Friday, March 14, 2003

And now... idiots.

This particular batch is complaining about inappropriate political comments from the stage at a concert. A Joan Baez conert.

Can't she just sing?

Is it too much to ask for an entertainer to perform for the price of a ticket? I couldn't wait to hear if Joan Baez could still sing beautifully -- she can. I did not pay to hear her make remarks about our nation and government. If I want to attend a anti-American protest, I'll go to an Austin City Council meeting.


Horseshoe Bay

A few comments on Dubya's statement on the Middle East; the one that started by saying:

We have reached a hopeful moment for progress toward the vision of Middle Eastern peace that I outlined last June.

Well, I suppose you could say there's always hope. But the headlines from the region have been an endless series of suicide-bombings and tit-for-tat raids.

The first thing after that which jumped out at me was Dubya's flat declaration that:

As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end.

That would be a bitter pill for Ariel Sharon, who is known as an architect of the Israeli settlements policy. Not that that's a bad thing -- I'm on record a year ago as calling that policy dumb, and I'm no fan of Sharon -- but calling for an end to settlements has to be done with delicacy no matter what, and particularly so when Sharon is in power. You'd hope that Sharon at least knew this was coming -- but Dubya said "the roadmap for peace" was developed in consultation with Russia, the EU, and the UN, conspicuously omitting any mention of the direct parties to the conflict.

(Note well that this is the roadmap for peace; just calling it another proposal would require a humility that doesn't seem to come naturally to Christians, at least those of Dubya's ilk).

The statement was short on details on the "roadmap"; it seems it won't even be presented to the parties until the Palestinian prime minister has been confirmed. Which is odd, as that individual won't have the authority to negotiate with the Israelis; according to the VOA, that remains with Arafat.

All in all, a strange performance...

On Sunday, the Azores will host a meeting of the leaders of Dubya's grand alliance: Britain, Spain, and the United States. Britain lost its empire last century, Spain the century before that. I guess they've changed their minds about "Old Europe".

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Politics in wartime now:

The candidates are struggling with the question of what they can say. In recent days Mr. Kerry, in defending his vote in favor of the Iraq resolution, has been criticizing Mr. Bush for what Mr. Kerry suggested was a rush to war. The senator said in an interview in Des Moines that such comments would cease should fighting begin.

"When the war begins, if the war begins, I support the troops and I support the United States of America winning as rapidly as possible," he said. "When the troops are in the field and fighting -- if they're in the field and fighting -- remembering what it's like to be those troops, I think they need a unified America that is prepared to win."

Politics in wartime then:

... perhaps the most ridiculous of these campaign falsifications is the one that this Administration failed to prepare for the war that was coming. I doubt whether even Goebbels would have tried that one. For even he would never have dared hope that the voters of America had already forgotten that many of the Republican leaders in the Congress and outside the Congress tried to thwart and block nearly every attempt that this Administration made to warn our people and to arm our Nation. Some of them called our 50,000 airplane program fantastic. Many of those very same leaders who fought every defense measure that we proposed are still in control of the Republican party - look at their names - were in control of its National Convention in Chicago, and would be in control of the machinery of the Congress and of the Republican party, in the event of a Republican victory this fall.

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him -- at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars -- his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since.

Some things don't change -- like Republican slime. And another -- even in wartime, it is the prerogative of the loyal opposition to oppose.

As long as I'm doing the now-and-then thing, Jackson Lears observes:

President Bush's war plans are risky, but Mr. Bush is no gambler. In fact he denies the very existence of chance. "Events aren't moved by blind change and chance" he has said, but by "the hand of a just and faithful God." From the outset he has been convinced that his presidency is part of a divine plan, even telling a friend while he was governor of Texas, "I believe God wants me to run for president."

This conviction that he is doing God's will has surfaced more openly since 9/11. In his State of the Union addresses and other public forums, he has presented himself as the leader of a global war against evil. As for a war in Iraq, "we do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them." God is at work in world affairs, he says, calling for the United States to lead a liberating crusade in the Middle East, and "this call of history has come to the right country."

Stonewall Jackson had a similar belief in divine providence, which sustained him in his long fight to keep millions of human beings enslaved. He is famous for saying, "My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me." It overtook him at Chancellorsville; he died after eight days in pain and the amputation of an arm from wounds received in battle, from his own troops' guns.

