Friday, May 02, 2003
Friday Five (Factorial!) at 4:00
On Fridays I like to get a little casual. Take off the tie, the jacket, put on my slippers and kick it live-journal style. Anyway, these come from Trivial Pursuits. These are kind of lame questions but I'll play along.
1 Name one song you hate to admit you like. Easy: "Can't Get You Out of My Head," by Kylie Monogue. I love that song. I don't know what I'd do if people found that out about me.
2 Name two songs that always make you cry. That Anne Murray song, "Even though / we ain't got money...", whatever it's called. And Wesley Willis's "I Murdered Your Family."
3 Name three songs that turn you on. D'angelo's "How Does It Feel," D'angelo's "How Does It Feel," and D'angelo's "How Does It Feel." That song's the hotness.
4 Name four songs that always make you feel good. Hmm... tough, but I've got four: The Velvet Underground's "Beginning to See the Light," The Roches' "Hammond Song," The Rentals' "Waiting," and Busta Rhyme's "Pass the Courvoisier." (I really wanted to say Alabama's "High Cotton," Alabama's "Soung of the South," Alabama's "Dixieland Delight," and Alabama's "Born Country," but I already used that joke. Though it's still true.)
5 Name five songs you couldn't ever do without. I don't really know how to evaluate this, I mean if I had to give up everything but these five songs, I'd probably choose all jazz. That's not as fun, though, so I'm just going to name five more pop songs that make me feel good. The Promise Ring's "Nothing Feels Good," Warren Zevon's "Carmelita," 2pac's "Only God Can Judge Me Now," Smashing Pumpkins, "Cherub Rock," The Dismemberment Plan's "Sentimental Man." BOOM
posted by kriston at 5:13 PM........
"The Bookie of Virtue"
Dr. Josh Marshall got back to us with the "really uncomfortable" news. While I was hoping for some man-on-dog style Republican scandal, this is still pretty good: William Bennett, self-appointed moral police sergeant, author of The Moral Compass and The Book of Virtues, has a gambling problem. Apparently, to the tune of $8 million in losses.
Remember gambling? It's not as hott as lust, not public like pride or greed, not really profane like taking the Lord's name in vain. Still, it pissed off Jesus, so you'd think William Bennett would be the last swinger heading to Caesar's Palace. What do you know, a moral leader hypocritically failing to live up to his own impossible standards. I'm obviously taking a lot of glee in this--beyond the fact that these figures are always repugnant to me, I ran into a lot of authority figures in my youth who really wanted me to read The Book of Virtues. I've kind of always felt like he's been after me, what with this book showing up all over my life. (Plus he screwed art for 8 years as the chairman at the National Endowment for the Humanities.)
The best part, hands down, of the news: Bennett's in a poker circle with Robert Bork and SCOTUS Justices Scalia and Rehnquist.
Worst part, hands down: Bennett apparently lost that $8 million at the slots.
UPDATE: New best part of the news--while waiting for Marshall to spill the beans on the scandal, readers commenting over at Matthew Yglesias invented some Clue-styled guesses:
BILL O'REILLY in the GAY BATHHOUSE with the AMYL NITRATE
Parker Brothers, get to work!
posted by kriston at 4:06 PM........
Is it too late to grant Georgia's secession request?
Exhausting news from Taylor County High School in Butler, Georgia, which will have a whites-only prom as an alternative to the standard, integrated prom. This time last year, Taylor High made the news for having its first ever integrated prom. Yeah, 2002--that last year. The school is tiny, with an enrollment of 441 students, halved neatly between white and black students. (Figures.)
It seems that the decision to host the first integrated prom was an effort in overcoming inertial drag rather than structural barriers to an integrated prom. At some point in the 70s, after integration finally reached the rural south, most school disbanded the official prom in favor of parent/student led segregated ones. The inertia that keeps the two proms in place wasn't treated by the school--the integrated prom was the brainchild of a student, Gerica McCrary. Keeping that in mind, I see three reasons--beyond blatant racism--why her idea failed a year later:
1 The school's administration - in failing to sanction officially the integrated prom, reinforce it structurally within the school 'apparatus,' as most proms are, and discourage the organization of a whites-only prom.
2 The school's administration - in failing to vocally support a brave student; only teachers spoke on her behalf or on behalf of the integrated prom in every article I found. No administrators to be found in today's articles.
