Sine Qua Non Pundit

And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good -- Need we ask anyone to tell us these things? ------ ------ ------ ------ E-mail: charlesaustin@earthlink.net

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Saturday, December 14, 2002
 

Jingle Balls

I don't know what to say about this:

A star reindeer in a South African shopping mall's Christmas display lost a little of its seasonal pride and joy after complaints from shoppers. Managers at one of Cape Town's upscale malls, "castrated" the plastic animal after receiving complaints about shiny golden Christmas tree ornaments hanging between its hind legs, officials said Thursday.

I suppose at the downscale malls, these things still go over well.

Hein Conradie, a spokesman for the company which made the display, told the Cape Argus newspaper that the ornaments were "anatomically correct for an animal of that size" and were prominent because of the reindeer's central position in the display.

So, real reindeer have shiny golden scrotums in Cape Town?

"Generally, we find it wiser to use sexless reindeer," Conradie said.

Maybe they should stop using the reindeer, period. Jeez.



 

Find the (oxy)Moron

A respected Saskatchewan Indian leader said Friday Hitler did the right thing when he "fried" six million Jews during the Second World War.

What exactly does it take for someone to lose respect in Saskatchewan?

And you thought Trent Lott was bad.



 

Or What?

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has ordered al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to stop exploiting the Palestinian cause to further his own interests.

Yasser's playing the roles of Otter and Boon: "He can't do that to our Palestinians. Only we can do that to our Palestinians."



 

The Sunday Depressed

The Sunday Express is reporting that bin Laden has 20 backpack nukes.

The UK tabloids aren't exactly paragons of probity, but I've never hoped more fervently that the print media are lying.



 

Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa, I'm Gonna Send You To Saskatchewan

I just saw a commercial on NBC for the upcoming Ray Charles: Tribute on Ice.

Think about that for a moment.



 

Meatloaf Was Wrong

Mary Matalin resigns. Henry Kissinger resigns. Trent Lott fights on.

Two out of three is bad.



Friday, December 13, 2002
 

Rams Tickets

I have two tickets to the Rams - Cardinals game in St. Louis Sunday night. Unfortunately, I'll be in DC Sunday night.

Anybody interested?



 

Cornered Lott, Empty Lott, But Not, Unfortunately, a Vacant Lott

Racism is bad, m'kay. Don't be a racist, because being a racist is bad, m'kay? 'Cause racism is bad. M'kay!

Bloody hell. As reprehensible as it is for Trent Lott to try to hang on, at least that's understandable. But where are the other 51 senators in the Republican Party to show him the door. Kiss the permanent Republican realignment goodbye.

Maybe the war is so close that President Bush's staff cannot really be bothered with this. That's the only decent excuse I can think of right now.



 

Now Is the Pinter of Our Discontent

I wish I'd written that, but it was Dr. Frank.




 

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXIX

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

On the third day of Cohen, my pundit gave to me Saud perfidy
Duke his doggy love
And a critique of Homeland Security.

A lot of people want to say Yippie cay-yay, m**********r, to our erstwhile allies, or is it all lies, when it comes to the Saudi Switcheroo:

How do you say après moi, le déluge in Arabic?

You don’t Dick. It’s French, you pretentious git.

I don't know, but that statement, reportedly uttered by the prescient Louis XV some years before the French Revolution deluged his successor's head off, surely is either being said or being thought by the rulers of Saudi Arabia. A little reform could cost them their heads.

Heaven help them if there’s a lot of reform.

And yet Saudi Arabia, the home office of oil and a key American ally in the Middle East, is being bashed with abandon.

Facts, actually.

In right-wing circles, …

Vice, left-wing squares?

… there is a palpable hankering for the overthrow of the ruling House of Saud or, at the least, for treating the kingdom as a pariah state -- maybe not part of the axis of evil but more problem than solution.

Fifteen out of nineteen. That’s more problem than solution.

