Kyle's Republic
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
 
Does this mean anything at all?

The former ombudsman of the New York Times discusses his role:

But I laid off for so long because I also believe that columnists are entitled
by their mandate to engage in the unfair use of statistics, the misleading
representation of opposing positions, and the conscious withholding of contrary
data. But because they’re entitled doesn’t mean I or you have to like it, or
think it’s good for the newspaper.


"Entitled" to do unfair, shoddy work. Surely not. Surely conscious distortion is the point where advocacy gives way to dishonesty, and good journalism can't be dishonest. The ombudsman ("public editor," in NYT talk) is supposed to be a safeguard against a newspaper's decline into crap. So either Dan Okrent's view of his role included not doing his job or else he's tapdancing faster than his feet can go.

Having read thru the Krugman-Okrent exchange, I can say that I don't know much about handling Treasury statistics but that the points, where intelligible, favored Krugman. The quote above was not central to any of the disputes, but anyone who could write that is hard to take seriously.
 
Sunday, May 29, 2005
 
What was that about swatting flies?

"There's been a perception, a sense of drift in overall terrorism policy. People
have not figured out what we do next, so we just continue to pick 'em off one at
a time," said Roger W. Cressey, who served as a counterterrorism official at the
National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. "We
haven't gone to a new level to figure out how things have changed since 9/11."


From the Wash. Post by way of Progressive Blog Digest. The point puts me in mind of the blog triumphalism one finds whenever another terrorist gets swatted, as mentioned in a post somewhere below.
 
Friday, May 20, 2005
 
"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives."

Galloway's statement is here. It's as if Margaret Tharcher came back as a male socialist and told certain parties what they have long been in need of hearing:

I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.



 
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
 
Brave words

On the one hand this is good news. On the other I no longer recognize the world.

Publishers Weekly daily e-mail bulletin has a short interview with "DC's Paul Levitz," that is the president/publishers of DC Comics. Nowadays PW can assume its readers know what DC is. The interview also gets decently high billing. And Levitz says:

You know, it wasn’t so long ago that science fiction moved from the fringe
of the literary culture to the center. I remember when there were no
science-fiction sections in bookstores. We’re in a time when something very
similar is happening to comics. They are at the heart of popular culture right
now and DC Comics will be playing a meaningful part in this change over the next
couple of decades.

I expect he's right, which is the scary part. That's not a knock at DC but at the idea of my old habit moving into the heart of the culture. I had a similar feeling when reading about Sen. Ted Stevens' Hulk tie. Part of the feeling, of course, is that the decades are moving on here pretty fast.
 
Sunday, May 15, 2005
 
A keeper

By way of Tom Tomorrow, I came to the spiffy site Downingstreetmemo.com, which contains the prize document itself:


SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL - UK EYES ONLY

DAVID MANNINGFrom: Matthew RycroftDate: 23 July 2002S 195 /02
cc:
Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John
Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair
Campbell

IRAQ: PRIME MINISTER'S MEETING, 23 JULY
Copy addressees and you
met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.
This record is extremely
sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those
with a genuine need to know its contents.
John Scarlett summarised the
intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on
extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military
action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but
he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime
expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army
morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly
based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August,
Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August. The two broad US options
were:
(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72
hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90
days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).
(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air
campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.
The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:
(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.
(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.
(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000,
perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down
two Iraqi divisions.
The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun
"spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken,
but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin
was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional
elections.


The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell
this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military
action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin Saddam was
not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of
Libya, North Korea or Iran We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam
to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal
justification for the use of force.


The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work. On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.
For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN. John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military
involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the
US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important
for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.


Conclusions:
(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would
take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning
before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we
were considering a range of options.
(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.
(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed
military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.
(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam. He would also
send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region
especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.
(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers. (I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)
MATTHEW RYCROFT
(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy
aide)
• As originally reported in the The Times of London, May 1, 2005
[emphasis added]
Notes
regarding the document's validity:
"British officials did not dispute the
document's authenticity..."
• Bush asked to explain UK war memo,CNN,
May 12, 2005
"Since Smith's report was published May 1, Blair's Downing
Street office has not disputed the documents' authenticity. Asked about them
Wednesday, a Blair spokesman said the report added nothing significant..."

