Thursday, September 30, 2004

Zombies

Let me say one thing about the first debate--I missed it. Went to see Shaun Of The Dead instead. Great movie.

I usually don't watch big speeches by politicians since I've learned I can save time by reading the transcript the next day. If I really wanted to save time, I suppose I could borrow my opinion from a consensus of "experts."

To be honest, I don't recall ever changing my vote based on a debate. I usually have a pretty good idea where the politicos stand and they rarely say anything startling. And maybe some people can tell about "character" by watching someone talk, but all I can tell is how good they are at debating techniques.

The last debate that made a big difference was between President Bartlet and Governor Ritchie. (I hate to explain what you all understand, but I'm referring to The West Wing.) Republican Ritchie said something really stupid and the brilliant Bartlet hit it out of the park.

It's always interesting to see how things work in a dream world. Even better is the big speech written by the same man--Aaron Sorkin--for President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in the generically titled The American President. The film came out in 1995 and both Sorkin and director Rob Reiner were trying to show Clinton how a President should act. After playing it safe for and hour and a half, Shepherd finally and unashamedly admits he's a liberal. Meanwhile, in the real world, Bill Clinton signed welfare reform, denied he was a liberal and was handily reelected.

So what's my point? You got me.

According to the experts, Kerry did okay. The polls will be out in a few days and then we'll really know.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Most Dangerous Questions

For Bush: Will you use military force to keep Iran from getting the Bomb? For Kerry: Will you and your wife release your complete tax returns? If not, why?

Is this how Liz Smith got started?

Just got back from a night out on the town. In Beverly Hills, Reason magazine was celebrating the publication of two books, Choice: The Best Of Reason (a compendium) and Reason-scribe Brian Doherty's This Is Burning Man. Brian has been at ten consecutive Burning Man festivals. I asked him if he's become a celebrity there. "Yes," he replied. I saw Editor-in-Chief and old pal Nick Gillespie, fresh from an appearance on the lively but little-watched Dennis Miller show on CNBC (it's a real channel--you probably even have it). Alas, the show was aired during the event. Speaking of which, the finger food was free, but watch out for that cash bar!

Other bloggers were in attendance. The lovely Jill Stewart was there, still getting a good chuckle out of Dan Rather's travails. Matt Welch, who just started working at Reason full-time, was talking about baseball (L.A. fan) and torture (against it). I think I caught sight of Moxie, but she can be so elusive. And no event would be complete without man-about-town Mickey Kaus--all day long he's so busy giving his opinions that he rarely gets to post on his blog until the wee hours.

I would have loved to stick around but I had to rush to Arclight in Hollywood for the Silver Lake Film Festival. In particular I was there to catch the intellectual thriller Nightingale In A Music Box, written, directed and edited by my old pal Hurt McDermott. The audience was rapt. Afterward, I spoke to lead Kelly Hazen. We've worked together before, and she was wonderful, as always.

Gaffe proofed

I was out with a bunch of right-wingers last night, and they're all worried Bush will blow Thursday's debate with some kind of catastrophic flub. This strikes me as unlikely: First, Bush knows and believes in his foreign policy, and has been talking about nothing else for months. Second, as Dick Morris points out, virtually all of Bush's supporters agree with him on Iraq -- and a third of Kerry's does, too. So Bush doesn't have to worry about finessing his answers to avoid losing votes. (Contrast with 2000, when the nuance-challenged Bush undertook to sell "compassionate conservatism" to voters across the board.) But the biggest thing Bush has going for him is that after four years of being ridiculed for butchering the English language, he's been inoculated for foot-in-mouth disease. Witness his recent statement to Matt Lauer that the US couldn't win the War on Terror. Kerry supporters hoped that would be the mother of all gaffes. Instead it got almost no traction. Americans know Bush occasionally garbles words, but they also know exactly where he stands.

Law of Unintentional Consequences

I'm back blogging after attending a family wedding in San Francisco. Thanks to LAGuy for holding down the fort. Over the weekend my niece and two nephews -- in from Washington DC -- went to the Giants game to see their favorite player, Barry Bonds. It was the first time they got to see him in person. He was intentionally walked 4 times. Their disappointment leads me to believe that the intentional walk will eventually end up next to Dean Smith's four-corner offense on the ash heap of sports history. When hoop fans grew sick of watching North Carolina win championships by holding the ball for the 2nd half, they got the shot clock. Soon, I predict, they will demand to see Bonds get his whacks. My proposed rule change: Give the batter the option of declining a walk.

Post Time

I can't speak for Pajamaguy, but there's something wrong with my computer. It took me three hours of trying just to enter what you're reading now. I hope to fix my connection within 24 hours. Until then, perhaps you can peruse our earlier posts, or enjoy the many other great websites the internet has to offer.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Quick Answers

Orin Kerr, over at The Volokh Conspiracy, has challenged bloggers to justify the war in Iraq. I'll give it a shot, but, since time and other factors prevent a full defense, I'll have to give down and dirty answers. I just hope no one thinks this is the best the pro-war side has to offer.

Kerr asks three specific questions, which I'll answer in order.

1. " First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?"

