The Bush White House, irritated by pesky questions from congressional Democrats about how the administration is using taxpayer money, has developed an efficient solution: It will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.
The decision -- one that Democrats and scholars said is highly unusual -- was announced in an e-mail sent Wednesday to the staff of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. House committee Democrats had just asked for information about how much the White House spent making and installing the "Mission Accomplished" banner for President Bush's May 1 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
The director of the White House Office of Administration, Timothy A. Campen, sent an e-mail titled "congressional questions" to majority and minority staff on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. Expressing "the need to add a bit of structure to the Q&A process," he wrote: "Given the increase in the number and types of requests we are beginning to receive from the House and Senate, and in deference to the various committee chairmen and our desire to better coordinate these requests, I am asking that all requests for information and materials be coordinated through the committee chairmen and be put in writing from the committee."
He said this would limit "duplicate requests" and help answer questions "in a timely fashion."
It would also do another thing: prevent Democrats from getting questions answered without the blessing of the GOP committee chairmen.
"It's saying we're not going to allow the opposition party to ask questions about the way we use tax money," said R. Scott Lilly, Democratic staff director for the House committee. "As far as I know, this is without modern precedent."
Norman Ornstein, a congressional specialist at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed. "I have not heard of anything like that happening before," he said. "This is obviously an excuse to avoid providing information about some of the things the Democrats are asking for."
Bush's desire to avoid accountability is on full display here. And notice how it was sparked by an embarrassing incident Team Bush has no one to blame -- though not for lack of trying -- but themselves. By shielding himself from uncomfortable questions, Bush seeks to conceal from the American people the miserable failure that is the inevitable result of his policies. How disgusting.
Possibly most disturbing about Bush's reprehensible action is that he's obviously banking on his party holding the White House and Congress pretty much in perpetuity, because these rules could just as easily be used to the detriment of Republicans. And, of course, if so we'll hear howls of outrage from the now-quiescent and utterly unprincipled right. But that's just the problem -- regardless of one's political affiliation, Bush's action is bad for American democracy and the political process.
The film's overall story arc is masterfully done; I love the way the mechanics of the sinking are explained right at the beginning of the movie, so that when we get to that point in the flashback, two hours later, we know exactly what's happening the whole way. The effects are wonderful, the pacing is good, and really, the love story isn't that bad -- unoriginal and clunky at times, yes, but it's not bad. Plus, given that Titanic is the most wildly successful film ever, doesn't its placement on a list like this imply that the masses who propelled it to that status (and let's not pretend it attained that status solely on the backs of preteen girls in need of a Leonardo DiCaprio fix) are a bunch of dolts?
While the film didn't make it into my Top 20, I did enjoy it very much, and I don't at all share the opinion of those who revile the film. I stated to leave the following comments in his discussion thread, but they grew so long I decided to share them here.
As faithful readers (all three of them) of this blog know, I'm a Titanic (the ship) buff. I was predisposed to like Titanic for much the same reason I was for the much-more-flawed Jurassic Park. I wanted from the latter to see Dinosaurs Eat People, and it delivered; I wanted from the former to see the ship in all its former glory, and Titanic delivered in spades. Come on, people; the first scene in which the sad, sunken wreck transforms into its pristine, magnificent old self is nothing short of breathtaking.
Since I am a Titanic (the ship) buff, I could compare Cameron's movie to an earlier effort: the pleasing 1958 adaptation of Walter Lord's A Night to Remember. Like Cameron's film, it was a lasvishly expensive (for its time) production that made every effort to adhere to the known historical facts of the sinking (several Titanic survivors even visited the set).
In its efforts to hew closely to history, director Roy Ward Baker and screenwriter Eric Ambler elected not to invent fictitious main characters, as Cameron would do. Rather, the film's hero is Second Officer Charles Lightoller. (A Night to Remember did employ "composite" characters, fictitous figures intended to represent, for example, a typical Second Class family. Titanic did the same, of course.) The film is gripping and entertaining and the sinking -- re-created by a highly detailed 30-foot model of the ship -- is tragic indeed, albeit necessarily depicted from fairly far away. But in order to portray the events of the sinking, the film skips around quite a bit, following Lightoller and several other characters in their attempt to survive the disaster.
Much scorn has been heaped upon Cameron's central romance, and not without some justification. But the thing to remember about Jack and Rose is that they're not so much characters as a plot device intended to give the audience a perspective on the sinking. Jack and Rose manage to be, at various points in the film, everywhere an important event occurs during the disaster, from the striking of the iceberg to the flooding First Class staircase to the stern of the ship as it slipped benenath the waves. (Trivia: The man in a baker's uniform who shares the stern with Jack and Rose was real, and he survived: He apparently consumed a quantity of brandy, and it enabled him to endure the frigid water until picked up by a lifeboat. He never eve got his head wet.)
Jack and Rose are an excuse to let Cameron roam around the ship and display crucial moments in the sinking, and the script is, necessarily, full of contrivances to allow him to do just that. We experience the sinking of the Titanic through them. In my book, it's a powerful experience. The massive stern of the ship lifting helplessly out of the water -- absolutely dwarfing swimmers in the water below -- is among the many memorable images the film left with me. Perhaps this purpose is why the maudlin fate of Jack after the ship sink -- and his usefulness to the story is therefore at an end -- doesn't sit well with some.
Jaquandor's observation of the clever way in which the film explains the mechanics of the sinking up front is, of course, spot-on.
Trivia courtesy the IMDb: The actor playing lookout Frederick Fleet in A Night To Remember, Bernard Fox, played Col. Archibald Gracie in the Cameron production.
That said, while I very much wanted to like 1998's The Avengers, it genuinely sux0rzed.
A number of bloggers have taken to listing their favorite movies since 1980. I'm a little late getting on board, but for what it's worth, here goes (no order). My criteria for this list is not just sheer greatness, but how often I go back to these movies to watch again, or would like to. As a result, the list is influenced heavily, but far from exclusively, by my DVD collection.
Wild Zero (2000) If you've read my review -- and I would hope you have! -- you know I love this film. I watched it twice practically back-to-back the day I got it. This film is, quite frankly, the coolest flick ever made. And like Dead Alive, the true heart of the film is a sweet love story that's complicated by flesh-hungry ghouls. And, of course, rock and roll saves the day.
GoodFellas (1990) As far back as I can remember, I've always loved movies about gangsters. But Martin Scorsese's tour de force is remarkable not only in its technical excellence and casting triumvirate of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta (not to mention the ever-reliable Paul Sorvino), but also in that, while the superb Godfather protrayed mobsters as honorable men, the protagonists in this films are unrepentant crooks.
