Monday, February 28, 2005

Many body parts still to be counted

Continuing its Puritan Crusade, the Bushies are 1) forcing AIDS organizations that work overseas and take some federal money to sign a pledge opposing prostitution (I would love to see the wording of that pledge. Has anyone seen it?)

2) At a UN conference to reaffirm, 10 years on, the commitment to women’s rights in the Beijing Conference, the US is insisting that no right to abortion be even hinted at, and that governments should be free to punish women who have had abortions.

Speaking of crusades, in Iraq today anti-queuing militants struck again, killing at least 125 men applying to join the military & police as they were standing in line for medical exams. As we know, Sunnis believe that queues are distasteful in the eyes of Allah, while Shiites insist that forming orderly lines is a mitzvah, and require young men to form such lines NO MATTER HOW FUCKING MANY TIMES THOSE LINES GET BLOWN UP. The total number of dead is unknown because, to quote a hospital official, “there are many body parts still to be counted.”

Speaking of religious militants, Jim Towey, director of Bush’s Faith-Based program, had an online q&a at the White House website today. It’s an uninformative as such events usually are. Rick, from Worcester, Mass. asks, “Considering that Faith-Based initiatives enrich the community and provide increased safety, why do you suppose so many oppose them?” and Towey responds that he doesn’t understand why people are like that either. And Bush doesn’t want to destroy the separation between church and state, just to “restore balance to the public square [was it a trapezoid before?] and allow faith-based organizations and faith-filled people to be there like any one else.” Somehow the phrase “faith-filled people” fills me with no confidence. Towey closes by saying that he’ll have another q&a “God willing” and asks everyone to “pray for the President, Mrs. Bush, his family, and all of us here.” Would it be wrong of me to pray that you’ll all form an orderly line in Tikrit?

“Cedar Revolution” is the new Orange Revolution: that’s what someone in the State Department, if nowhere else, is calling the protests in Lebanon that forced the government to resign today. Scottie McClellan said, “The new Government will have the responsibility to implement free and fair elections that the Lebanese people have clearly demonstrated they desire.” Clearly demonstrated? By a few protests? I take it this new test applies only to countries whose regimes the US wants changed and doesn’t apply to, say, Haiti, where pro-Aristide protests were shot at by police today, killing two.

To head off a Borscht --or whatever-- Revolution, Putin is organizing a youth movement, Nashi. I was going to called it Putin Youth, but I hardly need to point out the similarities to the Hitler Youth when it’s already called Nashi, do I? Nashi is variously translated as Ours or One of Us; I like the latter for its invocation of Tod Browning’s “Freaks”: One of us, one of us, we accept you, we accept you, one of us... A journalist, and someone from a liberal youth movement, infiltrated the first, secret meeting, and were beaten up. When you’ve got an Us, you’ve gotta have a Them.

The fall of Aristide redux

Democracy Now (thanks to Eli at LeftI for the heads-up) has been covering the anniversary of the ouster of Aristide. Here’s a transcript of their interview with Aristide a couple of weeks later, in which he described his removal from Haiti by American troops as a kidnapping. Some of the details of that day are still murky to me -- was he told by Americans that he would not be rescued from murder at the hands of the death squads unless he resigned the presidency? how did he wind up in the Central African Republic? When I wrote last night that the US had collaborated “tacitly or otherwise” with those death squads, I meant that I don’t know if there was direct contact and coordination. It really doesn’t matter, because even without direct contact, a green light was given by American officials, quite openly. From my own archives:

2/12/04. While former death squad types were reentering the country and violence growing, a State Department official briefed the press that Aristide should step down before the end of his term.

2/17/04. Colin Powell talked of a “political solution,” presumably meaning negotiations between the elected government and the scum trying to overthrow it, and says “there is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence,” a green light if ever I heard one. I wrote, “Boy, when even the Bushies have ‘no enthusiasm’ for invading a country, you know all the joy has gone out of this administration. Evidently it didn’t pass the ‘Little Rummy’ Test, by which all foreign policy decisions are now made: if Secretary of War Rumsfeld gets an erection just thinkin’ about it, we invade.”

2/28/04. Colin Powell refers to the death squads as “the resistance.”

3/1/04. With Aristide on a plane, Bush says, “The constitution of Haiti is working. There is an interim president, as per the constitution, in place.” I wrote, “Well, maybe the Haitian constitution does actually establish a process involving death squads, coups and US Marines in order to select a new president, something like the electoral college. I mean have you ever read the Haitian constitution?”

3/2/04. I wrote -- I won’t repeat the whole thing here -- that while the Bushies were trying to refute the kidnapping charge by reducing it to a single moment, and if Marines didn’t actually have guns pointed at Aristide’s head when he boarded the plane, it wasn’t kidnapping, the US had shaped the circumstances that led up to that moment.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

When life hands you lemon revolutions...

Kyrgyzstan had not terribly fair elections today, complete with my favorite recent example of misuse of election rules: a rule prohibiting anyone running for parliament who had not lived in the country for the previous five years is being used against an opposition politician who was Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to Britain.

Oh, and I’m hearing suggestions of “lemon revolution” as well as “tulip revolution” for Kyrgyzstan.

Evidently Turkish prisons are more fun than the movies led us to believe. Two prisoners were just discovered to have made a hole between their cells in order to have sex (the woman has given birth), and have been convicted of damaging prison property. The London Times headline: “Wall-to-Wall Sex.”

The Indy has a good article on the hell that Haiti has descended into since the US collaborated, tacitly or otherwise, with death squads to depose Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Why this blog is better than the New York Times

Condi Rice cancelled a visit to Egypt to punish it for its arrest of opposition politician Ayman Nour. But in order not to humiliate Egypt, even thought that was kinda the point, she also cancelled her planned visits to every other country in the region. That’s the kind of logic that only the State Department could muster.

Egypt has followed up with an announcement that there will be something like real elections. According to the WaPo,
Mubarak, 76, said the decision was rooted in his “full conviction of the need to consolidate efforts for more freedom and democracy.”
Translation: “What the hell, I’m old, I’ll be dead soon anyway.” The government will decide which opposition parties get to run. Bush will wax smug about this one, but if Egypt moves closer to democracy I’m willing to let him; it’s not like he wouldn’t find something else to feel smug about if he didn’t have this.

Speaking of smug, I’d like to point out that I wrote about Bush taking a Camus quote way out of context 5 days before the New York Times caught up to me. Eat my electronic dust, NYT!

That’s not why this blog is better than the NYT: this blog is better than the NYT because I use phrases like “wax smug.”

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The fact that we are just sitting here is a good thing

And speaking of democracy, Togo’s neighbors have peacefully forced a reversal of the military coup that imposed the son of its late president on the country. Congrats, West Africa.

Mostly unregarded by the MSMMM (Main Stream Mickey Mouse Media), Operation River Blitz continues in Anbar province. And so does that godawful name. I just assumed someone in the Pentagon would rethink the whole naming-operations-after-Nazi-stuff policy, but I guess it’s Rumsfeld’s way of reconciling with “Old Europe” (although there is pre-Rummy precedent).

The problem with River Blitz is that it can’t seem to find any enemies to fight. In Iraq. But that’s ok:
[Lt Col. Greg Stevens] was not discouraged that the guerrillas had failed to appear and take on his tanks.

“The fact that we are just sitting here is a good thing. It means that they don’t have the free rein of the place.”
Way to lower the bar.

We are not going to make up -- to invent any kind of special Russian democracy

In the past few months, GeeDubya has embraced a rhetoric of freedom and democracy, terms which remain as nebulous and ill-defined in that rhetoric as they probably are in his own head. But this week you could see that rhetoric taking on a life of its own, and since freedom and democracy are, you know, good things, it would be nice to encourage that process. Putin was visibly put out, pissed off, and defensive over his own record of slowly crushing the life out of Russian democracy. Good; he should be on the defensive. Clearly Putin feels that he was scolded and criticized, and the media view of the summit was that he was scolded and criticized.

But that didn’t actually happen, at least not publicly and I’m sure not in private either. Here’s the strongest statement Bush made at the Thursday press conference with Putin: “I was able to share my concerns about Russia’s commitment in fulfilling these universal principles.” He talked about some of those principles, the attributes of a functioning democracy--protection of minorities, a free press, a viable opposition, etc--but failed to say if he considered Russia deficient in any or all of them. When Putin compared his plan to personally appoint regional governors to the American Electoral College, Shrub didn’t say whether he found that comparison valid.

