Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Covering your tracks -- more or less

As Atrios points out, Judge Robert H. Dierker uses the term "femifascist" to disguise where his thinking comes from. I'm of course reminded of Alan Dershowitz, who did just the opposite: he thought he was quoting Orwell but was really quoting his real source, the discredited Joan Peters. (Strikingly, both authors choose words -- femifascist and turnspeak -- which are clearly uglier than the original feminazi and newspeak. Not to defend the term feminazi, but at least it's memorable. )

Monday, December 25, 2006

Iraq: U.S. military fatalities surpass 9/11

When 1000 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq, we remembered. When 2000 died, we remembered. Now, on Christmas Day 2006, another milestone has been reached: the number of U.S. military casualties has passed 2973, the number of deaths caused by the combined attacks of September 11, 2001. By two.

This is the real connection between 9/11 and Iraq: Death.

Of course, President Bush saw other connections: the lesson of September 11, he said, prompted him to attack Iraq. And many Americans were convinced: especially, it was found, those who watched Fox News. Too many Americans either thought Iraq operated with al-Qaeda, or thought Iraq itself was behind the attacks -- all evidence to the contrary. Perhaps a lot of people felt, like the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, that violence could be "therapeutic."

In many respects, of course, this milestone was reached long ago. In terms of total destruction and loss of human life, Iraq surpassed the 9/11 attacks almost from the beginning. To count only American military deaths is arrogant and narrow-minded. But it's worth spreading the word that Iraq has surpassed 9/11 even by this most stringent calculation.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Santa lives in your heart

Well who would have thought that Santa could appear in a cardiac echo? If you can't see it, a helpful reader points out the obvious.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The number of U.S. soldiers lost in Iraq, as of today. In just a few more days eighteen more will have died, at which point the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq will match the total who died as a result of the September 11 attacks. I blogged about this in October, and it's playing out on its own grim schedule.

Fear of a Black Candidate: Obamaphobia

Reading among the far-right blogosophere, you're always in danger of getting burned by the stupid. Example: Pam Atlas is deeply concerned about Barack Obama's middle name (WARNING: ugliest blog in the known universe). Right. She links to a crazy column by by Judi McCleod, which she calls a "must read." It is, of course, if "must read" means Hey, look how far off the rails the wingnuts can go and still write something that looks like English! Among the baseless accusations (did he go to a madrassa? will he embrace Islam in the White House?), she doesn't quite say (as others have suggested) that Barack is the anti-Christ. But she does make the following ominous observation:

Obama went to Occidental college, whose motto is "West is nearest to the East".

Occidental College has a historic connection to the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now known as SIL International.) Associated with the Rockefellers, SIL has something going on in Dubai. Scroll down three quarters of the way until you see their blinking pyramid logo.

(The link doesn't work in her column; I corrected it and incorporated it into the text. Ah, the editing capabilities of the right.)

Anyway, what does this column tell you about the Summer Institute of Linguistics? It's "international," "associated with the Rockefellers," "has something to do with Dubai," and is associated with a "blinking pyramid logo." If you're a right-winger, this sounds scary -- black-helicopter, one-world-government, Trilateral-Masonic-banking scary.

Except that it's not a blinking pyramid. And except that the Summer Institute of Linguistics is a Christian organization. They offer services to all nowadays, but basically, SIL is an outfit that trains Bible translators.

How wrong can you get?

Bush: Terrorists don't believe in God

As though seeking the worst possible setting to make the stupidest possible comments, President Bush decided to turn a menorah-lighting ceremony into an impromptu seminar about Iran. (Thanks to Josh Marshall for the link.)
President Bush and his Cabinet have seized upon the Maccabean message of refusing to give in to tyranny to reinforce Bush’s refusal to deal with Iran as a means of resolving Iraq’s burgeoning crisis. In at least one closed meeting, Bush made the connection explicitly.
Clash of civilizations, anyone?

You'll need to sign in to JTA (free) in order to read the whole article, entitled "Bush appropriates Chanukah moral in depicting current threat from Iran." Because what could be better in dealing with Iran than to compare Iranians with ancient enemies of the Jews?
“After Jerusalem was conquered by an oppressive king and the Jews lost their right to worship in freedom, Judah Maccabee and his followers courageously set out to reclaim Jerusalem from foreign rule,” Bush said. “Though their numbers were small, the Maccabees’ dedication to their faith was strong, and they emerged victorious.
Well, true enough, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Super-long-lasting oil, indeed! If only, huh? Meanwhile, the entire Middle East spins like a dreidel.)

