than racist in any way. All other things being equal, such an idea is a lot more appealing to me as a lax Reform Jew than a Jewish State run in some significant ways by Orthodox rabbis. Of course, all other things aren't equal, in the incredible amount of hatred which both sides have for each other at this point makes such a solution impracticable for the foreseeable future. But I don't see as it's morally repugnant.

Why I am a realist

Billmon lays it out:
This is what realism is all about -- seeking the least evil course in a world absolutely brimming with evil but perpetually short on freedom of action, even for superpowers. The degree of French "goodness," like the degree of U.S. "goodness," matters not a whit here. What matters is whether a ceasefire, on terms acceptable to Hizbullah, would be more evil or less evil than allowing the continuation of a war that no longer has much point to it (not unless the Israelis really are prepared to fight their way far enough north to put Hizbullah's rocketeers out of business.)

That's the choice, and all the harrumphing in the world about the "evildoers" isn't going to change the basic power equation. If Bush doesn't like the choices on the diplomatic menu, then he needs to be ready to send in the 82nd Airborne -- and accept the consequences. It doesn't look like he is.

Which is the heart of the problem, from a realist's point of view. The neocons are absolutely hooked on unilateralism: It's hardwired into their brains and it doesn't look like any number of fiascos will be enough to rearrange the circuits. The unlateral exercise of American power, particularly military power, is the fundamental, defining, unifying idea of neoconism. It can't be abandoned or the whole pretentious edifice collapses.

A unilateralism that reflects an accurate reading of underlying power relationships is one thing -- it may be ugly, but it can certainly "work," from a realpolitik point of view. Just ask Otto von Bismark. But a unlateralism based on nothing more than a conviction of one's own inherent superiority is a foreign policy disaster waiting to happen (and now it's happening.)

Emphasis mine.

Nick Gvosdev wrote a post cheekily titled "Nick Gvosdev, Enemy of Freedom" a while ago. I would similarly like to stand up and be counted. In a situation as fucked as the as the Middle East right now, with every party bloody-handed, it is hubris to speak of justice, freedom and the ideals of democracy.

Copyright gone wild

I am one pissed-off Battlepanda.

You see, I've always wanted to play the guitar. I've taken several approaches to this. I've tried to learn on my with one of those method books. I've tried getting skilled friends and family to teach me. I've even tried taking lessons on occasion, though they were generally a bit of a waste of time. Nothing, but nothing helped me improve as much as Kirk Lorange's website (

Kirk is a master finger-style guitarist. He puts up detail tabs of his awesome arrangements of the kind of songs we'd all like to play, as well as really useful support material. Each song is displayed with traditional notation, tabs, video, audio, and a half-speed midi version to play along with. It is a labor of love that completely blows anything I've found produced by the sheet-music industry out of the water. I was so pleased with my progress that I posted my hesitant rendition of the M.A.S.H. theme tune on one of the forums at guitarforbeginners, and recieved nothing in return but support and positive criticism, including feedback from Kirk himself. Since then, I've learnt a ton of songs through guitarforbeginners, and have been most gratified by how well they have been recieved by friends and family. In return for all this, I've only donated a measly $10 to Kirk. Not to excuse my stinginess, but I'm sure that many who take advantage of his tabs donate nothing at all.

There are other sites like Kirk's that have helped guitar players all over the internet. One of the most venerable is OLGA, a database of tabs submitted by enthusiasts all over the world; one of the most popular is Guitar Tabs Universe, ran by Rob Balch, who take enough ads to only cover the bandwidth costs. Both those websites are currently down as they face lawsuits from the Music Publisher's Association. I'm freaking out that Guitar for Beginners might be next.
MPA president Lauren Keiser said he wanted site owners to be jailed.

He said unlicensed guitar tabs and song scores were widely available on the internet but were "completely illegal".

Mr Keiser said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can "throw in some jail time I think we'll be a little more effective".[snip]

"The Xerox machine was the big usurper of our potential income," he said. "But now the internet is taking more of a bite out of sheet music and printed music sales so we're taking a more proactive stance."

David Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers' Association, added his concerns.

"Unauthorised use of lyrics and tablature deprives the songwriter of the ability to make a living, and is no different than stealing," he said.

"Music publishers and songwriters will consider all tools under the law to stop this illegal behaviour."
What a ridiculously transparent justification for greedy, rent-seeking behavior. The traditional method of distribution for sheet music is so inefficient and haphazard that I challenge you to find more than the thinnest sliver of songs available in any given store. Hard to argue that the big, bad tab websites are taking the bread out of your mouths when you are not even offering that product in the marts of commerce. Why not go the whole hog and declare that everyone who's noodling along to 'Yesterday' after hearing it on the radio are breaking the law and guilty of copyright infringement?

