Sunday, October 31, 2004

How We Contribute to the Problem

The main thing that four years of BushCo have demonstrated to me is that the Right only functions properly when it's marginalized. They did very well at bedeviling Clinton for eight years, but they're complete failures when they're actually required to lead the country. The "paranoid style" of the Right requires opposition and victimhood; it thrives when it's forced into the shadows, but in the sunlight it grows too quickly and collapses under its own weight. Also, it's weakened by increased contact with reality: it's one thing to believe in the machinations of the International Jew when you're an out-of-work steelworker or a fundamentalist preacher, but when you're governing a country, you need a fair working grasp of reality. Paranoia and mythomania lead to bad judgment, bad decisions, and bad results.

On the Left, we often wonder how x percent of the population can believe that there was a link behind Iraq and 9/11. We'd do far better to wonder why the Right understands and exploits mass psychology so much better than we do.

To my mind, the motive powers of the mainstream Right are Christian fundamentalism and racism. What I mean by this is that many secular and nonracist right-wingers will fight battles for both groups, using weapons borrowed from them, without understanding that they're doing it. For instance, "findings" about Black intelligence by racialist pseudoscientists like J. Philippe Rushton move easily into the mainstream Right, where they're parroted by people with no conscious racial animus.

Secularized versions of Conservative Christianity's apocalyptic beliefs are even more widespread; like racialist ideas, they're attractive to people whose self-esteem is low. What distinguishes a religious struggle from a secular struggle is that in the former there can be no compromise, no lasting peace, no respite from bug-eyed, white-knuckled hypervigilance; the winnowing of souls at God's throne represents the ultimate zero-sum game. The attraction of the Day of Judgment to the Christian Right is not merely its promise of a personal reward for righteousness; it's also the thought of being able to gloat over the damnation of others...being able to say "I told you so," from the shelter of God's own bosom, to heretics and scoffers. It's the mythopoeic version of a worker's fantasies about winning the lottery and telling his or her boss off.

This vision of a cosmic struggle in which the central prize is one's own sense of self-worth exists across the board on the Right. Conservative Christianity has always relied on the naming and dramatizing of enemies, and the granting of superhuman powers to them. The more powerful the enemy, after all, the greater personal glory there is in opposing that enemy. Among secular conservatives, that sense of spiritually pure opposition to dramatized enemies remains strong even in the absence of religious belief, as does the idea of an upcoming apocalyptic confrontation with Evil. This is one reason for the emotional symbiosis between Osama bin Laden and everyday citizens on the Right; while his brand of radical Islam remains a threat, they aren't ordinary people, but participants in a mythic struggle.

This kind of self-mythologizing is a typical reaction to threats against one's physical or psychological well-being. The psychologist Paul Pruyser says:

The human mind becomes automatically mythopoetic when it has to contend with threatened or actual attack upon a person's organismic integrity.

It's this quality of thinking that the Right understands far better than we do. And they've exploited it, to a great extent, with our help; by reacting negatively to religion per se, we confirm the Christian Right in its belief that it's struggling against implacable demons, and increase its psychological need to see us tossed wholesale into the Lake of Fire. By treating terrorism as a phenomenon with a temporal and not a mythopoeic cause, we appear to the secular Right as its cheerleaders. In both cases, we increase the mythopoeic mind's sense of meaning and destiny, by giving it more "evil" to oppose. When one has spent time in this heightened state, the reality-based community seems drab and uninviting; it's full of contradictions, and complex details that make one's head hurt, and disturbing implications about one's own place in the world.

In his book Naming the Antichrist, Robert Fuller explains the real danger of apocalyptic thinking to the larger concept of religion itself:
Rather than strengthening people's own sense of responsible action, as does the prophetic core of the Judeo-Christian witness, apocalyptic imagery exacerbates the very conditions of curtailed agency that predispose people to it in the first place. It turns them away from the revelations open to the human intellect, away from community with the whole of God's creation, and away from activity designed to promote peace or good will on earth.

All of this, it seems to me, can be applied easily to the modern secular Right. Indeed, as Fuller's book demonstrates, the secular Right's hatreds, its supervillains, its well-nursed gripes and grievances, can mostly be traced back to historical dislocations visited upon premillennial Christians by modernists of one stripe and another. I'm afraid this is not something we can overcome by harping on rationality and truth and statistics; instead, perhaps there needs to be some form of syncretism, in which a new mythopoeic "story" gradually overlays these ideas. I don't have a clue how this might happen, but I'm convinced it's something we'll have to think about in coming months, because after the Right loses temporal power in this election, its mythopoeic power and sense of mission will surely increase.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Another Reason Bush Must Go

One of the reasons I'm desperate to have a president who believes in science is the ongoing situation with the H5N1 strain of avian flu (see my archives for several other posts on this).

Though a recent case that was thought to be the result of human-to-human transmission turned out not to be, there's an ever-increasing danger of the virus mutating in that direction. The H5N1 death rate in humans is currently at staggering 70 percent (by contrast, the 1918 pandemic killed only about five percent of the people it infected). Even allowing for a somewhat lower death rate in first-world countries, we're facing a disease with the potential to be both as contagious and as deadly as smallpox. This is a danger that dwarfs any conceivable terrorist threat, with the possible (though far less likely) exception of an attack with bioengineered pathogens.

If the Bush administration has lifted a finger to deal with H5N1, it's news to me. The WHO and governments around the world are calling for a massive stockpiling of H5N1 vaccine, but BushCo's response - if it exists - is very low-key indeed. I find no evidence that the administration has addressed the problem at all.

The current US vaccine shortage directly affects the likelihood of H5N1 mutation. While spontaneous mutation is always possible, there's an additional danger of mutation from human co-infection with human and avian flu viruses. That means that it's essential to inoculate poultry workers in poorer countries like Vietnam, where birds and people are crowded together in filthy conditions. But such countries have almost no human flu vaccines available. And with flu season beginning in the US and Europe, and huge shortfalls in vaccine production, there's none to spare for them.

As influential as game theory is supposed to be among the economic elite - and as well known as the Prisoner's Dilemma is - the basic lessons don't seem to have taken hold. You cannot allow the Invisible Hand to make public-health decisions; it doesn't work, and it never will. The temptation to cut costs and corners in public health, and to take huge risks in order to maintain the bottom line, is a recipe for disaster, but it's a course the free market tends to favor strongly.

There still may be time to mitigate the situation by stockpiling vaccines and anti-virals, but that'd take huge amounts of money and coordination, and that would take intelligent, engaged, focused leadership by the United States. This issue alone is reason enough to vote for John Kerry, who is at least capable of understanding the issue, whether or not he does at the moment. Bush doesn't and can't understand issues like these, and neither does anyone around him. This is just one more reason why we can't afford - and might not survive - four more years of BushCo.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Keeping Costs Down

From National Geographic comes a nice example of how BushCo keeps costs down in Iraq:

"When Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jerome Boganowski was sent to Iraq with his reserve unit, he decided to take along our October 2002 Middle East supplement map. It came in handy. His job in Iraq was directing convoys to military bases, but he had no maps along to guide him. "Several times," he says, "we didn't know where we were." Jerome logged 3,000 miles on the road during three months in the desert, navigating with a GPS unit from home and his National Geographic map. "I never let the map out of my sight," he says. "It was a godsend." Now back at his old job as an Omaha, Nebraska, deputy sheriff, Jerome has laminated the well-worn map and hung it in a place of honor on his wall."

Right next to his Donald Rumsfeld dartboard, I hope.

Dick and Mary

In Yahoo's People Search directory, there are about 200 Dick Tracys. There are two people named Mary Poppins.

There are also 20 people named Donald Duck, 24 people named Mickey Mouse, and 200 people named Charlie Brown. There are six Flash Gordons, 35 Buck Rogers, and 145 Tom Swifts.

There are 200 Tom Sawyers, one Huck Finn, and one Mark Twain.

There are 103 Bill Clintons, 115 George Bushes, and 76 Ronald Reagans.

There are 200 Michael Savages, 25 Ann Coulters, and 22 Michael Medveds.

There are 18 Clark Gables, 28 Charlie Chaplins, two Stan Laurels, and 12 Oliver Hardys.

And there are three people named Jesus Christ.

Just sayin'!

Mars, Bitches!

As far as pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo goes, Bush has got Gallup, and we've got Indian astrologers. Advantage: Team Kerry!

