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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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Friday, 26 August 2005

Topic: Selling the War

End of the Week: No Agreement in Iraq, Dissatisfaction on the Home Front, and No One Doing Much

From the New York Times we get this:
Talks over the Iraqi constitution reached a breaking point on Thursday, with a parliamentary session to present the document being canceled and President Bush personally calling one of the country's most powerful Shiite leaders in an effort to broker a last-minute deal.

Mr. Bush intervened when some senior Shiite leaders said they had decided to bypass their Sunni counterparts, as well as Iraqi lawmakers, and send the document directly to Iraqi voters for their approval.
From the Associated Press we get this:
[Shiite negotiator Ali] Al-Adeeb said Bush personally telephoned Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and asked him to make compromises on parts of the consitution that would purge former members of Saddam's Sunni-dominated Baath Party from government jobs and political life and on federalism, which the Sunnis strongly oppose.

A second Shiite negotiator also confirmed the Bush call but asked that his name not be published.

Al-Adeeb said al-Hakim told the president that the Shiite bloc was made up of several groups "and they might reject the constitution if the article on the Baath Party is removed.''
The AP follow-up: "The White House confirmed that Bush made the call prior to the midnight Thursday deadline."

Juan Cole: the president bas been "reduced to pleading with a pro-Iranian cleric to please make nice with the ex-Baathists. And he isn't even succeeding in the plea!"

Typical comment from a critic here:
You can bet he wasn't expecting this when he strutted across that aircraft carrier two years ago - or even last year, when Karl Rove had him entering campaign rallies last year accompanied by the theme from "Top Gun."

On the flip side, though, can you imagine the high-fives that were being exchanged in SCIRI headquarters after the call? Al-Hakim will be dining out for years on the story: "So the U.S. president said, 'Please, Mr. Hakim, can you help us?' And I said, "Ahh, I don't know, Mr. President, I'll have to give it some thought..."
This isn't going anywhere.

The poll numbers are tanking. The president's approval ratings are somewhere between thirty-six and forty percent, depending on the poll, with disapproval running about fifty-six percent.

A bad week.

Here's a literary comparison from Michael Signer: Death of a Salesman, 2005.

After a rundown of the situation, this -
Most of the problems about America's situation in Iraq can be traced back not to faults in intelligence, to the Bush's failure at international diplomacy, or to internal disputes in Iraq. They're instead rooted in an earlier, domestic catastrophe: the Bush Administration's failure to convince the American people of the moral rightness of invading Iraq.

It's August, so it's worth remembering this is the month that Andy Card said was, "from a marketing point of view," a bad time to introduce new products.

If they know so much, why was the Bush Administration so bad at selling us this product?

Americans are willing to suffer great numbers of casualties when they believe there's a cause that, morally, rises to the level of mass sacrifice. Osama bin Laden famously said America in Somalia was "paper tiger" that "after a few blows ran in defeat." This belief underlies the ferocity of Al Qaeda's attacks.

The American people want to be convinced by their leaders that they should summon collective moral passion for a military engagement. We tend to approach casualties in a binary fashion -- either they are good (and worth dying for) or not (and worth protesting against -- by the way, Cindy Sheehan is back).
If you click on the item there are embedded links that document all that. And Signer notes that although the casualty level is low compared to the Civil War and the two world wars, although at about Vietnam War levels, he says this:
... unlike many other countries who routinely support grandly bloody conflicts almost as a matter of national culture, Americans apply a high moral standard to casualties: we will not tolerate casualties if they're the result of a conflict in the morally gray area between - which explains why we are convulsing over fewer than 2,000 casualties in Iraq.

Moreover, American constitution-making and nation-building only works when Americans are solidly behind the efforts. Americans fall behind these efforts when they are convinced of their moral rightness. We were more than willing to plow billions of dollars into the Marshall Plan, and to rebuild Germany and Japan, because we were fully convinced of the moral rightness of the missions.

The Bush Administration sold the American people on this war in a hurried, political-blunderbuss sort of way. They worked through politicians first, rather than going to the people. They staged the first vote in Congress a mere three weeks before the 2002 Congressional elections, meaning that the votes (and the "deliberation" that went before them) were shot through with intensely political calculation.

The Administration could have gained more public support for military action in Iraq by focusing less on WMD and more on the stories of Saddam's brutalization of Iraqis, and the fact that his hostile posture threatened our post-9/11 pax Americana.

But, alas, they didn't. They jammed a conclusory war down Congress's throats and presented the package to the American people (the ultimate arbiters) as a done deal.
Singer say we actually were willing to accept this war on faith, but we never really had "that burning, moral passion that has undergirded our greatest military campaigns; the absence of which has gradually corroded our weakest ones (Vietnam, Korea, smaller engagements like Panama, and, now, Iraq)."

Undergirded? Whatever. You see the point. We're losing faith. It been going on for a long time now.

