Thursday, January 31, 2008


A great piece of revisionist history. It appears that Alexander Graham Bell may not have invented the telephone. A new book argues that he stole the design from Elisha Gray. In the regular telling of events, Gray and Bell discovered the same thing at the same time, but Bell beat him to the patent office.

So powerful is this tearing down of a historical myth (though the book is not at all a hatchet-job) it reminds me of the episode of the Simpsons where Lisa discovers the towns founder was in fact a pirate.

Another One Bites The Dust

How many times have we claimed to have killed the third in command of Al-Qaeda. It reminds me of how we were constantly being told we'd snagged Zarqawi's second in command.

John McCain Lying

Why did he opposed the the Bush tax cut? It's not why he said.


I think we have a winner for the worst float ever.

Deja Vu All Over Again


Ralph Nader is considering a presidential run.

According to the Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a nadir is the exact opposite of the zenith
or "the lowest point". By such a definition, the "nadir" can only happen once. This is clearly not the case.

Or maybe this is not entirely fair. Nader might be a spoiler, but in all fairness to him, it would be preferable if we had more than two political parties. Running for president on a third party ticket won't do the job, what is needed is fundamental reform. We need proportional representation to replace our current system.

The Truth Behind the 9/11 Commission

The "bipartisan" 9/11 Commission, which you may remember unveiled its findings to much press attention, appears to have been compromised by a executive director Philip Zelikow who collaborated with (surprise) Karl Rove.

The Presidents

In song.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mukasey Endorses Machiavelli

Remember how Mukasey's nomination was almost stopped over the issue of torture, but he dodged the subject because he simply wasn't informed enough to make the call? Well, he's ready to share his opinion.
I think the Detainee Treatment Act engages the standard under the Constitution, which is a "shocks the conscience" standard, which is essentially a balancing test of the value of doing something against the cost of doing it.
In summary, he is saying that whether something is torture is based (partly) on its usefulness. The corollary is that in the right circumstances, they would not classify torture as such. This dovetails nicely with the presidents assurances that we do not torture. Isn't it great that Congress gave a stamp of legitimacy to this lawlessness by nominating this bastard?

In Memoriam

Matt Yglesias writes in appreciation of the Edwards campaign. Jonathan Cohn says something similar.

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler

An op-ed from the New York Times. I think the case can be made even more stongly than this, but this is good.

The Huge Flow of Animal Waste

Good-bye, John

Well, Edwards is out. It's too bad, his campaign drove the entire Democratic field on matters of substance (in healthcare policy, for example), but it really didn't seem to do him much good, especially with the media ignoring him for the two superstars in the party.
No endorsement, yet.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Class President

Bill Richardson, as quoted on The Trail:
"I had just been asked a question -- I don't remember which one -- and Obama was sitting right next to me. Then the moderator went across the room, I think to Chris Dodd, so I thought I was home free for a while. I wasn't going to listen to the next question. I was about to say something to Obama when the moderator turned to me and said, 'So, Gov. Richardson, what do you think of that?' But I wasn't paying any attention! I was about to say, 'Could you repeat the question? I wasn't listening.' But I wasn't about to say I wasn't listening. I looked at Obama. I was just horrified. And Obama whispered, 'Katrina. Katrina.' The question was on Katrina! So I said, 'On Katrina, my policy . . .' Obama could have just thrown me under the bus. So I said, 'Obama, that was good of you to do that.'"
Seriously, I feel like our candidates are in high school. Richardson is the guy spacing out or clowing around at the back of the room. Obama is the dude nice enough to clue him in. Thompson is the slacker who will never do a lick of work. Hillary is the extremely driven girl who nobody likes. Romney is the preppy dweeb who tries his damnedest to fit in, but just ends up being beaten-up by McCain and his friends.


Goodbye, Mister 9/11.

Florida Results: Rudy, We Hardly Knew Ye

In the Florida results, it appears McCain has edged out Romney 36% to 31%. Rudy got 15%.
I must say I'm disappointed. It's not everyday a villian like Rudy comes along. Anyway, with Rudy at the exit, take time to read this entertaining profile of the bastard.
It now appears that Rudy will be endorsing McCain.

Hillary wins Florida

As Saddam Hussein could tell you, it helps to run unopposed.

Mohammed Suharto, June 8 1921- January 27 2008

Suharto was dictator of Indonesia from 1967 to 1998. Suharto took power in a coup (with CIA involvement). Following the takeover between 300,000 and 1 million communists and ethnic Chinese were massacred by the army and militias in one of the largest massacres of the second half of the twentieth century. 10,000 communists' names were given to the army by the CIA. He was not driven from power until 1998, in what is sometimes called the Indonesian Revolution.

