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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Music Minute

And now I'd like to offer, in its entirety, a great song by Richard Cheese.

Hack Alert 2

Why can't those damn liberals stop criticizing the president on his Middle East policies? Whose side are they on anyway?

Hack Alert

Speaking of lame partisan hacks....my nomination for today's best example of hackery:

Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review's Corner. She says:

I just saw the first excerpt from the Cheney Hume interview on FNC. There will be more to the interview, of course, but what they've shown so far did what was, perhaps, the most important thing: He humanized the whole thing. It's not THE VICE PRESDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND AN ACCIDENT HE TRIED TO HIDE! It's a man, who happens to be vice president of the United States, who shot a friend in a bad, embarrassing accident. He tells Hume, taking public responsibility for the shooting: "I'm the one who pulled the trigger and shot my friend."


Awwww....poor widdle Vice Pwesident Cheney. The guy negligently shoots his friend on a hunting trip and we're all supposed to get out our hankies and sympathize for him?

Spare me.

And here, Lopez's colleague, Jonah Goldberg, continues with more inanities:

I agree with the editors that Cheney should come clean and all that in an interview, indeed I wrote it first here in the Corner. But I still think there's room for a lot of political upside for Cheney, so long as the usual pattern of media over-reaction and Democratic over-reach plays itself out. And so far, that's certainly the way to bet.

Yeah...I can see that. If there's anyone who can create a "political upside" after shooting someone, it's Dick Cheney.

Of course, doing so is just a wee bit sleazy....but it's not like that's stopped him before.

Correspondence with Jim Brady

Maybe you heard about that controversy over the comments at one of the Washington Post's blogs. It was much ado about nothing, but here's a quick rundown:

The Post's ombudsman made a slight error in a story about Jack Abramoff's crooked contributions. The offense: alleging that he gave money to both Democrats and Republicans. Lefties went nuts and filled up the comments section with your standard flame-war drivel. The Post, freaking out, shut down the comments, creating an even bigger uproar.

Pardon me while I yawn.

For one, in today's age, it is absolutely ridiculous to trust the media, or more properly, the best approach would be "Trust but verify." Don't rely on what the Washington Post says, or what Foxnews says. Rely on what the Washington Post, the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foxnews, CNN, MSNBC, CBSNews, ABCNews, and your local paper has to say. You know why? Because each individual media outlet is flawed, biased, and trying to sell you something. Only an aggregate approach will allow you to see all sides of the story, and thereby become truly informed.

Secondly, any website which allows comments and even a little bit of anonymity is going to be flamed eventually. A lot of people really really enjoy coming up with what they think will be the be all-end all whopper of a "gotcha" that will make their allies laugh and their rhetorical enemies run to the hills in terror. It's not about discourse. It's about pounding your chest for two seconds in the spotlight.

Oh, what a big man you are. Let me buy you a pack of gum. I'll show you how to chew it.

As for my feelings on the Post shutting down the comments...read on.

I sent Jim Brady, the executive editor of the Post, an e-mail this weekend regarding this topic, and surprisingly, he responded. My e-mail:

Jim,

Just read your Op-ed about the post.blog comments controversy. I think you should have used Jane Hamsher’s name when you discussed the Columbo thing. A quick websearch ID’d her for me, but why not just call her out in your column?

As for shutting down the comments section, I’m not offended by it…but I also don’t think that you guys at the Post should be offended by some of the flamers. Social artifice can’t conceal the dark hearts of most people these days, and I don’t think it should. Why pretend that everyone isn’t an asshole at least some of the time?

James Pearce
Aurora, CO


Jane Hamsher, if you're not aware, runs a little blog called FireDogLake. I'm not a regular reader of FireDogLake. In fact, I think Hamsher's blog is crap.

Firedoglake is to the left blogosphere what Powerline is to the right, an unprincipled cesspool of blind partisanship. I enjoy reading many blogs, even partisan blogs, but I don't like apologists and I don't like fawning sycophants.

Aparently, Brady referred to Hamsher as "Columbo," a subtle dig at her alleged investigative skills, in a post chat with some bloggers, but in his story, he was way too nice to her.

Here was Jim Brady's response as to why:
James,

Thanks for your e-mail... You make a fair point about Jane's blog. I didn't name it because I didn't want to seem like I was turning this into a one-on-one battle, i.e. Post.com vs. Hamsher. But it was a close call.

Thanks,
Jim Brady

No doubt Hamsher would have spun it that way at Firedoglake. But who cares?!

Expose the hacks, I say!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Saddam a Go-Go

In the "It Sounded Good at the Time" category, Saddam Hussein's trial continues to be a source of outrageous headlines. Now, Saddam is on a hunger strike. And this is a few days after chanting "Down with Bush" and basically disrupting the proceedings every single time he's in the room.

