Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Who is Jim Morrison?

Military Brats for $600

Michael J. Fox grew up an army brat - this country's army.

Noted without comment, part two

Except to say I have some good news and some bad news and I think you will know which is which.

First is the news that
[t]he village mayor who challenged New York law by attempting to marry gay couples last year will face trial, the state's highest court ruled Friday.

New Paltz, New York, Mayor Jason West faces 24 misdemeanor counts of violating the state's domestic relations law by marrying couples without licenses in late February 2004. He faces fines and up to a year in jail if convicted. ...

West has maintained he was upholding the gay couples' constitutional rights to equal protection - and thus his oath of office - by allowing them to wed in the Hudson Valley college town in late February 2004.
[i]n Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit by C. Joseph Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, to halt gay marriages in the state until the voters could decide on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The vote could happen in November 2006 at the earliest.

The Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court, became the first to authorize same-sex weddings with its landmark November 2003 ruling. The ruling took effect in May 2004.

Doyle had appealed to the full court after a single justice dismissed his claim last year,
but the Court rules that Justice Roderick Ireland was "correct and well within his discretion" in rejecting the motion. Ireland ruled that same-sex couples shouldn't be denied the right to marry based on the mere possibility that voters would approve the amendment.

Noted without comment, part one

As reported by UPI:
Fears of a civil war in Iraq are mounting as a growing number of killings are attributed to sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. ...

We are drifting into a sectarian society, said Ghassan al-Atiyya, a secular Shiite and the director of the Iraqi Foundation for Development and Democracy. The Americans ... let the genie out of the bottle.

Sunni statesman and former Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi, who returned to Baghdad from exile in 2003, also bemoaned the strain church and state relations had created.

I came back to Iraq with the assumption that these religious and sectarian tendencies were not that strong, Pachachi said. But in times of trouble, people tend to go toward religion and the religious parties make use of that very skillfully.
The UPI report was drawn from a story in the New York Times.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Updated The sound of hammering of the nails into the coffin of whatever was left of the US's image in the world is loud enough to give a throbbing headache to all except those wingnuts and their deluded victims among our fellow citizens, those with their fingers in their ears, shouting "LALALALALALALA!"

Following up on its revelation of the July 2002 minutes showing that the US and the UK were already set on a course to attack Iraq, The Times (UK) reported on Sunday that
[t]he RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown.

The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.
This dovetails nicely with the memo's reference to Donald Rumplestiltskin saying "the US had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime."

It was quite a spike:
The new information, obtained by the Liberal Democrats, shows that the allies dropped twice as many bombs on Iraq in the second half of 2002 as they did during the whole of 2001, and that the RAF increased their attacks even more quickly than the Americans did. ...

The Ministry of Defence figures, provided in response to a question from Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, show that despite the lack of an Iraqi reaction, the air war began anyway in September with a 100-plane raid.
UN Security Council resolution 1441, the one that Shrub claims as justification for invading Iraq, was not passed until November 8.

A few relevant links:
Impeach Bush
Vote to Impeach
Impeach Bush Now
Impeach Bush
Impeach Bush: The Four Reasons for Responsible Citizenship
Find Impeach Bush Groups in Your Area (Meetup.com)
Impeach Bush Now!
Impeach Bush! (graphics and banner ads)

Updated with two more links:
Impeach Central

Comment comment

Updated In a comment on my post about the Big Brother food program at a school in Georgia, Porlock refers us to an article in the May 26 Wall Street Journal which discussed what various companies are doing to "cooperate" with federal officials' desire to obtain information.

The outline Porlock gives is in several cases chilling, including the policy of some companies to on their own initiative - that is, without even waiting for a request - supply information to federal officials which those officials could not otherwise obtain without a court order.

Read Porlock's orginal post for some more details. The online version of the WSJ is for the most part available only to paid subscribers. But as Porlock says, the paper can be found at most any public library. A good excuse to patronize a vital public service.

Updated to provide a link to the original post.

Monday, May 30, 2005


What is Cologne? (Acceptable: Köln)

Military Brats for $200

The father of this Doors singer made admiral in the US Navy.

Small steps, small steps

From Atrios we hear that
Miami-Dade County's elections chief has recommended ditching its ATM-style voting machines, just three years after buying them for $24.5 million to avoid a repeat of the hanging and dimpled chads from the 2000 election.

Elections supervisor Lester Sola said in a memo Friday that the county should switch to optical scanners that use paper ballots, based on declining voter confidence in the paperless touch-screen machines and quadrupled election day labor costs.
This is a good thing: Touchscreen voting machines, about which I've written on numerous occasions, are of doubtful security - giving rise to numerous accusations (and frankly, quite possibly some real incidents) of vote manipulation - and even more doubtful reliability.

Atrios suggests that even this change isn't enough and the only thing satisfactory as protection against hidden manipulation is actual paper ballots read in open session by people, not by machines. He has a good point: While the optical scanners do create a paper trail, that would serve only in the event of a recount. But what if there is no recount?

On the other hand, I don't know if a return to totally paper ballots is practical for anything beyond a purely local election. Counting by hand, especially in a close election (there really is no point to trying to manipulate a runaway) where ballots may be challenged aggressively, can be a slow, time-consuming process. I'm really not sure we any longer have the patience necessary to wait a couple of days to find out election results.

So while I actually agree that this is not the optimum solution, I still will be gratified that Miami-Dade County has come to its senses and has taken steps in the right direction. Now all they have to do is to make sure that the central computers which compile and tabulate the results from the scanners are secure - which they're not.

Awww - is his widdle feewings hurt?

CNN reports that
Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday he was offended by Amnesty International's condemnation of the United States for what it called "serious human rights violations" at Guantanamo Bay.

"For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously," he said in an interview that aired Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live."
My first reaction is too f'ing bad, but I think it's more important to notice that going out of your way supposedly to dismiss something - after saying he didn't take AI seriously, "The Big" went on to hyperbolize that the US has "liberated more people ... than any other nation in the history of the world" and to call the charges about Gitmo "peddling lies" - is actually to admit to its importance. Despite his attempt at an attitude of flip unconcern, it seems obvious that Amnesty's "scathing" criticism of the US has hit a nerve and the administration has given thought to how it will try to recover.

But Amnesty International is not a group to back down in the face of official blathering.
[William] Schulz[, executive director of Amnesty International USA,] responded to Cheney's comments: "It doesn't matter whether he takes Amnesty International seriously.

"He doesn't take torture seriously; he doesn't take the Geneva Convention seriously; he doesn't take due process rights seriously; and he doesn't take international law seriously.

"And that is more important than whether he takes Amnesty International seriously."
You go, guy.

Footnote: News accounts of AI's report often don't do it justice. So try this for the flavor:
The US-led "war on terror" continued to undermine human rights in the name of security, despite growing international outrage at evidence of US war crimes, including torture, against detainees. ...

The blatant disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in the "war on terror" continued to make a mockery of President George Bush's claims that the USA was the global champion of human rights. Images of detainees in US custody tortured in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked the world. War crimes in Iraq, and mounting evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody in other countries, sent an unequivocal message to the world that human rights may be sacrificed ostensibly in the name of security.
Amnesty, which usually uses measured language, is clearly getting fed up with the barrage of lies and the spew of evil coming out of the White House. Good for them.

Always looking on the dark side

According to an AP story out of Marietta, Georgia,
[t]hree school districts in the Atlanta area last week became the first in the country to offer the parental-monitoring option of an electronic lunch payment system called Mealpay.com, created by Horizon Software International of Loganville, Ga. ...

For two years, the payment system, used by 1,000 school districts in 21 states, has allowed parents to electronically prepay for student lunches. Students type in their identification number before the cafeteria cashier rings up each day's lunch bill. The bill then is deducted from the student's account.

The system was initially designed as a convenient way to make sure children bought lunch without worrying that lunch money would get lost, spent on other things or stolen.

However, these days parents increasingly are interested in what their kids eat away from home. It was requests from concerned parents that prompted Horizon Software to develop the online meal-monitoring option.
With this system, parents can monitor everything their children buy for lunch, even that for which they pay in cash out of their own pocket: That, too, is recorded.

School officials say it will "get parents' involvement" in what the kids are eating. I say it's just another step down the slope to a total surveillance society, where everything you do can be watched and recorded by someone with more power than you. (Remember, in this case it's not even just the parents who can take note of every food purchase; the school can, too.)

Government watching your every step on the streets. Businesses tracking your every purchase and how you use it, even to where you put it in your house. Car manufacturers helping police watch how you drive. Bosses surreptitiously tracking employees. Right down to spouses secretly keeping tabs on spouses and parents monitoring children everywhere they go.

