Friday, December 31, 2004


Friday Blog Blogging

Good stuff from Happy Furry Puppy Story Time with Norbizness and Jesus' General.
Get Your Hands Off My Chicken Selects, Allah!

Some old USA Today guy writes a holiday column urging withdrawal from Iraq for the sake of the troops. Some old USA Today guy gets angry letters. Of course, this post has already been done (better because he's willing to actually e-mail these lunatics with helpful suggestions) byJesus' General, but here goes...

(1) "Cowards and traitors like Al Neuharth want all the comforts they know and enjoy, without a sacrifice to buy it." To which only a professional biography suffices: "Neuharth, besides his professional accomplishments, served his country in World War II as an infantryman in France, Germany and the Phillippines, and won a Bronze Star." Only Bronze? I'll bet it was self-inflicted. He was never under fine. He wasn't in the Phillippines, he was near the Phillipines, which is strange because he says it was seared in his memory! [The preceding provided by Reactionary Non-Military Weblog Autobot v3.1]

(1a) "They had two of these in World War 2. One was called Tokyo Rose and the other Axis Sally." For some reason, I don't want to think of Mr. Neuharth in drag, because the world already has all the Bea Arthurs it needs.

(1b) "And as for the good war, WW II, the lefties were four-square for that one. Yes sir, they were saving the USSR, Stalin and Communism. It's sad we didn't join Hitler until he wiped out the USSR." And the Boys From Brazil was a documentary, filmed in real time.

(2) "If we pull out of Iraq with the job unfinished the terrorists will be bombing McDonalds" Oh, HELL no! Not when the fucking McRib is back for a limited time after months of wandering the fast food wilderness! This tangy barbecue sauce doesn't run, motherfucker!

(3) "Neuharth should be tried for treason along with a lot of other blowhards who should be spending their energies condemning the barbarism of our enemies, the same people who destroyed the Twin Towers." Proudly representing the People's Republic of Austin! By the way, here's your ticket to Greenland, dumbfuck.

(4) "The Patriot Act will put both of you (Neuharth and Mitchell) on trial for treason and convict and execute both of you as traitors for running these stories in a time of war and it should be done on TV for other communist traitors like you two to know we mean business." No, that's not the Patriot Act that I know and love. You're thinking of the working draft of Patriot Act III being drafted by Al Gonzales... although it would be better to implement Patriot Act IV, allowing for Michael Biehn to trip the space-time continuum to kill Neuharth's grandparents in the old country, thereby sparing us in this time-stream from having to read well-reasoned things that upset us.

Teacher's note for #4: "'F'... Run-on sentences, poor punctuation... see me after class. And stop calling me a communist harlot who will be drowned in the fire of the coming Apocalypse as the armies of the righteous smite them live on Fox News."
And here's the Jesus' General post Norbizness refers to:
Getting their freep on

Last week, USA Today founder Al Neuharth wrote in his column that it is time to bring the troops home. His treasonous act did not go unnoticed. Patriots from across the country sprung into action immediately and bombarded the treacherous fiend with a blitzkrieg of threatening email. Lafayette points us to a collection of their boldly resolute letters.

I tracked down a few of these patriots and wrote them congratulatory notes. Their original words and my responses appear below.
Frank Butash, West Hartford, CT.: "Apparently it's easier to run with jackals than to stand up for your country when it needs support."
Frank Butash
Free Republic, Connecticut Chapter

Dear Mr Butash,

I really enjoyed your letter to Al Neuharth. I'm in complete agreement with your point that the only way to support our country is to sacrifice our sons and daughters for the greater glory of Our Leader. Those who would suggest otherwise are guilty of the worst kind of crime, a lack of faith in the Administration's ability to eventually do something right.

Heterosexually yours,

Gen. JC Christian, patriot
Joe McBride, Fort Dodge, Iowa: "Mr. Neuharth, thanks to you and your ignorance the terrorists are probably booking their flights to the U.S. now! If we pull out of Iraq with the job unfinished the terrorists will be bombing McDonalds, and blowing up malls and schools here, killing our innocent men, women and children."
Joe McBride
Fort Dodge, Iowa

Dear Mr. McBride,

Your letter to Al Neuharth was absolutely correct. The terrorists hate us because we have hamburgers. If we don't fight the Iraqis on their own soil, they'll be bombing fast food joints and mall food courts throughout America. I don't even want to think about the depraved acts they have planned for Ronald McDonald, but I bet falafels are involved.

Thank God we ended our war against Al Qaeda before these Iraqi bastards had a chance to take hold of our whoppers.

Heterosexually yours,

Gen. JC Christian Patriot
Duggan Flanakin, Austin, Texas: "Neuharth should be tried for treason along with a lot of other blowhards who should be spending their energies condemning the barbarism of our enemies, the same people who destroyed the Twin Towers."
Duggan Flanakin
EI News

Dear Mr. Flanakin,

Your letter to Al Neuharth filled me with joy. I thought that I was the only person left who still believed that the Iraqis were responsible for the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon--even Our Leader has backed away from such claims. Now, I see that you share this belief.

I understand that you are somewhat involved in the "Sound Science" Movement. That doesn't surprise me. Such work requires the same kind of analytical abilities we see in your letter.

Heterosexually yours,

Gen. JC Christian, patriot
A Friday Blog Blogging Double Dip - Happy New Year!

It is sad that the country has become so polarized, that an actual statement of support for the troops - as opposed to simply sticking one of those "Support Our Troops" magnets on the back of one's car and thinking that nothing more needs to be done - leads to such vicious and violent rhetoric. (Disclosure: I have such a magnet, purchased at a minor league hockey game from families of National Guard troops deployed to Iraq, on the back of my car - along with a "Patriots for Kerry" bumper sticker; and I don't think that's enough.)

Of course, that polarization is almost entirely the work of the president and his catamites, including his handmaidens in the media who uncritically passed along every lie Bush told them. That's why so many Americans still - after all this time - think Saddam was behind 9-11. And that makes me sad as well as angry.

My last post of the year. Thanks for reading and commenting. See you all in 2005!

How many dead soldiers do they want? And why?

Brad DeLong is a professor of economics at Cal Berkeley. He's also a daily blogger. I have no idea how good an economist he is, but I find him a solid, entertaining, informative blogger (left-wing variety).

But who knew he was also a historian of World War II?
In Defense of the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions

First, a few numbers. A U.S. World War II infantry division had a full strength of 14,087 - of whom about 6000 were front-line rifle-carrying officers and men, and the rest were cooks, artillerymen, staff, orderlies, drivers, medics, et cetera. The U.S. 1st Infantry Division hit Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. From then until the end of the war it was in combat for 292 days. It suffered 2,924 killed and missing, 11,448 wounded in combat, and 631 captured. The 4th Infantry Division hit Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. From then until the end of the war it was in combat for 299 days. It suffered 5,348 killed and missing, 16,985 wounded, and 121 captured.

Now come Ross Douthat and Max Hastings arguing that the riflemen of the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions lacked the "martial virtues" because they were citizens of democracies rather than subjects of dictatorships, and that their commanders were too cautious and prudent, unwilling to spend the lives of their men on an appropriate scale for geopolitical advantage.

In so arguing Douthat and Hastings show themselves greatly in need of remedial military history: - Daily Dish: It's instructive, therefore, to consider just how tough it was for the Western Allies to defeat Nazi Germany, even in 1944 when everything seemed to be going the Allies' way. Max Hasting's new book out the 1944-45 slog, called Armageddon, is reviewed in this Sunday's Times, and this passage struck me as worth highlighting:
...the generals' failure to knock Germany out of the war in late 1944 reflected the kind of armies they led as much as their own deficiencies as leaders. The British and American armies were composed of citizen soldiers, who were usually prepared to do their duty but were also eager to survive. ''These were,'' Hastings writes, ''citizens of democracies, imbued since birth with all the inhibitions and decencies of their societies.'' Such peacetime virtues are not easily transformed into military effectiveness. James Gavin, whose airborne division was among the finest units in any army, filled his diary with harsh comments about the average soldier's military quality. ''If our infantry would fight,'' he wrote in January 1945, ''this war would be over by now.... Everybody wants to live to a ripe old age.'' When Winston Churchill complained to Montgomery about the British Army's lack of initiative, Montgomery replied by recalling the carnage on the Western Front during World War I: ''It was you, Prime Minister, who told me that we must not suffer casualties on the scale of the Somme.''
By contrast, Armaggedon points out, the Soviets were prodigal with the lives of their soldiers - and ended up in a much-better postwar position because of it.
One does not know where to begin.

Does one begin with the observation that if the riflemen of the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions thought that surviving the war was more important than fighting and beating Hitler, they did not do a very good job of it? Does one begin by asking how Zhukov's waste of hundreds of thousands of lives in frontal assaults at Seelowe Heights and elsewhere made the post-WWII Soviet Union any stronger?

