Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Meet Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin

A British couple will celebrate their 80th anniversary tomorrow. The secret is evidently saying sorry and Yes dear. Oh, and not dying. (The Telegraph’s front page has their wedding photo.)

As expected, Jacques Chirac fired his prime minister, blaming the failure of the EU referendum on Raffarin’s unpopularity rather than his own or that of the proposed constitution. And because French politicians have been considered out of touch lately, Chirac replaced him with Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin (which is French for Little Lord Fountleroy), who is both a poet and an aristocrat. Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin has never run for elective office, because he considers himself above that sort of thing, saying “My only party is France,” which is very Charles de Gaulle of him, very Sun King. French people consider him to be arrogant.

After a suicide bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in Pakistan, Shiites retaliated by burning down a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, possibly because they think Americans worship fried chicken, or because there is a little-reported religious war between Shiites and Kentuckians, who can say for sure?

From the Onion:

U.S. Intensifies Empty-Threat Campaign Against North Korea
WASHINGTON, DC—During a recent press conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued another warning to North Korea, escalating the U.S. empty-threat campaign against the nation. “Make no mistake, if Kim Jong Il does not put a stop to the manufacturing of plutonium in his nation, we will come down on him quite hard,” Rice said. “We demand compliance, and if we don’t get it, then watch out.” Rice went on to say that noncompliance would result in some action that “would be very bad indeed,” adding that North Korea does not want to know what it will be in for.

And an excellent What Do You Think? too:

The House recently passed a bill lifting restrictions on stem-cell research, but Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate. What do you think?
“The Democrats and Republicans-and most of the American public-are actually in agreement over an issue. You can see how Bush would want to put a stop to that right away.”

“Some things are just morally reprehensible, like using science to save people’s lives.”

“Hey, if it weren’t for scientific research, Christopher Reeve would’ve died on that polo field and none of this would even be an issue in the first place.”

“The Democrats want stem-cell research so they can cure multiple sclerosis. The GOP wants it so they can grow an army of zombies. So Bush is in a tough spot politically.”

“They’re not stems, they’re babies! And they’re not cells, they’re babies! And it’s not research, it’s babies!”

Summer reading

Oopsy: This is the Pentagon statement on the seizure of Mohsen Abdul-Hamid: “Following the interview it was determined that he was detained by mistake and should be released. ... Coalition forces regret any inconvenience...” First, don’t blame it on a “coalition” when it was a purely American operation. Second, an “interview” starts with being asked to sit and would you like some coffee, not with having a hood thrown over your head and being dragged out of your house. Third, a bigger lexicological problem continues to be that word “mistake”: it’s a day and a half later, and the Pentagon still hasn’t clarified the nature of the mistaken behooding and seizure of the head of the largest Sunni party, and nobody seems to be asking them to do so.

Gary Indiana’s new book The Schwarzenegger Syndrome: Politics and Celebrity in the Age of Contempt sounds like fun, if a bit pricey ($13.57 at Amazon for 140 pages), according to the Village Voice review. Here’s a quote: “to the bewildered and traumatized who continued to imagine that ‘fascism’ described a condition other than the merger of the state with corporate capitalism, ‘hasta la vista, baby’ sounded like as workable a program as anything else.”
(Update: on the other hand, Marc Cooper hates the book.)

And as long as we’re talking books, Human Events, right-wing morons since 1944, list the 10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th century, starting with the Communist Manifesto and including the Kinsey Report (#4) and The Feminine Mystique (#7), but not the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which actually was and is harmful. Not even in the honorable mentions. Marx is the only author who appears twice, and yes Das Kapital could be very harmful if you dropped it on your toe. I only own 3 or maybe 4 (I’m not sure if Beyond Good and Evil is among my very modest Nietzsche collection), so perhaps I haven’t been too badly damaged. Next up from the Human Eventers: the 10 most harmful ballets of the 19th and 20th century.

Bush press conference: trained in some instances to disassemble

Bush held a press conference today, in which reporters with names like Stretch asked questions, and Bush responded by stuttering through a series of catch-phrases. He is not getting more articulate over time.

Asked about the Amnesty International "new gulag" report, he repeated the word "absurd" over and over. Reading rather than listening to the press conference, I imagined him flapping his arms and uttering "absurd" in the voice of Daffy Duck, but that's just me.

In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of -- and the allegations -- by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is.

Thousands detained, and for some reason, they hate America. And they've been trained to "disassemble" -- oh how I hope that isn't a transcript error -- as opposed to picking it up the street, or in the backroom of a Houston bar, like you did George.
(Update: it isn't an error, he really said it! The man is Cliff Claven and Ted Baxter rolled up into one!)

Asked to condemn the massacre in Uzbekistan, George seemed to think there wasn't enough evidence yet, and called for the International Red Cross to investigate. Preferably for two or three years.

He described the demand by Senate D's for documents about John Bolton as a "stall tactic." Like every one of his answers at this press conference.

Says progress on Social Security is "like water cutting through a rock." No, no, it's paper covers rock, rock breaks scissors, how many times do we have to explain it to you, but each time Dick Cheney makes a fist (and Dick Cheney always does rock), you urinate on his hand and yell "Ha ha, I win."

(Update: writing this post quickly at the library, I missed what Bob caught: the wonderful counterpoint of Bush defending Gitmo while lecturing Putin about the 9-year sentence given to Yukos chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky today: "as I explained to him, here you're innocent until proven guilty, and it appeared to us, or at least people in my administration, that it looked like he had been judged guilty prior to having a fair trial. In other words, he was put in prison, and then was tried." Because of course, first you put them in prison, and then you declare them enemy combatants who hate America.)

Monday, May 30, 2005


A friend in Vermont informs me that Nightline’s reading of the names of dead tonight has commercials, including one for the Vermont National Guard. What other commercials have people seen? Drop me an email at:


Include the city the station is located in.

A mistake

I guess as part of “Operation Lightning,” the US first arrests — sorry, I meant to say seizes; arrest, the verb widely used in news stories, suggests a process of law — the head of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, throwing a bag over his head (why do American police never do that when they arrest people, or will the practice be imported from Iraq within a year or two, I wonder), then releases him, saying the arrest was a mistake. No fucking kidding. Some news media are taking that to mean a case of mistaken identity, but that’s not what was said. Here’s a detail I like: Prime Minister Jaafari ordered an investigation. Hey, the American military didn’t even inform you before grabbing up Hamid, how are you going to get them to cooperate with an investigation? Isn’t it cute when they pretend to be in control?

The chief of police in Basra says he’s lost control of the police force, which is heavily infiltrated by sectarian groups who are using police cars in assassinations. And Basra’s the one peaceful area outside Kurdistan.

: “For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights [in Guantanamo], I frankly just don’t take them seriously.” The head of Amnesty’s US branch responds nicely, “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.”

Cheney went on, “Occasionally there are allegations of mistreatment. But if you trace those back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come from somebody who has been inside and been released ... to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated.” I’ve said before, the Bushies have lost the ability to distinguish between proving a case and just making an assertion. Notice how he starts as if he had actual evidence he was going to present — “if you trace,” “in nearly every case,” “it turns out” — and then peters out into, well they were lying. An argument, it has been said before, isn’t just contradiction, the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes. And in denying that any human rights were violated in Gitmo, he’s also gainsaying the photos we’ve all seen. And the 1,000 pages of Gitmo tribunal documents released to AP under the Freedom of Information Act on this fine holiday weekend, which show the tribunals ignoring every complaint. You can read the documents here.

By the way, in the same interview, Cheney accused Kim Jong Il of running a police state.

Speaking of big round cheeses, today was the traditional Gloucestershire cheese roll, in which a 7-pound circular cheese is rolled down a hill, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph, and a bunch of crazy Brits roll after it. The survivor gets the cheese. Yes that’s him, clutching his prize as they take him to the hospital. The head of PETA complained that the event was not vegan.

