Thursday, January 31, 2002

Harold Pinter has throat cancer. This is deeply ironic.

The Washington Post points out that Jeb Bush wants his daughter’s drug abuse case to be treated in exactly the opposite manner to his preference for every other drug abuse case. This is also ironic, in a different way.

The warning CNN was pissing itself over all day--that Al Qaeda planned to fly a plane into a nuclear power plant--turns out to have come from just one captured fighter, suggesting that the CIA’s processing of intelligence is as good as it was when it failed to discover a certain plot last September, when one plane may or may not have been intended to fly into a nuclear plant. Not that anyone is talking about that. The CIA is obviously now over-compensating for its previous short-comings by reporting as intelligence any half-baked rumor that anyone is willing to pass on to it, and probably paying good money for it too.

Sharon once more opens his big mouth, inserts his big feet, and does a tap dance on his tonsils.

There isn’t any country outside the US where the State of the Union address played well. Read the world press, and you will quickly learn how to write “arrogance” in every language there is. He damaged talks between North and South Korea, not for the first time, and set back the moderates in Iran.

There is, admittedly, a delicate balance between bull in the China shop and Thank you sir, may I have another. I can’t figure how Saudi Arabia has gotten away with so much shit with no criticism worthy of the name. Well yes I can, it’s the oil stupid, but if there were ever an exporter of terrorism, it has to be the Saudis. That they don’t actually order terrorist actions is perhaps worse, since it’s purest cynicism. Bin Laden at least believes in a cause, no matter how moronic. This week the Saudi foreign minister has been attacking the western (British) press for a conspiracy against his country. See, in November 2000 there were a series of explosions, which may have been Al Qaeda, but the Saudis liked to claim were western alcohol smugglers fighting it out--Al Capone instead of Al Qaeda. So one of the victims of an explosion, a British citizen, was seized out of his hospital bed and tortured for 2 months until he confessed, as were 4 others. The British government decided to cover this up. Read any of the British papers for this week.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

California primaries and more

A Guardian article compares the Bushes to the Kennedys: no fewer than 7 Bushes have now been arrested for booze or drugs.

Ari Fleischer says that to reveal what Enron said to Cheney would be a violation of the right to petition.

I forget yesterday to comment on something especially annoying in Bush rhetoric, including in the State of the Union speech: his constantly referring to the “civilized world.” This phrase should be arousing as much ire as “crusade” did early on, but for some reason isn’t. Anyone, when did Bush get to be civilized? He executes people and his knowledge of literature begins and ends with the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

And “axis of evil”? I don’t think Iran and Iraq will mind too much being called evil, but to be accused of working together?

Our allies the Afghans evidently tricked us into fighting their factional fights yet again last week, where US forces killed 17 of the wrong people. Oops.

OK, the voter pamphlet arrived today. I’ll make it easy for you: vote no.

First, everyone mentions terrorism, from that ridiculous statement on the inside cover by the Sec of State, who I believe just might be running for something this year, to the arguments on the props. Remember: if prop 41 fails, the terrorists win; also, if prop 41 passes, the terrorists win.

40 & 41 are bond measures and you know how I hate those. Regressive taxation is wrong, whatever the cause. Prop 40 is also huge, the largest ever, and includes things that don’t all belong in the same measure.

Incidentally, some of the No arguments are written by the scum of California politics, but you should vote no anyway.

41 is a bond measure for new voting equipment, not the sort of thing a bond measure usually pays for, but whatever. Note that it sets specifications only, meaning that counties pick their own equipment, meaning we’ll still have error rates that vary by district. The fact that the bond money will be paid out as matching funds makes that variance even greater, being dependent on what a district can afford.

42 requires gas taxes to be spent on transportation purposes.
Hypothecated taxes (dedicated taxes) are rarely a good idea, since the optimal tax and the optimal budget rarely coincide, but in this case it would also specify how the money is spent, setting priorities that may not make sense in years to come, and withdrawing money now going to the general budget to pay for transportation, which may not be the highest priority for a shrinking budget.

43 says that a voter who cast his vote legally should have their vote counted. That’s all it says, one sentence long. Which sounds good, and the idea of having that set forward as a principle to guide court cases, also good. But impossible. How do you require a ballot lost by the post office to be counted? Or one with a hanging chad or whatever? How do you count a ballot if you can’t determine intention? As an absolute, it becomes unworkable, and a magnet for many many lawsuits.

The one thing no one mentions re 43 is write-ins. I might vote for it if I thought it forced the registrars to count *all* votes, every Michael Mouse and Count Chocula (they currently only count votes given to certified write-in candidates), but the bit about casting vote according to the law probably stops that.

44 is on the ethics of chiropractors, and there’s a joke there I needn’t make, since we all thought it. It would de-license for a decade quacks, sorry chiropractors, guilty of insurance fraud, which may be ok, if a trifle too specific, but also outlaws the use of ambulance chasers, i.e., agents to secure business, which doesn’t seem like a problem. Also, stop bugging me with this shit.

