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The Debate

Friday, February 22, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

I was able just now to catch the last 45 minutes or so of the Texas debate, rebroadcast on CNN International. (Motto: You think regular CNN's boring?)

I have the feeling, based on very little, that Hillary knows it's over. And that at some level she's made peace with that. And she's decided to leave by the high road.

Nothing would do more for her future prospects. Nothing would be a more generous gift to her party and to the country.

I like them both. In an ideal world Obama would be president and Hillary would get HHS. Or even State. She's so smart. So prepared. So knowledgeable. She's charisma-impaired, and she has run a lousy campaign. But even though I'm with Obama, I don't want her to go away.

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The Battle of the WaPo K's

by Michael Reynolds

So who's right? Krauthammer or Kinsley?

The two Washington Post columnists look at the question of whether we are winning or losing in Iraq. And whether we should stay or go.

I'll just go ahead and pop the tight-stretched balloon of suspense: Krauthammer wants to stay, Kinsley wants to go. Yes, quite a shock, isn't it?

Krauthammer begins by pointing to the successes of the surge and the Anbar Awakening.

"No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. . . . If the U.S. provides sustained support to the Iraqi government -- in security, governance, and development -- there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state."

-- Anthony Cordesman,

"The Situation in Iraq: A Briefing From the Battlefield," Feb. 13, 2008

This from a man who was a severe critic of the postwar occupation of Iraq and who, as author Peter Wehner points out, is no wide-eyed optimist. In fact, in May 2006 Cordesman had written that "no one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good." Now, however, there is simply no denying the remarkable improvements in Iraq since the surge began a year ago.

Kinsley essentially concurs.

It is now widely considered beyond dispute that Bush has won his gamble. The surge was a terrific success. Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They're all down, down, down. Lattes sold by street vendors are up. Performances of Shakespeare by local repertory companies have tripled.

Krauthammer accuses the Democrats of thirsting after defeat.

Despite all the progress, military and political, the Democrats remain unwavering in their commitment to withdrawal on an artificial timetable that inherently jeopardizes our "very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state."

Kinsley goes to what looks an awful lot like circular logic:

But we needn't quarrel about all this, or deny the reality of the good news, to say that at the very least, the surge has not worked yet. The test is simple, and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.

So the surge is bringing down violence, and because of the surge the Iraqi people seem to be managing a halting, shaky, bottom-up modus vivendi, but it's still a failure because rather than cutting to 100,000 men we're choosing to be prudent and hold onto 130,000? So it's time to flee?

We fought a war in Korea that came to a very unsteady draw. We've had troops there ever since. We still have forces in Germany and Japan. For that matter we have men in Britain which, I'm pretty sure are not there as a hedge against a repetition of the War of 1812. We have men all over the world, mostly not shooting or being shot at.

John McCain was politically stupid but perfectly right when he said we might keep men in Iraq for a hundred years so long as they aren't fighting. That's not a 100 year war, it could be a 100 year peace. It's been 64 years in Germany. Is anyone really upset by that? Because we kept those guys there, most of Germany remained free. And that Germany, "our" Germany, was able to absorb and rescue the other Germany when the wall came down. 64 years and the Germans show no sign of being interested in the Sudetenland. Would you have predicted, in 1944, that the aggressive, militaristic, genocidal Germans would acquiesce in a world order where they make the cars and we carry the guns? Would you have predicted that we'd be laughing at them for embracing David Hasselhoff?

I've said before that I entirely understand those people who say, look, this war was a mistake, we went in under premises that proved wrong, we mangled the occupation, the whole goddamned thing has cost us a hell of a lot more money than anyone told us it would, as well as men, and the game isn't worth the candle. Six years? Basta! Time to get outta crazytown. I don't think people who take that tack are traitors or defeatists.

But that's not the argument Kinsley is making. He's balancing his argument on a simple question of numbers. If we were willing -- after all we've finally learned about the Rumsfeldian idiocy of going in with too few men -- to cut an extra 30,000, Kinsley would be fine, it seems. But the fact that we're being prudent proves that we've failed.

Krauthammer's more right on this than Kinsley.

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Good Blog Gone Bad

Thursday, February 21, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Ed Morrissey, a blogger I have respected, has engaged in far worse behavior than any he criticizes in the mainstream media. He has run a cartoon which equates Michelle Obama with Nazis.

I first wrote this in his comments:

With that scurrilous, contemptible cartoon running at the top of this page, you are not really in a position to scold anyone in the media. Michelle Obama a Nazi? Really? That's a stand you want to defend?

When Ed chose to fudge the issue, I wrote this:

The defense of this cartoon is uncharacteristically dishonest and frankly stupid.

To equate a statement by a candidate's spouse to the effect that her husband will call on people to work, become involved, become better educated, to commit, to shed apathy, with fascism, is so staggeringly dishonest that it casts doubt on the integrity of this blog. A blog I check three or four times a day and that, until now, I have respected.