A standout events of the Suharto years was the invasion of East Timor. From Moreorless Suharto file.

Indonesia invades on 7 December, landing forces at the capital Dili and at Baukau, 100 kilometres to the east, and installing a puppet government composed of members of UDT and Apodeti.

The occupation takes place with the blessing of US President Gerald Ford and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who meet with Suharto in Jakarta on 6 December, the day before the Indonesian troops are mobilized.

"I would like to speak to you, Mr President, about another problem, Timor. ... Fretilin is infected the same as is the Portuguese Army with communism ... We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto tells the visitors.

Ford replies, "We will understand and will not press you on this issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have."

Kissinger says, "You appreciate that the use of US-made arms could create problems. ... It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation. It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly. We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return."

It is estimated that 60,000 East Timorese or 10% of the population are killed in the first two months of the invasion. All told, up to 250,000 of East Timor's 1975 population of about 650,000 will die as a result of the occupation, which will last for 24 years.

I remember when Ford died he was rather placed on a pedestal. It's unfortunate he gave the go-ahead to what turned out to be among the most brutal invasions of the century. From the Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens.

... on 7 December 1975, when the armed forces of Indonesia crossed the border of East Timor in strength, eventually proclaiming it ... a full part of Indonesia proper.

Timorese resistance to this claim was so widespread, and the violence required to impose it was so ruthless and generalized, that the figure of 100,000 deaths in the first wave - perhaps one-sixth of the entire population - is reckoned an understatement.

The date of the Indonesian invasion - 7 December 1975 - is of importance and also of significance. On that date, President Gerald Ford and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, concluded an official visit to Jakarta and flew to Hawaii. Since they had come fresh from a meeting with Indonesia's military junta, and since the United States was Indonesia's principal supplier of military hardware ... it seemed reasonable to inquire whether the two leaders had given the invaders any impression amounting to a "green light". Thus when Ford and Kissinger landed at Hawaii, reporters asked Mr Ford for comment on the invasion of Timor. The President was evasive.


So gruesome were the subsequent reports of mass slaughter, rape, and deliberate use of starvation that such bluntness fell somewhat out of fashion. The killing of several Australian journalists who had witnessed Indonesia's atrocities, the devastation in the capital city of Dili, and the stubbornness of FRETILIN's hugely outgunned rural resistance made East Timor an embarrassment rather than an advertisement for Jakarta's new order. Kissinger generally attempted to avoid any discussion of his involvement in the extirpation of the Timorese - an ongoing involvement, since he authorized back-door shipments of weapons to those doing the extirpating - and was ably seconded in this by his ambassador to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who later confided in his memoir A Dangerous Place that, in relative terms, the death toll in East Timor during the initial days of the invasion was "almost the toll of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during the Second World War." Moynihan continued:

The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.

Suharto was a leader whose corruption can only be compared to Ferdinand Marcos and Mubutu Sese Seko. According to Time Asia, his family was worth $15 Billion. His five children are variously linked to the corruption as well. His most notorious offspring "Tommy" Suharto, went so far as to hire a hitman to kill a judge who had convicted him in a graft. In old age Mohammed Suharto was reduced to feigning senility to avoid being brought up on corruption charges. How the mighty are brought low.

To summarize: if hell existed, there'd be a grand welcome there this week.

Clinton and Obama

This is telling. From the Hill:
When Bush proclaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among terrorists there is no doubt,” Clinton sprang to her feet in applause but Obama remained firmly seated. The president’s line divided most of the Democratic audience, with nearly half standing to applaud and the other half sitting in stony silence.
Let's stop pretending there is no difference between Clinton and Obama on Iraq policy, ok?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bush's Swan Song

Take heart... this mediocre speech is the beginning of the end of our eight-year national nightmare.
I remember Clintons last State of the Union. Even though I was 12, I remember how substantive and eloquent the speech was. Bush's speech, not so much.
What stands out: more dishonesty. Bush distorts the effect of his tax-cut by counting on Americans to not understand averages. He calls on congress to make the tax-cuts permanent (never mind when he made the cuts, he argued they could be budgeted precisely because they will expire).
His lines about our "success" in Iraq got lots of applause from the Republicans. Do they think they have a winning political issue on there hands? Don't even try it.
Afterward, I heard Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader saying that Americans believe that our strategy in Iraq is succeeding. If he checked the polls, he’d see something different. He did cite a poll showing the economy was becoming more important to Americans than the war and (incorrectly) deduced from this that Americans think the war is going well.
I even heard a Weekly Standard apparatchik on NPR saying that praising not just the surge but the overall handling of the war. Bah.

