Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Tuesday, August 10, 2004  

Here Lies

- Notes on the Atrocities -
January 10, 2003 - August 10, 2004


I set out one January near the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon to write a splendid blog. I knew then that the years would come and go and the blog would live.

It has taken more hours than I ever could have imagined and more battles than I ever felt I'd have to fight but the fist I shook and the rage I spent has at last blossomed and before it should fade I'd like to say that I am glad. (Apologies to JP Donleavy)

As seems appropriate, I will eulogize the site in stats. All else can be found in the archives.

Number of posts: 1,416
Number of words: 409,642
Average words per post: 289
Average posts per day: 2.5 (3.5 excluding weekends)

Outbound links: 2,922
Inbound links: 308
Inbound sources: 247
Ecosystem: Large Mammal

Visits since mid-Sept 2003: 58,600 (August 10, 2004)
Page views since mid-Sept 2003: 71,900 (August 10, 2004)
Average visits per day: 183
Average page views per day: 225

posted by Jeff | 11:11 AM |


Monday, August 09, 2004  

Thanks

If not for the generosity of other bloggers and readers, no one would ever continue to blog. I have many thanks to distribute.

This blog got an early boost from Atrios, who linked me in my second month. He later added me to his blogroll and literally something like 15% of my hits have been referred through his site. Other major bloggers like Bill Scher, Kevin Drum, Max Sawicky, Jeralyn Merritt, Brad DeLong, Nathan Newman, Jesse Taylor, Jesse Berney, Susie Madrak, Mark Kleiman, Mary Beth, Avedon Carol, and even Tom Tomorrow all linked me up and helped me get established. Many were also cool about engaging in email discussions as well. Kos, in fact, let me use him in a pitch I had about what effects blogs might have on politics. It was a great pitch and both the Nation and the American Prospect considered it--probably in large part because of the Kos connection. Those are the kinds of things you don't see, but everyone should know about it.

I also got constant support from the larger community of bloggers with smaller readerships--so many it's not possible to thank them all. In many cases, these blogs have better prose and more interesting commentary than the larger blogs. My "Daily Link" exercise was illuminating. There are fifty bloggers I could tap should I ever want to launch a political mag (we need a few more of those), and it would instantly be one of the best. Seriously.

Nevertheless, a few of you have been especially supportive, and I want to give you one more link. Since the blog started, Lawrence Krubner has offered incredibly insightful commentary here. We disagreed on the war, and that led to a long and productive discussion. In a similar way, Steve at Absit Invidia has been a kindred spirit with different views on many things. eRobin at Fact-esque has been a reader since before she started her blog, and saved many of my lamer posts from getting zero comments. Ignatius has been tireless in commenting and backing me up on technical issues, and hosts the Dossiers. The delightful Elayne Riggs is one of the most generous linkers in the 'sphere, and she always brought brightness to the blog when she commented. Anne, Annie, Mama, Lane, Jake, Mary, Martin, Lisa, Mick, C. Bryan, R@d@r, and Zizka have all been great linkers and great readers. (Apologies to anyone I missed.) Thanks.

Amazingly, many non-bloggers actually just read the blog. Folks like Alfred Cloutier read and commented, and your thoughts were more valuable to me than links. When I looked at the Sitemeter stats, I saw people visiting the site from all over the world, from offices in the federal government and offices in multinational corporations. I never stopped marveling.

So, for all of you who read my posts, whether you linked or commented or just quietly checked in: thanks thanks thanks.

posted by Jeff | 4:19 PM |
 

Why Quit, Why Now?

For those of you who blog, you already know one answer to this question. What begins as a seduction--your words on the World Wide Web!, for all to read!, instantaneously!, free!--can eventually become a burden. Ideas seem fresh because the brain writing them is unknown; later, the same ideas are familiar and tired. For the blogger, this offers the interesting challenge of finding new ideas or revisiting old ideas in new ways. It's possible, but given the immediacy of blogging, it's a brutal task. But that, of course, is not my reason.

