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 piņata 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.

Book Season!

Happy April Fool’s Day. I hope you’re telling someone a big fat lie even as I type this. I haven’t done a major April Fool’s prank since the time I convinced the woman who was trying to prank me into thinking she got a new job (she was looking to get a job with me at AOL at the time) that I had taken her seriously and given the job I had open for her to someone else. There’s nothing sweeter than pranking those who are trying to prank you, especially when it involves money and/or employment. Alas, these days, the only people I have to prank are the pets, and they’re no fun. The cats would just run away and the dog will merely look up at me with her sad, sad eyes, as if to say, but why would you want to prank me? I love you. Stupid unconditional love.

In celebration of April Fool’s Day, however, allow me exhume an April Fool’s Guide to Pranking that I wrote, um, about seven years ago. And let me just say, good friggin’ lord, am I getting old. Enjoy.

Other people are celebrating April Fool’s, but April 1 has a different significance for me this year — it’s the opening of book season, the period in which my primary occupation will be grinding through the books I have contracted to write this year. In order to do so, I’ve largely cleared the deck of most freelance work except for a couple of specific clients who help me cover the mortgage, and I’ll be adopting (this is where you may gasp in shock and horror) — a schedule! Yes, a schedule, because nothing says “bite me, I’m writing” like a set in stone writing routine. Also, without a routine, I tend to flail and panic and instead of writing, I’ll give myself over to multiple bouts of first-person-shooter bot deathmatches, which is really unbecoming in a man of my advanced professional stature and level of male pattern baldness.

The two books in question are The Book of the Dumb and the second novel for Tor, which currently is running around without a title — I had thought of one, but then Patrick Nielsen Hayden, upon hearing it, said “Hmmmm… that sounds like a fantasy title.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that I’m not writing fantasy, I’m writing Science Fiction, which needs sharp, metallic, reflective pointy titles. Which, although I’ve never thought about it before, makes perfect sense. A science fiction book, no matter how good it is, isn’t going to go anywhere with a title like The Fluffy Ponies in the Candy-Coated Space Station of Love! Which is really too bad, if you ask me. So, title to come.

It’s a very interesting time to be writing my particular science fiction novel — the idea I sold to Tor was of (here’s the actual quote) “a diplomatic troubleshooter who solves problems through the use of action scenes and witty dialogue,” and at the moment, we’re living in a time where both diplomatic troubleshooting and witty dialogue have almost nothing to do with our current administration’s plan for resolving thorny international problems (although, to be fair, it’s very big on action scenes).

I don’t think there’s going to be any doubt that the current world situation here on Earth is going to leak into the adventures that will transpire in the book. Not directly, of course — it’s that whole idea of “If you want to send a message, use Western Union” which I whole-heartedly endorse — but certainly it’s food for thought whilst I write.

The temporal appropriateness of writing The Book of the Dumb at this moment in time is of course all too obvious, so I need not belabor the point. Let’s just say that for both books, the timing for me is good, almost too good.

Incidentally, regarding The Book of the Dumb, I’ll have an announcement to make fairly shortly — basically, I’ll be hoping for some audience participation, and I’m writing up the details for that right now. More is coming, so stay tuned.

So I am actually going to start writing the books today? Well, no — for all my deck clearing, I’ve got a couple of barnacles: A couple of assignments for my beloved masters at Official PlayStation Magazine (Hi, Joe!) and a series of additional articles for Uncle John’s which will actually take me a couple of weeks to complete. I’ll begin writing the novel probably as early as tomorrow, with the writing on Dumb to commence after I complete the assignments for Uncle John (they’re being published by the same people, so I’m sure they’d endorse this); in the meantime for Dumb I have some concrete setting-up exercises I need to do (which as I said, I’ll be sharing with the rest of you soon).

What it means that from now through the end of September, I’m primarily in book mode. I’m very excited about this of course — the natural habitat of a writer is to be writing books. Well, that and scrounging toothpick-speared finger foods from wine-and-cheese author events (other author’s events, of course). Unfortunately, I’d have to commute for those. Guess I’ll just have to write instead.

Professor De Genova — Hero of the Right!

Right wingers (and people who don’t approve of blindingly stupid things said by educated people — not necessarily the same group) are piling on Columbia Professor Nicholas De Genova, for his comment at a “teach-in” in which he said, ” “The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military… I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus.”

The right wingers have got it all wrong, however. This is proof that De Genova is a radical — but for the right, not the left. Follow:

It is true that the US lost 18 soldiers in the fight in Mogadishu. However, they also managed to kill an estimated 500 to 1000 Somalis. So a million Mogadishus would have the US eradicating roughly the entire population of the continent of Africa, with, say, the populations of Iraq, Iran and North Korea thrown in as dessert.

