Archives for February, 2003

A group called Musicians United to Win without War has an ad in the NYT today. You can see it here. A strange mix of folks. I’m not surprised the didactic, self-important Fugazi’s against the war (they’re so annoyingly political they once wrote a song urging Justice Brennan not to croak); but I am surprised they’d sign on with wus-music characters like Dave Matthews and Natalie Imbruglia. And why are gangsta rappers “Capone & Noreaga” opposed to invasion? Too bloody? Weirdest of all, where does a band called “Massive Attack” get off crying “give peace a chance”?

Posted on Feb 26, 2003 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

What It Means to Be a Libertarian

Brink has a piece in the new issue of Liberty that’s well worth reading. It responds to those who seek to read him out of the “movement,” such as it is, for his heterodoxy on Iraq. He excerpts a good chunk of it on his blog.

Brink distinguishes between “a radical or utopian variety [of libertarianism], and a pragmatic, reformist one.” Though I couldn’t disagree with him more on Iraq, I find much that’s appealing about his nondogmatic version of libertarianism. I think I share the approach, if not some of the specific applications. Of course, I think I’m pragmatic and nondogmatic, but I’m convinced that a federal government limited to its proper functions could be run out of a VW Bus on cinderblocks.

Posted on Feb 25, 2003 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Divorce Registry

People register for weddings. Why doesn’t anyone ever register for their impending divorce? Folks who’re pulling the ripcord on a marriage in a tailspin could use a little consumerist pick-me-up probably more than those entering a life of wedded bliss. Women getting back on the market could register for a makeover or some pampering at a day spa. Men could register at Best Buy to pick up that obscenely loud stereo they weren’t allowed to have. Hmmm….

Posted on Feb 24, 2003 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

It’s annoying to have people like Sheryl Crow on my side of the Iraq debate. But then again, she’s better looking than either Bill Kristol or Max Boot, and probably tougher than the two of them put together.

But for my money, the bravest man in America is the guy who gave this tattoo to Mike Tyson. I’d sooner bikini-wax a cheetah.


Posted on Feb 24, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Caring for Your Introvert

Great piece by Jonathan Rauch on a little-understood personality type to which I belong:

After an hour or two of being socially “on,” we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: “I’m okay, you’re okay—in small doses.”

I read once that Watergate felon H.R. Haldeman spent his prison hitch reading through Will and Ariel Durant’s 12-volume History of Civilization series. I remember thinking, “well that wouldn’t be so bad.”

On the other hand, I do have some need for social contact.

Dante Hicks: You hate people!
Randall Graves: Yeah, but I love gatherings. Isn’t it ironic?

Posted on Feb 22, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Modest Proposal

I don’t want Al Qaeda to get weapons of mass destruction any more than the next guy. Considerably less, if the next guy doesn’t, like me, live in Washington D.C. I don’t consider mustard gas, chlorine gas, aflotoxin, VX, sarin, anthrax, or most other agents that Iraq may have weapons of mass destruction. I do consider Russian suitcase nukes weapons of mass destruction, as do all other sane people. So:

Instead of paying Turkey $26 billion dollars to let us open a northern front, why don’t we take that money, and pay portions of it–no questions asked–to any Russian gangster or ‘stan dictator who can sell us missing suitcase nukes?

Posted on Feb 20, 2003 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Both Sides Now

Here’s the transcript of a CFR debate on Iraq. Pro-war: Bill Kristol and Bodybags Boot. Anti: Mearsheimer and Walt. Worth reading. Kristol makes exactly one good point. See if you can figure out what it is.

Posted on Feb 20, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Quote of the Day

“The University of Chicago [is made up of] the biggest collection of juvenile neurotics since the Childrens’ Crusade.”

–A.J. Liebling

Too true. Quote courtesy of Moller.

