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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Bon Voyage

David Sims is moving to Antalya, Turkey with his family.



The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXXXIV

(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.)

God, I love all variants of the argument that go: If we cannot find any weapons of mass destruction by 4:00 PM tomorrow, then the entire invasion was a mistake and we should call Saddam Hussein out of hiding, apologize, pay retributions, and give him and Uday and Qusay their country back. But I honestly didn’t expect to hear it from Richard Cohen until I read Victory per Rumsfeld's Say-So:

Donald Rumsfeld throws off charm like a just-bathed dog shaking off water.

And Richard Cohen throws off charm like a, um…, when Richard Cohen throws off some charm I’ll come up with a reasonable simile.

He jokes, he banters, he teases.

Richard – and the rest of the press corps – is lucky Secretary Rumsfeld doesn’t act like Frank says he does, or they might be the press corpses.

He has the facts, the numbers and the Pentagon jargon to sound very smart indeed.

Yes Dick, he only sounds smart.

But the one thing he does not have is humility.

Not like, oh, I don’t know, Richard Cohen favorite Bill Clinton?

Hunky-dory Don will never admit that mistakes have been made in Iraq.

Hunky-dory? But, why bother. After all, he’s got so many willing to blame him for everything that goes wrong and some things that didn't.

More to the point, he will not admit that he is the one who made those mistakes.

Well, Richard hasn’t exactly established that “mistakes were made” yet. While I have no doubt that Secretary Rumsfeld, and everyone else who had to make some very important decisions with limited information, have made mistakes, on balance I’d say they did a damn fine job. It’s only by using Dick’s little crystal balls of utopian hindsight that enable him to go monkey-fishing for mistakes well after the fact.

As boss of the Pentagon, Rumsfeld has presided over a truly inexplicable failure to seize and secure sites in Iraq where weapons of mass destruction were supposedly produced or stored.

Inexplicable? Not until we’ve had time to interview everyone in the deck. And search Syria.

Maybe for that reason -- maybe -- no such weapons have yet been found.


It was because of these purported weapons of mass destruction that the United States, at the head of a grand coalition of the willing, went to war in the first place.

Worked for me.

This was the case Colin Powell presented to the United Nations and the one President Bush made to the American people.

Worked for the American people too.

Sure, Saddam Hussein was evil -- but it was his weapons that made him dangerous.

True. But, plenty of people think President George W. Bush is evil. So, what exactly are you saying, Dick?

So where are these weapons?

Hidden? Destroyed? In Syria? Hopefully not on a freighter headed to our coasts.

Rumsfeld was asked that question after he spoke here to the Council on Foreign Relations. He said they might have been destroyed in advance of the war.

Maybe they were. Doesn’t change anything. Had we not gone in, Saddam Hussein could have started over.

He was then asked how it was possible that the hapless Iraqi army, so inept in everything it did, was able to destroy all its chemical or biological weapons so that not a trace could be found -- and the United States never noticed.

The Man of Straw returns. Who said they were inept in everything they did? Seems to me they captured Kuwait, killed lots of Kurds and Shiites over the years, and maintained quite a repressive regime. If Richard is referring to the lop-sided victory, maybe it was due to the fact that we were just better. A lot better. Like butter. Like better butter. The kind of better butter that has the formerly powerful nations of Europe and Asia crapping their pants right now.

Rumsfeld ducked the question. Iraq is a big country, he said. As large as California, he said.

It could be as large as New Jersey and they could still be hard to find.

Blah, blah.

Mr. Cohen remains respectful as ever.

The war in Iraq is usually portrayed as a splendid victory…

Imagine! How dare we! It was supposed to be another Vietnam, damnitalltohell!

…and I'm sure it's just a matter of time until some congressman proposes a monument to it on the Mall.

Or until some columnist tries to make it out to be a failure.

But the war was fought -- remember -- to make the world safe from weapons of mass destruction.

No, it was fought to prevent Saddam Hussein from using Iraq as a base or haven from which to manufacture WMDs to provide to others. Richard’s straw men are becoming weapons of mass distraction.

Yet the Pentagon, which cannot praise its own planning enough, did not allot sufficient troops to secure suspected WMD sites after the war was won.

The credit for that would be due Bill Clinton’s military which, having cut forces by a third, lacked the troops to do that, right?

If these weapons existed, where are they? Possibly looted. Possibly in the hands of terrorists. It just could be that instead of containing the problem we have spread it. This is not great planning.

I knew it! It is all President George W. Bush’s fault after all!

