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»  September 21, 2007


Endgame: Atrios quotes Frank Rich talking about how Sen John Warner (R-VA) will finally break the Republican ice on the Iraq war:

As General Odom says, the endgame will start "when a senior senator from the president's party says no," much as William Fulbright did to L.B.J. during Vietnam.
Just as an historical note, though, while Fulbright started speaking out against the war in 1966, US combat troops didn't leave for another seven years, and LBJ was out of office for five of those years. That's one hell of an "endgame".



Osama's Beard: Last Sunday, the Oregonian gave over its non-ad space on the back of the Opinion section to Brian Doyle, the editor of a magazine at the University of Portland, who started off his hi-larious commentary with this naive assumption:

Was I the only person on this sweet bruised Earth to pick up the newspaper recently and see Osama bin Laden's vengeful-squirrel face, and before even reading the report of his latest rant about How Everybody Should Do What He Says, burst out laughing that he had dyed his beard?
Uh, no Mr. Doyle, you weren't. Google has more than a quarter of a million hits on the words osama dyed beard. Some of them are straight news reports, some of them claim to be able to tell where bin Laden in by the way the beard's dyed, some claim that it's a signal to launch an attack, but a lot of them do, indeed, make fun of the fact that he's dying his beard.

Doyle's novel idea is to make fun of bin Laden.

Imagine if we used humor as a weapon; surely the one thing vanity of such monumental proportion cannot stand is being laughed at. Let's have Christopher Guest make a faux documentary starring bin Laden's hairstylist. Let's have Richard Simmons make a video of The Bin Laden Workout -- Trim! Tan! Taliban! Let's have Larry David create a sitcom about bin Laden's harried video producer. Let's point out that His Osamaness has probably never fired, let alone cleaned, the rifle always carefully propped in his videos.
That's some humor that bites! My letter to the Oregonian (which looks like it's gone into the bin again):
Brian Doyle suggests that Osama bin Laden's apparent decision to dye his beard jet black makes him a "raging narcissist" and opens up all sorts of possibilities for derisive humor.

The same might be said for someone like Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who sported a jet-black goatee a couple of years ago in photographs of him wandering the Bush ranch in Texas hand-in-hand with the President and kissing him on the cheek. The Crown Prince was 81 at the time.

Ronald Reagan never admitted to dying his hair, even though he was almost 78 when he left the White House and his hair was still jet black. He said he didn't take naps either.

The idea that a wave of humor is going affect Osama bin Laden rather ignores the fact that there have been six years of jokes both better and worse than the ones Doyle proposes -- usually having something to do with a cave. Bin Laden doesn't seem to be paying much attention.

The real joke is that the guy's still free after six years and that he can dye his beard and make a new video. Unfortunately, that joke's on us.

President George W. Bush holds hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah


»  September 20, 2007


Yellow Ribbon Amendments: The US Senate just passed Sen. John Cornyn's (D-TX) amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act condemning the "Petraeus/Betray Us" ad placed two weeks ago by MoveOn.org by a 72-25-3 vote.

The purpose of the amendment is:

To express the sense of the Senate that General David II. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.

Sen Gordon Smith voted "yea", naturally. Sen. Ron Wyden voted "nay". But 22 Democratic Senators (out of 49) voted for it. Joe Biden (D-DE), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Barack Obama (D-IL) did not vote.

This is precisely the kind of measure we had a post-mortem on several weeks back, with regard to the 2003 Oregon House resolution Jeff Merkley voted for, that mixed expressions of support for President Bush and a reiteration of the lies about the threat Iraq posed to the United States with a statement of support for the members of the armed services.

In this version, the US Senate says Gen. Petraeus deserves their support and condemns attacks on his honor and integrity as well as attacks on the honor and integrity of the "United States Armed Forces".

The "sense of the Senate" resolution has no more force than the House statement Merkley voted for in 2003. Very few people are going to argue against condemning attacks on members of the armed services.

It's possible that Merkley may have thought the ad went too far. It's possible he believed that and didn't think it worthy of condemnation, but I have to wonder based on past performance whether he'd have felt compelled to vote for this amendment on the ground that it also condemned attacks on servicepeople, His vote for the 2003 House bill was predicated on wanting to show "strong support" to members of the military. Apparently men and women on their way to the war zone were paying special attention to non-binding resolutions passed by state legislatures. Would Cornyn's amendment have done any less?

At four and a half years into the war in Iraq, wouldn't "strong support" be even more necessary than at two days? If he'd been in Gordon Smith's place, would he have felt compelled to once again pick-and-choose which portions of the purely cosmetic amendment he wanted to say he was supporting and throw away the part about Petraeus (if indeed he disagreed with it) so that he could support the troops?



It Was Because We Didn't Want to Know: Judgment at Nuremberg is a fictionalized account drawn from the second round of trials of war criminals in Allied-occupied Germany. Based on a television play by Abby Mann, the trial at the center of the story concerns four judges involved in sentencing people to sterilization based on supposed inferiorities and to death for racial "defilement".

