Saturday, September 29, 2007

Axial Tilt

Moderating language or not, Hillary probably doesn't really oppose going into Iran.

But that's not what this entry is about.

No, it's about that most divided of beasts, the Canadian Liberal.

(Yeah, yeah, another Canada post. If the LibDems actually become significant contenders in the UK, I'll pay more attention to them too, but what interests me about the Liberals is, once again, that they're not necessarily social democrats or bog-standard conservatives wearing a different mask.)

Anyway, nice entry from Jeff Jedras on the current problems with the party and its leader. It's starting to seem like the restive elements within the party are not merely Ignatieff and his followers, but the Quebec wing of the party as a whole. Sounds odd, considering Dion is himself a Quebecker that is far more comfortable in French than in English, but keep in mind one thing: that Quebeckers historically divide less along a "liberal vs. conservative" axis than a "nationalist vs. federalist" axis. Many of Ignatieff's supporters in the party were soft nationalists... they weren't about to advocate leaving Canada any time soon, but did want as decentralized a federation as possible. Jean LaPierre, the guy saying nasty things about Dion in the Canadian media a lot recently, is one of these guys. They supported Ignatieff partially because he was rather keen on the "Quebec is a nation" idea. That got him in no small amount of trouble, but certainly ensured their support. They really wanted him to win.

But he didn't win. He couldn't have won. Still can't, probably, thanks to all those nasty little people contradicting him on nasty little issues like the Iraq war and the usefulness of torture. He dominated Quebec, and it didn't help. Instead, they got Dion, a man they loathe, because he is an arch-federalist who was instrumental in passing the law that ensures that the hard nationalists can't use any more nonsensical weaselly referendum questions to sneak their way out of Canada. There won't be a winnable referendum any time soon, and they know it.

You can see why they wouldn't like him, then.

And--since Quebec politics is its own little world where your position on this federalist/nationalist axis carries far more weight than unimportant things like whether you like giving poor people medical care or blowing up oil-rich countries--the fact that Dion is actually a pretty good choice for leader is unimportant. The man is a race traitor, and has to go.

(This is not hyperbole. There were Conservative ads at the beginning of the year that called him a vendu, a french word that roughly means, yes, "race traitor". No english translations are available, oddly enough, though Andrew Coyne had a few things to say about it.)

This is where things got mixed up, then. Leave aside that current furor about one of his advisors saying that calls for more Quebeckers on his team is like calling for more Chinese-Canadians; even if the allegation were true, they're almost certainly milquetoast compared to what is said in other offices in Parliament. What is important is that they were brought to the fore, and that they were brought to the fore by by people from the party's Quebec wing. In fact, all the problems with Dion seem to revolve around complaints and issues with his Quebec wing.

So the thing that Jeff brought to the table, that my english-speaking carcass hadn't considered, is that this may not be an Ignatieff thing. Yes, they supported Ignatieff. Yes, they still probably support Ignatieff. Yes, Iggy's probably the beneficiary from all this. But that doesn't mean that this is his deal, or even necessarily what he wants. He's dumb about some things, but there's no way that he's dumb enough to think that dumping a leader this quickly is a good idea. I doubt many liberals think that dumping Dion is a good idea.

But, then, there's the question of the day. Is the Quebec wing of the Liberal party so angry at the concept of having a vendu at the helm, so immersed in this axis of national vs. federal, so uninterested in what Harper will do to the rest of the country if he gets his majority, that they're willing to deal permanent damage to their party and their country to remove Dion and install someone friendlier to them?

I don't know. I'm not one of them.

I'm just someone who thinks that liberalism is, and must be, more than a vehicle for empty nationalism. I'm someone who still thinks that the Canadian Liberal party has an opportunity to lead the way for honest-to-goodness liberalism in the world, including in America, where it's so deeply damaged right now. And I'm someone who agrees with Jeff when he says a situation like this:
Dion was elected as leader of the LPC by members across all of Canada, and I don’t think this is being driven by the grassroots. It’s a narrow group of people with their own agenda, although in senior positions of power within the party, driving this thing... not something that should be tolerated.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Glenn Greenwald: Rippin' New Orifices

This time, his target is Diane Feinstein, a consistent supporter of Bush's agenda in her votes and rhetoric. Glenn notes that there's no reason she actually should be doing any of this, as she's in an incredibly safe Senatorial seat, and isn't standing for reelection anytime soon in any case. There's no "fear" or "spinelessness" here, because there's nothing to fear.

And, in its own way, that's the problem.

Glenn points out that the Republicans get along with their base, and will actually side with their base over the GOP establishment, as we saw with that dumb anti-Dubai furor a little while back. Meanwhile, the Dems loathe their base, as Glenn found out a ways back, and as digby consistently points out (with her most recent salvo being about all that MoveOn nonsense.)

Loathe, yes, but that's not the important thing, here. The question is whether they fear their base. I've hit on this before, but the biggest difference between the right-wing base and the left-wing base is that the right-wing base has a history of making life extremely difficult for Republicans who don't play ball, up to and including losing nomination battles and general elections. That is not the case with the left and the Dems: while the extra money is nice, and can even make a real difference, no Dem really has to worry about the "netroots" possibly causing them to lose their office. There's no reason to fear them, and without that fear, there will be no respect there.

Especially because, after all, there is something to fear in losing the favor of Washington as well. You can get by on an outsider campaign outside Washington, but while you're there, you need to get things done. If you lose favor, you're going to have a very hard time getting things done, and eventually it'll end up affecting your life, your job, and your chances of re-election or a soft landing outside of public life. This includes Feinstein; she may not fear for her chances of Re-election, but she certainly fears being ostracized by the community that is most important to her.

So, then, the question is "who do they fear more"? The Republicans fear their base more, and the Dems fear Washington more. The funny thing is that Washington is pretty forgiving about that aspect of the Republicans, because people in Washington understand that the Republicans are in that situation. It is, therefore, quite likely that people in Washington will understand if the Dems are in that situation as well, especially if those same members of the base have representatives and talking heads in Washington saying "we're right, they should go along with us, even if they didn't fear us", just like conservatives do.

So, yes, it comes back to the same ol' problem... that the progressives (if they MUST use that fearful word) need to make Dems fear for their jobs, and simultaneously get a real, unapologetically progressive presence in Washington. They've gotten a start, but more needs to be done, so that people like Feinstein know damned well who they should be fearing.

Fukuda's the new PM of Japan

Great choice. A moderate in a way that, in some respects, even Koizumi wasn't. Not a big fan of the Yasukuni shrine visiting, not enormously hawkish, and just in general a stabilizing influence that'll be a nice change from the Abe/Aso crew.

He's also facing a very difficult situation, though, as he's not so dovish as to oppose the Afghan mission refueling that Japan signed up for. With the possible revelation that Japan has been refueling vessels going to Iraq, instead of Afghanistan, the opposition DPJ may well step up their opposition to the refueling program.


You know, it's not so much that the United States is sliding into war with Iran that bothers me. I mean, it DOES bother me, don't get me wrong, as there's little chance that a "surgical" air war would either work, or even be remotely related to what the idiot political appointees in the Pentagon who back this sort of thing actually want. But still, that isn't the real kicker.

No, what really bothers me is that the Democrats seem bound and determined to follow a man who has pretty much rejected them off the cliff.

Seriously, does Joe Lieberman have embarrassing pictures of these people or something? He was one of the chief cheerleaders of the last retarded embarrassment; why on earth support him on THIS one?

Oh, and of course, they've voting to condemn MoveOn. Because keeping the OTHER guy's base happy is far more important than not completely alienating your own. I guess they figured that as long as the Republicans are completely odious, they can count on the base supporting them as being a little less so. Normally, I'd say that was a fair analysis... but when you're voting like a Republican, why shouldn't the base treat you like one?

