February 6, 2008

Win one for the Zipper

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Gray Lady, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 11:00 pm

So, I voted for Obama.

I came to the decision on Monday, and became more comfortable with it as the day went on. I realized that, all else being equal—and it really is, for me—Clinton’s vote for the war pretty much trumps everything else, especially her claims to be more qualified than Obama. For instance, this letter to the Times, writing in favor of “experience,” makes a pretty good point…

J.F.K. was far more experienced than Mr. Obama, having served 14 years in Congress, winning a Pulitzer Prize and being a decorated war hero. But right after he was elected, the Bay of Pigs, one of the biggest military debacles in United States history, occurred.

…until you remember that Hillary Clinton voted for the biggest military debacle in United States history. I don’t know whether to believe the best or the worst about either Obama or Clinton, but what’s certain is that Clinton didn’t have either the foresight or the conviction to vote against the war, and Obama—facing much less pressure, yes—did. That gets him my support, for now.

But overall I’m enthusiastic about both candidates, which means that, having chosen one, I’ll gripe about him incessantly. I’m still skeptical about the Obama cult of personality—I’m not charmed by people who can only be bothered to vote in November if their Bestest Candidate is nominated, for instance—and every time I came across an ad hominem attack on Clinton before voting, I almost changed my mind and gave her my support instead. For instance, Maureen Dowd—never the most grounded of columnists—has completely lost her mind. If this column had been published on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, I would have voted for Clinton without a second’s hesitation. (More on that column here, here, and here, by the way.)

And now, the waiting game. I do believe that either of these candidates can beat John McCain in a walk, and that having more exposure due to a protracted contest will be good for the Democrats’ chances…unless one side goes negative or dirty and starts tearing the other down. (And yes, I know all the things Clinton is supposed to have done. No sale.) If they can keep the lovefest going to the convention, and avoid some ugly floor fight, we should be in good shape. Just ask Tomemos, the guy who predicts a Democratic victory in every single election.


May 5, 2007

The world is still glad to be rid of him

Filed under: The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 12:37 pm

As a liberal and a war opponent, it goes without saying that I’m a big fan of Saddam Hussein. Obviously there’s a lot to like there, but I guess if I had to choose I’d say that his creative, outside-the-box thinking is my favorite trait of his. For example, did you know that during his reign, medical schools were forbidden from issuing diplomas and transcripts, so that Iraqi doctors couldn’t get work outside of the country? I never would have thought of that. It’s that kind of nuance that makes labels like “brutal dictator” so unfair.

Luckily, his legacy is being kept alive by his political descendants, the current Iraqi administration:

BAGHDAD — Iraq is hemorrhaging doctors as violence racks the nation. To stem the flow, the Iraqi government has recently taken a cue from Saddam Hussein: Medical schools are once again forbidden to issue diplomas and transcripts to new graduates.

Hussein built a fine medical system in part by withholding doctors’ passports and diplomas. Although physicians can work in Iraq with a letter from a medical school verifying their graduation, they say they need certificates and transcripts to work abroad.

You have to admire politicians who are flexible enough to learn from their predecessors, even if it means taking yet another step back towards repressive dictatorship.

Link thanks to Atrios.

February 13, 2007

There ain’t no time to wonder why

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 4:28 pm

Updated 2/14/07, 6:20 p.m.

A month ago, I found myself depressed and terrified by a Glenn Greenwald post I read that laid out, in a way I found very convincing, the reasons to believe that the United States may be deliberately heading towards war with Iran. The article, like most of Greenwald’s work, is highly worth reading, but the salient points were:

•that a number of unambiguous signs, including military decisions and Bush’s own rhetoric, suggested that the Administration was attempting to make war with Iran both thinkable and possible;

•that the apparent insanity of such a war was no evidence that the Administration wouldn’t pursue it, as evinced by its decision to escalate the war in Iraq even after widespread repudiation; and,

•that Congress and the American people were not likely to have any say in the matter, since the Administration seemed to be maneuvering for an (apparently) accidental conflagaration; according to Greenwald, “some grand announcement by the President that he wants to start a war, followed by a debate in Congress as to whether such a war should be authorized” was “the least likely way for such a confrontation to occur.”