"Indian astrologers say that the planets favour Democratic candidate John Kerry to win the White House race over US President George W. Bush in next Tuesday's polls.

"The planets Mercury and Mars in the fifth and third house have exchanged positions. Success in competition is certain...Kerry will be the new president."

Mars, my bitches!

We Have the Technology

Over at, the Votemaster has a modest proposal:

Why can't we make a voting system that is 100% right all the time? It would seem to me that the right way to do this would be a touch screen machine that asks the voter to make choices for the various offices in a language chosen by the voter (with audio output if desired), and when all done prints a paper ballot the voter can personally verify and deposit in the ballot box. The computer total would be available instantly after the polls close but in the event of a challenge, these paper ballots could be optically scanned or even hand counted. I can't believe a system like this is infeasible and it would certainly help restore faith in the electoral process.

What could be simpler than that? Unfortunately, the GOP has pretty much abandoned the notion that America is capable of inventing things, and discovering things, and solving problems; everything from stockpiling vaccines, to manufacturing trustworthy voting machines, to mass-producing biodiesel seems to be a bit beyond American ingenuity these days, to hear BushCo tell it. Though I'm sure that when the GOP starts mandating ritual sacrifices to Baal, John Poindexter will come up with a computer program that will streamline the process wonderfully.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Wingnuts Rampant and Ululant

The eager beavers over at the New York Post have announced that the Al-Qaqaa story is this election's October Surprise. Here's how they see it:

The lead story in Monday's Times reported breathlessly that "380 tons of powerful conventional explosives...are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations."

"Breathlessly"? Is that really how they reported it? How terribly...effete of them. Of course, print media tend to be literally breathless, but that's by the by. Let's skip a bit further down:
That the story was intended as a last-minute political hit seems undeniable: CBS, which first got the tip and worked together with the Times, admits that it planned to air a piece next Sunday night — just two nights before the start of voting. That would have left precious little time for any response. CBS says that the story only broke in the last two weeks....Maybe so.

Indubitably so...unless you care to call poor little Scotty McClellan a liar. Here he is, courtesy of Holden over at First Draft:
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said, we were informed on October 15th. Condi Rice was informed days after that. This is all in the last, what, 10 days now.

Q She was informed days after October 15th?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and she informed the President.

In other words, the story broke on Monday the 25th (perhaps a week after Bush himself learned about it). The "show" to which the Post refers is "60 Minutes," which airs on Sundays and is therefore airing on the Sunday before the election. Pretty sly, huh?

The Post goes on to debate whether the weapons were moved prior to the invasion...or, to put it another way, whether Bush let them be transported - God knows where, and by God knows whom - before he attacked Iraq, or after. Here's how they make their case that this isolate example of Bush's incompetence had more to do with preparing for war than fighting it:
Dana Lewis, the embedded NBC correspondent, reiterated Tuesday that it would have been "pretty tough" to move 380 tons of explosives out of that facility once it came under U.S. control.

Hell yes, it would. Of course, the problem is that the site was not secured, and thus did not come under U.S. control. That little detail, so easy to miss, just happens to be the goddamn substance of these allegations!
Morever, as columnist Charles Krauthammer notes, the notion that the so-called insurgency made off with these weapons doesn't hold water — because there was no insurgency immediately after the fall of Baghdad.

Hark to their cold inexorable logic! If they're correct (and they certainly sound correct), then this leaves us with two possibilities: One, that the explosives were carried away before the war by Saddam loyalists, who went underground and became insurgents later (does the phrase "dead-enders" and "Baathists" ring a bell to anyone at the Post? Anyone at all?); or two, that some unknown parties took the explosives from under our nose, and we don't know what they did with them. These, mind you, are what the Post considers to be glad tidings and a true medicine for melancholy. But all that's nothing, really. As usual, they trot out the elephant only after tempting our palate with a sucession of gnats. Get this, friends:
And the Times-CBS stories also ignore the fact that the missing 380 tons, though troubling, was but a minuscule portion of the 400,000 tons of explosives stockpiled by Saddam Hussein — more than half of which has been destroyed by U.S. troops in the past 18 months.

Do these odd people really live among us, or are they writing this stuff from a bathyscaphe at the bottom of the Marianas Trench? In what conceivable world could this be accepted as reasonable and responsible thinking, let alone as an excuse for shocking negligence? In the first place, how many of those 400,000 tons were brisant plastic explosives (the kind terrorists like), as opposed to blasting caps or what have you? In the second place, how could this news possibly be interpreted as a comfort? The logic seems to be that because the situation was bad, you can't blame Bush for making it worse.

These people have finally driven themselves completely insane.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Here's an irritating observation from Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which is responsible for

On the whole, analysts say Bush's use of distortion has been more audacious than Kerry's. But the Massachusetts senator has left much of the dirty work to outside advocacy groups whom Jamieson blames for one of the most serious attacks of the campaign.

"You've got to come back to the 527 ads that accused the president of lying to take us into war. It's probably the most serious charge you can make," she said, referring to the so-called "527" groups that work independently from the candidates.

"But I don't think you can warrant that inference from the available evidence," she said. "So I think that is a deceptive claim."

Now, if she'd said that you can't warrant that conclusion - using "conclusion" in a syllogistically strict logical sense - perhaps I'd very grudgingly concede the point. But the inference that Bush knowingly misled us is perfectly warranted, not only by the evidence relating to the war itself, but by a larger and perfectly consistent pattern of conscious deception that Jamieson and have acknowledged elsewhere.

Oddly enough, scarcely devotes any space to the administration's pronouncements on the Iraq War. But to the extent that it does, it leaves plenty of room for the inference that Bush lied us into Iraq. One article, entitled Even the 9-11 comissioners don't agree about whether their staff contradicted the Bush administration, specifically notes instances where Cheney or Bush linked Saddam Hussein with the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, a relationship that has since been thoroughly debunked (without any acknowledgement from

All in all, addresses Bush's justifications for war head-on in only three articles, all of which are extremely cautious and tepid in their criticism. But perhaps most tellingly, the 527 ads which Jamieson considers "deceptive" (but does not mention by name) are not debunked anywhere on In other words, the site can't be bothered to address any of the ads that level what Jamieson correctly calls "the most serious charge you can make."

Al-Qaqaa: The Lie's as Damning as the Truth

A couple of Lexis/Nexis-fueled remarks on the Right's attempt to spin the Al-Qaqaa situation:

Obviously, there's some debate about when BushCo resolved to attack Iraq. I think the evidence that these plans were in the works for years is overwhelming. But I'll give BushCo the benefit of the doubt, and say - very generously - that the military plans to invade Iraq got underway in October of 2002, about five months before military action commenced.

In January of 2003, UN inspectors were in Al-Qaqaa, and were aware of the now-missing explosives. On March 7, Hans Blix told the UN Security Council this:

[A]t this juncture, we are able to perform professional no-notice inspections all over Iraq and to increase aerial surveillance. American U-2 and French Mirage surveillance aircraft already give us valuable imagery, supplementing satellite pictures, and we would expect soon to be able to add night-vision capability through an aircraft offered to us by the Russian Federation. We also expect to all low-level, close-area surveillance through drones provided by Germany. . . .

On April 11, the Telegraph reported that:
Spy satellites, photo-reconnaissance aircraft, and Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles are scouring the area between Baghdad and Tikrit.

On June 24, the NYT devoted an entire article to trumpeting the wonders of the United States' aerial spying capabilities:
"Right now, we're just trying to keep tabs on what's going on there," said Zack Gardner, 24, an imagery analyst from the Arkansas Air National Guard, who examined a U-2 radar image of an ammunition dump west of Baghdad this morning.

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon says it has vastly improved its ability to sort, assess and organize the information from spy satellites, reconnaissance aircraft and other sensors. It relays that data quickly to analysts and commanders around the globe.


During the war, intelligence teams here and at Beale supported six U-2 missions a day and three to four Predator flights at any given time. Analysts sent back more than 30,000 reports to commanders in the Persian Gulf region.

The Predator analysts, in particular, often found themselves watching live firefights or bomb strikes, with soldiers on both sides killed before their eyes. Chaplains and psychologists were brought in to counsel the young analysts, many of whom had not experienced or seen combat.

Plain enough, I'd say. If you want to argue that the explosives disappeared between the IAEA inspections and the invasion, you're stuck arguing that the United States government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, failed to monitor the most well-known and important weapons cache in Iraq before and during the invasion, despite having the technical ability and the moral obligation to do so.

