Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Condi had a news conference today so she could threaten and intimidate Iran. You could almost feel sorry for Iran. But she had a carrot as well as a stick. The US will join in talks with Iran if it can “persuasively demonstrate that it has permanently abandoned its quest for nuclear weapons.” This is of course inherently unprovable.

But what, you may ask, is there left to talk about if the Iranians have to agree to our demands before the talks even start? Well, Condi says, “we have many issues of concern with Iran that do not relate to the nuclear issue. ... Iranian behavior in Iraq... the terrorism that Iran continues to support...” Gosh, who wouldn’t do whatever they had to do to get into talks like that!

There’s a lot more about the things she’s unwilling to give Iran: diplomatic recognition (she is planning to enter into negotiations with a regime she will not accept as the de facto government of Iran?) or even a security assurance, a
simple promise not to attack Iran.

Indeed, she warned that “If the Iranian regime believes that it will benefit from the possession of nuclear weapons, it is mistaken. The United States will be steadfast in defense of our forces and steadfast in defense of our friends and allies who wish to work together for common security.” I think she just threatened to nuke Iran.

“I think the last year and half or so -- year or so has really been about creating a climate of opinion about what is demanded of Iran. That we have done.” That climate? Arrogant with a 90% chance of hectoring.

And there’s more like that. It’s not about Iran giving up a nuclear program (I’m leaving to one side the not entirely irrelevant question of whether it actually has one), it’s about how Iran will do so: by a complete, abject, and very visible surrender to the awe and might of the world’s only superpower. This is all much more about America’s place in the world than Iran’s.

I don’t know what she does to Iran, but she scares the piss out of me.

That proud culture will be reinforced

Last week I reported on the death of the man who sent Checkers the dog to Richard Nixon. This week another important figure in presidential history has died: Ted Berkman, who wrote “Bedtime for Bonzo.” If he’d written a movie about a chimpanzee that didn’t blow quite as hard, maybe Reagan wouldn’t have been laughed out of the acting profession, George H.W. Bush wouldn’t have been vice president, and... well, you knew where I was going with this the second I said chimpanzee.

Here’s an unbiased headline from the AP: “Uribe’s Re-Election Also a Win for U.S.” It goes on to call Uribe a “law-and-order conservative” (unless you count the amnesty he gave all his death-squad buds). A “win for US” actually means “a triumph... for U.S. policymakers, who some observers say may be losing Latin America to a rising tide of leftist nationalism.” The article is a handy collection of imperialistic assumptions and language: the tide metaphor (the next sentence refers to a wave of leftist governments – possibly the reporter spent the holiday weekend at the beach), the idea that Latin America is something that the US can “lose,” the assumption that Latin American politics is all about us, as seen in the term “leftist nationalism,” nationalism being defined as the belief by Latin Americans that Latin America is not in fact something that the US can “lose.” What else can the US lose? Oil monopolies, of course. Thus, “nationalization of foreign-owned companies” is juxtaposed to “free market reforms.” The second half of the article is where it all falls apart, where it becomes clear that the Bushies don’t know how to turn this election victory into a rising tide of rightist internationalism, other than to point to Colombia repeatedly as a “regional model for the virtues of free trade and friendship with the United States,” much in the same way as the model of Iraqi democracy and freedom will transform the Middle East. How’s that one going again?

Another amusing AP headline: “Bush Offers to Help Catch Rwanda Criminals.” Because he did so well with Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.

That offer came during a visit to the White House by Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Bush told Kagame, “I’m proud of your leadership.” Proud? In what way is Bush responsible for Kagame’s leadership? Asked about the Rwandan genocide, he utilized his favorite adjective once again: “The interesting thing about Rwanda today is that you have a President who understands that part of a successful society is for people to work hard on reconciliation” (whatever that means). I suppose you have to give him some credit today for test-driving some new adjectives. He described the genocide as a “real tragedy,” which is certainly correct, it wasn’t one of those fake tragedies. And he described it as “one of the most significant tragedies in modern history,” as opposed to one of those insignificant tragedies, I guess. We should all be thankful he didn’t describe it as an “interesting tragedy.” Oh, and Rwanda “can serve as an example for other societies that are troubled,” like, f’rinstance, Iraq. Rwanda, an example. So, first you have a genocide, and then you work hard on reconciliation, is that the game plan?

Asked about the Haditha Massacre, Bush said, “I am troubled by the initial news stories.” We’ve already heard that the first Bush knew of it was four months after the fact, when Time reported on it. It’s now more than 6 months later, and he’s still reacting to “initial news stories”? Isn’t the president of the United States supposed to have other sources of information than old magazines?

He went on, “I know this: I’ve talked to General Pete Pace about the subject, who is a proud Marine, and nobody is more concerned about these allegations than the Marine Corps.” Oh, I don’t know about that. The people of Haditha, they might be a little concerned too. And “if laws were broken” (he is so open-minded about whether the massacre was a legal massacre or an illegal massacre that he says this twice), then “the Marine Corps will work hard to make sure that that culture, that proud culture will be reinforced”. Which I guess means they’ll be writing poems and carving sculptures about it. What he’s doing here, as he did with the Rwandan genocide-followed-by-reconciliation, is welding a happy ending onto this story: sure there were 24 or so civilians killed, but in the end the proud culture is reinforced and we’re all the better for it. It’s like an after-school special but with a higher body count.

Bush, looking oh-so-comfortable as he is asked questions by reporters:

I rejoiced to see him enjoying himself playing croquet

In Britain, the pro-croquet forces strike back in the letter columns of The Times (where else?)
Sir, Three cheers for John Prescott! I rejoiced to see him enjoying himself playing croquet....

Sir, As the chairman of the one active croquet club in Cornwall, a large part of any difficulty in recruiting members is caused by the assumptions made about the game, fully illustrated by your third leading article of May 29....
South Dakota will get to vote in November on the severe restrictions on abortion enacted by the legislature. On a pragmatic level, this is good, assuming the vote goes the right way, and as an added bonus puts implementation of the law on temporary hold. The problem is that I don’t consider such a vote to be legitimate. A right is a right, not to be circumscribed or repealed by a referendum, not to be the subject of campaign commercials and junk mail.

Interesting Simon Jenkins op-ed in the Guardian on the lack of an exit strategy for Iraq, including the instant rejection by Blair and Bush of Maliki’s comment that foreign troops could be out within 18 months (today he said it could happen even earlier):
The hidden premise of Blair’s position is that British (and American) troops must by definition be a blessing to any nation they occupy. It is inconceivable that they could increase anarchy or that their departure might alleviate it. This arrogant assumption runs through every argument about Iraq at present. It is the last shred of imperialist illusion, held even by many who opposed the invasion. It is encapsulated in the brainless Tory proposition that in Iraq we must “finish what we started”.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A limit to the acceptable excuses

Iraqi PM Maliki announces, rather late in the day, some might say, that Iraq too will investigate the Haditha Massacre. He says, about Haditha and the raid on the mosque in Baghdad in March and all the other cases of civilians being collaterally damaged, “we will hold those who did it responsible,” possibly not having read through all of Paul Bremer’s edicts yet, like the one immunizing Americans from Iraqi law. He says “There is a limit to the acceptable excuses.” I wish he’d tell us what that limit is.