Does one start with the observation that Somme-scale casualties are usually viewed as the nadir rather than the zenith of generalship, and that Montgomery was very good at set-piece assaults and attrition battles? Does one point out that commanders who don't care about the lives of their soldiers and launch "human wave" attacks against fortified positions like the Chinese in the Korean War or the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq are commanders who lose?

Does one start by pointing out that at different points during World War II the Russian commanders fought stupid and fought smart, and that they broke the back of the Nazi army not when they fought stupid - were prodigal with the lives of their soldiers - but when they fought smart?

Does one start with Patton's observation that he did not want soldiers who would die for our country, but soldiers who would make the other damned bastards die for their country?

Does one start by pointing out that the initiative possessed by citizens of democracies is very valuable in wartime? That their nature as democracies was one of the things that made it possible for Britain and the U.S. to mobilize on an awesome scale and to use their mobilized resources effectively, with much less of the hideous waste because noone dares tell the leaders that things are going wrong found in Nazi Germany - and in Stalinist Russia?

This breakthough-and-exploitation-to-the-limits-of-supply happened over and over in World War II. After the success of the initial landings, the ETO in 1944 followed this standard pattern. First came an attrition battle in Normandy. Then came the breakthrough with Operation Cobra and what may have been Eisenhower's best decision of the war: to hand control over the exploitation to Patton. Then came the pursuit to the limits of Allied supply at the German border. The iron law of World War II is that exploitation stops where supply becomes problematic.

So why do Ross Douthat and Max Hastings talk about how a key Red Army edge during World War II was Russian commanders who were "prodigal with the lives of their soldiers"? Prodigal the Russian commanders were at times. But that was not why they won big. And why do they think that British and Americans valued their lives too much to be good soldiers?
Don't you just love it when armchair warriors expend soldiers' lives - not their own? Robert Waite, in his biography of Hitler, The Psychopathic God, quotes Hitler as telling someone, "There can never be too many casualties!" Hitler, at least, had risked his life as a messenger during World War I (a very dangerous assignment). I don't know about Hastings and Douthat, but I find it offensive when anyone, even someone who actually faced combat, theorizes about how casualties are the metric of combat effectiveness. Especially when they are, essentially, singing the praises of dictatorships over democracies.

The only thing more offensive than this is the right-wingers who - still! - argue that the US should have sided with the Nazis against the Soviets.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


Management being short-sighted (as usual)

US Soccer is playing hardball with the players on the US Men's National Team. And at the most inappropriate time imaginable: right before the USA starts the final round of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

US Soccer is not rich, although it's not poor either. I'm not taking sides here (although I usually side with the players in any dispute with management). I don't know whose figures are accurate. Nor do I care.

What I care about is the USA fucking qualifying for Germany '06. That's the only thing I care about when it comes to US Soccer and the US Men's National Team. I can't believe that US Soccer is trying to squeeze the players this close to the first game of the "hexagonal" (the final qualifying round for the USA's region, involving six teams: the USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Guatemala - the USA's first game is Feb. 9 in Trinidad).

However much it will cost US Soccer to give the players whatever they're asking for, it's a tiny fraction of what it will end up costing them if the US doesn't qualify for Germany. If they can't figure that out - or if they can but they're still willing to take the risk - then they have no business being in charge. Even if they are absolutely convinced that they are 100% right and the players are 100% wrong - even if they are absolutely convinced that the entire financial security of US Soccer for its entire future from now until forever utterly rides on their not giving the players what they're asking for - too fucking bad. They cannot possibly risk using untried players, those not already in the so-called "pool" (anyone in the pool is a member of the union and will not play if the union doesn't approve it), even in the first game (there are only 10 in the final round, and the US must do all it can to get points in all of them.)

US Soccer has to accept that its only responsibility at this point is getting the best possible US team on the field in Port-of-Spain on Feb. 9. That means doing whatever it must to settle with the players. If anything goes wrong, if the unthinkable happens and our best players aren't out there, and the impasse goes on and the USA somehow does not qualify for Germany '06 (we have been in every World Cup since 1990 and did damn well in South Korea in '02), the fans may be angry at the players - but we will never forgive US Soccer. They think they have financial concerns now? Fuck up our qualifying for 2006 - see what happens then.

A blog of help

This new blog lists all the ways you can make a donation or help the victims of the tsunami in other ways.

There's not much we can do, but anything we can, we should.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, who am I?

No tragedy too big not to cash in on

CBS has announced that it is close to selecting the site of its next Survivor series. They've narrowed it down to either the island of Phuket, in Thailand, or the province of Aceh, in Indonesia. In fact, they've already begun background filming in both locations prior to making a final decision.

It is expected that the next Survivor, wherever it is filmed, will have an emphasis on "surviving" various water disasters, such as floods and tidal waves. They promise "incredibly realistic special effects."

Survivor: Phuket or Survivor: Aceh is expected to air on CBS starting sometime in the fall of 2005.

(Forgive me.)

So, let's see...540 dead Mongolians equals...11 dead Americans!

Yes, it's just that simple! Order the Foreign Death Conversion Chart today!
"Hi! I'm Buck, and if you're like me, when you hear about these awful things happening to people in places you never heard of, your first reaction is, 'Yeah, but how many Americans does that equal?' Well, now you can figure it out. Buttco proudly presents the Foreign Death Conversion Chart, a simple, easy way to turn those hundreds of dead Senegalese into numbers you can understand!"
Okay, it's sick. But, now more than ever, it's also wickedly funny.

(Thanks to The Big Mattress.)

I guess we can't expect the Army to be honest

Just saw a commercial on TV for the Army Reserve. It shows scenes of empty workplaces with captions, such as "Training to fight the war on terrorism" or "Studying tropical diseases in Guatemala" or "Hunting Osama Bin Laden". Nothing honest like showing a grave captioned, "Killed fighting George W. Bush's useless and botched war in Iraq leaving behind a 23-year-old widow and 2 children under 4". I guess we can't really expect the Army to tell the people it's trying to dupe into signing up what's really in store for them.

An axiom: Everything Bush does is wrong

George Bush and his catamites continue to recreate the government in their own (mediocre) image.
C.I.A. Deputy for Analysis Is Being Removed


WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 - The head of the Central Intelligence Agency's analytical branch is being forced to step down, former intelligence officials say, opening a major new chapter in a shakeup under Porter J. Goss, the agency's chief.

The official, Jami Miscik, the agency's deputy director for intelligence, told her subordinates on Tuesday afternoon of her plan to step down on Feb. 4. A former intelligence official said that Ms. Miscik was told before Christmas that Mr. Goss wanted to make a change and that "the decision to depart was not hers."

Ms. Miscik has headed analysis at the agency since 2002, a period in which prewar assessments of Iraq and its illicit weapons, which drew heavily on C.I.A. analysis, proved to be mistaken. Even before taking charge of the C.I.A., Mr. Goss, who was a congressman, and his closest associates had been openly critical of the directorate of intelligence, saying it suffered from poor leadership and was devoting too much effort to monitoring day-to-day developments rather than broad trends.

Ms. Miscik's departure is the latest in a series of high-level ousters that have prompted unease within the C.I.A. since Mr. Goss took over as director of central intelligence in September. Of the officials who worked as top deputies to Mr. Goss's predecessor, George J. Tenet, at least a half-dozen have been fired or have retired abruptly, including the agency's No. 2 and No. 3 officials. Much of the top tier of the agency's clandestine service is also gone.

The departure of Ms. Miscik will be the first major change within the directorate of intelligence, which is responsible for making important judgments about events around the world and whose products include the President's Daily Brief, the highly classified document prepared for the president each morning.

There was no indication on Tuesday of whom Mr. Goss might name to succeed Ms. Miscik. One of her top deputies, Scott White, left the C.I.A. in November for another government job, leaving Ben Bonk, an associate deputy director of intelligence, as Ms. Miscik's most senior subordinate.
Let me say for the record that I have no idea if Jami Miscik is the clone of Control or the second coming of Percy Alleline (cf. John LeCarre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). And it hardly matters in this instance. Rather, I want to use her banishment to introduce the following axiom: Anyone George W. Bush appoints for his second term (or who is appointed by someone appointed by Bush for his second term) will be worse than the person being replaced.

It is faintly possible that George W. Bush will, on extremely rare occasions (and completely by accident, probably), do something that turns out to be not a complete disaster. But the odds are strongly against this, and if you had to bet, you'd be wise never to assume that it's happening in any particular case.

Remember the axiom: We simply cannot trust Bush to get anything right. Because he doesn't care about getting it right - he cares only about shutting up anyone who might disagree with him. He wants his second administration to be "home on the range" - where seldom is heard a discouraging word. Keep that in mind as you analyze anything and everything he does. (Like the Times editorializing a faint hope that Bush might undertake serious, bipartisan immigration reform - who do they think is in office? Someone who actually gives a damn? Someone who reads the Times? Someone who has shown during his first term that he could do something right even if he wanted to?)