Just what and who will replace the ruling family is not mentioned.

Richard always seems to be fond of the devils he knows.

It just could be an anti-American regime, something like Iran's.

Perhaps. But then again, maybe Iran’s won’t be anti-American very much longer.

In the United States, Saudi-bashing has reached a ludicrous stage. A casual newspaper reader would be forgiven for concluding that somehow Princess Haifa al-Faisal, the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, passed money to two of the 9/11 terrorists.

Now why would anyone think that? Oh yeah, because that’s what was printed in the Washington Post.

But her link to them turns out to be so tenuous, so virtually nonexistent, that it amounts to a parody of guilt by association.

A specialty of Richard Cohen’s, incidentally.

It appears that Princess Haifa contributed money to a Saudi woman in California who said she needed funds for medical services. Some of that money may have been passed to a Saudi man who, in turn, may have helped two of the 9/11 terrorists rent an apartment in San Diego.

Outrageous! The money passed between two sets of hands from Princess Haifa al-Faisal to the 9/11 terrorists. You’d think this was an intelligence operation or something.

Put the local grocery store on the list too. It may have extended the two Saudis some credit.

OK.

Yet from Congress and the media came an outcry that set the Saudis back on their heels.

How dare the infidels use logic and question our secret activities!

It seemed not to matter that for Princess Haifa to have knowingly aided the terrorists, she would be committing suicide by checkbook.

Or perhaps, she was just part of a protection scheme, maybe even an unwitting accomplice.

The 15 terrorists of Saudi nationality were the sworn enemies of her family. (Her father was the late king.)

Must be why the decided to kill Americans instead.

Prince Bandar himself could be the poster boy for everything the terrorists hate -- a cosmopolitan, cigar-smoking, sybaritic downhill skier who, for a time, effectively moved the Saudi embassy to Aspen. Ain't no way Bandar is going to give a nickel to anyone who's going to take away his Cohibas.

Nickels? No not nickels. But it seems the Saudi’s have been paying protection money to bin Laden for quite some time. Even wild-eyed lefties think so.

The current anti-Saudi frenzy is just the latest example of Congress and the federal bureaucracy doing their irresponsible thing -- and the media merely taking it all down. It happened not too long ago with China.

And Monica.

You will remember how serious it was -- a downright threat to the American way of life -- that Bill Clinton's reelection campaign had gotten some money from people in China. You would think Clinton had sold the Washington Monument to Beijing.

No. We think he took PRC cash because he got greedy and didn’t give a damn where it came from. You think Haifa al-Faisal’s story is a bit rich? Well, remember Al Gore and his Buddhist temple fundraiser? Remember Johnny Chung? Remember James Riady? So Dick, tell me again why we shouldn’t think this is serious?

You will remember, too, that dangerous, pernicious spy, Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at Los Alamos, the top-secret weapons lab. He had given America's most valuable nuclear secrets -- the "crown jewels," they were called -- to the Chinese. Yet in the end, Lee was never tried for espionage -- and, on second thought, maybe China did not have the crown jewels after all. Sorry.

I’m not really sure whether Wen Ho Lee is guilty of espionage or not. But as Richard noted two columns back, not being found guilty is not the same as being innocent. And if the government botched this, well, isn’t this still the same government that Richard wants to use to bring utopia to all of us?

As with China, it's downright impossible to say anything nice about Saudi Arabia.

Not true. They sell us oil at a reasonable price and provide interesting stories for my friends who used to work at Aramco. There, that’s something nice. It seems that Richard has made the common mistake of conflating the interests of the Saudi ruling family with the interests of the country.

It's an authoritarian regime. Its human rights record is abysmal. It has no freedom of religion. It treats women abominably. It punishes criminals with amputations and beheadings. It sanctions anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism.

But who are we to complain without coming across as ludicrous Saudi bashers?

The government is sometimes cooperative, sometimes not, in assisting the United States in fighting terrorism.

