Monday, November 25, 2002
I heard a speech on C-SPAN radio this weekend by General Tommy Franks, in which he stated that now was a propitious time to confront Saddam Hussein, as Iraq's military is considerably weaker, and the U.S.' considerably stronger, than it was a decade ago during the Gulf War. I have not yet found a transcript of this speech online, but it is in general agreement with positions that Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice have taken in the past (this links to an Abilene newspaper carrying the 9/9/02 NYTimes wire story - the original article is avilable for purchase here).
Doesn't this sort of contradict the conservative conventional wisdom that Clinton eviscerated the U.S. military, and left us open to the depradations of international terrorism? Franks did not just say that the Lockheed plant had been put on doubleshifts, so now we have enough smart missiles; he, and the administration officials, were referring to the U.S. military being better trained, more seasoned, and dramatically technologically advanced since 1991. Unless Franks and the entire U.S. national security team are claiming to have brought the military back from the brink in a year and a half (which they are not; only right-wing "news" organizations claim this)these statements kind of sound like an endorsement of Clinton's military policy. But that can't be right, can it? Clinton? Good for the military? Naw. I must have misunderstood.
Friday, November 22, 2002
Some creepy particulars about the stated missions of the new Information Awareness Office ("Story telling, change detection, and truth maintenance," for one) have been collected by Busy, Busy, Busy. The IAO is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same folks who brought you the radar-guided smart missile and the internet. Poking around on the IAO site, I came across this document, which is really quite interesting. The document is a BAA (Broad Agency Announcement) soliciting proposals for new technologies that the new IAO anticipates it will require to perform its domestic mission. The descriptions of the types of stuff they need are pretty vague, but I found this passage to be of particular note:
Repository Issues: The National Security Community has a need for very large
scale databases covering comprehensive information about all potential terrorist
threats; those who are planning, supporting or preparing to carry out such
events; potential plans; and potential targets. In the context of this BAA, the term
“database” is intended to convey a new kind of extremely large, omni-media,
virtually-centralized, and semantically-rich information repository that is not
constrained by today’s limited commercial database products -- we use
“database” for lack of a more descriptive term. DARPA seeks innovative
technologies needed to architect, populate, and exploit such a database for
combating terrorism. Key metrics include the amount of total information that is
potentially covered, the utility of its data structures for data entry and use by
humans and machines in searching and browsing, data integration, and
capability to automatically populate, and the completeness, correctness, and
timeliness of the information when used for predictive analysis and modeling in
exploiting the information in these repositories. It is anticipated this will require
revolutionary new technology.
The database envisioned is of an unprecedented scale, will most likely be
distributed, must be capable of being continuously updated, and must support
both autonomous and semi-automated analysis. The latter requirement implies
that the representation used must, to the greatest extent possible, be
interpretable by both algorithms and human analysts. The database must support
change detection and be able to execute automated procedures implied by new
information. Because of expected growth and adaptation needs, the effective
schema must be adaptable by the user so that as new sources of information,
analytical methods, or representations arise, the representation of data may be
re-structured without great cost. If distributed, the database may require new
search methods to answer complex, less than specific queries across physical
implementations and new automated methods for maintaining consistency. The
reduced signature and misinformation introduced by terrorists who are attempting
to hide and deceive imply that uncertainty must be represented in some way. To
protect the privacy of individuals not affiliated with terrorism, DARPA seeks
technologies for controlling automated search and exploitation algorithms and for
purging data structures appropriately. Business rules are required to enforce
security policy and views appropriate for the viewer's role.
The potential sources of information about possible terrorist activities will include
extensive existing databases. Innovative technologies are sought for treating
these databases as a virtual, centralized, grand database. This will require
technologies for automatically determining schemas, access methods and
controls, and translation of complex English language queries into the
appropriate language for the relevant databases . . . . Non-traditional methods
of identifying and monitoring terrorist activity are anticipated.
The IRS, FBI, and many other agencies participate in large-scale information collecting, and already maintain massive databases which this database would eventually link to and encompass. Apparently, however, those huge systems, and the architecture underlying them, are not fast, big, or smart enough for the type of data analyses that IAO wants to perform. It is possible that the event signatures that a dispersed, low-profile organization like Al-Qaeda leave while preparing for a terrorist attack are so insignificant that they can only be spotted from the most meta- of levels, requiring this population-wide view of the activities of the people. It s also possible that in their zeal, this office is overreaching in a grand and awful way. The proposal later notes that "technology is needed to automate or semi-automate the generation of efficient and persuasive explanations,," whatever that means.
What are they proposing to do that requires an information storage and analysis system that is an order of magnitude more complex, has more capacity, and is more automated than any currently existing government database? Oh, right, I forgot - fight terrorism.
Monday, November 18, 2002
THIS WEEK HAS PROVIDED A really interesting Slate dialogue between two-foot tall ex-labor secretary, ex-Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Robert Reich and rent-a-moderate journalist Joe Klein. Both seem sincere in their desire to chart a new path forward. Klein is obviously smart, but he seems co-opted and tentative, and I'm sorry, I have to think that Reich just flattened him:
"[T]his is much bigger and more important than the future of the Democratic Party. It's really about the future of democracy. Our democracy is in terrible trouble right now. Power is in the hands of a tiny group of people who are using the threat of terrorism to impose their crimped vision of a corporate commonwealth. Large corporate entities are more politically potent than they've been at any time in my memory. We're back to the era of William McKinley.
Truth be told, I don't give a damn about the future of the Democratic Party. Parties are means, not ends. I'm a lifelong Dem and have devoted a huge chunk of my life to the party, but if the party is comatose I'm not going to throw myself onto the tracks to keep it barely alive. The question is: Can Dems turn themselves into a national movement to take back our democracy? Can they give voice to those without a voice? Can they regain their passion, courage, soul?"
More like this, please. In any case, it's worth reading the whole thing.
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
DEMOCRATIC INFIGHTING should shock no one - it's just like Clemenza said as he wrapped the butt of Michael's pistol with tape.
Michael: "How bad will it be?"
Clemenza: (sighs) "Bad. Probably all the other families will line up against us. But it's all right. These things have to happen once every 10 years or so. Gets rid of the bad blood."
Well amen to that. But who do we go with, to lead us forward? Sonny's dead, so who's left? Michael? Fredo? We need an answer, because the Godfather is past his prime, and Tom Hagen is not a wartime consiglieri.
Tuesday, November 12, 2002
MUSIC CALMS THE FLUORESCENT BUZZING IN MY HEAD. I think I'll move the "now in rotation" section off of the side and onto the main stage, if only so, now and again when I am bereft of ideas for posting, I can just glance at the CDs that fill the small tower I keep on the corner of my desk. So, the first 10, from the top down: Wynton Marsalis - Live at the Village Vanguard. A 7-cd set, recently released, but the performances are from the early nineties, when he had just moved from quintet into the now-classic septet form. Makes good use of all that CD acreage, including 40+ minute versions of "In the Sweet Embrace of Life," and my favorite track in the set, "Citi Movement." The liner notes by Stanley Crouch, are, predictably, hilariously pretentious and awful. 20 Years of Dischord Box Set - various. A really fascinating set of songs, one each from all 50 bands released on Dischord from 1980 until 2000, plus a rarities disc. Dischord has been widely criticized, and no doubt is dragged into the black by Fugazi and the back catalog, but I don't think there is a city that wouldn't benefit from such a label. Dischord has a point of view, and if it has served to supress certain types of music, it has not remained static itself - the arc from The Teen Idles to Q and not U makes for a very interesting and internally coherent arc. Except for the Snakes. What were they thinking? Wilco - Summerteeth. Yeah, I know, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, etc., etc. I like this one better. and you will know us by the trail of dead - source tags & codes. Just a great, unapologetically loud and pretty record. "Baudelaire" has the kind of overpoweirng momentum I haven't heard since, say, Refused's "New Noise." Built to Spill - Keep It Like a Secret. Live, Doug Martsch always seemed kind of annoyed that he wrote such long songs. He constantly omitted sections and cut off chord progressions after the chorus. Then he plays "Cortez the Killer" for 45 minutes. Go figure. In the studio, Martsch is not nearly so stingy with his songwriting. A Built to Spill song generally has about six sections, and Martsch is the reigning champion of the outro - witness "Carry the Zero" or "Temporarily Blind." Horace Silver - Song for my Father. Are you kidding me? Horace Silver is dynamite, rich funk jazz, with just enough refinement to make it pretty. Que Pasa? Radiohead - Kid A. I used to dislike this record, then I found my way into it, via "Optimistic." But that's just 'cause I'm a know-nothing pop-junkie who thinks "The Bends" is their best record. modest mouse - Building Nothing Out of Something. Hard to remember at some points in this record that it is a compilation of singles. "Never Ending Math Equation" is one of their best songs, and would feel right at home on "Lonesome Crowded West," and the rest is just kind of strange and affecting, a collection of similarly atmospheric, extended pieces that feel consistent. Don Caballero - Live at the Grog Shop. Terrible shame this band broke up. Drums as a lead instrument. Extended, fiendishly complicated instrumentals that never got boring or progressive. Even at this relatively late show, the songs are all together and roar. Damon Che, where have you gone? Mission of Burma - vs. Not as consistently good as "signals, calls, & marches," but pretty fucking good, all the same.
Tomorrow - back to the partisan bleating!
Sunday, November 10, 2002
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF HEADSHAKING and rueful noise made about the future direction of the Democratic Party over the last couple of days, which is not surprising. What is also unsurprising is how, even as we all mutter about unity and the need to find common ground and build power upon it, fundamental divisions are surfacing. On the one side, those who have had enough of the Clintonian experiment, the centrism and triangulation that has been the primary strategy and clearly undergirded the tax-cut swallowing and Iraq-doormatting of the Daschle Senate, tend to invoke Saint Paul and urge the party to head left. On the other hand, there are those who can't believe that anyone would mouth such folly, pointing out that turning left in the wake of the Republican victory is exactly what the Right wingers want - for the traditional party of the center to abandon the center (see MWO post entitled "Conservatives vs Regressives").
The debate brings to mind many questions, most of which are iterations of a simple one: what are Democrats? It may be that it is impossible for the nation to hold two fully realized political identities in their head at the same time. It may be that one side must always seem the active principle, and the other side must seem passive, dispersed. One side seems like a coherent movement, while the other side just feels like "everybody else," grouped for convenience's sake into one yowling, clawing bag of cats. I guess it is not a mystery which side is which right now. So, it seems, it must be asked: what was different during those times when the Democratic Party seemed to define the debate? And what is the way back?
A post on Daily Kos requested comments on a possible new slogan for the Democratic Party. This sparked an avid discussion among the posters on his comments board, considering and discarding various iterations of traditional Democratic themes: opportunity, community, responsibility. I posted a suggestion, which I'm clipping and pasting here, as a lead in to a longer post, maybe tomorrow, about how I think the Democrats could play to their strengths, and what those strengths are. So, here's my rudimentary idea for a Democratic advertising approach. I don't know how (or if) these ads fit under McCain-Feingold, but the proposal is essentially a badging of the party as a whole, ads that could play in any market, to support any election. The series of ads would have a similar look, and would set forth a series of straightforward policy propsals.
For example, an ad would focus on a community development initiative, whether related to education, vocational development program, or a small business tax cut, or a payroll tax cut for workers earning under 40K (which would be both a middle-class AND a industry boon). The ad closes with the words:
"Opportunity. Democrats make it happen."
Another in the series would focus on tough democratic corporate-crime/corruption measures, crackdowns on wealthy tax cheats (god willing), deficit reduction measures, a "clean candidacy" pledge or some such seal-of-approval mechanism, ending with:
"Responsibility. Democrats make it happen."
Or an ad showing housing initiatives, families moving into their first homes, rec centers opening, seniors using public transportation, etc., ending with:
"Community. Democrats make it happen."
More later, specifically about how Republicans (and, let's face it, an awful lot of Democrats) have been so successful at using artificially polarized ideological skirmishing and bloody-shirt "wedge issues" to distance themselves from their opponents, that there is a huge blind spot in the public perception of government, preventing the people from seeing politicians as people who actually do things, rather than just stand for them. Tomorrow I'm probably going to write about music, though. Enough politics, for fuck's sake.
Friday, November 08, 2002
NEW YORK IS A HORRIBLE PLACE. They still have the plague there. I mean, the plague, Jerry. Are you kidding me?
Thursday, November 07, 2002
The cover of a special Washington Post Election 2002 section today (print only, no link, sorry), shows Norm Coleman in a sacerdotal "giving it up to the man upstairs" pose, arm and eyes gesturing blissfully upwards, arm slightly relaxed as if being lifted, rather than lifting, a tight phalanx of similarly rapturous eyes gazing also to their creator. The caption? "Coleman, center, and his family acknowledge cheers from supporters at a victory rally in the state Capital rotunda." As if Coleman and his family were acknowledging the applause of GOD HIMSELF, who so clearly participated in, and desires the big takeover.
Or maybe there was just a balcony or something.
P.S. Does this guy look exactly like David Duke, or what?
JUST TO PLAY DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, while I think Bush has demagogued the war like a pro, we can't really have it both ways, can we? When he was bloviating about unilateral action and regime change, the left was up in arms, calling him a mindlessly bellicose jackass. Then, C. Powell essentially wrested control of Iraq policy from Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld et. al., and forced Bush to head to the UN and the Congress, focusing his rhetoric towards those goals. Which he did, got the Congressional go-ahead, and essentially shut up and let the fact of the Congressional resolution change the debate in the Security Council. Which it has done - witness France and Russia's consent to an Iraq resolution that, despite its somewhat watery language and lack of a specific threat of war, will stand as a valid excuse for military action if Saddam violates it.
What's the point? The point is that Bush did not barnstorm the country screeching about the war. He barnstormed all right (N.B. I wanted to fucking kill Marc Racicot when, last night on CNN, or MSNBC, or somewhere he described Bush's incessant campaigning as "The president just wants to be hands-on, and work with the people for a great change in our country." When asked immediately afterwards how he would characterize Clinton's campaigning while in office, he waved his hand and dismissed it as "deeply cynical" and Clinton as a "political animal") but one must admit that Bush did pretty much exactly what much of the left was asking him to do - tone down the unilateral, hyperaggressive war rhetoric and let the process work in the international forum. The fact that he's a puppet, and merely manifests outwardly the infighting among his advisors, does not lessen the hypocrisy of criticising him for doing exactly what we asked him to do.
Wednesday, November 06, 2002
HERE IT ALL COMES. Here come the vouchers. Here comes the TIPS program. Here comes missile defense. Here come the rattling diesel engines as a snakelike caravan of trucks and heavy drilling equipment burrows into the Alaskan wilderness to set up shop. Here comes the Air Cav., streaking into Iraq in phalanxes of jet helicopters. Here comes FBI-CIA consolidation under the Department of Homeland Security. Here comes a hundred new nuclear power plants. Here comes nationwide energy deregulation. Here come the faith-based initiatives, making the hungry recipients of bounty thank not just Uncle Sam but Jesus, too. Here comes a cohort of lifetime appointments to the federal bench for conservative judges, the repercussions of which I can't even begin to imagine. Here comes school prayer and the flag burning amendment.
My only choice is to shut up and live with it. The Republicans got just the election they wanted, all about Bush and homeland security. Ironically, Daschle's stupid, crippling appeasement of Bush for the purposes of turf protection have cost Daschle the turf he sought to protect. I suppose the problem with the thesis I set forth below is that it really describes the politicians more than the people. I think that most people do identify strongly with one party or another, but I have to acknowledge that there is a huge block of people who don't, a middle third that are not served by the hyperpolarized political professionals. Which brings me back to a pretty commonplace non-insight about swing voters, I guess.
But if the argument is reserved to the politicians themselves, I think it holds true. That is, until a third party not populated by self-aggrandizing iconoclasts and/or radical fringe dwellers arises and makes itself felt. While I don't buy the John McCain-as-closet-Democrat theory, I do think he is a substantially interesting hybrid, and as a third party candidate could make a strong run from the middle. It's interesting how the separation of powers has itself militated against third parties. In a parliamentary system, where the executive is simply the leader of the majority party, or of the largest party in a coalition, it is not significant or necessary to win 51% of the vote under one name. With our singular and separately elected executive, intended to wield power as a quasi-sovereign, 35% beating out 32% and 33% just won't cut it.
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
I HAVE NEVER BEEN A HUGE FAN OF MICKEY KAUS, but I have to admit, here at midday on election day, that I have never felt more like a member of 50/50 nation. I can't understand how conservatives can stomach the transparent deceptions and patently insincere appeals to simplistic nationalism and religion that inevitably fig-leaf for their political, religious, and commercial leaders' untrammeled greed and lust for power and exemption from the rules that govern the rest of us. No doubt the conservatives can't understand how I can stomach the transparent manipulations of a cadre of professional class warriors who hold no legitimate claim on the moral high ground they constantly and arrogantly invoke, and never miss an opportunity to cynically portray success as failure, religion as intolerant fanaticism, and the inevitable, natural competitive operation of society as the product of intentional human evil.
Charles Krauthammer recently wrote a piece explaining his belief that leftists thought those on the right were wicked, while those on the right believed that simple idiocy was the cause of leftism. Unfortunately for Krauthammer's thesis and our polity, this is incomplete. Both sides believe that the other side is both stupid and evil. Or at least that the leaders are the latter and the followers, the former. Conservatives believe this, despite Krauthammer's condescension that he really only pities liberal's lack of mental wattage, and does not deplore their motives. Liberals believe it, if I can blithely assume that the rest of liberalism thinks exactly as I do. How do we meet in the middle, when so much of the debate is based upon such mutual antipathy?
Seriously, we don't. The fascinating thing about Kaus' 50/50 model, is that it creates a center point which acts as a largely impermeable border. It may sway back and forth like a rugby scrum, but the essential mechanic that creates the balance of forces is that each time the line moves left or right, it does not simply pass over and change the affiliation of the individual, it signals them that they are offside, and they must get back on the correct side. Party affiliation has taken on a meaning outside of the issues that the party purportedly advocates. If the line simply scanned across static points like the sweep of a radio tuner, than all that would happen is that an individual voter would look up, see the national debate sweep over his head, and say "Hmm. Guess I'm a Republican now."
What actually happens is that that voter sees the changing tide, then gets up and moves, to push on his side of the wall. In so doing, he may have to give up some ground, but he has such a caricature in his head of what it means to be on the other side of that shifting divide, that the issues themselves don't matter. Witness the Senate, with dozens of ostensibly democratic senators laying down like puppies as Daschle told them to give in on Bush's terrorism/war agenda. "I know you disagree with this. I know you think that the USA Patriot Act teeters on the precipice of insanity. But if we fight back on this, the country will toss us out in the midterms, and they'll take over. Them. Those stupid, evil Republicans." If movement of the line significantly affected the numbers on either side, the line would never move back. But it does. Because people are more willing to bend their principles than their affiliations to and concomitant hatred of one or the other wildly inaccurate stereotype.
YEAH, I VOTED. I'm sick a those got'damn demmycrats takin' all my hootch money! I voted straight LaRouche Libertarian! Take Back America! And Mexico! And I don't like how them pot-huffin' Canadians are looking at us either! Remeber the Maine!
IT'S ELECTION TIME IN AMERICA, AND EVERYTHING IS DARK. The conventional wisdom streams in its majestic flooding channels far above our heads, emanating from the tops of towers thousands of feet high, from satellites like near-space quasars, billowing power and information indiscriminately, everywhere, blasting radioscopic cones of force into the ether, into the collective unconscious, into us, Very Long Array telescopes in reverse, not relatively tiny instruments seeking outward into a vastness to find objects of unimaginable power, but overwhelmingly powerful global technological networks looking downward, inward, hunting within the smallness of our prejudices, our instincts and reflexes to find small, powerless phenomena, seeking the elusive interstitial phantom of our attention, our loyalty, our purchases, our vote.
So, go vote.