«  June 2005  |   Main   |  August 2005  »

»  July 27, 2005


Cold Coq: Yeah, it was, uh, Flash and XML malfunctions, that's the ticket!

Sexual double entendres were removed overnight from Burger King's new website, CoqRoq.com, but the company claims it has received no complaints from consumers or other outside groups, AdAge reports. The deleted content included captions, under photos of young girls, that read: "Groupies love the Coq" and "groupies love Coq." The captions were there when the site went live yesterday, but according to Edna Johnson, SVP for global communications for Burger King, malfunctions in the Flash and XML programming were responsible for putting the captions up. A misspelling of "Burger King" had also been fixed, she said.


»  July 26, 2005


Willing to Listen to the DLC: Yes, Will Marshall of the Democratic Leadership Council's Progressive Policy Institute joined Karl Rove in impugning the patriotism of liberals, saying that they "seem torn" about it, accusing us of "anti-Americanism," and decrying our fixation on Bush's disaster in Iraq. "Decidedly dovish" is how he puts it, although he might as well have said décidément pacifique.

Still, I'm willing to listen to the leaders of the DLC: people like Tom Vilsack, Tom Carper, Hillary Clinton, and Artur Davis. All they have to do to get my attention is to tell the truth about Iraq, which, regrettably, they've failed to do so far. President Bush, famously, hasn't been able to think of any mistakes he's made in the war on terror. We know that there have been many, many mistakes made. When the leaders of the DLC are ready to start talking publicly about the mistakes that have been made in the prosecution of the war on terror, instead of, say, sex in video games; when they can act as something other than enablers for the Bush administration and start telling the American public the truth, yeah, I'll listen to them.


»  July 25, 2005


"The Daily Show" Newsletter Fun: I got my weekly emailed newsletter from "The Daily Show" while I was out for lunch, and have to wonder whether the show's talent booker is laughing her/his ass off.

===== This Week on TDS =====

Monday, 7/25: SENATOR RICK SANTORUM, of Pennsylvania

Tuesday, 7/26: DIANE LANE, star of "Must Love Dogs"

And, of course, the money quote:

SANTORUM: ... That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality --

AP: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.


»  July 24, 2005


Blind to Reality: Atrios's "Wanker of the Day" last Wednesday, CJRDaily writer Paul McLeary, penned these immortal words on the fight over whether bloggers qualify for the legal protections of other journalists.

Say that blogs are granted the same protections as news organizations. What is to stop, say, corporations or trade unions from setting up stealth blogs to promote their agenda, while collecting funds from the public or to spend on ads to promote their own interested point of view?
I wrote this in an email to him.
From: Darrel Plant
Subject: Blogs
Date: Wed, 20 Jul 2005 17:34 -0700 (PDT)

Mr. McLeary,

This is a slightly edited version of your second-from-last para:

"What is to stop, say, the Republican Party from setting up a television network to promote their agenda, while collecting corporate advertising revenue to promote their own interested point of view?"

Personally, I'd like to see a return to the days of the equal time rules, but that doesn't seem to be on the horizon. The fact that Fox News can be considered a "news organization" worries me more than "stealth blogs".

And got this breezy response.
From: Paul McLeary
Subject: Re: Blogs
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 20:19 -0400 (EDT)

Thanks for the email, Darrel. FOX shouldn't worry you all that much. Those who believe will tune in, knowing exactly what they're getting, those who don't believe, won't.

Which just seemed to me to be so amazingly simple-minded in its disconnect with reality that I responded.
From: Darrel Plant
Subject: Re: Blogs
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 18:43 -0700 (PDT)

That sounds like you're shooting down your own argument about "stealth blogs," Paul. I think that the average person would give more credence to a news source that appears in their cable listings and features interviews with government officials all the way up to the Vice President and President than they would to a site they ran across on the Internet.

McLeary apparently worked with Eric Alterman during the Republican campaign last fall, so I have to assume that he's not an idiot. But to say something as politically tone-deaf as that only people who believe will tune in to FOX makes me seriously question his judgment. I know people who watch FOX. I know people who used to be Democrats who watch FOX and believe the things FOX tells them. Why shouldn't they? They're on the public "airwaves" in the minds of many people. Major government figures appear every day on the channel. If they were lying, someone would be stopping them wouldn't they?

Pretending that someone could come in to the blog world at this point and set up disinformation sites that would have more of an influence than FOX News is just amazingly naive about the amount of sway it has.


