31 August 2004

Protests

Truthout is maintaining an excellent web site with information about RNC protests.

Update: Really, go check it out. I just watched an amazing little video of an interview with a GOP supporter who has been talking to protesters and is now "having doubts." It's a breath of fresh air, and a reminder that every bit of work you do passing information around helps.

Jon Stewart

Atrios reminds us why he's a great American, and points us at a thousand words. Check out the other banner on the far right side of the picture.

Celebrity encounter

The lovely and articulate Indri at Waterbones has a post that I found particularly entertaining, even though she had already told me about the core incident in person. She asked me to guess who she worked for at her most recent catering gig. I failed. She told me.

“You've met the greatest man of the twentieth century!?” I exclaimed.

“Met him?” she said. He flirted with me.”

30 August 2004

Imagine what Clinton might have said

Bob at Unfogged makes an observation about our President's answer to a journalist's question.

What impresses me about this is how much Bush's answer sounds exactly like the answers you read on the short-essay exams of students who are so unprepared that the question itself makes no sense to them.

I miss having a President who knows what he is talking about.

An example: Perhaps you remember the peculiar story of Leonardo DiCaprio's surprise interview with Bill Clinton? Check out the transcript and check out what Clinton had to say off of the top of his head on the subject of global warming.

I bet you think this song is about you

How many songs recursively refer to themselves within their own lyrics? Lots of them, more than you might think.

29 August 2004

RSS

It has been my practice to warn the Gentle Reader when I have a "geeky" post for you. It occurs to me now that I must actually differentiate design-geek, culture-geek, and techno-geek posts from one another. The first category includes anything about infographics, input devices, industrial design, and various other things that start with the letter “i.” The second category includes anything about superheroes, vampires, elves, or anything else that people have figured out how to simulate with dice. The third category includes anything that includes the internet, prefixes like Giga- or Tera-, or an acronym combined with a number containing a decimal point.

But this categorization is not as clear as it looks. HTML 4.0 is both design-geek and techno-geek. Computer games could be culture-geek if they're about vampires, design-geek if they're about the economics of EverQuest, or techno-geek if they're about rendering algorhtyms.

Okay, never mind the subcategories.

This is another “geeky&rduqo; post. You've been warned.

MKB, who is tearing his hair out over RSS because he doesn't want to read my blog in the gorgeous format which I have labored so hard over, points out this amusing article about incompatiblities in RSS standards.

There are 9 versions of RSS, all of which are incompatible with various other versions. RSS 0.90 is incompatible with Netscape’s RSS 0.91, Netscape’s RSS 0.91 is incompatible with Userland’s RSS 0.91, Netscape’s RSS 0.91 is incompatible with RSS 1.0, Userland’s RSS 0.91 is incompatible with RSS 0.92, RSS 0.92 is incompatible with RSS 0.93, RSS 0.93 is incompatible with RSS 0.94, RSS 0.94 is incompatible with RSS 2.0, and RSS 2.0 is incompatible with itself.

If you're thinking mocking thoughts about how that is not funny, then you don't want to go on to read more of Dive Into Mark and his excellent series of essays "those that tremble as if they were mad." If, on the other hand, you chuckled darkly at that last bit I emphasized, then the listings in the index to as if they were mad alone are worth making the trip, and I'm guessing you won't be able to resist laughing over several of the articles there.

Consider this little gem about the importance of good specifications:

Most developers are morons, and the rest are assholes. I have at various times counted myself in both groups, so I can say this with the utmost confidence.
....
If your spec isn’t good enough, morons have no chance of ever getting things right. For everyone who complains that their software is broken, there will be two assholes who claim that it’s not. The spec, whose primary purpose is to arbitrate disputes between morons and assholes, will fail to resolve anything, and the arguments will smolder for years.

Truer words were never spoken.

28 August 2004

An artist's statement

First, I offer you: Art 100E -- Photography : Motion Study Artist's Statement by Ian Spiers: Humiliated, Angry, Ashamed, Brown

He went on to tell me that the minute I'd photographed federal property, citing the Ballard Locks, the train bridge and the Patriot Act, that I'd, again, broken the law. Of course, I asked why there weren't any signs on that parcel of public property disclosing that photography was forbidden ...

You know, I just read (and reread) that last paragraph, and I still don't get it. I mean, you're joking, right? The Ballard Locks are easily my neighborhood's most recognizable landmark and its highest point of tourism. Tour buses and tour boats make regularly scheduled visits here, and guided tours escort groups of visitors through this landmark daily. Everyone's taking pictures.

Then I offer you the title of Milton Mayer's 1955 book about Nazi Germany: They Thought They Were Free. Of course they did.

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with [their leader], their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

Now, because we have to be explicit about these things: No, I'm not saying that we're living in a society like Nazi Germany. Notice that I can write this and post it in public without fear of being shot or shipped off to a concentration camp. I am saying that loss of freedoms doesn't look like kristallnacht — by the time something like that happens, the cancer has been growing for a long time — that you can lose a lot of rights and liberties well before it feels oppressive.

27 August 2004

Mercury still in retrograde

I am officially sick of Mercury in retrograde. And it's going to last through 2 September. Enough already!

Pioneer 10

All good science nerds know that the Pioneer 10 probe went out with a plaque on the side explaining where it came from, in case aliens should stumble across it. I always figured that archeologists a billion years from now will cite it in arguments over which planet was the human homeworld.

The Defective Yeti, on the other hand fears that no one will be able to understand it if they find it.

the periods of the fourteen pulsars are therefore encoded on the map as binary numbers (which is why the rays emanating from the sun look like this: "--||-|----|-|-|||--" -- that's binary, dude!). The alien need only figure out the binary number and then times it by 1420 MHz (the hyperfine whatever frequency, remember?) to calculate the period of each pulsars. Between the unique fingerprints of the pulsars and their relative distances from us, the critters should be able to triangulate the position of our sun. Could it be any more obvious?

Edward Tufte doesn't think the plaque is so bad, but does suggest one big improvement.

It seems to me, when we send messages to aliens, the least we could do is give the message to some humans first and see if they have any luck figuring it out.

26 August 2004

Tool belt

There are two things I like about this page promoting yet another home improvement book.

  1. The title of the book is very funny
  2. The photo of the author, on the right, is strangely sexy

I'm just sayin'.


