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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Can You Tell a Kook by His Cover?

Donald Luskin presents a comparison of US and UK covers for four books by left wingers. This has something to do with the lurid UK cover for Paul Krugman's book, The Great Unravelling. Scroll up and down on Luskin's site for more on that.

I must say I like the UK cover of Michael Moore's childishly-titled Dude, Where's My Country? better than the US cover. The UK cover shows Moore and Bush in boxing poses. There are cut lines around them, as if you could cut them out as paper dolls and put them on sticks and make them fight. This, to me, represents the momentarily - amusing - but - ultimately - pointless nature of Moore's oeuvre.

The US cover, on the other hand, shows Moore hauling down the statue of Saddam Hussein (except it has Bush's head on it). This is more in line with Moore's conception of himself, as the brave iconoclast and toppler of empires.

Speaking of which, here's a translation of a fun article from the German magazine[? newspaper?] Die Tageszeitung (or TAZ, for short). (Here's the original.)

Maybe it's just me, but Babelfish's German translations stink. It has a hard time with German verb order, and chokes on those long compound words. Of course, their translations aren't perfect in French, either, but I studied French for three or four seconds and can usually smooth over the rough spots. In German I'm helpless.

That said, here's the opening of TAZ's piece, titled "An American Martyr", just as Babelfish delivers it:

Michael of moorlands will die. The day will come, there raises a pistol against it or a precision rifle, perhaps a confused weapon fool, perhaps an CIA agent skillful by George W. Bush. Shots will whip, balls its grey XXXL t Shirt will penetrate, this ridiculous, sweated piece material. The balls will knock the dark baseball cap into its massive, fat body, it will backwards fall, fall thereby from the head, roll in a small semi-circle around the fallen body and remain lying. Michael of moorlands is dead.

(Hey. No cheering in the back there.)

Well. Dramatic, eh?

To continue in that theme:

The whole week it could have remained in Berlin, says Michael Moore, so many people wanted it to experience. After the Show may they to it questions place.

"One hears so much over it, what does the CIA. Don't you have a fear around your life?"

No, says Michael Moore. "The only opportunity, at which you fear is around my life to have had, if you see me going in in a McDonalds."

But later---and here's where my ignorance of German hampers me---the author (Stefan Kuzmany) says Moore is speaking in a falsetto, apparently making a joke about dying:

"Uuuuuuuuuuwir haben ihn doch noch gesehn! Er war so luuuuuuustig, so fr?????hlich. Uuuuuuuuuuuuund jetzt ist er toooot! Uuuuuuuuund er hat noch Witze darĂ¼ber gemacht!"

Naturally Babelfish cannot cope with that. But cleaning up the extended vowels only helps a little:

"Uwir have it nevertheless still gesehn! It was so merrily, so merry. And now it is dead! And it made still jokes over it!"

"Gesehn" might be a form of "gesehen", "seen" (a couple of web sites with the word show that it makes sense---or at least does not make nonsense---in context). "Uwir" is hopeless; a Google search turns up mostly gibberish. It might be archaic.

Anyhow, this sounds like Moore is making jokes about his own assassination, which is not only creepy, but a little egomaniacal.

Now, for those (like me) who like to become outraged at such things, here's some fresh meat (translation cleaned up very slightly):

Yes, it is terrible: the war, based on lies. The education system, intentionally ruined (this strategy calls Moore "enforced stupidity"). The social system destroys. The whole fraud and the exploitation. But like Moore reported of it, it does not to pain. And the Germans directly not at all. They laugh.

It becomes quiet, completely quietly, when on Germany comes to speak Moore. It does pain, if it says that we may not watch, how the social net is cut. That we may not lose the solidarity with those, no work, money to have, those nobody does not help and those completely to be moved therefore. Together with the Germans over the ignorance of the Americans is a thing makes itself merry...[But] earnest becomes it, if it concerns reforms here [in Germany].


He is only [a] guest [in Germany]. But: "I saw into the face of the devil. And I want to save you that. " What will the people do, which him belongs, its books to have read? Will they begin to resist? Will they change our system? Will Michael Moore be their leader?