»  July 21, 2005


SATting 1,000: President Bush's Secretary of Education sat down with TIME magazine for their "10 Questions" interview segment in the issue that features Karl Rove on the cover. I was struck particularly by this question:

HOW WELL DID YOU DO ON YOUR SATS? Pretty well. I don't remember the number off the top of my head. The test has been recalibrated twice since I took [it]. I know I made well over 1,000—1,000 was the target to shoot for back when I was in high school, back in the golden days.
Who would remember that the test had been "recalibrated twice" since they took it but not more accurately remember their score? Or at least a general range for their score? More surprisingly, how does someone who's worked for the Texas education reform commission, as the associate executive director for the state school board association, and is now the Secretary of Education not know that number, if for no other reason than as a baseline comparison?

What's more frightening—coming from the Secretary of Education—is the assertion that "1,000 was the target to shoot for." According to Table 132 of her own department's Digest of Education Statistics 2003, the unmodified average combined math and verbal SAT score for the high school seniors in the 1974-75 school year was 906. That was the average. 1,000 was not exactly a hitching your lariat to the moon, even "back in the golden days."

To put it in perspective, my wife and I bracket Spellings by almost exactly 4 years on either side (she got her BA in 1979, I assume she graduated high school in 1975). Barbara, who took the test as a part of the class of 1971 scored in the mid-1400s. I graduated in 1979, took the SAT in both my junior and senior years, and got 1350 both times. Neither of us put any time into studying for the SAT, we're just moderately smart.

Maybe Margaret Spellings was using "well over 1,000" to mean something like "several hundred points over 1,000," but that seems a little at variance with the assertion that a grand was the "target" and the "recalibrated" disclaimer.

It's not as if an administration composed of "the best and the brightest" can't get the country into a heaping mess of trouble—far from it—but it would be nice if they'd at least try to pick people who smarter than your average bear to run things like the Department of Education.


»  July 19, 2005


Hollywood Prediction: I don't know if there's another Austin Powers movie or something similar on the way, but I have this mental image of Dr. Evil doing his little pinkie to the mouth thing and coyly uttering this line:

I've said too much already.
Or, God help us, David Spade. [UPDATE: I just discovered that Spade's hosting SNL this weekend, so that'll probably be the first oppo). I've got a poll going on Daily Kos.


What the...?  

Thank God for That!: Watching Matt Zaffino (who generally seems like a top-notch weatherman) talk about Hurricane Emily last night on KGW, I was struck by the number of times he stressed how lucky it was that the storm was apparently going to miss Texas. I know most US maps stop south of Brownsville, but don't people care that even if it missed precious American soil that it's still got to make landfall somewhere, namely the northern Mexico coast?



Muslim Outrage: The theme of the month seems to be to tell Muslims what they need to do to—what? Please Tom Friedman and Tom Teepen? I guess someone at the Oregonian doesn't think that idea's been pushed enough.

The Oregonian has at least two similar opinion pieces—an earlier piece by Tom Friedman and one today by Tom Teepen—telling Muslims that they should be more condemnatory of terrorist violence. Never mind the fact that there have been hundreds of such condemnations reported in the press around the world, never mind that most of the victims of such violence in places like Iraq are themselves Muslims. It's not enough for the two Toms or their ilk.

Well I've got news for them. Condemnation—even near-universal condemnation—doesn't make bad things go away. When was the last time you heard anyone saying anything less than critical about child pornography, for instance? Has it disappeared? Murder's pretty universally condemned. Has it stopped? Domestic abuse? Drunk driving? Racism may be less acceptable in 21st-century America, but it's not gone.

For Teepen and Friedman to say that Muslims should be "competing to turn in the most suspects the fastest" to prove which of them are the "best" Muslims is ludicrous. A suicide bomber only has to cover up their activities and plans for a short period of time; people who sexually abuse their own children and serial murderers can often hide their activities from their spouses and other family for years.

Yes, Muslims should condemn terrorism, but people have to stop pretending that that isn't already happening or that it would solve the problem. There are always going to be people like Timothy McVeigh whose primary contacts are with sympathizers. There are always going to be people like Eric Rudolph, who—even after being identified as a terrorist bomber—can hide out in the hills with support from religious extremists. We need to be prepared for attacks from a variety of fronts. We need the cooperation of all communities—not just Muslims—because murderous extremists can come from anywhere. It took forty years to bring Edgar Killen to justice in Mississippi. And sometimes we'll have to deal with the fact that they can't be stopped beforehand.



Great Moments in Etymology: Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism talking about suicide attacks on NPR's Morning Edition on July 19, 2005. This quote comes from 1:06 into the story.

The next most famous group in history to use suicide attacks were the Ismaili assassins in the eleventh and twelfth century. They, uh, would attack a sultan and leave a message, uh, which would say there would be further attacks unless you leave our community alone. This was where we get the word assassin from, because of their propensity to assassinate enemy leaders with a suicide attack.
He's sold me.