Memorial Day

For someone with my beliefs and political perspective, blogging about Memorial Day may be a no-win situation, and I’d have happily avoided it if I hadn’t read and been deeply repulsed by Bush’s speech at Arlington today, in which he exploited the deaths of servicepersons in the service of his own goals. He quoted the farewell letter of Sgt Michael Evans (which I think means not his last letter, but a letter written to be opened if he was killed): “My death will mean nothing if you stop now.” Bush adds, “And we must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives”. I don’t resent the sentiment coming from Evans; in the mouth of George W. Bush it becomes an obscenity. He’s hiding behind the honored dead.

Here are some more high points from Bush’s speech: “Across the globe, our military is standing directly between our people and the worst dangers in the world... freedom is on the march... blah blah liberty blah”.

What does he mean by worst dangers in the world, by the way? Wouldn’t those be biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, the things Iraq did not have?

The precariousness in rising to protest that bilge is that while I stand in awe of the idealism of those who volunteer to risk their lives in the what they see as the cause of liberty and freedom, I consider them to have been flim-flammed. I do consider Michael Evans’s death to have meant not very much, at least not what he wanted it to mean, and what he had a right to have it mean, if he was going to be sent into harm’s way. There aren’t so many idealistic people in the world, even among the young (Evans was 22), that we can afford to have their idealism canalized into the wrong paths.

Under George Bush, 1,647 soldiers have died, 12,630 wounded.

No, Mr. President, the pretty flowers are not for you.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

It is your sovereign decision and I take note

In Latvia, hundreds of farm animals have been killed this weekend by swarms of flies.

A NYT Styles section article on how expensive it is to provide teenagers all the toys they require to maintain their social standing (iPods, portable DVD players, cellphones with cameras, etc) is headlined, “‘But I Neeeeeeed It!’ She Suggested.” (The author was probably thinking of what an English professor once described as the greatest sentence in English literature, by Ring Lardner: “‘Shut up,’ he explained.”)

The rest of this post will be devoted to the French referendum.

I’m moderately pleased with the French rejection of the proposed European Union constitution (55% to 45%, on a turnout of 70%), a document I disliked for its failure to significantly democratize the EU’s institutions, for its subordination of EU foreign policy to NATO, and because I think it will be bad for workplace rights. Apostate Windbag makes roughly the same arguments, at greater length, as does Doug Ireland, who also makes some predictions for what the rejection will mean in France and beyond.

I would be more than moderately pleased if 1) xenophobia and racism didn’t play such a large part in the defeat, albeit alongside more worthy motives, and 2) I had a clearer idea what will happen next (it would also be nice if the progressives who oppose the draft constitution were clearer in expressing an alternative). The constitution will be enacted if 20 nations (of 25) sign up, and many are ensuring that by refusing to hold a referendum, as was the case with all 9 which have already ratified. But if it also fails in the Netherlands’ referendum Wednesday, Britain will have to cancel its own referendum plans. Blair was hoping that the majority opposing the EU const now would be changed by the time of referendum by a sense of inevitability, which is now lost. While he could skip the referendum and get his tame Parliament to sign up, it would look bad, really really bad, and do great damage to the Labour party.

The constitution can, and may well be, forced through against the wills of the majority of the population of Britain, France and several other EU nations (possibly after some minor cosmetic rewriting), but that would just increase Europeans’ estrangement from their own governments and the EU’s. Once it became clear that today’s referendum would fail, if not by how much, French politicians started talking about holding a second one later in the process (the Danes were forced to re-vote on the Treaty of Maastricht after first rejecting it in 1992), to give the French people the opportunity to see the error of their ways and make the right and inevitable decision, which is exactly the sort of elite arrogance that the French voters threw le poop at today. They’ve been treated for years (all Western Europeans have) to condescending talk about the inevitability of EU integration and the free market, the sort of thing Thomas Friedman says about globalization, and you know how irritating it is listening to Friedman talk about globalization.

This defeat also puts off for years any possibility of Turkey entering the EU, I would think.

(Update:) Chirac: “France has expressed itself democratically. It is your sovereign decision and I take note.” Great, ‘cause their may be a short quiz later.


Operation Lightning has begun, whereby 40,000 Iraqi and 10,000 American soldiers will entirely shut down the sprawling city of Baghdad, thus ending attacks in the city because, as we know, the insurgents all live in the suburbs and commute to work every morning, just like the dads in old sitcoms.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Extry, extry, read all about it

Many news sites (according to news.google.com) used this Reuters story, but only the Washington Post had the flair to headline it “Pakistanis Find Bloodied Head of Suicide Bomber.” Really, let’s all take a moment to bask in the exquisite gruesomeness of those words.

The Democrats who are clamoring for this have already voted against John Bolton

The White House is determined to distance itself from any attempts at bipartisanship, refusing to hand documents over to the Senate which the D’s say bear on John Bolton’s fitness to serve as ambassador to the UN. Sez Scotty McClellan, “The Democrats who are clamoring for this have already voted against John Bolton. This is about partisan politics, not documents. They have the information they need.” What Scotty is forgetting is that the Senate is supposed to be a deliberative body, in which decisions arise out of open discussion and debate: the “clamoring” D’s may have made up their own minds, but they still have a perfectly legitimate need for information they can use to try to convince others to reconsider. That would be how it would work in a truly deliberative body where decisions weren’t based on party label, where congressional members of the president’s party are not expected to support his every decision mindlessly and automatically.

While the anti-immigrant lobby in the US talks about making driver’s licenses “real” identity cards, a London School of Economics study estimates that Tony Blair’s plan to introduce mandatory identity cards, with those neat biometrics and all the Orwellian bells and whistles (by the way, Eddie Albert’s obit says he played Winston Smith in a 1953 tv version of 1984; there’s probably a joke in that), would cost £300. Can you say “poll tax?” And the American government is insisting that it be able to read those cards too.

A NYT article about a federal case being tried in Vermont says that John Ashcroft overturned a deal reached by the US attorney to avoid the death penalty in this case, but fails to mention that it was Ashcroft’s policy to go for the death penalty in states that did not have it at the state level (the Clinton admin was more or less deferential to states’ policies). Remember, the next time Bush talks about the “culture of life,” that states which oppose the death penalty are being forced to host trials and provide jurors for these death-fests.

Speaking of the culture of life, Bush, in his weekly radio address, said: “Throughout our history, America has fought not to conquer but to liberate. We go to war reluctantly, because we understand the high cost of war.” Oh dear God I’ve gone blind! The glare of the whitewash has blinded me!

Do they really want to get this done

The WaPo stuffs some intriguing but underdeveloped Iraq stories inside a less interesting Iraq story, so you might have missed them: after a suicide car-bomb attack on an Iraqi military unit, American forces shot an Iraqi policeman and an ambulance driver arriving at the scene, the latter fatally.

Also, an Iraqi was shot dead “during the Marine and Iraqi forces sweep at Haditha, Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a military spokesman, said by e-mail.” The thing is, the Iraqi was a prisoner inside Abu Ghraib when he was hit. More details, please. Which reminds me: I read a brief item a day or two ago that said 3 prisoners had escaped Abu Ghraib; haven’t seen anything since. I’m not specifically blaming the WaPo, which went with what it had today, but the American media in general seem to have lost all interest in covering the details of military operations in Iraq.

The US turned down Venezuela’s request for the detention of Luis Posada Carilles Friday, despite the fact that he is under detention. Eli at Left I On the News was (justifiably) outraged that a State Department official who told the media that Venezuelan documents requesting the detention of Luis Posada Carilles were inadequate, did so anonymously. It was worse than Eli knew: a Saturday WaPo article quotes the official as suggesting Venezuela deliberately did this as part of a cunning plan:
But the Posada arrest request was so inadequate, the official said, that some U.S. diplomats believe Venezuela purposely drafted it so the United States would reject it.