I love to blog. I'm a wonk's wonk: the manner and language of Scott McClellan's obfuscations not only deeply interest me, but somehow seem significant. Even for blog readers, that level of interest in the politics of politics can get a little dull. (And don't get me started on polls.) I don't mind the grind of digging around for some interesting tidbit that might be useful in a post, or the haze that results from thinking about how to write it. In terms of entertainment, blogging is as good as it gets.

I'm throwing in the towel because it's not good for my mental health. This past week, on the Buddhist retreat, we practiced the most basic form of meditation--putting the attention on the breath as a way of calming the mind. It predates Buddhism and has been practiced by most religious communities for thousands of years. I've been a practicing Buddhist for 7 years, and in that time, I've never seen the level of my mind's inattention get as bad as it is now. It's an index--and a pretty good one--of where one's mental health is. Blogging isn't the only factor, but it's a central contributor. Moreover, it's far from essential--I don't have to blog to feed myself. I can't cut back on all the things that jeopardize my mental health, but blogging is expendable.

I'm aware that bloggers are necessary in politics right now--necessary to the left, anyway. Big ideas aren't going to come from slick politicians who are well-funded by multinational corporations. They're going to come from people who give a damn about the country and aren't indebted to anyone. Blogs are dangerous to power. They offer a critical perspective that offsets the monopolization of power by the wealthy and corrupt. In an age of media laxity, they are the only medium with an independent voice.

In fact, about a year ago, someone told me that it was all well and good to type away on my little blog, but I shouldn't kid myself into thinking I was actually doing any good. To make real change, you needed to scuff the leather of your soles. There is real change happening in America, and it didn't come from the sole-scuffers (not, ahem, solely, at least). They are a critical component, but you need people with big ideas and a medium in which to broadcast them as well. A modern revolution absolutely will not happen without a broadcast medium. Blogs are that medium and I think they're the main reason the Democratic party has begun to veer left after all these years--and will keep veering left if bloggers do their work. Bloggers are canaries in the coalmine--we speak for the people. Eventually, the country will follow and we'll move away from the madness of the neocon precipice.

I am happy to have been a blogger during this heady time. I'll always be able to say that during the 2004 campaign, my blog was linked by the DNC. But damaging one's mental health is in the best interest of nothing. Buddhism is a religion of the "middle way"--the path between extremes. As the chaos of my mind this past week showed me, my life has gotten a little out of whack. The nature of blogging encourages obsession, and I need to back away from it. I will continue to post on The American Street (Thursdays) and Blue Oregon. The pace will be far slower and the posts may be richer--that's my hope, anyway.

Things change. I hope that my departure from regular blogging is a benefit to me and possibly even to the blogosphere. In any case, it was a great run, and I had one king hell of a time. As they say in Wisconsin: forward.

posted by Jeff | 9:21 AM |


Sunday, August 08, 2004  

Things Change

Before I left, I mentioned things were going to change around here, and they're about to--though it turned out the changes are a little bigger than I expected. I had planned to close Notes and begin a new blog called Dangerous Mind (it will only be up for ten more days, after which my 30-day free subscription to Typepad will expire). But after clearing my mind over the past six days--as I hoped would happen--I've decided to close Notes and leave it at that.

I hate it when bloggers unexpectedly put up a single post announcing that it's their last and then you never hear from them again. I'm going to post a few more times and try to bring this thing to an appropriate close. I've loved blogging and will always recall this as the "blogging year" (though it's been longer than a year). I would hate to end it badly. (Maybe you don't care, but, as always--indulge me.)

posted by Jeff | 4:08 PM |


Monday, August 02, 2004  

I'll be gone the rest of the week on a Buddhist retreat. It comes just as the Bush attacks on Kerry are gearing up, and I have to say I'm looking forward to missing them. My mind needs a little clearing.

Instead of just leaving and letting the site go dry, I wonder if it's possible to try one of those "open thread" gambits that works so well on the big blogs? I'll try to seed conversation by querying: what about Kerry? I know you'll (mostly) be voting for him, but how does he compare to your ideal candidate? Have your views changed since he became the nominee? Did the convention or his speech change your view any way? Consider the experiment underway...