The discussion at the menorah lighting was supposed to focus on Jewish higher education. But Bush had his own agenda:
“A lot of the conversation centered on Iran and on the president’s conviction that they not be allowed to pick up a nuclear weapon,” said Avi Mayer, a University of Maryland undergraduate who was one of four students representing Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. “He said there’s no use in propping up despots, they have to be confronted and brought to task for their actions.”
One attendee quoted Bush as saying, "‘Terrorists’ can’t be God-believing people."

WTF? Shouldn't we be taking this out of the religious arena and putting it where it belongs, in the realm of politics?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Best Poetry of 2006 -- Thomas Kinsella

The National Book Critics Circle blog has a post about the best poetry books of 2006. And there are some great books there: Frederick Seidel's Ooga-Booga (certainly the best title, and a superb and disturbing poet for sure -- check out the readings on his web site), Deborah Bernhardt's Echolalia, Name Withheld by Lisa Sewell. I'm definitely going to get some of the books I haven't read yet.

But Thomas Kinsella's Collected Poems (Wake Forest University Press) -- the definitive collection of Ireland's greatest poet since Yeats -- gets no notice. As usual. Perhaps the problem is that this was published across the pond by Carcanet a few years ago. But the Wake Forest edition is not only better designed, it corrects errors in the Carcanet and it's published here. By the only American publisher dedicated to contemporary Irish poetry.

Seriously, what is the matter with these people? Paul Muldoon's great, fine, ya ya ya (actually I think that's a Muldoon line), but for God's sake will somebody pay attention?

I'll try to make a case for Kinsella soon.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The greatness of Jimmy Carter

Oh, you've got to love this: Jimmy Carter refuses to debate with Alan Dershowitz. I don't blame him -- the whole thing seems like a setup, and even though Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky have crushed Dershowitz in the past, the man is a professional lia lawyer. But it's Carter's reasoning that really makes me happy. From the Boston Globe:

"I don't want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz," Carter said. "There is no need to for me to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine."

Get that? Dershowitz knows nothing about the situation in Palestine.

This is obvious if one reads either Dershowitz's The Case for Israel or his later The Case for Peace, both of which use blanket statements condemning Palestinian behavior but show no evidence of subtlety, much less of an attempt to understand the people or a concern with the actual victims of Israeli policies.

Dershowitz, of course, has berated Finkelstein for his lack of real-world experience, claiming "This is a man who until recently had never been to Israel." But I wonder if Dershowitz has ever been to Gaza? (This criticism is beside the point, by the way, both because Finkelstein has lived in the occupied territories and published a very good book about his time there, and because one does not have to have lived somewhere to have thoughts about it.)

Carter's response reminds me of why creationists often "win" debates with actual scientists conducted in the public sphere, even though the facts are on the side of science (and, in this case, on the side of Carter). The person on the other side (creationist or Dershowitz) has no obligation to the truth, but only to winning. Meanwhile, subtle, committed, inquiring thinkers look ambivalent because they actually want to explain their thinking. Read the screed (.pdf) Dershowitz wrote in response to Finkelstein, and you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, good for Carter: he's not taking the bait.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bush did this to me

So today I Google-newsed my favorite possible '08 candidate (run, Wes, run!) and stumbled across an interesting article from the New York Observer. "The Life and Death of an Iraq Plan" is about the rise and fall of explicitly endorsing partition, federal autonomy, or what is sometimes called "kinder, gentler ethnic cleansing" in Iraq. Too much attention is paid to Joe Biden, as usual, and then Wes Clark is interviewed about why he doesn't support the idea:
Wesley Clark, the retired general who is also mulling a presidential bid also told me that while partitioning may eventually occur, or already be happening, in Iraq, it could never be official United States policy.

The problem, he said, is that Iraqis forced to move out from their homes or from the more mixed urban areas like Baghdad or Kirkuk to the strongholds of their respective ethnic or religious group will associate their displacement with the United States. Clark said that feeling will breed even more resentment towards America.

"'Bush did this to me,' That's what they'll say," said Mr. Clark. "Bush drove me out of my home. Or they will name some Democratic Senator. It could come to that but it can't be what we want."
Note what Clark is doing here. First, he's not playing a political game: instead, he's answering the question. (How rare is that, huh?) He's thinking about the inevitable end-game, and tacitly acknowledging the end of Iraq, which after all is an artificial nation from the get-go. But he gets the real costs to America in supporting this end explicitly. The phrase Bush did this to me is so clear, so succinct, so on-target, that it's tempting simply to use it as an accurate catch-phrase for what's gone wrong in the last six years:

The collapse of my house value?
Bush did this to me

The transfer of my income to the wealthy?
Bush did this to me

The climate my children will inherit?
Bush did this to me

See? No matter what, you'll probably be at least partly right.