Spirited Away (2002) As so many other bloggers have observesd, all of master animator Hayao Miyazaki's work deserves mention. But Sen To Chihiro noteworthy both for its impressive American success (it won a richly deserved Best Animated Feature Oscar, the first anime movie to do so) and the fact that Miyazaki emerged from retirement to create this masterpiece. The spirit world he creates out of both Eastern and Western mythological components is richly detailed and simply stunning. But it's the rock-solid appeal and spot-on realization of the young heroine Chihiro that propels this movie's success. The ultimate triumph of this young girl through perserverance and a good heart appeals to me infinitely more than an action hero mowing down enemies in a hail of improbably accurate automatic weapons fire. I have further comment in my review at Destroy All Monsters.
Repo Man (1984) Alex Cox's debut and the definitive '80s punk movie, Repo Man packs more anarchy, satire, strangeness and quotability into 92 minutes than any other flick. Among its endless parade of best moments is when punk-turned-repo-man Otto (Emilio Estevez, in the performance of his career) endures a pretentious speech by a mortally wounded would-be robber in which he blames society, and retorts, "You're a white suburban punk just like me." A superb punk soundtrack is the icing on the cake.
Dead Alive (1992) -- A truly unusual zombie film that combines a level of violence and gore so over-the-top as to become a live-action cartoon, and an incredibly sweet love story. In fact, I tell a lie by calling it a zombie movie. It's a love story in which the complications to the romance between mama's boy Lionel and über-cutie Paquita are the flesh-hungry zombies of Lionel's mother and her victims, rather than contrived situations and misunderstanding cleared up by an emotional denoument.
Say Anything... (1989). Cameron Crowe's directorial debut is a romance movie for people who despair at the idiot-plot claptrap that passes as modern romance movies. It's emotional, intelligent, and populated with sharply drawn and supebly acted characters, even in the minor roles. It's a film that dares treat recent high school graduates as real human beings, not a pack of cynical or sex-mad charicatures, and so utterly wins the viewer's fondness. With his Clash T-shirt and overcoat -- and studious courtesy, honesty, and passion -- John Cusak's Lloyd Dobler is a character I've aspired to emulate. Here's Roger Ebert's Great Movies review of this fine flick.
Raising Arizona (1987) Although I admire the Coen Brothers' work immensely, this early flick remains one of my favorites -- not the least because it's proven an indispensible sanity aid in adjusting to parenthood. Like Repo Man, it's quirky, funny, and relentlessly quotable. Speaking of which, it's rare that I dsagree with Roger Ebert, but I think he misses the point in his review: One of the things that makes Raising Arizona absolutely brilliant is that Nicholas Cage's character H.I. is indeed improbably eloquent in the voice-over -- but he's laconic almost to the point of parody in his speech. Minus the voice-over, H.I. would seem like a parody of an ignorant hick, like several other characters in the film. But listening in to his thoughts, the viewer realizes that this quiet-spoken man is intelligent and imaginative.
Strictly Ballroom (1992) I was tempted to list the insanely kaleidoscopic Moulin Rouge, but I've found myself turning more and more to Baz Luhrman's directorial debut. This modest but charming picture celebrates the joy and freedom of dance, thanks in no small part to the remarkable casting of two talented dancers who also prove highly competent actors. Among the many interesting aspects of this film is its almost offhand transformation of the ugly-duckling female lead into a total babe as a sidenote to her dance rehearsals with the leading man in the film's first act. And if you enjoy this film, don't miss a different take on the same theme in the superb 1996 Japanese flick Shall We Dance?.
This is Spinal Tap (1984) One of the progenitors of the "mockumentary," This Is Spinal Tap a sharply witty satire that nevertheless retains genuine affection for the subject of its mockery. It manages to goof on just about every half-baked musical trend from 1965 to 1982. (Watch for the moment when guitarist Nigel Huffnel plays his guitar with a violin -- not the bow, the violin itself!) And, of course, it's quotable as hell ("There's a fine line between stipid and clever," "these go to 11," "You can't exactly dust for vomit"). Back in the day, I listend to the soundtrack album more than nay other heavy metal save Led Zeppelin. Plus, Fred Willard's in it!
Hard Boiled (1992) As with the work of superb anime director Miyazaki, you could pretty much insert one of several of Woo's Hong Kong films -- A Better Tomorrow, its sequel, The Killer, Bullet in the Head, Once A Thief -- here. But Hard Boiled -- aka Hot-Handed God of Cops -- was Woo's Hong Kong swan song, and what a way to go. The film combines superb performances by Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Philip Kwok (one of the Five Deadly Venoms!) and Anthony Wong with a trio of absolutely stunning set pieces that mark each of the film's three acts.
Pulp Fiction (1994) A film that wouldn't exist if not for the work of John Woo, Quentin Tarantino's pop culutre masterpiece gets the nod over the equally superb Reservior Dogs because the latter features Michael Madsen dancing, while John Travolta and Uma Thurman do the "Batusi" in the former. No contest.
Toy Story 2 (1999) A rare example of a sequel that surpasses the original, Toy Story 2 takes the original's theme of what it means to be a toy and turns it on its head, this time with Woody's crisis upon discovering he's a rare collectible. Plus a song by Riders in the Sky!
Spider-Man (2002) Sam Raimi gets it very nearly perfect in a pleasing entry among a recent series of high-quality films based on comic book heroes. Upon further watching and reflection, the film's climax -- with its imperfect parallel of a very important chapter in Spidey's life -- fails to please. While there's no way audiences would have tolerated the film reflecting the fate of Gwen Stacy, invoking that memory, and yet failing to come through, leaves a sour aftertaste. (Hey, the comic-book Goblin did zap the Roosevelt Island ferry; Raimi could have just stuck with that.) Still, the film's first two acts are, to coin a phrase, amazing, and it's sufficiently true to the beloved character -- at least Peter Parker does not end up with the girl at the end -- that it remains a favorite despite my growing dissatisfaction with the ending.
Aliens (1986) James Cameron pulls off the impressive stunt of making a sequel to a movie whose ending seems to preclude a sequel. Even better, he quite clearly sets his film in the same universe (the production design is marvelous) as the first, with all the appropriate parallels, yet proceeds to make an entirely differnet movie. Where the original Alien is essentially a haunted house picture set in outer space -- they're Trapped With Something Nasty and The Can't Get Out -- Cameron basically does a war picture with the savagely hostile Aliens standing in for Nazis or whatever. Another nice touch is the development of Ripley's character -- having survived her initial ordeal, she's understandably reluctant to go back, but her relationship with the young Newt (although she shows concern for the Marines, she refuses to risk her own neck for them at first -- a nice touch!) motivates her to confront the Aliens and even their fiendish Queen. And Paul Reiser plays the bad guy!
Bull Durham (1988) If you believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days, you gotta love this movie.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) An absolutely stunning and lavish wu xia pian that distills the essence of kung fu flicks for Western audiences while remaining true to its roots. It features superb performances by Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi and Chen Chang, along with The Matrix, showcased the incredible action choreography of Hong Kong master Yuen Woo Ping. Everything works perfectly in this flick, from the acting to the practically non-stop action to the gorgeous scenery and cinematography to the excellent score featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Heathers (1989) Wickedly funny, and sporting the dubious honor of Christian Slater's most overt Jack Nicholson impression.