“Death to dog washers”?

Also, when Afghans are criticizing Americans’ driving, well...

Monday, May 29, 2006

There’s no way to say historically why something like this might have happened

British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, already demoted for having had sex with his diary secretary in his offices, is now under pressure to resign altogether because he was spotted... playing croquet. (He’s the one on the right)

Okay, there’s slightly more to it, and you could click here to read about it, but wouldn’t you rather not know any more than that the Brits are having a scandal over croquet?

The alliterative Gen. Peter Pace says of the Haditha Massacre, “Fortunately, it does not happen very frequently, so there’s no way to say historically why something like this might have happened.” Yeah, massacres of civilians during a war, that can’t have happened more than two or three times historically.

For example, a newly discovered 1950 letter from the American ambassador to South Korea to Dean Rusk shows that it was the policy of the American military to shoot at refugees running from the fighting, as happened the next day at No Gun Ri (South Koreans, the people we were supposed to be saving). The massacre is well-known, except to Americans who tend to forget their war crimes, but that it followed a policy which was known to high officials is new.

False memorials

Near Kabul, a US convoy crashed into some cars while merging onto a highway after leaving Bagram, killing a few motorists and setting off a day of Road Rage Rioting. The interesting thing is how organized it seems to have been, with a demonstration in place to greet the convoy (and to be shot up in turn) as it reached its destination, which can’t have been more than 5 miles away.

There’s a new mass hunger strike at Guantanamo, dismissed by a Gitmo spokesmodel as an “attention-getting” move. So they did it on a holiday weekend? Commander Robert Durand, who is new to me, repeated the phrase of earlier Gitmo spokesmodels, that hunger striking is “consistent with al-Qaeda practice,” a phrase designed to smear without having to offer any proof of anything.

I might have left Memorial Day alone, except Bush used the day to hide (not for the first time) behind the corpses of American soldiers, to stand in front of ginormous flags,

to look all squinty and somber-like while standing next to men in uniform,

to look all squinty and somber-like while staring at flowers,

and to look all squinty and somber-like while staring at flowers and trying to figure out what to do with his fingers.

And then there’s the speech, dear God there’s the speech. After reading Haditha stories all week I’m not really in the mood to hear the dangerous fantasies about perfect saint-warriors that are the stock in trade of Memorial Day. Humans are complicated and messy, and it does them no honor to pretend to remember them by misrepresenting them as otherwise, to talk about how they all “answered the call to serve” (Greetings!) and how “All who are buried here understood their duty” and “understood that tyranny must be met with resolve” and “acted with principle and steadfast faith” (and automatic weapons) and whose deaths were all “sacrifices.” How do you mourn these figures of myth, when they’re not recognizably human? “On this Memorial Day, we look out on quiet hills, and rows of white headstones -- and we know that we are in the presence of greatness.” It is this sort of rhetoric that makes war seem clean and a worthy means of problem-solving, and which drives veterans who know that their actions and motives did not, because they are humans and not demi-gods, always match up to those ideals they are told they were supposed to have lived up to, to alcohol and violence and self-hatred and suicide.

Speaking of less-than-perfect humans, whoever transcribed the speech had it end, “May God Bless the Untied States of America.”

How much longer do I gotta stand here looking all squinty and somber-like?

Really, how much longer? I wanna ride my bike, and that brush won’t clear itself.

Wherein we examine numerous and divers atrocities: Haditha, The Da Vinci Code, and the names celebrities give their children

Angelina Jolie wants the proceeds from the sale of pictures of her and Brad Pitt’s genetic experiment daughter Shiloh to go to UNICEF. The pictures will be sepia-toned and accompanied by that plaintive Ken Burns violin music. Shiloh indeed.

Speaking of mutant hell-spawn, X-Men 3 has overtaken the box office receipts of The Da Vinci Code, which posits that Jesus lived, married Mary Magdalene, and has descendants, who when pissed off extrude long claws made of adamantium. I can’t think why it’s been so long since I’ve gone to a movie theater.

The WaPo suggests that the Haditha Massacre isn’t much exercising the Iraqis, because the unceasing violence has left them numb. One massacre more or less isn’t going to affect their opinion of us at this point. Actually, the stories are all beginning to run together for me: a bomb on a bus, assassination of a Sunni tribal head, member of parliament shot, battle between insurgents and the Iraqi army with maybe 20 dead on each side. And that was just today (Sunday). Tomorrow’s another day.

If Haditha is really only an issue for us, I wonder what the reaction of ordinary Vietnamese people was to My Lai?

The LA Times has the first interview with a member of the unit at Haditha. It doesn’t add much to our knowledge, but there is a disturbing bit that I’d ordinarily link to with a warning, but since it will disappear behind the LAT’s pay wall in I think a week, I’ll put it in comments.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Russia, still a little unclear on the whole “rights” concept

Moscow’s mayor having already banned what was to be the city’s first gay pride march, the city has now also banned a planned gay conference and festival, the city’s chief of security saying that all public expression by gays must be outlawed because “they violate our rights.”

And really, what’s wrong with a dude gettin’ it on with another dude?

Military name of the day: the British chief of defense staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup.

To enliven a dull news day (and because I don’t feel like looking into why the East Timorese are killing each other), some more London Review of Books (LRB) personals. I understand there’s to be a book of these published sometime soon.
The average person contains enough iron in their body to make a small nail. Not me, I’ve got about a tent peg’s worth. Man, 57, enjoys licking railings. Box no. 10/05

Drooling, toothless sociopath (M, 57) seeks F any age to help make this abandoned petrol station kiosk feel more like home. Must bring shoes (size 10). Box no. 10/06

Justify my strop. 24/7 PMS-suffering woman seeks man to 35 prone to inadvertently saying the wrong thing (which is everything) at the wrong time (which is always). If you whistle, I will kill you. You have been warned. Chocolate (lots of it, please) to box no. 10.08

Although this is an advert that screams excitement, the man who placed it (historian, 54, enjoys air-fix modelling) is strangely subdued. Box no. 10/09

I intend to keep the precise contents of this personal ad secret. Box no. 10/10

All humans are 99.9% genetically identical, so don’t even think of ending any potential relationship begun here with ‘I just don’t think we have enough in common’. Science has long since proven that I am the man for you (41, likes to be referred to as ‘Wing Commander’ in the bedroom). Box no. 10/11

World of the Strange! LRB reader (F, then 36) places personal advert in 2001 for man to 40 who loves literature, the arts, and cycling in Italy. She receives no responses whatsoever but duly notes over the course of the next five years the number of male advertisers to 40 who enjoy literature, the arts and cycling in Italy (there were 13 of them). Is the reason they didn’t reply to her advert because they were blind to her outrageous beauty or because she lived in a house in which an old soldier had died upon returning from the Great War in 1918 and had subsequently cursed all future inhabitants, preventing them from ever being happy (this same curse also prevents inhabitants of the house from being able to make omelettes or perform basic house chores such as washing dishes and opening council tax bills)? F, now 41, believes it to be the latter and WLTM M to 45 with some knowledge of exorcism rituals, direct debits, and the best place for bulk paper plate purchases. Box no. 10/04