In his speech to the council, Rumsfeld likened conditions in postwar Iraq to those in America following the War of Independence. This was probably the silliest comparison ever made by a college graduate, but it suited Rumsfeld's contention that what's happening in Iraq is unavoidable.

I’ll admit that I don’t follow the analogy well either, but there are plenty of better candidates for silliest comparison by a college graduate. Check out General Shalikashvili’s statement or any of the previous 84 Scourges. (Yes it is 84 previous Scourges, even though this is Scourge LXXXIV. You figure it out. And here's the best link list for my entire oeuvre.)

Just to make his point, he quoted Jefferson: "We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed."

Smart guy, that Jefferson.

Featherbed, shmeatherbed.

Richard Cohen gets paid for this?

It was Rumsfeld's job to make sure that WMD sites were secure. It was his job to plan for the occupation of Iraq. It was his job to have enough troops in the country to maintain law and order, to keep museum artifacts in their display cases and hospital supplies in their cabinets -- to contain looting and other types of crime.

Several weeks after the hoax has been revealed, Richard Cohen is still trumpeting the looting of the Baghdad museum as a fact. Is Howell Raines moonlighting as Richard Cohen’s editor?

It was his job also to have more of these troops be military policemen trained for civil unrest, and not Marines trained to hit the beach.

Huh? I missed all those battles on the beaches of Baghdad.

This was not an 18th-century revolution, this was a 21st-century invasion…

Wow. Such deep, pentrating insight.Dick's got a firm grip on the short hairs of reality.

… an optional war…

An optional war? Oh? So why was Richard Cohen so much in favor of an optional war before?

... whose outcome was never in doubt.

Never in doubt? Except for the tens of thousands of casualties, or not having enough troops, or the increased terrorism that would result, or the inflaming of the Arab Street.

Now elements of the Bush administration, particularly within the Pentagon, are rattling their sabers in the direction of Iran, making some of the same arguments they made about Iraq: links to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, etc.

As Michael Ledeen says, faster please.

Given what has happened in Iraq, should they be believed?

Given illiberal utopian statism’s record over the last 30 years, should they be believed?

The answer is yes.

Shocking! But re my question, the answer is a resounding NO!

But asking whether the Bush administration should be believed about Iran is different from asking whether it will be believed.

Uh, ok. But if perception is reality, then I guess we are doomed by those who hate President George W. Bush.

The question, after all, is not whether the U.S. intelligence agencies are competent but to what uses the intelligence has been put. If, as it seems, information goes into the Pentagon at one end and comes out the other with a political spin, then we are right to wonder about ulterior motives.

We should always worry about ulterior motives when dealing with the government. And illiberal columnists.

In his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Rumsfeld referred to something called a "lessons learned activity." This is Pentagon jargon for "doing a review" -- seeing where things went wrong.

We call it a post mortem where I work. But jargon is as jargon does.

Both the CIA and the Pentagon are now doing this regarding the war in Iraq, but Congress ought to do the same.

It’s also useful to examine where things went right. But that requires admitting that some things went right first.

If there is a lesson learned after the war, it is that the Pentagon can hardly be expected to review what went wrong when the man at the top insists everything went right.

Richard Cohen displays his total ignorance of the Pentagon and most of Western Civilization with this statement. The West and our military has succeeded because it thrives on criticism and always getting better. Richard Cohen is confusing the kabuki dance of press conferences and public appearances with reality. Fortunately Richard’s perception is not reality. Not even close.


Woo Hoo

I won again! And if I do say so myself, there's a lot of good material buried in there this week.


The Fog of Fog

A couple nights ago, there was a National Geographic special on the Pentagon. At one point, they were interviewing former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, and they asked him about the fog of war. Now I'm paraphrasing from memory, but General Shalikashvili's response went something like:

A friend of mine described the fog of war as like playing chess in a fog. You can't see all of your own pieces nor can you see all of your opponents pieces.

Brilliant! Now, I have a lot of respect for anybody who can attain the position and rank that General Shalikashvili did, but, let's face it, this sounds like it came out of Dumb and Dumberer. Aside from the fact that the blind can play chess and that there are, in fact, blindfold chess tournaments where the player cannot see any of the pieces, why not just say the fog of war is like having someone trying to kill you, ... wait for it..., when it is foggy!



The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. LXXXIII

(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.)