I think I need to go re-read Erich Fromm's book Escape From Freedom. It won't help, but just maybe it'll help things make more sense.

Footnote: Regarding school lunches, Dr. Douglas Kamerow, an obesity expert at RTI International, said the biggest challenge is "moving things clearly not good for kids out and making the choices more appealing."

Oh, my - that thinking is, like, so 20th century! Electronic monitoring is today, man! It's cool!

Thought for the day, redux

I was at a Memorial Day - well, I can't really call it a demonstration, what is was, was about a dozen of us standing on the sidewalk as the town's Memorial Day parade passed by, holding signs like "Support the Troops - Bring Them Home" and "Save the Earth - Send Dubya to the Moon."

Now, admittedly I'm in a very blue state but still it was gratifying to see the number of smiles and positive reactions we got from marchers, including some elected officials, someone in the Disabled American Veterans contingent, and several uniformed National Guardsmen. Even a couple of the on-duty cops snuck in a thumbs up.

One among our number remarked that he was frustrated that there aren't more and bigger demonstrations demanding an end to the war. He recalled the anti-Vietnam protests and suggested the difference now is that there is no draft. "If we had a draft, then you'd see people pouring into the streets."

It's a common sentiment; I've certainly come across it before and I suspect many of you have, too. It's born of a sense of genuine frustration: Why are people not rising up in unified anger at the deaths, the lies, the brutalities? We look back at the massive outpouring of dissent during Vietnam and wonder what's gone wrong in the interim that we have become such passive sheep - no, not sheep really, more like disinterested onlookers - in the face of horror.

The comparison is more than depressing, it's deeply discouraging - or rather, it would be if it were an accurate one. While we certainly need to push harder and do more to oppose the murderous insanity we have inflicted on Iraq, we also need to be fair to ourselves if we are to avoid the sentiments of my companion today, who confessed he felt like just giving up.

The Vietnam protests we remember, the big dramatic marches, took place only after years of organizing and years of war. The first US "advisors" arrived in Vietnam in the latter 1950s and, while not formally called "combat troops," US soldiers became actively involved in firefights starting in early 1962.

Even so, the first national demonstration against the war did not take place until April, 1965, more than three years later. About 15,000-20,000 people came to DC to call for a US withdrawal, a turnout that surprised even the organizers. So the first point is that, unlike Vietnam, we were turning out people in significant numbers even before the war began.

A month before that first national rally, in March, 1965, Lyndon Johnson had approved sending of the first openly-designated combat troops to Vietnam to supplement the 23,000 "advisors" already there. And two months before, in February, he had approved starting an on-going campaign of bombing attacks on North Vietnam.
Opinion polls taken in the U.S. shortly after the bombing indicate a 70 percent approval rating for the President and an 80 percent approval of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
That's a level of support that I don't think Bush ever had for attacking Iraq.

The first really major demonstration against the Vietnam war was in October, 1967 at the Pentagon: Some 50,000 were there. This is more than two years after combat troops were introduced, more than five years since combat operations actually started. And it was at a time when there were over 400,000 US troops in Vietnam (the total hit 485,000 by the end of the year).

The really massive demonstrations we remember, the ones from 1968, the Moratorium demonstrations in October and November, 1969, the explosion of protest on college campuses in the wake of the invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970, the drama of Mayday in 1971, these occurred after years of war that dwarf US casualties in Iraq: In 1968, at the height of the war, with over 500,000 US troops in Vietnam, US deaths were running at nearly 320 a week; total US casualties, dead and wounded, approached 2000 a week. Total deaths in Vietnam, US and Vietnamese, military and civilian, were estimated at 300 a day.

Don't forget: There was a draft throughout this time. Even so, it took six years of combat operations, more than three years of full-blown war, to generate those massive protests. Yes, the fact of the draft drove some of that opposition, but it remains true that the existence of the draft did not prevent the massive troop buildup.

Nor, it would seem, did it hasten opposition to the war, since we seem to be capable of generating a lot of opposition without it. Hundreds of thousands on the streets before the war (yes, millions around the world; I'm just looking at the US now); hundreds of thousands on the first anniversary of the invasion; upwards of a half-million at the Republican National Convention last fall; and while no one seems to have a count of the number that turned out on the second anniversary in March, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) had a list of 765 places covering all 50 states where actions took place, a figure considerably more than double that of the year before.

This is not to say we've done enough or that we can or should rest on our laurels. If anything, it's to say the opposite: To buck up, to carry on, to do more and do it harder: To be encouraged in our efforts by realizing how far we have come, how much we have accomplished.

One last point of comparison: According to a Harris poll taken the first week of May, the public's view of Shrub's "handling of Iraq" is a negative one by 61% to 37%, almost exactly the reverse of what it was two years ago. What's more,
[b]y 54 to 26 percent, American adults are not confident that U.S. policies in Iraq will be successful. ...

The number of adults who say that taking military action against Iraq was the right thing to do has declined to 39 percent.... In addition the number who thinks that this was the wrong thing to do has increased to its highest level - 48 percent....
It was not until sometime in 1967, after five years of combat-related deaths and more than two years after the start of full-scale combat before any poll indicated a plurality of Americans questioned the war in Vietnam.

When the shift happened, though, it definitely happened: In 1966, LBJ was the dominant force in Democratic party politics. In 1968 he pulled out of the race for the nomination for president. Things can and do change. And now we can truthfully, clearly, forcefully, say what has become undeniable: On this, on the war in Iraq, we - the protestors, the opponents, the difficult sorts who don't understand the political realities of triangulation - are the voice of the American people.

And slowly, painfully, with too much blood shed and too many lives lost and too much hatred generated, but still, slowly - we are winning.

Footnote: One more Vietnam connection: I mentioned to my co-protestor that even in our oh-so-blue state, there was work to do, noting that the $82 billion "supplemental" appropriation for war in Afghanistan and Iraq had passed with the support of both our senators. He suggested that maybe they were of the "now that we're there, how do we get out?" way of thinking.

"Just like we answered during Vietnam," I said. "On boats."

Thought for the day

Today, there will be many who will choose to take a moment of silence to remember those who have been killed in war. If you are so moved, please do.

But in that silent moment remember, too, the many nonviolent warriors who struggled, searched, sacrificed, for justice and freedom, who remain without songs or memorials to celebrate their lives or their passing, but who at some moment stood weaponless against the machinery of oppression and showed in their simple "No more" a force that can move history.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


What is Adjustable Rate Mortgage?

World Cities

The birthplace of Nero's mother, this city on the Rhine is well known for its perfumes.

As we say, not as we do

There are some things that even when they are not a surprise they still leave you shaking you head in wonder. This is surely such an example.
Washington (Reuters, May 27) - Washington on Friday rejected Venezuela's initial efforts to extradite a Cuban exile wanted for an airliner bombing, in a case that could challenge the U.S. commitment to fight all forms of terrorism.

The Bush administration told Venezuela its request that Luis Posada Carriles be arrested with a view to extradition was "clearly inadequate" because it lacked supporting evidence, a State Department official, who asked not to be named, told reporters.
Adding conscious insult to conscious injury, the same official suggested that Venezuela actually doesn't want Posada and deliberately submitted an application it knew would be rejected because the real purpose was to embarrass the US.

What a bunch of flaming crap. Posada's rap sheet is both long and well-known. Peter Kornbluth of the National Security Archive and Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, ran it down in the Baltimore Sun earlier this month:

- In 1976 he masterminded the blowing up of a civilian Cuban airliner, killing all 73 people on board. He was arrested and jailed in Venezuela, but in 1985 he either escaped or bribed his way out of prison.

- In 1997, Posada directed a series of hotel bombings in Havana, acts for which he took responsibility in an interview with a New York Times reporter.

- In November 2000, he was convicted of leading a conspiracy planning to assassinate Fidel Castro during a visit to Panama by blowing up a car full of explosives. In 2004, he was unexpectedly pardoned.

As Kornbluth and Sweig say,
Mr. Posada is one of the world's most unremitting purveyors of violence. Widely considered the godfather of Cuban exile efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro, the 77-year-old self-proclaimed freedom fighter has practiced the art of sabotage, bombing and attempted assassination since the early 1960s, when he was trained in demolition and guerrilla warfare by the Central Intelligence Agency.
This is the guy of who the US is now saying it hasn't been given enough evidence to extradite.

