Damn, I Wish I’d Said It That Clearly

From the now-dormant ‘Disgusted Liberals‘ website on the election:

Scheiber describes some of the institutional factors, including Democrats’ persistent hard money disadvantage, that lead to reliance on a few, centrally-managed pollsters. But he ignores the key characteristic of the modern Democratic Party that leads most directly to misuse of pollsters: the fact that Democrats are, by and large, a post-ideological party, a party driven more by polls and interest groups than by conviction or principle.

In short, although many Republican ideas are bad, at least they have them. Until the same can be said about Democrats, they will continue to lose — especially in the current environment, where the existence of big, scary problems makes the electorate more receptive to ideological solutions.

…hat tip to MyDD, in a post about Amy Sullivan’s great Washington Monthly column ‘Fire the Consultants.’

Hit Squads And “Pacifists”

Newsweek broke the ‘death squad’ story this week, in which they describe a range of possible rules of engagement that involve using proxies or Special Forces-led proxies to covertly attack – i.e. assassinate – the leaders of the B’aathist/Islamist forces.

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called “snatch” operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.

Personally, I’m strongly against an organized effort to create assassination squads, and have said so for quite some time.

I assume that we have Special Forces troops and friendly Iraqis mingling where they can to gather intelligence – and also that we ought to have more of them. I’m not at all opposed to ‘opportunistic’ use of those forces to target and kill or capture enemy leaders.But to create a whole force specifically to do that and wage a ‘shadow war’ would be – as I’ve said in the past – far more damaging than helpful.

It would be damaging largely because by their nature such efforts must be covert, and thus unaccountable. They deal in death on a retail level, and the people who must practice and control such efforts must become used to operating outside even the boundaries of civilized violence and mayhem. So in creating such a force, we’d be creating and subsidizing a group whose explicit mission was to kill outside of any accountable control, who would necessarily associate with people who don’t have much regard for the rules of civilization and whose activities would take place deliberately away from any kind of scrutiny.

When I read the article, I assumed that the antiwar folks would leap on it as a way to tie Iraq back to the discredited (justly or unjustly? At some point I need to learn enough history to know…) wars in Central America. I find that deliciously ironic, as many of those same antiwar folks argued two years ago that – as an alternative to invasion – we should just go covertly track and kill the leaders of terrorist groups.

Back in April 2004, Jim Henley said:

For one thing, I would continue to harry the men and organization behind the September 2001 atrocities to the ends of the earth. “Don’t Tread on Me” is my policy, and that’s what Al Qaeda did. Bite back hard.

What if Iraq becomes a weak state complete with Al Qaeda training camps and weapons labs? See scare quotes around “wait” and the part about harrying the people behind the attacks on the US to the ends of the earth, above. If camps set up, we pound hell out of them. It’s not like we don’t know how to bomb Iraq.

Today, he says:

And speaking of inevitable atrocities, get ready for Iraqi death squads.

All together now: Saddam was worse! In terms of body count in Iraq this is true, though the man had a big head start on us, so we ought to be allowed a couple of decades to catch up. But what about the world ? Is it better? And are we? We have gone from a time in which the tyrant of an oil patch with a broken army and 23 million inhabitants practiced a tyranny which all decent people abhorred, to a time in which the largest and most powerful country in the history of mankind justifies torture and contemplates assassination teams – we should call them terror squads – as official policy. And the people who most consider our virtue unchallengeable are the quickest to publicly avow our need to torture and murder. That is quite a change. Is it hard to see why so much of the world regards it as unwelcome?

Jim, I hate to break it to you – and all the others I’ve argued with over the last two years – but your policies of covert action and assassination that you though were viable alternatives to invasion?

This is what they look like.

And for you to have advocated them – and Jim is certainly not the only one (I’ll add links as I have time to do some searching) who did – and then stand pointing at this ill-advised proposal as evidence of the Administration’s moral bankruptcy is a joke. Be consistent, folks, at least.

