Saturday, July 30, 2005

It Changes You

When you're getting ready to have a child, people always tell you it's going to change you. And you say you know, realizing that you don't know. This happens so often that not only is it cliche to tell someone children are going to change them, but it's cliche to describe it as I just have. It's such a cliche it's become a meta-cliche.

But to get a bit Rumsfeldian on you, even though you know you don't really know, you really don't know how much you really don't know.

I was watching a movie tonight - a movie, not something happening in real life - called Rabbit Proof Fence. It's a very fine movie, and I recommend people see it. But as a new father I had some trouble sitting through it. It did something to me that I've never experienced before.

There is a scene near the beginning of a movie where a woman's children are being taken from her, essentially kidnapped by the Australian government. I'm not sure I can describe it in great detail. She's struggling to prevent the children being taken, and the woman who plays the mother is very effective, very realistic in her portrayal. I won't try to go beyond that. You should see it.

As I'm sitting watching this with my wife, with my daughter sleeping safely in the next room, for the first few seconds of the scene it's almost as if I'm outside my body, looking down and wondering why I'm not having an emotional reaction. I feel like I should probably be feeling something, some emotion. But I don't. The emotional part of my mind feels blank, like a piece of slate that's been worn down by water.

And as I'm beginning to wonder why I'm not having an emotional reaction, I feel my mouth drawing into a grimace. Still I feel nothing consciously. But my mouth is acting strange, and physically I feel almost as if I might scream. It occurs to me at that moment how silly that is, the idea that I might scream. I almost want to laugh at myself.

But then I start to get a little frightened, because I'm afraid I might actually start to scream. If I scream it will scare my wife, and it will wake the baby. And besides, there's nothing to scream about. I'm just sitting in my house, watching a movie, like I do several nights a week these days.

At this point a low sound begins to come out of my mouth through clenched teeth. It's the sound you might make if you had just awakened to find yourself struggling against tight bindings. I feel a panic rising in my chest. For an excruciating instant I have no idea what I might do next.

Suddenly, mercifully, the scene is over, and the panic begins to ebb. It is replaced quickly by a white-hot rage. I cannot say for certain that if by some chance I had run into the actor who played the man who took the children at that moment, I would not have had to be restrained from trying to kill him.

I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have no idea how I would have acted in that situation. My logical and rational faculties were still present at that moment; I was able to think consciously that none of what I was reacting to was real. But those logical faculties did not at that moment seem to be in the driver's seat.

What this subjective experience allows me to understand, though of course I couldn't prove it, is that having a child somehow rewires your brain in ways that run far deeper than what I would have imagined. There will be moments in my life when I am unable to react in any way other than as a father.

And lest you think this has nothing to do with the usual subject matter of this blog, let me say this. In the next few months the Pentagon is almost certainly finally going to have to release the totality of the photographs and videotape of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison. If Sy Hersh is to be believed, and I for one believe him, some of the worst of the abuse was visited upon Iraqi teenagers and pre-pubescent boys. According to Hersh, on one of the tapes you can hear a boy screaming.

If this is true, I cannot imagine what horrors will be visited upon us by those Iraqis who knew and loved these boys. Hopefully, for the sake of peace, they will find some way to forgive us.

But I doubt it.

Friday, July 29, 2005

On a Similar Note

I had, until just now, missed this comment from someone named Max Harris, in response to my question as to whether we can all agree that an unprovoked nuclear attack on Iran should be off the table. Max's answer, in short, is no.

Max Harris said...
End States Who Sponsor Terrorism

It would not be an unprovoked attack. (Hostages, Beirut attack on American marines), huge state and intellectual sponsor of terrorism.)

States like Iran have no right to exist. Wiping Nazi Germany off the map was a moral action; erasing Theocratic Iran out would be just as good and moral.

There you have it.

Gunslingers, Partisan and Otherwise

One thing I argue a lot about with other liberals, including my lovely and talented wife, who is also the sainted mother of my child and all-around urban goddess*, is the concept of left-leaning people who "make us look bad" to the American electorate by saying or doing things that are or could be perceived as being overly partisan, or even downright stupid.

My belief is that this consideration is for the most part a fabrication of the right, which is accepted by many on the left because of our characteristic pessimism on the question of whether "our" beliefs and ideas are palatable in the mainstream.

I have always believed that this idea, promoted aggressively by GOP-lite corporate Democratic organizations who want to dampen the enthusiasm and activity of the party's left-leaning electoral base, is best refuted by holding up the numerous completely outrageous things that right-wingers consistently say and do in the full light of dawn, which never seem to cause the Republican party (or conservatives generally) much harm in the public arena.