Richard Cohen wants to save the Met broadcasts. How can I possibly find fault with that? Well, I’ll get into that more in a minute, but it is also worth noting that even when Richard Cohen tries to adopt a good cause he just can’t drop his knee-jerk socialism and bad logic, as we shall see. Now, as to the Met(s)…

I was born and raised in Aurora, IL, which is about 35 miles west of Chicago. In the summer of 1969 I was 9 years old and, like almost all boys of that age, a little baseball fanatic. We played baseball all day every day in a park down the road without any adult supervision – unless of course the Cubs were on WGN, in those days long before cable and Superstations. I learned early what it was to be a true fan listening to Jack Brickhouse (Hey! Hey!) broadcast the exploits of Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger, Randy Hundley, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Jim Hickman, Ferguson Jenkins, Ken Holtzman, Phil Regan and, of course, Leo Durocher. So you can imagine my reaction when I sought out the latest Richard Cohen column to resume the Scourge and it was Won't Someone Rescue the Met?

When I was a kid, Saturday afternoons were special in my house -- I tried not to be home.

Obviously, Dick’s good manners and disposition manifested themselves at an early stage.

That was when my father turned on the radio to listen to the Metropolitan Opera. First I would hear the announcer, Milton Cross, offer a synopsis of the opera, and then the music would start. If I was lucky, before anyone sang, I was out of the house.

To be fair, I would have been sympathetic at that age with this behavior.

The broadcasts were sponsored by Texaco (since 2000, ChevronTexaco), which announced recently it would cease to sponsor them.

Imagine how hard it must be for Mr. Cohen to have to say something nice about an oil company.

It's been 63 years, the longest continuous sponsorship in broadcast history. It started a year before my birth and hounded me…

Release the hounds! (Sorry, I have to use that phrase any chance I get.)

… throughout my childhood and, while you might think I'd now say good riddance, I instead want to wave a fond and grateful goodbye.

It is kind of sad. I'm reminded of 10,000 Maniac's and Natalie Merchant singing "Verdi Cries."

Sometimes I listen to the broadcasts myself.

Well, it would be hard to understand Richard’s enduring fondness for them otherwise, now wouldn’t it?

I understand.

Then why this column?

The sponsorship costs ChevronTexaco $7 million a year and reaches only 10 million people -- a mere nothing compared with the 38 million who watched "American Idol" last week.

Do I detect a little cultural snobbery here? Not that it isn’t warranted in this instance.

And besides, if the listeners are anything like my father -- he's only 94 now -- they're not what you would call a coveted demographic.

Watching the commercials on television these days would tend to make me think that advertisers are much more interested in the demographic that has no attention span, has no critical reasoning ability, and is easily led by the nose.

All the accounts of why ChevronTexaco decided to drop the Met mentioned that the company has come upon hard times. Its CEO, David J. O'Reilly, has taken a 45 percent pay cut, and the stock price has dropped.

Red herring alert! Or is it angry white van alert. But perhaps that’s a little too obscure. (Think about the early news reports when Malvo and Muhammad were on their shooting spree last year.)

Still, the company made $1.132 billion last year…

Against sales of $99 billion. This is not a good operating margin, hence the likely cause for the CEO’s pay cut and the stock fall.

… $7 million represents less than 1 percent of its profits. Put that way, its decision to drop the broadcasts is a bit harder to understand.

Actually, no. When profits are shrinking, every dollar becomes even more precious. But, then again, we all know how Richard Cohen feels about profits and free markets. On the other hand, perhaps Richard Cohen might be interested in what else ChevronTexaco does in its communities around the world. Maybe Richard would like to fund the Met broadcasts by taking the money used to conduct the Children’s Art Competition in Ireland, or International Foundation for Education and Self Help in Nigeria and Angola, or Children’s Day in Columbia.

But as I said before, I understand.

Methinks he doth protest too much.

Corporations are under pressure to show that they are mean, lean machines.

Yes, it’s called the free market. Inefficient operations are discovered and punished, whether they support opera or not.

This is why Vivendi Universal SA auctioned off its art collection recently. It stands to gain as much as $15 million, which will help offset its debt of about $11 billion.

Well, which is it. Was Vivendi a lean, mean machine, or a badly managed media conglomerate with more debt than it could carry?

We can all understand.

Apparently, Richard cannot.

Some of Vivendi's art was accessible to the public.

I guess that makes it ok then. Except now they are selling it. Is this good or bad? Richard has me so confused.

One of its signature pieces, a stage curtain by Pablo Picasso, has been available for public viewing in New York for the past 40 years. You can understand why a stockholder could look at that Picasso piece and wonder why his money -- and it is his money -- should go to make the world a little bit more beautiful.