I think with us or against us is not a sometimes thing.

Some wealthy -- as well as ordinary -- Saudis have helped fund Islamic radical organizations, including al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden himself is a Saudi.

So stop it already with the ludicrous Saudi bashing!

But it is what it is: a feudal society feeling its way into modernity.

Actually, it is a feudal society whose rulers are doing everything they can to keep it as a feudal society for their benefit alone.

Its government is the product of its culture -- not something imposed from elsewhere.

Like Afghanistan.

If it is reformed too fast -- and it is reforming a bit -- it could go the way of Iran (remember the shah?) or Iraq (remember the king?).

Yes I do. So what? I suppose Richard would want us to go slowly in Zimbabwe as well. Heaven forbid we impose a non-genocidal regime on those people and reform that might prevent half of them from dying.

Whatever happens, it's not going to be a democracy.

Why not?

There are, with the exception of the so-called Zionist entity, none of those in the Middle East.

And 300 years ago, none existed in the world. What’s Richard’s point? That the bloody wogs can’t be expected to do what’s best for their people? I can’t wait to get caught up to Richard’s columns on Trent Lott.

Reform, as Louis XVI found out, can cost you your head.

Wrong. Louis XVI didn’t lose his head because he tried to reform France. He lost it because he didn’t. So does Richard still think it’s a good idea from the Saudi royal family to keep fighting reform? If you’re going to draw lessons from history, it would help if your understanding wasn’t 180 degrees out of phase.

The current impatience with Saudi Arabia, the compulsion to somehow hold it accountable for terrorism worldwide and, in particular, for the events of Sept. 11, 2001, emits the ugly scent of intolerance -- both cultural and religious.

You mean, if I don’t stop asking questions about Saudi connections – not full accountability, but connections – to terrorism, then I am, gulp, intolerant? Oh the shame. I must now remain silent as Mr. Liberal’s straw man has rendered me helpless.

Not.

The Saudis have much to answer for, but in the vitriol of the criticism and the refusal to make distinctions (Princess Haifa, for crying out loud!), so do some others.

I guess Richard missed the article in the Washington Post where the Saudi’s admitted that some of hundreds of millions of dollars they give to charity went to Al Qaeda. They conveniently declined to say exactly how much though. Furthermore, the Saudis have, with great fanfare and a Madison Avenue advertising campaign, now instituted the first controls to try and stop this from happening. None of this would have happened without this ludicrous Saudi bashing Richard finds so lamentable.

Seems to me that Bandar’s got a lot of splainin’ to do!

And not a single sexual reference to LXIX, even though I had a few opportunities. I must be getting old.



 

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXVIII

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

On the second day of Cohen, my pundit gave to me Duke his doggy love
And a critique of Homeland Security.

Today’s present is What Dogs Teach Us About People:

Richard Cohen likes dogs. Nothing wrong with that at all. Good for him.

As you may remember, I ran over a dog on Friday and I still feel bad about that. I doubt that I would pick on Richard Cohen much over this column anyway, but I certainly won’t now. All in all, it’s a nice story about his dog Duke, but I’m still not sure what Richard thinks dogs teach us about people.

My heart’s not in it, so I’m going to go take our dog Buddy for a walk now. For the record, our Buddy was named for Buddy Guy, not for the Buddy whose owner had little use for him outside of photo-ops. If you hadn’t heard, Buddy “Clinton” got hit by a van and killed on January 3rd.

Sigh.



 

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXVII

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

On the first day of Christmas my pundit brought to me, a critique of Homeland Security.

Trouble in the Homeland make front page with today’s present, Watched and Listed:

Back when I was in the insurance biz and working as the storied Cohen of Claims, I used to get confidential reports prepared by private investigators.

This reminds me of when Hillary Clinton was in the business of putting insurance firms out of business. She got confidential reports prepared by private investigators too, some paid for by the taxpayers, and others not. But I cannot find any reference to the “storied” career of Richard Cohen, Insurance Dick.