45 would allow incumbents to get around term limits, one time only, by collecting signatures equal to 20% of those who voted for the office in the previous election. You know me, I oppose term limits strongly, but this is tinkering at best. It gives an advantage to politicians with money behind them, who would then owe favors in their lame duck term. At the level of principles, this may actually be worse than term limits themselves. To me, term limits are offensive because they take away the right of the voter to vote for whomever they want. To the authors of 45, term limits are offensive because they take away from politicians their right to be reelected (like the thing about not counting write-ins unless there is an official campaign, which treats the vote as something that belongs to the candidates, not to the voter). The system is not supposed to be for the benefit of the politicians but for that of the electors.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

The state of the union is just tickety boo

Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia tells the NY Times that there is no limit to how far women can go in our society. As long as they don’t drive and are accompanied by a male relative and don’t try to leave the country without getting permission from a male relative.

Yet another Bush with a substance abuse problem: Noelle Bush (which I assume is for people who can’t afford a Christmas tree), Jeb’s daughter, caught for prescription fraud.

With communications between India and Pakistan largely cut off, the Pakistanis are resorting to sending over balloons with insulting messages.

Last week Shrub was complaining that Enron had kept its affairs secret and if his mother-in-law had known the true state of Enron’s finances she wouldn’t have lost $8,000. In the State of the Union address he talked about “accountability,” the closest he got to mentioning the biggest domestic issue currently before the nation. But he is also defending the refusal to release the names of contacts of Cheney’s energy task force, defending the government’s “privacy.” Interesting definition of what is private and what is, oh I don’t know, the people’s business.

The Post says that Bush rejected the idea of having a separate speech just for his economic plan, since this one would be dominated by national security. Bush said that economic security is national security. Of course he also insisted yesterday that Enron is a business story and not a political story.

Still, if one were to parse the State of the Union address solely in terms of hypocrisy, well it would certainly be easy. Bush defending liberty and the dignity of every life, quote unquote, for example. All right, he’ll get away with all that stuff. Anyway, when he wasn’t being hypocritical, he was being scarily evangelical. If the head of Amnesty International says that “right, liberty, and justice are true for all people everywhere” [the quote is approximate] it’s one thing, when a president of the US says it, look out.

Again making my point about the nation-state, he accuses the enemies (at least he didn’t use the phrase evil-doers) of seeing the entire world as their battle field. Of course, part of the speech at least finally told us who the next target is, Iraq, not Somalia. Can’t wait. Maybe we should start a pool on the code name: “Operation Desert ______.”

Incidentally, I’ve been hearing the war in Afghanistan referred to as the first war of the 21st century. And people accuse me of being pessimistic. It reminds me of the first book to call World War I by that appellation, in its title yet, published I believe in 1920.

Other quick takes on the speech: the State of the Union has “never been stronger.” What, never? I could have sworn there was a day in 1884, May 13th I believe....

We are now working with Russia, China and India as never before. How did India get on that last?

Especially in tragedy, God is near. Well you know how it is when you’re driving past car crashes, you just have to look.

My economic policy can be summed up in one words: jobs. You just knew it would be a one-syllable word, didn’t you?

Well, since it didn’t make the Washington Post, for some reason, maybe it’s another incident of American self-censorship, or maybe it’ll be all over the news in a day, but evidently Bush has a fairly serious heart condition. That low heart rate he boasts about is not from exercise and is too low to be a good thing, thus the pretzel incident.

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales says that the Geneva Convention is “obsolete” in terms of questioning prisoners. He probably read that book by the French general describing how they got information out of prisoners during the Algerian War (torture and then execute), for which the general was forced to pay a modest fine (for defending it in a book, not for actually doing it). What does France think it is, anyway? Israel?

Monday, January 28, 2002

Yesterday I reiterated my thesis that the wars against Muslims is a war in defense of the nation-state. Today Bush says of the prisoners, “They know no country.” Well sure, they’re in Guantanamo, I’m not even sure what country that is, Cuba or the US.

I heard on NPR but don’t see in tomorrow’s papers that Saudi Arabia, noting that over 100 of its citizens are imprisoned in Guano, wants them back. The US might return prisoners to their nation of origin, NPR says, if they promise to imprison them. Which brings up my point that we are encouraging violations of due process all over the world. What we are asking of Saudi Arabia and other countries is to just put them in jail, no questions asked. Nor is this the only time. Some of the prisoners, as I can’t remember if I mentioned before or not, came from Bosnia; we demanded they be turned over, without presenting any evidence, and it happened. When India demanded that Pakistan arrest militants after the parliament building massacre, Pakistan did, and Bush applauded them for it. No trial of course, just detention.

