Saturday, March 11, 2006

Luna: rest in peace

[Associated Press photo]

Most of the whale-advocacy community in the Northwest is in mourning today in the wake of the news that Luna, a K pod whale who managed to get socially stranded in a west Vancouver Island sound, had been killed:
One minute Luna was frolicking around the back of a boat, as he did routinely in an attempt to secure the companionship he craved.

The next minute, he was sucked into a tube containing a propeller powered by a 1,700-horsepower engine. It chopped the whale into bits. Until authorities recovered a large piece of the carcass, they were unsure they would even be able to positively identify the creature.

Luna, as Robert McClure's excellent story explains, was separated from the rest of his pod back in spring of 2001, when he turned up in Nootka Sound alone. The 1-year-old began socializing with boaters in the sound, sometimes to the extent of harassing them and endangering himself in the process. Eventually, there were concerns that the fishermen he angered might shoot him.

Whale biologists, having successfully reunited another stranded youngster named Springer with her northern resident pod, were hopeful they could do the same with Luna. But the plans to do so also raised concerns that the end result could be his incarceration in an aquarium:
With help offered by U.S. officials and conservationists on both sides of the border, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans came up with a plan to capture Luna and transport him back to be with his family -- just as the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service recaptured Springer, an orca from a Canadian pod that turned up alone near Vashon Island at about the same time.

But it was not to be. DFO officials had failed to consult closely with the local natives, or First Nations as they're known in Canada, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht -- who have long been angry at DFO because of its advocacy of salmon aquaculture in the area.

And the natives had come to believe that Luna embodied the spirit of their chief Ambrose Maquinna, who died just days before the orca showed up.

When the DFO-sponsored capture was about to take place, members of the tribe showed up in canoes and lured the creature away from a pen in the water where DFO officials were trying to lure him. The Canadian government gave up on the recapture plan.

I'm sure that there will be a temptation to blame the tribes for the disaster, since it was their interference that prevented the DFO from reuniting Luna with his family. But the situation is more complex than that, because their concerns that Luna might wind up in a concrete tank were not entirely groundless. Nor, for that matter, were their claims of an apparent spiritual connection with the young orca, which included some claims that he was the reincarnation of a just-departed chief.

Last summer, I attended a presentation by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm, who were spending their days monitoring Luna and recording his activities, as well as working tirelessly to protect him from harm.

Parfit and Chisholm had filmed Luna's odyssey with the tribal canoes away from the DFO capture team, and it was really rather remarkable to watch how closely the orca seemed to bond with the tribe. At a couple of junctures in the drama, Luna actually was within the capture area, and on both occasions he decided to return to his friends in the canoes. He traveled with them some 20 kilometers away to the site of their original village, and some of their interactions en route were something to behold.

So was some of the other footage that Parfit and Chisholm had collected. The one that really struck me involved some of his boat nudging; at one point, they caught Luna rising to the surface and pushing a small outboard boat at its transom, right next to the motor, which was turned off.

As he nudged the skiff forward, he began making a noise through his blowhole -- PBBBBBTTTTTTTTTT -- that almost perfectly replicated the sound of an outboard engine. It was simultaneously charming and disturbing, like watching a little kid who had a preternatural fascination with heavy equipment climbing aboard a bulldozer and firing it up.

As a feature in the Kitsap Sun explained, Parfit and Chisholm hoped to organize an effort to both better protect Luna during his stay at Nootka Sound and to reunite him with his K pod family, part of the endangered southern resident population of Puget Sound.

It seemed like a sound idea: organizing a group of volunteer boaters who could provide Luna with social opportunities while keeping him out of the way of propellers and angry fishermen, and who could then help lead him out of the sound and into the same waters as his family if they ever passed by on the western side of Vancouver Island, something they periodically are known to do during the winter and early spring months.

Unfortunately, bureaucracy being what it is, their proposal was still being processed by the DFO when Luna was killed. It didn't have to be that way. But inaction is sometimes so much easier than action, and it can have tragic consequences.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The fires of hate

There are, of course, many reasons to be concerned about the increasingly emboldened Nazis and other right-wing extremists who are coming out of the woodwork in greater numbers these days. After all, this hatred not only manifests itself in the mainstream and particularly among young people, but it also inspires extreme violence among the mor unstable, criminally violent elements of society.

But along with their effects on others outside their immediate circle of influence, their increasing boldness also means these extremists will themselves become more violent, more threatening, more thuggish. That's what they do. It's what they specialize in.

