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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 2 December 2003

Topic: Election Notes
Hot political stuff! Chutzpah to the MAX!

In Slate Magazine today William Saletan writes about political chutzpah. Howard Dean is his case study. How can Dean possibly say such things about Bush, given who Dean is?

If you read it all there is a reference to Max Cleland and how he lost his job. The Cleland business really offended me. The man who lost three limbs in the war Bush ducked lost his seat when the Republicans ran spot advertisements with his image and Saddam's and Osama's in the same frame - saying Cleland's questions about some homeland security ideas and his questions about the Patriot Act made him, in fact, a supporter of the terrorists and someone who hated America. But then again, Georgia is an odd place.

Anyway, this is for your amusement. I wish I had written this. It's mighty fine.

Takes One To Know One
In the chutzpah war, Dean has Bush's draft number.
By William Saletan, SLATE, Posted Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2003, at 2:16 PM PT
Note: Clicking on the link will give you the article with the web equivalent of footnotes - everything mentioned is actively linked to the source material so you can see where he got his information.

The opening:
According to the Washington Post, here's what Dean said about President Bush in New Hampshire Sunday:

1) Bush has "no understanding of defense." "Mr. President, if you'll pardon me, I'll teach you a little about defense."

2) "He's made us weaker. He doesn't understand what it takes to defend this country, that you have to have high moral purpose. He doesn't understand that you better keep troop morale high rather than just flying over for Thanksgiving."

3) Bush lacks "the backbone to stand up against the Saudis," who are funding radical Muslim schools "to train the next generation of suicide bombers."

4) "The president is about to let North Korea become a nuclear power."

5) Bush "cut 164,000 veterans off" from medical benefits and at one point said "he was going to cut the combat pay" for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here's how the Concord Monitor described Dean's comment at one of Sunday's events: "While Dean likes to listen to knowledgeable advisers, he said, the current administration waged war in Iraq on the basis of decision-makers who either never served in a foreign conflict or served in the National Guard. Meanwhile, Dean said, the one adviser 'who actually ever experienced combat abroad,' U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, was ignored."

Let's recap. A guy who has no foreign policy experience, opposed the war in Iraq, and went skiing after he escaped the Vietnam draft because of a bad back is calling a wartime president soft on defense. And despite cries of outrage from Republican pundits, luminaries, and party organs, he isn't letting up. Monday on Hardball, Dean said, "This president, I don't believe, has any idea how to fight terror. ... This president has wasted 15 months or more doing nothing about the fact that North Korea is almost certainly a nuclear power, [and] we can't tolerate North Korea as a nuclear power." On Crossfire, Dean adviser Steve McMahon reiterated that Bush had tried to cut veterans' benefits. Coming to McMahon's aid, Democratic pugilist James Carville charged that Bush has "stretched our military to the point that we're weaker today. And he's created terror."
Well, that's a pretty amazing attack from the governor of a small state. It all may be true, but the question is clear. How can Dean say possibly such things about Bush given who Dean is?

Here's how:
Where did Dean and his lieutenants get this kind of gall? Maybe from the guy they're attacking. In February 2000, Bush, a governor with no foreign policy experience, faced ex-POW John McCain in the do-or-die South Carolina Republican presidential primary. What was Bush's military record? He had joined the Texas Air National Guard to escape the Vietnam draft. A former speaker of the Texas House had sworn in an affidavit that he had made phone calls, at the behest of a friend of Bush's father, to get Bush into the Guard. As the Boston Globe later discovered from interviews and government documents, Bush "was all but unaccounted for" during the latter part of his Guard service. "For a full year, there is no record that he showed up for the periodic drills required of part-time guardsmen," the Globe reported.

From May to November 1972, Bush was in Alabama working in a US Senate campaign, and was required to attend drills at an Air National Guard unit in Montgomery. But there is no evidence in his record that he did so. And William Turnipseed, the retired general who commanded the Alabama unit back then, said in an interview last week that Bush never appeared for duty there. ... After the election, Bush returned to Houston. But seven months later, in May 1973, his two superior officers at Ellington Air Force Base could not perform his annual evaluation covering the year from May 1, 1972 to April 30, 1973 because, they wrote, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report."

Ultimately, Bush requested and received an early discharge to attend Harvard Business School.
So one might think Bush would be a bit more humble? Well, the subject of the piece is, after all, chutzpah.
Was Bush chastened by his embarrassing history? Not a bit. On Feb. 3, 2000, he staged a rally in Sumter, S.C., to trumpet his support from veterans' groups. According to firsthand reports, Bush stood by smiling as Tom Burch, the head of the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, accused McCain of opposing health care for Gulf War veterans and efforts to locate POW-MIAs in Vietnam. Bush followed with a speech in which he warned, "We must have a commander-in-chief who understands the role of the military." The Los Angeles Times reported that "Bush, continuing his offensive at a news conference ... then accused McCain of not doing enough for veterans suffering from ailments related to military service, such as Gulf War Syndrome." When he was asked about Burch's comments, Bush replied that the veterans who had spoken at the rally "looked at both of us and they have chosen me to be the nominee. I'm proud of that."

Three days later on Face the Nation, Bush adviser Karl Rove bragged, "Gov. Bush has drawn the support of veterans in South Carolina because he's strong on national defense and because there's a big difference between the two candidates: One believes there ought to be an overall increase in the defense budget, and the other candidate, Sen. McCain, says he does not believe that we need to increase the defense budget." Bush then brought in a new surrogate, Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Tex., who told the crowd at another South Carolina rally, "I happened to be with McCain for the last year and a half in the prison camp over there in Vietnam and I know him pretty well. And I know him pretty well from the Congress too. And I can tell you, he cannot hold a candle to George Bush."

McCain's supporters derided these attacks, joked about Bush's draft avoidance, and predicted that at least 60 percent of South Carolina veterans would cast their ballots for McCain. They were wrong. McCain got 48 percent of the veterans' vote. Bush got 47 percent and won the primary, dooming McCain's candidacy.
As they say on the television games shows - BUT WAIT! There's more!
But Bush was just getting warmed up. In 2002, he captured the Senate by staging a fight over the role of labor unions in the Department of Homeland Security--and accusing Democrats who opposed him on that issue of endangering the nation. In the 2004 campaign, he's at it again. Last week, the GOP aired a TV ad that accused Bush's opponents of "attacking the President for attacking the terrorists." Never mind that two of the ad's implicit targets, John Kerry and Wesley Clark, took bullets in Vietnam while Bush was guarding the Mexican border, or licking campaign envelopes in Alabama, or doing whatever he was doing when he wasn't where he was supposed to be. Never mind that Max Cleland, one of the senators Bush ousted with his "homeland security" ruse in 2002, lost three limbs in the war Bush ducked. Now Republicans go around quoting Cleland on how Dean "weaseled out" of Vietnam. And they accuse Dean of chutzpah.

It's been said before that Dean and Bush share an aristocratic Yankee heritage. To the unwary, this means they're soft. Democrats learned the hard way that when it comes to politics, if not war, Bush has no shame and takes no prisoners. Now Republicans will learn the same about Dean.

The Max Cleland business really offended me. He lost his seat when the Republicans ran spot advertisements with his image and Saddam's and Osama's in the same frame - saying his questions about some homeland security ideas and his questions about the Patriot Act made him, in fact, a supporter of the terrorists and someone who hated America. But then again, Georgia is an odd place.

Posted by Alan at 14:51 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:47 PST home

Topic: Oddities
"She came with the exhilarating whoops and pant-hoots of a troop of Rhesus monkeys, which was flattering, if alarming."

Reuters reports this:
Sting to Present Britain's Bad Sex Award
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
LONDON (Reuters) -
No embarrassment will be spared on Wednesday when rock star Sting presents one of Britain's least-desired literary awards - the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Now in its 11th year, the dubious honor is awarded by the Literary Review magazine for the most inept description of sexual intercourse in a novel. Nominated authors for this year's prize include John Updike, Paul Theroux, Paulo Coelho and Alan Parker.

Among the climactic passages in the contest is one from former BBC radio executive Rod Liddle's Too Beautiful for You. "She came with the exhilarating whoops and pant-hoots of a troop of Rhesus monkeys, which was flattering, if alarming."

Motoring themes are to the fore. In Tama Janowitz's Peyton Amberg a lover's intimate probing of the heroine is "as if he was searching for lost car keys," while in Aniruddha Bahal's Bunker 13 a female partner "picks up a Bugatti's momentum."

Musical metaphors are also well represented. The multi-orgasmic female narrator of Paolo Coelho's Eleven Minutes reaches Heaven - "I was the earth, the mountains, the tigers, the rivers that flowed into the lakes, the lake that became the sea."

Sting, who once boasted that yoga had improved his sexual endurance, will present the prize Wednesday evening after each of the competing passages have been read to a 500-strong audience.

Previous winners include AA Gill, Sebastian Faulks and Melvyn Bragg.
How does one become a member of the panel which judges all this?

Posted by Alan at 10:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:48 PST home

Topic: Election Notes
"A good fellow has passed away."

When I was living west of Rochester, New York in the seventies, Conable was my congressman, and he is one of the Republicans I gladly voted for over the years. Yes, I do vote for Republicans now and then. Of course, the bit about refusing to answer Nixon's letters and refusing to go to Nixon's funeral are classics. (See below.) And he really ticked off the first President Bush by being disloyal, or treasonous or whatever, when he decided to do his job at the World Bank, and not to what Bush wanted. Oh well. A good fellow. Would that there were now, still, people like this in the political world.

Barber Conable, 81; GOP Stalwart in Congress, Head of World Bank
Associated Press via the Los Angeles Times, Tuesday, December 02, 2003

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Barber B. Conable Jr., a Republican congressman for 20 years who was his party's standard bearer on taxes, trade and Social Security, has died. He was 81.


... Representing a largely rural section of western New York from 1965 to 1985, Conable rose to be the senior Republican on the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee while the GOP was the minority party.

From 1986 to 1991, he was president of the World Bank, the agency that lends billions of dollars to developing nations.

Among the high points of his years in Congress were forcing through the revenue-sharing law in 1972 and the Trade Reform Act of 1974, which cleared the way for U.S. negotiations on lowering tariff barriers.

There were also bitter disappointments, none greater than the betrayal he felt during Watergate after years of loyally backing President Nixon's policies. He later refused to answer Nixon's letters or attend his funeral.

... His friendship with George H.W. Bush, dating to their service together in Congress in the 1960s, turned sour after Bush ascended to the presidency in 1989.

Conable announced in early 1991 that he would not seek a second five-year term on the World Bank.

"He [Bush] thought I should be supporting an American agenda; I thought I was there to help the poor people," Conable said in an interview with Associated Press in 1998. "So I got the reputation of not being a team player, and that was the one thing George wouldn't stand for."

... It was no surprise when both parties judged him the "most respected" member of the House his final two years in office. "There never has been a better congressman," columnist George Will wrote.

Posted by Alan at 08:47 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:39 PST home

Topic: Oddities
Culinary note for the day ...

From l'Agence France-Presse (AFP) by way of The Tocqueville Connection:


BREST, France, Dec 2 (AFP) -
Christmas is coming - time for little robin red-breasts to pose on spade-handles and gladden hearts. Except in France, that is, where they spit them on kebabs.

Two poachers were caught red-handed in Brittany on Friday trapping robins for the dinner table, according to the National Office for Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS) in the Finistere department.

"At this time of year we get a lot of hunters from the south who come to shoot woodcock. But this is something else. It is absolutely shocking," said the agency's Yannick Huchet.

The poachers, who were both from southern France, were caught near the town of Morlaix with 25 traps in their knapsacks baited with flying ants. ONCFS officials found five more traps already laid, with two dead robins in them.

"We have never had a case of robin-poaching here in Brittany before, but when I described the traps to my colleague in the Var department (in the south) he said - yes, that's a robin-trap," said Huchet.

And officials in the Var confirmed that robin-hunting there is a major problem.

"It comes in two waves here -- in October and then again in May," said Daniel Matthieu of the ONCFS's Var office.

"Every year we arrest seven or eight poachers and take them to court. It's a tradition here. They sell the robins to restaurants where they grill them on brochettes. They go for 40 euros (48 dollars) the half dozen. I've never tried one but they say they are very good," he said.

The robin is a protected species in France and the poachers face a maximum penalty of four months in prison, a fine of 3,810 euros and a five year hunting ban.
Haven't these French folks learned of chicken-fried steak and pork rinds?

Posted by Alan at 08:32 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:49 PST home

Monday, 1 December 2003

Topic: Iraq
Straight Talk from Georgia

Jay Bookman down in Atlanta does see things clearly. A good read.

This war not against terrorists
Jay Bookman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Monday, December 01, 2003

He opens with this:

From the beginning, the Bush administration's inability to talk straight about its Iraq policy has generated deep and valid suspicion. Good policy doesn't need to be defended by deception; the truth will do just fine.

We didn't get the truth a year ago, when Bush officials implausibly claimed that Saddam Hussein posed a dire threat to U.S. security. We're not getting the truth today, as President Bush and others depict our struggle in Iraq as some sort of defense of the American homeland.

"We are aggressively striking the terrorists in Iraq, defeating them there," Vice President Dick Cheney said a week ago, "so we do not have to face them on the streets of our own cities."

"You are defeating the terrorists in Iraq, so we don't have to face them in our country," President Bush likewise told U.S. troops during his lightning visit to Baghdad.

Such statements are simply false. Our men and women in uniform are not fighting for their lives against international terrorists in Iraq. They are not fighting the people who attacked us on Sept. 11, nor are they fighting allies of those people.

Instead, the guerrillas who are launching mortars at our military bases, attacking our troops on patrol or hiding booby traps on Iraqi highways are native Iraqis who are trying to evict American troops from their country. Despicable and cowardly as their tactics are, the Iraqi resistance is almost entirely Iraqi.

Well, I'm not sure what the counterargument is. It might go that we just had to do this preemptive/preventive/prophylactic war thing. We had to. Saddam was a BAD man. It's good he's gone, right? And we'll build a mighty fine country there now, secular and free-market capitalist, and they'll gladly recognize Israel and peace will break out all over the place. Well, that seems to be the current thinking.

And "they" are attacking simply because they hate us.

They are not attacking us because they hate Americans. They are attacking us because they hate Americans who are occupying their country.

Well, why would they hate us for that? We're there to liberate them! Those idiots!

Here is what the Bush administration does not want to admit to the American people:

We are fighting two different wars today, against two very different enemies. The first war, against international terror, was brought to our shores by the attacks of Sept. 11, and we had no choice but to respond aggressively, with every bit of power we could muster. The invasion of Afghanistan, the toppling of its Taliban government and the destruction of al-Qaida bases in that country were justified and necessary responses, and if anything should have been prosecuted even more aggressively than they were.

The war against Iraq, on the other hand, has been a war of choice, a war of opportunity launched by the Bush administration because the events of Sept. 11 gave it the cover to do so. If Iraq is now "the central front on the war on terror," it is because the Bush administration made it so by invading that country and threatening to turn it into the type of "failed nation" that produces terrorism.

We created this mess? But we had to! Maybe.

The war on Iraq and the war on terror are two different struggles. Tackled separately, either would have taken us years to win. Tackling them simultaneously was tragic foolishness on a very large scale, no matter how much the president claims otherwise.

Yeah, well, will Jay change his tune when Iraq is indistinguishable from ... Arizona?

We shall see.

Posted by Alan at 15:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:50 PST home

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