On 15 March, 1957, Commander J.R. Hunt of the United States Navy landed at Key West Florida in his non-rigid airship having travelled for 264 hours and 12 minutes without once refuelling. Coincidentally, that’s the same length of time I’ve spent without once making contact with a woman (apart from my mother, who doesn’t count, but who only ever asks me what I’d like for breakfast – it’s eggs, I like eggs for breakfast, poached, please, on two slices of granary bread). Is this a world record? Answers, please, to 37-year old male idiot. Box no. 08/03
Another picture from Bush’s visit to West Point, which I might as well make into a caption contest for the three of you actually looking at this blog this long weekend. What is he saying to Valedictorian Jessamyn Jade Liu? And no references to ping pong balls, please.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Because nothing says “I’m sorry” like snipers

The Haditha massacre story seems to be heating up, as it did not do after the initial Time magazine article in March, because the media have been waiting since then for the Pentagon to do the investigating for them. This is a little troubling because the Pentagon’s track record is not good, not just on Abu Ghraib but on Haditha itself. When the Marines’ first story (the civilians were killed by an IED) was disproved, the Pentagon simply accepted their second story (gun battle) without investigating. Without the Time article, that would have been the end of it (unlike after My Lai, no American military personnel came forward to tell the truth). Dunno, maybe it’s just me, but if US Marines are pointing guns at four-year olds and pulling the trigger, I’d like that looked into. A detail from the London Times, which sent a reporter to talk to a 10-year old survivor: “An American unit attended the funeral to apologise, but not before it had positioned snipers around the mourners”. Hearts and minds, eh?

Who wears short shorts?

Message to Iraqis: when exercising your new freedoms (and we’re still waiting for a “thank you” for them, by the way), don’t wear shorts. That is all.

Quitting is not an exit strategy

Rumsfeld yesterday defended the number of troops sent to Iraq, saying that every single general, except maybe the one he fired, said that it was the right number. And you can’t suggest that Rummy doesn’t appreciate being contradicted, facing hard facts and hard questions, because after all he gave this interview to... Larry King. “Now, is it the right number? Time will tell.” Jeez, Rummy, checked your inbox lately? Time has told.

What you’ve gotta love about Republicans is that they can invade a country and make it sound like a ‘60s welfare program: “The second risk [of sending “too many” troops] is you create a dependency. You do all the work for the Iraqis, instead of pushing them and having them do the work.” Yeah, can’t turn the whole country into a bunch of shiftless hippies; “push” them into a civil war, that’ll toughen em up.

And he insists that “Quitting is not an exit strategy.” Dude, it really kinda is.

Larry asked him how he felt signing letters to relatives of dead soldiers. “Annoyed that I got caught using that autosigner.” OK he didn’t say that. He did say that it doesn’t affect his sleep because he reads history before he goes to bed. I bet he doesn’t get asked to give a lot of jacket quotes.

Asked about his meetings with families of dead soldiers, this is the adjective he chose to apply to those meetings: “forward-looking.”

Suspender Man brought up Robert McNamara having recanted on Vietnam. Here is how foreign the concept of guilt is to Rummy: when King said, “He lives with a lot of pain,” Rummy, totally missing the point, replied, “He does. As a matter of fact, he has just been ill, but he’s much better.”

Asked about Cheney, Rummy utters the understatement of the year: “Well, he doesn’t spend any time trying to make people like him.”

Asked about Bush, Rummy utters the mis-statement of the year: “He is enormously talented, bright,” adding, “I just spent an hour and a half with him. And he must have asked 50 questions of John Abizaid and me and General Pace.” CONTEST: what are some of those questions? “Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie? How ‘bout now? Can I have a cookie?...”

Oh, and Larry King being Larry King asked Rummy if he watched American Idol. “Heck, no!”

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner

During the Bush/Blair press conference, the former admitted that saying “bring them on” may have been, you know, undermisinterpretated in certain parts of the world. “I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know.” That’s true: since July 2003 the sophistication of his discourse has astonished us all.

Of course earlier, he’d once again praised Maliki’s declaration that he would use “maximum force” against the insurgents. Actually, I don’t have that much of a fix on Maliki yet, but he does seem to be a bit of a blowhard.

Indeed, when asked to respond to Maliki’s claim that his regime would be in charge of Iraqi security within 18 months, Bush made his usual stock comment that “our commanders on the ground will make that decision” and “the conditions on the ground will make the decision” and politics won’t make the decision. Of course he was on autopilot, but he accidentally suggested that Maliki a) has nothing to do with the decision, b) is just engaging in politics.

Caption contest, and do try to express yourselves maybe in a little more sophisticated manner:

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

There was a young man from Crawford

Today, Bush went to a Limerick Generating Station in Pennsylvania. Which is a nuclear plant.

When that Eli Lilly heir bequeathed $100 million to Poetry magazine, I suggested that they “may just blow it all on a crash project to find a word that rhymes with orange,” but it never occurred to me that mad poet-scientists could invent a nuclear-powered limerick generator. Stop the madness! Stop the madness!

He explained economics to the plant workers – who all come from Nantucket – in a way that was utterly simplistic while not actually being true: “I think it’s important that we’re the economic leader of the world, because when you’re the leader it helps the folks who live in your country.” Naturally, this involves cutting taxes: “We need to be able to be a society that says, you get to earn more of that which you earn.”

We’ve talked about Bush’s little verbal tics, how he always says things are “interesting” and how he “understands” things and even “fully understands” them, and how he “appreciates” everyone (yesterday he said that he appreciated being on a stage with Dennis Hastert, and I tastefully declined to make the obvious joke). But there’s also the “in other words” tic, and today he provides a lovely example: “nuclear power is abundant and affordable. In other words, you have nuclear power plants, you can say, we’ve got an abundant amount of electricity.” However, he does admit that nuclear power plants are “highly risky.” No, wait, he means economically risky, because of all the regulations and lawsuits. So we’ll get rid of all those, then remove any remaining risk by having the federal government insure the plants in case of meltdowns. Because nuclear plans are necessary for a glowing better future.

Not that he doesn’t see the problems: “I understand the issue of waste”. Sure, because he himself is a complete waste of spa- ... oh, sorry, he meant nuclear waste. Fortunately, he has the answer to that: faith-based science. “I’m a believer that Yucca Mountain is a scientifically sound place to send the waste”. Can I hear an amen?

And then they let him wander around the control room for a while.

If you see on CNN that limericks have mutated into giant sonnets and are rampaging through the Pennsylvanian countryside, you’ll know why.

The rented bicycle for the infidels

Here’s a nice put-down, from a Taliban commander encountered by a London Times reporter at a roadblock: “We will also hunt the puppet Afghans who are the rented bicycle for the infidels.”

A year ago, when the Supreme Court ruled that eminent domain could be used for the benefit of purely private profit, I wrote sarcastically, “I’m sure we will see many Wal-Marts condemned and the land turned over to mom & pop stores.” In fact, the small town of Hercules, CA, a few miles north of Berkeley, is under threat of a Wal-Mart moving in and will use eminent domain to seize the land Wal-Mart wants to build on.

