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:: Friday, April 30, 2004 ::

Happy Birthday to Me!

Technically, Skeptical Notion's first birthday is tomorrow, but I rarely blog on weekends. My first post was on May 1st, 2003 at 4:17 PM. I'm not doing too bad, for only a year. I'm an Adorable Little Rodent, I've had about 32,000 hits over the past year, and I still enjoy blogging.

And, so far, no hate mail. Or it's possible my spam filter just catches it. Nonetheless, it's been an enjoyable year blogging, even if the subjects I talk about don't always fill me with joy.

So thanks for visiting.
:: Morat 1:17 PM :: ::

Criticizing Krugman

Robert Waldmann brings up an interesting point about Krugman's column today.
I agree with what I think Krugman thinks. We have reached such a desparate situation that the best slim hope for a non disasterous outcome is to have Brahimi choose an interim government and hand over sovereignty. Sovereignty includes the authority to order US forces to leave the country.


My point (if any) is that Krugman should have the courage to propose a course of action so that he will have to defend it when things go badly (as they will in any case). Criticising is easy and makes Krugman look like a genius (did I mention that he is a genius'). How would he do if he were President ?
I think that Waldmann is putting the cart before the horse here. Why is Krugman required to put forth a working solution? Snapping back "Do you have a better plan?" doesn't magically make the problems with your plan go away, although I'm sure it makes you feel better when things go south.

I think Krugman's plan was pretty simple: "Don't invade Iraq".

Since Bush ignored that plan in favor of the "Invade Iraq" plan, and then ignored a great deal of advice on how to invade (including: "Bring a lot more troops than that, and don't expect many rose showers. And dump Chalabi"), are any of us obligated to point out a better solution?

This is not a mess of Krugman's making. You can't even argue, as you can with certain liberal hawks and Democratic politicians, that he "supported the war" done differently, and thus bears some smidgen of responsibility. Krugman, from the beginning, was pretty open on the subject that he thought the war was a bad idea that was going to be implemented poorly.

I think it would be a nice bonus if Krugman had a solution -- although history indicates the White House would certainly ignore it. As for "the courage to propose a course of action", he did so. He proposed not invading, a stance not terribly popular at the time, and history has proven him right.
:: Morat 10:57 AM :: ::

Iraqi Prison Photos Mar U.S. Image

Nice headline there. "Mars US Image". I think "mar" is a bit light, right? We're not talking a bit of tarnish that can be buffed away with a bit of elbow grease. This is just bad:
Photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners drew international condemnation on Friday, prompting the stark conclusion that the U.S. campaign to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a lost cause.

'This is the straw that broke the camel's back for America,' said Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. 'The liberators are worse than the dictators.'

'They have not just lost the hearts and minds of Iraqis but all the Third World and the Arab countries,' he told Reuters.
After the"Iraq is a threat" rationale fell through, and the "Iraq wasn't complying with the UN" rationale fell through, and the giggling started over the "Iraq has WMDs" claim, I thought that the US was at least on firm ground with the "rape rooms" and "torture" bit. I mean, Saddam was a very nasty guy, and there's no way we'd be running rape rooms and torture centers. No matter how badly we screwed anything up, we'd be the victors on the "rape room" issue.

So I'm a little upset to find out that, no, the US is not really holding the moral high ground here. Saddam had something of a two or three decade head start on us, but we seem to be doing pretty well for a year on the ground.

:: Morat 8:53 AM :: ::

Insurgent Force!

Pandragon's Jesse has a simple question:
The new Iraqi militia designed to handle problems outside of Fallujah leads me to one question: how come, in the course of a year, our military can barely form or keep together even ragtag police forces, many of which suffer from high departure rates and a continual inability to effectively organize, and in a couple of days, a former Baathist general can round up over a thousand men to form a militia capable of aiding in an important military operation?
The cynic in me has a simple answer. The General called up a few of the leaders (after all, he's undoubtedly worked with some of them. Disbanding the Army was really stupid) and said "Boys! You've won. The Marines want out. Come pretend to be a "militia" and the Marines will bug out. We keep the town, the Americans go away, and everyone will know the real score. Plus, the Americans will pay us to "suppress" our own insurgency."

It's probably not that bad, but I suspect it's closer than I want to believe.
:: Morat 8:22 AM :: ::

Democracy For America

Democracy For America has a new look (and a much better one). They also have a new goal, if a modest one. (Click here to contribute. The ability to do "sustainer donations" is a nice upgrade).