Mixed Presidential Scandal Metaphors: Responding to a question from Hardball with Chris Matthews guest host Campbell Brown, about a poll showing only 25 percent of respondents thought the White House was fully cooperating with the Valerie Plame leak investigation:

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": This has been a political firestorm. And the White House has mishandled it on several occasions.

But I have to tell you, the facts are going to come out and I think, ultimately, this is going to be viewed as a tempest in a teapot dome, because we know three facts from the last week.

Yes, soon it will all be water under the gate.

[UPDATE] Linked from Crooks and Liars on 18 July.


»  July 18, 2005


The Conservative Elite, Extended Play:

Victor Davis Hanson is a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, a classics scholar, and conservative commentator. He's won national awards for his work as a teacher of Greek and Latin and his opinion journalism. You'd expect that his work would be pretty unassailable, that he'd get his facts straight, that his arguments would hold together a little better than tissue paper when someone whose credentials weren't nearly as prestigious started poking at them.

One of his recent pieces—on the right-wing talking point of politically active Hollywood celebrities of the left—not only displays the intellectual flabbiness pervading the ideologically-driven work of many conservatives, but also exposes the contempt Hanson and others have for democracy and the average American.

Being a classical scholar, Hanson starts out with an allusion to the Greeks, the people we get the word democracy from:

Nearly 24 centuries ago, Plato warned not to confuse innate artistic skill with either education or intelligence.

The philosopher worried that the emotional bond we can forge with good actors might also allow these manipulative mimics too much influence in matters in which they were often ignorant.

So he would cringe that the high-school graduate Sean Penn is now capitalizing on his worldly fame from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" to pose as an informed commentator on the Iranian elections.

There's little doubt that Plato would get his chiton in a wad at the thought of actors involving themselves in politics (another word we get from the Greeks), but that would hardly be surprising given that in the Athens city-state's direct democracy government of Plato's time, women and slaves couldn't vote. Estimates are that fewer than 1 in 5 residents of the city could participate in decision-making.

Plato wasn't keen on democracy. In The Republic, he ranked it #4 out of 5 in his list of "Ideal Forms of Government," just above tyranny. In his view, while democracy promised equality, all it delivered was mob rule. What did he rank higher? Well, #3 was oligarchy, where the few rich and powerful members of the state rule. Timocracy, where rule by the military and an adherence to a code of honor trumps informed decision-making was #2. And Plato's #1 ideal form of government? Aristocracy. Not necessarily what we've come to think of as aristocracy—with the in-breeding and stuff—but one made up of people whose minds, wills, and desires are in perfect balance (Plato was big on perfection and ideals). I've got to say, that sounds good to me, too. Order one up for the whole world!

Now, it's been almost 20 years since I read what portions of Plato's works I did read. But I remembered this stuff (and double-checked it). If you've ever had to read Plato for a humanities course, this is the part they make you read. It's inconceivable that Hanson forgot about it. But he apparently feels justified in picking Plato's comments on performers out of the general context to make his point. Plato also said that, while it was perfectly natural for men of all ages to exercise naked in the gymnasia that it would be ridiculous to let women in because old women naked would give him the willies. While The Republic does argue for the an ideal system that includes women in decision-making, it also advocates limits on wealth and the forcible removal of children so that they can be communally housed and educated.

Then there's Robert Redford, who once played Bob Woodward in "All the President's Men" and apparently still believes that role made him an experienced Washington Post-like muckraker from the Watergate Era. These days Redford lectures reporters to go after George W. Bush, undeterred by the fact that the real journalist Dan Rather ended his career by just such an obsessed effort.

Hanson, apparently, can read Redford's mind! He somehow knows that Redford thinks he's a "muckraker." I have to say, that's a pretty derogatory word considering Woodward and Bernstein did expose one of the most corrupt presidents of the modern era, who was involved in covering up an attempt to subvert the Constitution. If Redford was actually deluded and thought he was a muckraking reporter, though, he wouldn't be encouraging others to investigate the Bush administration, he'd be doing it himself.

And you have to be glad Hanson's never been in charge of anything more important than bullying electrons on his computer, because if his strategy (drawn from the Rather incident) is to give up when an adversary wins an early victory, the Naval Academy midshipmen who attended Hanson's lectures while he was a visiting chair of military history at Annapolis (more Greek reference, that) may need a refresher on how to actually win a battle.

The United States took out the Taliban in seven weeks, Saddam in three. Despite a difficult insurrection, there is a democratic government in Iraq. Yet the action-hero George Clooney pontificated, "We can't beat anyone anymore."

