Category: "culture/news"

Best and Worst Presidents

A discussion over at Voter Vault got me thinking about who I would rank as the best and worst Presidents in our history. Here are my top five:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. John Kennedy

I don't feel too strongly about Kennedy. Maybe Wilson should be there. Kennedy did get us into Vietnam, but he also pushed the Apollo program. I guess the nerd in me wins out.

Now, for the worst Presidents:

39. Franklin Pierce
40. Herbert Hoover
41. Andrew Johnson
42. James Buchanan
43. Warren G. Harding

It's still way too early to put George W. Bush in either list. Unless things turn around in Iraq in the next year, he'll probably find his place in the bottom five eventually.

Who would you put in these two lists? If you need some help, take a look at this article about scholar's rankings.

Eight Lies about the Iraq debate

In Washington we're now seeing the debate that should have happened in 2002. Sadly, at that time Congress was not performing its duty to oversee the people leading us into a war. Now that Congress has changed hands and there's a Presidential election looming, the debate is in full swing. The administration that worked so hard to quell debate in the run-up to the war is not about to welcome an open and full debate on the future of the war. They've apparently come up with some talking points that they're going to repeat ad nauseam in an attempt to silence their critics. I've heard them so many times over the last week that I can tell you what the administration shill is going to say even before he opens his mouth.

Lie #1: Questioning the war undermines the troops
If the troops are fighting to defend and spread democracy and freedom, then how are we undermining them when we exercise our freedoms and promote the full functioning of our democracy? As far as I know, everyone who is questioning this war and the proposed escalation is doing so because they love the troops and want them to come home. This charge should be turned around against those who would throw 20K more lives at an obviously failed policy.

Lie #2: Questioning the war emboldens the enemy
Yes, I'm sure al Qaeda just loves it when the hear that our democracy is still functioning. My personal theory is that they're smart enough to know that they can't beat the US in military conflict, but if they make us so paranoid that we voluntarily exchange our freedom for unquestioning devotion to a draconian government, then in a sense, they win. At any rate, we need to do what is right, regardless of how it makes our enemies feel. The debate is right and this argument against it is just a desperate appeal to emotion.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam -– How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
-- Vietnam War veteran John Kerry in his 1971 appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Lie #3: No one who is against the war has a plan
Although there's disagreement about details, most opponents of the escalation agree about what should be done instead: Get out. You can call it cut and run or defeat or, as seems to be the new strategy, you can pretend that this plan doesn't exist. Just this week there have been several new proposals for how to exit most gracefully. They should all be considered and debated in Congress until they have merged them together to form some sort of cohesive alternative to the Bush/McCain escalation. The President may still reject it and call it defeat, but he can't really say that there's no alternative plan. Bush claims that defeat is not an option, but sometimes you don't get to choose. Sometimes defeat happens whether you want it or not. The choice we do have is how long will we keep digging this hole? How many men and women will die in our vain attempt to salvage an ill-conceived war?

Lie #4: Talking to Iran is not worth a try
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be a megalomaniac who is generally working against our interests, but that doesn't mean he can't be persuaded to play ball. Statesmen like Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton wouldn't suggest talking to Iran if they thought there was no chance that it could help. As the old saying goes, "If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies." I don't get why sending 20K more troops to Iraq is "worth a try," but we can't be bothered to talk to Iran because we "don't talk to evil."

Lie #5: The Congress has no say
While the President is the Commander in Chief of the military, the Congress does have certain war powers. This New York Times article does a good job of discussing those powers. In my opinion, the current war has gone far beyond the original authorization for force. I think Congress should revoke that authorization and vote on a new authorization with more specific benchmarks, scope and deadlines.

Lie #6: Congress should skip non-binding resolutions and go straight to funding cuts
This may be the lie that I've heard most often. It's really more like a schoolyard taunt. The President's men are trying to bait the opponents of escalation into the potentially unpopular position of cutting off funding. I like the idea that we're actually seeing a debate and the resolutions will serve as a clear message to the President about where they stand. He'll still have a chance to do the right thing and heed the advice of Congress, the public, the military leaders that he's fired and most of the rest of the world. Bush would much rather have the decision taken out of his hands by a funding cut so he can have someone else to blame.