Who's bright idea was it to put Saddam on trial? Yeah, it sounded better than outright assasination, more legitimate anyway, but it's also becoming something of a farce.

The beauty of a trial is the illusion of fairness, and I say illusion, because is there is no such a thing as a "fair" trial, at least in the sense that there's a 50-50 chance of winning. The fairness refers to the process, not the outcome.

A few years ago, I was on a federal jury in a felony case. Admittedly, it was small potatoes, some con at the Supermax prison in Florence, CO shanked a couple of guards, causing minor puncture injuries. The guy, a dumbass criminal, represented himself against two competent federal prosecutors, and I remember feeling pangs of sympathy because it was obvious the guy had no chance. The prison had videos of the attack and the guards all testified. It was unquestionable that he was guilty. The guy's defense? That he was defending his freedom. (Um...sorry, man, but if you're incarcerated at Supermax, you have no freedom.)

The point is, the deck was stacked against this guy from the beginning. He was guilty as hell, and the only way he was going to get off was if he had an unfair trial tilted in his favor.

Saddam has the same problem. With his trial, he's being treated fairly by default. He's getting a chance to answer the charges against him and present a defense. That's fair.

So Saddam should just shut up and appreciate the fact that he's even being tried. It may not look fair to him, but it is. If he had been popped behind the ear the second he stuck his head out of his spider hole...well, that wouldn't be so fair, would it?

A Bush Cult of Personality?

Glen Greenwald had a great post about a recurring theme over here on my blog. While I asked, "Why are Republicans still loyal to George W. Bush?" Glenn asks a more pertinent question, "Do Bush followers have a political ideology?" You should really read the whole thing, but here are some choice nuggets deserving of a full-fledged excerpt:
As much as any policy prescriptions, conservatism has always been based, more than anything else, on a fundamental distrust of the power of the federal government and a corresponding belief that that power ought to be as restrained as possible, particularly when it comes to its application by the Government to American citizens. It was that deeply rooted distrust that led to conservatives’ vigorous advocacy of states’ rights over centralized power in the federal government, accompanied by demands that the intrusion of the Federal Government in the lives of American citizens be minimized.

Is there anything more antithetical to that ethos than the rabid, power-hungry appetites of Bush followers? There is not an iota of distrust of the Federal Government among them. Quite the contrary. Whereas distrust of the government was quite recently a hallmark of conservatism, expressing distrust of George Bush and the expansive governmental powers he is pursuing subjects one to accusations of being a leftist, subversive loon.

Indeed, as many Bush followers themselves admit, the central belief of the Bush follower's "conservatism" is no longer one that ascribes to a limited federal government -- but is precisely that there ought to be no limits on the powers claimed by Bush precisely because we trust him, and we trust in him absolutely. He wants to protect us and do good. He is not our enemy but our protector. And there is no reason to entertain suspicions or distrust of him or his motives because he is Good.

We need no oversight of the Federal Government’s eavesdropping powers because we trust Bush to eavesdrop in secret for the Good. We need no judicial review of Bush’s decrees regarding who is an "enemy combatant" and who can be detained indefinitely with no due process because we trust Bush to know who is bad and who deserves this. We need no restraints from Congress on Bush’s ability to exercise war powers, even against American citizens on U.S. soil, because we trust Bush to exercise these powers for our own good.

The blind faith placed in the Federal Government, and particularly in our Commander-in-Chief, by the contemporary "conservative" is the very opposite of all that which conservatism has stood for for the last four decades. The anti-government ethos espoused by Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan is wholly unrecognizable in Bush followers, who – at least thus far – have discovered no limits on the powers that ought to be vested in George Bush to enable him to do good on behalf of all of us.

Couldn't have said it better myself.
Here's another great point:
We have heard for a long time that anger and other psychological and emotional factors drive the extreme elements on the Left, but that is (at least) equally true for the Bush extremists. The only difference happens to be that the Bush extremists control every major governmental institution in the country and the extremists on the Left control nothing other than the crusted agenda for the latest International A.N.S.W.E.R. meeting.

And the core emotions driving the Bush extremists are not hard to see. It is a driving rage and hatred – for liberals, for Muslims, for anyone who opposes George Bush. The rage and desire to destroy is palpable.