Via The Mahablog, which would be on my blogroll right now if blogger was letting me change the template. This is getting annoying...

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

An expatriate comes home, and it feels like a foreign country:

I went home to see my family, to see my brother's children and to forget a bit about the Middle East. Instead I walked into a surreal world where the news of war and fear of terror was a constant accompaniment on the radio. The drumbeat was such that you could almost understand the need to bomb something just to strike back.

(from the Cairo Times, via Chad Orzel, a friend of the author).

It seems that Steven den Beste now has a prime spot on the New York Times op-ed page, writing under the pen name "William Safire":

France, China and Syria all have a common reason for keeping American and British troops out of Iraq: the three nations may not want the world to discover that their nationals have been illicitly supplying Saddam Hussein with materials used in building long-range surface-to-surface missiles.

"Safire" goes on to spin an odd tale in which Chinese solid rocket propellant gets trucked through Syria. "Safire" suggests that the French were dragged in to try to keep Saddam's fingerprints off the deal. Either that, or "Safire" needed an excuse to suggest perfidy on the part of the French.

Iraq's arms declaration listed, among the suppliers to its WMD programs, Hewlett-Packard, DuPont, Honeywell, Rockwell, Tectronics, Unisys, and Bechtel. So remind me again, what's our motive?

It's no longer just diplomats; a senior Australian intelligence analyst has resigned on principle over an unncessary war whose means and ends seem inconsistent with democratic values, and which he expects to lead to a humanitarian disaster. Here's an interview, via Tim Dunlop.

Meanwhile, the American military is demonstrating its own commitment to democratic values by threatening to fire on journalists' satellite uplinks, and Dubya's administration is demonstrating its firm commitment to its own values by collecting bids on salvage rights to Iraq from a select set of its own corporate cronies before we've even wrecked the place.

Update: Christopher Allbritton, an independant journalist who hopes to be reporting from Iraq during the war, reports that the satellite story is slightly overblown; they aren't proposing to deliberately target journalists in particular, just reminding them that anyone operating a radio transmitter in a war zone is a target. The comments in the Kate Adie interview I linked to on the situation of journalists "embedded" with US forces stand, at least for the moment.

An odd New York Times editorial today on the wages of globalization:

Elsewhere, the [Andean] region is disillusioned with the last decade's free-market reforms. Too often twisted into a corrosive form of crony capitalism, the "Washington consensus" did little to improve living standards or alleviate poverty. The economic disillusionment has devalued the appeal of democracy as a form of governance and empowered once-marginalized political forces.

It's odd in two respects. First, it describes a bunch of stories, like the President of Bolivia hiding from a mob in an ambulance, which have gotten very little coverage here individually, let alone as part of a pattern. (Honestly, the Bolivia thing was a new one on me, though I did know about the US Army's attempts to prop up Colombia -- the Times neglects to mention the pipeline angle). Second, it doesn't even glance backward at failures of "Washington consensus" policies outside the Andean region, where they've failed as badly or worse -- say in Ghana or Russia.

There's also the usual potshot at Hugo Chávez...

Warren Buffett's latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders is out, and it boasts what Buffett claims as a historical first: cooked "pro forma" earnings numbers for Berkshire which are lower than audited earnings. (Their insurance operations got lucky).

Along with Buffett's usual salty commentary -- this year on financial derivatives (concentrated in the hands a few operators, they become "financial weapons of mass destruction"), corporate governance (riddled with captive boards), mutual fund companies (as bad as any of them), bogus accounting standards, and the U.S. Senate's role in maintaining them -- there's news of the annual meeting, with the usual sale on Berkshire products for shareholders, and this priceless bit of synergy, Buffett style:

On Saturday, at the Omaha airport, we will have the usual array of aircraft from NetJets available for your inspection. Just ask a representative at the Civic about viewing any of these planes. If you buy what we consider an appropriate number of items during the weekend, you may well need your own plane to take them home. Furthermore, if you buy a fraction of a plane, I'll personally see you get a three-pack of briefs from Fruit of the Loom.