Spencer Tracy plays the lead American judge, in one of his last movie roles. Burt Lancaster plays Ernst Janning, one of the four German judges on trial, an eminent legal scholar who initially refuses to participate in his defense or to recognize the authority of the court.

The cast of the 1961 film features Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Werner Klemperer, and even William Shatner as a dirndl-chasing American military officer. Schell and the screenplay received Oscars, Tracy, Clift, and Garland all received nominations, along with the art and set direction, the cinematography, the costume design, the director (Stanley Kramer, who preceded this movie with On the Beach and Inherit the Wind and followed it with It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World), the editing, and the picture itself (it lost to West Side Story). The film was one of the first mass media venues in which images from Nazi concentration camps were shown.

Toward the end of the trial, Janning decides to break his silence with a speech that addresses the willingness of people to put patriotic fervor ahead of human decency and the tendency to not ask questions they would be uncomfortable knowing the answers to. Like all too many documents of the post-war, post-McCarthy era it strikes an awful lot of chords with the current political situation. Or maybe it's just me.

There was a fever over the land, a fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all there was fear, fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that can you understand what Hitler meant to us, because he said to us:
"Lift your heads. Be proud to be German. There are devils among us, communists, liberals, Jews, gypsies. Once these devils will be destroyed your misery will be destroyed."

It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb.

What about those of us who knew better, we who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country. What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded -- sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows! We will go forward. "Forward" is the great password.

And history tells how well we succeeded, Your Honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world. We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said, "Go ahead. Take it. Take it! Take Sudetenland! Take the Rhineland! Re-militarize it! Take all of Austria! Take it!"

And then, one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual begun in this courtroom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a "passing phase" had become the way of life.

Your Honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it. He has done it, here, in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the 16 year old girl after all. Once more, it is being done -- for love of country.

It is not easy to tell the truth. But if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it -- whatever the pain and humiliation.

More of the speech at American Rhetoric.


»  September 19, 2007


From the Google Ad Bar: I guess when you're publishing the likes of Robert Novak, Cal Thomas, Ann Coulter, and Lars Larson, taking the time to spell-check 14 words of ad copy is less important than putting out the Obama smears.

Misspelled Human Events Google Ad


What the...?  

Arrrrr!: As if you didn't know, it's Talk Like a Pirate Day.


»  September 18, 2007


Robots Impress Me: Apparently, the latest They Might be Giants video was done just down the road a piece, at Bent Image Lab here in Portland.

I'm impressed, I'm impressed
When that gorilla beats his chest
I fall to bits
I confess
I admit I'm impressed
When the torpedo in the vest barks his orders
I'm impressed

And I find that my head's nodding yes
Though my legs are not following
I'm inspired by events
To remember the exits in back of me

-- lyrics from "I'm Impressed",
on the album The Else by They Might be Giants

Presented with a shout out to The Lonely Robot.


»  September 17, 2007


Big Surprise:

Agreement on 80% of the issues.

Take the test yourself!


»  September 14, 2007


They Might Be Giants, "The Shadow Government":

Here in Portland at Roseland on September 27!



Waterboardin' USA: From Harry Shearer at My Damn Channel:

Just for fun, I'll dust off my mashup of Rube Goldberg and Guantanamo Bay (click on the image to open a large version of the graphic):

Koran Abuse at Guantanamo Bay


»  September 13, 2007


You Can't Handle the Truth: From WNYC's On the Media, in an interview by hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield with the Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam about recent phychological studies on how the brain processes true and false statements (emphasis added):

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I want to ask you, then, about truth-squadding, since we're in the midst of political races. Here's the scenario: politician A makes horrendous charges against politician B, essentially lying about the opposition. A vigilant reporter notices this and does a truth-squadding article in the newspaper that says, no, this campaign ad is simply not true for the following reason. And politician B, of course, immediately starts attacking politician A for misrepresenting his or her record. Who wins?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM: I think invariably it's going to be politician A. When you have people who are systematically trying to manipulate you, spread propaganda, for instance, and they repeat the same information over and over again, the fact that we are not very good at remembering where we heard a particular piece of information, we tend to believe that we have heard the information from multiple independent sources and therefore it must be true, rather than from the same untrustworthy source over and over again.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, the studies you're talking about suggest that these effects take place irrespective of the bias of the listener. But there's another study that suggests that if you are, in fact, predisposed to have a certain world view that misinformation sticks still more. Can you describe it?

SHANKAR VEDANTAM: There's a new study that's just been completed by Jason Reifler at Georgia State University where he actually looks at questions such as why it is that large numbers of people continue to believe that weapons of mass destruction were present in Iraq before the invasion or even found in Iraq after the invasion.