Update: The page under that link no longer exists and has been forwarded to her blog, where you can find this post which contains a picture much like the one I was referencing originally. Yowza.

Billionaires for Bush

If you're going to be in New York City around the Republican National Convention, keep an eye out for the Billionaires for Bush.

There's lots of cool stuff on their website: the bumper stickers alone are worth a visit. “Small Government. Big Wars.”

25 August 2004

I shoulda studied economics

As I keep saying, I love Brad DeLong's weblog. Among its many virtues, DeLong is an economist, and his writing about economics is extemely illuminating for someone like me who is smart and has picked up a bit about economics on the mean streets, but has no formal training.

In fact, reading DeLong and other smart lefty economists like Robert Rubin I feel like I missed a trick. When I was contemplating what I would study in college, I didn't even consider economics --- what little I had seen of the subject at that point led me to suspect that beyond the most basic principles it was all smoke and mirrors, and that economists didn't really know anything useful. I'm now embarassed to have thought that, but what can I say, I was reading what economists were quoted as saying in the newspaper in the '80s. You can imagine the confusion I felt.

In a recent post DeLong shows how economics is a kind of training I wish I had.

Students ... [of problems like “tenants' rights” regulations] ... badly need to be trained to think like economist .... The ideas that the state's action does not just shift the terms of already-made bargains in the direction of the tenant but (after enough time has passed for adjustment) leads to changes in behavior that shift the terms of the rental bargains made; that the question, "What, exactly, is the market failure here?" always needs to be asked; and that the question, ”How, exactly, does this policy reduce the magnitude of the market failure without causing bigger government failures?“ always needs to be answered — these questions are almost always of crucial importance.

It is because these questions are almost always of crucial importance that I believe — as a general rule, there are exceptions — that only economists who are left-of-center and have spent significant time working in a bureaucracy are qualified to express opinions on matters of public policy.

If you're not an economist, then (as a rule) you don't ask any of the three questions. If you're an economist but not a left-of-center one you don't believe in market failures, and don't ask question 2. If you're a left-of-center economist who has never worked in a bureaucracy, you don't believe in government failures and don't ask question 3.

Since his description of the only people qualified to have opinions about public policy includes himself, but few others, I think he's kidding a bit. But his list of three questions does nicely articulate things that lurk in my own reflexive objections to most boneheaded public policy proposals. Very cool.

24 August 2004

Pentagram

Okay, there's still a goddamned entry tunnel — don't get me started on that sore point — but check out Pentagram Design's current home page. Omit needless words. Gutsy, and good.

Stone Cold John Kerry

You would think that it would be impossible to write satire about the fact that, having already metamorphosed into the party of fiscal responsibility more than a decade ago, the Democrats have now also become the party of military service, too.

You'd be wrong — if you like your satire dark, wild, and cold. I offer you Ken Layne's essay God of War, Death, and Madness.

Kerry was in Vietnam, taking lives like your boy eats cookies. Killing people, saving people, holding Life & Death in his hands like a savage gift. He kills the Viet Cong or anybody else he chooses, he saves a U.S. sailor who fell out of the boat, he walks the halls of the Senate deciding who he'll kill or who he'll save. In Vietnam, Kerry is a death's head of gruesome power, while your Bush hides in Alabama, a scared little girl.

It's definitely a read-the-whole-thing kind of thing.

23 August 2004

Nobody can eat fifty eggs

The mind boggles.
Fresh off her victory in December's fruitcake eating contest (she downed 5 pounds in 10 minutes), the 99-pound [Sonya] Thomas polished off 167 wings, edging out her 400-pound challenger by two wings.

You're probably familiar with competitive eating, but it seems the "sport" been growing in popularity in recent years. (Yes, they call it a "sport.") There's even a group, the International Federation of Competitive Eating, that governs the the industry and maintains a ranking system for "gustatory athletes." (Yes, they call themselves "athletes.") And while we occasionally hear about a few eating contests such as the annual hot-dog competition on Coney Island, many of these "athletes" travel throughout the year competing in dozens of smaller (and less appetizing) events: beef tongue (record: 3 pounds in 12 minutes), butter (7 quarter-pound sticks in 5 minutes) ...

And in answer to the question that all good Cool Hand Luke fans are asking, Ms. Thomas is the holder of the record for hard-boiled eggs: sixty-eight in eight minutes.

Parker Quintuplets

Remember when you were young? The sun shined brighter, there was no spam, and the Parker Quintuplets was the most overdesigned site on the web.

22 August 2004

Longing for escape

I recently discovered “Low Morale,” a set of dark and delicious little web animations about the hunger for escape that can overtake you in office-land ... or anywhere. The capstone is the long, cleverly done animation done with Radiohead's “Creep” as the background music.

While I'm plugging the cartoons, let me also offer praise to the fine fellas of Radiohead. For a while, that song was everywhere, but somehow I had never really listened carefully to the lyrics before. Maybe it was because the animation uses a slower acoustic version, but this time it really caught me. It's a gem.

I'll ask Cameron Crowe speaking though Lester Bangs in Almost Famous to sing its praises:

We are uncool! And while women will always be a problem for guys like us, most of the great art in the world is about that very problem.

Good-looking people have no spine! Their art never lasts! They get the girls, but we're smarter.

Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love
....
The only true currency in this bankrupt world if what we share with someone else when we're uncool.

Rock ’n’ roll inherited that longing from the blues — for love and sex and acceptance, all tangled together — but traditionally has put a brave face on, from Buddy Holly to the Beach Boys to David Bowie and beyond. But there are days when that longing is just despair, and there is no brave face to be given to it. Bravo to Radiohead for saying so.


Via Gary Farber I learn that Amanda Palmer has an interpretation of “Creep” which brings out its note of despair less through the lyrics than as a musical composition.


YouTube turns out to be full of cover versions, mostly by women who want to play with that showy big crescendo, but there are a couple I have found which I like. Carrie Manolakos does a torchy version, which would be wrong except that her phrasings are very crafty, keeping that note of pain and longing. And Moby has an odd and interesting live performance which contrasts his band playing it like a big pop anthem with him singing it like the cri de cour it is.


Tori Amos brings it. Of course.

21 August 2004

Jacopo de’Barbari

I'm not sure how I stumbled across this page with these great engravings of classical subjects. I think the thing that really hooked me on them is that the artist, Jacopo de’Barbari, signed his engravings with a little caduceus instead of his name. Cool.

