November 2005

2005 11 30
Opsvik at Barbes tonight

Posted by in: Music

This should be really good:

Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas

Tony Malaby saxophone
Jacob Sacks keyboard
Eivind Opsvik bass/compositions
Gerald Cleaver drums

10 pm at Barbes (376 9th street at the corner of 6th avenue in Brooklyn)

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2005 11 30
Two modest points about a troop drawdown

In the debate about when and how to leave Iraq, I’ve argued that a fixed and publicly announced deadline was best. Critics of a fixed and publicly announced deadline have complained that a fixed deadline wouldn’t allow for contingencies, and that a publicly announced deadline would give hope to insurgents, who would then try to wait out U.S. forces. I think these might be drawbacks to my proposal, but that a fixed and publicly announced deadline would do quite a bit to address serious and credible worries among Iraqis that the U.S. was angling to be a major, and inevitably destructive, player in Iraqi politics a decade from now. If you think that mistrust of U.S. intentions has been an important part of the reason that the U.S. has engaged in Iraqi politics so poorly, then this is really the solution for you.

I notice that the U.S. may now be getting ready to withdraw substantial numbers of troops. I suspect we may begin to see another problem now with the refusal to announce a deadline in advance: Because the U.S. refused to set a clear timetable a year ago, it appeared to everyone at the time to signal a desire to stay in Iraq as long as possible. Now that they’re (seen as) leaving, retreat really does have the disadvantage that retreating U.S. forces look as if they’re being compelled to withdraw, rather than following some fixed plan of their own. If George W. Bush had taken my advice, he wouldn’t be in this pickle. I can only hope that this time he’ll learn, but I doubt it.

Second point: I notice that a lot of hawks are always arguing that retreat shows weakness, which is to be avoided at all costs. Ever notice that the same people are always arguing for advances into untenable positions? If retreat really is so bad, then surely an important part of strategic wisdom will consist in knowing how to avoid the necessity for retreat in the first place.

Howls of outrage (11)

2005 11 29
More fiddling

Posted by in: Metablog, Odds and ends

OK, I fiddled with the feed again. I thought it might be handy if it were easy to see which links you’ve followed and which you haven’t. But then I wondered if it was so ugly that you wanted to reach through the screen and throttle me. Which is it? Let me know.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 11 29
Bleg: Cool firefox extension

Posted by in: Blegs, tech-sci

In the fullness of time I expect the internets to deliver this to me whether I ask or not. But why not ask anyway? So . . . my request is for a firefox extension that does a few things automatically. First, I’m starting to enjoy, which I use to bookmark interesting sites and syndicate them on the top left of this site. Since I’ve added a firefox extension, I’ve found it even easier to use. But what about link rot? To help combat that, there’s another firefox extension called Scrapbook, which saves a local copy of web pages quickly and easily. Now, what would be really nice is some way to integrate both of these in a single extension, so that every time you bookmark something in, you can quickly save a local copy to Scrapbook. The Scrapbook entries would acquire the same tags you’ve entered for the entries, so that searching Scrapbook would be quick and easy. And you could set the default on the entry box to either automatically save a local copy or only save a local copy if prompted. It would also be nice to have some way display the Scrapbook entries in your browser in a way that precisely mirrors bookmarks, except that the links would go to the cached pages. But that would be gravy. Even the basic version of this would be useful to me, and probably to a lot of other bloggers and news junkies.

Is that so much to ask? Has this already been done?

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 11 28
Who needs a blog?

Posted by in: Metablog, Odds and ends

Who needs a blog when you’ve got a mini-blog? These days all the action is on the top left of the blog, in the news feed. This really is the best thing to happen to my blogging since TimesSelect took away the daily provocation of those idiotic columns in the NYT.

Howls of outrage (4)

2005 11 26

Posted by in: Food

Last night’s dinner:
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Howls of outrage (2)

2005 11 23
Turkey Eve

Posted by in: Anecdotal, Canada

It’s now indubitable: I live in a foreign country. Tonight is the night before Thanksgiving*, but nobody here knows it.

We are having Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, at 3:30 in the afternoon as is traditional. But here it’s just an ordinary Thursday, so our guests can’t get off work. We are both supposed to be at school tomorrow (but we’re both skipping).

