Friday, October 31, 2003

And now, fresh for Halloween, some news from beyond the grave, as Karl Marx returns to reveal the awful truth:

DS: So you don't think your relation with Hegel...

KM: Hegel Schmegel. I must tell you a secret: I never actually read, except in the most cursory fashion, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit or his Science of Logic. Life's too short.

DS: This will be a bit of a shock in some quarters.

KM: People should read the great English economists, Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Well, not really English: one's a Scot, the other a Sephardic Jew-clever people of good stock, who know the value of money. Germans like Hegel transform hats into ideas. I prefer the Brits who transform ideas into hats.

And stop talking about that damn manifesto, anyway. It was a quick piece of hack work, done while he hadn't done much real thinking yet, and he's kind of embarassed by it. He also kind of likes America, and disavows the Leninists. But then again, he's not apologizing for them....

via Ken MacLeod. And by the way, on the subject of Scottish SF writers, please welcome your new Evil Overlord...

Brief book plug: the Golden Age series by John Wright. Superb space opera.

(I was hesitating to mention them before because it's a series -- originally submitted as a single manuscript, which got split into two volumes, and the second volume got split again. But the third volume is out now, and appears to resolve Zeno's paradox...)

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Coming soon, to a theater of battle near you, Iraqification.

You know, I don't want to think Iraq is the next Vietnam, I really don't. (Tom Friedman doesn't either; he opines today that the Iraqi guerilla force that has arisen in response to our actions is less like the Viet Cong than the Khmer Rouge. How reassuring). But Dubya's crew keeps bringing in echoes of Vietnam-era strategies and rhetoric -- or perhaps I should say the Rumsfeld/Cheney crew, since they were around for Vietnam itself. It would be nice to see some variety. It would be nice, for instance, if this new policy created an effective force which could actually do the job on its own -- as opposed to the Nixonian "Vietnamization" strategy, which didn't work out quite so well.

Another thing that would be nice to see is straightforwardness about troop levels -- as opposed to the Vietnam-era business where highly publicized withdrawals were done in tandem with quite new deployments, so troop levels weren't actually reduced by much. They wouldn't do that again, would they? (via Atrios)

Friedman's line in full:

The people who mounted the attacks on the Red Cross are not the Iraqi Vietcong. They are the Iraqi Khmer Rouge — a murderous band of Saddam loyalists and Al Qaeda nihilists, who are not killing us so Iraqis can rule themselves. They are killing us so they can rule Iraqis.

As opposed to the Viet Cong, who were killing Americans so that Vietnamese could rule themselves? I must have missed all the stories about the vibrant multi-party political structure they established after the war. Sheesh...

On further reflection: Given the way his column goes on, Friedman could actually be trying to make the sensible point that the Iraqi resistance seems to be fanatical ideologues -- as opposed to the Viet Cong, who were nationalists. In which case, for once, he's got something sensible to say, and the problem is he said something else. Does this guy have an editor?

And now, fiscal responsibility, Republican style. A new corporate tax bill is being designed according to the modern legislative process, in which the role of Congress seems to be to try to keep the lobbyists happy. All of the lobbyists:

U.S. manufacturers of bows and arrows are fleeing in droves for Korea and China," said Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin. The problem, he told members of the House Ways and Means Committee, is that American arrows are hit with a 12.4 percent excise tax, but imported arrows are not.

So it was that members of the tax-writing committee agreed to drop the excise tax on arrows, along with excise taxes for fishing tackle boxes and fish-finding devices that use sonar.

At some point, though, reductions in revenues must be met by reductions in expenditures. And while current budget deficit projections show that the Republicans aren't trying to make that happen anytime soon, they still want to make some gestures by cutting spending where they can -- which is a bit of a problem, since most federal spending is in entitlements of one sort or another, where they can't cut much without major political consequences. And so, the few genuinely discretionary items get mauled. John Ashcroft, for instance, says that the proposed budget will result in a prison system that's too brutal even for him to contemplate easily:

"We do not directly control the number of inmates that enter into our prison system," wrote Mr. Ashcroft. "An overall reduction of the magnitude included in the Senate bill — approximately $270 million below the request — would have a dramatic adverse impact on the staff and inmate safety at existing facilities."

Bear in mind that he's talking about a prison system in which a culture of systematic rape has been tolerated for years.

Also complaining, by the way, is Colin Powell at State -- but that could be justified as reducing redundancy. Rumsfeld at DOD has been trying to do Powell's job for quite some time now...