I have high hopes that DFA will, over the next few election cycles, develop into a solid grassroots organization dedicated to helping raise money -- and volunteers -- for the critical, but often overlooked, downticket races.
:: Morat 8:17 AM :: ::

In Front of Your Nose

Krugman's in fine (if shrill!) shape today:
All the information I've been able to get my hands on indicates that the security situation in Iraq is really, really bad. It's not a good sign when, a year into an occupation, the occupying army sends for more tanks. Western civilians have retreated to armed enclaves. U.S. forces are strong enough to defend those enclaves, and probably strong enough to keep essential supplies flowing. But we don't have remotely enough troops to turn the vicious circle around. The Iraqi forces that were supposed to fill the security gap collapsed -- or turned against us -- at the first sign of trouble.
It's worse than that, really. Anyone paying attention to the Fallujah situation can tell that.

It doesn't take much effort to determine that the Marines were utterly unable to dislodge the insurgents. We blasted them with AC-130s and 500lb bombs. That's not quite "B-52" territory, but we were still using battlefield weapons against an urban target...and to no effect.

And no we're turning the town over to a Sunni force of Fallujah residents, led by a former Saddam General, and we're swearing up and down there are "no insurgents in that force".

Yeah, right. We couldn't keep the insurgents out of the military and the police we put together, and vetted them over a period of months, not days.

We lost. The Marines don't have enough men or enough armor to take the city. They'd have to bring in those B-52s to have a chance. So we're turning the city over to it's residents, ceding control of Fallujah to the insurgents. We've simply legalized the insurgency and the independent control of Fallujah and claimed we're still in charge.

That might fool Americans, but the Iraqis know better.
:: Morat 7:17 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, April 29, 2004 ::

Bush on the 9/11 Commission

Bush said something revealing today. (bolding mine)
Bush said after the session it was a cordial meeting that he hoped would help the Sept. 11 commission come up with recommendations for how to prevent future attacks.

'If we had something to hide we wouldn't have met with them in the first place. We answered all their question. I came away good about the session because I wanted them to know how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats,' Bush said.
Last I checked, Bush didn't want to testify. He didn't want his aides to testify. He didn't want to testify alone. He didn't want to testify under oath. And he certainly didn't want his testimony recorded. Perhaps I'm a bit partisan, but it appears that Bush was forced to testify, and used every lever he had to say as little as humanly possible....and leave no way to verify the truth or falsity of his statements.

So, given that "Not meeting with them" was a political impossibility, I can only assume that Bush just admitted he had something to hide....as he came as close as he possibly could to "not meeting with them". (Link via Angry Bear)
:: Morat 12:23 PM :: ::

Looking Through Keyholes

Having given it a bit of thought (at least 30 seconds worth), I'd like to sum up the literary gem David Brooks graced us with on Tuesday:
These are the crucial months in Iraq. The events in Najaf and Falluja will largely determine whether Iraq will move toward normalcy or slide into chaos.

So how is Washington responding during this pivotal time? Well, for about three weeks the political class was obsessed by Richard Clarke and the hearings of the 9/11 commission, and, therefore, events that occurred between 1992 and 2001. Najaf was exploding, and Condoleezza Rice had to spend the week preparing for testimony about what may or may not have taken place during the presidential transition.
In short: "It's a waste of time for Rice to explain her old mistakes, when she could be busy lying and panicking over newer ones."

Oh, I admit Brooks doesn't view it quite that way, but there you are. The sum total of conservative "responsibility". Asking someone to explain -- or god forbid, take responsibility for -- past mistakes is "bad" because it interferes with their work. Work that, at least in the past, consisted of "screwing the pooch, big time".

Maybe I'll try the "Brooks defense" next time I have an employee review. I'm sure my boss would love that.
:: Morat 12:15 PM :: ::

April's toll

I was off a bit. We've lost ten soldiers today, bringing April's total to 126. The number of American wounded is anyone's guess. At the moment, I don't have much hope this will die back down.
:: Morat 7:49 AM :: ::

Much Ado Part II

Kleiman updated his post on the Gingrich book and gives a bit more explanation.
But all the reviews make it clear that Lee is not merely the victor but the hero of Gingrich's fantasy, and none suggests that the CSA victory is portrayed as in any way unfortunate. As Publishers Weekly notes, the "portrayals of historical figures like Lee, Meade, James Longstreet and Richard Ewell betray a certain bias (the Confederate men are noble and wise, the Union leaders hot-tempered and vindictive)."
I have to stand by my original viewpoint, that Mark's making a big deal out of nothing. Perhaps living in Texas colors my perceptions, but romanticizing the South -- and leaders like Lee -- is fairly common.