Let's remind ourselves quickly of why copyright laws are there in the first place. They are they to keep the creativity going, to make sure that artists get their fair share of profits and are given an incentive to keep on creating. They are not there to protect dinosaur industries that create zero value. Artists in general won't care that their songs are tabbed -- how many pennies from the music publishing industries go to the actual songwriters anyhow? If anything, the desemination of their songs through amateur players probably shores up their popularity to some minor degree, which translates to gains from concerts tickets and some increased music sales. And besides, if we make it harder for the next generation of artists to learn from what's been done before, where will our new songs come from?

In short, this insanity has got to be sorted out. If we truly want to help songwriters benefit, let's reform the copyright process. The technology is now here to let them get paid directly (maybe sites like Kirks can kick in a share of their profits, such as it is, directly to the songwriters) instead of a thin cut through proxies like the sheet music industry. I know that I've disparaged Law and Economics before, but this seems like a great application for that kind of thinkings as property rights as opposed to human rights are concerned -- a tremendous amount of value is being extinguished so that the sheet-music industry can extort a petty sum inefficiently.

Why we can't just get along

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Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.

Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.

But, if you've read the classic Dr. Seuss story, you'd know you would think wrong. Daryl McCullough have some thoughts on how the whole star-bellied/plain-bellied Sneetch conflict could have really taken a turn for a worse if they hadn't come to their senses and realized that Sneetches are Sneetches (and that no kind of Sneetch is the best for the Beaches.):
First, even though the situation of ethnic hatred and violence is insane, the actions of individuals leading to the situation are really not so irrational. You have two groups, the star-bellied sneetches and the plain-bellied sneetches, for example. There is really no rational reason for the one kind of sneetch to hate the other kind of sneetch. However, it doesn't take much for some sneetches to come to the conclusion that the other sneetches are bigoted. The last three rulers have all been star-bellied sneetches. That can't be just a coincidence, can it? Once the suspicion arises that the star-bellied sneetches are getting more than their fair share, the plain-bellied sneetches start grumbling and being resentful. Then the star-bellied sneetches can rationally justify discriminating against plain-bellied sneetches: they are more likely to be resentful grumblers. I don't want any kind of tension, so I should probably stick to star-bellied sneetches. So discrimination grows and grumbling grows, and eventually grumbing turns into violence. Then the star-bellied sneetches learn not to go in plain-bellied neighborhoods, and the two groups become more and more polarized.

The basis for discriminating is almost completely irrelevant, except that to really get a good ethnic conflict going, the differences have to be roughly hereditary. Religious and language preferences aren't actually hereditary, but they might as well be---children strongly tend to make the same choices as their parents (especially if the people who chose differently live in different neighborhoods).

So acting on irrational bigotry is not necessarily irrational. It's a fact that people of one racial or ethnic group cannot safely walk in some neighborhoods dominated by another group. So being scared of the other group is rational, in many cases. As Yoda can tell you:
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
Wise that Yoda is. Kudos to Daryl for starting a post with Dr. Seuss and ending with Yoda, by the way.

Power, or the perception of power

Ezra is right. Whether or not Lamont wins the primary is almost moot. Publius, in one of my favorite posts of all times, made the observation that: "There is one way – and only one way – to change bad political behavior. Win. Nothing else matters – politically speaking. Politicians will change their behavior when they think that behavior will cause them to get beat. And not one second before. You can’t depend on morality, you can’t depend on reason. You can depend only on the fear of political death to change things. It is the first rule of politics." The netroots have demonstrated that it is among the select groups who are capable of dealing out that political death.
With the netroots having proved they can generate an existential challenge to a safe-seeming incumbent, actually defeating Lieberman would be little beyond icing on the cake. Moving forward, a Lieberman victory would do nothing to blur the traumatic memory of his near-loss. And that gives the netroots an extraordinary amount of power, vaulting them into a rarified realm occupied by only the strongest interest groups.

So much of an incumbent’s life is predicated on avoiding trouble, dodging disaster, avoiding serious primaries and well-funded challengers. To do that, incumbents make all sorts of concessions -- a Republican officeholder needs to keep taxes low in order to placate the Club for Growth and Grover Norquist, and support social conservatism to avoid James Dobson and Jerry Falwell. A Democrat, meanwhile, has to vote with the unions (witness Illinois representative Melissa Bean’s troubles after her conservative capitulation on CAFTA), support a woman’s right to choose, and so forth. The key is averting the ire of those few groups that can actually furnish and fund a potential replacement.