Unfortunately, I don't think Greenwald is going to make much of a dent in the Bush cult of personality. But he is touching a nerve and doing it eloquently.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Flash Fiction Friday - Sunday Edition

Flash Fiction Friday

Inspired by true events…

     My hand! Oh, God, my hand.  Despite the pain and my worst fears, I looked down, relieved to see it was still there.  It was dripping blood and curled into a claw, but it was still there.  I tried to move my fingers, first the pointer, then my middle finger.  My ring finger and pinky were completely numb.
     The bullet had gone right through, puncturing a tiny hole like stigmata on my palm.  I knew instinctively that I would never regain full use of it, not after the tendons were sheared and the bones were shattered.  I looked down at my hand, my useless bleeding hand, and I thought to myself, well, at least it’s not my right hand.
     I then looked up at Dick, who was cowering in the weeds a few yards from me.  His rifle was now resting against his shoulder and he had a guilty look on his face.       “Dick, you just….shot me….in the hand.,” I said.
     “I’m sorry,” Dick said, shrugging.  “I wasn’t even aiming, just a complete misfire.  I don’t know what happened.  Are you okay?”
     I looked down at my wounded hand.  My golf game was probably ruined.  And I’d lose thirty words per minute in my typing speed.  No more piano either.
     “Yeah,” I croaked.
     “We’ve gotta get you to a hospital,” Dick said.  “Medic!”  Out of the brush came one of Dick’s personal physicians, the blonde one who always wore the short skirts, except now she was wearing a pair of camo trousers and a bright orange hunting jacket.
     “Oh my God, your hand,” she said, dropping to a knee in the mud next to me.  She turned it over and inspected the wound, then tied off my elbow with a tourniquet.  “You’re gonna be fine,” she said, applying a field dressing.
     I watched Dick the whole time, shaking my head.  Lucky him to have two personal doctors with him at all times, with an ambulance at the ready.  Before we set out on the hunt, I asked him if he was healthy enough to go hunting.  He assured me he was, that the doctors were just a precaution.  At the time, I thought it was unnecessary, but now I was grateful for Dick’s poor health.
     Dick played the petulant child, grimacing, looking away, pursing his lips, shrugging.  Finally, he said, “It was an accident.”
     “You don’t understand, Dick,” I said.  I held up my hand, now wadded thick with bandages.  “I’m probably going to lose the use of my hand now.”
     “You’ll be fine,” he told me.  
     “You’re the Vice President of the United States, Dick,” the pretty doctor in camo said.  “You can’t go around shooting people.”
     “You’re right,” he said.  “This is going to look awful in the papers.”
     My hand, throbbing now, felt like it weighed three hundred pounds.  “Uh, can we worry about that later?” I asked.
     “Hey, don’t you worry, little buddy,” Dick said, rising to his feet and striking a heroic pose.  “I work for the United States government and we take care of our wounded.”
     “Reassuring, Dick.  Real reassuring.”

The Spoils of War

I saw this from the Weekly Standard via CBSnews. This pretty much sums it up.

Over the last five years, while no one was paying attention, America has been winning its war on drugs.
To quote Bob Novak, I think that's bullshit. Obviously the person who wrote this has a skewed understanding of the drug war. Don't believe me?

Look at this.
The American drug problem grew to epidemic proportions throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Sounds great, but it's not neccesarily true. For one, the problem that grew to epidemic proportions in the 60s and 70s was the youth culture, with anti-war hippies, feminists, and black power revolutionaries mucking everything up for the Silent Majority. The drug war was designed not to save these unfortunate druggies, but to lock them up.

Over the years, this has worked brilliantly. Millions of people have served thousands of years behind bars because of drug laws. Cartels, pushers, and law enforcement agencies have reaped billions through the black market. And drugs are still pretty easy to get.

That's why it's funny to listen as Jonathan V. Last spouts off statistics to show "teen drug use is off nearly 19 percent." This from a survey about an illegal activity not administered under sodium pentathol or a lie detector. How about some real numbers? Like the number of drug cases filed in the last five years, or the number of people in court sponsored rehab. What about the numbers they can't get? Like how many pounds of illegal drugs are being imported into this country from abroad, or how much revenue can be found in the drug trade?

Don't site rosy opinion polls and tell me it's raining.

V. Last does pull out some concrete numbers, though.
The supply of all the major drugs is down, but at the same time, drug interdiction is up. In 1989, 533,533 kilograms of the four major drugs were seized by U.S. authorities. By 2005, the total had risen to 1.3 million kilograms.
From that he infers that inderdiction is getting better, because well, they got more shit. But it's equally reasonable to assume that overall volume in the drug trade also increased. What does this prove? Not a damn thing.

As the drug war goes on, so does the drug trade.

Throwing money at the ONDCP, as the article suggests (a dubious position for a "conservative" rag like the Standard to take, mind you), is not going to alleviate the problem. I can think of a lot better uses for $12.4 billion dollars. (I'd be happy with just 1% of that personally.)

We should abolish the ONDCP, decriminalize all drugs, regulate the industry like we do the pharmaceutical companies. You know what would happen? The Columbian drug cartels, Afghan poppy warlords, Mexican doperunners, and corner hustlers would all disappear. They would have to put away their hand guns and get a real job like the rest of us. Demand would still be there, but it would be fulfilled by a professional industry operating within the law rather than a bunch of bandits.

Nah.

That's too reasonable.

