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4/29/2004

R.I.P. Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn, British-American poet, just passed away at age 74 (via Andrew Sullivan). I don't know all that much about poetry but I like his poems, which cover the range from tragic to lighthearted. Here's "Courage, A Tale" (1976) (apologies in advance for the vulgarity):
There was a Child
who heard from another Child
that if you masturbate 100 times it kills you.

This gave him pause;
he certainly slowed down quite a bit
and also kept count.

But, till number 80,
was relatively loose about it.
There did seem plenty of time left.

The next 18
were reserved for celebrations,
like the banquet room in a hotel.

The 99th time
was simply unavoidable.

Weeks passed.

And then he thought
Fuck it
it's worth dying for,

and half an hour later
the score rose from 99 to 105

4/28/2004

Case closed (or, Bush told the TRUUUUUUTH)

Kenneth R. Timmerman: Saddam's WMD have been found.
In virtually every case - chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missiles - the United States has found the weapons and the programs that the Iraqi dictator successfully concealed for 12 years from U.N. weapons inspectors.

So there it is. Granted I would still have supported the war even if not a single particle of uranium or nerve gas were to be found in the whole country, but nonetheless this is big news. Timmerman says that solid evidence has been found on a regular basis over the last year, but blames the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the State Department-led group in charge of finding the WMD's, as well as the media, for dismissing or ignoring the import of the findings.
In testimony before Congress on March 30, [Charles] Duelfer, revealed that the ISG had found evidence of a "crash program" to construct new plants capable of making chemical- and biological-warfare agents. The ISG also found a previously undeclared program to build a "high-speed rail gun," a device apparently designed for testing nuclear-weapons materials. That came in addition to 500 tons of natural uranium stockpiled at Iraq's main declared nuclear site south of Baghdad, which International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky acknowledged to Insight had been intended for "a clandestine nuclear-weapons program."

There's much more on evidence of nuclear programs. And then there's the issue of the "pesticides".
But another reason for the media silence may stem from the seemingly undramatic nature of the "finds" Hanson and others have described. The materials that constitute Saddam's chemical-weapons "stockpiles" look an awful lot like pesticides, which they indeed resemble. "Pesticides are the key elements in the chemical-agent arena," Hanson says. "In fact, the general pesticide chemical formula (organophosphate) is the 'grandfather' of modern-day nerve agents."

...

At Karbala, U.S. troops stumbled upon 55-gallon drums of pesticides at what appeared to be a very large "agricultural supply" area, Hanson says. Some of the drums were stored in a "camouflaged bunker complex" that was shown to reporters - with unpleasant results. "More than a dozen soldiers, a Knight-Ridder reporter, a CNN cameraman, and two Iraqi POWs came down with symptoms consistent with exposure to a nerve agent," Hanson says. "But later ISG tests resulted in a proclamation of negative, end of story, nothing to see here, etc., and the earlier findings and injuries dissolved into nonexistence. Left unexplained is the small matter of the obvious pains taken to disguise the cache of ostensibly legitimate pesticides. One wonders about the advantage an agricultural-commodities business gains by securing drums of pesticide in camouflaged bunkers 6 feet underground. The 'agricultural site' was also colocated with a military ammunition dump - evidently nothing more than a coincidence in the eyes of the ISG."

That wasn't the only significant find by coalition troops of probable CW stockpiles, Hanson believes. Near the northern Iraqi town of Bai'ji, where Saddam had built a chemical-weapons plant known to the United States from nearly 12 years of inspections, elements of the 4th Infantry Division found 55-gallon drums containing a substance identified through mass spectrometry analysis as cyclosarin - a nerve agent. Nearby were surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, gas masks and a mobile laboratory that could have been used to mix chemicals at the site. "Of course, later tests by the experts revealed that these were only the ubiquitous pesticides that everybody was turning up," Hanson says. "It seems Iraqi soldiers were obsessed with keeping ammo dumps insect-free, according to the reading of the evidence now enshrined by the conventional wisdom that 'no WMD stockpiles have been discovered.'"