Hollywood simply has to be stopped. There are plans for big-screen versions of Kung Fu and Welcome Back Kotter.

Pentagon website headline: “Suicide Bombings Mask Political Progress.” Yeah, that’ll do it.

Belarus has yanked “The Da Vinci Code” after four days because Christian groups found Tom Hanks’s hair offensive. The replacement: “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Frustrated Taleban, incremental marching, and running the country like a chef. Pass the ketchup.

I’ve been waiting for a couple of days to see if the Pentagon website would have something to say about the Afghan bombings. And today, there is a glancing reference in a story whose headline on the main page is “Afghan Troops’ Progress Frustrates Taliban,” though if you click on it, the headline is “Afghan Violence Reflects Afghan Troops’ Progress, Taliban Frustration.” Evidently, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, the increase in violence is a sign of the enemies’ desperation. After the massacre, Gen. Carter Ham, a long-time favorite of this blog and the possessor of the most WASPy name in all Christendom, has the gall to talk about “the great measures we take to try to protect noncombatants.”

Bush said at his press conference with Olmert that oh sure Iraq is bad,
If one were to measure progress on the number of suiciders, if that's your definition of success, I think it gives -- I think it will -- I think it obscures the steady, incremental march toward democracy we're seeing.Somebody noted yesterday that “incremental” is his new favorite word, although he seems to have confused it with “imperceptible.”

I didn’t find any material in it worth making fun of, but yesterday Bush gave a speech on The War Against Terror (TWAT) to the National Restaurant Association, which is pretty funny in and of itself. In the q&a, somebody praised him for running the country “the way a chef would run the country.”

Olmert said that Israel will go ahead with the plan to spend money on health care for the Palestinians, using taxes collected from the Palestinians and illegally held by Israel. Although when he said it, it sounded a lot more generous than when I said it.

Kandahar ER

Yesterday, it was Maliki who expressed the adorably naive notion that he could say when foreign troops would leave parts of his country. Today, it’s Hamid Karzai, uttering faux outrage over the deaths of civilians in American bombing raids (as opposed to the governor of Kandahar, who said “accidents” happen). Deaths which are contrary to his explicit instructions: “on several occasions in the past, the president [yes, this is his statement: he’s doing that obnoxious third-person thing] had called on the coalition forces to be highly cautious to avoid civilian casualties during their military operations and not to be swayed by terrorists’ tactics who use people’s homes as a shelter.” Indeed, he “condemned” that tactic, but only expressed “concern” at the bombing of a civilian town. He also helpfully suggested to Afghan civilians that they resist attempts by terrorists to enter their homes. Gee, he makes it sound so simple. Puffed-up moron.

Some pics of the people beneath the bombs. There were females wounded as well, but as ever they are hidden away.

(Update: his name, by the way, is Mohammad Imran.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Really, who picked out that tie?

John Bolton, he of the mustache, said that America’s decision to come to terms with Libya was a subtle hint to Iran that if they just do what we tell them to do, “their regime can stay in place”.

When Tony Blair made his ever-so-secret trip to Iraq today, PM Maliki stood next to him and announced that British troops would be leaving two provinces next month, and that Iraqi troops will be in complete charge of all the provinces except Anbar and Baghdad by the end of the year. Of course this won’t happen, and Americans keep saying such decisions will be “conditions-based,” as did Blair, who said there was no timetable. I wonder who gets to break the news to Maliki that it’s not actually a decision he or any other Iraqi will be making.

Is that the tie you’d choose for a trip to a war zone?

Ah, it matches the carpet, so to speak.

The Iraqi government I keep hearing described bears little resemblance to the one that actually exists. Blair said it was “directly elected by the votes of millions of Iraqi people.” A directly elected government would have taken office immediately after the elections, not after five months of haggling. Bush said today, “Although Iraq’s new leaders come from many different ethnic and religious communities, they’ve made clear they will govern as Iraqis.” Again, five months of haggling about which sects would get which ministries.

Blair says that with this directly elected government, “There is now no excuse for people to carry on with terrorism and bloodshed.” So he thought there was an excuse up until now?

The US heavily bombed the small Afghan town of Azizi, killing, it claims with no plausibility whatsoever, 80 Taliban fighters and maybe one or two civilians. The US position is the usual “How dare they hide behind civilians” crap – Maj. John Yonts (a Dr. Seuss name if ever I heard one) said the rebel leaders were “responsible for the deaths of those women and children” killed by American bombs. In fact, the Taliban were in a madrassa which was bombed (it was nighttime so I assume it was otherwise unoccupied); they then ran out of it and into other houses, which were then bombed. What else would you expect them to do? Stand in the middle of an open field, waving their arms? The villagers, the London Times reports, take a different view from Yonts and blame the people with the airplanes. You can blame the Taliban tactics all you like, and of course they were risking the lives of those villagers, but the Americans chose to bomb civilian houses at night, being more interested in killing Taliban than in not killing civilians.

I hear the Counterinsurgency Center for Excellence is totally a party school

Why does anyone buy arms from the US? The US is refusing to sell Venezuela the replacement parts to keep its F-16s flyable, and claims that Venezuela must get US permission to sell them to China or Iran, as it is threatening to do. So the US took their money, tries to dictate what they can and can’t do with the product they bought, and won’t support that product. Who do they think they are, Microsoft?

My question is, if Venezuela can’t get spare parts, how could Iran?

The military thinks the way to solve its problems in Iraq is to keep popping out new organizations. I know, said Gen. George Casey, let’s create a Counterinsurgency Center for Excellence and... OK, half of you think I made that up; we’re simply not going to be able to go on with this paragraph until you’ve confirmed that it exists by clicking here. Did you know that the “best tactic in counterinsurgency warfare” is to “get out of the vehicles and walk”? That’s just one of the things they teach at the Wayne and Garth Excellent Counterinsurgency Center for Excellence, where students are also taught to... wait for it... “think outside the box.” For example, “there are certain things you can do that are not helpful, like the escalation of force. Let’s really think about, ‘Do we have to shoot our weapons to warn people?’” Cuz, see, and just hear me out here, “If we do escalation of force and it results in some needless casualties, then you haven’t created a lot of support for what we’re trying to do.” So evidently you can major in The Totally Fucking Obvious, with a minor in Duh Studies.

Another new organization: the National Unity Office, a group within the Coalition forces which will “interface with the [Iraqi] government to help them achieve their goals.” Another idea of Gen. Casey, who believes that there are three pillars for Iraq’s unity government (UG) to be successful: unity, security and prosperity (or, as I’d rearrange it for acronymous reasons, prosperity, unity and security).

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bareskin, geddit, bear skin, huh huh?

Pictures from a PETA protest against the use of bearskin hats by the guards at Buckingham Palace. Don’t say I never did nuthin’ for ya.

I understand that Americans see on their screens violence

I’ve seen breakdowns of the partial Iraqi cabinet by party and religion, but I’d be curious how many of them are former exiles.