But every answer Putin gave was an uncomfortable riposte to some non-existent attack:
“Russia has made its choice in favor of democracy....independently, without any pressure from outside”

“we are not going to make up -- to invent any kind of special Russian democracy”

“If we talk about where we have more or where we have less democracy is not the right thing to do. But if we talk about how the fundamental principles of democracy are implemented in this or that historic soil, in this or that country, is an option, it’s possible. This does not compromise the dignity of The Netherlands or Russia or the U.S.”

“we do have freedom of the press. Although we’re being criticized often of that, this is not the case.”

“I, in particular, do not think that this has to be pushed to the foreground, that new problems should be created from nothing”
With all his democracy happy-talk, Bush may have started something he won’t be able to control so easily.

Friday, February 25, 2005

All power to the crabgrass revolution

Immediately after Canada announced its decision not to participate in the US’s Star Wars program, the American ambassador said that the US would fire its missiles over Canada without permission, and that Canada’s decision therefore amounted to giving up its sovereignty. Sovereignty consists, and evidently solely consists, of voluntarily choosing to do what we tell you to do and giving us permission to do what we’re going to do whether we have permission or not.

The Russian Duma has voted to imprison anyone who sings the national anthem disrespectfully.

With an election coming up, Tony Blair has announced an increase in the minimum wage; at the press conference to announce this, some reporter asked him if he would wipe someone’s bottom for £5 an hour. He did not answer. I’m taping the event off C-SPAN even as I write, for later viewing. I want to see if the reporter was wearing pants at the time; just from the transcript you can’t be sure the question was just hypothetical. Possibly the questioner was Jeff Gannon.

Putin says he and Bush had a “very useful, very substantive discussion.” You know how you can tell this is a lie? Because no one has ever had a useful, much less a substantive discussion with George W. Bush.

While in Slovakia, Bush, in a rhetorical ploy, compared the elections just held in Iraq to the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. “For the Iraqi people, this is their 1989, and they will always remember who stood with them in their quest for freedom.” He went on to use a phrase I think we’ll be very sick of very soon, dubbing those elections-under-occupation a “Purple Revolution,” like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia. Kyrgyzstan’s opposition, by the way, is talking about a “tulip revolution” there. I believe “crabgrass revolution” is still available.

After 1,300 suicides from the Golden Gate bridge, the authorities have decided that maybe a barrier of some kind would be a good idea.

No deposit, no return

The Illinois Appeals Court ruled that a man who claims his former lover stole his sperm during oral sex and used it to impregnate herself can sue for mental distress but not for theft. According to the court, “She asserts that when plaintiff ‘delivered’ his sperm, it was a gift. There was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request.” They are both doctors.

Al Kamen of the WaPo notes that while Bush wants to get the UN to impose sanctions on Iran because “they were caught enriching uranium after they had signed a treaty saying they wouldn’t enrich uranium,” the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in fact allows uranium enrichment.

Bush trying to peer once again into Vladimir Putin’s soul. Then they fucked.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I live in a transparent country

Bush says of European leaders, “We have a common objective, which is to convince the Ayatollahs not to have a nuclear weapon.”

Bush has been explaining democracy to Putin. Things like checks and balances. On a totally unrelated note, Afghanistan, which elected a president last October, today missed the deadline for announcing parliamentary elections in May. Like 6 months with only one functioning branch of government being elected wasn’t bad enough, it could now be a year.

Actually, the White House website doesn’t headline Bush & Putin talking ‘bout democracy, but rather “President and President Putin Discuss Strong U.S.-Russian Partnership.” They make it sound so exciting, just sitting around discussing the strong US-Russian partnership:
Bush: You know, Pootie Poot, the US-Russian partnership is really strong.
Putin: Yes, is strong like Russian women weightlifter at Olympics.
Bush: Strong like Condi’s thighs.
Putin: Strong like Yeltsin’s breath.
Bush: Strong.
Putin: Strong.
Bush: Lunch?
Putin: Fuck yes.
Bush: “the sign of a healthy and vibrant society is one where there’s an active press corps”. But enough about Jeff Gannon’s sex life. He added, “democracies have certain things in common: They have a rule of law and protection of minorities, a free press and a viable political opposition.” For example, we’ve got Guantanamo, a ban on gay marriage, Fox News, and the Democratic Party. So we’re set.

He adds, “I live in a transparent country.” Dude, you’re back on the weed again, aren’t you?

He says of his relationship with Putin, “we’ll have a very frank and candid and open relationship. ... a relationship where, when a person tells you something, you know he means what he says, and, ‘yes’ means yes, and ‘no’ means no. Sometimes in politics yes means ‘maybe,’ and no means ‘if.’ This is the kind of fellow who, when he says, yes, he means, yes, and when he says, no, he means, no.” ‘Cuz he knows Bush only understands words of one syllable.

On democracy in Russia, Putin said that the guarantee for democracy is the Russian people, while Bush said that the guarantee was Putin’s statement of support for democracy. OK, neither of those is particularly confidence-inspiring, but you’ll note who has the clearer grasp of what democracy means. If the health of a democracy depends on the support of its president, it’s fucked.

Putin added that his decision to replace the system of popular election of regional governors with appointment by Putin himself is just like the US Electoral College, “and it is not considered undemocratic, is it?”

And here’s Bush on the press: “Obviously, if you’re a member of the Russian press, you feel like the press is free. And that’s -- feel that way? Well, that’s good. (Laughter.) But I -- I talked to Vladimir about that. And he -- he wanted to know about our press. I said, nice bunch of folks.” Putin adds, “I’m not the minister of propaganda.”

Pictures of Bush, out and about in Slovakia:

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Liberalism, Iraqi style

Comical Allawi is still in the race to be Iraqi prime minister, running as a secularist (“we believe in a liberal Iraq and not an Iraq governed by political Islamists”). Yes, Baathist-rehabilitating, CIA & MI6-connected, secret-police loving, attack-on-Fallujah green-lighting Iyad Allawi is running as the the liberal candidate. The LIBERAL candidate.

Allawi and Jaafari.

Murder in the Mosque redux

Everyone will be happy to know I passed my smog check today. So did my car.

The FBI issued a warning against a computer virus being spread through emails purporting to come from the FBI. Said the FBI, the giveaway is that everyone knows the FBI doesn’t have email yet.

Following his revelation yesterday that “I believe Russia is a European country,” Bush today informed a stunned world that “Iran is not Iraq.” Presidential geography lessons haven’t paid off so well since Ronald Reagan visited Central America and announced “they really are all different countries down here.”

Remember the wounded, unarmed Iraqi prisoner shot dead last November by an American soldier in a mosque for no particular reason? “He’s fucking faking he’s dead. He faking he’s fucking dead.” Bang. “He’s dead now.” That. Today, UnFairWitness informs us, the decision was announced that he would not be charged (he’s never been named, I believe). Lack of evidence. Too bad no one was filming the incident. Oh wait, they were. UnFairWitness has the video, too. A couple of days after the incident, I asked if Bush or Rumsfeld or a single member of Congress would go on the record as being against summary executions. The answer has been a resounding no. On this issue, they’re faking they’re fucking dead.

By contrast, today the British Army convicted 3 soldiers for the far less...permanent... abuse of Iraqi prisoners in January (this abuse), including surfer dude and forklift boy. Their officers, however, have been promoted.

By contrast, even in near-fascist Zimbabwe:
A military court in Zimbabwe fined a platoon commander Zim$2 million (£169) after one of his subordinates accidentally shot 14 spectators during a mock battle at a fair last September. (AFP)


No wonder I get so little hate email. Evidently at some point I accidentally deleted the contact information from my template. That’d do it. So there it is again, at the top of the right-hand column. Also, please note that it’s a new email address.

I have added an Amazon search box. Use it if so inclined, or shun it as capitalist evil and the death of independent bookstores, if so inclined. Go to the library instead, or garage sales, Friends of the Library sales, the Goodwill store. Use my Powell’s link, located above the Amazon link. Shoplift from one of the big chain stores. In the future, someone will invent a “shoplift” button to click and I’ll proudly feature that on my site too, if the commission is good enough.

If it isn’t in English, it can’t be important

So I’m watching the BBC World News 3 am broadcast. They say there will be a Bush-Schröder news conference shortly, which they will cut to. They do, but Schröder is speaking in some sort of foreign language, possibly German, and no one at the BBC evidently knows German, so they cut away until Bush started speaking (there is no translator: Bush has an earpiece). CNN & Fox also have no employees who know German, so they do the same. This is pathetic.