I have seen very few examples of this phenomenon that are as clear as this one brought to us by Tom Tomorrow. A Fox News commentator had this to say on the subject of the unarmed Brazilian shot dead by British police last week:


Yes, al Qaeda found a Brazilian guy and sent him to England wearing a jean jacket, knowing he would be chased by police, in an effort to attract sympathy for global militant islam.

Yet liberals are concerned that opposing John Roberts will make us look bad.


Oh, and on the "otherwise" tip, there is a passage in one of Stephen King's Dark Tower books that I always liked as a kid, where King informs us that Roland's mother doesn't tuck him in at night because "all gunslingers must face the night alone" or some such.

This always seemed very Romantic to me, especially since I often wish half-heartedly that my own upbringing had been characterized by a little more sternness.

However, all the Romanticism was drained from the concept last night as we finally decided the little monkey herself, at six months, is ready to face the night alone and cry herself to sleep when she awakens.

The result was one excruciating hour of listening to baby shrieks from the next room in 15 minute bursts (interspersed with listening to baby shrieks from right next to the baby, which is strangely easier), an excellent night of sleep, and a crippling feeling of guilt upon awakening.

Which, if you've never had kids, may sound vexing. But if you're a parent you know - any time a good night's sleep is on one side of the ledger, the other side's got some serious catching up to do. This one is, I'm ashamed to say, a slam dunk.

*on the advice of a married fellow blogger, this terminology has replaced "the wife",

Friday, July 22, 2005

Read This, Then Pretend You Didn't

That's what I did. From the American Conservative via Whiskey Bar.

The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons.
Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States.

Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing -- that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack -- but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.

Uhhhhh, WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!? Can we all agree, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, that an unprovoked nuclear attack on Iran should be off the table?

Speaking of Lying...

Bloomberg is reporting that a "senior administration official" (Washington-speak for "Colin Powell") saw Ari Fleischer looking at a document that detailed Valerie Plame's identity and covert status while Fleischer and "senior official" were on a plane to Africa.

Ari told the grand jury that he had not seen the document. So now Ari has a big problem.

One thing I'd like to say, not so much in defense of Ari as in criticism of Powell (if he is the source) is that it's really cowardly to accuse someone of lying without allowing the publication you're accusing them in to use your name. Now if this were some low-level staffer, I could understand to some degree. But a "senior official" is a made guy. No matter what he says, he's never going to get whacked or even to be wanting for a livelihood.

So there's no excuse for the anonymity of this accusation. Which, contrary to what the administration's defenders will say, in no way suggests that Fleischer did not in fact perjure himself, which I think we can say he almost certainly did.

Why do I say that? Well, unless my understanding of this plane ride is way off, the smear campaign against Wilson was Topic A among the political people on the plane, which emphatically does include Fleischer. So his claim that he never saw the official playbook on how to attack Wilson's credibility doesn't pass the laugh test.

That goes for Rove, too. The idea that these guys were on this plane and there was this document there that everyone now seems to know about, and which was being passed around, and the two guys who are arguably the two most important political operatives in the White House did not see it, well, that just isn't credible.

And it appears now that there is someone, currently anonymous, who was on the plane and who is willing to call these guys out. If that someone winds up (or already wound up) in front of Fitzgerald's grand jury and testifies that Rove and Fleischer saw a memo they swear they didn't see, indictments will be a slam dunk (conviction is another matter.)

Some Interesting Loose Ends in the Leak Case

Recently a reader (who, like most of my readers, is also a dear friend) asked me why I hadn't written much of anything about the Plame case. As those who were readers of that other blog may recall, I was hot on the trail of this story back when it first broke, and in fact made lots of fairly wild predictions about the consequences that have yet to come true.

This last fact is probably what has kept me more or less silent on the matter during this new flare-up of the controversy. I frankly am a little snakebit by the whole thing. It did not occur to me at the time that it might take two years for prosecutors to investigate the matter, or that during that entire time the media would basically take a dive on investigating it.

Those of us who followed the case closely knew at the time that the Plame leak was probably the most significant political story since Iran/Contra, or at least that it was the key event in that story. The fact that no one seemed interested in talking about it fed into a lot of defeatism (at least on my part) about the corporate press being in the pocket of the administration.

One thing I think I'm coming to understand now is that the main reason no one wanted to cover this story originally is that covering this story is really hard. It's complex, there is a lot of information you simply cannot get, and the only real way to produce large amounts of copy on it is either to speculate wildly or to go Gonzo, basically writing stories about trying to get the story.

So now that Rove and Libby have been outed as at least being involved in the spreading of Plame's name, the White House is sending folks out to give quotes about it and it becomes easier to write stories on it again. Perhaps when this is all over we can use this as a case study of what is wrong with the media as it operates today. It's clear to me now the main problem is not one of bias but one of basic competency, and to some degree of conflict of interest (conflict between the reporter's interest in informing her reader today and her need to get information from government officials to inform the reader tomorrow.)