You can see why I found all of that frightening, and my first reaction to reading it was to blog about it. However, I didn’t want to be an alarmist, and it was hard to know if what Greenwald was saying was really credible, or if it just seemed so due to his strong writing and my anxious and dim view of neoconservative foreign policy. Plus, I didn’t really have much to add except to say that I was scared and frustrated. So all I ended up writing was the following disclamatory fragment:

“Of course, this is a worst-case scenario. There was a time, Julie reminded me, when the government and its mouthpieces was triumphantly signalling that we weren’t going to stop with Iraq; we were going to show Syria who was boss as well. (Of course, Syria was also mentioned in the speech last night.) There was a time where I linked to reports that Bush was pushing Saudi Arabia for lower gas prices and pushing Afghanistan and Pakistan for the capture of bin Laden in advance of the 2004 election; neither of those materialized. Never has an administration gotten so much enjoyment out of bragging about the things it can do, whether it does them or not, and my hope is certainly that that’s what this amounts to. Nevertheless, given the enormous stakes involved—we may be talking about war consuming the entire Middle East for generations, war that could well involve the use of nuclear weapons—even the idea that the Administration may be keeping the option of war with Iran on the table is more than alarming, it’s outrageous. And the fact that there is nothing we can do about it, even after we elected a whole new Congress, makes me feel helpless and afraid.”

In the month that’s passed since then, the President has unilaterally sent 20,000 more troops to Iraq and once again accused Iran of aiding insurgents, this time in the State of the Union address. The Administration, in a flashback to 2002, has been asserting Iran’s culpability through anonymous sources, and the New York Times has published those untraceable assertions on its front page. Newsweek has published a cover story entitled “The Secret War with Iran.” And a Republican Congressman, speaking on national television (scroll down a bit), has said that not only should Congress not take war with Iran “off the table” (echoing my unpublished hand-wringing above), but that the President, and not Congress, has the power to declare war.

Maybe it’s not going to happen.

But I will say that if it does happen, they’re not going to give us warning this time. We’re not going to hear about weapons inspectors or deadlines; Condi Rice is not going to address the UN holding white powder in a vial. It will be the Tonkin Gulf again: we will wake up one morning and read that Iran has struck (or allegedly struck) in Iraq, or that the Administration has decided that the Iranian government has been building insurgent bombs, or that the line has been crossed in any one of a thousand different ways. And the bombers will already be in the air.

Update: Here comes another one, here it comes again, here comes another one, when will it ever end: Bush now says that it doesn’t matter whether or not whether the Iranian government has been supplying the insurgents (“What’s worse?  That the government knew, or that the government didn’t know?”—actual quote), and says, “I intend to do something about it.”  Note that “I.”

December 2, 2006

It’s back, it’s way back, it hit a guy in the back

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Game of Base, Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 5:08 am

Happy December! I have a post in mind about my wacky travel adventures, but it’s really late right now. So instead I will link to two blog posts I read recently that I think are absolute home runs. One of them, funnily enough, is about baseball.

To begin with the non-baseball one: please, go read this post by Glenn Greenwald on New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Read it, read it, read it. You should particularly read it if, like me:

1) you opposed the war from the beginning,
2) you felt, during the lead-up to war, betrayed by the supposedly liberal media’s failure to report calmly and objectively about the merits of the administration’s plans and claims,
3) you have felt, over the last two years, increasingly frustrated that no one will acknowledge that being anti-war was the sensible position from the beginning, and that therefore those who opposed the war have more credibility than those who supported it.

Greenwald shows that the media establishment has worked like gangbusters to suggest that, even though the war had gone to hell—who knew that Bush would screw it up?—they were right to support it, and that no matter what it’s still unrealistic to leave. The whole thing is great, but here’s a part that felt particularly true to me:

It is not merely the case that having been pro-war doesn’t count as a strike against anyone. That is accurate. But far worse, the opposite is also true. It is still the case in Establishment Washington that having been pro-war in the first place is a pre-requisite to being considered a “responsible, serious” foreign policy analyst. And having been anti-war from the start is the hallmark of someone unserious. The pro-war Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are serious national security Democrats but Russ Feingold, Nancy Pelosi and Jack Murtha are the kind of laughable losers whom Democrats need to repudiate.