I’d Meant To Blog This…

…because it ties so neatly to the ‘fox and the hedgehog’ metaphor from my January 4th article. This quote is from William Gibson’s blog.:

“I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride.”

— William James

On Behalf of All Californians…

I’d like to apologize for the grandstanding, stupid, empty, symbolic, and counterproductive gesture by our junior Senator, Barbara Boxer.

Signing up to challenge the Electoral Vote count today is the kind of thing that will definitely send fear coursing through the boots of the Republicans who aren’t laughing themselves to death and editing together video to use against Democrats in the next election.

Way to go, Senator!!

Today I was thrilled to read the L.A. Times.

[Check the update…]

Flipping to the California section, I was greeted by a photo of our friend, Michael Richard, and one of his photographs. He’s becoming an acclaimed abstract photographer, specializing in images based in urban cityscapes.

And he’s legally blind.

Richard, whose primary occupation is as a musician, had specialized in nature photography before surgery in early 2002 to remove a malignant tumor left him sightless in his right eye. Born with a condition called acute amblyopia that made his left eye basically nonfunctional, he suddenly found himself unable to see anything distinctly.

For a visual artist, it was devastating.

Richard could only make out shapes with his left eye. Objects in front of him were ethereal and diffused, as if viewed through glass smeared with petroleum jelly.

“It’s like the world is a very Impressionistic painting,” he said. “Only the broadest of lines are shown — it’s like the most extreme soft-focus photo that you can imagine.”

So he wasn’t expecting much when he enrolled in the photo class taught by former Life magazine photographer Jack Birns.

“I was anticipating that this was going to be a joke,” Richard said. “How can the blind take pictures?”

Since his class, Michael has participated in six or seven shows, at increasingly prominent galleries. I was talking about him with a friend who’s a painter, and her response was a mixture of astonishment and envy.

She should be jealous, his work is damn good.

TG and I have watched Michael and his wife Patrice as they faced the hardships and anxiety that came with Michael’s illness. And I have been filled with admiration for their resilience, determination, and optimism.

Michael and his band played at our wedding, and he told me he was happy to be a part of our day of joy. Today, I’m happy to read such a public acknowledgement of his deserved success.


The article doesn’t mention that Michael will have photos in a huge photography exposition later this month (January 20-23 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium). He’ll be part of the “View From Here” booth with several other visually impaired photographers. Here’s a link for more info…]

More Polls From Iraq

Via ‘Baghdad Dweller‘:

This poll was published in Al-Sabah newspaper showing that “terrorists” have failed to to dissuade Iraqis from votin, many be willing to take on the risks necessary to wrench back control of their nation. Even in a dangerous, quasi democratic election.

The poll was of 4974 Iraqis living in and around Baghdad.

The following is the translation of the poll and the results:

Will the security problems cause you to?
Not come out and vote the day of elections = 18.3%
Come out and vote the day of elections = 78.3%
No opinion = 3.4%

Do you support the Iraqi Government having its own official newspaper?
Yes = 67.7%
No = 30.9%
Do Not know = 1.4%?

Do you support military action against the terrorists?
Yes = 87.7 %
No = 11.1%
Don’t Know = 1.2%

On Blogs And Media – Again

There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog’s one defense. But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general.

For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel-a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance-and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle; these last lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second; Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, Proust are, in varying degrees, hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzak, Joyce are foxes.

– Isaiah Berlin “The Hedgehog and the Fox

Harry Brighouse Henry Farrell [how in the world did I blow this one?], over at Crooked Timber weighs in critically on the blogs vs media arguments, which he characterizes as

The perennial issue of mainstream media bias and the superiority of blogs is undergoing a minor revival in the right wing blogosphere at the moment, much of it centered on a column by Nick Coleman of the Star-Tribune, which has the temerity to take on PowerLine. Coleman’s effort to “fact-check” the factcheckers is rather weak, but his main point is hard to refute – it’s a bit rich for slavering right wing hacks to accuse the mainstream media of ideological bias and expect to get taken seriously.