3 The school's administration - in failing to respond to the critical news coverage it received a year ago for leaving it to a student to address prom segregation.
I agree with the president of the Georgia Association of Educators, Ralph Noble, referring to the successfully integrated prom of 2002, saying the initiative "truly show[ed] that children are wiser than adults many times." That would seem to still be the case. Wave that new flag proudly, Georgia.
posted by kriston at 3:24 PM........
Via Adrianne Truett, a quite endearing post by Iranian Girl (permalinks down.) She doesn't sound too afraid of her Axis of Evil government:
Anyways, as it is said this year government has plans for girls' clothes & things won't be that easy, there will be some actions to prevent women wear that much freely. But there is nothing to be worry about; Iranian girls are clever & wise enough to find a way & not to act as this Islamic republic wants...
I like that, someone could make song lyrics out of that last sentence. (Unrelated, but Tehran girls are pretty easy on the eyes....) Hearing reports like these reinforce my opinion that Bush was way off in linking Iran with Iraq and North Korea. A despotic theocracy, certainly bad, but the generation rising there is one of the most hopeful of the Middle East. Iran will crumble under its own pressure, and optimistically you could see the establishment of a generation of leaders that began in student protest, that desires democracy of their own accord, and that have expressed the most tolerant attitudes toward Zionism by any group in the Middle East, Persian or Arabic.
posted by kriston at 11:56 AM........
The Beagle Has Landed
I think we'll be hearing about this one for a while. I've already heard "crass" and "craven PR manipulator" and those will both work. I don't care whether or not Bush flies a jet for PR reasons, but as Andrew Sullivan points out, Bush effectively used the military in a partisan way. The announcement to the military of the end of the war was used as the announcement to the civilian population. There is the none-too-subtle effect of having the military cheering for Bush in his first real campaign speech, after having just performed an aerial stunt.
No doubt Aziz gets all the points for reminding us that Bush has been meaning to make up some flying time that he missed in the Texas Air National Guard.
...Still, I must admit, taken completely out of context, it's kind of cool to see the President in a jet. Maybe he should tape a sequel to Independence Day. (A give-away: Loyalty Day)
posted by kriston at 11:09 AM........
The Key is Subtlety
G.p is now playing at PG's inestimable weblog. Huzzah!
posted by kriston at 10:35 AM........
Got My Attention
Sounds like we're in for some good dish later....
posted by kriston at 10:13 AM........
Not Tired of X-Men II Day Though
Here's a retarded review from the NYT on X-Men II, the sole reason I woke up this morning. Let me tell you what, there is nothing clearer than when a film critic tries to take on a comic book movie but has clearly not done his homework. Anyone worth his salt reviewing this movie will at least throw in an obligatory "bamf!" You wanna write a review of X-Men II, yet can't tell me who was on the blue team and who was on the gold team, can't tell me who Nathan Dayspring Askani'son is, can't tell me who is clearly missing in this film and will no doubt be introduced for 3? I spit on you. You don't deserve to see X-Men II, or any other movie except Gosford Park.
Twelve hours, thirty minutes.
UPDATE: Maybe the critics can take advantage of Kevin Drum's suggestion and celebrate Free Comic Book Day! Isn't that better than crummy Loyalty Day? If you're in Austin, take a minute on Saturday and run up to Austin Books, my favorite shop in town. The smart money (but it's free!) is on Frank Miller's Robocop, but Ultimate X-Men is fantastic if you haven't heard of that title already. While you're there, look at Grant Morrison's The Filth for a merit-worthy, postmoderny kind of comic. Kevin, any suggestions?
posted by kriston at 9:44 AM........
Thursday, May 01, 2003
I'm Tired of Bullshit Day
May Day doesn't mean a whole helluva lot to me. Glad as I am about the reform efforts of left-leaning labor, and as much as I admire the Old Labor Dems, May Day provokes in me the same feelings that, say, Arbor Day does.
That said--Loyalty Day is a fucking insult to my intelligence.
I read that three times and saw it as Liberty Day every single time; my brain simply wouldn't register Loyalty Day. I mean... give me a fucking break!
posted by kriston at 5:40 PM........
Amy Sullivan vs Gorillas
I tend to dislike broad comments about men do this, women would never do that, etc, unless Chris Rock is talking. But you kind of have to let Amy Sullivan have this one:
In the continuing adventures of Jay Garner, our man in Iraq, we get this priceless quote from Wednesday: "We ought to be beating our chests every day. We ought to look in a mirror and get proud and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say, 'Damn, we're Americans!'"
But, then again, she's not giving credit to Anna Wintour, Ann Richards, Hillary Clinton, or a few other "female officials" whom I most definitely could imagine saying something like that. If not with the same tenor, certainly with the same tone. The more I think about it--my boss, Grandma Capps, any number of historical archetypes--it's the Big Stick that makes you say ape-ish things. Men just tend to be the ones most often wielding the Big Stick. (Ahem.)
Not trying to pick on Amy Sullivan; she's of course absolutely on target about the Bush administration's insensitivity, and Garner's apparent inability to understand some really fundamental aspects of his job description. But that point is no longer a surprise.
posted by kriston at 5:12 PM........
I now enjoy the stat meter of my weblog more than writing it. Total vanity? Or total nerdity? As of this writing, Texas A&M and "Mojo-Jojo" each account for 1.25% of readers' domains. I, that is Kriston Capps, who is me, the writer of this weblog, known by various nicknames but primarily by Kriston, for that is the name that was given to me, this writer, am quite happy to see Mojo-Jojo. But I got nothing for the Aggies.
posted by kriston at 2:15 PM........
D'Arc v Columnists
It's pretty common in weblog writing for a [author? narrator? maître de? i can find a better word than blogger. -ed] blogger to start a post by following some very grounded formulas. The one I have in mind is the one I instinctually knew to start with: Pick a paper (NYT); pick a columnist (Maureen Dowd); judge that columnist (Maureen Dowd is super-retarded). After doing this for so long, you move on, or at least realize you should move on even if a 750-word limit makes for awful convenience.
Anyway--if you're going to do it, do it right. Like Jeanne D'Arc does.
posted by kriston at 1:08 PM........
She blinded me with science!
I caught this tip from Kevin Drum, who's been having a lively debate in his pages over the usefulness of requiring people to learn mathematics and science. Kevin's been on a kick since he originally wondered about the utility of teaching everyone science past the 6th grade.
Well, I think calculus is beautiful, practically an art form, so you know where I stand there. Firmly entrenched in the nerd camp. But I can make more moderate arguments: a student who practices science and math develops a mental discipline that isn't involved in history or literature. The high-tech component of industrial growth has increased the economic divide, and a lack of math skills may land you on the wrong side of the tracks even if the industry you're pursuing doesn't really deal with math. Finally, I don't think it's wise to let society grow into one in which knowledge is held by a very few, while the majority remains ignorant--that was, after all, what Vatican II was all about.
I'm willing to let the specialists do the work, but if the public is as ill-informed as sometimes seems, how can it possibly keep up with the world of science? An anecdote from Quark Soup:
This past weekend I watched a panel on science writing on C-SPAN2, broadcast from the LA Times Book Festival. Brenda Maddox's book Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA won the science and technology category, but during the panel she said something that made me wince: "...32 feet per second per second--now what does that mean? Some one can tell me afterwards perhaps."
It shouldn't take a BS in physics to explain what acceleration is, any more than an English degree is necessary to review Hamlet's most famous soliloquys. If a minimum level of science is never taught or is watered down to irrelevance, writers, journalists, and the laity will never have a chance.
posted by kriston at 12:27 PM........
Grand Ol' Homophobia... bah, I lost count
If you were wondering how Sassy Santorum's comments might be rebuked by moderate Republican, you really ought to be wondering if any Republicans don't hate gays:
Republican leaders in Congress gave strong backing to Senator Rick Santorum today, dismissing calls by gay rights groups and Democrats for him to be replaced as the third-ranking Republican in the Senate for remarks about homosexuality.
Where are those moderates that rode the crest of compassionate conservatism to office? Not referring to DeLay, of course, but it would not take much for a moderate, non-Log Cabin Republican to come forward and at least give inclusiveness lip service. (Remarkably, in that jaw-dropping sense of the word, Bill Frist actually commended Santorum on his inclusiveness.)
I certainly don't think Republicans are inclusive, but I never knew that homophobia (or cowardice) ran so thoroughly through the party. And the thin veil they're offering as reasoning is unacceptable even on its own terms. Referring to the slippery slope of sodomy, Delay said "that it is very dangerous to say that whatever you do behind closed doors is your right to privacy." Here's a wedge issue that the Dems need to jump on posthaste: get the government out from under our beds!
posted by kriston at 9:11 AM........
