Saturday, April 07, 2007

An unending cascade of brilliance

By Heraclitus

Let me just remind all of you that I've never claimed to be anything more than a snide, mean-spirited a-hole bastard who knows no pleasure in life beyond laughing humorlessly at his fellow man. So the fact that I've posted so little recently, and now today have posted three times, but only to ridicule various conservatives, should come as no surprise.

Check this. In a nutshell, some Christian fundamentalist claims that evolution is disproved by the fact that no one has ever opened a jar of peanut butter only to find that the "energy" they used to open the jar has created "new life" inside it. (Insert "peanut butter eats person" joke.) You have to watch that brief video; I think my favorite part may be the music, which is kind of new agey and "inspirational," but is oddly out of place as a backing track for such a powerful intellect.

Seriously, what is satire, and what is reality at this point with the religious right?

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Bill O'Reilly brings the crazy

By Heraclitus

You really need to see this video (just scroll down a little on that page -- or read the whole post; it's good!). Like I've said before, it increasingly looks like the Murdoch-Rove conservatives aren't just shitting the bed, they're shitting the bed in the lunatic asylum. Watch as Bill O'Reilly becomes bizarrely apoplectic, convulsing and shouting at, of all people, Geraldo Rivera (?). You know something has gone horribly wrong when, as a viewer, you hear Geraldo tell O'Reilly, "You need to cool your jets," and you find yourself nodding in agreement (and cackling maniacally). Also, I don't think I've heard the word "bull" used so many times since the fifth grade.

Wise-crackery aside, though, I am a bit surprised by this video. I always thought that shills like O'Reilly and Limbaugh were purely cynical, and that the latest round of rabble rousing about illegal immigrants was just, well, rabble rousing, but that the various GOP anamatrons knew that their corporate masters wanted a continual supply of cheap and ready labor. But it seems, from O'Reilly's fury, that he really is as racist as his message suggests (though I suppose it's always possible that he just lost it when Geraldo challenged him). When an illegal immigrant kills two teenage girls while driving drunk, and your anger is directed at immigrants rather than drunk drivers...well, something is wrong with your mind and your heart.

Join me now in singing the praises of Mr. Rivera: "There was nothing in Al Capone's vault... but it wasn't Geraldo's fault..."

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

The twisted mind of the global warming denier

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As I mentioned yesterday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a new report it which it details the bleak consequences of global warming. From the L.A. Times:

A new global warming report issued today by the United Nations paints a near-apocalyptic vision of the Earth's future if temperatures continue to rise unabated: more than a billion people in desperate need of water, extreme food shortages in Africa and elsewhere, a blighted landscape ravaged by fires and floods, and millions of species sentenced to extinction.

And yet the report didn't go as far as it could have (and should have). This was because, as The Washington Post is reporting, "U.S. negotiators managed to eliminate language in one section that called for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. was backed up by China, which doesn't seem to accept that "temperature increases" are affecting "natural systems," at least not with "very high confidence," despite all the evidence, both scientific and anecdotal.

Regardless of the extent to which the U.S. and China are deniers of global warming, they are certainly enablers of it. They are both a big part of the problem and a big part of not doing anything about the problem.


Two separate reports provide a glimpse into the twisted mind of the global warming denier:

1) According to the AP, a "reliable" hurricane forecaster, William Gray, has called Al Gore "a gross alarmist" with respect to global warming: "He's one of these guys that preaches the end of the world type of things. I think he's doing a great disservice and he doesn't know what he's talking about." Of course, Gore is fully backed up not only by the evidence but by astonishing scientific consensus on the leading causes of global warming and its likely consequences. As for Gray, he "has long railed against the theory that heat-trapping gases generated by human activity are causing the world to warm". In other words, he is a global warming denier. He may or may not have been a relatively successful hurricane forecaster, but what possible credibility does he bring to his criticism of Gore, or to his views on global warming generally? And why is the AP giving him a platform from which to spew his discredited views?

2) At Instapundit, popular right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds displays the sort of gross ignorance and irresponsibility common among the more moronic deniers of global warming. He implies that global warming isn't a problem, or perhaps not even a reality, because it's so cold and snowy in Cincinnati in April. He may just wish it were warmer -- I certainly wish it were warmer in Toronto at the moment -- but making light of global warming, or even turning into a big joke (or calling it a hoax), is how many on the right have responded to the scientific consensus. Billions of people and countless species are at risk, but personal perception of unseasonal coldness is all the "evidence" they need.

And, as always, the genocidal global warming denying crowd will lap it all up.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Bill Donohue's latest crusade

By Heraclitus

Who said outrage is dead?

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 06, 2007

Cheney lies even as truth emerges

By Libby Spencer

Cheney and Rush Limbaugh yukked it up on Rush's show with a good old fashioned, liberal-bashing gabfest. The money quote was Cheney's trotting out the long debunked contention that there was any nexus whatsoever between Saddam Hussien and Al-Qaeda.

...Remember Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist, an Al-Qaeda affiliate. He ran a training camp in Afghanistan for Al-Qaeda, then migrated after we went into Afghanistan and shut 'em down there, he went to Baghdad. He took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organized the Al-Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene and then of course led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June. ...

Little wonder that 30% of Americans still support this administration if they only listen to Rush for their news. TPM Muckraker has the links that establish that Zarqawi actually took up residence in Northern Iraq, among the Kurds, an area over which Saddam had little control and that Saddam feared his influence as much as we did and that Zarqawi didn't align himself with AQ until 2004. Not to mention, the US apparently had a chance to take out Zarqawi before the invasion but didn't do so - for reasons unknown, but it's not difficult to draw the conclusion they didn't want to disturb their casus belli for the invasion.

Providing the current debunking of Cheney's lies on the matter, a declassified DoD report released yesterday provides the latest proof on Feith's chop shop's cooked up intelligence.

...the report said, the CIA had concluded in June 2002 that there were few substantiated contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and Iraqi officials and had said that it lacked evidence of a long-term relationship like the ones Iraq had forged with other terrorist groups.

"Overall, the reporting provides no conclusive signs of cooperation on specific terrorist operations," that CIA report said, adding that discussions on the issue were "necessarily speculative."

A footnote to the report also adds, that "post-war debriefs... ...all confirmed that the Intelligence Community was correct: Iraq and al-Qaida did not cooperate in all categories" alleged by Feith's office." This of course is polite polispeak to say the White House lied through its teeth to get their war.

