Monday, January 31, 2005


It's not about race - it's about competence

Jesse says what I wanted to when I read Krauthammer's column.
Follow The Blacker

Conservatives judge people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. Or did I get that in the wrong order?

Charles Krauthammer, a psychologist, learned man, writer of presidential speeches, and failed admitter of the aforementioned fact when it's relevant, engages in such blatant white paternalism that it surprises me he didn't rename himself "Boss" for the article.
Because of her race, her symbolism and her personal story, Rice is not a run-of-the-mill appointment but a historic one. Which makes some of the more vitriolic charges against the first African American woman ever chosen for the office once held by Thomas Jefferson particularly wounding and politically risky.

Mark Dayton of Minnesota accused her of lying in order to persuade the American people to go to war -- a charge that is not just false but that most Americans don't believe. Rice was not a generator of intelligence. She was a consumer -- of a highly defective product.
Ms. Black Rice, who is black, was blackily blacking along when...

Krauthammer might want to check history for a second. She may not have generated intelligence, but it was her job to evaluate it and promote it to make the case for the war. She may not have been the one making the defective product, but she was certainly selling it knowing that it was prone to explode during regular use. Whether or not she's black, she doesn't get excused for that.

In the Big White World of Rice Race Boosters, you can't critique black people - at least, the "successful" ones. Working-class black people, of course, are fair game, because we don't know their names and can't exploit their oh-so-touching stories. Black people with great power have done enough merely to attain and wield that power; in Krauthammer's world, her blackness is a de facto qualification. Like a small child, she gets credit simply for not trying to eat the toy.
Will it matter politically in the end? Can Democrats take the African American vote for granted? Perhaps, but it will be interesting to see whether Democrats will be willing to repeat this exercise if Bush should nominate Clarence Thomas to succeed William Rehnquist and become the country's first black chief justice. The Democrats' performance on the Rice nomination has opened precisely that possibility for the president.
Black people don't like Clarence Thomas. There is no fraternity of race that causes black folks to be blind to the incompetence of other black folks. If we're talking about the politics of race, blindly assuming that black people follow skin color without listening, reading, or observing beyond the patina of melanin saturation is the surest way to make sure no significant numbers of black people ever support you.
I don't think George W. Bush is using Condi Rice, nor do I think she is allowing herself to be used. George W. Bush undoubtedly thinks she's a great nominee to be Secretary of State - a sure sign that she's utterly incompetent, because Bush himself is utterly incompetent to make any decent appointments.

But there are plenty of conservatives who are certainly using Condi Rice, as a bludgeon to prove that they are not the racists, but that any liberal who opposes her is a racist. There is not a single liberal who ever brings up Condi Rice's race, except perhaps to respond to conservative accusations. We don't care about her race, we care about the fact that she is incompetent - and that would not change if she were a white male, a Japanese hermaphrodite, or a Martian.

Another tale of the righteous

Jewish morality says that life takes precedence over everything except, another life, idolatry, and sexual immorality. You may not murder, even to save your own life but you also are not required to sacrifice your life to save another.

In the context of Nazi Germany, this must have become an almost impossible dilemma for some. They did not want to see Jews be murdered, but they also did not want to die themselves.

And yet, many righteous gentiles all over Europe did risk their lives to save Jews.
One Clear Conscience, 60 Years After Auschwitz


AS the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is marked with solemn exhortations never to allow the infamy of the Nazi death camps to return, I find myself thinking of a Pole with a bad leg and dirty fingernails who did not need such lessons in the nature of evil.

His name is Miecyslaw Kasprzyk. He lives in a shack atop a hill outside the southern Polish town of Wielicka, near Krakow. Clucking chickens are his principal companions. Now 79, Mr. Kasprzyk stands ramrod straight. He squints at the world through thick spectacles and he likes his vodka, but he sees clearly enough, always has.

His bad leg dates to 1936, when it was broken in an accident. Then, in 1941, the leg was injured again: He was shot while trying to smuggle a message to his father in the Polish underground. Without that leg, I might not have found him.

I am pleased that I did, pleased that I witnessed his reunion with a Jewish woman, born Amalia Gelband, whose life he saved by hiding her from the Nazis during World War II. Over more than 50 years, a lot is forgotten, but Mr. Kasprzyk's limp stuck in Amalia's mind, an awkward mnemonic.

She was 11, a child adrift in the Nazi-terrorized Europe of 1942, when Mr. Kasprzyk, risking his life, hid her in his family's farmhouse outside Wielicka. Her mother, Frimeta, was already dead, killed that year by the Germans. Her father was overseas, unreachable.

Mr. Kasprzyk took her in, along with her older brother, Zygmunt. Encouraged by his mother, he hid them in the attic of their isolated home. The children were known to him through an uncle who knew their uncle Pinkus Sobel, a horse trader. "How can you not help, if a child asks?" Mr. Kasprzyk said to me.

How indeed? How can simple humanity be drained from so many people? But it was. Millions of Germans, and those complicit with them in countries the Nazis overran, must have known that what they were doing, or allowing to happen, was vile and unconscionable. It must have occurred to them to try to stop the mass murder.

But almost every one of them, after whatever internal debate occurred, acting out of fear or opportunism or anger or for simple convenience, sided with complicity, active or passive. They knew and nodded, or they knew and looked away, or they told themselves they really did not know.

Not Mr. Kasprzyk. Soon after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, he understood. Polish police officers ordered him to bring a small group of Jews to a local Jewish cemetery in his horse cart. The Jews were stripped and shot dead, their jewelry distributed to local officials.

"It was the first time I had seen a naked woman," said Mr. Kasprzyk, who was 14 at the time.

The episode stuck in his throat. "Someone who does not know the difference between good and evil is worth nothing," he said. "In fact, such a person belongs in a mental institution."

When the attic hiding-place seemed too vulnerable, Mr. Kasprzyk ushered Amalia to greater safety. Late in 1942, he helped her and her brother find work on two farms near Pleszow, on the outskirts of Krakow.

War's end brought no relief from penury for the modest Pole who protected them. People, he noted, talked for a while about the missing Jews, but soon the blur of discomfiting names was lost in silence.

Hidden in the woods above Wielicka stands a monument to the town's murdered Jews. No road or path leads there. Weeds and nettles advance. An inscription records the slaughtered "Polish Jews." Somebody has tried to scratch out the word Polish.

Forgotten Jewish cemeteries, defaced headstones and crumbling little monuments to dead Jews dot Poland and Hungary. I saw a monument last year in Goncz, Hungary, that listed each of the town's Christian World War II dead by name; at the bottom it mentioned that 168 Jews also died. These Hungarian Jews were nameless, citizens of a different class.

Mr. Kasprzyk, a righteous Pole, should have his name widely known. He did not do well after the war: The same nonconformism that led him to defy the Nazis with decency also led him to defy Communist authority. "I was never a member of the party, and you had to be to get ahead," he said. "I do not belong to anyone, not even Christ. I do not like anyone to give me orders."

Instead of all the pious speeches surrounding this 60th anniversary, I wonder why Europe does not clean up some of those little monuments in towns like Wielicka and Goncz, and does not honor the likes of Mr. Kasprzyk.

As Fritz Stern, the great historian of Germany, said recently: "Even in the darkest period, there were individuals who showed active decency, who, defying intimidation and repression, opposed evil and tried to ease suffering. I wish these people would be given a proper European memorial not to appease our conscience, but to summon the courage of future generations."

In this particular case, I confess to a personal interest in the memorializing of Mr. Kasprzyk. I see him limping toward Amalia as they met again after almost six decades. I see their embrace serenaded with clucking. I hear his tender words: "Malvinka, Malvinka."

The "Malvinka" he saved, now Amalia Baranek, a Brazilian citizen, is the mother of my wife.
I think if you examined non-Jews who saved Jews, you would probably find out that one trait they had in common was that they were all non-conformists of some sort or other, people whose internal makeup was just naturally resistant to being told what to do by others.

I like Fritz Stern's thought: "I wish these people would be given a proper European memorial not to appease our conscience, but to summon the courage of future generations."

Jews believe God does not and cannot require anyone to sacrifice his life for another. (Except to obey the commandments not to murder or commit idolatry or sexual immorality.) But moral and physical courage - they can't be commanded, but they certainly can be inspired.

Why the triumphalist right wing is so objectionable

They have no idea what the arguments are even really about.

Iraq had its elections yesterday, and they seem to have gone better than many observers feared they would. Turnout was high, many Sunnis voted, and there was relatively little violence and intimidation. How effective the new Iraqi legislature will turn out to be is not something we can predict. What kind of constitution they write, whether the Sunnis will join in fully, and whether the Kurds will be satisfied are also things we will have to wait to see.

I'm very glad the elections went off as well as they did. I predicted violence and chaos, and I'm glad to see that didn't really happen. This is just the first step toward making Iraq a free democracy, and there's a lot more to do. But this is a good step.