From our friend and frequent commenter Orac comes the news that, earlier this week in San Antonio, right-wing extremists apparently torched a building they believed housed the servers for The Holocaust History Project:
In the early hours of March 6, 2006, a fire broke out at a warehouse complex near San Antonio International Airport, causing extensive damage to the offices of The Holocaust History Project (THHP), an organization that has been, for the last ten years, in the forefront of confronting Holocaust denial online, in addition to providing educational materials to students throughout the world. Arson investigators now have confirmed that the fire was intentionally set and are continuing their investigation.

It was just the latest in a series of attacks with the apparent intent to silence THHP. For the past 18 months, the THHP website has been under an unprecedented Distributed Denial of Service attack. This cyber attack began on September 11, 2004, and is being carried out by a specially modified version of the MyDoom computer worm, programmed to target the THHP web server.

Fortunately, the attack missed its target. THHP's servers and other resources weren't kept at the warehouse location. Rather, the targeted business was the business address given for the project.

THHP has been doing yeoman's work in confronting the vicious historical revisionism of people like David Irving and other Holocaust deniers. For those efforts, it has been subjected to an extraordinary level of harassment, including the denial-of-service attacks mentioned in the press release, and described elsewhere at the site:
A worm was released onto the net which spreads through email with text like "The holocaust is a lie." Every one of the computers it has infected -- over a thousand -- has been bombarding our website with fake information requests, to try to overwhelm it and shut it down.

The criminals who released this worm did so for two reasons. The first was to shut down our website and prevent students and researchers from learning the truth about Holocaust-denial.

The second was to spread propaganda. As the worm infects each new computer, it invites its victims to visit Holocaust-denial websites, such as Ernst Zundel's site and the Institute for Historical Review, and it tells them that "the Holocaust is an outright lie."

This represents a new low for so-called "revisionists." They are understandably frustrated at not being taken seriously by the historical community, and by failing to publish even a single peer-reviewed paper.

Without getting into the technical details, this kind of attack overloads a website with fake information requests in such a magnitude that the website is unable to process legitimate requests and has to close down. It is the equivalent of overloading a circuit. Hence, it's name, a "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attack. It is a deliberate and offensive thing to do, and its only purpose is to deny the victim website its freedom of speech. It is also a crime.

Some of THHP's leading figures, notably a Coloradoan named Sara Salzman, have been subjected to a steady stream of obscene attacks and death threats for their anti-revisionism work:
That same day, the home telephone numbers and addresses of everyone associated with the Nizkor Project, including Salzman, were posted to alt.revisionism. The Nizkor phone book was posted several times, in fact, under several names that all had the return address of Ellis's Later, Salzman's phone number and address were also posted to two neo-Nazi news groups -- alt.politics.nationalism.white and alt.politics.white-power. Someone identifying himself as RevWhite also posted a map with directions to Salzman's house, as well as the names, addresses and phone numbers of several of her neighbors, and encouraged people to call them.

... In recent weeks, the situation has escalated. Someone placed links on more than forty Web sites with messages claiming that Salzman's kids were planning to bomb an Aurora high school; placed a link on more than ninety Web sites with messages accusing Salzman of child abuse; posted messages saying that Salzman makes her daughter give men blow jobs to support the Nizkor Project; posted Salzman's father's name, office address, telephone number and e-mail address to alt.revisionism along with a threat to pay him a visit; forged Salzman's name on a threat to Mayor Wellington Webb's life that appeared on more than twenty Web sites; e-mailed a death threat to President Clinton in Salzman's name; and posted a message threatening to skin Salzman alive and use her skin to make a new holster for his gun.

Another message on alt.revisionism announced an upcoming Web site containing even more personal information about Nizkor supporters. "See where the anti-revisionist: lives, works, schools, shops," it claimed. "View the many images of their homes, car, children. Read facts about their: history, lovers, sex lives, medical records, criminal records." No such Web site ever materialized, but the names of Salzman's two children and photos of what someone thought was her house appeared on the Internet (the picture was of the wrong house).

There isn't any hard evidence linking the Tuesday arson to any particular group or person or, for that matter, motive. But the circumstances are such -- particularly given that the businesses that were targeted were otherwise innocuous, and placed in an out-of-the-way locale -- that, while other motives (including thrill-seeking) may have been involved, both investigators and the victims have to seriously suspect that it occured as retaliation for their anti-revisionism work, especially given the long history of escalating harassment they have already endured.