This is all old news really but it does serve to reinforce the treasonous conduct of the White House throughout its administration. Given that there are so many new converts to reality-based thinking, it's a necessary and important part of the process of reining in the Imperial President before he does any further damage to our national security. Perhaps it's not too late to impeach after all.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Unfit to lead

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It took him far too long, and he was far too supportive of Bush even when it was obvious to any sentient being what Bush was all about both as a man and as a president, but Joe Klein finally seems to have come around. His latest piece in Time -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- is worth a read. Here are the key passages:

-- "The three big Bush stories of 2007 -- the decision to 'surge' in Iraq, the scandalous treatment of wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for tawdry political reasons -- precisely illuminate the three qualities that make this Administration one of the worst in American history: arrogance (the surge), incompetence (Walter Reed) and cynicism (the U.S. Attorneys)."

-- "When Bush came to office -- installed by the Supreme Court after receiving fewer votes than Al Gore -- I speculated that the new President would have to govern in a bipartisan manner to be successful. He chose the opposite path, and his hyper-partisanship has proved to be a travesty of governance and a comprehensive failure. I've tried to be respectful of the man and the office, but the three defining sins of the Bush Administration -- arrogance, incompetence, cynicism -- are congenital: they're part of his personality. They're not likely to change. And it is increasingly difficult to imagine yet another two years of slow bleed with a leader so clearly unfit to lead."

Klein obviously had too much faith in Bush from the beginning, and it was his mistake, a mistake that should not have been committed by any would-be objective journalist, to have been not just "respectful of the man" but so thoroughly naive. Klein really thought Bush would "govern in a bipartisan manner"? What signs had Bush given that he would so govern? His record in Texas, where he had little actual power as governor of a friendly state? What about how the Bush campaign conducted itself in 2000, not just against Gore but against McCain, not to mention during the post-election stand-off?

True, it could not have been known in detail in 2000 just how recklessly and callously Bush would conduct himself while in office, but it didn't take all that long for the "presidential" Bush to emerge.

So why has it taken Klein until 2007 to come around? Although I acknowledge that the surge, Walter Reed, and purgegate are serious "stories," and I agree that they speak rather unwell of Bush, they hardly represent anything different than what came before. What about Bush's handling of Katrina, for example? What about his handling of the Iraq War before the surge? What about his divisive pandering to the religious right, so evident in the 2004 election? What about the partisanization of the so-called war on terror? What about everything else? Bush's presidency may be arrogant, incompetent, and cynical, and so much else besides, but it's been that way pretty much all along. And many of us have been saying it all along, if not from the lofty pulput of Time.

Regardless, even Klein, mental masturbator, now thinks that Bush is "unfit to lead"? So where does that leave us? Not with a case for impeachment, says Klein, but what other conclusions are we to draw?

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

A changing world

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A soon-to-be-released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will announce that global warming is "already having major impacts on the natural world":

Draft versions seen by BBC News warn it will be hard for societies to adapt to all the likely climate impacts.

The report is set to say that a temperature rise above 1.5C from 1990 levels would put about one-third of species at risk of extinction.

More than one billion people would be at greater risk of water shortages, primarily because of the melting of mountain glaciers and ice fields which act as natural reservoirs.

The deniers will continue to deny -- the U.S. wants less "quantification" in the report, and Russia and China have expressed their "concerns" -- but there is now astonishing scientific consensus on what is happening to our world. And it doesn't look good.


For more, I highly recommend Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, a truly excellent book on the climate crisis that I just finished reading.

Kolbert reports from the front lines of global warming and does so lucidly, with historical context and scientific prowess, and without hyperbole -- the climate crisis hardly needs exaggeration.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

A war without end, a military under strain

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Troubling news from NBC's Jim Miklaszewski:

Coming on the heels of a controversial "surge" of 21,000 U.S. troops that has stretched the Army thin, the Defense Department is preparing to send an additional 12,000 National Guard combat forces to Iraq and Afghanistan.

As well, SecDef Gates has indicated that the surge will last longer than expected -- or, rather, longer than the warmongers, both in and out of the White House, have been saying it would last. Which hardly comes as a surprise. This was clearly their plan all along. Which is why Democrats and the war's other critics and opponents, both in and out of Congress, must continue to fight aggressively not just for an end to the escalating surge but to the war itself.

(And why, ultimately, the key will be winning in '08.)

Taking the warmongers at their word -- taking the president at his -- is for suckers.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Choose your they

By Creature

They make hay about the spending bills. They make lots of noise about the speaker of the house. They decry your lack of patriotism. They scold you for aiding and abetting. But what they never do is focus on the war. The actual war.

The war where troops are picked off by small arms fire because, thanks to the surge, they are now on foot patrol. The war where helicopters fall from the sky. The war where a "surge" is actually an escalation that cannot sustain itself over time. The war that is already lost, but yet we're still fighting, The war where new terrorist recruits are being trained daily. The war that is breaking the military. The war that is breaking our families. The war that is breaking the bank. The war that has been, and always will be, a war fought for oil.

No, they don't talk about any of this. They prefer to keep yelling. They prefer to keep lying. They prefer to keep laughing. They prefer to keep ignoring the realities of this war.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

The perfect victim

By Capt. Fogg

Hysterical anger is a very effective tool for the manipulation of the American public. It's easy for instance, to make people forget the large-scale and coordinated export of well paying, technical, engineering, manufacturing and executive jobs to foreign countries by raising the specter of Mexican immigrants taking away our career opportunities in dish washing and fruit picking. Illegal immigrants are excellent pawns in the game as they can't afford to speak out or set the record straight regarding their "burden" on society.

Less obviously motivated by partisan politics however, is the hysteria over sex offenders. They could not be more nearly perfect targets. Nobody has any sympathy. No one wants to be seen having any sympathy and the legal terminology doesn't really discriminate between the monsters who torture and kill children and the damn fools who were sure that teen age girl they picked up in a bar was 21. The category conjures up images of the unspeakable yet it includes, in some States the teenager who got caught "mooning" people from a moving car or the guy who just couldn't hold it in any longer and got caught urinating in the bushes.

Of course adding to the general fear of the public serves authoritarianism and it eases the road to a more medieval justice system in which an offender can never be redeemed nor can he escape suspicion and the presumption of malice. Be he a 90 year old ex con with 70 years of abiding by the law or some harmless bozo with bladder problems, he is marked and cast out like Cain.

The public satisfaction with perpetual punishment and exile for a broad spectrum of crimes seems nearly unanimous. The rules of exile, by which a registered sex offender may never live or work within a half mile of any place where children might congregate are proliferating and perhaps nowhere more than in Miami Florida. Wandering, homeless men, being now without hope of employment or shelter or plumbing would seem to be something society would want to avoid, but the City of Miami is happy to have them living, with official sanction, with rats and other vermin under bridges -- like trolls.

The logic behind a program supposedly designed to make a released criminal less of a danger to society by forcing him into domestic exile from which he can only escape by death or a return to a prison cell; a position from which he has nothing to lose by committing another crime, truly escapes me, but I can't blame a stupid, counterproductive and probably illegal policy on power hungry politicians alone. Without the hysteria and panic and abject safety seeking stupidity of the American Middle Class Conservative, they couldn't get away with it.