The Princess Bride (1987) Let's see: Romantic, swashbuckling, satirical, quotable. I'm sensing a pattern here...
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Undoubtedly my favorite of the post-1977 Star Wars movie, and a darn fine film in its own right. What's struck me as particularly impressive about Empire is the superb manner in which it holds up despite its unenviable position as the third chapter in a trilogy. The sophomore entry in the Indiana Jones films is widely considered the weakest of the lot, and although I adore its opening sequence, the rest of the flick fails to live up to its promise. The Matrix, like Star Wars before it, holds up admirably as a self-contained unit -- which is why it gets the nod for this list -- but the second chapter of makes no pretense of not being two-of-three, even ending with "to be continued." And the best thing that can be said about the well-meaning but mediocre Jaws 2 is that the rest of the movies were so much worse that it looks fairly decent in comparison. Trilogy-itis is also why I'm not including any of the Lord of the Rings films; while I found them both entertaining so far, I have to withhold judgement until I can evaluate the series as a whole.
The Economist weight in with a disturbing analysys if the trends in Bush's deficit-ridden economic plan: Front-loaded with enough goodies to ensure re-election, and stuffed with economic poison in the long term that Bush won't have to deal with.
The combination of a sharp economic slowdown, tax cuts and higher spending has transformed America's budget. When Mr Bush ran for office, the fiscal surplus was 2.4% of GDP, one of the highest among big rich countries. By fiscal 2003, the budget deficit had reached 3.5% of GDP. Next year, by official forecasts, it is expected to reach 4.3%
According to the Bush folk, this shift is unfortunate but hardly worrying. America, they claim, was hit by an unprecedented combination of economic slowdown, terrorist attacks and stockmarket collapse. But now, boosted by tax cuts,buoyant growth coupled with disciplined spending will soon stem the red ink.
Not everyone shares this nonchalance. A poll by ABC News and the Washington Post, published on November 2nd, showed that 53% of respondents disapproved of Mr Bush's tax policy. The large cast of Democratic presidential hopefuls claim Mr Bush's tax cuts have been a giveaway to the rich, wrecking the economy and mortgaging the future for America's children.
More sober analysts are also worried. In their most recent poll, members of the National Association of Business Economists described the federal deficit as the biggest problem facing America's economy. A bipartisan coalition of three economic think-tanks—the Committee for Economic Development, the Concord Coalition and the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities—recently declared that, without a change in course, the next decade might be the “most fiscally irresponsible” in the country's history.
...America's budget outlook is far worse than the official forecasts suggest. Among Washington's independent budget experts, the consensus is that the official figures understate the cumulative deficit by about $5 trillion. Rather than a budget that returns to surplus by 2012, America is more likely to see deficits that average 3% of GDP over the next decade.
All these projections assume a healthy average rate of real GDP growth, at 3% a year. Faster growth would improve the outlook, but would not eliminate the spectre of deficits. Contrary to the Bush team's rhetoric, America does not have a small, temporary fiscal problem. It has a large and growing one.
The economic consequences are indisputably negative. Big budget deficits reduce America's already abysmally low saving rate. As the economy's slack is worked off, Uncle Sam's demand for dollars is likely to crowd out private investment and reduce long-term economic growth. Even if the global capital market helps out, America is already enormously reliant on foreigners to fund its spending: the current-account deficit, the measure of annual borrowing from foreigners, is at an historic high of 5.1% of GDP. Big budget deficits will aggravate these external imbalances and so raise the risk of financial volatility, even a dollar crisis. Over the next few years, that is perhaps the biggest risk that Mr Bush's fiscal policies pose for the world economy.
Grim as it is, the medium term appears rosy compared with America's long-term fiscal outlook. The retirement of the baby-boomers, increasing life expectancy and inexorably rising medical costs mean that the cost of funding America's commitment to its old people will soar over the next few decades.
The numbers are mindboggling. According to Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters, in a study for the American Enterprise Institute, the gap between America's future tax revenues and future spending commitments for Social Security and Medicare is $44 trillion, or four times America's GDP. Put another way, government spending on entitlements is set to soar from around 7% of GDP today to 11% in 2020 and 15% in 2040.
...This time the turnaround will be much tougher. There will be no “peace dividend” from the end of the cold war (indeed, the pressure on military spending may continue to increase). America is unlikely to see another stockmarket bubble, with its surge in tax revenues. As baby-boomers retire, the pressure from entitlement spending will be more acute. Set against this background, the path back to a sustainable fiscal policy will be extremely painful, even without any dramatic fiscal crisis. Long after Dubya is back on his ranch, Americans will be trying to recover from the mess he created.
For me, the calculus seems obvious. Yes, economic disaster is the inevitable result of Bush's insane economic plan. But who benefits from said disaster? Either Bush defers paying for his war and other priorities for a later Administration -- a cowardly, not to mention dishonest, maneuver -- or the collapse of government finances fulfills the not-so-secret ambitions of the Grover Norquist crowd -- an agenda not supported by the American people, except in vague "taxes are bad" sloganeering. In other words, what's disturbing about Bush's economic policy is that the problems they cause seem calculated to further the agenda of him and his supporters, not the interests of the American people. Therefore, once again, Bush has no choice to bedishonest about the true costs and benefits of his wacky economic policies, as he knows that the American people don't want what he's really selling.
In the last four school years, the Houston district's own police, who patrol its 80 middle and high schools, have entered 3,091 assaults into a database that is shared with the Houston city police but not with the Texas Education Agency in Austin.
In the same period, the Houston district itself has listed just 761 schoolhouse assaults on its annual disciplinary summaries sent to Austin. That means that the school authorities either have not reported or have reclassified 2,330 incidents described as assaults by the district's police.
The district maintains that its reporting has been entirely proper. Those who disagree point to damage they say can be inflicted on the careers of principals who accurately report a high incidence of disciplinary problems, and to the financing sacrificed by schools that lose student population to expulsion.
School violence reports have taken on new importance since President Bush made a national goal of holding schools accountable for test scores and campus crime. At his insistence, a new federal law requires states to use violence data to identify "persistently dangerous" schools, and Education Secretary Rod Paige, former schools superintendent here, is in charge of enforcing that law.
Experts say that Houston is not the only city underreporting its school crime problems. Earlier this year, school-based police officers rocked the Roanoke, Va., system in accusing principals and district officials of hiding incidents of school crime. In Gwinnett County, Ga., an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that thousands of fights and drug, sex and weapons violations had been left out of school crime reports.
Houston, however, has been held up as a pillar of the so-called Texas miracle in education, though it was battered earlier this year by disclosure of false school statistics: a state audit found that the authorities had failed to report properly thousands of school dropouts, giving the district an impressive-looking but fake dropout rate of just 1.5 percent.
Dr. Michael J. Witkowski, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Detroit Mercy, has studied Houston's school violence and crime reporting system and was a witness last year for two parents who filed suit over the fatal stabbing of their child at Deady Middle School here.