At Taji - an Iraqi weapons complex as large as the District of Columbia - U.S. combat units discovered more "pesticides" stockpiled in specially built containers, smaller in diameter but much longer than the standard 55-gallon drum. Hanson says he still recalls the military sending digital images of the canisters to his office, where his boss at the Ministry of Science and Technology translated the Arabic-language markings. "They were labeled as pesticides," he says. "Gee, you sure have got a lot of pesticides stored in ammo dumps."

Again, this January, Danish forces found 120-millimeter mortar shells filled with a mysterious liquid that initially tested positive for blister agents. But subsequent tests by the United States disputed that finding. "If it wasn't a chemical agent, what was it?" Hanson asks. "More pesticides? Dish-washing detergent? From this old soldier's perspective, I gain nothing from putting a liquid in my mortar rounds unless that stuff will do bad things to the enemy."

This changes everything, no?

Via Instapundit.

Damn, can't think of a good title for this one

Last night I met up with my friend who joined the Marines, finally back from boot camp in South Carolina. I almost didn't recognize him when I first saw him; according to him he's lost 35 pounds, and that's notwithstanding the good amount of muscle mass he gained. It's quite a dramatic change. He mostly reminisced about the crazy experiences he's seen, including eye-opening stories about the drills and the fairly dangerous training exercises they did (featuring live ammunition, as could be expected). He's here for just a short while, then he ships out for further combat and equipment training, then most likely it's off to one or another of the countries currently in the news.

On a mostly unrelated note, I must be giving off the wrong vibe. While I was waiting for him to show up at the bar, I took the opportunity to hit on a girl there. I was wearing a thin sweater over a button-down shirt, plus tweed pants and dress shoes. I mention this only because she said, soon after meeting me, "so you studied English and you like the Dave Matthews Band." Ha. Do I need to start wearing a trucker hat and western shirts? Although I did eventually get her number, so maybe I should just embrace my inner "sensitive frat boy".

4/27/2004

Mazal tov

Today is Israeli independence day. I didn't even know about it until a coworker told me; I'm used to it coming around later, like in May (the date follows the Hebrew calendar). I'm not aware of any celebrations going on in New York; does anybody know of anything? Anyway, my 2nd-favorite country in the world is now 56 years old. Still surrounded by mortal enemies, still having to put up with the same nonsense from most of the rest of the world, but still going strong. *sniff* I must admit the occasion gets me a little choked up...

4/25/2004

The Washington Post imitates a funny e-mail

Funny e-mail from a few months ago:
I lost my job this past year. When Clinton was president I was secure and prosperous, but in the last year, we had to close our operations...

Far worse, I lost two of my sons in Bush's evil war in Iraq. They gave their lives for their country, and for what? So that Bush's oil buddies can get rich. My pain of losing my sons is indescribable...

Regards,
Saddam Hussein

Washington Post opinion piece:

Why Did Bush Take My Job? By Saeb Erekat

President Bush apparently has taken my job... Israel is now negotiating peace with the United States -- not with the Palestinians. It is impossible to describe how deeply this has undermined Palestinian moderates, such as myself, who have continued to argue for a solution that is based on reconciliation and negotiation and not on revenge and retaliation.

...

The writer is chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization.

So sorry this "negotiation" racket didn't work out for you. I'm sure a man of your skills will find something else to do.

Via Little Green Footballs.

Live from the Upper East Side

Jessica, whom I've known for about five years, has her own blog now, as many of us figured she eventually would. It's linked on the left. In her first set of posts she's already slagged both Israelis and bankers. I wonder what she's getting at here...

My nephew

As it turns out, I didn't have any time to post while I was in California; it was sort of an action-packed trip, including the bris and lots of family time. I'm now back in New York.

This is Gabriel, my new nephew, relaxing "in the crib" as they say. He weighs about 8 pounds now. His current favorite interests are eating and sleeping, and waking his parents up all through the night. He's also a bit of a clotheshorse. A fine addition to the family.