This morning's CNN poll tells us that 45% of respondents would approve of laws forbidding registered sex offenders to live anywhere.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's all about the money, stupid:

Sen. Barack Obama raised at least $25 million for his presidential campaign in the first quarter of the year, nearly matching Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's record-setting total and making it all but certain that Democrats will face a costly and protracted battle for their party's nomination.

Collectively, the Democratic candidates raised nearly $80 million in the first quarter, outpacing the Republican field for the first time since the Federal Election Commission began closely tracking such figures in the 1970s. Republicans took in just over $50 million in that same time frame, suggesting that a restive electorate and creative Internet strategies have fundamentally shifted the fundraising landscape for both parties.

Well, okay. There does seem to be "a restive electorate" and the landscape may very well have been "fundamentally shifted". And, to the extent that this helps the Dems, I'm fine with it.


Let's not get too excited about it. Beyond 2008, that is, beyond our immediate electoral interests, lies the very serious problem of the buying of political office.

To be sure, money has always played a key role in political life. What is going on now -- the focus on fundraising long before the election -- isn't new. And it may not be all bad. In fact, it may, in its own way, be rather democratic. As Steve Benen puts it, "the number of donors this year is at least as impressive as the dollar amounts". This reflects "a fundamental shift in how engaged Americans participate in the process". "There’s never been anything like this level of involvement in campaign history. Ever."

Fair enough.

But is American democracy -- or democracy generally -- truly served by what amounts to the monetarization of the process? Or, rather, are the American people truly served by the primacy of money in their political system? Although more and more people may be donating, there remains the obvious fact that most people do not donate. The system may be more democratic, broadly speaking, now that more people are donating, but democracy, strictly speaking, is not defined by political donations. It is, to be precise, a system of popular rule, not a system of popular donations to the rulers. And, indeed, it is hardly a stretch to argue, as many do, that money, however "democratic" in origin, compromises the integrity -- that is, corrupts -- democracy.

Just look at the numbers: Clinton raised $26 million in Q1 2007, Obama raised $25 million, and Edwards raised $14 million. On the other side, Romney raised $23 million, Giuliani raised $15 million, and McCain raised $12.5 million. That's big money. And that's what people are now talking about -- who's ahead and who's behind in the money game that has taken over so much of big-time American politics. Because money may not guarantee victory, but it sure helps.

Which is not to say that I advocate the public funding of American politics -- for reasons associated with the work I do, I don't want to get into that here. What I would ask, however, is if a system that essentially requires candidates to spend so much time fundraising, including those who are already in office and who seek to remain there, a system in which money matters to such a degree that winning or losing often depends on how much of it, or how little of it, a candidate has, is truly democratic.

Or is this so-called "democracy" rather more like Major League Baseball? Occasionally a "small-market" team (A's, Twins) wins, or at least comes close, but more often than not the "big-market" teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Cardinals, Angels, Dodgers, Braves), that is, the teams with the most money to spend, and even more narrowly the teams that can blow through the luxury tax threshold, are the ones left competing for the World Series year after year.

Baseball fans, it seems to me, are best served by a league in which there is genuine competitiveness, in which teams win or lose because of how they play and how they are managed, not because of how much money they have. Likewise, the American people, like all democratic rulers, are best served by a political system in which candidates win or lose because of who they are and what they stand for, not because of how well they play the money game, that is, by a system in which voters choose who will represent them based on whatever factors they individually and collectively deem significant, not by a system in which candidates seek to outdo each other with respect to raising money and buying office, however "democratic" their monetary support might be.


For more, see the Anonymous Liberal, who examines "the absurdity of the money race": Iowa is the key primary state, and "there's only so much money you can spend in Iowa.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

The end of another Iranian hostage crisis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't commented on Iran's release of the 15 British sailors and marines -- it was a major story yesterday and hardly needed my comment (although I did previously address the crisis here, here, and here) -- but it's obviously excellent news.

For more on the context and consequences of the crisis, I highly recommend this Q&A at the BBC. The release of the captives was "a triumph for pragmatists in the Iranian leadership". It was pragmatic, but also strategic. Perhaps Iran thinks it looks good for having released the captives. Perhaps it will seek concessions with respect to the development of its nuclear program.

We shall see, but it hardly seems likely that Iran has in any way strengthened its position as a result of this crisis. If anything, it has only magnified the ire of its opponents.

And rightly so is that ire magnified.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

An Ivorian post

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you've been wondering about the latest developments in the Ivory Coast -- and I've received literally hundreds of imaginary e-mails from readers asking me, at long last, to do some Ivorian blogging -- here, in fact, is the latest:

Rebel leader Guillaume Soro has formally been named the prime minister of Ivory Coast.

Mr Soro will form a new government charged with taking the country to free and fair elections within 10 months.

Ivory Coast has been in crisis since Mr Soro's rebels seized control of the north of the country in September 2002.

Until recently the rebel leader was the sworn enemy of President Laurent Gbagbo and it is unclear how much power Mr Soro will have.

Okay, are we clear now? (FYI, here's a Q&A, as well as more on the power struggle and the peace plan, as well as profiles of Soro and Gbagbo.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Bush sneaks in Fox

By Libby Spencer

No corrupt crony goes unrewarded in the Bush White House and Republican fundraiser Sam Fox is no exception. Fox, most notable for having funded the Swift Boat Liars, was on the fast track to failure when Bush pulled his nomination for Ambassador to Belgium. On Wednesday, Bush pulled his usual circumvention of the time-honored confirmation process and gave Fox the gig via a recess appointment. This means Fox has the job pretty much through the end of Bush's term in office.

Unsurprisingly this was met with a great amount of indignation from the Senate. Bob Geiger has Chris Dodd's reaction, which pretty well sums it up.

"It is outrageous that the President has sought to stealthily appoint Sam Fox to the position of ambassador to Belgium when the President formally requested that the Fox nomination be withdrawn from the Senate because it was facing certain defeat in the Foreign Relations Committee last week," said Dodd. "I seriously question the legality of the President's use of the recess appointment authority in this instance. I intend to seek an opinion on the legality of this appointment from the General Accountability Office and invite other Senators to join with me in that request."

Dodd adds, "This is underhanded and an abuse of Executive authority -- sadly this behavior has become the hallmark of this administration."

This will indeed be Bush's legacy I think. From his equally underhanded recess appointment of the uncouth boor John Bolton to the UN, to his dunderheaded appointment of the hapless Heckuva Job Brownie, Bush will go down in history as the most arrogantly out of touch President in the history of our nation. Instead of realizing Grover Norquist's dream of shrinking the government until it could be drowned in a bathtub, he instead drowned our formerly great country in a virtual sea of corrupt and incompetent thugs.