What we face now?
1) A successful Iraq constitution could well take many years of patient cultivation. In America (which was far more stable and internally cohesive), we took ten years. And each of our states (like Iraq's regions) developed their own constitutions in the meantime. But the Bush Administration can't be that patient in Iraq because they need to have a deadline, because they want to get out, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war.

2) To truly establish rule-of-law in Iraq, and stamp out rebellion, would require large numbers of troops, perhaps gained through a draft. Americans have supported drafts before, especially where we've had moral passion for the engagement. But the Bush Administration would never consider a draft, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war

3) To truly win in Iraq (rather than leave behind a fragmented and faltering country) we might well have to suffer more casualties, in the 10,000-or-more range, over the next few years. The American people would certainly grant that sacrifice, if they were behind the war. But the Bush Administration is panicking, because they failed to sell the American people, morally, on the war.
You see where this is going.

Thursday the 25th Jon Stewart had as is guest on "The Daily Show" the facile and experienced, well-traveled and hyper- knowledgeable, and staunchly pro-war Christopher Hitchens as his guest, which was odd. You might note this exchange -
Stewart: But there are reasonable disagreements in this country about the way this war has been conducted, that has nothing to do with people believing we should cut and run from the terrorists, or we should show weakness in the face of terrorism, or that we believe that we have in some way brought this upon ourselves...

They believe that this war is being conducted without transparency, without credibility, and without competence...

Hitchens: I'm sorry, sunshine... I just watched you ridicule the president for saying he wouldn't give...

Stewart: No, you misunderstood why. That's not why I ridiculed the president. He refuses to answer questions from adults as though we were adults, and falls back upon platitudes and phrases and talking points, that does a disservice to the goals that he himself shares with the very people needs to convince."
You can watch the whole thing here - Stewart dismantled him. No pleasantries at the end. Hitchens' comment as the walked off the set? "It's been real."

Actuality it was. This just isn't working. But only the comics can say that - and Cindy Sheehan, who is, of course, a flawed messenger. And Chuck Hegel, a Republican with lots of medals from when he fought in Vietnam. No Democrat would dare.

See this from Fafblog:
Fafblog Interviews: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

FAFBLOG: So what's up, Democrats?

JOE BIDEN: What's up is the war in Iraq, which is terribly mismanaged, Fafnir.

FB: Oh wow! Are you guys against the war, too?

JOE LIEBERMAN: Oh no, we're not AGAINST the war!
HARRY REID: We're all FOR it!
BIDEN: It's the best worst idea in the world, and we're gonna run with it to victory!
HILLARY CLINTON: Watch me eat a bug!

FB: So we can actually win the war! That's great news!

REID: Sort of!
BIDEN: Maybe!
CLINTON: I can wrestle a buffalo!

FB: I'm confused.

REID: The problem is troop levels, Fafnir. The US invaded without enough boots on the ground!
LIEBERMAN: Just another couple hundred thousand soldiers on the ground and hey, we should have this thing wrapped up in no time!
BIDEN: Just like I told George Bush all along! I told him in the Oval Office, "You're gonna go in without enough troops and you're not gonna plan for the occupation and it's gonna be the biggest mistake of your presidency and I'm gonna vote for it!"

FB: Wow, that all seems so prescient.

BIDEN: And then Batman jumped in through the window and said "Senator, the Justice League needs you right away!" and I said "Shut up and move, rich boy, we've got a moon to save!"
CLINTON: I have eaten the heart of a gorilla!

FB: So how come you guys voted for the war if the president was gonna screw it up?

REID: We were misled!
LIEBERMAN: We were deceived!
BIDEN: We were given the impression that the war was actually a match of bareknuckle fisticuffs between a mustachioed Brooklyn brawler and a plucky midget Irishman!
CLINTON: Wanna see me punch out a yak? 'Cause I will!

FB: Will the lies never end. But where will we get the troops from now, Democratic Party? Aren't we runnin out of em?

REID: We've used up plenty of REAL troops, sure, but what about FAKE troops? Why isn't the military pounding the streets looking to recruit new mannequins, crash-test dummies and hand puppets?
LIEBERMAN: Our nation's rich supply of blow-up dolls has barely begun to be explored for national security purposes.
BIDEN: To say nothing of our nation's patriotic trained seal and dolphin population! When will the Pentagon deploy the 101st Fighting Shamu Brigade?
CLINTON: I can tear a boulder in half with my teeth!

FB: Yknow you're right! An that's not even countin what our friends in the fungus kingdom could do.

LIEBERMAN: And you know, Fafnir, if we could train the Iraqi forces to replace our forces more efficiently, we could end the occupation that much faster.

FB: That's such a great idea I can't believe nobody's thought of it before! How do we do that?

REID: Voodoo!
LIEBERMAN: Santeria!
BIDEN: Giant samurai robots piloted by magical fairy children!
CLINTON: If elected I promise to rampage through New York City and swat biplanes from the top of the Empire State Building until my grisly and untimely demise!