4/20/2004

Time to break out the plaid polyester pants

Though I've been sitting on this news for almost a week, I am now, amazingly enough, an uncle. I'm leaving today for San Francisco, to see my brother and his wife and their new adorable baby boy. I may put up some pictures of the little bubbeleh, pending the parents' approval.

It'll be an unknown posting schedule for the rest of the week.



All the small boats on the water aren't going anywhere,
Surely they must be loaded with more than simple matter,
Floating on top and gracefully tending to the same pole,
All the small boats on the water going nowhere
Is it true that none of them, will ever break free and sail?
Feel the night is made of rocks, the stagnant mass...
Is it true that none of them, will ever break free and sail?
Break free from the stagnant boats, left in obscurity
All the faces with their eyes closed, giving a smile, weightless
Like a body that would vacate to its own light
Is it true that none of these
contented happy faces will not ever hear a cry,
won't hear a cry?
Is it true that none of these contented
happy faces will not ever hear a cry,
filled with love not with desire,
love not desire?


Stereolab, "The Flower Called Nowhere"

If you have not heard the Stereolab album "Dots & Loops", you really should consider obtaining it.

4/19/2004

The doctor is out

I didn't have the time to remark on it earlier, but good riddance on another terrorist liquidated.

So far it's been like an exact replay of the Yassin killing. There's the concerned disapproval from Kofi Annan:
“He is apprehensive that such an action would lead to further deterioration of an already distressing and fragile situation,” a spokesman for the Secretary-General said in a statement.

Mr. Annan presumes to tell Israelis that he knows best how they should deal with their security. One waits for a similar condemnation of the U.S.'s attempts at a targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Actually, the same holds true for pretty much all of the rest of the international community as well, who launched into a predictable round of condemnations.

There was the outraged protest at the Israeli embassy in midtown New York (how do I keep missing these?):
"We came because we do not agree with the assassination of certain members of the Palestinian nation, and do not agree with the United States' comments that Israel has a right to defend itself," said Sarra Djemil, 18, who came to the protest with the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge.

Ah, maybe a little too much honesty. Not quite yet media-ready, this kid.

And finally the heavily inflamed rhetorical reaction, coupled with a lack of an actual terroristic response, from the Palestinians. I don't have any links here but it was true the last time and hopefully it'll be true this time as well.

4/18/2004

NYC in the place to be

Last night I was at the blogger event of the season (at least of my season), a birthday party hosted by Karol, shining star in the conservative blogosphere, in a trendy spot on the Lower East Side.

Various bloggers were of course in attendance; it was a neat experience seeing them in person, sort of like meeting the characters from a book you've read. I met the sassy Dawn, who agreed with me that the current season of American Idol is pretty weak (I don't know why they say liberals and conservatives can't see eye to eye). I also briefly met Doug, who you figure has to be an incisive guy because his blog points out that "the Terminator is governor of California and Mad Max is one of the country's foremost religious figures."

I met some other people who various clues lead me to believe are the authors of blogs I've read, but sadly I can neither confirm nor deny these rumors.

Also present was Lisa, whose new blog I have a link to on the left, and which I'm hoping will shape up to be a dating-in-the-city kind of thing, because I personally can't get enough of that kind of stuff. But it's all up to you, Lisa!

I also saw Peter, the other MC for the night, and Paul, who was thankfully off-duty, and the lovely Jessica, who was kicking it strong though only in the figurative sense due to a sprained ankle. What a trouper. It was great to see all of them.

Also attending were Mike D and Rahul, for whose band I was somewhat of a roadie/groupie at one point in my life. We talked about music for a while. I ran into them again after three drinks and we got into a heated argument about the American flag, though after four drinks everything was cool again and we talked about the dating scene. Actually they may be reading this so let me say: whassup.

I also had a nice chat about the craft of blogging with the celebratory blogmistress herself, who if she could bottle up her genuine friendliness and sell it would make a mint.

Also I'm told there were various New York Republican and Conservative community VIP's in attendance, but again I can neither confirm nor deny that. And I was doing a bigger "James Taranto watch" than this guy.

