Thursday, January 30, 2003

His willingness to terrorize himself

Maybe Shrub could make his case for the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection by saying that he has no evidence for it because he’s relying on the US intelligence agencies that so completely failed to notice the 9/11 guys.

At least it would make more sense than this: "The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself."—Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 29, 2003

I missed something obvious about the timing of the war. It’s not just the weather, it’s the reservists. A shitload of reservists have been called up, and you don’t keep reservists sitting around for months, or send them home to call them back later. This is actually how World War I started.

Not that we’re waiting. A report yesterday that doesn’t seem to worry anybody in particular says that US troops are already operating in northern Iraq.

I’m told Bush’s one effort at pretend compassion, the AIDS initiative, actually amounts to less than what our proportional (by population and wealth) contribution to the UN Global AIDS Fund should be but isn’t. And most of it goes to US pharmaceutical companies and church groups. (His other new initiative, $600m for drug addicts, will be in the form of vouchers that can be used at religious groups--see a trend here?). Actually, $2b a year to treat 30 million with AIDS in Africa--to say nothing of prevention--that’s, let’s see, carry the 2, $67 per year each. How much does it cost to keep an American with AIDS alive for a year?

The Herero are suing Germany for genocide (look it up, I can’t explain everything to you).

I Am Your Father’s Skeleton, Luke: Two teenagers stole a Broadway actor's skeleton from a New York crypt and took it to a party dressed as Darth Vader the Star Wars character, police said. Michael Herz, 18, and Michael Sossi, 17, deny taking the body of Elmer Grandin, who died in 1938, and two other skulls.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

"Exoatmospheric kill vehicle" would make a terrible name for a rock band

I mentioned a man suing the police for sending him a Valentine’s Day Card. Here is what it said: "Will you be my Valentine? I'm hoping we can meet. We have a cosy cell, prepared here in St John Street."

Bush said that if Saddam ain’t evil, evil has no meaning. John Pilger, in a somewhat over-the-top article, suggests that dropping 800 cruise missiles on Baghdad, the majority of whose population is under 14, might constitute that. Well, as Bush didn’t say to the Iraqi people, Your real enemy isn’t surrounding you, it’s over-head and coming straight for you. This is the administration that has claimed that Iraqi will be dancing in the streets when we “liberate” them. I don’t think there’ll be that much dancing in the rubble.

OK, that was me being over-the-top, not Pilger. Pilger does call Bush a fascist, but if you read past the hyperbole, you can see that it comes from someone who know what he’s talking about regarding American bombing (he is an Australian journalist who helped break the story of the secret bombing of Cambodia, and wrote about East Timor for 25 years).

The real problem is that nothing is unthinkable for the Bushies. I don’t think they’ll actually use nuclear weapons against Iraq, but they’ll sure plan for it and threaten it. I was about to say that they might even use smallpox or something, but it’s not like the US hasn’t used biological warfare against Iraq before: targeting water purification and sewer treatment plants, then denying Iraq access to replacement parts and medicines (did they get away with the attempt last month to stop Iraq importing antibiotics?), etc.

Incidentally, if I were Iran, I’d be worried about the several minutes Bush spent talking about them. And Iraq. And N Korea. He didn’t repeat the phrase Axis of Evil, but it’s obviously still in his oddly chimp-like head.

Also in the speech, the return of the Laffer Curve, which I don’t think anybody has pointed out yet. Drug benefits on Medicare only for those who subject themselves to HMO controls.

And very vague assertions of connections between Iraq and Al Qaida. On Prime Minister’s Questions today, Tony Blair had a rather hard time dealing with the fact that British intelligence has cleared Iraq of that allegation. The new emphasis on terrorism suggests that the whole WMD thing isn’t going over well. His father also changed the rationale for attacking Iraq several times in the run-up to the fighting, and Reagan with Grenada. There is also a focus, in relation to inspections, on down-grading the inspections themselves and saying that Iraq fails if it doesn’t do all the work itself. This is of course partly because the inspectors have hit several hundred sites and found zippo, but also because it shifts focus from the lack of cooperation with the inspectors by the United States, which has failed to provide them with real intelligence, if any. The growing talk about an “Adlai Stevenson moment” is clearly worrying them.

By the way, if terrorists had blown everyone up, the president would now be John Ashcroft. The horror. The horror.

Michael Kinsley on the speech:
“It would be a fine reason to topple other governments around the world that torture their own citizens and do other despicable things. Is the Bush administration prepared to enforce the no-torturing-children rule by force everywhere? And what happens if Saddam decides to meet all our demands regarding weapons and inspections? Is he then free to torture children and pour acid on innocent citizens without fear of the United States?