These were often a porridge of gossip -- the Peeping Tom observations of nosy neighbors who, in their telling, could make a through-the-wall marital spat sound like the croaking of a Wagnerian diva. It made for great reading and, sometimes, a denial of insurance coverage.

Richard’s been screwing the proles for a long, long time.

Now, though, these reports are reduced to the zeroes and ones of computer codes.

Richard’s “storied” ignorance of technology marches on unabated. Do you think he’d be happier if he knew that most text is effectively stored in a base 256 system (ASCII, or God forbid, EBCDIC)? Please, no techno-geek arguments with me about this one, I can go to hex representations if I need to, but the underlying point is the same. Not all processing is based on binary systems of logic, incidentally.

This gives them a certain authority –

Only to the uninitiated to the mysteries of computer science and logic.

… not to mention a permanence …

As long as you make your backups!

… and, zip-zip, …

Shouldn’t that be trademarked-trademarked?

… the ability to multiply geometrically.

Huh?

Now, we all are the sum of our zeroes and ones -- soon to be reassembled in Washington.

Or as Tom Clancy might say if you had a monomaniacal fear of binary codes: The Sum of All Fears. Sorry about that.

The government, working under the moral guidance of a near ex-con (close call), is assembling just such a system as part of the war on terrorism.

As usual, it’s not the idea that matters, it’s who has it.

The new Information Awareness Office is being run by an Iran-contra alum, John M. Poindexter. The onetime national security adviser under Ronald Reagan was convicted in 1990 of five counts of lying to Congress, among other charges. His conviction was later overturned on what amounted to procedural grounds.

I’m not going to defend John Poindexter or the Information Awareness office. Bad people and bad ideas all around.

He's not guilty. But he's hardly innocent.

This is rich from Dick. Not guilty, but hardly innocent? Best description I’ve heard of Bill Clinton in a long time.

The idea is to give Poindexter personal data from governmental and commercial databases from around the world.

There must be something about working at high levels of government that makes people stupid. This is a bad idea for so many, many reasons. As someone who works with large disparate databases for a living, it will never, ever work as advertised. But is can unquestionably be used and abused in even more ways than anyone can anticipate.

This information will not be misused, Poindexter swore to my colleague, Robert O'Harrow Jr. of The Post -- although not under oath this time.

Once again, if Richard’s hero – Bill Clinton – isn’t required to keep his oaths, whether they are promises never meant to be kept or testimony before a grand jury, isn’t it a bit much to expect it of others? I’m speaking of Mr. Cohen here, too avoid any confusion. And we all know the Clinton White House never abused private information or government offices to persecute their enemies. Right?

The former Cohen of Claims is not reassured.

Well, I’ll sleep better tonight.

He notes a story this week in the Wall Street Journal about a so-called FBI watch list that was circulated to various businesses right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It contained the names of people the bureau wanted to question. The list went out to hotels and rental car agencies, banks and even Las Vegas casino operators.

Seems like a reasonable thing to do when you’re trying to find someone anywhere in the country. After all, the TIPS program isn’t in place yet and FBI agents can’t be everywhere. Full disclosure, I know an FBI agent. For many months after 9/11, he was on the road and working virtually non-stop because there wasn’t anywhere near enough agents to protect everything, gather information, investigate 9/11, clean up the mess that had been ignored for so many years before in counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence, and still look for the garden variety serial killers, bank robbers, kidnappers, and organized crime activity they normally spend their time on. I’m perhaps a little more understanding of the plight of FBI agents than Mr. Cohen.

These, in turn, made copies of the list and passed them on to others. Faxes were blurred. Names were misspelled, identities confused. The list was fed into databases, and when the FBI deleted a name, it informed no one. If you were on that list by mistake, you stayed in many databases no matter what.

Maybe the FBI should just tap into the telemarketer’s databases. They seem to be the most comprehensive lists in existence.

