bitter sanity

Wake up and smell the grjklbrxwg, earth beings.

Friday, August 25, 2006

[posted by jaed at 2:35 PM]
Scary questions of our times
One of the scariest of those questions - if you spend most of the day reading and writing, at least, and trying to forget about the really scary ones such as "When is Iran going to set off a nuke in Baghdad?" - is "Is this a clever parody, or the real thing?" From the comments thread on a Tapped post on Walmart comes this: gem of sarcasm, or primo blend of craziness and snootiness?
[...]the question -is- "Wal-Mart, yes or no?" Are you going to shop somewhere that sells Racist Processed Sugar-Flakes and Rootin' Tootin' Patriotic Overalls or are you going to patronize the vibrant bodegas and tienditas that have healthful plantains, tasty lentils, and real curry?
The thing is, something like "Racist Processed Sugar-Flakes" is beautiful parody, except that there are in fact people who actually think like this (and who have no shame at revealing it in public). Some topics can no longer be lampooned via exaggeration, because no matter how big you make the clown nose, there's someone out there with an even bigger red ball growing out of their face.

That's scary.

Monday, June 26, 2006

[posted by jaed at 12:45 PM]
We're the UN, and we're here to help you
*ring* *ring* *ring*

Hello! You've reached the United Nations. Your call *is* important to us!

Please listen to the following options:

Par francais, s'il vous plait appuyez sur "neuf".

If a neighboring country has invaded and annexed yours, press 1 for an emergency meeting of the Security Council, to be held within 30 days.

If your local dictator has been arresting and displacing political opponents and their families, friends, and people from the same village en masse, press 2 for an official Statement of Concern.

If you are the local dictator of an oil-rich country, press 3 to set up a humanitarian-aid scam. Remember our motto: ""We can do business with you!"

If your racial, ethnic, linguistic, or religious minority is being hunted down and murdered wholesale by a government-sponsored militia/terrorist group, press 4 to request a visit by a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights.

If you and your family are the last of your people left alive, press 5 instead to trigger an investigation by the Secretary General concerning possible violations of the International Convention on Genocide.

If you are Jews and are under attack from your neighbors, press 6 for a Security Concil condemnation of the "cycle of violence".

If your country has just experienced a serious natural disaster accompanied by great loss of life, and is consequently in need of immediate assistance with food, water, shelter, and other necessities, press 7 for a team to be dispatched in order to set up a "coordination and opcenter" in the 5-star hotel closest to the disaster zone. (Before requesting a "coordination and opcenter" team, please make certain that the hotel can provide international fax services, a suitable press conference facility, and twenty-four hour room service.)

If you require peacekeeping services, press 8 to dispatch a squadron of blue-helmeted UN troops. Please note: no warranty expressed or implied. Blue helmets will not be sent into combat situations, although a commemorative kaffeeklatch and art exhibit may be commissioned - free of charge! - should they stand by while 5000 or more people are massacred.

If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 011 on your telephone.

Thank you, and have a nice day.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

[posted by jaed at 7:33 PM]
Quote of the day
Hmmm. It seems that the NYT and Senator Kerry are resurrecting the "Christmas in Cambodia" story. God only knows why; it doesn't reflect well on Kerry. However, I was reminded of another remark Kerry made a year and a half ago, on Meet the Press. Roll tape:
MR. RUSSERT: [...] In a letter to the Boston Herald, you remember spending Christmas Eve '68 five miles across the Cambodian border. You told The Washington Post you have a lucky hat given to you by a CIA guy 'as we went in for a special mission to Cambodia.' Were you in Cambodia Christmas Eve, 1968?