Moore assures his German audience that his life is safe:

"Nothing will happen to me. Cola and frits will kill me...not the CIA. however now I [am] in Germany, me will healthy nourish, and each morning rise we early and run around the block", say Michael Moore on Sunday. At the Monday morning [he] did not run, but chauffiert with the car to the press conference.


Michael Moore will die, in the hand a Burger.

Because of the limitations of the translation software, I can't tell whether Kuzmany is mocking Moore, or agrees with him. He seems to be ambivalent. I can't tell whether the emphasis on martyrdom is Moore's, or Kuzmany's, and if the latter, whether Kuzmany is making fun of him.

It seems pretty clear, though, that Moore is telling his German audience what idiots Americans are, and how badly we've screwed up our country, and urging the pure and innocent Germans not to screw theirs up too.

With that kind of pandering demogoguery, it sounds as if Moore is running for Hitler.

It's probably just the translation.

Speaking of lurid covers, check out this cover for the German version of Bowling for Columbine, a special offer to TAZ subscribers.

TAZ link via Davids Medienkritik where there is much more.

[Corrections, context, and nuance welcome on those translations, by the way.]

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

President Blasts Dixie Chicks

O Courage! O Bravery! Thy name is Dixie Chick. It's the Fearless Trio, again, spitting in the very eye of George W. Hitler.

Says Natalie Maines:

"I think people were misled, and I think people are fighting a war that they didn't know they were going to be fighting...And I think they were misled by people who should have been asking questions and weren't."

When some lackey (probably from Fox News) asked George Bush---President of the United States, Conqueror of Afghanistan and Iraq, Crusher of Dissent, and Destroyer of Worlds---his reply to such heroic statements, he thundered out the following denunciation:

They can say what they want to say. ... they shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out. I mean ... you know, freedom is a two-way street.


Risking certain transportation to Ashcroft's secret gulags deep in the heart of Palm Springs, the Chicks boldly shot back:

Emily Robison said Mr. Bush "wasn't standing up for the principles that our country are founded on."

Martie Maguire said he basically was saying, "You got what you deserved" and "This is what's going to happen if you keep speaking out."

How long until the Chicks' emaciated corpses are rotting in a trench grave somewhere? Be of good heart, Natalie, Emily, and Martie, for when the Revolution comes we will melt down Bush's 50-foot golden statues, and recast them in your images! Hospitals, elementary schools, and sanitary landfills shall be christened in your honor, and your names will ring down through the ages, when "Bush" will mean just a short tree.

Men of the 4th ID in Tikrit now a-bed will hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speak of the Dixie Chicks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Operation Innuendo

Ah, Reuters: One man's news service is another man's embarrassing intestinal condition.

Reuters seizes a large lead in the media limbo contest (how low can they go?) with this item, titled "U.S.'s 'Iron Hammer' Code Name 1st Used by Nazis":

The U.S. military's code name for a crackdown on resistance in Iraq was also used by the Nazis for an aborted operation to damage the Soviet power grid during World War II.

See, sixty years ago, the Nazis thought it might be a good idea to cripple Soviet power production, and gave the plan the name "Eisenhammer". But, what with one thing and another, it was never carried out.

The article goes on to say that "Iron Hammer" is being performed by the 1st Armored Division, whose nickname is "Old Ironsides", hence the name. It also mentions the change of Operation Infinite Justice to Operation Enduring Freedom.

That's it.

What, you were waiting for something else? Like, maybe an explanation of why this is relevant or important, or even interesting? Well, you're not getting it. We used the words "U.S. military" and 'Nazi' in the same sentence and are going to get away with it. That's all we wanted. Ha ha ha.

There doesn't seem to be any other reason for this news article, given that 1) Eisenhammer was a completely ordinary military objective, which 2) was very different from the goals of "Iron Hammer", and 3) was never carried out.

This just in: "Reuters is pronounced 'roiters', in the German fashion, because its founder was, like many Nazis, a German. The Nazis were known for their sophisticated use of propaganda."

