Caution: Stupid People At Work

“White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, seeking to put the shortest stamp on the duration of the war, said today that the White House did not consider the war starting with the March 19 aerial attack that targeted a Hussein bunker. Rather, he said, the White House was considering March 20, when troops first entered Iraq, as the official start, followed by the beginning of the massive aerial assault a day later.”“U.S. Smashes Through Iraqi Lines,” The Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2003

Just to be clear: Trying to assassinate a nation’s leader via guided missile is not an act of war.

I wonder which egghead over at the White House glommed on the idea that trimming 12 hours off the start of the war is going make that much of a perceptual difference to anyone. Probably the same fellow who had advised Rumsfeld on that “49 miles” thing.



This is interesting to me: A newgroup thread on the Coke-thowing spat between authors Jo Walton and David Brin. The short introduction to this is that Walton and Brin apparently crossed swords during a panel at this year’s Boskone science fiction convention, and then later at a party sponsored by Tor Books (my publisher, as well as the publisher of both Walton and Brin) Walton was sufficiently annoyed with and/or by Brin to douse him with a Coke she had in her hand. Walton blogged the event on her site shortly after it happened; some weeks later Brin found the blog entry and the comments that followed and responded, re-igniting the controversy afresh, and of course since then much of SF fandom and not a few authors have chimed in with their opinions of Walton, Brin and the entire spat. It’s a heck of a pile-up.

I have no horse in this particular race; I don’t know either Brin or Walton personally and so I have no opinion as to whether Brin deserved his cola shower, or if Walton was justified in administering the same. In a general sense, I try to live my life so that I neither throw nor am the recipient of thrown fizzy, carbonated beverages, and indeed, I encourage each of you to live your life in the same peaceable, non-sticky manner. But it is interesting to me in the sense that I am now a science fiction author (or will be soon enough) and will be entering the community of both of other SF authors and those who read SF; these little squabbles are now within my little sewing circle, as it were, and it’s fascinating to see how the dynamics of the interaction work here.

What is especially interesting is not so much the interaction between Walton and Brin (My only comment about the two of them is that each is the gardener of their own crop of karma, and so long as they are tending in a manner that makes them happy, more power to them) but the interaction of the peanut gallery of SF readers and their opinions of one or both of the authors. From what I observe, (popular) science fiction authors inhabit an uncomfortable intersection of reality and celebrity — notable enough that they’re up for grabs about speculation about themselves and their lives, but not such high-grade celebrities that they’ve developed the psychic callouses that allow those poor people to get on with their lives without collapsing into a heap under the weight of what everyone in the world has to say about them.

In short, they seem prime candidates for being really cheesed off by random burblings from the people who know them from their books and what other people have said about them based on third-hand reports from friends who went to conventions. And of course, what they read on newsgroups and comment threads. Combine that with the fact that SF readers can be, well, not nice, and the fact that writers tend not be the most magnificently socialized of people in the best of circumstances, and it’s no wonder SF writers can be a little twitchy.

Not to blame the readers, mind you (please buy my book when it comes out). If two authors hadn’t gotten into it in public, all the comment threads simply wouldn’t have happened. It’s just interesting to watch it all in play.


Right and Wrong

Irony abounds, if you care to look. The Dubya administration’s problems in selling its war plan exactly mirror the US troops’ problems in implementing the war plan — in its massive rush forward toward its goal, it left itself vulnerable to sniping from its flanks. The US military is dealing with the problem by killing Iraqi irregulars; the administration is dealing with it by trying the kill the messengers. In both cases, it’s far more trouble than expected; not entirely surprisingly, the military is doing a better job of it than the administration.

The interesting thing about the erupting tiff concerning the war plan is not whether the plan has been successful or not — the fact is, griping aside, the US military is currently in ass-kicking mode in what is still a pretty short and casualty-low pocket war. We may still get the actual killing-and-bombing thing done within a month. The interesting thing is just how bad a job the administration is doing in convincing anyone that the successes of the war have anything to do with it. The current line about this thing seems to be that the troops on the ground are making good progress despite the fact that the administration — particularly Rumsfeld and his pals — cut its legs out from under it by underestimating the number of troops needed initially and overestimating just how quickly the Iraqis would fold. This has thrown Rumsfeld into highly visible and somewhat amusing fits, and put the administration in the position of defending what is, from a pragmatic, results-oriented point of view, a pretty successful plan so far.

But isn’t that like this administration to have to justify its successes. It comes in part from the growing realization that the boys have done so many things badly (mismanaging the economy, bungling foreign diplomacy, and meting out blunt force trauma to the Bill of Rights are the things that immediatelycome to mind) that any assertion of continuing, ongoing incompetence in any aspect of their organizational purview comes across as sounding just about right.

(Of course, some folks on the hard right seem to think this sort of thing isn’t a bug, it’s a feature — by swelling the deficit, going unilateral and hammering on individual rights while they’re in power, they make it so less like-minded administrations have to spend most of their time cleaning up their messes rather than pursuing their own agendas. I think this is a very interesting political philosophy, since it seems to incorporate the idea that failure is built-in to the mechanics of their administration (you don’t plan to sabotage liberal administrations if you don’t expect they will eventually win), which is a refreshing admission of the limitations of their politics. It’s either that or the hard right actually feels we as a citizenry are actually better off isolated, in debt and stripped of our rights. Either way, these sorts of maneuvers do not engender trust.)

The more prosaic factor to consider is simply that the Dubyites are reaping what they have sown. When you deal with people in a smug, high-handed manner, they’re more inclined not to feel terribly wracked with guilt about messing with you even when you’re right. This is why the US had to grovel in the UN for Security Council votes it ultimately didn’t get but should have gotten, no grovelling involved, and why Pentagon colonels are now falling over each other to anonymously whack at Rumsfeld as if he were a piata at a New Yorker inside source party. It’s not enough to be right; you need to be right in a way that doesn’t make people actively hate you for it.

This is a little factor the Dubyas don’t understand, which is why they have such a hard time dealing with it. They really ought to get used to it. It’s not going to get any better from here on out.

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