Runcible Blog

Why I loathe pundits and liberal hawks

Slate is running a series of letters this week from "liberal hawks", asking them if hindsight has changed their view of the war. Predictably, no one comes out and says, "I made a big mistake supporting this war.", though the pundits seem to feel uneasy about some things. Overall, I get the impression that the liberal hawks in this discussion haven't changed their minds. Of course they wouldn't! They're pundits! They're never wrong. about anything.

My distaste for pundits in general (with few exceptions) and so-called liberal hawks in particular stems from their cold, calculated view of the world. Reading Thomas Friedman's columns in the New York Times leaves me thinking that he lives in his own bubble of reality, whether it comes to globalization or the Iraq war, Israel, anything. I also get the impression that pundits treat the world like some giant game of Risk (conservatives treat it like Monopoly). To them, waging war comes as easily as rearranging pieces on a game board, even though they claim to be concerned about the human cost. At least conservative pundits don't hesitate to speak, in the most testosterone-filled manner, of destroying countries and looting natural resources; liberal columnists write with a tone that suggests a repugnant flippancy toward the costs of war.

For instance, Ken "The Threatening Storm" Pollack has this to say about the war, in hindsight:

"my guess is that many readers would still have come to the conclusion that war was the least-bad choice among a menu of imperfect options."

Wow, that's very convincing. The pundits are now trying to rationalize their support for an illegal war in ways that leave them looking correct, while criticizing everything the administration has done wrong. Well I'm sorry, guys; you can't have it both ways. You knew the administration was lying and that there was no plan for an occupation, yet you remained gung-ho all along. You've made your bed. Now we all have to sleep in it.

Of course, people like Tom Friedman are unfazed by any of the wrong turns in Iraq thus far because they live in their own fantasy world. He writes such illuminating things as:

"The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification."
And such enlightening observations as:
"Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could—period."

I think someone called that possessive pronoun use "the Imperial 'we'". In truth, the pundits who think of war as an item on a menu are never, never in any danger of fighting in said war, nor do they seem aware of their privileged positions. They talk about the war "we" are fighting against radical Islam as if they themselves were marching on the front lines. Unfortunately, inflated egos and self importance come with the territory of punditry (with the exception of, perhaps, Bob Herbert). Even my favorite columnist, Paul Krugman, bugs me by his refusal at times to admit that he was wrong.

Another sense I get from reading liberal hawks' columns is that the ends justify the means. Even though they knew the WMD issue was exaggerated and that links to Al Qaeda were tenuous at best and nonexistent at worst, they still felt that regime change in Iraq would be a grand idea at this opportunity, when American's were most impressionable. I can't describe in words how disgusting I think that philosophy is. Dean took a lot of flack for saying, "In general I think the ends don't justify the means." To me it sounded like common sense but cold-hearted rational columnists must've taken it as a personal insult. Those pundits were complicit in Bush's deception and deserve a fair helping of scorn. (I feel similarly about certain presidential candidates who try to give the "we were hoodwinked into signing that bill authorizing force! " excuse at this point. either they were very naive at the time or they're lying now.)

And for people who claim to be concerned about liberation and human rights for Iraqi's, why don't these columnists, and for that matter, anyone in the media ever talk about the Iraqi casualty count? They mention the enormous number of dead under Saddam's watch, but the only tally I read from either liberal or conservative columnists is the U.S. soldier body count. I'm sure these cold rationalists will say that the human toll was worth the chance for a free Arab nation. And I'm sure they are quick to call up the Iraqi children's families to tell them that their kids' deaths are for a good cause. Any reasonable Iraqi would understand that, right?

I think this letter writer, George Packer, sums up the liberal hawk mindset very well here:

I think we should stop talking about vast change in the Arab world and focus on doing what we can—even as our influence wanes by the day—to get Iraq right. Sept. 11 made us think about big ideas, global conflicts—inevitably, and rightly. But Iraq should make us think about practical knowledge and nuanced judgment. One problem with liberal hawks is that great moral dramas are always more attractive to us than difficult long-term tasks.

And the problem, although it's a cliché, is that liberal hawks (or really, most "elites" -- conservative or liberal thinkers) look down on the world's problems from their high vantage point. For them, rearranging pieces on a board looks simple; war looks "tidy" from afar and social problems are reduced to moral failure rather than systematic decay.

Do you know what happens to those kids in school who always have an answer for everything (even the rhetorical and trick questions) when they grow up? They become columnists and media whores. It's as if something in their brains is broken. I know that people often say that people my age think we know everything ('specially them college folk), but media personalities seem never to "grow out" of that stage. (in fairness, I'm not sure if I have yet)

When I think of it, kids are constantly taught to create arguments for issues for which they have no opinion. Most of the time the result is BS. Effective BS is rewarded.
Pundits simply are bullshit experts who have been buried in their own fecal matter for so long that they don't notice the stench anymore!

Yes, I think I have it figured out... not that anyone asked or cared.

The Smoking Gun, doodled.

the smoking gun

These are some of Modher Sadeq-Saba Tamimi's secret sketches for two illegal long-range missiles, one using two engines and one using five boosters.
Photo Credit: Preston Keres -- The Washington Post

When I saw these advanced sketches, I thought I was looking at The Onion, but actually the image comes from this Washington Post story about Iraq's weapons programs. The story deconstructs the pre-war claims of the "grave threat" Iraq's WMD's posed to the world.

The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.