FB: Now I like everything I've heard so far today but for some crazy reason most Americans think we should just start pullin our troops OUT of Iraq. Are most Americans crazy?

REID: They're not crazy, Fafnir.
LIEBERMAN: They're just weak, willing to expose America's flabby underbelly to the curved scimitars of a thousand swarthy terrorists.
BIDEN: We can't blink, man! That'd be like... like losing an arm-wrestle to Allah or something! Game over, man! Then they know we're pussies!
CLINTON: I will go back in time and become Richard Nixon and lose the Vietnam War twice as hard as anybody!

FB: Yknow you guys got tons a great ideas but you won't be able to do anything with em unless you win some elections again. How're you gonna do that?

REID: By listening carefully to the American people, and then ignoring them.
LIEBERMAN: By forcefully arguing against the direction George Bush is taking this country!
BIDEN: Just before we vote for it again. ...
Not too far off the mark.

So the one or two maverick Republicans, a few comics, and the ordinary folks, a majority now, those fed up with this all - but not anyone from the "opposition party" - are the ones left to fix this?

Seems so.

Posted by Alan at 21:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 21:50 PDT home

Topic: Photos


Over the last ten days the parent site of this web log, the weekly Just Above Sunset, has seen a dramatic drop in readership, perhaps by fifty percent. This may be the time of year - more and more folks on vacation - but may represent a general weariness with all things political. Perhaps noting much is changing, or will ever change, and everything that needs be said has been said, and said too many times. Or perhaps it's the heat. Los Angeles is in the hottest days of the year and we had scattered blackouts on Thursday the 25th - a major transmission line went down in the middle of peak demand (all that air-conditioning running full tilt as most every place inland from the coast was well over one hundred degrees in the shade).

But if the problem is weariness with all things political - and a collective shrug at current events - the new issue on Sunday will go with the flow. It will be heavy on photography, from Paris, from New York, and from today's photo shoot at the Getty Museum far above Sunset. Here are three of the shots from the 227 we snapped today.

A still life:

An artichoke:

A photographic comment on the passage of time:

Posted by Alan at 18:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 18:39 PDT home

Thursday, 25 August 2005

Topic: Selling the War

Flypaper: Some Conceptual and Practical and Moral Issues

Gregory Djerejian in London is the vice-president and general counsel of a financial services company that specializes in commercial real estate projects, alternative investments, and company acquisitions. So? He also helps manage a philanthropic organization that has supported a number of projects in the Republic of Armenia including a loan program for small and medium sized enterprises undertaken in conjunction with the Washington-based Eurasia Foundation. Before that he was a corporate lawyer in New York. He also worked with our State Department in Bosnia, and had worked at the US Mission to the United Nations and with the congress. His full bio is here, and he publishes The Belgravia Dispatch. He brings an interesting perspective to things, and doesn't rant, and doesn't wear the conspiracy tin-foil hat you find so often on the web. And by the way, Belgravia is the neighborhood in London where you find all the embassies - as you recall from the Sherlock Holmes stories. That's where this fellow lives.

Thursday, August 25, you will find on the site an item that considers the "flypaper theory" of why we have to fight on in Iraq at the same level, if not at some increased level. The theory has its problems - call them logic problems - and they interest me because I have heard this justification for what we're doing in Iraq from any number of those I know now posted there, and from their friends and relatives.

The theory, in the president's words -
Our troops know that they're fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy. They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail.
We all have heard that repeated by those who want to explain how things really are to those "others" - who think the Iraq operations were and are a diversion from the main task at hand, and make us no safer, and squandered our resources. The idea posited is that this Iraq business is a clever way of creating a new front in the larger war, a contained area where we lure the bad guys and take care of them - Iraq as flypaper to trap them, if you will.

Put aside the problem that this explanation appeared late in the justifications for the war, after the WMD business fell apart and nothing could be established connecting the regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks of September 11, 2001 - it came much later, along with the idea we were there to establish an Jeffersonian democracy with full rights for all, including women, and with a deregulated free-market capitalistic-entrepreneurial economy. That too is now in question as we see a budding Islamic theocracy is quite possible, with its implicit repressions, and the arguments over the new constitution drag on.

Why we have to fight on in Iraq at the same level - why we have to "stay the course" - has now devolved into two contentions - all we have left for justification.

One is the flypaper concept, and the other - ''the way to honor American troops killed in Iraq is to complete their mission and bring freedom to the region.'' If we change course now we dishonor those who have died.

As mention previously, this second idea is why so many are now angry. The idea is now floating around that someone betrayed those almost two thousand good people - and they are dead. And they are dead for no good reason. That is, in some minds, criminal - unless there is a clear explanation of why their deaths were necessary. More and more Americans just don't get it. Allowing more to die makes no sense to them. It doesn't address the issue of what the first two thousand died for.

