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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Sullivan also notes the trend toward hubris among the righties. From Santorum to Gingrich to the budget debacle, the Republicans have been coming apart at the seams. They seem almost like...Democrats.

Sure, You've Got Free Speech...Over There

Andrew Sullivan must have been really pissed off by Rick Santorum. He's actually going after Dubya--kind of. He notes a troubling case in South Carolina were a protester faces jail time--for protesting too close to the President. Worse, the problems seems to be the content of the sign.

Maybe I've lost my mind, but I seem to recall the First Amendment being kind of important to U.S. law. Bush is hardly the only offender here--the Ds and Rs alike have grown fond of "designated protest areas." As idiotic as I often think protesters are, there is something very dangerous about saying "you can protest here, from 2:30 to 3:15 in the morning, and only if you aren't too conservative (and/or liberal)."


The new music service that Apple plans to offer is intriguing. It gives at least the appearance that the music industry may be starting to get it. At the very least, the new offering seems to be largely free of the internicine warfare, contempt for the consumer, and general clunkiness of previous offerings. Apple will even let you burn the songs--though they are not going to be in .mp3 format, but rather a QuickTIme format.

This isn't going to destroy the KaZaAs and the Morpheuses of the world. For one, you still have a much more flexible format with .mp3s than you do with the Apple offering. And for another, though $.99 is pretty cheap, it is a lot more expensive than free.

Still, this represents a nice step forward for the music industry. Of course, had they done this back in the late nineties, rather than suing the Hell out of, well, everyone, they might be doing better as an industry right now.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Republicans support Arlon Lindner. Oh, they say he's wrong. Sure he is. Of course. I mean, only an idiot would say that gays not only didn't die in the Holocaust, but that they perpetrated it. Only a fool would say that his anti-gay bill was designed to prevent America from becoming "another African continent" without realizing that it would offend about 80% of African-Americans.

Of course, Arlon doesn't think that he said anything he should apologize for. Indeed, when asked whether he had anything to apologize for, he said, simply, "not in the least."

Republicans cast their votes as defending the First Amendment. That's fine and all. I will defend to the death Rep. Linder's right to spew venomous tripe. But nobody was suggesting that Lindner be thrown out of office (at least, not by anyone but his constituents). People were suggesting he be censured (which means the House says: Arlon, you've done a really bad thing) and stripped of his committee chairmanship. Neither seems draconian.

When Trent Lott said similarly idiotic things, he was forced from his position as Senate Majority Leader. For Linder to have lost his chairmanship would seem minor by comparison.

But the Republicans did not have the moral courage to remove from leadership someone who gets his World War II history from The Pink Swastika. For shame.

In a nice postscript, civil rights leaders were on hand at the ethics committee meeting that cleared Lindner. One of them, Bill English, confronted Lindner, calling him a redneck. "That's your intolerant opinion," replied Lindner, without irony. "I've got black people on my side."

"Name one," said English.

Lindner didn't answer.


In a stunning reversal of previous decisions, a federal judge in Los Angeles has rebuffed RIAA claims against Morpheus and Grokster, stating that they are not liable for copyright infringements that took place using their software. While the ruling does not directly effect similar actions against KaZaA, it is a tremendous blow to the entertainment industry's strategy of targeting file-sharing networks for legal action.

"Defendants distribute and support software, the users of which can and do choose to employ it for both lawful and unlawful ends," wrote Judge Stephen Wilson. "Grokster and StreamCast are not significantly different from companies that sell home video recorders or copy machines, both of which can be and are used to infringe copyrights."

The recording industry plans to appeal.

Coming on the heels of a Dutch decision in favor of KaZaA, this ruling puts the music industry in a bad situation. Since the advent of Napster, the entertainment industry has fought against the inevitable, working to block legally what they could not technologically. With file-sharing networks now legal, the industry faces a stark decision: surrender for now, hoping appeals go their way, or begin suing individual users--a strategy that risks alienating music fans en masse.

I have little sympathy for the music industry. The corrupt fools lacked any vision. They may be legally, even morally right. But anyone can see that they simply can't stuff the genie back in the bottle. Had they acted when file sharing was confined to Napster, they may have had a chance at success. Now it's too late.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003
The Uneasy Peace

Don't have time to expand on this like I want to--maybe tomorrow. But Josh Marshall has some thoughts on the "stunning" developments in Iraq. Is anyone surprised that the Shias are bucking for power? (No.) Read it.

Headlines Off

The war's over. So the headline ticker comes down, at least until election season heats up.

Game On!

Has there ever been a better two-week run for Minnesota hockey fans? First, my Gophers win the Men's College Hockey Tournament for the second year in a row. Then the upstart Minnesota Wild--just two and-a-third years older than my daughter--beats the Avs, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to do it. On the road. In overtime. Against Patrick Roy.