“It leads one to ask the question, ‘Do they really want to get this done or is this in some way a public relations issue?’” said the State Department official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The official trashes another country this way from the shadows because of sensi-fucking-tivity? And lets him attribute opinions to “some US diplomats”: the person with such high standards of proof is allowed by the Post to give anonymous hearsay evidence. The Post calls this clown a “high-ranking” State Department official, which narrows it down considerably: I’d bet cash money it was Roger Noriega.

The US claims Venezuela gave no statement of evidence against Posada, which is just as insulting as the “Do they really want to get this done” speculation, since the US is in possession of much more evidence of ex-CIA employee Posada’s crimes than Venezuela is. If Venezuela has “inadequate” information, whose fault is that?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Give this turd a knock

In Hebron, an Israeli patrol stopped a Palestinian youth and asked if his family had satellite tv, then took over that house and kept the family locked in one room while they watched a soccer final in which Liverpool beat AC Milan.

Another day, another military acquittal for prisoner abuse in Iraq. Today it was Navy SEAL lieutenant Andrew Ledford who led a platoon which beat a prisoner who died a little later, but probably because of torture in Abu Ghraib (for which no one has been charged) rather than from the beating. Prosecutors suggested that he had failed as a leader because he not only didn’t order his men to stop the beating, but took his turn when asked to “give this turd a knock,” then posed for pictures (which don’t seem to be available). Although the other men didn’t testify to seeing him hit the prisoner, he had confessed to it himself in a sworn statement; on the stand, he recanted. His lawyer, who was also Sabrina Harman’s lawyer, asked, “Were they supposed to give (al-Jamadi) tea and cookies on the way from his apartment to a CIA interrogation?” Ledford will now be promoted.

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Censorship returns to South Africa. The Mail & Guardian, which used to run afoul of the apartheid regime, has been hit with a pre-censorship order, preventing the publication of the second part of a story about the ANC’s relations with an oil management company which funneled funds to it from a parastatal oil company. The judge found this story to infringe on the company’s privacy and dignity.

I can’t believe no one thought of it before: paid product placements (from Pepsi, as if more alliteration were needed) in a political ad. Schwarzenegger is a genius, I tell ya, a genius. I think all of us bloggers need to convince Arnie to start his own blog, ‘cause if anyone can figure out how to make blogging profitable...

The Poor Man on media balance:
1) I don’t know how many sides there are to each story. I know that a cube has six sides, and a record has two, but I don’t really know how many sides a story has, and I suspect it depends rather strongly on the particular story. If you decide that there are two sides to every story, remember that the two sides you are looking at are just the two loudest sides, and volume is very poor measure of quality.

2) There is a natural tendency to think that all opinions have some validity, and, by carefully plotting a conservative course somewhere between two representative arguments, you can make a serviceable approximation to something you could call “truth”. This is an admirable impulse, and often a constructive one, except if one (or both) of the positions is horseshit. Then, you’re fucked.

Credible, redux

A front-page article in the Thursday NYT said that the Guantanamo prisoner who made the Koran-flushing charge had been interviewed by the FBI but “was not able to substantiate the charge.” When I read that, I was going to make fun of it here, asking what sort of proof they were expecting, and then I realized, oh yeah, the smoking gun would be a soaking Koran. So I dropped the matter like, well, a soaking Koran, until I saw some military type on McNeil-Lehrer saying the prisoner had recanted. Gee, he’s being held without the benefit of any legal process in the “gulag of our times,” and he failed to repeat charges against the people who’d be watching over him, possibly for the rest of his life, far away from the eyes of the world. Quel surprise. The Pentagon repeats yet again that it has seen no “credible” allegations of Koran-dumping, and still fails to say what makes the allegations not credible. What I’m asking here is, what is the standard of evidence? A Pentagon spokesmodel quoted in the NYT disparaged the accuser as an “enemy combatant,” not to be believed. By that standard, you could do pretty much anything to an enemy combatant without fear. And indeed, am I right in thinking that the only soldiers convicted of prisoner abuse are the ones stupid enough to have done it while being photographed?

I’ve been enjoying the Pentagon’s flourishing of instructions it issued on the proper handling of the Koran. Reminds me that in the early days of Gulag Guantanamo, a lot of the interrogators were using a scholarly book from the 1970s about Islamic culture, which was used, to the horror of the family of the guy who wrote the book, who had quite liked Muslims, as a guidebook on what things to do to upset Muslims. The instructions no doubt served the same function.

Thursday two separate courts martial, one in the Army, one in the Marines, acquitted men who had killed unarmed Iraqis who had supposedly made threatening moves (in separate incidents). The killings may have been lawful acts of perceived self-defense, let’s assume they were. But the Marine also got away with having pumped 60 bullets into his two corpses and leaving them as an example with a sign saying “No better friend, no worse enemy,” and the Army sgt got away with having planted a gun on the body to make it look more like self-defense.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Maybe somebody will run on a war platform -- you know, vote for me, I promise violence

Meeting with Palestinian President Abbas, Bush makes the Palestinian elections sound like a Medieval mystery play: “Palestinians voted against violence, and for sovereignty, because only the defeat of violence will lead to sovereignty.” Later he speculated, “The President ran on a peace platform; you know, maybe somebody will run on a war platform -- you know, vote for me, I promise violence. I don’t think they’re going to get elected, because I think Palestinian moms want their children to grow up in peace just like American moms want their children to grow up in peace.”

When it came to Israeli actions, he was rather more muddled, making what Palestinians would see as distinctions without differences: “unauthorized outposts” must go, but not settlements, the Wall is ok only if it’s a security barrier, not a political barrier.

Shrub explains that he has a unique understanding of the Middle East: “You know, one of the things when you are in the position I’m in, I’m able to observe attitudes and opinions, and clearly there’s a lot of mistrust, and you can understand why.” Yes George, only you can see that there’s a lot of mistrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians, we bow before your superior insight.

He continues, “The only way to achieve all the objectives is for there to be a democracy living side-by-side with a democracy. And the best way to see -- to solve problems that seem insoluble now is for there to be a society which evolves based upon democratic principles.” If this means anything more than a string of his usual clichés, it’s that he’s placing the whole burden on the Palestinians to change their society before there can be peace, since Israel is already supposedly a democracy. Abbas responded strongly: “But democracy is like a coin; it has two sides. On one side is democracy; on the other side of the coin is freedom. It’s true, now we lack freedom and we are in dire need to have freedom. We do not live in freedom in our homeland. This will weaken the hope to continue this democracy, and will weaken the democratic march.”

Reuters and AFP photographers agree: Bush and Abbas look so much more impressive when shot from below.

The Americans have sold us out

In a story about the reintroduction of the death penalty in Iraq, the WaPo points out the irony that Coalition of the Willing (COW) countries like Britain which don’t have the death penalty, are fighting and dying to install and keep alive Iraqi politicians who then start executing their subjects. No executions have been carried out yet, legal executions I mean, but all the COW countries will be complicit in them.

A couple of days ago Laura Bush endorsed Egyptian President Mubarak’s plan to reform the electoral law by the smallest amount humanly possible, just prior to a referendum on those changes. This sort of intervention in another country’s elections is strictly verboten in international relations, and whoever it was — Condi Rice I assume — who fed Laura her words should not be sending messages to the Egyptian electorate through the First Lady, who was probably just lucky no reporter asked her to describe any details of the changes she was praising. Since then, demonstrators protesting the referendum, who evidently hadn’t gotten the word about Laura’s stamp of approval, and who were chanting “The Americans have sold us out” (which is simply incorrect: the Americans don’t care enough about them to sell them out; they gave them away) (also, were they really surprised to be sold out?) were beaten up by police. Robert Fisk has a useful article on Egypt in the Indy behind a pay barrier, but this search or this link should bring it up within a day or so.