But remember, this uniquely innovative program is available to Berkshire shareholders only.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

With the major media obsessing with trivia like Security Council votes, the blogsphere is a breath of fresh air. It has Steven den Beste to ask the important questions:

If 20 cargo jets take off from French territory and head towards the middle east, what will we do? If they ignore all attempts to prevent them from reaching Iraq, would we be willing to actually shoot one or more of them down?

Just how far are they willing to take their opposition to us? They've reached the point where it seems as if they're willing to make any sacrifice. Do they see the stakes as being high enough so that they might actually threaten to nuke us?

Monday, March 10, 2003

Quotes for our times:

The Toronto Star, Editorial, March 8, 2003:

U.S. President George Bush may insist "Saddam Hussein is not disarming. That is a fact. It cannot be denied."

But the U.N. inspectors' reports flatly contradict his view. ...

... [G]iven that Saddam is bending, is this the time for the Security Council to adopt a new resolution authorizing war by March 17 unless Saddam does the impossible and persuades his most implacable critics that he is giving "full, unconditional, immediate and active" co-operation? Hardly. However grudgingly, he is disarming. Why short-circuit success?

Francois Géré, director of the Foundation for Defense Studies in Paris, March 7, 2003:

The maneuver began, in effect, with a first logical absurdity. If WMD are found in Iraq, Saddam should be punished. But, if none are found, that proves a contrario that they are being hidden. You might as well say that Baghdad was condemned in advance.

Second absurdity: Washington's line is that Saddam must prove he's disarming cooperatively; the inspectors aren't there to discover infractions, but to verify Iraqi goodwill. Now, where and how can you find anything like that, given that there is nothing but defiance and hostility between Baghdad and Washington? By definition, cooperation can't be found. Washington demands what it knows it can't get, except by changing the regime. ...

If it wants a new resolution, the United States ought to declare its goals and not demand a blank check. Their silence demands a refusal.

Mahesh Daga, Assistant Editor, Times of India, March 9, 2003:

The moral case for the war against Iraq has hardly been made. Saddam Hussein is no saint, but he is no mad monster either. Besides, this world is only too full of bullies and despots, many of whom owe their life and existence to American blessings. Saddam too was a friend of the White House once, but somewhere along the line his ambitions ran ahead of him. As for democracy and decency, they have seldom been requirements for America's "imperial dependencies". Who can forget the Batistas, the Suhartos, the Pehlavis, the Chung Hees, not to mention the long list of military dictators in Latin America, that Washington has patronised at different times, in every part of the world? ...

Truth is, the US war has no moral purpose. Contrary to Thomas Friedman's fervent imperialist plea -- Please, Mr President, "do it right" -- the Bush people have no plans of installing a "self-sustaining, progressive, accountable" government in Baghdad. At the end of the long siege, the Iraqi people will not get a democracy, but another client regime, with an obligation to carry out Washington's strategic brief. "Armed democratisation" might be a noble aim in theory, but it has few strategic benefits in practice. A democratised Arab world is sure to be more viscerally anti-American than the pliant autocracies that currently rule in Cairo, Riyadh and elsewhere.

Martin Merzer, Knight-Rider news, January 12, 2003:

Two-thirds of the respondents [to a national poll] said they thought they had a good grasp of the issues surrounding the Iraqi crisis, but closer questioning revealed large gaps in that knowledge. For instance, half of those surveyed said one or more of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. In fact, none were.

Avedon Carol, November 16, 2002:

When I was a kid, my many Jewish elders had a short-hand phrase they'd use to explain their objections whenever some suggested legislation (censorship, for example) or discrimination against blacks or gays left them gasping in horror: "The Nazis did that." (Or sometimes just: "The Nazis....") These were people who remembered how it took place, with not too much disruption of everyday life, at first, and most people going unmolested and therefore not making much of it. Nothing to see here, just a few commies and Jews and a couple of queers, not any of us Normal people.... These were, you understand, people who would have been crushed if their son turned out to be gay or their daughter married "a Negro", but by god they knew better than to give an inch on these things. They didn't have to like pornography to know it shouldn't be illegal - they knew what censorship was about. They understood, with crystal clarity, that there are no good excuses for dismissing people's civil liberties.

