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We Report... You Deride

Friday, April 09, 2004  
This One Goes Out to the Ones I Love

I don't worry too much about terminology, but Andrew Sullivan does, e.g.:

DIDN'T TAKE LONG: "I'm waiting for the first moron to start calling this violence an Iraqi intifada." - yours truly, yesterday.

"Shi'ite Intifada Pushes Allies to the Front Lines" - al, today.

I hate to break this to you, big fella, but these guys (registration required, but it's free) think it's an intifada. And I think they might know just a teeny bit more about what constitutes an intifada than you do:

"Now it's a fair question whether the US will have to face down a popular uprising-- a real Iraqi intifada-- or be defeated by it...

"Sadr's calculation is that as violence spreads-- and as the Coalition resorts to increasingly aggressive measures, with all the "collateral damage" that entails-- Iraqis will cast their lot with him, not the occupiers or their designated successors.

'"As of this writing, the Coalition has obliged the sheikh. The US has promised a 'deliberate and precise' reaction; in Fallujah, Marines fired rockets at a mosque, killing more than two dozen Iraqis."

These are not the bleatings of horrified peaceniks. The Jerusalem Post is a hardline outlet; their conclusion is that the U.S. needs to "wipe out Mahdi's army and the Sunni resisters quickly and decisively, [or] it will have a real intifada on its hands."

Point simply is that "The Blogger Sometimes Known As Milky Loads" is talking... well, the FCC might be reading, so you better finish the joke.

PS: This post is brought to you on behalf of the staff of Sullywatch, who do a thankless and depressing job very dilligently and very well.

It is very, very hard to run a "watchdog" site. Doing it forces you to immerse yourself in the viewpoints of people that you intensely dislike-- often despise. You have to do an ungodly amount of work to track down the facts (which places you at a disadvantage, because your subject is free to make up his or her 'research').

Since your focus is on corrections, you're always putting out negative energy, and that isn't real easy to do. Also, if you're good at it, you feel guilty every time you skip an item that you should nail (or post something on a topic that has nothing to do with your target).

And since people who disregard facts rarely pay much attention to corrections, you rarely get the pleasure of watching your target stammer and squirm. Which is why, if you look at the "watch" blogroll on the Sullywatch site, you'll find that most of them are defunct.

I have a lot of respect for Josh Marshall and Atrios (and I acknowledge the work ethic of Kevin Drum), but, in many ways, their blogs aren't nearly as difficult to write. If you don't agree, I'll give you the same suggestion that Harlan Ellison once made to people who belittled the amount of craft involved in Kurt Vonnegut's writing: Try imitating it and then get back to me.

2:24 PM

Thursday, April 08, 2004  
Jefferson Was Right

Tom Friedman, The Times's idiot savant, has done it again. The typical Friedman column is an exercise in unfulfilled potential-- he'll get an interesting idea, an inkling of a really insightful position, and then piss the good stuff away, by not processing it rigorously, through a firmly-grounded understanding of history and foreign affairs.

The point at which a typical Friedman column jumps the shark is usually the spot when he lets his metaphor (sometimes it's a parable) breaks down. His best trait is that he loves to instruct by example-- to frame events in the context of something else that is easy to understand. It's an excellent way to get a point across, and it is what I like most about him.

But Friedman's flaw is that he comes to every column with an agenda-- and he'll bend his parallels to support his agenda, even if it doesn't support his conclusion. There's always a point when you're brought up short-- when the stream of approving mumbles ("Hmmmm... wow, that's pretty clever.... yes, I see how that fits... uh-huh, uh-huh...") gets brought up short with a "What???!!?? No, you s#&$^@% idiot-- what the hell are you thinking?" (It's usually, although not always, the spot where he mixes the metaphor.)

This column starts out promisingly (though the mixed metaphor in paragraph one lets you know this is coming to a bad end). Friedman spends paragraphs two and three correctly (albeit fuzzily and clumsily) stating that the insurgents (unlike the Viet Cong, who were nationalists) don't have an agenda that reflects the best interests of most Iraqis.

