Archive for March, 2008

The immortal question
March 28, 2008

Ever since the beginning of civilization, mankind has wondered: Does David Brooks actually believe everything he says? Or is he just making shit up as he goes along?

His latest column does absolutely nothing to answer that question. The whole thing purports to be a refutation of the claim that a McCain presidency would be four more years of the Bush foreign policy doctrine (which is really more of a synopsis to a really terrible sci-fi paperback than a doctrine), but the pieces of evidence he brings up make no sense. For example, how are we supposed to read this?

The first was delivered by McCain on Sept. 28, 1983. The Reagan administration was seeking Congressional authorization to support the deployment of U.S. Marines in Lebanon. McCain, a freshman legislator, decided to oppose his president and party.

McCain argued that Lebanese society, as it existed then, could not be stabilized and unified by American troops. He made a series of concrete observations about the facts on the ground. Lebanon was in a state of de facto partition. The Lebanese Army would not soon be strong enough to drive out the Syrians. The American presence would not intimidate the Syrians into negotiating.

“I do not foresee obtainable objectives in Lebanon.” He concluded. “I believe the longer we stay, the more difficult it will be to leave, and I am prepared to accept the consequences of our withdrawal.”

Okay. But that was 25 years ago. People change their views, and McCain obviously did – his support for the Iraq War is completely inconsistent with the thinking here. The best you can say about this quote is that it proves that McCain used to occasionally have a point about something.

Does Brooks have any more recent evidence? Sort of.

The second speech was delivered on Nov. 5, 2003. This was not a grand strategy speech. It was a critique of the execution of existing U.S. policy.

First, McCain wondered about the Pentagon’s publicity campaign in Iraq: “When, in the course of days, we increase by thousands our estimate of the numbers of Iraqis trained, it sounds like somebody is cooking the books.”

He then pointed out that the U.S. had not committed sufficient troops. He called for a counterinsurgency strategy in which U.S. forces would actually hold secure territory. “Simply put,” he said, “there does not appear to be a strategy behind our current force levels in Iraq, other than to preserve the illusion that we have sufficient forces in place to meet our objectives.”

He excoriated the arrogance of Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority: “The C.P.A. seems to think that all wisdom is made in America, and that the Iraqi people were defeated, not liberated.”

Notice that passage has absolutely nothing to do with a larger foreign policy philosophy. The guy who said all that stuff still seems to have religion about trivial things like the one percent doctrine of preemptive warfare. But he offers some criticism of the tactics involved in bringing his favorite catastrophic ideas to fruition! Which, when you think about it, is exactly the same thing.

Oh, and by the way? Highlighting McCain’s opposition to part of Reagan’s foreign policy at the beginning of the column and then saying that he wants to follow in the grand tradition of Reagan’s foreign policy near the end just kind of serves to underscore that the speech at the very beginning is irrelevant because McCain’s changed his views since then. And saying that McCain wants to follow Teddy Roosevelt’s example also is even worse. Roosevelt’s largely admired for his independent streak and anti-oligarchical domestic policies, but you know what his foreign policy consisted of? A streak of whackshit imperialism very similar to the species of imperialism that’s gotten us so deep in the shit these days.

David Brooks has truly mastered the art of sounding knowledgeable by rattling off historical allusions and things that sound like evidence but are either irrelevant or actually totally contradict the point he’s trying to make. It’s a useful skill.

…And on that note, I’m off to Philly.

I just sold the army a Nerf gun for $200,000
March 28, 2008

The New York Times has an in-depth exposé on what exactly Brocephalesaurus and his friend Masseuse With Slightly Odd Facial Hair were up to when they scammed the Pentagon out of $300 million.

The lesson here? Apparently our DoD is so lax and corrupt with the contracting now that you don’t even need to be particularly bright to be a corrupt war profiteer. You just have to be a total d-bag.

Dude, we should, like, totally defraud the Pentagon
March 27, 2008

Son of a bitch. Apparently some 22-year old broseph with a fake ID managed to scam the DoD out of $300 mill in contracts.

How does a 22 year-old get a multi-million dollar defense contract? you ask. “AEY’s proposal represented the best value to the government,” the Army tells the Times. (Never mind that AEY was headed by a guy who’d been busted by the police for carrying a fake ID.)

AEY’s fattest contract came in January of last year, when a Pentagon contract made AEY, “which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach,… the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces.” AEY’s VP is 25 and a licensed masseur. AEY also had a $5.7 million contract for rifles for Iraqi forces, among others.

As the Times found out, AEY fulfilled that contract by dealing with a variety of shady arms dealers (one Czech, one Swiss) to get their hands on ammo stockpiles in the old Eastern bloc.

Plus they lied about the shoddy quality of the arms themselves. I can’t possibly describe my rage now. I’m literally shaking with fury. I mean, this guy’s only a few years older than me, and he’s already completed the whole story arc of the rise and downfall of a war profiteer. Meanwhile, how much progress have I made on my complicated Pentagon arms scam?

Jack shit, that’s how much. No, I’m sitting here and writing on my blog like a dipshit when I could be weaving my byzantine web of corruption instead. I need to get on this. Now.

Yo, John! I have a business proposition for you.

They grow up so fast
March 27, 2008

A middle school student government member gets Spitzer’d. But with candy instead of hookers.

For example, in Connecticut last week, an eighth-grade student body vice president was forced to resign after he was caught buying an illicit packet of Skittles from a classmate.

I blame Roger Stone.

Why going to school in New York City kicks ass
March 27, 2008

My route to class every morning takes me by Cooper Union. Ten minutes ago, as I was walking by, I saw that the street was being blocked off by a bunch of patrol cars and black SUVs. I went offer to a nearby police officer and asked if a presidential candidate was in town. Yep, Barack Obama’s delivering an economic address today. Like three blocks from my dorm. No big deal.

And this is three weeks after the NY primary, too.

Unfortunately, the speech had already started and there was no way of getting in. If I had known it was going on, I would have shown up earlier.

Going it alone
March 27, 2008

Damn. Ali, my traveling partner, had to drop out of this weekend’s excursion to Eschacon due to a series of increasingly unfortunate extenuating circumstances. You’ll be missed, man.

I don’t suppose anyone else wants to go on a last-minute trip to Philly?

The cost of war
March 27, 2008

Rolling Stone has a superb article this month that examines the daily life of one Iraq vet with PTSD. It’s really moving stuff.

Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller spends much of his time sitting on the floor of the run-down trailer he keeps as a residence behind his father’s house in the tiny coal-mining town of Jonancy, Kentucky (population 297). This is his favorite spot in the trailer, where he reclines against an easy chair whose upholstery has turned a dingy nicotine brown. From here, Miller can anticipate any possible threat, keep an eye on all avenues of approach an enemy might take. As cigarette butts overflow in the ashtray and empty beer bottles collect around him, he silently cycles through procedures the Marine Corps drilled into his head: defend, reinforce, attack, withdraw, delay. He knows it’s only seven steps to the front door, but he worries whether his truck has enough gas to make an escape. He wishes someone had told him that “there may come a time when all that shit you learned, you might not be able to turn it off.”

Miller isn’t superhuman. He’s not the platonic ideal of a Patriot or whatever. He’s not a metaphor or an abstraction. He’s a human being and, from the article, he seems like a good guy. Kind of like a lot of the other countless young people whose lives have been chewed up and spat out by this war.

My point is this: trying to iconize American soldiers is just another way – well-intentioned or otherwise – of dehumanizing them and making their suffering seem more distant and abstract. So with all the talk of “the troops” as this faceless yet flawless entity, articles like this are important. Let’s remember who we’re talking about.

You wouldn’t get this from any other guy
March 26, 2008

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this. It’s just way too awesome.

And that’s Rickrolling: misdirection from an anticipated link, leading you instead to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It’s been a web phenomonen for a good year now — an update on duckrolling — and is now transcending the internet to be embraced in entirely new and exciting nerd ways.

Just … awesome. It’s kind of like surprising someone with a shock site except it’s genuinely funny instead of nauseating and doesn’t make you look like total a dickwit.

More info here.

All in the game
March 26, 2008

In a New York Times op-ed today, Neal Gabler has an interesting explanation about why the press lusts after McCain so much.

What makes 2008 different — and why I think Mr. McCain can be called the first postmodernist presidential candidate — is his acknowledgment of the symbiosis between himself and the press and, more important, his willingness, even eagerness, to let the press in on his own machinations of them. On the bus, Mr. McCain openly talks about his press gambits. According to Mr. Lizza, Mr. McCain proudly brandished an index card with a “gotcha” quote from Mitt Romney that the senator had given Tim Russert of “Meet the Press,” a journalist few would expect to need help in finding candidates’ gaffes. In exposing his two-way relationship with the press this way, he reveals the absurdity of the political process as a big game. He also reveals his own gleeful cynicism about it.

This sort of disdain might be called a liberal view, if not politically then culturally. The notion that our system (in fact, life itself) is faintly imbecilic is a staple of “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” “Real Time With Bill Maher” and other liberal exemplars, though they, of course, implicate the press in the idiocy.

The other big difference between McCain and political satirists is that they work with opposite intentions. Good satirists highlight absurdity not just to make people laugh but to also get to the truth, something that they care very deeply about. McCain, on the other hand, deliberately obfuscates but realizes he can get away with it by openly sharing his contempt for reality with the press corps. What McCain seems to share with various media bigwigs such as Tim Russert is this conviction that politics is a sport put together for their amusement and personal advancement, and fucking around with truth doesn’t have a whole lot of real-world consequences. Of course, if that were true, we wouldn’t be at war right now, would we?

As Gabler acknowledges, this isn’t the one key to unlocking the whole McCain-press circle jerk. But it’s a big factor, and one indicative of the larger problems we have with the fucked up attitude that the people who Atrios calls Villagers have towards the democratic process.

The word of the day is “obtuse”
March 26, 2008

Alright, let’s play a little game. It’s called “let’s see who can most obtusely misinterpret Barack Obama’s message.”

ROUND 1: The Washington Post
One … two … three … GO!

Sen. Barack Obama offers himself as a post-partisan uniter who will solve the country’s problems by reaching across the aisle and beyond the framework of liberal and conservative labels he rejects as useless and outdated.
This Story

But as Obama heads into the final presidential primaries, Sen. John McCain and other Republicans have already started to brand him a standard-order left-winger, “a down-the-line liberal,” as McCain strategist Charles R. Black Jr. put it, in a long line of Democratic White House hopefuls.

Translation: “Obama claims to be able to work together with people with whom he disagrees, but how can he do that when he has opinions for people to disagree with?”

SCORE: That was a strong showing. I give it an 8.3 out of 10. I would have given it a perfect 10, but the article lacks the aggressive stupidity of, say, Obama and various advisers accepting the “liberal=bad” framing and fleeing from the tag with all due-

“He’s really not an old-fashioned liberal at all,” Sunstein said. “He’s a market-oriented Democrat from the University of Chicago with strong religious convictions.”

He mocked the emerging GOP criticism in a speech last month in Austin. “Oh, he’s liberal. He’s liberal,” he said. “Let me tell you something. There’s nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics. It’s common sense. . . . There’s nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has health care. We are spending more on health care in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There’s nothing liberal about saying that doesn’t make sense, and we should do something smarter with our health-care system. Don’t let them run that okey-doke on you!”

Right, see? It’s not a liberal position if it’s correct. Good to know. That 8.3 just shot up to a 9.6. But for a perfect 10 this article would need an obtuse misreading of Obama’s platform, an idiotic response from the Obama campaign, and a quote from famous obtuse idiot Mark Penn. So until I see that-

“The evidence is that the more [voters] have been learning about him, the more his coalition has been shrinking,” Clinton strategist Mark Penn said.

Ding ding ding! Top score! This article is truly a gem of flawless, almost surreal stupidity from all sides.

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