The Post’s article on the centralization of power in fewer and fewer hands in both the executive and legislative branches in the Bush years, and the increase in secrecy and lack of transparency, is a good summary of these trends. I would have liked a longer analysis of the greatly increased practice, which I consider unconstitutional, of legislation being rewritten in conference committee. These process issues keep getting bound up with policy issues and they’re at least as important for the long-term health of the republic, but they’re harder to get the American people interested in. I was heartened that the polls consistently showed support for the right to filibuster; I was afraid that the R’s would successfully spin it as unfair and undemocratic, the minority threatening the majority, but Americans still like an underdog and dislike a bully, which is good to know.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

And my government strongly supports stem cells

Since I keep seeing Google hits here from people looking for New York Magazine competitions, I’ve put all of the ones I ever excerpted in one place. These were comps very much like the Washington Post Style Invitational (something like the New Statesman comps, for my British readers).

A reporter asked Bush today why discarding 400,000 frozen embryos or leaving them frozen was better than using them for scientific research. He sidestepped completely: destruction of life, federal dollars, yadda yadda. Didn’t suggest what should be done with the 400,000. No one’s mentioning the millions of orphans that will be institutionalized until they’re 18 while Christian couples donate to other Christian couples their leftover (but Christian) embryos. Indeed, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the amusingly named president of Indonesia, a country with a much larger orphan population thanks to the tsunami, was standing right next to Bush while all this discussion was going on, possibly bemused by which ethical issues do or do not exercise the minds of the rich people of the West.

Evidently they don’t have milk cartons in Indonesia.

Here, George moves in to see if Bambang means what he thinks it means.

Later, and sweatier, Bush added, “And my government strongly supports stem cells.” He meant research on adult stem cells, but it’s still a telling slip. I’ve said before that by the end of his second term, fetuses (and now embryos) will have the right to vote, but their mothers won’t.

He went on, “there must be a balance between science and ethics.” By ethics, he of course means religion, and his use of the word balance shows once again that he thinks of science as being something intrinsically unethical, amoral, and irreligious, which must be balanced, i.e., kept in check by, ethics/religion.

It is not funny. It is cruel.

William Saletan makes at greater length the same point I did yesterday, that Bush’s rationale for opposing stem-cell research is precisely the opposite of his rationale for supporting the death penalty. And he’s got Bush quotes on each subject in neat parallel columns.

As you all must know, a hitherto obscure congresscritter from Alabama who rejoices in the name Spencer Bachus has issued a fatwa against Bill Maher, demanding that HBO cancel his show, which “is not funny. It is cruel,” without also telling them to get the next season of the Sopranos on the air sooner than 2006, the motherless motherfucks.

Do feel free to contact his office and tell them that his behavior is not funny, it is fascistic. If you need a few adjectives to add to that, you might watch an episode or two of Deadwood first.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

An embryo is a person

Discussing the stem-cell bill, a lot of R’s have declared a principle in which they do not actually believe: that taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund practices they find morally repugnant. First, opinion polls show that more Americans support stem-cell research than, fer instance, the ongoing war in Iraq. Second, government does lots of things that various people find morally repugnant; if you’re not morally repelled by something government does, you have no morals to begin with. The reason the R’s are enunciating this principle, which they wouldn’t apply to the death penalty, nuclear weapons, Guantanamo, etc etc and Jesus Christ already etc, is so that they can explain how stem-cell research is awful and icky and Tampering in God’s Domain (Tom DeLay said today, “An embryo is a person.”), but they’re not actually outlawing it.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) has turned against the Iraq war. Here’s why you give a shit: he’s the guy behind the “Freedom fries” campaign.

Andre Gunder Frank has died, if that means anything to y

In London an apartment in Notting Hill is being rented for only £135 a week. It is a converted storage closet measuring 5.7 square meters (2.2 X 1 meter), with the bed raised on a platform, a shower and kitchenette, emphasis on the -ette, I’m guessing.

Oh wait, I’ve found pictures (which the Guardian didn’t have, because who would want to see the tiny apartment the article is about). The guy who looks like he knows he’s getting away with something is the estate agent. The woman is the tenant. She’s 5’ 2”.

If a sperm is wasted, George gets quite irate

In order to emphasize his opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, Bush held an odd little photo op today, meeting with people who had donated left-over embryos to a Christian embryo adoption group with a somewhat creepy logo,

and families whose children were created from such embryos (Bush calls them “reminders that every human life is a precious gift of matchless value”). “Rather than discard these embryos created during in vitro fertilization, or turn them over for research that destroys them, these families have chosen a life-affirming alternative.” Yes, to Bush medical research is the exact opposite of “life-affirming.” Incidentally, destroying human life in order to save human life, which he rejects for stem-cell research, is precisely his rationale for supporting the death penalty, to say nothing of “preventive” warfare.

Catapulting the propaganda

Syria announces that it is suspending all military and intelligence links with the United States. Um, ok. I think means they’ll no longer torture people for us.

Yesterday Karzai repeated the Rummy line that “individual acts [of torture/beating/murder of prisoners] do not reflect either on governments or on societies.” So how many “bad apples” does it take before it does reflect on them? Really: five, ten, twenty, a thousand?

(Chan Lowe, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/17/05)

Another question I’d like to hear asked, of the supporters of parental notification for abortions (the Supreme Court is going to hear a case on it; California will vote on it in Schwarzenegger’s special election), is whether their concern for parental involvement would entail supporting parents of, say, a knocked-up 14-year old, who wished her to abort.

Bush at one of his we-have-to-destroy-Social-Security-in-order-to-save-it rallies:
If you’ve retired, you don’t have anything to worry about -- third time I’ve said that. (Laughter.) I’ll probably say it three more times. See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.
Catapult the propaganda? Sort of Goebbels meets “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Speaking of holy hand grenades, the Georgian authorities are offering a reward for information about the attempt to kill Bush with one: 20,000 laris, which is $10,949.90.

A man who lived in a tent for two weeks waiting for Star Wars tickets was arrested because, as a registered sex offender, he was supposed to tell the police when he changed addresses.

Monday, May 23, 2005

An uneasy nuclear armistice

Hurrah, a compromise on judicial nominees. Give three cheers and one cheer more. The R’s have agreed to allow the D’s to keep the right to filibuster, unless they actually try to use it. A couple of Bush’s nominees will bite the dust, but not the worst of them, such as William Pryor, Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen. Presumably if these bozos are considered acceptable people to hold lifetime judgeships, then the “extraordinary circumstances” under which D’s can filibuster would involve candidates who are actually worse than those three. The deal therefore suggests that it is illegitimate for D’s to oppose judges with extreme anti-abortion views, like Pryor and Owen. (Links to previous posts and outside articles on Pryor & Owen are at the top of this old post of mine.)

Although R’s have been complaining about a minority of senators trying to dictate to the majority, this deal was arranged by 14 senators. Including Joseph Lieberman, which is the Suckiness Seal of Approval.

Still, a quick look at the National Review Online suggests that the right-wing aren’t any happier than I am, which is some comfort.

The British Tory party, trying to pick a new leader who isn’t such a loser, has decided the people really holding the Tory party back are Tory party members, who will no longer be allowed any say in the choosing of the party leader.

Bumper sticker seen today: “What Would Scooby Do?”

It’s not just Bush: Scotty McClellan in today’s Gaggle said several times that American troops are in Afghanistan at its “invitation.” The Gaggle is also fun for Scotty’s unwillingness to admit that “consultation” does not mean that the government of Afghanistan, which he keeps calling a sovereign nation, has any say over American military operations there. Must be a definition of sovereign with which I am not familiar.

Bush & Karzai: Afghanistan society is peaceful and optimistic

Bush today met Hamid Karzai, who is usually kept stored in a closet just off the Mural Room.

Speaking of coming out of the closet, Hamid tells George that he has just the softest hands.

George, on the other hand, is mesmerized by Hamid’s hat.

Bush: “Increasing numbers of low-level Taliban are getting the message that Afghanistan society is peaceful and optimistic.” Although just a minute later he says that in this peaceful and optimistic society there is a need to “continue to train the Afghan army so that they’re capable of defeating the terrorists.” Maybe the terrorists are peaceful and optimistic too.