It’s also worth noting that in the aftermath of the Mogadishu event, Somalia collapsed into anarchy while the United States began the greatest bull run in its economic history; and while the latter isn’t necessarily related to the events in Mogadishu, the former almost certainly is. Additionally, the commander-in-chief during the Mogadishu event was handily re-elected. Bear in mind also that despite the casualties, the “Black Hawk Down” mission did in fact accomplish its military objectives — a little fact often overlooked.

So, in fact, were we to have a million Mogadishus, the likely result would be the complete United States military and economic domination of the entire world (which is to say, more than we have now), not to mention that we’d have all that lovely African real estate to ourselves, and Dubya would be crowned Emperor for life. What self-respecting right-wing war hawk wouldn’t want that?

Professor De Genova — A mole for the right! You heard it here first.

Update: Actually, you hear it here second, since this fellow thought about it first, about three days ago, as pointed out to me by Glenn Reynolds. See, that’s the problem with coming to a topic a couple days late. Ah well.

Visits, Blogging, Notify Lists

One of the unexpected side benefits of switching over to Movable Type seems to be that overall unique visits are way up: About 50% increase on work days and a 100% increase on weekends (which, by way of explanation, typically have fewer visits). The number of raw access is also way, way up, but that’s a very unreliable guide to use, not in the least because I’m a pathological reloader of the Whatever page (It’s the default home page for my browser and I open and close that thing about 100 times a day) which skews the accesses ridiculously. Unique visits is a more reliable metric, though of course not totally reliable.

I don’t know that the increase in unique visits actually means that I’m getting more visitors; since at least some of the people who access the site use ISPs that feature dynamic or floating IPs (which change every time the user signs on), it could be the same number of people, just accessing more than once day because now I’m posting random bits daily at irregular intervals (ahem) rather than every couple of days. Be that as it may, it feels a little more lively in here, if only people are also now floating me ‘tude in the comments. So who knows. Maybe there are actually more people visiting.

People have commented that they like the fact I’m posting more often, which is very nice for my ego, although I hope there’s not direct quality/quantity ratio going on, in which the more I most, the more likely it is to be crap (which has been known to happen on occasion). Now that I’ve been fiddling with MT for about a week, I do suspect that my more increased updating will become a fixture, although by way of fair warning I do have to note that I formally begin writing my next novel starting tomorrow (and will be begin writing The Book of the Dumb shortly thereafter), so I wouldn’t continue to expect the four-to-five post speed I’ve been going at recently, unless they’re really short, very blog-like bits.

Which brings up, once again, the side issue of whether I’m now formally “blogging,” since more than one person has applied the “if the shoe fits” rationale to me here — if I’m updating more than daily while using software explicitly designed for blogging, shouldn’t I reasonably be construed to be a blogger? My response: Could be. Honestly, if it makes you happy to call me a blogger, go right ahead.

However, I personally don’t think of myself as a blogger because I think of myself as a writer. Which is to say, I think many people who blog are writers because one typically has to write in order to blog (although “v-blogging” could change that over time). Whereas if I do indeed blog, it’s because it’s just another way to write, and that’s what my focus is. It’d be a little much to say I was an “accidental blogger,” but I think it’s perfectly correct to say that I’m an “incidental blogger.”

So anyway, if you like, call me a blogger (or if you’re from the previous iterative generation of online writing, call me a journaller). I’ll just be happy to continue calling myself a writer. It’s a good enough title for me.

A couple of people have asked if I wouldn’t mind putting together a notify list, so they know when I’ve updated. I think MT allows for that, although I have to rumble through its guts to be sure. As a general thing, I myself don’t sign up for notify lists (I prefer to visit people’s sites and curse at them roundly when they don’t update fast enough to amuse me), so I’m honestly kind of unfamiliar with how they work. So let me get back to you on that. I do know that if it’s a whole lot more work, I’m probably going to be less inclined to do it. The whole point of moving to MT was to reduce the annoying aspects of updating, so adding more annoyances to the process isn’t likely to appeal to my finely calibrated sense of slothfulness.

Bad Interview

Ah, a prime candidate for an entry in my book on stupidity. Here’s the quiz. You’re a reporter, working for an American media organization (owned, incidentally, by one of the United States’ largest defense contractors) in a war zone with an enemy giving the United States government fits because it won’t just lay down and die. If you want to keep your job, should you sit down for an interview with the media of the enemy, knowing full well it’s tightly controlled by the very man the United States is trying to decapitate via bunker buster, and say comments like the US “war plan has failed”?

a) Oh, absolutely.
b) Hmmm, probably not.