"They're cooking the books," Dr. Witkowski said of school officials. "There are dozens of crimes in Houston schools that you will not see on any official document. Teachers are assaulted, students are beaten up, and these things do not make it into the reports."
By all means, read the whole thing.
Once again, there you have it: Officials announce policy successes as inconvenient facts vanish down the memory hole. That isn't "honor and integrity in government;" it's fraud. And these people are now in charge in the White House. 'Nuff said.
For some reason, over the weekend I dug out my copy of the excellent computer game Fallout and started replaying it. It's an excellent role-playing game. Characters are highly customizable, and the player's choices have a genuine effect on the resulting game. The interface, commerce and combat systems are intuitive and function with an easy point-and-click interface.
Best of all, Fallout presents a vivid and highly detailed post-nuclear world to explore. The "retro future" images have an air of failed optimism that lends the entire game a tinge of sadness. The player is trying to find a processor chip for his (or her) fallout shelter's water purified, and must explore a ruined wasteland to find it. There are plenty of hints of 20th Century life scattered about, from ruined soda machines to old ice chests used as storage lockers to useless hulks of wrecked cars piled up to form a settlement's defensive wall.
This time around, surprisingly, my character discovered the location of a crucial location early in the game thanks to a random encounter. This event completely changes the flow of the game from the last time I played it. I was replaying hte game because I really enjoyed it, but it's even more pleasing to have discovered how open-ended the gameplay is.
Of course, when I took on the desert raiders who had kidnapped an important NPC, I didn't have a rocket launcher...
Today is, apparently, National Make Men Make Dinner Day. Big deal; I do most of the cooking in our household, and so make dinner nearly every night. I quite enjoy cooking, actually; it relaxes me after a day at the office. My only regret is that, since I usually have to hustle to get dinner on the table in time for The Girls to eat at their accustomed hour, I often have to either cut corners or limit my selections to things that cook quickly. But heck, that's just part of parenthood.
But don't despair! Cunard plans to replace the QE2 in transatlantic service with the bigger and more luxurious Queen Mary 2, which makes her maiden voyage in January 2004. Sounds like a second honeymoon plan to me...
MisLeader has the skinny on a story I heard this morning on NPR: The Army Corps of Engineers is apparently preparing to yank one of Halliburton's no-bid contracts.
The Army Corps of Engineers is "likely" to cancel the no-bid contract extension granted a week ago to Halliburton for delivery of oil-related services amid allegations that Halliburton is overcharging the federal government to import oil into Iraq. The decision to revisit the contract extension comes in part due to the assertions from inside the Pentagon that Halliburton's price for imported gasoline was "at least double what it should be."
Jeffrey Jones, the Director of the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), told minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee that it costs the DESC $1.08 to $1.19 to buy and import fuel via truck into Iraq - a price that's less than half the $2.65 Halliburton is charging the US government.
Congress has been critical of the no-bid contract - valued at up to $7 billion, since it was awarded to VP Cheney's former employer, Halliburton. Questioned about the secretive no-bid process in April, then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "the criteria should be followed by the contracting agencies. The White House does not get involved or dictate to agencies on how to award contracts."3 But President Bush signed an executive order within a month of taking office setting terms for executive agency contracting processes, a process the White House said should strive for "the highest quality at the best price to ensure that government is a responsible steward of the American people's hard-earned tax dollars."
For those of you keeping score, that's the Army is going to do it more cheaply and efficiently than the private contractor.
Of course, the downside is no war profiteering steered into the pockets of a big-time Bush campaign contributor, but I suspect Halliburton isn't really hurting. Unless Congress takes a look at its other business practices, of course, but it needn't worry; Republicans are in charge now. The Republican House of Representatives just killed -- at the White House's request, of course -- a provision to Bush's US$87 billion funding request that would have provided criminal penalties for companies that "deliberately defraud the United States or Iraq." As Kicking Ass puts it, "Is it even worth the trouble to connect the dots?"
Hurtubise developed the suit to enable him to stage a close-up encounter with a grizzly bear without being reipped to shreds as a result. After constructing the suit out of hi-tech plastic and titanium, he staged a series in tests in which he stood in the path of a pickup truck traveling at 35 mph and -- in one hysterical sequence -- politely asked a couple of bar toughs to beat him up with pool cues. Unfortunately, although Hurtubise proved nigh-invulnerable in the suit, he also proved nigh-immobile, and unable to follow the bears that, perhaps understandably, gave the animal researcher a wide berth.
I just discovered The Anime Review while searching for a copy of the anime Golgo 13: The Professional, which I saw more than a decade ago aand haven't been able to find since I started looking for it recently. Here's the site's review of that title.
Update: w00t! I located a copy of the dubbed version! VHS only, unfortunately. Now I have to decide if I get it or wait for a DVD version (or both...).
I don't really have much reaction to the New York Times' story this morning that Iraq proposed a last-minute deal, through unofficial channels, to avert the war. The deal was said to indicate Saddam's willingness to prove he didn't have banned weapons through intrusive US-led inspections.
Under any realistic standard, the deal probably was too little, too late, but the real point is that didn't matter. Bush wanted to invade, and he was going to; that's all there was to it. Bush's goal was regime change, period, and he got what he wanted.
The entire problem the US currently faces in Iraq comes as more and more people realize the extent to which Bush and his mai-administration were willing to latch onto any flimsy claim to sell the war and ignore what's increasingly clear was a substantial body of evidence to indicate that 1) we didn't have the evidence Bush claimed and 2) the Iraq occupation would be much more difficult and costly than Bush and his pals claimed.
In short, Bush wanted to invade, and he was entirely willing -- indeed, eager -- to short-circuit the small-d democratic policy process in order to achieve his ambition. It's really rather distressing how many hawks are willing to give Bush a pass on that odious action, but the American people are increasingly disgusted with it and the uncomfortable situation his policies have created. If Bush had leveled with the American people, they might be more willing to accept the sacrifices he requires them to make. But then, if he'd had leveled with the American people, he wouldn't have had much support for his coveted war in the first place.
A change in enforcement policy will lead the Environmental Protection Agency to drop investigations into 50 power plants for past violations of the Clean Air Act, lawyers at the agency who were briefed on the decision this week said.
The lawyers said in interviews on Wednesday that the decision meant the cases would be judged under new, less stringent rules set to take effect next month, rather than the stricter rules in effect at the time the investigations began.
The lawyers said the new rules include exemptions that would make it almost impossible to sustain the investigations into the plants, which are scattered around the country and owned by 10 utilities.
But wait, here's the punch line:
The lawyers said the change grew out of a recommendation by Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, which urged the government two years ago to study industry complaints about its enforcement actions. The Bush administration has said its goal is to ensure cost-effective improvements to air quality.
...while the Bush Administration has acted in a way that makes crystal clear its goal of undermining environmental regulations that inconvenience his mis-administration's cronies in the energy industry. I certainly hope the Democratic Party is taking notes on this one.