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
The Pennant Race
Via her co-weblog Political Aims--also new to the roll call--Amy Sullivan has an American Prospect review of Eric Alterman's book, What Liberal Media? She has encouraging news about Democrats turning their attention away from the think tanks and toward the media platoons. On liberal softball:
Everyone knows that conservatives win when they play hardball. But they also win at softball. Among congressional staff in Washington, the hallowed summer tradition of softball games on the National Mall is, in many ways, a microcosm of the larger political struggle between liberals and conservatives. Liberals let everyone play, even if it means benching their home-run hitters while the guy who whiffs every pitch gets a turn. Conservatives pick their nine strongest players and send everyone else out to buy beer. Liberals often have four or five women on the field. Conservatives play only the required three and sometimes even insist that different rules apply to women. Liberals have such fierce team names as Jeffords' Vermont Saps or the Daschle Prairie Dogs. Conservative teams are more likely to follow the lead of the Helms Hitmen.
Maybe that's changing--Kerry's proving to be pretty square-jawed--though in itself the fact that Dems have finally acknowledged that Repubs play by a different book is not action. With the war over and the economy in shambles and the Dems pursuing strategies that require cohesive action (like the filibusters), we may see a Dem party capable of uniting, and then their awareness of Republican strategy might translate into an effective counter-strategy. (Perhaps by buying airwaves or a TV network and airing The Daily Show constantly. Non-stop. OK, maybe with episodes of Who's The Boss? thrown in. I mean, who doesn't like Mona?)
posted by kriston at 10:09 AM........
Clark in '04?
Via Daily Kos--a new addition to the roll call--this link to an online petition asking Wesley Clark to run for President in 2004. Still hope left for Sue And Not U but I imagine that if he does make the call at this late date to venture into politics in '04, it would be as a vice-presidential candidate. (Howard Dean is the name I hear tossed about.) Gen. Clark just took a position as CoB for Wavecrest Labs, a decision that suggests he may not be gearing up for the long, hard campaign trail.
I don't know know how often these kinds of appointments are honorific, or what special knowledge Gen. Clark can bring to hydrogen-fueled vehicle technology, but the appointment does indicate a predictably liberal stance on oil policy. Maybe a good way for Gen. Clark to advertise his solution to American/Middle Eastern conflict....
posted by kriston at 9:43 AM........
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Hope this isn't too vain a subject for a report, but Mattie convinced me to put a site-meter on G.p; he showed me a few of the statistical tracking features and I must admit it's interesting. Did you know that, for example, as of 3 hours after the site-meter device installation, 50% of my readership appears to be from the Kamchatka province?
Either there, or Japan. Korea? I had no idea. Well, Konnichiwa, or Strastvouteeyay, or what-not, though if you're reading this you're probably comfortable enough with English.
If you want to look at some really hott, sexxxy statistics, feel free to browse - go to the bottom of the page and there's a little erotic, multi-colored box. Nothing dull about it, just lick, I mean click away.
UPDATE: As it turns out, the image links to the real time graph. I didn't expect it to do this, but then again, I suck at the internet. As of right now it looks like my foreign readership is dropping off a bit.
UPDATE II: It ocurred to me that while noting that the graph was real time I also noted where it stood at the time of the update. Dumb. Another cup of coffee should fix the problem....
posted by kriston at 11:15 PM........
I'm talking about your ancestors.
File this under really old news. Earlier today Unlearned Hand mentioned a factoid from the index in Harper's: "Chance that a male human worldwide is a direct patrilineal descendant of Genghis Khan: 1 in 200." Some commenters thought it might have been due to the fact that Ghengis Khan was a slut. I was reminded of an interesting Atlantic Monthly piece on the mathematics of geneology--seems that the ancestral ratio doesn't really reflect how much bidness Khan got.
When you trace your ancestry, you don't move backwards linearly, in a 6-degrees-of-separation style; you have to count exponentially:
These numbers are manageable in the first few generations—two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents—but they quickly spiral out of control. Go back forty generations, or about a thousand years, and each of us theoretically has more than a trillion direct ancestors—a figure that far exceeds the total number of human beings who have ever lived.
That's the simple equation: the one discussed further in this article involves Poisson distributions and other cheerful techniques, and with it he hypothesizes that all members of a relatively common race likely share a common ancestor as recently as 600 years ago. For example, any Euromongrels out there whose families came from Europe can confidently claim royal heritage. In Khan's case, his healthy libido and multicultural predilections helped spread his seed across the continents as well as down the line.
posted by kriston at 8:37 PM........