Asked whether US troops would take orders from Karzai’s regime, as Karzai suggested a couple of days ago, Bush said fuck no. OK, he said “our relationship is one of cooperate and consult,” but it amounts to the same thing. When Bush says “cooperate and consult,” it means the same thing as “advise and consent”: shut up and do what I tell you. Actually, pretty much everything Bush ever says means shut up and do what I tell you.

Bush continues:
It’s a free society. There is a democratically-elected government. They’ve invited us in, and we’ll consult with them in terms of how to achieve mutual goals, and that is to rout out the remnants of al Qaeda, to deal with those folks who would come and like to create harm to U.S. citizens and/or Afghan citizens.
Invited us in?

Karzai generously forgives America for torturing and beating his country’s citizens to death: “So the prisoner abuse thing is not at all a thing that we attribute to anybody else but those individuals.” The prisoner abuse thing? “The Afghan people are grateful, very, very much to the American people.” Well, the ones in Guantanamo are just grateful very much, not very very much. “They recognize that individual acts do not reflect either on governments or on societies. These things happen everywhere.” Sure, Norway, Canada, Antarctica, everywhere. “And I’m glad to tell you that I was reading today somewhere that one of those persons has been given a sentence of prison for three months and removed from his job, and that’s a good thing.” And a jolly stiff fine, too. A soldier beats a prisoner from his country to death for, supposedly, spitting at him, and Karzai has to pretend that’s sufficient. It’s the puppet thing taken to the next level: instead of speaking while Bush drinks a glass of water, he has to speak while eating whatever shit is handed to him.

Then it’s state fair time. Bush: “President Karzai was talking about how the quality of the pomegranate that used to be grown in Afghanistan, evidently it’s quite famous for -- the country is quite famous for growing pomegranates.” I know that’s what I always think of. Bush thinks they should grow those (I don’t think he actually knows what a pomegranate is) instead of poppies. Oh and honeydews, those are nice too. “After all, Afghanistan has had a long history of farming.”

A reporter asks Chimpy about whether we’re losing in Iraq; he says, “I think they’re being defeated. And that’s why they continue to fight.” Clears that right up.

The shadow of repression

Daily Variety headline: “The Sith Hits the Fans.”

There was a meeting of dissidents in Cuba, which was treated to a smuggled-in tape-recording of George W. Bush, congratulating them on coming out from under the “shadow of repression,” a metaphor perhaps more appropriate to cooler climates.

I can’t find a transcript on the White House website or anywhere else. I know he said something about keeping the pressure on Cuba, which may play less well in Havana than it does in Miami. I think if he’s going to encourage the overthrow of a government, commit the US to support a country’s opposition, that sort of thing, he should let the rest of us in on it.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Repetitive administration of legitimate force

The NYT follows up its Bagram story with one on the army’s failure to investigate in more than a quarter-assed fashion. It figured the dead prisoners had been beaten so many times by so many guards that it was impossible to determine which blow was the fatal one. Doesn’t the military have the concept of “felony homicide”? Sez Bagram’s then senior staff lawyer, “It was reasonable to conclude at the time that repetitive administration of legitimate force resulted in all the injuries we saw.” And thus a new euphemism for beatin’ a guy to death is born.

Now, they’re after Tom DeLay and the free-market values he defends

The WaPo quotes a pro-Tom DeLay ad: “The media, the liberals, they’re in a frenzy. Last year, they went after President Bush... Now, they’re after Tom DeLay and the free-market values he defends.” It took me a couple of seconds to realize that “they went after President Bush” referred to the election campaign, when that arch-seditionist John Kerry dared to be mildly critical of the Emperor Chimpy, He Who Is Without Error. Also, I don’t know about “the media, the liberals,” but the problem I have with Tom DeLay is less his free market values than his free golfing vacations and all the other freebies he’s snagged from lobbyists.

From the Sunday Times:
Artist of the week

Staff at the British Museum failed to notice that an early cave painting, exhibited in one of the galleries, showed a man pushing a supermarket trolley. The 10in by 6in piece of rock, and slipped into the museum by a practical joker known as Banksy, was accompanied by a sign which explained: “Early man venturing towards the out-of-town hunting grounds. This finely preserved example of primitive art dates from the post-catatonic era”.

The same practical joker recently hung one of his own paintings in Tate Modern. Officials only noticed when it fell off the wall.
There’s some interesting maneuvering going on. The NYT story about the murder of prisoners at Bagram Air Base appeared just before a scheduled visit by Karzai to America, and there was the Koran-in-the-toilet thing. So Karzai has been forced to act all non-puppety and talk tough, demanding the transfer of Afghan prisoners from our torturers to his torturers and the end of raids by American troops unless they have a search warrant (!) and so on. In response, the Americans are leaking that Karzai isn’t doing enough about opium eradication. What the BBC story I hyperlinked doesn’t say is that Karzai still controls only a few blocks in downtown Kabul, so when he’s accused of not cooperating in poppy-producing areas in which has no actual, ya know, power, what is meant is that he’s resisting American demands to drop huge amounts of defoliants from the air willy nilly.

I was going to write “indiscriminately,” but I thought I’d see if I could get away with “willy nilly.” Sadly, I don’t think I can quite carry it off.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

I don’t think they really have the sense of Americans being religious

Laura Bush, to reporters: “I hope that the Middle East, the broader Middle East, get to know Americans like we really are. I don’t think they really have the sense of Americans being religious.” Yeah, that’s why they hate us, they think we’re not Christian enough.

A correspondent suggests that the Sun’s pun yesterday, which stumped me, was one that was simply too infantile for me to grasp, a play on “ants in his pants.”

I said or implied that the Uzbek demonstrators were only the recipients of murderous violence. In fact, they also (or at least the organized portion of them who planned the prison break-in which began the week’s events) were not averse to killing people themselves, on a smaller scale of course. Both the Sindy and the Sunday Times talk of the military finishing off the wounded. The Sunday Times finds 3 distinct massacres. I still don’t know what happened to the 23 businessmen broken out of prison.

Guantanamo is building a psychiatric ward. Insert obvious and not very funny joke here.

Well done, Sister Suffragette!

Somewhere I saw an article on reaction by fans to the Stars Wars movie in which one was quoted saying “I have closure now.”

Bush will be meeting Hamid Karzai Monday. When he talks about Afghanistan having an “elected government,” as he did in his weekly radio thing, remember that parliamentary elections are a couple of years late. I once had a life insurance policy, I think it came free for a year from my credit card, that included a benefit of $500 if I lost an eye and $1,000 if I lost both, which is evidently exactly twice as bad as losing one in insurance-company math. It isn’t, and neither is the election of just one branch of a government a democracy; half a democracy is no democracy.

Speaking of half a democracy, Laura Bush (R-Stepford) is in the Middle East talking about the rights of women, including voting. But not — and you can bet the omission is intentional, and that women in the Middle East will recognize it even if Western media do not — running for office, which is evidently too radical a concept for Laura to be pushing. Not that someone whose influence and visibility derive entirely from being married to a president is the poster child for women’s empowerment. Also because the former teacher and librarian is dead ignorant: Laura, stop saying that American women didn’t vote until 1920, it’s not true.

Friday, May 20, 2005


If you haven’t yet, read the whole NYT story about the torture and murder of prisoners in Afghanistan; it’s the details that count.
• The mentally disturbed prisoner they called “Timmy,” after the South Park character, and taught to “screech” like him, in between beatings.
• The fact that several members of the Third Platoon were “devout bodybuilders,” by which the reporter means, but does not say, they were taking steroids.
• Specialist Damien “Monster” Corsetti, who held his penis against a prisoner’s face during interrogation and threatened to rape him, by which the reporter means, but does not say, that Corsetti’s penis was erect because he gets off on this sort of thing.
• The prisoner whose autopsy showed legs so badly beaten (“pulpified”) that they looked like he’d been run over by a bus.
And on Abu Ghraib, Seymour Hersh notes a few of the questions unanswered since he first wrote about events there, including What did Bush do when he was told about them?