Posted on Feb 20, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Calm Down, Get Ahold of Yourself

I’m fairly paranoid. I have RadBlock potassium iodide pills, an Israeli gas mask, and a NIOSH facemask. But too many people hear the catchall phrase “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and start hyperventilating like the Bill Paxton character in Aliens: “Oh this is it! We’re history, man!! News flash: we’re alll gonnna DIE!!”

Case in point: I love Bill Safire on Total Information Awareness, but in today’s column he talks about “Iraqi weapons [that] could someday obliterate New York” and “weapons capable of murdering millions.” Which makes me wonder: does Bill Safire read the New York Times? Gregg Easterbrook had a nice piece last Sunday debunking WMD hysteria. Excerpts:

If terrorists use chemical weapons, they will probably affect a tiny area at worst, because terrorists would have chemical agents in relatively small amounts. Though any amount of chemical agent might seem ghastly, in actual use chemicals have proved no more deadly, pound for pound, than conventional bombs.

The British and Germans used one ton of chemical weapons per fatality caused during World War I. The 1995 release of the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subways by the Aum Shinrikyo sect killed 12 people, fewer than a small, standard bomb might have killed in that crowded, enclosed area. An estimated 5,000 Kurds died in Saddam Hussein’s chemical attack on Halabja, Iraq, in 1988, but this involved dozens of fighter-bombers making repeated low passes over the town. It’s hard to imagine that terrorists could pull off such a coordinated heavy military maneuver.

His comments about bioweapons are similar.

Safire’s not the only hawk exaggerating the dangers of chem/bio/dirty nukes. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, because if such weapons really were potent enough “to murder millions,” we’d be pretty stupid to attack him.

Posted on Feb 20, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Infantilization of America

I’ll defer to Eugene Volokh on the legality of random car inspections at airports, but here’s a little detail that caught my eye (from the WaPo):

Police at Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania have been sweetening the inspections by passing out lollipops to targeted drivers. “It’s so we don’t intimidate,” said Alfred Testa Jr., the airport’s aviation director. “The policemen are very polite. They will have a smile on their face.”

Grrr. This is even worse than when you go to vote and they put that little “I Voted!” sticker on you–like you’re a five-year-old kid who just went to the dentist, got the bubble-gum flavored flouride, and didn’t squirm.

I am a grown man and an American citizen. If you hand me a lollipop, you’d better be wearing a uniform, because otherwise I’ll be tempted to jab it in your eye.

Posted on Feb 19, 2003 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Thinking Like a Terrorist, Thinking Like a Tyrant

Brink’s reached the stage where he views everyone who disagrees with him on Iraq as either irrational or willfully blind. I can’t fault him. I fear I reached that stage myself some time ago.

In his latest post on Iraq and Al Qaeda, he asks some vexing questions and some easy ones. Here’s an easy one. Brink views the fact that someone who may be Osama Bin Laden has urged Muslims to fight the American invader as proof positive that OBL and SH’s interests coincide, even though “Bin Laden” calls Hussein a socialist infidel. Writes Brink:

Meanwhile, an Al Qaeda spokesman — maybe bin Laden, maybe not — has announced that, notwithstanding their differences with the Iraqi regime, Islamists should support that regime against the United States. Given that statement, what basis is there anymore for arguing that Al Qaeda would refuse to work with Iraq in plotting terrorist attacks against the United States?

Of course, cooperation between Al Qaeda and Hussein is possible. Who ever said it wasn’t? The Hitler-Stalin pact was possible. (Hussein, as a student of Stalin, knows how that turned out).

Accordingly, I’ll agree that AQ would be willing to accept chemical or biological weapons from Hussein in order to kill Americans. What are they going to say? “Away with your infidel nerve gas! By God, we will make our own!” They’d take the weapons, and use them in an American city.

Then what? They’re going to keep quiet about who handed them over? Why, exactly? To be good sports? Something in the terrorists’ honor code?

No, if they’re smart, they’ll let us know who passed it off (assuming we have any doubts). Maybe releasing another tape to Al-Jazeera (“Saddam gave it to us–go get ‘im!”) would be a little brash–so instead they’d let it slip on, say, a satellite phone they know we’ve got a fix on.