Damn philistines! How can anyone resist having their investments used to make the world a little bit more beautiful? Clearly they don’t need the money, or they wouldn’t be investing it an oil company, now would they?

This is not the same as some CEO using corporate money to buy a yacht or to entertain his honey.

Who said it was? Sorry, it's been a while since the last Scourge and I momentarily forgot about Richard's affinity for inflammable strawmen.

Yet now the two are lumped together -- private greed and public largess. Something has been lost.

Do I smell Richard’s grandfather lurking here somewhere? Public largesse good – CEOs bad. Richard, or at least Richard’s grandfather, would have had a real love/hate relationship with Andrew Carnegie, who provided money for the library in my hometown of Aurora, as he did for many towns throughout America. But the things he had to do to accumulate that wealth… oh my!

Something will be lost as well if ChevronTexaco's decision results in the end of the Met broadcasts, which lured some of today's opera singers into the field.

Maybe the well-heeled that can afford to attend the Met live can find $7 million a year to keep the broadcasts alive for the hoi polloi.

An appreciation of opera comes on -- if it comes on at all -- with age. Of that I am sure.

Well, that’s a bold statement. Just imagine if we all had the same tastes in music, art, culture, and food that we had when we were 9!

When opera was a mass entertainment –

Mass entertainment?

… when all of Italy sang and every mining town in the West had its opera house –

Somehow, I don’t think it was quite the same…

…no one had to be told that life was capricious, unfair and deeply tragic.

Apparently that lesson has not been adequately passed on these days.

Happiness was not guaranteed, nor even promised…

Now every politician promises it, and a lot of people seem to buy it!

…and love too often ended in death -- for women, frequently just in childbirth.

So much for the good old days, eh, Dick?

There's a bit of the 18th and 19th centuries in just getting older.

And I suppose a bit of the 21st and 22nd centuries in being younger.

Time has flown and death hovers. Loves have been lost, so many mistakes have been made, and memory ripens into nostalgia.

And the clichés just keep a comin’.

In opera, the music makes the implausible plausible. When Mimi dies, when Tosca leaps, when Cio-Cio-San kills herself, the music transmits an inexpressible sadness. It is life itself.

Or, um…, death itself, going by the examples provided.

And on the radio, life is idealized. In one's own imagination, the tenor is not fat and the diva is a doll -- slim, sexy and busty.

Richard Cohen, you sexist, lookist pig! I sense diversity trianing in your immediate future!

(Look, this is my column.)

(Not any more. Heh!)

Better yet, if you don't happen to know the language, you can imagine what is being sung.

Hey I do the same with Le Monde and Die Zeitung all the time!

At the Met itself, you can read a translation -- and often what you think must be a soaring song about love is really a banal conversation about daily life.

He makes it seem so appealing.

I cannot be hard on ChevronTexaco.

Just a hand-full of cheap shots here and there.

It has done its duty.


But I ask another company to take up the slack, to say to its stockholders that it owes something to the public.

Aside from taxes and all the other things they already do. Perhaps Exxon could cancel the $100 million they are providing Stanford University to conduct research into climates and (gasp!) global warming. Shoot, $100 million could be set up in a trust fund to finance the Met broadcasts forever. It’s not like they are going to be able to prove global warming after all, and even if they do, their results will be tainted because the research was funded by oil companies. Right?

Imagine Bill Gates defending a decision to sponsor the Met broadcasts by echoing the words of the doomed Tosca: "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore." I lived for art, I lived for love.

Or maybe Bill and Melinda Gates could abandon their Foundation’s efforts to fight AIDS worldwide to fund the Met broadcasts. Be careful what you ask for, Dick.

My father -- and his son -- would sure appreciate it.

You gotta admire the chutzpah though. Somebody else has money, Richard has a want, ergo, they satisfy his want – for the public good, of course – or they are scum. What a guy. And he wonders why some of us don’t exactly cotton to his ideas of governance.

Oh, about the 1969 Mets. As Emily Litella would say, “Nevermind.” It still hurts though. But it is fun watching the Mets struggle now, especially with a payroll that could be shaved by, oh, I don't know, $7 million a year without being appreciably worse. Imagine the marketing tie ins if Steve Phillips saved the Met broadcasts!

Ya gotta believe!

Sunday, May 25, 2003

And So It Begins...

I just answered the phone at 10:00 PM and for the first time a boy I don't know asked for my daughter.

Truly, this is the best of all possible worlds. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go tend my garden.

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