Ah well. What this really says is that the progressives need to execute a few of the bastards at the primary, with no "independent democrat" wriggling like with Warleadin' Joe. Get some real progressives (or, just for laffs, even self-professed "liberals") to come up to the show with a "D" beside their names, instead of an "R" with a spelling problem.

Edit: Ah, it looks like the worst language was taken out- the stuff about "using all instruments in support of the policy" and "containing/rolling back the violent activities and destabilizing influence of Iran". Problem is, they left that door WIDE open by leaving inside the main point of the amendment: labelling a good chunk of the Iranian military a "terrorist organization".

Well, I can predict one short-term thing that'll come out of this: more sales of the Mearsheimer/Walt book.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Margaret Wente is still acting like an idiot

When you're a Big Opinion Journalist, you should probably not be writing things like "And finally - listen up, folks - global warming is not an imminent planetary emergency" without a really, really good reason to do so.

Bjorn Lomborg is not that reason. A little basic research would show why; something Wente hinted at when she said "Mr. Lomborg drives a lot of environmentalists crazy"... though if she had done any more research than an interview with the guy, she might have found out it's because he's demonstrated that not only is he's a pretty lousy climate scientist for an economist (his last book got carved up by the real experts as cover-to-cover nonsense), he's a lousy economist too.

Why? Well, any economist who pretends that there's a lump of charitable money that must be divided up between causes is one who should turn in his calculator. People don't work that way, and a smart social scientist--even an economist--would know that. People get turned onto a cause, and donate to it. If a well-known cause exists (like AIDS in Africa, Lomborg's current excuse for ignoring global warming) and they aren't donating to it already, they probably aren't going to , and certainly not by being told that global warming is not a big deal.

But, of course, he knows that. And Wente does too. But she wants to be contrarian and therefore "interesting", which is why she didn't even bother trying to research anything other than what Lomborg is telling her. As if denialism were some sort of new or interesting position to take on this issue.

What's next? A flat earth?

Declaration of War?

So, yeah, is Joe Lieberman now trying to ram a declaration of war on Iran through Congress? I had missed this, but holy crap:

It's a "Sense of the Senate" resolution, which means it has no legal force, but as the Congressional Research Service will tell you, "foreign governments pay close attention to [such resolutions] as evidence of shifts in U.S. foreign policy priorities." If you want you can read it yourself (.doc), but here are the most important paragraphs:

(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.

If something like this passes both the House and Senate, I think Bush could legitimately argue that between it, the War Powers Act and the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations to Use Military Force, he has all the authority he needs to attack Iran.
Of course this will get supported, the Dems are too busy pretending they're against Iraq to pretend to be against Iran, but I was expecting something a bit, er, slower and more circumspect. That "use of all instruments" stuff is pretty much "by any means necessary" using synonyms.

It's "kill 'em all, God will know his own" in Congress-speak.

Missiles, not Nukes

That's what Syria got from North Korea, apparently. Which kind of makes sense, because even the North Koreans don't really have nuclear weapons yet- their controlled explosion was a bit of a dud. It may not even have been nuclear in the first place,but an elaborate scam instead.

So, yeah, bad, but not nuclear bad.

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Greedy Hog of a Corporate..."

Stephen Fry has a new blog. Said blog has an awesome rant about how terrible the "iPhone killers" are.

Here is part of it, about the Sony Ericsson attempt:

Design matters. By design here, I mean GUI and OS as much as outer case design. Let’s go back to houses. The sixties taught us, surely, that architectural design, commercial and domestic, is not an extra. The office you work in every day, the house you live in every day, they are more than the sum of their functions. We know that sick building syndrome is real, and we know what an insult to the human spirit were some of the monstrosities constructed in past decades. An office with strip lighting, drab carpets, vile partitions and dull furniture and fittings is unacceptable these days, as much perhaps because of the poor productivity it engenders as the assault on dignity it represents. Well, computers and SmartPhones are no less environments: to say “well my WinMob device does all that your iPhone can do” is like saying my Barratt home has got the same number of bedrooms as your Georgian watermill, it’s got a kitchen too, and a bathroom.” … I accept that price is an issue here; if budget is a consideration then you’ll have to forgive me, I’m writing from the privileged position of being able to indulge my taste for these objects. But who can deny that design really matters? Or that good design need not be more expensive? We spend our lives inside the virtual environment of digital platforms - why should a faceless, graceless, styleless nerd or a greedy hog of a corporate twat deny us simplicity, beauty, grace, fun, sexiness, delight, imagination and creative energy in our digital lives? And why should Apple be the only company that sees that? Why don’t the other bastards GET IT??

...“Please Steve Jobs. Eat us for breakfast. Make us look slow-witted, clumsy, unimaginative, grey and idiotic. Help yourself to the entire market that isn’t Blackberry, we don’t want it. We’d rather make toys for children and knock-off Macbooks for credulous adults. And somebody might buy the P1i if they want a slow, joyless experience. You never know. And anyway Apple cheat by having better products, which is unfair. We were once Sony. Goodbye cruel world.”
This could easily be aimed at Whatzisname, who pulled out that silly-ass "my boring, poorly designed, uninspiring device can technically do everything an iPhone can, why are people rushing to buy it?" bit a little while back. I'll assume that Stephen Fry has better things to do, though. Like writing amazing blogrants.

I was turned onto this by Neil Gaiman's consistently excellent journal, by the way, which I don't read anywhere near as often as I probably should.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Here's An Interesting Question for the Canadians...

Who is the Liberal party's equivalent of Tom Flanagan?

Hell, one could ask the same of the Dems: do they have any wonking polisci types that are actually helping them, instead of making oracular pronouncements on the sidelines?

Friday, September 21, 2007


Yet another of those Jane Taber "anonymous source" articles gets into the Ignatieff/Dion situation prior to Outremont.

Michael Ignatieff called Stéphane Dion on Saturday after a newspaper article alleged his supporters were trying to weaken Mr. Dion's leadership of the national Liberal Party by interfering in a crucial Montreal by-election.

The deputy Liberal leader assured Mr. Dion that he was up to no funny business and offered his help in Monday's by-election in Outremont.

Mr. Dion, according to one of his senior aides, accepted what his deputy said. In an effort to underline that message, Mr. Dion's chief of staff, Andrew Bevan, asked Eleni Bakopanos, a key Dion strategist and former Montreal MP, to call Mr. Ignatieff and reassure him...

...The article had spread like wildfire through Liberal circles over the weekend. Although, the allegations have been denied by Ignatieff supporters, the damage was done. Volunteers were demoralized and one Liberal official said there was hostility toward Ignatieff supporters at the Outremont headquarters on Monday.

A Liberal MP from Toronto, who was heading to Montreal Sunday to help out, turned the car around at Port Hope, only 100 kilometres into the journey, after being e-mailed the newspaper article.

"I am so very tired of the Punic Wars of the last decade," said the MP, who supported Mr. Ignatieff in last year's leadership race, comparing the ancient wars between Rome and Carthage to the fighting between the Chrétienites and Martinites.

A Liberal who works on Parliament Hill said he arrived in Montreal to find chaos.
I'm still not quite convinced that there wasn't a game being played. Certainly anybody shooting for the boss's job is going to insist that they aren't. Still, it seems like some good may come out of this; Dion has been shaken out of his complacency, and his critics no longer have impunity.

Even that "hostility" might actually have had a positive effect. While it wasn't helpful for that election, certainly, the party has had itself rather brutally reminded that it needs to hang together, that allegations will be responded to in kind, and that Dion is aware of the situation, the problems, and the need for solutions- as well as a little bit of realism and honest-to-goodness unity. (I liked that "Punic wars" comment from the Iggy backer, and I hope that sentiment will help keep things down to a dull roar.)