Jami Miscik may have deserved to be fired. But Porter Goss cannot possibly know that (it's not why he sacked her), and he cannot possibly be trusted to appoint a competent replacement.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Credentials of the Cat-People

I have to blog this, if only for the last line of the next-to-last paragraph.
Friday Cat Blogging ("That's Doctor Fuzzy Kitty, Ph. D., to You" Issue of Science Geek Edition)

If your cat has a few hundred dollars and at least one life's worth of experience, it too can obtain a Ph.D from one of the many fine institutions of American higher learning like this one.

First query: Has a cat ever been named as a co-author on a scholarly paper? (I'm sure that there have been cats which have contributed more to the work than many lab bosses who have been listed as authors.) I am aware of a number where they are in the acknowledgments, and presumably would show up if someone were using, say, Google Scholar to build an acknowledgment network.

Second query: What fraction of Americans hold degrees from diploma mills? Do they make more money than comparable people without any degree, real or fake (at least on average)? If so, does gap increase after they acquire the fake degree?

(Thanks to Rob Haslinger; thanks also to John Wayne Airport in Irvine, Calif. for providing an environment so blessedly free of Internet connectivity, and so abundantly provided with flight delays.)

Update, Saturday morning: Cris Moore points me to this page, which alleges that physicist Jack Hetherington named his cat as a co-author on this 1975 paper for Physical Review Letters, as "F. D. C. Willard", the "F. D." standing for Felis domesticus. "The Hetherington-Willard article was duly published and Mrs. Hetherington went on sleeping with both authors. Eventually the cat had to be let out of the bag when a visitor came to campus to see Professor Hetherington, found him unavailable, and then asked to speak to Willard." If this is not true, it should be.

Update, 16 December: Via Michael Nielsen, I learn that Doron Zeilberger has listed his computer, Shalosh B. Ekhad, as a co-author of a number of his papers. (Some of Ekhad's solo publications can be found here.) And, via Bill Tozier, a news piece in Nature on using CiteSeer to map acknowledgment networks.
As long as they don't try to give my cat an M.D....

It's a crazy (not to mention stupid and despicable) plan - but it just might work!

...although probably not.

By now you've heard about this: UN Official Backs Down: Rich Nations Not 'Stingy'. Here's my take on it. You've got millions of screaming desperate people, and you've got one of the nastiest, most uncaring, petty, vengeful leaders in history in charge of the "wealthiest" (borrowed money) nation. Everyone knows he is entirely capable of withholding aid because of this one guy's remark.

So what do you do? You back down and hope that your honest "stingy" remark -- $40 million for aid, $50 million for his inaugural party -- doesn't keep him from helping all those people. It has to be about them. (That's not how Bush will see it. Maybe we can convince Bush this happened because God wants the world to see how great a leader Bush is... like 9/11. Maybe that would get him to do something to help.)

Ok, I don't like the guy. Sue me.

Meanwhile, Clinton is filling the leadership vacuum while Bush clears brush in Crawford.
And Bush's spokesman is sneering at Clinton.

Meanwhile, Britain and Australia have each pledged almost as much as we have - even though our economy vastly dwarfs theirs combined.

More from Seeing The Forest:
Third, where is the vision? The damage from the tsunami is estimated at $13 billion. We could pay for it several times over with the money being wasted on the unneeded and unworkable missile defense system boondoggle, among others. The tsunami offers the Administration an opportunity to use our nation?s wealth and expertise to lead a true coalition of wealthy nations in a regional rebuilding effort. (The State Bank of India set up a local effort the next day). The US could regain the respect of the world - not to mention of its own people - with a visionary plan of rebuilding villages, farms, water systems, schools, roads and homes in the flooded nations. That is the vision of a great leader. Instead Bush offers a few million dollars and a handful of planes carrying food. Where is the vision in this?

The world came to America's aid after 9/11. The tsunami offers us an opportunity to give back - and to get back our greatness. All that is necessary is that the Administration realize that the United States is a nation built on a vision of freedom, not a selfish collection of corporate self-interests uncomfortably in bed with religious zealots whose common goal is cut taxes and kill government. Commonwealth must trump wealth if the world is to survive. The tsunami offers the Administration an opportunity to rejoin the commonwealth of nations and ensure everyone's survival.
How much do we owe the rest of the world? How much do we owe humanity? Millions of Americans will undoubtedly contribute to relief efforts to help the victims of this disaster - but it won't be enough. One week's worth of the cost of the unnecessary and disastrous war in Iraq would make a fine start to the recovery in the Indian Ocean.

History will look back on this period and scratch its head. Especially as that history is more and more likely to be written in Chinese or Hindu.

Underling, get me a billion dollars' worth of right-wing culture ASAP

As always, alicublog says it best (via Eschaton):
MINISTRY OF CULTURE. Ah me, the culture wars again. It is generally hard to figure out what Reihan Salam is trying to say, due perhaps to the dilatory influence on his prose of (Please, please don't let him near a copy of Vice magazine.) But he is sufficiently clear in his trifurcated essay on culture wars, in which he suggests that, to reclaim the culture, conservatives (by which he seems to mean the Republican Party) must
...break the stranglehold of Big Media by reversing copyright laws that stifle free expression. Strengthen the hand of the innovative entrepreneurs behind peer-to-peer networks, spread-spectrum radio, and other technologies that have the potential to restore creative power to individuals and communities. Over time, you’ll see a more diverse media culture that will be far more in tune with -- here it comes -- our shared values. Larry Lessig’s notion of a "free culture" has a lot to offer conservatives vexed by the cultural hegemony of a narrow corporate elite.
This is meant to mark a distinction, I guess, between the Pat Buchanan types who want to "take back our culture," as Buchanan famously put it in 1992, by armed military intervention, and those like Salam, who want to use cool technology.

We might call this perspective "managerial." The part of actual culture -- you know, books, movies, songs, that stuff -- is left hanging as Salam concerns himself with the dissemination thereof by a "Benevolent Despot." We do get a feeble hint of what he and others in his less-miliaristic faction of culture warriors have in mind as to the content end. Among the very few of Salam's supporting documents that are fully available online (which is odd, considering his faith in the creative commons) is a Ross Douthat essay declaring that bitching about bad culture is a loser's game, and that conservatives have to go beyond preaching-to-the-choir, Michael Moore Hates America -type gestures, such as he saw at the American Film Renaissance Festival, and "roll up their sleeves and start writing some entertaining television shows and movies and books of their own."

So all that remains is for somebody to write good conservative entertainments. You Douthat, and Salam Reihan and his P2P hipsters will do the rest!

When you read stuff like this, you have to wonder if any of these guys have ever played in a rock and roll band or tried to write a story or a poem or done anything that was purely creative. They perhaps believe that we all show up at weekly meetings where the latest meme is announced, and go forth and sing about Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and other Satanic things that will achieve our dark end of corrupting the culture.

Maybe they think that way because that's the only way they are able to think about anything. Maybe, being would-be managers rather than creators of art, they don't know what makes people want to be artists. They only know that such people are useful to them, and believe that, just as you can get actors to perform in commercials and musicians to make crappy pop records and draughtsmen to provide illustrations for corporate brochures, you can enlist artists to make conservative art. When a Christian commenator on Douthat suggests that conservatives "build a cultural infrastructure that will rival the political one that has contributed to so much success at the ballot box," you are hearing the voice of the manager, ordering HR to round up some talent.

The joke is that there are certainly plenty of very fine artists who could do something "conservative" enough without being bribed. Whit Stillman, for example, has made some films (Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco) that would seem right up their street. Stillman hasn't made a movie since 1998. Where's Rupert Murdoch? Where's Sun Myung Moon? These guys could bankroll a full-blown Hollywood production for him.

Maybe they actually do have some idea of what artists are like, and know they mightn't necessarily get from them a result they could approve. Even Sam Goldwyn and Harry Cohn had trouble with the talent, and they weren't even commanding that they make movies showing the folly of the estate tax. Conservatives who strongly approve, for instance, The Incredibles, which they seem to see as some sort of Ayn Rand allegory, usually fail to note that the film was made by Brad Bird, whose Cold War fable The Iron Giant was so annoying to conservative sentiments that the New York Post actually ran an editorial denouncing it ("Hollywood is taking up the cudgels to maintain the left-wing fiction that those who hunted Communists were hopelessly paranoid").

Creative types are famously pesky that way. And so, if Salam is any kind of harbringer, we may expect to see more culture-war managers devising ever more intricate distribution schemes, economic models, and business plans for right-wing cultural product, and waiting for that killer screenplay about The Joe McCarthy Nobody Knew to turn up, summoned by the invisible hand of the marketplace.
Of course, the same Hollywood that the culture warriors detest is owned by the corporations the culture warriors appear to adore (why else would they support a president whose entire raison d'etre is to turn America entirely over to the tender loving care of the corporate elite? The same right-wing corporations that make billions of dollars pushing porn to the Red States which they then turn over to the Republican Party to use to denounce porn in front of Red State voters, who vote Republican in order to destroy porn while avidly consuming it. A vicious circle-jerk, you might call it.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


Lack of cooperation impedes anti-proliferation effort

You can't entirely blame this on the Bush Administration, since the CIA fucked up dealing with this guy for over a decade, but you can blame Bush for worrying more about Mohammed ElBaradei than about A. Q. Khan.