Via the suspiciously Teutonic-sounding Rantburg.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Agenda? What Agenda?

Today, Reuters has a story which is simultaneously unremarkable, boring, and shocking. The Headline on this Reuters story on Yahoo reads, "US War Dead in Iraq Exceeds Early Vietnam Years". The lede:

The U.S. death toll in Iraq has surpassed the number of American soldiers killed during the first three years of the Vietnam War, the brutal Cold War conflict that cast a shadow over U.S. affairs for more than a generation.

Those of you who are conversant with current events and/or the history of Vietnam will not be too surprised---the US had comparatively few troops in Vietnam, as the next two paragraphs show.

Reuters analysis of Defense Department statistics showed on Thursday that the Vietnam War, which the Army says officially began on Dec. 11, 1961, produced a combined 392 fatal casualties from 1962 through 1964, when American troop levels in Indochina stood at just over 17,000.

By comparison, a roadside bomb attack that killed a soldier in Baghdad on Wednesday brought to 397 the tally of American dead in Iraq, where U.S. forces number about 130,000 troops -- the same number reached in Vietnam by October 1965.

So we've sustained as many casualties in about eight months as a force more than 7 times smaller did over 46 months (not three years, as the lead paragraph states). Actually, we're doing better now than we did then: the Vietnam fatalities in that period work out to 0.05% per month; whereas the Iraq fatalities are less than 0.04%/month. You know, if we're going to play with numbers that really aren't very meaningful.

But you can't compare apples and meteorites in this manner. The role of the troops in Vietnam in the first three years of the war was much more of an advisory and training one, rather than one of major combat, among many, many other differences. The article goes on:

The casualty count for Iraq apparently surpassed the Vietnam figure last Sunday, when a U.S. soldier killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack south of Baghdad became the conflict's 393rd American casualty since Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20.

I hate to make an argument on the basis that most people are stupid, because 1) I don't think it's true, and 2) most people don't care for arguments based on the stupidity of most people. However, I must point out that, even if a news article survives the inevitable editing (and this one is long), the thing that will stick with most people is the headline and the first few paragraphs. They may well not notice (or not even see, because of editing) the much lower troop strength in Vietnam, or if they do they may not stop to think about it.

I don't think this article will stir most Americans (at least, not in the way the author expects), but it may certainly resonate with Europeans, who, if the European press articles I've seen are any measure, receive very poor information about the war in Iraq. Your average European will probably find his "Quagmire!" conclusions bolstered by this misleading article.

To continue:

Larger still is the number of American casualties from the broader U.S. war on terrorism, which has produced 488 military deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Southwest Asia and other locations.

I'm assuming he means American military deaths.

The Bush administration has rejected comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, which traumatized Americans a generation ago with a sad procession of military body bags and television footage of grim wartime cruelty.

Ah, nothing like keeping your news and editorials separate. And this is nothing like that.

The article goes on to sketch the origins of the Vietnam War, with emphasis on the fuzziness of when the war "started". (They use the Army Center of Military History start date for their analysis.) It also has a short recounting of the escalation of the conflict, finally, in the sixteenth paragraph (out of 21), mentioning that the war did not really get going (that is, start to become the quagmire we've come to know so well) until after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1965.

Perhaps there is some legitimate journalistic, military, or historical reason for comparing fatality levels in two conflicts in two different time frames in very different countries fought forty years apart for different reasons and with different methods. But I do not see it. Why not compare, say, American War on Terror fatalities to American fatalities in the first two years of World War II (September 1, 1939 to September 1, 1941)?

Otherwise, one might have to conclude that Reuters published this article in order to mislead readers. Surely that can't be right.

I was going to point out that someone would eventually get around to using this as an anti-war argument, but then I realized that---Doh!---Murat, at Rantburg had already done just that thing (which is how I found the article). Thanks, Murat!

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Hey, Hey, My, My, '68 Will Never Die

Back in August, I wrote a post commenting on the whiny departure of Ed Vulliamy, the Observer's US correspondent, from these shores. His basic point, near as I could tell, was that the US was good when Clinton was in office, because Clinton was good. Now that Clinton was gone, a shadow had fallen across the land. This segued into a discussion of the caustic nature of politics today. Allow me to quote myself:

In summary, Clinton was cool because he was one of Us---the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll Boomers.