All in all it was a very good time.

4/14/2004

And they're off

After two weeks on the air, Air America has already managed to get kicked off the Chicago and LA markets, gotten bilked for a million dollars, and gotten involved in a lawsuit. Also they've threatened physical harm on the other aggrieved party in said suit, and have posted his phone number and urged their listeners to harass him. This is all according to them. Truly it is, in their words, an "exceptional radio network". At this rate they should have their first fatalities by month's end.

Cradle-to-grave economics

"The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

- Ronald Reagan

(found in yesterday's New York Sun)

On the third hand

John Kerry takes a stand on the planned deadline for handing over power to a provisional Iraqi authority:
Kerry again criticized the administration for sticking with a June 30 deadline for turning over control of the country to Iraqis. But he said missing the deadline would likely send a bad signal to a country growing resentful of the U.S. occupation.

Nonsensical? Perhaps. But it seems like the general strategy is, come out against both sides of any issue, so that regardless of what decision is made, if things turn out badly he can say he disagreed with the plan of action from the beginning. Will his cunning attempt work? Stay tuned...

4/12/2004

Quicksilver - my review

I didn't mention before that I finished Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, about a month ago. I was reminded of it now because the next 900-page monstrosity in the series is about to come out.

Quicksilver is the third-best Neal Stephenson book I've read, but that's only because The Diamond Age got to the point a little more quickly, and Snow Crash is simply one of my favorite books of all time.

You can go through the Neal Stephenson checkoff list for this book. Strong techno-savvy female heroine? Check. Lots of action scenes? Check. Cultured, understated villains? Check. Pirates? Check (Snow Crash had them too). In addition, because it's set in the past, there's a staggering amount of historical information, from cutting-edge 1600's physics to the shifting political alliances of Europe to the way of life of peasants and kings. Lots and lots of famous people show up. Also, the French mostly come off as greedy and small-minded, which gives the book a contemporary feel.

I give it a thumbs up. It managed to occupy my subway reading for about two months straight, which is a good indicator of quality.

One-stop shopping

European anti-Semitism, Arab hypocrisy, the moral failure of the UN and the International Court of Justice, the idiocy of so-called international law in general, it's all here in one convenient package: World Kangaroo Court.
Take a large helping of farce, add a strong dose of outrage, sprinkle with blatant illegality, and you’ve got the latest case to be heard by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. It’s known as Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories—a name that in itself speaks volumes.

...

It was not only the language included, but also the language excluded that was—to put it delicately—prejudicial. Neither in the question referred to the Court by the UN, nor in the twenty-paragraph General Assembly resolution referring it, was there a single reference to the Palestinian terror that led Israel to build the fence in the first place. It was like arraigning the fire department for driving loud trucks around the city without mentioning the matter of fires. “Similarly,” the Israeli statement observed, “the extensive dossier of 88 documents on the question provided to the Court by the United Nations is, staggeringly, totally silent on the subject of the Palestinian terror attacks.”

And so, from February 23-25, the case proceeded. The judges sat gravely as oral statements were made by Palestine, South Africa, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Belize, Cuba, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Senegal, Sudan, the League of Arab States, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Sixty years after the Holocaust, in the heart of Europe, in civilized, enlightened, tolerant Holland, representatives of states and organizations that practice slavery, Shari’a law, female circumcision and “honor killings,” torture, and mass murder pilloried the Jewish state for building a fence aimed at protecting its citizens against waves of terror that have killed nine hundred and maimed thousands. They did so amid the full decorum of a “Court of Justice” established by the UN and underwritten and legitimized by the countries of the world. The Court has now started its deliberation and will be announcing the date when it presents its opinion.

There's not much question what that opinion is going to be.

4/09/2004

This room closes its windows

I'd like, ideally, to do nothing today. Unfortunately it doesn't look like I'll get my wish. I have to come in to work today, even though Good Friday is a bank holiday, to keep working on this project which has been going on for over a month and whose deadline keeps getting extended.

It seemed like I had three different nights last night. The last one found me at 5:30 in the morning in Williamsburg discussing the Cure/Smiths rivalry at Anytime, Williamsburg's 24-hour salvation, remembering vaguely that I would have to be working today.

4/07/2004

No quagmire

Austin Bay at Strategy Page thinks the recent spate of attacks on soldiers launced by Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad, Basra and other cities is, far from being a popular uprising, just a last-ditch strategy to weaken American resolve, and that it will fail. I'm inclined to agree:
Within days of the massacre, al-Sadr's militiamen incited riots and shooting sprees in Baghdad and southern Iraq. Al-Sadr, a splinter-faction cleric who counts Iran as a financier and Hezbollah as a friend, is under indictment for the murder of another Shia imam. There's a warrant out for his arrest. Like a junior Al Capone, he responds to the rule of law by sending his gang into the street.

The Fallujah massacre and al-Sadr's riots are calculated, violent acts orchestrated by desperate thugs confronting imminent loss of power. An Iraqi democracy threatens the sorry lot of them, so they're taken their best shot at halting the process.

The Fallujah fascists and al-Sadr think they can defeat or at least deflect America by causing U.S. casualties, then parading the bodies before Peter Jennings and Al Jazeera. Al-Sadr adds another wrinkle: multiple "hotspots" to seed the impression of broad insurrection. It's a clever gambit, staging gunfights in Basra, Kut and Baghdad, and leverages contemporary cable Tv's appetite for 24-7 repetition and magnification. The goal is a "Tet effect," an echo of North Vietnam's 1968 offensive, which was a battlefield disaster for the North Vietnamese but a media (and hence political) victory.

However, Tet 1968 and Mogadishu 1993 are dated scripts. We're post 9-11. Even John Kerry, now scrambling for the political center, said of Fallujah, "United in sadness, we are also united in our resolve that these enemies will not prevail."

As I've said before, every lost American life is a tragedy, but the extent of American and other occupation-force casualties in the latest uprising (a few dozen) does not entail a quagmire, no matter what Ted Kennedy says.

Via Instapundit.

4/05/2004

I'm late on this news, but on Friday the "jobless recovery" became just a regular recovery:
The Commerce Department reported Friday that the economy added more jobs in March than at any time since April 2000, evidence that the weak job market may finally be gaining steam.

...

Payrolls surged 308,000 last month, nearly triple the figure expected by economists. Job growth was also stronger in January and February than was first indicated. Companies added 205,000 jobs in the two-month period, instead of the 118,000 that was initially reported.

Meanwhile, columnist John Armor has serious doubts about the "3 million jobs lost under Bush" claim:
The current unemployment rate is 5.7% as of last Friday. Coincidentally, that is nearly identical to the average unemployment rate during the Clinton Administration, which the Democrats offer as the shining economic results that we have lost, and therefore ought to return to. If there really were three million people who had lost their jobs and not found new ones, the unemployment rate could not possibly stand at 5.7%. ...

...

The fall-back position of the Democrats is this, which I heard most recently last week from Congressman Rick Fazio on TV: ''Well, the official statistics don't account for people who don't have jobs and have given up looking.'' The question of whether people have ''dropped out'' of the job market because of long-term frustration is an important one that has long been studied in detail. A Heritage Foundation report issued last week pinned down the figures on this.

During the Clinton Administration, the ''drop out'' rate from the job markets was 0.23%. Today it stands at 0.30%. That is a very slight difference, It cannot account for three million people out of work, permanently.

He also comments on the claim that Bush has the worst economic record since Herbert Hoover:
Bottom line, if the unemployment rate now (Bush) was as bad as it was then (Hoover), approximately 12 million people would have to be out of work. Even the Democrats, if pushed, would have to admit the falsity of this claim.

There's more, including an explanation of the unreliability of the Department of Labor Employer Survey, the original source of the 3 milllion jobs (actually 2.7 million) figure. There's also a shout-out to Ed McMahon and his army of address-gatherers.

I'm currently at home in Massachusetts for Passover. It was a hectic Friday and weekend, which explains the lack of posting.

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