The little bits and pieces of my internal life.

From the Mosaic
Thursday, October 28, 2004
A Bunch of Yeas and Nays and a Handful of Names

I talk a lot about political issues on this blog (no, really?), so some of my friends here in California have been asking me how I'm going to vote, not just for president (Kerry; I've decided not to do vote pairing) but all the way down my ballot. I won't bore you by sharing, but if you're one of those people, last night I figured it all out and made my choices. If you want to hear about it, let me know.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Today's Amazing Fact, and Some Lists

Today's amazing fact is that when identical twins separated as birth are tested in adulthood, their political attitudes, liberal versus conservative, have a correlation coefficient in the range of 0.5 on a scale of -1 to +1 (cited in Steven Pinker's truly excellent book, The Blank Slate). That is, to a surprisingly large degree, your genes determine your politics. Trippy, eh?

I've been called a progressive or a Democrat or a liberal or even a left-winger a fair bit lately. Maybe it was the kinda-sorta defense of Michael Moore. It might have been the astoundingly overdone project, Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, a saga in nine parts with an epilogue. Or maybe it's the Kerry-Edwards sticker on the car, something that I myself can't believe I've done. Sure, I've tried to be balanced. I had some reasonably nice things to say about Reagan. But things had gotten to the point where I had started to wonder: Is this it? Have I sold out? Am I now reduced to partisan hackery with token attempts to prove my status as a neutral observer?

It's not as if I was raised in some sort of liberal ideological cocoon. Readers, meet my parents. Dad's a farm boy from downstate Illinois who was drafted into the Army during Vietnam, ended up enjoying the military and becoming an officer, eventually rose to the rank of major, retired, and then spent a good long time working for the federal government before retiring from that last year. I gave him Home Depot gift cards for several gifts in a row, and he was delighted. He's pretty conservative (though not religious), as one might expect from a rural veteran. Mom's a city girl who grew up in a working-class Baltimore neighborhood. She teaches high school English, firmly, but with a lot of imagination, flair, and unceasing desire to expose her students to things they haven't seen before. She believes she's seen two great presidents in her lifetime so far, Kennedy and Reagan. She doesn't seem particularly daring superficially, but she married my father after dating him for two weeks when he got orders to be shipped back to Illinois to finish college, which is really pretty bold when you think about it. She's a maverick politically (though I'm not sure she sees it that way) -- a public school teacher who hates No Child Left Behind but is voting for Bush, but who never really had much nice to say about Newt Gingrich (who was our Congressman).

He's a little bit country; she's a little bit rock'n'roll. I admire them both immensely, and I swear I'm not just sucking up because they know where this blog is. But given all that, it would be surprising, in the extreme, if I turned out just like a normal person whose parents are from the same region and have similar beliefs and all the other things that everyone in the world except me seems to have in common in their parents. I've got a lot of different stuff all mixed together in my background, and it would be disappointing to have one side silence the other.

Fortunately, I've been reassured twice in the past week that Red State Natalie is still alive and well. Clue One was my thorough enjoyment of Team America: World Police. Yes, it's disgusting and graphically violent and sexual. Don't take your kids. And yes, it certainly takes its shots at the political right (come on, you knew that from the title, surely?). But I was delighted to discover that I'm still enough of a redneck to enjoy seeing Janeane Garofalo say "We actors can just read what's in the newspapers and repeat it like it's our own opinion!" and to cackle with glee as Hans Blix is eaten by a shark.

Clue Two was the good hour of combined intrigue and hysterical laughter caused by the arrival of a heretofore unknown to me catalog in my mailbox. Somehow or other (probably all the consorting with leftists I've been doing) I ended up on the mailing list for Northern Sun, which is, I quote from the front cover, "products for progressives since 1979." Oh, my. Of course, I do have plenty of positions in common with progressives, so some of the material I found tempting.

Five Designs That I Liked in the Northern Sun Catalog

  1. "God was my co-pilot... but we crashed in the mountains and I had to eat him."
  2. A cartoon of a bunch of Dalmatians in church, being preached at by yet another Dalmatian, who is declaring, "And he said unto them, 'Bad dogs! No, no!'" The caption, inevitably, is "Hellfire and dalmatians."
  3. "Warning: due to the shortage of robots, workers here are human beings and may react unpredictably if abused."
  4. A poster reading "Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks?" Link provided because I don't think text can do this one justice...
  5. "I read banned books."

But mostly, my reaction was one of, whoa, these people are... really... different.