If the Liberals unite, and I mean REALLY unite behind Dion, I think the "leadership" problems won't be a real issue. The public will see it, and will respond. And if they start working on being a little less of a catchall party and start actually trying to act like, well, liberals, they might even develop a real base, too.

From what I can see, it'd be a nice change.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Krugman Finally Has a Blog!

Witness the glory that is the greatest flypaper for wingnuts yet invented.

It seems to be really a way of replicating his old entries on his old Princeton page. Good for him: those were excellent.

In any case, welcome to the roll, Paul.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Message Machine

For those Canadians stopping by to see if I'm going to accuse Ignatieff of eating kittens...

You may be wondering why I assume that conservative bloggers are apparatchiks and sock puppets. That's largely because of the evolution of the U.S.-focused blog scene (which I've been loosely involved in for half a decade now) to a binary system of liberal citizen-bloggers and conservative talking point repetition machines.

For a good breakdown of this, I'd suggest this piece on Alternet by Digby.

(If you don't know who Digby is, you ain't a real political blogger. I don't care if you're Stephen Taylor, Warren Kinsella, or Stephen friggin' Harper; you're a dilettante and a fake, the equivalent of a rock critic who doesn't know anything about this "Chuck Berry" guy, or a Hip-Hop artist who wonders what the big deal is about James Brown. Learn yourself up a little, you philistines.)

so. Quote on the conservative machine:

What most journalists and others who observe the new phenomenon of political blogging fail to understand is that the "blogosphere" is actually two rather sharply distinct spheres. These roughly mirror the country's political divide and are organized in very different ways.

The right blogosphere operates largely as part of the greater Republican message machine. Many of its bloggers are already part of that infrastructure, working as journalists for conservative publications, writing books and lecturing. Independent bloggers on the right hail from all walks of life, but the leading voices are either part of the political machine itself, like Mike Krempasky of RedState, or closely connected to the conservative media and think tank infrastructure, like Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin and the PowerLine bloggers. The right blogosphere is a reflection of successful top-down Republican message control, and as such these bloggers are welcomed warmly into the fold.

As Garance Franke-Ruta writes in the April issue of The American Prospect, the right-wing blogosphere has also recently become useful to long-established political operatives such as Morton Blackwell, mentor to iconic GOP campaign strategists Karl Rove and Lee Atwater. In the recent Eason Jordan affair, the right blogosphere was credited with forcing the former chief news executive of CNN to resign over a controversial off-the-record comment. It turned out that many conservative blogs were part of this larger concerted effort. In the wake of this success, conservatives are now running what Franke-Ruta describes as "Internet Activist Schools, designed to teach conservatives how to engage in guerilla Internet activism," or what some people used to call "dirty tricks."
Bolded sentences are mine. It's a fair assumption to make that if the Republicans are doing it, Harper's doing it. Canadian conservatives go through all that "leadership institute" nonsense too.

So, no, it's not paranoia to wonder why the most prominent Liberal blogger (that actually allows people to respond) is constantly inundated by conservatives saying the same things using slightly different words, over and over and over again. It's a tactic, widely understood and used within the conservative movement, to translate the top-down messaging system that they've used offline for so long onto the "blogosphere". Even if they aren't sent emails by the central office (and they likely are), it's pretty much understood what you should be saying, and how, and where.

The response?

Well, it's simple. Either ignore them, or respond by noting their skill at repeating talking points and then ignore them.

(And, while you're at it, recognize that the most successful blogging community in the world, the American progressive bloggers, got there by being a little independent... so think about maybe not doing exactly what you're told to by your "party elders" either.)

(Well, "successful" is relative. Still, better than Instapundit and his meaningless cronies.)

Guys Named Mark

I have to say, my favorite blog entry today is Amanda Marcotte's piece on the revelation that there are fewer women reviewers on Pitchfork than (no word of a lie) guys named "Mark". Why?


[Insufferable Music Snobs] might, by the time they’re 30, mostly be cantankerous farts who have learned to cultivate their basic nerdiness into a veneer of cynical sexiness (the geek glasses look has been perennially popular since Elvis Costello for a reason), but deep down inside we all have romantic dreams of rock-and-roll excessiveness.Sure, there’s nothing wrong with having a giant and impressive record collection or a vast knowledge of obscure punk bands, but we all know that we’re going to our graves having never even run the risk of dying in a bathtub of overdose and while we know this is a good thing, it’s also a tad unromantic. Part of the traditional rock star allure, of course, is that the place of women in it is prone. Even though the 60s ended long ago, the fantasies of having groupie culture be cool again never completely fade. I suspect that the return of the guitar hero has as much to do with this as the video game does (which is J Train’s learned opinion). A percentage of male IMSes secretly (or not, depending on how drunk you get them) long for the days of hair metal, when the stage was all men and women were all spandex and hairspray, and hope through a properly ironic resurgence of guitar-heavy rock, they can get those days for themselves.
Bolding mine. AWESOME. That explains the odd appeal of music geeks (of various genders) better than any sentence I've seen in a while, and I can't disagree with the odd pull of unreconstructed rock excess.

(Though, that said, I'm amazed she didn't bring up Hip-Hop, which has actually done quite a good job of reproducing said excess seen through the lens of urban culture.)

And me, I'm with J Train. It's all about Guitar Hero. This is a culture that has men notoriously blow off "relations" for another round of Halo; video games are pretty important, and Guitar Hero is one of the most popular in ages. I can definitely see it having an impact.

Oh, and I also agree with Amanda about how women are treated in music culture, though I do think it also relates to the greater propensity of young males to find some sort of solitary activity to obsess over. (No, not THAT one.) A "music" nerd is still a nerd, and while music is very much a social phenomenon, the particular viewpoint on music that you see in the IMS isn't a very social one. If The Female Brain is correct, that's definitely a turn off to women, especially young women.

Anyway, that's one snippet of a great entry. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I've Said it Around Today, But I'll Say it Here

It's not so much that Canadian conservatives are parroting talking points while acting like pathetic concern trolls...'s that they're so incredibly obvious about it. They're little more than talking point machines.

I hate to say it, but it almost makes me miss guys like Insty, who would at least make it plausible that they aren't playing a game.

Took 'em Long Enough

So much for Times Select. Good news; opinion columnists are at their best when they're provoking discussion, and they're not provoking discussion if they're being read by a miniscule handful of people.

Considering that the best columnist (read: Krugman) was getting his columns reproduced all over the 'net, might as well just open the whole thing up.

For Those Who Might Be Curious...

No, I have nothing to do with all those emails flying around about Michael Ignatieff's people supposedly throwing a by-election to make Stephane Dion look bad.

What I will say is this, though: if those people think that dumping Dion to get their man in will be in any way good for their party, though, they're delusional. Whether or not Dion was their favored choice, the fact remains that if he's tossed, whoever beats him will be presiding over a declining party at best. Not because of who he is, but because of what that represents: a party so unbelievably factionalized that the factions no longer care at all about the party's fate, so long as their faction's leader is the one wearing the captain's hat as the ship sinks.

Given the choice between Harper's governmental stability and a Liberal party that looks marginally less united than Iraq, the voters aren't going to pick the latter, no matter who's leading it.. That would be a shame, but that's reality.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Robert Jordan Passed Away Today

Robert Jordan, author of the wildly popular "wheel of time" series, passed away today. My sympathies go out to his family and his fans.

Hint to Canadian Liberals:

Of COURSE Michael Ignatieff wants Stephane Dion out as soon as possible; the longer it takes, the likelier it will be that someone else will come out of the woodwork and take Ignatieff's position as putative leader-in-waiting.