(This is a very long article, so please go read it all.)
As Nuclear Secrets Emerge in Khan Inquiry, More Are Suspected


When experts from the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency came upon blueprints for a 10-kiloton atomic bomb in the files of the Libyan weapons program earlier this year, they found themselves caught between gravity and pettiness.

The discovery gave the experts a new appreciation of the audacity of the rogue nuclear network led by A. Q. Khan, a chief architect of Pakistan's bomb. Intelligence officials had watched Dr. Khan for years and suspected that he was trafficking in machinery for enriching uranium to make fuel for warheads. But the detailed design represented a new level of danger, particularly since the Libyans said he had thrown it in as a deal-sweetener when he sold them $100 million in nuclear gear.

"This was the first time we had ever seen a loose copy of a bomb design that clearly worked," said one American expert, "and the question was: Who else had it? The Iranians? The Syrians? Al Qaeda?"

But that threat was quickly overshadowed by smaller questions. The experts from the United States and the I.A.E.A., the United Nations nuclear watchdog - in a reverberation of their differences over Iraq's unconventional weapons - began quarreling over control of the blueprints. The friction was palpable at Libya's Ministry of Scientific Research, said one participant, when the Americans accused international inspectors of having examined the design before they arrived. After hours of tense negotiation, agreement was reached to keep it in a vault at the Energy Department in Washington, but under I.A.E.A. seal. It was a sign of things to come.

Nearly a year after Dr. Khan's arrest, secrets of his nuclear black market continue to uncoil, revealing a vast global enterprise. But the inquiry has been hampered by discord between the Bush administration and the nuclear watchdog, and by Washington's concern that if it pushes too hard for access to Dr. Khan, a national hero in Pakistan, it could destabilize an ally. As a result, much of the urgency has been sapped from the investigation, helping keep hidden the full dimensions of the activities of Dr. Khan and his associates.

There is no shortage of tantalizing leads. American intelligence officials and the I.A.E.A., working separately, are still untangling Dr. Khan's travels in the years before his arrest. Investigators said he visited 18 countries, including Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on what they believed were business trips, either to buy materials like uranium ore or sell atomic goods.

The breadth of the operation was particularly surprising to some American intelligence officials because they had had Dr. Khan under surveillance for nearly three decades, since he began assembling components for Pakistan's bomb, but apparently missed crucial transactions with countries like Iran and North Korea.

In fact, officials were so confident they had accurately taken his measure, that twice - once in the late 1970's and again in the 1980's - the Central Intelligence Agency persuaded Dutch intelligence agents not to arrest Dr. Khan because they wanted to follow his trail, according to a senior European diplomat and a former Congressional official who had access to intelligence information. The C.I.A. declined to comment.

"We knew a lot," said a nuclear intelligence official, "but we didn't realize the size of his universe."

President Bush boasts that the Khan network has been dismantled. But there is evidence that parts of it live on, as do investigations in Washington and Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. is based.

Cooperation between the United Nations atomic agency and the United States has trickled to a near halt, particularly as the Bush administration tries to unseat the I.A.E.A. director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, who did not support the White House's prewar intelligence assessments on Iraq.

The chill from the White House has blown through Vienna. "I can't remember the last time we saw anything of a classified nature from Washington," one of the agency's senior officials said. Experts see it as a missed opportunity because the two sides have complementary strengths - the United States with spy satellites and covert capabilities to intercept or disable nuclear equipment, and the I.A.E.A. with inspectors who have access to some of the world's most secretive atomic facilities that the United States cannot legally enter.

Privately, investigators say that with so many mysteries unsolved, they have little confidence that the illicit atomic marketplace has actually been shut down. "It may be more like Al Qaeda," said one I.A.E.A. official, "where you cut off the leadership but new elements emerge."

A. Q. Khan may have been unknown to most Americans when he was revealed about a year ago as the mastermind of the largest illicit nuclear proliferation network in history. But for three decades Dr. Khan, a metallurgist, has been well known to British and American intelligence officials. Even so, the United States and its allies passed up opportunities to stop him - and apparently failed to detect that he had begun selling nuclear technology to Iran in the late 1980's. It was the opening transaction for an enterprise that eventually spread to North Korea, Libya and beyond.

Simon Henderson, a London-based author who has written about Dr. Khan for more than two decades, said the Pakistani scientist long suspected he was under close surveillance. "Khan once told me, indignantly, 'The British try to recruit members of my team as spies,' " Mr. Henderson recalled. "As far as I'm aware, he was penetrated for a long, long time."

Still, for all the surveillance, American officials always seemed a step or two behind. In the 1990's, noted Mr. Einhorn, the assumption was that Iran was getting most of its help from Russia, which was providing the country with reactors and laser-isotope technology. Virtually no attention was paid to its contacts with Dr. Khan.

"It was a classic case of being focused in the wrong place," Mr. Einhorn said. "And if Iran gets the bomb in the next few years, it won't be because of the Russians. It will be because of the help they got from A. Q. Khan."

As soon as Mr. Bush came to office, his director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, began tutoring him on the dangers of Dr. Khan and disclosing how deeply the agency believed it had penetrated his life and network. "We were inside his residence, inside his facilities, inside his rooms," Mr. Tenet said in a recent speech. "We were everywhere these people were."

But acting on the Khan problem meant navigating the sensitivities of a fragile ally important in the effort against terrorism. That has impeded the inquiry ever since.

Dr. Khan's silence has extended to the question of what countries, other than Libya, received the bomb design. Intelligence experts say they have no evidence any other nation received the design, although they suspect Iran and perhaps North Korea. But that search has been hampered by lack of hard intelligence.

"We strongly believe Iran did," said one American official. "But we need the proof."

"It is an unbelievable story, how this administration has given Pakistan a pass on the single worst case of proliferation in the past half century," said Jack Pritchard, who worked for President Clinton and served as the State Department's special envoy to North Korea until he quit last year, partly in protest over Mr. Bush's Korea policy. "We've given them a pass because of Musharraf's agreement to fight terrorism, and now there is some suggestion that the hunt for Osama is waning. And what have we learned from Khan? Nothing."

Given the urgency of the Libyan and Khan disclosures, many private and governmental experts expected that the Bush administration and the I.A.E.A. would work together. But European diplomats said the administration never turned over valuable information to back up its wider suspicions about other countries. "It doesn't like to share," a senior European diplomat involved in nuclear intelligence said of the United States. "That makes life more difficult. So we're on the learning curve."

Federal officials said they were reluctant to give the I.A.E.A. classified information because the agency is too prone to leaks. The agency has 137 member states, and American officials believe some of them may be using the agency to hunt for nuclear secrets. One senior administration official put it this way: "The cops and the crooks all serve on the agency's board together."

The result is that two separate, disjointed searches are on for other nuclear rogue states - one by Washington, the other by the I.A.E.A. And there is scant communication between the feuding bureaucracies.

That lack of communication with the United Nations agency extends to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a loose organization of countries that produce nuclear equipment. It can stop the export of restricted atomic technology to a suspect customer, but it does not report its actions to the I.A.E.A. Moreover, there is no communication between the I.A.E.A. and the Bush administration's Proliferation Security Initiative, which seeks to intercept illicit nuclear trade at sea or in the air.

"It's a legitimate question whether we need a very different kind of super-agency that can deal with the new world of A. Q. Khans," said a senior administration official. "Because we sure don't have the system we need now."

Dr. ElBaradei, the head of the United Nations agency, says he is plunging ahead, pursuing his own investigation even as the Bush administration attempts to have him replaced when his term expires late next year. In an interview in Vienna, he defended his record, citing the information he has wrung out of Iran, and his agency's discovery of tendrils of Dr. Khan's network in more than 30 countries around the globe.

Both in Washington and in Vienna, the most delicate investigations involve important American allies - including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. So far, said European intelligence officials familiar with the agency's inner workings, no hard evidence of clandestine nuclear arms programs has surfaced.
As I said before, this is not all the fault of the Bush Administration. But their absolute inability and unwillingness to play nicely with others - along with their lack of sufficient interest in anti-proliferation - certainly has contributed to this nasty situation. The more countries that have nuclear weapons - the more weapons-grade nuclear material that is unsecured - the more the risk that some terrorist group will get their hands on a weapon or on material to build one. Imagine a nuclear 9-11 - it is not as far off as we may hope. The Bush Administration, compounding the errors of the past, has never taken this threat seriously enough.

Saturday, December 25, 2004


Friday Blog Blogging (special Saturday edition)

I was busy yesterday. And I'm teaching you the joy of patience. Anyway...

