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»  March 31, 2008


Good Question:

Darrel Plant at the White House

I breezed through DC on my way back from Philadelphia, and toured around the mall for a few hours with my cousin, his wife, and their two-year-old. It was the opening weekend of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the beginning or the end of spring break, depending on where you were from, and the opening night of the Nationals baseball season (I think we may have seen Marine One ferrying Bush to the stadium to get booed when he walked out to throw the first pitch). There were a lot of people walking around admiring the flowery trees.

Crowds View Cherry Blossoms at the FDR Memorial

Just before we got to the White House, we braved the narrow walkway in front of the Vietnam Memorial wall. We'd just about emerged, when I saw a skinny, bespectacled 10-year old boy ask his mother why they only made memorials for the dead soldiers and not for the ones who fought and lived.


»  March 28, 2008


Friday Night at the Eschacon: Spent a good portion of the evening talking to The Rude Pundit at the Eschacon kick-off party. Probably monopolized too much of his time. That's probably rude of me, but a different type of rude than he specializes in.



It All Depends On Who You Ask: In the first chapter of Steve Coll's book Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, the author describes the destruction of the American embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan shortly after the embassy in Iran was occupied in 1979.

A mob of what the neighboring British embassy staff estimated at as many as fifteen thousand assaulted and burned the compound while the Pakistani government sat on its hands preferring not to get involved. Amazingly, despite being nearly cooked to death, nearly all of the embassy staff and their families survived, with many of the staff holed up in a small, practically airless room for hours while the fire raged beneath and around them, and rioters fired guns at the door meant as an escape hatch.

Apart from the Iranian incident, another claimed precipitating event was the armed takeover of the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque at Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The student group who called for the Islamabad embassy to be destroyed cited the Grand Mosque and the movement of US Navy ships toward the region as hostile acts toward the Muslim world by imperialists, stooges, etc.

Coll describes the situation this way:

That squad [a contingent of extra Pakistani police to protect the embassy] was in place on Wednesday morning when the rumors began to circulate in Islamabad, and later on local radio stations, that the United States and Israel stood behind the attack at the Grand Mosque.The rumor held that Washington and Tel Aviv had decided to seize a citadel of Islamic faith in order to neutralize the Muslim world. Absurd on its face, the rumor was nonetheless received as utterly plausible by thousands if not millions of Pakistanis.
Just how wack would those Pakistanis have to be to believe something that crazy? Here's a former candidate for the Republican party nomination for president on a televised debate before the Iowa Straw Poll last August:
Q: Last week you said that, in order to deter an attack by Islamic terrorists using nuclear weapons, you would threaten to bomb Mecca and Medina. The State Department called that "reprehensible" & "absolutely crazy."

A: Yes, the State Department--boy, when they start complaining about things I say, I feel a lot better about the things I say, I'll tell you right now. My task as president is primarily to do one thing--not to make sure everybody has health care or everybody's child is educated--my task is to do one thing: to protect and defend this country. And that means to deter--and I want to underline "deter"--any kind of aggression, especially the type we are threatened with by Al Qaida, which is nuclear attack. I read the national intelligence estimate. I see what they are planning. And I'm telling you right now that anybody that would suggest that we should take anything like this off the table in order to deter that kind of event in the United States isn't fit to be president.

Don't tell me that he's the only guy in the country who thought that was a good idea, because I know I heard some other people saying the same thing.

A fun tidbit from the same chapter that reminds me of someone:

General Zia [the Pervez Musharraf of his time] had plans that day to promote civic advancement through Islamic values. He had decided to spend most of the afternoon in teeming Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad, riding about on a bicycle. Zia intended to hand out Islamic pamphlets and advertise by example the simple virtues of self-propelled transport. And, of course, where the military dictator went, so went most of Pakistan's military and security establishment. When the first distress calls went out from the U.S. embassy later that day, much of Pakistan's army brass was unavailable. They were pedaling behing the boss on their bicycles.



Belling the Liberty: I braved the end-of-spring-break line.

Darrel Plant at the Liberty Bell, 28 March 2008


What the...?  

Eschacon Tribute Friday Cat Blog: Jasmine cat on a platter.

Jasmine fits herself into a serving dish


»  March 27, 2008

What the...?  

Lost Train of Thought: Damn! I had an idea for a post this morning but I've forgotten what it was....