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I try (sometimes without success) not to comment on stupid things which are interesting only because they're stupid, so I haven't had a whole lot to say about Donald "Poor and Stupid" Luskin, who has described himself as "stalking" Paul Krugman, and now threatens to sue Atrios for saying the same thing. If pressed, this is likely to turn into the biggest legal embarassment for the right-wing commentariat since the whole O'Reilly/Franken debacle... which would make Luskin, in this respect, the O'Reilly of the blogsphere. You know, I think he'd like that...
One of the Senate's deep thinkers on American electoral history, Trent Lott, reflects as well on American military strategy:

“Honestly, it’s a little tougher than I thought it was going to be,” Lott said. In a sign of frustration, he offered an unorthodox military solution: “If we have to, we just mow the whole place down, see what happens. You’re dealing with insane suicide bombers who are killing our people, and we need to be very aggressive in taking them out.”

Great. Less than a year, and we're already talking about destroying Baghdad in order to save it.

via Tom Spencer

What good is it being a juror in a high-profile trial if they never let you see the good stuff? Jurors at the Dennis Kozlowski trial got to see a video of the infamous birthday party Kozlowski threw for his wife on the company dime. But while the Jimmy Buffett performance was left in, the "ice sculpture of Michelangelo's David spewing vodka from his penis and a birthday cake in the shape of a woman's breasts with sparklers mounted on top" were omitted from the version of the video shown to the jury. Personally, I move for a mistrial.
If contemplation of that party makes you feel just too giddy about life, this killer interview with American relief worker Sarah Chayes and CFR fellow Kathy Gannon about life in Afghanistan will bring you right back down to earth. We all know about the corruption, the resurgent drug trade, the warlords who have ministries in the American-supported government, and the banditry committed by their troops (some in US uniforms), at least if we're getting news which covers Afghanistan at all. The stunner to me is that the US-backed government can't keep the electricity on in Kandahar -- and the Taliban could. People are starting to get nostalgic.
A little more news from Boston:

When BU's was-to-have-been new president, Daniel Goldin (former head of NASA) was being interviewed, he made it clear that he only wanted the job if the former occupant, and BU's autocratic leader for decades, John Silber, was willing to leave it.

It looks like Silber didn't get the message. Days before Goldin was to formerly take office, the school's board of trustees effectively voted no confidence. This was supposedly because they disapproved of Goldin's "temperament", but what really seems to be at issue, as far as anyone can tell, is Goldin's intemperate insistence that Silber give up active participation in the day to day operation of the school, and his office in the lavishly appointed suite known on campus as the "Taj Mahal". The latest on this issue, today, is that two of the most prominent trustees had actually resigned before the vote, complaining that decisions were being "rammed through" by Silber toadies on the board's executive committee.

It is not clear, at this point, whether Goldin will ever take the job. However, if he doesn't, then BU will have to find someone else -- Silber is simply too old to continue in the job indefinitely -- and it is also not clear where, under those circumstances, they will be able to find anyone with a shred of self-respect who would want it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

A lot of people get attached to romantic notions that just don't comport with the real world. Some people, for instance, want to believe that the whole traumatic Vietnam conflict would have been avoided if John F. Kennedy had stayed in office. For years, this notion has been denounced as being completely at variance with the well-studied historical record. Even Noam Chomsky has mocked its adherents as hopeless romantics. But some people just won't let go.

And now, we have tapes, made in the oval office in October of 1963, containing the voice of JFK ordering a complete and unconditional withdrawal from Vietnam within two years, "victory" or no. And he is backed up by the strong urging of, of all people, Bob "Body Count" McNamara, who had already concluded that prospects for victory were doubtful at best.

All this flies in the face of a historical record which has been consistently read to assert an essential continuity between Kennedy's Vietnam policy, and what Lyndon Johnson did afterwards. In fact, the most astounding part of James (son of John K.) Galbraith's account of the controversy is his discussion of just how much had to be buried to create that impression. Quoth Galbraith:

The President of the United States does not make decisions in a vacuum. Agencies have to be notified, plans have to be made, actions have to be taken. Part of the enduring doubt over Kennedy's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Vietnam surely stems from the failure of this decision to cast a shadow in the primary record, and particularly in the Pentagon Papers, on which so many historians have relied for so many years. Furthermore, a persistent skeptic can still point to the "it should be possible" language of the McNamara-Taylor Report with respect to the final date of 1965 as leaving an "out" for the case where the military situation might turn sour. In two years and two months, much can happen, as events would prove.

But as Scott already pointed out to Chomsky in 1993, the primary record available to date has been heavily edited. Documents from November 1, 1963, through early December are conspicuously missing. So, we now learn, are many others.

These include about 900 pages of newly declassified archives on defense plans from 1963, which confirm the withdrawal plans and give further specifics on the timing. What gets particularly odd about this is that the documents in question were edited out of even the Pentagon's own secret history of the conflict, the Pentagon Papers, whose revelation in 1971 was itself a major scandal due to all the other stuff that was left in. Someone meant to bury this very deep.