SEN. KERRY: We were right on the border, Tim. What I explained to people and I told this any number of times, did I go into Cambodia on a mission? Yes, I did go into Cambodia on a mission. Was it on that night? No, it was not on that night. But we were right on the Cambodian border that night. We were ambushed there, as a matter of fact. And that is a matter of record, and we went into the rec-- you know, it's part of the Navy records. It's been documented by the other guys who were on my boat. And Steve Gardner, frankly, doesn't know where we were. It wasn't his job, and, you know, he wasn't involved in that. But we did go five miles into Cambodia. It was on another day. I jumbled the two together, but we were five miles into Cambodia. We went up on a mission with CIA agents--I believe they were CIA agents--CIA Special Ops guys. I even have some photographs of it, and I can document it. And it has been documented.

MR. RUSSERT: You'll release those photographs?

SEN. KERRY: I think they were shown. I gave them to the campaign, but...

MR. RUSSERT: And you have a hat that the CIA agent gave you?

SEN. KERRY: I still have the hat that he gave me, and I hope the guy would come out of the woodwork and say, 'I'm the guy who went up with John Kerry. We delivered weapons to the Khmer Rouge on the coastline of Cambodia.'
Recall that this is a relatively recent comment, at a time when Kerry had had the opportunity to refresh his memory about the incident. Here he's saying that he was ambushed on Christmas Eve 1968, but not actually in Cambodia (although a contemporaneous diary entry says nothing of any combat that night). But more interestingly, he says he was running guns to the Khmer Rouge. Of all people!

Has anyone ever asked Kerry about this? I figured the whole story was stale news, but if he's bringing it up again in hallowed pages of NYT...

Monday, February 27, 2006

[posted by jaed at 2:15 PM]
The cold breath of the silence
Douglas Murray writes in the London Times:
...The silencing happens bit by bit. A student paper in Britain that ran the Danish cartoons got pulped. A London magazine withdrew the cartoons from its website after the British police informed the editor they could not protect him, his staff, or his offices from attack.
A few days ago, this silence breathed past me, just for a moment. I was considering a project involving the history of Islamic thought in light of the life and times of Muhammed; some of my prospective research topics are likely to lead to uncomplimentary conclusions. And I had a strange thought in the midst of this: I asked myself, would I be in danger if I wrote about such-and-such a topic? Would there be death threats? Could I get it published by normal channels in the first place, or would the publisher fear bombing or threats? If I published on the web, would the web host demur on grounds of safety?

It was a foreign sensation and very strange. I cannot remember ever before wondering whether it might be unsafe - physically unsafe - to write certain things about history. Unsafe politically, perhaps, or bad for the reputation, but the prospect of death? Absurd. I had never thought such a thing before. Yet here I was, thinking it now. The cold breath of the silence wafted past me and I shuddered at it.

For an American, this fear is almost purely hypothetical. There have been very few violent jihadist attacks here, although one of the most spectacular and deadly occurred in the US, and none against individuals. In Europe, however, it's a different story. Theo van Gogh, Pym Fortuyn, Salman Rushdie all those years ago... these stand as scarecrows warning European thinkers away from certain topics.

Those scholars who analyzes Islam in Europe today in anything less than the most obsequious terms are taking a serious risk. I am not, at least not yet. The silence hasn't touched us here; as yet, it's only a brief cold sensation, a momentary thought, a slight drift away from what might be dangerous and into safer waters.

(via Watch)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

[posted by jaed at 9:23 AM]
Mirror-imaging, the press, the public, and Bush
The Big Guy had a post yesterday on the Dubai ports deal, with a series of updates from various military types attesting to UAE cooperation and help in the war, along with some speculation that any "quid pro quo" which helped put this deal through might have to do with the current Big Headache, Iran. Glenn notes at the end, "You'd think the White House would have been ready with stuff like this, wouldn't you?"

The same thing occurred to me, and I wonder whether there's not a kind of mirror-imaging going on in the White House. (Mirror imaging is a sort of failure of imagination that's a common pitfall for intelligence analysts: the analyst assumes that everyone has the same information and works on the same values he does, and his interpretations and predictions may be way off if the people he's analyzing are nothing like him. He's analyzing how he himself would react in that situation, instead of how the actual people will act.)

I'm assuming that whoever made this decision, and analyzed its impact on the public, is well aware of UAE assistance and goodwill. If we had a press worth the name, the public also would be generally aware of these things, but we don't and it's not. Did whoever made these decisions forget that, and assume that the public had the same sort of information as was current in the White House - and therefore would see the benefits of this deal without them having to be explained?

I've seen hints of this syndrome in regard to Bush's foreign-policy thrust, and in regard to the reasons for invading Iraq. Specifically, no one who's familiar with the sequence and timing of Bush's major foreign-policy addresses of 2002 and 2003 would think that "WMDs" were the only or main reason, but most people never heard about those speeches, and those they did hear about (the 2003 State of the Union, primarily) have been systematically reminded of the WMD references over the years. The result is that the public is badly-enough informed on the subject that most people seem to think WMDs were the only or the main reason, notwithstanding the historical record. Why has the White House publicity machine not been harder-hitting on this subject? My uninformed guess is that it's because they know what Bush was saying during that critical year, the text is readily available on the web to anyone who wants to read it, and they don't quite appreciate how badly the public has been misled since then. So they don't see the need.

People who get their news from primary sources and expert commenters should never underestimate how scanty is the information possessed by people whose only source of news is CNN, the big 4 news shows, their local paper, and Time or Newsweek.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

[posted by jaed at 8:25 PM]
Thought of the day
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

[posted by jaed at 10:50 PM]
The song remains the same, 2001-2005
In re Afghanistan, 2001-2002:
  • "graveyard of empires"
  • "natural warriors"
  • "quagmire"
  • "the holy month of Ramadan"
  • "the brutal Afghan winter"
  • "Millions of Afghans will starve to death."
  • "The Arab street will explode."

In re Iraq, 2002-2003:
  • "hundreds of thousands of refugees"
  • "Saddam will use his chemical weapons against our troops."
  • "quagmire"
  • "isolated and without allies"
  • "the brutal Iraqi summer"
  • "The Arab street will explode."

In re Iraq, 2004-2005:
  • "looming civil war"
  • "Arabs need a strong hand and won't be able to handle democracy."
  • "Iraqi insurgents"
  • "quagmire"
  • "The Iraqis will be scared away from the polls."
  • "The Sunni street will explode."

I should count my blessings.

At least people have stopped talking about how we need "an exit strategy".

[posted by jaed at 1:08 PM]

A few predictions
I've been thinking that it's only a matter of time before mainstream thought in this country begins the process of lionizing Saddam Hussein. With his trial beginning, the tone of media coverage is starting to bear out my worst fears. (You wouldn't think it would be possible to admire someone who has done what Saddam has uncontestably done, but in a country where people wear Guevera t-shirts without hiding their faces, I suppose just about anything is possible.)

I predict:
  • The words "defiant", "strong", "canny", and "independent" will become de rigeur in all stories concerning Saddam's trial.
  • The meme that the trial is "illegal" (because not blessed by "international-law experts") will spread. Shortly, it will be routine to refer to the "illegal trial" in editorials, and to "the trial, whose legality is disputed" in news coverage.
  • If and when he is executed, the television news coverage will feature somber voices.
  • On the day, no Iraqis who were victims themselves or who lost family will be quoted. Only Baathist voices will be heard, mourning "the great lion", and so on.
  • Editorials will announce that since obviously the Iraqi people mourn Saddam Hussein, his execution will only increase the "Iraqi" "insurgency".
  • Within two months, Saddam's daughter Raghad will be the subject of a sympathetic television interview, perhaps by Barbara Walters. The interviewer will not ask her what kind of a tree she would be, but will ask how she felt "the day you lost your father".
  • Raghad will do a lecture tour of the US, and will be invited to speak at several prominent universities.
  • None of the victims of Saddam Hussein will be invited to speak in any of these venues, then or in the future.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

[posted by jaed at 1:21 AM]
Not so much bitter as sour
I wonder, now that it looks as though the death toll from Katrina may be smaller than was feared at first, how long it will be before we start hearing mutters to the effect that those greedy Americans exaggerated the scope of the disaster in order to cop aid and/or sympathy from the world?