I remember when Bush was first appointed and everyone was talking about how great that he was the first CEO President, but it turns out an MBA doesn't mean much when it's bought and paid for with Daddy's endowments to the university. Hell, I'll bet his best subject at school was recess.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Gingrich and the Ghetto

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Over the weekend, as you may know by now, Newt Gingrich said this in a speech to the National Federation of Republican Women:

The American people believe English should be the official language of the government. We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.

Whatever the problems with this English-only view -- I do think that any political community, including one as vast as the U.S., needs a common language to facilitate communication, but it is completely ridiculous to suggest that learning other languages should be abolished (such linguistic isolationism is entirely counter-productive in a world that is growing ever smaller with the increasingly rapid and kinetic expansion of the forces of globalization, positive and negative alike) -- the particular problem with Gingrich's comment lies in his use of the word "ghetto". Just what did he mean by it?

Surely the language of the "ghetto" to which Gingrich was referring is Spanish, right? Canadians like myself may learn French alongside English, but the second language in the U.S. is, without question, Spanish.

Here Gingrich's evident bigotry turns comic. As Think Progress is reporting, on Monday Gingrich told Hannity and Colmes that he was not referring to Spanish at all. Rather:

Now, I’ll let you pick — frankly, ghetto, historically had referred as a Jewish reference originally. I did not mention Hispanics, and I certainly do not want anybody who speaks Spanish to think I’m in any way less than respectful of Spanish or any other language spoken by people who come to the United States.

Oh, I see. He said something that was quite clear, but now he's spinning himself silly. He may be running for president, after all. Can't alienate Hispanics, once, not so long ago, thought to be a key constituency for the GOP to target -- even the insular Bush speaks Spanish, although perhaps Newt thinks it was wrong of him to learn it?

Otherwise, though -- huh?

You can always count on Gingrich to hide behind revisionist history -- he's not a racist, he just writes books that celebrate the Confederacy; his presentation of the past has nothing whatsoever to do with the present -- but this is just weird. It may be that "ghetto" refers literally to a Jewish neighbourhood -- in 1516, Venice ordered that its resident Jews were required to live on the nearby island of Ghetto Nuovo, and from there the term spread -- but did Gingrich really mean that he was referring to Hebrew or Yiddish rather than Spanish?

Well, yes, that seems to what he said in his defence, but of course he was referring to Spanish. I suppose he could have used the term barrio, but that would have been too obvious. Besides, unless there's something I don't remember about my years in the U.S., I don't think either Hebrew or Yiddish is threatening the primacy of English in Gingrich's homeland. Perhaps he has in mind some final linguistic solution for America's Jews?

Regardless, what seems clear is that Gingrich thinks that any language other than English is the language of the metaphorically ghettoized Other, that is -- according to the retrograde view of linguistic identity propounded by the English-only movement -- un-American. The inhabitants of that "ghetto" may be Hispanic or Jewish or whatever, but, in Gingrich's narrow view, they are certainly not American -- not fully, not even close -- and they certainly won't share in America's "prosperity," whatever that even means.

Whatever else one can say about Gingrich, he certainly has the language of ignorance and bigotry down pat.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


By Heraclitus

I'm a little late with this, but I just thought this image was so amazing, I had to share it with as many people as possible. I think this picture is worth about all the words you could say about what's wrong with our whole little adventure in Iraq. Well, this one and these.

This image originates here (and you see it in its original setting, where it's much larger than Blogger apparently can or will make it), on the blog of the phenomenally talented Unapologetic Mexican.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The need for speed

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Pretty impressive: "A French high-speed train (TGV) has smashed the world record for a train on conventional rails by a big margin, reaching 574.8km/h (356mph)."

That's just 6.2 km/h shy of the overall train speed record set by Maglev, a Japanese magnetic levitation train, in 2003. And it's much, much faster than the 300 km/h level reached by TGV trains currently in service in France.

(The BBC article linked above includes video footage of the record-breaking run.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

What not to wear

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I don't mean to make light of Easter, nor of those who celebrate it -- but, come on, this is funny. I don't think I need to explain.

Our Amusing Photo of the Day comes from The Globe and Mail: "A two-year-old penitent rests with his basket during a Holy Week procession in Seville, Spain."


Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Putting the kibosh on K Street

By Libby Spencer

Walmart now loves Democrats. It isn't exactly news that deep pocket corporate contributions aren't based on ideology. They traditionally hedge their bets and spend the money according to who is in power and as such serve as something of a barometer on the conventional wisdom over who's hot and who's not. But it does serve as a reminder that any politician can be bought. Payola is non-partisan and so unfortunately is political backscratching. I think it's another good argument for mandating public financing for campaigns.

For instance, would the dismal Medicare "reform" bill have been enacted without the undue influence of the pharmaceutical lobby? I think not when they essentially wrote the bill and sheparded it on the floor. And before you argue against my point, take a look at the numbers.

Lobbyists have effectively become unelected legislators. It's clear we're not going to be able to clean up the ethical mess inside the Beltway from the inside out. We won't negate the influence of lobbyists unless and until we remove the avenues through which they finance election and especially re-election campaigns. I can't think of a better reason to consider mandating public funding instead.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Money, money, money....

By Libby Spencer

Political oddsmakers are placing their bets on the 08 nominations, looking carefully at who's winning the campaign funding race. Hillary is the hands down winner on that score, reporting $26 million in just first quarter earnings, but all the major candidates are holding their own. Even John Edwards, who I consider to be a long shot candidate, has a tidy $14 million in the bank.

But I look at these numbers and I don't see the winners, I see the big loser -- the American people. The system has gone terribly wrong when the only way to win is to amass huge sums of money. Before it's over, the candidates will have spent hundreds of millions to play the game but the people will cheated out of the opportunity to choose their president based on position and platforms and will once again be limited to the lesser of two evils.

Let's face it, no candidate who has to raise that kind of cash is going to be coming into office without owing some big favors to deep pocket contributors. This is how our government came to be sold to corporate interests over the common good. When lobbyists outnumber politicians inside the beltway, it seems unlikely that legislation will ever be passed that puts the people ahead of the money.

I'm a recent convert to the idea of public financing for elections but I don't see any other way to wrest control of the process from the special interests that currently, for all effective purposes, own our presidents and all our legislators. If we took the money out of the process, then the peoples' voice would carry some weight again and politicians would be forced to run on substantive positions instead of pretty sound bites. Our country would be the better for it.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Supreme Court issues key decision on global warming

By Michael J.W. Stickings


The Supreme Court rebuked the Bush administration yesterday for refusing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, siding with environmentalists in the court's first examination of the phenomenon of global warming.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act by improperly declining to regulate new-vehicle emissions standards to control the pollutants that scientists say contribute to global warming.