The great James Wolcott has the guts and integrity never to pull his punches.
Wanted: Less Sorrow, More Anger

I had Fox News on earlier today; two Senators, one Democrat and one Repub, were discussing the Mosul massacre as the camera showed the wounded being deplaned in Germany. The Democrat Senator, whose name I didn't catch, was discussing the lack of post-invasion planning and the resultant miseries, but he felt compelled to inject, "I'm not mad at President Bush, but--"

"I'm not mad at President Bush."

Why the f not?

I recognize that most elected Democrats, stunned by the election results and feeling the need to sound responsible on such a tragic occasion, feel compelled to adopt this more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone that was one of Tom Daschle's less attractive traits. But look what good it did Daschle shaking his head with weary regret over the latest Republican outrage--he was still vilified as some sort of rabid obstructionist.

Republicans belch fire all the time without suffering repercussions, yet Democrats behave like some meek choir.

Couldn't we have at least one irresponsible, intemperate off the reservation loose cannon willing to say he is "mad" at Bush, indeed is furious with the whole lying lot of them (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Wolfowitz...the list goes on and on)? Because this engulfing fiasco is their fault, and the fault of those unwilling to stand up to them in the first place.

As Kos thunders today in a post called Bush's War:
"Bush sends the troops into battle, claiming he had no choice. But Saddam had caved on every Bush demand (inspectors were allowed back in, his long-range missiles were being destroyed).

"No WMDs are found. No ties with Al Qaida are found. No military capable of threatening Iraq's neighbors is found. Saddam's army collapses quickly and the country's defenders retreat into "insurgency" mode.

"Bush declares mission accomplished. Bush taunts the insurgency. The insurgency kills our men and women. The commanders on the ground scream for more troops. They scream for armor. They scream for protected mess halls. Those screams fall on deaf ears.

"More soldiers are killed. 1,320 Americans, 74 Britons, seven Bulgarians, one Dane, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Hungarian, 19 Italians, one Latvian, 16 Poles, one Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and nine Ukrainians. The wounded number in the five figures.

"Never mind the innocent Iraqis who have been "liberated" to death. And while we scream about Saddam's torture chambers, we create new ones of our own.

"So thousands die, for a war built on false justifications, managed poorly, with underequipped, undermanned, and under-armored forces. And to add insult to injury, we've had to pay for this mess, to the tune of $200 billion.

"So who sent our troops into Iraq on false pretenses? Who sent them in unarmored? Who refused to provide enough troops to stabilize the country effectively? Who taunted the Iraqi opposition with "bring 'em on"? Who approved the American-branded torture chambers? Who has rewarded the secretary of defense who has negligently ignored the armor shortage in Iraq?

"And who keeps them there as they continue to die?"
Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush.

(And, to be fair, Blair.)
This is the meme we must spread. We must use all our time and energy and contacts to spread it. It's not about getting Don Rumsfeld fired (necessary as that is). We can't permit Don Rumsfeld to become a distraction from our main goal: getting everyone to realize that everything that goes wrong in Iraq is 100% George W. Bush's fault. We have to have the courage to keep obsessing on this point until it becomes universally known and accepted. Even if there is some short-term cost. We need to have guts, now more than ever.

Friday, December 24, 2004


We have a winner!!!!!

This is officially The Funniest Post of the Year:
The Holy Grail of Crap

A long time ago (1978), in a galaxy far, far away (Hollywood), there actually was a conspiracy led by a cabal of Jews - including Chewbacca (known to his friends as "Jewie"), Carrie Fisher (1/2 Jewish), Harrison Ford (1/4 Jew) and the biggest Jew of all, George Lucas - to destroy Christmas as we know it. Yes, I'm talking about what is affectionately known among geeks everywhere as "The Holy Grail of Crap": The Star Wars Holiday Special.
You have to go immediately - NEMEDLENNO - to see the photos from this stinking bag of garbage. Consider it my Chrismahanukwanzakah present. You can thank me some other time.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


So when your kid screams, "Buy me! Buy me! Buy me!" you're actually doing him a favor

As long as you buy him the right stuff.
Toys have lasting impact on brain
Toys that stimulate a young child's mind could permanently boost their brain function, according to research.

Scientists found skills learned very early in life may trigger permanent changes in the structure of the brain. The findings, based on a study in owls, underline the importance of choosing the right toys for children, even at the earliest stages of life. The study, by Stanford University, California, is published in the online edition of Nature Neuroscience.

So-called educational toys have been popular for many years, and most parents buy them to give their children a head start at school. But the latest study shows they may also bolster the parts of the brain used to make decisions later in life.

Lead researcher Professor Eric Knudsen, an expert in neurobiology, said: "This work shows the importance of investing in childhood experience. Early learning can have long-lasting effects on the architecture of the brain."

Parents are expected to spend a staggering £1.8bn on presents for their children this Christmas, the equivalent of £150 per child. Books, computer games, games consoles and mobile phones are among the top sellers.

But the latest research suggests buying stimulating gifts for young babies could be money well spent.

The Stanford team have carried out earlier studies showing young owls quickly acquire new skills that leave older owls baffled.

In their new experiments, they wanted to see if they could still remember those skills when they become an adult.

The study focused on one part of an owl's brain that uses sounds to help it hunt. It does this by creating a kind of map from the sounds that an owl hears, like the squeaking of a mouse, or the rustling of leaves. The owl then uses that map to know precisely where to hunt for dinner.

Researchers fitted owls with special glasses that shifted the world to one side, disrupting the map structure that is imprinted on their brain. When the owl peered through the glasses, a squeaking mouse located off to one side appeared to be straight ahead. The owls got confused and the prey escaped. To get round the problem, the owl's brain gradually generated a new auditory map that matched the skewed image the glasses provided. This allowed it to hunt successfully once again.

When the glasses were removed, the owl's brains reverted back to the original map.

But the crucial finding was that, when the glasses were put back on when the owls had grown up, they were able to remember what they had learned as young babies.

Professor Knudsen said learning new skills very early in life prompts neurons in the brain to build new connections that still work into adulthood. He said toys that beep, crinkle or need prodding and poking are all likely to shape a child's brain for future tasks.

Professor Janet Eyre, a specialist in paediatric neuroscience at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, said stimulating toys are vital to help the brain wire itself properly during childhood, when it has the capacity to change its structure. "There is very good evidence that, in the early stages of development, the brain is much more plastic. It has a genetic blueprint that gives it some rules on how to wire itself. But at various stages it also responds to environmental cues and it uses its experiences to shape itself for the future. Toys provide motivation and boost learning. It's important to spend time playing with them when the brain is very plastic because it likes to do things so that it can learn."
That's all well and good, but how many humans hunt rats and voles for food?

Seriously, this is a fascinating study, especially the imaginative way they tested their theory. And I'm guessing that most video games don't provide the right kind of stimulus. I doubt books do, either, although books are vitally important for other reasons. But creative toys probably do the trick. Blocks, dolls, toys that squeak and give you visual and aural feedback, toys that aid physical development (balls, bats, jump-ropes, climbing things, etc.) - play is crucial work for children, the most important thing they can do.

This makes child labor seem even more tragic, for kids put to work too early never develop their brains as they might. Poor countries may need th labor, but they need the creative development of their human resources even more. They are selling their future for some very short term present benefit (and not even very much of that.)

If you think it's so wonderful, try it yourself.

Speaker Hints Death Penalty May Be Passé


ONE of the state's most powerful political figures, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said yesterday that after a legislative lifetime of supporting capital punishment, he was not so sure the state needed a death penalty law anymore, given its record since its reinstatement in New York nearly 10 years ago.

"Funny thing, I've never objected to the death penalty," the speaker said in an interview, shortly after returning from a trip to Israel. "But really, someone like me looks at it and says: 'Hey, it's not enforced anyway. We've spent millions of dollars on appeals, and after 10 years there hasn't been an execution in this state.' "

Mr. Silver said that he was not predicting how the Assembly would vote. Or whether it would vote at all. It can do as the Republican-led Senate has, revising the law to address the court's concerns. Or it can do nothing.

That would leave the law as is - without the death penalty, but with life without parole, a part of the 1995 law that withstood court scrutiny.

Asked if he would contemplate maintaining the status quo, Mr. Silver said it was possible: "My question is, beyond an issue of conscience, is life without parole enough? It may very well be for a lot of people who think the death penalty is fine but see that it doesn't happen anyway. It's a matter of practicality, not conscience."

Supporters of the death penalty argue that life without parole is an unjust solution because it lets murderers read, exercise, study - in other words, live out their lives in relative comfort. True, Mr. Silver said, "but the reality is, that's what happens even to people sentenced to death."
Actually, the reality really is, life without parole is a horrible penalty, in some ways actually worse than execution. Think about it - a 25-year-old murderer sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He could spend 50, even 60 years behind bars, knowing that he is never going to get out. Never marry, never have children, never go on vacation, never have a career, never accomplish a damn thing with his life. I can't imagine much worse. I think that after awhile in that situation, I'd beg for death.