And what Jason and his colleagues did was try and give people the correct information. And what he found, ironically, is that partisans who wanted to believe that weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, when told about the correct information, ended up believing ever more fervently that they were right and that the correct information was wrong.



Democracy While Black (or Antiwar):

Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the HipHop Caucus was tackled by a gang of Capitol Police while waiting in line for the Petraeus/Crocker hearings on Iraq on Monday, and his leg was broken (he was wearing a clerical collar and a button reading "I Love the People of Iraq"). In this video where he discusses the incident, he mentions early on that just before the incident he was giving an interview to someone from Portland, Oregon.


»  September 10, 2007


Huey Long Died 72 Years Ago Today: Almost lost in the aftermath of the drowning of New Orleans two years ago was a milestone anniversary of another significant event in Louisiana history: the 70th observance of the death of Senator Huey Pierce Long, Jr..

On this 72nd anniversary of Long's death (he was shot on 8 September 1935 but died two days later) I feel it's all the more important to encourage people to look at the actual accomplishments of the man, and not what people who were threatened by his agenda accused him of.

To that end, I humbly submit my 1992 review of T. Harry Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Long (the review's been on the web so long it's still on the first Google page of searches for "huey long"). If you can find a copy, one of Ken Burns's earliest projects was on Long. While it's hardly a detailed study of Long's policies or actions, it's particularly interesting for the interviews in which members of the state's ruling class express their hatred for Long and his intrusion into their turf, which puts one in mind of the Washington elite's attitude toward Clinton.

There's much more out there, but, as always, I like to close with words from Huey Long himself, from his autobiography Every Man a King:



The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

What I have proposed is:—


1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000 [dp: $14,275,000 in 2005 dollars]; 2% of all over $2,000,000 [$28,550,000] etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $100,000,000 [$1,427,500,000], the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man's forturn to something like $50,000,000 [$713,750,000]—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.

2. An inheritance tax which does not allow one man to make more than $5,000,000 [$71,375,000] in a lifetime without working for it, all over that amount to go to the government to be spread among the people for its work.

3. An income tax which does not allow any one man to make more than $1,000,000 [$14,275,000] in one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.

The forgoing program means all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life. It allows the millionaires to have, however, more than they can use for any luxury they can enjoy on earth. But, with such limits, all else can survive.

That the public press should regard my plan and effort as a calamity and me as a menace is no more than should be expected, gauged in the light of past events. According to Ridpath, the eminent historian:

"The ruling classes always possess the means of information and the processes by which it is distributed. The newspaper of modern times belongs to the upper man. The under man has no voice; or if, having a voice, his cry is lost like a shout in the desert. Capital, in the places of power, seizes upon the organs of public utterance, and howls the humble down the wind. Lying and misrepresentation are the natural weapons of those who maintain an existing vice and gather the usufruct of crime."

—Ridpath's History of the World, Page 410.

In 1932, the vote for my resolution showed possibly a half dozen other Senators back of it. It grew in the last Congress to nearly twenty Senators. Such growth through one other year will mean the success of a venture, the completion of everything I have undertaken,—the time when I can and will retire from the stress and fury of public life, maybe as my forties begin,—a contemplation so serene as to appear impossible.

That day will reflect credit on the States whose Senators took the early lead to spread the wealth of the land among all the people.

Then no tear dimmed eyes of a small child will be lifted into the saddened face of a father or mother unable to give it the necessities required by its soul and body for life; then the powerful will be rebuked in the sight of man for holding what they cannot consume, but which is craved to sustain humanity; the food of the land will feed, the raiment clothe, and the houses shelter all the people; the powerful will be elated by the well being of all, rather than through their greed.

Then those of us who have pursued that phantom of Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan may hear wafted from their lips in Valhalla:



»  September 8, 2007


I Have So Much to Do: Louisiana Senator Huey Long was shot on this date in 1935. He died two days later.

Forty years later to the day, President Gerald Ford gave disgraced former President Richard Nixon a full and complete pardon. You know, just in case he did anything wrong.


»  September 6, 2007


Do You Trust These People, Sen. Wyden?: It was just over three weeks ago that I asked Sen. Ron Wyden if he trusted the administration and he replied that he believed in the "Trust but Verify" philosophy Ronald Reagan cadged from the Russians (doveryai no proveryai).

That was the day before news started coming out that the Petraeus report was going to be waterboarded by the White House to gasp out the approved story on "progress" in Iraq. Wyden pinned a lot of his hopes on the Petraeus report during his discussion at his Town Hall on Iraq in Portland, saying that he thought it might influence Republican lawmakers (I don't know whether he thought the Democrats in Congress who support the Iraq war would be affected).

So now comes the word from Rassmussen that only 39% of American voters believe that the report will honestly and accurately reflect Petraeus's true assessment of the situation in Iraq. Nearly as many (35%) say that it won't. 26% aren't sure.

I'll be interested in seeing how long the senator waits and what methodology he uses to verify his trust in the general's report.