Her Condiness was on Meet the Press today, uttering a lot of talking points that conflicted with other talking points.

For example, she explained the low approval ratings for the Iraq war as a problem of the visual: “I understand that Americans see on their screens violence.” But she rejected the UN report about Guantanamo as a result of a lack of the visual: “I only wish that Rapporteur had gone to Guantanamo and actually looked at what was going on there. It’s a little difficult to understand by remote control.” Gitmo comes with a remote? Cool. Can we turn down the “evil” setting a smidge? (And of course if the commission had gone there, they would not have been allowed to speak to the prisoners, something Russert predictably failed to point out). She added, “No one would like to shut down Guantanamo more than this administration.” Oh, I think there are several hundred prisoners who’d like it shut down shut a little bit more than you.

A more disturbing use of the visual came in the Condi di tutti Condis’s other interview today, with Fox, where she insisted that she knows Maliki is a strong leader because “I’ve looked into his eyes.” You mean these eyes?

I just don’t see it.

Another example of contradictory talking points came in a single uninterrupted paragraph in which she first said, about the Iraq invasion, that “everybody knew and believed there was a WMD problem with Iraq.” Now obviously they “knew” no such thing because there was no “WMD problem,” but she then blithely went ahead and justified the hard-line stand against Iran’s nuclear program on the grounds that the same “everybody” who got it wrong last time now knows and believes that there is a WMD problem with Iran: “we are also in very good company in being concerned about what Iran is doing... we have pretty good unity on the concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.”

Asked whether the US might guarantee not to attack Iran if it gave up its nuclear program, she said no, because they are bad and Israel and terrorism and blah blah blah. Then she turned around and suggested that their very desire for a guarantee not to be bombed and/or invaded is proof that their nuclear program is not benign: “If this is a civil nuclear program, and supposed to give energy, what’s, what is with security guarantees? I thought this was supposed to be a civil nuclear program.” I’m pretty sure she thinks she just proved something with her devastating logic.

Wherein we learn what is not normal

I’ve been thinking about whether to ask for the Democratic ballot when I go to vote in the June primary (as previously noted, I am not registered in any party). If I do, I’ll have to leave a lot of it blank given my refusal to vote for death penalty supporters for governor, lite governor or attorney general. Would-be governors Westly and Angelides (currently running negative ads denouncing each other for running negative ads) bow ritually before the sacred death chamber at San Quentin, but even Jerry freaking Brown (running for attorney general, of all things) would implement capital punishment while claiming to oppose it inside his shriveled opportunistic heart.

Lately, Bush is using more and more of those “I understand” sentences. Today: “I fully understand that a free Iraq will be an important ally on the war on terror (etc)”.

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki says he will use “maximum force against terrorism.” Evidently the problem has been that up until now their phasers have been set to stun. Maliki also claimed that “Militias, death squads, terrorism, killings and assassinations are not normal”. Er, right.

Farewell, Naked Guy, we hardly knew ye.

Which reminds me that the NYT ran an obituary earlier this week of the man who sent Checkers to Richard Nixon. I especially enjoy the obits of people who only entered the public eye for one brief moment. I once tore out of the paper the obit of the man who introduced colored bowling balls to a grateful world, planning to comment about what it must be like to have that as your legacy, but before I got around to it the woman from the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial died. I suggested that her tombstone was already written for her.

The Bushes leave church today, George as always thrilled not to have been struck down by lightning, the LauraBot trying to figure out how its leg attachments work.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Your video of the day: “10 Things I Hate About Commandments.” (The Ten Commandments re-envisioned as the teen comedy it was always meant to be) (78 seconds long).

Looking through the new-books section at the public library today, I found sticking out of the latest Stephen King a business card for a “mental health rehabilitation specialist,” which I thought was an amusing thing to be using as a bookmark in that particular book (they didn’t get very far into it), until it occurred to me that it might have been the, um, specialist, going to the library and sticking his card into all the especially disturbing books.

I’m not sure how a government could be considered formed without proper ministers of interior, defense and national security in a normal country, much less Iraq, but there you go. It’s also being called a unity government (UG) by everyone, and Bush says it’s a “broadly representative unity government” (BRUG?) that “reflects Iraq’s diversity.” Broadly representative? So where are the broads? There are two, the women’s affairs minister and the human rights minister, who as the only Christian is a two-fer. Observer headline: “New Dawn for Iraq Marked by Bloodshed.” So, just like the old dawn then.

Adding to the unity of America

Today is John Stuart Mill’s 200th birthday.

Go re-read On Liberty (see how much credit I’m giving you? I’m assuming that you know more about Mill than that “John Stuart Mill, of his own free will, On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.”) His writing tends towards the precise and rational, so he’s not all that quotable, but there’s this: “Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.” Speaking of which...

George Bush: “Some people think any proposal short of mass deportation is amnesty. I disagree.” You’d think Bush would want to keep the few words he does know, yet he keeps defining so many of them in such a way that they never apply to anything related to his policies: torture, civil war, amnesty.

Still, there are some words I wouldn’t have thought he even knew, much less that they’d ever pass his chimp-like lips. In today’s radio address, he says that on immigration there is a “rational middle ground” between his two straw men, automatic citizenship and mass deportation.

There is no middle ground for aliens though. “[W]e must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot by helping newcomers assimilate into our society. ... When immigrants assimilate, they will advance in our society, realize their dreams, renew our spirit, and add to the unity of America.” Realize their dreams unless... Hey! You’re dreaming in Spanish, aren’t you? Stop it at once!

What does “add to the unity of America” actually mean?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Attention to their detention

I refrained from posting on the story yesterday that Iran was going to require Jews to sew yellow strips of cloth on their clothing and Christians and Zoroastrians to similarly identify themselves because my bullshit detector went off, and sure enough the story was bullshit. Makes you wonder who started it...

The Gitmo authorities are claiming that one of the four suicide attempts yesterday (except they’re now saying there were only three) was actually a cunning plan to lure guards so that they could be attacked by other prisoners, who had slicked up the floors with, well, you don’t want to know. The guards then shot them with rubber pellets and a “sponge-type grenade” fired from a grenade launcher. Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr. said the prisoners were just trying “to bring attention to their detention.” Yes, “attention to their detention” – what do you expect from someone named Harry Harris? Of course, we don’t really know what happened or why because the only ones allowed to present their side are military officials, who haven’t exactly been truthful in the past.

The Pentagon website article linked to above has a picture of a basketball court in the facility where the outbreak took place, which I guess is intended to prove that the prisoners are well-treated, even coddled. Not coddled to the extent that they’re actually given a ball of course...

Indy headline: “At Last, America Has an Official Language (And Yes, It’s English).” I detect a faint whiff of English sarcasm.

Well? Are you?


Something odd happened to the headline of a WaPo story about Michael Hayden: the headline “CIA Nominee Has Ability To Deliver Bad News” (I tried to construct a joke about having to have a really strong back, cause there’ll be, you know, a lot of it, but decided it wasn’t up to my standards) changed between last night and this morning to “Nominee Has Ability To Bear Bad News.” Which is also good, because otherwise he’ll just be sitting in his office all day quietly weeping, but why the change, Post?

