I should begin by saying that it’s clearly way too early to be judging the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  It’s been less than two weeks since the Marines went "over the berm;" only heedless consumers of neocon wanking or Ba’athist sputtering could have expected a resolution by now.  More importantly, due to the intense propaganda campaigns and unabashed contempt for unrestrained media scrutiny by both sides in this conflict, the public is woefully under/misinformed and will remain so for months to come.

Nevertheless, two instances of backseat-driving do, when taken together, require a response.  In appropriately observing that unchecked American hubris played a large role in the Bush Administration’s march to war, some opponents of the war have indulged their bitterness at failing to stop the war by hoping that the U.S. is defeated or at least bloodily bogged down in Iraq.  While I am the first person to devoutly hope that the Bush Administration pays the full political price for this misadventure, it is narcissistic, disloyal, and politically counter-productive to wish that harm come to U.S. servicemen and -women.  I have heard many rationales for continuing to demonstrate against the war, most of which I find acceptable (even if I disagree with some of them).  But to sincerely hope and work for a military defeat or an ignominious withdrawal shows an utter divorce from geopolitical reality.  Anyone who believes the United States has a future as a positive force in the world had ought to hope for the swiftest and most complete U.S. victory possible.

The current criticism of Rumsfeld has gathered steam in part due to the hyper-attenuated attention span of the American media.  However, the aforementioned caveat aside, the details of the American (mis)deployment are alarming.  The very least that I expected of a policy supported by Colin Powell was a force commensurate with the security needs of American troops. If it is demonstrated that Rumsfeld and Co. short-changed both our strategic interests (by allowing—if only in appearance—our military prowess to be blunted) and our troops’ safety (by permitting greater casualties than necessary), I would expect even the most purblind supporters of the war to share my outrage and disgust.


World War Web

It’s already reached the level of truism or cliché: as Desert Storm was CNN’s War, Iraqi Freedom is the Web’s War.  The first person to set up an Anglophonic mirror of Al Jazeera is gonna cash in.  ["Wait for it:"  Voila!  Now let’s hope they have the servers to handle it.  -Ed.]

Less than a week before the "100 Hour War" opened in February 1991, I flew to Europe (I have never flown cheaper), ostensibly to study in Austria but really to visit my French girlfriend.  As I was being shopped around her family and friends, I noticed video of tanks racing across the desert, but my girlfriend refused to translate any of the news commentary.  I had to wait until I was on the train back to Austria to grab a Trib to read the Agincourt allusions.  Nevertheless, I had absorbed four weeks’ of air war coverage, enough to impress upon me the "video game briefing."

Last week I had the TV on pretty much all the time, flipping between CNN and MSNBC and Fox News, waiting for something definitive to happen.  It must say I wasn’t at all impressed with the video from either Baghdad or the embedded journalists; it was mostly night-vision mush.  I suppose that, to people who remember the delayed coverage of Vietnam and earlier conflicts, this realtime Pong show is exciting.  To us post-Saving Private Ryan folk, this stuff is just poorly blocked and lacking in strategic context.

Finally, both sides in this conflict have prepared elaborate psy-ops strategies, turning the 24/7 television coverage into the primary theatre of the propaganda war.  TV journalists don’t seem to acknowledge that governmental sources are not their allies in reporting the truth, and ever-shortening news cycles elevate rumors to the status of breaking news.  On Friday 21 March 2003, all three cable news networks reported that the entire Iraqi 51st Infantry Division — 8000 men — had surrendered and that the coalition had captured Basra.  As of this writing, the coalition is claiming a total Iraqi prisoner count of 2000 men, and a portion of the 51st Division is dug into Basra, awaiting a coalition assault.

So now I watch very little TV news.  The ticker headlines are much more informative than the talking heads, and when the ticker cycles back to the beginning, I know I’ve exhausted the info value and switch the TV off.  I find that checking an array of web news sources every six hours or so yields information that is much more measured and developed.  More importantly, the sources are of course infinitely more varied.  If I had satellite TV, I might approach the variety of web sources, but it would still be Short Attention Span Theater.