However, to hear the right wing commentators spin it, it's not about Iraq at all. It's about the almighty George W. Bush and his unstoppable conquest of the hearts and minds of all humans on Earth.

Bill O'Reilly bitched about how all the "left-wing blogs" were silent about the relatively smooth elections, as if we had wanted things to go badly there instead of merely predicting that the elections would be marred by violence and intimidation. Of course I can't speak for all "left-wing blogs", and if any liberal was truly hoping for chaos in Iraq, I say without any mitigation, Shame on them.

However, I doubt that there are too many liberals lamenting the smoothness of yesterday's elections, today. Because we know what the real issue is here: Iraq. Not Bill O'Reilly, not even George W. Bush.

O'Reilly whinged that his strawman "left-wing bloggers" were silent on the occasion of a big defeat for them and, by implication, a big victory for George W. Bush.

Except, it's nothing of the kind. This is not a victory of any kind, big or small, for George W. Bush. This has nothing to do with George W. Bush. This is about Iraq and the Iraqi people. This is about their transition, we all hope, to real democracy. For anyone to make this, even slightly, about George W. Bush is to feed the dangerous cult that is growing up around the president. Much of the right-wing is being swept into a rash of almost idolatry with regard to George W. Bush, an unseemly and rickety scaffold of hype and hagiography that puts Bush and his needs, his triumphs, his vision at the center of everything. These people are laying all their hopes and dreams on this flawed, shallow man. He is so empty, he can be filled with almost anything. It's pathetic, to see veterans worship a draft-dodging deserter. To see hard-working men and women so enamored of a man who has not worked a day in his life, who failed at everything and was endlessly bailed out by rich friends, and who sneers at their values by hanging out with nobody but the wealthiest, most selfish Americans.

What the left finds so objectionable about George W. Bush is not just his policies - it's the fact that the man himself is so obnoxious, so snide, so trifling, so lightweight. There was no candidate on the Democratic side who had such a cult. Even the Big Dog himself, Bill Clinton, as much as he is admired by most Democrats and truly loved by some, is worshipped by none. Nor should he be. Nor should any President. The closest the Democrats have come is Kennedy, and that's more for the extinguished promise and the man's undeniable attractiveness than for his achievements. George W. Bush is a smirking, squinting little man, hardly the physical equal of John F. Kennedy, let alone his rhetorical and oratorical rival. And he has accomplished nothing. Whence the veneration and worship?

In any case, what is going on in Iraq is, first and foremost, about Iraq. If George W. Bush truly gave even the tiniest shit about Iraq, he would take a low profile and let it be about Iraq. And, to some extent, he is. And, to that extent, I give him some credit. Would that his idolatrous followers would emulate him and understand that this isn't about him, it isn't about them, it isn't about conservatives getting yet one more chance to bash liberals over something the liberals didn't even say or argue. Not everything is about America. No wonder the rest of the world hates our right-wingers.

Friday, January 28, 2005


Friday Blog Blogging

The most excellent Barbara O'Brien (aka "Maha") over at her terrific the Mahablog says what a lot of us have been thinking, only she puts it in real nice words.
The Real Entitlement Culture

Regarding "entitlement culture," which the Wall Street Journal seems to think is rampant in New York City (see previous post), it strikes me that nobody on earth has a bigger sense of entitlement than righties.

It struck me this morning when I stumbled on a column in the Los Angeles Times, in which Max Boot foams at the mouth over Seymour Hersh and his most recent New Yorker article. "It's hard to know why anyone would take seriously a 'reporter' whose writings are so full of, in Ted Kennedy's words, 'maliciousness and innuendo,'"  Boot rants.

Now, if I had a few hours to kill, I could write a detailed commentary on all the maliciousness and innuendo that Boot packs into the twelve paragraphs of this morning's column. But to save time I'll just link to Ari Berman at The Nation, who explains why the Pentagon and the rightie punditocracy owe Hersh an apology. Boot is several news cycles behind.

But I say Boot's real problem is a sense of entitlement. The Right thinks it is entitled to news stories that tell them what they want to hear. Bill O'Reilly and his temper tantrums are Exhibit A. Another recent example is the Right Blogosphere's near-worship of the Iraq the Model web site, which I blogged about here and here. As Juan Cole wrote, "Looking for token pro-American Iraqis to say nice things while ignoring all the evidence of US failure is pitiful." Yes, but typical.

And what about Bush's recent coronation, a four-day wallow in extravagence the GOP felt entitled to in spite of war and the tsunami disaster?

And I was struck by the way the Bushie crowd treated John Kerry at the swearing-in ceremony. Dana Milbank wrote in WaPo, "every time they flashed his picture on the Jumbotron, the crowd -- full of wealthy Republicans -- jeered." Although I never attended a presidential swearing-in personally, I've been reading about 'em and watching 'em on television since Eisenhower. And I have never heard of such behavior before. People in the past were gracious and respectful of the loser.

But this crowd feels entitled to act like six-year-olds: We won. Kerry stinks. Nyah nyah nyah.

Granted, brattiness spreads itself across the political spectrum. There are selfish and ungracious lefties. I actually knew a liberal sociopath once. But on the whole, liberals don't feel entitled to special treatment, which is why the righties so often get away with beating us up. And when the righties claim victory and go merrily on their prepubescent way, we lefties slump into a neurotic wallow of self-blame. We've got to stop doing that.  

But then, how does an adult deal with a spoiled six-year-old who has more power than the adult? If we can come up with an answer to that, then we'll know how to deal with the Right.
Basically, the entire conservative movement and its political wing, the Republican Party, has turned into Freepers - whiny, bitchy avatars of George W. Bush, for whom nothing is enough. And for whom anything they do is pure and perfect. Bush wins with 50.8%, it's a mandate. Bush wins with 50.8%, it's the only "accountability moment" he is ever going to face, and it means the entire world is 100% in favor of everything he did.

The slightest critcism is treason. Any disagreement is cause for ranting fury. Any opponent is the enemy, to be destroyed if possible, ridiculed and humiliated if destruction is not yet in the cards.

And all this is done, not just with the sense of entitlement Barbara describes above, but with the religious certainty of a Savanarola. The rest of us are simply wrong, and there is not point in any discussion or debate, let alone compromise, with someone who stands with Satan.

So you have a combination of a spoiled six-year-old with nuclear weapons and delusions of Godhood - if that doesn't scare the shit out of you, can I have some of whatever you're drinking? I need to get some sleep one of these nights.

Why we can't "win" in Iraq

Matt Yglesias makes a lot of sense (unfortunately).
The Contradictions of Kristolism

Justin Logan reports on today's Brookings Iraq event:
I asked a question during the proceedings of Bill Kristol, since in response to a question about the occupation fueling the insurgency, he admitted that "in some ways, what we have is the worst of both worlds." I told him that I understood that he and others would like to have lots more troops in Iraq, and that I imagined Iraq may look different if we had 300,000 or 400,000 troops there. But I asked him, since we don't have that kind of an army to deploy, why he would continue to advocate a policy he ackowledges as the "worst of both worlds" in the sense of not being able to impose its will on the Iraqi people while simultaneously fueling the fires of nationalism and resistance. He replied by saying that he didn't mean it was really the worst of both worlds, that maybe that was too extreme a rhetorical flourish, but that it illustrates the absurdity of having a "pre-9/11" military, diplomatic corps, intelligence community, et cetera, serving the ends of a "post-9/11" foreign policy.
This is quite the nonsensical reply from Kristol, or so it seems to me. He thinks our goals should be X, and that achieving X requires us to have A, while in fact we have B which cannot achieve X. Nevertheless, he is unwilling to contemplate scaling our goals back to something other than X even though there is no prospect of us acquiring A at any point in the future. Note that even if the will to create an Army properly sized and structured so as to implement a Kristol-esque policy existed in Washington (and it doesn't) it would take far too long to put it together (even if we started tomorrow, which we won't) in order for it to be a difference-maker in Iraq. If you believe, as Kristol apparently does, that winning in Iraq requires several hundred thousand additional troops, then the only reasonable thing to conclude is that we must give up on winning and start thinking about the best way to go home. Those additional 150,000-250,000 troops aren't going to appear just by magic, even if we draft the entire Weekly Standard editorial team.
That puts it pretty starkly: We need X troops to win; we don't have X troops and we aren't going to get X troops; therefore, we can't win.

This makes me sad and angry. I opposed the invasion of Iraq. I didn't think it was in any way justified, I thought it would inflame world opinion against us, and I didn't think this Administration had a hope in hell of doing a good job of it. I also thought they had no plan for running Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein (I never had a doubt that they would easily topple him). I thought they were ridiculously optimistic about being greeted universally as liberators.

However. We did invade. We did overthrow Saddam Hussein as easily as we conquered Grenada.

And we didn't have a plan for the aftermath. We were wrong about being greeted as liberators.

(When I say "we", I mean, of course, George W. Bush and all his incompetent cohorts. We as in America and the American people and the lamebrains they unaccountably entrusted with the greatest military machine ever assembled in the history of the planet. We voted for them, even if I never voted for any of them, so whether I like it or not, they speak for us, even if they don't.)