Sure, it's revisionist history to an extent. But it's a rosy-eyed view of the South that's shared by about 90% of the people living here. My mother attended Robert E. Lee High School and half the people I know view the Civil War through a strange lens: The South was on the wrong side on slavery but correct on state's rights, and their idealism is firmly fixed to the latter.

Slavery as part and parcel of the civil war is dismissed, because they sincerely wish to find honor and dignity in their ancestors. Since this is an alternative history book, and we're trying to divine Gingrich's "true beliefs" from it, I think it's more important to focus on what those in the South believe about the Civil War....and not what the cold objective facts were. This is fiction, after all.

If we're going to bash Gingrich for writing a book where Lee is upstanding and noble, and Sherman and Grant are venal and base, then we might as well condemn the vast bulk of the South. If Gingrich were writing a book of history, we could slam him for bias. But in the end, he's writing fiction....heavy on history or not.
:: Morat 7:30 AM :: ::

Agreement Reached to End Fallujah Siege

Let's engage the Spin-To-English translator:
U.S. Marines announced Thursday an agreement to end a bloody, nearly monthlong siege of Fallujah, saying American forces will pull back and allow an all-Iraqi force commanded by one of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s generals to take over security.
"We are unwilling to take the casualties necessary to squash the insurrection, so we're going to let the Iraqis keep the town and pretend it's a victory". (I'm not knocking it. It's probably the best solution).
Elsewhere, 10 U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday -- eight of them in a car bombing south of Baghdad. Two were killed in a convoy attack in Baghdad and roadside bomb in Baqoubah, north of the capital
"Meanwhile, the insurrection continues in Baghdad and Najaf".
On Wednesday night, al-Sadr's militiamen attacked a U.S. convoy about a mile from the Imam Ali shrine, witnesses said. The militiamen fired a rocket-propelled grenade that missed the convoy and hit a house, wounding two people. The Americans then opened fire, killing an Iraqi woman and wounding four, the witnesses said
"And the American doctrine of overwhelming response, while excellent in combat, is being easily turned against them in an urban setting....thus fueling the insurrection".

Seriously, we're not set up as peacekeepers. We don't have the numbers, we don't have the training, we don't have the skills....and the response we ingrain into our soldiers are often counterproductive in this setting.

Bugging out of Fallajuh, assuming this isn't another excuse to regroup and try again, is the smartest thing we've done in months. Sadly, it will only embolden the resistance...but for once it might not inflame Iraqis elsewhere.

Still, we lost another 8 soldiers yesterday. What's the April total? 123? 125? This is not a pace we can sustain for long.

Update: The more I think about it, the more it appears that we simply hired the guerillas. We offered to leave, and if they pretended we won, we'd pay them to "patrol" the town they kept us out of.
:: Morat 7:08 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, April 28, 2004 ::

I wonder...

When HaloScan goes down, it takes my page forever to load. Does anyone know a way to fix this? Besides switching to Moveable Type? That's on the list for next year.
:: Morat 11:16 AM :: ::

Much Ado About Nothing

I think Mark Kleiman is making a big deal out of nothing.
Newt Gingrich has written an alternate history in which the Confederates win the Battle of Gettysburg.

It would, of course, be offensively silly to blame contemporary white Southerners for the institution of slavery or for the Civil War that grew out of that institution. But whether the guys carrying the Stars and Stripes are the good guys shouldn't be a matter of debate. Openly pandering to wish-fulfillment dreams about the defeat of the armed forces of the United States by the forces of a rebellion mounted in defense of slavery ought to be unthinkable for someone still active in American politics.

Just imagine the firestorm if a still-active Democratic politician had written a novel with Santa Ana as its hero. Yet the moral case for sympathizing with Mexico in the Texan succession fight or the Mexican-American war is far stronger than the case for sympathizing with the CSA.

That Gingrich can get away with it says something ugly about his section, and his party, and the tame press.
I think that's a little much. Alternate history novels have been around a long time, and the Civil War offers fertile ground for such books. Frankly, unless Gingrich is glorifying slavery and obviously wishing the South had won, I can't get terribly excited about it.

How is it any different than Guns of the South (admittedly, the South ended up allied with the Axis during WWII) or any other "alternate history" novels? I haven't read the novel, but my first reaction is that this is an unwarranted knee-jerk reaction. The mere fact that yes, conservatives would react in the same way -- actually, they'd wallow in their righteous indignation -- if an active liberal politician had done the hypothetical Alamo book. But that doesn't make it right.