And it's worse than that, really. If Saddam Hussein was truly a danger, because he might conceivably have given weapons to terrorists, then Al-Qaqaa needed to be under continual surveillance whether we invaded Iraq or not.

The "debunking" of the Al-Qaqaa story is absurd, of course. The job of the Right and its media handmaidens is to provide an escape route for Bush-fanciers, whenever simple facts might otherwise lead them to an Agonizing Reappraisal of his leadership, integrity, or common sense. There must always be an alternative narrative available to these people. If it's blown sky-high an hour after it's first disseminated, it doesn't matter; Bush supporters will cling to it gratefully, as though it were a life preserver. Thanks to the "evenhandedness" of the media in treating improvised and nonsensical accusation as legitimate discourse, these emotionally stunted children will always hear a comforting bedtime story.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Remediating Public Insanity

Like the white-power groups with whom it's surreptitiously aligned, the extremist wing of the GOP thrives on the resentment and insecurity of an uneducated, white economic underclass. Calculating thugs like Rove and Norquist have broadened and implemented these feelings, and turned them into an absolutely deadly form of paranoid self-pity.

I've been wondering what can be done with these people after Kerry takes office. It's a crucial question, because as it stands now they're in serious danger of doing violence to themselves and others. I think the most logical action is for Kerry to restart, immediately, a couple of FDR's New Deal programs. The Works Progress Administration, which ran from 1935 to 1943, was the best known of these; it employed 8 million Americans, who built and repaired infrastructure all over the country. It ought to be brought back by all means, along with the related Civil Works Administration program. But I think that another, lesser-known program would be equally worthwhile.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, which operated from 1934 to 1937, was an environmental remediation program that put millions of people to work maintaining and restoring America's wetlands, forests, beaches, and parks. Because these projects can take time, the program provided free lodging for workers, allowing the government to keep costs down while still providing workers with a living wage.

We have plenty of work to do along these lines. Restoration of wetlands, such as is being undertaken in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a huge task that requires a huge number of workers; they would not only get steady work for years, but also come to understand environmental science.

With this program, everyone wins. The usual right-wing arguments don't apply. It's not welfare, not a handout. It decreases unemployment, obviously, and it may teach workers a trade. It also benefits municipalities; unsightly and dangerous sites can be cleaned up and developed, or turned into parks. It benefits homeowners, by raising property values. It can bring local and national benefits in terms of increased tourism (by attracting birdwatchers, for instance). In some cases, it will make areas safer, reducing medical and legal costs at every level.

Perhaps most important, it could bring a sense of common ownership and civic involvement to people who've been hoodwinked into viewing the environment and the government as enemies. It could make good citizens out of people who are currently in thrall to demagogues, who've taught them to be hostile to their own best interests. The Right's rhetoric is spiritual poison; it's estranged millions of people from their own laws and their own land. Kerry needs to hire these people to rebuild the country, and pay them good wages, and give them an allegiance to something more noble than dumbed-down, warmed-over laissez-faire economics.

Kerry has to win these people over, at all costs. If he does, he'll be able to cripple and isolate the Right, and cut them off from their most fertile recruiting grounds. If he doesn't, they'll become shock troops in an endless, slow-motion insurrection that'll make what Clinton went through look like a walk in the park.

Brutal Thugs Overwhelmingly Prefer Bush!

Bush is on a roll! Coming hot on the heels of his enthusiastic endorsement from the murdering monsters in the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, and his vote of confidence from the freedom-hating terrorists who rule Iran, he's now getting two thumbs WAY up from the anti-democratic thugs at the Kremlin:

Russia's political elite has been showing a striking willingness to take sides in the U.S. election — most notably President Vladimir Putin, whose expression of support for President Bush reflects more than the two leaders' warm relationship.

Analysts say it stems from a deep distrust of U.S. Democrats, dating back to Jimmy Carter's focus on human rights violations in the Soviet Union, and a Kremlin calculation that John Kerry would be tougher on Putin.


As Putin moves to consolidate power after shocking terror attacks, pushing for electoral reforms criticized as a major step toward authoritarianism, the last thing he wants is an intrusive new U.S. administration.

"To believe that under Bush, Putin will have carte blanche — 'Do what you want inside Russia' — is unrealistic," Lukyanov said. "But Bush is far less concerned by the question of democracy in Russia than Kerry."

Which just goes to show that with friends like these in the country of the blind, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at birds of a feather. Or something.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Documenting Voter Intimidation

We have a great advantage over people who fought against political corruption and voting fraud 100 years ago: Virtually every citizen now has access to small, cheap recording devices. We have microcassette recorders, cellphones with cameras, digital cameras with video and audio functions, and so on.

The Republicans, on November 2, propose to "challenge" voters outside polling places, and make them prove that they have the right to cast a ballot. Anyone stopped by one of these goons should have a tape recorder handy. If you're comfortable doing so, pull it out and turn it on in front of him. If not, keep it hidden while you record everything he says.

People with camcorders, in particular, could do worse than bring them to polling places...especially ones in minority neighborhoods.

There's a battle going on here beyond the election itself. The GOP aim is to discredit a Kerry win at all costs, and thus to fuel the Right's sense of aggrieved victimhood (which is already at a toxic level). They may try to circulate phony or apocryphal photos of Democratic voter fraud, which is all the more reason to flood the media with real images and sounds of the Right at its absolute worst. If we surround them with hidden cameras and tape recorders, we stand a very good chance of exposing them once and for all as the un-American bullies and thugs they are.

You can buy a handheld tape recorder for less than twenty dollars at just about any drugstore. It's a small investment that could pay off very nicely, especially if you're in a swing state.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

This Just In

The Washington Post has gotten the scoop of the century: Some voters have already made up their minds who to vote for, and have voted.

Over the next 10 days, President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry will spend millions of dollars on a blizzard of last-minute ads. The candidates will dash from state to state, trying to squeeze in one more rally, a few thousand more handshakes. But for a growing number of people, the effort will be wasted: They have already voted.

Pretty shocking, huh? They did bury some interesting information in all this persiflage, however:
In Florida, a sampling of eight counties showed a consistent pattern of Democrats turning out to cast early ballots in greater proportion than their share of registered voters, while Republicans were going to the early voting sites at or below what their registration percentages would suggest.

In Seminole County, for example, Democrats make up 31.7 percent of the registered voters but 40 percent of the early voters. The same was true in Republican-leaning Brevard County, where Fred Galey, supervisor of elections, said that he had no specific figures but that "many more Democrats" are casting ballots than Republicans.

Not bad, assuming anyone counts the votes.

Friday, October 22, 2004

They Simply Don't Care

I really couldn't have a much lower opinion of this administration, honestly. And yet some of the things they do - or don't do - still manage to amaze me. This, for instance:

With a deadline looming, the government has yet to come up with guidelines for commercial airports that want to replace federal baggage and passenger screeners with privately employed workers.

The 9/11 attacks are the centerpiece of the Bush administration. Virtually everything they say and do, they try to justify by invoking 9/11. And yet they can't even do something so simple as write guidelines for airport baggage screeners, despite having two years to do so. And really, the situation's even worse than that: on the one hand, the reason many airports want to hire private workers is because they think the TSA - which was created by Congress after 9/11 - is useless or worse. On the other hand, hordes of TSA workers are in danger of losing their jobs on November 19, despite the miserable job market and the lack of any guidelines on how to replace them.

To be fair, though, the TSA hasn't been entirely idle:
TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter said the agency has set up an e-mail address so airports can submit specific questions.

Sometimes, only a cliche can describe things properly: It's like a bad dream.

Reality and Its Discontents

The new PIPA study, which shows an increasing divergence in the perceptual reality of Bush and Kerry supporters, will be of great interest to posterity. Twenty or thirty years from now, when it'll be almost impossible to find anyone who'll publicly or privately admit to having supported Bush, students will certainly ponder these numbers and their grim implication for humanity.

It's not the Bush supporters' near-total break with reality that shocks me; that's old news. What I found most amazing is that 23 percent of Kerry supporters believe Iraq had WMD.

This raises interesting questions. According to PIPA, 85 percent of Bush supporters believe that in the absence of WMD, or any link between Saddam and al Qaeda, the war is unjustifiable; 92 percent of Kerry supporters agree with them. Given the great political divide in this country, this level of agreement is what one would expect in response to an innocuous statement like "I think apple pie is pretty good." This is as close to speaking with one voice as America's come in a while, and I think it's an important statistic.