There is a big campaign on the right currently to make this whole thing seem like much ado about nothing. However, David Corn has pointed out that the investigation has reached a point where somebody will have to be indicted for perjury at the very least, since Rove, Libby, Matt Cooper and Tim Russert have given materially contradictory testimony to the grand jury.

In other words, somebody lied under oath.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Meme I'm Tired Of

I think of myself basically as a partisan operative first and a journalist second. Maybe not even journalist second. Humorist second, then probabaly some other stuff, and journalist, say, ninth. Point being I don't often write the sort of thing I'm about to write.


He said "Africa." Now, this was almost certainly weaselly. The WH never did explain just what part of Africa they meant. And it seems very likely that the claim was based on the Niger intelligence which was known to be false.

But to say, over and over, as so many liberal blogs have (including Think Progress today) that Bush said in the 2003 SOTU that Saddam tried to buy Uranium from Niger just contributes to confusion. When a person learning about this for the first time goes out into the world and repeats the claim, an informed conservative will tell them that phrase wasn't in the SOTU and make the person feel stupid.

Conservative sites can get away with chumping their readers consistently. They attract and retain, shall we say, a certain type of core reader. Lefty blogs, with the probable exception of some extremely shrill sites on the very fringe, cannot get away with this. If we chump our readers they will stop listening to us.

This is a blessing we should not squander.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Celebrity Press Corps

The Daily Howler has a shocking piece this week about Jon Meacham's astonishing performance on Imus this weekend.

For those who don't know, Jon Meacham is the Managing Editor of Newsweek magazine. In a meritocracy, the managing editor of one of the nation's premier weekly news glossies would be one of the most informed people in the country. He would be a rabid consumer of all kinds of news from all sources, keeping constantly abreast of every possible nuance to every important story across the entire spectrum of the media landscape.

In our system, the managing editor of Newsweek is apparently a total moron.

Meacham went on the radio this weekend and ranted about how the CIA sent Joseph Wilson on a trip to Niger in 2003, after the start of the Iraq war. If indeed the CIA had waited until after a war had begun before sending someone to investigate one of the central claims that underlay the rationale behind that war, that would definitely be worth getting upset about. The only trouble is, Joseph Wilson's Niger mission occurred in 2002, well before the Iraq war.

Meacham nonetheless said the following with a straight face:

IMUS: Who asked them to do it [send Wilson on the trip], the CIA?

MEACHAM: Well, they were trying—remember, everything was falling apart. So they’ve got to—now, one would hope that they would have undertaken this, done their homework before we had begun a war based partly on this. But things were beginning to very explicitly disintegrate and these documents were—it turned out they’d been faxed through Italy, remember this?—on the uranium. So I think it came out—it probably came out of the CIA, which is supposed to vet all of this.

There's nothing more really to be said about this shocking level of ignorance about a key story that not only is his magazine covering, but which he is on the radio to offer his "expert" opinion about. But is it any wonder that the RNC can run rings around the news media, filling it with all kinds of crap, when the people who are supposed to run things are this stupid?

Picture, Meet Thousand Words



Maybe Bush should fire himself. Rove's making him look bad, but not nearly as bad as he looks all by his own self.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


A good long while ago the Poor Man had an excellent post about what drives people to listen to Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, the National Review, Powerline, Newsmax, etc., and to continue to listen to these people despite being lied to consistently over the course of many years.

For a great many people, the problem simply has to do with not wanting to feel like a huge chump. Now, in a rational world, a desire not to feel like a huge chump would not motivate people to continually get chumped over and over by the same set of people. However, we recall here that the easiest (though not the best) way to avoid feeling like a chump is to simply ignore all evidence that one has been chumped.

Part of the genius of the ConWeb is the constant encouragement they give their readers/viewers/listeners to simply ignore and/or forget the obvious and myriad ways in which they have been clearly chumped by the ConWeb. It's a great system, but one would imagine it would be somewhat fragile.

What if, for example, an issue were to arise that was so important to the ConWeb that its luminaries were forced to beat their audience over the head with the fact that they were being chumped, even in real time?

Well, apparently at least some sizable percentage of this population posesses powers of chumpification that exceed anything I could have ever imagined. Consider if you will this embarrassing fact from a recent Gallup poll - in 2003, 91 percent of people thought that whoever had outed a CIA operative should lose his or her job. The number now is still a large majority - 76%. But what happened during the last two years to change the minds of those 15%?

What happened, of course, is that the media outlets these folks listen to have succeeded in convinving these folks that in fact the outing of a CIA operative for partisan political gain is no big deal. And really, not only have they convinced these folks to feel this way, but they've convinced them that they felt that way all along. My guess is that you could not find a single person who would admit to having changed his or her mind on the question, yet we see clearly in the numbers that millions of people have done just that.