NYRB on Blogs

This article sure makes blogging sound like a hella a lot of fun. The beginning explains some of the conventions of blogging to people too old to understand these conventions instinctively, while the second half argues that blogging is a whole new world where were such bourgeoise conceits as civility, good grammar and taste go out the window. Interesting.

State of the Union Drinking Game

Adam Felber typically writes a pretty hilarious State of the Union drinking game. I don't think he did one this year, but last year's can be found here.

Kennedy Speech


Model UN Music Video

Since I loved being in Model UN in high school so much, this video is especially entertaining to me. This rather strikes me as reminiscent of Wes Anderson.

Evil in European History

The latest New York Review of Books has two essays in it about the legacy of evil in Europe. One, by the estimable Tony Judt, is entitled "The 'Problem if Evil' in Postwar Europe." The other, by Pulitzer Prize recipient Anne Applebaum, is about Andrzej Wajda's film Katyn. While most Americans do not know what Katyn refers to, in Poland it is as well known as the Shoah is here. Katyn refers to a notorius massacre of Polish troops by the Soviet Union, long blamed on the Nazis by the USSR and the Polish puppet government. I really want to see this movie, although I don't think that is yet possible in the US.
Journalist and now New Yorker editor David Remnick opens his book Lenin's Tomb with a fascinating account of unmasking the myth of Katyn.

Why Kennedy Matters

Marc Ambinder and Jonathan Cohn both say why they think this endorsement is important.
I think this matters too, because it allows Obama to (rightly) seize the mantle of progressivism.
The only endorsement better than this would be if Gore decides come out in favor of Obama. That would be really nice.
(Caricature from the David Levine Gallery. Man does it make him look hideous.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Power of the Tauren

This amuses me. It's slow, but there is a pay-off.

Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise-Crazy

If you haven't seen Tom Cruise's ultra-creepy Scientology monologue, I recommend seeing it to, for a scare if nothing else. Were he acting, this would be Tom Cruise's best performance ever, by far. He would be perfect to play a maniacal, obsessed cult propagandist. The video was intended for use inside the Church of Scientology, and the Church is therefore threatening legal suit, prompting Youtube to remove the video (the Church of Scientology of persecuting its critics, see the Fair Game policy.) However, the Gawker refuses to take it down.


(Bill and Hillary, if you couldn't tell)

Previously, I've found the hoo-ha in the media over dynastic politics overwrought. Nevertheless, like most other watchers of the political scene, I feel that Bill Clinton's repeated aggressive forays into the presidential race are a bit unseemly. To begin with, acting like an attack dog for a presidential candidate seems rather beneath the dignity of a former president. The best comment I've heard about this was on Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me. One of the panelists remarked "It's like students who have graduated high-school, but come back just to hang-out."

Josh Marshall writes about why we have this aversion to this heavy-handed meddling by a former president.
I'm sure there's a complicated mix of loyalty, love, sense that he owes her, probably the sense that she'd be a great president. But here's the thing. Back during impeachment folks like me made the point -- and I think it was the right one -- that Bill Clinton's obligations to his wife, to his marriage to sexual fidelity and so forth were an issue between him and his wife. He had a different set of obligations and responsibilities to his supporters and to the larger public. And it was the latter that concerned me.

I think something similar applies in this case. I respect all the loyalties and devotions between the two of them in what is clearly a very complicated but also very enduring relationship. But I'm not part of that marriage. Its obligations aren't any concern of mine and they have no claim on me. My relationship with Bill Clinton is as a member of the party that he is, as I've said, the leader of or at least the most revered elder statesman of. And I feel like he's violating the compact that I have with him.

Noam Schreiber argues even more strongly that if Bill Clinton couldn't stay out, they both should have.

I'm going to agree with them. Bill Clinton is technically a private citizen, but he is a powerful voice within the Democratic Party. His advocating on Hillary's does indeed make this look like a restoration, and by extension makes Hillary look like Cristina de Kirchner or Isabel Peron.

Kennedy Endorsement

It sounds like Teddy Kennedy is probably going to endorse Obama.
Caroline Kennedy has just endorsed Obama in a New York Times op-ed called A President Like My Father.
In my opinion, JFK is the most overrated president in American history (and yes, that includes Ronald Reagan). Nevertheless, I can see why Obama would want to associate himself with the myth of Camelot.