(Eventually Gerard Kennedy is going to learn French.)

And, yes, of course Ignatieff's supporters are backing their guy over Dion; where the hell do you think all those negative "anonymous" opinions that Jane Taber's writing about come from?

So, yeah, I wouldn't be especially surprised if they're throwing the Montreal riding of Outremont. Doesn't mean it's a good idea to mention it publicly before the election, and I do think that Justin Trudeau should have got that nod because parachuting is generally a bad idea...but I'd be willing to ride a few bucks on the notion, sure.

Edit: It is quite possible, perhaps even likely, that the emails that made these accusations were forgeries. Fair enough. There is still quite a bit of evidence that there is a serious unity problem within the Liberal party, and a lot of it has to do with organizers who seem to be more interested in leadership races than elections. The former is over, the latter is coming.

If you're dying to beat someone, guys, beat HARPER.

Matt Bai, The Argument, and Ideas

To be more specific, the Dems' lack of 'em. Yes, I just finished Matt Bai's The Argument, and the titles was a little deceptive: it might just as well been called "ideas", because that was the crux of the book. To be specific, the point was that the "progressive" movement lacks them: while there are policies and tactics and strategies and whatnot, there are no unifying ideas, ideals, and ideologies to bring things together. He pointed out how influential Hayek's Road to Surfdom was to the Republicans, and noted that no book was anywhere near as influential; the closest was Lakoff's book on framing, which is a tactical reference more than anything else.

(I've read Lakoff, and while I thought he had a lot to say about Republicans' "strict father" frame, he fell down when trying to describe liberalism as "nurturing parentage". Not only does that subconsciously buy into the Republicans' framing by embracing the "mommy" role in all but name, but it bears little resemblance to any liberal philosophy I've ever read.)

He examined all sides of the "argument".

He looked at the "Democratic Alliance", a highly secretive group of liberal-leaning investors which tried to replicate the success of the Republican machine, but fell apart because there were no guiding ideas or frameworks to govern their giving, so they fell back on the very kind of market-driven evaluation that doesn't really work in this context. This really grabbed me; I've been railing about this for a while, and was surprised to learn that it's not so much that such investors don't exist, but that they were mostly dysfunctional.

He looked at the Democratic Party, which has (as many people have pointed out, including myself) gotten so wrapped up in preparing the tactics for their next election and defending the ideas of the past that they've lost sight of the present or the future; that there's nothing new coming out of it, when liberalism should be the engine of progress and growth.

And, of course, he looked at the bloggers. I'll be honest: I wasn't expecting it to be as damning as it was. His primary subjects were Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong, and what was principally notable about the book was that Markos nor Jerome seemed to neither have underlying ideas or philosophy supporting their tactical notions, but that they didn't even seem to care. Bai kept on describing incident after incident where Kos and Jerome seemed completely clueless about important progressive books and important progressive thinkers; they were the embodiment of Bai's complaint that bloggers seem not to either know nor care what happened before 1998. As a blogger myself, I disagree, I think there's a lot of us who have a wider base of knowledge to draw on... but in terms of the elite bloggers, I think he made a point.

Indeed, my own ruminations about the division within blogging was brought into BRUTAL relief in the book. I had heard things about Townhouse, the exclusive email list populated by the top-tier bloggers, and am well aware of the controversy over Kos supposedly dictating what lower-level bloggers do at the behest of Jerome. What Bai revealed was not that Kos was dictating the actions of bloggers, though- it was that Kos and the other elite bloggers seemed not to really care about them at all. The "blogetariat" are at this point merely a necessary nuisance for the big-tier guys, who are principally concerned with the amount of real-world access that their Internet fame gets them, rather than blogging (or the Internet) as a medium in-and-of itself. They're as intellectually incurious as George W. Bush himself, just angrier.

Bai goes so far as to claim that Kos barely even cares about politics, but mostly cares about the wealth and success that DailyKos and other blogging initiatives can get him. He's supposedly more interested in the sports blogging network he's setting up than the Democratic party at this point.

(The episode where all the bloggers who were critical of Bill Clinton's politics turned into sycophants in his presence was just sort of embarassing.)

Is this all true? Well, assuming Bai isn't lying, it certainly doesn't paint a positive picture, but the basic problem is simple: liberals (screw "progressives", liberalism is nothing to be ashamed of) aren't paying enough attention to building a coherent ideology and developing policies based on that ideology. They're still running willy-nilly from policy to policy, with the only real difference between the "insiders" and "outsiders" being their willingness to work with Republicans instead of antagonize them.

Again, I'm not sure how correct this is. I do think there are bloggers out there who are concerned with building a liberal ideology, and I do think there are Kos diarists like that too. What I think is more important is this idea that the blogging "elite" are not living up to their rarified status, and that those of us who aren't in the Treehouse need to start asking serious questions about just what the hell is going on with those who purport to represent us.

Edit: One thing where Bai seems seriously off-base is his attacks on Democratic "hatred" for Bush. No, it's not just that animating the Democratic base, and it's disingenuous to pretend it is. Among other things, things would be somewhat more coherent. Just look at the anti-Clinton movement. I also don't think that Lieberman got a raw deal, honestly, but that isn't the important part of Bai's book- it's that quest for ideas. Joan Walsh complains that the Democrats' success in 2006 proves that Bai was wrong, and that the Dems are fine without ideas. The latter is an assertion beneath contempt, and the former is addressed in Bai's book: 2006 was a reaction to the Republicans, not an endorsement of the Dems.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Lookit Me! I'm a Neuroscientist!"

When you're trying to assert that conservatives aren't stupid, you probably shouldn't do it by using a line of argument that makes you sound like an idiot, Will Saletan.

The basic methodology of the study he's discussing, which showed that Liberals were more open-minded and willing to tolerate ambiguity, involved studying the brain activity of conservatives and liberals when they were presented with a simple test: push a button when you see an "M", don't push it when you see a "W" (or vice versa). The test itself was just bog-standard psychological stimuli- the real work was done with an EEG, to figure out exactly how people RESPONDED to the test.

(Remember Bladerunner? Where the point of the VK test was not for people to get the questions "right", but to get an emotional reaction? Same deal.)

But here's Saletan's response:

Fifteen minutes is a habit? Tapping a keyboard is a way of thinking? Come on. You can make a case for conservative inflexibility, but not with this study...

...An "ms"—millisecond—is one-thousandth of a second. That means participants had one-tenth of a second to look at the letter and another four-tenths of a second to hit the button. One letter, one-tenth of a second. This is "information"?
Jeebus. This is just pathetic. The stimuli was simple and the timing swift because they wanted unconscious reactions, not conscious thought.

He goes on:

Go back and look at the first word of the excerpt from the supplementary document. The word is either. Participants were shown an M or a W. No complexity, no ambiguity. You could argue that showing them a series of M's and then surprising them with a W injects some complexity and ambiguity. But that complexity is crushed by the simplicity of the letter choice and the split-second deadline. As Amodio explained to the Sacramento Bee, "It's too quick for you to think consciously about what you're doing." So, why did he impose such a brutal deadline? "It needs to be hard enough that people make a lot of errors," he argued, since—in the Bee's paraphrase of his remarks—"the errors are the most interesting thing to study."

In other words, complexity and ambiguity weren't tested; they were excluded. The study was designed to prevent them—and conscious thought in general—because, for the authors' purposes, such lifelike complications would have made the results less interesting. Personally, I'd be more interested in a study that invited such complications—examining, for instance, whether conservatives, having resisted doubts about the wisdom of the status quo, are more likely than liberals to doubt the wisdom of change.
Er, no. The "complexity and ambiguity" was handled by the pattern itself, and revealed by the EEG information that came from it. This is like saying that machine code is useless because it's only zeroes and ones, except (somehow) even dumber.