Yes, the victim will do none of those things, either. But killing the murderer won't bring the victim back. Nothing will do that. Killing murderers doesn't deter future murderers, either. And it runs the risk of executing the innocent. Which, as far as I am concerned, is itself murder. Perhaps even less forgiveable than the kind we punish with life without parole.

We have a choice. We can be decent human beings and forebear from our vengeful instincts - or we can be slavering animals, baying and yelping and salivating at the prospect of satisfying our basest emotions. We are kind to prisoners not for their sake but for ours. The cruel kindness of life without parole is a truly just punishment for someone who has committed the worst of crimes. Anyone who thinks inmates live in "relative comfort" should try it for themselves. After a day, you'll be shrieking to get out. You'll kiss the free ground under your feet. And you'll never be so sanguine again about the ordeal prisoners undergo.

This way to the apocalypse!

Here comes Captain Trips!
Scary scenario: Pandemic

By Anita Manning, USA TODAY

Imagine showing up to work one day and finding half your co-workers out sick. Imagine the business world in slow motion, healthy workers overburdened by taking on the jobs of the sick, hospitals overflowing with patients, schools closed and not enough medicine to go around.

That's an apocalyptic vision of what could burst out of a smoldering bird flu outbreak that has spread across Asia, threatening to turn into a global epidemic of flu: a pandemic.

Scientists long have expected another flu pandemic, the kind of wildfire epidemic that emerges every few decades. Nobody knows when it will happen or how bad it could be.

Plans are being made to handle what could be a public health nightmare, but "much of the world is unprepared for a pandemic of any size," the World Health Organization says.

An Institute of Medicine report, "The Threat of Pandemic Influenza," last month estimated that in a worst-case scenario, up to 207,000 people could die of the flu in the USA along with 733,000 hospitalizations and 42 million people treated as outpatients. By comparison, an average flu season claims 36,000 lives and results in 200,000 hospitalizations.

Last week, health experts from the USA, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand gathered at WHO's Geneva headquarters to take part in the latest of a series of meetings that have been held all year to plan for dealing with the next flu pandemic.

Pandemic flu is a flu strain that is new, deadly and contagious. Flu viruses change in minor ways every year in a process scientists call antigenic drift, which is why new flu vaccines are needed each year. For instance, the predominant strain this season is called A (H3N2) Fujian. It is slightly different from the A (H3N2) Panama that circulated in 2000-2001, but because these viruses have been around in humans for years, the population has a degree of immunity.

But every few decades a big change occurs, called an antigenic shift, that results in a completely new flu strain.

Now, the strain that has world health experts most concerned is a bird flu, called A (H5N2), that has spread across Asia and has jumped from chickens into humans.

It has killed tens of millions of chickens, and hundreds of millions more have been slaughtered to contain the spread of virus. Ominously, it has been detected in other species, including cats, pigs and wild birds. It also has infected 44 people since January, killing 32 this year.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), says the fact that only 44 people have been known to be infected is good news, because it means the disease doesn't spread easily. "The really bad news," he says, "is the mortality rate," which is more than 70%, compared with fewer than 1% who die of flu annually.

There may be undetected, milder cases in humans. On Wednesday, Reuters reports, Japanese health officials said tests show that one poultry worker tested positive for avian flu, although he had no symptoms.

What worries Fauci and other health experts is the possibility that the avian flu and a human flu strain could occur in the same person or animal, swap genes and create a monster.

Klaus Stohr, coordinator of WHO's Global Influenza Programme, says many questions remain unanswered about avian flu, how it infects people and what happens when it does.

"We don't know how many people are going to be affected, but we know if we are badly prepared, the damage will be much bigger."

Some people say health experts are being needlessly alarmist.

"If all goes according to the most dire predictions, it could be devastating," says Gilbert Ross, a medical doctor and executive director of the American Council on Science and Health, a consumer education group that frequently calls attention to what it sees as health scares. "But the chance of all this occurring is small."

In an editorial in the National Review Online, Ross wrote: "It's a good idea to be prepared as the recent scarcity of flu vaccine has demonstrated, but the dire warnings about billions sick and millions dead from an onrushing bird-flu pandemic seem overblown, to say the least."

Predictions about flu are difficult to make, says William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, an expert in infectious diseases. But "true influenza immunologists say it's not a matter of whether, it's a matter of when."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published its draft pandemic preparedness plan in August. It notes that antivirals are being stockpiled, surveillance and lab capacity increased and research on viruses and vaccines is being expanded.

Experimental avian flu vaccines are being developed by Aventis and Chiron under contracts from NIAID, Fauci says, and new methods of making vaccines are under investigation.

Production of pilot lots of up to 10,000 doses is to be finished by the end of the month, and clinical trials will start soon, he says.

Health and Human Services also agreed to buy 2 million doses of vaccine from Aventis, which will give the company experience in making large quantities.

It all costs money, and HHS has increased its funding for flu-related activities from $39 million in 2001 to a projected $283 million next year.

Health experts say that when the pandemic comes, it won't happen overnight.

"We believe there will be different phases," Stohr says. "It will not start immediately with a full-blown, fully transmissible pandemic virus."

Response plans are designed to ratchet up as the pandemic develops, moving from steps that might include school closings or travel restrictions to increased vaccine production and antiviral distribution. "We don't expect it this year," Fauci says. "It's extremely unlikely."

Could it come next year? "Yeah," he says. "We're due for it."
Of course, thanks to the Bush Administration's compassionate concern for all Americans, and their needle-sharp attention to detail, not to mention their eagle-eye competence, there are more than enough flu shots to go around...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


My gorge may rise again

As No More Mister Nice Blog says, Yikes.

Yikes, indeed.
Teen sues school over Confederate dress

LEXINGTON - A teenager is suing her eastern Kentucky school district for barring her from the prom for wearing a red dress styled as a large Confederate flag.

School officials called Jacqueline Duty's homemade dress too controversial and kept her out of Russell High School's May 1 prom.

At a news conference in front of the federal courthouse in Lexington on Monday, Duty acknowledged that some might find the Confederate flag offensive.

"Everyone has their own opinion. But that's not mine. I'm proud of where I came from and my background," said the 19-year-old who is now attending Shawnee State University in Ohio.
Pride in keeping dem darkies as slaves? (Although some Christian school in North Carolina recently was using pamphlets in class that argued how good slavery was for the darkies! So I guess the North fought that mean ol' Civil War for nothing.)

Steve goes on to say:
You know, this is a tough one. How would I feel if a kid were excluded from a prom for wearing something with an anti-war message? I'd lean toward free speech, I think - although a dress code that bans controversial messages (of all kinds) in school and at school-sponsored events could be reasonable, in the interest of civility.

Still, I think I'd say controversial messages should be allowed. So I'd also have to say that Jacqueline Duty should have been allowed to attend her prom in this dress.

And then, ideally, she would have been shunned by all decent people.
A political message that may be controversial is one thing. But an openly racist symbol? And don't be misled, the Confederate Flag is not about "pride" or "heritage" or any such shit - it's about racism, pure and simple. How could this woman have graduated from high school without any kind of moral compass? How could she have gotten into college?

But I suppose she loves Jeeeeeeeeeeezus, so that makes her bigotry and ignorance all okay.


Okay, this is officially the Worst Story of the Year:
Criminal negligence in Mosul

Soldiers at the Mosul base knew it was only a matter of time.
CNN personnel who have visited the base said the dining area is a tent-like facility with no hardened protection -- and that soldiers had specifically raised concerns that they could be targeted by insurgents at meal time.

One had told CNN it was only a matter of time before there was an attack on the mess hall.

"There is a level of vulnerability when you go in there, and you don't feel like there's a hard roof over your head," said Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, an officer at Camp Marez.
A new mess hall was being built. But why wasn't it finished?
A sturdier structure designed to replace the mess is being built at the base, but the work has been plagued by delays. Hastings said workers from KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, were supposed to have completed it by Christmas.
Halliburton. Without those delays, the mess hall would've been finished, and the troops would've been protected from these sorts of attacks.

It's criminal.
Could be. Sounds all but treasonous to me. Damn that Bill Clinton!


If they ever really do come for the Christians, it'll be us liberals protecting them

As I've said before, I can't blog everything. But that's not going to stop me from trying. This is just brilliantly written.
Why does America hate Christmas?

I am so sick of these whiney evangelical Christian bigots (yes, I know all evangelical Christians aren't bigots, I'm talking about the bigoted ones). Yes, Christianity is under attack in a country that's overwhelmingly Christian. It's almost as if you're afraid to tell anyone you're Christian or you might lose your job. And Congress and the president are even trying to pass a constitutional amendment making Christians second-class citizens.

Oh, wait a minute. That's gay people.