Even in today's world, it's hard to really grasp the depth of venality in that simple statement. How much evidence did the US have against the 1200 Muslim men it rounded up in the wake of 9/11, men held incommunicado for months? How much evidence did it have against the 14,000 Arab and Muslim men and boys it sought to deport under the notorious registration program? How much evidence did it have against the prisoners at Gitmo, once called the "worst of the worst" but many of who have now been released without charge? How much evidence did it have against Yaser Esam Hamdi, who they kept locked up for over two years without legal representation only to release (with the proviso he give up his US citizenship, which I doubt he wanted at that point) when the Supreme Court ruled they'd have to bring him to trial or let him go? How much evidence do they have against Jose Padilla, who is still in prison, three years without a charge being filed?

And this government, this White House, wants to say there is not enough evidence to extradite Posada, even though, at minimum, there is no doubt that he is a fugitive from a Venezuelan prison?

As I said: I wind up shaking my head even as I am not surprised.

Part of the reason for my lack of surprise is that
[t]he case presents U.S. authorities with the dilemma of how to reconcile traditional sympathy for politically influential Cuban exiles with Washington's firm stance against terrorism suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
What's more, Posada is said to be considering asking for asylum, based in part on his long connection to the CIA. For one example, after his escape from Venezuela he went to El Salvador, where he worked with the CIA on running guns to the contras. After a plane carrying Eugene Hasenfus was shot down in October, 1986, bringing the scheme to light, Hasenfus identified a photo of Posada as one of two men who "directly supervised" the flights. (Irresistable sidebar: When I first heard about the Hasenfus flight and the connections of the CIA to gun running, I laughed that all we needed was to discover the guns had been purchased with proceeds from the emerging sale of arms to Iran! It would be "a perfect circle of death," I said. Little did I know....)

But this talk about a "dilemma" simply confuses the issue. If the Shrub team meant what it says about "fighting terrorism," if they actually intended to live up to their own rhetoric, if the War on Terror(c)(reg.)(pat.pend.) was a real undertaking instead of a flimsy PR cover for militarism and a new Pax Americana, there would be no dilemma. There would be no conflict. There would be no decision to be made - and Posada would be on his way back to Venezuela or at least be held in expectation of being extradited when what could only be technical details are taken care of.

"Do as I say, not as I do" is sometimes a sorrowful recognition of one's inability to live up to the standards one has set. Sometimes it's a flip reference to the fact that you feel free to set different standards for yourself. And sometimes, as here, it reveals the fact that you have no standards at all.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


What is read-only memory?

Acronyms for $2000

For a home buyer, ARM is this figure.

World Cities

You don't say!

Filed under the heading "your great aunt Tillie could have told you that" comes the finding in a study headed by Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU, that
[w]eight can have startling consequences for women's financial well-being, careers, and marriage prospects, according to research that found that women ... suffer economic harm from being overweight.

The first-of-its-kind study found that the heavier the woman, the worse her financial situation will be 13 to 15 years in the future.

In fact, the effect of weight on women's fortunes was so strong, that women with high school diplomas will have the same future household income as women with a four-year college degree but who weigh twice as much, according to the study. ...

"This is one of the core fundamental bases of gender inequality in the United States. Women are held to standards of objectified physical appearance that men are not," [Conley said.]
That women are held to different standards than men, that their physical attractiveness has great significance for how they are judged, is old stuff, well-established and questioned only by those with an interest in maintaining the status quo of sexism. In fact, the emphasis on a woman's appearance is such that when she is part of a couple, her attractiveness has a great deal to do with how they are seen as a unit: an average-looking man is thought more attractive when his female partner is more attractive and less so when she is less so.

What is new about the study is that it expresses that difference in a way that shows clear, measurable harm - not even psychological harm of the kind at which right-wingers love to sneer ("Aw, were her feelings hurt? Poor baby!") but actual, countable, dollars and cents harm, a form of harm even they have to recognize.

However, there was another finding that did surprise me:
For men, extra weight had no impact on their earnings, careers, or marriage prospects.
If they'd found a smaller impact, even a dramatically smaller one, I would have said "of course." But the finding that there was no impact, that is, saying in effect that there is no discrimination against overweight men as compared to "normal" weight men strikes me as very questionable. For one thing, the tendency of men to put more emphasis on appearance applies not only to their view of women but to their view of themselves.
[M]en believe an attractive face is more important to women than empathy and the ability to talk about feelings. They also put more emphasis on body build than women do. In general, men judge their physique to be more important than women do.
And the fact that attractive people are held in higher regard than less attractive people has been established by multiple studies. For one thing, all else being equal, physically attractive people are more likely to be hired for jobs than unattractive people (although the effect weakens in the case of equivalent but very high quality resumes). What's more,
[p]eople routinely guess that physically attractive people are smarter, more successful, more sociable, more dominant, sexually warmer, have better mental health, and have higher self esteem than their physically unattractive counterparts.
So while I find the result for women to be what would be expected given our biases based on appearance, I admit to being unconvinced that fat men suffer no economic ill-effects due to prejudice.

They seek him here, they seek him there....

So it seems, according to AP for today,
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is in good health and is running his terror organization, according to an Internet posting Friday purportedly from the group's spokesman - the latest claim about the fate of Iraq's most-wanted militant.

There was no way to verify the statement's authenticity, but it follows several recent postings - including one from the same spokesman - that al-Zarqawi was wounded. Conflicting reports on whether he had died or been taken abroad for treatment led to speculation about confusion or jockeying for position among underlings.
In recent days, then, he has been described as wounded (maybe shot in the lung), dead, the target of an internal power play, and just fine, thank you very much for asking.

During the interregnum demarcated by "he's shot" and "he's fine," there was a fair amount of speculation on what the effect on the insurgency of Zarqawi's incapacitation or death would be. Despite all the talking (and writing) heads, the answer was clear all along: precisely the same as the capture of Saddam Hussein had. That is, none at all.

It's amazing how after all this time the US military, the White House, and their press corps lackeys insist on seeing the insurgency as a hierarchical organization rather than a mass of pissed-off people with overlapping but not identical convictions and goals. That extreme tunnel vision leads them to truly nonsensical arguments, such as those found in the already-notorious article in the May 15 New York Times magazine:
American forces in Iraq have often been accused of being slow to apply hard lessons from Vietnam and elsewhere about how to fight an insurgency. Yet, it seems from the outside, no one has shrugged off the lessons of history more decisively than the insurgents themselves.

The insurgents in Iraq are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis, in building international legitimacy, or in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology or cause beyond expelling the Americans. They have put forward no single charismatic leader, developed no alternative government or political wing, displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern now.
Oh my, this is all so confusing, all so distressing! We just can't understand what they're up to! They have no charismatic leader! No political wing! No unified ideology beyond expelling the Americans! No...

Uh, hello?

Now, of course, there have been those of us who have argued from the very beginning that "expelling the Americans" is exactly the one thing that unites the insurgency. In fact, it serves as a good example of what's known as "leaderless resistance," a resistance movement characterized by small, independent cells driven by a common, even if vague, goal with little direct communication. The term was popularized by white supremacist Louis Beam in a series of essays in the 1980s and '90s. However, the concept, if not the term, appears considerably earlier in some discussions of nonviolent national defense. Its disadvantage is that it inhibits coordinated actions; its advantage is that, as the US has discovered to its frustration, it's difficult to undermine and all but impossible to penetrate because there is no organization that could be undermined or penetrated.

(Computer security researcher Simson L. Garfinkel has a decent discussion of leaderless resistance here; another writer, who takes some issue - as do I - with Garfinkel's seeming equation of leaderless resistance with both secrecy and evil ends chimes in here.)

But (and I use the word advisedly) our government, apparently suffering from a political version of Usher Syndrome, remains deaf even to its own words, blind even to its own insights. Yes, surely some elements of the resistance are concerned with more than solely "US out" and are looking to ultimately returning to a position of dominance. Yes, surely some of the murders of Shiites (and Christians, who have also been targeted) are driven not just by the notion of them as collaborators but by sectarian considerations. Yes, surely there are even those whose purpose is to provoke a sectarian war, even being eager to do heavenly battle with the infidels and apostates.

But yes, just as surely there are many - many - among the insurgents whose goal, whose "unified ideology" is indeed "expelling the Americans" and who might - I say might - even be convinced to engage in a classically political rather than an armed struggle if they could be confident that, win or lose as they as individuals might, in the end it would still be Iraqis, not Americans, in charge. And in the meantime, for who the very presence of foreign troops acts as a daily recruitment poster for other, more brutal, more selfish and fanatically sectarian, elements of that struggle.

The very nature of the insurgency strengthens, gives real weight to, the assertion I have made over and over again: Pulling out will not end the violence - but the violence will not end until we pull out. Set the Damn Date and Get The Hell Out!

Footnote One: In a further illustration, if one is thought necessary, of the obsequiousness of our mass media, in the stories about Zarqawi, reports of his condition were dutifully (and properly) reported as rumors that "could not be verified" - except, that is, when the Iraqi government reported on them, in which case the words "confirmed" and "confirmation" made regular appearances.

Footnote Two: The Sunday Times (UK) is reporting that according to a "senior commander of the Iraqi insurgency," Zarqawi was injured by shrapnel in a US missile attack three weeks ago and has fled the country. I have my doubts about the report because, to be blunt, I don't think there is such a thing as a senior commander of the Iraqi insurgency. At the same time, I admit to the possibility that the Times may have a source that labels himself (I'm prepared to assume it's a him) as such.

Friday, May 27, 2005


What is personal identification number?

Acronyms for $1200

In your computer, ROM stands for this.

Slow down!

If there's one thing the glorious Free Market (may Its name be praised) can't stand interrupting the paeans to competition that are Its tribute, it's competition. Thus this from UPI for Friday:
The possibility that Nebraska's public power utilities might offer broadband over power lines has riled top state lawmakers.

Legislative Speaker Kermit Brashear, R-Omaha, introduced and led consideration this week of a bill that would keep cities and towns from competing against private telecommunications companies by providing high-speed Internet services to residents, the Omaha World-Herald reported Friday.
Brashear insisted that the entire state could now be serviced by private corporations either by "physical plant" or by satellite. He admitted such service could be poor (not to mention those who couldn't afford it), but hey, don't you believe in the Free Market (may Its name be praised)?

Searching... searching...

Apparently, in the season finale of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," one cop, frustrated by the lack of clues in the murder of two judges by right-wing extremists, says "Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."

Now, DeLay is all huffy and wounded, saying the "manipulation" of his name is a "trivialization" of the issue of judicial security. It shows "reckless disregard," it's a "great disservice," he pouted. DeLay, who in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case famously said of the judges involved "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior," also called the line in the show a "slur."

I've been trying to find where Tom DeLay's hurt feelings register on my I-Care-O-Meter. Looking lower... lower....

Thursday, May 26, 2005


What is gelato?

Acronyms for $400

Never give out your PIN, this number.

Something about silk and sow's ears

Just four days after I commented that it's been "over two years since the invasion and they haven't even secured the damn capitol," it was announced that
Iraq's government will pour tens of thousands of Iraqi troops into Baghdad in an unprecedented operation to seal off the city and hunt insurgents who have launched a fresh wave of violence, ministers said Thursday.

Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi said 40,000 Iraqi troops would be deployed in Baghdad for Operation Thunder, the biggest Iraqi military operation since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Backed by the 10,000 U.S. troops in Baghdad, they will set up hundreds of checkpoints and block roads into the capital. ...

"We will also impose a stringent blockade around Baghdad, like a bracelet around an arm, God willing, and God be with us in our crackdown on the terrorists' infrastructure. No one will be able to penetrate this blockade," Dulaimi said.
He also promised "unprecedented, strict security measures."

At the same press conference, Interior Minister Bayan Jabor said "These operations will aim to turn the government's role from defensive to offensive."

Right. This is like one of those old cliche Westerns with natives attacking a wagon train. Only in this case, when the wagons pull into a circle, the natives are supposed to go "Oh, no, what ever will we do now? They're going into an offensive role!"

Why am I not surprised?

When is Scottie McMouthpiece going to apologize to Newsweek?
U.S. officials have substantiated five cases in which military guards or interrogators mishandled the Quran of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay....

In three of the five cases, the mishandling appears to have been deliberate. In the other two, it apparently was accidental.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon insists it has found "no credible evidence" to confirm a charge that a Qur'an was flushed in a toilet, now limiting the gripe against Newsweek to the form of the desecration, rather than the fact of it. If Newsweek stepped back from its story, the Pentagon is in full flight.

Of course, just days ago the brass was claiming it had no credible evidence of any desecration at all, so this still may not be the final word:
Pentagon officials said last week that they had not investigated claims of Koran desecration because they had not been presented with any specific or credible allegations of such activity.
But in addition to the claims of released detainees and their lawyers and the confidential reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross, it now emerges thanks to documents pried out of the FBI by the ACLU,
[d]etainees told FBI interrogators as early as April 2002 that mistreatment of the Koran was widespread at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay....
So in the first several months of the camp's operation, the generals had multiple reports supplied by at least two separate sources - yet they refused to even investigate. So yes, this is unlikely to be the final word.

In fact, there is already more to this, since the DOD's understanding of what would be considered desecration is oddly limited: Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander at Gitmo, said
"We did identify 13 incidents of alleged mishandling of the Quran by Joint Task Force personnel. Ten of those were by a guard and three by interrogators." ...

Eight of the 13 alleged incidents of Quran mishandling that Hood has looked into were not substantiated. Six involved guards who either accidentally touched a Quran or "touched it within the scope of his duties" or did not touch it at all. ...

The other two cases in which the allegation was not substantiated involved interrogators who either touched or "stood over" a Quran during an interrogation, Hood said.
Now, consider that some Muslims, based on their understanding of their faith, go through a ritual cleansing before they will touch a Qur'an. Couldn't then a soldier, who surely had not been cleansed, touching it be considered a form of desecration? Even if we want to say that it was "within the scope of his duties" or in some way necessary, couldn't the military at least acknowledge that some prisoners could see it as offensive instead of dismissing it?

And what of "standing over" a Qur'an? Without knowing precise circumstances it's hard to be sure, but couldn't that have been seen as a deliberate insult, particularly since it happened during an interrogation? Can't the military at least see how the prisoner could have seen it that way?

There may well be a fair amount of eye of the beholder going on in the charges of desecration beyond those admitted to have been deliberate. The military's seeming inability to consider that possibility is disturbing - but, again and unhappily, not surprising.

On second thought

The North Carolina minister who put up a sign outside his church saying "The Koran needs to be flushed" has apologized and removed the sign.
In a statement, [Rev. Creighton] Lovelace [of Danieltown Baptist Church] says that after prayer and reflection, he now realizes that Muslims revere their holy book more than many Americans revere the Bible. He says the church sign's message has been replaced with a new one that reads "Jesus said, 'I am the way.'"
Lovelace had previously been unrepentant, declaring the sign to be
"a statement supporting the word of God and that it (the Bible) is above all and that any other religious book that does not teach Christ as savior and lord as the 66 books of the Bible teaches it, is wrong."
He added that any such book "is automatically written off" and that if anyone was offended, "we must be doing something right."

I wonder if some of his "prayer and reflection" was prompted by people paying attention to the wider meaning of his words, specifically "Christ as savior" and the reference to "the 66 books of the Bible." There's a subtle point here: While the version of the Bible normally used by Protestant denominations has 66 books, the Roman Catholic Bible contains 73 books - and the Greek Orthodox Bible has 76 plus an additional Psalm!

So those the minister slammed as "trying to defeat people from the way of true righteousness" included not only Muslims (along with followers of Hinduism, Baha'i, and any other non-Western mainstream religion), but also Jews, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox.

Christian love in action. A wonderful thing to see.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Who is Howard Johnson?

We All Scream for Ice Cream for $1000

Romans scream for ice cream with this Italian word for ice cream.

And stay quiet!

A follow-up to yesterday's comments on the filibuster.

- As you likely know, in the wake of the "compromise," the Senate voted 81-18 to end debate on the nomination of Priscilla Owen to the federal appeals court for the 5th Circuit. (A quick parenthetical note: Last week, before the "compromise," a legal analyst suggested that the Dems go ahead an compromise on Owen because the 5th Circuit is already so bad that her presence won't make any difference.) Just for the record, here are the 18 senators who stood fast:

Joe Biden (D-DE), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jon Corzine (D-NJ), Mark Dayton (D-MN), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Jim Jeffords (I-VT), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-AR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

- The Senate then approved Owen by a vote of 55-43. Two Dums voted in favor of her: Robert Byrd (WV) and Mary Landrieu (LA). Lincoln Chafee (RI) was the only GOPper to vote against here, as did independent Jim Jeffords. Republican Ted Stevens (AK) voted present.

- Byrd and Landrieu were part of the Gang of Seven making up the Dim side of the "compromise." Maybe it wasn't as much of a "compromise" for them as it perhaps was for some others. Another member of the gang was Daniel Inouye (HI), who, curiously, did not vote on either the cloture motion or the nomination.

- One last note on this is that on Monday, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced H.J. Res. 51, "Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to allow debate to be closed on any measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate only by unanimous consent or the concurrence of three-fifths of the Senators." That is, writing the current filibuster rule into the Constitution. It has absolutely zero chance of passing and has the failing of implying that Frist and Co. are right in saying the filibuster is "unconstitutional" despite the Constitution's clear statement that "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings." Still, I find it an amusing stick in the eye of the GOPpers.

Wave for the camera

Or the washing machine. Or the stereo. Or the lights.

For some time, people have been talking about using the oceans to produce environmentally-friendly electricity by harnessing the power either of the tides or the waves. Now it looks as though commercial wave power may be about to happen. From AP for May 21:
A pioneering commercial wave power plant, producing clean and renewable energy, is to go on line off Portugal in 2006, after a contract was signed this week, project partners announced Friday. ...

The power generators, like giant, orange sausages floating on water, will use wave motion to produce electricity by pumping high-pressure fluids to motors, Norsk Hydro AS said. The Norwegian energy company is a major backer of the project.
The first phase of the project is intended to produce electricity equivalent to the amount used by 1500 Portuguese homes. If successful, the project, using generators developed by a company in Scotland, will be ramped up ten-fold.

However, this sort of large-scale project is not the only - nor even necessarily the best - way to go. The Schumacher Institute in the UK and the Schumacher Society in the US, drawing on the works of E. F. Schumacher (author of the book Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered) try to make that point by promoting community-level economics and the important idea of "appropriate level technology."

Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (usually known simply as IEEE or I-triple-E), reports on what can be considered a clear example of that idea.
Generating electricity from wave power is an old idea that gained new life when the quest for alternative energy sources began in the 1970s. Now 17-year-old Aaron Goldin has found an elegant way to do the job with a buoy, a gyroscope, and a generator. ...

The fruit of his labor, the "Autonomous Gyroscopic Ocean-Wave-Powered Generator," is cobbled together from parts scavenged from an old tape recorder and other household appliances.

The result, dubbed Gyro-Gen, achieves efficiency through simplicity. When wave motion causes the buoy in which the device is encased to roll, gyroscopic precession causes the disk in the gyroscope to rotate. The disk turns a crank on a generator.... Goldin points out that, unlike several other wave-power devices now being tested, his requires no hydraulics or other intermediate system to transfer power to the generator.
The device only delivers about 3 watts of power, but that's enough to
charge a battery or electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen that could be stored for later use in a fuel cell. But Goldin's main hope is to develop a scaled-up version that will yield a kilowatt.
Again, without the need for hydraulics of the sort necessary for the large-scale version being planned for off Portugal. So not much power but it's simplicity (and likely far lower cost) could well make it a much better choice for coastal communities in Africa and Asia that couldn't afford (or, at least at present, make use of the delivered power of) large-scale generation.

How good is his idea? Good enough to have won the $100,000 grand prize in the Siemens-Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science & Technology.

Footnote: Speaking of fuel cells, Reuters said this past Friday that
[a] small British technology company has claimed it is on the verge of unlocking the vast potential of fuel cells as a commercially viable source of green energy.

Cambridge-based CMR Fuel Cells said it had made a breakthrough with a new design of fuel cell that is a 10th of the size of existing models and small enough to replace conventional batteries in laptop computers. ...

CMR said the new design would run for four times longer than conventional batteries in a laptop or other devices like power tools.

"It's also instantly rechargeable," said Michael Priestnall, CMR's chief technology officer.
Fuel cells, which produce energy via chemical reactions with a hypothetical efficiency (emphasis on hypothetical) approaching 100%, have long been another hope for environmentally-friendly energy but one that has yet to even vaguely approach its claimed potential. But CMR claims its new design is to older ones as integrated circuits were to transistors. While I certainly suspect that's PR hyperbole, I still can hope it's true. We'll just have to see if the cake is as good as the recipe sounds.

Just noted in passing

Time does have a way of marching on. Via Raw Story, we learn that the Guardian (UK) reports today that Rep. Walter Jones, the man behind the move to change french fries and french toast to "freedom" fries and toast in Congressional cafeterias says
it was meant as a "light-hearted gesture".

But the name change, still in force, made headlines around the world, both for what it said about US-French relations and its pettiness.

Now Mr Jones appears to agree. Asked by a reporter for the North Carolina News and Observer about the name-change campaign - an idea Mr Jones said at the time came to him by a combination of God's hand and a constituent's request - he replied: "I wish it had never happened."
What's more, Jones, who voted for the war, is now a strong opponent who had lined the hallway outside his office with pictures of the "faces of the fallen".
"If we were given misinformation intentionally by people in this administration, to commit the authority to send boys, and in some instances girls, to go into Iraq, that is wrong," he told the newspaper. "Congress must be told the truth."
Well, I suppose I shouldn't say we told you so, Mr. Jones, but we told you so - repeatedly. But welcome anyway.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


What is Rocky Road?

We All Scream for Ice Cream for $600

This man who cowrote "I Scream, You Scream (We All Scream for Ice Cream)" isn't the one with the twenty-eight ice-cream flavors.

Shut up! Just shut up!

Updated I haven't written anything here about the filibuster battle because, as I've said before, I tend to leave aside issues that seem to be getting more than adequate attention elsewhere. But I did want to mention at least in passing my reactions to the "compromise."

First things first: I'm quite comfortable with the filibuster as it exists. Yes, it's been used for bad ends - blocking civil rights legislation being the most notorious - but it's a legislative tool, and like most tools, including parliamentary procedures, it can be used for both good and bad ends. It just seems to me that some matters are sufficiently important that it should take more than a bare majority - or at least more than a bare majority being prepared to vote - to approve them.

Second things second: There was a lot of misunderstanding as to what the so-called nuclear option involved. In the event of a failed cloture motion, Bill Frist [R-God's Chosen] planned on calling for a ruling from the chair (occupied by the president of the Senate: VP "The Big" Dick Cheney) that filibustering a judicial nominee violated the Senate's duty to "advise and consent" on such nominees. Cheney would say it did, the decision of the chair would be appealed to the whole body - and it would only take a majority to uphold it. With a 55-45 majority, the GOPpers could have five defections and still win on a tie-breaker cast by Cheney. And boom! filibusters of judicial nominees are gone.

(A question I wanted someone to ask was why just judicial nominations, leaving others subject to filibuster? Why should it be easier to approve a lifetime appointee to the federal bench than some Secretary of Transportation whose term in office is highly unlikely to survive beyond the administration that appointed them? So far as I know, no one asked.)

The Democrats responded, at least initially, by threatening to use the Senate's own rules to bring business to a halt: For example, holding committee hearings requires "unanimous consent" among its members. Usually, that's just a formality - but it doesn't have to be.

So this group of 14 senators, seven from each party, got all flustered and bothered and after huffing and puffing for a couple of weeks came up with the "compromise," the Solomon-like answer to their most fervent prayers. In brief, the members of the group pledged to vote in favor of cloture on three of Shrub's radical right nominees to the federal bench - Priscilla Owen, William Pryor Jr., and Janice Rogers Brown - but to vote against an attempt to abolish the filibuster, i.e., to vote to overturn Cheney's expected ruling on its constitutionality.

The kicker comes with the promise to avoid supporting most filibusters of judges - or, as the agreement puts it.
future judicial nominations should "only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances."
While many of the news reports have said that what constitutes "extraordinary" circumstances is left to the conscience of individual Democratic senators, that's not what the agreement actually says: It says it's left to individual senators, period. The difference is significant in that it provides a convenient escape clause for the GOPpers:
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said the agreement was conditional on Democrats upholding their end of the deal.
It thus would be entirely in keeping with the letter of the deal for the GOPpers to at any useful point in the future to say of a Dem attempt at a filibuster, "This is not an extraordinary circumstance! The deal's off!" With Frist saying the nuclear option is still on the table and that he "will monitor this agreement closely," that is by no means an idle concern.

Indeed, there are more reasons than that to wonder how long this deal will last.
[John] Warner[, R-VA,] said he was led to compromise because of one unanswered question that guided him through the process: "What would happen to this Senate if the nuclear option were done?"

"No one was able to answer that to my satisfaction," he said. ...

"We have reached an agreement to try to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice that would have had - in the view of all 14 of us - lasting impact, damaging impact on the institution," [John] McCain[, R-AZ] said.
Okay - if the seven Republican senators involved in this were that concerned over what Frist's proposal would do to the functioning of the Senate, why not just oppose it? Why hold it hostage to approval of three radical right judges? That, to echo Warner, is a question no one has answered to my satisfaction - and it's one that gives me pause about what will happen the next time a judge (or even some other appointment) that the White House really wants comes along.

In all, the "compromise" thus amounts to allowing three of Shrub's radical right nominees lifetime positions on the federal bench (plus three more for who Harry Reid has pledged to "clear the way") in return for an unenforceable promise to not re-light the fuse of the nuclear option in the all-too-likely future event that a couple of the GOPpers who signed off on the deal think the Dims are getting too uppity. This is what Harry "Speak loudly and carry a small stick" Reid called sending
the "radical arm of the Republican base" the "undeniable" message that "abuse of power will not be tolerated."
All this leads me to agree with one analyst who said the agreement substitutes shooting the filibuster in the head with a slow death by asphyxiation. In fact, I'd go beyond that to say it's a death knell: The net effect is that these "moderate" (Sidebar: It shows how far things have moved that McCain is apparently too "moderate" to be called a "conservative.") GOPpers have said to those across the aisle "you can filibuster whenever we decide it's okay" and the Dummycrats have swallowed it whole.

And while some, like
Dr. James C. Dobson, head of the Focus on the Family ... [say] the agreement "represents a complete bailout and a betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats,"
others know better. In a press release mockingly titled "Custer Declares Victory! Dewey Wins Presidency! Liberals Claim Defeat of The Right!" the radright group Progress for America declared through its president, Brian McCabe,
"We got what we really want: President Bush's conservative judicial nominees on the bench and an almost ironclad agreement for an up or down vote for any of the president's potential Supreme Court nominees in the future."
So in answer to the question "What else were the Democrats supposed to do," they were supposed to say no. Might Frist have then pulled the trigger? Yes, although I do wonder when push came to shove if enough GOPpers would really be willing to blast a hole in 200 years of Senate tradition; that reluctance was behind Frists' repeated delays in going ahead despite the extremists' pressure on him to do so: He couldn't be sure he had the votes. (Most of them would, yes. But that wasn't the question; the question is would enough do it.) But even if he had, even if he had succeeded, the effective outcome here is not much different and Frist still has the option of going nuclear later.

There is one thing (and one thing only) that offers me some hope that this "compromise" will stay the execution of the filibuster at least for a time, so I'll end with it: An often-ignored aspect of the story was mentioned briefly in an AP story which said the nuclear option "threatened the comity the Senate needs to function." I think in our discussions of the whole affair we have tended to overlook how important it is to senators to maintain that atmosphere, or at least the pretense, of collegial courtesy and tradition. That's part of why I wondered just above if Frist actually could have pulled off the nuclear option. I think that had a lot more to do with producing this "compromise" than we have allowed - and could be a deciding factor in any attempt to undermine it.

Updated with the news that ThinkProgress.org quotes Congress Daily PM as saying:
Senate Majority Leader Frist will file for cloture on President Bush’s nomination of William Myers to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later this week, according to sources on and off Capitol Hill, wasting no time in testing the resolve of 14 Republican and Democratic senators who forced at least a temporary halt to the battle over Democratic filibusters of President Bush’s judicial picks.
That's not really a surprise to me; Frist could hardly do otherwise and still have dreams of riding a radright wave into the White House in 2008. He's already getting really bad vibes from some among the far "religious" right (see Dobson's quote) and has to rebuild his cred. (There's a mixed-generation sentence if ever I saw one!) So the real question is what happens when the cloture motion fails, as it assuredly will. What will those "moderate" GOPpers do when it actually comes down to a choice between the Constitution and the Senate's own established procedures on the one hand and party loyalty on the other?

Monday, May 23, 2005


Who is Sir Edmund Hillary?

We All Scream for Ice Cream for $200

Chocolate ice cream with almonds and marshmallows has this alternative name.

Don't worry!

Your personal information is perfectly safe with us. We have privacy rules. Just read our customer agreement for the details. Your privacy is important to us!
AP, May 23 - More than 100,000 customers of Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp. have been notified that their financial records may have been stolen by bank employees and sold to collection agencies.
About 60,000 Bank of America customers and 48,000 of Wachovia are affected so far; a Wachovia spokeswoman admitted they are still getting additional names from police so the number may well go higher.

The theft of the records came to light when police in Hackensack, NJ, arrested nine people in a plot to steal customer records that also involved Commerce Bank and PNC Bank.

And so four more corporate names get added to the growing list of outfits that have seen personal information they keep on us lost, stolen, or hacked, a list that also includes, among other recent entries, MCI, ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, DSW Shoe Warehouse, and California State University at Chico.

Remember, the best way to safeguard your personal information is not to give it out. Anytime anyone wants to know something about you, insist that they justify the need before you supply it. "That's the way we file it" is not an answer; their convenience is not a justification.

Footnote: One thing for which I will never forgive the Stop'n'Shop supermarket chain is that, as far as I personally was aware, they were the first to adopt those outrageous "favored customer" cards, or whatever a given outfit calls the suckers. Those are those cards you have to have nowadays in order to get sale or discount prices. They're supposed to make you feel special, like you're getting preferred treatment - unless, that is, you recall that those discounts used to be available to anyone. Which means that you have given away the personal information you supplied to get the card and gained precisely nothing in return. Yes, you have avoided losing something - access to sale prices - but that's hardly the same.

What gets me about the cards is that the stores will insist that they don't track individual purchases but only aggregates: There is, they will tell you, no file with your name on it. But if that's true, why do they need the personal information in the first place? Aggregate information can easily be gathered from the registers. "Personalized coupons" can be determined based on the particular order being checked out without need for any personal data and if they are based on more than that one order it belies the claim you are not be tracked as an individual. So far as I can see the only logical reason to want that information is to have marketable data on you and your purchasing habits to sell to information brokers with the result that what they know about you gets spread around.

You want proof of that last assertion? Apparently realizing how many people provide fake information in applying for the cards, supermarkets are increasingly demanding that you show ID - and in a few cases, a picture ID - in order to get the flippin' things. I ask again: If you are not being tracked individually, of what use is that information?

One good step deserves another

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a very good online slide show on the hard choices involved in surviving at poverty level. It's definitely worth a look.

Now if the Catholic Church would only recognize how its own positions on abortion and birth control are helping to exacerbate the same difficulties its slide show points out.

Ignorance is bliss

And, apparently, something to be celebrated - or at least promoted in a "museum." Sunday's Kentucky Enquirer fills us in:
Soon, visitors to [Ken] Ham's still-unfinished Creation Museum will experience his view: that God created the world in six, 24-hour days on a planet just 6,000 years old. ...

Undaunted by considerable opponents, Ham's Answers in Genesis ministry is building a $25 million monument to creationism. The largest museum of its kind in the world, it hopes to draw 600,000 people from the Midwest and beyond in its first year. ...

"People will get saved here," Ham says of the museum. "It's going to fire people up. If nothing else, it's going to get them to question their own position of what they believe." ...

"It's a foundational battle," he says, his Australian accent unmistakeable. "You've got to get people believing the right history - and believing that you can trust the Bible."
Ham is something of a one-man creationist campaign, an example of how far ignorance and fanaticism can take you: His Answers in Genesis website claims to get 10 million page views a month; his "Answers...with Ken Ham" radio show is on more than 725 stations worldwide; his newsletter goes to 120,000 people; Creation magazine has 25,000 subscribers in the US. Then there are the talks, the books, and the DVDs. So more exactly, it's a measure of how far ignorance and fanaticism and a fat bank account will go: His ministry has a budget of $14 million a year.
In waging a culture war, Ham has a large number of potential foot soldiers.

Gallup polls since 1982 have consistently shown that about 45 percent of the U.S. population believes that God created humans in their present form sometime within the past 10,000 years.
Which means, sadly but not surprisingly, almost half of our population lives not only in a state of ignorance but in a state of willful ignorance, a deliberate rejection of science and knowledge. It's not often mentioned, but should be, that to embrace creationism is not only to reject evolution, not even to reject all of biology, it's to reject astronomy, which also posits an ancient Earth and an even older universe. It's to reject archaeology, which uses dating methods which depend on radioactive decay, our understanding of which, again, depends on an old Earth. It's to reject chemistry and physics, which underlie the methods used by astronomy and archaeology to reach their conclusions. It's to reject the entire enterprise of science. It is, that is, to reject knowledge per se, to reject learning per se, to reject trying to understand the world.

I've argued before that when people feel stressed, when they feel their personal world (i.e., the society around them) doesn't make sense or is changing in ways they don't understand, they tend to reach back for the seeming safety of old, familiar ideas, to try to recreate an imagined time when things were in what seemed to be their proper order. That is, they become conservative. And the more stressed, the more uncomfortable with the changes, they become, the more conservative they become, unwilling to face what I have previously called "the terrifying prospect of change."

So am I saying that half of my fellow citizens have been scared and confused into turning their backs on knowledge? Yes - that's exactly what I'm saying. That doesn't mean I know what to do about it except to fear that it will get worse before it gets better and to hope that, as others have done before us, we will survive it and maybe even come out better at the end.

When click equals ka-ching!

Some years ago, a light-hearted pastime called "spot that plug" made the rounds of my friends. It consisted, simply enough, of making note of occasions when TV shows and movies engaged in "product placement," where some commercial product was placed in a scene where normally some nondescript item would have been used - for example, a can of Coke on a table instead of some can just labeled "Soda" or with the name of some non-existent company. Or, alternately, a character asking for a "coke" instead of a "cola" or "pop."

Usually such placements were subtle, casual, and not much (if anything) was made of them in the program or movie; rather, they were just a natural part of the scene - which was exactly how they were supposed to work. Yes, it was advertising, but spotting it, when it was supposed to fly below our radar, provided an amusing diversion from some otherwise inane programming.

Oh, the innocent days of youth. AP for Saturday brought the disheartening news:
As a member of the Elite Operations Division in the video game "True Crime: Streets of LA," the character Nick Kang must find his way to a truck heist at the flagship Puma sportswear store. Lucky for him, he has a Motorola handset with built-in global positioning system technology.

In the online game Everquest II, players don't need to leave their fantasy world to satisfy hunger pangs. They can click an icon and have food delivered from the nearest Pizza Hut - within 30 minutes.
Product placement in video games has gone big time: Ad revenues to the game industry are predicted to reach over a half-billion dollars a year by 2009.

And it's gone blatant.
The strategy of insinuating ads into video games was a hot topic at this week's E3 video games trade show, where Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft unveiled their next-generation game consoles. ...

A virtual recreation of Times Square, for instance, would include billboards for products. A NASCAR game might include actual car models decorated with real ads.

And games can do what no other medium can - force players to interact with an ad.

In "Underground 2," players have to perform tricky skateboard stunts involving a Jeep. In the Ubisoft game "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell," players must use a Sony Ericsson cell phone to deal with some challenges.
And it's gone invasive.
Nielsen [Entertainment, the TV ratings outfit,] already has paper diaries in the homes of some gamers to document their game-playing. Now, in conjunction with Activision and Jeep, Nielsen has embedded an electronic marker in each Jeep image included in "Tony Hawk's Underground 2."

Each time a Jeep vehicle is used or appears on the game screen, the electronic tag sends a signal over the Internet to Nielsen, which tracks the hits.
Yeah! Product placement! Brand identification! Forced interaction! Corporate tracking of your game-playing! That's sure my notion of freedom!

Footnote to "good news and bad news" ...

...relating to the "now that we're there" crowd, who think that ethnic conflicts in Iraq will disappear if we just shed a little more blood a little longer.
New Delhi, India (CNN, May 22) - Two movie theaters in New Delhi were struck by explosions Sunday evening, leaving at least 45 people wounded, police said. ...

Both theaters were showing a controversial film that some around the country have called offensive to Sikhs, a minority in India.

Police did not immediately call the explosions the result of attacks, and the exact cause was not known.
Perhaps, but I think we can make a pretty good guess unless you want to posit one flaming hell of a coincidence.

Oh, one other note, a memo to Americans, including the US left: It ain't always about us. Okay?

Sunday, May 22, 2005


What is a vanity?

Twentieth-Century Names

In the 1960s, he built the Khunde Hospital in Nepal with the help of the Lions Club of Auckland.

Just wondering

Reuters tells us that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday that
Venezuela and other Latin American countries could develop nuclear energy as an alternative power source for civilian purposes.

"We are interested too, we must start working on that area... the nuclear area. We could, along with Brazil, with Argentina and others, start investigations into the nuclear sector and ask for help from countries like Iran," Chavez said on his regular Sunday TV program.
Now, there are two questions here with regard to nuclear power. One is, do nations have the right to develop nuclear power for domestic energy production? Legally, yes, they do - and that, by the way, includes Iran. (I note for the record I've previously said that I "don't dismiss the possibility of aggressive intent on Iran's part" and there is "some basis for concern," but I think explanations other than trying to conceal a nuclear weapons program are more likely.)

The other question is, is doing that - developing nukes - a good idea? No, it's not. It's a lousy idea. Nuclear power remains, as I dubbed it long ago, "unsafe, uneconomical, and unnecessary." It's wasteful, unhealthy, environmentally destructive, and contributes to nuclear weapons proliferation. Devoting national investments to it is clearly a dumb thing to do.

That would seem to be especially so for a country like Venezuela, which is not only rich in heavy crude oil (it's the world's 5th largest exporter of oil) but also in natural gas, which is the cleanest of the fossil fuels. And it produces 75% of its electricity through government-run hydroelectric plants! So what I'm wondering is, what is the point of nuclear power?

I can think of four reasons, in increasing order of probability:

1) Chavez actually hopes to build nuclear weapons. A very unlikely proposition.

2) Like a good number of other Marxists, he's enamored of industrialization for its own sake, seeing it as advancement and thus nuclear power as progress. (I still recall being told - seriously - by someone in the '60s that "socialist" - meaning in that case owned and operated under Marxist principles - power plants "do not emit pollution.") Possible, but doubtful.

3) He's just saying it to tweak our noses. Not the most likely, but I certainly wouldn't put it past him - and that's not a slam.

4) He envisions some sort of energy consortium as a step toward creating a Latin - or at least a South - America fully economically independent of the US. Now, that seems consistent with other things he has said to date, so I'll go with that one.

What's old is new

Or déjà vu - except that this isn't just thinking you've seen this before; you have.
Iran's hard-line Guardian Council on Sunday rejected all reformists who registered to run in presidential elections, approving only six out of the 1,010 hopefuls, state television reported. ...

The Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog that supervises the elections, is controlled by hard-liners loyal to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.
Last year, in an effort to which I gave a fair amount of attention, reformists tried to force the Guardian Council to reverse its decision to ban over 2,000 of them from running for the Majlis, the Iranian parliament. Ultimately, the Guardian Council backed off ever so slightly, just enough to approve a relative handful of little-known, underfunded reformers as candidates - with the inevitable (and intended) result that radical hard-liners won most of the seats in an election that featured an embarrassingly low turnout in the wake of reformers' call for a boycott.

Now the reactionaries want to insure control of the presidency as well, following the end of the term of reformist Mohammad Khatami, who is barred by law from seeking a third term. Of the six candidates approved, four are regarded as Khamenei loyalists and one is a hard-liner-turned-reformer-turned-Khamenei-supporter who apparently can thus be trusted to go with whoever seems to have the upper hand. The last, and by some accounts leading, candidate is Iran's Ahmed Chalabi: Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily politician who has vacillated between supporting the hard-liners and seeking accommodation with the US and Europe and whose political obituary has several times proved to have been premature.

Reformers may see him as the best of a bad lot, although the idea of them mustering much enthusiasm on his behalf seems unlikely. They'll probably feel like Nader voters supporting Kerry - except, frankly and as much as we like to bemoan our current condition, with higher stakes.

Good news and bad news

Moqtada al-Sadr, who had been keeping a low profile since announcing he would not participate in the Iraqi elections because they were being held under US occupation, has emerged first to lead a mass protest against the US presence in Iraq and then to make a dramatic gesture toward internal Iraqi reconciliation. (Perhaps I should say conciliation, since "reconciliation" implies there had been a conciliation in the past, but let that pass for the moment.) An AP report today brings the news:
Senior aides of anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met a key Sunni group in a bid to soothe tensions that have flared amid violence that has killed at least 550 people, including 10 Shiite and Sunni clerics, since the new Shiite-dominated government was announced on April 28.

"There is a wound that needs to be treated and Muqtada was the first to offer his medicine," said Sheik Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, spokesman for the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars after the talks with the al-Sadr delegation.
That's the good news. The bad news is that what prompted the meeting was the charge by the Association's leader, Harith al-Dhari, that the Badr Brigades were behind the killing of several Sunni clerics. That militia is attached to the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; SCIRI and the Dawa Party combine to make up the dominant Shiite bloc in the new government.

The response from the Badr Brigade was to accuse the Sunnis of wanting to "push Iraq into a sectarian conflict."

Meanwhile, the Muslim Clerics Association, in a further indication of escalating emotions, had announced that Baghdad's main Sunni Muslim mosques would close for three days "[i]n protest over attacks on mosques and killings of clerics, the detentions of worshippers and theft of their property."

In short, the good news is that the meeting was intended to diffuse conflicts that many fear are pushing Iraq toward civil war. The bad news is that the fact that it occurred shows just how deep and real those conflicts are and so just how real that threat is.

In fact, Sadr himself, probably unintentionally, revealed the conflicts' intractable nature:
"Iraq needs to stand side-by-side for the time being," al-Sadr told Al-Arabiya TV.... [emphasis added]
That is hardly a reassuring comment looking to a peaceful future for Iraq. It raises again the two questions that needs to be asked of anyone of the "well, now that we're there" school, who argue that things would be worse if we left:

1) Just what level of violence is it that you think we're preventing?

2) What makes you think that if we stay another - how many years are we talking about now? - with the day in, day out, dripping of blood, that the very same conflicts which you fear now will no longer exist?

Remember when there was going to be a "significant drawdown" of US forces in Iraq by the fall of 2003? Remember those days, with neocons heady with victory? Now the hope is for some significant withdrawals by the end of 2006 - three years late - and now even that date is in doubt, with Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, quoted by AP last Thursday as saying it's "too early" to predict when troops will come home. The fact is, there is only one way to get out and that's to get out. STDD/GTHO.

Footnote: AP also reports that
[s]even Iraqi battalions backed by U.S. forces launched an offensive in the capital on Sunday in an effort to stanch the violence that has killed more than 550 people in less than a month, targeting insurgents who have attacked the dangerous road to Baghdad's airport and Abu Ghraib prison.
Just think of that for a moment or two: It's been over two years since the invasion, over two years since "mission accomplished" - and they haven't even secured the damn capitol, much less any outlying areas. What an utter waste of life this has been - but the big fool says "push (or bring 'em) on."

Can it be?

Have some among the Dimcrats finally had enough? Can it be? The Washington Post said on Saturday that in "a major setback for the Bush administration," some
[t]raditionally pro-business and pro-trade House Democrats have announced plans to vote against the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement....

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), a New Democrat co-chairman, acknowledged that "there is no question, it's a risky step" to oppose the agreement. But, he argued, the Bush administration, with Republican congressional backing, has undermined the worker-protection precedents for domestic and foreign workers that were added to treaties during the Clinton administration. The Bush administration's goal is to "take care of business first, second and last, and not do enough to make sure workers are getting their fair share," Smith said.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), another co-chairman, said "the promise of trade liberalization has not lived up to the rhetoric, certainly not for American workers."
I would certainly dispute Smith's contention about the "protections" Clinton got in: They were more like sidebar commentaries of a "we think things should work out this way" type rather than actual binding protections and they exist even in that form only due to the demands of environmental and labor activists, not because Clinton pushed for them. However, I do welcome the New Democrat Coalition's realization, late in the game though it is.

But better late than never, and in the wake of the failure of the drive for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the so-far sputtering efforts on behalf of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the expression of opposition by the 40-member Coalition, formerly solidly free-trade, could be significant beyond its numbers.

Footnote: The "risk" to which Smith referred was upsetting corporate contributors.
In a letter to the New Democrat Coalition last week, the heads of eight high-tech trade associations wrote: "CAFTA makes important progress in areas critical to the long-term success of our industry, and we consider the vote on this agreement to be one of the most important of 2005. We hope that you will reconsider your opposition."
Hi-tech is one of the few industries where contributions are not heavily weighted toward the GOPpers. The risk of annoying them was considered central enough to the story to be mentioned in the very first sentence of the Post's story, a good indication of what drives most political decisions these days. Which, in turn, gives the willingness of some Dims to go in the face of that an even greater political significance.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


What is the hook?

Things for $2000

"Proud" name for a cabinet under a sink, or a compact kept in it.

Twentieth-Century Names

News fit to print

It's been all over the left blogworld today, so I'm sure you've come across it already if you didn't see it in the actual newspaper. But I had to mention it anyway to make sure you hear about it and read it. Not just the blog coverage, the article itself. Because it's all the more damning for it's detached, reportorial tone. Facts, descriptions, "this happened, then this happened."
Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.
The New York Times' major May 20 story on the Army's criminal investigation into deaths and brutality visited on detainees at the now-infamous Bagram Collection Point in Afghanistan is painful but necessary reading - and an indication of what a leading newspaper can do when it chooses to.
Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. ...

In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.
But it was much more than that, went well beyond the now-standard line of "young, poorly trained soldiers" who were unfortunately not given enough oversight. They unquestionably were abetted by higher-ups:
Military spokesmen maintained that both men had died of natural causes, even after military coroners had ruled the deaths homicides. Two months after those autopsies, the American commander in Afghanistan, then-Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, said he had no indication that abuse by soldiers had contributed to the two deaths. The methods used at Bagram, he said, were "in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques."
And, in fact, they still are:
Last October, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command concluded that there was probable cause to charge 27 officers and enlisted personnel with criminal offenses in the Dilawar case ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter.
What's more, fifteen of those same soldiers were cited for probable criminal responsibility in another inmate's death, which occurred just days before Dilawar arrived at Bagram.

Even so, to date only seven soldiers - and no officers - have been charged in connection with these crimes and no one has been convicted. Reprimands for two interrogators have been the only punishments.

Now, you could call that a whitewash, you could call it CYA. I call it a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice by means of a coverup.

But there is something else I want to say here, something in which I dissent at least somewhat from some of my fellow bloggers. There is a good deal of sentiment expressed in these cases along the lines of "where are the officers? Why aren't they in the dock?" With that, I agree wholeheartedly. Where I differ with some - and no, I will not name anyone in particular because pointing fingers at individuals is not my desire in this - is when they take that to the point of lessening the guilt of the soldiers, even to the point of exonerating them because officers are not being marched to the professional gallows alongside them. That, I do not and will not accept. If two wrongs don't make a right, even less does ignoring of one wrong justify ignoring of another.

Inadequate training? Just how much training does it take to realize that beating people, slamming them into walls, keeping them chained to a ceiling for hours on end, denying them sleep, is inhumane?

Young? How mature does one have to be to get past beating someone just because you're bored or just because you thought the way they screamed was "funny?"

I don't buy it, no I don't. Say the guilt runs up the line, say the commanders are guilty as well (and as hell), say George Bush is the guiltiest of all. I'll agree with you. But as I've said before, just as we would not forgive someone who robbed a bank because someone else had robbed ten, so too does the greater guilt not expunge the lesser. The soldiers should not walk.

Now, there is a way to ease the soldiers' guilt, to lessen their individual responsibility. But it's one not often considered because of what it implies.
[T]he Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods....
Routine. Impunity. "Troublesome." These are key words.

It's actually late and I'm overtired, so I'm going to cut this short; maybe I can expand on it later. But the bottom line is that you have a isolated world of groupthink with a built-in "other", an easily-definable "them," not even just "them" but enemy "them," a place where the ordinary rules don't apply, where violence is made routine and resistance something to be crushed. You have, that is, a situation where ordinary people become "ordinary torturers." Put another way, you have a military prison.

Put yet another way, you have militarism and the bigotry on which it thrives. So yes, you can look to exonerate the soldiers by pointing to the situation into which they were thrust. But that "situation" is not just the prison itself, it's the whole self-contained world of the military, the whole constructed worldview of militarism, that they carried with them into that prison. So yes again, you can look to exonerate the soldiers - but only by calling into question the entire set of structures, all the ways of acting, all the ways of thinking, that characterize what we persist in calling national "defense." Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the others whose names are as yet unfamiliar, these are not aberrations of militarism, of a foreign policy (long-standing in its attitudes, varying only in its tactics) based on aggression and in pursuit of dominance, they are the natural outgrowths of them. And we can't hope to stop the symptoms without attacking the disease.

Footnote: As telling as the Times' story is, we should keep recalling that it is hardly the first.
CIA interrogators have been using "stress and duress" techniques on captured enemies in Afghanistan that blur the line between legal and inhumane, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
That dispatch from Reuters, referring specifically to Bagram, was dated December 26, 2002: 17 months ago.
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