Lie #7: The news media is going to lose the war
Speaking of blame, I hate that I even have to address this lie. It's plainly false, but I've heard it so many times that I must respond to it. I'll admit that a lot of reporting is sensationalized and yes, perception does affect reality, but blaming the problems in Iraq on reporters is just stupid. Our government invaded a country without good reason and without a plan for stabilizing and rebuilding that country. The consequences of that were accurately predicted by a great deal of people. Reporters are simply doing their job when they tell us what's happening over there. Even if we somehow managed to keep the problems in Iraq a secret, they would still be happening. Ours are not the only reporters there, anyway. If the American media was under state control and didn't report anything that wasn't handed on a Presidential spoon (is that what they want?), the world would still hear about the trouble in Iraq from European and Arab reporters.

Lie #8: It's too late to discuss mistakes made before the war
There are still a number of unanswered questions about how we got into this war. It's late, but it's not too late to find out the truth and hold people responsible for it before they're out of office. Books like The Assassin's Gate and The Greatest Story Ever Sold have begun to reveal how badly this war was planned and justified. This is not some insignificant historical detail, it's the very essence of why we're in Iraq. It should have an effect on what we do in the future. I hope to see Congressional hearings on this subject.

These aren't the only lies, but they're the lies that I'm hearing the most right now. In time they may be abandoned like so many of Bush's earlier lies (Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job, I listen to my generals on the ground, etc). There's one other thing I've noticed about this. Bush's influence in the Congress has slipped to the point that he can't even get any big names to go tell these lies for him. On all the interviews and debates I've seen, the person taking up the Administration position is someone I've never heard of. With the exception of McCain, Bush is having a hard time finding anyone to support him. And McCain has to support this plan because he came up with it.

Here's to speaking truth to power and bringing our brave men and women home.

Silencing the Critics

Bush Admin. Misled Public About Global Warming

Two private advocacy groups, meanwhile, presented to the panel a survey of government climate scientists showing that many of them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the threat of global warming.

The groups presented a survey that shows two in five of the 279 climate scientists who responded to a questionnaire complained that some of their scientific papers had been edited in a way that changed their meaning. Nearly half of the 279 said in response to another question that at some point they had been told to delete reference to "global warming" or "climate change" from a report.

This is further proof of what we already knew. The so-called controversy about global warming is manufactured by politically and economically motivated people.

Monkey business

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Many kinds of monkeys have a strong taste for tea, coffee, and spirituous liquors; they will also smoke tobacco with pleasure.
-- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871

Image from AmazonI'm 1/3 of the way through Darwin (Norton Critical Edition) and that's probably my favorite line so far. Growing up in the church, Charles Darwin was presented as a dark figure, a shoddy scientist who somehow duped the entire scientific community into agreeing with him. I've always been very interested in science and so after learning about evolution in school I thought about it a lot. I knew that it was heresy on some level, but it also made a lot of sense to me and it fit in with what I saw in the world. In time I did my best to compartmentalize my thoughts about science and faith. As long as I kept them separate I could enjoy the benefits of both. It's hard for me to say for sure what my opinion on this has been historically. I know that I read and probably even espoused the idea that evolution is just too unlikely to have occurred. But I've never lost my respect for science.

It has been nice to read about Darwin on my own time and with no agenda. I don't feel the need to take sides for any political or religious reason. There's no longer doubt in my mind that living things have been modified by natural selection over time and that's how the great diversity of life on earth has reached the point it's at now. There are questions that remain unanswered, but that much, at least, makes sense to me.


This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Well, we heard from the President last night. My conversation with Kevin at Voter Vault is continuing. He had a good response to the comment that I pasted here yesterday. Good stuff. I'm not pasting today, so you'll have to go there and read it if you care. I hope this new plan works and my predictions of failure are proved wrong.

Escalation in Iraq

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

By all accounts, President Bush is going to announce his plan tonight to send more troops to Iraq. I feel fairly strongly that this is a terrible idea. I wrote this as a comment to a post at Voter Vault, but I'm reposting it here with a few more links. Think of it as efficiency rather than laziness.

We must get our news from different places, because I haven't noticed a big appeal to emotion on the part of people opposing this escalation. Here are the reasons I've seen.

1. It was tried in August of this year and it didn't work. The neighborhoods taken by US troops were pacified for a time, but as soon as they left, the violence returned.