This isn't a close call. Shame on Ed Morrissey. Shame on the commenters who have twisted logic to equate a woman who espouses liberal views with people who arranged the mass-slaughter of entire races.

This is disgusting. Shameful. Contemptible. And I suspect Mr. Morrissey knows it, but rather than admit an error, rather than admit that the cartoon is inexcusable, he is choosing loyalty over truth and hiding behind a bland call to let commenters hash it out.

Ed, you are, in effect, a publisher here. You are a small-scale New York Times. If you won't step up and take responsibility, loyalty be damned, you have no further standing to criticize media which, for all their many travesties, have not yet sunk to this level.

This is gut check time for Morrissey. He's not me. He's a guy who wants to be taken seriously, a guy with some play in the MSM, one of the "grown-up" bloggers. But this isn't grown-up. It's stupidly offensive. The defense that the left says, "Bushitler," so that justifies equating Michelle Obama with a Nazi, is pathetic. Is that the new conservative moral argument: they did it, too!

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Past vs. Future (Updated)

by Michael Reynolds

I think McCain supporters who think he has a chance against Obama are kidding themselves. I don't think McCain will just lose in that match-up, I think he'll be blown away. A Mondale-sized loss.

That guess has nothing to do with the New York Times' tissue-paper story today. It has nothing to do even with McCain's silly and false attack on Obama's pledge to go after Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan -- a pledge that is word for word identical to Mr. Bush's own statements.

I'm talking about the fact that it's going to be past versus future. John McCain is running on Vietnam and Iraq. Things move quickly in the US. Iraq is already in the rearview mirror for most people. Vietnam might as well be World War I.

Obama is all about the future. I don't mean his policies. I don't just mean his rhetoric. I mean his face. His sound. His wife and the young children who will be playing in the White House. Most of all his narrative.

Look at them side-by-side on TV. Listen to them. The irascible old man and the golden boy. "I told you so," vs. "Yes, we can."

McCain is the war hero of a long, long-ago war. Sorry, my fellow Boomers, but no one cares about the 'Nam anymore. John McCain will always be a hero to me, the guy I'd want my son to grow up to be, but he's a hero out of the past. And we're going to be looking in November for a new hero.

We don't do the past in the US of A, we do the future. I'm not saying it's right; I'm just saying it is.

Update: Another post, rather better written than mine:

Leaving entirely aside the issue of the substance of the content, let's look at the match-up of the performers. Obama is doing the Little Richard version of Tutti Frutti, and McCain is doing the Pat Boone. Obama is Elvis, and McCain is Ed Sullivan.

Let's face it. On a visceral level, we've got a young, vibrant, hip preacher of positive change against an old and tired looking guy who wants to stay the course. McCain just doesn't seem to have any "game."

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That Guy

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Not the best view, but killer location.

Here's today's lesson: do not overtip the kinda-hot waitress with the broken nose because when you come back she won't just pour you a Glenmorangie, she'll pour two. And you'll drink it so as not to embrarrass her. And if you're going to walk Florence by night, then drunk and desperately needing to pee, is not the best way to do it.

I know there's a place with fresh Nutella waffles out there. Somewhere. If only I keep staggering down the cobblestones and resist the desperate urge to wet myself.
Scusi, signorina, a Nutella waffle, per favore, and a new pair of slacks.

Found a rental house today and made an offer. It's one of the many cool things about Italy: everything is negotiable. I hear that you want X Euros. How about if I pay 6 months in advance? How about if I pay in cash? Or as one real estate agent suggested today, "How about-a an iPhone-a? I'm-a just-a kidding."

I'm safely back in the hotel, watching Dexter in English, but with Italian subtitles. Sono vivo, non le credere possibile. This is an easy language. Not the grammar but the spelling and sentence structure and pronunciation. Italian will be my bitch within 3 months of moving here. The French helps. Although French, like so much of American English, is down in the throat, while Italian all happens up by your teeth and the tip of your tongue. It's like the language isn't allowed down where the American 'r' lives, let alone le 'r' Francais.

French is lovely when spoken by women, and might as well be German when spoken by men, Italian is less sexist. Always sounds kinda cool.

You know what I did during dinner? I exchanged text messages with my son. I never thought I'd be that guy, the guy who would be somewhere fun, all alone with a broken-nosed waitress and thinking about his wife and kids.

When I was choosing a pseudonym for my new series, I went with Michael Grant. Yes, that Grant. I like Grant because he got what Lincoln had gotten earlier: that it would be a ruthless war of attrition. Grant was a genius of ruthlessness.

