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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Administrative Note

Because it seemed prudent at this juncture, I’ve added a disclaimer.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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How Long How Many

Ooooh, I like the comments feature. It’s so immediate feedback-rific!

From the comments in “What You Don’t Want to Hear,” this comment:

“Your post begs the following questions:

“If our war planners underestimated Iraqi resistance, have they also been overconfident about how easy it will be to occupy Iraq after the war?

“How many American troops will have to remain in Iraq to keep the peace, and how safe will they be?

“I’ve been more worried about that than the actual war.”

Both of these are excellent questions, and quite obviously, the best answer I can give is that I have absolutely no idea to both. I think it’s well possible that our military may have indeed initially underestimated what will be required after the hostilities cease, but unless the people in charge of the military are learning-impared (which I don’t suspect), they’re revising their initial estimates and that right quick. Our military is many things, but stupid is not one of them.

We have an obligation to rebuild Iraq, so we shouldn’t be in such a rush to leave, but at the same time I don’t think he need to be lingering on for years and years, because I think the longer we stay, the more resentful Iraqis are going to be; it appears a lot of them are already resentful as it is. Some people might wish for this to be the beginning of some American empire, but I’m not one of them, since if you haven’t noticed, all empires end pretty badly.

I’m not in a position in one way or another to guess on timetables and numbers, in terms of how much time we should be there and how many soldiers should remain, since I’m just some schmoe in Ohio. But “As little time and as few soldiers as possible” always sounds good to me. We help them rebuild, we help them get a working government they’re happy with, and then we say bye-bye. You don’t build allies and functional governments by hanging around longer than necessary.

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Dear God, Save Me From Your Followers

I don’t know how we managed it, but we’re on the call list for the National Coalition for Prayer, a group which, as you may imagine, is comprised of people who think prayer is pretty neat and that everyone should do it, although it’s unclear whether they care whether you want to do it or not.

We’ve asked to be taken off their call list before, but they are somewhat persistent, Ohio is one of the states that doesn’t happen to have a “Do Not Call” law, and they’re a non-profit organization, which is one of those little gray areas in the whole “Don’t Call Me” legal landscape. I suppose it’s nice to know that they haven’t given up on me yet; they seem to believe that I might yet pray. And I might, but only for a nice lightning strike on their call center.

I don’t have a thing against prayer, but as with so much relating to religion, I find that some of the people who do the praying stick in my craw. Especially the ones with a real sense of religious entitlement, and get snooty about it when you want to point out you have just as much entitlement not to have religion. As in this particular case, when the telemarketer got huffy because I asked to have my number removed from her calling list.

“Why?” She wanted to know. “We’re just a non-profit organization committed to restoring our nation to God.”

“Well, aside from the whole Constitutional ‘Separation of Church and State’ thing,” I said, “I just don’t want to be on your list.” They never know what to do with the people who are sticklers for the Constitution, you know. It’s such a vexing document that way.

I doubt seriously that I’ll be removed from the list, of course. They haven’t done it yet, no matter how politely we ask. The next time I’ll just burble on happily how much I love prayer; why just the other night, at the meeting of my coven, I was praying to Beazelbub himself to smite those nasty meek little Baptists down the street. And then we sodomized some goats, because, really, what’s prayer without a little goat sodomizing? And of course I would love if more people prayed with me. So many goats, so little time.

I figure that’ll work.

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What You Don’t Want to Hear

“Overhanging all developments in the war this week is the unsettling realization that thousands of Iraqis are willing to fight vigorously. During planning for the invasion, worst-case scenarios sometimes predicated stiff resistance, but ‘no one took that very seriously,’ an officer said.” — “War Could Last Months, Officers Say,” Washington Post 3/27/2003

I’m not at all surprised that the war could last months, because I just tend to be naturally pessimistic about these things; I’m a big proponent of believing anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and it’s best to factor in things going wrong. However, I do find it mildly troubling that I called the matter of Iraqi resistance better than the military planners have; as I said about a week ago:

“One of the great temptations with overwhelming superiority, however, is to belittle and underestimate the enemy. An analogy to use here is a kid cornering a frightened hamster in a Habitrail. There’s not a doubt that the kid will have his way with the hamster, but the hamster still has teeth, is still frightened, and is liable to make the kid regret forgetting those two important points with a well-placed and painful bite between the thumb and the forefinger.”

