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The Other National Guard Story

People keep asking how the National Guard story is relevant to the election. Here's one way.

... [Lt. Col. (Ret.) Bill Burkett] was brought into the Texas Guard by recommendations from former Republican Governor Bill Clements and Jim Francis, one of the presidentâ??s closest friends and most prolific fund-raisers. Burkettâ??s job was to develop a plan to make the guardâ??s training and equipment more relevant to modern missions against enemies like terrorists. His years of work and recommendations, however, were never implemented and the governor is said to have turned down millions of dollars in federal money to pay for improvements when it was offered by the Clinton administration.

No one understood the decision to not upgrade the guard until Bush ran for president. In his first policy speech, given at the Citadel, candidate Bush told the assembled cadets, "If the commander-in-chief were today call upon all of our armed forces to defend America, at least one full division would be unable to answer that call." The only "full division" that was incapacitated at the time of that speech was the Texas National Guard. The governor of Texas is the only governor in the country who has command of a full division. It struck Texas Guard commanders then, even some who supported Bush, that they had been used as a political ploy and their lousy training and equipment was part of a plan....

[James C. Moore, "Men of Destiny", on Buzzflash]

So let's make this clear: When George Bush was Governor of Texas, he studiously avoided taking the steps that would lead to the Texas National Guard becoming prepared to "answer that call," up to and including the expedient of refusing aid from the Clinton administration. And then he proceeded to insinuate that the Clinton administration was to blame for the ill-preparedness of the Texas National Guard.

Brilliant. Positively brilliant. Crooked, sleazy, and dishonest as hell, but brilliant, nonetheless.

Oh, wait; that's not the "National Guard Story" you were thinking of? Sorry.

The Revolution Will Not Be Advertised

Not the real one, anyway.

Pay attention, folks: If we end up with a military dictatorship in this country, it won't be enforced by the Army. It will be enforced by the National Guard. Here's one way it could play out.

It would start with the expanded use of domestic law enforcement resources to quell dissent. We'd see increased surveillance in public areas, a shift to a practical presumption of guilt, and a tendency to assume that anything that can be seen, if even through the use of technology, is fair game for Probable Cause. We'd also see a lot of pre-emptive arrests, and increased depth to the "zero-tolerance" zone around not just the President, but any officer or entity which provides a convenient excuse for zero-tolerance. We saw lots of this at the RNC protests in NYC in August/September.

This has already started, actually, as not just the FBI but also the Secret Service (in both their Presidential Protection and Treasury roles), BATF, the U.S. Marshall Service, et al., have used the Patriot Act to strongarm and threaten citizens ranging from the arguably threatening down to granola-grannies and those most dangerous radicals, librarians.

But that's all still civil, so far. Why do I even bother to fear the rise of military repression? The answer is that I fear it because of two trends: The increasing use of private contractors to escape oversight, and increasing federal control over the National Guard.

As the National Guard comes increasingly under federal control (a trend dating back to the Reagan era, and for which Clinton is not blameless in furthering), the temptation to use the Guard for domestic pacification will grow. It would probably start with anti-terrorism border patrols. (Along the southern border, those would also serve the purpose of drug and immigration control -- added benefits.) I could see a shift in Guard enrollment from "citizen soldiers" -- folks in it to make a few extra bucks while helping out in their state -- to a standing army of people who can't get reliable work anywhere else. If they know they can count on six to eight months of deployment every year, they might well just not bother to get any other real job.

I would expect these "opportunistic guardsmen" to replace the current principle constituency of the Guard. Charles Graners would begin to outnumber Joe Darbys; and with no Joe Darbys around to set a moral tone, the Lynndie Englands will party it up with Chuck. So what we end up with could look an awful lot like -- dare I say it? -- Ernst Röhm's SA: A collection of morally-weak souls looking for purpose, with no appreciable tradition and answering to leaders without strength of character.

The shift could be gradual, over a period of years. Or it could, just as likely, be quite sudden. Let's say there's another large scale attack -- say, something along the lines of the freighter-launched missiles Bruce Sterling has written about. The National Guard could rapidly be pressed into a large-scale, high-authority internal security role. Since their chain of command now effectively stops at the Executive, they would become the President's private army.

There are precedents in American history for the use of military force against civilians -- and many are Republican, for what it's worth. Think Eisenhower ordering in the Airborne to integrate schools; Hoover sending Macarthur to clear out the Hoovervilles; Lincoln ordering infantry into New York to quell the riots; Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion. What would be new for America in a Guard-backed "self-coup" would be that the exercises would be carried out by a group that amounted to the President's own private domestic army. It would have a level of -- for lack of a better term -- subtlety, that would make it more difficult to properly resis.

What would the regular Army do while this was going on? I've speculated before that our current officer corps would not happily stand by and watch the order of things overturned, especially in view of their low opinion of the Bushites. But setting duty against country is a recipe for confusion, and the most likely outcome of confusion is inaction. If the Bushites' actions were sudden and egregious, some large number of flag-rank officers might effectively mutiny -- really, put properly, they would be exercising their obligation under the Uniform Code to refuse unlawful orders. But if the pot were set to heat gradually enough, they might not be able to stir themselves to the concensus that would be necessary for that kind of action.

So I have come to believe that, should Rove and the Bushites choose to violently exercise what they see as their right to rule America as they see fit, the Army would stand by, feeling helpless. Much as the proud traditionalists of the Wehrmacht stood by while the SA and later SS wrought havoc, the Army might well stand by until it's too late to take lawful action.

Now, I've been assured that this will never happen in my lifetime. Why, I'm not clear; perhaps it's because for some people, anything that the President -- well, this President, at least -- wants to do is by definition justified. If he wants to usurp power, he must have a sound reason -- so the logic goes. We should shut up and get with the program. Get with their program, that is; that's the only program that matters....

More likely, though, the idea seems outlandish because we think it just can't ever happen, here -- that it has never happened, here. But as I'm occasionally reminded, on at least one occasion that we know of, a coup plan got fairly far along -- and was then hushed up, rather than its planners being punished.

So, yes, it can happen here. It almost did, once -- if they'd selected someone other than General Smedley Darlington Butler to be their stooge, it might have worked.


"If we leave and there's no civil war, that's a victory."

From the Guardian, via American Samizdat:

[Retired general William] Odom said: "This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile, and we're in much worse shape with our allies."

[Army War College Professor W Andrew] Terrill believes that any sustained US military offensive against the no-go areas "could become so controversial that members of the Iraqi government would feel compelled to resign". Thus, an attempted military solution would destroy the slightest remaining political legitimacy. "If we leave and there's no civil war, that's a victory."

[Retired general Joseph] Hoare believes from the information he has received that "a decision has been made" to attack Fallujah "after the first Tuesday in November. That's the cynical part of it - after the election. The signs are all there."

He compares any such planned attack to the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Asad's razing of the rebel city of Hama. "You could flatten it," said Hoare. "US military forces would prevail, casualties would be high, there would be inconclusive results with respect to the bad guys, their leadership would escape, and civilians would be caught in the middle. I hate that phrase collateral damage. And they talked about dancing in the street, a beacon for democracy."

General Odom remarked that the tension between the Bush administration and the senior military officers over Iraqi was worse than any he has ever seen with any previous government, including Vietnam. "I've never seen it so bad between the office of the secretary of defence and the military. There's a significant majority believing this is a disaster. The two parties whose interests have been advanced have been the Iranians and al-Qaida. Bin Laden could argue with some cogency that our going into Iraq was the equivalent of the Germans in Stalingrad. They defeated themselves by pouring more in there. Tragic."

Of course, these are all retired men and military academics, but still, one has to wonder: How do the Bushites expect to succeed when they are determined to dictate reality to their experts?

Tsk. Such defeatism. If we'd all just get with the program, then we'd beat those darn terrorists, for sure! (Better still if those pesky Iraqis would get with the program -- get with our program.)

But then, we never would 'get with the program', would we? Because, after all, if we think we're right, aren't we supposed to fight for that? Isn't that the very definition of moral courage -- not being swayed by the admonitions of others? Wouldn't it make as much sense for us to expect anti-abortion activists to give up their position because they're a divisive minority and are just causing everybody grief? And if not -- why?

Answer: "Why do you hate Freedom so much?" (Funny...I thought I loved it...I must have been wrong...)

MemoGate: Approaching Real Data

The Dallas Morning News has finally managed to do what reasonable folks have been suggesting for almost a week, and tracked down Colonel Killian's secretary, Marian Carr Knox. For the first time, someone has bothered to actually talk to someone who might actually know something.

And according to Mrs. Knox, both sides are right: As far as she can recall, she never typed that memo, and no, they don't look right. But she's also adamant that they do accurately convey Colonel Killian's state of mind at the time.

But both sides are also wrong. She did have the superscript "th" key on her manual Olympia; and she didn't have proportional spacing. But Colonel Killian did routinely write "CYA" memos to "cover his back" on issues just like the one the memo purports to cover.

Regardless, it remains as true today as it was on Monday that fine-grained analytical techniques aren't valid when they're applied to coarse-grain data.

And perhaps more important, the cues that she used to definitively say that it wasn't authentic were completely different from those used by the brigade of attack-monkeys. For example, she notes that:

  • The signature block on the "CYA" memo is on the right; hers were always on the left. (That would be an standard signature block position for many institutions, FWIW.)
  • "Billet" and "administrative officer" are Army Guard terminology, not Air Guard.
  • The memo distinguishes between refusal to take the physical and failure to "meet military standards"; Mrs. Knox says that in her experience, that distinction wouldn't have been made.
  • While General Buck Staudt would most likely have tried to exert improper influence -- and Colonel Killian would indeed have wanted to "cover his back" on it -- he wouldn't have been in a position to exert influence after retirement. (Again, this could represent an Army Guard culture-bias.)

The Army Guard influences could end up being important, as the Dallas Morning News suggests that the CBS documents may have been provided by a disgruntled Army National Guard veteran.

"I remember very vividly when Bush was there and all the yak-yak that was going on about it," Marian Carr has remarked. But memory... it's non-sporting to question the memory of an 86-year-old woman, but it's also sensible. Just as sensible as questioning the memory of anyone. How certain can she be of things that did or didn't happen more than 30 years ago? Not very -- but she can reconstruct, and make judgements, and sometimes (if they're done consciously) those are better than memory. For example, she reconstructs that the placement of signature block and the terminology are wrong.

What will be interesting will be to see how the Right Wing attack brigades handle this. Will they focus on the forgery angle and ignore everything else? (That's my bet.) Or will they ignore it? And on the left -- will they bow their heads, or will they point out that the attackers were right for the wrong reasons -- and that, by that token, they were, in fact, wrong?

In the end, this does still come back around to different conceptions of truth and evidence -- I would say that it's basically a conflict between empiricism and lysenkoism. One side looked at existing data; the other side constructed new data. Now that something like a decision is being approached, the side that constructed data will most likely be prepared to jettison all of that data and still claim ownership of the conclusions they drew from it. It's a bit like reasoning that Smith is a killer because all redheads are killers, and then saying "See? I told you so!" when he's revealed to be a killer, but also blonde. They were right; it doesn't matter how.

Grover's World

A peek inside the mind of Grover Norquist:

Last, a Bush-Cheney victory in November will create the conditions for a constructive contest among leading Republican governors and senators for the presidential nomination in 2008. Dick Cheney's heart troubles mean that he will retire with Bush in 2009. Usually the sitting vice president is the natural enemy of all ambitious politicians of his party, but now all Republicans want a Bush-Cheney victory in 2004, so they can run for an open presidential ticket in 2008. The Democrats face the opposite dilemma: Every ambitious Democrat hopes Kerry-Edwards fails, so that the presidency will open for her (or him) in 2008 rather than in 2012, 2016, or 2020. [emphasis added]
[Grover Norquist, "The Democratic Party is Toast"]

"No brag. Just fact," says Norquist earlier in the piece, echoing the ubiquitous Freeper boast. Everyone, in the end (so goes the Gospel According to Grover -- or is it the Gospel According to Rove? ... or does it matter?), is always only ever concerned with his/her own dominance, and always only ever looking out for his/her self-interest.

After all, isn't bipartisanship just "another term of date rape"?

MemoGate Circle Jerk

"I've not seriously doubted since that afternoon that any lie will receive almost instant corroboration, and almost instant collaboration, if the maintenance of it results in the public enjoyment of someone else's pain, someone else's humiliation." ['Phillip E. Marlowe', The Singing Detective]

I need to leave off MemoGate, at least at the detail level. It's making me insane. But I will take a couple of parting shots.

On Saturday morning I took the trouble of mapping out a few of the point by point reasons why most of the "challenges" to authenticity are completely irrelevant. For the most part, they end up being quite a bit like arguing that the Mona Lisa must be a forgery because it's possible to make a digital represenation of it that looks the same when viewed on a computer monitor...

And yet, people keep treating these amateur forensics as though they mean something, even when they're carried out by incompetents. (That's being charitable; when someone repeatedly states that "x typeface didn't exist on typewriters", even after it's been shown that it was actually common, what you really ought to call that person is a liar, not incompetent. And when people proceed to create elaborate arguments based on detailed exegesis of of the minutiae of typefaces, while looking at a fundamentally corrupt dataset -- in this case, a digital image of a fax created from an nth-generation photocopy [alas, his popularity has swamped his website] -- you have to wonder why it never occurs to them that their dataset is fundamentally corrupt. So maybe I should settle for "willfully incompetent." That would at least be consistent with Our President's approach.)

Someone at PC Mag has been bothered by this same thought, and took the trouble to point out via a visual example that it's not terribly surprising when systems designed to make things look consistent actually (lo, and behold!) accomplish that goal: So, using word processing software, I can make a document that looks a lot (note: "a lot", not "completely" -- anyone claiming the latter about these "forensic exercises" is [ahem!] willfully incompetent) like a document that was done 30 years earlier on a typewriter. And that's surprising...why?

Anyway, I'm glad I didn't bother to buff up my own inventory. Media Matters for America has done a much better job than I could have in my exasperated state. They take a different tack, too, ignoring the blogosphere's circle-jerk to concentrate on the second-order circle-jerk that's been infesting media circles.

It's worth reading; they isolate the core charges, debunk them briefly, then proceed to demonstrate the failure of "journalists" across the spectrum to raise the obvious questions. I'm tempted to accuse these journalists, also, of willful incompetence; does it make a difference whether they're just protecting their jobs, or piling on?

Ultimately, of course, and so very, very sadly, none of this matters. The fact that the lie has been uttered so widely and in such an unquestioning, uncritical manner, will make it true, in the public eye. This is, again, the big lie. It's been refined and honed since it got this modern name, but of course swindlers and despots have understood it since the dawn of humanity: It's an intellectual circle-jerk, where each participant understands (at least, at some level) their own failure, but (willfully) (and oft uncharacteristically) presumes the integrity of their informant. Why? Because it's in their interest to do so. Because it protects their rice bowl. But mostly, I fear, becaues it lets them harm someone else without taking the blame for it, themselves. ("If everybody's guilty, no one's guilty.")

ADDENDUM: Maha at Daily Kos -- a bona fide type expert -- has talked extensively about (among other things) the fact that the data being used for these "analyses" is so degraded as to be nearly useless. He points to Jeanne d'Arc (blogger, not saint): "In general, people on the left face uncertainty the way I did in that post -- asking for answers, and weighing evidence (and often giving people with an ax to grind more credit than they deserve). On the right, 'evidence' is just whatever supports what you want to believe."

In the end, Maha bids us to:

Stop it. Just stop it. Could the Killian documents be forgeries? Could Paul Wolfowitz be a space alien? Anything is possible.

But there is no evidence I've seen so far that has persuaded me the documents are forgeries. And I'm the best expert I know.

Bite my spike

It's late, but I can't seem to get a couple articles off my mind from this morning's reading of our local Detroit Free Press. These articles had originated with different titles in other papers before today. It isn't even the articles themselves that remain imbued in my mind so much as their juxtaposition on the same page of the paper: Maureen Dowd's anti-Bush/Cheney piece, "Politics of Fear," next to "The Kerry campaign's weakest link: John Kerry" by Michael Goodwin. Bush/Cheney bully sidling up to the perceived "weak" Kerry kid on the playground.

Continued scenario: Enter Maureen Dowd sporting a pair of kick-ass, red shoes with five-inch steel stiletto heels. Georgie runs for cover over yonder, burying his head in the sandbox. Maureen skewers Dickie's shirtsleeve to the ground with left spiked heel, at the same time lifting Johnnie up by the bootstraps with her right heel. She flings him into the sandbox where he lands right on top of Georgie, effectively burying W.'s head even deeper. Johnnie has a moment to focus, regroup. Now's the time for charge of the Kerry brigade.

Stay tuned...

Update: Paul Krugman (NYT) charges in with some salient suggestions for redress.

"If Senator John Kerry really has advisers telling him not to attack Mr. Bush on national security, he should dump them. When Dick Cheney is saying vote Bush or die, responding with speeches about jobs and health care doesn't cut it.

"Mr. Kerry should counterattack by saying that Mr. Bush is endangering the nation by subordinating national security to politics."

'Nuther update: Johnny is up and "appears to be running harder, faster, bolder and stronger." But wait. Where did all those "security moms" come from, helping W out of the sandbox? What the hell?


MemoGate: The Festival Of Wrong Questions

A veritable shitstorm has blown across the country, and the spin is depressingly fascinating. Again, one left-field rant has succeeded in side-tracking every participant in the political discourse into a Festival Of Wrong Questions.

A creative (if Freeperishly obsessive) soul has taken the trouble to scale the font size and margins of a Microsoft word document until it has the same line-length as one of the increasingly infamous "Killian Memos". He's then pronounced the "spacing" on the two to be "exactly identical in every regard".

It's good to read through his entire argument. If you read it through in isolation, and without really trying to perform the tests he describes, you'll probably be convinced he's right.

Original from CBS

MS Word version


But if you bother to actually do the comparisons he claims to have done, you can quickly discern some damning differences:

  • Vertical spacing (i.e., float above the baseline) differs between the two images. (To belabor the obvious, this is entirely inconsistent with digital rendering by MS Word.)
  • Some of the letter-forms are just plain different. Find some 8s, for example.
  • In general, the serifs appear to be heavier on the Killian memo. (Modern computer fonts were generally designed with a lighter line and smaller serifs.)
  • The vertical spacing on the "th" element (para 1, line 4) is markedly different. (Again: Vertical spacing is very difficult in MS Word.)

To do the comparison, I suggest you save the files locally and enlarge them. You might want to bring them into a graphics program so you can really test them. Or, better still, print them and break out your straight edges and rulers. (A type guage would be handy, too, but won't be necessary for professinals.)

A typographer -- that is, a real typographer, as opposed to someone who merely claims to be one -- would spot these differences right away, and would never claim 'identity in every regard.' Any competent print designer would immediately perceive that these were typed using different typefaces. Ignorant and mistaken protestations regarding "kerning" [sic] notwithstanding (they happen to be wrong, as a simple test demonstrates), it's clear to any objective eye that the Killian memos were not produced using Microsoft Word and Microsoft New Times Roman.

(That having been said, and as it's demonstrably and unequivocally true that Times New Roman has been available on typewriters since 1941, the opinion of some document experts begins to seem quite odd... Makes me wonder about the quality of forensic experts in general, if this "expert's" "exhaustive" database didn't include something known to have existed.)

Now, a little history with typewriters can also help to make the arguments against the memos very suspect. The writer at LittleGreenFootballs can be forgiven for being too young to actually remember typewriters, but I'm not: I used a Selectric or a Wheelwriter five days a week for several years. In fact, one of my housemates c. 1984 owned a vintage IBM Executive, which had a switch that allowed it to type in proportional pitch, and had the raised "th" key, along with several other special characters ("1/2", "1/4" spring to mind). A dream of a machine, though too massive to haul around very much; as I recall, he sold it to make rent... Apparently, proportional type Selectrics were common in the military in the 1970s.

Hunter at Daily Kos has taken the trouble -- and quite a bit of trouble -- to do some really exhaustive research on the matter. And at the end of the ordeal of reading through all of this, there seems to me to be one fact that's more or less clear and not open to dispute:

The Killian memo was not typed in Microsoft's version of New Times Roman. It was typed in IBM's. According to Hunter,

.... both IBM and Microsoft specifically obtained the typeface "Times New Roman" from the designers of that font; neither was the creator of it. And, as we said before, typeface includes not just the "shape" of the letters, but the size and spacing between those letters.

One of the differences between the Times New Roman as implemented on the IBM machines, as opposed to Microsoft Word? The IBM machines apparently had the alternative '4' character that matched these memos, while Microsoft Word's TNR does not.

The "4" character on the IBM version of Times New Roman has an open top. The "4" character on the Microsoft version has a closed top. And guess what: The "4" on the Killian memos -- on all of them -- is open-topped. To quote Hunter: "Oops."

Just so this is clear: This demonstrates that, if these are a forgery, they were done using the IBM versino of Times New Roman. So maybe the were actually forged using Star Office for OS/2, instead of MS Word...

Ultimately, it should be a simple matter of examining the hard copies, or comparing the challenged memos with unchallenged memos. But it won't be. The White House (which can't be bothered to dispute their authenticity) has a vested interest in the controversy continuing unresolved. And in keeping us asking the wrong questions.

Golf-Pants Nihilists Redux

It's fairly sad what passes nowadays for an "intellectual" conservative, now that Bill Buckley's easing himself into retirement, and Pat Buchanan has been effectively barred from the national discourse. But they still try. The chief tactic seems to be to assert repeatedly that which gives lie to itself, in the conviction (probably justified) that if you say it enough times, a lot of people will believe it on the principle that you wouldn't say "I know you are but what am I INFINITY!!!!!" unless you really really really meant it.

(Many moons ago, one who shall remain nameless coined a term for this: "The Big Lie." But we're not supposed to talk about him; we're supposed to forget anything we learned from his example, because That's All In The Past, Now. All the better to swallow Anne Coulter's bile-flavored diet shakes....)

Case in point, on a website called (oxymoronically?) "Intellectual Conservative", Gary Larson calls Garrisson Keillor to task for his inspired epithet for modern Republicans, "nihilists in golf pants" -- "juvenile hyperbole", he calls it, retorting a few lines later: "A touché to his 'freelance racists' tag: Thomas Sowell defines racists as conservatives who win arguments with braying liberals."

Methinks that Mr. Larson needs to look up the most common use of the term "juvenile" as applied to intellectual effort. Sowell is given as an example of mature discourse for simply making an flat assertion in uncreative language; Keillor is given as an example of juvenile discourse for demonstrating mastery of a large vocabulary and a rich gift for metaphor...

Now, puerile, that has some possibilities. "Puerile", even Garrisson might go for. It is an angry piece, to be sure, but it should carry more weight for that fact, considering that it comes from a man known more for tolerance, (perhaps too much) restraint, and quiet amusement than anger.

Then again, "juvenile" probably is a good choice, for just that reason. The "big lie" tactic only works really well when the lie has almost no bearing on reality. It's like inserting a contradiction into your argument: Anything can follow, then. Similarly, if the lie has no bearing on the truth, then there's no traction for answering it. (Hey, Gary: Have you stopped beating your wife, yet?)

The New Republican Drug Of Choice: Cocaine

John Perry Barlow noticed something interesting in NYC last week. It seems cocaine is making a comeback:

I'm talking about the interesting fact that, along with the Republican National Convention, New York is being hit with a cocaine epidemic that is even worse than the snowstorm that gripped this town during the mid to latter 80's. (During the last Bush administration, to put a finer point on it.) This time there won't be a crack problem to get all racist about, however. Cocaine in New York is now so cheap and plentiful that such economic measures as cooking it down to crack need not be taken by the poor.

People who learned better 20 years ago are suddenly snorting blow again. People you would never think would mess with this stuff are messing with it big time. Once again one commonly sees lines on the tabletops and the frantic eyes you can never make contact with. I was in a club the other night that was full as a tick with beautiful-looking people pharmaceutically disabled from beholding one another's beauty.

At the same time that the white death has made such a roaring comeback, the drugs that I think are relatively harmless, pot and the psychedelics, are in extremely short supply. Pot is selling at cocaine prices, a hundred dollars a gram sometimes. And coke is selling at pot prices. An ounce of coke would cost about the same as an ounce of decent sensimilla a few years ago. Mushrooms are scarce. LSD is functionally off the market.

What's going on?


But then, cocaine is a Republican drug. It makes its users self-obsessed, aggressive, and greedy. It plays hell with one's sense of consequence. It's generally preferred by people who have more money than humanity. And, best of all, the weirdos and peaceniks who like to waste their useless time stoned on marijuana or psychedelics, tend to hate it. ("All the more for us, eh, Buffy?")


Once again, one can see clearly what the War on Some Drugs is really about. It's the culture, stupid. It certainly isn't about public safety, since coke and booze are the perfect combination for social depravity of all sorts. Instead, it provides a beautiful opportunity to jail the blacks and hippies who prefer the non-Republican drugs. It makes huge bank for one's wing-tipped colleagues.

Can it really be that the Bush Administration has decided to turn a blind eye to blow? Or is it that they are simply too incompetent, despite turning Columbia into a war zone. Maybe this is just a local phenomenon, arising from the fact that approximately 10,000 New York police officers, who ordinarily focus on narco crime, have been diverted to convention patrol.

.... Just what we need, a whole arena packed with irritable, glaze-eyed folks who are even more certain of their superiority than usual....

To once again quote an old prof: "Isn't it interesting that the only drugs that are legal make you either depressed or tense?" Add: Or temporarily sociopathic?

But it may be simpler: It may just be economics. As we shift focus from the America-exacerbated problem of narco-terrorism to the America-exacerbated problem of global religious terrorism, the drug-kingpins can expand their production and trafficking operations. And since our "homeland security" measures have been such dismal failures, we still have wide-open borders.

And to top it all off, those goddamn drug producers are behaving like manufacturers, and working to improve production! That's right -- those bastards are getting scientific, and breeding super-high-production coca plants! Clever'd think good capitalists like the Bushites would applaud that kind of initiative.

Maybe that's what's going on, after all...

The Cheney Curse

T. D. Allman at Rolling Stone has been talking to a lot of old friends and acquaintences of Dick Cheney. He's noticed something interesting: If GW gets re-elected, he'll be the first President who's given a job to Dick Cheney to manage it.

It also seems that the old chickenhawk's history of self-serving lysenkoism goes way back. A former boss remembers it as long ago as 1973:

In 1973, while Nixon was self-destructing, Cheney, then thirty-two, got a job at the investment firm of Bradley, Woods and Company. "Dick needed to make some money," Bruce Bradley explained. "He and Lynne and their girls lived in a modest house, and he drove a used Volkswagen Beetle." Both Bradley and Cheney were Republicans, but they differed on Watergate. Bradley recognized that Nixon had violated fundamental American values; Cheney saw Watergate as a power struggle. They even debated each other, in a forum arranged for Bradley's clients.

"He claimed it was just a political ploy by the president's enemies," says Bradley. "Cheney saw politics as a game where you never stop pushing. He said the presidency was like one of those giant medicine balls. If you get ahold of it, what you do is, you keep pushing that ball and you never let the other team push back."

["The Curse of Dick Cheney", T.D. ALLMAN, Rolling Stone] [via MeFi]

If politics is all about power, then truth is relatively unimportant. Or at least, flexible. But then, even if Bushite science policy didn't make it clear to us, we've known for a long time that old lysenkoists like Rummy and Dick are all about flexible truth. To paraphrase a maxim: History, after all, is written by the folks who bother to keep on pushing that medicine ball.

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics"

Today is Tuesday, but it sure feels like a Monday. So, I appreciated Lee Kalcheim's success in jolting me out of my Monday, er, Tuesday morning stupor with the very funny "Latest Poll" in The New York Times.

This presidential election year, we have been and will continue to be inundated with polls,... pre-convention, post-convention, etc. Perhaps some of these are useful in spurring candidates to regroup, rethink their method of attack. It all becomes a not-so-delicate game of tug-o'-war. I wonder how the undecided voters' limbs are feeling about now.

Steven S. Ross reminds us of the seven deadly sins of statistics. Why not. This theme so fits the religious undercurrent of the campaign.

Polls or no polls, it's not over until it's over. The presidential election of 1948 serves as a reminder.

By the way, I'm one of the "52 percent of people with wall-to-wall carpeting" who "dislike Mr. Bush's plan for redecorating Iraq."


The Crusade

We live in a country of fear.

The issue that received the most attention at the RNC last week was terrorism, and terrorism is the issue that is at the forefront of Republican concerns (50 percent call it the most important in determining their vote). Overall, though, just about a quarter (28 percent) of registered voters consider fighting terror the top issue in this election, whereas a similar number (21 percent) say the same about the economy, followed by health care (13 percent), Iraq (11 percent), jobs (9 percent) and education (6 percent). The Kerry camp may find small comfort in the fact that although voters who see terrorism as the top priority overwhelmingly prefer Bush (87 percent of those who see it as the top issue with vote for the president), Kerry is still favored by those who rank the economy (61 percent), health care (58 percent) and eve, by a small margin, Iraq (51 percent) as their top issue. ["Bushes Big Bounce" by Brian Braiker, Newsweek, September 4, 2004]

Bush is being touted by some as a great leader.
Kerry's response to that is, "I think misleading your nation into war makes you unfit to lead this nation."

