Another voice in the wilderness

When I threw my hat into the ring a year ago, the blogs were mostly dominated by a conservative/libertarian axis. These days, the ideological spectrum seems a whole lot more balanced (even if the journalists who keep writing those “gee whiz check out this blogging thing” articles haven’t caught up to the fact yet).

And here’s yet another unabashedly left-wing blog: Rantomatic, newly-launched by my friend and animation partner Harold Moss. Go give him a hearty welcome.

There’s a virus going around

Once again, I’m starting to get weird “returned” email which I never sent out. Last time this happened, the brain trust brought me up to speed on the Klez virus, or worm, or whatever, and I’m guessing that’s what’s happening again: someone who had my email in their address book got infected and their computer is sending out messages which spoof my return address. (Given that I’m running Netscape on a Mac with firewall and anti-virus constantly running, my understanding is that this is unlikely to have originated from my own computer.) Not much I can do about this, but if you get an email from me with some weird subject line about the Spice Girls or some Great New Software or something equally unlikely, you should delete it posthaste.

UPDATE: common sense rule of thumb suggested by Frank Lynch — beware attachments. I don’t send out unexpected attachments (and I delete any attachment that I’m not expecting).

Watching the watchers

A reader informs me that this cartoon has been given the Spinsanity treatment (I’m not bothering to cut and paste the links here, you can visit their site for those):

In his newest syndicated cartoon, Tom Tomorrow purports to set the record straight on the circumstances under which United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998. But, like many liberals making this point, he presents the situation out of context.

In the strip, a character whose opinions are presented as authoritative states that inspectors “weren’t kicked out [by Saddam in 1998] — they were ordered to withdraw by chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler”. But as Josh Marshall pointed out on Salon last week, this is a deceptive summary of what happened.

While Tomorrow is right to point out that inspectors were not technically expelled by Saddam — as a number of media outlets have inaccurately reported — he and others omit crucial context when they imply that the inspectors simply withdrew of their own accord. After repeated instances of Iraqi non-compliance with the inspection regime, the US and Great Britain decided to launch a series of retaliatory airstrikes against Iraq in December 1998. As a result, Butler withdrew the inspectors, saying “we can’t adequately do our jobs under these circumstances” and that it “made logical sense therefore to pull our people out.” After the strikes, Saddam did not allow the inspectors to return.

Give the importance of this issue to the current debate, both sides must take care to present what happened accurately.

Well, yes. And in the interest of presenting what happened accurately, let’s take a little trip in the Wayback machine, back to that distant, mythical era, of which so little historical record apparently survives: 1998. Those of you with exceptionally long memories may recall what Spinsanity and Josh Marshall apparently do not: Saddam justified his lack of cooperation with the UNSCOM inspectors because, according to him, they were being used to spy on him. And you know what? They really were being used to spy on him. “United States officials said today that American spies had worked undercover on teams of United Nations arms inspectors,” the New York Times acknowledged on January 7, 1999. And according to the Washington Post, the U.S. “infiltrated agents and espionage equipment for three years into United Nations arms control teams in Iraq to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military without the knowledge of the U.N. agency.” (You can also read the cartoon I did at the time here.)

Whether or not you think it was a good idea to use the UNSCOM team to spy on Iraq is irrelevant to this discussion — it was in direct contravention of the UN mandate which allowed them access, meaning, unfortunately, that Hussein had every right to refuse them cooperation. The Washington Post quoted a UN source at the time: “The United Nations cannot be party to an operation to overthrow one of its member states. In the most fundamental way, that is what’s wrong with the UNSCOM operation.” (Also, a side note, for what it’s worth: not only did Butler pull his team out, he did so without the approval of the UN Security Council.)

Spinsanity’s confusion is understandable, at least if they’re relying solely on current newspaper and cable news accounts — as FAIR notes, “facts that (the major media’s) own correspondents confirmed three years ago in interviews with top U.S. officials are being recycled as mere allegations coming from Saddam Hussein’s regime.” But still. If you’re going to lash someone with a limp noodle for not providing proper context, you need to be sure you’re not doing the same thing. Because I agree with them on one point absolutely — this is an incredibly important debate, and misinformation doesn’t do anyone any good.

Then and now

As you cruise the back alleys and mean streets of Bloggerville, you may run across a recurrent meme, which compares the current anti-war movement to that of the Vietnam days, and finds the former lacking, particularly vis-à-vis the support and enthusiasm of today’s college students. The intent, of course, is to paint anti-war activism as some sort of pathetic apatosaurus, hopelessly trying to lumber out of the tar pit of outdated liberalism in which it is ensnared.

Two quick thoughts on this. First: the war hasn’t even started yet and we’re seeing protest marches draw hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans into the streets of our nation’s capital. It took the Vietnam-era peace movement years to reach this point.

And secondly, as for the college students: this seems so obvious, it’s almost an insult to the reader’s intelligence to have to mention it, but, um, there’s no draft. No disrespect intended to the previous generation, but let’s face it: nothing focuses political awareness like the prospect of getting one’s own ass shot off in the service of a dubious foreign policy. Try reinstating mandatory service and let’s see how popular the war becomes on campus.

Feeling secure yet?

From PBS, via August:

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT TESTIFYING BEFORE CONGRESS, 12/6/01: In this manual, Al Qaeda terrorists are now told how to use America’s freedom as a weapon against us.

DEBORAH AMOS: But what Ashcroft did not point out: these manuals show Osama bin Laden’s foot soldiers how easy it is to buy assault weapons in American gun stores and gun shows.

Al Qaeda and other terrorists organizations have exploited numerous loopholes in American gun laws — loopholes that exist because of consistent lobbying by the powerful National Rifle Association to stop any restrictions on gun purchases. Since September 11th, critics say, the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has chosen to side with the NRA at the expense of the war on terrorism.