Putting aside the we-sacrificed-so-many-so-we-have-to-continue-simply-to-make-those-initial-deaths-meaningful argument, there's this flypaper business.

That is what is examined in The Flypaper Fallacy: 10 Reasons Not To Believe the Hype in The Belgravia Dispatch.

Here, Gregory Djerejian explains "the main reason I supported Bush's re-election was because I felt he wouldn't precipitously draw-down from Iraq like Kerry all but declared he would" - but he is troubled. Partly it's that he senses Americans "are smelling out something rather simple" - we are not successfully achieving our strategic objectives in Iraq, which he identifies as the "creation of a viable unitary and democratic state." He cites "dismally poor post-war planning run out of the Pentagon."

But there is this:
That is not to say we are condemned to fail. Far from it. Let's recall some basics. George Bush unseated perhaps the cruelest, most odious leader on the world stage in ridding Iraq of Saddam. Some 8 million Iraqis braved fascistic violence to come out and vote last January. Zal Khalizad is making a yeoman's effort in cobbling together a workable compromise on a constitution that could, just perhaps, help breathe new life into forging a unitary, democratic Iraq -ideally striking a deft balance between central authority (which is critical so as to avoid the specter of ethnic cleansing and the concomitant imperiling of minority rights) and some degree of federalism (Shia, especially in the south, and the Kurds, of course, will demand it). And, to Bush's credit, despite the increasingly loud calls from various quarters, he appears (I say appears as we hear too much of troop draw-downs from points Pentagon) to be continuing to stand up with the Iraqi people during this hugely arduous process.
But there are problems.

What problems? Try this - after more than two years after "the end of major combat operations" you have the daily attacks right in the middle of Baghdad, in broad daylight.

And this list -
- "Towns abutting the Euphrates in Anbar Province are once again becoming insurgent sanctuaries."

- "Largely unregulated Kurdish militias more or less rule the north with impunity, and they are said to be detaining extra-judicially myriad Arabs in detention centers."

- "Strategically critical towns like Kirkuk remain potential tinder-boxes."

- "There is a possible intra-Shi'a schism brewing, and Moktada al-Sadr looks set to start causing trouble again, though he continues to step back from the precipice as is his wont."

- "And while the constitution might yet be agreed, it is unclear what, if any, real impact its passage would have on both on the insurgency and your typical Iraqi on the street, worried more about security and, also, bread and butter related issues like jobs and the state of reconstruction efforts (unemployment is sky-high and reconstruction continues to seriously lag)."
Other than that? Things are fine.

Of course we are getting tired of "the easy, stump lines, especially when they've been repeated over and over and over for several years now" - "I understand freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is an Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world." -
You know, I don't really care anymore, if I ever did, whether freedom is God's gift or the US's gift or France's gift or God knows whose gift "to the world." But I do know 'freedom' is not exactly flowering in Iraq, and so hasn't quite arrived as yet, which while eminently understandable given how massive an enterprise securing freedom there entails, nevertheless leaves us with the nagging problem of whether we have a persuasive 'success strategy' to achieve said freedom there - whether via the work of some benevolent omnipotent deity or, more realistically, the brass-tacks, hard work achieved via the expenditure of the blood and treasure of a great nation.
It was the gift of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, by the way. But putting aside the great gifts of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, what about this flypaper business?

We learn there was just no mention of it before the war - it's a post-war explanation of why we did this - "a convenient theory first cooked up by a David Warren many moons ago." You cannot find any "unambiguous administration statement before the war in Iraq specifically stating that the precise policy goal, strategic objective, and principal rationale for war in Iraq was to fight terrorists 'over there' so they wouldn't come 'over here.'" Djerejian did his homework. Nothing.

The Warren statement is here:
The US occupation of Iraq has done more to destabilize Iran than the ayatollahs could hope to do in Iraq; and then something. This "something" has befuddled the various "experts" on regional security, trapped within their Pavlovian assumptions. They notice that the U.S. forces in Iraq have become a new magnet for regional terrorist activity. They assume this demonstrates the foolishness of President Bush's decision to invade.

It more likely demonstrates the opposite. While engaged in the very difficult business of building a democracy in Iraq - the first democracy, should it succeed, in the entire history of the Arabs - President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps.

This is the meaning of Mr. Bush's "bring 'em on" taunt from the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, when he was quizzed about the "growing threat to U.S. forces" on the ground in Iraq. It should have been obvious that no US President actually relishes having his soldiers take casualties. What the media, and US Democrats affect not to grasp, is that the soldiers are now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenseless civilians, both in Iraq and at large. The sore thumb of the U.S. occupation - and it is a sore thumb equally to Baathists and Islamists, compelling their response - is not a mistake. It is carefully hung flypaper.
Ah, so THAT'S why he said "bring 'em on" - all part of the plan!