But the biggest problem? Saletan's making a difficult claim: that the authors screwed up, that they didn't really understand what was going on. Fine, make it. The problem is that if you want to argue neuroscience, you need to actually use neuroscience. You need to cite it, or at the very least come up with something a bit more scientific than your own half-baked definitions of what the hell a "conservative" is. There was nothing scientific at all in Saletan's defense, and nothing that suggests that the scientists' methodology was wrong in the slightest. In fact, he ignores the principal part of the methodology entirely, by not discussing the EEG source localization element!

I mean, I can sympathize with the idea that scientists can read too much into weak results--the oeuvre of Craig Anderson demonstrates that--but this is just ridiculous!

Then again, another study a ways back said that people who aren't smart are generally not going to understand that they aren't. So maybe this is just par for the course, huh?

Maybe I shouldn't be making fun of Saletan. Maybe I should just feel sorry for him instead.

Edit: funny thing is, there IS a legitimate methodological critique of this study, which is that the sample size is too small. That said, not all science is statistics: you don't necessarily have to have a large sample size if the data is rich enough. (Hence case studies.)

It's hilarious that the one methodological critique that makes sense is the one that Saletan avoids, though.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Honestly, I Don't Even Need to Try Anymore

I'll just quote this headline: U.S. Officials Begin Crafting Iran Bombing Plan. And yeah, it's Fox News, the Mouthpiece of the Administration.

Best part?

Consequently, according to a well-placed Bush administration source, "everyone in town" is now participating in a broad discussion about the costs and benefits of military action against Iran, with the likely timeframe for any such course of action being over the next eight to 10 months, after the presidential primaries have probably been decided, but well before the November 2008 elections.
Well, so much for the tattered remains of the United States' international reputation.

Shinzo Abe's Out?

What the heck? Disagree with them as I do, I'm as baffled as the Daily Yomiuri on this one. He had been frustrated by the DPJ's attacks on Japan's role in Afghanistan, yes, but that seems an insufficient reason.

The Japan Times suggests that it may be health issues, though. That makes more sense, but one does wonder what, exactly, those might be. Certainly the Japanese public does, faced as they are with a leadership vacuum... and the Liberal Democratic Party that Abe led probably does as well, as I don't see them having a clear successor in mind.

(Which is absolutely unprecedented in Japanese politics. As in, "since they've had democracy" unprecedented.)

The scuttlebutt suggests that Taro Aso might be the next PM. That, er, would be slightly problematic for Sino-Japanese and Korean-Japanese relations. "Giving Ted Stevens the presidency" problematic. Here's hoping someone a bit more reasonable gets the post.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Somewhere in Waziristan...

For the majority of the past six years, one of the things that I've been saying, pretty consistently, is "somewhere in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Waziristan, Osama is laughing his ass off."

Just to be clear: I'm not.

Osama Bin Laden attacked the United States on 9/11. He did it, and did it effectively. He pretty much managed to accomplish what he sought to do: he disrupted the United States, emboldened the Jihadist movement around the world, provoked the United States into foolish moves of vengeance... and most importantly, he got away with it. For six years, now, he's gotten away with it. Sure, Al Qaeda was hit in Afghanistan, but I honestly doubt that Osama expected anything else. Yes, yes, the Powers That Be insist that he thought the United States was too "weak" to respond, but I don't buy it and never have; there is a difference between defending your interests abroad and responding to a domestic attack, and Osama almost certainly understood that. After all, his own hosts became the Muhajedeen in the first place because they were defending their homeland from the Soviets; why would the Americans be so different?

He knew there would be a response, and got the hell out of dodge before the United States and its allies could catch him. He went to what was, perhaps, the one place in the world where the United States could not catch him, and he's watched as "The Base" was turned into a global brand as effective and well known as Nike or Sony. He lost direct control of the organization, true, but now it's something even more effective, and will be enormously difficult to get rid of. He created this thing, and he got away with it, in a way that even the most brilliant Bond villian never could.

And every time someone on television, whether part of the administration or not, says "he's irrelevant" nowadays? Well, that's them throwing up their hands and admitting that he clean got away with it. That he knew that there was no way that the United States could seriously move into Waziristan without bringing down Pakistan, and the United States cannot tolerate the collapse of the Pakistani government, because they've got nukes that they'll never, ever give up as long as India has nuclear weapons as well. If the government did collapse, it's almost certain that his allies would end up controlling that country, and those nukes, and he'd still have won because there's no way they'd give him up to the United States and there's no way the United States could invade and conquer Pakistan, especially not now.

Oh, and on top of the whole thing, secular Arabic nationalism has been pretty much completely discredited thanks to Saddam's quick fall, and the Iranians (religious heretics that they are) are likely to end up on the business end of American bombs, which means that they won't be serious competitors against the Salafists on the Arab street, and the "Shiite crescent" won't threaten Sunni dominance.

Even if he dies tomorrow. Even if he's already dead. Even then, he got away with it.

Thanks, Dubya.

Here's hoping the next guy's better. (Or girl. Whatever.)


So, Bjorn Lomberg was just on Colbert, talking about how Kyoto is way too pricey, so the money should be spent on Malaria or HIV/AIDS in Africa. The idea is that as an economist, Bjorn recognizes that you need to think about how to spend your money to get the most effectiveness.

Now, I'm not even going to touch this weird assertion that the side-effects from global warming will be somehow mild. To be blunt, he hasn't demonstrated any qualification to make that determination whatsoever. (Quite the opposite.)

No, I'm going to ask why the hell an economist doesn't understand about revealed preferences. If the West were going to drop a bunch of cash to wipe out malaria, IT WOULD HAVE DONE SO BY NOW. Yes, it would be a great idea to wipe out malaria, and it would be money well spent, but is Lomberg actually naive or foolish enough to believe that it's climate change that's stopping this from happening?

And, also, he made a truly bizarre assertion about Kyoto... again, from an economists' POV. He said that it wasn't worth spending money on reaching Kyoto targets, because it would be far better to invest in carbon sinks and renewable energy and whatnot. What on earth does he thing Kyoto is FOR? The whole point of Kyoto is to give countries a real, understandable, and attainable target for reducing emissions, so that they can budget their funds properly to reach that target. Does an economist somehow think this is a bad thing?

Well, no, clearly not. Nope, this is just Lomberg shifting the goalposts: from denialism (which isn't in fashion these days) he's shifting to the point of view that there are soooo many other things that are soooo much worse, so clearly nobody should pay attention to global warming.

At least he's changed that much, I suppose. Still no reason to pay attention to him, but at least he's changed that much.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Burying the Lede

Just finished watching the Patraeus speech. He's claiming that attack numbers are going down; maybe, maybe not, though I've got the impression that those year-to-year numbers aren't exactly telling that story.(Those being march 2005 compared to march 2006 compared to march 2007, which neatly eliminates seasonal variances.)

I'm not impressed by the Anbar thing, either. Al Qaeda's an insurgent group, and any insurgent knows that you don't fight pitched battles for territory, but fade away and concentrate somewhere else. The question that Patraeus isn't answering is what the next Anbar will be like.

The important bit, though, was early on. Patraeus pretty much out-and-out asserted that Iran is fighting Americans in Iraq, and trying to set up a "hezbollah-like" proxy in Iraq. That is going to be seized on as justification for an upcoming conflict with Iran. That also fits with his discussion of the drawdown as well- whether or not the "draw down" has more to do with preparing for another conflict is a very, very important question. That little blurb about Iran was far more important than the rest.

We're this much closer to bombs over Tehran.

(Other observation? That "we don't know what the future will bring" stuff was pretty blatant CYA-ing.

Edit: Ooh, video!

Video's from the National Security Network. Nice work, and it shows how figures got cooked more than just a little. Makes sense: if it's good enough for police commanders on The Wire, surely it's good enough for military commanders on CNN, right?

Wonder What Petraeus is Going to Say?

And, for that matter, whether or not it'll include sharp words about the menace in Tehran?

As a friend of mine likes to say to all world and American political events: "should be interesting".

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Aside from the validity of the Yorkshire Ranter's dismissal of the Iran issue, I have to admit I really like that word.


Something to note: The United States isn't going to bomb Iran tomorrow, or this week, or next week. We're in the opening stages, not the closing ones. After all, you need to set the stage before the play can go on, and the early "scholarly" stuff is hardly more than the rough framing. We've got a bit of time, I presume.

The question is whether anybody will damned well DO anything about it.

Something I Mentioned Over at Kos

...that I thought I should mention here as well. This is NOT going to start as a ground war. Nope, no way. The AEI crowd aren't that dumb. It's going to be sold as a bloodless aerial offensive.

(Shock 'n Awe 2: Shock Harder)

That's how you get Congress on board. Everybody loves an air war: it looks so pretty, planes all whooshing around, pretty explosions, neat-o pictures of missiles going into ventilation shafts and the like. Sell the Iranian conflict as an air war, and you're golden.

Of course, it won't work. It's not supposed to work. What it's supposed to do is provoke the Iranians into a response on the ground, whether using terrorist proxies or actual troops. That will provide the justification they need to have the war on the ground that they actually want.

And then, of course, you get Quagmire 2. But by then, it's too late, isn't it? Like Hillary is going to pull out and catch the blame.

Iranian Casus Belli from Rubin

In order to prosecute the war, they need a casus belli. Might be a bit tricky, right? Here's Barnett Rubin again:

Final note: from a Cheney-Addison legal point of view, it does not matter if the entire Sepah-e Pasdaran (Revolutionarly Guards) or only the Qods Force is declared a terrorist organization. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force of September 18, 2001 authorized the use of military force by the President not only against terrorist organizations but against anyone harboring them. So if the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei refuses to hand over the commander of the Qods Force to U.S. custody, there will be a legal casus belli.
And there we go. No new legislation will be required, because Cheney (and his PR flack, Dubya) will just torture the definition of "terrorist" until it does what he wants it to.

That bit about Rove leaving because he didn't want any part of this becomes more plausible by the minute.

Can You Hear the Drums?

Sometimes I hate being right.

But, yeah, I was right.

Here's me, a little less than a month ago:

For those who are unsure, this is how it's going to go down. Policy papers will come out of this, they will all ("reluctantly") justify and advocate war with Iran. Some books will follow from these same people fleshing it out and saying bad things about Iran. That will provide the scholaresque justification that the other right-wing henchthingies need to get on board with their various blogs, journals, and newspaper opinion columns.
Here's George Packer now, quoting Barnett Rubin:

If there were a threat level on the possibility of war with Iran, it might have just gone up to orange. Barnett Rubin, the highly respected Afghanistan expert at New York University, has written an account of a conversation with a friend who has connections to someone at a neoconservative institution in Washington. Rubin can’t confirm his friend’s story; neither can I. But it’s worth a heads-up:

They [the source’s institution] have “instructions” (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this—they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is “plenty.”

True? I don’t know. Plausible? Absolutely. It follows the pattern of the P.R. campaign that started around this time in 2002 and led to the Iraq war. The President’s rhetoric on Iran has been nothing short of bellicose lately, warning of “the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” And the Iranian government’s behavior—detaining British servicemen and arresting American passport holders, pushing ahead with uranium enrichment, and, by many reliable accounts, increasing its funding and training for anti-American militias in Iraq—seems intentionally provocative. Perhaps President Ahmedinejad and the mullahs feel that they win either way: they humiliate the superpower if it doesn’t take the bait, and they shore up their deeply unpopular regime at home if it does. Preëmptive war requires calculations (and, often, miscalculations) on two sides, not just one, as Saddam learned in 2003. When tensions are this high between two countries and powerful factions in both act as if hostilities are in their interest, war is likely to follow.

It’s one thing for the American Enterprise Institute, the Weekly Standard, et al to champion a war they support. It’s another to jump like circus animals at the crack of the White House whip. If the propaganda campaign predicted by Rubin’s friend is launched, less subservient news organizations should ask certain questions, and keep asking them: Does the Administration expect the Iranian regime to fall in the event of an attack? If yes, what will replace it? If no (and it will not), why would the Administration deliberately set about to strengthen the regime’s hold on power? What will the Administration do to protect highly vulnerable American lives and interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world against the Iranian reprisals that will follow? What if Iran strikes against Israel? What will be the strategy when the Iranian nuclear program, damaged but not destroyed, resumes? How will the Administration handle the international alarm and opprobrium that would be an attack’s inevitable fallout?

If this really is a return to the early fall of 2002 all over again, then I’m fairly sure that no one at the top of the Administration is worrying about the answers.

Postscript: Barnett Rubin just called me. His source spoke with a neocon think-tanker who corroborated the story of the propaganda campaign and had this to say about it: “I am a Republican. I am a conservative. But I’m not a raging lunatic. This is lunatic.”
Bolding mine, italics for quote in story.

Oh, you may not be a lunatic. But you WILL dance, boy. They'll play the war drums, and you WILL dance. You'll dance your pretty little neocon jig, and soon all of Washington will dance by your side: the right because it likes those dollah-dollah bills, and the "progressives" because they're too pants-wetting terrified to do anything else.

You'll dance, Iran will burn, Iraq will implode, and America? Well, here's a hint: fleeing to Canada doesn't work anymore, so I'd suggest somewhere a bit more tropical.

Hat tip to (heh) Drezner, whose "serious" dance will, I have no doubt, be a wonder for all to see.

Update: Oh, yeah, the drums are beating HARD:

Iran's bloody role in Iraq has yet to be widely acknowledged. But the clerical regime is killing U.S. soldiers there. Sophisticated Iranian explosive devices wielded by Shiite insurgents are producing ever-larger numbers of U.S. casualties. The brutal Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr is probably now responsible for about half of all U.S. combat deaths. Sadr, who visits Iran regularly, has developed close ties to the mullahs. And Iranian Revolutionary Guards have started training his henchmen inside Iraq. Tehran also continues to back the Shiite Badr Brigades, the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. This is increasing internecine violence in southern Iraq, where the feeble British presence has nearly collapsed. Bloody confrontations between the Mahdi and Badr gunmen are on the upswing.

As all this suggests, the widespread belief (shared by the Iraq Study Group, among many others) that Iran wants stability in Iraq is wrong. To understand Iran's true nature, remember Lebanon. During the civil war in the early 1980s, the clerics in Tehran backed a variety of Lebanese Shiites before settling on the most radical of these groups, Hizbullah. Since then, Hizbullah has partnered with Tehran in conducting terrorist operations overseas, as well as destabilizing Lebanon and threatening Israel. If Iran gains commensurate influence in Iraq now, it can be expected to have a similar effect.

Unfortunately, that's likely to happen unless the United States finds more effective ways to counter Tehran. The U.S. State Department has labeled clerical Iran a state sponsor of terrorism for years now, so targeting a specific institution—the Revolutionary Guards—merely adds an appealing note of precision...