For a state that had our hockey team brutally ripped from us (screw you, Dallas), a state for years that was far more deserving of an NHL franchise than other, less hockey-friendly areas (Phoenix? Atlanta? Caro-frickin'-lina?), this has been a long time coming. Now, onto Vancouver. I'll suspend my standard rooting for Canadian teams to win through this series. (Remember, everyone, the Avs are really the Quebec Nordiques. Oui! And the Phoenix Coyotes are really the Winnipeg Jets. And if the Hockey Gods are fair, they will one day be again.)

If only I could find the lyrics to the Wild's horriffic "State of Hockey" anthem. It's so cheesy. So over-the-top. So perfect. Fire up the Zamboni. Let's Play Hockey!

That Good Ol' Fashioned GOP Tolerance

I'm not quite sure what's got everyone worked up about the boneheaded comments of Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA). For those under a rock, he said:

The Supreme Court says that you have a right to consensual sex within your home, that you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery, you have the right to anything.

Leaving aside the fact that a ruling has yet to be handed down on the most recent sodomy suit to be granted cert--meaning the Supreme Court has said quite the opposite in the only controlling precedent--Santorum's comments are ridiculous. For one, of the horrible things he claims I would have a right to do if those dastardly Justices have their way, only one should be illegal. That one--incest--should be illegal because of the inherent abuse implied in it and the great potential for genetic abnormalities in any potential offspring.

Adultery is immoral, and I would never commit it; nevertheless, it falls more under breach of contract than threat to society. If every adulterer received the maximum sentence, we'd have to build a lot of jails. Bigamy? Polygamy? Not to my taste, but if it makes you happy, by all means.

Of course, I'm an old fashioned libertarian. I don't want to know what's going on in your bedroom. That's your business. You keep out of my bedroom, I'll keep out of yours, okay?

Well, not okay by the GOP.

This is why I am at a loss as to why Sen. Santorum is getting so roundly denounced. After all, his source material is the Republican platform. I can cite many examples, but here's our President's home state, Texas, for 2000:

The Party stands strongly against activist judges, who use their power to usurp the clear will of the people. We publicly rebuke judges Chief Justice Murphy and John Anderson, who ruled that the 100 year-old Texas sodomy law is unconstitutional, and ask that all members of the Republican Party of Texas oppose their re-election, and activist judges like them, and support non-activist judges as their opponents.

Oh, it's a little embarrassing, given that most Americans really don't care what others do in the privacy of their own home, but there it is. Santorum may have been a little over the top, but what do you expect?

The Republican party is openly, explicitly, proudly anti-gay. Moderate conservatives like Andrew Sullivan can try to paper over that fact, or focus on the many good things Republicans do, but there is no ignoring it. Not that Ari Fleischer won't try.

So to Rep. Santorum, I say: stick to your guns. You're an idiot, and you're wrong. But you're just doing what your party wants you to.

And to those of you out there who voted Republican because their views on gay rights don't really matter all that much--well, all I can say is enjoy. And hope that the police don't wander into your bedroom when you and your wife are doing that one thing you do. You know what I'm talking about.

Monday, April 21, 2003

I like to think of myself as a fairly good writer. I try to express myself intelligently, with a dash of humor and a bit of seriousness. I'm not above throwing in a polysyllabic word now and then, just for fun. But I try to make sure I use it in a context that, well, is context.

I despise it when a writer will throw out a five-dollar word, absent context, daring you to figure out what it means. "Ha ha," the writer seems to say. "I'm smarter than you." Well, big deal. You haven't communicated clearly with me--which, in essence, is your job. So stop having a go at me and start telling me what you think in a language we all can understand.

This rant is brought to you by Christopher Hitchens, apostate liberal and newly converted neocon, whose latest missive, "Oleaginous", seeks to enlighten us on why we shouldn't care that Haliburton is getting all sorts of business based on wars.

Like any good polemicist, Hitchens starts by setting up his straw man:

[...]I can't open a bulletin from the reactionary right or the anti-war left without being told that Iraq is already worse off without Saddam Hussein. And how can we tell that Iraq is worse off? Because contracts for its reconstruction are being awarded to American corporations.

That's weird. I could almost swear Hitchens claimed that the primary reason the anti-war folks are upset about Iraq is that American companies are making money off the war. The problems with our allies, the pricey occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, the questionable precedent that is set by our preemptive strike? These are meaningless. Really, the anti-war folks are mad about Dick Cheney!

Of course, there are reasons to question why American companies should get to exploit plunder develop the Iraqi oil industry. I think that there may be a place for the Americans--you broke the country, you bought it--but ultimately, we aren't setting the Iraqis up for success if it's American oil companies running Iraqi oil wells for the benefit of--well, I'm sure it would be the Iraqis. American companies are so good to the people at the bottom.

Hitchens, though, sneers at anyone who would deign to suggest that the Iraqis should take the lead on developing their own oil reserves:

Of the three feasible alternatives (that the contracts go to American capitalists, or to some unspecified non-American capitalists, or that Iraqi oil production stays as it was), the supposed radicals appear to prefer the last of the three.

Not just the radicals. But I'm sorry, Mr. Hitchens is battering his straw man. Let's continue.