All in all, a nice trick for AQ: they get to take a punch at the great Satan, and goad him into a war with another enemy–a war that will end Saddam’s “infidel” regime and bring “the jurisdiction of the socialists” to an end. A war that promises to bring new Jihadis into the fold. And all that’s necessary for Al Qaeda to achieve these goals is to convince the Iraqi dictator to hand over the goods.

Now Saddam Hussein would have to be one simple, credulous sonofabitch to fall for that, wouldn’t he?

Posted on Feb 17, 2003 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Baby Names and Namesakes

Who said the Social Security Administration never did anything useful? Courtesy of P.J., check out this handy index of popular baby names.

For babies born in 2001, my name, “Eugene” is no. 530 on the list, behind some genuinely weird names like “Demitrius,” “Skyar,” “Jace,” and “Chance.” It also falls behind some obvious misspellings like “Johnathon,” “Zackery,” “Kody,” and “Kameron.” It also falls behind “Mohammed,” but ahead of a few product-placement sort of names, like “Armani” and “Maxim.”

Well, “Eugene” has never been terribly popular, least of all with me. As the John Cusack character remarks in the Sure Thing: “that’s the name of a fat kid who eats paste. Give the kid a real name–a name like “Nick”! Nick’s your buddy, Nick’s your pal. Nick’s the kind of guy who doesn’t mind if you puke in his car!”

Instead, I’ve been destined to go through life with a name that pretty much guaranteed I’d never be in Delta Force. If it wasn’t for Gene Hackman, I don’t know how I’d hold my head up.

Actually, though, I’m named after two pretty solid Eugenes: Eugene O’Neill and Eugene McCarthy–heroic antiwar Democrat who drove Lyndon Johnson out of the 1968 Presidential race and then got screwed out of the nomination by Bobby Kennedy, who was then assassinated at the California primary, leaving the nomination to Hubert Humphrey and the country without a genuine antiwar candidate. (LBJ famously remarked “Ah’ve got Hubert’s pecker in mah pocket.)

In 1998 I went to a book signing by Christopher Hitchens for his anti-Clinton tome No One Left To Lie To. He looked fabulously rumpled and either wretchedly hungover, or on his way to drunk, or both (it was around 4:30 PM and difficult to tell). When he asked me who to make it out to, I said, “Gene, like Gene McCarthy.” “Great man. Is that who you’re named after?” Yes, I said, “I was born back when my parents were liberals.” “What happened to them?” “Well, they made a little money and started voting for Reagan.” “Ah.” he said, “That’s funny. I’m probably far wealthier than they are, and it hasn’t changed me a bit.”

Posted on Feb 17, 2003 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Just Because You’re Paranoid…

I urge everybody to read Julian’s post on Operation Northwoods, a Pentagon plan to stage terrorist attacks to foment war with Cuba.

Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans reportedly included the possible assassination of Cuban ��?���©migr��?���©s, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities.
The plans were developed as ways to trick the American public and the international community into supporting a war to oust Cuba’s then new leader, communist Fidel Castro.

Julian uses it as a jumping off point to discuss the bodyguard of lies accompanying our entry into other wars, and asks:

Why on earth should we assume that the information we’re getting in this instance isn’t at least partly just made up out of whole cloth, an attempt to manipulate public opinion to jibe with administration desires? Certainly there’s not much historical basis for thinking that a likely hypothesis. Why should we accept that these things happened ten or twenty or forty years ago, but find it inconceivable that the same thing is happening now? Why, for that matter, should we find it remotely plausible that the folks in charge now are much more honest, more incapable of such foul deception, than the folks in charge then?

