Saturday, June 30, 2007


"Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends."

"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity." -Dwight D. Eisenhower

I often assume that literate, politically minded folks, even those my own age, are familiar with Eisenhower's farewell address (a transcript can be found here, among many, many other places). It occurred to me recently that often this is in fact, and unfortunately, not true.

There are vast differences in how much background knowledge a wannabe wonk like me can assume of one discussant or another, and I frequently wish that there was some reliably citable bedrock of political or general discourse. I leave it the the humanists to compile the list (lord knows they have tried, and I will probably come up quite short on many lists), but I submit that Eisenhower's speech should added to the canon of political wisdom. Ditto a few speeches by TR. Maybe we'll call this definitive tome "No Citizen Left Behind." No. No we won't.

In any case, while the term "military-industrial complex" has been established in the political lexicon and most of those who use it are familiar with the famously scornful admonitions yoked to its coinage, much of the remainder of the speech seems to have been lost to relative obscurity. What a shame. Here are some of my favorite parts of the address, selected for their prophetic contemporary relevance.

We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle - with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in the newer elements of our defenses; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research - these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration; the need to maintain balance in and among national programs - balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages - balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between the actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.


In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.


As we peer into society's future, we - you and I, and our government - must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war - as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years - I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

Eisenhower appears to have been the consummate pacifist. Proclamations like these would be derided and dismissed by today's conservatives as the blathering claptrap of weak, whiny, limp-wristed, pencil-necked, tree-hugging*, liberal hippy cowards. Tell it to Ike, chickenhawks.

*I'm not sure why the anti-environmentalist epithet always seems to show up in conversations invective that has nothing to do with green politics. But I guess if you're going to stoop to name-calling, you might as well pile it on thick.

More quotations from Ike.

The entire "Cross of Iron" speech.

PS: I also came across this quote that I couldn't resist commenting on:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
He's right about who they are, I only wish that they were actually negligible, and that such an idea truly would be their political demise.


Friday, June 29, 2007


This is pretty wild. Colbert gave it some love the other night too. Wow. Just, wow. I am glad that there are people who are as radically committed to worthy causes as these people.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Complex

Ian Welsh has a link to a nice examination of military spending, cost-benefit wise. The costs are, um, large. Benefits? Here's a thought (the excerpt does his piece no justice though; read it all):

Politicians often claim that military spending "makes Americans safer". Let's examine that.

Safe from what? Is anyone going to invade you? Is there anyone who is even remotely capable of invading you? No. Right, so it's not about "defense" as traditionally understood.

Safe from terrorists? There's an argument here, I suppose, but it's not very strong. Certainly the use of military force over the last few years has increased the frequency of terrorist attacks throughout the world, not decreased them. One might argue that by "fighting them there" we aren't "fighting them here." I'm sure the Spanish and Brits might have something to say about that, but in fact, the odds of any attack from Islamic terrorists have always been low. How many terrorist attacks by foreigners (as opposed to Americans) have occurred on US soil over the last 20 years? Not many. It's a low probability event and the lack of an attack since 9/11 on US soil reflects that. Mind you, the attack on Afghanistan did disrupt al-Qaeda, and that was a good thing. But that attack did not require the vast majority of the US military and an expedition multiple times that size could be done even if the US spent much less money on the military.

In fact the majority of actual terrorist captures have been the result, not of military action, but of the sort of police and intelligence work that mostly doesn't require much in the way of military resources (special ops teams at most. And they aren't expensive compared to the big iron.)

While the military has soaked up billions, things that might keep the "homeland" safe, like scanning all cargo containers, pushing the most advanced explosive sniffers out to airports, and so on, have been grossly underfunded.
At some point the US is going to have to make some hard decisions about what's going to give. You can't have all of - low taxes on the rich, a big military, entitlements spending, big deficit spending. One, or probably two, of those pillars, are going to have to go.
The founders argued that large standing armies were inimical to liberty, to democracy, to the health of the economy and to peace itself. I'd say they knew what they were talking about.

At the beginning of the post, he also links to an outstanding essay on guerilla warfare that everyone should read. And that certain people should have read 4 years ago.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

One More Reason He Doesn't Go By Richard...

Cheney has declared that he is not subject to executive orders. This puts him in a unique situation, as the executive branch of which he is a part is, per Cheney's previous legal scholarship, not subject to laws, congressional oversight, or the constitution. The move typifies the current administration's contempt for rule of law, and its willingness to subvert the judiciary by means only slightly more subtle than the Reichstag fire.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Red State Update

I've said it before, these guys are amazing. They stuff they write and the comedic acting reminds me of Ricky Gervais. Hilarious. I didn't know Maya Angelous was Oprah's mother.


It's A Rough Life

But Ben Stein doesn't need your pity. Someone should tell him that.