The Voyager space probe is nearing the edge of the Solar System, becoming the most distant human-created object at a distance of 90 astronomical units from the Sun. As Voyager crosses the threshhold into interstellar space, astronomers are debating exactly where that border lies.
As of Wednesday, 26 years after its launch, NASA (news - web sites)'s Voyager 1 was 8.4 billion miles from the sun. That's 90 times the distance separating the Earth from our star.
As the robotic spacecraft continues to push far beyond the reach of the nine planets, two teams of scientists disagree whether it passed into the uncharted region of space where the sun's sphere of influence begins to wane.
The sun sends out a stream of highly charged particles, called the solar wind, that carves out a vast bubble around the solar system.
Beyond the bubble's ever-shifting boundary, called the termination shock, lies a region where particles cast off by dying stars begin to hold sway. That region, called the heliopause, marks the beginning of interstellar space and the end of our solar system.
Whether Voyager 1 reached that first boundary or is still on approach remains unclear. On Wednesday, scientists provided evidence for both possibilities. Further details appear Thursday in the journal Nature.
"This is very exciting: Voyager is beginning to explore the final frontier of our solar system," said Edward Stone, the Voyager project scientist. "It's a totally new region we've never been in before."
As I hope my silence on the subject has already indicated, I've decided not to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. The twin writer's demons of "Not Enough Time" (other priorities, really) and "No Idea What to Write About" pretty much put the kibosh on the idea. Oh, well, maybe next year I can unleash a Bad Novel on the world...
What a difference a year makes. Republicans following Karl Rove's war-as-campaign-tactic script last year were gleeful about putting Democrats on the record as supporting Bush's war on Iraq -- or not. But not that it comes to pouring US$87 billion into Iraq -- and Bush cronys' pockets -- Republicans are reluctant to sign on the dotted line.
By rejecting the normal option of a recorded vote, America's senators decided that they did not want to be held individually accountable for our continuing presence in Iraq. That decision speaks far louder than their decision to actually fund our forces there and the Iraqi reconstruction.
...Those Republicans who live by the wedge issue understand when they could die by it, too. There was simply no percentage in compelling members to vote yes on a floundering occupation that could easily grow far worse.
...Bush's decisions -- to wage a unilateral war and exercise unilateral political power during the post-Hussein reconstruction -- have not merely failed in themselves but have dimmed the prospects for more sustainable multinational alternatives.
...Already, the administration is beginning to blame its critics at home for its problems in Iraq. The criticisms voiced by the Democratic presidential candidates, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Georgetown students last week, send "a very unsettling message to Iraqis that our elections might decide their future." But it was Wolfowitz, along with a handful of others, who so inextricably linked America's future -- on which, the last time I looked, Americans had a right to vote -- to a disastrous policy in Iraq.
And it wasn't Democratic critics who forced a Republican-run Senate to cast an unrecorded vote on the occupation. It was Republicans, who voted for the funding but who lack all confidence in the president's chosen course.
Come on, this is Iraq, the glorious GOP crusade. Republicans who supported the war should be proud to endorse the outcome of the policy they insisted on with such mendacity and slimy innuendo.
While it's true that "opponents of the occupation weren't exactly clamoring to be recorded against it either," the fact is that this is a GOP Congress and GOP responsibility.
I'd also take exception -- some "liberal media"! -- to the characterization of "opponents of the occupation." Most Democrats, much more serious about national security than the Republicans who steered the nation into this mess, recognize that we can't afford to cut and run. However, that doesn't mean, once again, that they have to give Bush a blank check -- especially since he's proven so irresponsible with the last one. In short, the term would be "opponents of the measure", not the occupation. In other words, Democrats should refuse to allow the Republicans their dishonest definition of the debate.
In his new column in The Hill, Joshua Marshall delivers a precise rebuttal to the Bush apologists indulging in the revisionist history that Bush didn't portray the so-called threat from Iraq as "imminent."
It’s true that administration officials avoided the phrase “imminent threat.” But in making their argument, Sullivan and others are relying on a crafty verbal dodge — sort of like “I didn’t accuse you of eating the cake. All I said was that you sliced it up and put it in your mouth.”
The issue is not the precise words the president and his deputies used but what arguments they made. And on that count, the record is devastatingly clear.
For more than six months, Bush and his top deputies told Americans that Iraq posed a grave, immediate and imminent threat. Delay risked horrors like WMD terrorist handoffs or mushroom clouds billowing over American cities.
Some now point to statements in which they seem to declaim the idea of an imminent threat. In the State of the Union, for instance, the president said: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late.”
But here the president isn’t ruling out an “imminent threat,” but rather just bending the concept out of all recognition by arguing that the threat will be “imminent” only when we get a formal warning from the potential attackers. And that’s just more of the same rhetorical gobbledygook and obfuscation.
The Bush Administration did indeed take pains to hype the so-called threat from Iraq in grandiose and alarmist terms. Since those claims have proven to be, as many of us suspected, totally unsupported by actual evidence, it's dishonest in the extreme for Bush apologists to give him a pass for his mendacity by denying he ever gave the impression he was bending over backward to give. As Marshall says, we were there. We remember.
The blood center where I donate platelets offers a nice service: You can call an automated service a week after you donate for your blood type and cholesterol level. Unfortunately, in all the years I've been donating, I've been just as consistently forgetting.
Well, thanks to a reminder I programmed into my Palm, I just called. My cholesterol is a highly acceptable 182; levels less than 200 are desirable. I need to remember to program this reminder whenever I donate -- and I need to go in again soon.
The 21-state raid last month exposed an unseemly secret about Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer: Hundreds of illegal immigrants worked at its stores, and its subcontractors appear to have violated overtime, Social Security and workers' compensation laws.
Company officials deny having known that illegal immigrants worked in their stores, saying they required their cleaning contractors to use only legal workers.
But two federal law enforcement officials said in interviews that Wal-Mart executives must have known about the immigration violations because federal agents rounded up 102 illegal immigrant janitors at Wal-Marts in 1998 and 2001. In the October raid, federal agents searched the office of an executive at Wal-Mart's headquarters, carting away boxes of papers. Federal officials said prosecutors had wiretaps and recordings of conversations between Wal-Mart officials and subcontractors.
The use of illegal workers appeared to benefit Wal-Mart, its shareholders and managers by minimizing the company's costs, and it benefited consumers by helping hold down Wal-Mart's prices. Cleaning contractors profited, and thousands of foreign workers were able to earn more than they could back home.
But the system also had its costs — janitors said they were forced to work seven days a week, were not paid overtime and often endured harsh conditions. Foreigners got jobs that Americans might have wanted. And taxpayers sometimes ended up paying for the illegal workers' emergency health care or their children's education in American schools.
I actually disagree that many Americans would have been willing to take the place of these workers; that's why recruiters look overseas, after all. But when you think about it, the fact that Americans are accustomed to perks like, oh, weekends off is the result of a century of progressive labor policy. And these very policies are under attack by the cheap-labor conservatives. The Democrats used to have a good slogan that went something like, "If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democrat." There's an obvious corrolary: If you want to live like a illegal immigrant wage slave, vote Republican.