Hitchens raises some legitimate concerns about the state of the Iraqi state-controlled oil company. Well, duh. I don't think anybody is suggesting Qusay should be exhumed and handed the Iraqi oil wells. Certainly, the degredation of the oil industry under Saddam will require assistance to reverse. And certainly, that is a role Americans can play--within reason.

Hitchens then derisively notes the connection of Boots and Coots--a contracted oil-well fire fighting company--to Haliburton, Dick Cheney's former company. He sneers at those who would think that we were fighting the war to line Haliburton's pockets, and notes:

I think we can be sure that the contract would not have gone to some windmill-power concern run by Naomi Klein or the anti-Starbucks Seattle coalition, in the hope of just blowing out the flames or of extinguishing them with Buddhist mantras. The number of companies able to deliver such expertise is very limited.

Ha ha, Mr. Hitchens. Score! Boy, it's sure hard to attack those liberal sprout-eaters.

Of course, Hitchens notes hat the nomber of companies able to fight these fires is very limited. To be sure. But limited to one? There was a French company in the running (er, sorry, a Freedom company in the running), but of course, they're French.

Were there no other companies bidding? It seems unlikely. But of course, it might seem to some companies to be a waste of time to bid against a company with ties to the Vice President.

For a company I never heard of before 2000, Haliburton sure seems to be doing well. Taliban detention center? Haliburton! Iraqi oil fires? Haliburton! Redeveloping Iraqi oil? Haliburton!

It doesn't take a crazy leftist to suggest that it seems odd that a company that the Vice President used to run might be getting a disproportionate share of revenues because the Vice President used to run it. Perhaps if bidding had been open and public, these questions might not be asked. But of course, bidding was private and before the war. And mysteriously, all sorts of companies with ties to the administration got contracts. But I'm sure that's a coincidence.

Hitchens pays lip service to the idea that companies can have too much power, noting Iran, Guatemala, and Chile as examples. But of course, he can't accept that his boy Dick could possibly be too tied to a few companies to open Iraq up to many companies.

Of course, nobody's suggesting Iraq can just turn on the oil. But what more than a few of us are concerned about is that we seem to be taking a paternalistic role in Iraq. Give us the oil, give us the country, we'll give it back when you're mature enough. That may work with a sullen sixteen year old, but it's an odd strategy for rebuilding a country.

I don't have a problem with American business being involved in Iraq. It was inevitable once we invaded. I do have a problem with the businesses involved. I do think that there must be businesses out there that are independent of Bush administration ties that could do, well, something. And I don't think it's unpatriotic or foolish to say so. Does this mean we shouldn't have toppled Saddam? Of course not. But it is a warning sign as we enter into the wary peace.

Oh, and what does oleaginous mean? Well, American Heritage defines it thus: 1. Of or relating to oil. 2. Falsely or smugly earnest; unctuous. As for my title? The etymology is "raised eyebrows" (thanks Mr. Gerlach!). It means, in a word, "snooty." A word that describes Christopher Hitchens to a tee.

Thursday, April 17, 2003
WMDs Found. Not.

Atrios wonders the same thing I have been lately: just where the heck are all the WMDs? I mean, we now control about 99.4% of Iraq. Yeah, it's a big country, but we were claiming the Iraqis had some incredible level of WMD development. There were chemical plants everywhere! There were mobile labs! There were stockpiles of biological weapons! There were drone planes!

But now...nothing. Nothing at all.

Maybe we'll find some. Probably, I would think. But the longer it takes, the more I begin to worry. Yes, we liberated Iraq, and the Iraqis are doing okay with it, but if WMDs do not surface fairly soon, we're going to have to start asking questions--questions about why it was so important to oust Saddam, above all the other brutal tyrants oppressing their people.

Incidentally, one great line from Atrios bears quoting:

I suppose it could depend on the meanings of the words "intelligence," "gathered," "doubt," "possess," "conceal," "some," "most," "lethal," and "devised."

As the good professor would say: heh.

George Bush, Anti-Gun Zealot

Shrub is making Glenn Reynolds mad. Why? Because he's going to re-up the assault weapons ban. Now, of course, for the same reasons it's hard for me (pro-choice as I am) to get worked up about partial-birth abortion, I can't understand why the gun lobby would get worked up about assault weapons. I mean, hey folks. Assault weapons are mainly good for shooting people. Sure, I know the slippery slope argument, but come on.

Bush has made what would seem to be a smart political calculation and swung to the middle (while playing Clintonian triangulation, what with the GOP unlikely to extend the ban anyhow). But he forgot one thing--he angered the base.

Will the NRA throw its support to Howard Dean? Unlikely. But could they stay home, sit on their hands, or support a right-wing version of Ralph Nader? took about 1,501 Naderites to give George Bush the presidency. You think there are 1,502 Floridians who are Republicans because of their stance on guns? Yeah, me too.