Oh, and a final note. The big changes I mentioned a month or so back are approaching. When I return, I hope my mind and the blog are both a little fresher.

posted by Jeff | 11:11 AM |
 

The Kerry Capsules: Health Care

The media have bought the RNC line that Kerry has no "big idea." This is perhaps one of the signature achievements of the right-wing PR campaign (read more about it here)--because in any other year, Kerry's aggressive plan would be getting very close scrutiny--and be called way, way too big.

Kerry's Plan
The language on the Kerry website isn't nearly as clear as Paul Krugman's short description, which I'll quote here verbatim:

John Kerry has proposed an ambitious health care plan that would extend coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, while reducing premiums for the insured. To pay for that plan, Mr. Kerry wants to rescind recent tax cuts for the roughly 3 percent of the population with incomes above $200,000.

First, the Kerry plan raises the maximum incomes under which both children and parents are eligible to receive benefits from Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. This would extend coverage to many working-class families, who often fall into a painful gap: they earn too much money to qualify for government help, but not enough to pay for health insurance. As a result, the Kerry plan would probably end a national scandal, the large number of uninsured American children.

Second, the Kerry plan would provide "reinsurance" for private health plans, picking up 75 percent of the medical bills exceeding $50,000 a year. Although catastrophic medical expenses strike only a tiny fraction of Americans each year, they account for a sizeable fraction of health care costs.

In addition, Kerry would introduce a plan for Americans to buy into the federal insurance plan. He would add tax breaks and incentives to small businesses to help them afford health care for their employees. Finally, he would eliminate regulatory loopholes for pharmaceutical companies that would bring drug prices down.

Discussion
It's a sweeping proposal, but one that looks a lot like a final Senate bill--a series of provisions strung together without an obvious narrative through-line. This makes it easy for the righties to cherry-pick the provisions they don't like for attack. Or, as has so far happened, ignore it altogether, knowing that the media have the same aversion to complexity Bush has. Nevertheless, it appears to be good and achievable policy--exactly because it's not a sweeping proposal like Bill Clinton's was. Some provisions will get cut, but he might get the larger ones through.

It's impossible to know how the numbers line up. Figures range from pricetags of $600 billion to $1 trillion. Kerry has a number of new program proposals, some of which are fairly spendy. So far, he claims he'll pay for all of them by rolling back just the tax cuts for the top 2%--along with program-specific regulatory changes that will shift the burden to corporations. All we have to go by is the plausibility of his arguments. Expand the military and introduce this health plan, all without raising taxes? A tall order.

______________________
Sources:
John Kerry, official website
Paul Krugman, "Health Versus Wealth" (July 9, '04 NYT)
Time, Candidates on the Issues

Other Capsules:
Foreign Policy


posted by Jeff | 10:16 AM |
 

Last week, amid the convention-inspired news black hole, FBI director Bob Mueller wrote that Sibel Edmonds was fired because she was a whistle-blower.

(Background: After the 9/11 attacks, Edmonds was hired by the FBI as a translator to search back through documents seized during the investigation. In 2002 she blew the whistle on the FBI's translation team, which was woefully unprepared to deal with the volume of material they suddenly needed to review. She was fired that year and has been under a John-Ashcroft-ordered gag order since.)

In a letter released on Capitol Hill, FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged that the a recently concluded internal Justice Department investigation found "a contributing factor" in Edmonds firing was the fact that she had accused the bureau of ineptitude, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart....

Mueller said he would work with the Justice Department to determine whether disciplinary action is required of any bureau employees as a result of the Edmonds case. Meanwhile the bureau insists it has made progress with its translation problems by hiring more interpreters. On Sept. 11 it had only 70 Arabic speakers. Now it has over 200, but acknowledges it still needs more.

It's good that Mueller stepped forward to exonerate a good agent who was fired for working in the country's best interest. But it remains troubling to me that little Johnny Ashcroft has been keeping the whole affair hidden from view. A lot of material has been classified by the Bush administration. How much of that is to protect Bush's ass, not national security?


posted by Jeff | 7:58 AM |


Sunday, August 01, 2004  

One more example. Christopher Hitchens, another of the liberal-to-conservative converts, spent an article fuming about Kerry's critique of Bush's priorities in "opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America."