With all this agreement on what constitutes valid grounds for war, and all the evidence that the war wasn't justified, why are even some Kerry supporters hiding from the facts? I think there are two main reasons. Given that there are some people - Republicans, mostly - would rather eat a piece of dogshit than admit they'd mistaken it for a Tootsie Roll, I think a more widespread problem is stark terror. If Bush was wrong, the anti-terrorism effort is in bad hands and we're not safe. And it's even worse if Bush misled us; in that scenario, we're threatened by terrorists and by our own president. That's an uncomfortable belief to carry around in one's head, as I know all too well. To admit to these facts is to accept that we're vulnerable, and that our leaders aren't really looking out for us.

The other reason to hide from reality is, I suspect, a lot more compelling. If people accept that tens of thousands of people have been killed and maimed for no reason, they're in danger of feeling a moral obligation to do something about it. They begin to feel that they might be obliged to give up their everyday life - if not life itself - to right this colossal wrong, for the world's sake and posterity's sake. And fear of that obligation, I suspect, is what's causing Americans across the political spectrum to retreat into Never-Never Land. The PIPA surveys are less a measure of BushCo's diabolical cleverness, than of our country's moral cowardice. It's obvious that this what they're banking on in the upcoming election, because they stopped making any real effort to hide their dishonesty some time ago. Tolerance encourages, as the saying goes.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Look Behind You

You can add the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association to the list of traditionally Republican organizations that are endorsing a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time:

Boston's police patrolmen's union yesterday voted overwhelmingly to endorse John F. Kerry for president, months after the Democratic nominee refused to cross a police picket line during the union's bitter contract dispute.

About 50 members of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association's House of Representatives handed the endorsement to Kerry by voice vote after US Representative William D. Delahunt made a personal appeal. It was the first time the union has endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate, the union officials said.

This underscores just how accurate Kerry's latest dig at Bush is: "The President calls himself a leader. Well, Mr. Bush, take a look behind you. There's hardly anybody there."

Curb Your God

Last night, while driving around aimlessly, I saw a nice bumpersticker: "Curb Your God: Fundamentalism is Ugly in Any Color."

Too true, begob.

I have no problem with faith. How could I? It's a universal and irreducible human trait, and is the bedrock of all human endeavor in this essentially hallucinatory world of ours. Lord knows I've got lots of faith; I could scarely get out of bed in the morning otherwise. If nothing else, I can always echo Aunt Patty's opinion on Duff Gardens' "Beer Hall of Presidents": "Anything this bad has to be educational."

I have no problem with Christianity, or atheism, or Buddhism, or Islam, or anything. The only thing that bothers me is the absolutist pseudocertainty that lets people escape from their own frailty and foolishness by interfering with other people's lawful pursuit of happiness, whether by stupefying them with doctrinal arcana, or denying them basic rights, or calling them names, or blowing them to smithereens.

I'm all too aware that this is just about the oldest lefty blogger rant in the book; everyone's heard it before, and I'll end it right here. What's more important is that Al Gore, the other day, did a brave and important thing by accusing Bush publicly of being a pious fraud who does evil things under the cloak of a "false moral authority."

People like to attack BushCo for its fundamentalist religiosity, when the real problem is its Social Darwinist nihilism. It's damning enough to say that Bush's brand of fundamentalism is unconstitutional and hypocritical; it's far more damning - and far more accurate - to say that it's an utterly cynical and calculating lie.

Gore says that what we see and hear when Bush talks is the contempt he and his people have for people of good faith, who sincerely want to do the right thing but have been cynically misled as to what is right. He's perfectly correct, and it's far better to attack Bush's religious "advantage" over Kerry this way, than to attack religion per se.

It's exactly the same as Bush's "Texas cowboy" routine: there's no point in debating whether it's a good thing or a bad thing for a given person to be a cowboy; what's important is whether the person in question actually is a cowboy. And Bush is a Christian the way he's a straight-shootin' cowboy from Way Out West. It's all fraudulent, and to treat it any other way plays into the Right's hands. To believe that Bush has a sincere religious core is to grant him a strength he doesn't actually have, which his supporters can rally around and admire. When the Left attacks from that angle, all we're doing is polishing up Bush's brass halo for the fundies. I think Gore has shown us a much more fruitful avenue of attack, and I hope we'll hear much more of this rhetoric in years to come.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Delusion-Based Community

History is basically a collective nightmare. And some people, now and again, believe they've awakened from it.

If they get the power, one of the first things they tend to do is declare war on the past. They start calendars anew, from the Year Zero. They burn books, and sometimes their authors. They deride outdated ideas, and outlaw outdated beliefs, preferring the resplendence of newly minted delusion to the dull patina of age-old common sense. Whatever ideas aren't mocked or banned outright, they twist into a cunning nest for their newly hatched regime. And at last, freed from the mental detritus of that fitful dream formerly called "reality," they make entirely predictable decisions that lead to entirely predictable results, and many people die, and another grim chapter is written in the annals of human stupidity.

OK, that was fun, but let's continue in plain English. If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us!

When you hear that "9/11 changed everything," what you're basically being told is that the New Age is at hand, and the old world is well and truly gone. It's not just that we have to approach terrorism differently (which is a false proposition in any case), it's that all former ideas are subject to reinterpretation or complete devaluation by BushCo. After 9/11, reality need not be admitted to the White House unless its papers are in order.

This is why neocons get furious if people say "If you do A, the result will be B." All that sort of talk is suspended until further notice; for now, it suffices to know that where there's a will to power, there's a way.

It all does seem very Nietzschean, or very postmodern (which makes me wonder if the Right's railing against postmodernism is yet another confession of guilt). But it may just be that diseased minds think alike. Either way, we now have a group of people in power who apparently believe that they create reality by acting and that, as the Bible says, "the former things are passed away."

That's not a new idea, by any means. Actually, it's as old as the hills. By the time the German people (with a little help from their friends) had come to hold this ancient delusion more or less en masse, Albert Einstein wrote a rather sad letter to Sigmund Freud, in hopes of figuring out how to bridge the gap between reality- and delusion-based communities. Here's what Einstein said:

[P]olitical power hunger is often supported by the activities of another group, whose aspirations are on purely mercenary, economic lines. I have especially in mind that small but determined group, active in every nation, composed of individuals who, indifferent to social considerations and restraints, regard warfare, the manufacture and sale of arms, simply as an occasion to advance their personal interests and enlarge their personal authority....How is it possible for this small clique to bend the will of the majority, who stand to lose and suffer by a state of war, to the service of their ambitions. An obvious answer to this question would seem to be that the minority, the ruling class at present, has the schools and press, usually the Church as well, under its thumb. This enables it to organize and sway the emotions of the masses, and makes its tool of them....Is it possible to control man's mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness? Here I am thinking by no means only of the so-called uncultured masses. Experience proves that it is rather the so-called "intelligentsia" that is most apt to yield to these disastrous collective suggestions, since the intellectual has no direct contact with life in the raw but encounters it in its easiest, synthetic form - upon the printed page.

Freud's response, for the record, was more or less equivalent to the "Nevermore" of Poe's raven. But at any rate, this is the sort of thinking we're dealing with from BushCo: the disastrous thinking of intellectuals who've fallen prey to their own conceits, and the pretty things they read in clever books, and the pretty dreams they dreamed in cozy beds.

They honestly believe that on 9/11 a new and, God help us, a better world was born. The flames that we saw as a ghastly sunset on our world, they saw as a beautiful sunrise on theirs ("I love the optimism of that picture," Bush might say). They believe they've woken up from the circular nightmare of history, and can now see a straight path that leads away from all the old follies and delusions, away from all the old laws of fate that once called Great Men to account for their stupidity and hubris. But as Flann O'Brien said, "Hell goes round and round."

The Good Old Days

I've rambled about this over at Eschaton from time to time, but wanted to go into a bit more detail here.

Long before 9/11, I tended to brood about terrorism pretty often. When I lived in New York, I was sometimes a little uneasy taking the subways. When I flew in airplanes, I sometimes reflected on how easy it would be for someone to hijack one and use it as a missile. When 9/11 happened, I was shocked, but not surprised.