SUVs are not safer

There is a folk belief that SUVs are safer than regular cars. The opposite it true.

Via Kevin Drum, I have for instance this New York Times story.

If you're a Salon subscriber, check out their interview with Keith Bradsher, the author of High and Mighty.

As a class there is no question that SUVs are less safe in terms of rollovers than cars are. If you look at the federal government's rollover ratings, there are no pickup-based SUVs that get more than three stars on a scale of one to five. Full-size cars get five stars, minivans get four stars.

They partially make up the difference by killing the other guy in vehicle-to-vehicle crashes, but they don't do well enough in vehicle-to-vehicle crashes to offset the rollovers. People have a myth about the rollovers, which makes matters worse. Everyone thinks that rollovers happen to bad drivers and no one thinks he is a bad driver. And so as a result people underestimate the risk that they are going to make a mistake that results in a rollover. They don't understand that 90 percent of rollovers occur not because somebody's zig-zagging on a paved road but because the vehicle was tripped — whether by striking a guardrail or a curb or a low-riding vehicle.
....
SUVs are very dangerous to other motorists because they are particularly likely to slide over the bumpers and doorsills of the cars and into the passenger compartments. [Car manufacturers] have begun addressing this over the last two or three years -- three-quarters of the SUVs on the market have been modified. They've mainly done it by installing hollow steel bars below and behind the bumper. They're called Bradsher bars actually. These bars are designed to prevent the SUV from going into the passenger compartment.

The problem is that you still have hoods that are too high on these SUVs, and in a side impact, the taller the hood, the more likely it is to catch somebody in the head or in the neck in a car. I describe one very sad case in the book of somebody that was hit in the head by a Land Rover that struck her from the side while she was in a midsize sedan.


....
The single most terrifying safety issue with SUVs is SUVs falling into the hands of teens. It's so sad for these teens to get paralyzed. The young drivers are the ones who are most likely to make the errors of inexperience like hitting a curb. Yes, you can roll over a Corvette if you slide it into a curb fast enough and hard enough, but you're much less likely to do so. Same with a guardrail. Same with getting a vehicle onto the shoulder. The SUVs are much less forgiving of error. Teens make the most driver errors, and those are particularly likely to be errors that are single-vehicle accidents.

Oh, and they're bad for the environment, too.

20 August 2004

MirrorMask

If you're excited about Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's forthcoming film MirrorMask, I have an article with lots of tantalizing bits for you.

Why didn't I think of that?

Thanks to MKB, I now know a useful answer to the question “what's with the sarcasm?“

19 August 2004

Urban planning and political protest

Ruben Bolling's comic Tom the Dancing Bug has a chilly satire of "free speech zones," Salon has an article about lefties concerned about potential backlash from protests against the Republican convention in New York, and Atrios has a little meditation on the same subject:

There is the question of whether street protest is really worth the time money and energy of those involved. It's a bit different in other countries, where public spaces are much more integrated with daily life, and protests can be much more visible and effective. But, in the US even when protest are allowed to operate on prime real estate, the fact that public spaces are for the most part already on the edges of daily life, protests and protesters are intrinsically marginalized, even when they aren't happening behind razowire in pens.
....
Given that protesting in this country almost by its nature marginalizes an issue by portraying it as something which is out of the mainstream, one has to ask whether the costs are greater than the benefits.

This is yet another example of the impoverishment of American civic life through lame urban design.

It's particularly vivid for me, as an alumnus of UC Santa Cruz. The university's first chancellor, Dean McHenry, wanted to pattern the campus after Oxford's residential colleges. According to campus legend, he was able to win support for this because of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. The residential college plan meant no central gathering place on campus comparable to Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley.

The legend probably isn't true, but the effect was real. UCSC had an extremely vigorous lefty student culture in my time there, but campus protests were hard to sustain. The best option for holding a protest was at the administration offices at the library — but there wasn't room for a crowd of more than four or five dozen people, and the library was located such that if you weren't on your way there specfically, you wouldn't ever pass by it. The only place with room for more people was the quarry, which was deserted if it wasn't graduation day. Between that, the distance between the campus and the town, the local climate's tendancy toward rain, and the rapid academic tempo of the quarter system, the frequent student protests never really gathered any steam.

Architecture is politics.

18 August 2004

Dios

Today it's a two post geek rockblock!

From MKB I now learn that the obscure goofy psychedelic band Dios has been sued by the slightly less obscure lame heavy metal band Dio, and have been thus compelled to change their name — to Dios Malos. Not to be out-uncooled, the band had this to say about the new name.

It doesn't mean what you think because it doesn't really mean anything. It's a shame we had to do it, but as J.P. said, “We're up against rainbows and magic,” and when it comes to casting spells we're barely level 3 musicians with nothing but cheap magic missiles and plate mail armor to protect us from the wrath of eight-headed hydra law firms with unlimited mana and 100-sided dice.

You tell 'em, guys. And hey, it turns out that Dios — uh, I mean Dios Malos — have a pretty funny web site if you're into web design meta-humor.

PvP

I read Scott Kurtz' web comic PvP almost every day. It's a little four-panel strip about people working at a magazine that reviews computer games, so I haven't plugged it because though the strip is funny and Kurtz is a very capable cartoonist, the humor is frequently so deeply geeky that I figure that my readers who would enjoy it already know about it.

But he said something very interesting in his “rants” space recently.

This last year, I was contacted by Universal Press Syndicates about PvP.
....
Under no circumstances would I relinquish my copyright, book deals, merchandise deals, rights to market my strips, etc. If they wanted PvP, we would agree to a newspaper distribution deal and that was it. After six weeks the syndicates returned with their answer: They wanted PvP ... all of it. If they could not have the rights to the feature, they weren't interested. So we parted ways.

But I've already become attached to the idea of seeing PvP in the papers, and that's why I've decided to start a new program. In the coming months, I'll be putting into effect, a program in which papers can receive PVP for free. That's right, free.

Why is he doing this? He's done some deep thinking about the economics of newspaper comics, and the explanation is fascinating. Considering what I said about Garfield a while back, I think his plan makes a lot of sense.

17 August 2004

Papers

Several years ago, I flew to Europe for the first time.

I had tried giving myself pre-jet-lag: I had stayed up late and shifted my body clock the day before I left, hoping to get settled into German time more quickly after I arrived as a result. I had just spent ten hours in the noisy, cramped, shaky confines of an airplane. The airport had the familiar-yet-alien feel of a European airport — so similar to American airports, yet not quite the same: is that a phone booth? are those newspaper vending machines? I was meandering through the labrynthine customs and immigration process in the airport, punchy, feeling like I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and everything was more than a little surreal.

I come to a crew-cut young man in a military uniform-ish olive sweater with funny shoulder pads sitting in a little booth. I slide my passport, customs declaration card, and boarding pass through the slot in the window. He looks at them, frowns slightly, then looks at me quizzically. “Zo sorry. Your peppers, zay are nut in order.”

I cannot imagine the expression on my face. I'm a lefty Jew — with ze cherman accent, zeez are a frightening vords, ja? It's 1999, not 1939, so there's nothing to be afraid of. And I'm too weary and bewildered to freak out about anything at this point. On the other hand, I'm weary and bewildered enough to feel a little unsure that it really is 1999, not 1939. Pow!

The man in the booth says, “Is a little joke. You can go.”

I nod, and grimace, and say, “I understand.”

Today, thanks to MKB, I read that a man named Dan Gilmore has some questions about whether he should have to worry about whether his papers are in order.

On the 4th of July 2002, John Gilmore, American citizen, decided to take a trip from one part of the United States of America to another. He went to Oakland International Airport — ticket in hand — and was told he had to produce his ID if he wanted to travel. He asked to see the law demanding he show his "papers" and was told after a time that the law was secret and no, he wouldn’t be allowed to read it.

Bruce Sterling calls this for what it is: not a reasonable response to danger, but a bit of sinister theatrics.

If you've been in airports recently, I believe you are seeing a pretty apt, early version of Terrorspace. At any random moment, you can have your possessions rifled through by strangers. Your shoes are scanned, and various small but vital objects in your pockets can be confiscated by semi- educated security geeks. They're either pathetically under-trained for the job (in which case you certainly feel no safer), or else they are intelligent and capable people (in which case you pity them and wish they had some other job, for the sake of general human happiness and the GNP). Rather than making us any safer, Terrorspace airports serve as political indoctrination centers that humiliate our voting population on a broad scale. They are meant to inure us to ever-escalating levels of governmental clumsiness and general harm.

Like the boiling frog of metaphor, we ask ourselves: what am I going to do? Not fly?

Literacy

Brad DeLong evidently has taught his kids critical thinking skills.

Are we sure that this is a real Bush-Cheney advertisement? The Eleven-Year-Old saw it first, and her immediate conclusion was that some Democratic hacker had gotten into the Bush-Cheney website. The mainstream Democratic politicians — Gore, Dean, Gephardt, Kerry — come across as angry, yes, but as angry for good reasons: they talk about very bad things that George W. Bush has done. And then come the shots of Hitler: completely unexpected and grossly inappropriate for the context, the (intended) message that Kerry supporters compare Bush to HItler doesn't come through to her at all; what does come through is that (a) Democrats make cogent points that (b) the Bush campaign thinks are somehow reminiscent of Hitler.

The Eleven-Year-Old has a very good point.

The Talmud tells us that we must teach our children three things: the Torah, a profession, and how to swim. Rabbi Jonathan ben Ephraim says that in the modern world, we must also teach them critical media literacy.

16 August 2004

Holy books are not for civilians

Brad DeLong has a disturbing observation about religion and literacy.

The more I think about it, the more terrifying the parallels become between our age — when the first literate generation of urban Arabs have direct unmediated access to their Holy Book — and western Europe's sixteenth century — when printing gave the urban literate their first direct unmediated access to their Holy Book.

Only they had pikes, armor, horses, and gunpowder. While we have nuclear weapons.

This made me think of Lon Milo DuQuette's observation in The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford that Hebrew Bible was written by and for "full-time holy guys" who would have been horrified by the prospect of ordinary folks having access to these materials.

I mean, check this out:

And when I looked, behold the four wheels by the cherubim, one wheel by one cherub, and another wheel by another cherub: and the appearance of the wheels was as the color of a beryl stone. And as for their appearances, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went. And their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had. As for the wheels, it was cried unto them in my hearing, O wheel. And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.

Ezekiel 10:7-14 (KJV)

I refuse to believe that this is a literal truth that God wants all of us to know. This is clearly a message written in code by someone who expects his reader to be trained in the reading of that code.

15 August 2004

Upcoming feature

It turns out I missed another interesting cinema du geek project in development in my recent post about comic book movies.

Mysterious and frequent commenter Kira reports that Earthsea is in production by the Sci Fi Channel.

Having recently quoted Ursula LeGuin, who feels frustrated by false assumptions about what her characters look like, I of course wondered about the casting.

I see Ged as dark brownish-red, and all the other people in the book (except the Kargs and Serret) as brown or brown-red, to very dark or black (Vetch). In other words, in the Archipelago "people of color" are the norm, white people are an anomaly. Vice versa on the Kargish islands. That much is pretty clear in the books. How dark you want Ged to be is pretty much up to you! Why not? Readers rule, OK? But what drives me up the wall is cover illustrators — trying to get them not to make everybody white, white, white. Did you ever see the very first English edition of A Wizard of Earthsea? It was a Puffin paperback, I think. I was really excited about it — I think it was my first English publication — until I saw it. The Ged on the cover was this marshmallow-colored guy drooping like a lily in a sort of nightgown. Oh Lord! I think most white people have failed to notice that most of the people in most of my SF and fantasy are not white people. So. What else is new?

The news on the cast is a mixed bag. Danny Glover plays Ogion, which is a terrific choice. Isabella Rosselini plays Thar, which is cool just because Isabella Rosselini is cool. Kristin Kreuck, the extremely not-redheaded Lana Lang of Smallville, plays Tenar. Um, okay, she's at least a little bit Berkeley beige. But Shawn Ashmore is Ged, and though I liked him as Iceman in X-Men, he's about the whitest guy I can think of.

14 August 2004

Madness in NYC

In the course of explaining why the iPod is so popular in New York City, my main man Batojar makes some interesting observations about the difference between New York crazy people and those elsewhere, like here in SF.

New Yorkers are a people on the move, and that applies double for those with a DSM IV diagnosis on their resume. Uptown for some lithium, Downtown for a tinfoil beanie to defend against the Soviet mind-control satellites, Westside for a new Bible to beat, or Eastside for someone who may not have heard about this Jesus fellow.

This is a good point. I have to say, though, San Francisco has high quality crazy people that even New York is hard pressed to match. I mean, New York is importing some of our most brilliant, talented eccentrics.

13 August 2004

Letters at 3 a.m.

Growing up brainy and disaffected in LA, I loved reading Michael Ventura's essays in the LA Weekly. I vividly recall an essay he wrote about how the combination of the automobile, the motel, and electric light added up to an erasure of time and space as humans have traditionally experienced them, an essay that likely was the first step toward my corruption by books about postmodernism and urban planning.

I just discovered that the Austin Chronicle is running him now, and they have an archive of his articles.

It seems that like all of us, he's writing a lot about the Bush administration and the Iraq debacle.

Here is an excerpt from a list published in The Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 2003, titled, “An Honor Roll of Sacrifice in Iraq.“ What follows covers the first weeks of the war, from March 20 through June 17, 2003, and I repeat only the place names. I suggest you read it aloud. It'll get to you. It is a new American geography — a geography of places with fewer and fewer choices, fewer and fewer opportunities, where the young would rather risk death than endure the death-in-life of towns where most shops on Main Street have long since been boarded up. Mostly these are places you've never heard of, places you could drive through in minutes, places we have no reason to remember anymore except for how their children have become names on a list of the dead.

It's good to have him back, even though his writing was never what I would call comforting.

12 August 2004

Today's quote

For the record, I discovered a couple of days ago that I'm able to receive email at my personal email address, but that account has been dropping outgoing messages into the bit bucket for at least a week.

Miriam bat Asherah tells us:

Dear Self,

Mercury is retrograde right now. Yeah, yeah, it's astrological hooey, but you know what, Self? You don't need to believe in astrology, because at the moment astrology seems to believe in you.

Indeed. Hard experience has taught me that you can ignore the rest of astrology, but you fuck with Mercury in retrograde at your peril.

The political is personal

I have a couple of long web essays to offer today.

The first is Orcinus' The Political and the Personal. Orcinus, aka David Neiwert, is a journalist who has been following the Patriot movement for several years. You'll notice that he's listed in bold in my blogroll: his site is a perfect example of the kind of analysis that good journalists can't seem to get into print but can do very effectively on the web.

There's one thing about growing up in a place like Idaho: If you can't make friends with conservatives, you won't have many friends.

And as my oldest friends can tell you, the truth is that I used to be fairly conservative myself. I come from a working-class family — my mother's side of the family was in road construction, and my dad's was mostly a farming family, though his father actually was an auto mechanic.

Working-class values, and my belief in blue-collar virtues — like integrity, decency, hard work, honesty, common sense, and fair play — all were quite deeply ingrained. When I was younger, I really believed that conservatism best embodied those values.
....

I have heard all kinds of anecdotes about interpersonal alienation over Bush and his handling of the "war on terror." Some of these involve family members, others longtime friendships. One can only imagine what scenes will erupt from the coming Thanksgiving and holiday seasons too. For myself, it is not profound, but noticeable: invitations to traditional camping and fishing trips not issued; letters ignored; cold and brusque treatment when we do get together. A decided lack of communication and a clear sense of rejection.

And it's too plain why: I and my fellow “Saddam-loving” liberals are all traitors. They know, because Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and everyone else out there has told them so. Indeed, these right-wing "transmitters" have been pounding it into their heads for years now, and it's reaching fruition.

I don't really blame my friends for this, though of course I deeply resent their willingness to adopt such beliefs. It is a very hurtful thing, and it may take years to recover, if at all. But I'm trying to be patient, knowing that eventually they will come around.

I've been meaning to plug Orcinus for a while, now. The Political and the Personal was well-circulated in the blogosphere last year. He was up for a Koufax award for it, and he did win the award for another essay, the brilliant, indispensible, and very long Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism. And his blog is all-around terrific.

I was prodded into action by reading rm's new essay Life and Politics -- I Am Doing My Best.

As a fan of small goverment and social freedoms, and without a personal adhearance to a Judeo-Christian faith or many of its accompanying moralities, voting always puts me in a difficult place. I am much less liberal than many of my friends on many issues and much more so on many others. And while I believe that 99% of anyone who thinks they understand economics without being an economist is a complete jackass, I'm certainly more informed, if not more comprehending than most.

Certainly, I know that many of my friends face the constantly annoying choice as to whether to vote on money or social issues. I'm just always surprised when they choose money.
....
So I vote on stuff like civil liberties, abortion and gay rights, effectiveness on the war on terror and just a general sense of whether a candidate seems to think America is for all Americans or just the ones that agree with them. I know that a lot of people may think this childish, or naive, and I suppose my only defense is to tell you that it is neither of those things... just womanly instead.

I personally find it heartening that rm is obviously not just some politically correct lefty — but she's driven to concern with many of the same political and cultural issues that fascinate the cultural left, and she draws her own conclusions.

11 August 2004

Politics, but wacky

Okay, another political post, via Josh Marshall but this is just too funny.

In 2000, Michael Moore's The Awful Truth television show took a portable mosh pit across the country and challenged presidential candidates to dive in. The premise was that the show would endorse any Presidential hopeful crazy enough to do it. At one debate the mosh pit was called "the defining moment of the 2000 election."

At a town hall event being staged by Ronald Reagan's former ambassador to the United Nations Social and Economic Council, Alan Keyes' aides went outside to see what all the commotion was about. When informed that Keyes could get the endorsement of The Awful Truth with Michael Moore, Keyes' national field director dove into the pit, hoping that would suffice for the endorsement. He then brought out “Uncle Sam,” a Keyes supporter who also jumped in.

Alan Keyes, after being convinced for several minutes by his daughter to dive in also, did exactly that. He dove backwards into the screaming crowd of youths to the sound of Rage Against The Machine and surfed the crowd. After a couple of body slams with a spiked-hair youth from Ames High School, he left the pit with the official endorsement of the show.

Michael Moore said of the incident: "We knew Alan Keyes was insane. We just didn't know how insane until that moment."

Further evidence: he's running against the mighty Barack Obama, whose speech at the Democratic National Convention was so good that even the National Review was impressed. (Don't know enough about the Review to know why that's stunning? Check out the ads next to the article.)

Reporting and duty

Robert Jensen at Counterpunch takes Kerry to task for pandering to American illusions about the Vietnam war.
The standard story in the United States is that in our quest to guarantee peace and freedom for Vietnam, we misunderstood its history, politics and culture, leading to mistakes that doomed our effort. Some argue we should have gotten out sooner than we did; others suggest we should have fought harder. But the common ground in mainstream opinion is that our motives were noble.

The truth, unfortunately, is less pleasant. After World War II, the United States supported and financed France's attempt to retake its former colony. After the Vietnamese defeated the French in 1954, the Geneva Conference called for free elections in 1956, which the United States and its South Vietnamese client regime blocked. In his memoirs, President Eisenhower explained why: In free elections, the communists would have won by an overwhelming margin, which was unacceptable to the United States.

U.S. policy in Vietnam had nothing to do with freedom for the Vietnamese people or defending the United States. The central goal was to make sure that an independent socialist course of development did not succeed.

Okay, I agree with all of that. But did Kerry wimp out, as Jensen suggests? I have mixed feelings and a plan ...
When Kerry began his acceptance speech with a crisp salute, he was "reporting for duty," of a certain kind. Instead of the honorable duty of leaders --- to tell the truth, no matter how painful, and help people come to terms with the consequences of that truth --- he has chosen the more common approach of those who lie, distort and obfuscate to gain power.

In 1971, Kerry said he hoped that in 30 years Americans would look back and appreciate the courage of vets who opposed the war as a moment when "America finally turned" away from the lies and toward justice.

More than 30 years later, candidate Kerry has chosen the hypocrisy he once condemned over the courage he once called for.

And okay, I agree in principle, but this is exactly the kind of lefty infighting and movement away from the rhetorical center that has enabled the Republican party to chew us up and spit us out. The convention speech was just not the time to try again to fight this cultural battle which, sadly, the left has lost. I think Bérubé gets it right:
Can we try to remind all these Democrats that Kerry's outspoken opposition to the war was every bit as heroic as his pulling Jim Rassman out of the water?

The Kerry campaign itself can't do this, for obvious reasons. And last night, I remembered there's a lot more they can't do. They can't exactly level with us about how desperate our economic situation is: Mondale tried that tack in 1984, and Reagan blew him off as this weary, depressing old scold who was harshing everybody's Morning-in-America buzz. So there will be no dire warnings about what these deficits mean, or how drastically Bush has shifted the country's tax code so as to reward inheritance and penalize wages --- that's not optimistic! And there will be no mention of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo --- that's not upbeat! It's really, really not! Especially when you look at the pictures!
...
"Elect Kerry to Stop the Bleeding, Then Work To Rebuild the Progressive Base for the Next Twenty Years" actually sucks as a bumper sticker. "A Stronger America" will have to do for now.

Yeah. Time to close ranks, lefties. That's how the right has done it, and look at the trouble it's enabled them to get us into. We need to use the same power for good.

09 August 2004

Abyss

I had thought that the news about Abu Graib was already as bad as it could possibly be.

I was wrong.

I don't want to sound melodramatic, but if you're reading this at work or some other place where you can't spare the time to fall into a foul mood right now, you may want to wait to follow the link. It's not that there are pictures, it's just very depressing news.

I haven't been able to find full confirmation of the story on the web, but there's this from ABC Australia and this from a German news site.

And Seymour Hersh, who broke the story of the My Lai massacre almost exactly 35 years ago and broke Abu Graib in The New Yorker, gave a scathing talk at the ACLU a month ago in which he claimed that there's video. He said he doesn't have the confirmation ready to put the worst of it in print ... yet ... but that he's convinced that it's true. DeLong had the story and I missed it somehow.

Hersh has hinted that he has a source in the Pentagon.

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just

— Thomas Jefferson

Passed on by way of Ken MacLeod, by way of Thorn, both of whom have things to say about it.

Whoa

Spotted on a magazine cover: one of the blurbs for an article reads “How To Put A Bitch In Her Place.”

Guess which magazine?

Cosmopolitan

Images of war

In the bizzare article "The war of images", Lee Harris makes a convoluted argument that proponents of the Iraq war face an unfair challenge in dealing with the ugly images which the war has produced.
Consider the images that have worked their way into our collective mind since the beginning of April: the images of the massacre at Fallujah; the images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib; the images of the decapitation of an American civilian. Now compare the overwhelming intensity of these images with the "idea" that the Bush administration is invoking in order to fight against them, namely, the abstract ideal of justice.
...
How can such an abstract idea hold its own against such vividly concrete images?
When I first read this article, I had trouble following its argument. Is it talking about the disjoint between our alleged ideals and what we are actually doing? Um, no: he's worried about how angry Americans will be to see the Abu Graib torturers put on trial.

Really, he is. Read more and see ...

We must be prepared to brace ourselves, not only against more images of Arab atrocities and American prisoner abuse, but against the inflammatory images that will emerge from the spectacle of Americans being exhibited in public trials in Iraq --- images that will have much the same impact on the collective mind of middle America that the images of prisoner abuse had on the collective mind of the Arab world.

When the average American sees images of other average Americans on trial in Iraq, howled and screamed at by mobs of Iraqis, whose side you do think he will be on --- the side of the Iraqis or the side of men and women whose only difference from himself is that they were assigned to a miserable job in a hellhole of a prison in the midst of a war that isn't quite a war, fighting an enemy who isn't quite an enemy.

Harris' problem is with the power of images itself, because he expects "average Americans" to believe that the soldiers at Abu Graib were tragic victims of circumstance, doing to those nasty Arabs what we all wish we could do ourselves, because Arab violence justifies all, including an American impulse toward greater violence.

I may be a lefty intellectual who succumbs occasionally to grousing about the moral vision of people who support the war in Iraq and the Bush administration --- but I at least expect that the average American will approve of seeing torturers tried and punished, even if those torturers are white people. To suggest otherwise is an indictment of the "average American" far worse than anything I would suggest.

This vision is so alien to me that I genuinely had a hard time parsing what that article was saying. I thought at first that he was trying to make a point about how media images of violence are so multivalent. When you see a ten-second video clip with Dan Rather intoning "more violence today in Elsewhere-istan" over it, you come away without any understanding of who is doing what, or why, just an impression of aimless chaos. There is something unwholesome, even deceitful, about that kind of use of imagery.

So yes, images of violence can deceive us. The folks at Bushflash, an anti-Bush propaganda site I've posted about before, provide an example of some cheating propaganda that uses rapid flashes of de-contextualized violence to underline their argument that the Bush administration is bloodthirsty and counterproductive. It's an argument I generally agree with, but the movie is a cheat: it shocks without informing.

But they also have a brilliant, chilling little movie which makes exactly the point that Harris attempts to evade: that Abu Graib is in fact a demonstration to both Americans and the Arab world that our claims of benevolence and a moral foundation to our actions in Iraq are undercut by our real actions. This movie's juxtaposition of a Bush speech about the conduct of American soldiers with the pictures from Abu Graib is about the ideas and events which the speech and the pictures represent, and the hypocricy the disjoint between the two represents.

Like it or not, both fair and unfair use of the imagery of war is now an inescapable part of the fabric of both domestic and international politics. Once again, Phil Agre's observations from just a few days after 9/11 prove eerily prescient. Images are not a distraction from the use of force in the modern world. They are part of the point.

Because the fighting is all on television, the fine details of the fighting become political matters. Soldiers complain bitterly about politicians' interference, not understanding that technology has eliminated their zone of professional autonomy. The politicians are right to be interfering.
Al-Qaeda understand this: it was obvious at the time that their attack on the WTC was deliberately designed to be mediagenic. Strangely, in our allegedly media-savvy society, we seem to have missed the point.

If we are in any sense engaged in a war with terror, or with militant political Islamism, Abu Graib was a defeat. A far greater defeat than 9/11. Contrary to what wingnuts may say, lefties like me don't blame America for 9/11. But we can't cast responsibility for Abu Graib on anyone else, can we?

08 August 2004

Car radio

Not only does this car radio have cool analog inputs and outputs, but that's a vacuum tube in the middle, used as part of the amplifier.

Apparently it glows if you turn the volume up high enough.

Almost makes me want to get a car.

Containment

Outlandish Josh has a little comment that I like:

I find the prospect of a nuclear 9-11 literally terrifying (I lived in New York through the original), but the course of action it pushes me towards is to make peace, a strategy you won’t hear many pundits or talking heads discussing. Peace is how we won the cold-war incidentally, but it seems inconceivable to most of the political class that we might actually have the will to go about the work of doing it again.

That's not just woo-woo peacenik talk: there are some smart generals who agree.

That made me think of General Wesley Clark, of all people, who says that we have to settle our conflict with political Islamists as we did the Cold War — one decade at a time, through containment.

In the neoconservative interpretation, Reagan's moral absolutism allowed him to take on the Soviet Union by any means necessary: Because he recognized the supreme danger the Soviets posed, he was willing to challenge it with a massive military buildup. In this understanding, the moral equivocation of Carter and his predecessors left them satisfied with the failed, halfway strategy of containment. Only when Reagan changed the moral template of the conflict, their argument goes, was America able to get past the weak pieties of containment and rid the world of Soviet tyranny.
....
The foreign policy consensus coalesced around containment, an idea which had been in the air since the early post-war period, when George Kennan, then a veteran American diplomat, published his seminal Foreign Affairs article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” Kennan argued that the Soviet system contained within it “the seeds of its own decay.” During the 1950s and 1960s, containment translated that observation into policy, holding the line against Soviet expansion with U.S. military buildups while quietly advancing a simultaneous program of cultural engagement with citizens and dissidents in countries under the Soviet thumb.
....
When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire,” or stood before crowds in Berlin and proclaimed “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he was reaching a receptive audience on the other side of the wall. The neoconservatives persist in seeing a vast difference between Reagan's policy of confronting the Soviets and previous American administrations' tack of containing it. In fact, it was precisely those decades of containment and cultural engagement that made Reagan's challenge effective.

And indeed, General Anthony Zinni lists our mistakes in Iraq in a long speech, and giving up on containment is at the top of the list. Kevin Drum provides a summary:

  1. the belief that containment as a policy doesn't work
  2. the strategy was flawed
  3. we had to create a false rationale for going in to get public support
  4. we failed ... to internationalize the effort
  5. we underestimated the task
  6. propping up and trusting the exiles
  7. lack of planning
  8. insufficiency of military forces on the ground
  9. the ad hoc organization we threw in there
  10. bad decisions on the ground

If you have some time, I strongly recommend reading the full text of both the Clark and the Zinni articles. It's very reassuring to know that the top brass of our military contains such thoughtful people.

Web sight gag

This thing is only worth fifteen seconds of your time, but then that's all it will take.

07 August 2004

Hollow earth

The hollow earth conjecture will always be with us. Apparently someone is offering an adventure tourism package to the hollow earth.
Itinerary:

Day 1 - Depart your Hometown to Moscow.

Day 2 - Arrive in Moscow. Transfer to Hotel Russia. Sightseeing Moscow. Overnight in Hotel Russia front of St. Basil's.

Day 3 - Sightseeing Moscow in morning. Afternoon flight to Murmansk. Board Yamal Icebreaker. Overnight aboard Yamal.

Days 4-7 Enroute to North Pole

Day 8 - Spend day at the North Pole

Days 9-11 Enroute to Inner Continent

Days 12-14 Travel up Hiddekel River to City of Jehu.

Days 15-16 Monorail trip to City of Eden to visit Palace of the King of the Inner World

Days 17-18 Monorail trip back to City of Jehu

Days 19-23 Enroute from City of Jehu back to Murmansk.

Day 24 Flight Murmansk to Moscow. Connecting flight back to your hometown.

*Please note that if we are unable to find the Polar opening, we will be returning via the New Siberian Islands to visit skeleton remains of exotic animals thought to originate from Inner Earth.

How will they pay for the monorail tickets, I wonder?

06 August 2004

Al Gore haiku

Wonkette has published two pages of Al Gore haiku. My favorite:
Tall and strong like oak,
Fought for the keys to the House.
Killed by butterflies.
Here's my attempt:

He thought he was robbed
But he's having more fun now
Saying what he thinks

ESP

You may be familiar with Clifford Pickover's wonderful ESP experiment page. (It's a variation on the famous "mysterious rabbit," if you've been exchanging web links long enough to remember that one.)

What I did not know is that he also has an explanations page, where he publishes email he receives from people who have attempted to explain how it works. Charmingly, he does not comment on these explanations, which are often very literally incredible.

Two things for politics junkies

If you're not hardcore, you can skip these two. But both are great if you like having resources for doing some digging.

First: A timeline of terror alerts and major news stories.

Biltud, from Salon.com's TableTalk, posted a few days ago a series of correlations between past terror alerts and political events unfavorable to the Bush administration. I compiled all these correlations and organized them chronologically into a timeline. I also added additional news items and other instances that I found out, detailing the terror alerts over the last few years, and located the original sources for many of these news articles. Soon, Biltud and I started to research together all these occurrences, and more interesting "coincidences" started to appear. We finally built this timeline of terror alerts and how they relate to the news headlines of the days immediately prior to that very alert. I think it's very easy to see a pattern recurring.
Second: Details about how a careful reading of the 9/11 commission report reveals that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence they had justifying the attack on Iraq.
In some cases, they were told their claims were wholly without merit, yet they went ahead and made them anyway. Even the Senate report admits that the White House "misrepresented" classified intelligence by eliminating references to contradictory assertions.

In short, they knew they were misleading America.

And they did not care.

They knew Iraq posed no nuclear threat .... They knew the aluminum tubes were not for nuclear weapons .... They knew the Iraq-uranium claims were not supported .... They knew Saddam and bin Laden were not collaborating .... They knew there was no Prague meeting .... They knew they were misleading America

We report; you decide.

05 August 2004

A word from the boss

Today's New York Times has an editorial from someone who really doesn't want to speak in support of any particular politician.
Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics. Instead, I have been partisan about a set of ideals: economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for all of our citizens. This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out.
...
Our American government has strayed too far from American values. It is time to move forward. The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.
This particular commentator caught me by surprise. It's difficult to imagine another living American of equal fame, stature, non-partisan background, and cultural credibility who could step forward.

Meta-spam humor

I got this one from Bruce Sterling, if you believe it.
I am Vivien Grimhelm Wormtongue, The only daughter of late Counsellor Gríma Wormtongue of the Kingdom of Rohan.

My father was Chief Counsellor [equivalent to Prime Minister] to late lamented king Théoden of Rohan. In his position my father altogether legally and correctly acquired significant assets throughout Rohan in order to protect the Kingdom from enemy forces within and without.

In the course of lamentable events succeeding, my father was illegally deprived of office and expelled from the Kingdom.

Before this he had with foresight already entirely legally deposited gold worth S$42,000,000 with one of the Africa leading Banks in Cote d' Ivoire of which I will let you know if you identify your interest.

While in exile in the north he was assaulted and murdered by a band of northern Orcs.

There's more, if that made you laugh.

04 August 2004

Today's quote

Like so many quotes I enjoy, it's the understated affirmation of the obvious at the end that makes this one sing.
On the surface layer of his personality the average man is reserved, polite, compassionate, responsible, conscientious. There would be no social tragedy of the human animal if this surface layer of the personality were in direct contact with the deep natural core. This, unfortunately, is not the case.

Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

For those who don't know, Reich's Fascism is one of the great crackpot books of all time. Which is not to say that it isn't right.

03 August 2004

Hope

There's a pattern I noticed about fifteen years ago.

1789 George Washington
1861 Abraham Lincoln
1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt

1789 + 72 = 1861
1861 + 72 = 1933

Historians Neil Howe and William Strauss argue that this isn't just a concidence. They say that American culture moves in a four-generation cycle --- a cycle the Romans called the sæculum, corresponding to the human lifespan. With each turning of the cycle, there's a great national crisis: the Revolution, the Civil War, the Depression / WWII. Given that Howe & Strauss linked the cultural cycle to American crises about a decade ago in their book The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, our current crisis makes that book's subtitle eerily, ah, prophetic.

Look again at that list of presidents. Three times, Americans have risen to the occasion.

1933 + 72 = 2005

Dare to hope.

02 August 2004

Curvature

Two geeky witticisms for y'all today.

First, the answer to the question: if theories of physics were girlfriends, what would they be like? (The question if X were Y, what would they be like? is a fruitful field for humor.)

Second, a science fiction poem from the pages of the truly punk cyberpunk anthology Semiotext(e) SF.

Delphic (Projection #5)

Lorraine Schein
The futurist's mistress
(in this alternate scenario)
Sleeps in his bed,
Beside his other curved concubines.
Space and Time.

She projects herself, once more,
Endlessly into the future.

The dreams crash and glisten;
Presaging a love
More fantastic than science —

The futures tighten around her
like his arms in the night.

If you can get your hands on Semiotext(e) SF, by the way, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's full of great stuff, including a Bruce Sterling story written in the first person by an Arab visitor to the US that is terrifyingly prescient for something published fifteen years ago.

01 August 2004

Grand strategy

In the middle of a long post that you really oughta read, DeLong offers this gorgeous summation.
It seemed to me that it would be madness to proceed with an attack on Iraq without solid, hard, if necessarily secret intelligence of serious and advanced nuclear weapons programs. And it seemed to me that under such conditions there might well be a place for an attack on Iraq as part of an appropriate U.S. grand strategy: a deal with Sharon that we'll take out Saddam Hussein and neutralized the biggest threat to Israel if you'll drastically reduce settler populations on the West Bank; a deal with the Saudis that we'll take out Saddam Hussein if you get serious about having the Wahabis preach peace rather than jihad; a deal with Iran that we'll take out Saddam Hussein if you'll relax tensions; a deal with Egypt and others to provide the Arabic-speaking military police needed to stabilize a postwar Iraq; and a Marshall Plan-scale commitment to rebuilding postwar Iraq to create a more liberal and possibly a democratic regime there.

And, of course, none of this happened. There was no grand strategy at all, no plan to swing the Arab world over to our side in our struggle with Osama bin Laden and company.
...
The Bush administration has had nearly three years to construct a grand strategy for the war on terror, and has singularly failed to do so. Let's be clear on this: it's not that they have a grand strategy for the war against terror that I disagree with: it's that they have no grand strategy at all.

The first half of this quote is essentially a summation of Pollack's The Threatening Storm, a book which makes a strong case that military action against Iraq was, ultimately, necessary as part of a coherent mideast policy by the US. But the second half is the real point: the adminstration does not have a coherent mideast policy --- indeed, they don't even seem to know they don't have one.