Ten Year Old News

I was watching a little bit of ABC's story on the children of Waco, while I was trying to get my own recalcitrant daughter to fall asleep. The stories were typically heartbreaking--children who watched their parents die in the exchange of gunfire between the Davidians and the BATF, children who had sung about having to die so they could go to heaven, children betrayed by parents blinded by a religious zealot who either believed God was speaking through him, or who believed that there was a sucker born every minute, hopefully one who would let him sleep with twelve year old girls.

The memories of the terrible confligration at Waco have faded with the past decade; we have seen other horrors in Mogadishu and Oklahoma City and, of course, New York. The loss of fifty-one people seems a pittance compared to three thousand; three thousand tiny compared to the hundreds of thousands who died at the hands of Saddam. But of course, no life is without worth, and no death should pass unmourned.

I felt for these children, who were walking that thin line of sanity that let them simultaneously mourn and cherish and disdain their parents. I felt for the son of David Koresh, whose mother had fled before the standoff, who is burdened forever with the knowledge that his father's actions killed dozens. I felt for the FBI agent who had led the negotiations, who broke down in tears while watching a tape of his final, desperate pleas to Koresh to free his followers as the compound went up in flames.

But the emotion I felt most keenly was anger. Not at Koresh. Not at the BATF. Not at the FBI. All of them bear responsibility (from greatest to least) for the tragedy at Waco. But at those who spent the next three years trying to use the Davidians as a political hobby horse to embarrass the Clinton administration.

I remember listening to the Rush Limbaugh program, listening to ads asking if the FBI and BATF had targeted Koresh for death because he was a religious, gun-collecting tax protester. I remember Republicans muttering quietly about how the FBI had really set the blaze at Waco, and then tried to blame it on the Davidians when it went bad. I remember the FBI being forced to stage a mock raid to try to prove what is obvious--that the blaze was set by Koresh and his followers. (Really, what were people asking for "more fuel" for? Their mopeds?) And I remember the Waco hearings, that started with great fanfare. Oh, they were going to light Janet Reno up, by golly. The whole Clinton administration would be embarrassed.

Of course, the first person to testify was a fourteen-year-old girl who had been raped by Koresh at age twelve.

The hearings sort of died out after that. Reminded of the evil of Koresh, the vast majority of Americans went back to their lives content that no matter who set the blaze, the Davidians were not blameless. The hearings went the way of every other hearing into the Clinton administration save Fornigate--the fanfare ended in a report that said maybe bad things happened, but nothing that could be proved. Ah, that evil Clinton.

And then, of course, the Arthur Murrah Federal Building was bombed by a religious, gun-collecting tax protester, and the Republican flirtation with rural militant libertarians was forced underground. And now, ten years after David Koresh led his followers to the apocalyptic end he had always craved, most people have forgotten such a flirtation ever happened.

But I haven't. And we mustn't. Nine years ago, the Republican party--sotto voce, to be sure--was more interested in allying with the memory of a madman than the law enforcement arms of the Federal government. When the Grand Old Party accuses the Democrats of being soft on crime, remember Waco. And who, ultimately, was on the side of justice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Randy Moss Sued. In other news, Sun Rises In East, Sets In West

Randy Moss, tempestuous wideout for the Minnesota Vikings, is being sued by the traffic controller he pushed with his car last fall. Among the allegations: both negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but my wife is. Negligence requires carelessness; therefore, it would seem difficult for there also to be intentional infliction of diddly squat. (Incidentally, intentional infliction of emotional distress has my favorite definition in all of law: conduct that would make an ordinary person say "outrageous!" No, really, that's the textbook definition.) I make no judgement on Moss' liability. I only note this to congratulate the attorneys on creating a box that says if Randy meant to do it, he's liable, and if he didn't, he's still liable. Bravo.

Those Dang Syrian Saudi Fighters

Josh Marshall mentions that there's evidence that most of the Arab irregulars in Iraq seem to be Saudi, not Syrian. Huh. I thought it was the darn Syrians with their pourous borders and their evil ways that were aiding the Iraqis. But it turns out it was our buddies the Saudis! Ha ha! I'm sure they're going to have a hilarious story about this wacky mix-up! Ho ho! Those crazy Saudis. Always getting into trouble. I mean, remember 9-11? Hoo boy. Good times, good times.

I gots to write more often

Hey, I've got a daughter and a new job (I'm in collections now! So y'all pay your bills or I'm going to call you. And if that doesn't make you pay, I'll call you again! Bwahahahaha!). Life is busy. Not that it's a bad thing.

It's a typical Minnesota spring. Monday it was 93. My wife, daughter, and I grilled out (turkey burgers for me, veggie burgers for the vegetarian wife), did some light gardening, and generally enjoyed a perfect Minnesota evening. Tuesday, it was 65, and the rain fell in sheets. I tried to grill out again, damn it, because I wanted to. But charcoal doesn't burn too hot in a monsoon, so I was forced to fry the turkey burgers. (It ain't the same.) Today, it's 48, and a cold, soaking, biting rain fell all day. Tomorrow, it's supposed to be 38 with sleet.