As he did yesterday, Bush twice referred to the Iranian “ayatollahs.” Guess that’s a new thing. Delegitimize them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Not amused

Montenegro, the last former-Yugoslav republic still associated with Serbia, has proposed independence.

This is the picture the London Times is running with the story that Queen Elizabeth is skipping Charles & Camilla’s wedding. Brrr.

In the same context, The Times describes Henry VIII as polyphilogamous. I like the picture and the word, so I’m stealing them both.

I believe Russia is a European country

Bush in Europe: “As I said in my speech yesterday, a strong Europe is very important for the United States, and I really meant that.” Oh, you really mean that, now we understand. “And the Prime Minister [Blair] is one of the strong leaders in Europe, and I really enjoy my relationship with him.” He does like that word “strong,” doesn’t he?

Russia’s ambassador to the US wrote in the WaPo today that “there cannot and should not be a sole standard for democracy”. Presumably he wants Bush to apply the same low standard for democracy that Iraq gets. In Brussels, a reporter asked Bush about that article, and Bush went on and on about his personal relationship with Putin, which is clearly so much more important to him than democracy. In fact that relationship is so good, according to Bush, that it “allows me to remind him that I believe Russia is a European country”.

Asked about Iran, he offers this helpful view of European diplomacy: “Great Britain, Germany and France are negotiating with the Ayatollahs”. Subtle characterization of the Iranian government, huh? And this helpful view of American diplomacy: “And finally, this notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table. (Laughter.)” I’m sure they’re laughing in Teheran too. And speeding up work on their nuclear program. Wouldn’t you?

Before you dismiss that little comment as another Bushism, remember Reagan’s little open-mike “joke”: “The bombing begins in five minutes”? The Russians heard that and went on nuclear alert.

Bush did say that democracy was hard

To be proper democratic elections, there should be some reasonably direct, transparent connection between how the people voted, and who takes office. In Iraq, no such thing. The nineteenth-century British prime minister and foreign minister Lord Palmerston once said that only three people understood the Schleswig-Holstein question--Prince Albert, who was dead, a professor who went insane, and Palmerston himself, “and I have forgotten.” In the case of the process by which Iraq’s next prime minister is even now being chosen, perhaps only a professor, Juan Cole, understands.

What we’re looking at is so much democracy as to be undemocratic. You can’t determine the will of the people with 111 parties running, which was the result of the electoral system the US imposed. That system put a premium on private back-room deals regarding the distribution of seats within lists, coalitions within coalitions, extra-legal rules insisted upon by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and the endless weeks of negotiations Cole describes. Skim Cole’s post if you, understandably, don’t want to put in the time required to follow it all, and see if it sounds like anything recognizable as democracy to you.

I used the Palmerston thing as my historical allusion du jour because I couldn’t remember if it was the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the 30 Years’ War, or some other peace treaty, which was so complicated that it was described as “the peace which passeth all understanding.”

Monday, February 21, 2005

Tampering with evidence

More from the Bush speech: “The Palestinian people deserve a government that is representative, honest and peaceful.” So do we, but look what we’re stuck with instead.

The best part of this WaPo story is the last three words:
A 44-year-old Anchorage man had his penis surgically reattached after an angry girlfriend cut it off with a kitchen knife and flushed it down a toilet, police said Sunday. The pair had been arguing over an impending breakup. Water utility workers recovered the penis, which was reattached Sunday morning. Kim Tran, 35, was charged with assault, domestic violence and tampering with evidence.

My breath was delightfully redolent of freedom

Bush is in Brussels, where he addressed Europe with this threat plea for unity: “No temporary debate, no passing disagreement of governments, no power on earth will ever divide us.” I’ll bet he says that to all his ex-girlfriends. Note to Europe: get a restraining order.

You know the old joke
In heaven:
The English are the police,
The Germans are the mechanics,
The Swiss are the administrators,
The French are the lovers,
The Italians are the cooks.

In hell:
The English are the cooks,
The French are the mechanics,
The Swiss are the lovers,
The Italians are the administrators,
The Germans are the police.
Well, according to Bush, “the Afghan people know the world is with them. After all, Germany is providing vital police training. ... Italy is giving assistance on judicial reform.”

He also quotes Camus--let me repeat that: George W. Bush quotes Camus--saying “Freedom is a long-distance race.” That’s from “The Fall.” Clearly, someone in the White House found the quote by looking up Bush’s new favorite word, freedom, in Bartlett’s or wherever, to get a quote from some European. That someone failed to check the context:
Once upon a time, I was always talking of freedom: At breakfast I use to spread it on my toast, I used to chew it all day long, and in company my breath was delightfully redolent of freedom. With that key word I would bludgeon whoever contradicted me; I made it serve my desires and my power. I used to whisper it in bed in the ear of my sleeping mates and it helped me to drop them. I would slip it… Tchk! Tchk! I am getting excited and losing all sense of proportion. After all, I did on occasion make a more disinterested use of freedom and even – just imagine my naiveté -- defended it two or three times without of course going so far as to die for it, but nevertheless taking a few risks. I must be forgiven such rash acts; I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know that freedom is not a reward or a decoration that is celebrated with champagne. Nor yet a gift, a box of dainties designed to make you lick your chops. Oh, no! It’s a choice, on the contrary and a long-distance race, quite solitary and very exhausting. No champagne No friends raising their glasses as they look at your affectionately. Alone in a forbidding room, alone in the prisoner’s box before the judges, and alone to decide in face of oneself or in the face others’ judgment. At the end of all freedom is a court sentence; that’s why freedom is too heavy to bear, especially when you’re down with a fever, or are distressed, or love nobody.

Gonzo, gonzo, gone

The nice thing about the Net is that someone will do the tasks you think about doing but are too lazy to do. For example, I’ve sometimes talked about the George Bush phenomenon of rubbing the heads of bald men, but the blog Rigorous Intuition has the visual documentation. The man really thinks that everyone else in the world isn’t real, just a toy for his amusement. Soon he’ll be bidding against Michael Jackson for the skull of the Elephant Man.

Hunter S. Thompson and Sandra Dee dead on the same day. There’s probably a joke in that, but it’s hard enough to imagine a world that encompassed both of them, much less a joke.

Happy Displaced Apostrophe Day (aka Presidents’ Day, President’s Day, Presidents Day, Presiden’t’s’ Day, etc).

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Maybe they meant to call it Operation River Blintz

The US is reportedly about to start a Fallujah-type attack on Ramadi, which has the astonishingly stupid codename Operation River Blitz. If they really wanted to scare the Iraqis, they’d have called it Operation Riverdance. A Marine major-general says the militants of Ramadi are “intent on preventing a peaceful transition of power between the interim Iraqi government and the Iraqi transitional government.” Interim, transitional, if there are any more stages to this thing we’re gonna run out of words meaning “not a real government.”

Bush is in Europe in order to mend fences--Niall Ferguson writes in the Guardian that it’s like Nixon going to China. He will forgive the Europeans for being, well, Europeans, just as long as he doesn’t have to listen to them being, well, European, for too long. Plans for a town-hall meeting in Germany were cancelled when the Germans refused to screen participants. And he will meet the heads of Europe tomorrow for a summit, in which he will speak for 30 minutes, and 11 heads of governments will be given a maximum of 5 minutes each. I’m picturing a band starting up when Berlusconi goes over.

The king of Swaziland, Mswati III, facing criticism for having bought BMWs for each of his 11 wives, in one of the poorest and definitely the most HIV-ridden country in the world, has issued a royal decree banning photos being taken “when [the king] alights from his car”. Problem solved.

Objective reporting at its finest, from the Daily Telegraph: “Confused Spaniards Vote for EU Constitution.” Although 77% of the few people who turned out to vote supported the constitution (Spain is the first country to vote on it), what the Telegraph is referring to is that few have evidently read the 87,392-page document.

I’ve run stories before about elephants in Thailand taking up painting. One was just bought by a Thai businesswoman living in America for $39,000. The painting, “Cold Wind, Swirling Mist, Charming Lanna Number One,” is reportedly a cross between impressionism and surrealism, as is this whole story.

I’m not 100% sure that this is that painting (and how could so many news outlets run this story without showing the painting?):

Post-Impressionism, maybe, but surrealism?

In a friendly way, of course

Bush will meet with Putin and says he will discuss Russia’s re-authoritarianization (to coin a word with too many syllables) and human rights record. Sounding like Reagan talking about South Africa, or his own father declaring after Tiananmen Square that it was no time for an emotional response, Shrub says he will raise these issues only in private, “so I can explain to him as best I can, in a friendly way, of course, that Western values are, you know, are based upon transparency and rule of law, the right for the people to express themselves, checks and balances in government.” “As best I can,” indeed.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

George Bush, pillock of the free world

Robin Williams, on Bill Maher’s show: “George Bush was in the same National Guard unit as Bigfoot.”

Bush says that “We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe.” I’m sure the Europeans will be glad to hear that, in their cynical way. He goes on, “America and Europe are the pillars of the free world.” This is, of course entirely meaningless--what does it mean to be a “pillar”?--but it’s funny to see the re-emergence under Bush of the Cold War phrase “free world.”

There are even more insulting ways to divide the world, and Secretary of War Rumsfeld used one a few days ago when he said that “China is a country that we hope and pray enters the civilized world in an orderly way without the grinding of gears”. His handlers later rushed to explain that he hadn’t actually called China uncivilized, although he obviously had.

A quote I’d missed, from the wife of John Negroponte, last year about his support of Honduran death squads: “I want to say to those people, ‘Haven’t you moved on?’ To keep fighting all that is old hat.”

Friday, February 18, 2005

PS To help you

When I commented yesterday about Negroponte’s record not being addressed by mainstream media or mainstream Democratic politicians, I hadn’t gotten to the part of McNeil-Lehrer where Harry Reid showed his complete ignorance--“He was ambassador to what, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Freedonia, Tatooine, Barsoom? Am I getting warmer?” Lehrer had to help him out. Liberal Oasis has links to articles on Negroponte.

Larry Beinhart (the guy who wrote the novel that became “Wag the Dog”) has a term for this sort of data: Fog Facts, “important things that nobody seems able to focus on any more than they can focus on a single droplet in the mist. They are known, but not known.”

And the NYT today, in a biographical article on Negroponte, has only this to say: “He has spent the ensuing two decades vigorously defending himself against allegations that he played down human rights violations in Honduras when their exposure could have undermined the Reagan administration’s Latin American agenda.” It has indeed been two decades, so why is the NYT still playing it as he said/she said?

The NYT has an amusing obit of Samuel Alderson, inventor of the crash-test dummy, which includes this data: “the first crash-test dummies were cadavers. While useful in collecting basic data, they lacked the durability required for repeated trials.”

Responding to the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, the tourist minister resigned today. Well, it can’t have made his job any easier.

The Daily Telegraph says that the Americans are claiming that the safest place in Iraq is... wait for it ... Fallujah. In one wrecked school, a Marine painted this graffito (note to Telegraph: one graffito, two graffiti): “We came, we saw, we took over all. PS To help you.”

The pope says, in memoirs coming out next week, that the Virgin Mary saved his life during the 1981 assassination attempt; “it was just as if someone guided this bullet.” He explains why the bullet nevertheless hit him: “that Mary chick is seriously passive-aggressive.”

Thursday, February 17, 2005

National reconciliation

The WaPo thinks the Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s fatwas are too intrusive, citing this one: “It is unworthy to drink too much water; to drink water after eating fatty food; and to drink water while standing during the night. It is also unworthy to drink water with one’s left hand; to drink from the side of a container which is cracked or chipped off, or from the side of its handle.” Also appearing today is this AP story about an Israeli rabbi who says that sticking used gum under a desk is a violation of Jewish law.

The WaPo interviewed Iyad “Comical” Allawi, who warns against moves away from “national reconciliation” and says he might go back into exile after leaving office if he doesn’t feel safe enough. In other words for him national reconciliation means “Please don’t kill me.”


Israel will suspend the demolition of the houses of the families of suicide bombers. Astonishingly, they have realized that this policy just pissed people off.

The Vatican issues a denunciation of the “religion of health,” by which they mean people in wealthy countries wanting their ailments cured by medical science rather than suffering stoically, like the pope, who is 133 years old.

And the Pontifical University Regin Apostolorum in Rome is offering a class in exorcism. Say, you know how shakes and speaks incoherently as if possessed: the pope. Just sayin’.

Guardian headline: “Bush Appoints All-Powerful Spy Chief.” I think if Negroponte was all-powerful, he wouldn’t be bald. Just sayin’.

Whatever it Was, I Was Against It

McNeil-Lehrer had a discussion of Negroponte in which his record in Honduras wasn’t even mentioned. This country’s media and politicians have no memory at all. That’s how Jeff Sessions can go on tv to talk about judicial nominees being rejected without anyone mentioning his own past as a failed nominee. This is also how everyone can have fun with the story of Mary Kay Le Tourneau, the teacher convicted of stat rape, now marrying her victim, without mention of her father, Rep. John Schmitz, an Orange County congresscritter so far to the right he thought Reagan was a communist (literally), and who when Mary Kay was a child publicly pulled her out of several schools when they began sex ed courses.

Which brings me to my new project. One of the goals of this blog is to pay attention to the historical context of current events. One means to this end is that my archives go further back than those of most blogs. In 1996 I began sending out comments on the news to the few friends I knew who had email. The number of people on the list grew and so did the volume of my writing. I developed a bloggy style long before the word blog was coined. When I finally began an actual blog last July, I also posted all the old emails, shorn of the copyrighted newspaper articles, Dave Barry pieces and whatnot, all available in the archives linked in the right-hand column (Blogger didn’t foresee my need to retroactively give posts dates earlier than 1999, so the January 1999 link actually contains material from January 1996 through January 1999). So you can read what I had to say about the Clinton impeachment or the 2000 elections or anything else, although I’m not sure why you would, and it’s all searchable through the Google box at the top of the page. Here’s what I said the first time I ever mentioned Osama bin Laden, after the embassy bombings in August 1998:
I suspect this bin Laden character has been promoted, and probably promoted way out of his league, to Darth-Vader-of-the-year to put a human face on the Enemy.

But before that, in 1986, I began taking notes on the news into a series of notebooks, to assist my memory, to preserve stupid remarks by Ronald Reagan that I wanted to be able to quote precisely, and because if you’re paying serious attention to a subject, including current events, you take notes. It was also a place to tape cut-out articles and political cartoons, right down quotes, etc.

I’ve recently begun to type those notes into my computer, a little at a time, something I’ve always wanted to do so that I don’t have to read my own handwriting and pore through dozens of pages every time I want to look something up. The job has turned out to be quite interesting, a chance to relive Iran-Contra, the fall of the Soviet Union and the Dan Quayle years. Remember the 1980s? The movies: 8½, Grand Illusion, The Seventh Seal, Holiday. And the music: Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvořák--whatever happened to those guys?

Now these are notes written to myself, they are not a blog, but they may be useful to someone and it takes almost no extra work at all to put them online, so allow me to introduce: “Whatever It Was, I Was Against It.”
1986-89, so far, but I’ll add more as I type it. The permanent link is in the column on the right, at the top of the archives list.

Not moving with the democratic movement

During the Iran-Contra investigations, which now seem like a much more innocent time--a thought which would have astonished me at the time--it wasn’t quite clear if John Negroponte was actively colluding with and covering up and lying about the Honduran government’s use of death squads, or if he was lazy, stupid and oblivious. With the information we have now (it’s all over the Web today, you can’t take a step without getting some Negroponte on your shoe), it was definitely the former, but the point is that Negroponte’s attempts to save his reputation depended on presenting himself as oblivious to what was going on around him (the Mr. Magoo/Ronald Reagan defense). So he’s the perfect man to be Chimpy’s intelligence tsar, even though he only got the job after everyone else refused it.

One of my favorite Negroponte moment’s was when he was appointed ambassador to Iraq. The CPA put up a picture of him at the UN, this one

standing in front of Picasso’s Guernica. Within hours, they’d cropped the picture.

The Bushies still aren’t giving a coherent reason for having withdrawn the ambassador to Syria, if they’re not going to blame it explicitly for the Hariri assassination. Here’s Bush, today:
We’ve recalled our ambassador, which indicates that the relationship is not moving forward, that Syria is out of step with the progress being made in a greater Middle East, that democracy is on the move. And this is a country that isn’t moving with the democratic movement.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Focusing on indecency

BBC headline: “US Congress Focuses on Indecency.” No kidding.

The Onion offers details of the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

Musical condoms.

I’ve noticed before that Bush’s Social Security rhetoric is often addressed narrowly to his own age group. I don’t have a Bush quote handy, but the White House website says
The President is committed to keeping the promise of Social Security for today’s retirees and those nearing retirement and strengthening Social Security for our children and grandchildren.
So anyone under 55 falls into the category of “our” children and grandchildren.

Switzerland is to return to Nigeria money stolen by the late dictator Sani Abacha, in a devastating blow to the country’s scam email trade, whose discerning clientele seem already to have moved on: someone bought this picture and a companion piece, painted by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in 1903, for $590,400.

And still a better investment idea than Bush’s Social Security plan. Coolidge also wrote an opera and was an inventor and a banker.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Finding solace only in the works of P. G. Wodehouse

The Bushies are going after Syria for Rafik Hariri’s assassination, and clearly they’ve learned something from the Iraqi WMD fiasco, because they aren’t even bothering to fabricate evidence this time, and some of them (speaking anonymously, so far) are saying that Syria can be blamed even if it didn’t do it. It will be awfully hard to accuse them of lying if they refuse to use any facts or arguments. Or irony, since they’re saying that even if it was just the action of one of Lebanon’s many terrorist groups, Syria’s occupation of Lebanon created the instability that made that possible. Do as we say, not as we do. The Bushies’ foreign policy is just like its budget--it pretends the costs of the Iraqi occupation are “off-book” and don’t count. So the State Dept says that the recall of the American ambassador to Syria is to express the US’s “profound outrage” over the assassination, but that we’re not accusing Syria of that assassination. Makes perfect sense.

I don’t know if Syria is responsible. Given Hariri’s extensive protection, some are saying that only a state has the capability of pulling something like this off, but the same thing was said after September 11. Actually, it’s hard to see why Syria would carry out this assassination of a man no longer in office at this particular time when 1) the US is looking for an excuse to go after this particular “outpost of tyranny” and 2) Israel is desperately trying to derail Russian sales of anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.

Speaking of keeping the facts off-book, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions appeared on McNeil-Lehrer today, calling the D’s obstructionists for failing to pass all of Bush’s judicial nominees. Once again, no one had the bad taste to bring up Sessions’s past as a Reagan nominee for the federal bench, rejected because of certain racist acts in his past and remarks like “I used to think the Klan was all right until I learned they smoked marijuana.”

On the same subject, Orrin Hatch was quoted as saying that the D Senators just hate Bush. Somehow Hatch’s air of sorrowful sanctimony lets him get away with this sort of crap. A couple of weeks ago, his speech in favor of Alberto Gonzales outright accused D’s of opposing him because he was Hispanic.

About the increasing use of the word “obstructionist”: the term implies that the only legitimate agenda is that of the majority party, as if every one of the Democratic congresscritters was not elected in their own right, with their own mandate. The long term for that attitude is “tyranny of the majority,” the short term is “tyranny.”

From the Daily Telegraph:
President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya is said to have taken to his bed in despair, finding solace, according to a cabinet colleague, “only in the works of P G Wodehouse”.

Thank you for clearing that up: from the NYT’s corrections section: “A front-page article on Friday about Prince Charles's announcement that he will marry his longtime lover, Camilla Parker Bowles, misstated the name of a ceremonial post held by her former husband, Andrew Parker Bowles. It is silver stick in waiting to the queen, not silver stick in waiting to the prince.”

Guns or butter, elites or cadres, reconciliation or liberation, paper or plastic

Looking at the names of parties that will have seats in the new Iraqi National Assembly, I can’t decide which one I like best, the National Independent Elites and Cadres Party, or the Reconciliation and Liberation Entity. Advice to both: pick one thing and stick with it; either elites or cadres, reconciliation or liberation.

Also, the Elites ’n Cadres have 3 seats, so that’s one for the elites, one for the cadres, and fearsome civil war over the 3rd seat.

The prime minister is likely to be Ibrahim Jaafari, the brother-in-law of Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Article 1 of the new Iraqi Constitution: It is mandatory for everyone to own a Grand Ayatollah Sistani bath towel.

I wonder how wise it was to choose a former exile (1980-2003).

The world condemned the Lord’s Resistance Army (in Uganda) for forcibly impressing thousands of children. But what to do with them when they are liberated? The Ugandan government has an idea: stick them in the Ugandan Army.

Try to imagine a statement so stupid that a Fox exec would have to resign for saying it

A bunch of stories have framed the resignation of Eason Jordan from CNN as the victory of bloggers, and gosh don’t I feel proud. You’ll notice that the content of Jordan’s remarks was not only so far beyond the pale that he had to quit, but evidently were so far beyond the pale that there was no necessity for the media to fact-check, and ask whether the US military actually has targeted journalists in Iraq, which in at least the cases of Al Jazeera and the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad it certainly did (click here for an April 2003 Robert Fisk article).
(Update: and a current AlterNet article.)

There are other disturbing elements to this: Jordan was an executive, not a reporter, and certainly not on the air, so I’m not sure what standards his comments should be held to and whether we want to open up that can of McCarthyism. Also, since the wingers seem to think that the transcript of the not-open-to-the-public event at which Jordan spoke should be made available to them, well, I’ve always been curious about what people like Bush and Cheney say at all those fundraisers they go to....

And, hey, what about Cheney’s energy task force? And...

Speaking of ridiculously disproportionate responses, the McLibel case is now entering its 15th year, with a ruling due from the European Court of Human Rights.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Pentagon website puts up a picture of a new plane, not at all photographed to look like a penis.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Now you have to sit down and decide whether you want this relationship to continue

Tony Blair, who is so much less popular than the party he leads, admits to past arrogance in an arrogantly humble speech, if you know what I mean, and says he hasn’t listened to the British people enough. He creepily compares his relationship with the British people to a marriage, saying that they can “go off with” Michael Howard or Charles Kennedy if they like, but “now you, the British people, have to sit down and decide whether you want this relationship to continue”. Why does that require sitting down, I wonder? I’m sure Charles’s proposal to Camilla was more awkward (“Mummy says it’s alright”), but Blair seems once again to have forgotten that he is not a president but a prime minister, answerable to Parliament.

Once again, life is imitating “The Prisoner.”
A large black ball, originally designed by Swedish scientists for use on Mars, could be the latest weapon in the war against burglars.

The device, developed at the University of Uppsala, acts as a high-tech security guard capable of detecting an intruder thanks to either radar or infra-red sensors. Once alerted, it can summon help, sound an alarm or pursue the intruders, taking pictures. ...

Serbian President Boris Tadic goes to Kosovo in an echo of Milosevic’s visit to the province 16 years ago, and tells an audience of ethnic Serbs, “This is Serbia.” No it isn’t, and fuck off out of it.

Iraqi elections

After two weeks, and no explanation for what the problem was with those 300 ballot boxes or how the problem was resolved, the Iraqi election results have finally been released. Figures on how many people were killed on election day still haven’t been added up, for some reason.

I’ve been assuming that the Iraqi ballot boxes would be stuffed, at the very least to increase voter turnout to make the election look more legitimate. So in one sense, it’s a good sign that the official turnout figure for Anbar province (including the rubble fields of Fallujah) was an uninflated-sounding 2%. In another sense, of course, a national election is not legitimate when that many people are not represented.

It’s also nice to see a politician spend huge amounts of money from mysterious sources, monopolize the airwaves, and then be thoroughly trounced, as Iyad “Comical” Allawi has been. It will be interesting to see if the secret police thugs and torturers he has recruited transfer their loyalties to whoever replaces him.

Some years ago San Francisco, which like Iraq had at-large elections, had a polling station which for some years was in an upscale bakery, which gave away pastries to voters. Voter turnout in that precinct was nearly 100%, giving that precinct disproportionate, um, weight in the board of supervisors, so the bakery was quite rightly told to stop. That is how these things should work. In Iraq, that 2% turnout was matched by 92% turnout in a Kurdish region.

The Indy says that US officials are having “are you now or have you ever been” discussions with Iraqi politicians to see how close they are to Iran, and how the Iraqi government will react when the US attacks Iran.

Way out there

So the US was sending spy drones over Iran, and the Iranians assume not that they’re from the Great Satan, but that they’re UFOs. Infidels from Alpha Centauri, no doubt. The truth is out there.

A couple of entries to a New Statesman competition last month, which asked for updated sayings:
It’s a short road that has no Starbucks.

Look before you invade.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Three exemplars of democratic values

Schwarzenegger tells a Republican group that Democratic members of the state legislature are “addicts” who “cannot stop spending money.” But the LAT buries the lead by focusing on that quote. The key line is actually his most explicit statement yet of the führerprinzip: “Now,” he said, “we have a governor who represents the people’s interests instead of special interests.” D’s didn’t “get the message” of the recall of Gray Davis in 2003: “If they had been on the ballot, they all would have been recalled.” So Ahhnuld considers himself the only genuine representative of the people (notwithstanding the 2004 elections).

After all the talk about spreading freedom, Bush has had to send Henry Kissinger to Moscow to reassure Putin that he doesn’t mean a word of it. Because if you want to send a message about how important ideals and democracy are to you, the messenger you choose would just have to be Henry Fucking Kissinger.

Speaking of bad representatives of democratic values, Dexter Filkins’s NYT story about Achmad Chalabi’s attempt to wheel ’n deal his way into the office of prime minister takes seriously the line that Chalabi is out of favor with the Americans. Actually, it’s hard to tell; the position of the Bushies on Iraq’s future has become curiously opaque over the last few months. Did his Pentagon backers really back away from him? If so, Filkins gives a singularly unlike reason for it: “Mr. Chalabi’s footing in the Bush administration steadily eroded as it became clear that much of the intelligence he had turned over to the American government, which was used to justify an invasion, turned out to have been exaggerated or false.” Sure, everyone else who produced false intelligence is promoted, but Chalabi is dropped for doing the same, and if you buy that, I’ve got some Nigerien yellowcake to sell you.

So Iraqi “democracy,” which was fresh and young and hopeful two weeks ago has, before the votes are even counted, become so decrepit, debased and cynical that Chalabi, a man with no discernible principles except self-interest, could be a major player in the backroom intrigues which will establish an Iraqi administration, with no particular reference to how Iraqis actually voted. Maybe they could be persuaded to take Arnold Schwarzenegger instead, cuz I hear he supports the people’s interests rather than the special interests. Maybe they could take Kissinger as well.

Friday, February 11, 2005

America is in fact a land of liberators, not a land of occupiers

The Czech parliament rejects gay marriage by a single vote.

Secretary of War Rumsfeld, in Iraq, tells American troops occupying Iraq, “You have shown that America is in fact a land of liberators, not a land of occupiers.” And has been ever since we liberated it from the Indians.

Rep. Louise Slaughter has written to the White House asking how “Jeff Gannon” was allowed to use a pseudonym as a White House “reporter” when she is forced to continue calling herself Louise Slaughter, it just isn’t fair.

ATTENTION (TO SPELLING) MUST BE PAID: A word to the Daily Telegraph: entitling the obituary of Arthur Miller “Death of a Playright” might have made you seem cleverer if the word were not actually playwright. You might as well have gone with your first instincts: “Guy Who Shagged Marilyn Monroe Fifty Years Ago Dies.”

But the Telegraph almost redeems itself with the headline “Gays Angry at Penguin Plan.”
A plan by a German zoo to test the sexuality of a group of suspected homosexual penguins by bringing in females has sparked outrage among gay and lesbian groups, who fear keepers might force them to abandon their male partners.

Bremerhaven zoo saw the male penguins trying to mate and hatch stones.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Don’t expect to get much sense out of the British newspapers today: two middle-aged unemployed people announced their engagement.

The reason I quoted a chunk of North Korean verbiage in my last post, and linked to their statement about nukes, was to suggest that North Korean leaders do not think in the same way as we do. This is why dealing with them is so dangerous and requires such care and expertise. Unfortunately, the US is now ruled by folks who share both George Bush’s complete inability to comprehend people who don’t view the world the same way he does, and his complete lack of curiosity about the thought patterns of other peoples and cultures, and who portray their own ideals as universal ideals, meaning there really is no reason to attempt to understand other ideals, which are by definition less than universal. So when Condoleezza Rice says that North Korea’s rejection of the 6-party talks (which were always a fig-leaf for our unwillingness to talk directly with North Korea) will just isolate them further, you have to wonder how she’s failed to notice that North Korea’s rulers like being isolated and work very hard indeed to maintain their isolation.

Asked about North Korea’s belief that the US was coming after it, Condi says, “Well, I’m not quite sure to what the North Koreans are referring.” Can’t you?

Condi also praises Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections, while hoping that “at one point [they] would include women.” She failed to add that half the local council seats, and mayors, would still be appointed by the monarchy, and would have no defined powers.

Are you aware of the reason the Saudis give for the exclusion of women? Nothing religious or ideological about women being stupid or impure or whatever, but the somehow more insulting, because so completely dismissive, excuse that it would have been too much work to build all those (separate, naturally) polling stations and ballot boxes

for women. I mean, even in Iraq we managed...

...well ok, bad example. You’ll notice no one ever suggests that if they can only manage polling places for half the population, the men could sit this one out.

Revealing the wicked nature and brazen-faced double-dealing tactics of the U.S. as a master hand at plot-breeding and deception

The Axis of Evil is acting all axis of evilly today. Both Iran and North Korea issued statements saying they’ll be keeping their nuclear programs, thank you very much.

The North Korean government is always hard to interpret, because it speaks entirely in badly translated jargon which it may actually believe. Sometimes this is entertaining, and when I’m bored I surf to the NK news agency website for stories like “Japan Termed Wicked Trickster.” But the problem is that, believing in their own over-blown jargon, sometimes they believe in our over-blown jargon as well--axis of evil, regime change, outpost of tyranny, etc etc--and think we’re about to go to war with them. Their statement today said, yeah we got nukes (“nukes for self-defence”) and whaddya gonna do about it, denouncing American attempts to push regional diplomacy as “a far-fetched logic of gangsters as it is a good example fully revealing the wicked nature and brazen-faced double-dealing tactics of the U.S. as a master hand at plot-breeding and deception.” Uh, yeah, and what’s your point?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Freedom and liberty, if you have a penis and don’t mind it being flaccid

Thursday there will be municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, and women will not be allowed to vote. Has anyone heard any outrage from the United States government, as part of its new mission to spread freedom and liberty and still more liberty and yet more freedom everywhere?

A bill is being proposed to ban Medicare from covering Viagra. But was it necessary for the WaPo to say that such coverage “could strain the already strapped program”?

The coup in Togo has been condemned by ECOWAS and other African organizations. This is a good sign, and compares well with the toleration given to Zimbabwe’s deepening fascism.

There’s a better future, and I want to take a risk toward that future

Truly leaving no child behind, a public elementary school in Sutter, California (north of Sacramento) required students to carry Radio Frequency Identification tags (RFIDs) to track their movements. This will be overturned, but only because pedophiles can also use readers to track their movements, not because it is degrading and creepy.

Juan Cole points out that once Iraqi election results are announced, the winners will no longer be anonymous and will be subject to assassination. Fortunately the proportional representation system the US imposed on Iraq should mean that replacements come from the existing party lists. Imagine being subjected to all those clichés about brave Iraqis defying the blah blah blah every time there was an election to fill a suddenly vacant seat.

I’m getting a certain amount of traffic today from search engines because Monday I mentioned mud-wrestling contests among American women MPs at one of our prison camps in Iraq. People want to see the pictures. You’ve gotta love the assumptions the Internet has created that if there is such an event, there will be pictures (in fact there are) and they will be posted to the internet (not yet). Information wants to be free, especially when it involves women mud-wrestling.
(Update: my mistake. Tex at UnFairWitness has a couple of pictures posted for your unfair-witnessing pleasure. It seems that the NY Daily News ran pictures a few days ago.)

As much as I depend on the White House website for sources of humor, I found it impossible to do more than skim “President Participates in Class-Action Lawsuit Reform Conversation.” I see he doesn’t know the real word for “baby doctor.” Bush does explain that “A capitalist society depends on the capacity for people willing to take risk and to say there’s a better future, and I want to take a risk toward that future. And I’m deeply concerned that too many lawsuits make it too difficult for people to do that.” Of course what he doesn’t explain is that he wants to make it easier for capitalists to get their better futures by risking other people’s lives.

Wooing Old Europe, Condi-style

Kamen at the WaPo quotes State Dept spokesmodel Tom Casey, who objected to Cuba and Zimbabwe being on a UN human rights panel: “The United States believes that countries that routinely and systematically violate the rights of their citizens should not be selected to review the human rights performance of other countries.” But when the US does it, it’s just a few bad apples, and mostly we violate the rights of citizens of other countries and blah blah hypocrisy Abu Ghraib naked human pyramids Alberto Gonzales detention without trial blah blah blah blah....

Sorry, I just had a vision of 4 more years of sanctimonious Bushies pretending to be spreading freedom throughout the world, and I went into blogger automatic pilot.

Kamen points out that Saudi Arabia, another exemplar of human rights, is also on that panel.

Condi Rice was in Paris, “wooing” the French, as all the news sources put it. It somehow comes as no surprise that her style of “wooing” is actually the issuing of marching orders, thinly disguised. An Independent editorial (not available for free online) points out (as does Eli at Left I On the News) that when she said, “America stands ready to work with Europe on our common agenda -- and Europe must stand ready to work with America,” “it sounded very like a command - and if not a command, then a threat.” (The arrogance of power is never far from the Bushies; Chimpy himself today said that Congress “needs to” pass his budget.)

Elsewhere in that speech, she suggests a single historical line from Rosa Parks to the fall of communism to the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq. Must be Black Propaganda History Month.

People accused Bill Clinton of running a permanent campaign, of electioneering rather than governing. Well what do we make of the promotion of Karl Rove, a man who has spent his career running slimy campaigns on behalf of slimy candidates, to the policy position of deputy chief of staff?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Stopping all acts of violence everywhere

Bush describes his budget as one that “reduces and eliminates redundancy.” Also eradicates, extinguishes, annihilates and wipes out redundancy. He adds that he will hold “federal programs to a firm test of accountability,” but does not say if this test will involve Western-style accountancy.

21 are killed in Baghdad. Care to guess what they were doing? Yes, waiting on a line (to join the military), which is behaviour abhorrent in the eyes of Allah.

Denmark returns its Center-Right government to power, on a strong anti-immigrant platform. That’s the theme of European elections this year, with Tony Blair and Michael Howard also engaged in a bidding war on who can be more beastly to Johnny Asylum-Seeker.

Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas come to an agreement “that all Palestinians will stop all acts of violence against all Israelis everywhere, and, at the same time, Israel will cease all its military activity against all Palestinians everywhere”. That line comes from Sharon, who evidently
doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of Israeli citizens who are also Palestinians.

So we can now forget about the Middle East because, as we all know, cease-fire agreements are considered sacred in that part of the world and are never broken. So there’s no reason to bet on how long it lasts, because it will last forever, although if you’ve got a pool, put me down for 5..4...3...2...

And then Sharon ate him.

All the different shirts

From the LA Times:
"They’re all around there in the Capitol, as you know, the different special interests," Schwarzenegger said recently, "the purple shirts and the brown — all the different shirts."

The purple shirts refer to T-shirts worn by unionized state workers who have been holding protests around Sacramento over the governor's plans to change their retirement system and take away some of their holidays, among other things. As for the brown shirts, it was unclear to whom Schwarzenegger was referring.
When an Austrian politician starts having hallucinations involving brownshirts--run.

Rep. Jane Harman will introduce a bill to ban torture. One would have thought that was illegal already, but evidently one would have been wrong. The bill would also ban “rendition.” I’ll be interested to see how Harman defines torture, something no Bush official has been willing to do.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Now, a gay activist with a trimmed beard standing on line for a mud-wrestling contest....

The London Times presents an interesting juxtaposition. Tacked on to the end of a story about Iraqi Taliban-wannabes allegedly killing barbers for trimming beards contrary to the will of Allah is this: “An American military policewoman who took part in a mud-wrestling contest at an Iraqi prison was yesterday demoted and found guilty of indecent exposure.” See, we have our standards, they have their standards.

There must also be something in the Koran about standing in line also being contrary to the will of Allah. Two more queues were bombed today, one of Iraqi policemen waiting to collect their pay, another of applicants to join the Iraqi police. This is only the 853rd and 854th time respectively that this has happened, by my count.

A gay activist, Scott McCoy, is named by D party activists to replace a Utah state senator resigning on health grounds. Should be fun.

George Monbiot writes that we may hear less UN-bashing from the R’s on the subject of the oil-for-food program in Iraq, since the Volker report says that much bigger violations of sanctions occurred through illegal sales of oil--which the US knew about and did nothing to stop, because it benefitted allies we wished to keep sweet, like Turkey and Jordan. Monbiot also has more details of the money that the CPA lost through its non-Western accounting methods: “Some $800m was handed out to US commanders without being counted or even weighed. A further $1.4bn was flown from Baghdad to the Kurdish regional government in the town of Irbil, and has not been seen since.”

Social Security Privatization and the Permanent Republican Majority

Now that Bush has revealed more details of his Social Security privatization scheme, I must say I’m relieved to see how lame it is. This turkey could pass only if the D’s efforts to stop it reach a Kerryesque level of incompetence. Which is quite possible, of course: I never thought the Medicare drug benefit could make it all the way into law still containing that idiotic “donut,” which shows what I know. But with the government managing the investment funds, with the clawback of anything below a 3% return, and with those mandatory annuities, and with even the Bushies now admitting it won’t help the long-term stability of Social Security, even the gamblers with visions of stock market windfalls won’t find this very attractive. One can only hope Bush expends lots and lots of his “capital” trying to push this turd uphill.

So what was it about? Like tax cuts, Social Security privatization was fundamentally about “starving the beast,” circumscribing the powers of government. Connect pensions to the stock market, and any attempt to regulate pollution, raise the minimum wage, tax corporations, prevent them sending jobs oversees, etc etc etc would be denounced as threatening granny’s private personal retirement account. Almost every aspect of a progressive agenda would be measured against the Dow Jones and found wanting. The R’s would be practically assured of a permanent majority.

So maybe just as well the plan stinks up the joint.

Always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom

Rumsfeld revealed this week that he twice offered to resign over Abu Ghraib. But just as Rummy was more concerned about the leak of images of Abu Ghraib torture than with the actual torture, his faux-resignations offer the image of taking responsibility without actually taking responsibility. By offering to resign rather than simply resigning, he was signaling that he believed he had done nothing wrong, but if Bush thought otherwise, he could act. This wasn’t accountability, but passive-aggressiveness, the equivalent of asking “do these pants make my butt look big?”. Rather than treat torture as a moral issue, his actions indicate once again that he saw it purely in pragmatic terms--whether his political effectiveness had been damaged--the very same amoral stance that led his subordinates to consider torture a legitimate tool.

And as long as I’m talking about Rumsfeld’s amorality, I haven’t yet mentioned his push this week for research into “bunker-buster” nuclear weapons, but I don’t think the discerning readers of this blog need explained to them why developing usable nukes is insane.

The US has forced the UN drugs agency to stop giving clean needles to heroine addicts to prevent AIDS transmission.

A week ago I mentioned (and posted) the British Labour party poster accused of being anti-semitic. That one, and another which supposedly made Michael Howard look too much like Fagin, have been removed from the Labour website. So the latest thing is the new Labour slogan, “Britain Forward Not Back,” intended to show that Labour is too dynamic to use verbs or correct grammar. But the slogan turns out to bear a certain similarity to a Halloween episode of the Simpsons which showed Bill Clinton declaring, “We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.”

Sunday, February 06, 2005

How socks can be a direct violation of human rights

Rumsfeld says there won’t be an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq, run by “a handful of mullahs” (yes, those mullahs are a handful), because “The Shia in Iraq are Iraqis, they are not Iranians”. He does have a way of stating the bleeding obvious in a way that makes it sound like bullshit.

Rummy says “the great sweep of human history is for freedom.” The Bushies are beginning to talk about history being on their side the way “scientific Marxists” used to.

An Israeli military court releases the captain who emptied his gun into a 13-year old Palestinian girl last November, after one of the witnesses, another soldier, recants. This is insane, there are recordings of the bastard saying “I confirmed the kill” and there are ballistics from the ten bullets he used in the confirmation process. Previous posts here and here.

I trust my silence up until now about the royal coup in Nepal hasn’t been taken as tacit approval or anything. In the unlikely case that you’ve been waiting to hear from me before forming an opinion on the subject, here we go: authoritarian rule bad, democracy good.

The now censored Nepalese press has taken to running editorials on socks, how there are many types of socks on the market but if someone insists on wearing “the same pair of socks day in and day out, not even bothering to assess the detrimental effect of the overpowering stench... Isn’t it a direct violation of human rights?” This could just be a metaphor. There have also been editorials against chopping down oxygen-producing trees, on archery, women’s cricket, and how to enjoy sunshine.

If you need help making up your minds about the coup in Togo, here’s a hint: authoritarian rule bad, idiot son succeeding father bad, democracy good, “Togo” funny name for a country.

A Hong Kong firm is making feng shui underpants.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

I don’t know what he said precisely or the context

From Secretary of War Rummy’s press conference Thursday: “The number of Iraqi security personnel who have died defending their country tells without question that they have the courage to do so.” Or just that they’re not very good at it.

Asked about Gen. Mattis calling shooting people fun and a hoot, Rummy declined to condemn the remarks. “I have not read his words. I don’t know what he said precisely or the context.” The reporter, who had actually just quoted the remarks in full, did not ask what possible context would excuse the remarks or whether Rumsfeld’s laziness about looking into such matters was indicative of his own permissive attitude to such assholery. Rummy pulled the same “haven’t read his words” thing with William “My God’s bigger than your God” Boykin, and was saying quite late in the game that he hadn’t read the report on Abu Ghraib torture (Maureen Dowd wrote, “Fire Rummy, or make him read faster.”) Clearly, DRummy has still not improved his literacy skills.

Consistent with our values

Condi says that the US’s Iran’s “behavior, internally and externally, is out of step with the direction and desires of the international community.”

Attorney Generalissimo Gonzalez says the Department of Justice will combat terrorism “in a way that’s consistent with our values.” Which is odd, because his previous dismissal of the Geneva Conventions as quaint and obsolete in the “new kind of paradigm” that is the war against terrorism suggests that he sees values such as civil and human rights as merely situational and revocable.

Speaking of combating terrorism in a way consistent with their miserable, vicious, desiccated values, the Iraqi police have taken to showing videos of prisoners confessing to their heinous crimes on tv. Totally voluntary confessions, I’m sure.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Loathed, loathed I tell you!

A day after Bush in SOTU said the US would work with our European allies to get Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, Condi Rice says we won’t do so because “I think our European allies agree that the Iranian regime’s human rights behavior and its behavior toward its own population is something to be loathed.” So until they change their human rights situation, they’ll just have to keep their nuclear weapons.

Condi did add that a US invasion of Iran is not on the agenda “at this point in time.” That’s a little too temporally specific to be reassuring.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

“It’s fun to shoot some people”

The Marine Corps decides not to punish Lt. Gen James Mattis for saying that shooting people is “fun” and “a hoot.” Possibly they’re afraid to.

If recreational homicide doesn’t bother anyone these days, we should hardly expect torture to, and indeed Waterboardin’ Al Gonzales is confirmed as Attorney Generalissimo and Grand Inquisitor by 60-36. There were no anti-torture Republicans, including John McCain, himself a former torture victim. At Condi Rice’s confirmation hearing, during a discussion of her opposition to giving legal protections against torture to foreign prisoners, Christopher Dodd told her “I’d like you to spend about 15 minutes with John McCain.” Turns out, wouldn’t have done any good.

Oh dear, the UN oil-for-food program didn’t have “Western-style budgeting and accounting procedures.”

This Guardian article deals with some of the questions I’ve been pondering about the odd collapse of the latest Northern Irish peace efforts following unlikely accusations that IRA leaders were associated with a bank robbery in December and culminating this week with the IRA’s withdrawal from arms decommissioning, evidently in a sulk about the aspersions on their hitherto unsullied honor.

So bored that I’m blogging the Annual National Prayer Breakfast

And today, Bush follows up on the SOTU address with prayer, as do all of us under 55. Specifically, at something the White House website calls the “Annual National Prayer Breakfast.” I’m having trouble sorting out those adjectives--is it the breakfast that’s national or do we have a national prayer that I don’t know about? And it was held at the International House of Pancakes, which just confuses the thing more.

The White House chooses to use this picture of Bush doing his little-boy-closing-his-eyes-real-tight thing, although whether that’s because he was praying or that’s how he always eats eggs benedict, it doesn’t say.

He said this: “You know, last night was a prayerful occasion. (Laughter.) I noticed a lot of members were praying that I would keep my speech short. (Laughter.)” Oh no stop my sides are splitting.

Don’t know if the event was filmed, because the President of Madagascar was there, and I would dearly love to hear Shrub trying to pronounce one of those great Malagasy names: Marc Ravalomanana.

He says that “prayer has always been one of the great equalizers in American life.” I thought that was the Colt revolver.

Here’s another picture. I think the circular things are the angels that follow him everywhere.

Friday Species-in-Danger-of-Extinction-from-Global-Warming Blogging

Eli at LeftI
notes “the tremendous disparity in press attention between the very real global warming crisis and the bogus Social Security ‘crisis.’” We all know what’s needed to make people give a shit about environmental issues: cute animal pictures. Therefore, I hereby invite other bloggers to join in Friday Species-in-Danger-of-Extinction-from-Global-Warming Blogging, which I’m inaugurating a day early, and calling dibs on polar bears.

Evil smug scum watch

Elliott Abrams, who did such a lovely job undermining democracy here and in Central America during the Reagan administration, has been promoted to deputy national security adviser with responsibility for advancing democracy. Back then, I said that if one good thing came out of Iran-Contra, it was that that smug prick would never become secretary of state. If you’re too young to remember this supporter of death squads, dictators and Contras, do google him. The first Google hit is a David Corn article in the Nation, which should be a good place to start. But a list of his misdeeds doesn’t convey how obnoxious this guy’s smugness was, how irritating his ubiquitous appearances on McNeil-Lehrer and Nightline.

My favorite Abrams story: a Congressional committee once asked him if any foreign governments had contributed funds to the Contras. He said no, which was technically true only because when Abrams had solicited $10 million from the Sultan of Brunei, he gave him the wrong Swiss account number, so the money hadn’t technically gone to the Contras but to one temporarily lucky (until he got caught) Swiss citizen.

So Abrams’s rehabilitation continues. At a glacial pace, I suppose, compared to the near-instant whitewashing of torture apologists like Alberto Gonzales (yesterday I caught a bit of the Senate speeches, with Orrin Hatch outright accusing D’s of racism). Still, even Bush daren’t put him up for a position requiring Senate confirmation (he was after all convicted of lying to Congress, later pardoned by Bush the Elder) or make the announcement on any but a busy news day. I think the best response to this is a reminder that Bush’s father still hasn’t answered questions about his role in Iran-Contra, about which he said the Reagan administration had “erred on the side of life.” Ah, the culture of life.

Alternative caption: Republicans display fingers they had dipped in the blood of infidels.

Marc Cooper on this stunt: “These congress-twerps who spend their days and night suckling on the special interests tit braved no more than the risk of camera-light sunburn for their efforts.”

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Opening the door to freedom, but not to frivolous asbestos lawsuits

The Czech Republic is going to lower the minimum wage. I can’t remember a country ever doing that before.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has boldly come out against old people having sex, which we can all agree is as icky as anything thought up by the other Stephen King. The Medicare drug plan will cover Viagra in cases of erectile disfunction, but Mr. King says “If we are going to subsidize someone’s recreational sex, I don’t think that’s what our founding fathers had in mind.” Right, they had slaves for that.

Allawi claims that all the suicide bombers caught on the day of the elections were non-Iraqis, which is not a claim I’ve heard before (nor do I believe it).

Clean-up on the SOTU post, below: Bush said “We expect Syria to end all support for terrorists and open the door to freedom.” 1) Is that what you expect, really? Megalomaniacal much? 2) I understand the ending support for terrorists bit, but what exactly are they supposed to do to comply with the door-opening part?

Really, blogging that travesty with a cold was not the funnest experience ever. I must have been coughing during the “frivolous asbestos lawsuits” line, cuz I missed it. And life is definitely too short to bother with the Democratic response. I’m ready for my nap now, I’ll tell you. Do Republicans party after the SOTU, I wonder? Tomorrow morning will D.C. call girls be scrubbing purple ink out of their various orifices?

I don’t really have a caption for this one, I just thought Bush looks particularly goofy in it.

We’re number one! No wait, we’re purple! Hey, did you say indelible?

That look of smug bemusement does not go with that tie.

Donald Rumsfeld and John Snow wait patiently to receive their kisses.