This is not to say that web news sources are unbiased, but at least they are up front with their bias, and I can mix the biases to taste.  Today’s menu (revised daily):

Al Jazeera
Command Post
The Beeb
Where is Raed?
Washington Post
Deutsche Welle



You Say Tornado, I Say Tornade

This probably wouldn’t have happened had the Americans known their roundels.


Operation Iraqi France Freedom

I don’t plan to get into the habit of analyzing war news as it comes in, but I suspect the reason the U.S. hasn’t (as of this writing) unleashed Shock, Lock, and Barrel is that someone with credibility in the Iraqi government is trying to negotiate a surrender.  The invasion will continue of course, but perhaps at a slower tempo to permit the surrender faction to consolidate power.

Colby Cosh points out something that’s bothered me ever since I heard of "Operation Just (Be)Cause."  Oh, well that explains it.


"Who’s Better: Sinatra Or Mathis?"  "Presley."

Commercial relationships are, by definition, mercenary.  However, it is common to develop a relationship with one’s physician, hair stylist, or bartender that transcends professional interest and enters into the personal.  You don’t exactly think of them as friends, but you usually find them more trustworthy than many you do think of as friends.  You disclose intimacies that you would never have told anyone else, and when you marvel at this later, you find that it was entirely appropriate.  I never thought I would have such a relationship, nor might have many others in notoriously stand-offish Seattle.  When I did it was, perhaps predictably, with my video store clerk.  Even there I got a push, as he was no ordinary clerk but George Latsios, founder of Scarecrow Video, who died this month at the age of 44.

I first met George shortly after he established Scarecrow’s first location on Latona.  My friend Mark lived close by and quickly discovered Scarecrow.  It was the beginning of our aimless immediate post-college years, when we still thought "beer and some vids" was the best way to spend Friday night, especially if the vids were obscure and/or bizarre.  I accompanied Mark to Scarecrow one evening and found this tall, lanky, motor-mouthed film geek behind the desk.  George was the only employee back then, and he was open for 12 hours a day, seven days a week.  I often found him snarfing a bit of pasta he had nuked in the microwave in back, but he always put it down to ask me what I was looking for or to tell me what he just got in.  Scarecrow’s inventory is now the envy of the West Coast, but back then it was just a couple hundred titles, and its growth was often directed by customer request.  It is with not a little pride that I can claim to be the proximal cause for Scarecrow’s acquisition of its VHS copy of The Wind and the Lion.

George occasionally took a paternalistic interest in what we rented.  We had been known to select titles while visibly intoxicated, and while he never cut us off, he did bark exasperatedly once when we presented him with the cases for the first season of The Young Ones and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.  Another evening, Mark and I strolled in and challenged George: "The uncut version of Videodrome at the Neptune isn’t weird enough for us; whaddaya got for us instead?"  George had hired some extra staff by then, and one of them rumbled, "Give ‘em Suspiria, George."  George held his chin in his hand, gave us an arch look, then quickly nodded and said, "Suspiria it is.  Remember you have two days to return it, guys; pace yourselves."

When my French girlfriend moved to Seattle, one of the first places I wanted to take her was Scarecrow’s Foreign section.  When we got our first apartment together, a primary consideration was a location within easy walking distance of Scarecrow (about a year after we moved in, Scarecrow moved to its current location in the University District).  The extra floor space permitted perusal of Scarecrow’s exploding inventory, and although I didn’t get to chat with George much anymore, I still made the pilgrimage when lesser venues might have been more convenient.  It was a sad surprise, therefore, to read about George’s financial and medical difficulties.  When the store was bought by a couple of Microsoft employees two years later, I was overjoyed.  I stopped by the store shortly thereafter and found George discussing expansion plans with the new owners.  He immediately halted his conversation and introduced me to his benefactors, who clearly had their hearts (and their wallets) in the right place.  As the investors returned to exploring all the nooks and crannies where inventory might be crammed, I followed George over to the espresso stand at the front of the store.  George moved much slower due to the effects of either his surgery or the radiation treatments.  "So the new owners are Softies, eh?" I said.  "Oh no," replied George, "they’re real smart!"  That was the last time I saw George.