So sick of these morons and their culture war. They want a civil war in this country, and I fear they're going to get one.
As a kid, I was always a bit upset when Christmas was so pushed in my school, especially as I was not the only Jewish kid in my class. Obviously, I survived intact, but nobody should ever be made to feel like they don't belong. To the extent that any Christian feels now the way I did as a kid, that is not good, but on the other hand, it's hard to argue that they should know what it feels like, so that maybe they'll be more sensitive in the future. Of course, following George W. Bush's overwhelming triumph last month, I guess the Christian Reich feels like sensitivity is so Bill Clinton and they want to be muscular stormtroopers for the One True Faith. Fred Phelps can shriek about how God hates fags all he wants, but the minute one kid can't sing one carol in one school, Christianity is all of a sudden the faith that dare not speak its name.

This is not about forcing Christians to be quiet. It's about not letting them make the rest of us be quiet. This is our country, too. If America can't be a place where the majority is solicitous of its minorities, then this country has lost all its meaning.

They broke it, but we bought it

If I can't have TBogg's babies, can I at least have his basset hound's puppies?
Buyers remorse

Looks like Red Mandate America is having second thoughts about that November purchase:
Seven weeks since his reelection victory over Democrat John F. Kerry and four weeks before his second inauguration, the poll suggests Bush is in a paradoxical situation -- a triumphant president who remains acutely vulnerable in public opinion on a national security issue that is dominating headlines and could shadow his second term.
Even if he is "acutely vulnerable in public opinion", so what? He's got the job and he doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks. He never has. Despite the looting of the treasury, the most imcompetent Cabinet ever, and being neck-deep in a $150 billion quagmire, America tossed the car keys to the drunken fratboy for four more years and he's not giving them back until he's taken his all his pals for a power binge joyride and if he leaves a few thousand more dead servicemen in his wake, fuck'em, they should have been born rich and unaccountable.

America still has the receipt but they failed to read the fine print on the back where it says:

No refunds. No exchanges. Sucker.
Except they're not the suckers, since most of Bush's Koolaid drinking enablers will almost certainly find someone else - anyone else - Bill Clinton, for choice, but Hillary Clinton or even DeWitt Clinton, if necessary - to blame all of Bush's fuckups on.

"Fallen in love with death"

Why does William Rivers Pitt hate America?
It Will All Be Over Soon

By William Rivers Pitt

Everyone can relax. This thing is clearly getting ready to wind down. Ask the brilliant minds up at the Pentagon. Back in April 2003, a formal Pentagon planning session stated emphatically that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would be coming to an end in December 2004. It is December by my calendar, so clearly we should start planning the tickertape parade down the Canyon of Heroes.


The poet Stephen Dunn wrote a poem titled 'To a Terrorist' for a collection released in 1989. In it, he writes, "I hate your good reasons. I hate the hatefulness that makes you fall / in love with death, your own included." You have to wonder, fifteen years later, who is best suited to read those lines. Suicide bombers in Palestine and Iraq and Saudi Arabia can be said to love death, but what of us? What of mighty America, which as Dunn says in his poem, "thinks its terror is meant / only to mean well, and to protect"?

Have we fallen in love with death, too? Buy one of those paramilitary video games, watch prime time television for an hour, or try to rectify the fact that a new Washington Post poll has 70% of Americans believing the cost in flesh and treasure of the Iraq war has been "unacceptable," and yet somehow enough of those people thought the whole thing acceptable enough to vote for its continuation less than two months ago.

Do any or all of those things, and then tell me how it is we really haven't fallen in love with death. Christ's final edict ­ "Forgive them, Lord, they know not what they do" ­ has no purchase here. We know what we are doing, and we are doing it anyway. No fear. It will all be over by the end of the month.
And yet, William Safire thinks this is Bush's finest hour.

Smells like Vietnam spirit!

They joke that if you can remember the '60s, you weren't really there. But I can remember how Lyndon Johnson ruined his promising presidency by getting bogged down in southeast Asia. Is the same thing about to happen again?
Bush's New Problem: Iraq Could Eclipse Big Domestic Agenda


WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - The deadly attack on a United States military base in northern Iraq on Tuesday scrambled the Bush administration's hopes of showing progress toward stability there, while making clear that the war is creating a nasty array of problems for President Bush as he gears up for an ambitious second term.

Despite weathering criticism of his Iraq policy during the presidential campaign, Mr. Bush is heading into his next four years in the White House facing a public that appears increasingly worried about the course of events in Iraq and wondering where the exit is.

And as he prepares to take the oath of office a second time and to focus more of his energy on a far-reaching domestic agenda, he is at risk of finding his presidency so consumed by Iraq for at least the next year that he could have trouble pressing ahead with big initiatives like the overhauling of Social Security. At the same time, Mr. Bush faces fundamental questions about his strategy for bringing stability to Iraq. How can the United States - with the help of Iraqi security forces whose performance has been uneven at best - assure the safety of Iraqis who go to the polls on Jan. 30 when it cannot keep its own troops safe on their own base?

The situation has left the White House sending two somewhat contradictory messages. One, alluded to by Mr. Bush at his news conference on Monday and stated explicitly by other administration officials on Tuesday, is that no one should expect either the violence to abate after the first round of elections on Jan. 30 or the United States to begin bringing troops home next year in substantial numbers.

The other message is that progress is being made in Iraq, that the insurgency will eventually be quelled and that there is no reason to change course.

For a year, the administration has suggested that Iraq would move closer to stability as it reached one milestone after another: the capture of Saddam Hussein; the handover of sovereignty and the appointment of an interim government; the deployment of Iraqi security forces; the military campaign to expel the insurgents from strongholds like Falluja; and the first round of elections next month.

Yet most of those milestones have passed with little discernible improvement in the security situation. Now some analysts are concerned that the elections could make the political situation in Iraq even more unstable by producing an outcome in which the Sunni minority feels so marginalized by the Shiite majority that it fuels not just further violence against Americans and Iraqis working with them but also more intense sectarian strife or even civil war.

The elections on Jan. 30 will be sandwiched between two critically important moments for Mr. Bush: his second inaugural on Jan. 20 and the first State of the Union address of his second term, probably in the first week of February.

As a result, the degree to which the elections come off smoothly or not, and whether they move Iraq toward stability or even greater chaos, could well put an early stamp on Mr. Bush's new term. And the elections and whatever violence surrounds them could compete with or overshadow his calls for action on changing Social Security, rewriting the tax code, revising the immigration laws and stiffening educational standards, among other domestic plans the White House intends to begin rolling out in January.

Supporters of Mr. Bush dismissed the idea that his Iraq policy was proving wrongheaded or that the difficulties in Iraq would torpedo the rest of the president's agenda by sapping his political support.

But polls have shown for months that majorities or near-majorities of Americans think that invading Iraq was a mistake or not worth the cost in lives, money and prestige abroad.

"The big risk for the president is that if this continues to escalate, it could overtake much of what he wants to do," said Warren Rudman, the former Republican senator from New Hampshire, referring to the insurgency. "If this is in some way a precursor of an escalation into a more sophisticated attack by the guerilla insurgents, it would make members of Congress very uneasy and the American people very uneasy."
Considering that I think Bush's domestic agenda will end up being almost as disastrous for the United States as his foreign agenda has been for Iraq, should I be happy that he is getting so tangled in the Mesopotamian quagmire that he won't be able to ruin this country any more than he already has? Should I sit back and say, I told you so about both? Or should I try to save the situation, knowing full well that if somehow, Iraq turns out to be less than a nightmare, Bush will take credit for the actions of others? Actions that he probably opposed until they started to show faint signs of working?

We can't pray for a morass in Iraq - it's not fair to the Iraqis, and it's not fair to our soldiers - but how can we pray for a 100% success there, either, knowing that Bush and his Koolaid-drinking enablers will screech how it shows he was right all along about everything and therefore he must immediately be given God-like powers to do whatever the hell he wants domestically as well? Do we want Bush to spectacularly self-destruct? It would vindicate us - but it would be catastrophic for America and for the world. (And Bush's political catamites would end up blaming Bill Clinton for everything that went wrong, anyway.)

Democrats now know how Cassandra must have felt. We know things are going horribly wrong, but every time we say so, we feel like we're pumped at how bad things have gotten. I don't really want George W. Bush to be a miserably failed president - okay, maybe I do, just a little - but he is a miserably failed president. How can I not say so? And how can I not feel just the tiniest bit vindicated that things are turning out even worse than I feared?

At least Lyndon Johnson had a progressive domestic policy wrecked by disastrous foreign folly. With Bush, it's only a question of which he can fuck up worse. What a choice.

He's makin' a list, checkin' it twice, gonna find out whose naughty or nice... he can starve them.
U.S. Cutting Food Aid Aimed at Self-Sufficiency


WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - In one of the first signs of the effects of the ever tightening federal budget, in the past two months the Bush administration has reduced its contributions to global food aid programs aimed at helping millions of people climb out of poverty.

With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

"We have between five and seven million people who have been affected by these cuts," said Lisa Kuennen, a food aid expert at Catholic Relief Services. "We had approval for all of these programs, often a year in advance. We hired staff, signed agreements with governments and with local partners, and now we have had to delay everything."