Hitchens' problem with this phrase is that it's not exactly comparable: "The further implication is that this is a zero-sum game, and that a dollar spent in Iraq is a dollar not spent on domestic needs." He's right, of course--it is a rhetorical device, and sort of a cheap shot. But guess what? Bush overtly lies--"the average American will receive $2,000 from my tax cuts."

What Hitchens is really pissed off about isn't that Kerry is using artful rhetoric to frame his argument, it's that he's fighting back at all. For 24 years, the Dems have been docile in their opposition. They've played fair and told the truth and got Clelanded for it. For folks like Mary Matalin and Christopher Hitchens, fighting back itself is treasonous.

posted by Jeff | 11:57 AM |
 

Although the Republicans are desperately trying to appear calm, cool, and collected, it's clear that Kerry's speech had a 9/11 effect on the political landscape: everything's changed. Let's run through the evidence.

1.
This morning on This Week, Mary Matalin was in full-scale melt down. Her entire being was so suffused with anger that periodically ABC put the camera on her while others spoke, just to watch the tremors of rage ripple across her face. Near the end of the segment (with Donna Brazile, Fareed Zakaria, and George Will), she declared it a convention of hate. It was so over the top, so obviously an expression of her own feelings, that everyone on the stage snorted and protested. Will, though, wasn't much better. In a fit of pique, he compared Kerry to Dukakis--itself an absurd over-reaction--and when Stephanopolous calledWill on it, he admitted petulantly that he was trying to hit Kerry with the hardest rhetorical device at his disposal. This is typical of the right wing spinsters--they've become seriously unhinged. Let me tell you, though--these wild-eyed overstatements aren't doing Bush any favors.

2.
Next we have the President himself, who has completely retooled his stump speech. Although the spinsters are still trying to peddle the "dour Democrats" message, it's obvious Bush doesn't believe it.

In an excerpt meant to show his optimism, Bush says: "We have turned the corner, and we are not turning back."

Devenish said Bush's campaign bus would also have a new look. Gone is the slogan "Yes, America Can." In its place, she said, are "Heart and Soul" and "Moving America Forward."

A sitting president doesn't change his stump speech after his opponent's convention unless he's worried.

3.
Possibly the best evidence to date is an article in yesterday's WSJ by Zell Miller. Miller, who was the keynote speaker at 1992's Democratic convention and who has publicly announced his support of Bush, will speak at this year's GOP convention. He offers the GOP talking points verbatim, but listen to the overstatement. It appears as if he's talking about JP Morgan:

No longer the party of hope, today's Democratic Party has become Mr. Kerry's many mansions of cynicism and skepticism....

And when it comes to taxes and services, you'd be pressed to find anyone more opposed to the interests of middle-class Americans than John Kerry. Except maybe John Edwards. Both voted against tax relief for married couples, tax relief for families with children, and tax relief for small businesses. Now Mr. Kerry wants to raise taxes on hundreds of thousands of small-business owners and millions of individuals. He claims to be for working people, but I don't understand how small businesses can create jobs if they've got to send more money to Washington instead of keeping it to hire workers....

All the speeches we heard this week weren't able to hide the truth of what today's Democratic Party has become: an enclave of elites paying lip service to middle-class values. Americans looking for a president who understands their struggles and their dreams should tune in next month, when we celebrate the leadership of George W. Bush.

In the Midwest (Wisconsin, anyway, where I went to grad school), tornado alerts are signaled by a siren that sounds a lot like the air raid sirens from WWII movies. Reading Miller's bizarre prose is like flipping the switch to one of those sirens. It's not a reasoned, careful argument about candidate Kerry, it's a flinch-causing screech of pure fear from the author. I don't know if Miller is fearful for his legacy or his future, but he's clearly scared of something. And badly.

So the spinsters are going on the crazy attack and Bush is going warm and fuzzy. As always, the coordination is evident. It's the message that's confused. The convention changed everything. The GOP are still trying to figure out what.

posted by Jeff | 11:09 AM |
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