I spoke with Saltzman, who is acting as the press spokesman for THHP, yesterday, and she said that they felt nearly certain this was a message crime: "Given that they've been threatening this kind of action for some time, we'd have to be stupid not to suspect it," she said.

In the past, she noted, she tended to dismiss the threats. "Most of these guys are just bellicose cowards," she said. "When they've made threats, I've tended to just blow it off.

"But the problem is not the guys making the threats themselves, it's the people -- the guys on the fringes willing to take action -- who can be a real threat."

As Orac noted in his e-mail, "THHP itself is OK and we don't want to be perceived as taking advantage of this attack for donations. Its servers and library are unscathed, as they were not on site. It is Harry Mazal ( who has suffered the major loss, with his business and inventory being destroyed." So feel free to contact Mazal to offer help in whatever way you can.

In the meantime, it wouldn't hurt if the San Antonio press were to take notice and publicize the case. Otherwise, the perpetrators and the people who inspired them will just sit in their shadows and smirk.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Strategic silence

The White House yesterday:
MCCLELLAN: Let me respond. Look at the president’s record when it comes to defending the sanctity of life. It is a very strong record.

His views when it comes to pro-life issues are very clearly spelled out. We also have stated repeatedly that state legislatures, when they pass laws, those are state matters.

The White House in 2004:
In a statement released Wednesday night, President Bush said the ruling was "deeply troubling.

"Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman," Bush said. "If activist judges insist on re-defining marriage by court order, the only alternative will be the constitutional process. We must do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage."

A little later, on the same subject:
In recent months, however, some activist judges and local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage. In Massachusetts, four judges on the highest court have indicated they will order the issuance of marriage licenses to applicants of the same gender in May of this year. In San Francisco, city officials have issued thousands of marriage licenses to people of the same gender, contrary to the California family code. That code, which clearly defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, was approved overwhelmingly by the voters of California. A county in New Mexico has also issued marriage licenses to applicants of the same gender. And unless action is taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials, all of which adds to uncertainty.

Seems that this White House policy of not commenting on state-law issues is pretty new. Or is it just, shall we say, fungible? Especially when the religious right is involved?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The conservative bubble

One of the reasons the conservative movement has morphed into a pathological political religion is that it has managed to largely cut itself off from the real world by insulating itself from any kind of criticism whatsoever.

Criticism of right-wing programs and policies, you see, is never confronted on its own terms, but is dismissed with a wave of the ad hominem wand: it can't be right because the critics are Bad People with Bad Motives.

Recent discussions over blame-laying in the Iraq war fiasco has provided us with the latest example of the bubble (which in this case also includes a large number of liberal warhawks). It's not Bush's fault the war has gone so badly, it's his critics'.

So it has always been: Conservatives concoct a cockamamie vision of what the world ought to look like, try to force it on the rest of us -- and when it all predictably turns to shit, find a scapegoat (usually liberals).

A recent permutation of this surfaced after William F. Buckley, that conservative icon, declared the Iraq war a disaster. Responding to liberals' glee, Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom turned the blame back in their direction (via Sifu Tweety at the Poor Man).
And this is (and has been) a crucial component of the war -- one that many on the anti-war side are loathe to admit: that their constant naysaying, though it is well within their right to voice, has objectively hurt the war effort, particularly when the criticism incorporates carefully-crafted falsehoods many of the war's critics know for a fact to be objectively untrue.

I don't know if Goldstein can establish the levels of actual harm inflicted by the domestic naysaying, but I can say that a number of other "carefully crafted falsehoods" perptrated by the White House -- from claims regarding weapons of mass destruction to the Al Qaeda-Saddam link to -- were substantively harmful in that they induced the nation to go to war under false pretenses, costing so far over 2,200 soldiers' lives and thousands more innocent Iraqi civilians.

A constant drumbeat of similar falsehoods, ranging from Swift Boat smears to the bizarre distortion of a Howard Dean campaign cheer, were contrived to help Bush stay in power, and have been ceaselessly deployed to destroy any and all critics. And that was also substantively harmful. Indeed, the decision to retaliate against one of these critics by outing a CIA operative engaged in WMD anti-proliferation work almost certainly damaged our ability to contain nuclear-arms work in places like Iran.