I was in favor, and nothing that's happened since has changed that. The point then was how serious a threat Iraq under Saddam Hussein was. Luckily for the anti-war side, now that he's vanquished, they can sit in their armchairs and pretend he wasn't dangerous. I think the facts argue otherwise. Without going into great detail, he was an unstable, ruthless, bellicose tyrant (with sons who were no better) who openly favored anti-Western terrorism, was our sworn enemy, helped those who violently opposed us, had the capacity to build WMDs very quickly (perhaps even had them--a point not that important in the long run if he could make them whenever he wanted), and was openly seeking nuclear and other weapons abroad. Furthermore, we had been holding him down in a shaky "truce" since the 1991 war while he had been ignoring all demands, from the UN and otherwise, to clean up his act. The situation was unstable--it's doubtful the box we had him in, even if we could keep it up, would have been of any use. He seemed to be paying off powerful friends to protect himself, and was planning for the day he could break free. We even gave him one last chance to work with us, which he refused. So, we had a situation where we had a very bad actor with unknown power who was seeking to become more powerful. If there was even a 10% chance in the next decade he could get a nuclear weapon (and I think the odds were greater--happily, we'll never know) we had to make a move. (Not that there weren't other dangerous places that threatened us, but Iraq, due to its leader, was the most unstable, and probably the smartest to deal with in a military fashion.)

Of course, if you still thought it was close, the humanitarian factor should have settled it. You had a monster who killed his people (and neighbors) at amazingly high rates and had turned a country into a torture chamber. (Here's where some will ceremonially note the U.S. helped Saddam. First, our help was minor compared to the French or Chinese--we merely tipped in his direction against what many thought a greater enemy, Iran. But even if we were completely wrong, all the more reason to right it today.) The U.S. can't do everything, but that doesn't mean it can't do anything. (No one can give to every deserving charity, but that's not an argument for never doing good deeds.)

There's another reason that to me is more important that the rest, but is also the most abstract and hardest to argue. It's the truly long view. Many worry we're making enemies by attacking, but in fact, we'd been making enemies for years by being weak. (When enemies arise, you teach them there are consequences--new ones may come, but a little less each time, compared to the overwhelming number who'll join up if they know they're safe.) To put it very simply, the reasons most Muslims and Arabs hated us were not justifiable. And I don't just mean they shouldn't have killed innocent citizens. I mean their arguments were wrong, and while they may have existed for complex reasons, they were centrally there because these people had been taught racist lies all their lives. Until they change their thinking on certain key issues, trying to make peace with the more violent ones, or even having detente, is a pipe dream, and a dangerous strategy. We had been regularly attacked by Arab terrorists (not just Al Qaeda) for years and doing little in response had only emboldened them. They would kill us all if they could. (That's the true threat--9/11 only woke us up to it--that millions of Americans will ultimately die if we don't fight back.) People often talk about root causes. Well, as long as tyrants rule in the Middle East, and teach their subjects to hate the US, that is a root cause of the trouble. No one is claiming America is perfect, but we are not effectively at fault for their problems, nor is their response rational. There has to be a change in the area, one toward democracy. As tough as it is, it at least has to be attempted. It will be difficult along the way, everyone understands that--especially at the beginning--but the fruit it could bear would be helpful for all humanity. A democracy in the heart of the Middle East would be instructive to its neighbors. It would also give us better bargaining powers and make it less likely anti-American forces could gain greater purchase.

Anti-war people sometimes think they're being sophisticated when, in fact, they can't see beyond their nose. The war in Iraq has the chance to bear great, long-range fruit. To act like it's failed when nothing of the sort has happened yet is shortsighted. And to act like it'll create disaster down the road is not only unduly negative, but is missing the main point of why we're involved.

2. "Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?"

First, in any case, you've got to keep your head about you. Even if things don't go as well as hoped, no need to abandon ship. But, to be honest, things have gone better than I'd expected so far.

I don't mean to sound like a Pollyanna, but I remember the grave predictions. That we would lose 5,000 or 10,000 soldiers taking Baghdad alone, that sort of stuff. Since Iraq mostly gave up without a fight, we've done done a lot better than I thought we would. As painful and tragic as a few casualties a day are, I'd rather have that than fifty or a hundred every day for the first few months. And I also expected there might be complete anarchy in the aftermath, rather than pockets of trouble.

Let me try to put an honest but positive spin on what's going on. First, we still run the country, and are training Iraqis to take over. Things are still moving apace toward democracy. Who are our main enemies?: the Sunnis who used to run things and are unhappy they don't anymore (and once democracy comes, they'll have to make a choice if they want a piece of it or would rather keep dying) and terrorist outsiders who wish to disrupt U.S. plans. Both these types of enemies are using the tactics of losers. Orin Kerr notes there are "70 hostile attacks a day." Compare this to an actual war (which, due to Rumsfeld and others, we were mostly able to avoid), where you can have thousands upon thousands of clashes on a regular basis. Our enemies are desperate, so they use terror tactics. Their only hope is to destroy our morale and have us pull out--they know they can win no other way. We're incomparably stronger--what holds us back is we're playing by a different set of rules (as we should--and I don't just mean war rules, I also mean diplomacy rules). When they trumpet their kidnappings, they wear masks. How can people who wear masks hope to take over? As soon as the masks come off, they'll be shot. If they want to run a country, rather than nip at its heels, they have to take off the masks, but they can't.

There has been mismanagement along the way, there always is. Nothing works in a war like you hope (which I've always thought was the strongest anti-war argument in general). But you've got to keep the big picture in mind, and make sure you're always moving in the right direction, which in this case is toward democracy. In Bush's speech at the RNC, he noted how naysayers thought we were botching things after WWII, but that's because they were comparing what was achieved to some level of perfection. This has happened countless times in history--the perfect being the enemy of the good.

But let's assume things are as bad as the most negative people claim. If things are going horribly, the solution is to redouble our efforts and figure out better tactics. Even those who oppose the war should see what a complete disaster bugging out would be--or even implying we might bug out before the job is done. Leaving would probably create the worst case scenario, where true slaughter begins. And it would encourage terrorists worldwide against us--just keep fighting, America can't take it. (And note even if the country falls into civil war, I would still say that's less threatening to us that one powerful tyrant free to lead it as he chooses.)

As to the Iraqi people's attitudes, they might have thought the powerful Americans would come in and take care of all their problems, which we haven't (and never could). They were used to Saddam doing everything for (and to) them. Still, as thing get better, they'll come around. Most still believe Iraq is moving in the right direction, have hope for the future, and want a democratic Iraq with basic freedoms such as freedom of religion.

In short, I still say, taking things as a whole, the overall picture is more positive than negative. But even if you think things are bad, we can and must fight to change them, and giving up is the worst possible strategy.

"3. Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?"

This is the easiest question. I never quite understand how some can say we have no exit strategy when it's very clear. We went to Iraq (with allies) to depose a tyrant and help set up a democracy. Much of the work will have to be done by Iraqis, but the early stages are when they need the most help.

I don't know if we'll keep soldiers stationed in Iraq--that's to be worked out, just as it was in Germany. But as for our main mission, we can point to success when the country has regular elections where they freely choose their leaders and also enjoy basic freedoms. (There still might be some terrorism and violence, but Western democracies sometimes deal with these problems as well.) The Iraqi people already want this and the country is moving in this direction. They'll probably get it too, as long as we remain stalwart.

Duty To Inform

In a letter to the LA Times Sunday Calendar section, a reader notes "Vietnam is relevant because John Kerry volunteered for Vietnam and served two tours of duty on a dangerous Swift Boat." This is incorrect. Kerry served only one tour of duty on a Swift Boat. (And if you believe what the Swift Boat Vets say, there are other errors here.)

I often wonder how newspapers deal with this sort of thing. They're not responsible for others' opinions, but are they responsible for their facts? There's no question if an editor caught a reporter making such a mistake, it'd be corrected. And I would suppose if the fact in question is more outrageous, the paper would react. Imagine, for instance, a letter stating "Senator Kerry frequented prostitutes." I assume, if they bothered to print it, at the very least they'd note to the best of their knowledge, this isn't true.

So what do they do when the facts are wrong, but not so wrong that it's necessarily a big deal?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Counter This

In the latest LA WEEKLY, columnist John Powers calls Fahrenheit 9/11 "a counter-narrative to the official version of George W. Bush's presidency." That's an interesting term, "counter-narrative." I don't believe I've heard it used this often since Oliver Stone's JFK (1991), his counter-narrative to the Warren Commission.

As far as I can tell, "counter-narrative" means "we don't believe what you're telling us, so we're going to create a string of lies that go in the opposite direction."

Showdown

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a law preventing federal courts from striking "under G-d" from the Pledge Of Allegiance.

The vote was generally along party lines. In fact, for quite a while, conservatives have been telling Republicans to pull this trick. You see, according to the Constitution, Article III, Section 2, there can be "exceptions" to Supreme Court jurisdiction, "under such regulations as the Congress shall make."

Most scholars feel that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality--a power the court claimed for itself in the groundbreaking Marbury V. Madison (1803).

I don't know what the Founding Fathers would have thought. Perhaps they believed Congress was just as competent at determining constitutionality as the Supreme Court. But I strongly doubt the Court, if this law gets there, will allow this limiting of their jurisdiction. I speak not as a legal scholar, but as an amateur psychologist. Let's face it, they're not gonna put up with Congress poaching on their biggest power.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

You Lost Me

ABC's drama, Lost, which debuted last night, had been highly touted. The pilot (which actually featured a pilot) starts with the aftermath of a plane crash on a tropical island. The survivors are trying to pull themselves together.

It was gripping stuff. A group of disparate people were going to have to take care of problems society normally handles for them--food, shelter, medicine, etc. (And, unlike Gilligan's Island, they might have sex.)

But then, about halfway through, they lost me. It appeared there was some sort of monster on the island. I know this is TV, and you need a thrill before each curtain, but that monster turned the show from serious drama, to Land Of The Lost. Here I was, looking forward to real people with real problems and they gave me real people with imaginary problems.

By the way, in these sort of situations, there's always a disparate group. Just once I'd like to see a show where they're all middle-aged, male, Presbyterian dentists.

Any questions? Comments?

Pajama Guy has just enabled its comments. All you countless readers, feel free now to make your beliefs known.

Poll Position

There are quite a few polls to choose from for the Presidential election. Some show a tight race, others a blowout. I have no idea which is correct--it all depends on proper sampling, wording of questions, etc.

But there's a more basic problem. I've heard friends express trouble with the idea that a small sampling of people can predict how millions will act. I used to have this problem until a friend, Jim--a computer major--taught me to look at it a different way. And now, dear reader, I will pass on his wisdom. All math experts can stop reading here.

It doesn't matter how large the voter group is--let's say it's a million. If you pick a smaller number--say, a thousand--there will be only so many potential combinations of that thousand within the million. That number of combinations may be mindbogglingly huge, but it is finite.

Now imagine if you counted every single combination. You might find, say, that Candidate A gets 54% and Candidate B gets 46% of the vote more often than any other result. Then you might also note that you get within 3% of the 54/46 result 95% of the time.

Voila! It's no longer a matter of "prediction." As long as you are randomly sampling your thousand voters, you can be confident that 95% percent of the time, the results will be close to 54/46. The more votes you sample, the more confident you can be, though it soon becomes a case of diminishing returns. (If you poll everyone, you can be 100% confident with 0% variability--this technique was used in the movie The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer). So pollsters poll enough people to be confident without bankrupting themselves.

I hope that was clear. Understanding something isn't exactly the same as explaining it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In The Belly Of The Beast

Out here in LA, there's a film festival about every week. On October 1-3 there's going to be a conservative film festival. Personally, I'm against sorting films by their politics. I don't recall any liberal film festival. (I know, I know, EVERY film festival is a liberal festival.) But ya gotta have a gimmick, and this one works well enough, I suppose, especially with this year's onslaught of documentaries from the left.

One of the hot tickets is Michael Moore Hates America. I won't prejudge the film, but Roger Ebert has. Someone asked him if he'd give it a fair shot. Roger said he'd watch it but
The title is not a good omen. It seems to me that dissent is a patriotic duty, a sign of love for one's country, not hate.

I'm not sure if Roger gets the First Amendment. The right to freely express our political views without hindrance or reprisal from the government is certainly one of the glories of our nation. (Or at least it was before campaign finance reform.) But according to Ebert's reasoning, any damn thing you say against America, no matter how foolish, hateful or dishonest, is patriotic.

Don't count on Israel taking out Iran nukes?

Israeli sources tell the New York Sun that we shouldn't make much of the reported purchase of Bunker Busters from the United States.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Moore or less

Michael Moore, sounding a bit desperate, shouts in his newsletter:

Enough of the handwringing! Enough of the doomsaying! Do I have to come there and personally calm you down? Stop with all the defeatism, OK? Bush IS a goner -- IF we all just quit our whining and bellyaching and stop shaking like a bunch of nervous ninnies.

I agree. Not that Bush is a goner, but that the race is wide open. Bush has a lead, sure, but with six weeks to go this is anybody's game.

Moore goes on to state "The polls are wrong." Funny, a year ago he was glad to quote polls when they went his way.
[Wesley Clark] announced on Wednesday and by Sunday he was #1 in the Newsweek poll on the 10 Democratic candidates. By yesterday, according to the CNN/Time poll, he was nine points ahead of his nearest rival -- and three percentage points ahead of Bush if the election were held today.
(Ah, Wesley Clark. Whatever happend to him?)

But is Moore a seer, or just a wishful thinker? I make no claims, but let's see what he had to say about two years ago.

Sunday, November 3rd, 2002

Years from Now, They'll Call It "Payback Tuesday"

Dear Friends,

Well, folks, Tuesday is the day! The day that George W. gets taught a long overdue lesson. The day that we, the MAJORITY -- the 52% who never elected him -- get our chance to reclaim a bit of our former democracy (back when ALL the votes used to be counted).

What if, on Tuesday, all of us, regardless of our political stripe, and just for the fun of it, decided to serve one big-ass eviction notice that said, you have two years to remove yourself from the premises-and you had better not damage anything on your way out?

I think we can give Bush the Mother of all Shellackings on Tuesday.

In the 2002 elections, the Republicans expanded their majority in the House and retook the Senate, almost unheard for the White House party in an off-year election. Oddly, I couldn't locate the above message in Moore's archives. Lucky someone sent it to me.

A long time ago (1977) in a city far, far away (Detroit)...

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Star Wars DVD trilogy is now available. I can still remember the first time I saw Episode IV (just plain Star Wars then). I didn't know a movie could be so much fun.

Though I saw the Star Wars films numerous times in theatres, and own the videos, I expect I'll soon be picking up the latest. (As Kay notes about new alien technology in Men In Black, "guess I'll have to buy the White Album again.") Having a clean, widescreen version, not to mention all the extras, should more than make up for Greedo shooting first.

In Entertainment Weekly, Star Wars creator George Lucas makes a good point. In the past, everyone saw the middle trilogy first. Now, millions of kids will see episodes I through III first. This will greatly change how they view A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. They'll know who Obi-Wan is, they'll know who Yoda is, they'll know who's brother and sister, they'll know who's father and son. I can't help but wonder if this will lessen the impact of these films.

Lucas swears he's done with Star Wars. I'd like to start a meme, if I may. George, you've done a fine job, and no one expects you to personally write and direct the final trilogy. But why don't you get together with three top directors, say, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and a wild card like Martin Scorsese or Steven Soderbergh, and bring in a few top-notch writers as well? You can get together, let the creative juices flow, and plan the final trilogy. George, you can supervise while they do the heavy lifting. If the final trilogy isn't as great as you'd hoped, we won't blame you. But I bet it'll be great. And give everyone years more of Star Wars to look forward to.

Target Iraq?

The New York Times reports that Bush aides are divided over confronting Iran over the A-bomb. I doubt it. Bush has been clear that he won't stand for a Iran nuke. The 9/11 report practically demands he do something. And since Bush argued Saddam had to go before he got the bomb, can you imagine the (justified) outcry if the Mullahs announced, while the US was still trying to subdue Fallujah, that Iran had joined the nuclear club? So it's probably less a matter of "if" than "when". Or maybe more a question of "who."

Podhoretz hopes Rather stays

Dead weight on a sinking ship.

Bush and Kerry tied in NJ!

Sounds like Michelle Malkin's security mom analysis may be right on the money. Talk to just about any woman in northern New Jersey, and you'll find she's not more than 2 degrees of separation from a victim of 9/11.

Novak's "Quick Exit"

Andrew Sullivan speculates on the reason behind the leak.

Notes On A Clueless Scion

John Lahr is a thoughtful writer and theatre critic. But there's no denying sometimes his politics gets the best of him. For example, his first reaction to 9/11 was the U.S. had planned it.

In his New Yorker review of David Hare's Stuff Happens , a play about the lead-up to the Iraq war, Lahr ponders:
What is the story behind Bush and the war? The oil thing? The Oedipal thing? The imperial thing? The reëlection thing?
Is anything missing from this list? Perhaps Lahr could have mentioned, merely as a possibility mind you, that Bush saw Iraq as a pro-terrorist threat whose leader was a bellicose, unstable tyrant.

PS A friend notes I'm misreading the review--that Lahr is listing the reasons playwright Hare gives for the war. Read it yourself and decide. But someone left something out.

Yellowcake

I just caught Jon Stewart on the Tonight Show. He jokingly compared the fake Killian memos to the forged documents that made Bush believe Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger and led us to war.

Bush's famous 16 words on this issue were "[t]he British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." It does, at present, seem quite possible that Iraq did seek this uranium. Furthermore, while there were forged Italian documents about Niger, they were not the basis for British Intelligence.

I've written and sold jokes myself, and know it's tough to come up with good stuff on a daily basis. But perhaps Stewart should retire one like this, that relies on a false premise and an ignorant audience.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Bush wants CBS off the debates?

Drudge is reporting that the President Bush is thinking about demanding Bob Schieffer be removed as a moderator, and Ratherbiased.com is speculating about what would happen at CBS if he did. But I don't think there's any chance of this happening. Not W's style.

Oil For Food, Money For Friends

Part of Kerry's attack on Bush's Iraq policy is a call for allies to help. Well, more allies, I guess, since we've already got allies. (Kerry has actually been mocking our present allies so if he gets in perhaps we'll need to replace them with new allies.) This aspect of Kerry's four-point plan has always been a bit of a pipe dream. Not merely because sending troops to fight in Iraq would be highly unpopular in countries that oppose the war. Not even because it's understood, just as in Desert Storm, that no matter how many allies we have, we will shoulder the main burden.

It now seems likely that some countries were never going to join us, and this may relate to the UN's Oil for Food program with Iraq. Right now much of the information is speculative, perhaps because if the worst is true, there's a lot to hide. But it would appear that the money Saddam Hussein got for selling oil, meant to help feed his boxed-in state, was used to pay off a number of people and countries for a promise to protect Iraq.

Paul Volcker is leading the UN investigation into the potential scandal. I hope he is incorruptible and strong, since the trail may lead to high places. The press has reported on the issue, but I think it could use more attention, sunshine being the best disinfectant. Fox News had a hour-long show about it last Sunday summarizing what is known so far. It was pretty good. Roger L. Simon agrees. So do the readers of this impressive Oil-for-Food website. Let's hope others pick up the football. Seems like a natural for 60 Minutes.

Adds PajamaGuy: Hugh Hewitt also in weighs in. Bob Newman, too.

Lockhart called Burkett at behest of Mapes!

Yikes. This is about to get bad for Kerry. Update: NRO's Kerry Spot is connecting the dots. So are Hugh Hewitt and Instapundit.

Novakaine

Robert Novak, who has never seen eye-to-eye with this administration on Middle East policy, has a numbing piece on Iraq today. He claims there's a plan to pull the troops out of Iraq ASAP after the election. What I personally find numbing is this doesn't even make sense as a trial balloon.

I admit no one can know precisely what the future brings--plans change when hit with reality. Moreover, after their elections, if the Iraqis want us out, we'd probably have to go.

But President Bush has been adamant about staying the course in Iraq and regularly criticizes John Kerry for sending mixed signals. And don't forget, over a year ago the "smart" people thought Bush would pull out by mid-2004 to get rid of the issue for the election, but he has remained firm.

As a policy, the idea is nuts. Pulling out too soon would not only create a power vacuum likely filled by civil war and massive death, but would also be admitting defeat and encouraging terrorism: just keep fighting and America will fold.

Reading the column closely, it's clear Novak is relishing yet another chance to attack the "neoconservative dream" (he uses the term twice and returns to the theme over and over). At this point, "neocon" has become such a vague term (and, generally, one of unfounded derision) that it would probably be best if a moratorium were declared on its usage.

By the end of his piece, Novak wonders, rhetorically, if we want to repeat Iraq. First, we couldn't even we wanted to, since every country represents a unique geopolitical situation. But in general, would it be a good thing to get rid of bloody tyrants running pro-terrorists state that are serious threats, and replace them with potential democracies? Doesn't sound that bad to me.

The Right Type

Jason Alexander's latest sitcom, Listen Up, debuts tonight on CBS. (I won't be able to catch it since I'll be at my book group--see previous post.)

Actors like Alexander are in a bind. I think his work as George Costanza on Seinfeld is one of the greatest comic performances in the history of television. But he is so well known for this part that it's tough for critics and audiences to buy him in anything else.

Admittedly, there are worse binds to be in. But those who have seen Alexander on stage knows he's a talented actor with quite a range. Still, when he appears on screen, most people think "George."

Plus Ca Change

To mix things up, my book group occasionally reads plays aloud. Right now, we're reading Gore Vidal's 1960 Broadway hit The Best Man. It's about behind-the-scenes maneuvering at a political convention. I recommend the piece as an enjoyable mix of melodrama and comedy.

But what's most noticeable is how little things have changed. Vidal based his characters on figures around back then (Adlai Stevenson, Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, etc.), but reading it now it seems to be about present-day politicians. Sure, we don't have open conventions anymore (too bad, they seem like fun), but the basic nasty business of running a campaign is still pretty much the same. Issues may change, but tactics don't.

American beheaded

Time to level Fallujah.

CBS still refuses to come clean

Let's go through the CBS statement:

First, CBS in its statement does NOT say it thinks the documents are fake. It merely says it cannot prove the memos are accurate. In fact, the documents have been proven phonies. If Rather and Heywood can not admit that at this point, they're either stupid or liars.

Second, CBS does not say Burkett forged the documents. They can't, of course, because the party line now is still that these documents may still be real.

Third, an independent review is a good idea. If it's truly independent, though, this could get bloody.

Now Dan Rather's statement:

He also holds out the possibility that the obvious fakes are genuine.

In the alternative, he still clings to the "fake but accurate" defense: "If I knew then what I know now I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question."

Are these guys crazy? They should just say: We were had. The documents are fake. We thank and congratulate the guys in the pajamas for setting us straight. And we apologize not only to the viewers, but to President Bush himself.

The CBS Statement

FOLLOWING IS TEXT OF A STATEMENT FROM CBS NEWS AS EMAILED BY KELLI EDWARDS, A SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE NETWORK:


September 20, 2004

MAN WHO GAVE CBS NEWS DISPUTED DOCUMENTS DESCRIBES HOW HE OBTAINED THEM; IN TELEVISION INTERVIEW, HE ADMITS HE DELIBERATELY MISLED CBS NEWS PRODUCER
CBS NEWS ACKNOWLEDGES THAT, BASED ON SUBSEQUENT REPORTING ON QUESTIONS ABOUT DOCUMENTS, IT CANNOT PROVE THEY ARE AUTHENTIC AND, THEREFORE, THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN USED IN THE "60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY" REPORT CBS NEWS AND CBS MANAGEMENT ARE COMMISSIONING AN INDEPENDENT REVIEW

Bill Burkett, in a weekend interview with CBS News Anchor and Correspondent Dan Rather, has acknowledged that he provided the now-disputed documents used in the Sept. 8 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY report on President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. Burkett, a retired National Guard lieutenant colonel, also admits that he deliberately misled the CBS News producer working on the report, giving her a false account of the documents' origins to protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source. Burkett originally said he obtained the documents from another former Guardsman. Now he says he got them from a different source whose connection to the documents and identity CBS News has been unable to verify to this point. Burkett's interview will be featured in a full report on tonight's CBS EVENING NEWS WITH DAN RATHER (6:30-7:00 PM, ET/PT).

In light of this and other developments reported by CBS News and other news organizations, CBS News President Andrew Heyward issued the following statement: "60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY had full confidence in the original report or it would not have aired. However, in the wake of serious and disturbing questions that came up after the broadcast, CBS News has done extensive additional reporting in an effort to confirm the documents' authenticity. That included an interview featured on last week's edition of 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY (15) with Marian Carr Knox, secretary to the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, the officer named as the author of the documents; the interview with Bill Burkett to be seen tonight (20); and a further review of the forensic evidence on both sides of the debate. Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report. We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret. Nothing is more important to us than our credibility and keeping faith with the millions of people who count on us for fair, accurate, reliable, and independent reporting. We will continue to work tirelessly to be worthy of that trust."

CBS News and CBS management are commissioning an independent review of the process by which the report was prepared and broadcast to help determine what actions need to be taken. The names of the people conducting the review will be announced shortly, and their findings will be made public.

Drudge has the statement from Rather himself.

Too late, and probably too little

The New York Times says CBS News will announce today it was deceived about the memos. But will CBS say it deceived viewers? I'm not talking about some kind of lame "we were tricked, so you were tricked" apology. After the Attack of the Blogs, CBS and Rather looked viewers in the eye and told them, among other things, that there was no internal investigation, that its experts authenticated the memos, that Rather and other individuals at CBS News believed with all their hearts that the documents were genuine. These statements appear to have been lies, cynical lies in an attempt to ride out the storm. Because of these lies CBS News -- which is in the business of telling the truth -- will never recover.

Emmys

A few notes on the Emmys:

The Emmys have an inferiority complex. They've got Oscar envy. Why else would they perennially nominate the Academy Awards, a telecast which is hardly the best TV has to offer? And when movie people deign to appear on television, they're showered with laurels. Look at all the Emmys tossed at HBO's Angels In America, including statuettes for Mike Nichols, Meryl Streep and Al Pacino.

Frasier, already Emmy's winningest show, picked up awards for Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce. I like the show, but is it anywhere near the best of all time? It comes from a long line of classy ensemble comedies, starting with The Mary Tyler Moore Show through Taxi through Cheers, and I think it's the weakest of that bunch. Frasier didn't break new ground--at best it was smart but ultimately conventional fare. Contemporaneous shows which were both funnier and more original rarely won for best series, such as Larry Sanders, Seinfeld and, above all, The Simpsons.

There were some worthy winners. While I prefer Curb Your Enthusiasm, I was glad to see Arrested Development win for Best Comedy. It's an original, clever show with ratings that need a push. Creator Mitchell Hurwitz also won an Emmy for writing the pilot. I met Hurwitz years ago and he was not only very funny, he was very friendly. I wish him and his creation the best of luck.

Finally, I was glad to see The Sopranos finally win Best Drama. It's been the best thing on television for years, but West Wing seemed to have a death grip on the category. It wasn't The Sopranos best season, but in episodes like "Long Term Parking"--where Drea de Matteo buys it--it was as good as ever. Meanwhile, the Emmy voters recognized that West Wing without creator Aaron Sorkin had jumped the shark. (Jesse Walker, an editor at Reason, has announced the phrase "jump the shark" has jumped the shark. Little does he know he's only one in a long line to do this. The phrase won't go away because it's too useful. Certainly it can be overused, but when a show loses the executive producer who made it special, you can spot the fin.)

Harsh

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is perhaps our leading African-American intellectual. I'm a fan--he argues forcefully and intelligently without resorting to the sort of intemperate language far too many intellectuals employ.

His Sunday editorial in The New York Times is about a thorny issue--the relationship of African-Americans and Republicans. I personally consider the identification of blacks with the Democratic Party an ongoing tragedy in American politics. It's bad for everyone: blacks, whites, Democrats and Republicans.

I was enjoying Gates's piece until he quoted a colleague (approvingly, it would seem) saying "[Republicans] can go into places such as Florida and try systematically to disenfranchise poor black votes." This charge, which many believe, is unfounded, as far as I understand.

I'm sure Professor Gates believes we need true dialogue regarding the black/Republican issue. I think he could help by not supporting such a harsh claim unless he has the evidence to back it up.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Finally

I was going to post something on how amazing it is to see CBS brazen it out. But now the New York Times reports the Tiffany Network will soon admit it's been taken.

When the blogs started challenging the Killian memos, I was taken aback. Not at their audacity, but at how solid the evidence seemed. If it were this good, how could CBS have put the memos on the air? So I withheld judgment and let CBS make its case. When it turned out to have no case (their arguments were either irrelevant or didn't meet the specific challenges), I became a believer.

Now it appears most people at CBS are believers. I'm glad, to be honest, because I was getting tired of the stonewalling. What the next chapter will be, no one knows. Mr. Rather, take it away--break the story.

Hello

Hi. Thought I might as well introduce myself. I'm LAGuy. While Pajama Guy is out East in his PJ's, fingers ready at the keyboard, scrutinizing the New York Times, the Washington Post and the rest of the MSM, I'm out West at some premiere or Hollywood party (B-List).

I've been invited to share my opinions, which may be about politics, but just as often won't. Hope I fit in.

Rather to air interview with Burkett?

That's what Drudge says. But will Burkett admit to forging the documents? And will Rather ask about his connections to the DNC? Either way, I stand by my prediction. Dan skates.

Rather Sandbagged? (NOT)

Holy Smoke! Dan Barlett had to call 60 Minutes the night before the broadcast and ask for a chance to respond to the story? Imagine that conversation: "Dan who? Oh, right. Dan. Yeah, you're on my list to call...) CBS gave him only THREE hours to review the documents? Purportedly just leaked from a dead guy's 30-year-old private files? And when Barlett didn't object everybody at 60 minutes thought they were home-free? Sounds like 60 Minutes wasn't sandbagged at all. Sounds like they're stunning just incompetent journalists. I think at this point it would be less embarrassing for Rather to admit he forged the documents himself.

Trust versus Cleverness

That was the theme of the kids' Sunday school lesson today. The teacher used the parable of The Unjust Steward as an illustration... not Dan Rather's "fake but accurate" defense.

UN Blood Money

Rep. Chris Shays delivers the money bite: “I think clearly, American blood is in the hands of a number of European countries, who could have put pressure on Saddam, who could've looked him in the eye and said, ‘the United States is coming And to me, some of the explanation clearly has to be the Oil-for-Food program.”

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Did Barlett sandbag Rather?

The Los Angeles Times answers two burning questions in the Danron scandal: (1) Why did the CBS lawyers let Rather and producer Mary Mapes blow through all those red lights on the way to their broadcast? and (2) Where did all this talk about a diabolical Karl Rove plot come from?

The Times says CBS took Dan Barlett's failure to cry "fraud!" as confirmation that the memos were genuine (if not accurate). CBS White House Correspondent John Roberts practically begged Bartlett to say they were fake, and when Barlett declined, that trumped the substantial doubts expressed within the network and by CBS' outside experts. Forget about the arrogance of this position. Think about the stupidity: Nobody at Black Rock apparently remembered that the "never-before-seen" documents hadn't been seen before because they were found in Killian’s personal files. Meaning the White House would know even less about them than CBS.

That said, inside the White House, one of two things must have happened. The first possibility is that the Administration in fact didn’t bother to check out the documents (figuring, I suppose, that 60 Minutes would have done its homework before confronting the President of the United States about them).

But isn't the second possibility more likely? That the White House did try to authenticate the memos. If so, it would have quickly determined they were fakes, and that Rather was about to punctuate his career with an epic gaffe.

Imagine the GOP conference call. “Set your TIVO, Dan Rather’s going to light himself on fire on TV Wednesday night!”

Would Karl Rove have tried to stop him? Hey, President Bush may be a compassionate conservative, but it's not his job to save Dan Rather from himself. But the way Rather doubled-down last week after losing the most ill-advised bet of his career, it seems that at least he felt he'd been sandbagged.

UN Oil for Whiskey Program

The New York Post got a sneak peak of the Fox News Channel Oil for Food documentary. (9pm/12pm ET on Sunday) Looks like Saddam and the United Nations have redefined the notion of "Humanitarian Aid."

Friday, September 17, 2004

Drum CBS News out of the business

Ernest Miller excoriates the rest of the mainstream media for not slamming CBS News -- forget Rather -- for blatantly thumbing its nose at the basic practices of responsible journalism. This no longer about the initial mistake of broadcasting a hit piece on the President based on fake documents -- though that malpractice was outrageous enough. It's now about the breathtakingly arrogant response by CBS News, the CBS network and Viacom. Compare and contrast: Dateline NBC got caught using hidden explosives to show how a pick-up truck could blow in a crash, and GE quickly came clean. Everyone remotely involved in that report got fired -- all the way up to the president of the news division himself. Another example: Tailwind on CNN. CNN & Time Warner quickly hired a independent investigator to look at that bogus report -- and apologized for its mistake. The New York Times published an excruciatingly long mea culpa on the Jayson Blair fabrications -- and Howell Raines lost his job. This is what any self-respecting news organization should do and must do -- not just for its own reputation, but for the reputation of the entire profession. If a news organization doesn't do the right thing, it's up to the rest of the MSM -- not just the Pajama Brigade -- to drum it out of the business. CBS, however, has reacted with the same dishonorable cynicism of Clinton & Co. during the Lewinsky scandal. First deny, then dissemble with some kind of weird linguistic defense. Just as Clinton went from "I didn't have sexual relations with that woman" to "depends on what the definition of 'is' is," CBS has shifted from "the memos were authentic" to "fake but accurate." Folks, as the New Jersey Democrats will tell you, this is the new damage control. Forget about getting the bad news out and taking your lumps. Instead it's: We haven't done anything wrong. Watcha gonna do about it? Of course, Clinton kept his job, McGreevy will hold on to his long enough to deny the voters a special election (and, come to think of it the Torricelli switcheroo worked, as well). So my money's on Dan Rather surviving.

The UN, Saddam and Bin Laden

This will make people think twice before they say: (1) "There was no link between Saddam and Al Qaeda" or (2) "Boy, we could really use the UN's help, here."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Update: Ivan no help to Dan

I was wrong. Though Ivan killed 20 people, it didn't kill Rathergate from the rundown. But my sense is that the docu-drama may be losing steam. I now think Dan can ride this out. I mean, 60 Minutes missed the obvious fakes. It ignored its experts. We know all that. Short of getting the memo from the DNC, is there anything that's going to keep this story hot enough? This is not to say that Rather and CBS won't be permanently damaged -- who could take Rather seriously on election night? -- but my sense is that if he lasts past Sunday, and the affiliates don't demand he take shoe, Dan keeps his job. Amazing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Who takes the fall?

Remember the CNN Tailwind scandal? It took Peter Arnett about three seconds to reveal the secret trick of TV magazine producing -- and announce that he, as the on-air talent, didn't contribute so much as a comma to the script. Yet Rather doesn't seem to be pointing the finger at his producers. Does that mean he's willing to take the bullet for them -- or was he the one who ultimately made the call to go with the memos?

Ivan to save Dan?

Prediction: CBS will issue its press release declaring the memos fakes within 18 hours of Ivan making landfall. Cable ratings have been huge for the past two hurricanes, and nothing short of Rather's resignation would take Fox, CNN & MSNBC off the weather story.

I'm in the game

The Dan Rather debacle has finally spurred me to become a producer of bloggage, not just a consumer of it. Now that I'm an officially licensed new media journalist -- I'll finally be able to make good use of my copious free time. Mrs. Pajamaguy, however worries that, since I don't really wear pajamas, she'll eventually have to peel me off the couch like the kids' Colorforms.

Viacom to CBS News: Good Riddance?

Is it possible that the Viacom suits aren't worried about Rathergate? After the CNN merger cratered, they may be happy to see the news division implode. What better way to get rid of Dan and the whole lot?

web page hit counter