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February 28, 2004

Well, damn.

I was supposed to take part in a fundraiser for Greg Palast last night at CBGB's. My usual presentation involves a slideshow and video clips and animation, run off my laptop, and I spent a fair amount of time putting together a variation on that specifically for this gig.

The tech guys checked out the digital projector ahead of time, using their laptop (ostensibly identical to mine) and assured me that everything would be ready to go, plug and play. Well, it didn't quite work out that way. And it's my own damn fault, really. I've given many, many presentations, I'm not some wet-behind-the-ears rookie--I should have done a tech runthrough using my own laptop. My mistake.

So I was introduced, I went up on stage, plugged in the laptop...and nothing happened. So I fiddled with the laptop while the tech guys fiddled with the projector, and this went on for maybe fifteen minutes, which, when you're standing onstage in front of a large audience, subjectively feels like about five years, and is probably not the most fun you'll ever have in your life. I was following on the heels of a very energetic Reverend Billy performance, and I could feel the momentum draining away as we stood up there screwing around with the damn equipment...so I finally decided it was time to cut bait, and apologized to the audience and walked away and that was that.

Not my finest hour.

At any rate, if you came to the show last night because my name was on the bill, my sincere apologies. In retrospect, maybe I should have held the stage a little longer, taken questions, danced a little dance, whatever...but I figured, rightly or wrongly, that there were a lot of speakers and performers still to come, and I'd already used up too much time as it was, and I didn't want to kill the evening's momentum entirely. I had to make a quick decision, and I decided the best thing was to get out of the way and let the show continue.



February 26, 2004

Thomas Friedman makes my teeth hurt

(Several updates below.)

I've been in India for only a few days and I am already thinking about reincarnation. In my next life, I want to be a demagogue.

Yes, I want to be able to huff and puff about complex issues — like outsourcing of jobs to India — without any reference to reality. Unfortunately, in this life, I'm stuck in the body of a reporter/columnist. So when I came to the 24/7 Customer call center in Bangalore to observe hundreds of Indian young people doing service jobs via long distance — answering the phones for U.S. firms, providing technical support for U.S. computer giants or selling credit cards for global banks — I was prepared to denounce the whole thing. "How can it be good for America to have all these Indians doing our white-collar jobs?" I asked 24/7's founder, S. Nagarajan.

Well, he answered patiently, "look around this office." All the computers are from Compaq. The basic software is from Microsoft. The phones are from Lucent. The air-conditioning is by Carrier, and even the bottled water is by Coke, because when it comes to drinking water in India, people want a trusted brand.


(Just out of curiosity, does anyone know where the components to those Compaq computers and Lucent phones and Carrier air conditioners are manufactured and assembled? Where does Microsoft load and package its software?)

Update: a reader in the financial services industry forwards a few numbers. (Standard disclaimer: it all looks legit, but I haven't verified this for myself).

Carrier Plants Outside North America (Square feet in thousands) Owned: 7,695 Leased: 1,732

From a Lucent report: "As of September 30, 2003, (Lucent) owned or leased 14 manufacturing and systems integration sites, consisting of approximately 7.5 million square feet. Six locations, consisting of 6.2 million square feet, are in the United States, three of which are owned. The remaining eight sites are located in six other countries.

From an HP (Compaq's parent) report:
"Our manufacturing plants, research and development facilities and warehouse and administrative facilities occupied approximately 50 million square feet, of which approximately 33 million square feet were located within the United States."

Also, another reader notes, "those same brands would be used in any American office (such as the ones that have been emptied)--so what's the big gain?" 

One more:

My dad's worked at the Carrier plant in McMinnville, TN for over 30 years. A couple of weeks ago, he found out they're shutting down next year. His plant is a union plant, and Carrier is moving production to three non-union factories here in the U.S. and one in Mexico. Obviously, the Mexican plant is non-union and then some.

So the quality of what American jobs Carrier is
providing is declining, but Friedman didn't point that
out in his treacly apology for greed.

