Friday, February 02, 2007


Good News of the Day

Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday announced plans to abandon the touch-screen voting machines that many of Florida's largest counties installed after the disputed 2000 presidential election. The state will instead adopt a system of casting paper ballots counted by scanning machines in time for the 2008 presidential election.New York Times

The heavily Republican state legislature still has to approve the plan. Here's a rare instance where it may be good that Florida has a Republican governor.

Related posts
Miami-Dade considers tossing its touch-screen voting system (4/12/05)
Judge won't let Sarasota Democratic challenger check voting machine code (12/30/06)


Thursday, February 01, 2007


Molly, we will miss you

Anybody who gives a damn about the human race has to be saddened by the death of Molly Ivins. When I learned of it the words of another great woman who like Molly lived by her own lights kept repeating—

Death is an evil.
Were it not so
the gods would have died
oh so long ago.



Wednesday, January 31, 2007


The town of Piekary Slaskie: A Polish joke

A medieval coat of arms
We all know that ethnic slurs should be avoided, and it has long been my policy not to tell "Polish jokes." I always substitute the names of Italians or Irishmen, and the jokes still seem to be funny. But a recent news item has put that policy in doubt.

The town of Piekary Slaskie (pop. 60,000) is located in the uplands of Upper Silesia, the most industrialized and densely populated region of Poland. But its roots go back to the Middle Ages, and it's still an important place of pilgrimage to the Blessèd Virgin Mary, which makes it very dear to me.

As all good medieval cities should, Piekary Slaskie boasts a coat of arms. From time immemorial it was as pictured on the left: two men holding hands. But according to Adam Cioch, that all began to change in 2003. He writes,

.... Four years ago in fact, when the debate over the rights of gays and lesbians began to receive media coverage in Poland, a portion of the town's inhabitants became aware of the homosexual content of Piekary Slaskie's symbol. The municipal council then initiated discussions over the modification of the coat of arms, which quickly swerved to the ridiculous.

The "anti-gay" party argued that since the shields were causing a misunderstanding and since Piekary is the "spiritual capital of Upper Silesia" (because of its Marian sanctuary), the town ought to have a symbol "serious and proper." No need to add that the debate got its initial momentum from the local clergy before the media got hold of the affair.

As for the "pro-gay" party, it was for saving the ancient symbol as much for the preservation of tradition as for not ridiculing the city further in the eyes of the country. [a Simply Appalling translation]

A truly medieval coat of arms
Now the coat of arms is as it appears on the right. The church depicted in the middle of the shield was actually built in the 19th century in neo-Romanesque style to maintain the medieval character of the town. Now the town can boast a genuinely medieval mind-set as well.

And I had so been hoping to include Piekary Slaskie in my round of pilgrimages! But surely the Virgin will understand.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Praise the Lord! Jim Bakker's back and he wants your money

The other day I went channel-surfing and thought I'd fallen into a time warp when televangelist Jim Bakker popped up on the tube. I'd assumed he was either dead or running a prison program. I won't repeat what Jerry Falwell said about him because it wouldn't be Christian.

I missed the beginning of the show and didn't stay for the end, but Bakker was talking about money—some of its finer theological points, to be exact.

Long divorced from Tammy Faye, Bakker is now paired with his daughter Lori, who could use a little eye makeup.

Correction – 9/25/07: The first commenter is correct. Lori Bakker is Jim's wife, not his daughter. I've also changed the link to Lori. The original link went to Jim Bakker's site, but the page is no longer there.



Speculation of the Day

Several European officials said in interviews that they believe that the United States and Saudi Arabia have an unwritten deal to keep oil production up, and prices down, to further squeeze Iran, which is dependent on oil for its economic solvency. —Steven R. Weisman writing in "Europe Resists U.S. Push to Curb Iran Ties"




Don't miss the military lexicon excerpted from Austin Bay's "Embrace the Suck: A Pocket Guide to Milspeak." It says a lot with a little.


Monday, January 29, 2007


Neocons fear the pain of premature withdrawal

Robert Kagan, Neoconservative cofounder, has been credited as one of the architects of the "surge" tactic in Iraq. This is quite believable inasmuch as his wife Virginia Nuland was Dick Cheney's National Security Advisor until she became the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO in July 2005.1 Kagan also writes a column for the Washington Post, thus guaranteeing that the Neocon viewpoint will be as strongly represented on its op-ed pages as it is on the front page under the guidance of National Editor Michael Abramowitz.