Five Things That Made Me Roll My Eyes in the Northern Sun Catalog

  1. The many, many products seeking to beatify the late Senator Paul Wellstone, including a green bumper sticker with a peace sign asking "What Would Wellstone Do?" Wellstone was a good person, but not particularly well-known among the general public. Only a catalog for progressives based in Minnesota would market hagiographical merchandise about the man.
  2. "Cat Lovers Against the BOMB" 2005 Wall Calendar.
  3. A tombstone inscribed, "Bill of Rights -- 1791-2001 -- Slain by the Patriot Act -- Rest in Pieces." Come on, I don't like the Patriot Act either, but I think the rumors of the demise of the Bill of Rights might be a trifle overblown.
  4. "Eat Tainted Meat, Breathe Poison Air, Drink Nasty Water, Help Only Yourself -- Vote Republican." Oh, yes, they'll be staying up late at night in Omaha rethinking their positions now that you've shown them the error of their ways!
  5. The list of "worthy causes" printed on the back of the order form, including International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), the International Campaign for Tibet, the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, and Prison Radio and the Redwood Justice Fund.

This was the point when I realized that I'm not in any danger of becoming an unrecognizable leftist caricature of my former self, Kerry sticker or no Kerry sticker.

In celebration of my renewed confidence, I offer you one more list:

Four Amusing Results of My Mixed Political Heritage

  1. I like NASCAR. I intend for my next car to be a Toyota Prius.
  2. I used to have a concealed weapons permit. I got it before volunteering as an abortion clinic escort.
  3. I've become a bit of a wine snob. With dinner, I usually order iced tea. Unless it's that nasty stuff that comes out of a soda fountain.
  4. I live in an urban neighborhood where English, Spanish, Japanese, and Vietnamese are all about equally spoken. When I want Mexican food, I'm ashamed to admit, I very often go to On the Border.

Until next time, say it loud, I've got a lot of different allegiances and I'm proud!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Mid-Year's Resolution: Conclusion

In the excitement of finishing Plan of Attack, I forgot to post how I did on my three-month diet. I was supposed to lose 15 pounds, but I only managed to lose 8. On the plus side, I did, in fact, lose eight pounds, which can't be a bad thing. It's enough that it's not just a statistical anomaly, which pleases me.

I'm not enough of a fool to attempt to lose more weight between now and the first of the year, though I do want to stay where I am. We'll just have to see how it goes.
Saturday, October 02, 2004
Plan of Attack: Final Thoughts

This is the last entry on Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. To read from the beginning of the series, go to Part 1.


So, my thoughts on Plan of Attack. Yes, first of all, I recommend the book. Nowhere else, I think, can you find such a wealth of detail on things happening in and around the Bush Adminstration concerning the preparation for the Iraq War. The book is a long and tedious slog, and it's got zero narrative structure, but it's so unbelievably detailed that it makes up for that. Even as you turn a page and wonder how long it can possibly take to read 450 pages, I just couldn't stop reading it.

What do I think about the Iraq War? During most of the run-up to war, I was skeptical of the necessity. I did not believe Saddam Hussein was enough of a threat to justify war, particularly after he allowed weapons inspectors back into Iraq, and it wasn't clear to me why the Administration had started beating the war drums in the first place, in 2002. Due to my own personal situation, I had largely lost track of developments in current events in July 2002, so my opinion was not well-informed at that time.

I converted to supporting war on April 8, the day before Saddam fell (which was fortunate for me, as I got to wholeheartedly enjoy the toppling of the statue and whatnot). My friend Andrew convinced me that even though I didn't agree with the stated reasons for war, there were other sound reasons to support it, including the fact that we would be removing a horrible tyrant from power. Of course I knew that Saddam Hussein was a bad and evil man, but those weren't the stated grounds for invasion (obviously; that would never have flown at the UN). Andrew convinced me that it didn't matter. I still agree with that. I think the forced removal of Saddam Hussein, in the abstract, was a good thing.

The problem, of course, is that wars are fought in reality, not in the abstract. Removing Saddam was a noble goal, but it seems clear this Administration was the wrong group of people to bring about true success in the form of a free and democratic Iraq. I suspect that goal could not be achieved without full UN support, and Plan of Attack clearly shows that the Bush Administration was only interested in UN support as a means to the end of giving our coalition allies, such as Britain, the political cover necessary to join us.

The UN had insufficient will in 1998 when Saddam kicked out the inspectors in the first place. So did the Clinton Administration. Something should have been done at that time. The neoconservatives were right about that, and they were right to make sure that Iraq stayed on the radar within the Defense Department and the rest of the Administration. I didn't appreciate at all that there was any merit to their position until I read the book. Unfortunately, they went much farther than that, hyping the Iraq threat to the exclusion of all else.

When the 9/11 attacks happened, therefore, it was an opportunity for them to finally get what they wanted (after the necessity of invading Afghanistan was dealt with). All they had to do was to link the bona fide issue of Iraq and its defiance of the UN's demand for disarmament to the specter of terrorism and weapons proliferation to get the support of the American people. If there had been ironclad intelligence of WMD, that would have clearly established the threat and the necessity. Perhaps the world community would have been more supportive of action with such intelligence. But the intelligence simply didn't exist, and instead of acknowledging the uncertain reality, Cheney and others within the Administration relied instead on overstated NIEs and unsubstantiated assertions not backed by any intelligence at all (which was quite shocking to read).