The problems with that, as Djerejian sees it?
1) It's assumes a finite number of jihadis willing to die.

2) Indeed, and related to 1, it ignores that Iraq may be creating more jihadists - not all of whom are rushing to Damascus en route to parts Anbar.

3) It further ignores the fact that some jihadists, terrorists and fundamentalist radicals are gaining valuable experience in terror tactics in Iraq, as CIA reports have indicated, and then heading back out of country to theaters like Europe to pursue attacks there.

4) Flypaper, of course, also ignores dozens of terror attacks outside of Iraq since the advent of hostilities there in early 2003, witness (and this is not a comprehensive tally): [click on the link for items (a) through (mm)] - Bottom line, people: The "carefully hung" flypaper is K-mart quality, I guess, cuz it's not working too well...

5) As serious observers of international terrorist organizations well realize, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, PFLP-GC, DFLP, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, Chechen separatists (and quite a few other groups besides) are not rushing their forces into Iraq to fight the American Satan near the Green Zone or in Anbar Province - as they've got their own battles to wage.

6) It follows, of course, that Warren's argument that flypaper acts to protect Israel is risible (leaving aside, of course, why American policymakers should be hugely pre-occupied with creating "a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted" (Warren's words) as the very center of a war strategy ostensibly, one would think, primarily concerned with the U.S. national interest, rather than any other countries--yes even including close and important allies).

7) UBL and his henchmen know full well that a mega-terror attack on the scale of 9/11 in a London, New York or Los Angeles would have a hugely larger impact than dozens felled in the latest car bombing of a Shi's shrine near Karbala. You can hang the flytrap from Casablanca to Jakarta and al-Qaeda operatives will still be trying to hit major Western metropolises. Bank on it, as they well see how the intense media coverage of a half-assed 7/7 operation compares to that of terror attacks that kill two or three times as many in Iraq with some routineness. They are still coming after us, and they are not all in Iraq. Not by a long shot. This is because they realize hitting us in our towns and cities smarts much, much more, and also because people trained for operations in Western cities might not be the best kind of jihadis to send to the banks of the Euphrates.

8) Dare I even raise it, as so few seem to give a shit, the moral angle - [see below]

9) [What if] Flypaper is really happening. It's true! Iraq is jihadi central, big time, and they are pouring in in massive numbers. And what if, just, we lose Iraq, with more and more Iraqis radicalized (or cowed by insurgents and/or militias) because we have failed to provide security there because of said influx? Then what?

10) A final problem with flypaper. It's a lie, and it will fly back and smack the President hard in the face when the inevitable next terror attack occurs in the U.S. Those listening and relying and believing his stump speech, credulous people in the heartland, who really think 'we are fighting them there so we don't need to here' - well, they will feel profoundly deceived. That's not good when you are already languishing at 40% in the polls.
That'll do.

So what's the moral issue? A self-identified arch-conservative explains, just after the July 7 London bombings, here:
... has anyone thought about why we're justified in using another nation as flypaper in the first place, even if it was a viable, effective strategy? What gives us the right to use a sovereign nation as a catch basin for carnage so we can go on blissfully consuming and merrily flipping real estate here? Instead of flypaper, this should be called the "Night of the Living Dead Nation" strategy - using the undead, zombie-like carcass of a failed state for our own benefit. Beyond the sheer selfish immorality of it, has anyone thought about the potential for blowback? How would you feel if we were invaded by the Chinese on a false pretense, and they stated openly that their strategy was to attract and fight the scum of the earth in the streets of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago so they did not have to fight in Beijing?
Good question! And curiously, are we seeing the blowback right now on the streets of Baghdad?

This is the first time I've seen this argument, and can you imagine a reporter asking the president, at one of those infrequent press conferences, "Sir, what gives us the right to use what remains of Iraq as our catch basin for the scum of the earth, so we don't have to be bothered with them here? Is that fair to them?"

That won't be asked. But it would be cool.

Djerejian ends with this:
Look, we don't need to make fake arguments about why we are in Iraq. We went in because Saddam was a uniquely dangerous individual whom was commonly believed to be in possession of WMD. In a post 9/11 world, caution demanded that the burden of proof that he had disarmed be on him. He never convincingly showed the world his regime didn't possess WMD, and Bush acted pursuant to various UN resolutions to bring him to task. But we were wrong, and he didn't have WMD, yet History had marched on by then. In turn, of course, the goal was not to disarm the regime, in the main, but now to create a democratic Iraq. We are flailing, currently, in achieving this goal. And, if we fail, the ramifications will be immense. A splintering of Iraq could lead to interventions in that country by Saudi Arabia, by Iran, by Turkey. Ethnic cleansing within the country is a real possibility even if neighbors don't stir up too much trouble. Terror havens may take root in a prospective Sunni para-state.