In paragraphs four or five, he gets pretty close to truth. Most Iraqis might want a decent government, but they haven't shown they're willing to die to achieve it. Governments have to be won, and the price is paid in blood. (I'm cleaning him up a lot, but it's what he's trying to say.) "We cannot want a decent Iraq more than Iraq's silent majority."

And there he goes-- not just a bad metaphor, but a Freudian slip. The term "silent majority" comes from Tricky Dick Nixon's 1969 policy address on Vietnam, where he told the country that the U.S. wouldn't leave Vietnam, because they couldn't leave the people of South Vietnam to be overrun on moral grounds. Furthermore, despite the antiwar protests, he didn't believe most Americans wanted the U.S. to leave-- that a vocal minority wouldn't overrule the will of "the great silent majority of my fellow Americans".

The reality was that most Americans didn't know the facts-- because Tricky Dick and Lyin' B. Johnson hadn't told them the truth-- and when they understood what was going on, they wanted the troops out.

It's not surprising that Friedman bailed here. Because if he really looked hard at the parallels, he'd see that the insurgents do resemble the North in one way-- they're willing to die to achieve their goal. And the people he calls "Iraq's silent majority" are behaving exactly like the South Vietnamese.

There's another parallel-- the would-be rulers. The differences between Ahmed Chalabi and Ngo Dinh Diem aren't, to be kind, real apparent. If anything, comparing Chalabi's conduct to Diem's behavior from 1946-54, Diem (who hasn't been convicted of fraud and hasn't ripped off the U.S. for millions) actually grades out much higher.

But Friedman isn't going to make these connections-- if he does, he'd had to arrive at the conclusion that, given the situation, the U.S. needs to do what it eventually did in Vietnam: get the hell out. And so he piddles and jabbers about how everything is W's fault because his regime didn't plan things carefully enough and the piece ends in a confused muddle.

For years, I've thought about starting a "smarter Tom Friedman" page, where I'd rework the germs of sense in all his pieces into something intelligent three times a week. But as Marlon Brando said to Al Pacino, "There was never enough time."

10:53 AM

Wednesday, April 07, 2004  
Sometimes the Bad Guys Lose

Here's something that's even harder to find than an honest politician: a technology company that people hate more than Microsoft.

Because I worry about lack of competition, I use non-Microsoft products whenever possible. The problem is that the competition is often wretched. My browser of choice is Mozilla Firefox, but I have to use IE for some sites (like Daily Kos), because the browser won't load them properly. I used Quicken, Quickbooks and TurboTax , but I went over to Money after TurboTax added copy protection and Quickbooks began forcing users to upgrade.

And, much as I hate Windows Media Player (dog slow to load, buggy, insecure), anything is better than the Real Media Player. The article mentions that RealNetworks makes it ungodly difficult to find the free version, and that it'll fill your desktop with icons (some of which flash).

Unless you check the correct options, it'll sign you up for all kinds of spam (my solution: register with the contact info for RealNetworks, including their e-mail address). But here's another issue: unless you configure it just right, it will transmit a lot of personal information back to the company:

* Your IP address and other technical information go back every time you use the product.
* If you're using it to play content from a web page, the site address and any information about the file go back.
* If you're playing a CD and you have a live connection, it'll send information about the songs you're playing-- even if you burned them yourself

Since RealNetworks assigns your player a unique ID during the registration process-- and that GUID is transmitted every time you use the thing, unless you disable it-- they can find out one hell of a lot of information about what you like to watch and listen to.

Since that article was written in 1999, there have been scads of complaints about this policy. RealNetworks has finally disabled the feature in the default installation of the new release of RealPlayer and put information about how to shut it off on their site. But if you downloaded an earlier version, RealNetworks is watching you. (Depending on your version, the instructions on the page might work for you.)

The privacy page also contains other information on how to shut stuff off. My recommendation, though, is just don't use it unless they're no other player option. Appalling as it sounds, Microsoft is better about how they treat you.

My preference is the QuickTime player-- Apple is genuinely consumer-friendly. The problem is that most sites don't offer streaming media in their formats. (The real solution would be an open source player, but there's nothing even close yet.)