Judging from the reviews at Amazon, it's simply a "what-if" book that charts an alternate course for Gettysburg. I like to bash Gingrich as much as the next man, but what, exactly, is wrong with what he wrote?
:: Morat 9:21 AM :: ::

Howard Dean and sore losers

Strangely, despite all those dire predictions of Deanies "sulking off" and those dire predictions of Dean running a third party campaign, it appears that his detractors are the ones exhibiting all the signs of being a sore loser.
The rush to canonize Howard Dean is coming quicker than I thought. To paraphrase Mark Twain’s famous cable from Europe to the Associated Press, reports (or wishes) of Kerry’s death are greatly exaggerated. I know it's painful, but let's recall that His Goodness and Most Holy Rightness, Doctor Howard Dean, was/is the guy who represented/represents the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, raised a historic amount of money via the internet (a record now surpassed by Kerry), and spent it all on winning one primary, his home state of Vermont, after he dropped out of the race. In the process he energized the Party, but like a whipped pup, sulked off to lick his wounds and do his own thing, whatever that is.
Kerry won and they still can't stop complaining and attacking Dean. (I'm not even going to bother with the stupidity of the "Kerry's raised more over the internet comment". I guess some people still think the primary is underway...)

But it's okay, I don't really blame them. I understand, after all, where they're coming from. From what I remember, those most violently anti-Dean spent all their time warning how "weak" Dean was on foreign policy (Josh remembers to get that dig in even now), and how Bush and Rove would crucify Dean on foreign affairs and the military. They darkly warned that only a "war hero" or "soldier" or "Vietnam vet" would have the credibility to avoid the Bush and Kerry smears. The Deanies countered by holding up Max Cleland, and pointing out that Bush and Rove would attack anyone on foreign policy grounds and that no amount of medals (or even General's stars) would protect them.

I suppose what's getting under Josh's skin is that they were wrong and the Deanies were right. Rove and Bush are hammering Kerry on foreign policy, and his Vietnam medals are being turned into an attack...instead of being the magical defense shield it was hoped they'd be.

Yeah, he's our nominee. Yeah, I think Howard would have been a better one. But don't get pissy at me or Dean because your nominee is taking heat you never thought he'd take....and maybe failing to live up to your expectations. Dean lost, he didn't switch third party, and he's playing the good Democrat...and given the crap he took from Kerry and Gephardt in Iowa, he's doing a lot more than anyone had any right to expect.

Bashing Dean isn't going to help Kerry. It's just going to piss off the people who liked Dean, and remind everyone that whatever Kerry is, he's certainly no Dean. Is that really your goal in a race where Nader is already pulling 6%?
:: Morat 8:23 AM :: ::

When Angry Bears attack

Or at least get sarcastic. Kash over at Angry Bear notes that, the Senate Republican Policy Committee's claims to the contrary, it would seem logical that higher gasoline prices are caused by higher crude oil prices and not "federal regulations" like the Clean Air Act. Kash even has a nifty chart. From a brief glance, unless those pesky lawmakers have been sneakily changing regulations in tandem with changes in crude oil prices, the Senate Republicans don't have a case.

I admit, asking Senate Republicans to understand that the price of raw materials directly influences the costs of final products is a bit much, but surely someone on their staff would have pointed out the sheer idiocy of their conclusions.
:: Morat 8:09 AM :: ::

Reading between the lines

Steve Gilliard points out this little story:
The U.S. military is demanding the return of five howitzers that two Sierra Nevada ski resorts use to prevent avalanches, saying it needs the guns for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain received the artillery pieces on loan from the Army and began using them last year to fire rounds into mountainsides and knock snow loose.

But the ski resorts received word earlier this month that the Army's Tank Automotive and Armaments Command at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois needs the howitzers back.
Yeah, that's not a good sign. It's not like the ski resorts had the unit's primary guns. They had guns no one in the unit used. The fact that we need them now points to a wee bit of "overstretch".
:: Morat 7:59 AM :: ::

Bush-Cheney 9/11 Interview Won't Be Formally Recorded

The White House said on Tuesday that there would be no recording or formal transcription of the historic joint interview of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney by the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The interview, to begin at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday at the White House, will be recorded by two note takers, one from the White House. Under a pact with the White House that allowed all its 10 members in the interview, the commission is permitted to take a note taker, but not a recording device. The panel said it did not press for a formal transcription of the session, letting the White House decide.
The cynic in me has but one response: "Hard to prove perjury without a transcript".
:: Morat 7:08 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, April 27, 2004 ::