This is not just about me and other war opponents getting in our “I told you so” (though it’s that, too; given that it was only a year after 9/11, we were sticking our neck out; I particularly remember taking the Metrolink into New York and hearing two firemen talking about how protesters had a “short memory”). It’s about who in the government and in the media we trust to lead our country, and how. What’s driven me crazy, as the war has become not just a disaster but an acknowledged disaster, is that the myth of universal support for the war, perpetuated by the Bush administration (“Everyone thought there were weapons!”) has not only been blithely accepted; it’s been actively encouraged, by those who supported the war and don’t want to admit they were wrong. Those of us who did oppose it—well, whatever, we were a bunch of hippies and intifada-lovers who would have opposed any war.

What I love about Greenwald’s article is that he absolutely nails something I had never been able to put my finger on before: why discussions of how the Democrats need to be (or at least appear) “serious about national security” drive me absolutely bonkers. As used in these debates, “serious” means “hawkish” (or “subservient to the ruling party”): the implication is that those who don’t want war are pie-in-the-sky idealists who while those who do want it don’t really want it, they just know what has to be done and by gum they are going to roll up their sleeves and do it. (Hence the hawk’s eternal riposte: “Well, what’s your solution?”) Now, it has transpired that the real delusional ones, the ones who believed that Iraq could be turned into Luxembourg with moxie and a small invasion force, were leading America into a catastrophe—which millions of people already knew—and yet there is still this idea that the pundits were right to be wrong, and that whether politicians voted to send America to its worst foreign policy blunder ever is irrelevant to whether they should still be trusted with American money and lives. When we wonder why we always forget the lessons of history, we usually chalk it up to a simple failure of memory. That’s part of it, but there’s always an active aspect of it: in order to learn a lesson, someone has to admit they were wrong, and power and influence is always much more interested in covering its ass.

* * *

Now, to baseball: I’ve been waiting for the right time to link to Fire Joe Morgan, and though it might seem strange that that time would come in the dead of the offseason, the bad sports journalism that the site skewers is always around. Unlike most of the “Fire Public Figure” sites, FJM has a more general mission (actually, they say they don’t really care about getting Joe Morgan fired): to insist on the reasonable use of statistics and empiricism to assess baseball players, rather than mumbo-jumbo about heart, character, hustle, and all of that. Any sports fan is familiar with the proliferation of cliches in sports writing—hey, it’s hard to write about 162 games in a unique and interesting way—but even I have been amazed at some of the soft and hokey (and, in other cases, derisive and mean) writing that they find, and invariably destroy. Here’s my favorite quote from the post that finally got me to give the link, a roast of Wallace Matthews’s “Meditations on Jeter” (Matthews’s text in bold:

I know, the MVP is not supposed to be a lifetime achievement award, but it’s not supposed to be a stats competition, either.

Amen. Stats can’t capture Jeter’s essence. He’s more than a ballplayer. If you wanted to describe the most beautiful songbird in the world singing a Mozart sonata to an innocent child, would you use numbers to do so?

Go back and look through the archives, if it’s your kind of thing. It’s like MST3K for sports nerds.

November 6, 2006

We have never been at war with Eurasia

Filed under: The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 10:35 am

That’s a novel fucking approach:

An ABC News undercover investigation showed Army recruiters telling students that the war in Iraq was over, in an effort to get them to enlist.

ABC News and New York affiliate WABC equipped students with hidden video cameras before they visited 10 Army recruitment offices in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“Nobody is going over to Iraq anymore?” one student asks a recruiter.

“No, we’re bringing people back,” he replies.

“We’re not at war. War ended a long time ago,” another recruiter says.

Everyone’s going to remember to vote tomorrow, yes?

(courtesy of Sadly, No!)

September 26, 2006

It was all on the cover of Newsweek

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 1:52 am

Requiring little comment:

Newsweek around the world.