At this point, I think we can safely say that Thomas Friedman has already achieved his objective for reincarnation: "to be a demagogue...to huff and puff about complex issues — like outsourcing of jobs to India — without any reference to reality." And he gets to do it in this life! How nice for him!


February 25, 2004


...the link I was looking for last night--as always, sincere thanks to everyone who responded.

One for the poorly-thought-out-promotion Hall of Fame

Just heard this on WABC, the Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity flagship here in New York:

Announcer: The first step is to admit your addiction!

Sound clip from caller: "Hi, my name is _____, and I'm a Rushaholic!"

Rush: Chuckle!

Yeah, that's what you want to do. Promote Rush Limbaugh using the language of substance abuse.

Coming up next: Phil Spector's greatest hits--they'll just slay you...

Feel a draft coming on?

I want to reiterate something Bob wrote below--if you're between the ages of 18 and 24, give or take, and you vote for Bush in November, I hope you do so understanding that you are almost certainly voting for the return of the draft soon thereafter.

I've seen it suggested that Bush won't pursue any more of the wars the neocons are so eager to ignite, because the military is stretched too thin. I suppose that's possible, if you want to give him every benefit of the doubt and then some--but I think it's far more likely that he'll expand the military to fit his vision, in the easiest possible manner--enforced conscription.

Hey, maybe I'm wrong. You want to risk it?

...I'd also suggest you read this.


February 24, 2004

Memo to Andrew S.

All those people you've been giving your snarky little awards to the past few years, the actors and college professors and intellectuals and so on? All the lefties you've worked so hard to portray as small-minded knee-jerk opponents of diversity?

They're the ones on your side, in this struggle for basic civil rights.

Your Republican pals? The ones you like to pretend are so inclusive and tolerant? They think you're less than human. They think you are, to borrow a phrase, a useful idiot. It's been apparent all along that they'd toss you overboard at the first politically expedient moment--the only question is how you could have ever deluded yourself into thinking otherwise.

You've been played for a grade-A chump, pal.


Bob's doing a little posting this week, so if his name's attached to a post, it means he wrote it, and if you have comments, you need to send them to him, not me. Thanks.

Jay Garner: U.S. troops should be in Iraq for "decades"

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

I just got off the phone with retired USAF Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski.

If you don't recognize her name yet, you will. Karen spent much of 2002-03 working in the Defense Department's Near East/South Asia office, whose purpose -- at least prior to the Bush people getting in charge -- was to assess intelligence and help create policy in the region, including Iraq.

Karen thus had a ringside seat to the breaking off of a chunk of that very office to become Donald Rumsfeld's pet Office of Special Plans, the group which so notoriously twisted and cherry-picked intelligence to fit its predetermined conclusion -- and which is not included in the Bush-appointed "investigation" into Iraq intelligence failures.

So Karen started writing about what she saw -- anonymously at first, and then, once she retired at the war's outset in disgust, with her name proudly signed, trying to tell the rest of America what the hell is really going on.

Man, I like this woman.

So next week I'm interviewing her for a talk radio pilot I'm hosting and producing (about which more soon with any luck), and in today's pre-interview she mentions in passing an intensely disturbing article which somehow slipped under the media radar, what with gays marrying Martha Stewart on the last episode of Sex And The City and all. But then, Karen has devoted a significant chunk of her professional life to this topic, so you'd figure she'd know stuff.

Go read the article. Jay Garner, who until recently was the U.S. occupation's Great Gazoo in Iraq and still has massive pull, has declared quite openly that the American presence in Iraq should last "the next few decades."

Read further, and you'll see that he and his insider cohorts are calling for an expansion of personnel in every branch of the armed services. (While the article says nothing on the topic, that probably ain't gonna happen without a draft, folks. If Bush gets re-elected in November, expect a draft to start sometime in December.)

And the goal of the occupation? Garner says exactly bupkus about the lives of Iraqis or burgeoning democracy or any of that bullshit, which isn't surprising, since his job doesn't much involve talking directly to the American people and the attendant necessary lying. Instead, our former Grand Praetor just bluntly goes on about where the permanent U.S. bases should be, comparing Iraq to the U.S. colonial military presence in the Philippines in the first half of the last century, which allowed America to project its power outward (often at horrific cost to many of the locals along the way, not that this mattered to the planners or is widely known, even now).