We went to the grocery store, and there was no mob scene. The displays were not Thanksgiving-themed, so it was hard to find the cranberries and breadcrumbs. But if we forgot to get something, no problem, the stores will all be open and un-mobbed all day tomorrow. The highways are not clogged with people doing everything they can to get home for a couple of days, even if it means long miserable hours of travel.

Thanksgiving is the most important holiday in my family. It’s an explicitly secular holiday (unlike Christmas, which is de facto a secular holiday, but still explicitly a religious one). Don’t buy each other objects. Get together and enjoy the company of your family, work in the kitchen together, set aside work and school for a few days. Think about all the things that went right this year. I’m totally shameless on the subject of Thanksgiving; I love it.

This is the first year I’ll be spending it away from family, and the first year Spencer and I are hosting. It’s a rite of passage in the US, hosting your first Thanksgiving at your own house. So it’s going to be a bittersweet day full of meaning, to me. But for everyone else it’s just Thursday.

* Treat ‘Thanksgiving’ as an indexical term, like ‘here’ or ‘I’. Its meaning varies with certain facts about the speaker. I can say “it’s Thanksgiving”, and mean “it’s American Thanksgiving”… so even if you’re Canadian you can follow along without thinking I’m a smug imperialist bastard. Although of course.

Howls of outrage (12)

2005 11 23

Matthew Yglesias quotes a bit of Jonathan Chait’s latest here. This is the part I found especially odd:

The sad thing is that there is, or was, a prospect to get Democrats onboard with the war effort. I believe that liberals loathe the war because they loathe Bush, rather than vice versa. What they want above all is for Bush to admit he made some huge mistakes in Iraq. It’s not a big thing to admit; everybody knows it’s true.

A simple admission of the obvious would sate his foes � or enough of them, anyway. That would also let Bush make the honest case for carrying on in Iraq.

Um, well, I do think that it’s a bit irritating of Bush and Co. to refuse to admit to mistakes. Also, some critics of the administration do occasionally suggest something along these lines, since they tend to be a bit dramatic when they discuss the importance of apologies and admissions of error. But, really, we (should) know how this game is played: Most critics who take this line really want the Bush administration to be honest about mistakes so that the press can drop the he said/he said routine on issues that are pretty much beyond debate. It’s an important fact about the conventions governing our political discourse that the press can’t report a fact as a fact as long as it’s “controversial,” i.e., disputed by one side. So that’s what the plea for honesty is (mainly) about. Serious critics of the administration are not really pleading for respect or sincerity from the Bush administration – they know they’re never going to get it. Rather, they’re angling for advantage, and pleading for a little more honesty is a nice rhetorical gambit.

Chait misses that and I think it’s revealing that he does. The real problem with the war is not that it was sold dishonestly or that it continues to be sold dishonestly. As an increasing number of people are coming to see, it’s flawed from top to bottom. And the pressing credibility problem is not with Americans, it’s with many Iraqis, whose cooperation in this venture is rather important. That Chait focuses in this way on the issue of honesty suggests to me that (in addition to missing a fairly obvious point about the way media conventions work) he probably still hasn’t listened carefully to what critics of the war are saying. For most of them, the fact that a deeply flawed foreign policy venture was sold dishonestly at most adds insult to injury. It’s not as if they’ll come around to embrace the injury if the insults stop.

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2005 11 23
Koppel Goes

We watched Koppel’s last NIGHTLINE last night. I’m sure he was a standup guy, though I really haven’t spent much time watching his work. I do, however, remember the way in which he cut through the money, power, and DLC-sanctioned issue-evasion in one of the Democratic debates:

This is question to Ambassador Braun, Rev. Sharpton, Congressman Kucinich. You don’t have any money, at least not much. Rev. Sharpton has almost none. You don’t have very much, Ambassador Braun. The question is, will there come a point when polls, money and then ultimately the actual votes that will take place here, in places like New Hampshire, the caucuses in Iowa, will there come a point when we can expect one or more of the three of you to drop out? Or are you in this as sort of a vanity candidacy?