This morning's New York Times takes note of the pains George Bush has been taking to de-emphasize the rising casualty count in Iraq.
after some of the deadliest attacks yet on American forces, the White House is struggling with the political consequences for a president who has said little publicly about the mounting casualties of the occupation.
The quandary for Mr. Bush, administration officials say, is in finding a balance: expressing sympathy for fallen soldiers without drawing more attention to the casualties by commenting daily on every new death.
White House officials say their strategy, for now, is to avoid having the president mention some deaths but not others, and so avoid inequity.
...Republicans also acknowledge that White House officials, mindful of history, do not want Mr. Bush to become hostage to daily body counts, much as President Lyndon B. Johnson was during the Vietnam War.
...Some Republicans say they are concerned that the White House strategy leaves the president open to accusations from Democrats that he is isolated from the real pain of war.
If Bush's actions create that perception, he'll have no one to blame but himself.
The article paints an interesting picture of a genuine political dillema, and makes absolutely clear Bush's cowardice in confronting it. Once again, Bush places his own political success over doing the right thing.
And one more thing: His administration may not have created the rule, but the Bush team's clampdown on press coverage of returning bodies is simply despicable. It just goes to show that the only way Bush can sell his policies is by decieving the American public as to their true costs.
Update: CalPundit wieghs in with a perceptive notion: for all his insistence that we won't cut and run, Bush isn't really telling us what we hope to accomplish by staying -- in other words, what those Americans are dying for (especially since more and more Americans seem to be skeptical of Bush Administration's spin claiming Iraq as a vital part of the war on terrorism).
Why doesn't Bush tell us why it's important to stay in Iraq? I mean really tell us. Not just in negative terms ("we won't be scared away") but in positive terms of what his goal is. What does he really, truly want to accomplish?
And why are his conservative supporters letting him get away with staying silent? Surely they must know that America's willingness to expend hundreds of lives and billions of dollars depends on believing that our goal is worth it. The longer that Bush avoids talking about it, the more likely it is that public support will decline and the cherished goals of the national greatness conservatives will go up in smoke.
It's a dangerous game they're playing. The neocons, who seem like they're still the strongest faction among the policy elite, have their own set of reasons for wanting to occupy Iraq, but they're afraid to push them at a mass level because they know perfectly well that the American public won't buy them. This means that the booster-in-chief is limited to lame explanations that are long on emotional heartstrings but short on substance — explanations that over time are becoming less and less satisfying to Joe and Jane Sixpack.
Of course, it's typical of Bush to eschew hard, measurable goals in favor of vague, feel-good talk. After all, definitive statements are the sort of thing that one might be held accountable to, and his inevitable failure neccessitates all sorts of goalpost moving and revisionist history.
Update 2: Maureen Dowd's Thursday Times column addresses this topic: "[L]et's look at it from the president's point of view: if he grieves more publicly or concretely, if he addresses every instance of bad news, like the hideous specter of Iraqis' celebrating the downing of the Chinook, he will simply remind people of what's going on in Iraq. So it's understandable why, going into his re-election campaign, Mr. Bush wouldn't want to underscore that young Americans keep getting whacked over there, and we don't know who is doing it or how to stop it."
There's a good discussion on the implications of the elections going on over at Daily Kos. I agree that the loss of two southern governorships -- while certainly displeasing -- is hardly a disaster for the Democratic Party. And in Kentucky, the Patton sex/corruption scandal no doubt proved an unshakable millstone around the campaign of his Democratic successor hopeful. That said, I'm less than satisfied with the track record being racked up by the current Democratic political leadership.
Of course, the most important implication is that for the next four years, residents of Kentucky and Mississippi will have to live under Republican governors -- and all that that implies. That's the bottom line; as we've learned with Bush and Republican presidents as far back as I can remember, when you put a Republican in the White House, you get Republican-style government: poor economic performance, lackluster job creation, corporate cronysim, neglect, malfeasance, and low accountability. There's little reason to be confident that Governor-elect Fletcher has workable solutions for jobs and health care. Voters just may realize why they've been sending Democrats to the governor's mansion all along.
The irony is, the more elections Republicans win, the less they'll be able to blame the cruddy results of their parties on anyone else. That's the main historical trend working against them. Now that they've ended the long national nightmare of peace and prosperity that characterized Democratic leadership, it's inevitable -- I hope -- that voters will see through the Republican spin and smear tactics to the fundamental failures of their tired ideas. But it's absolutely imperative that the Democratic leadership make clear to voters the difference, without tacitly conceding half the debating points in advance, as their current meek strategy seems to have been.
Naomi Wolf is right, ever since I saw my first pornographic image back in my teen years, I've lost all interest in having sex with actual women.
No . . . wait . . . that didn't happen at all. . . .
Wolf's article is just silly. By her reasoning, as well, the proliferation of pr0n on the Internet would mean that Amerrican culture would have become steadily less sex-obsessed since the 1980s. Yeah, right.
A poster to the comment thread also made the astute observation that if Ms. Wolf is upset with American-style pornography, she should stay the heck out of Japan.
The president has urged an accelerated training schedule for the Iraqi army. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says that more Iraqi troops, and not Americans, would be the best answer to his problems. Members of Congress from both parties cheer the idea, as do most columnists. On the political side, the administration has speeded up its timetable to transfer power.
...This new impulse has less to do with Iraqi democracy than with American democracy. The president wants to show, in time for his reelection, that Iraqis are governing their affairs and Americans are coming home. But it might not work out that way.
Putting more Iraqi soldiers and police on the ground makes sense. By taking care of routine policing and security, they will free the U.S. Army to conduct raids, pursue leads and fight the guerrillas. But the desperation to move faster and faster is going to have bad results. Accelerating the training schedule (which has already been accelerated twice before) will only produce an ineffective Iraqi army and police force. Does anyone think that such a ragtag military could beat the insurgency where American troops are failing?
...If the American footprint is reduced, it will not make the guerrillas stop fighting. ("Hey, Saddam, we've scared the Americans back into their compounds. Let's ease up now and give them a break.") On the contrary, the rebels will step up their attacks on the Iraqi army and local politicians, whom they already accuse of being collaborators. Iraqification could easily produce more chaos, not less.
The idea of a quick transfer of political power is even more dangerous. The Iraqi state has gone from decades of Stalinism to total collapse. And there is no popular national political party or movement to hand power to. A quick transfer of authority to a weak central government would only encourage the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds to retain de facto autonomy in their regions and fragment the country.
For the neoconservatives in the Pentagon, a quick transfer fulfills a pet obsession, installing in power the Iraqi exiles led by Ahmad Chalabi. Last week the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted a senior administration official as saying, "There are some civilians at the Pentagon who've decided that we should turn this over to someone else and get out as fast as possible." But every indication we have is that the exiles do not have broad popular support.