No, it’s not, actually.

Here’s the interesting point that Harry and others who criticize the blogosphere by criticizing individual blogs consistently seem to miss.

Yes, Glen and Powerline and Talking Points Memo and – gasp – even Winds of Change have biases, gaps, and flaws.

The question isn’t whether individually – mano a mano – we’re better than journalists are. We’re not. Mostly we’re not because we do this part-time while we have full-time jobs elsewhere, and because we don’t have the resources and social capital (“Please take my call, I’m a blogger…”) that the traditional media do. It’s not that journalists are smarter; I continue to be impressed by the intelligence and span of knowledge of people I meet in the blogging community.

And just go look below, or at my review of columns in the L.A. Times to ask whether there really is some slant in the mainstream media.

Skipping over Harry’s inflammatory “slavering right wing hacks” for the moment, let’s go looking for substance…

On which, see further Matt Welch’s entertaining takedown of Hugh Hewitt. There’s a curious sort of doublethink going on here, which culminates in a sort of dodge-the-responsibility two-step. On the one hand, bloggers like Glenn Reynolds respond to their critics by saying that they can’t cover everything, and that they’re not providing a news service, only opinions. On the other hand, they seem to believe that blogs should radically change or replace the mainstream media. Either of these statements is reasonable enough on its own,1 but taken in conjunction, they’re pretty jarring. If you think that blogs should replace the mainstream media, then you should be prepared yourself to live up to some minimal standards of scrupulosity, intellectual honesty, and willingness to deal fairly with facts that are uncomfortable for your own ideological position. You should be prepared to live up yourself to the standards that you demand of others. Exercising the “shucks, I’m just a little old blogger” get-out clause is rank hypocrisy when you want the blogosphere to devour the New York Times whole. Funny that Reynolds et al. don’t see it that way.

No, I think it’s that Harry misses the point, and it’s the same point missed in a party conversation a long time ago:

In the discussion, I had substantive issues with his points, which were essentially that journalism is superior to blogging because it has an editorial process which drives it toward ‘fairness’ (he felt that objectivity was impossible and not necessarily even desirable), but a fairness informed by the moral sensibilities of the institution (I’m pulling a short argument out of a long and somewhat rambling discussion). Bloggers obviously don’t.

I tried to make the suggestion to him that individual blogs weren’t necessarily good at driving toward fairness, but that the complex of blogs – the dialog and interaction between blogs – was, and might in fact be better than mainstream media, isolated as they are from feedback. (Note that Perry from Samizdata got this point before I finished the sentence).

That’s still the issue. It’s not whether Glenn Reynolds is more accurate at describing events than the New York Times, it’s about the notion that the complex of blogs – from Kos to LGF via Crooked Timber and Diplomad – is better at describing events.

If you’re just reading Winds of Change, you’re making a horrible mistake. One of the things that worries me about sites like Kos and LGF is the idea that the communities there are so big and active that many folks might just stay there – after all, it’s ideologically comfy for them (either because they agree with the framing beliefs of the site or because they reject them and get pleasure from looking at all the idiots who disagree with them).

The strength of the blogs is the strength of the fox; we know many things and among ourselves don’t try to tie them into one overarching narrative. The reader gets to do that.

Actually, think Seurat. The dots become colors and then images. It’s up to you – the reader – to look at enough of them to assemble those images.

UPDATE: The American philosopher William James also had a quote worth reading on the great vs. the small. Joe had a Dec. 31 recent post discussing Why 2004 Was The Year of the Blog, and Tim Oren follows up with a VC/strategist’s analysis of blog strengths, media weaknesses, and potential opportunities in Citizens’ Media in 2005: A Year to Dream Big.