Denny told him where he could put his dime-a-dozen political insights:

Ted, you know, we started at the beginning of this evening talking about an endorsement. Well, I want the American people to see where the media takes politics in this country. To start with endorsements, to start talking about endorsements. Now we’re talking about polls. And then we’re talking about money. Well, you know, when you do that, you don’t have to talk about what’s important to the American people…Ted, I’m the only one up here that actually, on the stage, that actually voted against the Patriot Act. And voted against the war. The only one on this stage. I’m also one of the few candidates up here who’s talking about taking our healthcare system from this for-profit system to a not-for-profit, single-payer, universal health care for all. I’m also the only one who has talked about getting out of NAFTA and the WTO and going back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers rights, human rights and the environment. Now, I may be inconvenient for some of those in the media, but I’m, you know, sorry about that.

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2005 11 21
White Phosphorus

The NYT has a piece today about the U.S. government’s response to allegations made in a recent Italian documentary that U.S. forces used white phosphorus during the assault on Fallujah. There’s a lot to say about this issue – I’ve seen reasonable doubts expressed about some of the documentary’s claims – but I’d like limit myself to a modest point or two about the NYT’s coverage of the debate. I excerpt the piece in full under the fold – something I rarely do, but I invite the Times to sue me for it, since it would really help me to make my point.

Recall that the U.S. used napalm during the major combat operations phase of the Iraq War. True, they used a newer and more effective kind of napalm, which technically has a different name. But it’s basically napalm, which is why everyone in the field calls it “napalm.” When questioned about its use, the military denied that had ever used napalm in Iraq. When the truth came out, the explanation was that what they call “napalm” now isn’t what used to be called “napalm.”

OK, so I would call that lying or, in a pinch, stretching the truth in such a way as to raise serious doubts about the credibility of any future claims. The first point about the piece, then, is that it completely omits any mention of that context. But I think it’s relevant to the current debate about white phosphorus. Without that context, it’s a lot harder to figure out why critics of the administration think that no one in her right mind would take the administration at its word.

But let’s give the reporter a break, huh? After all, if he searches his own paper’s archives, there’s nothing about this incident, something I complained about at the time (1, 2, 3). It’s nice that the NYT has finally clued into the fact that the use this sort of weapon creates a public relations problem. It’s just a pity they’ve clued in so damn late. And this is one of those interesting cases where providing the relevant context might raise uncomfortable questions about the NYT’s credibility, as well as the military’s: They used what? Why didn’t I read about that at the time?

Second point. The story ends with an unchallenged statement by a Pentagon spokeman:

While he said he could not rule out that white phosphorus hit some civilians, “U.S. and coalition forces took extraordinary measures to prevent civilian casualties in Falluja.”

Again, a little more curiosity on the part of the reporter might have led to a little more context for the reader. U.S. forces appear to have turned back fleeing men, civilians, into Fallujah because they were military age. This is a violation of the laws of war. They shut down hospitals, restricted information, and then bombed the shit out of neighbourhoods filled with people unable to leave. This too is a violation of the laws of war. I’ve said repeatedly in the past that it’s hard to see how chemical weapons create some special sort of moral problem. As far as I can see, the real moral issues, when we consider U.S. behaviour, are raised by these serious violations of the laws of war. But as long as we’re debating special moral problems that might be raised by the use of white phosphorus or napalm or whatever, let’s not allow military spokesmen to whitewash the past unchallenged. That would be letting them get away with murder.

Update: Oh yeah, and Steve Laniel points us to the fact that once upon a time, the U.S. government did want to call white phosophorus a chemical weapon.>
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2005 11 19
News Feed

Posted by in: Metablog, Odds and ends

Right then. I had originally planned to put a third column on the blog, but halfway through that effort the torpor struck. Ah, the torpor. Will it ever cease its defeating ways? Anyway, under the influence of the dread torpor I ended up simply adding the news feed to the top left hand column. Now that I’m done I think it’s actually better this way. So there you go, another victory for torpor. Enjoy the news feed.

Howls of outrage (4)

2005 11 19
Part MCMXVII of “I’m not a mean person. I just play one on my blog.”