Ah, yes, the war. "The Bush Crusade" as referred to by James Carroll of the Boston Globe:

"Memory," the novelist Paul Auster has written, is "the space in which a thing happens for the second time." No one wants the terrible events that came after the rising of the sun on September 11, 2001, to happen for a second time except in the realm of remembrance, leading to understanding and commitment. But all the ways George Bush exploited those events, betraying the memory of those who died in them, must be lifted up and examined again, so that the outrageousness of his political purpose can be felt in its fullness. Exactly how the war on terrorism unfolded; how it bled into the wars against Afghanistan, then Iraq; how American fears were exacerbated by Administration alarms; how civil rights were undermined, treaties broken, alliances abandoned, coarseness embraced - none of this should be forgotten.

Given how they have been so dramatically unfulfilled, Washington's initial hubristic impulses toward a new imperial dominance should not be forgotten. That the first purpose of the war - Osama "dead or alive" - changed when Al Qaeda proved elusive should not be forgotten. That the early justification for the war against Iraq - Saddam's weapons of mass destruction - changed when they proved nonexistent should not be forgotten. That in former times the US government behaved as if facts mattered, as if evidence informed policy, should not be forgotten. That Afghanistan and Iraq are a shambles, with thousands dead and hundreds of thousands at risk from disease, disorder and despair, should not be forgotten. That a now-disdainful world gave itself in unbridled love to America on 9/11 should not be forgotten.

Nor, given Bush's reference, should the most relevant fact about the Crusades be forgotten - that, on their own terms and notwithstanding the romance of history, they were, in the end, an overwhelming failure. The 1096 campaign, the "First Crusade," finally "succeeded" in 1099, when a remnant army fell upon Jerusalem, slaughtering much of its population. But armies under Saladin reasserted Islamic control in 1187, and subsequent Crusades never succeeded in re-establishing Latin dominance in the Holy Land. The reconquista Crusades reclaimed Spain and Portugal for Christian Europe, but in the process destroyed the glorious Iberian convivencia, a high civilization never to be matched below the Pyrenees again.

Meanwhile, intra-Christian crusades, wars against heresy, only made permanent the East-West split between Latin Catholicism and "schismatic" Eastern Orthodoxy, and made inevitable the eventual break, in the Reformation, between a Protestant north and a Catholic south. The Crusades, one could argue, established basic structures of Western civilization, while undermining the possibility that their grandest ideals would ever be realized.

Will such consequences - new global structures of an American imperium, hollowed-out hopes for a humane and just internationalism - follow in the train of George W. Bush's crusade? This question will be answered in smaller part by anonymous, ad hoc armies of on-the-ground human beings in foreign lands, many of whom will resist Washington to the death. In larger part, the question will be answered by those privileged to be citizens of the United States. To us falls the ultimate power over the American moral and political agenda. As has never been true of any empire before, because this one is still a democracy, such power belongs to citizens absolutely. If the power is ours, so is the responsibility.


Rhetoric of compassionate conservatism

"Compassionate conservatism" remains a mantra of Bushites.

So how does compassionate conservatism differ from traditional conservatism? Kuypers, Hitchner, Erwin, and Wilson investigated "the fundamental structure of the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism." One section in particular caught my attention in view of some recent news:

Compassionate conservatism emphasizes freedom of choice as emphatically as traditional conservatism. However, compassionate conservatism additionally emphasizes the good that accrues from a flexible approach to the uses of the Federal government. Freedom of choice, for both states and individuals, is not argued as an end in itself; rather, it is seen as the best means for achieving a virtuous society.

And what happens when different choices collide? Terri Schiavo has remained in a persistent vegetative state with the aid of a feeding tube for fourteen years. Her husband said his wife had told him she would never want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents stated she would never say something like that. Last year, a state court gave permission to have the feeding tube removed. "Virtuous society"? Not end of story.

Enter "compassionate" (?) Governor Jeb Bush with his "choice." It appears that this "flexible approach" filtered down to the state level.

Seven days after the feeding tube was removed, "Terri's Law" was hastily adopted by the Florida Legislature on Oct. 22. The law, in effect for just 15 days, empowered Bush to order a one-time resumption of nutrition and hydration to anyone in Terri Schiavo's precise circumstances. Bush had Terri Schiavo's tube restored within hours of the law's passage. ["'Terri's Law' raises questions in Florida court" by John-Thor Dahlburg (Los Angeles Times), The Seattle Times, September 1, 2004]

Michael Schiavo sued to challenge the law.

... a trial judge in May ruled the measure unconstitutional on privacy and separation of powers grounds. An appeal by the governor put the case on an accelerated track to the seven-member state Supreme Court. The justices gave no indication yesterday when they might rule.

How will they rule? Will "freedom of choice" finally rest at the Federal level? So much for rhetoric.


Republicans: Nihilists in Golf Pants

It scares me a little when I'm on the same wavelength with Garisson Keillor:

.... Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today's. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.

In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the party migrated southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach. The Nixon moderate vanished like the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose to power on pure punk politics. "Bipartisanship is another term of date rape," says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP. "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." The boy has Oedipal problems and government is his daddy.

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong's moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt's evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we're deaf, dumb and dangerous.

... Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight! O Mark Twain, where art thou at this hour? Arise and behold the Gilded Age reincarnated gaudier than ever, upholding great wealth as the sure sign of Divine Grace.

[Garisson Keillor, "We're Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore", In These Times, August 26, 2004]

I'd been doing a lot of thinking, lately, not about Lincoln, but about Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressives. It dawned on me that T.R., with his unflinching commitment to both the physical and intellectual rigors of the "strenuous life", would be no more welcome in the Republican Party now than is John McCain -- and I suspect, considerably less so. T.R. would find George Bush repugnant, would burn with desire to see Dick Cheney in jail.

The last arguably moderate Republican left party leadership when Bob Dole retired. While a harbinger of Conservative encroachment, he was at least never a stooge, at at least made a good faith effort to fight with honor. The party drives its remaining powerful "moderates" -- e.g. Fred Thompson, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, John McCain -- to the marginal councils until they must act in frustration. Thompson and Campbell, both talented and capable politicians who could have served the Republicans well, had they been taken seriously, are gone (Thompson) or going (Campbell) from political life, while McCain might as well strike out and join the Reform. And that's not even to mention the queasy contempt that the party leadership feels for the Republican-dominated New England delegation. "RINOs", they're called: "Republicans In Name Only." And yet, along with McCain, they may be the only Republicans remaining in Congress who still keep the faith that the memory of Lincoln and T.R. evokes.

They are, in short, the true Conservatives: They are the only ones left who truly want to preserve what their party stood for. Or, at least, what they thought it stood for. My own opinion is that it never did, and that Keillor treats them too kindly.

I say this not as a Republican -- I have been registered Independent since the age of 18, despite my parents' frequent hand-wringing over the fact that Independent registration bars me from voting in primary elections, and I have leaned heavily Democratic since my early 20s. I say this, rather, as a student of history, and to illustrate how eerily I'm in synch with Keillor on this point.

Perhaps it's true after all that we're witnessing the self-marginalization of the Republican party.


Impersistence of Memory, Part 2

"I would give these people involved in the debate the benefit of the doubt that it's not political lying," says psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, of the University of California, Irvine, an expert on the reliability of eyewitness testimony. "It's sort of wanting to remember things in a certain way. That's probably why all these people seem so sincere. They may actually believe what they're saying."


"Even if it was my own memory, I'd be skeptical about the details," says Christine Ruva, a psychologist at the University of South Florida. "Memories aren't stored in a data file of fact. Instead, we take all the information we know about the world, we know about ourselves, and we construct something."

["Kerry Debate May Show Fickleness of Memory", originally via AP Science News on Yahoo News; article removed, now link to "Kerry Debate May Show Fickleness of Memory", via Guardian]

Finally, someone other than me has pointed out that it's not such a strange thing for memories of combat to change over time. This slow Saturday night, via the AP Science news feed on Yahoo news, a summary piece on how stress relates to memory. Some hightlights:

You'd think the details would be scorched into a veteran's memory like a cattle brand: ducking gunfire, seeing someone die in battle, bracing against a blast's concussion. Who could forget?

Yet such memories not only blurred over time in one classic psychological study of soldiers, but mutated too. Old recollections faded; new mental pictures took over. Whole new chunks of personal history materialized from the muck of memory.

"People went from, 'Yes, I saw one friend killed,' to 'I saw no friends killed,' to 'I saw two friends killed,' to `I saw three friends killed,'" said Dr. Andy Morgan, a Yale University psychiatrist who helped run the six-year study.


Far from being an indelible recording, human memory is fragile, incomplete, malleable and highly subject to suggestion, researchers have shown in dozens of studies.

Time isn't the only factor that obscures memory. Great stress or danger during an event â?? as in combat â?? appears to gum up the mechanisms of remembrance, perhaps through a hormone rush that temporarily dulls memory-forming areas of the brain.

Later, our own, sometimes incorrect inferences about what happened gain equal footing with what we really saw or heard. The recollections of others, like old war buddies at a reunion, can overwrite our own. [emphasis added]

"Memory doesn't work like a videotape," says Dawn McQuiston-Surrett, a psychologist at Arizona State University West.

...Yale researchers interviewed about 150 [soldiers] at intervals over six years, starting soon after their return from the first war with Iraq in 1991.

They asked the soldiers questions about their experiences, including whether they took incoming gunfire, faced Scud missile attacks and witnessed a friend's death. About 15 percent changed their recall of something significant, like seeing a friend die, the researchers reported.

Some veterans were upset when their own discrepancies were pointed out. Some even asked for help. ""They would say, `Which one is it?' to me," Morgan said. "I'd say, 'I don't know. I wasn't there.'"

Veterans with psychological or emotional problems tended to change their memories more often, the researchers found. But nearly everyone changed recollections over the six years.

Memory experts say a mild state of vigilance during an event boosts its commitment to memory. But being scared for your life, as during a crime or combat, impedes memory.

Other researchers say memories are especially fickle when the events unfolded on a broad stage or in multiple parts. Such recollections are inevitably partial, and a soldier will tend to fill in blanks unconsciously with personal inferences and the memories of others.

In unconsciously remolding memories, people often substitute details that make more sense or enhance their personal self-image, like turning a routine act of soldiering into heroism. People reshape their memories under pressure or encouragement from others.

["Kerry Debate May Show Fickleness of Memory", originally via AP Science News on Yahoo News; article removed, now link to "Kerry Debate May Show Fickleness of Memory", via Guardian]

So here we're looking at emperical verification that people's memories of traumatic events are malleable, and even subject to fabrication. We're looking at verification that it's possible for a group of people -- motivated, say, by hatred for a former comrade -- might convince one another that things happened in a certain way.

This angle of the story should have been discussed literally months ago, because it's obvious, it's non-controversial among people who actually know anything about the field, and it's spectacularly relevant -- and, oh, also because there's a whole lot of arrant nonsense being fronted around this whole issue of behavior under fire. But this touches on a very uncomfortable set of truths, all of which come back to the fact that we do not -- I say again, that we do not, not that we might not -- remember things as they really happened, and that such tools as recall through hypnosis may be worse than useless.

Left unsaid in articles like this: If memories formed during periods of high stress (when "...scared for your life, as during a crime or combat....") are less trustworthy, doesn't that call into question most convictions for violent crime? And is there anyone who dares to point this inconvenient fact out?

Also worth mentioning: One would think that memories formed of George Bush during his time serving in the Alabama Air National Guard would have been formed during "a mild state of vigilance" (e.g. gettign prepared to fly training missions over Alabama), and hence be that much more reliable than the memories of those serving while 'scared for their lives.' And yet, still, nobody remembers serving in Alabama with the President. Curious indeed.

Theodore Roosevelt on the Divine Right of Presidents

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."
-- Theodore Roosevelt, Kansas City Star (May 7, 1918)

"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country."
-- Theodore Roosevelt (attributed)


Holidays In Cambodia [hook-theft alert!]

Despite wishful attack-blog assertions to the contrary, it seems that the Kerry campaign has not disavowed Kerry's three recorded references (once each in 1969, 1986 and 1992) to being under fire in Cambodia. And according to a fairly detailed deconstruction in Slate, there's even good reason to argue that he could have been there on Christmas Eve in '68.

Which won't impress an attack-blogger, of course; someone like Glenn Reynolds enters the fight with his mind made up, and it takes a lot more than facts or argument to sway him. What it would take is an interesting question for another time...

"When We Do It, It's Funny; When You Do It, It's Pathetic"

Just in case there remained any doubt that the GOP was the party of choice for bullies, a cadre of helpful Freepers have been volunteering their homes as crash-pads for people coming to NYC to protest the Republican National Convention. Well, not their homes, exactly. Well, not anyone's homes, exactly. As a matter of fact, they're fictional homes:

.... The people were very friendly, giving me wonderful directions to their apartment and telling me that I could crash there until I leave on the 5th. Hmm. That's generous. Too generous, actually.


But then, I had that nagging feeling. Wouldn't it suck to fly all the way there and find out that we were being duped? I figured I could Google their email address and see what was up. Well, there was nothing except the aforementioned housing listing. So I removed the "" from the email address and Googled the handle instead. Surely if they were not on the level they would be smart enough to not use a handle that would lead to incriminating evidence. Well, I forgot that Republicans in general and Freepers specifically are a bunch of heartless, brainless fucking assholes.

Oh, golly, that's hilarious. Gosh, those Freepers sure do have a great sense of humor -- making sure those "moonbats" end up sleeping on the street in New York City during the five days of the year that the NYPD is most likely to be hauling in every "vagrant" they find on the street; wouldn't that just serve those liberal pussies right? It's almost as funny as when they used to call Chelsea Clinton the "dog faced girl."

Impersistence of Memory

The "Christmas In Cambodia" meme is really picking up steam. It's a really problematic meme for the Kerry camp for two reasons:

  1. It's arrant nonsense, but:
  2. It's hard to fight it without seeming to be making excuses.

Now, lots of people do really seem to think this is a big deal. These people need to look in the mirror. Or rather, look to their own past. And they need to do it honestly. Because I can just about guarantee you that they all have things they're sure about back there that just plain never happened.

I was born in Las Vegas, and left there at the age of 3. I have a very vivid memory of standing at the curb with my father, and watching the moving van -- a big, yellow and green Mayflower van -- come around the corner at the end of the block. My father was wearing shorts and a three-colored knit shirt that he was fond of in those days (very '60s-Vegas). I'd had no idea before then that we were moving.

The memory is especially vivid for me because I did this with my father, who I seldom saw. He worked at a nuclear research test site 150 miles out in the desert. He left the house well before I woke in the morning, and was back only long after I'd gone to bed. On weekends, he kept busy with the endless home improvement projects that young homeowners think they have to undertake to improve their resale value. (Though truth be told, he probably did it just to stay sane. He's always loved working with his hands.) This is not an indictment; he was just trying to take care of his family. And after all, he did quit that life after a few years for a saner one.

There's just one problem with this memory: It can't possibly be real.

See, I'm blind as a bat. I wear glasses with a very strong prescription. There's no way I could have seen that Mayflower van. Without my glasses, I could just about safely walk home through a neighborhood I knew well, but it would be a really good idea to get someone to tell me whether there were cars coming. At night, I'd be up the excrement race without a propulsion device. I've been this way all my life, but no one spotted it until I was 5, getting ready to go into kindergarten.

I have other memories from a similar age that I regard as more authentic, because they include my frustration at not being able to see what people were telling me to look at: Landscapes, fish, trees in a field, Yosemite falls. Where this particular one comes from is a complete mystery to me, because, as I've noted, before we left Las Vegas I barely knew my father. There are no pictures of moving day or the moving van in our otherwise extensive slide collection. No one else in the family remembers this happening. I remember having this memory as far back as I can think, but never mentioned it to anyone until I was in my teens, when I was informed in no uncertain terms that I must have made it up. And yet, though I know all these things as probable facts, that memory is still as vivid to me as it ever was.

The point of this story being that I was able to manufacture a vivid, powerful memory of something that most likely never occurred -- or, at least, never occurred the way I remember it. People do this all the time. It's perfectly normal. You can even make other people confess to things they haven't done. I have other vivid memories that I can carefully situate, that don't stand up to the evidence. And what's more, if we're honest, we all do.

If I could do it, so could John Kerry.

The United States is full of men in their 50s who have lots of vivid memories of a very nasty place and time that are probably not very accurate, but seem very, very real and present. John Kerry remembers 'searingly' being on a boat in Cambodia on Christmas; records indicate that he wasn't there on Christmas, but he was (probably) there a couple of weeks later. It's not at all implausible that he conflated the two nights in his mind. (Hell, Ronald Reagan "remembered" photographing the liberation of Auschwitz.)

I talked with my father about memory a couple of weeks ago. He showed me a list that he'd been making, to help him write a personal memoir. Nothing scandalous; just something to help him sort his life out, maybe provide some insight to grand- and great-grand-children. He told me that he'd found so many places where he realized he'd gotten the order of things wrong that he decided he needed to put them on a timeline, and in so doing found a lot of other things, too.

Well, why not? We have this illusion, this fantasy, that our minds are sure and true and that our vivid, present memories are always what really was. And sometimes they are. But what do we expect? Billions of neurons we may well have -- but we store many decades of sights and sounds and scents integrated into rich, cinematic wholes. Shouldn't we expect that we're filling in at least some of the details through interpolation?

The Swift Boat Telephone Game

The Swift boats controversy [free reg req'd] seems to me to be a great illustration of the "Telephone Game" in action.

I remember one time in fifth grade, there was a rumor. What it was, or who it was about, aren't important; what matters is that it started small, and got embellished along the way, and in the course of it I got introduced to the game of "Telephone" and the rules of human communication that it illustrates. I've been fascinated by them ever since.

You know the game, even if you've never heard of it: You start at one end of the line with a whispered but inane truth ("Jeanne couldn't find her favorite socks this morning") and end up at the other with something dramatically different ("Jeanne's ex-boyfriend broke into her house last night while she was out with her new boyfriend, and cut up all her clothes with a 12-inch Bowie knife, then he stabbed the knife into her bed right where her heart would be").

In the parlor-game version, the rumor gets passed person to person, sometimes around a circle -- embellished a little at each retelling, to be sure, but each person knows that what they're saying is at some level fabricated. In a real world version, though, people don't know they're playing a game: They take what they hear as true. So even if tellers know that what they've said is false, they assume that what they hear is true.

The SwiftVets appear to me, basically, to be playing a sophisticated and un-acknowledged game of Telephone. Each of them knows (or at least, at one time, knew) that they're editing events to suit their anger. But at the same time, each is "honor-bound" to take each of their shipmates at his word.
(Well, not each of them. They discount the word of the traitor, John Kerry, on principle; and if he's lying, so must be anyone who agrees with him.)

In this manner, they're able to get a nice little round-robin going. As each sailor hears the next's embellishments -- which, remember, they are honor bound to take as true -- they're encouraged to add them to their own. Those in turn are taken as true by the next person in the vicious circle.

That we're looking at Telephone and not group discovery of truth is supported by the fact that when Swift boat vets who aren't part of the Swift Vets for Truth circle are polled, they don't support the SVFT gospel. They may not support the Kerry-boat story completely, either -- but they do tend to support the general terms of the Navy's version.

The Feel of the Phrase

Sometimes you hear something unexpected in the music of language. It just takes a new context to bring out the nuances.

It came to me in a flash as I scanned a MeFi story about Buchanan's new book and his current anti-Bush stance, and had an epiphany: Pat Buchanan was Deep Throat.

That's not a new idea, of course, but it suddenly makes sense to me in a way that it didn't, before.
The key to this understanding was the phrase "Follow the money." That's a Buchananesque phrase if ever I've heard one.

Think about it. Put it in his mouth: "Follow the money." Put it together with the working-class Socratic style that Buchanan has used in debates throughout his public career. He doesn't fight to win points; he fights to convince. And the best way to convince someone is to make them think through to your position on their own.

It's Socratic -- the kind of thing that a teacher (or journalist) might say. Follow my points. Ask the same questions I'm asking, and get my answers. Follow the money. You've going to have to earn this, because I had to earn it. You're going to have to feel my pain.

Pat Buchanan was Deep Throat.

There's a difference between a whistleblower and an informant. Deep Throat was the latter: He had some key information that pointed at something he didn't like, and he fed it to people he knew would make it blow up, and take care of his ethical problem for him without having to expose himself. It's never been said that he was a part of the conspiracy, though everyone seems to assume it. To me, the fact that the assistance he provided was relatively small (confirmations, vague hints, corrective admonitions) indicates to me that he was not a central player.

I can make what I think is a strong case that DT was someone like Pat Buchanan -- i.e., a middle-tier player, not part of the actual machinations of the scandal, perhaps not even regarded as being in-the-know. A watchful person in a crooked organization can know an awful lot without having to be actively let in on the secrets. Buchanan was peripheral to the great councils, not a central player, but he would have been trusted. And as a bright young thing, his elders might have wanted to display their plumage in his company. There are few things that make powerful men and women feel more powerful than to show off in front of bright young things. This sounds sexual, and at a certain level I suppose it is, but not in the way that I think most people will take it. I (merely?) mean to say that it makes the elder seem more wise than powerful (or more powerful than wise, pick your poison) if s/he can be perceived as such by someone s/he sees as a future peer.

Buchanan was such a bright young thing at that time: Intelligent, strong-minded, principled. But also (as he's since often shown) a cunning scrapper -- he had the makings of a powerful political operative, a fact that wouldn't have been lost on Nixon and his crew of seasoned pols. He was just the kind of guy, in short, who would have been able to know enough about what was going on to know that he didn't like it.