Officials of several charities, some Republican members of Congress and some administration officials say the food aid budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 was at least $600 million less than what charities and aid agencies would need to carry out current programs.

The administration attributed the recent cutbacks to the huge demands from food crises this year, especially in Africa, and the long delay in approving a budget. Chad Kolton, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration "acknowledged the need for additional resources" in food aid, but said there was no way he could say whether more programs would be cut in the coming year. "The vast majority of resources available is going to emergency food aid," he said. For the other programs that have been cut back, he said, "We are going to look at a couple of different things, such as the importance of the program and whether it is able to produce results."

One administration official involved in food aid voiced concern that putting such a high priority on emergency help might be short-sighted. The best way to avoid future famines is to help poor countries become self-sufficient with cash and food aid now, said the official, who asked not to be identified because of the continuing debate on the issue. "The fact is, the development programs are being shortchanged, and I'm not sure the administration is going to make up the money," the official said.

Several Republican and Democratic members of Congress are joining with food aid advocates to convince the administration that food aid should not be cut. Last month, Representative Jo Ann Emerson, Republican of Missouri, led an effort with more than 30 other legislators that persuaded the administration to release 200,000 tons of grain from a trust fund for emergency food aid to Sudan. Now she is lobbying the administration to finance foreign food aid programs fully and, if possible, increase the money. "I'm not saying the president is opposed to this, but we haven't had any indication what will happen," said Ms. Emerson, who emphasized that hers was a bipartisan effort.

Further complicating aid programs is a debate at the World Trade Organization over concerns that the United States has used food aid to dump surplus commodities in foreign countries where the supply has undercut local farmers' earnings.
This is what we're cutting taxes for billionaires for - so poor, hungry people around the world can stay that way. Merry Christmas, world, from George "Scrooge McDuck" Bush.

Give a man a fish, they used to say, and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he eats forever. Steal his pole and bait, and fat, rich Americans can buy a few more Jags and Beemers.

Yes, Rumsfeld must go, but...

Juan Cole does not quite go the full distance.
Poll Shows American Public Wising Up

A new CNN poll shows that the views expressed here at Informed Comment on most issues related to Iraq and Donald Rumsfeld have become mainstream in the American public. A majority of Americans thinks Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld should resign. I called for his resignation after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke last spring. Although some senators are saying he should remain in office because a change of leadership at the Pentagon now would be disruptive, I would argue that Rumsfeld has so consistently made the worst possible decision in Iraq that getting him out of the Department of Defense may well be a prerequisite for beginning to fix the problems. Rumsfeld appointed Douglas Feith his undersecretary for policy, and allowed Feith to set up the Office of Special Plans, which cherry-picked intelligence and forged a false case for war in Iraq. Rumsfeld over-ruled his officer corps by sending a tiny force of only 100,000 troops to Iraq, ensuring that they could not keep order in the aftermath. Rumsfeld was the one who tried to hand Iraq over to corrupt financier Ahmad Chalabi. Rumsfeld allowed the looting that began the deterioration of security after the war. Rumsfeld dissolved the Iraqi army, putting US troops on the front lines of the guerrilla war. Rumsfeld didn't order as much armor for US troop vehicles as he could have, exposing thousands to serious injury from roadside bombs. Rumsfeld didn't even bother to personally sign the letters of condolence to the families of deceased troops killed in Iraq, in some large part as a result of his own flawed policies. The majority of the American people is right that Rumsfeld must go (and his deputies with him).
Rumsfeld is a symptom (and a damned nasty one, too), but he is not the disease, and canceling his Pentagon parking privileges will not cure what ails our military and Iraq policies. Getting rid of him will shift attention, at least temporarily, from where it really belongs, which is that George W. Bush is a complete and total fuckup in every single aspect of his presidency. Shit-canning Rumsfeld won't change that. In fact, by distracting people from Bush's disastrous incompetence, it will delay the reckoning even further. Bush will have time to find his next scapegoat. Besides, anyone he chooses will be no better than Rumsfeld (my stock answer to anyone who says that, yes, Bush made mistakes, but we can't reverse course - why do you trust the man who drove the car off the highway to get it back onto the highway when he won't even admit that it is off the highway in the first place?)

In a rational universe, Rumsfeld would be gone already, or at least on his way out with his defeated boss. But, alas, this is not a rational universe, and I'd almost be willing to keep Rumsfeld in place so as to make it ever more obvious just how much of a catastrophe George W. Bush is.

Almost. Obviously, no one can seriously recommend keeping Rumsfeld if for no other reason than that our troops and the Iraqi people can't wait for enough Americans to wise up and figure out how Rumsfeld has ruined the entire war effort. But getting rid of him, however crucial that is and however much he absolutely deserves to be fired in disgrace, will not fix things enough to make it worth our time to concentrate on getting him fired. Bush is the problem. The more we focus on Rumsfeld, the less we pay attention to the man giving Rumsfeld orders, slack, and undeserved praise. This is Bush's war, Bush's mess. If anyone should go, if anyone should be the subject of a growing clamor demanding resignation, it's George W. Bush.

Monday, December 20, 2004


Digby Johnson is right!

(Obligatory Blazing Saddles reference there.) Anyway, Digby makes us think while he makes us laugh. As usual.
What's The Hurry, Junior?

One of my commenters makes the point that the belief that there is a social security crisis will not be easily dismissed and that's probably true. Kevin Drum points out that Democrats, too, have found it useful over the years to say that there was a looming crisis. I suspect that they never imagined that the Republicans would be so audacious as to run up huge deficits and then turn around and lobby for privatization with no intention of paying for transition costs. As we know, this isn't your father's GOP.

So perhaps we need to look at who and how they plan to sell this baby and fashion some specific responses. As far as I can tell it's Codpiece running with a version of their patented "he's got WMD, the sky is falling hurry, hurry, hurry." "The crisis is now!" the president veritably shrieked at his sycophantic little sideshow this week.

During the Clinton health care debacle, one of the most clever things the Republicans did was to connect the dots between the Clinton scandals and the health care plan. By saying that the Clintons had no credibility because of WhitewaterTravelOfficeZoeBaird or whatever, they were able to raise questions about his ability to manage a huge change in the economy. They used doubts about his character to make people nervous about his plan.

Donkey Rising shows some new numbers from the Ipsos-AP poll and the Quinnipiac University poll that show Bush remains in deep doo-doo on the Iraq question.
On Iraq, in the same poll, 48 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq. But among independents, 66 percent disapprove. And in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Bush's approval rating on Iraq is very poor 41/55 but an even worse 37/58 among independents.

In the Ipsos-AP poll, 47 percent believe it is likely that a stable, democratic government will be established in Iraq, compared to 51 percent who don't. But only 36 percent of independents believe a stable government in Iraq is likely.

Finally, the Q-poll finds the worst numbers ever on whether going to war with Iraq was the right thing for the US to do or the wrong thing. Just 42 percent now say we did the right thing, while 52 percent say it was the wrong thing. And independents have an even harsher judgement: they say war with Iraq was the wrong thing to do by 55-37.
We should take a page from the Republicans and start connecting the dots between Iraq and social security. Just as with Iraq, Bush is going to try to ram through this legislation quickly by playing Chicken Little. Democrats should make that observation and remind people that he does not have any credibility when it comes to defining a crisis, (also known as an "imminent threat.")

There are plenty of doubts about Bush out there. We need to make use of them instead of starting over from scratch with every single issue. The public clearly does not support Bush's Iraq policy and national security is his strong suit. He and the republicans have even less credibility on domestic issues.

The minority Republicans were able to convince people that Clinton's "character" problems meant that he could not be trusted with a huge program change in the midst of what people geniunely believed was a crisis at the time. I submit that Democrats have ample ammunition to draw the parallel between Bush's rush to war and Bush's rush to privatize and they can make a case that his judgment is faulty when it comes to defining a future crisis and that he, therefore, cannot be trusted with a huge change in social security.

"But everybody says there's a social security crisis!"

"Yeah, "everybody" said Saddam had WMD, too, and nobody said it louder or more often than President Bush. Let's slow down here and be careful. A lot of people depend on social security and I don't think we need to rush into privatizing that program like he rushed us into invading Iraq."
I've been saying this all along - Bush fucked up on Iraq (and on the deficits, and on the environment, and on our foreign relations) - why (and, indeed how) can he be trusted to fix what he screwed up and to do anything else?

But this is an even stronger meme: Bush lied on Iraq - he's lying on Social Security, too! People don't like being lied to; when it comes to Bush, they have gone way out of their way to ignore all the evidence that he has lied to them. But if that thought ever starts to stick in red state voters' minds, Bush will find himself in deep trouble. Trust once lost is hard regained.

Aw, what am I thinking? The Koolaid drinkers will never wise up. They like being lied to (despite what I said above), especially as Bush tells such stirring, manly lies.

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