But, having conquered the place, we have a responsibility to really make it the paradise we promised. And we can't. We don't have the necessary forces - and Bush was warned ahead of going in that he didn't have the necessary forces - and no amount of policy debate can change that. Under those circumstances, invading in the first place was worse than a war crime - it was a folly of monumental, historical proprotions.

Bush and his cheerleaders should be cast into the locked cellar of history, never to be visited, never to be seen again. That this did not happen - that George W. Bush was re-elected and his tub-thumping butt-licking claque in Congress, the media, and the blogosphere are still yapping that the invasion was justified and that all is going well - is a tragedy as well as a farce.

America is caught in an impossible dilemma. We can't simply pull out - who knows what chaos and carnage would result, not just in Iraq but elsewhere? - and we can't stay, because we can't do any real good by staying. Until Americans wise up to this horror, things are just going to get worse, and far more Americans and Iraqis are going to die for no reason at all.

Taking on Michael Crichton - and scientific illiteracy

Fine stuff on science from Gristmill, an environmental blog.
Who you gonna believe?

Posted by Dave Roberts at 11:41 PM on 20 Jan 2005

I'm currently writing a review of Michael Crichton's new book State of Fear (should be done and published next week, several months after anybody gives a damn). In it, smarty-pants characters who think global warming is a hoax argue against borderline-retarded characters who believe it's a real phenomenon. The smarty-pants cite many scientific papers in support of their view; the borderline-retarded do not.

Setting aside the dubious literary merits of this arrangement, it raises an interesting question I think people ought to discuss more forthrightly: Why do non-scientists believe what they believe about global warming?

(Warning: extended ramble ahead. Click at your own risk.)

I'm not a scientist. I know more about science generally and some fields in particular than the average American, which isn't saying much. I know about as much science as the average over-educated liberal-arts-focused elite progressive coastal urban intellectual bluestate American (OELAFEPCUIBA) ... which still isn't saying very much. Why do I believe that anthropocentric global warming is a genuine phenomenon? Why do I believe in genes, or the big bang, or evolution, or electromagnetism, or hell, molecules, none of which I've ever seen? Because scientists say so.

I do not collect empirical evidence, run experiments, formulate conclusions, try to duplicate results, and develop theories on these matters. Even if I did, it would take me many thousands of lifetimes to catch up with what science has already done. So I take scientists' word for it. I keep an open mind, yes, but overall I take it on their authority.

Now, some folks say, "that makes science a religion for you. Your faith is no different from mine. I think God created us 6,000 years ago; you think we evolved. That's where the debate ends."

No. Taking scientists on authority means believing in the methods of science. I believe that the slow, incremental, self-correcting, empirical work of the scientific community is producing accurate information (let us dodge the larger metaphysical debate about capital-R Reality for now, hm?). This belief has paid overwhelming pragmatic dividends for humanity, particularly in this last century. Science works.

When it comes to the debate over global warming, it is all but irrelevant that Crichton can cite individual papers in support of his skepticism. You recall that "the current thinking of scientists on climate change is based on thousands of studies. Any new study will be one small grain of evidence that adds to this big pile, and it will shift the thinking of scientists slightly." What matters are not the individual papers but the collective result -- i.e., the consensus -- which is robust and squarely behind the basic notion of anthropocentric climate change.


Let me summarize: The central question about global warming for the average citizen is, who do you trust? Do you trust the consensus of scientists working in the field, or do you believe Crichton and his band of conservative ideologues that the consensus is systematically biased by sociopolitical pressure?

Don't be impressed by footnotes and bibliographies. Don't start thinking you can, as a layman, judge the scientific issues for yourself, anymore than you could adjudicate between conflicting geological theories of tectonic plate drift. Your only recourse is to suss out, as best you can, who's on the up and up.

Me, I'm going with the scientists.
Me too. The fact that we can't answer all questions now does not mean that there are no answers, nor does it mean that you can substitute for those answers with just anything you want. Scientists discover the truth - they don't invent the truth. They also - and this is crucial - deal with evidence that goes against their treasured hypothesis. To do otherwise - to pretend that adverse evidence does not exist - worse, to attempt to hide it - is among the 3 or 4 worst sins a scientist can commit.

Michael Crichton loves to do that. He also loves to take contrarian points of view that are always strangely comforting to fat rich white guys. In Disclosure, he pretended that female sexual harassment of men is somehow worse than the reverse, even though male sexual harassment of women is far far more prevalent. Now, in State of Fear, he gives the anti-global warming side much more respect than the vast majority of climate scientists who think global warming is real and dangerous. In short, he's a hack. And, unfortunately, a very popular and influential one.

(Thanks to Chris C. Mooney for the link.)

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Respectfully disagreeing

On this day of remembering the Holocaust, remembering the liberation of Auschwitz, I find I can't agree with everything written by one of the survivors (now a novelist in Israel):
Always, Darkness Visible


IN January 1945, 60 years ago today, the wheels of destruction in Auschwitz stood still.

The few people left alive describe the prevailing silence as the silence of death. Those who came out of hiding after the war - out of the forests and monasteries - also describe the shock of liberation as freezing, crippling silence. Nobody was happy. The survivors stood at the fences in amazement. Human language, with all its nuances, turned into a mute tongue. Even words like horror or monster seemed meager and pale, not to mention words like anti-Semitism, envy, hatred. Such a colossal crime can be committed only if you mobilize the darkest dark of the soul. To imagine such darkness apparently needs a new language.

In the penal colony of Auschwitz, the Jew was not condemned because of his old or new beliefs, but because of the blood that flowed in his veins. In the Holocaust, biology determined a person's fate. In the Middle Ages, the Jew was killed for his beliefs. A Jew who chose to convert to Christianity or Islam was saved from his suffering. In the Holocaust, there was no choice. Observant Jews, liberal Jews, communist Jews and Jews who were sure they weren't Jews were crammed into the ghettos and camps. Their one and only offense: the Jewish blood in their veins.

The Holocaust stretched over six years. Such long years there probably never were in Jewish history. Those were years when every minute, every second, every split-second held more than it could bear. Pain and fear reigned, but even then, in the midst of hunger and humiliation, the amazement sprouted: "Is this Man?"

In 1945, the ovens were extinguished. Jean Améry, a prisoner of Auschwitz and one of the outstanding thinkers on the Holocaust, says in one of his essays: "Anybody who was tortured will never again feel at home in the world."

Some entered hell as pious people and came out of it just as pious. That position deserves respect. But most survivors - myself, and especially the young - were outside the realm of faith, and from the first stages of the liberation, we were engaged with the question of how to go on living a life with meaning. The temptation to forget and be forgotten and to assimilate back into normal life lurked for every survivor. We can barely grasp and internalize the death of one child. How can we grasp the death of millions?

God did not reveal himself in Auschwitz or in other camps. The survivors came out of hell wounded and humiliated. They were betrayed by the neighbors among whom they and their forefathers had lived. They were betrayed by Western culture, by the Germans, by the language and literature they admired so much. They were betrayed by the great beliefs: liberalism and progress. They were betrayed by their own bodies.

What to hold onto to live a meaningful life? It was clear to many that the denial of one's Judaism, which characterized the emancipated Jew, was no longer possible. After the Holocaust it was immoral.

No wonder many of the survivors went on to Israel. No doubt, they wanted to get to a place where they could leave their victimhood behind and assert responsibility over their fate, a place where they could connect with the culture of their forefathers, to the language of the Bible, and to the land that gave birth to the Bible.

This is not a story with a happy ending. A doctor who survived, from a religious background, who sailed to Israel with us in June 1946, told us: "We didn't see God when we expected him, so we have no choice but to do what he was supposed to do: we will protect the weak, we will love, we will comfort. From now on, the responsibility is all ours."
I have to respecfully disagree with Mr. Appelfeld. I think there was a happy ending, at least as happy as it could be. For the Jewish people survived, despite Herr Hitler's worst efforts to destroy us.

We have not recovered our numbers. There is still too much anti-Semitism in the world. Israel has not enjoyed the security it deserves.

But we are still here. Many of the survivors went on to raise families, build businesses, send their children to college and grad school. Merely by doing those things, they triumphed over Hitler and the Nazis. If that's not a happy ending, what is?

Telling it like it is on Condi

Eric Alterman has real balls. Too bad more Democratic Senators didn't.
Who had the courage to vote against the first African-American female nominee for secretary of state merely because she has proven to be profoundly incompetent, incorrigibly dishonest, and absolutely unwilling to recognize, much less admit her many, many mistakes?

The Honor Roll:

Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
John Kerry, D-Mass.
Carl Levin, D-Mich.
James Jeffords, I-Vt.
Jack Reed, D-R.I.
Mark Dayton, D-Minn.
Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii
Evan Bayh, D-Ind.
Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
I am exceedingly disappointed that Jon Corzine voted for Helmet-Hair. (I'm disappointed that any Democratic Senator - hell, any Republican Senator - voted for her, but I'm from New Jersey and I really like Jon Corzine. Most of the time.)

Russ Feingold - what the hell are you doing, man? How can you vote for her? Barack Obama - I know she's a sistah, but still. You of all people don't have to worry about right-wing race-baiting if you vote against her. Schumer? Hillary?

Come on, folks, this isn't rocket science. Deferring to Bush because a president supposedly has a right to name a Cabinet of his choice - she was going to win no matter what you did - the Republicans would give up junkets to private hunting preserves before they denied anything to the Chimperor - but she's a trainwreck waiting to happen and the best thing you could do was refuse to keep shoveling coal into the engines.

Israel in the EU? Why not?

The Head Heeb foresees the future - and it's good (God willing).
Israel Europeanization watch

The Gaza withdrawal plan and the fragile improvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations are apparently bearing some diplomatic fruit, with incoming EU ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal making one of the strongest statements in recent record in favor of European cooperation with Israel and recognition of Israeli security concerns. Cibrian-Uzal in fact spoke of Israeli EU membership as a long-term goal, a possibility that has occasionally been floated by Israeli diplomats but never by Europeans in potential policy-making positions. In the meantime, he pledged that the increasing integration of Israel into European institutions would continue:
Cibrian-Uzal also said that an agreement signed last month to upgrade EU-Israeli relations through the European Neighborhood Policy will enable "unprecedented cooperation." In the context of this deal, he said, the EU has offered Israel "more or less" the same level of cooperation it has with Switzerland."

The EU currently has many agreements with Switzerland that it does not have with Israel, and it is Israel's decision whether it wishes to take the EU up on this offer, he said. But if Israeli cooperation with the EU does reach the Swiss level, the question of Israel's joining the union would not be out of place, he added.
In part, Cibrian-Uzal's statements, and other recent European overtures, are a natural outgrowth of the increasing interdependence between Israel and the EU. The expansion of the EU into eastern Europe has resulted in more than a million Israelis acquiring European citizenship, and intermarriage between Jewish sub-populations in Israel may eventually entitle most of the country to European passports. European industries benefit considerably from Israeli research and development, and the EU surpassed the United States this year to become Israel's largest trading partner.

At the same time, there's probably more to the Israel-EU thaw than increasing integration. Now that a peace process is once again returning to the table, the EU wants to be a player, and, just as the United States is belatedly realizing that it needs Palestinian trust to make a real difference, Europe is realizing that it needs Israeli trust. Given time and a certain amount of luck, this could turn into a self-fulfilling cycle, with European influence nudging Israel toward peacemaking while the progress of peace makes a closer Israeli-European relationship more politically possible. As someone who believes that Israel's long-term destiny lies with Europe more than with the United States, I can only regard this as positive.
I'm not sure what he means by "Israel's long-term destiny lies with Europe more than with the United States," but I will say that I think it's best that Israel make friends with countries that are not currently dominated by right-wing evangelical Christians who are pro-Israel primarily if not only because they believe that Jesus won't come again until all the Jews are living in Israel - at which point, some of them will convert to Christianity and the rest will die. As a Jew, I don't think I need such friends, and I'd be very happy for Israel to be solidly entrenched in thoroughly secular Europe.

As for Israeli membership in the EU, that is extremely unlikely to happen until there is a Palestinian state. At that time, they might offer both countries membership, although that is unlikely, as they would probably worry about the security implications of permitting Palestinians to migrate freely to European countries. They would be more likely to offer a whole raft of trade and other agreements to benefit both countries.

In any case, peace between Israel and Palestine - true peace - is a Good Thing. Anything the EU can do to bring it about is a Good Thing. Let's hope - please, God - that it happens.

Amazingly, the Times still doesn't get it!

Although they're inching in the right direction. But still...
The Wrong Attorney General

Other parts of Mr. Gonzales's record are also troubling. As counsel to George Bush when he was governor of Texas, Mr. Gonzales did a shockingly poor job of laying out the legal issues raised by the clemency petitions from prisoners on death row.
No no no! Gonzales did not do a "shockingly bad job"! He did a brilliant job - as long as you understand what his job was! You can't assume he was actually trying to do a good job but failed. He was supposed to do a bad job - and he did! Gonzales and Bush had no intention of actually exploring whether or not any particular prisoner deserved to be executed - they simply wanted threadbare cover for the executions they had already, long since decided to let be carried out. They didn't give a shit if the person had received an incompetent defense, had mitigating factors ignored by the trial court, or was even innocent.

The Times is inexcusably naive when it comes to judging George W. Bush. They persist in giving him the benefit of the doubt, in assuming that his motives are good but his implementation is lousy. They have yet to figure out - or at least admit - that his motives are malign, his policies putrid, his underlings underhanded, his knowledge not there, his understand underwhelming, his concern confounded - okay, that's enough alliteration. I've made my point.

I'm glad the Times came out against Alberto Gonzales. He is a dreadful choice to be Attorney-General - which is precisely why George W. Bush nominated him.

The Times concludes,
Senate Democrats, who are trying to define their role after the setbacks of the 2004 election, should stand on principle and hold out for a more suitable attorney general. Republicans also have reason to oppose this nomination. At the confirmation hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, warned that the administration's flawed legal policies and mistreatment of detainees had hurt the country's standing and "dramatically undermined" the war on terror. Given the stakes in that war, senators of both parties should want an attorney general who does not come with this nominee's substantial shortcomings.
Again with the pious platitudes and faint hopes and wishful thinking. There is absolutely no fucking way on God's Earth that the Republicans are going to oppose Alberto Gonzales. I will be shocked if even one Republican Senator votes against him. For the Times to marshal cogent arguments addressed to the Senate Republican majority calling on them not to defer to their Emperor is beyond naive - it is blind, deaf, dumb, and brain-dead.

The Democrats absolutely must stand against this disastrous nomination, but not with even the slightest hope that it will do any good. Nothing will do any good, in the short-term, in dealing with George W. Bush and his triumphalist party. Pretending that Bush & Co. are listening is a total waste of time - and of the Times. The sooner the Times realizes this, the sooner they stop fooling themselves that anything they say can influence the debate at all, the sooner they turn to flat-out opposition, the better.

Auschwitz 60 years later: The last major anniversary

I just thought this needed to be blogged, especially as it will likely be the last major anniversary at which actual survivors will be able to attend, as well as for the paragraphs about the difficulties in teach Europe's young Muslims about the Holocaust and the image from the final paragraph.
World Leaders Gather for Auschwitz Ceremony


KRAKOW, Poland, Jan. 26 - Heads of state, prominent Jews, Nazi death camp survivors and a handful of their liberators began gathering here Wednesday in a heavy snowstorm to commemorate the freeing of thousands of people from the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp 60 years ago.

As many as 1.5 million people, including 1 million Jews, met their death at the Auschwitz complex, which included three main camps and 39 smaller camps 40 miles southwest of Krakow. Most were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the second of the main camps, that has come to symbolize the much broader Holocaust in which 6 million Jews died.

The commemoration Thursday, the largest ever, marks the liberation of the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. It will take place at a memorial built between the ruins of two of the camp's gas chambers.

The ceremony this year has an air of urgency as Jewish organizations work to ensure that awareness of the Holocaust persists after living memories of it die. This is likely to be the last major anniversary to be attended by both camp survivors and their former Soviet Red Army liberators. Only seven liberators are expected to attend the ceremony Thursday. All of them are in their 90's.

"The numbers of world leaders coming and the readiness of the media to follow the commemoration is greater than before, but the event is also more important now with a new anti-Semitism building in Europe," said the head of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, arguing that without a systematic approach to teaching about the Holocaust, its meaning for future generations may fade. "We need a concrete commitment out of this ceremony."

That commitment is all the more critical now because a growing number of Europe's young Muslims are resisting, even rejecting, efforts to teach them about the Holocaust, arguing that there is not enough attention paid to the killing of innocent Muslims by Israel or the United States-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Teachers are reluctant to teach about the Holocaust in some schools, particularly in France, Belgium and Denmark. Mr. Shalev said that most of his organization's educational exchanges with France are now with the country's private Jewish institutions.

The commemoration means different things to each nation: for Russia it is a commemoration of its often-overlooked role as liberator, while for Poland and other Central European countries it is both part of a gradual recognition of their complicity in the killing and an opportunity to draw closer to Europe. Poland and several other former Soviet bloc countries joined the European Union last year and the rest are waiting to join.

A recent string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe and other unsettling events, such as the widely publicized photograph of Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, wearing a Nazi uniform at a costume party earlier this month and a walkout by far-right German legislators during a minute's silence for Nazi victims on Friday, have raised concerns that the horrors of the Holocaust are being forgotten.

Moshe Kantor, chairman of the European Jewish Congress, warned that the rise in anti-Semitic incidents should not be ignored. "From broken windows to death camps was the blink of an eye," Mr. Kantor said, referring to the four years between the 1938 attacks on German Jews known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, and the 1942 Wannsee Conference at which German leaders discussed the "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe."