...The Europeans remain hesitant—and the Russians, Chinese and Indians unwilling—to really coerce Tehran. America's unilateral efforts, particularly its use of the international financial system to block Iran's access to dollars and credit, have proved more successful than many thought possible. But without greater international support, they probably won't force Tehran to moderate its behavior. The Europeans, who are among Iran's largest trading partners, must agree to biting measures—something these states, which are as addicted to noncoercive diplomacy as they are to commerce, seem unlikely to do. In the meantime, the diplomatic process over Iran's nukes will crawl forward or stagnate but is unlikely to lead to war.

Washington can try to exercise soft power—through sanctions, resolutions, diplomatic isolation and rougher rhetoric. But the Islamic Republic, especially its radical president and praetorian guard, are accomplished practitioners of hard power. They are unlikely to be overwhelmed by moderate tactics. Instead, they seem set to continue killing Americans in Iraq, waiting to see if and when the United States gives up and run for the exits.
Wow. "Europeans are too weak to do what is necessary", "Muslims only respect force", "state sponsor of terrorism", "Iran is killing American soldiers"...

...oh yeah. The drums, they are POUNDING.

Update 2: I mentioned books? Guess what? Michael Ledeen, take it away:

The first salvo was the attack on the American Embassy in Tehran in the fall of 1979, leading to the seizure of American hostages, a crisis that lasted 444 days. The war continued with the assassination of American diplomats and military personnel in Europe and North Africa. The latest fronts in that war are in Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. Iran arms, funds, trains, and directs a variety of terror groups, numbering tens of thousands of terrorists, regardless of their religious or ethnic makeup.

It is a mistake to believe that Iranian mullah leaders think like those of traditional nation states. They are religious zealots. They openly welcome the end of the world, which would usher in the millennium, under the sway of the long-vanished 12th Imam. They say they intend to precipitate the millennium by using atomic bombs on Israel. That is a chiliastic vision that embraces the murder of millions of us.

The Iranian Time Bomb suggests that it's time for us to hold firm. It includes a final chapter that was written close to publication.
"Hold firm". Marx wasn't kidding about the farce part, was he?

Update 3: On the other hand, this is just sad. The ADL does important and necessary work, and it's a goddamned tragedy that that work is going to be caught up in this nonsense. That they're engaged in this kind of foreign policy advocacy of the most misbegotten war since the last one is going to hurt their cause of fighting anti-semitism, not aid it.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I'm gonna clone me my very own Venter.

Maverick U.S. geneticist Craig Venter has published the ultimate autobiography, laying bare his personal six-billion-letter genome for all to see.

The genome, released yesterday and uploaded on to a public gene database, will enable anyone to examine the genetic recipe that makes Mr. Venter unique.

It provides genetic clues to everything from his flamboyant personality to whether he has wet or dry ear wax and is prone to heart disease and skin cancer.

While some might see publishing one's genome as evidence of an over-sized ego, one of Canada's leading geneticists says Mr. Venter has done a valuable and "unselfish" service.

Dr. Stephen Scherer, who heads the team at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children that helped decode and interpret Mr. Venter's genome, says the "historic" publication will do much to further genetics and the field of personalized genomics.

Mr. Venter drove the race to publish the first human genome six years ago, which is a mosaic of DNA from anonymous donors. Today's version, sequenced by Mr. Venter's current team at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland in collaboration with Toronto and California geneticists, is the first complete individual genome published.

It provides a much-needed "reference" genome that can be used for comparative purposes when trying to understand the millions of tiny genetic variations between individuals. Until now, researchers have been restricted to the "mosaic" published in 2001, says Dr. Scherer. He likens having the new genome to being able to comparison shop when looking for a new vehicle. "When you buy a car you'd never go to just one store, you go to two to compare not only the product, but the price," he said.

Dr. Scherer says researchers have been "really limited" until now and will benefit by having not only Mr. Venter's genome, but those of several other prominent individuals now lining up to have their genomes read.

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, and television's Larry King are among the notables who have reportedly signed up to have their genomes sequenced by companies that say they can do the job for $100,000.
Well, heck, I wouldn't mind a Hawking/Allen/King hybrid to go with my Venter either. Sure, he'd be nerdy, but he might be smart enough to finally invent that personal jetpack and one-stage-to-orbit spacecraft that we've all been waiting for.

Comments on the News?

Ok, I'm not even sure what to think about this:

We wanted to give you a heads-up on a new, experimental feature we'll be trying out on the Google News home page. Starting this week, we'll be displaying reader comments on stories in Google News, but with a bit of a twist...

We'll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as "comments" so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report.

As always, Google News will direct readers to the professionally-written articles and news sources our algorithms have determined are relevant for a topic. From bloggers to mainstream journalists, the journalists who help create the news we read every day occupy a critical place in the information age. But we're hoping that by adding this feature, we can help enhance the news experience for readers, testing the hypothesis that -- whether they're penguin researchers or presidential candidates-- a personal view can sometimes add a whole new dimension to the story.

We're beginning this only in the US and then, based on how things go, we'll work to expand it to other languages and editions. We're excited about the possibilities of this new feature and we hope you are too, so if you've been covered in a news article please send us your comments and we'll work with you to post it on Google News.
So the only people commenting will be those in the story? Sounds like a volume of spin that'd embarrass your typical Cat-5 typhoon. Still, might be interesting, and it's not like Google doesn't pretty much own me at this point anyway.

(Ah, Blogger.)

U.S. Lashing Out at Everybody These Days

First there was Fred Kagan on the BBC's HardTalk, claiming that a British pullout would do grave damage to the "special relationship". Ok, fine, he's an AEI flack, they're expected to say such things.

What I hadn't expected, though, is getting the spectacle of Kurt Campbell and Michael Green doing much the same thing. They attacked Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa over his anti-counterterrorism bill stance, and they're making pretty odd noises:

It appears that Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) leader Ichiro Ozawa is determined to force a crisis with the government over the counterterrorism bill. This comes as a disappointment to those Americans who remember him as a stalwart defender of the U.S.-Japan alliance from his days as deputy chief Cabinet secretary almost two decades ago.

However, it does not come as a surprise to those who know his single-minded determination to deal a body blow to the Liberal Democratic Party today. We are told that Ozawa has decided that any political damage done to U.S.-Japan relationship will be forgotten in a few years when there could be a Democratic administration in Washington and--he hopes--in Japan, too. We fear that assumption is flawed and hope Ozawa will reconsider his stance and find a creative and workable compromise with the government. It will not be as easy to recover the reputations of Minshuto and Japan as Ozawa may think.

Many in Minshuto believe that pulling Maritime Self Defense Force ships out of the coalition will only do damage to the "Bush-Abe" relationship. After all, both leaders are under assault at home and the Iraq war is polarizing American public opinion. However, the bill that Ozawa wants to kill authorizes the deployment of ships for the effort in Afghanistan and has nothing to do with Iraq. And support for the effort in Afghanistan enjoys broad bipartisan support in the United States.

If Japan pulls out suddenly from the coalition against the Taliban and al-Qaida, this will lead to inevitable and unfortunate questions for the next administration--whether Republican or Democrat--about Japan's reliability as an ally.
Bolding? Mine. Rather incredible, isn't it? Michael Green is hardly a paradigmatic neo-con, and Kurt Campbell was a Clinton administration official. These aren't generally the types that you'd normally expect to be making these sorts of ominous pronouncements.

Would a Minshuto prime minister be able to say that Japan stands firmly with those countries in the war on terror? Would they be able to make the claim that Japan is ready to play a larger role in the international community? And how does Japan's ambassador to the United Nations explain that Japan is ready to take the leadership responsibilities of a permanent U.N. Security Council member the day after the counterterrorism law is killed and Japanese ships pull out of the coalition effort?
Er, yeah. For those who aren't able to read between gigantic lines, the answer here is "no, so go along with America or SUFFER". Again, not what you'd expect.