And justice is doing well, all over the world (theme for the day, or at least the e-mail):

Ashcroft ordered a statue of the Spirit of Justice covered up (boob showing) (worse, he was once photographed next to said boob) (which makes a pair of boobs, of course).

India says that two of the guys who attacked the American Center in Delhi, who were shot dead, confessed to being Pakistanis. Um, just before they died.

Jim Lehrer, who is beginning to give Larry King a run for his money in the softball interview department, talked to Interim Chief Warlord of Afghanistan Karzai today--he’s in the US this week. In an earlier interview, which it will be interesting to see if it’s quoted in the American press--he supported amputation, but only for the rich, who should know better. Hear that, Ken Lay? Well, Bush didn’t cut off Lay’s hand, but he did give him a diminutive name, Kenny Boy.

The US sub Grenville, which last year sunk a Japanese fishing boat, today hit a US warship.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

Cheney is still refusing to reveal how closely his energy policy was influenced by Enron. It is a matter of principle: they are fighting to preserve the right of future presidents to receive candid advice from the people who have bought the right to give that advice.

US forces are now on patrol in the Philippines, but only in areas where they’re not expecting any rebels to be. Which means we spent millions to send them on a nature hike.

Evidently the Bush administration defines an illegal combatant as one who is “beyond the control of any state.” A couple of problems with that.

First, I thought we bombed and invaded a whole country that we considered to *be* responsible for them. Second, we didn’t recognize the Afghan government, so, what, no Afghans could take up arms because the US didn’t recognize that they had a state to control them? Third, if we’re going to war with entities that consider themselves beyond the control of any state, does that mean we’re going to invade Enron next?

Still, that definition confirms something I said early on, which is that the Morons Crusade was fought on behalf of the nation-state, any geographically defined nation-state, including the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Pakistan etc, against any (non-corporate) extra-national force or ideology.

Saturday, January 26, 2002

A cute NY Times piece on the mayor of Penn., PA, pop 475, who hadn’t been running, but 2 people wrote him in. This is evidently not uncommon in small towns, write-in non-candidates winning. Isn’t that 19-year old mayor who lives at home (Daily Show joke: when his mom tells him to clean his room, he tells her you can’t fight city hall) also from PA? I’d be interested in knowing how many uncontested local elections there are now, and whether we’re gotten to the point where local government is atrophying from lack of interest.

I had a lengthy fight with a Safeway cashier over some chicken breasts today. They were marked two for one, and then additionally $3 off each package because someone had obviously way over-ordered. But the cashier tried to take the $3 off *before* doing the two for one, effectively eliminating one of the two $3 coupons. She never saw my point but eventually gave it to me with a strong sense that she thought I’d gotten away with something. I came close to mentioning that my math SATs were 710 and she was working as a cashier, but didn’t, because that would be wrong.

A Russian group called Walking Together may be worth paying attention to; Putin’s attempt to build a Nazi Youth.

A letter to the Daily Telegraph suggests that instead of sending reps to Guantanamo, they should check for inhumane conditions in the British train system.

Clifford Baxter of Enron commits suicide. Or does he? Three words for the Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton: Vince. Foster. Payback.

Friday, January 25, 2002

London Times headline, about a Chinese shopowner insisting he couldn’t be evicted because of feng shui: “Feng Shui Claim is Ruled Out of Line.”

A Hungarian soap opera filmed a wedding scene using a real registrar, accidentally marrying the stars. Said the actress, I can’t believe I married that idiot.

McNeil-Lehrer had the most obsequious interview today with Colin Powell, mostly over the Middle East, mostly on the subject of why that naughty Mr Arafat won’t obey his masters. No mention of settlements, no mention of yesterday’s car bombing, no mention of assassinations, no, literally no criticism of Israel whatsoever, a lot of talk about how bad it was for the Palestinians to import arms but nothing about the US export of arms to Israel while it assassinates people and blows up tv transmitters and so on.
Asking for increased military spending including yet more military wage increases, Bush calls the military America’s “highest calling.” Yes, like the priesthood, but with more weaponry.

Never thought I’d mention Mariah Carey, who is evidently a very famous singer with large breasts and a larger ego, none of whose songs I’ve ever heard, who was just dropped by her label. Variety headline: Virgin Sacrifices Carey.

So Bush is insisting that not going ahead with a tax cut is exactly the same as a tax increase. But what about Florida, where Jeb Bush just did exactly that? Ari Fleischer: “That’s a state matter, and the president doesn’t weigh in on state matters.” Dick Cheney: “I think if you think about it, you know, what a state does is much more fiscal management, whereas what we’re talking about at the federal level is what really governs the overall shape and direction of our economy.” Go back in your bunker, Dick. Maybe Dubya was the smart one after all.

Speaking of the smart one, Neil Bush has been in Saudi Arabia. I’ve often asked what happened to him, since he got away with murder in the Silverado S & L bankruptcy (sort of the Enron case of its time, I suppose) by pretending to be so stupid that he just had no idea what was going on. He did, of course, and my reading of the case was that he personally took a house as a bribe. Anyway, he was in Saudi giving advice on their PR problems and why those darned Israelis are just so popular in the US, despite their prime minister just having rubbed out a witness against him, execution-style, in Beirut. From a Saudi paper:
Win American hearts through sustained lobbying: Neil Bush
By Khalil Hanware & K.S. Ramkumar, Arab News Staff

JEDDAH, 22 January -- Neil Bush, brother of US President George Bush, said here yesterday that the distorted image of the Arab world could be removed through the sustained lobbying of US politicians.

“The US media campaign against the interests of Arabs and Muslims and the American public opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be influenced through a sustained lobbying and PR effort,” Bush, chairman and chief executive officer of Ignite! Inc., said in his keynote address on the concluding day of the three-day Jeddah Economic Forum at Hilton Hotel here.

The support for Israel had been strong for many years because of the strong public opinion in its favor and continuous lobbying by Israeli supporters among politicians. After all, politicians shape policies based on public opinion, he said.

He recalled that many of those whom he had met throughout his travels in the Middle East expressed sorrow, sympathy, anger or concern over the tragic events of Sept. 11 and how it had affected the US.

“Over 3,000 lives were lost through a brutal and horrific act that affected not only Americans but peoples all over the world. I want to express gratitude to all for their support. Without the support of the peace-loving people in this region and all over the world, the US president cannot succeed in his fight against terror,” said Bush, who freely interacted with delegates before he began his speech on “The corporate challenges of human resources in a complex global environment.”

In the speech, he called for the root causes of terror to be explored. “There could be economic disparities, social unrest or unemployment causing growing dissatisfaction in the region. But I have been told that the bigger issue is the resolving of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There was only lip service for ending the conflict, but since Sept. 11 there has been a difference. There seems to be a sense of urgency. The difference is public opinion has shifted. Public opinion shapes public policy dramatically. It’s true in the US, in this part of the world and elsewhere,” he said.

“In the US for years we believed in Israel’s right to exist. We still see Israel as a loyal friend, one the US will not turn its back on. That is the fundamental belief in our country,” Bush said.

“The US media has been reporting Israelis defending themselves from rebels disrupting their stability. So public opinion is bigger in my opinion. No wonder the people of the US side with Israel. And it’s no wonder given the politics of our leaders who are steadfast in their support for Israelis,” he continued.

The scene in this part of the world is quite different, said Bush, who has been visiting the region for the last 10 years. “I hope America sees Arabs as I see them, and understand Islam as I understand it. Leave behind the misunderstandings about our two peoples and two cultures. And let us help bridge the gap by understanding each other,” Bush declared.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Dubya on MLK day: “He refused to answer hatred with hatred or meet violence with violence.” Didn’t know Bush liked that kind of thing.

The EU tells both Israel and Palestine to knock it off, especially mentioning that Israel should stop destroying all of the EU’s development projects in Palestine, $20m worth so far. Unclear if the targeting is deliberate. makes a profit. This is surely one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

Today the EU Food and Farm Commissioner missed the launch of the EU’s Food Safety Administration. He had salmonella.

Bush names Tom Coburn co-chair of his AIDS advisory committee. I know he doesn’t believe in condoms or, you know, sex, but there’s something else about Coburn that I can’t remember. Anyone?

New on the PC front, at least in Britain: the term “Asian” is out. Seems Indians don’t like being lumped together with Muslim loons.

I’ve seen a newspaper obit and 2 tv pieces on the death of Peggy Lee, and everyone’s avoiding the obvious line: Yes, that’s all there is.

You know what they call a quarter pounder with foie gras in New York?

Long, but a must read by Sy Hersh on the assistance North Korea got from Pakistan in its nuclear weapons program (and on how to keep it hidden). This says Hersh, was everyone’s worst fear: that a third world country would become a nuclear proliferator. Indeed, the article says that Pakistan passed on this info because it couldn’t afford cash for the missiles it was buying from NK, but also says that members of Pakistan’s nuclear program hate the US. The CIA report at the center of this article was issued in June. If NK knew that, while nothing was said publicly, it may be owe reason it’s been so brazen about its nukes: the US was already covering up on its behalf. Just as we earlier covered up for Pakistan because it was our ally in imposing on Afghanistan a government we later overthrew.

The US objects to Libya being named president of the UN Human Rights Commission, the US delegate dilating on how sad it is that this occurs on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Why if Dr. King had tried to speak out for human rights in Libya, he’d have been, wait...what I meant was...

Even if Bush had made a case for invading Iraq, he hasn’t made one for doing it in a rush. I think he’s not doing himself much good with the recent burst of “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”, by which I mean his repeated statements that he’s running out of patience, and Iraq is running out of time. There just seems to be a lot of running going on, when most of the world thinks there should be walking. Today Bush asked (read this out loud with a really annoying whine), “How much time do we need to see clearly that he is not disarming?” As much time as it fucking takes, so pop a Ritalin already.