»  March 24, 2008


Gaffing Howie Kurtz: Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz embodies the worst of the worst of his profession so far as I'm concerned. I don't regularly read him, I briefly tried to watch his CNN Reliable Sources show but couldn't take it for long, but I've seen lots of him by accumulation over the years.

But I happened to notice that he was doing one of the Post's "Live Discussion" segments today, just a little before it began, so I went and submitted a question.

Imagine my surprisae when the first question of the day turned out to be from here in Portland, Oregon! It just wasn't my question. Kurtz was asked why the pundits asked to weigh in on the Rev. Wright/Obama "controversy" have been overwhelmingly white. Kurtz brought up the fact that he had two African-Americans on his panel Sunday. Although he also had Michael Medved, and that may have been like having a whole fist on the scales.

A short question from Massachussetts got to the topic I asked about, which was John McCain saying Iran was arming al Qaeda and the media treating it as a trivial error. Kurtz dismissed it with two brief sentences with absolutely no insight into the media's role in downplaying the "error." Much shorter than any of this other responses.

A Minneapolis questioner a little bit further down asked who was calling McCain on his "mistake," and wondering why it wasn't getting the saturation coverage it would have if Clinton or Obama had said the same thing. Howie said the media is obsessed with the Democratic horserace and McCain's just not much in the news. Then it was my turn. My original question didn't get picked, but I had written a response to his first answer:

Portland, Ore.: If John McCain "believes Iran is actually training al-Qaeda operatives or is not being very careful about sticking to established facts," then why does he have a reputation as someone who knows what he's talking about, or as a "straight talker"? What, exactly, is his "bank" of foreign policy experience based on? And is simply having opinions on foreign policy -- even if they're blatantly incorrect -- a reasonable bar for the media to claim that someone has "foreign policy experience"?

Howard Kurtz: You're welcome to criticize McCain's foreign policy views, but I think to say he doesn't have experience in this area is simply not true. He has more than Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined when they were presidential candidates. He led a Navy squadron during the Vietnam War. He's been in the forefront of national security debates for two decades. He just completed his eighth visit to Iraq. He was a major proponent of the surge. Now experience isn't everything, as Obama frequently points out, citing the very experienced Cheney and Rumsfeld and how they botched the war. But McCain is not a newcomer to these matters.

Like his other answers on the topic, that really didn't deal with the question. Simply showing up for class and getting your attendence record checked off doesn't count. You've got to know the subject and understand what you're talking about to truly claim experience.

This was my original (unanswered) question:

John McCain made the same statements about a connection between Iran and al Qaeda as long ago as last August. His multiple "gaffes" this past week on the same subject would seem to indicate that he's either willfully sticking to that false statement -- unless corrected in public by someone like Joe Lieberman -- or that he's truly confused about the situation in the Middle East, even after nearly seven years of war against al Qaeda.

How can journalists pass off multiple instances of false statements about the people we're supposedly fighting -- made over several months -- as momentary lapses? How does a guy who supported the idea of going into Iraq for non-existent WMD continue to have a reputation with the media as an expert in military and foreign affairs? How many Americans have to die before you people will stop swallowing that line?

And one I sent in after the session began:
Why is most discussion of the Iraq war still dominated by pundits who have been wrong about every aspect of the war since before it began: from the claims of Saddam Hussein's WMDs to the cost of the war to the length of the war? Why does the media still give them more credibility than the people who predicted that there were no WMD and that the war would turn in to a long, brutal, and expensive quagmire?



Reinhard's Country Right And Wrong: The Oregonian's David Reinhard had to weigh in with one of his usual hot-off-the-conservative-fax-machine editorials inveighing against Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor who married Barack and Michelle Obama and Barack Obama's speech last Tuesday that tried to both put some distance between his and his pastor's views as well as putting them into some historical context.

In his editorial, Reinhard asserted that Wright's charges were "Hate-filled paranoid rants," and went on to call them "anti-American." That's one of the charges that people like Reinhard love.

And, for the first time in quite a while, the Oregonian published my response last Friday:

Criticism not anti-American

How brave David Reinhard must be to label the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who spent six years in the Marines and the Navy, as "anti-American" ("Who is Jeremiah Wright Jr.? Who is Barack Obama?," March 20).

Reinhard's blood must run red, white and blue to consider someone "anti-American" for criticizing the country he served as a member of the military.

Or perhaps it's just another case of McCarthyite name-calling, like thepeople who denigrated Sen. John Kerry and other veterans for saying that the Vietnam War was wrong.

DARREL PLANT Southeast Portland

I hadn't expected the letter to get published, but even before it had, I got an emailed response from Reinhard himself:
Tell me, what is asking God to damn America? I think it qualifies as anti-American.
To which I replied with a somewhat fuller quote from Wright:
"God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

So, you're OK with the idea of America treating black Americans as less than human and with American exceptionalism around the world?

And I thought that was as far as it was going to go. But apparently he had some time to chew on it this weekend.
No, Darrel, I'm not Ok wtih treating black Americans as less than human, which is certainly not today the "idea of America". I am OK with American exceptionalism around the world.
Exceptionalism is an attitude that leads to racism and nationalism. If you think you're better than everyone else, then it's no big deal to clear others out of your way if you get the feeling they looked at you cross-eyed or if they have some resource you feel would be better put to use by yourself.

So much for "all men are created equal," in the Reinhardland.

When Nathan saw the letter he asked me how often I wrote to the Oregonian and how often they got published. This was part of my reply:

Back in my intemperate youth, I wrote at least a couple of times a month. And in the days when I was a warm commodity (book review, legislative run, occasional mentions in Jonathan Nicholas's column) I'd get a letter published every few attempts.

But competition for letter space has greatly increased since the early '90s. Between email submissions and a larger population their volume is up 500% or something of the sort. Combine that with a smaller allocation of column space, and it's a feeding frenzy.

Truth be told, I started my blog because I got tired of writing letters to the Oregonian that never got published. I'd spend a couple of hours (or more) crafting something, I'd have to cut a whole bunch of it to make it fit their length requirement, and then it would disappear into oblivion. I just hated that. So back in August 2003, when they published an editorial cartoon mocking the 15,000 elderly French people who died in a heat wave that summer in the wake of the "Freedon [sic] Fries" campaign, and didn't see fit to publish my letter about it, I got the idea to start the blog. Since I couldn't seem to stop myself from writing the letters, I figured at least someone might stumble across them on the Internet.

This is the first one they've published in quite a while. I see about 40 emails to the letters address in my Out box since early 1985. So the ratio is pretty low. About standard for a crank. I've made over 800 blog posts in the same period, and most of those are on political topics.


»  March 22, 2008


French-Bashing Is the New Black: As an American proud of my French heritage, and someone who's been more than fed up with six years of French-bashing from the right, the center, and people who called themselves liberals, it's simply disgusting to see the same kind of tactic used by progressives at the Campaign for America's Future in an ad taking John McCain to task for his part in Airbus winning a Defense Department contract for tanker aircraft. It's in the voice of "the French people," thanking McCain for all the jobs and laughing at the misfortune of American workers.

"And thousands fewer [jobs] for Americans, ha, ha, ha!"
The whole thrust of the "Kerry looks French" campaign of 2004 was that he wasn't sufficiently American and that being French he was even anti-American. As much as I might dislike John McCain, portraying the French as anti-American (laughing at the loss of American jobs) in an effort to score political points is truly pathetic.


»  March 20, 2008


Golddiggers of 2008: "That's it! That's what this show's about! The Depression, men marching, marching in the rain. Doughnuts and crullers, men marching, marching, jobs, jobs, and in the background, Carol, spirit of the Depression."


»  March 16, 2008


Not Helping the Cause: Somehow, this guy doesn't strike me as a compatriot of the "American Left." From the Associated Press, via the International Herald Tribune last week:

Italian candidate at April vote says he is lifelong Fascist, embarrassing Berlusconi

ROME: Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives suffered a major embarrassment this week as one of their candidates for April elections said he is an unrepentant and lifelong Fascist.

The comments by Giuseppe Ciarrapico, a veteran Rome businessman who is running for a Senate seat, drew quick criticism from center-left politicians and leaders of the Jewish community.

His candidacy was not withdrawn, however, even though some fellow conservatives demanded that he give up running.

"Fascism has given me joys and pains," Ciarrapico was quoted by the daily La Repubblica as saying in an interview published Monday. "I've never renounced it."

Ciarrapico, 74, owns some small local newspapers in the Lazio region near Rome, and during the interview he was asked why pictures of Mussolini hang on the walls of his newsrooms.


"I am not an anti-Semite. I never have been," he was quoted as saying in Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading newspaper, on Tuesday. "But I do not renounce Fascism and have great admiration for Mussolini."


What the...?  