The issue at stake in the case, one of two yesterday that the court decided in favor of environmentalists, is somewhat narrow. But environmentalists and some lawmakers said it could serve as a turning point, placing new pressure on the Bush administration to address global warming and adding to the political momentum that the issue has received because of Democratic control of Congress and a desire from the corporate community for a comprehensive government response to the issue.

I previously addressed this case -- Commonwealth of Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al. -- here. On the details of the decision, I'll defer once again to Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog:

In the global warming decision, the Court majority had no apparent difficulty concluding that carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" emitted from the exhausts of new cars and trucks were pollutants that Congress had in mind in requiring regulation of dirty air under the Clean Air Act. It noted that, as a consequence of global warming, "rising seas have already begun to swallow Massachusetts' coastal land. The Court also said that, while global warming has many causes, it is not necessary that EPA be able to reverse global warming by dealing with all of the causes. It at least has a duty to take steps to slow or reduce the climate change, Stevens wrote [for the majority].

It is somewhat misleading to say that "global warming has many causes" -- this may be true, to an extent, but one of the key causes, and certainly the cause related to this case, is human emission of greenhouse gases -- but, nonetheless, as Denniston suggests, this is "the most important environmental ruling in years". It could very well be the thin end of the wedge that leads to political action to combat global warming.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Roberts -- and I quote Denniston again -- "argued that the cases were not properly in Court because no one had a right to bring the challenge to EPA". Still, he at least acknowledged that global warming may be "the most pressing environmental problem of our time". In a separate dissenting opinion, Scalia (along with Roberts, Thomas, and Alito) defended the EPA's policy decision not to regulate emissions standards.

The ball is now back in the EPA's court. More broadly, though, it is in Congress's. With Democrats now in control, it must lead the way against an administration that barely even admits there's a problem at all.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

The Krazy Hypocrite

By Michael J.W. Stickings

More Krazy Kristol. This one via News Hounds.

Sunday on -- where else? -- Fox News, Billy Bob Kristol responded to a question about the problematic (i.e., sordid) personal lives of the top GOP presidential candidates with this doozy of a nugget:

I think [it's] not a big problem. Generally speaking, the American people discount private lives quite rigorously actually, and they try to pick someone who will be a good president and they separate public and private to a pretty great degree.

As Melanie advises, "let's note these 'words of wisdom' from Rupert Murdoch's crony. They'll be ever more relevant this time next year when Kristol the hypocrite will undoubtedly be picking away at the private lives of the leading Democratic candidate(s)."

Once upon a time it was Clinton, Clinton, Clinton. Soon it'll be, well, Clinton again. Or Obama. Or Edwards. Or whomever. The actual candidate matters not. The hypocritical moralizing -- dressed up as talk of "character" and "personal responsibility" -- will come hot and heavy in the pages of The Neocon Standard, as well as in the hyperpartisan excrement of Fox News.

It's one of the sure things of 2008.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Politics and entertainment: The fact and fiction of Fred Thompson

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Bob Novak, GOP celebrity Fred Thompson is -- wait for it, wait for it -- "for real"!

Yes: "In just three weeks, Fred Thompson has transformed the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. It is not merely that he has come from nowhere to double digits in polls. He is the talk of GOP political circles because he is filling the conservative void in the field."

The conservative void? Sure. McCain is now neither a maverick nor a conservative -- at the very least, social conservatives don't trust him. Giuliani is way too liberal on key wedge issues and has a past that is, well, eccentric. Romney claims to be a social conservative, but his Mormonism and his former liberalism on some of those key wedge issues have alienated quite a few of those whom he has tried to win over. And Brownback just isn't "a viable candidate," despite his extremism on the key wedge issues.

Which leaves the Thompsons, I suppose -- Fred and Tommy.

As I argued here, I don't think Tommy can win the nomination, but who knows? Given the problems with the major candidates, he could just sneak up into the top tier and pull off the huge upset.

Fred lacks Tommy's experience -- he lacks experience generally -- but, again, he's a celebrity. And not just a political celebrity like, say, Obama. No, he's a genuine pop culture celebrity, the macho star of testosterone-driven hits on big screen and small screen alike, just the sort of Hollywood type Republicans like.

Social conservatives may see Fred as "the only conservative who can be nominated," but in this case, as in most cases when it comes to presidential politics, it's all about image. Here's the most revealing line in Novak's column:

Their appreciation of him stems not from his eight years as a U.S. senator from Tennessee but from his role as Manhattan district attorney on the TV series "Law & Order." The part was molded to Thompson's specifications as a tough prosecutor, lending him political star power.

That says it all. Republicans are desperately searching for a celebrity candidate to run in '08 -- they won't be able to run on their record, which has been horrendous, so they'll have to run on the personality of their nominee -- and Fred seems to fit the mold perfectly.

Or, rather, his character does, the on-screen version of the man.

In a literal case of politics as popular entertainment, Republicans could soon find themselves supporting, and eventually voting for, a fiction.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 02, 2007

Military victory no longer possible in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I really don't give a damn what Henry Kissinger has to say these days, but perhaps his recent comments in Tokyo deserve some consideration.

Although he remains "basically sympathetic to President Bush" with respect to Iraq -- which is already enough to question his sanity and credibility -- he does not think that "military victory" (defined as "total control over the whole territory, imposed on the entire population") is possible. (Was it ever?) He does not support a quick U.S. withdrawal, which he claims would lead to chaos, but, overall, his recommendations for what to do now are much closer to the James Baker's Iraq Study Group than to Bush and the neocons:

Kissinger said the best way forward is to reconcile the differences between Iraq's warring sects with help from other countries. He applauded efforts to host an international conference bringing together the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Iraq's neighbors — including Iran, Washington's longtime rival in the region.

"That is the sort of framework out of which it is conceivable that an agreement should emerge," Kissinger said. "One needs to be prepared to negotiate with adversaries."

Kissinger said that fighting in Iraq is likely to continue for years, and that America's national interest requires an end to partisan bickering at home over war policy.

"The role of America in the world cannot be defined by our internal partisan quarrels," he said. "All the leaders, both Republican and Democratic, have to remember that it will go on for several more years and find some basis for common action."

There are problems here, however:

1) Is it even possible for the U.S., the current occupier of Iraq, "to reconcile the differences between Iraq's warring sects". Is it possible to reconcile them at all?