At the time I made the assumption that the military had well factored this, but now I’m wondering if they really had. In particular, I wonder why they assumed there would be a huge popular uprising against Saddam; the last time we encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam, we rather inconveniently left the man in power and offered them no help, which means the man slaughtered those who rose up by the tens of thousands. When you’ve been clobbered by sticking your head in a hole, you don’t stick your head in a hole a second time.

Mind you, it’s not a question of whether we win the war; time and material are on our side, as Saddam and his people are not exactly in a position to resupply or call in new troops. And our military is both capable and adaptable and will reconfigure to deal with these issues as they arise.

But would that the people who planned this war had been slightly more pessimistic in their assumptions. It’s not a coincidence that the acronyms “SNAFU” and “FUBAR” both come from the military, after all — it’s institutionally well aware of how even the best-laid plans run afoul. The question worth asking is if the plans we had going even had the advantage of being “best-laid.”

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Anonymous Comments

As a quick FYI — I’ve set the preferences to allow anonymous comments. I do of course prefer that people let me know who they are, but I’ll try it this way and see how it goes. As a fair warning, however, anonymous postings are fair game for deletion if they annoy me. I don’t suspect I’ll delete critical comments if they’re signed, since I can totally respect people who say what they want to say and don’t worry who knows they’re saying it. But hit-and-run anonymous slaggings don’t deserve the same standard of respect. Anonymous praise, of course, will stand. Because I’m just like that.

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That God Moment

Athena finally got around to asking about God yesterday, and it was Krissy who fielded the question. She and Athena were talking about something else entirely when Athena asked why some people went to church. Krissy told her that people go to church to pray to God. To which Athena asked, naturally, who God was. Krissy said that some people believed that God was someone who made everything, including trees and the sky and people.

To which Athena said, “Well, I thought people made people.” Which is, of course, exactly right, at least in the immediate, material production sense.

So I think the moment went well, both in Krissy’s response and Athena’s logically skeptical reaction to an assertion that flies in the face of existing evidence. She’s using her own little noggin, and of course that pleases me to no end. I’ve no problems with believing in itself (it’s what people believe that usually causes me irritation), but I think thinking is a better default setting all the way around, even (and especially) for a four-year-old.

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Contracts

Almost exactly three months after the agreement in principle, I’m looking at my contract with Tor books. The delay, incidentially, was not really due to slothfulness on the part of Tor; when I went out to New York at the tail end of January there was a contract ready, but I had a few clarifications I wanted to have made, and the company was pleasingly obliging. Overall, the contract negotiations were quick and painless; heck, they didn’t even ask for my first born (which is well and good, since she’s already been lent out to Rough Guides).

Typically speaking, authors shouldn’t be handling contract negotiations for the same reasons barbers shouldn’t try to repair toasters; it’s not really in the job’s skill sets. This is why one has an agent, after all. However, in this particular case my agent doesn’t handle fiction, and the sums of cash involved were modest enough (it’s that first novel thing) that I felt comfortable that I couldn’t screw myself too badly. It helped that I have walked through book contracts before with my agent; those contracts were for non-fiction books, and this one was for fiction, but many of the nitty gritty details are the same sort of stuff. (Mind you, I’m currently in the process of getting an agent for fiction; like many things, walking through a contract is one of those things that’s interesting exactly once, and I have no interest in becoming expert enough to do it on a regular basis.)

In addition to the big stuff (like, how much you get paid for your advance and when), contracts cover a lot of smaller details as well: How many free copies you get, for example, to foist on friends and loved ones, and how much you’ll have to pay for copies after that; the various rights you’re letting the publisher have, which include several media, such as microfilm and cartoon strips, that you’d probably never think about on your own; and even boilerplate that covers what should happen if the publisher really wants to print your book but can’t because an unfortunate tsunami has washed away the corporate headquarters. Clearly some of these clauses can border on the ridiculous. But on the other hand, no one expects a tsunami, and yet they happen nonetheless. Be prepared, say the Boy Scouts, as well as the lawyers they grow up to be.

(Incidentally, those of you who paid to get a download copy of Old Man’s War, those things are officially collector’s items, since the contract makes me agree to cease all electronic publication. Enjoy!)

I’m personally excited to sign the contract, although not because I’m looking forward to the advance money. I mean, I am, don’t get me wrong (baby needs new shoes. And a pony. And graduate school). But mostly I’m itchin’ to sign the contract so that I can finally join SFWA — Science Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America. To be entirely honest, I have no compelling practical reason to want to join, since I can’t imagine what I would want SFWA to do for me; I’m unlikely to use its emergency medical or legal fund or its other services, and while it’d be swell to vote on the Nebula Awards, it’s not something I stay up nights dreaming about.

I just want to be in it because in its own incredibly geeky way, it’s just a very cool idea. If you’re the sort of dreamy shut-in who writes science fiction in the first place, what not to like about consorting with your own kind? At least you know they won’t laugh at you (at least, not for writing science fiction). Really, I can’t wait. I’ve already got the application downloaded. All I have to do is sign the contract, and I’ll be eligible. Hold on a sec —

There. Signed. Now I’m official. Somebody get me a Nebula ballot, already.

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Link Notes

Long time readers of the Whatever will note that for the first time in a very long time, I’m including links on the page (links that are not part of an entry, that is). I’m intentionally keeping the number of links very low, for a couple of reasons. First, creating a list of links is a real pain in the ass, and secondly, I want to reflect the blog/journals/whatevers I actually visit on a more or less daily basis, rather than an orgy of links. Many other people do that (and include my own site in their copious lists, for which I say: Thanks!), but I prefer to keep things short and simple.

For fun, here’s a quick explanation of the categories.

Daily Blog Hit List — Quite clearly, the blogs I visit every day. There are some very popular blogs here, InstaPundit being the most obvious; maybe someone else would post more obscure blogs to boost their hip quotient, but the fact is that while most sites I’ll hit maybe once or twice a week, these are the ones I actually visit every day, often more than once. I’d advise against trying to guess my politics from this line-up, incidentally, since they don’t track. In the case of James Lileks and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, they’re there because they’re people I know personally; Steven Den Beste is there because I find his posts fascinating to read on several levels, and Metafilter is there because it’s so darn random. Glenn Reynolds is at this point all but unavoidable, but that’s because he does a fine job being the top ganglion in the Blog Brain, so more power to him.

Old School Journallers — These people were writing online before the term “blog” hit the mainstream; all of them go back to the stone age (i.e., 1998) if not earlier. I know almost all of these people personally; they’re either friends in real life, or I have known them online for quite some time.

WebbBlogs — Blogs and journals of people who went to the Webb School of California (or, in the case of Katie Granju, the Webb School of Bell Buckle, TN). With the exception of Ms. Granju, I know all these people personally; Josh Marshall and I graduated in the same year (1987, in case you were wondering).

Other — Catchall category, pretty clearly. glenn macdonald runs a music review site I greatly admire, while Rick McGinnis writes several intermittent blogs on movies, Canadian culture and life in general. Romanesko is a hangout for journalists, and BlogCritics I include because, aside from it being an interesting site, I also happen to own one of the domain names that connects to it. I don’t know Chad Orzel, but I like his site, so why not.

There you have it, my links in full. If you’re not linked to, please don’t take it as a slight. I love your blog, honest. And I’m open to bribery.

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The New Whatever, Part II

Okay, here’s why I changed over to Movable Type.

1) It’s free. Although I suspect strongly I’ll be sending along some money to the people who created it, because why not.

2) My pal Bill offered to install it for me, thus allowing me to avoid (mostly) a show of my own total and irredeemable stupidity when it comes to all things software. I make no bones that I’m barely qualified to change the color values on the Movable Type CSS scripts; if I try to do more, something is sure to explode (probably a vein in my head).

3) It posts and archives simultaneously, which is one less thing for me to do.

4) Finally, it does various things (like set up comments and RSS feeds and what have you) that I wouldn’t particularly care about if I had to set them up myself, but which I think are kind of cool if I don’t have to bother with the heavy lifting.

The major drawbacks to MT that I can see at this point are that the software lacks a spellcheck (which means my spelling is about to become a whole lot more awful around here), and that if my Web site should ever collapse, there goes a whole bunch of writing. I could take preventative measures in both cases, but if you’ve noticed a running thread in this entry, it’s that I am dispairingly lazy. So more misspellings and a reliance on Google’s cache are sure to be in order. I don’t know what I’ll do if Google stop caching. I assume it will be because the apocalypse is upon us. In which case, cached Web pages, or lack thereof, will be the least of my problems.