At a dinner Wednesday, Mr. Kantor talked of the need to pass on personal recollections of the Holocaust, not just statistics or historical accounts. As an example, he told of meeting an elderly woman during a visit to the Birkenau camp several years ago. She remarked to him that the camp looked different when she was interned there because there was no grass then; starving prisoners had eaten it all.
Can anyone really contend that there is a similarity between what happened to Europe's Jews between 1938 and 1945, and what is happening to the Palestinians now? One can debate the extent to which Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is harsher than necessary, but only an anti-Semite could possibly compare it to the Final Solution. To the extent that Muslims learned of the Holocaust, perhaps it might engender in them some sympathy for a fellow people that was barbarously mistreated. Perhaps they might come to have some sympathy for the Other. Perhaps it might lessen the militant fervor some of them apparently feel, the intolerance, the insistence that they can spread their version of Islam by force and by fear.

If I am mischaracterizing any European Muslims, I apologize. But I do not apologize for believing that there is no similarity between the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think it is shameful to pretend that there is.

In any case, politics should not intrude upon the corpse of Auschwitz. Leave the murdered, the martyrs, in peace. Walk away quietly, and never forget.

Grace and courage

God grant me both when my time comes, please.
Tumour diary: The time has come

BBC News science and technology writer Ivan Noble was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in August 2002. Since then he has been sharing his experiences in an online diary.

This is my last diary.

I have written it ahead of time because I knew there would be a point when I was not well enough to continue.

That time has now come.

When I began writing about having a brain tumour, I did not really know why.

That personal style of journalism was never something I was particularly attracted to or interested in reading myself.

But when I was diagnosed back in 2002 I had a strong urge to fight back against what felt like the powerlessness of the situation.

I really wanted to try to make something good out of bad.

I was not sure if what I wrote would be any good and I was not sure if anyone would read it but I wanted to try.

And I also very much wanted to use the diary to maintain my link with my job if I was not well enough to work.

I know now that people have found the diary useful, and it meant a lot to me in particular to know that there were people in a similar situation to me or caring for such people who got something out of it.

The regular feedback from dozens and dozens of people every time I have written has been wonderful, especially in real times of crisis.

I know that it has kept me going much longer than I would have without it and I am grateful.

I am grateful to many people and this is probably the time to let them know.

My oncologist has been superb in his ability to generate optimism in dark circumstances and to provide me with invaluable respite, as has his colleague my neurosurgeon, who has more than once pulled nasty lumps of cancer out of my head with astonishing skill.

I did not see all the members of the teams involved in the craniotomies I had but I know what a superb job they did and how they kept me in comfort and without pain afterwards. They and all the staff involved in my operations and aftercare were first class.

My GP has been unstinting in his support and without his prompt action at the beginning of my drama I believe I would have done nowhere near as well.

The support and professionalism of Macmillan nurses is legendary and mine has been no exception. I clicked with him the minute I met him.

I would also like to say thank you both to the many colleagues and friends at the BBC who have been such a support and especially to the people who manage the department I work for, for their personal support way beyond the call of duty.

What I wanted to do with this column was try to prove that it was possible to survive and beat cancer and not to be crushed by it.

Even though I have to take my leave now, I feel like I managed it.

I have not been defeated.

Thank you once again to everyone who helped me and came with me.

The last phase now will, I know, not be easy but I know that I will be looked after as I always have been.

I will end with a plea. I still have no idea why I ended up with a cancer, but plenty of other cancer patients know what made them ill.

If two or three people stop smoking as a result of anything I have ever written then the one of them who would have got cancer will live and all my scribblings will have been worthwhile.
Baruch dayan ha-emet.

Ya gotta love George Bush and his love of "freedom"

Can anyone please define what George Bush means by "freedom"?
Darfur: Never again?

As the world prepares to commemorate Holocaust Day, crimes against humanity are still being committed in Darfur while diplomats bicker

By Anne Penketh


After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, just as after the Holocaust when six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis, the world said "never again". Now, there is Darfur.

Efforts to bring Sudan before the International Criminal Court - a move theoretically backed by the UK - have been undermined by the Bush administration's hostility to the court which was specifically set up to judge those suspected of genocide and crimes against humanity.
I've been meaning to point this out, but as far as I can tell, George W. Bush's notion of "freedom" is exclusively restricted to "the right to be a fat, rich, white guy macho selfish asshole pig." I'll expound on that more in another post, but at least I said it.

Interestingly, Penketh goes on to point out,
The United States has, at least, publicly branded these atrocities as genocide. The British Government has refused to do so, preferring to wait for the conclusions of an international commission of inquiry which reported back to the UN secretary general yesterday.

The four-man panel, led by the Italian jurist, Antonio Cassese, was asked to investigate the Darfur killings, determine whether genocide had occurred and to identify perpetrators with a view to holding them accountable. Kofi Annan is expected to submit the report to the UN Security Council next Monday, when debate will be engaged between supporters of the International Criminal Court and its main detractor, the United States, which went so far as to unsign the treaty setting up the tribunal.
Of course, the Muslim militants shrieking about the USA attacking Islam have no word to say about the Sudan. African and Muslim countries have been more involved. And Colin Powell did expend considerable effort on the issue, so perhaps the snarky title of this post is a bit of a cheap shot.

But only a bit.

In any case, Darfur is yet another example of how this completely fucked-up world is still unable to fulfill the mandate of those who hopefully founded the United Nations in 1947 intending never to let anything like this happen, anywhere, again. The United States has labeled the Darfur situation a "genocide," and that it surely is. And what are we really doing about it? Not a damn thing. Our army is bleeding slowly to death in Iraq, while Darfur bleeds to death much more quickly.

Is it our responsibility to save Darfur? If the pious platitudes George W. Bush uttered at his second inaugural actually mean anything, then how it not be our responsibility to save Darfur? If we are to be the world's leader, then we have to lead.

Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

The Shadow of Auschwitz

Please read this entire, long article. I can excerpt only a few paragraphs.
The shadow of Auschwitz

By John Lichfield


Today, politicians from 40 countries will travel to the Birkenau camp to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the discovery of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in January 1945. Up to 400 survivors - the remaining, fit survivors of the maybe 60,000 survivors in 1945 - are expected to be there.

Among those at the Birkenau commemoration will be Raphael Esrail, 80, who was taken to Auschwitz from France in February 1944, at the age of 19, and is now secretary general of the French association of Auschwitz victims. "There have been other anniversaries and there will be others still to come," he said, "but this is maybe the most important. First, because it will be the last big anniversary to have so many living eyewitnesses. Most of us are already in our eighties."

Although I am Jewish, I did not lose, as far as I can tell, any relatives in the Holocaust. (If I did lose any, they were so distant that no one in my family here in the USA was aware of them.) That does not make me any less connected to Auschwitz than a survivor, or the families of the victims, or indeed of the rest of humanity. As Lichfield points out, "The Holocaust began three years after Walt Disney made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; 20 years before The Beatles and Swinging London. Auschwitz is part of Modern Times."

And the fact that it happened 64 years ago does not mean it is not part of our times, either. Esrail, quoted above, goes on to say,
"But it is crucial also for another reason. The world has changed. And not in the way we had hoped. After the war, we comforted ourselves that this terrible experience might finally teach mankind to love mankind, but what do we see now? We see again the rise of anti-Semitism and we see a world torn apart by fanatical hatreds and by absolute certainties."
(We also see the rise of a kind of corporate, religious proto-fascism in the USA, but that's for another post.)

We have seen Bosnia and Kosovo and Rwanda and now the Sudan. We have seen Tienanmin Square and Chechnya. We have learned nothing.

Please read the entire article. The Holocaust deniers must not be permitted to succeed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Don't mention the war!

I really shouldn't quote TBogg so much (otherwise I'm going to end up as little more than a mirror of his site), but I can't help myself when he's just so freakin' funny!
Well, he's certainly a bright one. Sign him up for infantry

Buried in an article about all the inaugural visiters who didn't make it to the front of the line to see the audio-animatronic President:
Justin Moidel, 17, who lives in the Pittsburgh area, attended the swearing-in with friends, but after venturing outside the security gates for food, the group ditched plans to return for the parade because of the angry protesters and daunting lines at the weapons check.

"I liked being part of history, and the passage of power," said Moidel, who said he considers himself a conservative Democrat. "But the long lines and being protested against. . . . There was one lady who yelled at me, 'Are you prepared to die?' I guess she thinks Bush is an aggressive leader who will get us into war."
Somewhere in Pittsburgh an Army recruiter just got the hard-on of his life...
Sure. Everyone knows it was Bill Clinton who got us involved in the quagmire in Iraq. All George W. Bush did was free the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein.

Sheesh, the nerve of them eeevul libruls, blaming the Iraq disaster on George W. Bush...

Now with twice the juicy yummy liberal blogging!

Jesse Taylor and Ezra Klein have split up. Jesse keeps Pandagon, along with the Linda Ronstadt records and the Peter Max photos. Ezra gets his own brand-new eponymous site and he keeps the budgies and the curio cabinet.