2) The fighting in Iraq may "continue for years," but what role should the U.S. play in that fighting? Should it remain a foreign occupier waging an unwinnable war against sectarian insurgents in the middle of a civil war, or should it back away and leave only a strategic anti-terrorism force in the country, with supporting resources nearby? Kissinger claims that withdrawal would lead to chaos, but what if the U.S. presence is actually making the situation worse? I worry, too, about what will happen to Iraq once the U.S. leaves -- which is inevitable, sooner or later. The slaughter of innocents witnessed so far could be but a preview of much more widespread genocide to come. But, again, the U.S. need not withdraw entirely. It could remain in some capacity to target terrorists/insurgents and otherwise to step in where necessary. If at all possible, such a peacekeeping force (insofar as there is any peace to be kept) could be international, drawn particularly from Iraq's neighbours, none of whom (including Iran) have an interest in seeing Iraq descend into chaos. Above all, the U.S. must no longer be, and be seen to be, the occupier of a sovereign Iraq.

3) What Kissinger (like Joe Lieberman and others who righteously claims to be above the fray) calls "partisan bickering" may also be seen as the argumentative presentation of alternative views on the Iraq War. Negotiation and compromise are in many cases preferable to entrenched partisanship, but what if one of the two sides is unwilling to negotiate, let alone to compromise. This has been the case not with the Democrats, whom Kissinger clearly dislikes, but with Bush and the proponents of the war. Bush has never shown even the slightest interest, whatever the occasional (or rather, rare) display of outreach in his rhetoric, in working to find common cause with his critics (or with anyone outside his bubble) on Iraq or, for that matter, on anything else. For him, negotiation means agreeing to what he wants and compromise means going ahead with what he wants. Is that what Kissinger means by rising above "internal partisan quarrels"?

Regardless, even if he is genuine in his advocacy of non-partisanship, he should direct his attention, and advice, at Bush and the Republicans. For they, it seems to me, have rejected "common action" all along. And let us remember that the Democrats -- many of them -- were once far more supportive of the war, and of Bush, than they are now. If they are now highly critical of the war, it is in large part because of how they have been pushed aside by Bush, and because of how negotiation and compromise have consistently been rejected, not just because of how the war has been so grossly mismanaged, not to mention the flagrant lies and deceptions along the way.

Still, it would make sense for Bush to do now what he should have been doing for some time, that is, engaging in diplomacy with Iraq's neighbours, as well as through the U.N., as well as talking and negotiating with "adversaries". That would be the sensible thing to do.

Which means it likely won't be done.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Blogging announcement

By Heraclitus

I just have a brief announcement about my activities as a bloggerino. I'm now also a blogger at the new We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireballs Now Party Blog, aka the WAAGNFNP blog. You can read a little about this perhaps strangely named Party here. My "Against Centrism" post was cross-posted there earlier today, with an extra introductory paragraph, and is getting some good comments. Basically, I don't expect to post much there that isn't cross-posted here, although some of the things I write for the WAAGNFNP may be too inside-jokey for The Reaction.

It's a good blog, and I would encourage all of you to check it out, not just the ones who enjoy my high-spirited snarking (okay, there may be no one who fits that description). The first post, for instance, on the relation between science and religion was quite good, as was this post on how blogging changes the way we usually think about the process of writing and composition.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

An important sign of progress in Kuwait

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the BBC: "Kuwait's new education minister is welcomed by a member of parliament after taking the oath amid protests by some Islamist MPs that she was not covering her head."

For more on women in Kuwaiti politics, both as voters and as candidates, see here, here, and here.

If only more of the Middle East, if only more of the world, were moving in this positive direction.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Against centrism

By Heraclitus

Although this post has a fairly broad title, my real focus here is on -- what else? -- the world of bloggerinos. And, as is my wont, I'm a little ranty here. So, beginning of the week got you stressed? Relax with a little blasting of these damned self-congratulatory centrists.

So, although the people I’m discussing no doubt manifest these traits in meat space as well, I’m thinking particularly of a certain kind of internets personage, who bemoans the “extremism” of a blog post that will “alienate the center” or “the majority” (and who can forget those always excellent admonitions about driving away “people who should be your allies”?). What probably annoys me most about these self-styled “moderates” or “centrists” is the way they manage to combine such a sanctimonious, school-marmish tone of pinched moral superiority with such excruciatingly banal opinions (although some of them are more rude and abusive). How have they managed to convince themselves that simply adopting whatever the majority position is, or letting the two extremes dictate their opinions to them, is some kind of intellectual and moral virtue? There couldn’t be a lazier or more cowardly way of arriving at a set of (most likely completely incoherent) convictions, yet these people are forever engaged in the most grating and stultifying ritual of self-congratulatory finger-wagging imaginable.

Before veering this drunken rant off in the general direction of criticizing this notion of centrism, I should stop and note the context in which this objection is almost always deployed. By definition, of course, the centrist or moderate is criticizing “extreme” positions, but there are all sorts of contrarian musings and “innovative” suggestions that will escape the dread scourge of your friendly neighborhood moderate. I don’t really have any data on this, reliable or otherwise, but the vast majority of times I’ve seen this objection or criticism crop up, it’s used to dismiss or silence the concerns of marginalized groups (feminists, folks of color, teh gays, etc.). These people’s concerns are fine as a garnish to the “serious” issues of tax cuts, middle class entitlements, and which country we’re going to blow up next, but they get chucked overboard at the first sign of trouble (I’ve mixed so many metaphors here that I no longer know what I’m saying). Bloggers, and real life people, too, I suppose (but what would I know about them?), are instantly chided when they treat these concerns as essential elements of a just politics, rather than as ontologically inferior afterthoughts to be shrugged off if they make the wrong people uncomfortable.

But are the centrists just talking turkey? Insufferably and suffocatingly banal and smug as they might be, are they just telling commie bastards like myself a few home truths? I think not. Political or electoral centers are constantly being reshaped or rewoven, which makes this argument almost as specious as it is tiresome. Look at gay marriage. Just ten years ago, in the heady days leading up to Clinton’s impeachment, no one outside of a few activists had even heard of the idea. Now opposition to gay marriage is a liability for the Republican Party, and it’s already a reality in several states (ah, activist judges, where would we be without you?). Or look at our neighbors to the north. No one does consensus politics like the Canadians (well, okay, except for that Quebec thing), but the political center was completely redefined by Preston Manning in the 1990’s. There are, of course, countless other examples (what kind of weirdo recycles? Or won’t let you smoke in his house?). So the exhortation to slavishly submit to the majority or “center’s” position is not just boring and irritating, it’s based on the false assumption that this center actually exists.

Still, don’t these douchebags have some kind of point? Shouldn’t blogs facilitate debate and discussion between opposing viewpoints, rather than just being echo chambers that serve only to deepen and intensify the rifts in our sadly fractured body politic? This question assumes, first, that everyone enters the series of tubes with their opinions already completed set in stone. In fact, many people learn and are influenced by blogs; why shouldn’t they be influenced by blogs that make principled arguments rather than playing pretend power broker? Moreover, the divide in comments at a blog like Pandagon, between relatively “centrist” Democrats and people to the left of them (often well to the left), is much greater than that between a slightly left-of-center Babbitt and a slightly-right-of-center Babbitt. Again, why should the “center” be given some special consideration?