Someone has already been kind enough to formally welcome me to the Blogosphere (if you use blogging software, you are by implication at least blogger-esque). I appreciate the thought, and I do expect I will probably start posting some more shorter, blog-like posts now, simply because it’s no longer a pain in the ass to do so. But I imagine I will still largely write the longer-style inteminable ramblings you’ve all come to expect from my fevered brain, if for no other reason than that’s what I’ve been doing for five years now. I’m old! I’m cranky! I’m set in my ways!

Anyway, enjoy the new look and surroundings, and feel free to use the comments section and whatever else. However, don’t get any smudges on the wall. I want this place to look new for at least a couple of days. Okay? Okay.

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The New Whatever

Hi there. Yes, I’ve made an executive site-editing decision to go with Movable Type. I’ll explain more in just a little while. But for now — welcome to the new digs. Adjust your bookmarks accordingly, and tell everyone you know to do the same.

Update: Arrgh — as I am a complete incompetent, I’ve managed to erase most of my previous March 2003 entries (this was a parting shot from the evil Front Page software, I assure you). Rest assured I will track them down and reconstitute the missing articles; in the meantime, here are the Google cached versions. All hail Google, the kindler, gentler Total Information Awareness.

3/12/2003 — More Software Thoughts
3/14/2003 — Book on Stupidity
3/17/2003 — House Rules
3/19/2003 — Antebellum
3/21/2003 — Oscars, Feh

That should do it for now.

Update Update: The Google Cache entries have disappeared. It’s a conspiracy!

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Book is Here; Oscar Wrap-Up

First, a personal note: I got my advance copy of The Rough Guide to the Universe yesterday; you can see it modeled by my beautiful assistant just to the right of this text. Notwithstanding one minor flaw (there are a couple of places where metric units should be alongside more familiar imperial units like miles and degrees Fahrenheit and aren’t — not that it’ll matter to those of you here in the US), it looks really nice. If you’re in the UK, you’ll have it on your shelves in a couple of weeks, while here in the US we’ll have to wait until May. Hopefully the universe won’t change too drastically by then.

In case you’re wondering what it’s like to hold a book that’s actually written by you, let me tell you: It’s very cool, similar to (but, I’ll be the first to admit, on a substantially lower level) the feeling you get when you hold your child for the first time — that whole I can’t believe it’s actually here thing combined with the wow, I made this thing. The major difference, of course, is that one’s actually a child, and the other is actually a book, and someone who gets as wrapped up in the latter as much as the former needs to get out more. Also, you won’t have to pay for your book to go to college, or worry that it’s going to marry a jerk one day. Even so, it’s neat.

***

I went 4 for 6 for my Oscar predictions, which is slightly worse than I usually do, but slightly better than I expected this year, because I haven’t been paying attention. Moreover, I don’t feel at all bad about the two I missed — Adrien Brody as Best Actor and Roman Polanski as Best Director — since no one expected either of them to walk away with the hardware. Especially Polanski, of course. However, in this particular case, it probably didn’t hurt Polanski that the woman he had raped with when she was a girl wrote an article in the LA Times saying she thought the Academy should just go ahead and give Polanski the Oscar. As they say, you just can’t buy that sort of publicity. One wonders now if Polanski will be allowed back into the States; when even the rape victim has publicly backed Polanski, the position of the LA District Attorney that the man should go to the big house might appear to be churlish. Not incorrect, mind you, just churlish.

Also, of course, I pegged the Bowling for Columbine win and Spirited Away; the former was not a surprise, but the latter was, at least to a number of media, who assumed that it would go to Lilo & Stitch because it’s Disney, and it was a big hit. But this is one time when Academy members differentiated between fun and competent (L&S) and an actual work of art (Spirited Away). Also, it’s the highest grossing film in the history of Japan, and 100 million anime fans can’t be wrong. The Spirited Away win is also good news for the Best Animated Film Oscar, since the choice of art over popularity (in the US, at least) legitimizes the award as something other than an opportunity for Disney and Dreamworks to pad their Oscar tallies on alternate years.

As for Columbine, as I said, I don’t know why anyone’s surprised about its win. Aside from its worth as a film (which is not inconsiderable, although it’s not really accurate to call it a straight-up documentary), it was a prime opportunity for Academy voters to make sure a political statement was made on Oscar night without jeopardizing the image of Hollywood at large — after all, it would have been surprising if Moore hadn’t have gone off on Bush. And it’s just the Documentary award. It’s not like Nicole Kidman went up and said “shame on you, Mr. Bush.” It’s like inviting the proverbial bull into the china shop. You know something’s going to get smashed. And maybe that’s what you want to have happen.

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