He was reputed to be a drunk, but he wasn't. He only drank heavily when kept away from his wife. Ruthless and hopelessly in love. He enjoyed a nice cigar or ten, caught the big C, was broke because even though his presidency was corrupt, he never was. He died, aged 63, writing his memoirs. Writing in terrible pain so that his family could be secure. The secular patron saint of writers. Better than the Catholic's nominee. What did he ever do?

If you set aside the fact that I have not commanded armies, or saved the Union, or been president, or, for that matter kept going while cancer was eating my face, I like to think I have a few things in common with my hero. I can see ends without regard to morality or cost. I'll write no matter what. And I drink too much when my family is far away.

I have become that guy.

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by Michael Reynolds

The official indictment of Barack Obama:

Charge: A Failure to Bore.

The Specifications: That he did knowingly, and with malice aforethought, deliver speeches that were eloquent and moving. And that said eloquence is in part a result of his refusal to repeat the many policy statements freely available on his web site.

The Remedy: Mr. Obama must cease and desist from attempts to elevate political discourse and return to the dry recitation of a laundry list of details tailored to the specific needs of various interest groups. (See various State of the Union speeches.)

Charge: A Failure to Footnote.

The Specifications: That he did use elevating and inspiring language formerly used by a politician, Deval Patrick, with whom Mr. Obama shares a political consultant. That he has in the past credited that source -- and Mr. Patrick has no complaint -- but in more recent times has failed to sufficiently footnote his speech. This grave failure to deploy asterisks has led to the suspicion that Mr. Obama uses . . . speechwriters! And that those speechwriters sometimes repeat themselves.

The Remedy: Source all portions of the speech. "According to Google, approximately 652,000 people have said, 'Yes, we can!' And today, ladies and gentlemen, or, excuse me, as many before me have said, 'today ladies and gentlemen,' I am proud to become the 652,001st person to say, 'Yes, we can.' Unless someone else also said it in the last few seconds. Plus, that 'I am proud to become" line? I stole that."

The Charge: Stupid Spouse Statements.

The Specifications: That Michelle Obama failed to state clearly that she has always been and always will be proud of her country no matter what, so there. In this Michelle Obama reveals herself as totally unsuited for the unelected, unofficial, uncompensated position of first lady, and a complete break with a long tradition of perfect first ladies.

The Remedy: Michelle Obama should be tossed into the river. If she floats she's a witch. Or maybe it's if she sinks. Either way, into the river with her.

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Another Asshole Writing About Tuscany

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Something of an improvement over my current view.

I had an all-truffle dinner. Sadly, not great truffles. But even a mediocre truffle is a truffle, and a truffle beats a Wendy's double-with-cheese every time. The appetizer degustation: bufala mozarella with truffles, a broccoli terrine with truffles, carpaccio with truffles, and toast with truffles. The secondi was sunny-side up eggs with truffles. Drop a morsel of bread onto the plate, cut a slice of egg and place atop the pane, make sure to position a slice of truffle on top of all that, and oh yeah, baby.

For desert a bit of chocolate with orange. A glass of desert wine whose name escapes me, but which reminded me of a subtler Tokay. And the inevitable -- and who would want to evit it -- espresso.

Why do I tell you this? To earn your hatred. Oooh, let it wash over me, I will wash it away with a super Tuscan.

Spent the day yesterday with a Brit looking at houses. Spent today with an Aussie looking at houses. My bartender was an Aussie as well. The streets are full of gaggles of American girls whose blue-jeaned asses I dutifully contemplate, and who return my leers with smiles that say, "You remind me of my dad. Or Lex Luthor."

I've gone to the total shaved-head thing. I look like an albino turtle. It's cold here, so I go about in a long, navy topcoat, with a graphite scarf, grown-up slacks and miserably uncomfortable shoes, all of which disappear in the gloom of night, so that I end up looking like a floating hard-boiled egg with glasses.

Buona sera. Io sono Lex Luthor. Io sono Yertle il trataruga albino.

I think the waiter was an actual Italian, but he was such an over-the-top parody I suspect he might be an American acting student. I can't prove it. "I'm a do-a this-a to-a prepare-a the glass for-a the wine."

Naturally, I try to communicate with the locals, using what I know of the Italian language, all of which I learned from Chico Marx. "Why a duck? Why-a no chicken? Atsa matter for you?"

Best thing about looking at houses in Tuscany? There are two kinds of views: beautiful, and Jesus, that's really beautiful.

Olive trees? Oh yeah, they've got olive trees. And grapevines. Also castles. Looked at a house that's down the hill from the Frescobaldi castle, in a former watchtower. If I rent the house I'll have to sign an agreement to take the Frescobaldis as my liege lords. And I gather I'll have to supply three men-at-arms or six archers in the event of war with Chianti.

Best news so far? I wanted to see if I could download US television. I signed onto Hulu and tried to load a House. It turns out you can't access Hulu from outside the US. So I called the kid. 5 minutes later I was downloading from Hulu. Lex Jr. came through.