Or something like that.

Good luck to both of them!

Why is the New York Times like the Bourbons?

In Talleyrand's immortal aphorism, they have learned nothing and they have forgotten nothing.
Another Powell Departs

Michael Powell, the Federal Communications Commission chairman who rarely met a media merger he didn't like or an off-color broadcast he did, announced last week that he would resign. Mr. Powell's disappointing reign will be remembered for the extremes to which he went to punish what he called indecency, and for his abdication of responsibility for regulating the businesses that came before him. When President Bush appoints a new chairman, he should look for someone who can bring the commission to a more moderate position on both of these issues.

The two people being mentioned most prominently as possible successors to Mr. Powell come with some demerits. Kevin Martin, currently a Republican commissioner, has shown a welcome willingness to break with his party. But he has taken an even more extreme line on indecency than Mr. Powell. Becky Klein, a former chairwoman of the Texas Public Utility Commission, is coming off an unsuccessful run for Congress in which she accepted large contributions from telecommunications companies that seemed to be betting she might end up at the F.C.C. Ms. Klein's record underscores the third important job qualification, along with reasonable positions on media concentration and indecency: a demonstrated record of independence from the industries the F.C.C. regulates.
You'd think the Times would get it by now, don't you? You'd think they be past the point of timidly offering George W. Bush pious advice amidst their wan hope that he will, this time, listen (they're almost like an abused spouse, kind of).

It's long past time that they learned of what I might as well call "Beck's 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." So far, it's (unfortunately) working, and there's absolutely no reason or evidence to think it won't continue working. Anyone who really wants this country to move along the right path has one response to George W. Bush: No.

It will be hard to make it stick, given that pure negativism is a policy of despair. But we are desperate, given the reality of one-party government in Washington. Bush can probably name an armadillo to be FCC Chairman and get his Senate to approve it. But that doesn't mean Democrats have to give him a single yes vote, and it certainly doesn't mean the Times shouldn't learn the only applicable lesson: George W. Bush is not listening to you! Stop acting as if he is! Find yourself some guts and take a stand you can be proud of.

We're busted

Uh-oh. TBogg gives away the big secret.
...and starring Jim Geraghty as Milton Waddams

After the election was over National Review Online did a little downsizing. They thought about getting rid of Jonah, but since he works for yesterday's muffin stumps they figured "what the hell" and kept him on (saving them a daily trip to the dumpster). One of the ones who was get let go was Jim Geraghty who posted on the Kerry Spot which was the NRO source for all news, fake or semi-real, about John Kerry. With the election over, Geraghty was the odd man out (not to be confused with NRO's "odd man").

Well --long story, short attention span-- Geraghty was using a little PTO time getting his back waxed the day that his pink slip came through, and so he still shows up at his cube everyday and cranks out drivel for the dribblers and nobody has the heart to tell him that he's yesterday's excuse for invading Iraq news.

Today he writes:
So chalk me up as one of the folks who was really surprised that Oscar voters didn’t give “Fahrenheit 9/11” a Best Picture nomination.


But here’s an interesting dog that isn’t barking… Michael Moore gets passed over for the big award he coveted… and the lefty bloggers aren’t up in arms. In fact, nobody on the left is talking about Moore today.

I still strongly believe that no blogger is obligated to write about any topic, but I just find it interesting that web personalities who one would think would be big Michael Moore fans are collectively shrugging their shoulders over this. You know a lot of Christian conservatives are grumbling about the three nominations in technical categories for “The Passion of the Christ,” and Kathryn’s already noted this on the Corner.

Nothing (so far) at Eschaton, Daily Kos, James Wolcott, Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Matthew Yglesias, Tapped, The Left Coaster… Did I miss some Moore fans? I realize most of these guys are policy wonks, but none of them has any take or opinion on Hollywood’s elite giving the thumbs-down to the most prominent anti-Bush piece of work from the past year?
I guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag.

We're disorganized.

We don't have a central Vast Left Wing Conspiracy HQ that blast-faxes our daily talking points to us which means that we are forced to think up stuff on our own. As our President might say, "That's hard work". Also we don't have a central organizing Cult of Personality that demands that we focus on "Him" and what would He do or what would be best for Him, and thus forces us to view all other topics as somehow influenced by His magnificent gravitational pull. We don't even have enough money to buy a third-tier pundit to parrot our party line even if we were together enough to have a party line, fercryin'outloud.

We're screw-ups. We can't even win an election.

Thank god we're not running a war.

(Full disclosure: I haven't seen Fahrenheit 9/11 so I don't really have an opinion on it. Of course, I understand that this confession may make me less of a liberal putting me at risk of being stoned in some Blue State public square for "heresy", but I'm willing to take that chance. Besides we already used all the sharper rocks on that simmpering nit, Michael Totten .)
Am I disappointed that Fahrenheit 9/11 did not get a Best Picture nomination? No.

(Sorry, I guess I didn't get the blast-fax from VLWC HQ with the daily talking points instructing me to bitch and moan and whine about almighty Michael Moore being shafted by those right-wing pigs in Hollywood. I promise to do better with regard to Moore's forthcoming Baron Reich-Nein von Vun.)

In any case, Fahrenheit 9/11 is hardly "the most prominent anti-Bush piece of work from the past year". For that, just check out any of Bush's debate performances.

The snarking of the ()unt

Remind me never to get Banana Slug angry at me:

Magnum, P.I. Star Hits Skids, Sells ‘Stache

Tom Selleck, hunky star of such fare as Magnum, P.I. and Magnum, P.I. crossovers with Murder, She Wrote, has put his famed moustache up for sale on internet auctioneer EBay.

“He didn’t want to do this,” notes close friend and co-star Larry Manetti, who played Orville ‘Snorky’ Wright on the series.

“The casting directors haven’t exactly been busting down the door, and he lost a lot of cash in that Magnum, 2000 fiasco.”

Magnum, 2000, a short lived syndicated venture, paired Selleck with a talking recreational vehicle, voiced by John Hillerman, the priggish Higgins in the original. Pitched as a combination between Knight Rider and Promised Land, the show lasted a mere three weeks.

Initial bidding for the moustache started at $14.00. While Selleck had expected the hirsute prize to claim a lot more, he will reportedly be satisfied with whatever he can get.

“He figured it was time for a new look,” offers Manetti.

“He told me if Ann Coulter can make it without her moustache, he can probably do the same.”
What is it about Ann Coulter that inspires such hostility? Is it her soft good looks? Her demure attitude? Her sweet good humor? Her loving kindness for all humanity? Her gracious acceptance that her opponents are decent people of honor? Her humility, her shy admission that she is not possessed of all knowledge and does not have all the answers? Or is the fact that she's a shrill skank who reminds us all of the flat-chested, loud-mouthed, bossy girl in high school who nobody wanted to be stuck taking to the prom? Not that I would ever reduce myself to nasty ad hominem attacks...

"Chutzpah" indeed

All the more so, considering that the classic cliche definition of chutzpah is the man who kills his parents and then begs mercy from the court because he's an orphan.
Call it 'Chutzpah…'

Given its almost incredible economic incompetence coupled with its foreign incompetence as well as its commitment to the destruction of American values and the sowing of hatred abroad, right-wing zealots seeking to convince a small majority to retain their heroes in power need not only to ignore reality but also spit nutty conspiracy theories based on their biases and misinformation.  We have a beautiful example of this phenomenon this morning in this Wall Street Journal editorial in which its journalistically cavalier ideologues blame New York City’s homeless policies for a subway fire that it says will put the C train out of action for “perhaps as much as three to five years.  The rest of the country should think of this as the perfect liberal storm.”  They add “only in Manhattan could a burned-out switching system take years to repair,” and blame “distributional politics and entitlement culture.”  They never explain exactly how any of this is connected, which is just as well, because it’s not true.  A front-page story in The New York Times notes that service will be likely be restored in nine months, and notes that the MTA estimates that it has made more than $40 billion worth of capital improvements since 1982.  It is the Wall Street Journal editors who seek to starve the public sector in general and mass transit in particular, and then they complain, using discredited information, about the results of that starvation.  Call it “chutzpah.”  Call it “ideological fanaticism.”  Just don’t call it journalism.
That's like right-wingers complaining about racism whenever a liberal objects to one of the Bush administration's minority appointments (since obviously we're objecting not to their race but to their ideology, lack of competence, or other disqualifications). It's like praising Bush for bringing democracy to Iraq while shrieking about anyone who criticizes Bush back at home. It's like Newt Gingrich or Robert Livingston clucking their tongues at Bill Clnton's infidelity.

It's not just chutzpah (although it certainly is chutzpah). It's also rank, naked hypocrisy. (Sorry about calling it "naked" - hope the FCC doesn't fine me.)

Our kids cain't reed, but by God, they ain't gone see no gays!