Danger, Anthony Bourdain, Danger!: Barbara's entry into the Anthony Bourdain "No Reservations" FAN-atic contest.

Based on her award-winning 1993 article for Willamette Week.


»  March 14, 2008


White Superdudes : Me, from a discussion about superdelegates on Blue Oregon a month ago:

While the DNC superdelegates are relatively well-balanced from a cursory examination, the three hundred elected officials (former presidents and vice president, governors, senators, and representatives) are a pretty lopsided bunch, both on both ethnicity and sex. Not that you'd expect anything different from people elected to federal positions, but only 20% of them are women. Which means that even with the rest of the superdelegation being split evenly (which it is) more than 60% of the superdelegates are superdudes. And mostly white superdudes.
And a response from the usual quarters:
OK, so in addition to believing most of Western Europe and Japan to be non-democratic, darrelplant is now saying he hates Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer for being white.

Because they must be all secretly members of the KKK or something; they've got this white dude mojo going on.

So obviously they're going to vote for the white dude in this year's nomination process.

Then there's Jenny Greenleaf, the Oregon DNC committeewoman and a superdelegate, yesterday:
Superdelegates come from two places: elected officials and DNC members. The DNC is gender-balanced to a fare-thee-well, although not as diverse as it could be (still, it isn't just a bunch of white, heterosexual men). Mostly, it's old :-).

It is true that the majority of elected officials are white guys. However, when we select the pledged delegates to the convention, we take that into consideration.

And the same responder, with a much different take:
I had no direct role in electing Jenny, but I support her wholeheartedly. I also believe that as someone who has worked as hard as she has, trusted to keep the Democratic party whole, and dedicated to electing a Democrat in November, she has the right to cast her unpledged vote as she sees fit.


»  March 13, 2008


Things That Should Not Be: According to his interview with Stephen Colbert the other night, former South Dakota Senator and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern is not a super-delegate at this year's Democratic convention.


»  March 12, 2008


Things That Make You Crazy: Nicholas Confessore of The New York Times on PBS's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, talking to reporter Ray Suarez:

It's hard to say, though, whether really anyone would be standing up for his right to stay in office if these charges are true. And, in fact, I think that if it turns out these charges are true and he publicly admits exactly what has happened, there would be extraordinary pressure from him or on him from within his own party to resign, especially if the Republicans, who've threatened impeachment, if they followed through on that, I'm not sure that Democrats in the State Senate and the State Assembly want to go on record opposing impeachment of a guy who has been arrested and charged with a crime of prostitution.
Whatever he may have done: structuring payments, participating in transporting women across state lines for sexual purposes, Spitzer hasn't been accused of being a prostitute. And that wasn't the only place Confessore said the same thing.



Democratic Party Humiliations:


»  March 11, 2008


The DSCC Can't Count: Some days you just have to smash your monitor in frustration at the sheer stupidity of people in the party you've belonged to for nearly ___ years (30 in my case but fill in your own figure). The latest appeal from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee touts their video series "The Road to Victory" with this line (which is used as a defining slogan):

Watch our new video and learn why real people think 51 Democrats in the Senate just aren't enough.
Are the people putting the DSCC campaign seriously counting Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) as a Democrat? Even after he's endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for the presidency? Are they complete idiots or what? And who's approving this stuff?


»  March 7, 2008


Thanks For Doing His Job: This was certainly an unexpected piece of email:

Dear Darrel Plant,

Great news!

Your senator, Gordon Smith, just took a major step towards making a modern GI Bill a reality by signing onto S.22, the new legislation that is making its way through Congress. As you know, IAVA's number one priority this year is getting the new GI Bill passed, so that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans can afford to go to college after they return from war.

Please take a minute to call Senator Smith and thank him for his support of this critical legislation. It's crucial that lawmakers hear from people like you, who are committed to ensuring that our nation's veterans get the respect they have earned.

Office of Senator Gordon Smith
(202) 224-3753

Below we've included some talking points you can use on the call.

Thank you for making your voice heard.


Todd Bowers
Iraq Veteran
Director of Government Affairs
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Talking points:

Good morning / evening.

My name is your name and I'm calling from city.

I stand with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) in their call for a new GI Bill. Troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan deserve real education benefits that make college tuition affordable, and I want to thank Senator Smith for signing on to S.22.