Removing Saddam Hussein from power was a good thing. I think that's undeniable. But it was irresponsible at best to bring about his removal without a well-developed and reasonable plan for something better to replace him. Plan of Attack makes it clear that there was no such plan. Postwar planning was a low priority, and it was conducted with more concern for ideological purity than effectiveness. Inflicting the uncertainty and violence of combat on other human beings without such a plan is morally reprehensible.

Friday, October 01, 2004
Plan of Attack, Part 9

David Kay, the supervisor of the Iraq Survey Group, reported on October 2, 2003, that Iraq had violated the UN resolutions in many ways not realized before the invasion. "Remarkable progress" had occurred, but the destruction of Iraqi data had hindered the effort, and "we have not yet found stocks of weapons." Bush told Bob Woodward that Kay's report was sufficient to establish material breach of UN Resolution 1441, which in turn justified the invasion, even though no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction have been found. In his view, the violation of any part of UN Resolution 1441, not merely the presence of WMD, was sufficient cause for war.

Colin Powell thought Bush and the rest of the Administration were, in Woodward's words, "dangerously protective" of the decisions they had made about Iraq. There was no re-analysis in light of new information, and no one on the inside, since the departure of Karen Hughes, whom Bush trusted enough to be able to force the issue. Bush had never been one to second-guess his decisions or to feel doubt, and without anyone who could force a realistic reassessment, it was clear that Bush would be not be going back to fundamentals and questioning his original judgment. Bush himself confirmed this in his interviews with Bob Woodward. Woodward quoted Tony Blair to him, "And don't believe anyone who tells you when they receive letters like that [from parents of sons killed in the war] they don't suffer any doubt." "Yeah," replied Bush, "I haven't suffered doubt."

Bush agreed to give Woodward an in-depth interview in order to tell the story of how the war was planned. The Pentagon took great pains to design a war plan that carefully targeted Saddam and the Baathist leadership and largely avoided casualties among average Iraqis. The war plan itself was a great success in this regard. Bush said, "To me the big news is America has changed how you fight and win war, and therefore makes it easier to keep the peace in the long run. And that's the historical significance of this book as far as I'm concerned."

After David Kay's testimony on January 28, 2004, both parties began to demand an independent investigation of what had gone wrong with the intelligence on Iraq and WMD. Bush originally resisted, but then he and his administration came to understand the necessity. So, in order to retain some control over the situation, he reached out and shaped the process by proposing an independent bipartisan commission themselves. It was assigned to look at all intelligence problems, not just in Iraq, and it was not to report until March 31, 2005, well after the presidential election.

George Tenet was put on the defensive by Kay's testimony. He had maintained, since the initial invasion, that Iraq did have WMD somewhere, although it was possible that it would never be found because of the looting and document destruction inside Iraq. But Kay's testimony, with its statement that "we were all wrong," meant that the CIA, too, had been wrong. In late 2001, Tenet had complained about wrong judgments in the media, and how "there's never any price" when the media is wrong, but that if the CIA director had given out bad information the president ought to "fire your ass." So Tenet had to at least attempt to refute Kay's claims. On February 5, 2004, he gave a speech at Georgetown University, his alma mater, saying the CIA needed "more time... and more data," and listed some of the recent successes of the CIA, including the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the discovery of the nuclear proliferation network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan. He said, in particular, "We cannot afford an environment to develop where analysts are afraid to make a call, where judgments are held back because analysts fear they will be wrong." After 9/11, the CIA had decided to issue stronger judgments and more stern warnings. But being wrong about an attack on the US and being wrong about the justification for war in Iraq are different things. Tenet eventually admitted to associates that the October 2002 NIE and other intelligence should have stated up front that there was no smoking gun about Saddam's WMD.

Bush remains convinced that he made the right decision to go to war in Iraq. He has, by his own admission, never felt a moment of doubt. He told Woodward, "[I told Rice], 'I am prepared to risk my presidency to do what I think is right.' I was going to act. And if it could cost the presidency, I fully realized that. But I felt so strongly that it was the right thing to do that I was prepared to do so." Woodward asked, "And if this decision costs you the election?" Bush replied, "The presidency -- that's just the way it is. Fully prepared to live with it."

That's it! That's all the text, summarized in convenient nine-part format. My thoughts on the book and on the war are here.
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  • April 2004
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  • August 2004
  • September 2004
  • October 2004
  • November 2004
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  • Index of Current Titles

    A Bunch of Yeas and Nays and a Handful of Names

    Today's Amazing Fact, and Some Lists

    Mid-Year's Resolution: Conclusion

    Plan of Attack: Final Thoughts

    Plan of Attack, Part 9

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