2. 20,000 is not enough. McCain says this and he also says that it should be for at least 18 months.

3. There aren't 20,000 more troops to send in. We're already stretched thin with multiple and extended tours.

4. My congressman, Ike Skelton, has been saying that it's way too late for this type of strategy.

5. Abizaid and Casey, the (former) generals on the ground, oppose this plan. Bush has said all along that he'll listen to his generals when it comes to troop levels. Then when they oppose his new plan he kicks them to the curb. He'll say that they've failed and need to be replaced, which may be true, but if you want an example of choosing politics over statesmanship, look no further. This was a brilliant political maneuver. He passed the buck for all those months and now he's using them as a scapegoat for his failed policy. He'll reshuffle the chairs and start the cycle over again.

So, there are five reasons that I think this is not a good move, and none of them are emotional. Do you have some examples of what you're talking about. I did read about Ted Kennedy comparing this to LBJ's escalation in Vietnam. I guess that does invoke the strong feelings related to that war, but I don't think it's far fetched comparison.

If more troops go in I hope it works and things in Iraq improve, but have a hard time believing that it will unfold that way. He's trying to draw to an inside straight and the chips he's pushing in are actual human people with real lives and families. The casino needs to stop serving him drinks and call 1-800-BETS-OFF for him.

If you agree that this escalation is a bad idea, you can sign this petition.

Best. SecDef. Ever.

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

In his regard for our people in uniform, in his unwavering strength through unprecedented challenges, in his example of leadership and patriotic service, I believe the record speaks for itself: Don Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had.
-- Dick Cheney, December 15, 2006

He apparently said that with a straight face. I think that even the first president Bush's Secretary of Defense, dirtbag that he is, was better at the job than Rumsfeld. But Tom Friedman sums it up best:

Think of what happened this week. OK, Dick Cheney, the vice president, stood up at a massive farewell ceremony for, for Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and said he was the greatest secretary of defense in American history. Now, if that is true, either George Bush is a fool or Dick Cheney is a liar, all right? Because either George Bush just fired at the height of a war, at the greatest national security threat of our country’s current era, the greatest secretary of defense in history, or Dick Cheney thinks we’re all walking around with a sign that says “Stupid” on it.
on Meet the Press, December 17, 2006

Appeal for Redress

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I'm currently reading The Greatest Story Ever Sold by Frank Rich. It's a collection of all the mistakes, spin, half-truths and outright deceptions of the Bush administration. I remember hearing about a lot of this when it happened, but now that I see it all at once and see the connections, the charges are quite damning.

The elections last month were a clear message from the American public that the war in Iraq is not acceptable. Now there's another group calling for an end to the war: the military. A growing group of active and reserve service men and women (including officers) is signing on to the Appeal for Redress. There strict rules about how someone in the military can dissent, but they do have that right. Appeal for Redress is a way for someone in the service to express their desire for the war to end and still have the full protection of the law. We can support our troops by standing behind those who make this choice.

Comic Vine

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Comic Vine has a database of thousands of super heroes, cataloged by their powers. So, if you've ever wondered who was tops in a particular super power, this site can tell you. It's also a wiki, so if you see a gap or a mistake, just click Edit and contribute.

(via Digg)

This American Life

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

NPR radio show This American Life is now available as a free podcast. I've been wanting to listen to it for a while and I'm really enjoying it now that I can hear it on my commute. Other podcasts on my iPod:

Battlestar Gallactica - Instant DVD commentary for the best sci-fi show on TV.
Meet the Press - Tim Russert refuses to take BS off of anyone.
News Hour - Nightly PBS news show with another great reporter, Jim Lehrer. These are broken up into segments, which is really nice. I listen to the stories I'm interested in, in the order I want.
Now with David Brancaccio - Weekly PBS news magazine that is unabashedly leftist.
Le Show - Harry Shearer of Simpsons fame. Comedy, news and commentary.
Onion Radio News & President's Weekly Radio Address - The Onion is funny in audio form, too. Their Bush speeches are the best, though.
This Week in Tech - Successor to The Screen Savers and the grandfather of all tech podcasts.

I'm not giving links because you can just look in iTunes or your favorite podcast directory if you want to subscribe. There are some other shows on my iPod, but these are the shows that I never miss. Having time to listen to all of this is one good thing about being in my car 8 hours a week.

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