Peter Arnett chose a), and of course he was fired by NBC for doing so. As well he should have been. It’s not a question of free speech (that concept having several levels of irony here because Arnett’s in a war zone in a country where the leader would murder people for having incorrect thoughts if he could), it’s a matter of simple common sense. Were I an executive at NBC, I would personally prefer to have someone working for me who has the presence of mind not to make like an ass at historically difficult times. Hell, even Dan Rather wouldn’t have been able to pull off this maneuver; Peter Arnett, despite the Pulitzer in his pocket, doesn’t even begin to rate.

Peter Arnett commented during his corporate-mandated apology Monday something along the line that he was just saying what everyone was thinking, but this is neither here not there. As I mentioned, this isn’t about what he said, which was fairly obvious, but where he said it. That and the fact that Arnett was either oblivious to the fact of the propaganda value of having a prominent western journalist go on Iraqi TV and armchair quarterbacking like he was on a Sunday morning talk show, or wasn’t oblivious to it, and decided to do it anyway. If Arnett wants to do that, it’s fine, but he shouldn’t have seriously expected his work contract to be there when he came back.

I personally have a hard time believing that Arnett could have been oblivious; he’s not a stupid or a naive man, just a contrary one. Either he believed that NBC would keep him no matter what (and indeed, on Sunday, when the story broke, NBC News supported him, suggesting strongly that the decision to squash him like a bug came from executives higher up the food chain, who are less interested in journalistic privileges and more interested in not having their company tainted by an association with someone who doesn’t care if he makes the company look bad), or it was just a matter of pure ego: I’m Peter Arnett! Hero journalist of the first Gulf War! I know all! I see all! I am untouchable! The third, and very real, possibility is that Arnett is actually just on loan to NBC (he’s in Iraq for the National Geographic Channel, and was picked up by NBC after their people got the boot) and simply doesn’t care what NBC thinks about anything he does. Whichever, the firing and the attendant slagging to come will hopefully be a bracing bit of perspective for the man.

It’s also the sort of thing that, as to use the current military euphemisms, seriously degrades his capabilities. Corporate news is fairly tolerant of reporter’s personal quirks — the fact that Geraldo is still employed by a major American new operation when he is only slightly less freakish than Michael Jackson gives an indication of how laissez faire that market really is (Geraldo, incidentally, just got kicked out of the war zone because he draw a map in the sand pointing out where the 101st was headed. Speaking of oblivious). But this is probably the sort of thing corporate news organizations will remember. I don’t know how high Arnett’s stock was anyway (no offense to National Geographic, but it’s probably not a first stop choice for most seriously journalists), but this doesn’t help him out much.

At least in the US. It could revive his career in other markets. Maybe that’s why he did it. Hmmm.

Update: National Geographic Fires Peter Arnett. Hope the interview was worth it, Pete.

Just 49 Miles!!!

“Speaking on the CBS News program ‘Face the Nation,’ General Myers said he had full faith in the war plan, adding ‘I just can’t explain why people are sniping at it.’ And Mr. Rumsfeld, speaking on the ABC News program ‘This Week,’ said, ‘We’re within 49 miles of Baghdad, and there are all these people hyperventilating that this isn’t working.'”“U.S. Officials Vehemently Counter War Doubts,” New York Times, 3/30/2003 (reg. required to read)

I find the “49 miles” thing to be really weird. Most people, confronted with 49 miles of anything, would round up to 50 miles for the purposes of conversation — “We’re within 50 miles of Baghdad,” certainly sounds a lot more normal than “We’re within 49 miles of Baghdad.” It makes me suspect that Rumsfeld, et al are using the “49 miles” metric for the same reason that candy bars at the local Speedway are sold for 49 cents rather than 50 — the idea that the number “49” is a rather more deeply attractive number than “50” for the purposes of selling something. As in, we’re just 49 miles from Baghdad? Hell, that’s progress!!!

It’s probably just me, but I’d feel a lot more confident in the planning skills of our war planners if I didn’t get the feeling they were trying to use the same psychological tools to reassure me of their progress in this war that Hershey and M&M Mars use to tempt me to purchase their empty calorie confections. I don’t need the psychological sugar coat.

Comment Thread Rules

Here are the rules as they regard posting in comment threads.

This is not a democracy. As Sylvester Stallone said in that classic of futuristic jurisprudence, Judge Dread, — “I am the law!” (actually, Stallone says something like “Huhhhyeeehamdelaaaaaw!” But you know where I’m going). This is to say that I reserve all rights to edit and delete posts as I see fit. I am the sole arbiter of what is acceptable and what is not. There is no appeal. If’n you don’t like it, don’t post. Conversely, by posting here, you accept I have the right to edit and delete posts at my whim.

I don’t typically expect I will take a strong editorial hand to the comments, because I expect that most people of reasonable intelligence will be able to voice strong opinions in a fairly coherent and polite manner, and if they don’t, then their wild sputtering may at least have some entertainment value. However, the things that will typically rate an editing or a deletion include:

Overused and unoriginal profanity,
Phobic comments based on a person’s particular race, sex, orientation, etc,
Physical threats,
Complete lack of relation between your comment and the topic at hand,
Astoundingly poor grammar and spelling — yes, really,
Or if I just find you obnoxious beyond mere words.