A 45 degree swing in four days. That's life in the upper midwest. It's supposed to be back up into the seventies by next Tuesday.

It doesn't matter. Every Minnesotan has learned to expect this. We know damn well that the first eighty degree day will be followed by some cold and misery; winter has too much sway here to let go easily. But we know that the worst is over. There will be no more snowstorms, no more black ice, no more sub-zero days. Winter is over, and no amount of sleet can change that. In a couple weeks, we will be through with spring, and straight through into the blessed Minnesota summer, where temperatures will hover in the mid-eighties, nights will bring drenching thunderstorms, shorts will be worn, and all will be right with the world.

Saturday, April 12, 2003
Rah Rah Rah for Ski U Mah

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers have repeated as Mens Hockey Champs, defeating the University of New Hampshire 5-1. The Gophers are the first team since Boston University in 1971-72 to repeat as national champs.

Help Me, Jebus

Franklin Graham wants to head off to Iraq in order to provide humanitarian aid, help the people, and oh yes, try to convert them to Christianity. I would suggest gently that now is not the time...but I doubt Rev. Graham cares what I think.

The Moral Superiority of the Peaceniks

When James Lileks wrote his Bleat on the liberation of a children's jail, I decided not to mention it. For one, such atrocities are to be expected in a regime as horrific as Hussein's. For another, I had little to add to Lileks' eloquent column.

But Scott Ritter's comments in Time last year have changed that.

For the record, what Ritter said is this:

The prison in question was inspected by my team in Jan. 1998. It appeared to be a prison for children - toddlers up to pre-adolescents - whose only crime was to be the offspring of those who have spoken out politically against the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was a horrific scene. Actually I'm not going to describe what I saw there because what I saw was so horrible that it can be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I'm waging peace.

So...yes, Hussein is an evil man who apparently tortured and killed toddlers (how else to understand the statement?), but I'm not going to tell you the whole truth about that because...well...I just don't like war, okay? 'Cause, it's like bad and stuff.

How moral. How superior. How right.

This is not morality. It's cowardace. I doubt I could have seen a prison for children and come away willing to believe that anything short of total war would be morally right. But if I could have, I would have the guts to tell the truth. All of it. And if it hurts my case, so be it.

But Scott Ritter has no such intenstinal fortitute. Too bad.

The Biased Media

CNN withheld news about the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime, purportedly to protect CNN reporters and staff in Baghdad. Of course, this begs the question: if you're not going to bother to report the actual news in Baghdad, why bother having reporters and staff in Baghdad at all?

Among the stories withheld:

A 31-year-old Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, was captured by Iraqi secret police occupying her country in 1990 for "crimes," one of which included speaking with CNN on the phone. They beat her daily for two months, forcing her father to watch. In January 1991, on the eve of the American-led offensive, they smashed her skull and tore her body apart limb by limb. A plastic bag containing her body parts was left on the doorstep of her family's home.

Of course, that might have been worthwhile information for us to have. It still is--twelve years later. This is not reporting; it is sucking up to a tyrant. CNN should be ashamed.

Thursday, April 10, 2003
The Fallacy of the Anti-War Proof

Michael Kinsley writes a nice counterpoint to the idea that America's victory in Iraq somehow proves the anti-war folks wrong.

To start with an obvious point that may get buried in the confetti of the victory parade, the debate was not about whether America would win a war against Iraq if we chose to start one. No sane person doubted that the mighty United States military machine could defeat and conquer a country with a tiny fraction of its population and an even tinier fraction of its wealth—a country suffering from over a decade of economic strangulation by the rest of the world.

I don't agree with everything Kinsley said, but then again, I was never more than weakly anti-war. It's still well worth reading, and remembering that America's ultimate victory was never the issue.

Sharing the Wealth

In the New York Times, Steven Clemons hits on a novel idea for distributing Iraq's post-war wealth: distribute it to the people like Alaska does. It's a whopper of an idea. It would put the wealth of Iraq in the hands of the people, not a small cartel. It would give every Iraqi a stake in the future of the country. And it would work to mitigate the crushing poverty that has fostered so many Mohammed Attas.

Of course, the right will scream socialism, and to some extent, it is. But the alternative--giving the money to the Iraqi royal family so they can buy 6.4 million BMWs--hasn't worked anywhere else in the Middle East. This is worth consideration.

Has the U.S. Joined OPEC?

That's the gist of a brief musing by Timothy Noah in Slate. Worth considering...even though we probably can't participate under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003
War Poetry

Well, not exactly war poetry. But appropriate for today nonetheless.

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Victory! (Essentially)

U.S. Troops in Central Baghdad
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf: "Saddam Hussein Gloriously Topples Own Statue"

The shots of a liberated Baghdad are typically moving. We've seen this scene before, in Moscow and East Berlin and Belgrade, and it never fails to inspire. People who were under the thumb of a brutal, evil dictator are no longer. For the moment, at least, they are free, and all of the dizzying possibility of that fundamental right is now theirs. What the future holds is uncertain; it always is. But for now, the people of Baghdad, and the people of Iraq (for the most part) have been liberated.