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Yes, It's a Crazy Rant.

Monday, February 18, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

This is likely to be at at least a bit incoherent because I'm jet-lagged and metabolizing a glass of prosecco, a half bottle of Amarone, and a Glenmorangie (Port wood finish, for those following along at home,) so I apologize in advance. Forgive the misspellings and lousy sentence structure.

I'm in Florence, alone, cold, and I just finished Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" while enjoying a rather nice dinner of pumpkin millefoglie and wild boar. These facts alone disqualify me from giving advice to anyone because I am obviously a lucky bastard. So. I get that.

Cormac McCarthy is a terrific writer. He owns the language. But "The Road" is a shitty book. Why? Because bleak is easy. Bleak and hopeless is easy. Kindergarten for intellectuals. A fucking monkey can write hopelessness. Just as any loser drunk, drug addict, or writing program grad can write it. Yeah, hopeless. We get it. The world is a sick machine bleeding a mass of shit, as Green Day puts it so eloquently. Wow. What a brilliant insight. If only every stoned college kid since 1968 hadn't had the identical insight I'm sure I'd be shattered and blown away and impressed as all hell.

The Road is every half-smart pothead's midnight insight set to the music of the English language.

Here's the thing that bothers me. H. Sapiens didn't crawl up out of the goo and come to rule this planet by whining like a goddamned pussy about how hopeless and bleak and pointless and miserable it all was. We were a stooped, starving, bug-eating, carrion-eating, illiterate, artless, cultureless race of monkeys, and we became the race that swam and flew and wrote and composed and cured and built and carved out a place where we could love. We went from Og the Mastodon-skinner to Mozart, and we did it all on the backs of people who believed in the face of sneering criticism from fucking smart-asses, who at every step had a nice long list of reasons why we'd fail.

Yes, this is weird coming from me, because I think a lot of the people who read this blog take my atheism, my insistence on evidence, my snark and my satire as proof of cynicism. Well I'm not a cynic. I haven't given up. Not by a long shot. And I'll be godless-damned if I'll spend my life sitting on the sidelines playing the cynic. If that's what you thought, well you misjudged me. I haven't given up on believing that the world can be a better place, and I haven't entirely given up on believing that I can give that wagon a little push of my own.

Which brings me to Barack Obama.

He's all talk. He's all rhetoric. He doesn't have a nine point plan for reforming the fucking commerce department. Waaah! All he does is talk. All he does is say maybe if we all stop acting like assholes we might marginally improve the world. Waaah! Fucking asshole talking about hoping for a better world. Fucking asshole suggesting maybe the shit that is currently just about up to our necks could be, oh, I don't know, a little lower?

People are passing out at his events! Oh, my God! Sweet fucking Jesus! People are getting . . . excited! It has to be stopped. It can't be right. People under the age of 90 are getting . . . excited and . . . it . . . it scares us! Teenagers and 20-year olds actually imagining, the stupid little shits, that they could inhabit a world different than the squalid, manipulating, self-hating, soul-dead, self-loathing, empty machine we're trying to pass on to them.

Stupid fucks. Getting excited. Stupid fucks. Hoping. Stupid little fucks, how dare they long for something better? Don't they know it's all going to come to shit in the end?

Says bitter old-age and cynical middle-age to youth. Don't you know there's no goddamned point?

Where's his five point plan for ensuring that in my dotage I can be cared for? What about me? What about the past? What about all the lessons we burned-out old fucks have learned from the world we created? Huh? What about us? Why are you stupid little bastards even trying?

Here's our advice: give the fuck up now, because we tried and we failed, so you're doomed to fail, too. And that, my friends, is how we managed in a few brief centuries to go from being a race that didn't know what the fuck was going on in the next valley to Googling the sum of all human knowledge in 1.2 seconds. We got here by giving up.

Do any of you reading this really think you have anything to teach me about how life can go wrong, fall apart, disappoint? Really? I'm 53 years old. I've had a hard eye for most all of that time. You really think maybe I just don't get it? You figure maybe I'm a giddy little school girl swooning because I just, golly, haven't noticed the fact that Obama doesn't seem to have a position paper on the law of the sea treaty? And that's really, really important?

I say this with deep affection for most of you, and great respect: fuck you. You go ahead and give up; I won't. You surrender; I don't. There's nothing you know about this that I don't know. No suspicion that you have but I have somehow overlooked. But you don't get to play cynic unless somewhere, deep down inside, you are still an idealist. Cynicism can only be the armor, it cannot be the man or woman. And we did not build this race from the DNA of cynics.

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Six Word Memoir

by Michael Reynolds

The six word memoir game as seen here, here, here and elsewhere. Here's mine:

Some bad, some good, mostly funny.

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