It's possible that Hanson hasn't been reading the papers the past couple of years—except for the celebrity news so that he has some info about what the stars are saying about politics—but the Taliban is still around. They were driven out of Kabul, certainly, but there's been an upsurge in fighting in northwest Afghanistan, nearly three years after the invasion. The Soviets took Kabul, too, but it would be stretching the truth—a lot—to say that they won their war in Afghanistan. Iraqi President Iyad Allawi said last week that his country is facing civil war. The US is the major military force within his country. Saddam's government may have fallen in three weeks, but if our forces haven't been able to keep Iraq from the brink of civil war after over two years, that supports Clooney's argument of fact more than Hanson's eyes-covered, fingers-in-ears approach.

Hanson continues with some out-of-context quotes from Sheryl Crow and Richard Gere before he gets to the mother lode:

Cher often sings of losers and so drew on her artistic insight to share a complex portrait of the president: "I don't like Bush. I don't trust him. I don't like his record. He's stupid. He's lazy."

Cher's not my particular cup of tea, music-wise. I've never met her. I doubt Hanson's ever met her. But if there's anyone qualified to make an assessment about whether they think someone's lazy, a woman who's roughly the same age as George W. Bush; has been working as an entertainer for four decades; who's released roughly an album a year during her career and appeared in more than 15 movies; and who seems to have been on a perpetual farewell tour for the past ten years, might have something to say. Certainly, her business acumen seems to have been better than Bush's; without the benefit of his family connections, he didn't have any success. Cher, on the other hand, built up a fortune on her singing talent and looks, and ability to parley that into other entertainment venues. Sure, she had talented agents and business managers, but if you're not smart enough to pick a good management team, they'll rip you off and/or bungle the job. Which sort of circles the argument back around to Iraq.

Entertainers wrongly assume that their fame, money and influence arise from broad knowledge rather than natural talent, looks or mastery of a narrow skill.

In fact, what do a talented Richard Gere, Robert Redford and Madonna all have in common besides loudly blasting the current administration? They either dropped out of, or never started, college. Cher may think George Bush is "stupid," but she — not he — didn't finish high school.

Like many other elitist snobs, Hanson confuses education and intelligence, denigrating people who may not have finished college or high school who had to work for a living, and lauding George Bush, whose wealthy family could afford to put him through Yale and Harvard without having to work. If Hanson was intellectually honest, he might have remembered that Bill Gates—by most accounts a pretty smart guy—famously dropped out of Harvard to start a little company called Microsoft. Benjamin Franklin didn't go to college, his schooling ended at the age of 12. Plato didn't go to high school. The woman or man who invented the wheel did so before colleges were invented. There are millions of highly intelligent people around the world who, for lack of access, lack of money, conflict, religious discrimination, etc., don't finish college, high school, or even grade school. Hanson would like to pretend that the more degrees you have, the smarter you are.

According to Hanson, because Gere, Redford, Madonna, and Cher didn't finish college (or high school in Cher's case), they're ipso facto (that's Latin for you classics fans) not as smart as Bush and their opinions couldn't possibly be informed or well-reasoned. Now there's a gob of spit in the face for you.

Census Bureau figures show that in 2004 there were about 187 million Americans over the age of 25 in this country. 25 is old enough to have gone through both high school and a four-year college. 52 million of us had a bachelor's degree (or higher). That, at a bare minimum, seems to be Hanson's requirement for admission to the aristocratic cohort (Latin again) of Plato's ideal republic; the people who are raised far enough above the masses Plato distrusted to be given the reins of power; the people Hanson has determined capable of reason. That's only about 28% of the population over 25, though, which means that the views of three-quarters of the adult population—in Hanson's argument—shouldn't count. It doesn't matter if your views come from experience (Redford's nine years older than Bush, Madonna's the same age Bush was when he became President) or if you're a successful businessperson (virtually any entertainer still around by their forties or later has to be), if you don't have the degree, Hanson says your views don't count.

If these apparent autodidacts are without degrees, aren't they at least well informed? Not always. Right before the Iraqi war, Barbra Streisand issued an angry statement assuring us that Saddam Hussein was the dictator of Iran.

This oft-repeated story was the result of a typo and Hanson probably knows it. As for "well informed," I seem to remember someone named making the Bush administration's case to the UN Security Council claiming they had irrefutable proof that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no end of spokespeople beating the chemical warfare drumheads beneath the specter of smoking mushrooms. Plus, something about candy and flowers.

Second, liberal guilt over their royal status explains why leftist entertainers drown out the handful of conservative celebrities. Sanctimonious public lectures provide a cheap way of reconciling rare privilege with professed egalitarianism. British rockers draft legions of lawyers to evade taxes, yet they parade around at hyped concerts to shame governments into sending billions of taxpayers' money "to end poverty" in Africa.

Again, Hanson's reading minds here. Is it liberal guilt that drives entertainers to speak up for causes they have an interest in? How does Hanson know that? What's driving the conservative celebrities to speak up? Is it just money? I have no insight into why movie stars and pop musicians who've chosen to speak out on humanitarian, political, environmental, or other subjects have tended to the left. If it was because of Hanson's presumed "liberal guilt," you'd think that any person in any profession who'd attained celebrity would be subject to the same pressures. But there doesn't seem to be so much of it in professional sports, business, or other industries.