No matter what I thought of the run-up to this war (and our swift victory has not mitigated our diplomatic failures), this was always my great hope: that we would move swiftly and decisively, that we would win, and that the Iraqi people would be liberated. The first two appear to have come true; certainly, despite some failures in securing the supply lines and tamping down resistance in southern Iraq, we have taken Baghdad very swiftly, with little loss of American life. Yes, more fighting remains in Tikkrit. But that is now a fait accompli. Victory--total and undeniable--will be ours within a few days.

Whether the Iraqi people--now liberated--will remain free is anyone's guess.

There have been troubling signs that we do not want to give the Iraqis their freedom. That we fear what a free, democratic Iraq might decide. Independent Iraqis might not want to be friends. They might choose Islamism, or socialism, rather than American liberal democracy. They may ally more closely with the French and Germans and Russians than us.

To this I say: so what?

France is a democracy. We disagree with them on quite a bit, but I wouldn't say we need "regime change" in France. The people of France are free, they can speak their minds, they can live their lives to the dicates of their conscience. If I was running France I might undo some of the welfare statism that dominates it (and hurts its economy), but that is for the people of France to decide, not me.

What Iraq wants after the war should be for the Iraqis to decide, not Paul Wolfowitz. If the Iraqis want to be friends, great. I hope to remain friendly with the Iraqis for years to come. But that is not our decision. It never was.

We have professed throughout this war that we are liberators. Well, let us be liberators. Let us free the Iraqis to follow their consciences. Let us free the Iraqis to build their own nation. We can help--we should help, but we should not lead.

Statue Of Saddam Pulled Down by U.S.

The scene of the statue of Saddam falling was moving--but would have been far more moving had it been Iraqi muscle and machines that removed it.

Falling icons have no military value--only symbolic. For that reason, it was important to let the Iraqis remove the statue. Let them be the ones to pull down the visage of the murderous thug who has ruled them for three decades. There is power in the symbol of Iraqis pulling the statue down.

There is symbolism in the Americans pulling the statue down, too. But it is not the kind of symbolism that we want. The symbolic message of America pulling down statues of Saddam is this: We have taken your country. It's ours now. It didn't help that we briefly decorated the statue with an American flag, before trading it for an Iraqi flag.

It's hard to blame the soldiers on the ground, but their officers needed to tell them: patience. Let the Iraqis take the statue. It will take them time--maybe days. But in the end, it will mean so much more. Because the victory will be theirs.

And Now, the Peace

Time will tell how things go in Iraq. I hope my tremulousness about the aftermath of war is misplaced. Perhaps things will go smoothly--the terrorists I fear will not materialize, the Iraqi people will be generally sanguine about American occupation, our erstwhile allies who opposed the war will swing back our way now that the Iraqis are happy.

As Josh Marshall noted, this war is highly leveraged from a political standpoint. It may have great rewards. But there may be great pain ahead, as well. Only time will tell, and only when it's good and ready.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf

You've got to love Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi Information Minister. You've got to love him because he's so frickin' ballsy. He's what Ari Fleischer wishes he could be: a PR flack wholly unencumbered by the need to speak the truth.

Slate wonders if he's lying because Qusay thinks Iraq is winning. Whether Qusay is thinking anything at all right now is questionable--and Timothy Noah wonders if it's because U.S. intelligence has been tracking al-Sahhaf's movements.

At any rate, mad props to my boy Mo. He'll likely be killed soon, by we or by they, and he doesn't wear a mustache. So show some love.

UPDATE: Something I wanted to mention--last night, when Dan Rather was teasing a story on al-Sahhaf, he said "The Iraqi Information Minister insists that U.S. troops are being defeated, even as they fight within a few yards of him. What's up with that?" I can't tell you how funny it is to hear Dan Rather use the phrase what's up with that? I half-expected him to come back and say, "Yo, Mohammed, you be trippin'."

As Mentioned in the Pioneer Press

Just thought I'd brag, and note that this blog got some real-world pub in the Pioneer Press. Yeah, that's right, I'm bad.

Coleman: 99% Better than Wellstone?

The Junior Senator from the Great State of Minnesota, Norman Coleman (R-MN), is in a bit of trouble, after he proclamed himself to be "a 99% improvement" over the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.

Coleman, who was losing to Wellstone before the late senator died in a plane crash, made the remarks to Roll Call.

Norm has tried to walk the statement back, claiming he was referring to Wellstone's relationship with President Bush, not Wellstone's overall ability as a senator.

Okay, Norm.

Unfortunately, Norm can't walk a statement like this back. Paul Wellstone is dead, and you don't speak ill of the dead. I'm unsurprised to find that Norm thinks this--Norm would view himself as at least 90% better than Lyndon Johnson, and at least 102% better than Rod Grams. The fact that he actually said this, on record no less, indicates that Norm may not be quite the genius moderate senator he tries to present himself as.