I wouldn't have believed it had it not come via Kevin Drum:
As with other advanced technologies, the defensive and offensive utility of nanotechnology is hard to distinguish; from an adversary's point of view, it may even be dangerous to try. Here, for instance, is a recent news story on 'nanoarmour' for US troops:
Nanotechnology, of course, is every boy's wet dream writ technological, and the military has now taken an interest in potential nanotech applications.
I can't say one way or the other how soon nanotech will turn the US military into the X-Men. The truth is stranger than fiction. But this report did make me wonder about military predictions--really, predictions in general. A US patent officer once supposedly said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Even nanotech wouldn't make this true, but something so mystical as nanoarmor would really be the end of fantasy, wouldn't it? A morphing, healing, bulletproof, sheen exoskeleton sounds like the intersection of fantasy and invention; then again, so was the airplane.
As for military predictions--oftimes throughout history generals have famously predicted that military technology and strategy had achieved its zenith. The claims were always proven false, but their suggestions weren't so far-fetched as they sounded: after all, excepting the last 150 years, warfare has been a pretty static industry, and changes reflected cultural shifts and chance more than serious gains in technology. Military growth within the last 150 years is obviously another story. Now that military development is starting to genuinely reflect asymptotic technological development, American military hegemony will probably grow asymptotically as well. It is something to wonder about what it would take for another nation to outpace the US. That really was the marvel of al Qaeda's tactics: a strategy of underdeveloped warfare.
As far developed competition goes, I suppose North Korea is proving that a nuclear bomb--outdated as it is--is still a serious weapon.
UPDATE: I wasn't kidding about that boy/wet dream connection. (From the fifth story down)
Accompanying the article was an illustration of the proposed super-soldier, who stood in a futuristic cityscape in her robotic green armor, pointing a powerful looking weapon at the viewer. As it turns out, the image was stolen from a small press comic book called Radix, in which the heroine wears a suite of armor identical to that of MIT’s “soldier of the future.”
posted by kriston at 11:11 AM........
Monday, April 28, 2003
Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be this guy....
Sample entry from Eureka, California's Kinetic Sculpture Race, in which contestants in man-powered "sculptures" attempt to traverse a 38-mile course over water, sand, mud, and road:
Sample entry from Austin, Texas's Flugtag Competition, in which contestants in man-powered "flying contraptions" attempt to traverse but rather dive into Lake Travis:
You call it lazy, but sir, I call it that big, Texas heart.
posted by kriston at 7:45 PM........
Holy shit--forgot all about April 25th being the 50th anniversary of the discovery--well, the description anyway--of DNA. I'll ignore the scientific aftershocks of their work, which has led to everything from molecular anthropology to genetic forensics, and give you this Economist article detailing the impact of DNA on art.
What I think is most interesting about DNA in art is not its iconic value, though the double helix is at least as potent as any other symbol of the 20th century (such as the Bohr atom, the swastika, the sickle and hammer), and will probably come to be the most totemic symbol since the Cross. The article says it was visually introduced by Dali (who, contrary to popular belief, beat Andy Warhol to the popular culture reference, by painting a Coca-Cola can into a surrealist landscape in the 50s.), and it's practically been promulgated by the art world as the symbol of the new order since then...
Anyway, what I was saying before I left on that tangent was that it's remarkable how completely DNA has been assimilated in art in its conceptual terms. The concept of DNA has been translated into art at least as thoroughly as its double-helix symbol:
In the National Portrait Gallery in London there hangs a “picture” of one of Britain's best-known scientists, Sir John Sulston, who was a key figure in the Human Genome Project. But look into this work, by Marc Quinn, and the thing you will see is not Sir John, but your own face in reflection, speckled with white glassy beads. These are bacterial colonies, which have been genetically modified with bits of Sir John's own DNA.
Since, well, forever, but especially since impressionism, artists have been deconstructing the image, and developing art in terms more scientific than spiritual. Three of the principal artists of the 20th century were heavily influenced by science: Malevich, Picasso, and Duchamp. (Among others, of course.) No doubt they would have had much to say about genetics had they hit their prime 40 years later than they did. Contemporary artists certainly have.
Though I usually turn my nose up at art delving too deeply into the internet or computers--important to the world, both, but in terms of artistic content just a cut more important than other appliances--this scientific innovation might be a limitless muse. I don't think that artists will exhaust the artistic component of DNA any time soon. Not so long as the ramifications of its discovery continues to wreck havoc on the world.
posted by kriston at 5:11 PM........
The design contest for the September 11th memorial begins today and will run through June. The winning design will be chosen by a committee, separate from the group that chose Studio Libeskind's design for the new World Trade Center, and this panel will include Maya Lin, who won the competition at age 21 to design the Vietnam Memorial. The contest is being run by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., who has been dilligent in ensuring that no victim or victims takes precedence in the memorial. And they've had to be dilligent: both a group of the victims' families and a coalition of firemen have petitioned strongly for unique representation in the monument. I imagine it may be difficult for these interested parties to find much comfort from the final design, which I imagine will be more of a tribute to the city and to overcoming all odds or what-have-you, but the hope is that if it is unconventional, it will still be as bold as other monuments.
And accessible. The Pentagon Memorial planned for Washington, DC, fails on this account: the park concept is clear enough, but the bench/slants are arranged over an elevation that represents the ages of the various fallen or something. I got confused.
posted by kriston at 4:11 PM........
Really, the party was hopping....
A friend and I were discussing name distribution over time at a party (clearly, one killer blowout) the other night and wondered how widely you could extrapolate from local trends; e.g., I know lots of Matts and few Richards. As it turns out, name distribution follows a power law, and beyond that, in the UK at least a distinctive change in name distribution happened during the Industrial Revolution. Via D^2.
posted by kriston at 3:16 PM........
Sue on parade!
Proletarian fury from Sue And Not U regarding The New Yorker's recent review of the newest trend in transportation, called "bus":
Of all the obnoxious, improbable things, a New Yorker writer has decided to (gasp!) take public transportation! As you can imagine, he writes as if sending dispatches from the veldt. These strange creatures we call "bus drivers," these denizens, these riders of the "bus." How much we can learn from their strange and simple ways!
I'd like to say that in Austin the busdrivers are all courteous--not that I find myself riding them much now that I'm postcollege. My roommate tells me about his route's driver, who spends a lot of time apologizing for an overly lascivious passenger. (Don't mind him, ladies--that's just Charlie, Charlie the Tuna!) Sue And Not U is not so praising of the DC transportation authority:
--The bus is not a dinner party among friends. No food is allowed (including coffee, so that nixes the Starbucks on wheels, too) lest you face the wrath of your "irritable chief," who, I suspect, would kick your New Yorker-writing ass to the curb if you ever referred to him or her that way.
So much rage, and still so young....
posted by kriston at 3:00 PM........
A quick glance at the Blogosphere Ecosystem shows me falling dramatically from the comfortable height of #1,490 to a lowly #1,722. My demotion from up-and-coming Crunchy Crustacean status to the lowly midsections of the Wiggly Worms phylum has imparted a severe toll on this writer, and the psychological costs have been greater than even the reduction of nobility/mobility involved in de-evolution. My slide results ostensibly from a lack of reciprocal links or, more fundamentally, from a lack of rational, substantive posts--still, I'm kin to blame it on Jim.
posted by kriston at 1:41 PM........
All Apologies II
I'm not the only one out there recovering today from a postwar asthma attack:
I've been breathing into a paper bag for the last few days, and I'm starting to feel a bit more clear-headed. Perhaps "most ill-considered in history" is not the best-considered phrase in the history of phrasing stuff.
So there. Here's to the alarmist's Monday-morning hangover....
posted by kriston at 1:22 PM........
I'm giddy about an upcoming book by Brookings Institution fellow Peter Singer called Corporate Warriors. An NPR report a few days ago reminded me about this book, an investigation into the increasing privatization of the military via outsourcing to truly obese firms. I couldn't find the transcript from a quick search, but here's an LA Times summary on the big business side of the military/industrial complex. The general thrust of the argument:
Increasingly, government agencies, including those in the new Homeland Security Department, are "bundling" contracts, preferring a single, diversified contractor that can provide end-to-end solutions rather than parceling out contracts to dozens of smaller firms. That requires deep corporate pockets and labor forces with broad expertise. The Bush administration, for example, signaled last week that it intends to issue just such large-scale contracts to rebuild Iraq in the event of war.
This dovetails with other neocon stances, such as the no-bid oil contracts awarded to Bechtel and Halliburton and the increasing reliance on American reservists for missions not not typically suited to the military (such as peacekeeping and reconstruction, which I argue are projects for international bodies like the UN.) From what I understand from the NPR report, the military/industrial contracted companies are provocative because 1) they are essentially a new development in military strategy, having not been a part of military planning before the Gulf War, and 2) the questionable overseas activities of companies like DynCorp have proven to be virtually immune from prosecution. The scandals haven't just been of the checkbook variety, either:
[Dyncorp received a] State Department aerial-spraying contract to eradicate coca crops in South America that brought in more than $80 million in 2001. A labor-rights group sued DynCorp in federal court in Washington in 2001 on behalf of up to 10,000 Ecuadoreans, alleging that the herbicides drifted across Colombia's border and caused crop damage, illness and death in Ecuador. The company denies the charges, asserting that it strictly follows State Department standards.
Under the umbrellas of the Pentagon and the State Department, DynCorp has apparently gotten away with murder; check out these reports implicating DynCorp in vast sex-trade rings while they provided security in Bosnia. UN peacekeeping troupes have seen scandals as well, but within the UN are formal channels for rebuke, whereas DynCorp is pretty much free of regulation.
I assume that, unlike your humble reporter, Singer will focus on larger issues beyond DynCorp. Without having extensively researched it, I think that the military preference for the biggest firm with the widest scope of services follows a terrible trend of entrenched government-corporate relationships that prohibit competition. Always surprising to me how Big Government/Big Corporation the Republicans truly are. Don't know when Singer's book will hit the stands, but I'm preordering mine and I'll report back as soon as I've read it.
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias covers America's overextended military, its interventionist and reconstruction abilities, NGOs, reservists--the whole shebang. He also liked the Al Franken bit, and it looks like he beat me to it.
posted by kriston at 12:16 PM........
'Franken, my dear, they just don't give a damn....'
This weekend's White House Correspondents' Dinner--normally, off my radar if it's not on "The West Wing"--was more tense than previous bashes:
No one, it seems, was in much of a clowning mood. Take the exchange we heard about between comedian/smart-ass Al Franken and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz:
Youza--have a drink, Paulie! Franken was jabbing the spun-to-death Republican complaint that Clinton impoverished the military, which, after the recent techno-blitzkrieg, is a view indicative of mild retardation. Elsewhere, policy entrepreneur Jennifer Love Hewitt had difficulty finding other sufficiently intellectual colleagues with whom to debate. J-Love, out of her element? The administration really does hate intellectuals....
posted by kriston at 11:02 AM........
I should admit, I was too eager to believe that the administration would support Western-leaning figures with dubious claims to power. Mohammed Zubaidi, who assumed control of Baghdad last week, was arrested by US forces, so I withdraw my earlier suggestions that he was a favorable figure in the eyes of the administration.
Though I am skeptical and even worried about Iraqi religious extremists assuming power, despite Rumsfeld's loud protests that "that will not happen," I assume that I probably sound at times like the conservative who wakes up each morning, reads the headlines and says, "See--they found WMDs after all," and by the afternoon it hasn't panned out. Clarification may be in order: I didn't suggest that Chalabi or Zubaidi were the men for the jobs, but instead that the Pentagon thought they were. If I seem less critical of the Iraqi National Congress than others it's because I am less critical of them than of the armed, roaming bands of Shi'ite clerics. I think they are a clearer threat to democracy than even a bunch of U.S. toadies, but I can see how overt support for the latter will lead Iraq back to the former anyhow.
This article from the NYT about the first democratic "convention" in Iraq is encouraging because it seems that even in the midst up political turmoil and scary uprisings, there are still many individuals in all the camps of Iraq who would still prefer to do this slowly. An interesting idea that seems to be coming up a lot:
Shiite and Sunni Muslim clerics in their robes, Kurds from the north, tribal chiefs in Arab headdresses and Westernized exiles in expensive suits all assembled for the one-day political conference, second in a series expected to extend well into May.
An executive or parliamentary body made up of representatives from all the ethnic corners of Iraq without a central leader has a harmonious, democratic ring to it--but I wonder how much of this is blind idealism or lip service on behalf of the individual groups attending the conference. I'm reminded of the gathering in LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring, where they come together to figure out what to do about the Ring and the bottom quickly falls out of their courteous debate.
posted by kriston at 10:21 AM........