To further fan the flames of paranoia, check out this account of Pentagon biowarfare experiments in the 1950s:

[In 1977] in testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on health, the U.S. government admitted to:

* Blasting a bacterial fog over the entire 49-square-mile area of San Francisco from September 20-27, 1950. The bacteria, Serratia marcesens and Bacillus globiggi, was sprayed via giant hoses from U.S. Navy ships in San Francisco harbor.

While both bacteria were believed to be safe, 11 people checked into local hospitals in the weeks following the secret attacks, all with cases of pneumonia caused by Serratia marcesens. One person, a 75-year-old retired pipe fitter named Edward J. Nevin, died. Doctors were baffled by the unexplained outbreak.

(The account’s from an LP News release, but I’ve read the Wall Street Journal article it’s based upon, and I can vouch that the LP is representing the story accurately).

Post-Watergate distrust of government and attempts to rein in our spy agencies and military came in for some serious criticism after 9/11. But the Church Committee hearings and subsequent reforms, as well as the War Powers Resolution and the Boland Amendment, were rational responses to government abuses of power. Eternal vigilance–even hard core skepticism–is still the price of liberty. As Julian notes, there’s some danger of that skepticism bleeding into paranoia. But what’s frightening is how much the government has done to feed that paranoia.

UPDATE: Mark sends along this link to the actual Northwoods memo described in the ABC News Piece. I’m having a hard time opening it on my feeble dial-up connection. Nonethless, here’s what it reveals:

It’s very evident from reading the memo that in almost every case–from the “sinking” of a U.S. vessel, to a downing of a civilian airliner, that the plan called for a Potemkin-Village-like sinking/shooting down of unmanned “drones”, in conjunction w/ elaborate Rube Goldberg like deception to make it seem like actual American civilians/servicemen were killed. But, to be sure. . .they did plan to sink an actual refugee boat, they did propose attacking Cuban emigres albeing “to the point of wounding,” and placing plastic bombs in Miami locations “carefully chosen”–which from the context pretty clearly means placing the bombs in places where there would be no casualties.

He’s not saying that this isn’t criminal, or that it’s no big deal–just that the ABC News piece and Julian’s post made it sound as though the Pentagon had a plan to kill a whole bunch of Americans to start a war with Cuba, which isn’t the case. Fair enough, and a useful correction. But it’s bad enough as it is.

Posted on Feb 17, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Hate Mail

I get some nasty email at my work email account whenever I publish an op-ed that flouts right-wing conventional wisdom. Most recently, I got a bunch for the piece I wrote opposing militarization of the borders: “moron”, “commie”, “cheap labor pimp,” etc. etc. If the mailer’s polite, I usually respond to his points. If he calls me names, though, I sometimes reply with some version of the following.

Dear Jim: Thanks much for your letter. I think it’s swell that your shift manager at the 7-11 lets you send email during your little breaks, to let off steam.



A few months back, I used that line on a guy who’d called me a few filthy names when I wrote an op-ed saying that President Bush needed authorization from Congress before he could invade Iraq. To his credit, he wrote back:

My shift manager!? Hey buddy, I *am* the shift manager!

But I think I’ve hit on a new strategy that will be even more irritating. My Dad tells me that in order to respond to hate mail, H.L. Mencken used to have hundreds of cards printed up with the following:

Dear Sir: You may be right.


H.L. Mencken

Posted on Feb 17, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Screw Lileks

This is a better bleat:

Vietnam was just a war. We lost, and nothing happened. You might be surprised how many in the Disabled American Veterans quietly hate those who sent them. Yes, I will get angry mail, from those fiercest of warriors, the 103rd Combat Virgins Division, grrr, bow-wow, woof, telling that that I am a commie and a coward and wear lace underwear. I’m impressed in advance.

Later, as a reporter, I spent a year between Saigon and Phnom Penh, leaving both cities with their evacuations. The Asia I saw in the complex warren off Truong Minh Ky was not the Asia of the GIs. It was complex, variegated, enduring. I liked the Vietnamese. I still do. I am glad that we killed only a million of them.

Posted on Feb 17, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment