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August 16, 2003


Don't know how many New Yorkers are celebrating the return of power by immediately checking into this site, but I do want to encourage you to come to the reading on Tuesday (details above). There are going to be some bigwigs there, and it would be incredibly useful for them to witness a large and enthusiastic crowd. Plus I'm just not sure how many chances you're going to have to get a signed copy of the book.

(Note: post above this one deleted because I got the answer I needed--thanks for the responses.)

Unbelievable hardship

Sure, people got stuck in subways and elevators, and had to sleep on sidewalks, and so on. But I am still forced to access the internet by dialup.

And I have this sneaking suspicion it's not going to get better any time soon. When we first got digital cable, we had some sort of connection problem--the signal would glitch out and freeze every time it rained. It only took something like half a dozen service calls over the course of three months to get a technician conversant with the difference between his own nether regions and a hole in the ground to determine that the problem was a faulty widget connected to the cable some twenty feet outside my window. So my faith in Time Warner is not what you might describe as unending. I figure I'll be rejoining the twenty-first century sometime this decade, but I'm not placing any bets beyond that.


August 15, 2003

Still on dialup

Which is painfully slow after you’ve grown used to cable modem. TV’s also still down—went to Radio Shack and bought an antenna, but it didn’t help, I don’t know if that’s because the stations themselves are on limited power or if I just don’t have any reception here. Anyway, point is, access to media is still a bit limited, so I don’t know if this is an apocryphal story or not, but supposedly guests of one of the big midtown hotels had to sleep out on the street because their electronic card keys wouldn’t work during the power outage and the hotel had no alternate means of getting into their rooms.

Made me think of the original Star Trek episodes, where some evil alien would take over the Enterprise and turn off the turbolift, trapping the crew on the bridge. Watching it, you always thought, that’s not terribly good writing—if there were a real starship, of course they’d have some way of opening the door manually in an emergency.

Well, if the story’s true, it looks like hotel planners are taking cues from Gene Roddenberry.

Well, that was weird

So I’m sitting at the computer. Next week’s cartoon is emailed out to all the papers, and I’d been thinking about hopping on the subway and running an errand in the city, but laziness prevails, fortunately enough. The computer starts to flicker and go out, but the backup battery kicks in and starts beeping, and within a few moments, all kinds of various things around the house start beeping and booping. Power to our apartment is always a bit glitchy, so first I’m thinking it’s our building, then I walk outside and see that it seems to be our neighborhood. Then I turn on the battery-powered radio and tune in WCBS, one of the news stations, which is, perversely, running a puff piece about how Nicole Kidman is in town filming a movie. The anchors come back in and mention nonchalantly that there seems to be some sort of scattered power outage throughout the city…tune in another station and they’re reporting that it’s also Detroit, Ontario, Cleveland, etc…memo to WCBS: if you’re going to present yourselves as an all-news station, you might want to jump on these stories a little faster…

Pretty noneventful for us, overall. Spent most of the evening on the roof, to stay cool, and drank enough wine to expedite sleep in a stifling, stuffy apartment. Took the dog out for his last walk of the day, and found a familiar landscape transformed into something strange—needed a flashlight to find my way around the block, as if I were camping in the deep woods. Lot of people out on stoops with candles, lot of people out on the street in front of bars and such…

Our power came back on almost exactly twelve hours later, at about 4:00 a.m., though apparently we’re among the lucky ones—radio is reporting that there’s still a lot of power out throughout the city. Cable modem is down (I’m connecting right now through dialup), as is cable tv, so we’re still a bit cut off from the world. Probably won’t be answering much email til this all gets straightened out.


August 14, 2003

Everyone's a candidate!

Nominate yourself! (I particularly like the "My child is a candidate for Governor in the State of California" bumper sticker.

(Note: I'm not affiliated with this shop in any way, just thought it was funny.)

It's ours, and you can't have any

From the Times:

Administration officials said that in spite of the difficult security situation in Iraq, there was a consensus in the administration that it would be better to work with these countries than to involve the United Nations or countries that opposed the war and are now eager to exercise influence in a postwar Iraq.

"The administration is not willing to confront going to the Security Council and saying, 'We really need to make Iraq an international operation,' " said an administration official. "You can make a case that it would be better to do that, but right now the situation in Iraq is not that dire."

So in other words, we're going to wait until the situation is really dire before we ask for help? And how many dead American soldiers constitute a "dire" situation anyway?

And then there's this bit:

The administration's position could complicate its hopes of bringing a large number of American troops home in short order. The length of the American occupation depends on how quickly the country can be stabilized and the attacks and uprisings brought under control.

This is what is known as "supporting the troops" in conservative circles: pursuing policies which leave them stuck in the desert in the middle of a guerilla war for an indefinite period of time.

The Bush administration has been reluctant to give the United Nations more than minimal authority in the reconstruction of Iraq. Many administration members say that France, Germany, Russia and other countries demanding such a role are actually doing so to try to get more contracts and economic benefits for themselves.

Unlike, say, Halliburton--which has such a lock on Iraq contracts right now that even Bechtel has given up on trying to suckle any further at this particular teat. (Yes, that's right--Bush administration cronyism has evolved to the stage that even Bechtel is complaining about it. They received a $680 million contract for non-oil-related reconstruction back in April, but have been unable to get a piece of the lucrative oil reconstruction. Thanks to Major Barbara for the link.)

And finally:

Mr. Rumsfeld, according to administration officials, vehemently opposes any dilution of military authority over Iraq by involving the United Nations, either through United Nations peacekeepers or indirectly in any United Nations authorization of forces from other countries.

American military officials say they fear that involving the United Nations, even indirectly, will hamper the latitude the United States must have in overseeing Iraqi security and pursuing anti-American guerrilla forces or terrorist actions.

Because, um, that's our objective in Iraq, right? Not to get a democracy running and get our people the hell out--but to "pursue anti-American guerilla forces." And that darned UN would just get in the way. Support the troops!

Less than meets the eye

From ABCNEWS.com:

Aug. 13— Administration officials are leaving out key facts and exaggerating the significance of the alleged plot to smuggle a shoulder-launched missile into the United States, law enforcement officials told ABCNEWS. They say there's a lot less than meets the eye...

The missile shipped into the New York area last month was not a real missile — just a mockup — also arranged entirely by the government. The government also arranged the meetings at a New Jersey hotel and elsewhere, where Lakhani allegedly told undercover agents posing as al Qaeda terrorists about his support of bin Laden.

"One would have to ask yourself, would this have occurred at all without the government?" said Gerald Lefcourt, a criminal defense attorney.


A couple of posts below, I mentioned the case of Jesus Castillo, the Texas comic shop employee who was given a year's probation and a $4000 fine for the crime of selling an adult-only comic book to an adult, who also happened to be an undercover policeman. (Crime rate must be pretty low in Dallas if the cops have nothing better to do than hassle comic book shops.) (Update: If by "low," you mean "highest in the nation," that is.)

Well, it occurs to me that working in a comic book shop, while certainly a noble calling, is not perhaps the most well-compensated profession one could choose, and for Mr. Castillo, $4,000 is probably a staggering amount of money. So here's the question, for those of you who know about this case: is there some sort of fund somewhere, to which people who understand the fundamental, maddening unfairness of this case can donate, to help this poor guy pay off this idiotic fine?

UPDATE: Never mind. According to this piece in the Dallas Observer, the fine was covered by customers of the shop and other local supporters. You can, however, donate to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund here.


August 13, 2003


With me. On Salon.

Also, for you New Yorkers: taped one with NY-1's "Close Up" show today, which should air sometime in the next few days.


I haven't been watching much Fox News lately. Anybody know if they've even mentioned their Franken lawsuit? I'm especially interested to know if O'Reilly's brought it up, since it was likely his doing.

UPDATE: Well, I guess he has. And the irony is so thick, you could cut it with a knife.

The main point here is that trying to hurt a business or a person because you disagree with what they say is simply unacceptable in America. And that message has been sent by FOX. There's a principle in play. Vigorous debate is embraced by us, but smear campaigns will be confronted. It is simply a joke for The New York Times to editorialize that fabricated personal attacks are acceptable under the banner of satire…The point is accountability. We are shining a spotlight on the haters and the enablers. You can decide if that spotlight is aimed in the right direction.

There’s always a point, with powerful people, be they movie directors or politicians or loudmouthed talking heads on cable tv, when they become too powerful, and there is no longer anyone around them in a position to tell them that their latest idea sucks, or that they are behaving like an ass. Everyone wants to keep their jobs, everyone wants to keep the boss happy. And so you end up with a closed feedback loop, and the powerful person has absolutely no idea how foolish he/she looks to the rest of the world. It’s increasingly clear that Bill O’Reilly has reached this pinnacle of achievement. Congratulations, buddy.


Somehow this one slipped under my radar, but this is just extraordinarily appalling:

The story: Jesus Castillo worked in a Texas comic book store. He was busted for selling an erotic comic to an undercover officer. These facts have not been disputed: Castillo is an adult. The cop was an adult. The comic was displayed in a separate Adults Only section of the store. The cop was under no compulsion from Castillo to acquire that particular comic. (An excellent, appropriately disgusted recap, comes from Franklin Harris' Pulp Culture column. I cannot recommend this article highly enough.)

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund provided expert witnesses to attest to the artistic and literary qualities of the comic in question. The DA told the jury that none of that mattered, because comic books have "always" been for children and the "adult" comic was therefore obscene by definition. The jury bought the argument and convicted, the trial judge let it stand and, last week, the US Supreme Court declined to review the case.

So some poor schmoe who works in a comic book shop got a 180-day suspended sentence and a $4000 fine, for selling an "adults only" book to an adult--because everyone knows comics are for children. And gosh, isn't that an exciting legal precedent for the comics industry to deal with.

Apologies to the decent, thoughtful, intelligent people who live in the Lone Star state--a category which actually includes several friends of mine--but these Texas pigstickers are really starting to get on my nerves.

(Via Atrios.)


August 12, 2003

Public service

If you're running Windows, there's a particularly nasty little worm going around that you need to watch out for. Don't imagine you're immune--it got one of the computers in my household, and we're careful about these things.

You can read about it here, and if you've already been hit (you'll know--your computer keeps shutting itself down), you can download a removal tool here. You've been warned.

Fair and balanced

As you've almost certainly heard by now, the genuises at Fox News are doing their damndest to prove that they are complete assholes by suing Al Franken for using the words "Fair and Balanced" in the title of his new book (which is reason enough to buy the book, as far as I'm concerned--but after you buy this one, of course).

So, following the lead of Atrios and a number of other bloggers, this site's new slogan will be, yes, "Fair and Balanced" (it should be up there at the top of your browser), until such time as the Foxholes (hey, I think I just coined a nickname) abandon this silliness. And if you've got a blog, I urge you to do the same.


August 11, 2003


Washington Post article from August 9 (to which I linked yesterday):

The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied...

Washington Post editorial from August 9:

Mr. Gore, who not so long ago was describing Iraq as a "virulent threat in a class by itself," validated just about every conspiratorial theory of the antiwar left. President Bush, in distorting evidence about the Iraqi threat, was pursuing policies "designed to benefit friends and supporters." The war was waged "at least partly in order to ensure our continued access to oil." And it occurred because "false impressions" precluded the nation from conducting a serious debate before the war.

This notion -- that we were all somehow bamboozled into war -- is part of Mr. Gore's larger conviction that Mr. Bush has put one over on the nation, and not just with regard to Iraq.

Maybe someone who reads the Post more often than I do can explain: is it turning into the new Wall Street Journal, with editorial and news pages apparently from parallel universes?

Another book you should buy

After you buy this one, of course: Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, by Sheldon Rampton, John C. Stauber (and, full disclosure, with a cover by your humble host).

The visual images, of course, are what most people will remember. But it is worth asking whether the toppling of Saddam was as spontaneous as it was made to appear. If this scene seemed a bit too picture-perfect, perhaps there is a reason. Consider, for example, the remarks that public relations consultant John Rendon—who, during the past decade, has worked extensively on Iraq for the Pentagon and the CIA—made on February 29, 1996, before an audience of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician,” Rendon said. “I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” He reminded the Air Force cadets that when victorious troops rolled into Kuwait City at the end of the first war in the Persian Gulf, they were greeted by hundreds of Kuwaitis waving small American flags. The scene, flashed around the world on television screens, sent the message that U.S. Marines were being welcomed in Kuwait as liberating heroes.

“Did you ever stop to wonder,” Rendon asked, “how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American, and for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?” He paused for effect. “Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then.”

Of course, we have no way of knowing whether Rendon or any other PR specialist helped influence the toppling of Saddam’s statue or other specific images that the public saw during the war in Iraq. Public relations firms often do their work behind the scenes, and Rendon—with whom the Pentagon signed a new agreement in February 2002—is usually reticent about his work. But his description of himself as a “perception manager” echoes the language of Pentagon planners, who define “perception management” as “actions to convey and (or) deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning. … In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover, and deception, and psyops [psychological operations].”

The paradox of the American war in Iraq, however, is that perception management has been much more successful at “influencing the emotions, motives, and objective reasoning” of the American people than it has been at reaching “foreign audiences.” When we see footage of Kuwaitis waving American flags, or of Iraqis cheering while U.S. Marines topple a statue of Saddam, it should be understood that those images target U.S. audiences as much, if not more, than the citizens of Kuwait or Iraq.

More here.

Update: whoops, here’s a link to buy it. Here’s another.


August 10, 2003

Afghanistan? Yeah, that rings a bell...

From Meet the Press this morning:

MR. SEIGENTHALER: Let me turn now to the war on terror and Afghanistan and show you an article from Monday’s LA Times and get your reaction. It said, “U.S. forces have their hands full trying to subdue attacks in Iraq. But with the slow buildup of a national Afghan army, an inadequate U.S. and coalition presence and poor progress on reconstruction projects, Afghanistan is spiraling out of control and risks becoming a ‘narco-mafia’ state, some humanitarian agencies warn. Already the signs are there — a boom in opium production, rampant banditry and huge swaths of territory unsafe for Western aid workers. The central government has almost no power over regional warlords who control roads and extort money from truck drivers, choking commerce and trade. If the country slips into anarchy, it risks becoming a haven for resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. And the point of U.S. military action here could be lost — a major setback in the war against terrorism.” Senator, there are reports the Bush administration is considering $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan. Do you think that’s a good idea?

SEN. LUGAR: Yes, it certainly is, and furthermore the assumption of authority by the NATO powers in Afghanistan is a step forward. President Karzai has a five-year budget. He knows where the holes are, and that is the moneys that are needed for policing and need for infrastructure change so they can have some commerce. There is a good plan, good leadership, but we’re going to have to do much more. Afghanistan cannot be a failed state; otherwise they’ll be an incubator for terrorism, for the al-Qaeda types, just as it was before. To recycle all of that would be totally unacceptable.

The original LA Times article is now behind a pay-per-view firewall, so I can't link to it. But think about this: they're "considering" a billion dollars for Afghanistan, which is to terrorism as stagnant water is to mosquitoes. Meanwhile, we're spending a billion dollars a friggin' week in Iraq, a country whose connection to al Qaeda is apparently a figment of Richard Perle's active imagination. Can you say "misplaced priorities"?

UPDATE: Ah, but I can link to this reprint of the LA Times story, in the Sun, thanks to alert reader Elsa K.

Skepticism in DC

From the Washington Post:

The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views.

Six months ago suggesting that the Bushies were lying got you labeled "objectively pro-Saddam." Now it's just a statement of fact.

Skepticism in the heartland

The Kansas City Star debunks the administration’s rationale for war point-by-point. If you were inclined to use the disagreeable term, you might call it a "fisking."


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