The reason these ideas occurred to me so often - besides my naturally morbid disposition - was because I spent most of the nineties working for a business that was involved semi-peripherally in anti-terrorism. As the person who answered most technical inquiries, I was suddenly getting deluged with calls from panicked military people and first responders, begging for help in dealing with the threat of CBW attacks. The reason? Bill Clinton had mandated it. He'd required it, and provided an unprecedented amount of money for it. It was such a novel idea that even though this wasn't our primary business, we made a great deal of money at it. The phone literally rang off the hook for months. Here's how Fire Chief magazine described just part of Clinton's program:

The Department of Health and Human Services will receive an additional $43.4 million for vaccine research and development to defend against biological weapons, almost a 150% increase. The Food and Drug Administration will receive $13.4 million for enhanced regulatory review of vaccines and therapeutics, and the National Institutes of Health will receive $24 million for research on diagnostics, vaccines and antimicrobials, as well as for genomic research.

Also proposed was a 22% increase, to $86 million, in funding for improvements in the public health surveillance system and public health infrastructure. This translates into increased lab capacity, strengthened epidemiological capabilities for state and local health departments, and more resources for communications and information technology. The Centers for Disease Control will create a network of regional labs to provide rapid analysis and identification of select biological agents.

Clinton's obsession with terrorism response didn't win him a lot of acclaim, I'm afraid. Most people I talked to sounded put out or aggrieved; some hinted darkly that it was all for show, or a distraction from one or another scandal. It must've been the mere fact that it was Clinton talking that rendered the information suspect, because in fact, the danger of CBW attacks in that era was obvious. For instance, the FBI had caught a number of white-supremacists with anthrax and plague baccili, and the Aum Shinrikyo cult had recently carried out its sarin attacks in the Tokyo subway.

If you took the slightest interest in CBW issues back then, you knew that Clinton was right, and was doing the right thing. Some of the near-misses I read back then, by virtue of having access to usually unpublicized incident reports, gave me nightmares for years.

The Bushbot party line, needless to say, has been to ridicule the basic concepts involved. Here's the subreptilian Michelle Malkin on Kerry's proposal to increase funding and personnel for first response:
Kerry's big proposal to fight the global war on terrorism (borrowed from Bill and Hillary Clinton) is to add 100,000 "first responders" to the ranks of firefighters and emergency medical personnel in cities and towns across the United States. In other words: Wait until the terrorists strike us again and then do a really, really good job of cleaning up the mess afterward.

Of course, our brave firefighters, cops and emergency personnel need better training and equipment to respond in the event of another attack. But responders, no matter how courageous, prevent nothing. Dialing 911 is not the solution to stopping another 9/11.

Putting aside the fact that Malkin's lying - this is not Kerry's "big proposal" for preventing terrorism - "first response" doesn't mean clean-up. First response means saving lives. It means rescuing victims, clearing the area, identifying and neutralizing CBW agents, administering means doing all this, and much more, without getting yourself killed. By Malkin's logic - and that's far too noble a word to describe what goes on in her shriveled, seething, squirming, evil brain - a firefighter who rushes to the scene of a 4-alarm blaze is there to "clean up." Because after all, "responders, no matter how courageous, prevent nothing."

On the contrary, they prevent people from dying, you insufferable, dead-eyed, slack-jawed whore.

It's amazing that in so dangerous an era as ours, rational adults have to deal with virtual fifth columnists like Malkin, who are willing to deride and scuttle essential public-health measures to score illusory political points. Truly, things have learned to walk that ought to crawl.

The Wacky World of Vaccine Production

This is from an AP wire story by Theresa Agovino, published way back in December of 2003:

It's no comfort to people scrambling to find a flu vaccine to learn that last year Aventis Pasteur ended up discarding 5 million extra doses of the 43 million it produced. This year, the drugmaker again produced 43 million doses - 35 percent more than were ordered - and yet it still sold out.

It isn't supposed to be this way. The flu vaccine business is supposed to be predictable: Customers place orders so manufacturers know how much to produce and they don't lose money throwing away unwanted product.

But it seldom is that easy. Over the past few years there have been shortages of several vaccines, either caused as in this case by a severe flu season or in other instances by a manufacturer ending production.

Every time there is a vaccine shortage, doctors lament how public health is dependent on for-profit companies. That reliance is considered especially problematic for vaccines, since drugs help individuals but vaccines protect the public.


Public health officials worry about what would happen if a company making one of those vaccines decides to quit the business or experiences production mishaps.


"We don't believe we need to create more competition in the vaccine industry. It would just create redundancies in the market," said Chris Grant, vice president for public policy and government affairs at Aventis Pasteur.

Redundancies? God forbid!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Vaccine from the Pit of Hell

When thinking about this here vaccine shortage, it's hard not to remember these stirring words from the harebrained, spiritually repulsive GOP dimwit Debbie Riddle (R-Texas):

Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.
The gag is, BushCo's now reduced to pleading with the socialist weasels who run the third-world nation of Canada, in hopes they'll give us some of their dangerous, untrustworthy medicines.
[I]n Canada, they've got a secure supply of flu vaccine. Dr. John Carsley, Montreal Public Health said, "Purchased by the Provincial governments and made available to people at high risk and their entourage free of charge so obviously we can't offer that to the Americans because its targeted at our high risk population."
Meanwhile, according to the LA Times,
Thirty-six thousand Americans die of the flu every year. If that number rises by just a tenth because we have only half as much flu vaccine as we need, the increase in deaths will exceed the number killed by Osama bin Laden on Sept. 11, 2001.
Thirty-six thousand Americans will die of flu in the coming months? Sounds like a Homeland Security issue to me! Good thing the Canadians - with their superior health system - are bailing us out.

Radical Islamic Jihadists for Kerry!

I pulled this off LexisNexis; it's a bit old, but to the best of my knowledge it's gotten no publicity. It doesn't show up in Google, either. Read it and weep.

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. There is growing concern in some US counter-terrorism circles that extensive and scarce quantities of vaccines and antidotes to potential chemical and biological terrorist weapons have been wasted by their deployment to Boston for the Democratic Party national convention which began in that Massachusetts city on July 26, 2004. It is generally agreed within international counter-terrorism intelligence circles that there is no major terrorist threat to the Boston convention because the radical Islamist movements -- the al-Qaida grouping and those groups dominated by Iran -- are committed to seeing an electoral victory in the November 2004 US elections for Democratic Party Presidential nominee John Kerry and for the Democrats in Congress.

Copley's the founder of an NGO called the International Strategic Studies Association. He also edits the Defense & Foreign Affairs Handbook.

William F. Buckley: Still Crazy and Incoherent

Buckley is utterly addled, as usual. This time around, he deigns to lean down from Parnassus long enough to call into question the bona fides - as he himself might phrase it - of Bush's war. But he does it in language so garbled, and by means of arguments so deranged, that it's pretty hard to take him seriously. For example, take a gander at this bit of cleverness:

When you dwell on the incapacity of the grand armies of Japan, Germany and Italy to drop a single bomb on the United States mainland in four years, you get some sense of the magnitude of Osama's operation.
Actually, when I dwell on incapacities, I'm far more likely to dwell on the incapacity of conservatives - even those so rapier-keen and penny-bright as Mr. Buckley - to formulate an honest argument. Let's take a closer look at this pretty conceit. Buckley's assumption is that what we in the Peanut Gallery have been lacking these last few years is "some sense of the magnitude" of 9/11. Ever a river unto his people, he proposes to give us just comparing the failure of the Italians to drop bombs on the White House during World War II, to the ability of Al-Qaeda to hijack our own airplanes and fly them into buildings. If there's a more glaring example of'll probably be found in a future column by William F. Buckley. Now, then:
The president of the United States sprang into action and declared war on his own authority.
On the contrary, Bush's authority is one of the few things that's flourished under his years of misrule. Oh, wait...that's not what Buckley meant. He just phrased it badly. Sorry!

I have to add that phrases like "sprang into action" have always bugged me; to spring is by definition to act, and one wouldn't say "he leapt into movement." But that's by the by. As Buckley was saying:
The administration has urged the public to view Afghanistan and Iraq as a common place, fit for retaliatory war before they get around to launching another 9/11.
Putting aside the sheer awfulness of his language, Buckley's shall I put this?...correct. The Iraq invasion was not advertised to the public as retaliatory; it was called "pre-emptive" or (more accurately) "preventative." That, in itself, gives the lie to the argument that Iraq and Afhganistan could be viewed as "a common place" (and what a weird phrase that is; does anyone edit this man at all?).
Although we conquered Baghdad, we have not quelled the anti-Americans. On top of which, we came to lose sight of just what it is that has provoked them to anti-Americanism.
Can you believe this defeatist talk? Someone needs to get on the horn with this doddering old bag of bones and inform him that the terrorists hate our freedom. Of course, Buckley's main points are correct: we're engaged in a phony war, undertaken for phony reasons against an undefined enemy, and there's no end in sight. I honestly do appreciate his pointing this out, even if his method of doing so makes Dutch Schultz's last words seem downright lucid. But check out this remarkable finale:
We should all be ready to go to war to defend Christian individualism and the separation of church and state, but who all is pressing this point beyond western endurance?
Don't you wish you could wash hogs like that?

Buckley's question is meaningless on its face, of course. But I ask you, ladies and gentlemen...if it did mean something, what would that something be? Any guesses?

What Year Is It?

See if you can guess when these quotes were written:

A. Pending a snap back to the reality of recession and to matters that he handles less adroitly, Bush is riding as high as any president in recent memory.... Bush's success was timely for him and the nation.... his approval rating had sunk to 58 percent, largely because of the worsening economy and a perception that his domestic policies were aimless. Then came full-fledged recession, something that would have kept tugging at Bush's popularity had it stayed in the limelight. Instead, months of tension and then war smothered most bad news about the economy. Experts say that his victory could sustain him in the months ahead as his administration embarks on controversial new...proposals to roll back benefits to the middle class in many federal programs.

B. ''What Republican primaries are consistently showing . . . in very diverse states is that voters are saying 'We've got major problems with the president. We'll vote for anybody else,' '' said David Mason, a presidential analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation. Mason said that even a relatively small loss of support could prove politically fatal for Bush....''When you go through the electoral amounts, if you assume he suffers a little bit in the whole region running from New York to Illinois plus California, he could very easily lose,'' Mason said.

C. "In the past few weeks the Democrats have been building a platform against Bush....The gist of it is that Bush has neglected domestic leadership in his concentration on foreign affairs. He would rather help...Iraq than the mill hands of South Carolina. He's an abominable no-man - no to abortion, no to highway projects, no to civil rights, no to everything here at home."

D. If you really want to get a sense of where this election is going, there's a different gauge you might want to try. It's based on completely unscientific questions that are answered by your own thinking, and the thinking of friends, neighbors, people you strike up a conversation with at the bank or in the mall....I literally cannot count the number of people who've told me, "I voted for Bush last time, but not this time...."

ANSWERS: A) St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/1/91; B) Same, 3/5/91; C) Same, 8/19/91; D) Chicago Sun-Times, 9/8/92

Monday, October 18, 2004

More False Economy

Here's something ghastly that you probably didn't know: U.S. troop training, and deployment overseas, is being hobbled by an outbreak of adenovirus, a sometimes deadly pathogen which has been infecting up to 2,500 service members every month.

More than three decades ago, the Pentagon created two pills to ward off a lethal virus infecting boot-camp recruits. But defense officials abandoned the program in 1996 as too expensive. Now recruits are dying, thousands are falling ill, and the military is desperately racing to bring back a vaccine it once owned.
This underscores a point I was trying to make earlier: You can't skimp on public health, inside or outside of the military. For every dollar you save up front, you lose God knows how many down the say nothing of the lives that may be lost.

It also ties in with something I want to talk about later, which is that we, as a culture, seem to be in the process of willfully forgetting everything we ever knew. In far less medically advanced eras, it was understood perfectly that contagious diseases could make an army lose battles or even wars, and that...(wait for it) ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. How could there be so many people in positions of authority who don't understand such a simple goddamn concept? Is there anyone in the world who believes that it costs the government more money to inoculate 250,000 people per month, than it does to have 2500 people get sick per month?


Foul-Mouthed Temper Tantrums

According to this alarming article El Chimpo Borracho is melting down completely:

The 43rd US President has always had a much-publicised knack for mangled syntax, but now George Bush often searches an agonisingly long time, sometimes in vain, for the right words. His mind simply blanks out at crucial times. He is prone, I am told, to foul-mouthed temper tantrums in the White House. His handlers now rarely allow him to speak an unscripted word in public.


A senior Republican, experienced and wise in the ways of Washington, told me last Friday that he does not necessarily accept that Bush is unstable, but what is clear, he added, is that he is now manifestly unfit to be President.
As opposed to 2000, when he was a little less manifestly unfit to be President.


David M. Halbfinger of the NYT takes a long cold look at John Kerry, ponders what he sees...and then makes a bunch of shit up:

On a day when he rallied thousands of supporters deep in Republican territory and bought a hunting license to show off his credentials as a sportsman, Senator John Kerry's search for the political center brought him on Saturday to a Roman Catholic church where a very supportive priest chided bishops who have assailed him over abortion rights.
Memo to Halbfinger: John Kerry is a centrist, for Christ's sake! He doesn't have to search for the center, because he represents it! Only in a political landscape dominated by cryptofascist thugs like Tom DeLay could Kerry's consistent centrism be painted as "radical."

But Halbfinger's portrait of John Kerry as Janus-faced panderer is not quite finished:
And at a grocery here in Buchanan, he paid $140 cash for a hunting license to shoot ducks and geese in the Mahoning Valley. Or, as his spokesman, Mike McCurry, joked, "To go kill defenseless animals somewhere": a reminder that, even while courting middle-of-the-road voters, the party's base is never entirely out of anyone's mind.
Now, I'm a goddamn vegan, for fuck's sake, and I'm very staunchly opposed to shooting ducks and geese; they're incredibly beautiful birds, and are two of my favorite animals on earth. But that doesn't make me part of Kerry's base...on the contrary, it puts me way, way out of the mainstream in the Democratic Party. (And I'm not a registered Democrat, in any case.) To pretend that Kerry is walking some kind of fine line here is ridiculous, particularly since McCurry's comment would (at best) irritate anyone who actually is morally opposed to hunting; that's really not the best way to pander to the good folks at PETA, or whomever Halbfinger imagines might comprise Kerry's anti-hunting "base." (For the record, I have far less trouble understanding hunters than I have understanding people who are staunch carnivores, but remain squeamish about killing and skinning and gutting animals.)

Halbfinger's article, though heartening overall, perfectly demonstrates what's wrong with our media: it relies on pat generalizations, received wisdom, dreamworld illogic, and barely submerged hostility to any political position left of Tom Friedman's.

Ted Nugent Gets a Touching Tribute from His Fans

How the mighty have fallen! You can add your own comments here.

Alan Keyes is Making Money Illegally

In these troubled times, we must gather rosebuds where we may...and to this sad-eyed waif, few things are more cheering than Alan Keyes' slow-motion mental breakdown, and the garish language in which he and his creatures proclaim it to an astonished world. Get this, friends:

The FEC found that Keyes took excessive contributions when he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. It ordered him to pay a fine and repay the government $95,302 in public funding that his campaign accepted.


Also Thursday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an FEC complaint alleging that Keyes current Senate campaign had improperly coordinated with a group running ads that target his opponent, Democrat Barack Obama.

Keyes campaign manager Bill Pascoe dismissed the accusation as "poppycock," saying "To suggest otherwise is to treat the truth as a harlot."
I love the idea of Keyes coming up with that line, and sending Pascoe out to deliver it. I also love the fact that this page about Keyes' financial shenanigans includes an ad for his campaign, advising readers to "send a real conservative to the Senate." Let's see...he's crazier than a shithouse rat, he's prone to florid psychosexual delusions, he steals money and breaks laws, and he's completely without shame. Yep, he's a real conservative!

Alan Keyes is Making People Angry

Alan Keyes' subnormal brain has once again been struck by a thunderbolt of Divine Inspiration

U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes told a rally Saturday that incest was "inevitable" for children raised by gay couples because the children might not know both biological parents.

"If we do not know who the mother is, who the father is, without knowing all the brothers and sisters, incest becomes inevitable," Keyes told the Marquette Park rally held to oppose same-sex marriages.
Someone needs to tell Mr. Keyes that the object of running for a Senate seat is to get more votes than the other guy. On the other hand, he's at least avoiding the "moral relativism" that plagues the hypocrites in the Cheney family (see below).