10:05 AM

Tuesday, April 06, 2004  
The Smoking Gun

It comes as no surprise to anyone with a functioning brain stem, that Constantliar Rice is a fool or a thug. But the 9/11 committee, if it has been doing its job, should be able to wave proof of her deceit in her face when she testifies.

The Toronto Star is reporting that the 9/11 committee has heard testimony from a former FBI employee who says she saw intelligence documents that pointed to the use of aircraft against skyscrapers in major U.S. cities.

The source's story comes across as even more reliable than Richard Clarke. The woman, who was hired by the FBI as a translator nine days after the attack, says she saw reports dating from April and May of 2001 while she was reviewing documents and familiarizing herself with events. She told Great Britain's The Independent that she didn't ask the commitee to take her word for it:

"I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

And her reason for going public is so precisely stated that it is beautiful:

"[Had Rice indicated that she did not know] then I would say maybe the FBI did not take the information to her, maybe she didn't know. But she's is saying `we' did not know, including herself, her advisers and the FBI. That statement is not accurate. I've never really been diplomatic in life. It's a lie and a lie is a lie."

How could aircraft be used against skyscrapers in major cities-- other than as suicide vessels? Can't wait to hear Constantliar try to explain this one.

9:46 AM

Choose Your Poison

Well, it's finally happened. We've now reached the worst nightmare stage of our adventure in Iraq. We're rapidly approaching a choice between four equally nauseating alternatives:

1. Take out every extremist who's causing trouble until the chaos stops. This will provoke a ripple effect-- that is, it will cause the people who were really p.o.ed, but not actively killing anyone-- to buy, rent, scavenge or borrow some guns and start shooting the running dog imperialist murdering gringos.

When those folks start getting rousted and whacked, other people-- who were just totally irritated, but not really p.o.ed-- go postal. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, in the words of Yul Brynner. When this scenario plays out, we're staring at an Iraqi death toll in the high six or low seven figures, putting the U.S. on the same page with Stalin, Mao and the guy with the moustache.

2. Build an occupation force large enough to sit on the population of Iraq and keep it there until things die down. According to the Census Department, the population of Atlanta is about 415,000. If they were all soldiers, that'd just about do it. And if they're all willing to put in about 10 tours of duty, we should have things pretty much straightened out by the time they muster out.

I know that's double what General Shinseki was saying. That estimate was made back people believed that the rebuilding team wouldn't screw the pooch. That was made back when we figured we could get the power on and the water running and food and medicine into the hands of the people who needed it. 200,000 would have done it back when people didn't hate us and want us all out of there or dead.

3. Split Iraq into three extremist states that will war on each other, when they're not destabilizing the region. As I once wrote, Iraq never was a country, and there's never been too much in the way of shared experience, values or opinions holding them together, Well, maybe one thing-- let's kill all those other guys who don't think like us.

We could just do it like we did with Yugoslavia-- split them off, let them take a shot at behaving responsibly and then go in to separate them when they don't. At least it would give the military a chance to get out for a while and recharge their batteries.

4. We can declare victory, cut and run, leave the place in a shambles and return as needed. This has two advantages over option 3. One, the countries who would be infuriated if we set up Sunni, Shia and Kurd republics, would merely be angry with us.

Two, we could stick Ahmed Chalabi in charge, as retribution for all his lies and abuse of trust. Chalabi would try to set up a brutal dictatorship that favors his cronies-- I'm envisioning something along the lines of the Diem/Nhu regime in Vietnam-- and flames out spectacularly, ending roughly the same way.

If I sound hostile and bitter and cynical, that'd be because I am. There isn't a good solution, and we're not going to get out of this with anything even remotely close to a good outcome. There always was a clock ticking-- a limited amount of time before the Shiites decided that they were sick of waiting for us to give them power and it was time for them to take it.

Granted it's just an extremist now, but it won't be just extremists for long. If I were a Merc-- someone who could just quit-- I'd be running, not walking, to the exits.

2:14 AM

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