Posted by in: Sex

Everyone seems to be linking to this article in New York Magazine called “The New Monogamy.” It’s not very good, but all the same I think it invites extended comment. However, I’ve learned that giving items on the internet extended comment only encourages more items to invite extended comment. The only way they’ll learn is if I refuse to take the bait. So I’ll just limit myself to a bit of snark.

The most immediately striking thing about the piece is just how square the authors Em and Lo seem. But after a while, they seem so square that you have to wonder whether they are, as it were, fucking with the reader. Witness:

These two are open in every sense of the word: with each other, with everyone they meet, even with the public (Siege has a blog on to which he posts documentation of their escapades). When we requested an interview, Siege invited us to the Williamsburg apartment he shares with Katie. We both hesitated, then Em suggested a coffee shop two doors down instead. We’re usually fearless about nosing into people’s relationships, but knowing that this couple entertains guests on a more intimate basis threw us off balance. “What if they hit on us?” Em asked, insisting that she be the stenographer so Lo could handle the majority of the eye contact. “What if they don’t?” replied Lo

[. . . Ellipses used to dishonestly omit a paragraph Em and Lo could use, if only weakly, in their defence. . . .]

To our pleasant surprise, however, there is absolutely nothing skeevy about Siege and Katie. They’re smart, funny, polite, hip, attractive, self-deprecating, and affectionate with one another. And that’s the most disconcerting thing of all. Call us snobs, but it’s easy to dismiss suburban swingers who show up at orgies with a Tupperware container or Bay Area hippies missing the irony gene. But when a couple like Siege and Katie decry strict monogamy? It makes you wonder, How old-fashioned, socially programmed, and ass-backward am I?

Trust me, if they’re at all serious, they don’t want an answer to that last question. Remember, these are sex advice columnists. And what Siege and Katie do is not all that uncommon, especially in NYC – indeed, that’s one of the main points of the article. Yet Em and Lo seem to be afraid that Siege and Katie are going to start sport humping their legs the moment they walk in the door, since, of course, that’s what people in open relationships can always be counted on to do, the pervy freaks.

Or perhaps, as I suggested above, this is all a joke, and the passage I quoted is a very subtle comic send up of that well-known type, the heterosexual man who confusedly assumes that all gay men are into him, since he’s a guy and isn’t that what gay men are into? If this passage is read as a joke, it opens up a much richer way of interpreting the article as a whole: On this reading the piece slyly pokes fun at precisely the hang-ups and fears that the authors pretend to embody. Instead of an incredibly square attempt to be edgy, then, we have a genuinely edgy extended rip on the kind of people who think they’re being edgy by finding the article titillating. Read this way, the article isn’t very nice, but at least it’s (intentionally) funny.

(I’m starting to really enjoy creatively reinterpreting articles I don’t like. An earlier Radosh-inspired example here.)

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 11 19
Soon with even more features

Posted by in: Metablog, Odds and ends

If I can shake off the torpor that has enveloped my life for a few minutes* I might add a third column to the blog with various news links that have caught my eye. Might. I figure I could post things to a account and then have that converted to a javascript thingie that would post the links down the right side. Anyway, the account is here in case you want to subscribe some other way.

If I do this, I want you to think of Explananda as more than a half-assed blog. I want you to think of it as a half-assed blog/news portal.

* Syntactic ambiguity originally unintended, but pleasing enough to retain when noticed.

Howls of outrage (7)

2005 11 18

Oh happy, happy, Freude, Freude!:

Conrad Black is facing the battle of his life with U.S. justice officials, who have slapped him with a sweeping criminal indictment that could send him to jail for 40 years.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald alleged yesterday that, through lies, greed and theft, Lord Black and three former colleagues diverted $84-million (U.S.) out of investors’ hands and into their own pockets.

“All in all, what has happened here has been a gross abuse by officers and directors and insiders who decided to line their pockets,” said Mr. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 11 17
Another deleted post

Posted by in: Metablog, Odds and ends

Ah, what a pity. I just spent 30 minutes writing a post, which I then decided to trash. It’s not the first time that’s happened, dear reader. In addition to being nasty, the post was just a bit too revealing. I note, not for the first time, that this blog would be much, much funnier if it were anonymous.

Howls of outrage (9)