After this scandals comes to its conclusion, no matter what becomes of the scandal, it will be highly likely in my mind that these 15% of Americans will never accept that they have been chumped. Just like the folks that still insist that the U.S. really was winning the Vietnam War until lily-livered liberals secretly took the starch out of Nixon's underwear, or those who will still swear on a stack of Bibles that Watergate was just some cheap Democratic frame-up, the minds of these people are impervious to fact.

Come to think of it, I guess those are probably all pretty much the same people.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Oh, Dana

For all those who hold out some hope that Washington reporters are getting fed up with constantly having circles run around them by the Bush PR team, behold this astonishing summary of the situation by Dana Milbank:

Washington, D.C.: What odds would you give at this point that this will lead to Rove's firing?

Dana Milbank: My predictions are often comically off, but here goes: This is Karl Rove's town, and the rest of us -- President Bush included -- are just living in it.

Yep. That just about covers it.

All of a Sudden

After two years, suddenly the White House is in all kinds of trouble over the Plame leak. The Press Gaggle yesterday was as brutal as any I've ever seen. If reporters are willing to continue to hammer away on this, it's going to drown out everything else. Watch the video (link at top right of the screen) to get a sense of how incredulous the reporters were that McClellan was willing to stand in front of them and just basically tell them over and over again to eat shit.

Question: Did Karl Rove commit a crime?
McClellan: Eat shit.
Question: You can't tell us to eat shit! We're the intrepid fourth estate, and no one can tell us to eat shit.
McClellan: Yes, but I believe I've addressed that question and I've made it clear that you should all eat shit.
Question: Will you at least make Karl Rove eat shit also?
McClellan: Well, you can continue to ask questions but I will simply continue to tell you to eat shit.
Question: I heard Karl Rove likes to eat shit. He uses it like gravy.
McClellan: Well, again I've addressed that and I think the best that I can tell you is that you're going to simply have to accept it and just go ahead and eat shit.
McClellan: Thank you.

That's a paraphrase, of course.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Next Big Lie In Iraq

I've been wanting to post about this for some time, and hadn't found the time to do the matter justice. Now today I've run across this article in the Guardian laying out much of what I wanted to say.

The piece is a lot shorter than I would prefer, and doesn't much get into specifics. But the author (an Iraqi exile) describes a viewpoint that is basically absent in the mainstream US discourse - that a US pullout from Iraq would not be likely to precipitate a major Iraqi civil war.

One thing that people are going to be shocked... SHOCKED by in twenty years when official documents start to become declassified with regard to the Iraq invasion is the degree to which bombings of civilians and civilian infrastucture were carried out by or with the cooperation of US forces in Iraq.

It's the sort of thing that's simply unimaginable to most people now, but if we look at the history of war we can easily see that if at least some small percentage of the violence against civilians in Iraq were not being perpetrated by the occupying army, it would be a major historical aberration. In Iraq, where of course everyone is insane and stupid, the majority view is that the bulk of the anti-Iraqi violence is perpetrated by the occupiers.

But (again if history is any guide) we won't be able to face this, except in dissident literature, for at least a generation.

Uncategorized Funny Thing of the Day (plus some depressing shit)

It often strikes me funny when I'm building a new destop machine that video driver installation programs always include an impressive splash screen designed to show off the wonderful qualities of the installed video adapter.

Since the program is only run when the video driver has yet to be installed, this presumably breathtaking graphic is only ever experienced by the end user as an unidentifiable purplish blob. Yet some person is drawing a salary creating these screens.

This is the sort of job that you'd feel like a bandit for scoring, until after five or six years of doing it you suddenly jumped off a bridge.

Speaking of which, I was listening to Elliot Smith's From a Basement on a Hill this weekend for probably the fifth time through, and in that way that albums do, it started to seep into my mind in such a way that I was able to start really listening to what he is saying on that record.

And what he is saying, unambiguously, over and over, is that he really wants to kill himself. He's tired of the whole mess and being in pain all the time and just wants it to be over.

And as I was listening to this record it was washing over me in waves these twin interpretations of this experience I was having, first "How beautiful and sad that he produced this wondrous record while in the throes of this inescapable, crippling depression" and then alternately "I'm such a shit for taking pleasure in this person basically chronicling his own descent into suicide."

Which is a false dichotomy, of course. It probably does say something negative about my character that this is the sort of music that really moves me, feeling this psychic connection with people in terrible pain. But at the same time, not listening to the record is not going to bring the guy back, or get him into heaven, or whatever.

And anyway, I can deal with some psychic pain, if it will slow down my higher brain...

[For those who are unfamiliar, Elliott Smith stabbed himself in the heart in his bathroom while recording From a Basement on a Hill. He was 34.]