Gaffes like these--where a politician accidentaly tells what he perceives as the truth--don't kill. But they wound.

As for Norm vs. Wellstone: don't make me laugh. Wellstone was ten times the senator Norm Coleman ever will be. I guess that makes him 1000% better--and Norm .1% of the senator Wellstone was. Hmm. Yep, that's about right

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Kos and I have been on opposite sides as far as the war goes, but he makes a really good point about those destroyed Iraqi divisions. The point? There seems to be no sign of them. No prisoners, no dead, no destroyed tanks...nothing at all. Now, I would think this may just be the fog of war--the dead are there, but we aren't parading the embedded reporters to the front to see--but Kos suggests it's possible those "destroyed" divisions aren't destroyed at all, but pulled back and hiding.

This would be sound military strategy--the Iraqis are completely outgunned, and their only hope is to sucker the Americans into Baghdad, where they can ambush them in more difficult (and civilian-laden) urban terrain. I hope Kos is wrong, but his post is worth reading.

Troop Strength (Or Lack Thereof)

Well, fortunately the war seems to be going well. Our troops have taken Saddam--ahem--Baghdad International Airport. We've pretty much taken out the Republican Guard. No chemical attacks yet. So far, so good.

But there's still plenty of good evidence that we left our troops open to attack. That Rumsfeld, in his bid to fight the war on the small and on the cheap, failed to give our troops adequate strength in the field.

Fortunately, the Iraqis have been beaten down so badly that even an insufficient American force could defeat them. The end to this war will come at any moment--perhaps today, perhaps next week, but soon.

Then, the tough part comes.

I mentioned before that I doubt the guerillas will cease their sniping. I still doubt it. They won't get very far--guerillas rarely defeat a motivated enemy--but they'll continue to kill Americans, Brits, and Auzzies until we go home.

We also have the difficult task of taking the cities. Yes, we're taking them from nobody, really--the Iraqi government seems to be in control of very little right now--but that doesn't mean the old Baathists are just going to let us in. There will be fighting in Basra and Tikkrit and Baghdad.

Hopefully, the majority of Iraqis are welcoming. Hopefully, they are willing to work with us to build themselves a new government. Unfortunately, there are early indications that we have little interest in the Iraqis setting up their own government. We want a puppet--ahem--U.S.-friendly government in place, and if we let the Iraqis have democracy they may just screw it up. Look what happened in France.

And we can't count on the world to help us. France has stated emphatically that they won't do anything to legitimize this war. That means nothing positive coming out of the UNSC--no peacekeepers, probably no inspectors. We bear the cost of rebuilding Iraq ourselves.

I've said all along that it was not the war I feared in Iraq, but the peace. Very soon, the war will be over, an easy victory for the Americans. But the peace will test us far more than we can imagine.

Saturday, April 05, 2003
RIP, Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly, former editor of The New Republic and The Atlantic Monthy, was killed in Iraq. I didn't agree with him much, but TNR was a good magazine under his stewardship--had Marty Peretz not been so interested in setting up the magazine for Gore's 2000 run, Kelly would have been a good man to keep the helm of the magazine.

Indymedia is cheering Kelly's death. Pathetic. There are many people I disagree with, but to wish them dead is a particular kind of hateful. Only by engaging with those who disagree with us can we gain insight and knowledge, and advance our understanding of the world. If your views cannot stand against a person with an opposing viewpoint, then they're pretty poorly constructed.

My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Kelly's family. As everyone's should be.

Oh, Saddam's Alive

Seems to be pretty clear--he's alive. Too bad. Rumor is that Qusay is currently taking up residence in Pandemonium, so that's good news. And unconfirmed reports indicate that Saddam may have been knocked into a coma by the attack. He's recovered now, it appears. C'est la guerre.

Regime Change Begins at Home

John Kerry's remarks about American "Regime Change" may not have been note-perfect--it smacks too much of simplicity of thought. But the response from GOP Chair Marc Racicot...well, it's insane:

"Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander-in-chief at a time when America is at war. Critical analysis offered in the best interests of the country is part of a healthy democracy. But this use of self- serving rhetoric designed to further Senator Kerry's political ambitions at a time when the lives of America's sons and daughters are at stake reflects a complete lack of judgment." (empasis mine)

Okay. Now, you all know what I think of the anti-war protestors. And I certainly believe that with freedom of speech comes responsibility for the effect of one's speech.

But when did suggesting the incumbent President should lose--even in wartime--become crossing a grave line?

The nerve. The unmitigated gall. I support this war. I support the troops. I wish things had been handled better in the run-up to the war--that's why I intend to work hard to beat George W. Bush at the polls next fall. It is not unpatriotic of me to say that. I want what is best for this country. That's why I want to see Bush lose.

That doesn't mean we should lose the war--certainly, that wasn't was Sen. Kerry was suggesting. It does mean that, war or no war, President Bush serves at the will of the people. And we--and nobody else--have the right to retain him. There is no provision for a President remaining on during wartime. Ask Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson how being a wartime President protected him from criticism.