News International (yes, that’s Rupert Murdoch) is demanding £20,000 per photo of Saddam in his undies. Something to keep in mind if you see them on the front page of your morning paper tomorrow. Although since they were taken by members of the military and illegally leaked/sold to News International, I don’t see that NI has any property rights in the photos that anyone else needs to respect.

Ellen Goodman writes about the “rainbow coalition of monochromatic minds,” the Republicans’ strategy of using a woman (Priscilla Owen) (read Joe Conason on Owen’s ethics), and a black woman (Janice Rogers Brown), as the poster children for the poor filibustered judicial nominees (Brown’s the daughter of an Alabama sharecropper, you know). I’ve been meaning to write about the repugnant sexist assumption that the D’s will look like big meanies if they pick on a girl. Mark my words, the next nominee Frist brings up will sport spectacles, because “You wouldn’t filibuster a guy with glasses, would you?”

“Authority” is an interestingly ambiguous word. An NYT story today was headlined “Uzbek Government Restores Authority in Area of Revolt.” I was going to accuse the paper of regimeist bias, a term I just made up meaning an assumption that any government, simply by reason of being a government, is more or less legitimate. Looking up the word, I find that the bias is in the language itself, since authority is defined as “the power or right to give orders and enforce obedience.” Power and right are two very different things, and while Karimov may have the power to rule in Karasu, and Uzbekistan more generally, right and legitimacy he does not have. (You know, the indirect object/object/verb structure I just used would have looked perfectly fine any other week; this week it’s suspect because everybody keeps writing like Yoda. Everybody: stop writing like Yoda.)

Simon Hoggart of the Guardian quotes Donald Wise of the Daily Mirror as saying something that also applies to bloggers: “being a foreign correspondent was like peeing off the Grand Canyon - you assumed something had reached the bottom but couldn’t be sure.”

The Times has a cute movie story, about a scream, recorded in 1951 and used in dozens of movies since then, including every Star Wars movie and two Lord of the Rings’s (with a link to the scream).

Boxers or Briefs of Mass Destruction?

The latest Page 3 girl:

My question is, if that’s his cell door behind him, where’s the person with the camera standing?

Also, I don’t get the Sun’s pun (I assume that’s a pun, it’s always a pun).

Other pictures, not online, show him washing his own pants. No picture of him dyeing his hair.

(Update: today Bush responded to a reporter’s question about American abuse of prisoners, “I think the world ought to be -- pay attention to the contrast between a society which was run by a brutal tyrant in which there was no transparency and a society in which the whole world watches a government find the facts, lay the facts out for the citizens to see, and that punishment, when appropriate, be delivered.” Setting the bar pretty low for himself: at least we’re better than in the days of Saddam Hussein. Now we’re all transparent-like, and underwear justice is seen to be done.)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Toilets with brains

From the London Times: “Albert Marshall, the last surviving British soldier to have taken part in a cavalry charge with sword drawn, has died aged 108.

From the AP: “A ‘toilet with brains’, a high-tech lavatory to help multiple sclerosis patients and the disabled, is being developed, said researchers at the Technical University of Vienna. Cards or voice are used to activate hand-rail placement and seat adjustment.” Don’t flush any Korans down them, though, or they’ll just keep nagging about that left-hand thing.

Remarkable hubris: Rick Santorum wants to bomb Paris or something

A Russian court acquits soldiers who shot 6 Chechens to death, including a pregnant woman. They admitted doing it, but said they were under orders. The Nuremberg defense lives! They’d shot up a van at a checkpoint, killing one of the passengers. They were then given orders, which obviously had to be obeyed, to cover up the incident and, oh yeah, kill all the survivors.

Rick Santorum cleverly compares the nuclear option to the ever-popular concept of bombing Paris (I know this quote will be everywhere else. Now it’s here too):
Some are suggesting we’re trying to change the law, we’re trying to break the rules. Remarkable. Remarkable hubris. I mean, imagine, the rule has been in place for 214 years that this is the way we confirm judges. Broken by the other side two years ago, and the audacity of some members to stand up and say, how dare you break this rule. It’s the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 “I’m in Paris. How dare you invade me. how dare you bomb my city? It’s mine.” This is no more the rule of the Senate than it was the rule of the Senate before not to filibuster. It was an understanding and agreement, and it has been abused.
An old post of mine contains other jaw-droppingly awful Santorum quotes about the judiciary.

Fafblog summarizes: “Newsweek has killed over a dozen Afghans with a toilet and will do it again unless it is stopped.”

Congratulations and amen, graduates

From the AP: “MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A pregnant student who was banned from graduation at her Roman Catholic high school announced her own name and walked across the stage at the close of the program. ... The father of Cosby’s child, a senior at the school, was allowed to participate in the graduation.”

Meanwhile in Florida, a federal judge allows 4 Brevard Cty public high schools to hold graduation ceremonies in a church, and without covering up a 16-foot cross. The judge said the lawsuit had been filed too late for an alternative venue to be arranged (no story I’ve looked at say when it was filed), under the well-known legal principle that the Constitution is in force only if it’s not inconvenient. There would have been enough time to cover up the cross, but the judge said it would be “improper” to order a church to do so. Maybe if this were a religious service. By not daring interfere with the cross, the judge is admitting that a church is still a church even when hosting a secular function, thus proving that the first part of his decision was wrong.

I do not rise for party, I rise for principle.

Dana Milbank has a lovely, must-read article about the Senate fight over judicial nominations. It starts with Frist astonishingly unprepared to answer why he supported filibusters of a Clinton judicial nominee: “Mr. President, the, in response, the Paez nomination, we’ll come back and discuss it... It’s not the cloture votes, per se. It’s the partisan leadership-led use of cloture to kill, to defeat, to assassinate these nominees.” Later the R’s claimed that he’d meant character assassination (keep in mind that one of the key players is Ted Kennedy, who has a little bit of experience with both kinds of assassination) (and Frist has a little bit of experience with assassinating kitty cats). Later, Harry Reid accidentally called Dick Cheney a “great paramour” of virtue. He corrected himself to “paragon,” which doesn’t seem right either. Maybe he meant paramecium. Or parasite.

Frist claimed “I do not rise for party, I rise for principle.” (I assume that by “rise,” he does not mean “get sexually aroused”). But you’ll notice he didn’t take any chance that the D’s might let the first judge through by picking one with bipartisan support. No, he started with Priscilla Owen, an arch anti-abortionist. When a politician starts talking about principle, it’s time to clench your ass-cheeks very tightly, cuz he’s gonna try an’ fuck ya.

The Post also attributes to Ted Stevens the idea that would become the “nuclear option:” simply ruling that filibusters would no longer be permitted. The same Ted Stevens who secured for Anchorage $1.5 million for a bus stop. A single bus stop. Outside the, I believe, Anchorage Museum of the History of Snow. Oh, it’ll be a very nice bus stop. Enclosed, heated, possibly with a pool, a masseur, who knows.

I know I didn’t connect those two Ted Stevens stories, but the line between them is on the Anchorage bus line, and who wants to leave the luxurious bus stop and get on a crappy ol’ bus?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


In Gaggleland, Scotty McClellan is still playing his balancing act on Uzbekistan: “Obviously, we have continued to urge restraint by all and for all to work for calm in Uzbekistan.” A reporter compared this restraint with Bush’s 2002 attack on Castro for arresting dissidents, but not killing or boiling them. Little Scotty denies that this is a double standard: “Obviously, Terry, there are different circumstances around the world. You have to deal with those different circumstances.” So that clears that up. Obviously. When a reporter started talking about the US rendering prisoners to Uz., Scotty cut him off.

He also ignored a question about whether Posada is a terrorist.

And he suggested that Newsweek reporters and editors travel the earth as penitents, apologizing one by one to every human being on the planet. It’s the very least they could do.

McClellan on the nuclear option: “I think it would have consequences for the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate if they continue to hold up progress on the important priorities for the American people. The American people elected us to get things done.” Democrats were, of course, elected by the Cuban people.

Which is practically what the Republican party does say in an email today claiming that the Democrats stole the Washington gubernatorial election in 2004.