Good to see the new Secretary of Education has her priorities, um, so to speak, straight.
Education secretary condemns public show with gay characters

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's new education secretary denounced PBS on Tuesday for spending public money on a cartoon with lesbian characters, saying many parents would not want children exposed to such lifestyles.

The not-yet-aired episode of "Postcards From Buster" shows the title character, an animated bunny named Buster, on a trip to Vermont -- a state known for recognizing same-sex civil unions. The episode features two lesbian couples, although the focus is on farm life and maple sugaring.

A PBS spokesman said late Tuesday that the nonprofit network has decided not to distribute the episode, called "Sugartime!," to its 349 stations. She said the Education Department's objections were not a factor in that decision.

"Ultimately, our decision was based on the fact that we recognize this is a sensitive issue, and we wanted to make sure that parents had an opportunity to introduce this subject to their children in their own time," said Lea Sloan, vice president of media relations at PBS.

However, the Boston public television station that produces the show, WGBH, does plan to make the "Sugartime!" episode available to other stations. WGBH also plans to air the episode on March 23, Sloan said.

PBS gets money for the "Postcards from Buster" series through the federal Ready-To-Learn program, one aimed at helping young children learn through television.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the "Sugartime!" episode does not fulfill the intent Congress had in mind for programming. By law, she said, any funded shows must give top attention to "research-based educational objectives, content and materials."

"Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode," Spellings wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of PBS.

"Congress' and the Department's purpose in funding this programming certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children, particularly through the powerful and intimate medium of television."

She asked PBS to consider refunding the money it spent on the episode.

With her letter, Spellings has made criticism of the publicly funded program's depiction of the gay lifestyle one of her first acts as secretary. She began on Monday, replacing Rod Paige as President Bush's education chief.

Spellings issued three requests to PBS.

She asked that her department's seal or any statement linking the department to the show be removed. She asked PBS to notify its member stations of the nature of the show so they could review it before airing it. And she asked for the refund "in the interest of avoiding embroiling the Ready-To-Learn program in a controversy that will only hurt" it.

In closing, she warned: "You can be assured that in the future the department will be more clear as to its expectations for any future programming that it funds."

The department has awarded nearly $100 million to PBS through the program over the last five years in a contract that expires in September, said department spokesman Susan Aspey. That money went to the production of "Postcards From Buster" and another animated children's show, and to promotion of those shows in local communities, she said.

The show about Buster also gets funding from other sources.

In the show, Buster carries a digital video camera and explores regions, activities and people of different backgrounds and religions.

On the episode in question, "The fact that there is a family structure that is objectionable to the Department of Education is not at all the focus of the show, nor is it addressed in the show," said Sloan of PBS.

But she also said: "The department's concerns align very closely with PBS' concerns, and for that reason, it was decided that PBS will not be providing the episode." Stations will receive a new episode, she said.
Why the FUCK is "the Department of Education" censoring television? Who the fuck elected Margaret Spellings to be our guardian of morality?

Aren't you glad to know that we have such a dedicated public servant devoting her precious time to such a vital issue? Our kids can't read, they can't do math, the wingnuts won't let them learn real science, we're falling further and further behind the rest of the world - but by God, there's no way we're going to let our kids see lesbians! We're leaving every child behind, but you can rest assured we're going to make sure they all hate fags, as God intended!

Well, George W. Bush hated school - and obviously got nothing out of it - so why should any other kid have a different, better experience? If they couldn't choose the right parents, that's their fault, not his. Not Margaret Spellings', either, it seems.

Freeom on the march!

Hey, I'd be happy with 50% turnout in US elections!
Insurgents Vowing to Kill Iraqis Who Brave the Polls on Sunday

Officials Are Still Hoping Turnout Reaches 50%


BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 25 - The black sedan made its way down Madaris Street, the young men inside tossing leaflets out the window.

"This is a final warning to all of those who plan to participate in the election," the leaflets said. "We vow to wash the streets of Baghdad with the voters' blood."

Thus was the war over Sunday's nationwide elections crystallized in a single incident on Tuesday in Mashtal, an ethnically mixed neighborhood on the eastern edge of Baghdad, where many Iraqis say they would like to vote, and where a small, determined group of people are doing everything they can to stop them.

The leaflets, like many turning up on sidewalks and doorsteps across the capital, were chilling in their detail: they warned Iraqis to stay at least 500 yards away from voting booths, for each would be the potential target of a rocket, mortar shell or car bomb. The leaflet suggested that Iraqis stay away from their windows, too, in case of blasts.

"To those of you who think you can vote and then run away," the leaflet warned, "we will shadow you and catch you, and we will cut off your heads and the heads of your children."

The effect of such intimidation across the country will not be known until Sunday. Estimates vary, but Iraqi officials say they will be pleased if the nationwide turnout reaches 50 percent of the 14 million eligible voters. In some areas, like the Sunni-dominant cities of Ramadi and Falluja, even a meager turnout would be welcomed.
Seriously, though, despite the fact that we opposed the invasion and oppose the war and think Bush invaded Iraq not to bring "freedom and democracy" to the Iraqis but for rather less savory reasons of his own, the actions of the insurgents are inexcusable and must be condemned, especially by those of us who opposed the war. Because the fact is, we broke it and we therefore most definitely own it.

We are the ones who insisted upon invading and destabilizing Iraq (admittedly, destabilizing a vile and gruesome dictatorship). We insisted on these elections. We are screaming to the world that these elections are a key milestone in Iraq's recovery from the war we caused. We therefore have an absolute, 100% unavoidable responsibility to make sure these elections are carried out fairly and freely. And we're not doing it. We're not coming close. We're already making excuses and spinning the undeniable fact that these elections are not going to be truly free or fair. Jokes aside, that is despicable, and it is disgraceful that Bush is getting away with it.

Ultimate snark

TBogg nails Ol' Helmet Hair:
American Idler

There was once a time when someone who failed so spectacularly in their job would have offered up a public apology and slunk off to a think tank where they could keep up the pretense of thinking with the other Not-Ready-for-Public-Consumption Players. But no. Condoleeza now gets the opportunity to continue to fail upward and, in an amazing feat of physics, drag us down with her. And because she has the full weight of George the Conqueror (who has an army and he's not afraid to use it) behind her, countries that know better will actually have to listen to her, nod knowingly, and pretend that she is good at what she does, making her the Pia Zadora of the State Department.

We should be embarrassed, We should hide our heads in shame that we are so unserious about our place in the world. But when the world is already laughing at our headliner, who's really going to pay attention to the lounge act?

Back to the...past

Thank you very large, Congress, for protecting me from the evils of bad language and Janet Jackson's nipple. Ooh, I was so frightened! I was shaking in my boots! I was shitting my pants (I can still say "shit" on the Internet, can't I?) Now I'm safe! Thank you!
US 'to raise TV indecency fines'

US politicians are proposing a tough new law aimed at cracking down on indecency and bad language on US TV.

Fines of up to $500,000 could be imposed each time broadcasters transmit nudity or profanities.

The proposal, unveiled in the House of Representatives, also seeks to revoke a broadcaster's licence after three violations have been committed.

The exposure of Janet Jackson's breast at last year's Superbowl landed CBS with a $550,000 fine.

Entertainers could also be liable for fines under the proposed legisation from both US politcians and officials from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

A Republican senator from Kansas, Sam Brownbeck, is set to call for a maximum $3 million fine for repeated violations.

The current maximum fine stands at $32,500 - 20 of the stations in the CBS network were each penalised these lesser amounts for the Jackson incident.

Republican politician Fred Upton, who chairs the committee responsible for broadcasting, said current fines are "more of a cost of doing business rather than a deterrent".

Last year's Janet Jackson 'wardrobe malfunction' encouraged the FCC to impose tougher rules, but the US Congress adjourned last year without agreeing on a new level of fines.

New figures have to be decided before new legislation can be put before President Bush.

Certain broadcasters, like Fox, claim the material they carry does not violate indecency laws and is protected under the right to free speech.
Corporations can maim and kill and get away with it. Railroads can permit accident after accident at unprotected grade crossings and be minimally fined. Congress wants to let polluters poison the air and water. Global warming threatens us all. And none of that matters.

But bad words and tits - Congress is on the case!

I feel so...1950s.

Egg and egg-xactitude

(With apologies to Blackadder the Third for ripping off their title format.)

Tonight, Bravo reran the episode of The West Wing from a couple of years ago in which C. J. spends the entire episode talking about how the vernal equinox means you can balance an egg on its end, and everyone else ridicules her notion. At the end, someone quotes this line from Phil Plait's famous Bad Astronomy site, "This has to be one of the silliest misconceptions around, and it never seems to die."
Standing an egg on end on the Spring Equinox

Bad Astronomy: Only on the day of the Vernal (spring) Equinox, can you stand a raw egg on its end.

Good astronomy: If you can stand a raw egg on end, it has nothing to do with the Equinox.