So TG has a friend who works at NPR

Her friend sent her an email linking to a site about Iraq and depleted Uranium; here’s a quote from the site:

Four of my aunts and uncles are doctors in the main Hospitals in both Baghdad and Mosul. From contact with them, I can only imagine what it does to a doctor’s heart to try to heal, knowingly in vain, a people who now may have become the first victims of irreparable, long-term geno-contamination in human history. Already at the Conference on Nuclear Arms in Hamburg, October 2003, Dr. Katsuma Yagasaki, Prof. of Science at the University of Ryukyus, Okinawa, reported the US had dropped on Iraq the equivalent of 250,000 times the radioactive nuclear waste dropped on Nagasaki. Different from Nagasaki, however, the contamination in Iraq is widespread, dispersed over entire regions of the country, bullets, strewn casings, armor, fragments, shrapnel … all containing radioactive waste.

I replied with this email:

Back to him…here’s a pretty good roundup, including a fair number of papers pointing out that there have been no known epidemiological effects from the use of DU; that the most likely mechanism for health effects is heavy-metal toxicity, for which lead would be worse. To my knowledge (and I’ve glanced) there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies since then that show anything different. (I blogged it back in 03)

He replied to TG with this:

Dear [TG]:

Given the overwhelming known evidence of the effects of depleted uranium on US troops who fought during the first Gulf War, and given the Fox News-like tendency in the literature cited by your husband to condemn as “leftist” anyone who is concerned about this problem, perhaps we should just lay aside this dialogue while we’re ahead.

And I replied with this:

XXXX, [TG] passed on to me your comment that “it’s better that we don’t discuss this” because the page I sent over was “Fox News-ish”.

I’m sorry to have triggered that reaction in you; I was lazy and sent a summary page from a blog rather than the individual links.

If you’ll look at them, you’ll note that the research cited is from the WHO, National Defense Research Institute at RAND, European Commission (of the EU), Science magazine, Nature magazine, the Royal Society, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, and the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. It’s not some clowns sitting around in surplus fatigues in front of their computers. As I noted, there has never … to my knowledge … been a peer-reviewed article that suggested that there are meaningful health impacts from DU (as opposed to the real health impacts from living in a place where DU exists because there has been combat).

I’m a Peter Bienert Democrat who primarily listens to KPCC, but I’m also someone who is worried that junk science badly damages our ability to make smart policy decisions and worse, damages the credibility of the environmental movement. We live in an era when we have to assume that our facts will be checked, and where we need to make our arguments both from facts that tell us what the world is and from our beliefs in what kind of word we want it to be.

And I’m really saddened to hear that you … as someone who makes a living in journalism … would filter what you read by your distaste for the “wrapper” it was presented in. As a consumer of media, let me as gently as possible suggest that until that attitude changes, the credibility and effectiveness of your profession will continue to be under strong attack, and you won’t be able to do the job that is so badly needed – of bringing the truth to the people.


Saddened, but not surprised.

Operation ‘Fill A FedEx Jet With Aid for Tsunami Victims’

Have I mentioned that FedEx is just freaking amazing?

The help they have given Spirit of America and Operation Give is incredible, but Operation Give’s Plunge and Chief Wiggles – who works for FedEx – has taken it up to a whole new level.

He’s diverting Operation Give’s resources for the next few weeks to the tsunami victims, and offered Operation Give’s Salt Lake City Warehouse, and FedEx has offered both to take a planeload of goods to the Indian Ocean area, but to pick up and transship those donated goods from your house to the warehouse.

Now I wouldn’t advocate FedExing flats of water bottles, but here’s what they are trying to collect or purchase (hint – you can send them money):

Hygiene items
Medical supplies: Bandages, alcohol, disinfectants, etc.
Water purification
Packaged food
New Cooking utensils
Water containers
New Clothing
New Shoes

You can sent money to them by Paypal (click here), or you can assemble some of the required NEW ITEMS ONLY, and call them at the number on the linked page, and they will arrange FREE FedEx shipping.

Again, be conscious of what you’re shipping; don’t spend $50.00 of FedEx’s fuel to ship $10.00 worth of items.

But here’s another quick-reaction way that you can make a difference on the ground over there.