The real reason for the rush isn’t exactly a moral or political argument, or one the Bushies can make in public: the delicate flowers of the US military can only actually go to war with Iraq in a few weeks of the year, otherwise it’s just too hot. So Bush’s patience was always going to run out in late January (and then he has to pull over and fuel up in the giant fuel pump that is the Persian Gulf, to beat a metaphor into the ground like a red-headed step-child). In fact, it will run out one week from today (the UN inspectors’ report is due out on Jan. 27, the State of the Union is Jan. 28).

Here’s the first paragraph of a WashPost story:
President Bush yesterday dismissed U.N. Security Council members who have said weapons inspectors should be given more time in Iraq, recalling that all of them, "including the French," voted last November to impose "serious consequences" if Iraq did not disclose and dismantle all of its weapons of mass destruction programs.
I always said that the resolution was written so that the US could claim it said one thing and France etc that it said another, but here’s Bush saying that the French actually voted for his war two months ago, they just forgot.

And god knows we need all that oil, because now we’re building a thousand-mile freeway in the Antarctic. Really. Between McMurdo Sound and the Scott-Amundsen base.

The Italian Supreme Court awarded custody of an 11-year old boy to his father because they deemed his mother over-protective. In Italy, imagine that!

The war to sell the most expensive hamburger in NY is actually escalating, with the DB Bistro Moderne selling one for $50. There’s a truffle on the side and a bit of foie gras in the burger. I swear this thing is a joke, because it’s called the DB Burger Royale, and the chef is French--remember the conversation in “Pulp Fiction” about what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Paris? The Guardian liked the Royale. Personally, I had to go out to eat today because of a blackout and spent $7 on a hamburger, which seemed like quite enough.

The Times says that South Africa was behind the assassination of Olof Palme in 1986.

The new Afghanistan government’s chief justice bans cable tv as against Islam. He is also against co-education. Here we go again! Actually, most of the Taliban laws haven’t been changed. The punishment for adultery is still stoning.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

Rumsfeld says that people criticizing conditions at the Guantanamo concentration camp are “ill-informed.” Yes, that was the idea behind putting them in Guantanamo, to make sure that everyone was ill-informed.

To solve a problem in the Bulgarian parliament of members voting for their absent neighbors, their seats will be fitted with scales to ensure that someone of the proper weight is voting.

Saturday, January 19, 2002

The surrealist compliment generator.

As I write, the BBC news is playing. I’m hoping for pictures, just out today, of the prisoners in Guantanamo. Well, we had a pretty good idea what sort of thing would happen when they used the least accessible military base the US owns, not excluding the North Pole, and when they shaved their heads and beards and pretended it wasn’t to humiliate them. Still, sensory deprivation goes beyond what I expected. Evidently they are wearing goggles with tape over them, mittens, earmuffs, surgical masks, and of course handcuffs and leg shackles. The hilarious explanation of, well, one of those things, is that some of them have tuberculosis and might spit at the guards. No one evidently asked why they aren’t being treated for this alleged TB.

Speaking of handcuffs, British Airways (which deserves applause for stopping Britain’s continuing deportation of Zimbabweans into the hands of Mugabe’s thugs) has 240 handcuffs missing. A spokesman said that BA staff are so professional they are practicing their restraint procedures at home.

In East Sussex, a woman tired of dealing with Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on her door, knocked on theirs during services and talked to them for 20 minutes about Nirvana.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

A failing law student kills 3 people at his school. Now I can see how he might be failing, because I’m pretty sure that mass murder is actually against the law. They probably should have taught him that.

The Norwegian finance minister enters a gay marriage.

A spiced tomato juice company gets a Royal Warrant, which means they get to advertise themselves “By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.” You understand that in this case, we’re talking about something used for a Bloody Mary, which the Times totally missed the irony of.

The statement of charges against John Walker, who I think I’ll continue calling Johnny Taliban if you don’t mind (just as I’m planning to call Enron chairman Ken Lay “Kennie Boy,” Bush’s nickname for him, not least because “Ken Lay” sounds like it’s in Pig Latin) seem interestingly ridiculous. They’re avoiding treason charges because there are actual standards of proof for that one, which they couldn’t possibly manage. Evidently he is supposed to have known about the attacks before they occurred. Given that the actual hijackers didn’t know in advance, how likely is that? One might also ask, if it’s so freaking easy for someone to walk in off the street and be told the top secret terrorist plans, how did the CIA not manage it?