Last year, a guy in New York held a party for all the Richard Cohens in the Manhattan phone book.

Poor bastard.

He had dozens of them.

Parties or Cohens?

Every time I get my credit report, I have to account for deadbeat Richard Cohens.

I have the same problem, only it’s not about credit reports.

The war on terrorism has not caught Osama bin Laden, but it caught Asem Atta, no relation to Mohamed Atta, the purported terrorist ringleader. The FBI had him on its watch list. It later deleted his name from its list, but it could not delete it from the lists made from the lists. The Wall Street Journal tells us his name lives on in databases and Web sites, stalking him maybe forever.

Ever heard of Richard Jewell? I think he’s had it a bit rougher than Mr. Atta.

The computer and advances in communications were supposed to create something called the "global village."

There’ll be spandex jackets, one for everyone. Ooooooo.

They have.

At least for those with access to computers and communications. But if you live in North Korea, Tibet, or Zimbabwe, well, things might not seem so utopian.

The conventional village was often a place of stifling conformity, a place where everyone knew everyone else's business. Now this claustrophobia can be felt on a worldwide basis. The blessed anonymity of the big city is gone.

I gather Richard doesn’t get out much. It has still seemed damned impersonal to me on my three trips to Dulles this month.

Your neighbor still may not know much about you, but your credit card company and supermarket do. Soon, so will the government.

This would be the government that Richard is normally advocating as the solution to all problems. Check.

We are told that we will have to give up certain civil liberties if we are going to make this country safe from terrorists.

Only by fools. But being watched in public places and having data about you in a database isn’t necessarily a sacrifice of any civil liberties.

But how are we going to be safe from the information-gatherers, the techno-snoops who want to reduce us all to computer databases?

The Matrix is only a movie, Dick.

It may even be too late. The Orwellian-named USA Patriot Act and now the creation of the Homeland Security Department vest great, intrusive powers in the government.

Powers so great and vast that immunization plans for smallpox have to be delayed until January 24 of next year since no one checked to make sure that a preamble was included that took care of the liability.

These are the things that make me crazy. (Audio link)

It will have its lists. It will use its lists.

I have lists. I use lists. Does that make me an Orwellian threat to Richard’s civil liberties?

I feel sometimes like the images I occasionally see on digital TV -- the picture breaking up into pixels, coming apart digitally.

Probably just flashbacks. Richard should’ve listened to that guy at Woodstock about the brown acid.

This is me, I sometimes think.

Too easy.

Oh, alright.

As if we hadn’t figured out by now that for Richard Cohen, thinking is, at best, a sometimes thing.

Everything I do -- credit card purchases, trips across some toll bridge, telephone calls, e-mails sent and received -- gets recorded somewhere.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away


A piece of me -- a piece of all of us -- is constantly flying into some computer. Soon, another computer -- this one a behemoth -- will reassemble us digitally, authoritatively, and we will be what it says we are.

Seriously Dick, lay off the brown acid. Ok?

The machine has stolen our soul.

Jeez, I thought this was going to be a rational, well reasoned complaint about the idiocy of a monster database and the waste of money the new Department of Homeland Security is going to be as it delivers a false sense of security, if that. What am I thinking? This is Richard Cohen!

If you want to know something about The Soul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder took care of that about 20 years ago, without the paranoia or Iran-Contra bogeymen.



 

Starting Tomorrow...

The Twelve Days of Cohen.

On the first day of Cohen, my pundit gave to me a critique of Homeland Security...

DOWNDATE: Because of travel schedules, I may have to post some a day early or a day late, but it's a little cold for ice cream cones anyway, isn't it?