Pat Robertson: “if I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms.” So God... mumbles? Are you sure that wasn’t Dustin Hoffman? You’d think if God wanted to say something to you, you’d hear him.

By the way, if you’d heard that quote before and missed the point of it, Robertson is raising money from his viewers, ostensibly to relieve the victims of those storms.

The Senate has voted to make English both the “national language” and a “common and unifying language” (you’d have to ask Pat Robertson if English is the language God mumbles), which is evidently different from making it the official language in some way I don’t understand because I speak English rather than congress-speak. Thus the ironic AP headline, “Senate Sends Mixed Signals on English.” Sadly, no Democratic senator gave a speech against the measure in Spanish.

Speaking of problems with English, George Bush told NBC today (video here, but don’t bother) why his poll numbers are low:
BUSH: Because we are at war, and war unsettles people. Listen, we got a great economy. We’ve added 5.2 million jobs in the last two and a half years. People are unsettled.

GREGORY: But they’re not just unsettled sir. They disapprove of the job you’re doing.

BUSH: That’s unsettled.
He added that Iraq “colors everyone’s vision, it seems like.” Bush’s choice of the word unsettled suggests that for him, the normal, healthy, settled state of affairs is for his leadership to be unquestioned and fully supported. Any other condition is aberrant and temporary. His message that we’ve got a great economy, which I’m sure he sincerely believes because it is in fact a great economy if you’re Exxon-Mobil or the companies that get to build his high-tech border with Mexico, is a blatant appeal to self-interest: you’ve got a job, forget about the chaos in Iraq. But, evidently, it’s not the economy, stupid.

There was a mass suicide attempt at Guantanamo yesterday, with prisoners fighting the guards as they tried to save the four, who all survived. Gitmo’s spokesmodel claims to have no idea what “any intended message” might have been.

Speaking of Gitmo prisoners, could we stop describing them as “freed” when in fact they have just been sent to prison in another country?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I would emphasize getting it right more often

Michael Hayden has a cunning plan for the CIA: “I would emphasize getting it right more often.” That’s so crazy it just might work. Makes you wonder why no one has ever thought of it before.

He will also preserve the CIA’s “proud culture of risk-taking and excellence.” And especially, excellent risk taking.

Bush went to Arizona today, to look at the border. He declared it to be a big border. “You might remember I was the governor of a border state, so I understand how big the border is.” And you thought he didn’t learn anything when he was governor of Texas.

Yes, Mr. President. It certainly is a big border.

It’s not just big, it’s got lots of shiny toys, like motion censors and infrared cameras and unmanned aerial drones (unmanned because that’s work Americans just won’t do). “We’re in the process of making our border the most technologically advanced border in the world.” I’m sure it will make us the envy of xenophobes everywhere.

He said that “We have a duty in Washington, D.C. to conduct this debate with dignity and honor.” Of course he wasn’t in DC when he said that, he was in Yuma, so instead of the whole dignity thing, he went riding in a dune buggy. Wheeee! The driver, by the way, is a Border Patrol agent who rejoices in the name Rocky Kittle. Only in America. Which is the point, I guess.

Fences don’t make bad neighbors

The Senate votes to erect a 370-mile wall on the Mexican border. And, following Israel’s lead, they’ve decided to call it a fence. Says Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, “Good fences make good neighbors. Fences don’t make bad neighbors.” The Senate also rejected a provision that would allow currently illegal immigrants to petition for legalization; instead, employers may petition on their behalf, or not, if they get uppity.

From Mr. Fish:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

For the man who has everything

Tony Blair says that all foreign criminals should be deported after serving their sentences, with no regard for whether they face harm in their country of origin. Blair was once an actual human being, wasn’t he?

According to A Tiny Revolution, all terrorist and anti-terrorist politics is local.

An Indy article says that the international community, NGOs, the UN and such, have created a parallel administration in Afghanistan that not only dwarfs the Afghan government, but can outbid it in hiring Afghans with any education or English-language skills. It cites one guy who quit his $50/month job with the Ministry of Education rebuilding the country’s higher-education system for a $270/month job as a security guard for the UN World Food Program.

Your vocabulary words of the day, from the Germans, who have a word for everything, from a story about the voluminous records lovingly kept by the Nazis at the Mauthausen concentration camp and now opened to historians: Totenbuch (death book), and Genickschuss (literally neck shot, a single bullet shot into the back of the head). The latter appears 300 times, once every two minutes, in the record for April 20, 1942, when they killed 300 POWs to mark Hitler’s birthday.

I wonder if the Germans have a compound noun for.... this:

Of course, no one would accept this

Pictures of women, any women, have been banned from Saudi newspapers because King Abdullah thinks that young men “are driven by emotion” and “can be led astray.” Also, he said, “One must think, ‘do they want their daughter, their sister, or their wife to appear in this way?’ Of course, no one would accept this.”

Headline of the day, from the LAT: “Ugliest Dog Contest Marred by Scandal.”

And, because it’s been a while, a caption contest.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What Al Qaeda believes in is mayhem

The Pentagon has been forced to release names of some of the prisoners at Guantanamo. What it still won’t release: heights and weights. Which might reveal something about hunger strikes at Gitmo. Remember them?

New White House press secretary Tony Insert-Snow-Related-Pun-Here had his first televised Gaggle today. Seemed smarter than McClellan, and a better obfuscator. And you can evidently make him cry by bringing up cancer, which should enliven otherwise slow news days. On NSA data-mining: “You are jumping to conclusions about a program the existence of which we will neither confirm nor deny.” So it’s their fault that you’re stonewalling them? Actually, despite saying that he didn’t “want to hug the tar baby” of talking about a story he wouldn’t confirm, he did actually defend the program, without confirming its existence, based on the details of the USA Today story, without confirming their accuracy.

Took him less than ten minutes to adopt the Bush regime stance of condescending arrogance: “Let me remind you — it’s a war on terror.” Also, “Al Qaeda does not believe in transparency. What Al Qaeda believes in is mayhem.” And the Bush regime? It doesn’t believe in transparency either; it believes it will have another beer.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bush’s immigration speech


“We are a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws.” After the latest NSA revelations, maybe he should have left that line out.

Not surprisingly, he attempts to come down on every side of the issue. He loves immigrants, immigrants are a threat; immigrants come here “for the dream of freedom,” but should be stuck in a guest worker program that allows them only the freedom to work. Saying that emotions run high on the issue, he rhetorically equates those idiots the Minute Men with the millions who rallied in support of immigrants, just as President Eisenhower liked to pretend there was moral equivalence between Southerners resisting integration and civil rights workers.

He wants to send the National Guard to the border for a year, and then reduce their numbers. Let’s see if this sounds familiar: we’ll train new members of the Border Patrol, and as they stand up, the National Guard can stand down. He says that sending 6,000 members of the military to the border is not militarizing the border. But of course words only mean what Bush wants them to mean. He also accesses his inner lexicographer when he insists that he is against something called “amnesty,” which involves an automatic path to citizenship (which literally no one supports; of course people would have to apply for citizenship and could be rejected), but denies that failing to deport every single illegal immigrant is amnesty. Now he’s just arguing about the meaning of the word.