Indignation Grows in U.S. Over British Prewar Documents,LA
Times
, May 12, 2005
www.downingstreetmemo.com was
created by concerned citizens seekingtruth and transparency from their
government.
technical issues with the site?
weblackey@downingstreetmemo.com
var site="s20downingstreetmemo"




 
 
Bad Hemingway

That Sunday afternoon we sat with the Swedish girl in the big cafe in Valencia.


As I understand these things, the above is a specimen of imitation Hemingway at its purest. It's also the first sentence to "Soldiers of the Republic" by Dorothy Parker. She was writing about the Spanish Civil War and perhaps trying to sound serious.

Bad Hemingway was still a standing joke when I was young. Now I expect it's half-forgotten or more. Just from reading the NY Times Book Review each Sunday you learned the cadence of imitation Hemingway (like I said, it was a standing joke, almost a touchstone) without actually reading all that much Hemingway proper. The Sun Also Rises was all I got thru, and that was for English junior year of high school. Hemingway wrote in a manner calculated to repel interest and kill trust -- such was my only impression of his work, a faint one since I could not focus on the book firmly enough for anything stronger to take shape. He achieved the same effect of calcified boredom and entombed interest as Edith Wharton (Ethan Frome), and he did it with a 20th-century stye instead of a 19th-century one. That was his innovation, but even if the words were plain who could follow the ant-match progress of those sentences joined by endless conjunctions? But I hated reading assigned writers.
 
Saturday, May 14, 2005
 
Don't they feel silly?

Leadoff lines in some rightwing blogs regarding the death-by-missile of an al-Qaeda operative:

Chalk another one up for the good guys . . . Another bad guy down . . . Got one in Pakistan


I guess that either bothers you or it doesn't. The jauntiness is such a pain, these guys hitching a ride on our military's toughness (or the missile's toughness), when the only appropriate reaction among us non death-dealers is relief that the killing was done and regret that it ever became necssary (by which I mean more regret that 911 happened than that we should mourn the dead al-Qaeda man's untapped potential). But celebrating . . . cocking your elbow and striking a pose, when you'd never be within a 1,000 miles of the job being done . . . I mean, don't they feel silly?
 
 
This is kind of funny

By way of The Comics Reporter . . . Movement conservatives can't see an inch past their nose. So to celebrate the capture of the latest al-Qaeda big, the Washington Times's editorial cartoonist drew the captive as a swarthy, bearded lump of humanity hanging from the mouth of a noble-looking hunting dog. A U.S. soldier pets the dog's head and says, "Good boy . . . now let's go find bin Laden!" The dog, of course, is Pakistan and the W Times had no idea this was an insult. Which is the funny part, with the addition that when people started complaining, the WT's response was to assign some pencil-neck Montaigne the job of putting together five hundred words on why calling someone a dog is a good thing. ("'A gay dog' was once a sly compliment for the man about town" . . . it's priceless).

The WT defense runs that here in the West we like dogs, there in the East they don't, and so reception of the cartoon's friendly intentions got scrambled. The omitted point is that we like dogs in their place, which is belonging to us and doing what we want. The point is not omitted from the cartoon, of course. It comes thru so loud and clear.
 
Thursday, May 12, 2005
 
Never marry a Republican

Shocking accusations -- well, extraordinary and distasteful accusations -- are leveled at a Bush nominee by the man's ex-wife. Women, never marry a Republican:

[For seven years] Hager sodomized Davis without her consent while she slept roughly once a month until their divorce in 2002, she claims. "My sense is that he saw [my narcolepsy] as an opportunity," Davis surmises.


That second piece of bracketing is a classic. But men, don't you marry a Republican either:

. . . eventually she even let Hager pay her for sex that she wouldn't have otherwise engaged in -- for example, $2,000 for oral sex . . .


 
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
 
Molly Bingham, good-looking woman, has a lot to say about her time covering the Iraqi resistance and about America's blind spots (in her view) regarding the war.

Bingham's tone is high church, at times a bit daffy. She says the other side's fighters shouldn't be called terrorists , and that's not because she considerss them innocent ("some are indeed using terrorist tactics") but because she thinks a hard name like "terrorist" makes open-mindedness more difficult.

She sees the war strictly as a struggle between occupiers and population -- "a population that will not be quelled." Maybe she's right, but reading about the place last year it seemed like a lot of the people felt caught in the crossfire. Bingham also has severe doubts about our soldiers' reliability as custodians of justice:

At the time that we were working, the American military was the law, and it
seemed to me that they were pretty much making it up as they went along. I was
pretty sure that if they wanted to "disappear" us, rough us up or even send us
for an all expenses paid vacation in Guantánamo for suspected al-Qaida
connections, they could do so with very little, or even no recourse on our part.