Sunday, October 17, 2004

How It Looks to a Contemporary

That the Cheneys are guilty of nurturing Rampant Lesbianism at their own hearth hadn't gone unnoticed by the Religious Right, even before John Kerry's Unspeakable Act. Here's one take on the situation, written on September 3, 2004 by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky:

"Setting aside the convoluted and confusing nature of Mr. Cheney's comments [what in the world did he mean by stating that all persons should be free 'to enter into any kind of relationship they want to'?], we are still left with the fact that the vice president rooted his opposition to a Federal Marriage Amendment in the experience of his daughter. He made no reference to moral principle. He offered no extended argument acknowledging the moral issues at stake. He simply asserted the fact that he and his wife 'have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with.'

"We should expect Mr. and Mrs. Cheney to love both of their daughters. But love requires truth-telling, not the acceptance of all behavior or 'lifestyles.' In the end, the vice president's comments may not reflect much about the Bush administration's policy on this issue. But following a pattern now all too familiar, his comments do say a great deal about his willingness to abandon the moral imperative to defend marriage in light of his daughter's own experience.


"We must name moral relativism for what it is - even when it comes Republican-style."

Saturday, October 16, 2004

A Small Wager

The flu vaccine shortage demonstrates the danger of relying on the free market to look after public health; the pressing need for such vaccines demonstrates a larger flaw in capitalist thinking.

As a matter of homeland security (or, if you prefer, common sense), it's essential to monitor new flu strains. A new flu pandemic could kill millions of people worldwide, and have political and economic repercussions beyond Osama Bin Laden's wildest dreams.

The factory farms of Mainland China and Southeast Asia are a breeding ground for new flu strains; humans, pigs, and birds live together in filthy conditions, wallowing in each other's dung. This set-up is partly a matter of poor planning - with a focus on short-term benefits and achieving economies of scale - and partly a matter of tradition.

The typical right-leaning economist would argue that the factory-farm system keeps food costs low. And that's quite true...but only up until a new virus rears its head, and (as happened recently) 44 million chickens have to be culled, and killed, and burned in gigantic pyres. In any sane financial model, the cost of dealing with these outbreaks would be considered when assessing the cost/benefit ratio of factory farming; since massive contagion is inevitable under the current overcrowded system, the logical solution would be to invest in prevention, instead of letting the situation spiral out of control again and again and again.

Just as we saw with Mad Cow Disease in the UK, short-term objections to the cost of prevention turn out to be false economy; in the case of poultry-rearing, the long-term costs of a pandemic would far outstrip the cost of reducing the risk of contagion (especially interspecies contagion) on farms. To believe otherwise is to fall prey to the same irrational thinking that might make someone skimp on the cost of a filling this month, and end up paying for a root canal in a year.

The problem is, preparing for a pandemic takes a massive investment of time and money well before the pandemic starts...and if the pandemic then doesn't happen, the vaccines will probably be useless and the manufacturers take a large loss. A public-health organization can take that risk; a for-profit drug company can't, unless it's subsidized by a government. But as we all know from listening to Grover Norquist, such subsidies are evil.

The World Health Organization describes how this state of affairs affects our dealings with the deadly Avian Flu (H5N1) currently raising havoc in China, Vietnam, and Thailand:

"Vaccine manufacturers respond to market forces. Companies may be reluctant to produce a vaccine for an event, such as a pandemic, that cannot be predicted with any certainty and might not be caused by currently circulating strains. Some uncertainty has also centered on rights to use the special technique of reverse genetics, a patented procedure, that is needed to produce the prototype 'seed' vaccine against H5N1.

"At the beginning of April 2004, WHO made the prototype seed strain for an H5N1 vaccine available to manufacturers. To date, only two of the world’s roughly 12 major companies producing influenza vaccines have taken work on a pandemic vaccine significantly forward. These two companies, Aventis Pasteur Inc. and Chiron Corp., both located in the USA, have produced small batches of vaccine for use in clinical trials. These trials, which require several months for the compilation and analysis of data, are needed to fine-tune vaccine composition, test safety, and meet other licensing requirements. Trials are not expected to begin before year-end."
So there you have it. We've allowed market forces to decide who will work on an H5N1 vaccine, and they have decreed that only two companies will do the work, and that they won't exactly be knocking themselves out to get it done on time. If no H5N1 pandemic occurs, there's no harm done. The problem is, these companies will take the same gamble next year, and the next, and eventually they'll lose. Which is a shame, because they're gambling with our lives.

Our Childish Leader

From the LA Times, a moment of actual insight into the "different styles" of Bush and Kerry:

A key part of President Bush's message for the final weeks of the campaign is starting to sound like a schoolyard taunt: Kerry is a liberal! Kerry is a liberal!

Democrat John F. Kerry's response at the final presidential debate Wednesday sometimes sounded like the political equivalent of: So? You wanna make something of it?

NYT asks: "Why isn't Bob Novak's Punk Ass in Jail?"

As the reprehensible harridan Judith Miller heads off to the Big House for contempt of court, The New York Times is moved to ponder what some folks might call "the larger implications":

It remains extremely puzzling that Mr. Novak, who originally published Ms. Plame's name, appears to be in no jeopardy. Mr. Novak has remained oddly silent about the jail sentences his colleagues face for defending principles that also protect him.

George W. Bush: Keepin' It Real for His Homeys

The Preznit blows minds (and triggers epileptic fits) with his totally, awesomeness:

"Amid strobe lights and swirling smoke, Bush's campaign bus drove into a darkened sports arena in Sunshine, Fla., depositing the president on stage with red-white-and-blue lights flickering across a crowd of 10,000 supporters."

Personally, I'd like to know the frequency of the strobe lights, and the chemical constituents of the "swirling smoke."

Friday, October 15, 2004

Bush's Multiple Personality Disorder

The most important thing to know when dealing with Republican rhetoric is this: Every accusation is a confession. I've never known this simple rule to fail. They always attack other people most violently on issues where they themselves are most vulnerable.

This has been proved, once again, by the debates. After months of calling Kerry a "flip-flopper" who lacked "conviction," they had the gumption to thrust onstage a squeaky weathervane of a president...a fluttering windsock who changed not just his opinions and policies ("You can't trust Canadian drugs, and I'm working to get flu vaccines from Canada") but his entire personality from one debate to the next. And all the while, Kerry was...Kerry. While Bush tried on different faces and different styles depending on how he got reviewed in the previous debate, Kerry was consistently himself.

Ya gotta wonder where a psychologically delving wunderkind like Lowell Ponte stands on Bush's multiple makeovers. Here's what he had to say about Gore back in 2002, in an article for FrontPage:

Like a poster boy for Multiple Personality Disorder, Mr. Gore manifested an entirely different personality in each of those three debates.

His bizarre, schizophrenic "Three Faces of Al" performance left voters confused and wary, and turned what should have been an easy Gore election victory into ignominious defeat.
(If winning the popular vote by 500,000 counts as an "ignominious defeat," what would Ponte call Bush losing in 2004 by, say, a couple million votes? "Cheating," is my educated guess.)

Anyway, it's conventional wisdom that Gore lost in 2000 because he "tried out a different personality at each debate." But this year's race, oddly enough, has turned the conventional wisdom on its head.

I hold these truths to be self-evident: Bush has an unstable personality that changes with the political winds, and he couldn't seem to avoid telling colossal and avoidable lies at each debate. But babbling dishonesty and 180-degree personality changes are not the moral outrage they used to be. The courage the media had in 2000 - when they bravely checked the titanic rampages of the archfiend Al Gore, displaying a selfless disregard for their personal safety - seems to have evaporated in the face of a spittle-flecked pipsqueak with a fake Texas drawl, who can't make up his mind whether he's happy, angry, or catatonic, and who'd lie for fifty cents even if he could get a buck for telling the truth.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Fahrenheit 95

In addition to everything else that's wrong with e-voting machines, it seems they're not designed to operate in temperatures above 95 F. According to USA Today:

"Heat is a very serious problem for these machines, especially in Louisiana and Florida," said Dan Spillane, former senior testing engineer of touch-screens for a small equipment manufacturer in Seattle. "Basically, these things work in the secretary of state's office. Outside of that, no one knows."


According to technical standards for electronic voting systems, updated in 2002, voting machines must be able to tolerate storage temperatures ranging from minus 4 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. They must be able to operate in "natural" conditions and temperatures ranging from 50 to 95 degrees.

Those standards aren't satisfactory to Vincent Lipsio, a firmware design engineer in Gainesville, Fla. Lipsio, who is helping draft e-voting equipment standards for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said most hardware that's considered 'mission critical' — including medical devices, military equipment and aviation hardware — should tolerate 180 degrees or more.

In Lurch We Trust!