In some threads, I may decide a particular argument between two posters has gone on long enough. When that happens, I will tell the combatants to take it into e-mail. I expect them to do so, and if they don’t any further postings on the topic in question will be cheerfully deleted. I may also from time to time close comment threads because I come to the conclusion that the particular topic has already been worried to the bone and it’s time for people to move on. When that happens, please go about your lives.

Typically speaking, so long as people refrain from performing any of the above deletable offenses, I’m not going to stop people from tearing into each other (or me) if that’s what they want to do, because it’s amusing to watch people try to find new and inventive ways of belittling each other. I mean, it’d be nice if people responded to each other in a positive sense, but I’ve been online for the better part of a decade, which is long enough to know that people probably won’t bother. There’s something about not having to worry about someone actually being in front of you and able to punch you in the face that brings out the, shall we say, less inhibited side of people’s typing urges.

Thereby, I’m not going to go out of my way to try to stop them. That takes up too much time. Just try to keep things amusing for the rest of us. I’ll let you know when you get tiresome.

[Update, 9/9/06]: One thing I’m finding increasingly annoying, particularly in political threads, are trolls who pop up, make a bad rhetorical argument, and then declare victory when I or others choose not to engage them and/or point out their bad arguments are not worth responding to. I’ll give people some leeway to turn their bad arguments into good ones, but if I think the snark isn’t going to go anywhere, I may ask the poster not to post in that thread any more, and if he (it’s almost always a he) does, I may delete further posts in that thread from that commenter. Honestly, if you’re going to make an argument, make a good one. Note that “bad” and “good” in this case relates to the structure of the argument — I’m not at all likely to ask people to stop commenting simply because they disagree with me. I like disagreements. I especially like them when they’re well-argued.

I do go through the comments frequently and try to respond on a regular basis — not to every post, but to a fair number. I really enjoy good debate, sharp wits, sincere questions and a fun back-and-forth, even (and sometimes especially) with people who do not share my viewpoints. If you’re smart, civil, and engaging, I’ll probably like you, even if you and I cancel each other out in the voting booth. So bring it on — tell me I’m wrong. I don’t mind. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Having said that, people who want to score points off of me with their astounding wit and withering comments should be aware of the following salient point:

I don’t care what you think of me.

I cannot emphasize this point enough. I honestly, truly and sincerely could not give a runny crap in a bucket about your opinion of who I am, how I live my life, what you think of my opinions, etc. That being the case, trying to flame me is really a waste of your time. At best, I’ll grade you on your performance, since I enjoy a good flame (be aware that I have high standards in this area). At worse I’ll simply ignore you.

The fact is — and no offense — you’re just words on a screen to me. Therefore, your opinion of me is nothing I’ll spend a lot of time worrying about. I’ve learned over time that nothing enrages a flamer more than a casual disregard of his opinion about one’s self, so there’s also the added attraction for me of watching such people fume when I take them rather less seriously than they take themselves. So, if you really want to amuse me this way, by all means go right ahead.

That’s it for now. Enjoy posting!

The War as Advertised

Dubya, Rumsfeld et al are half right when they bitch about the second-guessing they’ve been getting in the press. The half they’ve got right is that it’s utterly ridiculous to judge how the war’s going when we’re less than two weeks in; it’s like deciding you don’t like an entire opera based solely on the overture. If we are going to judge then let’s judge it as honestly as possible and note that as wars go, this one is pretty successful so far. Our casualties are low, we control much of the countryside (even if the cities are giving us fits), and while the mad dash across the desert has its disadvantages, such as Fedayeen taking pot shots at our supply lines, which themselves are currently stretched thin enough that troops are rationing their MREs, to my utterly ignorant military eye that’s several hundred miles of desert these troops don’t have to cross when the weather gets hot and mean, which I understand will be happening sooner than later. So all that’s encouraging. The rumblings about the mechanics of the war don’t sound particularly thrilling (especially this one, which seems like bad news all around), but strictly from the results end, it’s so far, so good.

The thing is, the war we’re having isn’t the war we were sold. This is where the press and everyone else is justified in calling the administration on the carpet, all the better to hear the rrrrrhhhhmp sound of dress shoes backtracking. The administration line right now is that it never actually said that this war was going to be so quick that all the troops would be back home in time for baseball’s opening day, but if it didn’t (an assertion which isn’t strictly true), it certainly went out of its way to imply it with extreme prejudice.

Put it this way: You go into your car dealership to buy a car, and the salesman steers you towards one of those sweet new Thunderbirds. You plunk down your cash and then go have lunch while they detail your new purchase. When you come back, they present you with a Ford Excursion, which can seat most of Fort Bragg in the back.