But here's the thing: it hurts all of us when Iraqis say that -- accurate as they might be. Partly because the Senate was stupid enough to trust Bush with the war resolution, we're all to blame. Wes Clark understands how Bush's massive failures taint us all.

So although I want us to pull out yesterday, I think Clark may be on to something when he advocates something less drastic than what many of us (me included) want. Even in this brief interview, it's clear that Wes understands the facts on the ground better than anybody else who is quoted. This interview shows the subtlety of his approach, his close attention to what is happening, and his commitment to realistic and long-range foreign policy.

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

Friday, December 08, 2006

Those must have been some kick-ass speakers

Derrick Shareef of Illinois was arrested Wednesday and charged with "one count of attempting to damage or destroy a building by fire or explosion and one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction." He made made a court appearance today in Chicago. The prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald (no, not that one!) said that the public was never in any danger because Shareef has been under surveillance for some time, after confessing to an acquaintance that he wanted to take up jihading.

Here's what I don't understand:
Shareef was arrested Wednesday by the Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force after he met an undercover agent in the mall parking lot and traded a set of stereo speakers for four hand grenades and a hand gun, according to charges.
Two questions:
  1. What the hell kind of stereo system does that guy have?
  2. Since when are grenades weapons of mass destruction?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Working on the chain gang

To commemorate my last week, a poem by Theodore Roethke:

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper-weight,

All the misery of manila folders and mucilage,

Desolation in immaculate public places,

Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,

The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,

Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,

Endless duplication of lives and objects.

And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,

Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,

Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,

Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,

Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.
Not one of Roethke's very best poems, but good enough. And there's someone else I'm thinking of. You know who you are.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The sestina of our times

What do you do when you find out you've been identified by name in a pretty good sestina about John Ashbery? Thanks to Jeremy, by the way, for posting this on a couple of his blogs from some class or other he's teaching in Nanjing. (Nanjing!) Everybody should get a Google Alert for their own name.

The epitome of suck

Atrios links with a snarky comment to a terrible Nickelback video, and like a fool, I took the bait. Obviously, since it's Nickelback, it (a) sucks, and (b) is the same as every other Nickelback song. But in the video it manages to climb the Parnassus of suck. I thought it topped out when the chick in the bed turns on the remote and sees her FWB firefighter on the TV -- because what's better than a music video about someone watching TV? But then it reaches further sucky heights when the firefighter dude gets hit by a tree and the camera cuts back, not to weepygirl with the remote, but to the band playing their sucky song complete with atrocious stadium light-sweeps. I swear to god, there hasn't been a growly man-pop band this pretentious since Creed. Atrios is reminded of Beavis and Butthead, but I get possessed by the spirit of my grandfather: These young people today. They never cut their hair. And their music --- just noise. Seriously, I'm going to play some Clash now.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Bishop and the Meth-head

So here's a connection:

Ted Haggard, schadenfreude case of the day, has apparently been found guilty by his church of committing "sexually immoral conduct." Not that this was surprising: the only question was how quickly the hammer would fall. (Pretty damn quick, I'd say.) Almost as rapidly, evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll's response to the drama, in the form of "practical suggestions for fellow Christian leaders," has been the subject of considerable commentary on the liberal blogs. (I heard about it through DK (not me!) at Talking Points Memo, who pointed toward David Goldstein's excellent commentary the Huffington Post; naturally, Dan Savage has also commented). Still, the kicker paragraph in Driscoll's post is worth repeating:
Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.
I forget what the Song of Songs says precisely about methamphetamine but I'll look it u . . . . Hey, wait a minute. Did Driscoll really write "lean over the plate and take one for the team"?

Yes, he did.

Meanwhile, let's not blame poor Gayle Haggard for this. For one thing, judging from the publicity shot for her book A Life Embraced: A Hopeful Guide for the Pastor's Wife, she's not let herself go at all. In an interview promoting the book, she gives a clue as to where the responsibility ultimately lies:
God met me, spoke to me, and helped me as I sought Him. I learned to lean on Him and He so satisfied me that I felt increasingly free to love my husband and to participate with him in ministry and the life and calling God has given to us.
Meanwhile -- and here's the connection that's not a connection -- in my own denomination, a woman has been installed as Presiding Bishop.