Hanson also seems to have conveniently forgotten that there are a whole raft of conservative celebrities, but by limiting his target to "Hollywood" he chooses only actors and those musicians to the west of Nashville. Rush Limbaugh—another college dropout—has absolutely no credentials as an expert on politics. His reputation is based entirely on radio celebrity. Bill O'Reilly does have master's degrees and worked as a TV reporter, but his career really took off after he'd joined Inside Edition, a tabloid news show. Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity (college dropout) and others on the conservative TV/radio talk circuit wouldn't be giving about their opinions on most subjects if they weren't celebrities. And unless I'm mistaken, Dennis Miller and Ron Silver—the GOP's pet "movie star" during the 2004 election—were on-screen far more than any representatives of the left-leaning portion of the entertainment industry last year. It was a fine career move for Silver, certainly better than Ratz.

If retired actors and entertainers wish to become politicians — an old tradition, from the empress Theodora to Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger — let them run for office and endure during a campaign sustained cross-examination from voters. Otherwise their celebrity is used only as a gimmick to give credence to silly rants that if voiced by anyone else would never reach the light of day.

If Victor Davis Hanson wasn't having his opinions pimped by the Hoover Institution,* they wouldn't be getting into papers across the country. His academic field is, after all, classical history. According to his biography, he was a "a full-time farmer before joining California State University, Fresno, in 1984." He graduated with his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1980 after two years of study in Athens. You do the math on the "full-time farmer" career and tell me how that was working out. His book titles cover Greek military history and agrarian studies, which doesn't give him any more insight on Iraq, multiculturalism, Vietnam, Korea, terrorism, or any other subject he's written about recently than my English Literature degree. What does separate us is the fact that he's got the imprimatur (Latin, again) of Condoleeza Rice's former think tank and some awards, conferring a certain amount of celebrity on him. Without that, he's just another professor of classics.

There are many, many opinions out there in the country. I don't agree with most of them. A number of the celebrities Hanson names have pretty goofy opinions on some subjects but then again, I think Hanson has goofy opinions. Hanson says that because Robert Redford dropped out of college, his opinion is no more than a "silly rant." The opinion of "anyone else" who hasn't got a college degree —75% of voting-age adults—is as worthless as Redford's, in Hanson's view. That seems like an incredibly elitist argument to make in a democracy. Citizens of the US are entrusted to choose candidates to represent them in all levels of government. We make our decisions about those candidates and the views they support based on what we read, hear about, or see on TV, as well as personal experience. Some people share their opinions with family, friends, and others. But if people like Hanson had their way, 150 million Americans—everyone over 18 without a college degree—might as well just shut up, because without the degree it's just silly ranting. Don't even bother voting, you folks, because any conclusions about the candidates you might draw from watching the TV or reading the paper is probably wrong in Victor Hanson's world. Unless, of course, you agree with him, in which case it's right, but then who really cares what you think?

* What's rather sad is that the mission statement of the Hoover Institution ends with this "...The overall mission of this Institution is, from its records, to recall the voice of experience against the making of war, and by the study of these records and their publication, to recall man's endeavors to make and preserve peace, and to sustain for America the safeguards of the American way of life. This Institution is not, and must not be, a mere library. But with these purposes as its goal, the Institution itself must constantly and dynamically point the road to peace, to personal freedom, and to the safeguards of the American system."


»  July 17, 2005


The Conservative Elite: Victor Davis Hanson shows in a recent column the contempt he and other conservatives hold for average Americans.

Like many other snobs, Hanson confuses education and intelligence, denigrating actors who may not have finished college or high school because they started careers early to make money, and lauding George Bush, whose wealthy family could afford to put him through Yale and Harvard without having to work. If Hanson was intellectually honest, he might have remembered that Bill Gates -- by most accounts a pretty smart guy -- also dropped out of college. Benjamin Franklin's schooling ended at 12. The woman or man who invented the wheel did so before colleges were invented. There are millions of highly intelligent people around the world who, for lack of access, lack of money, conflict, religious discrimination, etc., don't finish college, high school, or even grade school. Hanson would like to pretend that the more degrees you have, the smarter you are. Talk about elite viewpoints.

According to the Census Bureau, in 2004 there were about 187 million Americans over the age of 25 in this country. 25 is old enough to have gone through both high school and a four-year college. 52 million of us had a bachelor's degree (or higher). If Hanson's standard for being able to offer anything other than a "silly rant" is a bachelor's degree, only 28% of Americans over 25 qualify. I'm fine, I've got a BA, but the other 135 million or so of you will just have to keep your opinions to yourself for the duration.