For Kagan and his ilk a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq before Iraqi oil has become our oil, deliciously spurting into the maw of Exxon, is a pain too great to bear. The very suggestion brings Kagan and his co-conspirator Bill Kristol out to pump harder for the war, for staying the course, for insisting to the American public that "You've got to be patient, baby — I know it hurts now but it's going to feel so good when it's over."

But for the public the pain has long since outweighed the pleasure, which means that other excuses must be found to shush the groanings. Yet when it comes to war-making the Neocons are really more cerebral than passionate, more verbal than hands-on. Sunday, with antiwar protests all about, they needed to remind the members of Congress just what was expected of them. So Kagan produced a column ambiguously titled "Grand Delusion."

Let's see whether the "grand delusion" is that of the country or of the Neocons. Kagan begins

.... In Iraq, American soldiers are finally beginning the hard job of establishing a measure of peace, security and order in critical sections of Baghdad -- the essential prerequisite for the lasting political solution everyone claims to want.

Not a good start, Robert. First, there isn't the slightest bit of evidence that peace, security and order have been—or will be—established anywhere in Baghdad outside the Green Zone. And second, if what you say were true, we would need to ask why the American soldiers have only now begun. You seem to imply that they have been on some sort of vacation till now, which must be quite upsetting for the families of the 3000-plus soldiers who have already died trying to bring peace, security and order.

Now about that "essential prerequisite." Here, Robert, you begin to play with words. You're either intellectually dishonest or just plain dishonest—take your pick.

You know perfectly well that the actual argument being made by your opponents is that peace, security and order can only be brought to Iraq by way of a political solution—that only a political solution can quell the violence.2 Of course you may argue that a military solution is what is required, but you can't argue that it hasn't already been well and truly tried.

Oh, and that "lasting political solution everyone claims to want." What everyone actually wants is a lasting peace. Most of us can live without your "lasting political solution." What you are seeking is not a political solution that will serve the Iraqis and calm the Middle East but a solution that will serve the U.S. and its ally Israel, one of the reasons we invaded the country in the first place.

They've launched attacks on Sunni insurgent strongholds and begun reining in Moqtada al-Sadr's militia. And they've embarked on these operations with the expectation that reinforcements will soon be on the way: the more than 20,000 troops President Bush has ordered to Iraq and the new commander he has appointed to fight the insurgency as it has not been fought since the war began.

Kagan could just as well have written—and more accurately—that Sunni insurgents have now launched attacks on American strongholds and that Moqtada al-Sadr's militias have offered to hold back while the Americans fight a surrogate battle for them with the Sunnis.

Congress in danger of representing the popular will

You may remember that after the initial excuse for invasion—the weapons of mass destruction—had evaporated, we were told that the invasion was necessary to bring "democracy" to the Middle East. But democracy for a Neocon is not what most of us think democracy is—i.e., a political structure that allows the public to express itself forcefully.

In a Neocon "democracy" the people go through a pointless civics exercise, wave their ink-stained fingers in the air for the cameras, then go quietly home until recalled to the voting booth to validate the next Neocon enterprise.

Here's how Kagan puts it—

Back in Washington ... Democratic and Republican members of Congress are looking for a different kind of political solution: the solution to their problems in presidential primaries and elections almost two years off. Resolutions disapproving the troop increase have proliferated on both sides of the aisle. Many of their proponents frankly, even proudly, admit they are responding to the current public mood, as if that is what they were put in office to do. Those who think they were elected sometimes to lead rather than follow seem to be in a minority.

Silly us. We thought we were electing the latest crop of representatives precisely because they promised to lead—to lead us out of the war, that is. And sooner rather than later. If our representatives lied about that to get elected (such a thought!), we must make sure they pay dearly—and they will.

The "apocalyptic" argument for remaining in Iraq

No matter how much Kagan would like the members of Congress to wave their middle fingers back at the public who put them in office, he knows that many in the Congress are really more like the Neocons—gutless—than like the soldiers dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. So the Neocons need an argument to stay the course that they hope will sway the public. For this they use the "apocalyptic" argument. As you will see, the apocalyptic argument is really the WMD argument in a new uniform.

Referring to members of Congress who want to cut funding for the war and begin immediate withdrawal, Kagan writes—

... they refuse to answer the most obvious and necessary questions: What do they propose the United States do when, as a result of withdrawal, Iraq explodes and ethnic cleansing on a truly horrific scale begins? What do they propose our response should be when the entire region becomes a war zone, when al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations establish bases in Iraq from which to attack neighboring states as well as the United States? Even the Iraq Study Group acknowledged that these are likely consequences of precipitate withdrawal.