Here's the thing: they do have a point, to a certain extent. Japan took a heavy hit for not getting involved in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and Ozawa was very much frustrated by that. What these guys forget is that the UN rather explicitly authorized the first Gulf War, and rather explicitly didn't authorize Iraq, which hangs over Afghanistan like a particularly nasty smog cloud. To claim that anything the United States does right now is totally independent of Iraq is shockingly naive; to claim it of Afghanistan is just stupid. Ozawa is a stickler over the UN's role in collective security, so it's not actually any big surprise that he'd claim that "the U.S.-led operation has not been directly authorized by the U.N. Security Council, unlike the ISAF, or the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan...[and] therefore thinks [that] Japan should not cooperate." That would actually strengthen the case for Japan as a permanent security council member- it demonstrates a commitment to the body that several other permanent members don't share, including the United States itself.

The bigger problem with drawing this comparison, though, is that the United States' foreign policy is hideously unpopular in the world right now, and thus going against it is unlikely to harm Japan as significantly as in 1991. Sure, it might lose Ozawa some friends in Washington, but I doubt it'd hurt much in Paris, Frankfurt, or any other important global capitals.

Besides, at this point, Washington needs all the friends it can get. Saying "we'll shut you out" isn't a credible threat, guys. And, in the end, that's probably what actually motivates threatening polemics like this. Were the threat credible, it probably wouldn't even need to be made. As it is...

See you in Tehran! (Or Not?)

From "pissedonpolitics" and, a posting by Maccabee, a DailyKos diarist, that was subsequently removed:

I have a friend who is an LSO on a carrier attack group that is planning and staging a strike group deployment into the Gulf of Hormuz. (LSO: Landing Signal Officer- she directs carrier aircraft while landing) She told me we are going to attack Iran. She said that all the Air Operation Planning and Asset Tasking are finished. That means that all the targets have been chosen, prioritized, and tasked to specific aircraft, bases, carriers, missile cruisers and so forth.

I asked her why she is telling me this.

Her answer was really amazing...

She started in the Marines and after 8 years her term was up. She had served on a smaller Marine carrier, and found out through a friend knew there was an opening for a junior grade LSO in a training position on a supercarrier. She used the reference and the information and applied for a transfer to the United States Navy. Since she had experience landing F-18Cs and Cobra Gunships, and an unblemished combat record, she was ratcheted into the job, successfully changing from the Marines to the Navy. Her role is still aligned with the Marines since she generally is assigned to liason with the Marine units deploying off her carrier group.

Like most Marines and former Marines, she is largely apolitical. The fact is, most Marines are trigger pullers and most trigger pullers could care less who the President is. They simply want to be the tip of the sword when it comes to defending the country. She voted once in her life and otherwise was always in some forward post on the water during election season.

Something is wrong with the Navy and the Marines in her view. Always ready to go in harms way, Marines rarely ever question unless it's a matter of tactics or honor. But something seems awry. Junior and senior officers are starting to grumble, roll their eyes in the hallways. The strain of deployments is beginning to hit every jot and tittle of the Marines and it's beginning to seep into the daily conversation of Marines and Naval officers in command decision.

"I know this will sound crazy coming from a Naval officer", she said. "But we're all just waiting for this administration to end. Things that happen at the senior officer level seem more and more to happen outside of the purview of XOs and other officers who typically have a say-so in daily combat and flight operations. Today, orders just come down from the mountaintop and there's no questioning. In fact, there is no discussing it. I have seen more than one senior commander disappear and then three weeks later we find out that he has been replaced. That's really weird. It's also really weird because everyone who has disappeared has questioned whether or not we should be staging a massive attack on Iran."

"We're not stupid. Most of the members of the fleet read well enough to know what is going on world-wise. We also realize that anyone who has any doubts is in danger of having a long military career yanked out from under them. Keep in mind that most of the people I serve with are happy to be a part of the global war on terror. It's just that the touch points are what we see since we are the ones out here who are supposedly implementing this grand strategy. But when you liason with administration officials who don't know that Iranians don't speak Arabic and have no idea what Iranians live like, then you start having second thoughts about whether these Administration officials are even competent."

I asked her about the attack, how limited and so forth.

"I don't think it's limited at all. We are shipping in and assigning every damn Tomahawk we have in inventory. I think this is going to be massive and sudden, like thousands of targets. I believe that no American will know when it happens until after it happens. And the consequences...whatever the consequences...they will have to be lived with. I am sure if my father knew I was telling someone in a news organization that we were about to launch a supposedly secret attack that it would be treason. But something inside me tells me to tell it anyway."

I asked her why she was suddenly so cynical.

"I have become cynical only recently. I also don't believe anyone will be able to stop this. Bush has become something of an Emperor. He will give the command, and cruise missiles will fly and aircraft will fly and people will die, and yet few of us here are really able to cobble together a great explanation of why this is a good idea. Of course many of us can give you the 4H Club lecture on democracy in the Mid East. But if you asked any of the flight officers whether they have a clear idea of what the goal of this strike is, your answer would sound like something out of a think tank policy paper. But it's not like Kosovo or when we relieved the tsunami victims. There everyone could tell you in a sentence what we were here doing."

"That's what's missing. A real sense of purpose. What's missing is the answer to what the hell are we doing out here threatening this country with all this power? Last night in the galley, an ensign asked what right do we have to tell a sovereign nation that they can't build a nuke. I mean the table got EF Hutton quiet. Not so much because the man was asking a question that was off culture. But that he was asking a good question. In fact, the discussion actually followed afterwards topside where someone in our group had to smoke a cigarette. The discussion was intelligent but also in lowered voices. It's like we aren't allowed to ask the questions that we always ask before combat. It's almost as if the average seaman or soldier is doing all the policy work."

She had to hang up. She left by telling me that she believes the attack is a done deal. "It's only a matter of time before their orders come and they will be sent to station and told to go to Red Alert. She said they were already practicing traps, FARP and FAST." (Trapping is the act of catching the tension wires when landing on the carrier, FARP is Fleet Air Combat Maneuvering Readiness Program- practice dogfighting- and FAST is Fleet Air Superiority Training).

She seemed lost. The first time in my life I have ever heard her sound off rhythm, or unsure of why she is doing something. She knows that there is something rotten in the Naval Command and she, like many of her associates are just hoping that the election brings in someone new, some new situation, or something.

"Yes. We're gong to hit Iran, bigtime. Whatever political discussions that are going on is window dressing and perhaps even a red herring. I see what's going on below deck here in the hangars and weapons bays. And I have a sick feeling about how it's all going to turn out."
Now, here's the thing: this may not be real. Maccabee was rather severely criticized by other kossacks, including one diarist who was a Marine, and pointed out that certain assertions (such as F-18s landing on "smaller Marine carriers") are dubious at best.

Perhaps. Here's my problem, though: if you hit Maccabees diary, you really don't find someone who seems either willing or able to pull off such an elaborate deception. Yes, it could be Maccabee that was duped, but why would her military friend make such elementary mistakes? It seems more likely that Maccabee screwed up some details in passing, and is getting called out for those mistakes in a generally-honest post. It may well be that the source in question was working from more under-the-table scuttlebutt aboardships than they were easily willing to admit, but that doesn't mean that what they're saying is untrue, just that they might be talking up their own importance. That's certainly normal enough.

Besides, if it IS true, then it proves something that we've all suspected: like Iraq, Iran is a done deal before the "debate" even started. All the think-tank nonsense and the Op-Eds and talking heads and whatnot are totally besides the point; they're just cover for a pre-existing policy.

I feel like I'm in the fall of 2002 again. Except, of course, for the FAR bigger progressive blogosphere.