Friday's Nightline

For once, a show that really is must-see TV:
From Nightline’s 4-27 daily email (tonight’s show is on the Cheney Supreme Court case):
Now I want to tell you about this Friday’s broadcast. We’re going to do something different, something that we think is important. Friday night, we will show you the pictures, and Ted will read the names, of the men and women from the armed forces who have been killed in combat in Iraq. That’s it. That will be the whole broadcast. Nightline has been reporting on the casualties under the heading of “Line of Duty.”
But we realized that we seemed to just be giving numbers. So many killed in this incident, so many more in that attack. Whether you agree with the war or not, these men and women are serving, are putting their lives on the line, in our names. We think it is important to remember that those who have paid the ultimate price all have faces, and names, and loved ones. We thought about doing this on Memorial Day, but that’s a time when most media outlets do stories about the military, and they are generally lost in the holiday crush of picnics and all. We didn’t want this broadcast to get lost. Honestly, I don’t know if people will watch this for thirty seconds, or ten minutes, or at all. That’s not the point. We think this is important. These men and women have earned nothing less.
One point, we are not going to include those killed in non-hostile incidents. There’s no disrespect meant here, we just don’t have enough time in this one broadcast. But they are no less deserving of our thoughts. I hope that you will join us for at least part of “The Fallen” on Friday.
Link via Atrios.
:: Morat 1:19 PM :: ::

U.S. Aircraft Hammer Fallujah After Dark

Looks like that ceasefire is over.
Multiple explosions shook Fallujah after dark Tuesday, and large plumes of smoke billowed into the sky as fighting erupted for the second straight night. An American AC-130 gunship hammered targets in the city.

Blasts and gunfire went on steadily for more than half an hour in sustained fighting, apparently in the northern Jolan district, a poor neighborhood where Sunni insurgents are concentrated.
This is not a good sign. AC-130's are powerful weapons (think "flying collection of miniguns") and their use indicates the Marines are facing heavy resistance.

Fighting continues near Najaf, with at least one more US soldier dead.
:: Morat 12:50 PM :: ::

Iraqis Say Council-Approved National Flag Won't Fly

It appears the new Iraqi flag isn't going over well.
In interviews in several Baghdad neighborhoods, a variety of residents expressed strong negative reactions to the flag, which was reproduced in most daily newspapers. In particular, people objected to the pale blue color of the crescent and stripes, saying it was identical to the dominant color in the flag of Israel, a Jewish state.

"When I saw it in the newspaper, I felt very sad," said Muthana Khalil, 50, a supermarket owner in Saadoun, a commercial area in central Baghdad. "The flags of other Arab countries are red and green and black. Why did they put in these colors that are the same as Israel? Why was the public opinion not consulted?"
I'm guessing it didn't occur to the geniuses we have running Iraq that there is a reason the other Arab countries use red, green and black. (Hint: It's got a certain religious and regional significance). If you buy into the notion that a flag symbolizes a country, we -- in effect, if not by design -- just stated that the "New Iraq" was not only not going to be part of the Arab or Muslim world, but pro-Israeli as well.

Now, I really doubt that was the intention, but it was the effect. Which brings up the obvious question: Is there anything this administration can't hose up?
:: Morat 8:24 AM :: ::

Samurai Jack!

Gregory Harris (of Planet Swank) has a review up of the first season of Samurai Jack.

That's right. It's on DVD. And it rocks. I understand that the Samurai Jack people were the ones who did the animated Clone War series (which was, to my mind, better than the films in places). Does anyone know when that's going to be released on DVD?
:: Morat 8:00 AM :: ::

Lieberman urges end to bickering on Iraq

It appears that Lieberman has -- again -- opened his mouth and said something stupid:
Sen. Joe Lieberman on Monday urged an end to partisan bickering over the Iraq war, saying such debate hurts U.S. efforts on the battlefield by demoralizing soldiers and encouraging the enemy.
But he said partisan bickering -- expected to follow Thursday's scheduled testimony by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney before the independent Sept. 11 commission and Saturday's first anniversary of Bush's speech celebrating the fall of Baghdad -- hurts the country's efforts on the battlefield.
"We can no longer afford such partisan politics as usual" because it "encourages our enemies" and confuses or demoralizes the soldiers serving in Iraq, Lieberman said.
Apparently, Joe thinks it wasn't "demoralizing" to order the 3rd Cav to spend another three months in country (on top of the year they spent in Baghdad) and Joe also thinks "partisan politics as usual" is A-OK when it comes to lying to the public -- and the opposition party -- in order to start said war.

In Joe's world, sticks and stones don't break bones, but those words will really hurt you.
:: Morat 6:51 AM :: ::

:: Monday, April 26, 2004 ::

Long weekend...

I'm exhausted. Utterly exhausted. I can tell that I'll be leaving work early today. I simply did not get enough sleep this weekend. Hopefully, I'll muster the energy to make a few substantive posts sooner or later.
:: Morat 9:17 AM :: ::

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