“If Saddam's human-rights practices morally require the United States to act, why are we waiting for Hans Blix? Or if the danger that Saddam will develop and use weapons of mass destruction against the United States justifies removing him in our own long-term self-defense, what does torturing children have to do with it? Bush was careful not to say explicitly that Iraq's internal human-rights situation alone justifies going to war-though he was just as careful to imply that it does. But Bush has said clearly and often that Saddam's external threat does justify a war all by itself. So, human-rights abuses are neither necessary nor sufficient as a reason for war, in Bush's view, to the extent it can be parsed. Logically, they don't matter. That makes the talk about the torture of children merely decorative, not serious.”
Sorry I only found this afterwards, but here’s the State of the Union drinking game, along with scores—this is actually well worth looking at, it’s quite revealing.

For my fellow censorship buffs, a landmark: the BBC has allowed the first broadcast of “cunt,” in a docudrama about witch-hunts. They say it wasn’t an offensive term in the 16th century.

The Post says the “new evidence” about the Iraqi WMD programs is confined to dual-use materials--like those aluminum tubes. They really do have nothing.

Evidently, the key Star Wars contract was won by default by Raytheon in 1998 after Boeing got caught spying on it and dropped out. So no actual analysis was done as to whether Raytheon’s “exoatmospheric kill vehicle” would actually work. Which it doesn’t. No one ever prosecuted Boeing (for example, for fucking up an $800m. bidding process), because then people might have wondered why it was still left in charge of the Star Wars project (that’s not me, it actually says that).

The White House cancels a poetry symposium because some of the poets might oppose the war.

Many government documents on the resignation of King Edward in 1937 have been released, if anyone is interested. Evidently they threatened to take his money away if he came back to Britain without permission. The Guardian has the best coverage.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

And the State of the Union is...the envelope, please...strong!

In Davos, Colin Powell strayed from his script and used the words “great crusade.” You just may hear more about this. He also says again that Saddam is running out of time. If the Bush admin had a theme song, it would be the one from Jeopardy.

Another amazing scoop from the Guardian: “Arab World: US Flag Burnt in Protests.”

CBS says the Iraq war will start with a bombardment of 300-400 cruise missiles, in the first day, more than in the whole 1991 war. And the same again the second day.

The Comcast cable company refused to accept anti-war commercials to run on CNN in the DC region during the State of the Union address (obviously not actually during, but that’s what AP says).

If the US didn’t like Libya getting the chair of the UN human rights commission, I really don’t think it will be pleased in May when the chair of the Conference on Disarmament goes to Iraq (it goes alphabetically).

In preparation for war, many American soldiers are making deposits at the sperm bank (some of which have military discounts). Many of them are less afraid of being killed than of being Gulf War Syndromed into infertility.

From the Daily Telegraph: A convicted burglar has been given legal aid to sue the police for sending him a Valentine's card last year. Gary Williams, who has a 12-year criminal record, was one of 10 known burglars and car criminals who received cards from Brighton police. But when he opened the card, his girlfriend thought it must be from another woman. She was so cross that, before he could explain, she hurled an ashtray at him, and it went whistling past his head. Williams, 26, will go to the High Court next month to seek a judicial review of the actions of Ken Jones, the chief constable of Sussex. He is seeking damages, arguing that the card was malicious and caused him distress.

State of the Union address, some random quotes and sarcastic comments:

“No one was ever healed by a frivolous lawsuit.” Did he not see Patch Adams, in which Robin Williams taught us the healing power of frivolity?

Creepiest line to a secularist: “we will transform America one heart and one soul at a time.”

He said we should set a high standard for humanity by banning cloning. Makes it sound like an entrance test.

On Saddam Hussein: “If this isn’t evil, evil has no meaning.” That would be very worrying to Boy George, whose vocabulary is already pretty small.

Another word in his vocabulary that he trotted out several times is security. For example, he talked about a peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine (on the same day that the first part of the BBC news at 3 was given over to a live broadcast of Sharon’s victory speech, which actually made me more nauseous than Shrub’s). And he would defend the “freedom and security of the American people.” Who precisely is threatening the freedom of the American people? No one, but you’re not supposed to look at the construction that closely. The problem is that security is a purely negative virtue, so he needed to pair it with a positive one. Or more positive, since freedom itself is only the absence of restrictions. Which is why the speech only offered freedom to Iraq, not democracy.

He actually brought up those damned aluminum tubes again, saying they were “suitable for atomic weapons production.”

Nothing about Osama. Guess Bush isn’t mad at him anymore.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

It is now illegal in France to insult the flag or boo the Marseillaise (6 months + €7,500). I haven’t said enough about France’s rapid movement in an authoritarian direction, of which this law is the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, much of what Secretary of War Rumsfeld calls Old Europe does seem to be moving backwards. Italy is on the verge of restoring immunity for members of parliament--immunity is a standard protection for democracy in other countries, but Italy is, well, Italy. Berlusconi, who keeps changing laws to legalize his many illegal activities, often retroactively, this week has changed a law to let him continue breaking the rules after he dies: he wants to be buried in a place too close to a population center, in violation of some perfectly sensible health codes from the 19th century.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

He’s got big ones

No Elephant Sex, Please, We’re British: the Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire has fired a herd of African elephants who have become a little too, shall we say, frisky. Where will they go where their sexual antics will be tolerated? France, of course. The Guardian does not say precisely what the elephants have been doing--I assumed the obvious until the last sentence: “workers involved with the elephants will be offered alternative positions at Longleat Safari Park.”

