Another Georgia Flag

A reader was so good as to send me a link to this article about this proposed new flag for the State of Georgia, which as you may know has had a contentious time of it recently with its flags. For those who don’t know, in 2001, Georgia ditched the state flag it had been flying since 1956, which prominently featured the Confederate Battle Flag (just in case anyone should think that this switch didn’t have to do with white folks gettin’ all angrified at them there black folk, it should be noted that the switch to the Battle Flag design coincided with Georgia being ordered to desegregate its schools), for a flag that featured it only as a tiny historical element. This enraged the “Southern Heritage” folks to no end, and since then there’s been a push to bring back the 1956 flag by way of referendum.

This new flag is designed to sidestep bringing back the battle flag design in an interesting way. The Georgia Legislature could adopt this new flag immediately, and then about a year from now, there’s to be a referendum asking Georgians if they like the flag. If they do, it stays. If they don’t, then they’ll have another referendum on whether to bring back the Battle Jack flag (or the one that flew before it, which, as it happens, was also modeled after a Confederate flag). Obviously, the lege will be banking on the hope people will like the new flag just fine.

I think the new flag is interesting because it plays to both the pro- and anti- Battle Jack crowd in a really cynical way. For the “anti-” crowd, it has the attraction of not being the Battle Jack, which is, of course, the internationally-recognized symbol of small-brained racist white folk. But for the “pro-” crowd, it has the attraction of still being explicitly modeled after a Confederate flag — the “Stars and Bars,” the first flag of the Confederacy, and the model for the Georgia state flag that flew from 1872 through 1956.

The “Stars and Bars” is not nearly as infamous as the Battle Jack, but it’s still a nice Confederate memorial flapping in the breeze, representing the State of Georgia, and even the smallest-brained of the racist white folk can appreciate that if they just keep their yaps shut about it, this subtle bit of Confederania will slip right by all the folks who get het up about the Battle Jack. The “In God We Trust” part, I imagine, is just there to sweeten the pot for the approval of God-fearing partisans on both sides.

In short, in one fell swoop, this new flag plays on the ignorance of some, the racism of others, and the cheap religious sentiment of yet a third subset between the first two. Make no mistake, this new flag is just as racist and hateful as the Battle Jack flag, specifically because of the fact that it is just as modeled on a Confederate flag as the 1956 flag was, and all Confederate iconography (or vexillography, to be more accurate here) equally represents the only government in the history of the world that specifically encoded the enslavement of human beings into its Constitution. Were I a Georgian, I’d be no more excited to have this flag flying across my state than I would the Battle Jack.

My correspondent wonders how long it would take for this flag to generate a lawsuit. I don’t imagine it will be very long. I suspect the “In God We Trust” part would be the bit that gets the action, because it’s not a bit of language traditionally associated with Georgia (whose state motto, ironically in this case, is “Wisdom, Justice and Moderation”), so its sudden inclusion here is fairly questionable. Sure, it’s on our money (added in at the height of Godless Communism fear-mongering, incidentally), but I don’t know how well that argument would stand up in court.

Mind you, it’s not my state, so I don’t have to live with this flag or any other Georgian flag. If you Georgians want to go on fetishizing the dumbass Confederacy, thereby reminding a significant portion of your population that you continue to be proud of a period of time in which they would have had the same personal rights as a table lamp, by all means, go right ahead. As I’ve said before, I prefer my small-brained racists clearly marked. This will help.

Update: A correspondent from Georgia writes to note that “In God We Trust” is actually on the current flag as well. And so it is! Interesting.

Posters for Dubya Haters

Having won the hearts of many right-wing folks yesterday with my excoriation of the Marine reservist who didn’t know that the Marines occasionally kill people, let me just as quickly alienate them by promoting my pal Ted Rall’s latest bit of Dubya bashing: Downloadable “Bush is an Unelected Usurping Warmongering Nitwit” posters. Choose from two conservative-enraging designs:

Before you post comments I’ll inevitably have to delete (unless they are truly creative): Yes, yes, I know Ted is an affront to all right-thinking patriotic Americans, and by linking to him I’m showing my own personal contempt for those who are fighting right now for my freedom, and so on and et cetera. Please refer to this document for my response. Thanks!