The article says that Iraq may have been working on designing long range missiles based on the Al Samoud, missiles which the Iraq declared to the UN and which UNMOVIC subsequently destroyed. These secret, longer range missiles were never built and seemed to rely on obsolete designs. In fact,

In test flights, the Al Samoud missile never landed -- literally -- within a mile of its target. In 2001, Tamimi obtained a small black-market supply of precision Russian gyroscopes. He hoped they would increase the missile's accuracy from about 1.5 miles to 500 yards. To increase accuracy still further, he said "we were near success" in negotiating a contract -- he would not say with whom -- for a complete Russian-built inertial navigation system.

But it appears that the engineers never succeeded (due to the embargoes, containment, and constant UN pressure/inspections) in building any such missiles. Furthermore, Dr. Kay's investigation team is uncovering a web of internal deception aimed to appease Saddam Hussein and deter foreign conflict by exaggerating their own WMD claims.

"Saddam Hussein ordered this work, but where would we get the materials?" said an Iraqi general who declined to be named and who kept close tabs on Tamimi's missile designs. "This was the case in every field. People would prepare reports under the order of Saddam Hussein and the supervision of the people around Saddam Hussein. But it was not real."

The story paints a picture of an Iraqi weapons program plagued by obsolete technology, infighting, exaggerated claims, and lack of materials -- a far cry from the "grave danger" this administration warned against in the run-up to the war.

I hope this story gains traction and that more people start waking up to the Bush administration's pattern of lies.
As my bumper sticker succinctly states: "George W. Bush: Ignorant, a Liar, or Just Incompetent?"
No matter how you slice it, it's bad news for the country.

back in black

Well, I'm back from vacation now. Whoo! It was great.

Oh, wait, I didn't take a vacation. I was just lazy about writing anything.

But now, 10 days after the new year, I'm ready to make resolutions. As soon as I think of a resolution to keep, I'll resolve to keep it. Perhaps I should resolve to write more sordid details of my life. I'm sure google searchers would benefit from knowing that I had a piece of drywall stuck in my eye today, for instance.

Seriously though, I'd like to recap the past month or so, but uhh...I can't quite remember everything. I remember thinking on christmas that after 20 years I think I understand now that giving is better than receiving. Oh boy, what a revelation! not really. Every year I care less about christmas -- maybe because my room is so full of stuff that I don't want any new clutter.

I've seen a bunch of movies in the past month, including several from the Stanley Kubrick DVD box set that I got for christmas. I'll leave the reviews to Siskel and Kermit though.

New Year's Eve was somewhat memorable because I went to a party in Cambridge. The party wasn't that great, but it was better than sleeping. And the people were alright. That's a good thing, right?

Is it a bad sign that Wally is my hero these days? What does it say about my job if I seriously think about using this speech at work?

wally's big moment

domain problems, again

Earlier this evening, the domain expired, and replaced the domain with a parking site. I sent an email to, who are responsible for that domain, and they renewed the domain for another 10 years (!). Their response seemed to indicate that they didn't know they were responsible for Either way, everything should be fixed now, and eventually will be back in DNS across the globe. It's a little annoying though...

update: It looks like it might take up to a whole day for the DNS to propagate! imagine all the important email I'll lose! (not really)

Since I'm not too keen about's reliability (though I really appreciate that they offer some useful free services), I went and bought another domain name. I already bought earlier this year, but I haven't really done anything with it other than switch my email to that domain. I had some ideas about content for, but they were half-baked. Although I'll probably develop some content for that site, I present my newest domain:

(I've started putting Pobble Labs on the software I've been writing. It sounds official.)

Eventually I'd like to move away from, but that'll take a while. In the meantime, I'll have that nice poem on the front page and maybe a few other things there soon.

Weekend at Saddam's

This guy at The Nation had something interesting to say about the capture.

Prime Realestate

The news accounts portrayed Saddam's hideout as a "spider hole", an underground ditch, but this little hideaway doesn't look half bad! It looks like a typical cozy one room apartment which might cost several hundred bucks per month in a big city. Sure, there aren't any windows, and there isn't much ventilation, but it appears to be fully equipped with a kitchen, running water, and an oven. There's also a bed, what looks like a couch, and an entertainment center! And considering Saddam had $700,000 cash in his bachelor pad, he could've thrown some extravagant parties! And is it just me, or does this picture remind you of Terry Kiser, A.K.A "Bernie Lomax" from Weekend at Bernie's (not to mention Weekend at Bernie's II)?

Seriously though, I'm a little put-off by the bloodthirstiness and propaganda surrounding Saddam's capture. I can understand why the Iraqi people would want to exact revenge on their former dictator, but when Americans gloat about ousting the dictator, it sounds more like cheering for the home team's touchdown than anything else. Even though he was a brutal tyrant, I wouldn't call for his head on a pike. What good would killing him do? In that picture I see an old man who just lost everything, including his two sons. That can't be a good feeling. Personally I hope he goes to jail for the rest of his short life, but ultimately it should be up to the Iraqi people to decide his fate.

So, although it isn't a popular thing to say, I have mixed feelings about his capture. It's good that he's "off the streets", but I doubt he was pulling any strings from his underground shack. Maybe now the Iraqi people can sleep with a little less fear though. On the other hand, I hope his possible torture and execution doesn't continue the violence he started. Two wrongs don't make a right. Just lock him up and throw away the key.

I wonder if those cheerleading Saddam's capture are also hoping for the swift toppling of Uzbekistan's own tin-pot dictator, Islam Karimov, a man who receives lots of aid from the U.S. and who happens to enjoy boiling his opponents alive. And somehow I doubt today's cheerleaders were making any noise when Saddam was a good buddy of the U.S.

Today's friendly dictator is tomorrow's bitter enemy. It's only a matter of time before every US subject is required to hiss and yell at a picture of Osama bin Forgotten for the "two minutes hate" every day.