None of that happened, but Bingham does report getting thrown into Abu Ghraib for a week early in 2003.

Back home, whatever everyone has in mind when they complain about "relativism," it's probably something like this:



It was an ongoing challenge to listen open-mindedly to a group of people whose
foundation of belief is significantly different from mine, and one I found I
often strongly disagreed with.
But going in to report a story with a pile of prejudices is no way to do a story justice, or to do it fairly, and that constant necessity to bite my tongue, wipe the smirk off my face or continue to listen through a racial or religious diatribe that I found appalling was a skill I had to practice.


As mentioned, Bingham is high church. She brings to mind the Bloom Paradox, whereby people accused of being relativists turn out to be absolutist on matters the accusers don't believe to merit absolutism. She puts the position of the high-minded liberal very well:

My value of human life and rights don't fluctuate depending on which
country I'm in. I don't see one individual as more deserving of fair treatment
than another. . . .


This position leads to some hard thoughts:

If the roles were reversed, do you think for a moment that our men wouldn't be
stockpiling arms and attacking any foreign invader with the temerity to set foot
on our soil, occupy our buildings of government and write us a new constitution?



And from there, not long after, a tempestuous closing flight, an ultimate sacrifice to fair-mindedness:


I still believe in that country that I love so dearly, the place I think of when
the words "freedom," "opportunity," "liberty," "justice" and "equality" are
spoken on lips, but I want it to be a country I see, hear and feel every day,
not one that lives in my imagination.
It's time we looked in the mirror and began to take responsibility for what our country looks like, what our country is and how it behaves, rather than acting like victims before we actually are.
Or do I need to start facing the reality that all I love and believe in is simply self-delusion?


Well, is it?
 
 
Analysis

At the gym this morning CNN had a highlights clip from last night's "American Idol." A lot of applause for Paula Abdul, who lifted her chin. A black girl sang something woeful and then broke down when Simon Cowell was telling her she was emotional. Then, the announcer said, the girl came back later and "rocked the judges" (something like that) with the song "Don't Leave Me This Way." Since this all seems a bit choreographed, you wonder if the girl is mapping it out or if it's the producers. If the second, how big a build-up is this? Is she marked to be the winner or a finalist? Or maybe there's nothing there at all.

Getting the answers would probably mean waiting ten years until some useful books come on the market. By then I may have forgotten. So it's possible I'll never know what to make of the clip I saw on CNN this morning.
 
 
Today's picture

Two large black armored SUVs often used by House and Senate leaders sped away
from the Capitol.


That's from MSNBC on the Capitol's evacuation.
 
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
 
The quandary of the modern intellectual

If you don't know any physics or any taoism, does it makes sense to read The Tao of Physics?
 
 
Meanwhile, 37 years ago

His brother-in-law, he noticed, was talking earnestly with Lieutenant Ned Ordway, the efficient, amiable Negro who commanded the airport police department.

That's from Airport by Arthur Hailey, published in 1968. I grew up hearing about the crappiness of Arthur Hailey but never experienced his work until now. He writes in a special, even artificial manner, the manner of bad best-seller writing as it existed decades ago. It has an air of ponderous, empty-headed deliberation, like Peter Graves talking to himself for 501 pages. The oddness can make you think every sentence is hilarious on its own. That's not true . . . and yet if a clunk can be sounded ("Ordway swung sternly back to Inez"), Hailey will sound it. He also thinks "actuate" is what you do to a machine when you turn it on. And he samples the same poem that (I believe) Peggy Noonan served up to Reagan after the Challenger explosion. That's the "slip the surly bonds of earth" poem, which provides the book's epigraph and comes in for special handling by the text (a harried airport executive's thoughts: "Tonight the surly bonds of earth seemed surlier than usual").

 
 
Imaginary titles

Cat Without a Tail --- late '60s/early '70s international-chase thriller

Odds Are --- early '80s comedy about Las Vegas casino, with Al Pacino and Diane Keaton; a resonating flop

Blindfold --- mid-'60s Hitchcock ripoff

Fish in the Sea --- single girl in mini-skirt among other singles in '60s London; based on surprise best-seller, first novel by girl who graduated from polytechnic to secretarial job

 
Monday, May 09, 2005
 
A liberal principle

Matthew Yglesias set this exercise: come up with a statement that anyone could agree with except a conservative. And that will be one of your liberal principles.