And you say, what happened to the car I bought?

And the salesman says, this is it.

And you say, I wanted the Thunderbird.

And he says, well, this one is much nicer.

And you say, sure, it’s a nice car, but it wasn’t what I thought I was getting.

And then the salesman rather testily replies that he never actually promised you could have the Thunderbird, so he doesn’t see why you’re complaining about it now. You get the Excursion. Take it and get the Hell off the lot.

In this war, we were promised a Thunderbird and we’re driving off the lot with the Excursion. The Excursion may indeed be a fine vehicle, if you’re into that sort of thing. But it’s not what we bargained for, nor what we were led to believe we would get, and it’s a perfectly legitimate thing to point that out.

And here you might say, caveat emptor, pal — let the buyer beware. Maybe so. But at least when you buy a car, if it turns out to be a lemon you can send it back. This war we have to keep.

Cavalcade of Comments I

I think it’ll be fun to every once in a while highlight and comment on some of the comments I get from the various postings — a way to let people know I’m reading while at the same time giving me a cheap and easy source of things to write about. It’s the circle of life, friends. And it moves us all.

From the “Confederate States of Iraq” post, this comment from Henry:

In Vietnam, we overestimated the value of our technological superiority. We underestimated the persistence of the opposition. Our troops couldn’t tell the difference between the civilians and the “bad guys”, who used that to their advantage. And the people we were supposedly helping didn’t want our help.

I’m not convinced that this war will end as badly for us as that one did. I do believe we are entering this one with the same assumptions. Who knows, maybe this time our assumptions are correct.

Well, as General Wallace so delicately put it, the enemy they’re fighting in Iraq is indeed not the enemy they war-gamed for. And it’s also very true that Saddam and his people are trying to get the US to fight the war their way, which to say in a way that de-emphasizes our really vast technical superiority and plays up their willingness to fight dirty (i.e., dressing up as civilians, using them as human shields, the car bomb which killed five US soldiers, etc) to our disadvantage. It’s also pretty clear that even many of the people who hate Saddam are less than pleased to see us walking around in their backyard. For various reasons dating back to the first Gulf War, they don’t trust our intentions.

For all that I don’t know that Vietnam is a great analogy. I don’t think the vast majority of Iraqis will shed a tear when Saddam is gone, and it’s also a excellent data point to keep in mind that it appears that Saddam’s more doctrinaire followers spend most of their time shuttling from one army group to the other, threatening the Iraqis who don’t want to fight or try to surrender. Someone else somewhere compared Saddam’s tactics with the ones the Soviet used at Stalingrad, during which Soviet solders who attempted to retreat from the Germans were shot by special Soviet squads who stayed behind for just that purpose. Now you know why the Soviets lost 25 million people in WWII.

I do think our Administration and our military are currently paying the price for initially overstating the ease with with our technological goodies would overcome resistance, and mis-estimating the disposition of the Iraqi people. At this point, in fact, the only clear winner in Iraq is Colin Powell, whose “Powell Doctrine” of overwhelming force at the outset is looking better and better with every headline about US forces at the ragged tail end of supply lines that are being harassed by Iraqi irregulars.

But at the same time I’d caution against understating the advantage technology is providing us. At any other point in time, in the same conflict parameters, thousands of civilians would be dead from bombing instead of the relative few that are now. That midnight attack by Iraqi forces against our people earlier this week would have been much more effective if our troops didn’t have the night vision goggles to see them coming and to pick them out before they got to them. Our casualties in this conflict are very low, and much of that is due to technology doing the heavy lifting.

Over at the “PETA-ization of Protest” comments, Bill Peschel writes:

Steven Den Beste had a perceptive comment on his site about shenanigans like this. He believes it’s not so much campaigning to change people’s minds as it is the group attempting to perpetuate itself through rituals that create a bonding among the participants. PETA ensures its survival through publicity and making its members perform humiliating acts in public, in the belief that they’re “speaking out,” “making a statement” and showing they occupy the moral high ground (or Golgotha if you’re in a really funky mood).

I’m pretty sure the entry Bill’s referring to is here, if you’re interested in reading it, although if you’re new to Den Beste, be aware that it’s in his classic form: A couple thousand words of introduction before he gets to his point. I like it (speaking as someone who often takes his time to get to a point) but it takes some getting used to.

I think the formulation Bill encapsulates in his comment is about half-right. PETA (and other protest groups of the same volume level across the political spectrum) do use their outrageous and nutty protests to draw attention to themselves and to recruit new members. However, I don’t really think in those cases that the outrageous behavior is an explicit bonding mechanism because I strongly suspect that the sort of people who join PETA and like organizations are the sort of people to whom outrageous statements appeal.