More dangerous than militarizing the border, and I hope this gets some attention, he talks about involving state and local cops in anti-immigrant “targeted enforcement missions.”

There was a line I didn’t understand about forcing foreign countries to take their nationals who we deport.

And he wants immigrants to “assimilate” and learn English, because you can’t be an Uhmurric’n without knowing you some English. “When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams, they renew our spirit, and they add to the unity of America.” They renew our spirit by becoming exactly like us?

What he didn’t do, and hopes no one will notice he didn’t do, was say why now. He said that “the need to secure our border is urgent” and obviously he made a rare foray into prime-time broadcasting (when was the last time we had the opportunity to see him trying to make hand gestures while sitting down behind a too-high desk?), but never said wherein lies the sudden urgency that necessitated screwing up the start time of “24” (except on the West Coast). Can’t say it has something to do with terrorists and 9/11, cuz then there’d be awkward questions about where he’s been the last 4½ years, can’t say Karl told him the R’s need a Willie Horton thing or they’ll be screwed in November, so he avoided the issue.

He ended by mentioning some specific immigrants he actually likes, the type that join our military and get wounded fighting our wars for our oil.

They’re just sour right now on the war

Another thing that Bush finds “interesting”: “The really interesting thing about the law enforcement community is there’s such a strong bond between those who serve on the front lines of fighting crime.”

Karl Rove explains the source of Bush’s low poll numbers: “People like this president. They’re just sour right now on the war.” Imagine them blaming that nice Mr. Bush for something he had nothing to do with. Rove points out that Bush’s likeability numbers are higher than his approval numbers, saying “There is a disconnect.” I couldn’t agree more, although Rove seems to think that people should approve of Bush’s policies because they like him, while I think they should dislike him because of his arrogant, harmful, reckless policies.

The Pentagon website has a day-in-the-life piece about a “presence patrol” in an Iraqi village, designed to “assure people the coalition is there,” much in the same way that cats mark their territory, although they (the soldiers, not cats) seem to have spent most of their times looking for what the insurgents no doubt call “presence bombs.” They’re looking for anything out of the ordinary. Says another sergeant, “We have been here four months now. We know what looks out of place.” Oh yeah, you’re a regular T.E. Lawrence, you are. The patrol spots a stopped car and checks to see if it is really broken down. They ascertain that it is and so refrain from shooting the driver. Then they spot some fresh dirt! They get very excited! But they find out it is just some local children building a speed bump. “They need to tell us that,” says Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Long. “That’s a good way to get shot.” Finally, after a long day of not shooting children and people whose cars broke down, they returned to base. “The soldiers often conduct dismounted patrols, but this day it was enough to let the people see them and know they are there, the soldiers explained. The team checked out a number of things, spoke with groups of people and came home safely. All in all, they declared it a very good Mother’s Day patrol.”

Extreme promiscuous behaviors by adolescent sex-based cults

In comments, alert reader Jean points out another instance of Bush using the one and only adjective he knows, from a tree-planting ceremony at the Australian embassy: “I think it is interesting that we’re planting two trees, and this is a symbol of our enduring friendship.” In last night’s final episode of “West Wing,” one of the things the movers packed up as the Bartlets left the White House on “West Wing” was a book by Foucault (couldn’t tell which one). Bush, well, this is more his speed:

Somehow this slipped by me: in 2004, the deputy operations commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Janet (ahem) Woodcock gave this reason (I guess in a meeting reported in an internal FDA memo) why the Plan B contraceptive pill should not be sold over the counter: “she stated that we could not anticipate, or prevent extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on an ‘urban legend’ status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B.” Lady, adolescents could form sex-based cults centered around linoleum.

AP headline: “Md. Officials Find 57 Dogs in Stinky House.”

Sunday, May 14, 2006

1966 and all that

Dependable Renegade quotes Laura Bush’s refusal to believe George’s poll numbers because, “I travel around the country. I see people, I see their responses to my husband. I see their response to me... I see a lot of appreciation for him. A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘Stay the course’.” I commented that it’s the bubble phenomenon again: she travels around the country seeing only Bush supporters, and has convinced herself that that’s reality. For some people, travel narrows the mind.

And yes, it is such a slow news day that I’m looking to Laura Bush for material.

And to John Cleese, who is evidently the face of anti-football hooliganism for the World Cup. Here is a song he has written:
Don’t Mention The War

Don’t mention the war
That’s what football is for!
In 1966 we were the winning team
We’d rather not discuss what happened in-between
Don’t mention the war
Just get out there and score
At the glorious moment
When the lions roar
Don’t mention the war
Don’t mention the war
That’s what football is for!
They might have bombed our chipshop 60 years ago
But a billion pints of lager later, here we go (come on
Don’t call them rude names
It’s such a beautiful game
At the glorious moment
When the lions roar
Don’t mention the war
Don’t mention the war
Bend that ball round the wall Instead of saving
Poland we are scoring goals
After 40 years of extra time and bacon rolls (bacon

I say potato, you say potatah, I say Orwellian, you say Kafkaesque, let’s call the whole thing off

Rather than the Iraqis standing up so that Americans may stand down, they seem to be standing up in order to get a better shot at other units of the Iraqi army. Patrick Cockburn has the story on that incident yesterday in which units of the Iraqi army started shooting at each other.

Croatia’s football team Dinamo Zagreb is donating the proceeds from a championship match to Croatians on trial at the Hague for war crimes. Isn’t that sweet? It’s like Babe Ruth hitting the home run for that sick kid, except not so much.

The WaPo proves that you can write a good article about something fucking obvious: that the Bush administration is less interested in promoting democracy in countries with oil.

The Bushies expend so much energy trying to get everyone to adopt their slanted, focus-grouped vocabulary that they often forget the difference between arguments about policy and arguments about words. For example, Cheney’s spokesmodel Lee Anne McBride: “As the administration, including the vice president, has said, this is terrorist surveillance, not domestic surveillance.” She thinks she has put forward some sort of logical argument, but actually hasn’t.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

More fun and games with the California voter’s pamphlet

I bought 16 books, some of them hardcovers, for $5 at a Friends of the Library book sale today, which is pretty much my definition of a good day.

Received my California voter’s pamphlet today and have been reading candidate statements (under the rules for primaries, which change pretty much every two years as part of a relentless drive to create the stupidest possible system, people who are not registered with any party, such as myself, can request on election day the primary ballot of some parties (Democrat, Republican, American Independent) but not others (Green, Peace & Freedom, Libertarian). Candidates have to pay for their statements, so those from minor parties can be pretty terse. Here, in full, is the statement of the American Independent Party candidate for lite governor: “Political Right is, immediately, from God and, necessary, inherent in the nature of man.” I’m presuming that they were charged by the word but that the commas were free. He also links to his website, except... well, it seems to be for an internet get-rich-quick scheme.

A Barbara Becnel, running for governor as a Democrat, is a former associate of Tookie Williams. It’s not often a candidate tries to bask in the reflected glory of an executed killer, but there you are. She helpfully informs us that in the movie version, she was played by Lynn Whitfield.