William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary, August 10, 1939:

How completely isolated a world the German people live in. A glance at the newspapers yesterday and today reminds you of it. Whereas all the rest of the world considers that the peace is about to be broken by Germany, that it is Germany that is threatening to attack Poland over Danzig, here in Germany, in the world the local newspapers create, the very reverse is being maintained. (Not that it surprises me, but when you are away for a while, you forget.) What the Nazi papers are proclaming is this: that it is Poland which is disturbing the peace of Europe; Poland which is threatening Germany with armed invasion, and so forth. ...



... But the German people can't possibly believe these lies? Then you talk to them. So many do.

But so far the press limits itself to Danzig. ... Any fool knows they don't give a damn about Danzig. It's just a pretext. The Nazi position, freely admitted in party circles, is that Germany cannot afford to have a strong military power on her eastern frontier, that therefore Poland as it is today must be liquidated, not only Danzig .... Then when Hungary and Rumania and Yugoslavia have been similarly reduced (Hungary practically is already) Germany will be economically and agriculturally independent .... Germany can then turn on the West and probably beat her.

Well, so much for Godwin's law.

The problem with parallels to Nazi policy, as net wisdom long has had it, is that they drag in so many associations that the point is likely to get lost. Dubya has certainly not been implicated in genocide. Quite to the contrary, he was reportedly deeply affected by Samantha Power's superb study of recent American indifference to genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere, which I have no reason to doubt. And much as his followers themselves might want the cops to come for critics of the government, or to round up people of the wrong religion or suspect ethnicity, or to crack down on inconvenient trade unions, that all has limits, and ordinary citizens can speak in confidence that the cops won't be coming for them.

And even if you look at the history recounted by Shirer, you see huge differences between our situation and that of the Germans in the 1930s. For one thing, Hitler in the 1930s showed remarkable skill in gaining the acquiescence of other major powers of the day for his various projects -- as, for instance, when he lured Germany's major World War I enemies into coalition of the willing which backed the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Dubya, by contrast, has two veto votes currently promised for his own project in the Security Council, from France and Russia, and the possibility of a third from the Chinese.

But to point up the differences is to avoid the clear similarity, which is this: The Germans in 1939 were no dopes. They had hundreds of years of sophisticated culture, dominating classical music back almost to Bach, and some of the best technology and technologists anywhere. But smarts weren't enough to keep them from being stampeded into a disastrous war by short-sighted, overreaching leaders, particularly those who weren't shy of stretching the truth to serve their agenda -- in Dubya's case, the one set forth by the "Project for a New American Century", which was making a case for a war to displace Saddam Hussein and dominate the Persian Gulf long before the supposedly pivotal events of Sept. 11, 2001, and hinting at a whole stack of dominoes to be pushed over behind Saddam. (Nor did it help the technically sophisticated Japanese leadership from letting their own paranoia drive them through a series of initially easy victories into suicidal overreach, as I quote John Dower pointing out a bit lower down).

And Dubya's crew clearly is stretching the truth, to promote an attack on a regime which, for the past ten years, has posed no immediate threat to anybody. (Not even by sponsoring terrorism -- other governments, including some of our current allies, have been far more active in that sphere). Though, in another marked contrast to Shirer's situation, the press here is reporting at least a few of the real embarassments, as when Dubya's crew has built their case on out and out forgeries. (Though by no means all. Remember the "mobile anthrax factories"? Blix made a point of saying what they found when they followed up those American leads -- mobile food-testing labs). But with the bulk of the media following the administration line most of the time, that has relatively little impact. Indeed, as I point out above, by assertions with questionable evidence, or none, and constantly stuffing the phrases "Saddam Hussein" and "September 11th" into the same sentences, the administration had actually managed to convince half the Americans in a poll from last January that there were Iraqis involved in the 9/11 attacks, which just isn't true.

That poll also shows, as of two months ago that there wasn't a huge enthusiasm for combat. But even the duped Germans of 1939 went into combat against the Polish "threat" without much enthusiasm. Shirer again:

Berlin, August 31, 1939 (morning)

Everybody against the war. People talking openly. How can a country go into a major war with a population so dead against it? People also kicking about being kept in the dark. A German said to me alst night: "We know nothing. Why don't they tell us what's up?" ...