The military is still investigating whether any Korans were flushed down any toilets. It is doing so by checking log entries and other documents; it is conducting no interviews. Because obviously (shit, now McClellan has me doing it) if you did flush a Koran, you’d enter that in the log. The only paper trail that could solve this case — and I suspect you’re all way ahead of me now — would involve soggy, shit-covered pages of the Koran. This is the time-honored Pentagon investigatorial technique: when Colin Powell investigated the My Lai massacre, he too conducted no interviews, and concluded that no massacre took place. Pentagon spokesmodel Larry DiRita says the allegation of Koran-dumping has been made many times before but never investigated because the allegations were not “credible” and the prisoners were probably lying. I’d like to know his definition of “credible.”

Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny

An Independent article by Johann Hari (behind a pay barrier so no link) finds America’s current policy towards Uzbekistan to have been set out in the report of Dick Cheney’s Secret Energy Task Force: “make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy.” So as long as they don’t boil dissidents in oil — our oil — they can get on with it.

From a NYT article on Bush admin plans to militarize space:
The Air Force believes “we must establish and maintain space superiority,” Gen. Lance Lord, who leads the Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently. “Simply put, it’s the American way of fighting.” ... “Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny.”
Really, I’d be making fun of those quotes now if only I could get over there being a General Lance Lord (shorter version: General Lord) in charge of an Air Force Space Command. Alliterative and phallic at the same time, what were his parents thinking, and in charge of rockets, oh it has to be a bad joke from a 1940s radio serial.

I found a picture of him, too large a file to clutter up this page with, but Lance Lord is actually a middle-aged bald guy with glasses and a more than passing resemblance to Jesse Helms. (Update: I have received an email informing me that that Air Force picture is misattributed, although whoever is pictured looks a lot like the real Lance Lord. Hope the Air Force keeps better track of its rockets than it does of its generals.)

And one of these space weapons programs is called Rods from God. And one involves bouncing lasers off giant mirrors hanging from satellites, or really high-up blimps. This is like every James Bond movie ever made.

OK, now they’re talking about a former Under Secretary of the Air Force Peter Teets. Pete Teets. Another middle-aged bald guy with glasses and a more than passing resemblance to every other middle-aged bald guy with glasses.

OK, I want everyone to stand up (extra points if you climb up on your desk) and intone in your deepest old-timey radio-announcer voice, “Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny!”

Now do it as William Shatner.

Now Elmer Fudd...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

No one saw me make a bomb

to Uzbekistan’s prosecutor-general, “Only terrorists were liquidated by government forces.” So that’s ok then.

Luis Posada Carriles gave a press conference this morning, as all fugitives from justice do. He said that after sneaking illegally into this country, he’d hidden for a while, but then realized no one was trying to catch him. I haven’t seen a full transcript, but while various reports claim in their headlines that he denied being involved in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane, he actually seems only to have said, “No one saw me make a bomb.” As for the wave of bombings in Cuban hotels in 1997, for which he’d previously admitted responsibility, this time he refused to say one way or another, though he did say the bombs used were “very small,” as was the Italian tourist killed, by what Posada calls a “little wound,” and then suggests that the Cubans killed the wounded Italian to make Posada look bad. He said he’d be willing to be tried by an international court for the plane bombing, if Cuba also turned over some people. I love it when the perps think they can negotiate.

And then the feds grabbed him. Just like Elian. Heh heh.

From today’s Gaggle:
Q -- but nowhere in the Constitution does it say that nominees are guaranteed an up or down vote.

MR. McCLELLAN: The Constitution said “advise and consent,” and that’s the role of the United States Senate, not “advise and block.”
Isn’t that persuasive, just like that masterpiece of the forensic arts, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

For a moment, I was amazed at the ability of the Uzbek government to out and out deny that soldiers fired on crowds, an event seen and heard by many, many people. Then I turned back to the ongoing spectacle of Rummy Rumsfeld and Lawrence DiRita pulling their heads out of Achmad Chalabi’s ass long enough to blame Newsweek for the fact that foreigners don’t like us and strew our path with flowers. Who knew that not being in full command of the facts could lead to people coming to harm?

I think they broke me. They just overloaded my systems, and now I just don’t have enough contempt, sarcasm and outrage with which to respond to this. I thought it was bad last week when Tom DeLay accused the Democrats of having no class, but now I’m just broken. I may have to watch Teletubbies for the next few hours; if I see Bush’s face or hear his voice I’ll just have nothing left. So cold. So cold.

Hey, get that Dick Cheney who voted against the resolution calling for me to be released from prison in here, I’m gonna kick his butt.

Not exactly kid gloves

The WaPo says that the Pentagon actually has very strict rules on the handling of the Koran in Guantanamo. For example, the handler must wear gloves. Don’t know why that doesn’t reassure me.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Make it possible for people to have a political life

David Benson-Pope, a junior education minister in the New Zealand government (a job he combined with the post of minister of fisheries; small country, I guess), has had to resign after he was accused of having, in his previous job as a teacher, hitting one student in the nose, and punishing another for talking in class by stuffing a tennis ball in his mouth and taping his hands to the desk. No word on whether he ever similarly abused his authority over fish.

Someone should suggest to the Afghans that when they see something they don’t like in a newsmagazine, they should just blog about it. It’s less aerobic, but there’s also less chance of being shot. I kept expecting to see signs with hyperlinks. Anyhoo, the Pentagon has been trying to have its cake and eat it too; it’s claiming that the reports are false, but failed to respond when asked for comment by the Newsweek reporters. There’s a reason the story had only one source. The government and its employees (plus the inaccessible prisoners, of course) were the ones in possession of the facts Newsweek needed. To demand too many sources would make the DOD’s failure to comment an effective veto, rewarding stonewalling. The Pentagon continues to try to manage the debate, issuing blanket condemnations of Newsweek but refusing to send someone to appear in McNeil-Lehrer’s segment on the subject (or, probably, Nightline tonight), precisely because it wants the focus to be on Newsweek’s journalistic practices rather than Guantanamo’s interrogation practices. [Update. Well, not really an update since I hadn’t posted yet, but before writing that I hadn’t seen Josh Marshall’s similar thoughts:
“If the new standard is that every material fact reported must be attested to on the record then in the future we’ll know only a tiny fraction of what we do now about the internal workings of our government. What I see here is an effort by the White House to set an entirely different standard when it comes to reportage that in any way reflects critically on the White House.”]
The State Dept is still doing its balancing act on Uzbekistan, criticizing both sides equally, although the death toll seems to be 600-0. Here’s Richard Boucher:
On the side of the demonstrators, rioters, whatever you call them, the armed attack by civilians on the prison in Andijan and other government facilities is the kind of violence that we cannot countenance in any way and we condemn these kind of armed attacks on prison facilities and on government facilities. There is nothing that justifies acts of violence or terrorism and we’re very concerned at reports of either the release or the escape of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members.
Who says the released prisoners were terrorists? Oh yes, the guys who torture and boil people (including some we send there)(“Dammit I brought this man here to be dry-cleaned and he’s clearly been boiled!”) and who claim all critics of their government are terrorists. Also, in a country where political prisoners (of whom there are an estimated 7,000) are treated the way they are in Uzbekistan, attacks on prisons to release them are in fact justified. Remember the Bastille!

Condi Rice stepped up criticism of Uzbekistan; it could now be described as “mild”: “We have been encouraging the Karimov government to make reforms, to make the system more open, to make it possible for people to have a political life”. A very top-down view, in which voting, organizing, free speech etc are privileges granted at the will and whim of the ruler.

No credible allegations of willful Koran desecration

Women in Kuwait will finally be allowed to vote, calloo callay, and even stand for office, although the law also requires them to abide by Islamic law, whatever that means (some Islamicists say it means not voting or standing for office).