Thus the critical need for honesty and serious thinking and fortitude. The stakes are immense. Failure is not an option. And the chances of success will be bolstered if we have a President who appears, not a broken record spouting bromides about 'staying the course', or 'fighting them there so we don't fight 'em here' or 'god's gift of freedom' - but who is instead spelling out a convincing war strategy to win this conflict. What do I want to hear? Well, it's more what I don't want to hear.

... unfortunately, the President is not explaining the stakes or the duration of this war frankly to the American people. Nor are his key surrogates. His Vice President said the insurgency was in its "last throes", and then his Secretary of Defense said insurgencies typically last 12 years. One report says troop-rotation planning is underway for 100,000 troops in theater for four more years, another says troops out by end '06. Is it little wonder the American public is confused? We need clarity and leadership Mr. President. And you are not providing it in requisite fashion at this juncture, in my view, and I say this as a prior and current supporter of this administration. Step up to bat and talk Texan plain and simple - but the real deal - not spin and empty bromides. The time is now.
Funny thing - that is, in a way, just what Cindy Sheehan has been saying.

Posted by Alan at 20:22 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005 20:37 PDT home

Topic: God and US

Pastafarianism: The Flying Spaghetti Monster

This has become so widespread it must be mentioned. It all started with this open letter written to the Kansas School Board regarding the six days of courtroom-style hearings held in May in the capitol, Topeka. As you recall those hearing were to discuss whether Intelligent Design should be taught along with the concept of evolution in the Kansas public schools, or taught in place of evolution. A review of who was saying what can be found here, from May 8th.

The letter from a physics graduate student, Bobby Henderson, opens this way:
I am writing you with much concern after having read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design should be taught along with the theory of Evolution. I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

It is for this reason that I'm writing you today, to formally request that this alternative theory be taught in your schools, along with the other two theories. In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you do not agree to do this, we will be forced to proceed with legal action. I'm sure you see where we are coming from. If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.
There's much more detail of course, scientific theory, including a table showing the correlation of Global Average Temperature to the Number of Pirates from 1820 to the year 2000, along with an artistic rendering of just what the Flying Spaghetti Monster must look like.

The letter ends with this:
I am eagerly awaiting your response, and hope dearly that no legal action will need to be taken. I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.
The actual responses, from three different members of the Kansas School Board are here, including this:
Thanks for your comments about the Flying Spaghetti Monster and all the supporters who have sent their support to members of the Kansas Board of Education. I am supporting the recommendations of the science committee and am currently in the minority. I think your theory is wonderful and possibly some of the majority members will be willing to support it.
The three responders got the joke. Obviously they were from the opposition forces.

Then came the wave of converts to this religion, which has become knows as Pastafarianism.

Evolution debate creates monster
Satirists preach gospel of Flying Spaghetti Monster
Scott Rothschild, The Lawrence Journal-World (Lawrence, Kansas), Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Note this:
In the past few weeks, hundreds of followers of the supreme Flying Spaghetti Monster have swamped state education officials with urgent e-mails.

They argue that since the conservative majority of the State Board of Education has blessed classroom science standards at the behest of intelligent design supporters, which criticize evolution, they want the gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster taught.

... Board member Bill Wagnon, a Democrat, whose district includes Lawrence, said he has received more than 500 e-mails from supporters of FSM.

... John Calvert, of Lake Quivira, the lawyer who was instrumental in writing the science standards that criticize evolution, said he had seen the FSM e-mails, and was not impressed.

"You can only use that misinformation so long," Calvert said. Calvert said the science standards do not promote intelligent design, but show that evolution has its critics.

Wagnon and the three other board members who support evolution have written Henderson back, saying they appreciated the comic relief but that they were saddened that the science standards were being changed to criticize evolution.
Huh? Whatever.

And the matter has grown in detail - note the recently posted painting from the Sistine Chapel of "Touched by His Noodly Appendage." The image is here and available on t-shirts and coffee mugs.

Of course, the anti-evolution pro-ID folks are ticked, and remind us all of a creationist's $25,000 challenge "to anyone who can give any empirical evidence for evolution." See this:
I'd like to know what you think should be taught in the schools.

Certainly not evolution considering there is not one single fact that proves it. No missing links, not even common sense. Lies are still being printed that were proven wrong in the late 1800's but they're still taught as fact.

If you're so positive that you came from a monkey or a rock or whatever you think it is I suggest you debate Dr. Kent Hovind.

Dr. Hovind is willing to pay any individual a quarter of a million dollars to anyone who can give any empirical evidence for evolution. He has had this offer up for a long time but even this country's top scientists have gone up against him and lost the debates.
That appeared on the site Boing Boing. There, after a series of links to various items like Scientific American - "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense: Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up." - this was offered:
We are willing to pay any individual $250,000 if they can produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Challenge Grant Update: Recently converted Pastafarians are adding matching reward funds to the Boing Boing Intelligent Design Challenge. Jason Kottke of and Sean Bonner of metblogs have each offered an additional $250,000. We've been flooded with still more donations, and have decided to cap the purse at $1 million - in part because the number contains a lot of pretty, round zeroes that resemble holy meatballs. …
Oh my!