Still, no one who raised these objections, either then or now, was credible in the eyes of guys like Goldstein because, you see, they were just Bush haters:
Most of those on the right who I've read on the subject have criticized Buckley's analysis by noting that his initial stance on the war was hardly gung ho, and his most recent conclusions seem a bit premature. But they have respected him for making the argument, knowing that his goal, from the outset, has not been to undermine efforts to democratize Iraq either out of some immense hatred for the President or out of some newfound Democratic party / progressivist fealty to foreign policy realism; in fact, it can be argued Buckley has been there all along).

Unfortunately, I don't think the same can be said for the majority of those most vocal voices on the political left.

I'm wondering if Goldstein can point to any mainstream critics of the war who actually announced their intent to undermine efforts to democratize Iraq, for instance; expressing doubt that it was possible under these circumstances isn't the same thing. How many, exactly, raised these issues by saying they did so because they hated Bush? (As for foreign-policy realism, it seems to me that real realism -- that is, a policy based in real facts and not speculation -- is what Democrats were arguing for all along.)

No, we only know that those were the critics' motives because the right told us so. That is, whenever critics on the left or center (or even the right) came up with substantive reasons for opposing the war, they were dismissed as "Bush haters." No matter, as Glenn Greenwald described in detail at Crooks and Liars, that those reasons in fact proved wholly prescient.

We saw the same kind of circular logic at work in John Hinderaker of PowerLine's recent attack on John Murtha as "nuts." When his work was fact-checked by Judd Legum at ThinkProgress, Hinderaker responded with typical churlishness:
One of the dimmest of the dimwitted left-wing web sites has tried to respond to this post. Among other things, the proprietor of this slough of ignorance has resurrected the old chestnut that Dick Cheney said in an interview that Iraq had "reconstituted nuclear weapons;" ergo, Murtha was right! This is so stupid it makes your head hurt.

Hinderaker then goes on to ostensibly demonstrate that Cheney simply misspoke in the interview. But as Legum noted subsequently:
That's right, it was a just a "slip of the tongue" made on national television four days before the war. Cheney didn't bother to correct it for six months.

Indeed, Hinderaker's response, such as it was, only covered one of Legum's multiple findings, but even that was generous, apparently -- because Bush's left-wing critics are simply to be dismissed out of hand anyway:
Sadly, I think a great many liberals are this stupid. Worse, I think that many liberals--like the proprietor of the hate site that resurrected the Cheney quote earlier today--are so far gone in hatred of President Bush that everything they say and do is said and done in bad faith. Like Jack Murtha, they have lost any ability to distinguish truth from fiction, and any desire to do so.

Moreover, Hinderarker's rant obscures the reality of what the nation was being told during the runup to the war. As John MacArthur detailed in Columbia Journalism Review, the administration began trying to convince the public that Saddam was on the verge of obtaining a nuclear device, and steadily impled that he may well have already done so, as early as September 7, 2002:
It was then that the White House propaganda drive began in earnest, with the appearance before television cameras of George Bush and Tony Blair at Camp David. Between them, the two politicians cited a "new" report from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency that allegedly stated that Iraq was "six months away" from building a nuclear weapon. "I don't know what more evidence we need," declared the president.

For public relations purposes, it hardly mattered that no such IAEA report existed, because almost no one in the media bothered to check out the story. (In the twenty-first paragraph of her story on the press conference, The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung did quote an IAEA spokesman saying, in DeYoung's words, "that the agency has issued no new report," but she didn't confront the White House with this terribly interesting fact.)

But the next day, more "evidence" suddenly appeared, on the front page of the Sunday New York Times. In a disgraceful piece of stenography, Michael Gordon and Judith Miller inflated an administration leak into something resembling imminent Armageddon: "More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today."

The key to this A-bomb program was the attempted purchase of "specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium." Mysteriously, none of those tubes had reached Iraq, but "American officials" wouldn't say why, "citing the sensitivity of the intelligence."

The nuclear-weapons claims reached a feverish level in Bush's Oct. 7, 2002, speech pitching the preparations for war, in which he warned of the threat of a "mushroom cloud" over America:
If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. And if we allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed.

Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

To heighten the nuclear fearmongering, the White House even began promoting a forgery regarding a supposed deal Saddam had made with Niger to obtain the uranium:
Bush cited the uranium deal, along with the aluminum tubes, in his State of the Union Message, on January 28th, while crediting Britain as the source of the information: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." He commented, "Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide."