 

Kudos and Caution

If, as it now appears, Trent Lott is going to be forced from his position as Senate Majority leader, it would seem the blogosphere has played a significant role in providing a framework for developing the momentum to force it to happen, or to help it reach the proverbial tipping point. The blogosphere didn't do it, by any means, but it provided some excellent reasons very quickly why Trent Lott should go on a timeline that not even major media can match. And who's to say with any certainty or definitiveness what the blogosphere's role is vice major media's role? With the blogosphere's influence extending onto the fringe of major media and vice versa, it will become more and more difficult to discern where these lines are in the near future, if, in fact, they exist now.

One of the things I really love about the blogosphere is its healthy skepticism about everything. It's like a living, breathing, posting, Skeptical Inquirer delivered to my browser every five minutes. Demolishing the decrepit leadership edifice constructed by Trent Lott was a necessary step in the urban renewal of the Senate and the Republican Party. But if the blogosphere is to avoid a descent into the ironic cynicism so rampant in major media, we now have to show that we can create and contribute to building positive things as well as just tearing them down.

Now, get back to work.



 

Sad

It is cold and raining/snowing here this morning. Traffic was dense but moving briskly as I reached the top of the incline in the middle lane of I-40 East near the Grand Avenue exit. Suddenly what appeared to be a pack of wild dogs ran up to the side of the road and one of them darted out onto the Interstate. I did all my anti-lock brakes could do, but when he (she?) froze about 2/3's of the way across my lane there was nothing I could do without swerving into another lane of traffic, which my instincts stopped me from doing.

We have a marvelous, good natured, black lab mix mutt we picked up at a shelter. It's for the kids really, along with the cats, bird, fish, hamsters, crabs, and butterflies in the summer, since I'm not that strongly attached to any of our animals. So what's weird is that I feel really bad about killing this wild dog, even though I don't think I could have prevented it and had I tried to engage in more evasive action I could have ended up hurting or killing some people -- not to mention more of the dogs.

Sigh.



 

He's Still No Angel

In a further sign that we are not a serious people:

The actor and director Sean Penn arrived in Baghdad on Friday morning at the start of a three-day visit to Iraq.

"By the invitation of the Institute for Public Accuracy, I have the privileged opportunity to pursue a deeper understanding of this frightening conflict," Penn said in a statement released in Washington and Baghdad on Friday. "I would hope that all Americans will embrace information available to them outside conventional channels. As a father, an actor, a filmmaker, and a patriot, my visit to Iraq is for me a natural extension of my obligation (at least attempt) to find my own voice on matters of conscience."


One can only hope that Saddam has carefully instructed the Irqai paparazzi to leave this patriot alone.



Thursday, December 12, 2002
 

Warmonger Moment

What if we had notified the Yemenis that the Scuds were being delivered... in 5 minute intervals from a launcher on the ship?

Or, if we really "knew" what was on the ship, what if we had just sunk the unflagged vessel without warning on the high seas? After all, who's going to claim it went missing? And who would be surprised that a ship loaded with concrete sank? But can it really be cost efficient to ship concrete that far?



Wednesday, December 11, 2002
 

Lest We Forget

It is Day 431 of the Afghanistan quagmire. And our troops are well into their second brutal Afghan winter. Lord, will it ever end?



 

Breakin' the Law?

Why does Beavis singing "Breakin' the law" come to mind every time I read about the troubles in the Catholic Church these days, especially as they relate to Cardinal Law? Somehow, it seems appropriate that this song was recorded originally by Judas Priest.





Tuesday, December 10, 2002
 

Don't Throw Me In That Briar Patch

Here's to the Democrats thinking that they don't need to do anything different, because Mary Landrieu won.



 

You're Mean One, Rev. Rayfield

Since the good vicar has taken to telling kids that Santa Claus is dead because it is "scientifically impossible" for him to accomplish his assigned tasks, I wonder what his sermons to the flock must be like as he addresses the virgin birth, the miracles Jesus performed, or even the resurrection in a "scientific" manner?



Sunday, December 08, 2002
 

Can Miss TV!

Don't forget, next Saturday Night, it's Al Gore!





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