Bush, on the other hand, was one of Them---the non-'60s Boomers. Though of the same age, they lived in a completely different '60s. We wore blue jeans; they wore suits and ties. They drank; we inhaled (well, except for Clinton). We protested the war; they joined the military. They are too much like our parents.


Vulliamy doesn't come right out and say this---he describes Us, but doesn't go into what They may be. But it seems to me that this is exactly the point; it's the Great Divide in politics.


But I never understood why this visceral dislike...I think it was less what Clinton had done that what he was---he was one of the Dungarees, rather than the Suits.


The same thing is operating here in reverse. Bush is a Suit. It doesn't matter what he does, in the eyes of the Dungarees he's one of those imperialist, militaristic, god-bothering Suits. He can do the very same things Clinton would do, but in Bush they're EEEEVIIIIIL.

So here we are, two months later, and Michael Barone has an article in U.S. News and World Report, titled "Harshness and Vitriol", about the "seldom seen" level of acrimony in political debates these days:

Why this increased harshness? My explanation: It is a baby boom thing. What we are seeing is a civil war between the two halves of the baby boom, the liberal half that basked in national publicity in the late 1960s and the conservative half that smoldered in resentment for many years until its more recent rise to prominence.

So. Great minds think alike. It's just that some of them get paid juicy sums for doing it, and some, uh, don't. (To be fair, some write thoughtful articles and some dash off snarky blog posts.)

I will take issue, however, with this bit:

Boomer liberals are liberation-minded on cultural issues and conciliation-minded on foreign policy.


Boomer conservatives are tradition-minded on cultural issues and confrontation-minded on foreign policy.

There's no immutable law saying that a foreign policy hawk must also be a rock-ribbed social conservative; these two things have little to do with one another.
(Actually, that's what I thought the much-maligned "neo-cons" were: people who were socially liberal yet hawkish on international relations. It may be, though, that these people are generally younger than Boomers.)

Via InstaPundit, who links to other comments.

(Like this one of Roger Simon's. In his comments, Patrick Lasswell makes a very good point:

Barone did bring up one interesting point about the passing similarity between W and Clinton. The problem is that Clinton was indictable, and after years of supporting a President under attack, many liberals felt it was their turn.

That they are taking their turn regardless of the merits of the accusations is unfortunately insane. I can think of no civil description for such breathtakingly self-descructive attitudes and acts. It's like they've decided to take the Jim Jones Kool Aid rather than be without a gesture of dissent.

I think that Clinton was hounded more than other, guiltier, presidents were. And it's true that when Bush was elected I was torn between hoping he got the very same treatment, and wishing we would stop all this partisan bullshit. Then came 9/11, and the good, clean fun ceased, and became deadly earnest. After that, participating in the politics of destruction is inexcusable.)

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Voting Against Democracy

I hesitated to put this up, because my last post was about discussions on a forum, and I'm working on another post along the same lines. This might get tedious. But then I remembered this was the BBC, which it is my sworn duty to bash whenever possible, until such time as it ceases to suck.

The Belgravia Dispatch points to this BBC comments forum on "Bush's version of democracy". The intro says:

President Bush has made a speech calling for democracy and freedom across the Middle East...He also spoke of the need for democracy in countries such as Syria, Iran, Burma and China.


But is western-style democracy good for the world or is it just another example of cultural imperialism?


What does democracy mean to you where you live? Is flawed democracy better than none at all? Has the west created the ideal model, the liberal democracy? Or is the democratic process unworkable as a universal model?

Naturally an overwhelming number of the responses posted (which, as you know, "reflect the balance of the views we have received") conclude that democracy is not workable everywhere, that democracies have to grow internally, and that to suggest otherwise is cultural imperialism.