Music is the Message

Over on IndieCrit, I review a Christian album and use part of the review to discuss why by and large Christian music doesn’t work for me (hint: It’s not because it’s about God). I think it’s worth a read. I’ve opened the comments on that particular entry, so if you’ve got comments, go ahead and put them there.

They Shoot People, Don’t They?

“‘They don’t really advertise that they kill people,’ Funk said. ‘I didn’t really realize the full implications of what I was doing.'” — Marine Reservist Stephen Funk, on why he refused to report for active duty, “Marine: ‘I refuse to kill’,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/2/03

You have to be a really interesting sort of ignorant not to know that the Marines kill people from time to time. Your first hint: The big rifle so many of those Marines carry around. Your second hint: All those movies, books and television shows, widely available to the general public, in which Marines are shown, you know, killing people. Your third hint: The fact that the Marines are widely acknowledged to be a branch of the military of the United States, and militaries are likewise widely known, by most people who are smart enough to stand upright on two legs, to kill other people on occasion (typically members of other nations’ militaries, though sometimes they’re not so picky, depending on country and context).

This rather goopy column on Stephen Funk describes a kid who got over 1400 on his SATs and got accepted to a number of excellent colleges, including my own University of Chicago, which is widely known (when it is widely known at all) for being the sort of school that remarkably stupid people don’t usually have high on their wish list of collegiate destinations (Funk eventually landed at University of Southern California, which is not nearly as an encouraging indication of intelligence, but never mind that right now). In short, Funk is portrayed as a very smart kid, not the sort of person who, for example, needs a reminder that coffee may be hot, so please don’t place it near your genitals, or, as another example, that the Marines occasionally go to war and kill people, being that they are an arm of the military.

The column piece suggests that the Marine recruiter filled Funk’s head so full of tales of wild adventure and technical training that our young hero couldn’t even contemplate the idea that Marines might go to war, which I would expect is true as far as it goes. The armed forces of the US spend a lot of time and money in their recruiting commercials pushing things like skills training, money for college and seeing the world, and less time pushing things like no showers for weeks, endless Meals Ready to Eat and the possibility of having to put a bullet into the gut of someone who wants to do the same thing to you but is slightly less quick on the draw, and who will then go down screaming because you’ve just turned a large portion of his small intestine into a crimson mess with the consistency of Libby’s potted meat food product.

But even then, there’s always the indication that the military is not exactly a peaceable organization. Take the Marines recruiting site. On the front page are three pictures, one of which features Marines handling rifles. Put your mouse over the pictures, and Java script pops up text. “Those Who are Warriors. Those Who are Driven. Those Who Belong.” Click on “About the Marines” and the text that pops up reads, right from the beginning: “Marines are warriors. Comprised of smart, highly adaptable men and women, the Marine Corps serves as the aggressive tip of the U.S. military spear.” The picture on this page is a squad of Marines, rifles sighted and ready to shoot, stalking the photographer. To be strictly accurate on Funk’s immediate point, there’s nothing on the Marine recruiting site that I can see that specifically says anything about killing people. But on the other hand, all this talk of warriors and pictures of rifles doesn’t give the indication one is signing up for day care training, either.

The part of Funk’s quote above that rings true is the second part: “I didn’t really realize the full implications of what I was doing.” This, I believe. I think it’s entirely possible to sign up, get into training and then realize, holy crap, am I ever in the wrong place. Moreover, I think there’s absolutely no disgrace in realizing that — indeed, it’s better for everyone if you do, because the last thing I would want if I were a Marine would be a squadmate who’s not sure he’s ready to kill if he absolutely has to. Moral quandaries are fine, just not when an Iraqi Fedayeen is shooting at you wildly from the back of a fast-moving technical. Out with him.

But Funk and others in his situation should place the responsibility for this where it belongs: Not with a fast-talking recruiter, who promises adventure and fun and sort mumbles the fine print about having to shoot people under his breath, but with himself. He may not have realized what he was made of, but he almost certainly knew what he was getting himself into.

Update: More details to flesh out Funk’s reasons for wanting out. It’s looking less like he didn’t know killing was involved. Also, a gratifying admission: “Ultimately, it’s my fault for joining in the first place.” My respect for Mr. Funk has just gone up a tick or two.

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.

Spat

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.

%d bloggers like this: