Friday, July 29, 2005

Guilty!

Certainly those of you who have been paying attention have noticed the evolution of the conservative position on Karl Rove of late. If not, you might want to peruse Kevin Drum's recent summary on the subject (bonus: it is a wonderful, and somewhat uncharacteristic, rant that is as funny as it is informative). As you do so, make sure you pay special attention to the following details:
During the past month, however, the growing evidence that someone in the White House really did expose Plame has caused more than a bit of panic — and a change of heart…Since then, the proposition that it wasn't a big deal even if the White House did out Plame, has become a routine talking point.
This point is hammered home even further later in the post, this time while discussing Senator Pat Roberts' upcoming hearings.
Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, announced that he "intends to preside over hearings on the intelligence community's use of covert protections for CIA agents and others involved in secret activities."

Let that sink in. Does it sound like Roberts is concerned about CIA agents being exposed in the press? Of course not. Instead, Roberts is preemptively defending Rove by implying that perhaps the real problem is that the CIA overuses clandestine cover for its agents.
Of course, this is all an absolute outrage, a hypocrisy of staggering proportions. But before we are driven to pull out our hair in frustration, we should step back and calmly reflect on the meaning of these current events.

Karl Rove is guilty!

Now, I'm generally the last person to jump to conclusions regarding the guilt or innocence of criminal defendants. Moreover, I generally believe that, once someone becomes a suspect, their behavior is a particularly poor barometer of their criminal culpability. Regardless of guilt or innocence, everyone becomes a tad cantankerous once they are the focus of a criminal probe.

In this case, though, I'm going to make an exception. You see, Karl Rove is no ordinary defendant. Unlike you or I, there's no chance that Rove is going to be accidentally railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor. He is, after all, the second most powerful man on earth (right after Dick Cheney) and one doesn't hunt game of this magnitude unless you have the goods or you are intent on professional suicide.

At this point, pretty much everyone has reached the same conclusion. Patrick Fitzgerald clearly has something and, from the information that has percolated into the public consciousness, it's pretty clear what it is. If factual innocence was a viable defense in this instance, you can be sure that it would be used. The fact that the "it wasn't that bad" defense has suddenly taken center stage tells you all you need to know.

Of course, some might argue that I'm jumping to conclusions here. To them, I say consider the following: would you believe a murder suspect who claimed innocence -- but added that if you found him guilty, you should consider the slaying an act of self-defense. In other words, I didn't do it -- but if I did, I had a good reason.

Not terribly convincing, wouldn't you say?

This isn't to say that Karl Rove is going to jail. Obviously, there's a lot that can still happen to avert that glorious end. As always with these jokers, I pray for the best, yet brace for the worst.

But the overriding factual issue at hand can be put to bed. The jury is in on Karl Rove.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Sorry -- I'm Not Here Right Now...

You will, once again, find a brand spanking new TTN post over at TIA.

Thanks for stopping by. Please come again.

Every Blog Has Its Day

You can learn a lot of funny things from your referrer logs. Case in point: it seems that a number of my recent visitors have been led here by performing Google searches for the terms "threading the needle day." And, if you follow the link, you'll discover that Sunday Monday, July 25, is in fact National Threading the Needle Day. How about that?

What is National Threading the Needle Day? In truth, I have no idea. However, if you chose to celebrate the existence of my blog, I promise to back you up.

Gifts are likely appropriate. Or money. Your choice -- but keep the value under 10 grand so I don't have to report it to the IRS.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Weakly Standard

Okay -- let's talk about Karl Rove.

One of the things that has gotten everyone in a tizzy over the last couple of days is Bush's new standard for Rove's termination -- specifically:
If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.
This is, of course, quite different from his former assertions, that anyone involved in the leak would be terminated. So, on one level, I'm happy to see that this departure has not gone unnoticed.

However, on another level, I'm not sure that I would spend too much time harping on this issue. I say this for a couple of reasons.

First, while this allows us to score a few cheap political points against Bush, it is extremely unlikely to amount to anything. Bush certainly isn't going to be shamed into honoring his original position and few converts will be acquired in the process of highlighting his hypocrisy. This is no more than a Democratic "feel-good" moment. And while it feels good, I think we would all be better served with something a little more lasting.

Second, is far from clear to me whether or not Rove's removal benefits Democrats at this point. Usually when a presidential appointee steps down for the mere appearance of impropriety, the real motivator for it is practical and not ethical. It is done to avoid tarnishing the administration at large and, in so, derailing the agenda. In this case, the smart play was clearly for Bush to can Rove once it became clear that he was involved. Of course, Bush is far too stubborn for that -- and this time it works to our advantage. The longer he sits on this rotten egg, the more thoroughly its stink permeates through the entire administration. They will have to spend more time playing defense and will have less energy left to push through controversial policy initiatives. Ultimately, it means the administration will be weaker. So, it isn't how I would play it, but if George wants to tie his presidency to a sinking anchor, far be it from me to stand in his way.

Lastly, the "commission of a crime" standard has been, I feel, incorrectly portrayed as a difficult threshold to achieve. Now, if Bush had set the standard at "conviction of a crime", or even at "indictment", I would agree. But, he did no such thing.

You see, as we all recall from civics class, a criminal conviction requires proof "beyond a shadow of a doubt." This high burden of proof exists because we want to be certain that no questions of guilt exist before we allow the state to deprive an individual of liberty or property. However, from a practical standpoint, this means that "not guilty" verdicts are not interchangeable with factual innocence. Without a doubt, many who receive a "not guilty" verdict have actually committed the crime in question, but the state was unable to demonstrate that fact to the level of certainty required by law. To a lesser degree, the same thing is true with respect to indictments. While it is said that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich, in the real world prosecutors rarely seek indictments unless they strongly believe that they will eventually be able to achieve a conviction. The absurdly high conviction rates of most prosecutors demonstrate how accurately they are able to gauge the strength of their cases.

On the other hand, factual guilt is an entirely different question -- a point raised by "law and order" pundits every time a supposedly guilty man goes free. And, unless Bush revises his position further, that's the standard currently on the table. Therefore, if Fitzgerald decides against seeking an indictment, but presents ample evidence that the crime likely took place, that should be enough to require Rove's termination.

Of course, Bush will, in the end, likely attempt to claim that a non-indictment is akin to exoneration. But, depending on the character of Fitzgerald's final report, that may be a tough sell. This will be especially true if Rove continues to stink up the joint for the next couple of months. After weeks of headlines and damaging leaks, anything less than a mea culpa from the special prosecutor will send Karl to the bench. And that would be fine with me.

So, for now, let's just let them all twist in the wind. They have more than enough rope to hang themselves and I wouldn't want to do anything to slow them down.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"Frack" You

Now that things have finally settled down here in my life, it's time to get back to our regular diet of Bush-bashing. Frankly, with all that has been going on a late, it's been torture to remain mute.

However, I don't want to jump on the Rove thing right away. That's some serious heavy lifting. Instead, I'm going to warm up on lighter fare so I don't pull something. I'm not 18 anymore, you know.

On that note, let's talk about Battlestar Galactica.

I'm not the crazy sci-fi geek that I was as a youth, but I still have some passion left for the genre (as evidenced by this post). So, when I started hearing that the new Battlestar Galactica was really worth checking out, I immediately... Well, I immediately thought that the people telling me this had gone batshit insane. Because, as much of a sci-fi geek as I was, I can remember the original series and -- let's be honest here – it blew.

But, as the retooled version headed into its second season, people began buzzing about it once more. And some of those buzzing seem to be pretty on the ball in other respects. So, I figured "what the heck?" I have a TiVo and a bong -- how bad could it be?

Verdict: not that bad. Of course, I have no idea about the storyline or characters at this point, so it's hard to know how believable the plot actually is. But the production value is much higher than expected and the grittiness of the battle scenes made them delightfully intense. All in all, it was good enough to merit a Season Pass nomination for the time being.

However, there is one little thing.

Clearly, part of the creators' goal was to create a very brutal, raw, and real universe. And these creators knew that, in the real world, when people are faced with intense, life and death situations, they tend to say "fuck" an awful lot.

Unfortunately, you can't say that on basic cable. You can say a lot of other words, but admittedly nothing quite does it like "fuck". It's just one of those words.

This has been a dilemma for TV screenwriters since time immemorial (or since the FCC started laying down heavy fines for broadcast transgressions). Usually, the dialogue is modified in order to avoid the f-bomb. This leads to a lot of "I don't give a damn” (as opposed to "I don't give a fuck”) and "screw you" (as opposed to "fuck you"). It's a little silly, but at least it's English.

The creators of Battlestar Galactica, however, have decided that this isn't good enough and have, instead, created a new word for us.

Frack.

This word has been globally pasted into the script in every instance where a "fuck" would normally be. In fact, I suspect that the writers simply write what they want, and then do a search and replace for every instance of "fuck." I don't know if that's how they do it, but there's no practical reason why such a strategy wouldn't work. The two words are interchangeable in every respect, with nary a grammatical or idiomatic deviation to be found. Just whenever you would expect a "fuck", you have a "frack" instead.

Two observations.

First -- to the creators. This is incredibly distracting. One of the burdens of science fiction is that there is a fairly high burden of disbelief that the story must attain for it to be enjoyable. The stories take place in strange worlds, with aliens and space travel and all sorts of other things that we never experience in real life. The viewer must be able to lose himself in the story so that these issues of believability never have an opportunity to bubble to the surface, breaking the spell. However, every time I hear an utterance of "frack", I can't help but think about the FCC -- something I'm pretty sure doesn't exist in the Battlestar Galactica universe. Maybe I'll get over this -- but, then again, maybe not. We'll see.

Second -- to the censors. Is this really what you intended? Is preventing the use of the word "fuck" really about offensive phonetics? Is the problem of that word -- whatever that problem is -- really alleviated by this strategy? Is it really OK to express everything that you would otherwise expressed with the use of the word "fuck" as long as you don't say "fuck"?

You can get back to me on that.

Anyway -- this isn't a deal killer -- yet. But, if I'm still cracking a smile every time I hear that silly word three episodes from now, I'm pulling the plug. I'll let you know.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Reports of My Death...

Lest you are under the impression that my work has again come to a crashing halt, please take a moment to visit my every-other-Friday-home-away-from-home, Total Information Awareness, which is hosting my most recent effort.

Look for more to show up here later in the week.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Sharks and the Insurgency

And so, sharks are in the news again these days. It seems hard to believe that the media has worked itself up into a frenzy over this subject, given what happened the last time "death from the deep" was dominating the headlines. But, to a certain degree, I understand.

You see, I have a somewhat long-standing fascination with sharks myself. I saw Jaws 2 at the tender age of 10 or so and have been an avid shark-o-phile ever since. I've probably read about a hundred books on the subject and have been known to schedule vacations around the Discovery Channel's Shark Week. In fact, "cage diving with great white sharks" is prominently featured on my short list of things to do before I die -- right above climbing Kilimanjaro, if memory serves.

At any rate, this is just a long way of saying that I'm familiar with the subject. And it is this familiarity allows me to confidently state that the recent hysteria over these attacks in Florida is exactly that -- hysteria. The threat of shark attack has not increased recently. The odds are now what they have always been: indescribable low. So, you can relax. The water is actually quite safe.

Of course, you'd never know that given the way the media is reacting. Frankly, it's understandable that people are beginning to get the impression that the water is churning with bloodthirsty sharks who crave human flesh. With every attack gobbling copious amounts each news cycle, who could blame the casual observer from arriving at this erroneous conclusion. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of beachgoers enjoy their coastal adventures completely free of any threat of predation. If only our anti-shark media could set aside its bias long enough to give a full and accurate report of all beachfront activities, then we would have a much clearer understanding of the shark situation.

Notice anything funny there at the end of that last paragraph? Yep -- I sort of drifted off into the standard apologist complaint regarding the media coverage of Iraq. It is simply the claim that the popular impression of a given situation is driven not by reality, but by the imagery generated by mainstream media. You may feel that you know the truth, but all you know is what you have been told.

On a certain level, this is a good point to make. It is undeniably true that we are at the mercy of those who provide us our information. If we did not witness an event ourselves, we must trust those who have. Perhaps more importantly, we must trust them to appropriately contextualize that event so that we know what it means. Given our dependence on our proxy witnesses, it is certainly possible to be misled.

That in mind, let's take a look at these two situations. Is contextualization problematic in each of them?

As it turns out, there is a very important distinction to keep in mind between these two situations: the violence at the beach is random while the violence in Iraq is not. The attacking sharks were not involved in a large scale conspiracy, colluding with others in order to achieve some sort of collective goal. These attacks do not represent any sort of general animosity between sharks and humans. Given that these attacks were most likely driven by mistaken identity or a confused territorial response, they do not even represent a manifestation of the natural food chain. They were, like so many natural events, triggered by chance and, in so, signify nothing.

On the other hand, the Iraqi insurgents are trying to kill coalition and Iraqi security forces. These attacks might be random in the sense that the perpetrators have little concern for the specific identity of their victims. But, they are committed with the intent to achieve a political end. Therefore, these events have meaning beyond the numbers involved. Even if they are few and far between, as long as they have a destabilizing effect on the political situation in Iraq, they matter.

So, this isn't a matter of the media ignoring the improving condition of the Iraqi schools in favor of antiwar propaganda. This is about reporting on events that dramatically affect the political stability of the region. It's not about violence per se, it's about what that violence means. That's the context and that's what's important.

I certainly would never argue that the media shies away from sensationalism. As they say, in local news, if it bleeds, it leads. To a certain extent, this is true at the higher end of the media food chain as well. And we are seeing this phenomenon in play with the Florida shark attacks and the missing white woman of the week. But the coverage from Iraq is a different animal and we shouldn't let the distinction be blurred.

Blood in the water is not the same thing as blood in the sand.
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