Let's say Ted Haggard comes out as a gay man but wants to continue as a Christian minister. (I think that, whatever his future career, he's not making anybody happy, including his soon-to-be-ex wife, as a closet case.) There are places for him to go. Maybe he should try working with Christians who are more accepting of human difference.

What's blogging for?

Blogs are interesting not really for what they say but for how they connect. Some blogs are purely informational; I go to Eschaton and to Daily Kos primarily for their rapid feed of new political developments. (Some kossacks, such as DarkSyde, Jerome a Paris, and bonddad, are quite insightful; some, like Pastor Dan, are moving; and some, like Bob Johnson, are terrifically funny. But I encounter these writers as a result of keeping up, not because I keep up with them particularly.) On the right-wing blogosphere, this can lead to a massive echo-chamber effect (or maybe that's just Malkin's big empty head) or, as Truman Capote would have said about Glenn Reynolds, "that's not blogging, that's teletyping."

I go to Ron Silliman and The Rude Pundit for range of reading and for their ability to make connections across diverse terrains. If paralepsis is to have any value, I hope it's of this type.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Power-Pointing the War

So the New York Times publishes an article about how military officials recognize that Iraq is a major clusterfuck, and it includes the following image:

Reactions have been predictable.
  • Over at Daily Kos, georgia10 notes that, along with the National Intelligence Estimate concluding that the Iraq war has exacerbated the terrorist threat, this picture shows "that the administration is well aware that Iraq is a 'failed state, that 'ethnic cleaning' is taking place, and that a stay-the-course policy has failed to stop the stop the steady march towards chaos."
  • Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin (of course) froths at the mouth about the "blabbermouths" at the Times who betrayed their country by publishing classified material. Because as we all know, terrorists love them some PowerPoint.
Has anybody pointed out how poorly designed this slide is? It's a validation of all that Edward Tufte has been saying about PowerPoint's ruinous effects. Note the strange 'central command' running down the left-hand side; the suspiciously unhelpful color-coded shape symbols; the crowding of information in fonts of nearly the same size; the general ugliness of design; the tagline at the bottom (beginning "Urban areas"), formatted with a bizarre open-ended red border; the inconsistency of scale in the figure (a week at one point, "pre-Samarra" at another); the seemingly arbitary arrangement of information; and the tendency to view the world through bullet points.

Returning to georgia10 at Daily Kos, she seems to love this figure, even hauling out that old chestnut "a picture is worth a thousand words." She's mainly excited because the figure is bad for Republicans, but a well-designed figure would have been a whole lot worse.

PowerPoint, recall, helped get us into this mess (thanks loads, Colin Powell). But even when it conveys important information, it seems PowerPoint can't help but suck.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

When Iraq Passes 9/11

As of today, the United States has lost 2816 soldiers in Iraq. According to Wikipedia, 2973 people (excluding the hijackers) died as a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks. This excludes the 19 hijackers and twenty-four listed as missing.

So. Not to get too grim and all, but we're 157 deaths away from the Iraq war costing more American military lives than the total of confirmed non-hijacker lives lost as a result of the 9/11 attacks. When will Iraq pass 9/11? Over the last six months, U.S. forces lost an average of 68-69 soldiers per month. If trends continue -- and they're getting worse -- the date of passing will occur sometime near the beginning of 2007. In real terms, of course, we're long past that bitter milestone. 9/11, after all, was an international tragedy, with victims from dozens of countries (it was the World Trade Center, after all); by comparison, total coalition deaths today number 3055. And military deaths are just the beginning: hundreds of contractors have died and close to 45,000 military personnel have been injured. Don't even get me started on the Iraqi victims of our arrogance and stupidity; finally a U.S. diplomat is honest, only he has to apologize later.

The Iraq war was an American invention, a product of particularly American hubris. And we remember our own victims before we remember others. (This is a common human trait.) So it seems worthwhile to mark the date when Iraq passes 9/11 in this one measure. The numbers tell the story of our failure more powerfully than argument can. Shouldn't we mark it somehow -- a national day of contrition, perhaps?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The last blogger on the planet

Not exactly true. I had one of my classes (I'm a teacher) run a blog several years ago. And I've posted on a number of multi-user blogs like Daily Kos. But as Joseph Gordon-Levitt said in 10 Things I Hate About You, "I'm back in the game." Possible topics: rhetoric, the teaching of writing, poetry, politics.