Speaking of incompetence, there’s an interesting article in Slate today on the scrambling of jets to intercept the hijacked planes on Sept 11. I’ve been wondering about the timing of that for 4 months. Now forgetting that it took the FAA quite a while to bother passing the information that was a problem on to NORAD, and that NORAD had never trained for such a mission, and that it took them several minutes to order planes into the air (and,
which the article doesn’t mention, that the planes sent to intercept the 4th plane did not come from the nearest air field to DC, which had no planes available), the author compares the mileage covered by those fighters to the time elapsed, and amazingly enough they weren’t actually flying at anywhere near top speed. Guess it wasn’t an emergency (and this was after the first plane crashed).

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Col. Mustard in the library with a pretzel

Trust the Israelis to assassinate the head of an organization while it was observing a ceasefire.

On Groundhog Day, that town in Pennsylvania with the funny name is going to be protected by huge numbers of police and National Guard, in case of terrorism or it turns out to be Osama rather than a groundhog that pops of that hole, cuz you never know.

650 US troops are off to the Philippines. Isn’t it great how initiating new counter-insurgency operations doesn’t require any public or Congressional approval whatsoever anymore?

A question I didn’t even think to ask has been answered: Bush’s little pretzel incident was not alcohol-related. I didn’t think to ask, but his doctor ran a test, which is kind of interesting by itself.

Ford couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Bush can’t watch tv and eat a pretzel at the same time. Clinton could have sex and smoke a cigar at the same time. It’s called multi-tasking, people!

So back to Enron. Saletan of Slate is right that there is a danger of an investigation into non-existent wrong-doing by the Bushies could be the same sort of thing as Whitewater, an investigation without a crime. But since there were plenty of crimes associated with Enron, there should still be a thorough investigation, and if there turns out to be evidence of something, cool. Cheney should, however, be finally forced to divulge his contacts with energy companies including Enron while developing the admin’s energy policy.

There is other capital to be made out of this. That the administration has Enron’s stink on it, and that Enron got a change of venue because everyone in Texas down to dogcatcher was involved with the company in some way, suggests that now is the time to push campaign finance reform, when Bush can be embarrassed into not vetoing it. Also, the final collapse may not involve the Bushies, but the whole company’s very existence depended on its relationship with government, and the way it bought itself free from oversight. It’s too bad Phil Gramm was going to retire anyway, because I’d so much rather see him hounded out of office: while he was taking a quarter million from them, his wife as chair of the Commodity (something) Trading Commission (can’t read my own handwriting here), made sure that energy swaps, Enron’s specialty, was completely deregulated and
then, that done, quit the Commission for a seat on the board of .... Enron.

Monday, January 14, 2002

Washington Post headline: “Bush No Worse for Fall.” No worse than what?

Top Prince Harry chat-up line (and I’m not making this up): “Do you want to come back to my palace?” Yes, it’s been a hell of a week for British gossip, starting with the Harry Smokes Pot one. Charles made him go to a rehab clinic for a day and get the royal tour, which everyone praises as excellent fathering, although one wonders if that was really what the patients needed. How’d you like to be the one who threw Harry out of a bar or restaurant? It does actually happen. Once after calling a chef a “fucking Frog”, indicating that he has his grandfather’s talent for international relations.

Also on the gossip mill, the Archbishop of Canterbury is retiring and will be replaced by... well, Prince Charles wants someone who will be on his side in the re-marriage fight, but the gambling money, 3 to 1, is on a Pakistani, about whom a huge number of rumors have been let loose, not that anyone’s racist mind you. Seems he bought his first post, and used to be a Catholic and eats babies.

And Cecil Parkinson. A feeding frenzy delayed for 18 years is an ugly thing. Lord Parkinson (various cabinet posts in the Thatcher administration) schtupped a secretary, who refused to get an abortion. The kid came out with a brain tumor and autistic and with other things wrong. Their was a gag order on the press and on the mother and the kid, which lasted until she turned 18, last week. She’s already been the star of a documentary, and the story is that the gag order actually prevented any acknowledgment of the kid’s existence by anyone: no parts in school plays, no name up on bulletin boards etc. Total bullshit, it turns out, but a great story.

Sunday, January 13, 2002

One of the British papers has a helpful Olympics article on how to get booze in Utah. Evidently there’s more of it than we thought, including something called Polygamy Porter.

I was almost beginning to wonder if I’d been pounding Israel too hard lately until I read a report by FAIR that said that when tv news talks about violence starting up in Israel, or lulls in violence, it means exclusively violence against Jews, ignoring the other kind.

So in the interests of balance, here’s another story indicating Israel’s unfitness to have control over the holy sites: they’ve decided not to recognize the new head of the Greek Orthodox community.

Speaking of balance, I’ve been meaning to address Kashmir, just to say that while Pakistan is certainly supporting terrorism there (and I was singularly unimpressed with Musharof’s speech yesterday) and playing footsie with nuclear war, it is the case that India is holding on to Kashmir and shouldn’t be.