Those who call for an "end to the war" don't want to talk about the fact that the war in Iraq and in the region will not end but will only grow more dangerous. Do they recommend that we then do nothing, regardless of the consequences? Or are they willing to say publicly, right now, that they would favor sending U.S. troops back into Iraq to confront those new dangers? Answering those questions really would be honest and brave.

Forgive me for putting red type atop the boldface, but this really is too much! Kagan has the nerve to describe what he thinks is going to happen as a fact! Forget that predictions aren't facts. Can anyone recall a Neocon prediction that has even come close to becoming fact?

It is not utterly impossible that if American troops withdraw, "Iraq explodes and ethnic cleansing on a truly horrific scale begins." However, it is far from a "fact," and I would argue that it isn't the most likely outcome.

But Retired General William Odom takes a different approach. For the sake of argument, he accepts the Neocon apocalyptic viewpoint. He then makes the point that the Iraq they describe is not some apocalyptic future, but is (with apologies to Francis Coppola) apocalypse now.3

Finally we learn what Kagan had in mind when he titled his piece the Grand Delusion—

To the extent that people think about Iraq, many seem to believe it is a problem that can be made to go away. Once American forces depart, Iraq will no longer be our problem. Joseph Biden, one of the smartest foreign policy hands in the Senate, recently accused President Bush of sending more troops so that he could pass the Iraq war on to his successor. Biden must assume that if the president took his advice and canceled the troop increase, then somehow Iraq would no longer be a serious crisis when President Biden entered the White House in 2009.

This is a delusion, but it is by no means only a Democratic delusion. Many conservatives and Republicans, including erstwhile supporters of the war, have thrown up their hands in anger at the Iraqi people or the Iraqi government. They, too, seem to believe that if American troops leave, because Iraqis don't "deserve" our help, then somehow the whole mess will solve itself or simply fade away....

Kagan is grievously out of touch when he writes, "To the extent that people think about Iraq..." As if the American public had scarcely noticed the dire situation into which the Bush administration has plunged the country while the Neocons cheered on the sidelines!

But his final argument, typical of the Neocons, is against a group of strawmen—strawmen who he says believe that withdrawal from Iraq will magically solve the problems of Iraq and the Middle East. You will notice that Kagan doesn't supply us with any quotes from these mythical people.

But ordinary Americans—and one would hope all our leaders—understand that we have made one hell of a mess that will take generations to sort out. What is important is that they have ceased to believe that the likes of Robert Kagan and the Bush administration can contribute to the solution, other than by crawling back into whatever hole they came from.

But this point should not be lost: Kagan makes it abundantly evident that he is as deluded about the thinking of his opponents here at home as he and his fellow Neocons were previously deluded about the thinking of their adversaries abroad! The "grand delusion" is nothing but the Neocons' own fantasy.

Related posts
Doing the Watusi at the polling station: Reflections on David Corn (2/7/05)
The Bush plan for Iraq: What you should expect (1/11/07)
Taking sides in a civil war (1/14/07)
Estimate of the Day (1/16/07)
Getting it wrong is usually right (1/17/07)
Understatement of the Day (1/21/07)
A war we can't afford to win (1/24/07)
Advice of the Day (1/26/07)
Conclusion of the Day (1/29/07)



1Whatever havoc the Neocons may be wreaking within NATO has largely passed beneath the horizon of the press. It looks as if they are trying to turn it into a U.S.-dominated coalition of allies and sycophants that will essentially rob the United Nations of its remaining relevancy. Say what you will about the Neocons, they are always "transformative." [back]

2Here are a few representatives of the argument: Republican Senator Sam Brownback, Democratic Senator Carl Levin, Political correspondent Jonathan Steele, and Marine Corps. Gen. Hoar. [back]

3Gen. Odom writes,

If I were a journalist, I would list all the arguments that you hear against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, the horrible things that people say would happen, and then ask: Aren't they happening already? Would a pullout really make things worse? Maybe it would make things better.

Conclusion of the Day

[P]owerful nations tend to win wars when all they seek is an opponent's submission, but tend to lose when victory requires an opponent's cooperation. —Political scientist Patricia Sullivan's research finding as described by Shankar Vedantam in "Twisting Arms Isn't as Easy as Dropping Bombs"

To arrive at this conclusion Sullivan looked at post–World War II conflicts—

Sullivan found that the five Security Council permanent members won three-quarters of conflicts in which their aims did not require their opponents' cooperation, but only half of the conflicts in which they did need cooperation.

For the United States, the disparity was even greater -- winning 81 percent of conflicts when cooperation was not required, but only 44 percent of the military interventions, such as in Laos in 1964 and Lebanon in 1982, that Sullivan described as having "coercive" goals.


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