Aaron assures me that the "All-American (Greek) Diner" is a staple Back East, a tradition of fierce immigrant assimilation and proud service.  George came to introverted Seattle and found a niche for an exhaustively (if lovingly) stocked video store that welcomed film geeks and film neophytes alike.  I’ll miss George for the role that he played in the development of my film appreciation, but perhaps a greater gift was the pride and joy that comes from being able to recommend a merchant or a tradesman based on more than merely good value.  Cafés, bookstores, and video arcades may come and go like the sun in April, but we’ll always have Scarecrow.


Loyal Opposition

Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a good post discussing the ill-conceived "direct action" contemplated by certain opponents of the war.  I think it’s very important for anti-war folk to disown these people as clearly as possible, not the least because such action could endanger the lives of U.S. and allied military personnel, by whose valor and professionalism the ill effects of this adventure will be minimized.

More persuasively, such action will do absolutely nothing to restrain or discredit the Bush Administration; on the contrary, it will simply feed into the anti-civil-libertarian juggernaut that has been rolling since 9/11.  Contrary to what certain leftist fabulists believe, Vietnam didn’t lead Americans to humility or self-examination; it led us to denial and self-absorption.  The corruption of the Nixon Administration was evident early on, and Nixon still kicked McGovern’s ass because the anti-war movement gave him the perfect foil.  To repeat this mistake would be arguably treasonous and inarguably narcissistic, but worst of all it would be ineffective.

In contrasting this enterprise with British activism, Hayden has a cogent caveat:
One of the besetting sins of American progressives is a tendency to wish for a more European politics, rather than buckling down to deal with the country we’ve got.

Don’t Call Us . . .

Damn, but this is lame.  Now you know the origin of the word "gall."

We Meant To Do That

I think Josh Marshall pretty much calls it with regard to our "disappointment" with the Security Council.  My biggest question is how responsible was Powell for going to the U.N. in the first place, and whether he’ll leave the Administration as a result.  Robin Cook’s resignation got me to hoping, but I think Powell’s too much of a loyalist to quit in the middle of a war.  However, if, as many fear, things go terribly awry both in Iraq and beyond, and the Administration continues to undercut Powell’s efforts to repair our diplomatic standing, then I think it’s possible he might leave before the end of the year, especially if he still harbors Presidential ambitions...


Pardon Our French

Neil Gaiman writes:
I have very mixed feelings about Americans disliking the French. I’m English, after all.  We have a special relationship with the French: we are in awe of their sophistication, their cuisine and their wines, we think their women are beautiful, we like them as individuals, we badly want to go and live in their country when we retire, while at the same time we are deeply suspicious of them.  It’s like having people living next door to you who may be snappier dressers and better cooks, but who, after all, borrowed the lawn mower sometime in the thirteenth century and never gave it back.  Anyway, the English dislike the French.  We’re really good at it.  We’ve been doing it ever since we got up one day and realised that the Norman Conquerors were now, like it or not, Us, and weren’t conquering French people any more.  We feel, frankly, that if anyone’s going to dislike the French, it’s going to be us.  On the whole we manifest our dislike for them by drinking their wines, buying up their cigarettes, and, despite the fact that all English people can naturally roll their Rs and speak perfect French, declining to do so, and when forced by circumstances to speak French the English do it with an English accent on purpose.

These are tactics we’ve worked out over the course of hundreds of years, and if carried on long enough, they will bring France to its knees.  I’m English. I know these things.

Changing the name french fries to freedom fries, on the other hand, will just make them laugh at you.
While this appears to be sound advice, it fails to get at the root of this whole "freedom fries" thing.  Americans who find it amusing or gratifying don’t care what the French think about it.  Gaiman himself specifies that English disdain for the French is the result of centuries of close proximity and mutual (low) regard.  The yahoos trying to rename New Orleans’s French Quarter and engaging in petty terrorism aren’t monitoring the French media to see the effects of their crude barbs.  That the French might even have a reaction is beyond their consideration.  They are simply practicing that philosophy which George Dubious has elevated to national policy: solipsism.


You’ll Pay To Know Me

I don’t get enough spam to worry about this (yet), but I can easily imagine that it’s becoming an intolerable burden for e-mail as a whole.  Fortunately, Bob Cringely’s got a fairly simple solution.


By Any Means Necessary

It’s a bit long, but I think it had to be done.


October Surprise

I suppose we could finally ratify the League of Nations and then renege on that, too.