»  July 15, 2005


The Base: A number of people already refer to the conservative religious movement in the US as the "American Taliban", fortunately, that can't be easily applied to the "Godless" left.

But as we move into another political season in the next year (do we ever leave?) we're going to hear more and more about the "base" of each of the parties. Since one of the meanings for "al-Qaeda" is "the base", is it time for Democrats to start referring to the "Republican base" as the "Republican Qaeda"? You know it's only a matter of time before they start trying to stick us with it.



Extreme Reed Makeover: Matt Taibbi, who was touting his book Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart the other night, wrote an article in the New York Press from the perspective of the a post-nuclear holocaust history text by William Shirer IV called The Rise and Fall of the United States.

In the article, he discusses his own part in that fall, where — prior to his own humiliation and eventual execution — he develops a Queer Eye-inspired reality television show called Extreme Fascist Makeover that begins with a redo of the White House:

In the program, five fascists of various types–one Le Penite, one German Nazi, one Italian blackshirt, one Spanish Falangist and an offensive coordinator for the Nebraska Cornhuskers–"made over" the Oval Office and Bush in the areas of "fashion, grooming, food and wine, interior design and culture." In his memoir, Taibbi describes the transformation:

We took Bush away to be fitted for epaulettes… When he came back, he found that we’d painted the White House jet black and covered it with scary vines… The fence-posts around the presidential residence were adorned with human heads, which he quickly recognized, to his delight, as belonging to Democratic Congressmen. The walls on the inside were covered with his presidential portraits, while on the front lawn there was a raging bonfire fueled by portraits of his predecessors. On his desk, we’d left an executive order for the cancellation of elections… We asked him what he thought. He laughed. "This is amazing," he said. "Laura is going to love this." Then this little abashed smile came on his face, and he wiped one of his eyes. That was the money shot. The show was pretty much off and running from there.

The show was an immediate hit, and subsequent episodes featured makeovers of the U.S. Constitution, Reed College, Cuba and the Sundance Film Festival, among others. In one of the highest-rated and most rebroadcast programs in the history of American television, Extreme Fascist Makeover spent a half-hour tackling the New York Times–and ultimately, in what must seen as a humorous gesture, left it exactly as it had been.

As always, one of the usual suspects.



Mehlman Walks Back From Southern Strategy "Apology": A Morning Edition story today on President Bush's continued refusal to speak to the NAACP references the widely-reported remarks by RNC chair Ken Mehlman which have been seen as an apology for the Republican's Nixon-era "Southern Strategy". At 3:42 into the interview, however, they report this immediately after playing Mehlman saying "we were wrong" in front of a crowd:

DON GONYEA (NPR): But if that was meant as an apology -- and early media reports treated it as one -- Mehlman himself tempered the remarks later in the day in an interview with NPR:

KEN MEHLMAN: I think it's a mistake when people talk about a "Southern Strategy." The fact is that in the past folks in the North, the South, the East, and the West didn't do a good enough job in reaching out to African-Americans.

GONYEA: Mehlman then added:

MEHLMAN: If anything, the Democrat [sic] Party is today benefiting from racial polarization. It's certainly not in my best interests when Democrats get 90% of the African-American vote.


»  July 13, 2005


Safe As Houses II: An AP story in The New York Times titled "Official: Risk to Guardsmen Exaggerated" quotes Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, the Army general in charge of National Guard forces at a breakfast with defense reporters saying that misrepresentation is the reason the Guard is having trouble meeting recruitment numbers.

The dangers faced by American troops in Iraq have been exaggerated, adding to the difficulty of recruiting soldiers at home, the Army general in charge of National Guard forces said Tuesday.

The casualty rate for Guardsmen is low compared with any previous armed conflict, said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum.

He said he recognizes that every death is a tragedy for that person's family. "But I lose, unfortunately, more people through private automobile accidents and motorcycle accidents over the same period of time," he added.

"It is dangerous, but it is -- I shouldn't say it to this group but I'm going to -- it is misrepresented, how dangerous it really is," Blum said during a breakfast with defense reporters.


Blum said more than 250,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen have been mobilized for active duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and 262 of them have been killed in the global war on terrorism. Pentagon casualty statistics show more than 90 percent of those deaths were in Iraq.

Those are rough numbers. Ninety percent of 262 is 235 (rounded down). That's a 0.094% mortality rate for all Guard members over the 28 months of the Iraq war, which translates (conservatively) to roughly 1 death in every 1,100 mobilized Guard members. These numbers can't account for the amount of time in-country time per Guard member. The actual number would certainly be higher, because most of the 250,000 National Guard troops in the figure cited have not been deployed for the entire 28-months of the war, and some of the deployments have not been in Iraq.

The population of the United States is approximately 300 million (according to the US Census Bureau). According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics records of motor vehicle fatalities, an average of 42,551 people died in the three year span between 2001 and 2003, the last years for which they have figures online.

In a 28-month period, that translates to about 99,285 deaths in the US from motor vehicle fatalities. The vehicle fatality mortality rate for the population as a whole over the same period is 0.033%, or 1 of every 3,000 Americans.

That's a little more than one-third the mortality rate for National Guard members serving in Iraq. In other words, NG members are almost three times more likely to die serving in Iraq than your average American is to die in a vehicle fatality. Keep in mind that I've estimated the fatality rate in Iraq very conservatively, and that more accurate numbers from the National Gard on the numbers of its members deployed to Iraq and the lengths of their deployments would only increase the number.

There are classes of people who are higher-than-average risks for vehicle fatalities, and it's conceivable that drivers who are in the National Guard could have a mortality rate three times higher than that of the population as a whole. However, a November 2004 article from Military Medicine titled "Motor Vehicle Fatalities among Men in the U.S. Army from 1980 to 1997" should have some bearing on the National Guard as well. These statistics are from that report:

Crude motor vehicle fatality rates for the ages of interest in this study were 36.3 per 100,000 personnel per year in 1980 and 15.7 in 1997. For males, crude fatality rates declined from 38.0 per 100,000 personnel per year in 1980 to 17.6 in 1997, whereas female rates declined from 19.6 to 5.5 per 100,000 personnel per year over the same period. Further examination of motor vehicle fatality trends for males showed declines for all groups from 1980 to 1997.

The overall age-adjusted motor vehicle fatality rate for 17- to 44-year-old males in the Army dropped from 40.8 per 100,000 in the 1980-1982 period to 20.6 in 1995-1997, a 49.5% decrease. The overall age-adjusted fatality rate for males in the same age range in the U.S. population dropped from 38.1 per 100,000 in 1980-1982 to 23.3 per 100,000 in 1995-1997, a 38.8% decline (Fig. 1).

Translating the lowest overall mortality number (15.7 per 100,000 per year) in the Military Medicine study to a percentage value yields an annual fatality rate of 0.016%, or 0.037% for the 28-month period discussed above.

That rate is two-fifths the 0.094% combat mortality rate over the same period in Iraq. It's possible that members of the National Guard have a vehicular fatality rate 250% higher than men and women of a similar age and disposition in the Army, but if that's true, there's a potentially serious problem lurking in those statistics.

Moreover, the fatalities in Iraq don't preclude the vehicular fatalities at home; they are in addition to the vehicular fatalities. And if Lt. Gen. Blum is telling the truth about more National Guard personnel dying on the roads of the United States than in Iraq — which is itself a rate that is two-and-a-half-times greater than that at which average Americans die in cars and on motorcycles — then perhaps there are other reasons for parents to be concerned about their children entering the National Guard.

The Oregonian's version of the story (not online) included material contributed by reporter Mike Francis specific to the Oregon National Guard (pointing out that their units have suffered a higher-than-average rate for the Guard) as well as information not included in the Times version.

See the original "Safe As Houses"


»  July 12, 2005


"Big News" in Portland: Waaaay back in March, neurologist Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings) wrote a tribute to Francis Crick, of double helix fame, in The New York Review of Books (article available online only to subscribers).

In his article, which related a twenty-year correspondence between the men about topics largely related to visual perception, Sacks briefly mentioned working with a group of genetically colorblind natives from the isolated South Pacific island of Pingelap.

Things being what they are, I didn't get around to reading the article until this past weekend, some four months after it was published. Always a sucker for stories of collaboration and cameraderie, I sucked it up. The name Pingelap and the mention of the colorblind Pingelapese twitched my mind, however, since I'd never run across it before.

So imagine my surprise when — in the very next day's edition of the Oregonian (which I almost didn't see because it was one of the extremely rare occasions when our paper didn't show up) — there was a 700-word article by reporter Melissa Sanchez on a Pingelapese reunion here in Portland. Apparently, Portland has one of the largest populations of Pingelapese outside of Pingelap (about 100), and an equal number of US residents came for the event as well.

Odd coincidences.


»  July 11, 2005


Big CIA Covert Operative About Town: Arthur Silber has a longish post discussing the splitting of treasonous hairs at Powerline over Rovegate. One of the points he quotes them on is their assertion that lots of reporters knew about Valerie Plame's covert CIA job helping to prevent the spread of WMD. After citing a "reluctant" answer by Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC to a question about whether Plame's covert job was generally known, Silber says this:

Let’s leave aside the credibility and veracity of Mitchell and whether her word should be taken for anything, on any subject. I note, however, that I hardly consider these to be minor issues. But let’s assume she said what she believed to be the truth. If Plame’s identity as a CIA agent was “generally known to news people,” then why were highly placed White House officials peddling this story to reporters at all? Why did they need to? Couldn’t Rove (and anyone else) have simply said, “And you know, of course, who Wilson’s wife is.” If it was indeed “generally known,” why was it such hard work to put this story out there?