Eli at Left I notes the differences between what Newsweek actually said in its clarification of its story about Koran-flushing in Gitmo, and how what it said is being mischaracterized (see also The Light of Reason). Scotty McClellan started bitching about Newsweek not meeting a “certain journalistic standard” by failing to retract the story completely; “I just find it puzzling,” he said. Little Scotty has not only never met any standards of truth-telling himself, but runs across the street or ducks into a doorway whenever he sees them coming down the block towards him. And as for the number of things Scotty finds puzzling...

Speaking of standards, when a Pentagon spokesmodel says that the story is “demonstrably false” and that there are “no credible allegations of willful Koran desecration,” one really has to wonder about his standards. If there are no credible allegations, have there been incredible allegations? And who evaluated their credibility? And have there been instances of non-willful Koran desecration? Answers on a separate piece of paper, and show all your work.

My assumption is that Newsweek, horrified that all these people have died because of what it reported, deliberately wrote a correction that could be mischaracterized in the way it has been.

Henry Kissinger, that arch-proponent of realpolitik, has an op-ed piece in the WaPo calling for a middle way with Bush’s unrealpolitik (shorter Kissigner: don’t get too hung up on that promoting-democracy thing). Actually, Kissinger hasn’t changed much. “Elections are not an inevitable guarantee of a democratic outcome,” he writes today. When he decided to overthrow Chile’s democratically elected government, he said, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

More London Review of Books personal ads:
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Mature gentleman (62), aged well, noble grey looks, fit and active, sound mind and unfazed by the fickle demands of modern society seeks… damn it, I have to pee again. Box no. 10/06

This ad is the final phase in my plan to conquer the earth. Man, 41, seeks puppet-like trillionaire F with vast army and intergalactic fleet, ready to hand over total control of all affairs. Must also enjoy canasta and be a non-smoking vegetarian. Box no. 10/07

[More of my LRB favorites here.]

We’ll make it rubble

A perhaps poorly phrased opening sentence in a story on the Pentagon website: “Terrorists continued to attack innocent Iraqis as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid a surprise visit to the country today.”

Rice evidently went in order to put pressure on Iraqis to shit out a constitution by August. Also, see if you can find the key word Ms. Subliminable is trying to get across here: “We talked about how the political process should be inclusive -- and the government is an inclusive government -- and the need for the constitutional writing process to be inclusive.”

A WaPo article about Operation Matador focuses on the American Marines’ frustrations about not finding enough Iraqi ass to kick. It quotes a major saying that if there were foreign jihadis in one village, “we’ll make it rubble.” Instead they wandered around, tore up people’s houses, stole their pillows, beat up a few of them, yelled at them in pidgin Arabic, and then went away, wondering what the hell they’d been doing there. Mission accomplished.

Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan fired by Blair’s government for telling the truth about human rights abuses there (they also tried to smear him as alcoholic and crazy) (in the general elections, he ran against Foreign Minister Jack Straw, and did pretty well), has a commentary in the Guardian.
Karimov is very much George Bush’s man in central Asia. There is not a senior member of the US administration who is not on record saying warm words about Karimov. There is not a single word recorded by any of them calling for free elections in Uzbekistan. ... When Jon Purnell, the US ambassador, last year attended the opening of a human rights centre in the Ferghana valley, he interrupted a local speaker criticising repression. Political points, Purnell opined, were not allowed.
I can’t wait to see if Scotty McClellan will still be urging restraint equally on the demonstrators and the government.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The long national nightmare is over

Condi Rice is visiting Iraq. Since it’s the first second [sorry, my bad; she was along for Bush's plastic turkey visit] time she’s ever been there, she feels qualified to tell the Iraqi people how well everything is going and that they should just have patience. “Iraq is emerging from a long national nightmare of tyranny into freedom,” she said.

Wonder if she knew that the phrase “long national nightmare” was first used in Gerald Ford’s inauguration speech, referring to the Nixon years? No, I really don’t: of course she didn’t know that.

She took the opportunity to give a new version, Mark XXIII I believe, of the explanation for how 9/11 required the invasion of Iraq, saying “This war came to us, not the other way around.” Mark XXIII incorporates the crusade for democracy into the argument. See, “The absence of freedom in the Middle East -- the freedom deficit -- is what produced the ideology of hatred that allowed them to fly airplanes into a building on a fine September day.” Note her awkward use of the pronoun “them,” rather than a term like hijackers, terrorists or Al Qaida; she’s hoping that if she glides quickly over that part, listeners won’t remember that none of “them” were Iraqis and that we started the War to Make the Middle East Safe for Democracy in precisely the Middle Eastern country that produced the fewest terrorists.

2 from the Sunday Times:
Error of the week

A teenager who forced open an industrial container in the New Zealand port of Ashburton was caught in an avalanche of peas that flooded through the open doors. The 17-year-old was trapped, unable to move, in a chest-high pile of peas and arrested after police used a forklift truck to free him.

Costume of the week

A protester was turned away from a government meeting in British Columbia, Canada, because he was protesting at the dumping of raw sewage by dressing up as a giant piece of faeces.

Operation Matador and other blood sports

The LA Times has an interesting account of “Operation Matador” (Next up: Operation Cockfight, Operation Bear-Baiting, Operation Dog Fight, Operation Pig-Sticking...). It suggests strongly that the operation succeeded in its objectives only to the extent that the insurgents cooperated. That is, it got under way so slowly, due to some combination of over-optimistic planning, too little manpower, and heavy lumbering armored vehicles which it took a whole day to get across the Euphrates, that anyone who wanted to slip over the border into Syria could do so; anyone who stood and was killed or captured wanted to stand and be killed or captured. Also, an intriguing sentence in the WaPo report: “Americans had come through their communities a few days ahead of the Marines, scaring foreign fighters into flight.”

The idea behind Operation Matador was that this distant part of western Iraq was the new Fallujah, a gathering point for insurgents, so there was a need, according to the colonel in charge of the operation, for “proving that they don’t have any safe havens.” Note the verb: Matador is about proving something rather than accomplishing something. The Marines went to the Ramana region to pee on it to mark their territory; the goal was psychological rather than strictly military. And the proof of this is that, while the military claims to have “neutralized this sanctuary,” they’re not actually planning to occupy the area, and are now in the process of leaving; the insurgents will be back in days. The Marines are claiming victory, but the jihadis are probably claiming the same thing, with at least as much justification.

Two things about the LAT report: 1) it claims that locals welcomed the Marines, but it’s not clear whether the reporter is “embedded” or just passing on what the military told him. (Update: the WaPo says locals talked to “a reporter” through a US military translator. That’s the sort of detail a reader needs to evaluate a source.) 2) Again, a newspaper buries a story’s punchline in the penultimate paragraph: on why Iraqi troops didn’t participate, possibly as picadors: they were on vacation that week.

American policy in Central Asia just goes from one awful extreme to another, doesn’t it? Either we’re toadying up to people-boiling dictators, or... a writer in the LA Times says the US is “helping train democratic leaders for 2006 presidential elections in Belarus”.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

They came for Wal-Mart and I did not speak out, because I was not Wal-Mart; they came for Target and I did not speak out...

Flagstaff has a ballot initiative Tuesday against Wal-Mart’s proposed expansion of its local store. Wal-Mart ran an ad equating this attempt to restrict the rights of Flagstaffians to shop as they please with book-burning. Wal-Mart has had to apologize, not because the comparison was both laughable and odious, but because the particular book-burners in the photograph used in their ad (blurrily pictured here, pdf file, 200k) were Nazis in 1933 Berlin; if the book-burners had been Americans in the South, it would have been ok. According to the WaPo, other Wal-Mart ads have “included a picture of a child praying and a person with duct tape over her mouth.”

In a story about a Marine who won’t even be court-martialed for shooting two unarmed Iraqi prisoners, possibly in the back as they were kneeling, emptying his weapon, reloading, and firing 30 more rounds into their bodies, the WaPo saves the punchline for the last sentence: “Pantano continues to serve as a Marine training officer at Camp Lejeune, N.C., as he awaits a decision from Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, commander of the 2nd Marine Division in Iraq, on whether to drop charges.”