Many comments, naturally, are knee-jerk responses to nasty American imperialism. (The imperialist Americans want to set up an Iraqi democracy? Then democracy must be a tool of imperialism!) Some are slightly more thoughtful, noting that democracy can't just be plastered on, but will only thrive if the people have a democratic mindset. Those people might mean that it won't be instantaneous, but few of them qualify their remarks. They may mean that it's forever impossible for the dar---er---poor little brown people.

I can't decide if this is the soft racism of the left, or the old-fashioned racism of the right.

It's amusing and dismaying to read the foreigners' denials of the existence of American democracy (it's much more dismaying to read them from Americans), such as this gem from Mark MacCallum of New Zealand:

The American people, by-and-large, do seem to have a genuinely democratic outlook. But as democracies go their own system of government is very, very deeply flawed. From the electoral college and the two-senators-per-state rule, both of which give disproportionate weight to less populous and usually more conservative states, through to the laughable election campaign finance rules, which give politicians representing the wealthy such a huge spending advantage over their rivals, Americans are ruled by a system of government that often frustrates the will of the people, rather than implements it.

It's true that the Constitution gives the less populous states more power than their populations would warrant in some areas, but that was sort of the point, so that the majority does not ride roughshod over the minority. I suspect Mr. MacCallum's chief argument against this is that it gives power to conservative states.

The BBC liked Mr. MacCallum's comment so well it posted it twice. The comment above is on the first page of comments. Another, almost identical, comment is on the second page:

Most American people do seem to have a genuinely democratic outlook. But the US system of government is very deeply flawed. It gives disproportionate weight to less populous and usually more conservative states and gives politicians representing the wealthy a huge spending advantage over their rivals. Americans are ruled by a system of government that often frustrates the will of the people, rather than implementing it..

Did he send in two letters and they didn't realize they'd published the first? Or is one of these an edited version of the letter he sent in?

I don't suppose that pointing out that we've had the same system for 200 years---so that those small "conservative" states have had this "disproportionate" power all this time---would do any good. After all, as Hamed Al Mahruqy of Oman so wisely points out:

Western democracy died with the election of the current US president.

So true.

Then there's this scathing indictment of Western democracy:

Just what is "western-styled" democracy? Hierarchically arranged rule by a coalition of big business interests, and party bosses? An oligarchy with a sneering acceptance of the "peoples' right" to cast meaningless ballots for cardboard cut out candidates who are carefully selected by their party machines to have similar ranges of views and interests? Western "Democracy" isn't actually democracy at all, it is just an illusion of democracy, based on this ludicrous idea of "free election" that gives people the impression that they are living in a "free society". Whoever gets into power in western countries is essentially the same as the last person who got into power. In that respect it is no different from a totalitarian system where the same leader always gets elected. We may elect different leaders but they all act in the same way once elected. It makes no difference whether you live in the west or the east. Any system where one person is in charge of a country basically revolves around power, and nobody is going to want to do that job unless they crave power.

He signs himself "Simon Moore, EU", which I think explains that.

All in all, the BBC debate is best summed up by Jim of New Jersey:

I can't believe the mental gymnastics people go through to be original, thought-provoking, and completely wrong.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

How Not to Hang a Frame

Andrea Harris, through a rather roundabout route, comments on this post on lefty blog "Body and Soul" about how to "frame" the national debate. Andrea is annoyed at the metaphor in the main post, one of savage caveman and civilizing woman. Actually, I don't think that's the metaphor the poster is getting at. She's trying to construct a fairy-tale version of unilateralism vs. multilateralism, using a mammoth hunt as an example. At the same time, she's referring to Berkeley professor George Lakoff's views on the perception of "stern father" (Republicans) vs. "nurturing parents" (Democrats).

Lakoff believes that the Republicans are getting their message out because they have seized the debate. They, you see, have defined the terms being debated, therefore they have control. (Apparently the left never, ever does this by, say, referring to themselves by the nice, positive-sounding term, "progressives"---which, of course, is how Lakoff refers to his ideological kinsmen throughout the above-linked interview.)