How controversial has this become? As of Thursday, August 25, the blog tracking service, Technorati shows 1,605 items devoted to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You could listen to the Sparkletone's "What if God Wanted Pasta Sauce" (here) and go the site of true believers in this pasta god - Al Dente - for links to articles in the press on this pasta god.

Is it a minor matter? Read Der Spiegel or the Baltimore Sun or the Chicago Sun-Times or The Guardian or Die Welt or the Hartford Courant or the New Scientist. The links are all there. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is now known to the whole world.

If you know anyone from Kansas, be nice to them. They might be feeling a little defensive right now.


Note: This item was inspired by the blog review that Bidisha Banerjee posted at SLATE.COM – Banerjee was far too brief!

Posted by Alan at 01:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Topic: Dissent

Midweek Heat: Some thoughts on 'Disagreeing Sensibly'

Personal Note: I've been trading emails with my nephew, the Major in Baghdad deeply involved in events there. Without revealing too much, he's in the Green Zone with the senior commanders, tracking events and planning. I know he starts his day before seven and sometimes finishes up sometimes as late as ten in the evening. Still he has time to write a note here and there. A lot of what we discuss is non-political, as in our recent back-and-forth about cars (yes, the whole Jeep product line is underpowered, expect for the new Hemi Grand Cherokee). But we have discussed this war and its possible outcomes. Some of his comments have been posted in these pages - in Chatting With Baghdad, for example. He and I disagree a whole lot, as you can imagine, but as I said to him, we can talk like sensible people. That's one of the many things I like about him. He calls that "disagreeing sensibly." As he puts it - "One of the things I've have learned is that if you are not smart enough to speak sensibly to get your point across, you probably don't have a point."

Indeed. And he admits he sometimes has a problem with being tied emotionally to many of his arguments. Of course. It's a war, he's lost good friends, and he's in the middle of it right now. On this end, this child of the sixties, this idealist with a decade of teaching and trying to save the world, plugged in to the news, has a similar problem.

Our sort loves this country in our own way - we love the concept of it. We old farts long ago bought into all the stuff about liberty, equality, justice, tolerance and basic rights. As kids we watched the whole Civil Rights thing explode and heard King's 1963 Washington speech in real time, or on the evening news that August night, a month before we started tenth grade. Then John Kennedy was taken out, then King, then Bobby. In 1968 we followed what the people in the streets were doing from Chicago to Paris - and watched the news as the Russian tanks moved into Prague and stopped whatever pleasant freedom was growing there. We watched the Vietnam War go sour and end badly (and a good friend, a Frenchwoman I know, was on the last Air France flight out that day) - we all faced the draft in the late sixties, and then some of us won the draft lottery and didn't face the hard choice. Lots of things - Johnson walking away from a second term - Kent State - Nixon resigning. And you want things to be better. Things can be better. You get tied up emotionally, or some do.

The Major in Baghdad and I have been trading notes on Muslim fundamentalism, and he tells me his crew had a great briefing this week on Jihadism from someone from Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). It may have been Katrine Petkova - he didn't say. But he did say this: "She enlightened many of the totalitarians in the crowd. I will see if I can get a copy of the brief to send to you." Cool. Perhaps more on that later.

The Major and I can talk. And we should. He knows lots of things not just from the war, but from his year in Istanbul at their General Staff College, from commanding a platoon of tanks in the first Gulf War, from his deep education at West Point, from his time at Fort Irwin leading parts of the opposition forces in the war games there, being one of the bad guys.

Why wouldn't I listen to him? He listens to me. Fair is fair.

This is why this from Editor and Publisher is so disheartening.

The non-personal part? From August 24, 2005 4:20 PM ET -
The American Legion, which has 2.7 million members, has declared war on antiwar protestors, and the media could be next. Speaking at its national convention in Honolulu, the group's national commander called for an end to all "public protests" and "media events" against the war, even though they are protected by the Bill of Rights.

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.

The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."
Whatever means necessary? The media is next?

Wait. That's not what the Major is fighting for. But in the American Legion speech you get this:
"It would be tragic if the freedoms our veterans fought so valiantly to protect would be used against their successors today as they battle terrorists bent on our destruction."

"No one respects the right to protest more than one who has fought for it, but we hope that Americans will present their views in correspondence to their elected officials rather than by public media events guaranteed to be picked up and used as tools of encouragement by our enemies."
As the folks at Editor and Publisher point out, this is saying that our freedoms "are worth dying for but not exercising." So much for "disagreeing sensibly."