(There is one caveat I’d like to make here, and I will elegantly place it inside of one long parenthesis in the hopes of nestling more than half of this post in the warm, maternal embrace of these nuzzling little punctuation marks. {Mmmm…snuggly.} I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s not worth considering what sorts of positions are considered centrist or mainstream and seeing how they’ve come to be regarded as such. Likewise, I’m not suggesting that the political center is so unstable or transient that there’s no point in trying to talk about it. I’m just saying that arguing against a position because it seems “radical” at present is dishonest as well as cowardly. Of course, people will still make short term tactical decisions to avoid this or that topic or to frame debate in this or that way. Of course I think that’s valuable and worthwhile, and I have nothing against pragmatic approaches to political debates—e.g., forcing the Republican candidate(s) in 2008 to repudiate, publicly and vehemently, the wing of the party that wants to limit access to contraception, rather than arguing about abortion. The GOP has drifted so far to the right, and often has simply become so unhinged, that it will be much easier and more effective to force them to either defend their wackier ideas or scandalize their base. So I see the wisdom of focusing a campaign on the opposition’s radical positions rather than on advancing one’s own. But in general or abstract discussions, I don’t think the centrist objection holds much water.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

The full picture

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I suppose Iraq is a lot safer when you have -- see Think Progress on this, including the video from NBC -- "100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships overhead" (and a bulletproof vest) to protect you.

Eh, Senator McCain?

One shouldn't hold such protection against McCain -- I'm sure it was all quite necessary -- but how are his optimistic views on Iraq at all credible given his own experience on the streets of Baghdad? -- "The American people are not getting the full picture of what's happening here. They're not getting the full picture of the drop in murders, the establishment of security outposts throughout the city, the situation in Anbar province, the deployment of additional Iraqi brigades which are performing well, and other signs of progress having been made."

No, the full picture is the one of McCain with the security blanket around him. It speaks volumes.


Meanwhile: "The U.S. military... reported six soldiers were killed in roadside bombings southwest of Baghdad." And "Britain... announced that one of its soldiers had been shot to death in southern Iraq -- its 104th combat casualty since the war started four years ago."

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Thompson joins GOP field

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The hype lately has surrounded former Tennessee Senator (and current movie/TV star) Fred Thompson -- with conservatives looking for a celebrity candidate to bolster a field of (in their view) less-than-desirables, he may be both suitably conservative and suitably famous -- but it was Tommy, not Fred, who entered the race yesterday.

Appearing on ABC's This Week, the former Wisconsin governor and Bush II cabinet secretary referred to himself as a "reliable conservative," the one people "can count on". Although well behind the leading candidates -- Giuliani, McCain, and Romney -- in terms of name-recognition, he sees himself as "the dark horse candidate," "the underdog".

So -- can he win? Let's turn to Ed Morrissey: Thompson was "a popular governor in the Upper Midwest," which will help him in Iowa. "He has plenty of executive and legislative experience" -- indeed, he was governor for 14 years -- and he was secretary of health and human services for four years. Although he was at HHS for Bush's pharma-friendly prescription drug benefit bill, he "has some credibility among centrists and independents on health care". And his promotion of welfare reform and school choice while governor gives him credibility among conservatives.

In short, Morrissey sees Thompson as "the doppleganger for Bill Richardson in the Democratic race," that is, as a second-tier candidate with a lot more experience than the current first-tier candidates: "He has the best resume of any Republican in the race so far. With fourteen years of executive experience, he has more than Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney combined. He has a national presence, and his continuing popularity at home in a purple state cannot hurt him, either."

All of which are good points. But here's why I don't think Thompson can win: It is very likely that the Democrats will select a "celebrity" candidate, that is, a candidate with enormous name-recognition and national popularity: Obama, Clinton, Edwards, or perhaps (just perhaps) Gore. With this in mind, I cannot see the Republicans going into the '08 election with a non-celebrity candidate, even one, like Thompson, who has a great deal of experience and local/regional popularity. If presidential elections were about competency, then, yes, by all means, Thompson would be a leading Republican candidate, just as Richardson would be a leading Democratic one. But they're not. They're about image -- about style, not substance. Even if Thompson manages to rise into the top tier, which is hardly likely, he is too lackluster a candidate, with too lackluster a personality, to secure the nomination. This isn't fair, but it's the way it is.

What's more, Republicans rarely select non-celebrity candidates to run for the presidency. Think about it. Democrats have gone with non-celebrity candidates five times since World War II -- Clinton in '92, Dukakis in '88, Carter in '76, Kennedy in '60, and Stevenson in '52 -- but how many non-celebrity Republican candidates have there been during that span? Again, what I mean here by "celebrity" is a candidate who was not, say, the sitting vice president or the clear establishment choice or, like Eisenhower, a major public figure. Aside from Goldwater in '64, who was at least a celebrity to conservatives at the time (and one of the driving forces behind the conservative movement that emerged thereafter), I don't think there's been a non-celebrity Republican candidate since Dewey in '44, although this too is arguable.

What this means is that Republicans tend to go with major public figures (Eisenhower), sitting vice presidents (Nixon, Bush I), prominent political figures who have run before and who have occupied the national stage (Nixon again, Reagan), prominent political figures with connections to the establishment (Bush II), or establishment leaders who are seen as next-in-line in terms of orderly succession (Dole). Given the extent of America's growing celebrity culture, it seems unlikely that either party would select anyone other than a major national celebrity -- hence Obama and Clinton among the Democrats -- and this would seem to be especially the case with the Republicans.

This is why Giuliani and McCain are the top two candidates. This is why some on the desperate right are talking up Fred Thompson (even with his lack of experience: style over substance). This is why non-celebrity candidates like Romney and Brownback likely won't win the nomination (although Romney is may be on the doorstep of legitimate national celebrity-status).

And this is why Tommy Thompson doesn't have a chance.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, April 01, 2007

By any other name

By Mustang Bobby

New York Times has a review of two new vehicles from General Motors; the GMC Acadia and the Saturn Outlook. (Who comes up with these names? One is a French colonial name for a windswept part of the Canadian maritimes, the other is a Microsoft e-mail program, and neither sounds like something you'd like to spend a lot of time riding around in.) Anyway, the reviewer waxes nearly poetic about how these are light years ahead of GM's previous flirtations with what they call "crossovers."

Like a red-faced college student begging his mother not to show visitors the embarrassing old family photos, General Motors would like you to forget its early attempts at car-based crossover utility vehicles. Imagine the company wincing on the sofa as you chuckle your way through G.M.’s picture albums from the ’90s, filled with snapshots of the Pontiac Aztek and Buick Rendezvous — the vehicular equivalent of acne and braces, velour dickies and the mullet.