Friday, June 22, 2007


I've mentioned before that Teddy Roosevelt is a badass. I recently came across another tremendous example of why. One of his most eloquent and quotable ideas is drawn from this speech:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face in marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The rest is good too.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Some Reading

Another link dump. Here's Walter Kirn on growing economic disparity.

And I just found this fairly old piece by Matt Taibi (whom I'm a big fan of lately), on why the Republicans are not the only ones to blame for our debacle in Iraq. He's exactly right, and frankly it infuriates me that so many people --people who should know better, like congressmen and media professionals-- have simply excused themselves for having supported the invasion, citing an environment in which nobody seemed to know better. First of all, it's simply not true that nobody knew the case for war was bullshit. And more importantly, those who would exhibit the leadership we expect of public officials and journalists have a responsibility to cut through the hysteria and make a reasonable decision when it matters, which is to say, when the hype runs highest. I don't understand how they so blithely admit to having failed at this, one of their most solemn obligations. Their contrition is due, as the blood is as much on their hands as on Bush's.

If the Iraq war was not ever going to be worth 3,000 American lives (and countless more Iraqi lives), then why the hell did we go in in the first place? If you make a decision to fight, you had better not be scared of blood. And if you're suddenly changing your mind about things after you lose a few teenage lives, you're a hundred times more guilty than the guys like Bush who are actually sticking to their guns about this war.

Because Bush and the rest of that crew sent young men to die for something they believed in, fucked-up as their reasoning might be and have been. But these shitheads in the political middle who are flip-flopping right now sentenced teenagers to death for the cause of expediency and careerism. There are young men coming home now without arms and legs because the Wolf Blitzers of the world were too afraid to lose their jobs or piss off advertisers bucking the war hysteria of the times. Remember, CNN and the rest of the networks did great business in the run-up to the war. They had artists cooking up fancy new "America's New War" graphics and they were selling lawn fertilizer and soda and male-enhancement drugs by the metric ton right up to the time when the Saddam statue came down. But the war isn't selling anymore; the war is a bummer. And so these guys are changing their minds.

Are you throwing up yet? Surely that behavior is more shameful than anything coming out of the White House.

Here's how to hack a voting machine in 60 seconds. Sleep tight.

Taibbi blasts Giuliani, and he's right again. I had thought that perhaps Giuliani was an encouraging choice for a Republican candidate, as he is socially liberal and will not turn out the evangelical base, whose voice I really don't want to hear anymore in politics. If we can limit the differences between parties to things like economics and immigration, but maintain a consensus that we are, per the Constitution, not a theocracy... well, that's progress. However, my glib view of Giuliani as a fairly tolerable pres if he were to win was shattered by the realization that Giuliani was simply pandering to his NY constituents, and he will do exactly the same thing for the national Republican base, effectively negating everything I liked about him. He'd give the religious nuts their anti-gay amendment in a heartbeat if he knew it would win him the presidency. And it took balls to say it, but I'm glad someone finally pointed out that Giuliani's response to 9/11 wasn't so awesome after all.

One more by Taibbi, on Cindy Sheehan, and another on this stupid talk of "tiers" this campaign season. And finally, one on how the Democrats lack the balls to do the thing they guaranteed they would do, and which got them elected.



Great idea, asshole.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

In Praise of Assholes

Good point.

Considering the culture we live in, one that embraces flaming assholes for their empty athletic achievements, it's only fitting we have Bonds on the cusp of breaking the most hallowed record in the history of the game -- one that is held by one of its greatest ambassadors and historical figures. Whereas baseball never deserved someone with the quiet dignity and professionalism of Henry Aaron, baseball deserves in spades everything that is Barry Bonds.



Bush's brazen contempt for the appointment of qualified officials seems to be pathological. Once again, an ideological commitment has obviated pertinent credentials.


The New Reality

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Slow News Day

A friend recently sent me an article that incensed me. I have railed against the stupidification of/by the media before, and this "article" is a great example of how nothing is too insignificant to be news.

It's a Reuters story on MSNBC, but its content is what I used to expect from the National Inquirer (does that shitsheet still exist outside of unfavorable comparisons?). I feel sorry for the journalist, who is most likely capable, intelligent, and appreciative of real information, who had to report this crap. And with a deep sigh of exasperation and self-reproach, I will admit that, yeah, that's kind of amusing. All the more reason they should keep it off the wires, where it diverts direly scarce attention from news of substance.



I am frequently a critic of the pervasive voyeurism that has insinuated itself to the point of saturation within our culture. I have unmasked contempt for reality TV and similar concepts.

I am also skeptical of many models of abstract or conceptual art, because I feel it often places the burden of art too heavily on the observer. That is to say, while some people may find a minimalist representation of triangles (I know it is an unfortunate stereotype of modern art, but my point doesn't turn on the accuracy of the example) to be truly beautiful, I don't see why we should credit its creator with having accomplished something praiseworthy. It is only the eye of the beholder that appreciates such a work; I don't believe it has inherent or objective value. Nor do I understand, if you are capable of appreciating an aesthetic so simple, why you would choose to view paint on canvas (or sculpture, or whatever). There are far better examples of minimalistic beauty available in nature, and it is certainly more interesting to consider how and why they came to be.