The clear implication of the claim was that Iraq had in fact finally obtained the means to build a nuke, and probably had done so. Indeed, while the administration danced around the question, it consistently implied that Saddam obtaining a nuke was a fait accompli. Cheney's remark was made within this context, and went uncorrected until after the invasion. Pretending that this was anything other than a "carefully crafted falsehood" is simply disingenuous.

And when Joseph Wilson, with a long record as a nonpartisan diplomat who had served both Republican and Democratic administrations with honor and skill, stepped forward to point out that the claim of a Niger uranium deal was a hoax, the administration chose to maintain its bubble by attacking him personally. He wasn't someone with credibility making a substantive charge: he was a Bush hater who had been pushed into the role as a bit of nepotism by his CIA-operative wife. Oh, oops! Did we just blow her cover?

So much for national security. Yet to listen to Bush defenders like Goldstein and Hinderaker, it was people like Wilson who were really responsible for the administration's failures in Iraq.

So it has always been with this crowd.

Paul O'Neill? Oh, he's just trying to sell a book. Nevermind that his description of Bush as incurious and insular, not to mention incompetent, played out before the nation during the Katrina disaster.

Richard Clarke? Just an embittered loser with an agenda (and a book to sell too!). Nevermind that his concern that the Iraq invasion would be a disastrous diversion from the serious pursuit of a real "war on terrorism" is proving all the more accurate every day.

Brent Scowcroft? Please. He just lives in a pre-9/11 world still.

Bruce Bartlett? Just another disgruntled ex-employee.

Nevermind that all these "Bush haters" are people who have long histories of distinguished service under Republican adminstrations, people who have real credibility on the subjects they're addressing. And all people dismissed with yet another wave of the ad hominem wand.

Perhaps, when considering whether Bush's critics "objectively hurt the war effort," it's useful to run a simple test of logic. Namely, tell us which has hurt us more:
-- An administration that ignored serious and well-founded concerns about the legitimacy of the invasion and the planning for postwar reconstruction, as well as an exit strategy, and proceeded to commit our troops to what has proven an inextricable disaster, worsened by its own outrageous incompetence.

-- The critics who raised all those concerns in the first place.

Logic, however, is incapable of puncturing an ideological bubble like this, because its structure resists it: Even good logic can be ignored because anyone proferring it is by definition a Bush hater, a Bad Person with Bad Motives.

The reality, of course, is that the motives of the critic do not delegitimize his criticism. Moreover, it's clear that the motives of many of his critics originate not with "hatred" of Bush but at well-founded opposition to his policies.

Conservatives, in order to maintain the bubble, have even begun constructing an agenda predicated on the mythology that there is no legitimacy to liberal or centrist criticism of Bush because it is constituted solely of "unhinged" Bush hatred -- even if the actual evidence for this charge is scant. So, of course, they drum up outlier incidents like the Colorado high-school teacher who ranted a lot of anti-Bush nonsense before his classroom, as though it represented the mainstream of opposition to the Bush agenda.

Perhaps even more ominously, the "Bush hater" dismissals are coming with a lot of expressions of elimination talk, suggesting that the people who are now being blamed for the dismal failure in Iraq need to "dealt with." This isn't relegated just to the fringes and radio ranters, but is even coming from leading elected Republicans.

Consider, for instance, what Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham recently told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during the latter's Senate testimony regarding the NSA surveillance program:
During the time of war, the administration has the inherent power, in my opinion, to surveil the enemy and to map the battlefield electronically - not just physical, but to electronically map what the enemy is up to by seizing information and putting that puzzle together. And the administration has not only the right, but the duty, in my opinion, to pursue fifth column movements. And let me tell folks who are watching what a fifth column movement is. It is a movement known to every war where American citizens will sympathize with the enemy and collaborate with the enemy. And it's happened in every war.

It would not be much of a step, judging from what we are now reading from the Bush defenders, to conclude that Bush's left-wing critics comprise just such a "Fifth Column." After all, the underlying logic of the meme is that criticism of Bush has been motivated purely by a desire to harm Bush which ignores the consequent harm to the nation. If they're harming us, well, what's the harm of a little surveillance? Or, for that matter, a few mass roundups?

The conservative bubble is a problem not just because it produces a pathological brand of politics. It also dehumanizes the people living inside it, because everyone outside of it becomes, if not the enemy, then at least expendable.

But like all such bubbles, it is also doomed to founder on the sharp rocks of reality. The question is whether the rest of us will be spared the shock of the explosion.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

White supremacy doesn't pay

Free speech is a great thing. But your right to speak freely doesn't protect you from the realities of the workplace -- especially if you're on the public payroll.