There it is, from the man in charge himself: decades of occupation, and Iraq is intended as a long-term base of further operations.

I'll let you know what else I learn from her next Monday...

When subtext rises and becomes text

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

Flipping channels, I just stumbled across CNN's Crossfire, where right now the subject is (prepare for a shock)... gay marriage.

The very first thing I heard was Congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) ranting about how he and America don't want this "shoved down their throat."

His words, not mine.

When, exactly, did we all start living in a Larry Gelbart-scripted parody?

Log Cabin Republicans are shocked, shocked...

...that the Republican Party turns out not to stand for inclusiveness and tolerance.

How could they have ever seen that coming?

Honestly, no matter how much you want those tax cuts, it's ludicrous to join up with a party which repeatedly scapegoats you and treats you as a second class citizen.

...Andrew Sullivan is also shocked, shocked, as the harsh weight of reality comes crashing down on his carefully-constructed dreamworld.

Warning: portions of Janet Jackson's breast may cause gay marriage

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

What does a particularly irresponsible child do when mom and dad come home, and he has broken every toy in the house? That's right -- find someone else to blame, anyone, even if they can't possibly be at fault.

George W. Bush has to face the voters this year. Playtime might just be over. And looking around, what might mom and dad see? Health care, the economy, the rationales for the Iraq war, even America's very reputation in the world -- all broken. And mom and dad are also finding out that he didn't even do his chores, back when he was playing with airplanes.

And so today, Baby Awol screams the only thing he can think of:

"Look! Over there! People who, um, love each other and are making lifetime commitments! Of a kind you're not particularly comfortable with!"

The great menace to America isn't impending ecological, economic, and/or terrorist disaster -- it's a bunch of happy people on the steps of a courthouse hugging each other.

This is where a grown-up nation would just fall down laughing.

Unfortunately, the news media is gonna have fun for a while, what with shocking pictures of people kissing each other.

So the hundred million of us who have chosen emotional childhood as a lifelong avocation -- those whose magical beliefs are so strong they cannot accept any science which disagrees; those who recoil at the public display of part of a woman's breast (but oddly not at the simulated sexual violence involved in revealing it); those who will faithfully attend a movie depicting wall-to-wall flesh-rending, wrenching, unspeakable torture, fully expecting insight into the nature of love -- are gonna froth and foam for a while, feeling persecuted because they can't persecute the people who are actually persecuted quite as much as they'd like.

Thing is, jobs ain't falling from the sky. And people vote their pocketbooks.

Baby Awol is actually kinda cute when he's scared.


February 23, 2004

Bush countdown clocks! Get yer Bush countdown clocks here!

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

Days until Bush is re-un-elected: 253
Days until Bush is gone for good: 332

Thanks to the roughly eighty of you guys who sent along various suggestions and strings of code. I was only able to make about a third of it work, almost certainly due to my own incompetence, but my site now has a countdown how-to page, where you can grab some code and slap one of about a half dozen different counters into your own site.

Let's help our fellow citizens visualize a Bush-free America.

Warning: I'm a novice, and this page is intended for novices like me. One example of how little I know: the counter you see above is merely a representation of the one on the site, because I couldn't figure out how to make the real code work inside Movable Type. I have no doubt whatsoever that in the next 24 hours I will be deluged with another hundred suggestions and improvements, some of which will be glorious, some of which I also won't figure out. Thank you all for so patiently assisting with my rather public education.

In any case, please consider the entire page as still in beta testing.

Of course, you can also say the same for American democracy itself.

Your worst suspicions confirmed
Several people confess that they've never done more with a computer than check their e-mail. Others admit they haven't even gotten that far. An impromptu contest develops to see exactly who knows the least. There are lots of contenders. I'm listening to them battle for the crown of incompetence as I'm dealt a new hand of cards when a frightening thought occurs to me. Our clueless bunch is now part of the technical-support staff for one of the world's top three computer manufacturers, and in seven days we're going to be taking your calls.


Worth watching

A new blog called Outsourced America, focused, as the name suggests, on outsourcing issues.


February 22, 2004

Interesting article...

...from Saturday's Times:

The most active terrorist network inside Iraq appears to be operating mostly apart from Al Qaeda, senior American officials say.

Most significantly, the officials said, American intelligence had picked up signs that Qaeda members outside Iraq had refused a request from the group, Ansar al-Islam, for help in attacking Shiite Muslims in Iraq.

The request was made by Ansar's leader, a Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and intercepted by the United States last month. The apparent refusal is being described by some American intelligence analysts as an indication of a significant divide between the groups.

Since before the American invasion, Bush administration officials have portrayed Al Qaeda and Ansar as close associates and used the links as part of their justification for war against Saddam Hussein's government.

Of course, good ol' Don Rumsfeld says it just ain't so. And lord knows you can always trust what good ol' Don Rumsfeld has to say.

Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters..

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'

The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.

The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.


...and there's this, from Fortune.com:

Global warming may be bad news for future generations, but let's face it, most of us spend as little time worrying about it as we did about al Qaeda before 9/11. Like the terrorists, though, the seemingly remote climate risk may hit home sooner and harder than we ever imagined. In fact, the prospect has become so real that the Pentagon's strategic planners are grappling with it.

The threat that has riveted their attention is this: Global warming, rather than causing gradual, centuries-spanning change, may be pushing the climate to a tipping point. Growing evidence suggests the ocean-atmosphere system that controls the world's climate can lurch from one state to another in less than a decade—like a canoe that's gradually tilted until suddenly it flips over. Scientists don't know how close the system is to a critical threshold. But abrupt climate change may well occur in the not-too-distant future. If it does, the need to rapidly adapt may overwhelm many societies—thereby upsetting the geopolitical balance of power.

Though triggered by warming, such change would probably cause cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, leading to longer, harsher winters in much of the U.S. and Europe. Worse, it would cause massive droughts, turning farmland to dust bowls and forests to ashes. Picture last fall's California wildfires as a regular thing. Or imagine similar disasters destabilizing nuclear powers such as Pakistan or Russia—it's easy to see why the Pentagon has become interested in abrupt climate change.

...a reader informs me that the bit from the Observer may or may not be some sort of elaborate "what if" scenario that the Pentagon commissioned at some point. So take that part for what it's worth. Which is always the rule of thumb for pretty much anything you read anywhere online--including, as I've said many, many times, this site.

But even if that's the case--be sure to read the Fortune article. You still won't sleep soundly tonight.

Trouble on the right
BURLINGAME, Calif. — An uproar over illegal immigration roiled the state Republican convention on Saturday as party leaders struggled to keep the rank and file united behind Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Bush.

Hundreds of GOP loyalists booed the president at a rally where U.S. Senate hopeful Howard Kaloogian and his allies denounced Bush's plan to give temporary legal status to undocumented workers.

"Enough is enough!" the crowd shouted. "Enough is enough!"

A Kaloogian supporter, Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, told the crowd he knew a gynecologist who surveyed patients about the plan and found it rated "right below genital herpes."

Story, via Atrios.

Garry Trudeau wants to help the President

He's offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who can prove that Bush showed up for National Guard duty in Alabama.

That's cartoonists for you--always putting civic duty first.


This may be just British tabloid nonsense, but for what it's worth:

A BRITISH Sunday newspaper is claiming Osama bin Laden has been found and is surrounded by US special forces in an area of land bordering north-west Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Sunday Express, known for its sometimes colourful scoops, claims the al-Qaeda leader has been "sighted" for the first time since 2001 and is being monitored by satellite.

The paper claims he is in a mountainous area to the north of the Pakistani city of Quetta. The region is said to be peopled with bin Laden supporters and the terrorist leader is estimated to also have 50 of his fanatical bodyguards with him.

The claim is attributed to "a well-placed intelligence source" in Washington, who is quoted as saying: "He (bin Laden) is boxed in."

The paper says the hostile terrain makes an all-out conventional military assault impossible. The plan to capture him would depend on a "grab-him-and-go" style operation.

"US helicopters already sited on the Afghanistan border will swoop in to extricate him," the newspaper says. It claims bin Laden and his men "sleep in caves or out in the open. The area is swept by fierce snow storms howling down from the 10,000ft-high mountain peaks. Donkeys are the only transport."

The special forces are "absolutely confident" there is no escape for bin Laden, and are awaiting the order to go in and get him.

"The timing of that order will ultimately depend on President Bush," the paper says. "Capturing bin Laden will certainly be a huge help for him as he gets ready for the election."

Via Counterspin.

I hate puppies

And I like to put helpless kittens in gunny sacks and throw them in the nearest river.

Also, I think adorable babies should all be gathered up and put in concentration camps.

Okay, not really. But I just wanted to put things in perspective before I got to the real subject: I supported Ralph Nader in 2000.

And let's get this out of the way: if you're hoping for a Stalinist-re-education-camp-self-denunciation sort of thing, you'll have to go to a different website. I still believe that Nader had (and has) an important critique of the American political system.

But 2004 is not 2000. If you will forgive me for stating the obvious, 9/11 changed the world we live in. I don't know what the Bush administration would have been like if not for the terrorist attacks, but I know what they've done as a result. 9/11 gave the administration's most radical elements the perfect excuse to pursue their wildest fantasies of empire.

And we can't afford four more years of this.

Look, I figure there are two main reasons to mount a third party insurgency campaign: as a vehicle to get a message across, and as a party-building excercise.

Well, let's take them in order.

As far as the message--after the debacle of the 2000 election, that message has been reduced to a bitter laugh line: so there's no difference between the two parties, huh? There's a lot more to what Nader has to say than that, but it doesn't matter--that's all most people hear. If the 2000 campaign was an attempt to bring a message to a wider audience, it ultimately did more harm than good. In the aftermath of the Florida debacle, there are probably fewer people willing to consider that message than there were before. Nader is now living in his own private Twilight Zone episode, and the harder he tries to make people listen, the faster he drives them away.

(Anyway, Kucinich has already been out there, as this season's standard bearer, fighting the good fight for universal health coverage and the repeal of NAFTA and so on, and...well, he hasn't exactly taken the country by storm. And I mean no disrespect to Kucinich in pointing out this unhappy reality, but there it is.)

And as for the second point, party building: he's not running as a Green party candidate. No party. No party building. End of story.

His detractors are going to dismiss this run as ego-driven, but I suspect it's more about stubborness, and, frankly, dedication. It takes a special kind of stubborness to fight the battles he's fought, these past forty years, and I think you have to learn pretty quickly how to tune out the naysayers, to ignore the people who say, you're crazy, there's no need for safety belts in automobiles, and once you've fought those battles and lived to see a world in which seat belts are simply a mundane fact of life, given no more thought than running water or electricity...well, you probably lose some perspective.

I think he's spent so many years tuning people out because he had to that he's forgotten how to listen when he needs to. And now he's on the verge of becoming the next Lyndon Larouche or Gus Hall.

In more ways than one. I could surely be wrong, lord knows, but I don't think Nader will be much of an issue, in terms of the actual vote. I know there's a poll that says he'd get 4% if the election were held tomorrow, but that's nonsense. He didn't even pull 3% in 2000, and that was before--everything.

But here's the thing: I think the damage he will do is in re-igniting the liberal/left Civil War of 2000. To expand on something I wrote a few days ago: Nader's critique is, essentially, that there is a cancer on the body politic--and he's right about that. The problem in the year 2004 is that the body politic is also suffering from multiple wounds and blunt force trauma, we're in the emergency room and it's a damn mess and there's blood everywhere and the doctors are working furiously but it's anybody's guess how things are gonna turn out. We are in triage, and we have to deal with the immediate problems, or the long-term ones won't matter anyway.

(Edited, clarity, blah blah blah.)


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