The VP Who Couldn't Shoot Straight

This is a punchline looking for a joke.  I mean, there’s all kinds of angles late-night joke writers can take on this one.  “Guns don’t kill people, Republicans do.”  “Dick Cheney, Armed and Dangerous.”  I’m not nearly as funny as Conan O’Brien’s writing staff, so that’s as far as I’ll go, but here are a few things from the article that did strike me funny.

Whittington (the victim) "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong told the Associated Press in an interview.
You gotta give it to Tricky Dick Jr.  Even when he shoots someone with a shotgun, there’s always someone there to help him evade responsibility.  

And speaking of someone being there, kudos to the VP’s medical staff, who like Iraq’s aluminum tubes, serve a dual purpose:  making sure Darth Cheney’s heart keeps on ticking and providing first aid for the VP’s shooting victims.

"Fortunately, the vice president has got a lot of medical people around him and so they were right there and probably more cautious than we would have been," she said. "The vice president has got an ambulance on call, so the ambulance came.”
And just in case you think a situation like this is unusual, Cheney’s host, Katherine Armstrong, assures us otherwise.

"This is something that happens from time to time. You now, I've been peppered pretty well myself," said Armstrong.
Haven’t we all?

Here's more on the story.

Michael Moore, Disney, and Those Strange Folks in Kansas

Today's episode revolves around a book I'm currently reading, What's the Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank. I suppose you could say it belongs in the liberal canon, but that's no reason to discount it out of hand. It's not a liberal manifesto, but more of a rumination on how the Republican establishment is pranking the small-R republicans.

On liberal bias in the media, Frank says this:

"It is only possible to think that the news is slanted to the left, for example, if you don't take into account who owns the news organizations and if you never turn your critical powers on that section of the media devoted to business news. The university campus can only be imagined as a place dominated by leftists if you never consider economics departments or business schools. You can believe that conservatives are powerless victims only if you exclude conservatism's basic historical constituency, the business community, from your analysis. Likewise, you can only believe that George W. Bush is a man of the people if you have screened out his family's economic status. Most important, it is possible to understand popular culture as the product of liberalism only if you have blinded yourself to the most fundamental of economic realities, namely, that the networks and movie studios and advertising agencies and publishing houses and record labels are, in fact, commercial enterprises."

In other words, there is bias in the media, but it's not inspired by deep seated liberalism within the "elite." It's inspired by profit motive, one of free-market conservatism's most sacred of cows. Conservatives rip CBSNews for their ill-fated National Guard memo story, citing it as proof of some kind of liberal bias in the media, but it's more likely that debacle was more about getting a juicy scoop to increase viewership, which, as the Neilsen Ratings will tell you, has a direct effect on advertising revenue. In other words, it was all about the benjamins.

Are we to believe that CBSnews cares more about advancing liberalism as a political idealogy than making money? Yeah, right. Profit trumps all. Just look at Michael Eisner. As the CEO of Disney, Eisner passed on Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. At the time, he stood on principle, deciding that Disney would be ill-served by releasing a political propaganda piece tainted with liberal bias, which Fahrenheit no doubt is. Michael Moore raised a big stink about it, but the end result was that Lions Gate, not Disney, distributed Fahrenheit 9/11, a film that cost about six million dollars to make.

It went on to become one of the biggest films of 2004, earning over $119 in domestic box office, making it very, very profitable. Disney, of course, missed out on all that money, choosing instead to release the patriotic phlegm-ball The Alamo, which cost about $95 million to make, but only grossed about $24 million at the box office, as well as the instantly forgettable crapfest Around the World in 80 Days, which cost $110 million but only cleared $24 million upon its release.

Unlike Fahrenheit, Alamo and Around the World were safe non-political family-friendly films, but they were also massive money-losing flops. They lost more money for Disney than Fahrenheit made. Good business? I think not.

The consequence, Michael Eisner was replaced by Robert Iger as CEO of Disney last year. Eisner wasn't saved by his conservative good taste; he was destroyed by it.
Apparently the free-market has little regard for the culture war, an unfortunate contradiction for modern conservatives, split as they are into competing camps of trickle-down economists and prudish culture warriors.

In his book, Frank asks:

"After all, how can you lament the shabby state of American life while absolving business of any responsibility for it? How can you complain so bitterly about culture and yet neglect to mention the main factor making culture what it is? How can you reconcile the two clashing halves of the conservative mind?

By believing in bias, that's how."

Now obviously, Michael Moore himself is biased, but it must be remembered that years ago, he was just another fringe film-maker, an amateur slapping together little-seen documentaries for the indie circuit. Michael Moore today is so much more: an award-winning film-maker, a best-selling author, a television personality, and all of this with the benefits of corporate sponsorship. Do his corporate sponsors support Moore because of his ideas, or because he can make them money?

I'll give you a hint. It's the money.