Seems a part-time prosecutor in upstate New York was fired after he participated in the white-supremacist American Renaissance gathering last weekend in Herndon, Va.

I'm not so sure it was his mere attendance that prompted the firing. One has to suspect it has more to do with him being quoted in the Washington Post story on the event:
Conference participant Michael Regan, an assistant district attorney in New York's Allegany County, said U.S. policies on immigration, trade and "demographics" have put the country on the wrong path. "You can see European Christian Americans are an endangered species," he said, asserting that the accurate description of conference participants is "white preservationists" rather than "white supremacists."

The comment from his bosses:
Allegany County District Attorney Terrence Parker said Regan's "recent activities will continue to significantly disrupt and impair his effectiveness as an assistant district attorney and the operations of the entire district attorney's office."

... "Those kinds of comments are absolutely inappropriate for a public official," said Joel Levy, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, which characterizes the [New Century] foundation's ideology as "intellectualized, pseudoscientific white supremacy."

Public officials have to be able to deal with all sectors of the public, including nonwhites, and the presence of a DA like Regan would have cast a pall over the office where he worked.

The larger question, I suppose, is how many others there are who think like Regan but don't commit their opinions to the pages of the Washington Post.

[Hat tip to Ignorant Hussy.]

Koufax time

The nominations are in for the annual Koufax Awards for lefty blogs from the fine folks at Wampum (and while you're there be sure to tip them some change).

Polls are open. You can vote through comments or e-mail.

Orcinus is a nominee in seven categories:
Best Blog (non-professional)

Best Blog -- Sponsored or Professional

Best Writing

Best Single-Issue Blog

Best Series

Best Expert Blog

Some observations:

Orcinus probably shouldn't be a nominee in both the professional and non-professional categories, but Dwight tells me that the nominations belong to the readers, so there ya go. I can understand the confusion: this certainly is not a funded blog -- for that matter, I'm still declining to run advertising -- and I run it out of my garage as I always have. But I am a professional writer, which definitely fits the criteria for the "professional blog" category. So if you're going to vote for me for Best Blog, you should probably make it in the Professional category (where I'm doomed anyway).

As always, I'm a little uncomfortable with the "best expert" and "single issue" categories (and while I'm at it, I should mention that my "single issue" focus is probably better described as "right-wing extremism" than "hate groups"). I'm dubious about the extent to which I'm actually an "expert" at these things, but OK, whatever; and as regular readers know, I also post on a lot of other topics as well. Still, I understand how these things work, and I'm always honored to be among the finalists in these categories. (But we all know that Jeralynn and Juan Cole are used to walking away with these awards, and deservedly so.)

I'm a nominee once again for Best Series, an award I've won the previous two years. And I'm quite proud of this year's nominee, the Unhinged: Unhonest series. It's probably not quite at the level of the previous two award-winners, especially since it's essentially just an extended fisking. But I was hoping to use the whole fisking genre as a way to springboard into a discussion of something serious, namely, right-wing eliminationist rhetoric, and how right-wing Newspeak accusing liberals of being "unhinged" primarily serves as a cover for it. (I examined this even more in the followup discussion with Cathy Young.)

Still, none of it quite holds a candle to the amazing work of the gang at firedoglake on the Plame matter, does it? Sigh.

And of course, I've always coveted the Best Writing award, and I'm usually a finalist, but I don't think I've ever been really close on that.

So, in examining the field, it looks like a bit of a down year for Orcinus at the Koufaxes. And that's probably reflective of the blog this year: I've turned my attention to a number of other directions, I have had weeklong stretches with no posts, and right-wing extremists just haven't been on the national radar as much. Some of my best writing, I think, has come in posts that no one else much wants to link to, and it seems fewer people are reading, since they are on topics that are not exactly political. Certainly I noticed that, for the first time, I wasn't nominated at all for "Best Post" -- an award I came very close to winning two years ago.

Well, all that's as it should be; audiences are bound to come and go whenever you shift directions as a writer, and much of this is by design on my part. I also think that recognizing fresh blood is good for the blogosphere. I do think, though, that regular readers will see a little more to chew on this year than last, if for no other reason than that the extremists are definitely picking up their pace this year. (Also, I have plans for a kickass series to begin sometime next month, I think.)

So go vote, help me out where you think I deserve it, but most of all, spend some time and check out the other nominees. There's a ton of great writing out there.