So what is an “unlawful combatant” anyway? And if you actually invade a country do you get to decide who has a right to resist your invasion? And what do you mean, they weren’t wearing uniforms--they had the only uniform necessary for the US to consider them targets: brown skin.

Friday, January 11, 2002

In Alaska a judge strikes down the removal of a man’s gun permit simply because he was insane.

Speaking of which, the army chief of India (after saying he was ready to fight a nuclear war), suggested that war, nuclear or otherwise was near. “When two countries mobilize their forces and place them on the border, it is not normal.” Evidently he hasn’t been paying a lot of attention the last few decades.

Last week, Tony Blair went to the region to be a “calming influence.” This week, he’s gonna sell India 60 Hawk jets.

Russia’s last independent tv station is forced into bankruptcy.

The German Christian Dems finally pick someone to run for chancellor, and it is not the party chair, who happens to be a woman, but the far-right loon leader of Bavaria (slogan: “laptops and lederhosen”, which may be the dirtiest thing I’ve ever heard).

Homosexuality is back in Afghanistan. Hurrah. Or not, actually. Did you know that Kandahar used to be known as the sodomy capital of south west Asia? Neither did I. The reason not hurrah is that it invariably involves children. Indeed, Mullah Omar got his start intervening to get one boy away from two warlords who both wanted him as their catamite. The Taliban put a stop to that sort of thing.

Some time back I mentioned a 9-month old girl gang raped in South Africa as an AIDS cure. I’d as soon not have had to think about that again, but the story’s back (oh, she will never be able to have children, assuming she survives, and needs surgery). See, she was given anti-retroviral drugs to prevent AIDS transmission. The government has told doctors to stop giving such drugs to rape victims, became Mbeki is an idiot.

What the hell, I can’t end on that: Winona Ryder explained to the court that she was shoplifting in order to research a role in a movie (she has no roles in any movies coming up, so maybe she meant the Saks surveillance camera).

Thursday, January 10, 2002

The Pentagon is claiming that it ordered journalists not to transmit pictures of the Afghan prisoners in their S&M chains & masks gear being loaded into cages to be transferred to the US’s other colony in Guantanamo, in order to protect their dignity. It tried that one on after claiming that it was at the request of the Red Cross, which it was not. They won’t tell whether they drugged them or not.

The Supreme Court rules that the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply to people disabled from doing their jobs so long as they can brush their teeth. Hey, I don’t write the opinions, I just report them. Scalia, whose son doesn’t believe in repetitive stress injuries and is about to be recess appointed into a labor dept. job, probably should have recused himself.

At yesterday’s Question Time in the House of Commons, the new bald leader of the Tory party quoted a member of the government as admitting that there was a lot of crime. When told the quote had been made up, he followed up, “Well, if apparently he said no such thing, wasn’t he in reality, in saying no such thing, correct in what he apparently did not say.”

Someone has averaged out the light in the universe, and determined that it is turquoise. Which just confirms what my cat has thought all along.

Speaking of stupid jobs, there is an EU commission working on the burning question of how many lumps a sauce can have before it’s designated a vegetable.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

So when Dubya promised to cut strategic nukes by 2/3, he actually meant not to destroy them but to put them into mothballs, reducing the value of his promise effectively to zero. Terrif.

He also called the Pakistanis “Pakis,” which I’m sure went down real well. Presumably he was just being a moron, not actually intending a slur.

As opposed to an Israeli MP who called the US ambassador something that was translated from Hebrew as “little Jewboy” (Yehudon). Just how many slurs for Jews are there in the Hebrew language I wonder?

As part of a tourism push in Whitby, in the west of England, Whitby Abbey is promoting itself as the home of Dracula. Some people are questioning the theological aspects of this.

Speaking of questionable theological aspects, the Vatican has issued new guidelines on how to deal with paedophile priests. They include secret internal trials. They do not include informing the police.

Sunday, January 06, 2002

Tom Daschle blames Bush tax cut for economic crisis, which let’s face it isn’t actually true, although they sure won’t help in the short or long term. Bush responds that “not over my dead body” will they raise taxes which, typically, means the exact opposite of what Bush thinks it means. Also, no one’s actually calling for tax increases (or actually, repealing tax cuts that haven’t gone into effect yet, which Bush went out of his way to say still count as tax increases. Which they don’t.).

What does count as a tax increase is the new increase in the California sales tax, which was actually the expiration of a tax cut from many years ago, which was constructed so that no one in the state legislature would actually have to vote for it, it would just go up all by itself. I don’t know if this is actually unconstitutional, but it is certainly taxation without representation: not only did our representatives not vote for it, but the people responsible have probably all been term-limited out. Immaculate taxation.

There’s a terrific piece by Peter Maas in today’s NY Times Magazine on an Afghani warlord, a lot of fun. Also fun is a piece in the newspaper about corruption in the new and improved Afghanistan. It’s the classic case of a reporter not leaving his hotel room to write a story. In fact he can’t leave his hotel room without paying hundreds of dollars and leaving behind all his equipment. One reporter, CNN I think, got them to write out an itemized receipt, including $220 for “pure extortion.” Doesn’t even mention mini-bar charges and porn. Fun, as I say, but somehow I don’t think the tragedy of corruption in Afghanistan is that CNN had to bargain to get its satellite equipment back.

Saturday, January 05, 2002

Washington Post headline: “Texas frames Bush, Much to His Liking.” On the same day, although not in the same newspaper, Houston is proclaimed the flabbiest place in America.

Speaking of the least introspective man in America, Bush was asked how 9/11 had changed him and responded (snapped, William Safire says) “Talk to my wife”, he doesn’t look in the mirror. Safire thinks Bush meant that he was always a great mass of wonderfulness and that the American people are only now beginning to appreciate him. Yick.

There’s a piece by Terry Jones, the only Python doing regular war commentary, in today’s Observer (, available for a week) on why it is good to put bags on the heads of Afghan prisoners.

The Afghans finally bag an American, and about fucking time too, I say. While even I can’t escape the doubtless reprehensible sentiment that it’s better for one of them to die than one of us, the US needs to be bloodied in its wars, to stop entering into them so easily.

I forget who it was--Tommy Franks?--who yesterday referred to Somalia as a failed nation, presumably indicating it’s about to get a spanking, but I’d love to know what the standards are. Undemocratic leadership? Do I have to bring up the butterfly ballot again--I think not. Allows terrorists to operate unmolested? I doubt the terrorists were actually taking flying lessons in Somalia, so give it a freaking break.

Suharto’s son Tommy is suing the people he paid a $2 million bribe, intended to secure a pardon. He wants his money back.

In the run-up to the French presidential elections, another scandal hits Chirac, who collects them like Jenna Bush collects empty tequilla bottles. When Chirac was prime minister, his government paid ransom for hostages in Lebanon, which is not the scandal although it should be. No, the scandal is that the Gaullists skimmed part of it off the top. It’s still not Iran-Contra, but the French think relatively small.

Thursday, January 03, 2002

Don’t iron your euros

In 1951, Britain was considering a plan to divide Afghanistan up between Russia and Pakistan. Is it too late now?

A 19-year old is elected mayor of Mercer, Pennsylvania. He lives with his parents.

Pakistan demands evidence before handing over the Kashmiris India wants. Either that, or the newspaper reporters have all gone on vacation and just set up a computer program which inserts the names of different countries into old stories. Tomorrow: Montana threatens to bomb Idaho if it doesn’t hand over terrorists. No wait, that could happen.

Pakistan is walking a hilariously fine line over Kashmir, since it wants to look like it’s backing off of supporting terrorists without actually stopping support for Kashmiris who are killing Indians. You know, freedom fighters. They now say they’ll only support actual Kashmiris who are fighting for independence and not, say, Arabs who are helping them. Blatant discrimination, I say.

Russia is now using its old gulags from ordinary criminals, some 100,000 of them.

The decennial British census shows that residential segregation is increasing in Northern Ireland. I might also add that punishment beatings and shootings were at record levels in 2001. Peace, ain’t it grand.

The Swiss have re-relaxed airline security and are allowing Swiss army knives onto planes, including those heading for the US.

People have been playing with the euro. They find that it is ok to wash it but not iron it, because of the encoded strip. Also, the odds of it landing heads or tails vary by country. Belgium’s national design, for example, produces a 56:44 ratio in favor of tails.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002


In that last email I said that I thought I had peed myself at the Gare du Nord. I of course meant that I myself had peed at the Gare du Nord, not that I’d had a nasty accident there.

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

One New Year’s tradition good for me is the release of British cabinet papers under the 30-rule year. Which means that today Edward Heath was having to defend internment without trial, not today’s but that in Northern Ireland in 1971, which was singularly stupid and incompetent and, as it turns out, was warned against by the military.

But if that was short-sighted, it was as nothing beside the report of the High Commissioner in Uganda, who said that he thought Idi Amin would turn out just fine.

The city of Bradford is spending a fortune upgrading some of its bus stops. There will be art and literature in electronic form, and music chosen according to the color of your clothes. It will still smell of urine, of course.

Speaking of urine, the Guardian sent its European reporters out to see what they could buy with a euro. Most of them were looking for hangover cures, but settled for buying more booze. The toilet at the Gare du Nord (where I think I once peed myself), has upped its prices from 6 francs to 1 euro (6.5 francs), but in Berlin you can use the city toilette for 40 minutes (don’t ask, it’s a German thing) for 1/2 a euro. Paris cathedrals also raised the price of lighting a candle from 10 francs to 2 euros.

Speaking of being screwed by euros, there are some bank robbers in German prisons, who got away with about $5 million in 1995 but were caught. The 1st one will be released in 2003, but it’s all in marks.