Later. Three Thirty A.M. -- A typical Hitler swindle was sprung this evening. At nine p.m. the German radio stopped its ordinary program and broadcast the terms of German "proposals" to Poland. I was taken aback by their reasonableness, and having to translate them for our American listeners immediately, as we were on the air, I missed the catch. This is that Hitler demanded that a Polish plenipotentiary be sent to Berlin to "discuss" them by last night, though they were only given to [British Ambassador] Henderson the night before. An official German statement (very neat) complains that the Poles would not even come to Berlin to discuss them. Obviously, they didn't have time. And why should Hitler set a time limit to a sovereign power? ...

Tonight the great armies, navies, and air forces are all mobilized. Each country is shut off from the other. We have not been able today to get through to Paris or London, or of course to Warsaw, though I did talk to Tess in Geneva. At that, no precipitate action is expected tonight. Berlin is quite normal in appearance this evening. There has been no evacuation of the women and children, not even any sandbagging of the windows. We'll have to wait through still another night, it apperas, before we know. And so to bed, almost at dawn.

Berlin, September 1, 1939:

At six a.m. Sigrid Schultz -- bless her heart -- phoned. She said. "It's happened." I was very sleepy -- my body and mind numbed, paralysed. I mumbled: "thanks, Sigrid," and tumbled out of bed.

The war is on!

Edit: Avedon Carol quote added late

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Behold the majesty of the law:

A company called the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) is suing IBM for misuse of SCO's intellectual property, related to IBM's use of Linux. They don't cite any particular software which IBM supposedly stole; the claim is literally that IBM couldn't have created software which is "adequate for enterprise use" without stealing from SCO.

When SCO was founded, in 1979, IBM had been creating software for enterprise use for at least twenty years.

This oughta be fun...

Many hawks look to the reconstruction of Japan after World War II as a model for the occupation of Iraq. John Dower's not so sure -- he thinks that MacArthur in Japan benefited from, among other things, a moral legitimacy acknowledged the world over, and a genuine American devotion to reform which Dubya's crowd conspicuously lacks. But all Dower got for his book on the Japanese reconstruction was a National Book Award, a Bancroft prize, and a Pulitzer. So, what does he know?

Besides, Dower actually does see a parallel between Japan and our current situation. Though a rather different one than the hawks are looking for:

There is one "lesson" from my own field of Japanese history that I find increasingly difficult to put out of mind these days, and that concerns the road to war that began in the early 1930s for Japan and only ended in 1945. Until recently, historians used to explain this disaster in terms of Japan's "backwardness" and "semifeudal" nature. The country had all these old warrior traditions. It wasn't a democracy -- and, of course, democracies don't wage aggressive war. [Are these historians unaware of the Mexican-American war? Never mind -- Dodgson.] More recent studies, however, cast Japan's road to war in a different and more terrifying light.

Why "terrifying"? First, much recent scholarship suggests that it was the modern rather than "backward" aspects of Japanese society and culture that enabled a hawkish leadership to mobilize the country for all-out war. Modern mass communications enabled politicians and ideologues to whip up war sentiment and castigate those who criticized the move to war as traitors. Modern concerns about external markets and resources drove Japan into Manchuria, China, and Southeast Asia. Modern weaponry carried its own technological imperatives. Top-level planners advanced up-to-date theories about mobilizing the entire resources of the country (and surrounding areas) for "total war." Sophisticated phrasemakers pumped out propaganda about defending the homeland and promoting "coexistence and co-prosperity" throughout Asia. Cultures of violence, cultures of militarism, cultures of unquestioning obedience to supreme authority in the face of national crisis?all of this was nurtured by sophisticated organs of propaganda and control. And, in retrospect, none of this seems peculiarly dated or peculiarly "Japanese" today.

The other aspect that is so terrifying to contemplate is that virtually every step of the way, the Japanese leaders who concluded that military solutions had become unavoidable were very smart and very proud of their technical expertise, their special knowledge, their unsentimental "realism" in a threatening world. Many of these planners were, in our own phrase, "the best and the brightest." We have detailed records of their deliberations and planning papers, and most are couched in highly rational terms. Each new escalation, each new extension of the empire, was deemed essential to the national interest. And even in retrospect, it is difficult to say at what point this so-called realism crossed the border into madness. But it was, in the end, madness.

This is an article from a special issue of the Boston Review which is worth reading over in detail; they're starting to give the New York Review serious competition. Go team!