There are no shortcuts out. Iraq is America's problem. It could have been otherwise, but in the weeks after the war the administration, drunk with victory, refused to share power with the world. Now there can be only one goal: success. The first task of winning the peace in Iraq is winning the war -- which is still being waged in the Sunni heartland. And winning it might take more troops, or different kinds of troops (send back the Marines). It might take a mixture of military force and bribes -- to win over some Sunni leaders. But whatever it takes, the United States must do it. Talk about a drawdown of troops sends exactly the wrong message to the guerrillas. In the words of one North Vietnamese general, "We knew that if we waited, one day the Americans would have to go home."
Darn right I was against this war, and for no small amount because of the likelihood of this exact problem -- that Bush's invasion would leave the US less secure, not more, to say nothing of a healthy -- and obviously, now, justified -- skepticism that Dubya's team was competent enough to pull it off.
I realize, of course, that it matters not one whit to Bush that, as the occupying power, it's the United States' duty under international law to provide stability, services and security. But Bush's Iraqification pipedream is the most overt sacrifice yet of America's national interest for Bush's political gain. Iraq was neither a threat nor a haven for international terrorists before Bush's invansion, but as a result, it is now. Bush must indeed stay the course, and if the result is a well-deserved defeat at the polls, so be it. With more and more American families enduring the sacrifice of their loved ones on the altar of Bush's and the neocons' ambitions, it's only fitting that they should take their medicine as well.
Speaking of the Post, another article this morning noted the oddity of Bush playing up the economy -- which has been long in the doldrums, but recently showed encouraging signs -- while Democrats pointed out the clear failures of Bush's Iraq policy to live up to its promises. Of course, the economy might continue a robust recovery. Then again, it might not, and regardless, it seems impossible that it would heat up so much as to leave Bush with a net gain of jobs created on his watch. But there's almost no hope of the Iraq situation improving much, especially with the Bush Administration's steadfast desire to avoid confronting its own misjudgements and their consequences.
I've never equated sales, good or bad, with quality, and Princess Mononoke was pretty much the first ever attempt to release something like that into movie theatres in the US. [Ed: As some Slashdot readers pointed out, Gaiman's comment doesn't take Akira into account.] I took much more pleasure in seeing how close we got to 100% at RottenTomatoes.com than I was ever bothered by its box office.
Do I think Miramax could have handled it better? Probably, in a lot of ways -- for example, there was some silliness in the beginning where, once I'd written five drafts of the script, each word having to be approved each time by Ghibli and Miramax, they gave my final draft to someone to make sure that the mouth movements matched the script, and then cut me out of the loop for six months. The person who did the mouth-flap draft didn't like my script, and rewrote it. His version was what was recorded, initially. They screened it. It was a disaster. Then they called me back in and let me work with the director, Jack Fletcher, and he and I went back and put as much of my original dialogue back in as we could, but it all had to be recorded fairly fast at this point. I was proud of the final product, but wished that I'd been included during the period when everything went wrong: it would have made things a lot easier, and we could have been polishing at the end rather than desperately fixing things.
Harvey Weinstein really wanted to trim it. It's a long film. If Ghibli had let him trim, Miramax might have gone much wider with the film, and more movie theatres might have taken a chance on it -- but then, the audience would have been (rightly) complaining about not having been shown the whole film, as it was made, and I'd probably now be answering questions on Slashdot about whether the restoration of the missing minutes on the DVD made up for losing them in the cinemas...
Having said all that, Miramax didn't throw it away: they released it into the "ten major markets", and if the audiences had come out for it, then its theatrical release would have got much wider. Probably best simply to view it as a step on the way to something...
Of course, political junkies will be reading the election tea leaves for any signs of increased voter perception of Bush's plentiful vulnerabilities. One race to watch will be the Kentucky gubernatorial election. Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler has been running on an anti-Bush platform, but has suffered from association with the scandal-plagued Governor Paul Patton. Recent polls have seemed to indicate Republican Ernie Fletcher pulling away after a relentlessly negative campaign in which he implied that Attorney General Ben Chandler, who has been prosecuting corruption in state office, has instead been perpetrating it. A judge recently let stand a Republican plan to install "poll watchers" in a number of predominantly black -- and presumably Democratic -- Jefferson County precincts.
If turnout is low -- as is expected here in Indiana, despite unseasonably warm weather -- I doubt any trends that emerge will be particularly strong one way or the other. Of course, any indication of backlash against Bush less than a year before the presidential election will be welcome. But it's a long year ahead, during which the Democrats must not fail to call voters' attention to the miserable failure that is the inevitable result of Bush policy.
Update: I just got back from voting. If there's a local election in your area, I urge you to do so as well.
Holy cow...Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused) has a Web log. In an extraordinary alphabetic coincidence, he falls on the blogroll adjacent to actor-turned-blogger Wil Wheaton. And according to Wiggins' résumé, he's been a busy (not to mention multi-talented) guy...
Let's turn to Paul Wolfowitz for a shining example of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy that's behind the hawks' Iraq policy:
Q: Hi, Mr. Wolfowitz. My name is Ruthy Coffman. I think I speak for many of us here when I say that your policies are deplorable. They're responsible for the deaths of innocents and the disintegration of American civil liberties. [Applause] We are tired, Secretary Wolfowitz, of being feared and hated by the world. We are tired of watching Americans and Iraqis die, and international institutions cry out in anger against us. We are simply tired of your policies. We hate them, and we will never stop opposing them. We will never tire or falter in our search for justice. And in the name of this ideal and the ideal of freedom, we assembled a message for you that was taken away from us and that message says that the killing of innocents is not the solution, but rather the problem. Thank you. [Applause and jeers]
Wolfowitz: I have to infer from that that you would be happier if Saddam Hussein were still in power. [Applause]
...Q: I'd just like to say that people like Ruthy and myself have always opposed Saddam Hussein, especially when Saddam Hussein was being funded by the United States throughout the '80s. And -- [Applause] And after the killings of the Kurds when the United States increased aid to Iraq. We were there opposing him as well. People like us were there. We are for democracy. And I have a question.
What do you plan to do when Bush is defeated in 2004 and you will no longer have the power to push forward the project for New American Century's policy of American military and economic dominance over the people of the world? [Applause]
Wolfowitz: I don't know if it was just Freudian or you intended to say it that way, but you said you opposed Saddam Hussein especially when the United States supported him.
It seems to me that the north star of your comment is that you dislike this country and its policies. [Applause]
And it seems to me a time to have supported the United States and to push the United States harder was in 1991 when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering those innocents so viciously.
As you may have noticed, blogging is light so far this week. I'm busy with some other projects at this time. I'm hoping to complete the Halloween roundup and link clearance soon, and I'll have other posts as time permits.
I've also come to realize that if I see something blog-worthy, I should post on it right away. Saving a desktop shortcut for later perusal is no guarantee I'll post everything I want to, at least in the form I'd prefer.