Now the netroots will join that category. But, as evidenced by their choice of target -- Dianne Feinstein and Herb Kohl, while war supporters, face no primary challenges -- they will demand something altogether different. Rather than requiring submission to a certain set of policy initiatives, they’ll demand unity in certain moments of partisan showdown. What so rankled about Lieberman was his willingness to abandon ship when steady hands were most necessary -- he was always the first to compromise on judicial nominees, or flirt with Social Security privatization, or scold critics of the Iraq War. His current plight is evidence that such opportunistic betrayals will not, in the future, go unpunished. On July 7th, being the Democrat who criticizes Democrats ceased being safe.
Now that the netroots have power, or what is almost as good, the perception of power, let's hope that they use it well and wisely.

Underestimating Hezbollah

Billmon may be onto something:
Two weeks ago Lebanon's Prime Minister was demanding an immediate cease fire while Shrub and company were insisting that only a "lasting cease fire," leading to a "permanent solution," would do.

Now it's the other way around:

Speaking to reporters today at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., where he is on vacation, Mr. Bush said, “Everyone wants the violence to stop.’’

“People understand that there needs to be a cessation of hostilities in order for us to address the root causes of the problem,’’ he said . .

Mr. Siniora said he opposed the cease-fire resolution in its current form, saying it would not effectively halt the violence. “It barely leads to a cease-fire,’’ he said, with tears in his eyes. “We want a permanent and full cease-fire.’’
Obviously, something has changed -- that something being the completely unexpected outcome of the war (unexpected by everyone but Hizbullah I mean.)

It would appear that I completely misjudged the situation when I suggested Sheikh Nasrallah would be smart to take or at least pretend to take, the deal on the table -- essentially agreeing to a ceasefire in place while ignoring the "permanent solution" his Anglo-Israeli enemies were in no position to demand or implement.

But every word spoken by the respective sides since Sunday indicates that the Israelis and the Americans have reached a point where they both want a cease fire more badly than Hizbullah does.
But of course Siniora won't want a simple ceasefire now that he has seen how well Israel observed the 48-hour truce. I don't know if one can take the fact that Siniora is asking for a more comprehensive ceasefire as a sign that he is now speaking for Hezbollah. What Billmon is right on, though, is the 180-degree change in attitude of Israel and the U.S. I think Israel now fully realized the shit it stepped into -- Hezbollah is not Hamas.
Until Hezbollah sparked the conflict on July 12 by capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing eight others in a border clash, most of the young Israeli soldiers had seen little serious combat.

Many have spent time fighting Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Few considered them worthy adversaries.

"We're not used to people who know how to fight," said Assaf. "Here, it's scary. It's like a war."
Emphasis mine.

This is Hezbollah.
As the Israeli Army struggles for a fourth week to defeat Hezbollah before a cease-fire, the shipments are just one indication of how — with the help of its main sponsors, Iran and Syria — the militia has sharply improved its arsenal and strategies in the six years since Israel abruptly ended its occupation of southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah is a militia trained like an army and equipped like a state, and its fighters “are nothing like Hamas or the Palestinians,” said a soldier who just returned from Lebanon. “They are trained and highly qualified,” he said, equipped with flak jackets, night-vision goggles, good communications and sometimes Israeli uniforms and ammunition. “All of us were kind of surprised.”

Much attention has been focused on Hezbollah’s astonishing stockpile of Syrian- and Iranian-made missiles, some 3,000 of which have already fallen on Israel. More than 48 Israelis have been killed in the attacks — including 12 reservist soldiers killed Sunday, who were gathered at a kibbutz at Kfar Giladi, in northern Israel, when rockets packed with antipersonnel ball bearings exploded among them, and 3 killed Sunday evening in another rocket barrage on Haifa.

But Iran and Syria also used those six years to provide satellite communications and some of the world’s best infantry weapons, including modern, Russian-made antitank weapons and Semtex plastic explosives, as well as the training required to use them effectively against Israeli armor.
Was Israel truly surprised by Hezbollah's strength? Maybe, but it shouldn't have been. The photo above was from 2002. Israeli Military Intelligence also claims to have tracked Zelzal long-range missiles from Iran going to Hezbollah through Syria in the wake of the earthquake in Bam. It's understandable that Israel might have panicked about the increasing military strength of Hezbollah, but did it really think that "turning the clock back 20 years" on Lebanon was going to be the way to do destroy it?

One thing is for sure. We can forget about the "Lebanon is complicit because it didn't enforce its sovereignty" bluster. If the mighty IDF is still having trouble with those guys in Bint Jbeil after all these weeks of fighting, I don't think it was realistic at all to blame the Lebanese army for not rooting them out in the first place.