(Five years ago, such a thing would never have occurred to me, and I would have been shocked if it had happened. But I've heard similar things about the "exaggerated" death toll of the 9/11 attacks. Buildings holding 20,000 people were plowed into by airliners, subsequently collapsed, it turned out that by some godly miracle [not to mention the NY fire department] most of them had managed to get out first, and that was our fault too, somehow. I am diminished by the loss of my capacity to be shocked at such things, but there it is.)

Monday, September 05, 2005

[posted by jaed at 7:55 PM]
The mayor of New Orleans is an ass:
I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain't talking about -- you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here.

I'm like, "You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans."

That's -- they're thinking small, man. And this is a major, major, major deal. And I can't emphasize it enough, man. This is crazy.

Wel, man. Do you realize that getting every Greyhound bus in the country means getting them from all over the country, man? Do you have any idea how long it will take every Greyhound bus to drive to New Orleans, man? You do realize it would take a week and a half for them all to get there, don't you, man?

Now, you've got the school buses, man. All you need is drivers, and the federal government is offering you drivers to get those people out of there. And you turned them down. Maaaaannnnn. Because you wanted Greyhound buses instead. School buses aren't good enough, man.

Fight the power, man.

You utter ass.

[posted by jaed at 12:44 AM]

The ghosts of storms past
Sound familiar?
Those who had the money to flee Hurricane Ivan ran into hours-long traffic jams. Those too poor to leave the city had to find their own shelter - a policy that was eventually reversed, but only a few hours before the deadly storm struck land.

New Orleans dodged the knockout punch many feared from the hurricane, but the storm exposed what some say are significant flaws in the Big Easy's civil disaster plans.[...] Residents with cars took to the highways. Others wondered what to do.

'They say evacuate, but they don't say how I'm supposed to do that,' Latonya Hill, 57, said at the time. 'If I can't walk it or get there on the bus, I don't go. I don't got a car. My daughter don't either.'
Check the date of the article: September 19, 2004.

More familiarity:
'We did the compassionate thing by opening the shelter,' Nagin said. 'We wanted to make sure we didn't have a repeat performance of what happened before. We didn't want to see people cooped up in the Superdome for days.'

When another dangerous hurricane, Georges, appeared headed for the city in 1998, the Superdome was opened as a shelter and an estimated 14,000 people poured in. But there were problems, including theft and vandalism.
'We were able to get people out,' state Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc said. 'It was successful. There was frustration, yes. But we got people out of harm's way.'
Some people, yes. Those who couldn't leave, well, too bad for them... akthough the mayor will "compassionately" let them into the Superdome. Evacuate them? Moi?

It's starting to look like a mystery to me, not how this could have happened, but why it took so long. The city government of New Orleans can't say it didn't know there was a need to evacuate people in case of a hurricane. And it can't say it wasn't warned.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

[posted by jaed at 4:34 AM]
A modest proposal
After reading about some of what's going on in New Orleans - in particular, about the general disorder, refugees and volunteers arriving at the Astrodome and being turned away by guards who appear to know nothing, people being ordered to leave the city but with no provision for transportation or suggestions as to how to leave, and in general, the growing awareness of a complete clusterfuck in progress - after reading about all this, I recalled a suggestion that was made a couple of months after 9/11: place Rudy Giuliani in the White House lobby in a large, transparent casing, with a sign:
In case of emergency, break glass
Perhaps it's time to break that glass. Someone had better get down there who's capable of effective leadership, and neither the mayor of New Orleans nor the governor of Louisiana nor whoever's in charge at FEMA seems to be that person.

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