On Cindy Sheehan, but not mentioning her name:
"For many of us, the visions of Jane Fonda glibly spouting anti-American messages with the North Vietnamese and protestors denouncing our own forces four decades ago is forever etched in our memories. We must never let that happen again....

"We had hoped that the lessons learned from the Vietnam War would be clear to our fellow citizens. Public protests against the war here at home while our young men and women are in harm's way on the other side of the globe only provide aid and comfort to our enemies."
Jane Fonda was, and still is, a second-rate actress with a tin ear, politically. She's an embarrassment to the left and to the right - and an embarrassment on screen too. (Barbarella? Give me a break.)

Why do folks listen to celebrities? But they believe what that high school dropout Tom Cruise has to say about psychiatry. Some on the left listen to Barbara Streisand and her political statements. Heck, her singing is irritating enough. Sean Penn is now reporting from Iran for the San Francisco Chronicle. Say what?

What do these people bring to the table? Cindy Sheehan lost her son in this war. You make think her a fool and unhinged - but she brings something to the table. Disagree with her if you will, but she's been there and done that, so to speak. She's not Jane Fonda. In fact, "disagreeing sensibly" might be in order. On the issues.

"Oh, her husband is divorcing her!" Heck, Ronald Reagan - somehow now the father of the conservative right - was a divorced man, the first president who ever was. So what?

What about the issues? The American Legion says they shouldn't be discussed. The Major and I should stop - or at least I shouldn't post here what he says I can post?

Wednesday, August 24, Cindy Sheehan returned to Crawford, Texas with this statement:
I'm coming back to Crawford for my son. As long as the president, who sent him to die in a senseless war, is in Crawford, that is where I belong. I came here two and a half weeks ago for one reason, to try and see the president and get an answer to a very simple question: What is the noble cause that he says my son died for?

The answer to that question will not bring my son back. But it may stop more meaningless deaths. Because every death is now a meaningless one. And the vast majority of our country knows this. So why do more young men and women have to die? And why do more parents have to lose their children and live the rest of their lives with this unbearable grief?

The presidency is not bigger than the people's will.

And when the people speak out, it's the president's responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around.

This isn't about politics. It's about what is good for America and what's best for our security and how far this president has taken us away from both.

I'm coming back to Crawford because - now and forever - this is my duty for my son, for my other children, for other parents, and for my country.
The issues?

What is the "noble cause?" Please define more clearly.

Questions. Has it been defined clearly enough? Polls show the answer is no, it hasn't, and more than half the country thinks we were lied to. So, clarify.

Secondary question. "When the people speak out, it's the president's responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around." True or false, and then explain your answer.

The Major in Baghdad would be glad to deal with the questions. He has, to some extent, done just that in these pages. These are the kind of things we write back and forth. And when his leave comes up we may discuss them again, over cognac with ice water back, which is our little tradition.

What about "disagreeing sensibly" on the big question of the day at the national level?

The president gave a speech on Monday the 22nd to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the former White House speechwriter, David Frum, that expatriate Canadian who thought up the term "Axis of Evil," called it another lost opportunity - "By now it should be clear that President Bush's words on the subject of Iraq have ceased connecting with the American public." His contention is that that you can't announce a big speech and then say the same old thing over and over again.

No kidding.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum posts a small item called Taking War Seriously -
I suppose it's only natural that a speechwriter would focus more on what Bush says than what he does, but even so it's telling that Frum seems to have no substantive advice for his former boss. Do conservatives really buy their own propaganda that things are going swimmingly in Iraq and it's only the liberal media that's making it look bad? Or do they genuinely not have any ideas?

Well, I've got some ideas to run up the flagpole:

- Make the Pentagon's goals for training Iraqi security forces public. "My fellow citizens, we're going to provide monthly reports on how we're doing against these goals. You can hold us to them."

- Encourage enlistment in the Army and Marines. "To today's youth I say, 'You can become our country's greatest generation.' Join up now and help us in our greatest struggle: ridding the world of terrorist killers and the people who support them."

- Get rid of the military's ban on gay soldiers. "We're at war, and that means we need everyone who's willing and able to fight. Gay or straight, black or white, male or female, if you're willing to enlist, our military opens its arms to you."

- Propose a genuine energy independence plan. "We need more efficient cars. We need new sources of energy to power them. We need a tax on oil use. We need better mass transit. I'll be submitting a bill to Congress next week."
Well, they're ideas, but Drum admits they pose problems, like "a tacit admission that things in Iraq aren't progressing as well as Bush has been claiming" - and they all offend some interest group or other.

Yes, "being held accountable might make the Pentagon look bad. Asking for enlistments might embarrass hawks who prefer not to interrupt their rise up the corporate ladder. Welcoming gays into the military would enrage the Christian right. And energy independence would piss off a whole array of corporate interests that Bush depends on."

So? As least they're ideas.

I kind of wish the Major in Baghdad were president. He'd address the issues.

Posted by Alan at 19:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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