And look at his career, since then. Not since the early Reagan years has he had real power among the senior ranks of the Republican Party. Why, it's almost as though he didn't trust them. Almost as though he didn't respect them anymore...

This may not be the truth. But it makes a good story. As some baseball guy is supposed to have said: "If it ain't the truth, it oughta be."


What is it about nursing and advertising?

Via American Samizdat, a story about a graphic designer who was fired for heckling President Bush:

"I'm mad less about losing the job -- I'm more mad about the reasons," said Glen Hiller, 35, of Berkeley Springs. "All I did was show up and voice my opinion."


The father of two young girls had worked at the design firm for five months, doesn't plan to appeal the firing, and holds no grudge against his boss.

"To some degree I can see her point of view," Hiller said. "Advertising is all about having the perfect tan and driving a cool car. It's all about image."

Hiller said he now plans to pursue work as a registered nurse, a field in which he worked for 10 years before landing the design job.

There must be some strange psychic connection between nursing and advertising. Glen Hiller is at least the fourth person I've heard of who left nursing for advertising and then went back. (I wish him luck; I think he'll probably be happier as an RN. Less stressful -- at least, that's what my advertising friends tell me....)

"I go all over the country, and all I see are supportive crowds," I recently heard The President remark. Small wonder: His vocal critics are fenced off into "protest zones", and the stealth critics weeded out by being forced to sign affidavits that they support the president. Unrestricted events such as the one Hiller got into are relatively rare, and yet we keep hearing whispers of heckling. Even with their best efforts, critics seem to be getting through the cordon. Their voices are quickly drowned out in un-ironic chants of "four more years." (I chanted that at a Reagan rally in the summer of '84, and got dirty looks from the Broome County Republican Faithful. Irony, it seems, has lost its ability to be ironic.)

When Pat Buchanan is a voice of moderation, I fear for the country. I fear for this country in the next four years. This profound schism between "conservative" and "liberal" Americans is Ronald Reagan's unanticipated legacy, brought to fruition by Newt Gingrich. Whoever wins the race, as Shelley points out, will most likely do so in one of the narrowest races in our history. The "losers" in 2000 were patriotic enough to concede, and the "winners" ungracious -- frankly, unpatriotic -- enough to govern as though God were at their collective shoulder. And the consequence is that whoever wins in November will be fiercely, passionately loathed by about 30% of Americans. So fiercely and passionately loathed that the losers will do whatever they think they have to in order to smear the winner. Whoever it is.

Oddly enough, I think we have Pat Buchanan to blame for this, at least partially. He's a fierce competitor, and has said a lot of things in anger and taken a lot of absolutist positions, and by that example has made it easier for others who followed to get away with the same. His successors, alas, have not had his intellectual honesty (or, for that matter, his intellectual capacity).

Conservatism as Monarchism

Liberals in the United States have been losing political debates to conservatives for a quarter century. In order to start winning again, liberals must answer two simple questions: what is conservatism, and what is wrong with it? As it happens, the answers to these questions are also simple:

Q: What is conservatism?

A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.

Q: What is wrong with conservatism?

A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

[Philip E. Agre, "What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?"]

Talk about throwing down the gauntlet.

Funny thing is, once you think the proposition through, it's not so extreme: Conservatism, by definition, aims to preserve the status quo. The status quo by its own nature favors moneyed interests. And all else being equal, money will flow like blood through generations, conveying a powerful advantage on the descendants of the wealthy. It worked well for the Medici, or more recently for the Rockefellers and Kennedeys.

Agre continues: "From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives."

Of course, most conservatives don't have any such conscious agenda. They don't think this is how it works.

Well, most of them don't. That disingenuous carpetbagger Alan Keyes seems to be an exception. After all, what other real argument could there be for abolishing the direct election of US Senators? Well, according to Keyes:

"The balance is utterly destroyed when the senators are directly elected because the state government as such no longer plays any role in the deliberations at the federal level," Keyes said at a taping of WBBM Newsradio's "At Issue" program.

He said it was one of the reasons "there has been a steady deleterious erosion of the sovereign role of the states."

So it's a "states' rights" issue, I guess -- "Stop the electoral abuse of California citizens by Wyoming!!!" Or, for that matter, stop the annoying tendency of American voters to cast their local or federal votes outside of party lines.

Because, let's face it, that's what this is all about: Getting those disloyal voters back in line with their party, damnit. Keyes should just bite the bullet and advocate a shift to parliamentary government. That's what he's describing, after all: Solidification of the party system by letting the ruling parties send their Senators to Washington. Heaven forbid the Senator should be from a different party than the legislative majority leaders...

Put another way (though Keyes must at all costs avoid putting it this way): Individual voters are not qualified to make decisions such as senatorial representation. We're too stupid. Or something. Maybe we don't have enough money.

The bottom line

The Republican message is don't vote for Kerry because he supports abortion rights. Kerry thinks abortion is wrong, but he's not going to impose his religious beliefs on the country. Bush on the other hand has turned his religious beliefs about embryonic stem cells into public policy.

Voters have the choice between a president who governs by belief and a challenger who puts his faith in rational decisionmaking. ["Faith vs. Reason" by Eleanor Clift, Newsweek, Aug. 13, 2004]

Quite reasonable article on the whole. Kerry is looking to woo the swing vote, whether one agrees with his tack or not.

After all is said, what is done? Will reason rule over belief,... correction: blind faith?


Campaign folly

What is going through Naderâ??s mind? Dare I ask?

Presidential candidate Ralph Nader will continue to be the independent candidate for the presidential election, despite protests from the Michigan Democratic Party that he withdraw.

Nader, whose deadline for removing himself as the independent candidate was 4 p.m. Monday, has decided to keep himself on the independent ticket, despite saying he still wanted to be the Reform Party candidate.

"We're stuck in a challenging situation," Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said. "We're still seeking the ballot as the Reform Party, but today was the deadline to not run as an independent. Our primary goal is to get on the Reform ticket."

Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land's spokeswoman Kelly Chesney said they have not been able to put Nader on the ballot as the Reform candidate because of confusion over who the real Reform Party of Michigan is. [â??Nader remains on ballot despite Dems.' Protestâ? by Rebecca McNulty, The State News, July 20, 2004]

Who cares? Why not just call him Mr. Pro-Republican?

The Michigan Republican Party turned in 43,000 signatures to get Nader on the ballot. The Nader campaign turned in 5,400 signatures. He only needed 30,000 to get on the November ballot.

And, to whom is he trying to appeal? Idealistic young people among other disgruntled Americans? This college newspaper has managed to get the facts straight, and I assume even idealistic college students do read.

Michigan Democratic Party spokesman Jason Moon said that Dems will be filing a complaint that Republicans went over their $5,000 spending limit.

"Well, we think it's upsetting that Nader has made an alliance with the party he's been opposed to," Moon said.

Um, yeh. I guess Nader doesnâ??t view it that way.

At the moment, Kerry still holds a slight advantage in Michigan. Very close though...


Cynical Bedfellows (... or Delusional?)

[Independent Presidential candidate Ralph] Nader last week rejected calls to disavow Republican efforts on his part, telling reporters that GOPers aren't doing much to help his insurgent campaign. Yet he seems to find some inspiration in his new supporters, telling the crowd at a recent rally, "I think I'll end up taking more votes away from Republicans than Democrats."

[MSNBC, "Politics: Try to Guess Who's Backing Nader", courtesy Lynne]

Of course, it hasn't occured to Ralph (at least, not publicly), that he's of more use to the Republicans in the race than he would be out of it...



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