But after years of failing grades on the crossover exams — aced by some imports — G.M. retreated to study the segment, do its homework and cram for the biggest test yet. Crossovers are the nation’s fastest-growing class of cars or trucks.

The company has sworn off minivans entirely. It has even begun to ditch some of its old-school truck-based S.U.V.’s, like the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy, that went from top sellers to bottom dwellers faster than you can say “Fill ’er up.”

With car-based crossovers outselling traditional sport utilities for the first time in 2006, American families have made it clear that the former are their preferred form of transport. Compared with S.U.V.’s, these types of tall wagons give up some towing capacity and some ground clearance for off-road use, but their advantages in handling, ride, gas mileage and refinement seem to outweigh those drawbacks for many people.[Emphasis added.]

There's another name for a "car-based crossover." It's called a station wagon. And while the article hints at it, the auto industry is almost afraid to bring up the term for fear of reminding buyers of the big old family wagons out of the 1950's and '60's with the fake wood grain, the three-acre wayback, the roof rack, and the memories of long, dusty, family trips across the blazing Midwestern summers without air conditioning or any more entertainment than AM radio or kids squabbling in the back seat ("You touched me! Mommmm!").

1958 Edsel Bermuda

Well, I'm one of those people who thinks that there's no shame in calling a station wagon a station wagon. I've owned several, including this one --

1988 Pontiac 6000 Safari LE

-- and I'd like to see any of those new vehicles get as much stuff in the back as I can (at one point I carried several door and window units out to a job site) and last for 239,000 miles. (I drove it to the store today. Runs like a champ. Maybe the fact that it was built in Canada might have something to do with it.)

Last year I saw one of these new cars at the car show out on Miami Beach, and I complimented it as a "nice-looking station wagon." The company representative quickly corrected me; "Oh, no; we don't call them that any more."

"Why not?" I replied.

"Well, it's more than a station wagon."

Yeah, I thought; for $42,000, it better be. "Okay," I said, covering my eyes, "Test me. It's got four doors, right? A tailgate? A roofrack? It's under six feet tall?"

"Well, yes," the rep admitted.

"Okay. It's a station wagon. Slap a little fake wood grain on the sides and you've got a Country Squire."

He went over to talk to a young couple looking at the minivans.

I think the auto industry is slowly recognizing that there's a certain amount of affection for certain types of cars, regardless of what their focus groups or market research tell them. (The Edsel is a fantastic example of an idea that was market-researched to death.) They tried to kill off the convertible in the 1970s, only to see the Europeans make off like bandits with a customer base that doesn't mind the extra little hassles and the expense for the feeling you get from driving an open car. And there are some things that buck the trends, regardless of what the so-called trend-setters say. SUVs may have been all the rage once, but there's not a lot of soul in a gas-guzzling butchmobile that reminds people more of an android or a doorstop than a styled piece of automotive flair, complete with a touch of chrome. (There's a $10 million prize for someone who designs a good-looking SUV. The prize is as yet unclaimed.) I may be a hopelessly unreconstructed romantic, but station wagons are cool, and I know that there are a lot of people who think so, too.

Back in the days when station wagons had real wood components, they used to say, "nothing takes the place of a good woodie." Can't argue with that.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Michelle Malkin's latest assault on reality

By Heraclitus

Seriously, what the hell? It was only a few months ago that the GOP and their various media appendages seemed so fearful, so terrible, as invincible as one of those stickers on the top of a new CD. Anyone who couldn't say the name "Gary Bauer" without at least a faint smile sat huddled in fear, not daring to hope that the Democrats might actually win the midterm election, that the tide of Republican/"conservative" dominance might actually be receding (I still can't let myself believe the latter). We were afraid of hoping at all, lest we be crushed and annihilated by yet another soul-destroying GOP victory. The cult of the crudest and most absurd masculinity (let's face it, Bush's little "Mission Accomplished" stunt made Toby Keith look like E. M. Forster), the worship of violence and the apotheosis of the mentality of the schoolyard bully -- who dared to hope they were finally being beaten back?

But now, only a few short months after the Republicans' defeat, I feel like Monty Burns exulting over a tin of cat food after his acquisition of a left-handed can-opener: "Ha! Look at you now, you, who were once so mighty!" The GOP base, today's "conservatives," seem to be getting crazier by the hour. There was, for instance, the jamboree of glories captured by Max Blumenthal at the little PNAC get-together (seriously, Grover Norquist and Bob Barr are the only two people on that film -- well, other than an unnamed Latina college Republican -- that sound even sane, much less rational or perceptive. That's right, Grover Norquist and Bob mu'a fu'in Barr.).

The list could go on, but the real point here is to call your attention to this bizarre new development in the Michelle Malkin saga (much as it pains me to link to the huffpo, do read that post. It's quite funny. And thanks to Nez for pointing me to it). Malkin has decided to found some kind of club that basically involves...well, being vigilant, or something. It involves emulating James Woods. And not letting shari'a law be imposed at your local swimming pool. Or at restaurants (?). And wearing buttons. 'Cause nothing scares a terrorist away from attacking innocents like seeing some pencil-necked limp-dick sporting a button that proclaims "I Am John Doe."

I'm serious. This isn't some kind of April Fools' Day jiggery-pokery, I swear.

(On the other hand, I suppose there is a chance that any terrorists seeing something like that might feel the irresistible urge to go up and slap the Malkinite upside the head, thereby bringing himself to the attention of someone whose thoughts have actually made contact with reality at some point in the last ten years.)

I jest, but there is, of course, a darker side to all this. It's just another round in the virulent and militantly irrational fear-mongering that has come to define the GOP and today's wild and wacky "conservatives." They preach nothing but perpetual and cancerous fear of an enemy so sinister and terrifying that he is at once both ubiquitous and invisible. I suppose we should be grateful to Malkin for focusing her paranoid fantasies on an actual enemy of the United States, rather than on the increasingly fashionable target of immigrant workers, people on whom our economy is crucially dependent but who are being targeted in a series of raids that are a disgusting and transparent piece of political theater, crudely designed to give the red state/talk radio base something to feel good about going into 2008 (though, raving twit that she is, Malkin does throw in something about opposing changes to immigration laws). People protest when bloggers and such note similarities between today's right and old-tymey fascists, but what is one supposed to think when such an august personage in yon conservative movement proposes something like this, an army of would-be vigilantes prowling the streets, airplanes and elevators of the nation, driven on by lunatic visions of Islamic terrorists, possessed of their own "Beltway lobbyists," imposing shari'a at the local swimming pool and "our national monuments"?

Of course, I suppose it's always possible that "Michelle Malkin" doesn't really exist at all, that she's just a creation of John Cleese. Wouldn't that be a hoot?

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share