Moreover, if it was “generally known,” wouldn’t that have mattered to the CIA? Have any of our intrepid reporters bothered to ask anyone at the CIA if this was a problem for them, and what they might have done about it? If not, why not? And if it was “generally known,” then what on earth has Fitzgerald been doing for all these many months? Hmm?

I have little to add to Silber's probing piece, but I do think that if I was Mr. Fitzgerald, one person I'd be pulling in to question would be Ms. Mitchell, in order to find out when she found out about Plame's CIA work, who told her about it, and how she could say with certainty that other members of the media knew about it, i.e. who she'd discussed it with.

Then I'd be pulling those people in, because no matter when this information was leaked, it was still a crime.



1,400 Days of the Global War on Terror:

Click to view an interactive Flash timeline

July 11 marks the 1,400th day of the global war on terror (as measured from September 11, 2001). We are now almost exactly half-way between the length of US involvement in World War II (1,346 days) and the length of the American Civil War (1,458 days).

As we saw last week in London, terrorism is still a threat. The leaders of the organization believed to be behind the attacks in London on 7/7/2005, in Madrid on 3/11/2004, and in Washington and New York City on 9/11/2001 are still at large.


»  July 7, 2005


A Theatrical Miscalculation: Willamette Week theater critic Steffen Silvis says goodbye in this week's issue, something I can only applaud.

Silvis is apparently confused about the length of his tenure, titling the article "The Seven-Year Itch" when, in actuality it's been almost nine years since his predecessor, my wife, Barbara Moshofsky, decided several years of three, four, or five shows a weekend during the season was enough, in December 1996. She took time off then to go on vacation to London — where we did not see any theater — let Silvis fill in while she was gone, and then decided to turn over the reins when she got back.

Silvis's approach to theater criticism can be summed up by a line in his farewell note: "The truth is that Portland is often an amateurville horror, with far too many ego-driven poseurs, painted hams and desiccated frauds crowding the stage." Gee, who would possibly have known that about local theater without Silvis helpfully pointing it out? Of course, that line could just as easily have been written about Silvis himself, whose reviews — like his farewell note — tended to fix the facts to pre-determined themes they might not always have fit.



Head for the Bunker?: Just before 2300GMT on the BBC World Service, one of the commentators on the London transit bombings (named, I believe, Bill Daugherty) mentioned that he found it admirable that Prime Minister Tony Blair's reaction to the bombing was to return to the capital, rather than "in some bunker somewhere."

I wonder who he could have been thinking of?


»  July 1, 2005


Flypaper: Has anyone else noticed this conflict between two of the supposed current goals of the Bush administration in Iraq?

On one hand, the US is supposedly intent upon creating a new democracy out of the ashes of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

On the other hand, Iraq is our "flypaper" for Islamic terrorists, where we are drawing them to fight in order to prevent them from attacking the US on its own soil.

But doesn't it seem as if there's a problem in setting up a stable nation in a war zone? I have a hard time reconciling those two plans. Unless the pool of potential terrorists in the Islamic world is just about empty (something I have a hard time swallowing) it seems like we're going to need active flypaper for some time to come (making the huge assumption that it actually works) either in Iraq or elsewhere. And that means developing a stable government, turning over true power to that government, and leaving Iraq is a long way off (assuming, of course, that it was ever planned).



Return On Investment: Apparently, former Carter administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has an article in The Financial Times (subscription only) criticizing the Bush administration's prosecution of the war. La-di-dah.

Sunday, Tom Tomorrow reiterated Brzezinski's comments from a 1998 interview in which he pats himself on the back for convincing Jimmy Carter to secretly fund the anti-Communist Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, drawing the Soviets into the war six months later.

Brzezinski says he sent Carter a message the day the Soviets invaded saying that they now had the opportunity to give the Soviets their own Vietnam war. Apparently, that was a good thing to the likes of Brzezinski, who seems not to care that a lot of non-combatants die in places like Vietnam during wars, but what the hey, that's realpolitik, isn't it?

It did get me to wondering though, what with people like Putin running post-Soviet Russia, a suspicious mind might wonder if a few well-placed millions of dollars might just have gone to a little payback for the whole Afghanistan thing. What if you could spend a little bit of cabbage and lure someone with big pockets into shooting billions upon billions of dollars into a hole like Afghanistan or Iraq? What if, like Brzezinski, you didn't care a whit about the people who lived (or died) there? As a budding capitalist nation, would a little levelling of the playing field be a good return on investment?