UPDATE: Apperently, the Clinton campaign really did not want this. From the Politico:
The Clinton campaign launched a last-ditch effort over the last few days to stop Kennedy's move, orchestrating a flood of phone calls to Kennedy from sources ranging from union chiefs to his Massachusetts constituents.

The former president also called Kennedy in a vain attempt to keep him out of the race, a source familiar with the conversation said.

I Drink Your Milkshake

There Will Be Blood is an amazing movie. It is a period piece unlike any other film I have seen. Daniel Day-Lewis looks like the likely winner of the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of an oil-man with a personality reminiscent of Joseph Stalin. He certainly more than deserves the award, and his misanthropic twisted character is the film's heart. Also good is Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) as his young evangelist rival. While the film has recieved near universal critical acclaim, many treat the movie's end scene as a misstep. To me, the end was perfect. Go see this movie.


Obama wins South Carolina. No surprise, but nice nonetheless. It also looks like a big win with a large turn-out. Excellent.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Books At Colleges

This is interesting, and will also appeal to every elitist snot. Top books at college vs those schools SAT/ACT. Lolita is the "smartest" book. It would be interesting o do this with TV shows and movies.
DISCLAIMER: I am not endorsing SAT/ ACT as a measure of actual intelligence, simply using it the way the study does.

Discredited War Architect Appointed to Arms Control Board


Politics Watch

My friend has alerted me to his blog where he posts political mailings. Worth checking out.

The End of Brand Rudy

Gail Collins seems to think so.

Tuesday’s Florida primary is supposed to be the Giuliani firewall, his explanation for why he kept coming in third or fourth or fifth everywhere else. Of course he didn’t get any votes in Michigan! How could anybody expect him to do well in Iowa? He had to campaign in Florida!


[H]is campaign has a definite pall over it, and his many hangers-on have to be wondering whether another pathetic showing here would damage the Rudy brand. Are corporations still going to pay him $100,000 for lecturing about leadership and 9/11 now that they know he’s done it for free on the pool deck at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando and Paisano’s Gourmet Pizza in Port St. Lucie? (More critically from the minions’ perspective, are they still going to provide, as the speaking contract requires, “first-class travel expenses for up to five people?”)

Are they still going to hire his firm, Giuliani Partners, to do whatever it is Giuliani Partners is supposed to do, now that the glow of hanging out with America’s Mayor has faded? Before the terrorist attack, after all, Rudy Giuliani was just a lame-duck mayor with abysmal approval ratings, a tabloidy personal life and uncertain job prospects. What 9/11 has given, 1/29 could taketh away.

Perhaps that’s why he’s refrained from saying anything unpleasant about any of his competitors in Florida. Mitt Romney and John McCain are torn between trying to go in for the kill and their desire to avoid looking like Barack and Hillary. The best Rudy can do, on the other hand, might be to avoid looking like a future contender on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

How could Rudy lose his status as "America's Major"? He is Rudy, his ambitions know no bounds. After the attacks, he made money by selling out “Brand Rudy” to various disreputable figures (the list of whom he has refused to release). He was appointed to the 9/11 Commission, only to not show so he could make money on a lucrative speaking circuit.

Will he still be able continue this way living off of 9/11? Probably not. In retrospect, the fact that Rudy was on the 9/11 Commission at all is more scandalous than the fact he didn't show. Rudy was dealt a pretty good hand, but he misplayed it in what can only be described as the stupidest presidential campaign in American history.

Hillary Favors Seating Delegates From Florida, Michigan

The Clinton campaign issued this statement.

"I hear all the time from people in Florida and Michigan that they want their voices heard in selecting the Democratic nominee.

"I believe our nominee will need the enthusiastic support of Democrats in these states to win the general election, and so I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan. I know not all of my delegates will do so and I fully respect that decision. But I hope to be President of all 50 states and U.S. territories, and that we have all 50 states represented and counted at the Democratic convention.

The AP pick this up. So does TPM Election Central. It should be mentioned that Hillary was the only candidate major in Michigan (she was on the ballot with Dodd, who had already dropped out, as well as Kucinich and Gravel, who have dropped since), and is favored to win Florida, so one can see why she might want the delegates from these states to be

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm A Lebowski, You're A Lebowski

I'm going to totally ask for this for my birthday.
According to a custumer review, John Milius, who wrote the sreenplay for "Apocalypse Now", was the inspiration for the Dude's Vietnam obsessed friend Walter Sobchak.

New York Times Endorses Clinton, McCain

It appears the gray lady has made her decision. The Hillary endorsement appeared to agree with the experience argument. The McCain endorsement seems is most interesting in its denounciation of Rudy Giuliani. Like much of the elite media (Rolling Stone and The Washington Monthly, for example.) the New York Times seems to have a completely justified hatred of Mr. Giuliani.

Why, as a New York-based paper, are we not backing Rudolph Giuliani? Why not choose the man we endorsed for re-election in 1997 after a first term in which he showed that a dirty, dangerous, supposedly ungovernable city could become clean, safe and orderly? What about the man who stood fast on Sept. 11, when others, including President Bush, went AWOL?

That man is not running for president.

The real Mr. Giuliani, whom many New Yorkers came to know and mistrust, is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man who saw no need to limit police power. Racial polarization was as much a legacy of his tenure as the rebirth of Times Square.

Mr. Giuliani’s arrogance and bad judgment are breathtaking. When he claims fiscal prudence, we remember how he ran through surpluses without a thought to the inevitable downturn and bequeathed huge deficits to his successor. He fired Police Commissioner William Bratton, the architect of the drop in crime, because he couldn’t share the limelight. He later gave the job to Bernard Kerik, who has now been indicted on fraud and corruption charges.

The Rudolph Giuliani of 2008 first shamelessly turned the horror of 9/11 into a lucrative business, with a secret client list, then exploited his city’s and the country’s nightmare to promote his presidential campaign.

Well, his hometown paper ought to know. The endorsement really doesn't do McCain any favors. Romney's already made good use of it.

America's Worst Caucus

Much has been said about the undemocratic nature of Iowa's Democratic Caucus. In that process, you may remember, people gather at points around the state and register there support by moving to different parts of the room (what's wrong with this process? Christopher Hitchens explains with his usual nastiness here.) In terms of lack of democracy, however, nothing can compare with the Louisiana Republican Caucus. This rather reminds me of the caucus system the administration attempted to set up in Iraq, on which more later.

On Tuesday night, more than 10,000 Louisiana Republicans got together to talk about whom they wanted to be president. For some context: 4.3 million people (Republicans and Democrats) live in Louisiana, and it's safe to assume that at least half may be inclined to vote Republican. The 10,000-person caucus, therefore, encompasses well below 0.5 percent of the party. The low turnout can partly be blamed on Louisiana's paltry number of caucus sites. Its 11 sites pale in comparison with Iowa's 1,784 locations. (To be fair, Iowa is a larger, less dense state—but not 150 times larger.)

But here's the thing—their Tuesday night vote didn't actually select a nominee. The 10,000-plus people merely chose delegates for the state convention—and the winning delegate body didn't even represent a specific candidate. "Pro-life uncommitted" won the Louisiana state caucuses, which means every Republican besides Rudy Giuliani has a chance of getting those delegates because the delegates will remain uncommitted until the state convention later this year. At the state convention, a select number of delegates will be chosen to go to the national convention to represent Louisiana. They'll have to commit to a candidate before they do that.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Robert Reich on Clinton

Clinton's former Secretary of Labor criticizes the former president's agressive role in the campaign.
I write this more out of sadness than anger. Bill Clinton’s ill-tempered and ill-founded attacks on Barack Obama are doing no credit to the former President, his legacy, or his wife’s campaign. Nor are they helping the Democratic party. While it may be that all is fair in love, war, and politics, it’s not fair – indeed, it’s demeaning – for a former President to say things that are patently untrue (such as Obama’s anti-war position is a “fairy tale”) or to insinuate that Obama is injecting race into the race when the former President is himself doing it.

The whole post.

Political Limericks

Andrew Sullivan is asking readers for them. Here's one about Rudy's so called "shag fund".
There once was the mayor called Rudy
Who went to Long Island for booty
The taxpayers paid
So that he could get laid
Did 9/11 come before Judy?

Sex and Sarkozy

Adam Gopnik unfortunately writes about them here.

The Race Card

Mark Kleiman argues that Bill Clinton subtly played the race card in the game of expectation over the presidential race.
This sounds convincing enough to me. Other analysts have recently been arguing that the Clintons are attempting to bait the Obama campaign into accusing the Clintons of racism, and thereby delivering the campaign to the Clintons through racial polarization.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Glorious First Post

Welcome to the Punditburo. This has blog will have my random thoughts on politics, international relations, cinema and whatever else. Probably mostly current events.