I've said before that I trust Kerry to win this fight. He's a shrewd, tough man, and I'm not going to second-guess him. He's also under enough strain to destroy three ordinary (i.e., reasonably intelligent and unmedicated) men. I don't understand why he doesn't hit Bush harder on certain things, but I do understand that how he comes across to a political obsessive like myself is far less important than how he comes across to the average voter. And all indications are that he's giving them what they want, by and large.

I'm not a romantic when it comes to politics, and I'm not a utopian in any sense. But to the extent that I have hope for the future, I feel that my fortunes are inextricably tied with John Kerry's. And wonder of wonders, I actually feel that they're in reasonably good hands. With Kerry, I think we have a very good chance of making it through what is likely to be an incredibly ugly and dangerous three months, and coming out on top.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Look, Everyone! Saddam Killed People!

Today, AFP informs us that Iraq pleads for aid as mass graves reveal horrors of Saddam's regime.

What's missing from the story is any mention of the year in which the people in this grave were killed: 1987 to 1988.

Does the "Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988" ring any bells? Not surprising, since it was torpedoed by the objectively pro-Saddam wing of the GOP.

Cognitive Dissonance

The great novelist/essayist Marilynne Robinson makes a deceptively simple point in a recent interview:

"Today, it is true that we have come under attack — but it was not Iraqis who attacked us. If it had been, we would not have had to talk about preemption."
The point seems to have been lost on a number of journalists. Would it be so hard to ask Dick Cheney how he can conflate Iraq and Al-Qaeda, and simultaneously call the invasion of Iraq "preemptive"?

Robinson also has a short piece of fiction - her first in decades - in the New Yorker, accessible through the link above. Read it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The World Turned Upside Down, or Vice Versa

A fine funny fellow named Paul Campos would have us understand that Bush is a disastrous president because he's a secret liberal. Hear his words, oh my brethren and cistern, and tremble:

"The irony is that the administration's Iraq policy exemplifies what classic conservative political theorists have identified as the fundamental weaknesses of the liberal worldview. Specifically....Conservative political theory has always emphasized that human cultures are by nature immensely complex things, and that each culture has its own organic logic and structure, which will be difficult for outsiders to understand. In particular, conservative thinkers deride the liberal delusion that imposing one culture's laws and institutions on another will automatically transform the latter into something that resembles the former.

"Conservative thinkers have made particularly devastating criticisms of liberal thought by pointing out the extent to which liberalism has failed to grasp that religious belief and nationalist sentiment remain overwhelmingly powerful forces in human affairs."
Now, if Campos must clamber so laboriously to such a precarious ledge, before he can perceive that Bush is a dreadful president who took us to war for foolish reasons--and botched the job into the bargain--that's fine. God bless him for it. At this point, I welcome any dissent from BushCo, no matter how flimsy its justification or erratic its presentation may be.

But I'm shocked at his accusation that liberals have "failed to grasp" the roadblocks that, say, nationalist sentiment present to what Campos elsewhere calls "utopian interventionism." Unless I'm misled by my own conceit (and it does happen), it seems to me that the Left's critique of imperialism is based on precisely the understanding that Campos says is beyond the comprehension of lefty dolts like yours truly.

At best, I can suppose either that he thinks the far-right architects of US intervention in South and Central America were actually a pack of bleeding-heart liberals; or that the type of interventionism conservatives favor is a dystopian model, wherein appropriately autochthonic fascists rule a huge underclass for the benefit of US interests, while remaining "conservatively" within the boundaries of local cultural traditions--except, perhaps, as regards the popular aversion to raping and killing nuns--and there's no silly talk (cynical or otherwise) of "improving" things for people.

It'd help if his article included some sort of philosophical timeline, so that I could know who the "real" conservatives are...the ones who understand that it's not always possible or desirable to impose one's own culture and institutions on other societies (and no, segregationists don't count). Without that, it's hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that Campos is completely out of his mind, or has been in a cocoon since 1946 or so.

Music of the Spheres

If you've been wondering what an aurora sounds like, this man can help.

High Time

According to the AP, "first lady Laura Bush said Tuesday that if her husband is elected to a second term she would like to help juvenile delinquents with substance abuse problems."

And why not? She's their mother, after all.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Buckley and Kerry: A Dialogue

William F. Buckley, like Christopher Hitchens, believes that the essential poverty and dishonesty of his thought will be hidden as long as he can throw words like "supererogatory" around. Dig it, man:

BUCKLEY (10/9/04): Attention focuses on what exactly went through the minds of the major players on the scene. When John Kerry voted to authorize military action by the president, did he expect such action to be taken?

KERRY (10/9/02): As the President made clear earlier this week, "Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable." It means "America speaks with one voice."

BUCKLEY (10/9/04): If he expected something else, what was it?

KERRY (10/9/02): Let me be clear, the vote I will give to the President is for one reason and one reason only: To disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies.

BUCKLEY (10/9/04): A supererogatory resolution by the Security Council? If so, why did he not stress the need for it at the time?

KERRY (10/9/02): In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days--to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. And I believe they made it clear that if the United States operates through the U.N., and through the Security Council, they--all of them--will also bear responsibility for the aftermath of rebuilding Iraq and for the joint efforts to do what we need to do as a consequence of that enforcement....If the President arbitrarily walks away from this course of action--without good cause or reason--the legitimacy of any subsequent action by the United States against Iraq will be challenged by the American people and the international community. And I would vigorously oppose the President doing so.


"Dissimulation Reigns," indeed! None can deny that it is rampant and ululant. And Mr. Buckley, I fear, cannot coax his senescent synapses into action without evulging it so quoquoversedly that he becomes the very Emblem of Falsity. Or, to employ the vulgate: Go to hell, you demented old fossil.

An Apology for Breathing

Not that you care, nor that you should, but I'll get the name out of the way first (and alienate any number of prospective readers while I'm at it, natch).

Bouphonia is the name of an ancient Greek ritual, the moral daintiness of which has impressed me ever since I read this description of it by Sir James Frazer:

"The weapons were then sharpened and handed to the butchers, one of whom felled the ox with the axe and another cut its throat with the knife. As soon as he had felled the ox, the former threw the axe from him and fled; and the man who cut the beast's throat apparently imitated his example. Meantime the ox was skinned and all present partook of its flesh. Then the hide was stuffed with straw and sewed up; next the stuffed animal was set on its feet and yoked to a plough as if it were ploughing. A trial then took place in an ancient law-court presided over by the King (as he was called) to determine who had murdered the ox. The maidens who had brought the water accused the men who had sharpened the axe and knife; the men who had sharpened the axe and knife blamed the men who had handed these implements to the butchers; the men who had handed the implements to the butchers blamed the butchers; and the butchers laid the blame on the axe and knife, which were accordingly found guilty, condemned, and cast into the sea.

"The name of this sacrifice,--the murder of the ox,--the pains taken by each person who had a hand in the slaughter to lay the blame on some one else, together with the formal trial and punishment of the axe or knife or both, prove that the ox was here regarded not merely as a victim offered to a god, but was itself a sacred creature, the slaughter of which was sacrilege or murder."

Seems to me there are lots of modern-day human endeavors that echo this charming little charade. But the most obvious one, right now, is politics. There are people who are doing their damnedest to murder not only the fragile democracy that we enjoy in the United States, and not just its historical and intellectual wellsprings, but the very human instinct for it.

Insofar as this is indeed sacrilege, and insofar as they've been allowed to do as much damage as they have, I'd say there's more than enough blame for all of us to share, and I have no desire to foist my own portion of it off on anyone else. If we look at something like...oh...well, like the Iraq War, to pull an example out of thin air, the blame surely falls on the instruments of that war, and the people who built those instruments, and the people who used them, and the people who ordered them to, and the people who didn't do enough to stop them, and the people who cheered them on from a position of perfect safety with the insouciance of perfect cowardice. And above all, it falls on the people who are still making utterly dishonest excuses for everyone else, and for themselves: the mass media.

So that's what's going on with the title. It's kind of dense, and a bit pompous, and is thus an unmistakable child of its father. It could be worse, though. Originally I thought I'd complement my alchemical nom de blog by calling this thing The Sophic Hydrolith ("Changing the World, One Element at a Time!"). But despite being a pedant and a lunatic, I'm going to try to keep things fairly breezy and cheerful around here. Or breezy, anyway.

Or to put it more succinctly: I'm Philalethes and I'm here to say, I'm a crazy motherfucker from around the way!