As for Kerry--well, John just went waaaay up in my estimation:

"The Republicans have tried to make a practice of attacking anybody who speaks out strongly by questioning their patriotism. I refuse to have my patriotism or right to speak out questioned. I fought for and earned the right to express my views in this country....If they want to pick a fight, they've picked a fight with the wrong guy....I watched what they did to Max Cleland last year. Shame on them for doing it then and shame on them for trying to do it now."

John Kerry is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. No matter what anyone says about his self-serving political career, he served our nation at the highest level. America owes a debt to him, always--as we do to all our men and women who have served, and continue to serve. While he was fighting in Southeast Asia, our current, sacrosanct Commander-in-Chief was...well, probably AWOL somewhere in Texas, though the truth on that has to be pretty much buried by now.

My point is this: nobody crossed a line. And nobody--aside from the dittoheads--is fooled by this little ruse. The Republicans want people to watch what they say again. Sorry, folks. You've got my support for the war. You will never--never--have my support for this administration. And nothing save a Democratic endorsement of Carol Mosley Brown will change that.

A Shout-Out to All Y'all on SSRIs and MAOIs, yeah, you know who you are

I promise, this will not become a blog on depression, but I just wanted to thank those of you who have written to express their support--especially Space Waitress, whose response to my post is well worth reading.

Thanks for the concern and support all of you have expressed--it means a great deal to me to know folks out there care.

Now, back to the political blogging!

Thursday, April 03, 2003
Blog, Interrupted

Some of you may have noticed that the blog entries have gotten a bit light lately. (I say you might have, because nobody's bothered to drop me a line or nothin'. Maybe nobody noticed at all.) I mentioned last week that life was intervening. Well, it has been, and likely will continue to for a while.

In the past week or so, I've been focusing on myself, and why I never seem to be totally at peace with life. I have a wonderful, supportive wife and a beautiful baby girl. I've moved out to the suburbs, have the four-bedroom, one-and-three-quarter-bath home in Lakeville, and the minivan. I'm not where I planned to be career-wise (I rather thought I'd be an Oscar-winning screenwriter--and I suppose I could have been, had I ever written a screenplay). But let's be honest, few of us are where we hoped to be career-wise. But the most important parts of my life are good--better than good. They're everything I ever could have hoped for.

But I haven't been enjoying these good times. I've been mired in muck, unable to enjoy much of anything.

This is not new.

I've likely been suffering from clinical depression for about twelve years, since I was in high school. It may even have set in earlier; certainly, I've had some of the symptoms all my life.

For most of my adult life, I've been adept at hiding this fact from those closest to me. I have learned to put on a brave face, to soldier through, to lie baldly if need be. I refused to admit to anyone--least myself--that my problems may be beyond me.

This is not to say that I've refused help. I've done therapy off and on, and it's helped some. But there's been one last wall I couldn't get over on my own. Not that I haven't tried--I've used food, caffeine, even this very blog to try to lift me up. And it works for a while.

But while I'm trying to lift my fragile mind to neutral, the best part of my life is passing me by. My daughter is almost eight months old. She's beautiful, smart as a whip, good-natured, and fun. And I haven't been able to enjoy her like I've wanted to. Not close to it.

One of the symptoms of depression is suicidal thoughts. I'm no stranger to them. I've thought the words I can't go on like this more times in my life than I could ever count. These words motivate me now. Because I know I can't go on like I have.

Fortunately, rather than choosing to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them, I've chosen to start taking a selective seratonon reuptake inhibitor. In my case, that's Lexapro, but it could have been Prozac or Zoloft or any of the other SSRIs out there. I've been on it since yesterday--too little time to evaluate the long-term effects (though I swear, I feel more sane than I have in years.)

I can't say what's going to happen. I do know that I'm fortunate to have a wife who cares enough about me to challenge me, who wants me to be able to enjoy my life. And I know my friends and family will be supportive.

I also know that I'm not going to be ashamed of this. Depression is a physical disease, like diabetes or heart disease. I didn't get depression because I was a bad person, or because I have some sort of character flaw. Believing that this was something to hide robbed me of a lot of happiness. I'll be damned if I hide it one second longer.

Of course, while I'm not going to be ashamed of this, I'm not going to make it my defining characteristic, either. I am not "Jeff Fecke--he's depressed but getting treatment." I'm still me. Hopefully a little happier, and a little more sane. And this isn't going to become the "Jeff's Depression Blog." I'm still going to write about the war, and what's going on in the world. Hell, the Iowa caucuses are less than a year away. Even at the depths of my depression, I could enjoy them.

So that's why I haven't been writing. It isn't sexy, and it isn't fun. But it's the truth, and it feels good to say it.

Finally, at the risk of sounding like Oprah: I know some of you out there are depressed. Not situationally--clinically. I'm not going to lecture. I'm just going to tell you that if you think you might be depressed, see a therapist, or a doctor. Make the appointment today. I've robbed myself of ten years. Hopefully, I've started myself down the right path now. Hopefully, you can too.