And even that isn't the creepiest part of this article. That would be a tossup between the news that the CIA began its preparations for covert escalation the day before Johnson issued his secret orders authorizing the move, and this eerie footnote:

My father [John K. Galbraith] retains a distinct, chilling recollection of LBJ's words to him, in private, on one of their last meetings before the Vietnam War finally drove them apart: "You may not like what I'm doing in Vietnam, Ken, but you would not believe what would happen if I were not here."

It's impossible to know what Johnson was referring to, though the historical record resounds at this point with ugly possibilities, from staged attacks by covert US forces on America itself meant to kick off a larger war, à la Operation Northwoods, to the not-well-concealed longing of some elements of the American military structure (notably Curtis LeMay, as Richard Rhodes documented extensively in his Dark Sun) for a nuclear first strike while the US could still "win". Beyond that, a further discussion of the implications of this news would have to touch on the mother lode of American conspiracy theorizing, the Kennedy assassination, on which Galbraith is carefully, almost studiously, silent.

Most Americans today were not born when any of this happened. What does it matter to them? Well, as I first noted about a year ago,

it's not as if Cheney and Rumsfeld are just Bush I retreads trying to redo the Gulf War. It's important to remember they're older than that. They are, in fact, Nixon administration retreads trying to redo Vietnam --- a war where technical superiority and early large set-piece victories (the lonesome cry of the cold war hawk: "The Tet offensive was a military defeat for the Viet Cong!") didn't exactly prefigure success...

And now, they have another military victory to play with...

Sunday, October 26, 2003

The New York Times reports on the rocket attack on Wolfowitz's hotel:

There are many Iraqis whose confidence can make a real difference in the immediate future — like entrepreneurs considering new investments, wealthy merchants wondering whether to keep their families here and ordinary Iraqis wondering whether they can safely enter political life. For them, the American military's inability to assure the safety of one of its most senior officials is a frightening sign.

The United States is doing everything it can to fight their fears. All over the city, the occupying authorities have put up large billboards featuring bucolic scenes of date palms arched over a river bank. Inspirational messages are splashed over the pretty pictures. "Baghdad is getting better," says one.

Forget the carjackings massive coordinate bombing attacks, folks. Look to the billboards!

More: One final thought on Monday's carnage (first reported after this entry was first posted): there's a lot of questioning on the air, this morning, about why the guerillas who target these attacks would target the Red Cross/Red Crescent. Well, one brutal, cold-blooded, but -- in my non-expert opinion -- rational reason might be this:

They want the occupation to fail. Start from that -- that much is clear, at any rate. They have also seen how the Americans are running things -- clumsy, high-handed, disorganized, and not doing all that well. It seems to me, as I said last week, that we won't succeed without help. If it seems that way to them as well, then it is in their interest to discourage outside aid to the Americans, from wherever it seems to be coming, and wait for the collapse...

I din't want to watch this year's World Series much, but I can make an exception for the late innings of a Yankee elimination game. And there was Josh Beckett, serving up killer curve balls while looking for all the world like a high school kid with a summer job, serving up Big Macs without a smile.

A lot of ink has been spilled over the years about the value of playoff experience. The question has received a final answer.

Tom Friedman has noticed that NATO has a whole lot of security problems in Arabia, since the folks down there regard the West generally, and America in particular, as tools of "the Jews". His proposed solution: add Israel to the NATO alliance, making it explicitly a tool of "the Jews", or at least the ones running Israel. But that won't give NATO all the muscle it needs, so he also proposes adding Egypt, and making Egyptian troops, in the eyes of the Islamists, into tools of "the Jews" as well. Egypt, after all, has a "huge surplus of military manpower with little to do" -- besides fighting off Egypt's native Islamic extremists, who provided some of the key people to al-Qaeda and have been around for decades. And of course, we should also add the new government of Iraq, once it exists and has proved to the satisfaction of everyone concerned that it is not itself a neo-colonial project of "the Jews", or such Western tools of "the Jews" (in Islamist eyes) as Dick Cheney and, er... Paul Wolfowitz. Don't hold your breath waiting for that last bit.

How did he get this brilliant idea?

I am just sitting here at NATO headquarters, listening to NATO officials tell me that their future is to the south, but that they have no manpower to go there, then matching that up with the needs and resources of the countries to the south. Do that, and the answer becomes obvious: If you can't bring Muhammad to the mountain, bring the mountain to Muhammad -- and to Moses.

Gosh, why didn't they think of that themselves?

Perhaps because, in the words of another distinguished American journalist, every complex problem has a solution that is simple, neat and wrong...