Let's see. More than six years after the invasion of Afghanistan, Smith agrees to fund a program to provide post-service education to veterans something that should have been a part of the budget from the moment they decided to go into Afghanistan and Iraq and in which Smith is one of 46 co-sponsors (a list that includes several other Republicans, as well as Oregon's Other Senator, Ron Wyden).

That deserves a special "attaboy," for what, exactly?


»  March 4, 2008

What the...?  

Senryū Thirty-Three. Dungeons & Dragons :

Half-Elf, Half-Dwarf,
Double-Plus Good, Billionth Level,

Gary Gygax, Game Pioneer, Dies at 69

Published: March 5, 2008

Gary Gygax, a pioneer of the imagination who transported a fantasy realm of wizards, goblins and elves onto millions of kitchen tables around the world through the game he helped create, Dungeons & Dragons, died Tuesday at his home in Lake Geneva, Wis. He was 69.

Related posts: "26 Years and Counting" and "My Satanic Majesty".


»  March 3, 2008


Senryū Thirty-Two. Asymmetrical Warfare:

Six hundred thousand
Times two, three dead cows,
A donkey, and three wounded

U.S. Forces Fire Missiles Into Somalia at a Kenyan

Published: March 4, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya American naval forces fired missiles into southern Somalia on Monday, aiming at what the Defense Department called terrorist targets.

Residents reached by telephone said that three civilians were wounded, and that the only other casualties were three dead cows, one dead donkey and a partly destroyed house. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman in Washington, said the target was a "known Al Qaeda terrorist."


An American military official said the naval attack on Monday was carried out with at least two Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from a submarine. The official said the missiles were believed to have hit their targets. Witnesses on the ground, though, described the attack differently.


»  March 2, 2008

What the...?  

Not From Around Here: Some people will probably think it's sour grapes for me to criticize the Oregonian's Community Writer experiment because I wasn't chosen for it, but really, that's not a problem. As I told the editors in my application letter, I credit the Oregonian with prompting me to start my blog, because I was frustrated with spending lots of time writing letters to the editor that were never published. At least here, I can pretend someone reads them besides me.

No, what struck me about the batch of fifteen writers announced today is that except for the 12-year-old middle school student and the 19-year-old Oregon Journalist of the Year, none of them had lived in Oregon their whole lives.

And while I'm no spring chicken, they seem pretty, well, old. The median age of the group is 53. That means that half of the writers are 53 or older. As a matter of fact, nearly three-quarters are in their mid-40s (45) and beyond. I would have been at the bottom edge of that cohort myself if chosen, but if I'd noticed that most of the other writers were older than I was, I think I might have mentioned it in my first guest column.

The only data provided about the writers is their age and the number of years in Oregon (or Vancouver, in one case), and it's entirely possible that some of them were born here, left for a while, and came back, so I'm not going to make the mistake of saying that there are no Oregon natives among the (considerably) over-20 group, but most of them haven't lived even half their lives in the state. Based on their age and the number of years in the area, the median percentage of their lives spent in Oregon (or Vancouver) is 46%. In fact—with the exception of the two youngest Community Writers—none of the group has lived more than three-quarters of their life here. This means that even someone who was born here around 1955 (making them the median age of the group) spent about 28 years somewhere else (if they had lived here the median percentage of the group).

I have to say that I'm rather surprised that the Oregonian wasn't able to find even one writer older than 20 who met their standards and who'd lived in the state their entire life.


»  March 1, 2008


Senryū Thirty-One. Passing Gas:

Bush: Four dollars a gallon?
You've got to be kidding!
Pull my finger!

Q What's your advice to the average American who is hurting now, facing the prospect of $4 a gallon gasoline, a lot of people facing --

THE PRESIDENT: Wait, what did you just say? You're predicting $4 a gallon gasoline?

Q A number of analysts are predicting --


Q -- $4 a gallon gasoline this spring when they reformulate.

THE PRESIDENT: That's interesting. I hadn't heard that.

Q Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I know it's high now.

Q And the other economic problems facing people. Beyond your concern that you stated here, and your expectations for these stimulus checks, what kind of hope can you offer to people who are in dire straits?

THE PRESIDENT: Permanent tax -- keep the tax cuts permanent, for starters. There's a lot of economic uncertainty. You just said that. You just said the price of gasoline may be up to $4 a gallon -- or some expert told you that -- and that creates a lot of uncertainty if you're out there wondering whether or not -- you know, what your life is going to be like and you're looking at $4 a gallon, that's uncertain.