Jeanne, the blogger at "Body and Soul", dislikes Lakoff's parental metaphor, and is trying to find a new "frame" she thinks will fit better, one that will best distill complex reality down into simple fairy tales for the consumption of the masses. Jeanne is a little troubled by the need to do this, but decides that it's vital, since the evil Republicans did it first.

(The fact that both parties do this sort of thing constantly, and always have, apparently doesn't occur to her, or her commenters. Nor does the fact that nearly every word she writes reveals that she already believes, deeply, in the current "frames" of the Left. For her, those ideas aren't just fairy tales; they're reality.)

Frankly, if the discussion on this blog is indicative of the mindset of thoughtful Democrats, we (Americans) are in a hell of a lot of trouble.

From this discussion, I glean the following:

1) Republicans are immature, Democrats are mature and serious. The Republicans, in particular, are little boys---emphasis on boys, rather than generic children---obsessed with guns:

From Jeanne:

Looking at the Republicans, what I see over and over again is a play-acting, pre-adolescent version of masculinity. Little boys think that what makes daddy a man is that he's big. He can beat anybody up. His weapon's longer than your weapon. His god's bigger than yours. And so when little boys pretend to be men, the emphasis is on bigger and stronger...Republicans are funny, in the same way that little boys who want to be men [are funny]...

Heather Wokusch had an interesting piece up recently at CommonDreams about the connection between fear of sex and love of violence in the Bush administration. That's the little boy pretending to be a man issue peeking out again. Sex is icky...

2) And because sex is icky, Republicans don't have any, which is probably why they're boys, rather than men.

From commenter "john steppling":

One cannot really imagine a healthy sex life for people like Cheney and Bush and Rove and Rumsfeld...and deep down that anxiety is manifested in the puritanical obsessions of this administration and its endless need for violence and domination.The post 60s "touchy feelie" brand of sensitive men has played a role here as has the anxiety caused by the feminist movement. Jeanne recently had a pic of Kucinich in the picket line, and another of Bobby Kennedy and Chavez....all much more substantial images of masculinity....but this culture is so addicted to the visual hyperbole of the culture industry and so awash in the marketed idea of fear and threat that only the image of a bully seems to resonate...

(All ellipses except the last are in the original.)

3) As implied in that last sentence, people are sheep; they buy what they're told to buy and believe what they're told to believe. From Jeanne again:

...we have to deal with the fact that a great deal of politics
is marketing. Republicans aren't under any illusions about that, although most of the people who vote for them aren't aware of it...Republicans have to do it, because...most Americans disagree with them. They have to find a way to get Americans to "buy" ideas that they don't want, the same way stores have to get Americans to do something equally unnatural -- go out and spend money on crap they know they don't need, or even really want.

4) Bush is selling fear, which is irrational. He is sending people into a panic to gain their support. This is "aimai", talking about "Joe Schmoe", a frequent Calpundit commenter who briefly dropped into Body and Soul:

In Joe Schmoe's case I've read lots of his posts, and I think he is, potentially, tellilng us something very important about the frames issue. His frame is "fear" and his source of comfort is "someone knows better than me what to do, and the thing to do is simple: its violence." He will vote for the person who most accurately portrays that theme, regardless of any evidence to the contrary that the person is a sham.

Behind every passage I've quoted here to illustrate my point are several more on the same theme. I was going to quote all the good ones, but the post got very long.

This the thoughtful, nuanced left? Childish theories, threadbare Freudianism, and contempt for The People---this is what they've come to? No, really. I want to know. These people are so---partisan? blinded? stupid?---that they don't even see that they have already "framed" the debate, although they dimly realize that this frame is unlikely to appeal to their intended audience.

Imagine them trying to convince people with their true vision: "Wake up, you sheep! You only believe what They tell you! We're much smarter than you are---we know the Truth! Bush and Co. are nothing more than nasty little boys, whose sexual retardation makes them prone to violence! Violence isn't the answer to terrorism---the ICC and alternative energy are the answers!"

Yeah, sign me up now.

I have no way of knowing just exactly how widespread this playground mentality is. But if Matthew Yglesias wants to know why some Democrats are defecting, he could do worse than to look at the linked Body and Soul discussion.