Strange then that I would find this so strangely compelling. It is perhaps the authentic organicity, as in nature, that distinguishes these from the pedestrian "art of the everyday" that I often deride. Not all of them are brilliant, but many are amazing. I am shocked but not surprised by the things that people need to express. And how willingly they do so with anonymity.

Here's one I liked. It's dark.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

That's Interesting...

Did you know that you can put things other than football-to-groin humor on YouTube? It's news to me, and good news too.

I knew that someone would figure out purpose for the internet other than porn. And teen angst. And America's Funniest Home Videos but without the infuriatingly unfunny Bob Sagat voice-overs.

CitizenTube is the self-described political vlog of YouTube. And it's not half bad.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lord Help Us

I'm speechless. Really.

Correction: Not really. I just have to comment on one of the final paragraphs of the review:

Note that maybe one "educational" value in this movie was it served as a reminder that the settlers, our forefathers, in building a new nation free from religious and dictatorial oppression, oppressed the Native American nations almost into oblivion. And we don't even have so much as a national holiday to honor what is left of the only true Americans.

A nation free from religious and dictatorial oppression, eh? Funny thing to say on an unabashedly Christian website that protests the showing of a loosely historical film to high school students because it contains "many scenes of male posterior flesh, inappropriate touch, necking" and my personal favorite "a daughter's arrogance against her father's authority." Of course the reviewer also laments the graphic violence, which is undeniably intense, but I got the distinct impression that our latter day Bowdler was more upset about the verisimilar exposure of ass-cheeks than the explicit evisceration.

Certainly one could make a reasonable case against showing Last of the Mohicans to students, but such a case would not involve a rubric in which "O" for "Offense to God" is a criterion.


Good News Doesn't Sell Papers

The liberal media conspiracy exposed. Kind of. It's funny. Remember to get the fuller picture, America!

By the way, The Beast is one of my new favorites; I am convinced it is the love child of The Onion and Mother Jones.


I Like This Guy

On a tangent-jumping surf session, I ended up viewing this movie review. I loved the review and the writing, so I poked around a little to see who the author is and what else he writes. I was pleasantly surprised.

He is a contumelious cynic, an arrant and impudent fount of vituperation and obloquy. He writes the sort of things I imagine in the darkest, most depraved depths of quasi-delusional introspection. Things I would never dare commit to print. Were I so gifted a writer, I might fancy him my shadow, perhaps. He is, at the very least, my new favorite media critic.

Here's more.


Sad But True

Our foreign policy in a nutshell.

(The first video is actually a much longer skit from which only a few highlights have been compiled. The full-length segment is downright depressing [part 2, 3 , 4].)


Saturday, June 9, 2007

Who Are We Kidding?

The following is borrowed from the newsletter of Marty Klein. I thought it was worth reposting:

"F--- you"

Do you know what these expressions mean? Of course you do. Everyone over the age of 10 does.

And yet the American mass media continue to use these infantile symbols when they want to refer to someone using the word fuck.

U.S. News & World Report is the latest grownup magazine to coyly play it both ways.

In this week's article on how John McCain's "sharp tongue could affect the [presidential] race," they noted he was reported telling Senator John Cornyn "F--- you." Later in the story, they reminded us that three years ago, Vice-President Cheney "famously used the "F-word"" while quarrelling with Senator Pat Leahy.

This is just too puerile for words. First they imply that using the word fuck is a gauge of a person's temperament or even his fitness for public office. Then they pretend the word is so powerful that reproducing it on the page is dangerous. But for some reason readers need to know that the dreaded syllable was uttered, and so it is, literally, spelled out for us.

What exactly is the difference between fuck and "the F-word"? The same as the difference between pasties and real nipples--the pretense of morality. The insistence that something harmless is dangerous, but that simply covering it makes us safer. The illusion that blushing makes everything OK.

If the magic word is that treacherous, we shouldn't be invited to hear it in our mind's ear. Magazines shouldn't use "fruit you" either. They should say "he said a really awful word that's too horrible to print." That would make people think, another thing from which most popular magazines seem eager to protect us.

Speaking of infantile, I would like to mention that, given the chance, I would tell Cornyn the same thing (albeit for many, many other reasons).

**That reporter obviously has no idea what a gerund is. Or for that matter, a joke. Someone at a news outfit should be familiar with these sorts of things.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Cooler Heads Prevail

This is good news for the First Amendment.

The Dallas Morning News (!) taking a not-at-all-subtle shot at Bush and Cheney's hypocrisy? That's rich.

Correction: It's an NYT story that the DMN ran. Shucks.