And Jackie Speier (D), running for lite governor, still won’t shut up about being shot in Jonestown.

Cruz Bustamante, whose fat ass was handed to him by Schwarzenegger in ‘03, is now running for insurance commissioner and is promising to reduce the size of his fat ass. Really. Obesity increases insurance costs, so he says he will set an example by losing weight and keeping track of it online. Last week, he was down to 235 pounds, you’ll be glad to hear.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Religion round-up

An all-religion post. Just happened that way.

The House stuck into the military appropriations bill a provision allowing military chaplains to talk about Jesus during official ceremonies at which attendance is mandatory (nothing now stops them doing so at voluntary events).

The Catholic Church’s leading spokesman on film says that if you have a child on 6/6/06, it is okay to name it Damien. Maybe a little less okay if it’s a girl.

For the duration of Pope Benny’s visit to Poland in two weeks, Polish state tv will not run ads for booze, contraceptives, lingerie... or sanitary pads.

An AFP story yesterday that seems not to have been picked up in the US, the Iraqi government will now essentially license imams in the Baghdad region. Here’s the paragraph I like:
“We reached an agreement that the imams of mosques must be nominated by the Shia and Sunni Waqfs because we have discovered that some imams are impostors who should not be in charge,” said interior ministry commando chief Major General Mehdi Musabah.
Because if anyone has the moral and religious authority to say which imams are legitimate, it’s the interior ministry commando chief.

There was also an agreement that Iraqi forces will not raid mosques in Baghdad without the presence of American soldiers. This was an agreement between the Shiite and Sunni authorities and the interior ministry: the US was only informed later of its new mosque-raiding role. Evidently they’d rather have foreign infidels kicking in the doors of their mosques than Iraqi Muslims. Says Musabah, “It is forbidden to shout [Allahu Akbar] when security forces pass by, unless it is being raided without American forces.”

The three stages of listening to Bush




News You Can’t, Or at Least Shouldn’t, Use

Someone tried to sell New Zealand on eBay.

Other than that, all you need to know today is contained succinctly in The Times of London’s World in Brief page, including:
● A British tourist to receive compensation for having an 80-foot Christmas tree fall on him in Prague.

● “A man sentenced to ten months’ jail for lobbing a homemade bomb at his girlfriend said he was aiming for a beaver dam.”

● Jogger in Florida eaten by an alligator.

● Also in Florida, “Linda Marks, 57, was jailed for four years and told to return $2 million given to her over eight years after she convinced elderly people that their cash needed to be exorcised.”

● Mark “Chopper” Read, a self-confessed Australian hitman whose exploits have inspired books and a film, has given his name to a boardgame. Players use bullet-shaped counters and evade police, visit brothels and attack fellow gangsters.

● Denmark’s top Muslim cleric is leaving the country because he feels he was humiliated and “viewed as a terrorist” after criticising a Danish paper for publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

● A wheelchair-bound Los Angeles woman, who has filed at least four lawsuits over disabled access, ran for it after police arrested her for fraud. Laura Lee Medley, 35, had claimed to be paralysed from a drink-driving accident.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Not mining or trolling

Bush says “We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” So... tens of millions then? Really, I’d like him to provide a definition of pretty much every word he used in this statement. “Innocent” is presumably meant in contradistinction to people that NSA functionaries have decided are guilty. But what does mining mean in an intel context? Or trolling? Or mining by trolls? If we don’t know the meaning of those words, or what Bush thinks the meaning of those words is, then his reassurance is literally meaningless. And of course he didn’t specifically deny the USA Today story that the NSA collected comprehensive phone records from the telecoms, without a warrant. Just by asking. In 2001, by the way, in case you thought that in the Internet Age secrets like this can’t be kept for years.

To that unreassuring reassurance, he adds this: “every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.”

As obnoxious as that is from the government, it’s problematic in other ways when it comes from AT&T, which told USA Today, “We do not comment on matters of national security”. It added that it only assists government agencies “in strict accordance with the law.” Actually, that’s a bit of misdirection, meant to make us think of formal warrants and courts and such, but those are the laws that apply to government action. Since in this case the NSA only asked, politely, for the information, the relevant laws are those applying to the protection of personal information by the telecoms, and I’m a little fuzzy about whether they were acting legally in just turning over that data or not.
(Update: not so much, according to Think Progress.)

What the NSA claims to be doing with this exercise of recording the details of phone calls made by, well, everyone is to map the pattern of calls made by innocent, decent, law-abiding, god-fearing Americans, so that when people deviate from this pattern, we’ll know they’re guilty terrorists and swoop down on them like vultures, vultures of freedom, liberty vultures if you will. Does that really sound feasible?


I mentioned that the racist British National Party did well in local elections in Barking. One of its newly elected councillors, Richard Barnbrook, turns out to have directed a student film, “HMS Discovery: A Love Story,” which is said to involve those great traditions of the Royal Navy: rum, sodomy and the lash. Barnbrook says, “It was an art film, end of story. It was not a bloody porn film.”

The NSA may be on to something: when the Justice Dept ethics office wanted to investigate the warrantless domestic wiretapping program, it simply turned down their application for the security clearances necessary to do so (after stalling them for 4 months; Justice delayed, then Justice denied). Because it’s hard to be outraged at a cover-up that’s so absurdly funny. For future cover-ups, they should recruit staff writers for The Onion or The Daily Show.

And then of course Justice simply cancelled its plans to have an investigation. Wimps.

Let no one say the Iraqi parliament isn’t dealing with the important issues, like cell-phone ringtones (another Onion-worthy story).

Must-read London Times on how Iraqi militias are imposing their men as administrators of hospitals, schools, private businesses, etc.

When HUD first responded to the reports that Secretary Alphonso Jackson mentioned in a speech having turned down a HUD contract because the applicant had said privately that he disliked George Bush by saying that it hadn’t really happened, it was “anecdotal.” Okay, I thought, someone in HUD just doesn’t know what the word anecdotal means. Possibly they meant allegorical. Or asinine. Then Jackson himself used the word, so I dunno. But it really doesn’t matter that much whether it was true: the point of telling the “anecdote” wasn’t about personal politics but to make clear that prospective HUD contractors are expected to make campaign contributions to the Republican party. “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president?” I don’t really know what’s going on at HUD, but no one was paying much attention to the department during the reign of corruption of Samuel Pierce, Reagan’s HUD secretary – or “Mr. Mayor,” as he was called by Ronald Reagan, who assumed that any black man allowed near him must be an urban mayor.

The White House plans to spend $6.1b to update the presidential helicopter (and buy 23 of them, sounds like) so that there is more interior room, it can survive a crash at 15 G, and most importantly, “The fold-down stair spares the president from ducking during photogenic entrances and exits.” (via J-Walk)

The Pentagon wants to issue different sets of interrogation rules for POWs than for “unlawful combatants.” According to the LAT, DOD says “The United States needs greater flexibility when interrogating people who refuse to fight by the rules.” They refuse to fight by the rules, we are flexible.