September 16, 2006

They say compassion is a virtue, but I don’t have the time

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 11:06 am

One thing I’ve added to this blog that wasn’t on the Raptor one is a links section for the political blogs I go to. I added them because I visit them regularly, because some of them are really interesting to read, and because I think the netroots movement is an important one that has the potential to revitalize the progressive movemnt. Funnily, though, I’ve added these just as I’ve started to recognize some doubts about left-wing blogging that have recently come to a head.

The big controversy in the lefty blogs a couple weeks ago was the ABC dramatization on the years leading up to 9/11. The controversy was that the show suggested that hesitation and incompetence in the Clinton administration helped Osama bin Laden escape capture, leading him to plan the most infamous terrorist attack in history. The blogs’ position, predictably, was that this was another case of the media being hijacked by right-wing ideology, and bloggers got people to call and deluge with petitions ABC, Disney, and just about anyone who supported or was insufficiently scathing about the show. Somehow, I just couldn’t get particularly worked up about it, so the week was essentially a break from political blogs. I agree that the show was bad news, but something like 25 entries in three days at Daily Kos seems a little excessive when you’re talking about television. (Yes, I did write an entry on Veronica Mars last week; why do you ask?) After all, if we’re going to ridicule the right-wingers who got the Reagan biopic taken off CBS, we may not want to attack this sort of thing with all guns blazing.

But mainly, the lefty-blog outrage over this television event was a contrast to last July, when most of these same blogs were utterly silent about the Israel-Hezbollah war. At that time, I started to wonder why no one was discussing it, and as if on cue Kos posted an article, “Why I won’t write about Israel/Palestine/Lebanon Fighting”, which explained a lot, perhaps more than he meant it to. The relevant excerpt:

It’s clear that in the Middle East, no one is sick of the fighting. They have centuries of grudges to resolve, and will continue fighting until they can get over them. And considering that they obviously have no interest in “getting over them”, we’re stuck with a war that will not end in any forseable future. It doesn’t matter what we bloggers say. It doesn’t matter what the President of the United States says. Or the United Nations. Or the usual bloviating gasbag pundits.

When two sides are this dead-set on killing each other, very little can get in the way.

Now, this is very unhelpful. It’s almost an encyclopedia of unhelpfulness, and it’s difficult to know where to begin. It’s arrogant and condescending, basically to the point of racism (“oh, you know those Semites—they love getting blown up!”), assuming that since factions on both side are committed to violence, the entire populace is “dead-set on killing each other.” In Europe, that kind of thinking is why American travelers put Canadian flags on their backpags: everyone figures that of course all Americans support the war. The post is fatalistic—if it doesn’t matter what anyone does or says to avert or quell the violence, then efforts at negotiations aren’t even worth the cost of the plane tickets, and we should just save our interest and help for nations that aren’t having problems. And it is extremely simplistic. The violence in the Middle East is not just a bunch of people who are mad at each other; there are many concrete local and international issues that contribute to the animosity and violence, and these can be addressed in other ways than simply waiting for all the violent ones to kill each other. (Did the people of Northern Ireland stop killing each other because they got bored?) This reductionism (is there a noun form of “simplistic”?) is the post’s most damning problem, because it does the very opposite of what commentary and analysis are supposed to do: make complicated issues more comprehensible through the use of insight and reason. All this is is an argument for ignorant pessimism.

And the reason this post has stuck with me so long is that, reading it, I belatedly realized how simplistic and closed-minded the political blogs I read are. Certainly no one else I read was quite as crass as Kos about the issue, which fits my profile of him; while I think Kos is sometimes a good writer, he shares with George Bush a defiant pride in his own ignorance (he once titled an entry, “Who is Garrison Keillor, and why is he such an asshole?”). Nonetheless, it is true that left-wing bloggers by and large did not touch Lebanon. Atrios never said anything about it that I remember. The catalyst of Kos’s entry is Kevin Drum’s explanation of why he won’t discuss the matter, in which he gives mostly the same reasons (albeit more diplomatically) that Kos does. (Billmon is a notable exception to this; he blogged about the war daily, usually very well.)

I’d love to believe in an innate difference between left-wing and right-wing blogs, but I have to conclude that, whether they’re on the left or the right, political bloggers want simple narratives. Kos’s aggressive reductionism in describing the Middle East betrays his real reason for not writing about it: it’s way too complicated for his purposes. Neither party in the US, and (as far as I can tell) no faction in the Middle East, has a workable solution in mind, and all of the sides in the conflict have plenty of blood on their hands. These bloggers want something with a clear partisan hero and a clear partisan villain: bad dumb bad Disney/ABC attacking good Bill Clinton. This is what they do best, and my favorite writing in left-wing blogs has generally been about the war in Iraq or Hurricane Katrina: disasters that were demonstrably caused by Republican action or inaction (with a healthy amount of Democratic inaction in the former case). By that standard, where’s the percentage in writing about violence in the Middle East, a loaded issue with no clear good guy, no clear solution, and a tendency to make everyone mad?

(Right-wing bloggers wrote plenty about Israel and Lebanon, because for them and their readers it was a clear-cut case of good and evil with a simple solution: shoot ’em all and let God sort ’em out. In fact, the only thing I remember seeing Sadly, No! say about the crisis was that the right-wing commentary was insane.)

This love for simple narratives is why, to varying degrees, both left- and right-wing blogs love to speak with contempt about the “MSM.” The mainstream media does indeed have its share of problems; mostly, though, it is committed to balance and objectivity. Certainly that commitment is problematic in its own way, since there are different kinds of “balance,” and objectivity should mean more than simply “quote the RNC Chair, then quote the DNC Chair”—but the principle of objectivity is important, and I’m afraid that the desire to hear only one’s own political viewpoint betrays an impatience with, or a fear of, critical thinking. Progressives are amazed at the characterization of the media as “liberal,” and rightly so…but few will admit that though the media isn’t liberal, they dearly wish it were.

So then what are those links doing there? Well, I do see value in political blogs, and even, to a degree, in their uncompromising positions on political issues. In fact, plenty of political issues do have a good guy and a bad guy; I believe that those who support gay marriage and legal abortion are 100% right and their opponents are 100% wrong. With evolution or global warming, it’s something like 105%. These battles need to be fought as if they were battles, and left-wing blogs are valuable for overcoming the sort of subjectivist self-doubt that plagues progressives all the time and conservatives not at all. As you can see, I’m not immune to partisan simplicity myself, but I would hope that I recognize when such simplicity is unproductive. Dogma is problematic enough when it’s associated with issues like God, morality, the Revolution, and so on. When dogma is just attached to the battle of parties, as if they were sports teams—the New York Donkeys versus the Mississippi Elephants—it becomes a silly waste of time, without losing its dangerous power to close off critical thinking.

December 11, 2005

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 2:50 pm


“Dead heroes are supposed to come home with their coffins draped with the American flag — greeted by a color guard.

But in reality, many are arriving as freight on commercial airliners — stuffed in the belly of a plane with suitcases and other cargo.”

I’ve rarely been so sickened by a news piece as I was by this. Just that word, “freight,” makes me nauseous.

June 18, 2005

America can’t say no

Filed under: Funny Stuff, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 6:47 pm

Which is more amazing: that Rush Limbaugh’s website is selling shirts that say, “What Happens in Gitmo, Stays in Gitmo”

…or that they’re available in XXXL and XXXXL?

Did you even know that they made quadruple-XL? That’s insane. Do they just make that so that Limbaugh himself can wear them?

January 13, 2005

A distorted reality is now a necessity to be free

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 11:01 am

I haven’t ranted politically in a while, but this is just too good to pass up:

According to the Washington Post, the White House is downplaying the importance of turnout in the upcoming (?) Iraqi elections, saying that the process is what’s important. As one senior election official said (this is the great part), “I would . . . really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don’t have any meaning, but to look on the outcome and to look at the government that will be the product of these elections.” (Emphasis added)

Of course, the Bush White House knows all too well that numbers don’t mean anything to the outcome of an election…

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