I mentioned above that I had a working theory about the bumps on the bottom of the egg acting as stool legs. The past tense is important! I recently received an email from Lisa Vincent, who teaches at the Mancelona Middle School in Mancelona, Michigan. She and her class decided to test the egg-myth for themselves, and had her students try it on October 16, 1999 (coincidentally, almost exactly a year after the images above were taken).

Not only did they get eggs to balance, but they got them to balance on their short ends! This is a feat I have never been able to reproduce. For proof, they sent me images of their eggs, which I present here. Note that the eggs are indeed standing on their short ends. Incidentally, Ms. Vincent told me the eggs remained standing for over a month. Usually a random vibration would knock an egg over, but in the image it looks to me like they were standing on a standard high school chemistry class work table and sink, which are designed to be very sturdy. That was a good choice!

The beauty of the Mancelona kids' work is that they showed me what science means: sometimes you have to abandon a theory when a better one comes along.

Bottom line: if an egg stands on end, it would do it at any time, and not just at the equinox. The equinox has nothing to do with it. And here's a good rule: if you see it on your local news, ask yourself, did that make sense? Is there any way I can prove or disprove that myself? Sometimes it pays to question the national news as well.

Congratulations! Once you do this, you will be on the road to rational thinking. As Richard Feynman said, "Science is a way for us to not fool ourselves."
There's nothing earth-shaking here, just one more bit of evidence for and argument on behalf of rationalism and the scientific method. Which, these days, need every bit of argument they can get.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Bobo gets "Sticky"

And if that thought isn't enough to cause mass suicides, then nothing is.
The Sticky Ladder


In his Inaugural Address President Bush embraced the grandest theme of American foreign policy - the advance of freedom around the world. Now that attention is turning to the State of the Union address, it would be nice if he would devote himself as passionately to the grandest theme of domestic policy - social mobility.

The United States is a country based on the idea that a person's birth does not determine his or her destiny. Our favorite stories involve immigrants climbing from obscurity to success. Our amazing work ethic is predicated on the assumption that enterprise and effort lead to ascent. "I hold the value of life is to improve one's condition," Lincoln declared.

The problem is that in every generation conditions emerge that threaten to close down opportunity and retard social mobility. Each generation has to reopen the pathways to success.

Today, for example, we may still believe American society is uniquely dynamic, but we're deceiving ourselves. European societies, which seem more class riven and less open, have just as much social mobility as the United States does.

And there are some indications that it is becoming harder and harder for people to climb the ladder of success. The Economist magazine gathered much of the recent research on social mobility in America. The magazine concluded that the meritocracy is faltering: "Would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap."

Economists and sociologists do not all agree, but it does seem there is at least slightly less movement across income quintiles than there was a few decades ago. Sons' income levels correlate more closely to those of their fathers. The income levels of brothers also correlate more closely. That suggests that the family you were born into matters more and more to how you will fare in life. That's a problem because we are not supposed to have a hereditary class structure in this country.

At the top end of society we have a mass upper-middle class. This is made up of highly educated people who move into highly educated neighborhoods and raise their kids in good schools with the children of other highly educated parents. These kids develop wonderful skills, get into good colleges (the median family income of a Harvard student is now $150,000), then go out and have their own children, who develop the same sorts of wonderful skills and who repeat the cycle all over again.

In this way these highly educated elites produce a paradox - a hereditary meritocratic class.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush is no doubt going to talk about his vision of an ownership society. But homeownership or pension ownership is only part of a larger story. The larger story is the one Lincoln defined over a century ago, the idea that this nation should provide an open field and a fair chance so that all can compete in the race of life.

Today that's again under threat, but this time from barriers that are different than the ones defined by socialists in the industrial age. Now, the upper class doesn't so much oppress the lower class. It just outperforms it generation after generation. Now the crucial inequality is not only finance capital, it's social capital. Now it is silly to make a distinction between economic policy and social policy.

President Bush spoke grandly and about foreign policy last Thursday, borrowing from Lincoln. Lincoln's other great cause was social mobility. That's worth embracing too.
Of course, George W. Bush is precisely a beneficiary of the system Brooks decries - "the top end of society we have a mass upper-middle class. This is made up of highly educated people who move into highly educated neighborhoods and raise their kids in good schools with the children of other highly educated parents." Not that Bush has those "wonderful skills" Brooks extols, but you get the picture.

In any case, saying "the crucial inequality is not only finance capital, it's social capital" is kind of silly when you've just said that money talks, the lower class walks. But a sensible consistency is never the hobgoblin of Bobo's mind.

We have this system because the political class is more and more owned by the hereditary meritocracy and they are experts at calling the tune and getting everyone to dance. They want their kids to have most of the chances to run the future and they will do almost anything for their kids (except, you know, actually spending time with them and raising them). And, since they own the media or are bigwigs in the media (Tim Russert, for example, or - hey! - David Brooks!), they can make it sound like they deserve their enormous salaries and privileged positions.

And then Bobo, who just a few weeks ago was extolling the middle classes and lower middle classes for their exemplary fecundity and their devotion to their proliferating progeny, now castigates his wealthy next-door neighbors for hogging all the places in Harvard's Class of 2027. As if all those fertile exurban mothers even want their kids to abandon the Red States for Harvard; or as if they should, in Bobo's mythology.

Social mobility is a good thing, like genetic diversity. And Brooks is right, America is becoming a closed society at the top. But Brooks acts like this is a natural but regrettable development instead of a deliberate choice by those at the top (on both sides of the aisle, to be sure, Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike) to pull up the ladder behind them. And as if George W. Bush is not the avatar of that closed society. Brooks could at least have the decency, to say nothing of the honesty, to admit this.

The vast leftwing blogging conspiracy gangs up on poor li'l Alberto Gonzalez

Kos wants bloggers to jump on the bandwagon in opposing Alberto Gonzales for Attorney-General.

Zum befehl! (:::clicks heels:::)

(Okay, bad metaphor. Bad bad metaphor! No biscuit!)


I have previously posted, "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."

Hard as it may be for anyone to believe that it is possible for an Attorney-General to be worse than John Ashcroft, that may be the case with Alberto Gonzales. Ashcroft was a Senator (before being defeated by a dead man). He was a religious fanatic and a source of ridicule, as well as an evil man for his downgrading of our civil liberties, but he did not ruin our reputation overseas (probably and only because he didn't get a chance to).

Alberto Gonzales is as responsible as anyone else for the fact that America is the Chile-under-Pinochet of the new millennium. His memos justifying torture, however he and his many apologists may try to spin them otherwise, have seriously trashed anyone's confidence in our devotion to the rule of law and the laws of war. An Attorney-General who disdains his own committment to international treaties of which the United States is a signatory cannot possibly be trusted to enforce all the nation's laws fairly and without prejudice or deference to politics. He can argue as much as he wants that he was giving the president private advice, but lawyers are officers of the court and may not, under any circumstances, advise their clients on how to avoid or break the law.

Alberto Gonzales is, superficially, an attractive man with a heartwarming story of upward mobility from poverty. However, what he really is, is George W. Bush's consigliere as well as just one more among a truly astounding number of people who have ridden the tail of the kite that is George W. Bush his entire life, enabling this weak, spoiled wastrel to escape the consequences of his endless and sordid string of misdeeds and screw-ups. He is not going to be able to do the right thing (assuming, and I know it's a stretch, that he would want to do so or even recognize the right thing if he saw it) if and when Bush wants him to do the wrong thing. Gonzales is basically a lawyer who becomes his client's co-conspirator.

There is nothing in his background that qualifies him to be the Senate-confirmed Attorney-General of the United States of America. In Texas, he enabled Bush to assent to over 150 executions, many of people who received horribly inadequate defenses at their trials. And, we have his learned legal memos on behalf of torture. The world waits, and we are about to show them that we spit in their faces.

Not that the Republican-controlled Senate will under any circumstances fail to confirm him. But the Democrats do not have to roll over and give them an easy win. The idea that a President has an absolute right to an uncontested Cabinet is not only absurd but absent from the Constitution. A President has a right to name a congenial Cabinet, but only with "the advice and consent" of the Senate. That does not mean he can name just anyone he wants, however unqualified - or even however qualified - if there are serious reasons for a Senator to vote no.

The Democrats can't derail Gonzales, but he is going to derail himself someday (see my post above). When that happens, the Democrats should and are going to want to be able to say that they saw it coming and tried to prevent it from happening. It takes guts to be a successful opposition, and this is the best possible place to start.

What we have here is a failure to think things through

One of the (many) problems I have with right-wingers is their inability or unwillingness to really perceive the implications of their positions.

From a letter to today's New York Times:
Iraqis' Chance to Rule Themselves

To the Editor:

In "Divided We Stand," Thomas L. Friedman once again expresses support for the coming Iraqi elections while simultaneously criticizing the Bush administration for its tactics and strategy. But even the most vehement Bush critics have to acknowledge that the opportunity for Iraqis to vote exists only because of George W. Bush.
So, George W. Bush will be invading Saudi Arabia next, then, right? After all, don't Saudis deserve the same opportunity to vote that Iraqis do?

:::snorts derisively:::

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