So here's mine: Having more money should not give someone more of a say over what the rest of us do.
 
 
Our correspondents

My mom got an e-mail from a business associate who is British and lives in Britain. He had some things to tell her about the election campaign there, which gives this blog an international caste.

The election campaign was a great deal shorter and less glitzy and a bit
less vitriolic than yours, although there have been many loud complaints that
our politics is becoming too "presidential"; i.e., that the question of the
personality of the prime minister and his challengers is becoming more of an
issue than the policies.

Certainly Blair has been extremely presidential; he has
surrounded himself with a powerful coterie of unelected aides, press officers,
advisers, and so on, who seem to exert a lot more influence on his decision
making than do his fellow elected parliamentarians. Very few of his more recent
decisions have had any real consensus behind them, within his Cabinet, his
party, the Commons or the country at large. Despite a huge majority in the
Commons, he has only managed to scrape through the votes on quite a few issues.
He's still in charge, but he's taken a heavy bruising. Not only is his majority
down, but a lot of the Labour MPs who did survive are less than fully committed
Blairites. If he carries on in anything like the way he has been, he is going to
lose every single vote in the Commons. I think the party will want to
replace him sooner rather than later. He has declared that he is not going to
fight the next election, and despite winning a third term (a gigantic
achievement), the feeling is that, whereas he used to be such an asset on
polling day, he has now become a massive liability. Why keep him on any longer
except to pander to his personal desire to create a lasting legacy?

Why has the tide turned against Blair so much? Well there was a genuine distaste for the way he went about the war. For many Labour voters, there's no avoiding the fact that the whole exercise was predicated on, at best, some very dodgy guesswork, and at worst, some out-and-out lies. (I'm trying to be objective.) He can justify the
war by saying that the world is now a better place, but it was sold on a
different pretext. To many people he seems altogether a bit bogus, a bit smug.
If he was trying to win Britain a greater stake in global powerbrokering, he's
failed; Bush seems to pick him up or drop him as the situation suits.

Labour is traditionally the working class party, the party of the unions, the party that nationalises and believes in public ownership of the public services, the party
that created the welfare state. Blair has lost a number of traditional Labour
supporters because of his zest for bringing private business into public
services--a remarkable policy for a Labour party to adopt given their history.
He's taken then from the Left a long way into the centre. But he won, and he won
well, and three victories in a row is a remarkable achievement for any party and
especially for any one leader. The Labour party have never done so well.

I would not be a natural Tory, so it's hard to be even-handed about Michael Howard. He's revitalised the party and won them a fair few votes by appealing to a section of
Conservative voters who have an innate distrust / fear of immigrants. He won
votes from people who feel that the British way of life is threatened by a flood
of immigrants. If you probed beneath the surface of this point of view, you very
often find racism and always find ignorance. Howard's campaign was sinister and
he seems sinister--yet he's not an upper-middle-class English snob or privately
educated retired army major, he's the son of Romanian Jewish immigrants brought
up in a Welsh mining town! Weird.

The Liberal Democrats fought a campaign that was thorough, honest, and low-key, although they are not as far above the childish sniping as they'd like to think they are. They got my vote for lots of reasons, some based on national policy, some based on the local candidate in my constituency. And my vote wasn't wasted! In my constituency the Lib Dem candidate unseated the Labour MP with a huge 15% swing! I feel elated, as though I were part of democracy in action. Now we have to see if she improves local services and if, nationally, the Lib Dems can make themselves heard.

Election night is very entertaining to watch, because you get to see all the MPs, however important, going back to their constituency and getting "down and dirty."

Now I really must get back to work! Thank goodness I can type fairly quickly.

 
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
 
No, it isn't

About America's last rock star, it's either Pentecostal enthusiasm or total disdain.


That's a guy in Slate talking about Bruce Springsteen. Does this happen to you a lot? I mean, that somebody says people either love such-and-such or people hate it, and yet you don't do either? It happens to me a lot.

You'd have to work pretty hard to convince me that Springsteen is not a good guy making (on the whole) good music. But I have bought only two albums by him in 27 years. That ain't Pentecostal.
 
Everything the others don't get

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