The political challenge posed to President Bush by the deadly helicopter attack in Iraq on Sunday is this: how to keep public opinion from swinging against him over Iraq while not abandoning his quest to bring a stable democracy to that country.
Americans have been dying for months in Iraq, attacked by an enemy whose nature remains murky. But the downing of the Chinook helicopter, which killed 16 soldiers, brought the insurgency to a new level and suggested its growing effectiveness.
Up to now the American people, in their majority, have backed the Iraq campaign, and the Bush administration has vowed repeatedly to stay the course, even through an election year.
But administration officials and military commanders have also been dismissive of the insurgency in a way that may now be questioned. On Saturday, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top American commander in Iraq, said the attacks were "strategically and operationally insignificant."
Whatever the merits of that claim — and the downing of a helicopter would not seem insignificant — it might be beside the point. The well-armed and apparently coordinated guerrilla attacks on American forces, on Iraqis who are cooperating with them, on international institutions and on ordinary civilians seem to have a common purpose: undermining American resolve and sowing doubt in Iraq and elsewhere.
Twice in the past two weeks, the Iraqi opposition has hit high-profile U.S. targets that had been largely beyond its reach, an escalation that may prove more significant strategically than tactically because of the increased political pressure it puts on the Bush administration.
Yesterday's hand-held missile attack on an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter, which killed 16 soldiers and wounded 20, was the first lethal downing of a U.S. aircraft in Iraq since last spring's war. That attack followed by just a week a sophisticated rocket assault on the Baghdad hotel inside U.S. lines where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was staying. That came on top of lethal bombings of the U.N. headquarters in the capital and then that of the Red Cross.
"They are pretty good at surprise and finding the weak spots -- the U.N., then the Red Cross, now this," noted Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In tactical terms, yesterday's action was troubling but unlikely to result in major changes in how the U.S. military operates on the ground and in the skies over Iraq. Helicopter pilots will be more wary of urban areas, and U.S. commanders probably will order up more counter-ambush operations, using aerial surveillance and ground patrols.
But the latest round of attacks in Iraq, and especially yesterday's deaths -- which amounted to the biggest single day of losses since last spring's conventional war -- may prove more significant in strategic terms.
"It is damaging not only because of the tragic human toll, but also because it looks like a dramatic escalation in lethality and therefore begs obvious questions: Are all helicopters at risk now? Are we losing the initiative? Who is winning?" said Peter D. Feaver, a former National Security Council staff member who teaches political science at Duke University.
"If the attacks get interpreted as evidence that the Baathist holdouts are winning, then attacks like this can be as lethal for public support as they are for the soldiers involved," he said.
Indeed, the helicopter downing came as two worrisome trends face the Bush administration. In Iraq, there are signs that the anti-U.S. opposition is escalating its attacks both in numbers and sophistication. Even while the U.S. intelligence haul in Iraq is improving, commanders there said, the fighters attacking them also are becoming more effective.
Meanwhile, the American public's support for President Bush's handling of the war is declining, which makes the situation even more volatile. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week, a slight majority -- 51 percent of those interviewed -- said they disapprove of his handling of it.
Of course people are going to disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq. The picture emerging of Bush's Iraq policy seems to be composed of equal parts bravado and wishful thinking, with generous amounts of incompetence, mendacity, and cronyism, oversalted with a rampant contempt for history.
Over the weekend, I detected some some rumblings that Bush is looking for a way to get us out of Iraq in time for Election Day 2004.
I never wanted us to invade Iraq at this time. I much preferred fighting the real war on terrorism, which involved bringing al Qaeda and the Taliban to their knees while rebuilding Afghanistan as a successful state. I was always skeptical of the Bush Administration's grandiose and alarmist claims about Iraq's weapons, and the alleged al Qaeda connection, especially given its conspicuous failure to produce the promised evidence.
(Lunaville performs the valuable service of reminding us that most of the American public were similarly skeptical and reluctant; widespread support for the war didn't arise, inevitably, until after Bush launched his coveted invasion. Hat tip: Fester's Place, who also has some good analysis of the implications of the SAM attack.)
But now that we're there, we have no choice but to stay until Iraq is stabilized. As Matthew Yglesias aptly points out, a key element -- seemingly beyond the capacity of this Administration -- is to recognize when our policy ios not achieving the desired results, and then change the policy. Pretending that everything's just great in Iraq, that more frequent, more deadly and more sophisticated attacks are a sign of "desperation", and that security doesn't matter but rebuilt schools do, hardly lends confidence in Bush's ability to deal with this crisis. But cutting and running is not an option. We need to change the policy, which means acknowledging Bush's miserable failure, and assigning him responsibility for the Americans and innocent Iraqis sacrificed in the name of his war ambitions.
For one last Iraq-related link, the WaPo has a fascinating article on the thinking from Saddam's government based on information from former official Tariq Aziz.
This interesting AP article discusses the opposite of link rot (the tendency of hyperlinks to go bad as information they point to is moved or deleted).
After Ajay Powell quit smoking and decided to run the Honolulu Marathon in 2001, she created a Web site to track her progress, updating it weekly with photographs and tallies of her training miles.
Powell updated it again the following year when she entered a seven-day, 585-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But the site has nothing on her results in that ride or any other endurance events Powell has since tackled.
Her site remains frozen in time.
Like many others who enthusiastically start Web sites and Web journals known as blogs, Powell lost interest. The Internet's novelty wore off.
"It was 100 percent the first two or three months of my training for the marathon, then I started to get resentful at having to put these pictures up," said Powell, who lives in Stockton, Calif. "It got increasingly tedious to keep up. I just let that thing go to pot."
One study of 3,634 blogs found that two-thirds had not been updated for at least two months and a quarter not since Day One. [Emphasis added.]
"Some would say, `I'm going to be too busy but I'll get back to it,' but never did," said Jeffrey Henning, chief technology officer with Perseus Development Corp., the research company that did the study. "Most just kind of stopped."
...Kurtzman, who uses the site now to promote a newsletter on business and innovation, knows the troubles abandoned sites like his can pose. He'll find a site he likes, only to learn later the information is old.
"Having extra junk out there just makes the process of searching for good stuff even harder," Kurtzman said.
But just as libraries wouldn't think of dumping musty, out-of-print books, Web designers shouldn't rush to remove yesteryear's castoffs, said Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"I do hear pretty frequently not so much that there's deadwood, but that sites go away without a trace," Jones said.
I'll admit that I'm partially guilty as well. Although I've done fairly well at keeping this Web log updated, I've completely ceased maintaining the larger Web site it's a part of. I keep meaning, in fact, to just delete the old site, but I haven't gotten 'round to it. (I want to blank out the existing HTML pages and put in code to forward any chance visitors to the blog. It's a simple cut and past job, but obviously not high on my list of priorities.)
Of course, the Internet has practically infinite capacity -- it's just a matter of data storage, and you can always add more. Abandoned Web sites and blogs are really no more harm than diaries or other projects begun and never finished.