In other words, you don’t have to force your typical PETAn to splash red paint on a fur coat; he or she wants to do it already, and are just looking for a support group for to vent their urges. If they actually wanted to do some good for animals, they’d join World Wildlife Federation or the Nature Conservancy. It’s very much like the sort of person who intentionally goes to an S&M club already self-identifies as liking S&M, and wanting to try it; now they’re just looking for someone with a whip and a ball gag.

From the “Another Thought on Comments,” Cowboy drops in the following, one suspects, because there is no other appropriate place to do so:

One thing I’d like to comment on is your view of southerners. Take your recent review of a Hank Williams Jr. CD in an issue of OPM for example.

You said something to the fact that (southerners) had never read the constitution, except for the second amendment. I myself, am from Texas..And I’ll have you know that I have indeed read the constitution..and if it’s ok with you I’ll keep my damned guns too.

One more thing, you also implied that ALL of Hank Jr’s songs had something to do with city people injecting heroin in their (eye sockets? WTF?) and stabbed people for spare change. He had only one song that even compared to that, and the only verse that had to do with a city person killing someone went like this: “..for $45, my friend lost his life.”

I think if you’re going to review music, and ridicule a specific type of people, you need to get your facts straight before you do so.

Inasmuch as many of you don’t read OPM and don’t have any idea of the review I wrote there, allow me to post it below, so you’ll have context:

Hank Williams, Jr.: America (The Way I See It)

Hank Junior has always been the polemicist of choice of the big-buckle set, them folks what think they’re the true Americans yet can’t actually be relied upon to have ever read the Constitution either prior to or past the Second Amendment. So it’s not entirely surprising to find America jammed with songs in which the country folk stand for everything that’s good and true in our nation, while everyone in the big cities is injecting heroin directly into their eye sockets and stabbing everyone else for spare change. It’s a simplistic and stupid way of at look at both urban and rural folk and also makes for a batch of truly annoying and lame songs. And, Hank throws in his Monday Night Football song. Kill me now.

Cowboy’s first error is in assuming that “country” equates with “southern” in my mind; inasmuch as I live in the country (come down and see my neighbor’s cornfield!), and yet live in the distinctly Union state of Ohio, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that it’s an incorrect assumption to make. This is another case of it’s not my fault if you don’t bother to read what I actually wrote. Mind you, I would be thrilled if big-belt-buckled, small-brained, double-wide-dwelling jingoistic shitkickers only lived in the south, because I don’t live there and then I wouldn’t have to see them on a daily basis. Alas, the Sun Belt does not hold a monopoly on such types. Bear in mind I don’t believe every one who lives in the country is like this, either. But you do find them here on a not-infrequent-basis.

In the second place, I’ll stand by the review. This is a good place to explain the mechanics of writing a 100-word review: By its brief nature, I’m not going to go into detail about every nuance of every song — indeed, I am going to be prone to some (hopefully amusing) exaggeration in order to get my point across. Cowboy is focusing on the fact that Hank doesn’t actually have a lyric about someone jamming heroin into their eyeball, while missing the larger point that I’m using it to highlight the “rural vs urban” schism in Hank’s songs, which is in fact played out across several songs on the album.

Since bad things happen in the country just as they do in the city — see the “Murder in a Small Town” entry from just yesterday — I don’t have a problem pointing out Hank’s self-serving Americana crap is in fact just that, and — this being the main point — beyond being thematically insincere, also makes for a pack of bad songs. I mean, if Hank had written another Nebraska, I’d be all about giving him the mad props. But instead I call it like I see it, which is that he’s a button-pushing huckster going for the cheap sentiment. You don’t have to agree with me, of course. That’s the nice thing about opinions. They don’t have to agree.

Also, Cowboy, I’m happy to let you have your guns. Enjoy them responsibly. I’m also glad you’ve read the Constitution, because I can think of at least one Texan out there who seems not to have bothered.

Mind you, Cowboy is correct that I have it in for some Southerners, specifically the ones who go about waving Confederate flags, since I think doing so is a sure sign of willfully induced brain damage. However, I have it in for a lot of different people, and Confederate-loving Southerners are merely one subset therein. I mean, in just the last couple of days I’ve whacked on liberal war protesters, prayer supporters, PETAns, think tankers and myself. I think it’s pretty clear I’m an equal opportunity offender.

If this still bothers you, by all means, read my disclaimer. It should help clear things up.

Lineup Change

Not that anyone cares, but I swapped out Romensko on my “Other” links with Penny Arcade! The online comic strip about video games. Why? Because I like it! Also, today’s cartoon is yet another classic.

I have no illusions that I’ll be, you know, boosting their visibility, since on the average day they get roughly 75 times the visitors I do. But it’s not about that. It’s about Penny Arcade! being damn funny.

Murder in a Small Town

I live in bucolic splendor, but that doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen:

Two found dead of gunshot wounds at farmhouse

By Ben Sutherly
Miami County Bureau

ADAMS TWP., Darke County | Deputies found two people dead of gunshot wounds in a farmhouse bedroom Thursday after a 4-year-old boy showed up at a church a mile away with blood on him and said something was wrong with his grandparents.

The church the little boy showed up at is a couple miles down my street; I pass by it when I go shopping in Greenville. The dead appear to be the grandparents of the boy — it looks like it might have been one of those murder-suicide things. Very sad.

The Confederate State of Iraq

“The attacks we’re seeing are bizarre — technical vehicles [pickups] with .50 calibers and every kind of weapon charging tanks and Bradleys,” Wallace added, referring to the M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles used by the Army. “It’s disturbing to think that someone can be that brutal.” — “General: A Longer War Likely,” Washington Post, 3/28/2003

Well, that’s true, if one is actually trying to win a war.

But I suspect the Iraqi forces aren’t trying to win, exactly. They’re trying to do two interrelated things:

a) Cause the Americans and British delays to allow diplomatic outrage and political maneuvering, which will presumably work in Saddam’s favor;

b) Set themselves up as valiant martyrs against the evil aggressors (that’d be us).

The first of these is pitched to the world at large, since there are apparently still people and nations who are under the impression that a ceasefire is possible. I think this belief is charming and sweet, but as I doubt that, short of an actual religious conversion, Dubya has ever changed his mind about anything, so the first point here is moot.

However, the second point is pitched to Muslim and/or Arab states and people, and I suspect that it’s likely to have some appeal. A mindset that sees suicide bombing as a legitimate tactic is more likely to see three Iraqis in Toyota attacking an M1 as gutsy rather than just plain stupid. In the short term, such admiration is of questionable value, but in the long term, mythologizing the Iraqi resistance is one way to build an antagonistic identity among Arabs and Muslims across borders. And of course that’ll be no good for the US, especially if we have it in our mind to go all imperial across the Middle East (which would be a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s not being considered).

If you think fighting a losing battle with style doesn’t have an enduring, long-term appeal that will lead a people to do stupid, self-defeating things decades and even centuries later, head to the American South sometime and listen to some its more ignit citizens give you a mouthful about the glory of the Confederacy and how awful that War of Northern Aggression was, and watch them pretzel up into wrathful, foaming anger when you suggest the Confederacy was a hateful, evil thing that’s well put into the ground, stake through its heart.

Make no mistake, Saddam, in his way, is attempting to make the Iraq the Confederate South of the Middle East. If it takes stupidly sacrificing thousands of his people to do it, well, of course, he doesn’t mind.

The Romulan Ambassador to TV

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of Richard Perle that isn’t like this: Gob open, eyebrows arched, looking vaguely irritated that those at whom he is pontificiating can’t understand the fundamental rightness of whatever bit of horrifying spew he’s masticating on before spitting it up onto the desk of whichever Sunday morning talk show he’s visiting. He’s like the Romulan ambassador to broadcast television.

One wishes it were possible to travel back in time, not to wrap the infant Richard Perle’s face in Saran Wrap before he could grow up into a soulless yammering neocon talking head, as you might suppose, but to provide him with a nice fuzzy stuffed animal or maybe a hug or two; Perle strikes me as one of those poor kids who came from a family where they believed emotional interaction was for pansies and Communists. I could be wrong — it’s entirely possible Perle is a quite amiable person to know — but since Perle’s inside-the-beltway knickname is “The Prince of Darkness,” I’m pretty sure I’m on to something.

I don’t know nearly enough about Perle as I should, considering he’s one of the godfathers of the Dubya administration’s foreign policy (which, boiled down to its mealy bones, seems to be “Screw you if you don’t speaka the English”), but I know enough to know that I’m glad he appears to be on his way down the power slide — he’s had to resign his position as head an influential Pentagon advisory panel, apparently just ahead of the hounds, although Donald Rumsfeld (another candidate for time-traveling plush toys) is keeping him on the panel just the same. Be that as it may, he’s taken a hit, and it’s likely that in the short run at least he’ll have to find something else to do with his Sundays than get miked by Tim Russert’s pretty production assistants. One can hope, at least.

The reason I’d be pleased to see Perle tumble into oblivion is that he’s the personification of what is so dislikable about the current crew in Washington: Yet another unelected yet influential career seether with undiguised disdain for people and viewpoints not grown like mushrooms in the dank feculence of a conservative think tank. I have a natural aversion to people who want to fiddle with the real world without actually having lived in it, and I have a deep suspicion that Richard Perle hasn’t spent much time in the real world. A spell in it, or at least a whack from it, might do him some good.

Technology Report

The more I fiddle with Movable Type, the more I realize how stupid easy it is to use (which is, I suspect, why so many people use it). I am having to roll my own coding whenever I want to insert a picture or other non-trivial HTML thing, but so far that’s not a real problem, since I don’t do anything particularly complicated. Anyway, it’s sort of like going back to 1994, when the Web editor was notepad, and if you wanted to upload your Web page, you had to know UNIX commands. Chmod this, pal.

One thing I’ve definitely noticed about Movable Type, however, is that it’s not exactly compact in terms of the information it serves up. A full day of people access the MT version of this page sends means my servers sends out roughly twice as much data as when I was posting in pure HTML. Part of this may be due simply to the fact that for the moment I’m writing slightly more, but even on a “per unique visit” basis it’s much more data. I’m unlikely to bump up against my bandwidth limit (it’s at 15GB a month, and even at double the data throughput, I’d get nowhere near that), but now I understand why some of the more popular sites get hit hard.

And because all the updates are handled through the Web, it’s wreaking havoc on my ease of reading referrer logs, since everytime I update there’s a huge plug of my own information in there. I used to walk lightly through my own referrer logs. Now I’m splayed everywhere. This isn’t something anyone but me needs to worry about, but since I enjoy combing through the referrer logs to see what horrible things people are saying about me on their own sites, it’s now slightly more of a slog.

I’ve also started fiddling with an RSS newsreader, which is interesting although I’m not quite sure what the utility is. I get the idea that it pulls down information for you so you don’t have to wade through someone’s Web site, but I like wading through people’s Web sites. Maybe I’m missing something.

Thanks also to the people who have posted comments or sent me e-mail about installable spellcheckers; I do appreciate it.

One final minor quibble about MT is that it’s easiest to use and update (in Windows, anyway) through IE — if for no other reason than that through IE, you have the little buttons that in the HTML code for bolding, italics and underlining as well as URL codes. Trying as I am to swear off Microsoft products whenever possible, this means I dip back into Bill’s Browser everytime I want to update. It’s no big thing, as I said, but I’ll look forward to an update that allows full functionality on Mozilla.

No, I don’t expect you to care about any of this. This is why the page is called “Whatever,” you know.

The PETA-ization of Protest

I endorse and applaud Americans who want to protest the war, since even though I don’t agree with their point of view on the matter, it’s always nice to see people exercising their First Amendment rights so they don’t get flabby and weak. Having said that, walking out into the middle of a Manhattan intersection to play dead strikes me as a very effective way to actually get dead, when some Teamster with a kid in the 3rd Infantry decides to protest your protest by parking his truck directly atop your spleen, and everyone around him gives him a great big cheer for doing so.

It also bothers me as someone who sees civil disobedience as something that can be transformative if used effectively and rarely, and thus should be used so. Being black and asking to be served at a lunch counter in 1960s Alabama takes guts of steel; being a overprivledged yuppie spawn parking your ass in the box at 50th street and 5th Avenue to snarl traffic is merely irritating to others. It’s the PETA-ization of protest; the vain hope that if you piss people off enough, they’ll finally come around to your point of view. I can’t speak for anyone else, but all PETA makes me do is think about having another hot dog. It’s not that I really want another hot dog, but I know it’ll just piss off some humorless PETAn to no end. Live by the sword, die by the sword, or, in this case, tube of rolled-up pork snouts and beef rectums.

(Bear in mind that this is not specifically a left-wing sort of thing, as the jerkoffs lunging at scared women in front of abortion clinics make amply clear.)

“Nothing else gets attention,” protester Johannah Westmacott told The Associated Press, explaining the civil disobedience. “It’s not news when people voice their opinions.”

Well, of course it’s not, Johannah-with-too-many-“h”s. We do happen to live in a country where everyone can voice their opinion. It is a thankfully and delightfully common occurance. The implication Ms. Westmacott is making is that her particular opinion is so important it deserves to snarl traffic. In fact she doesn’t rate. Right down the street I’ve got a couple dozen Amish whose anti-war opinions I respect a great deal more than I do hers. They’re not collapsed into the road, daring someone to hit them. They’re simply living their beliefs.

I do wonder how many people blocking traffic this afternoon are registered to vote. Now, there’s a protest that matters.

Another Thought on Comments

Here’s my going line on comments v. e-mail:

If you post a comment, I’m going to feel free to comment on it publicly, since, after all, it’s a public comment. I’ll either respond in the thread or if it’s especially interesting to me, make an entry out of it.

If you send me an e-mail about something I’ve written, I’m going to assume it’s private communication and will respond in e-mail only unless you’ve specifically noted it’s available for public comment and/or I’ve asked you to allow me to mention it and you’ve agreed.

So: Comments — public. E-mail — private. Either way, it’ll divert me from work. Mmmm… short attention sp– look! A pony!

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