A British radio station held a contest offering tickets to a concert by a former Spice Girl to whoever could sit on dry ice the longest. Three of the contestants missed the festival because they spent 8 to 10 weeks in hospital with severe ass injuries (their nerves froze first so they didn’t realize there was a problem; also, their brains were very very small).

The Senate has quietly struck out of the budget funding for John Poindexter’s Big Brother program and the registration of enemy aliens. Also dead, Bush’s idea of letting states limit trips to the ER on Medicaid. On the other side, Bush plans to let federal housing money be used to build places of worship, ‘cuz Jesus needs a place to live too, I guess.

I saw on the BBC news, but not I think anywhere else, that this week the Israeli Supreme Court approved the use of human shields by the military.

An interesting piece on the op-ed pages of Saturday’s NY Times on the Kennedy administration’s efforts to impose inspections of the nuclear facilities of Israel, which fooled inspectors every time. Although the article doesn’t say it, Israel’s tactics were more like North Korea’s, demanding throughout the 1960s ever-escalating bribes in terms of aid & military hardware in exchange for not building nukes, which it did anyway.

With the shortage of oil imports due to Venezuela’s little local difficulties, the US has been greatly increasing its oil imports from, would you believe, Iraq.

I haven’t had the time to pay as much attention as I’d like to the Israeli elections, which sound like fun. The Likud defense minister went on walk-about yesterday while his handlers went ahead of him calling out “He’s got big ones, he’s got big ones,” meaning exactly what you think it means. Today, the secular party held a rally--today being the sabbath. A prominent Orthodox rabbi, a rabbi mind you, said that he hoped the party’s leader would burn to a cinder--said that about a man who survived Nazi concentration camps.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

The larrikin moon

Bush today opened his mouth, which is never a wise move for him. He said that Iraqis who obeyed orders to use WMDs would be “persecuted as war criminals,” and referred to “the so-called inspectors”. Also, France and Germany will be “held to account” if they don’t back Bush’s war.

And then Secretary of War Rumsfeld opens his mouth and pisses off all of “Old” Europe.

WaPo on the sort of advice Bush gets on AIDS and homosexuality.

(Later): Jerry Thacker has had to withdraw, although he says that his calling AIDS a “gay plague” was taken out of context.

Orrin Hatch will make it harder for D’s to block Bush’s nominees for judgeships the way he allowed R’s to block Clinton’s nominees.

Also in the hypocrisy stakes, Harvey Pitt is *still* in charge of the SEC, which just quietly gutted most of the new accountancy rules imposed after last year’s scandals, which were, after all, *last year’s* scandals.

Been meaning to mention Maureen Dowd’s column of the 23rd, which says precisely some of the things I said recently: “The Bushes seem to believe that the divisive thing in American society is dwelling on social and economic inequities, rather than the inequities themselves.”

The Sundance Film Festival is going on right now and one of the big hits is a documentary about some of my relatives. It sounds like the film thinks they didn’t actually abuse all those children, so that’s nice, I guess.

Speaking of sex with children, we need to know exactly how the story about Scott Ritter leaked to the press just as he was about to go to Baghdad on a peace mission.

For your surfing pleasure, it is now possible to access all of Salon’s articles. They make you watch a commercial first (although if you have more than one screen up at once and your speakers off like I do when I web-browse, this isn’t much of an inconvenience). Actually, Salon is not what it once was, but some of its political and cultural writing is still worth reading.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Happy National Sanctity of Human Life Day

Headline in NY Times world brief section: “Northern Ireland: Protestant Group Upset.” Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

Site at which you can click on any year since 1776 and see who US troops were killing or threatening. The producers of the site seem to think that the US is not a peace-loving nation.

Today (Sunday) was National Sanctity of Human Life Day, as proclaimed by GeeDubya.

Isn’t it interesting that when we read that, we all know he actually meant--and only meant--fetuses, and American fetuses at that.

Secretary of War Rumsfeld helped put out the point of the day Sunday that if Saddam Hussein left Iraq, he could be offered immunity from prosecution. Leaving the question, prosecution by whom? The US can’t immunize someone from the International Court, it can’t speak for the next Iraqi government (well, it probably can, but you’re supposed to pretend that your puppet governments are capable of speaking when you’re drinking a glass of water), so Rummy really only means that the US won’t prosecute him, like Manuel Noriega, which was never very likely. Either that or the Rumster forgot that he doesn’t actually speak for the entire world. God I hate that man.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Empty war heads

Bush wants pain and suffering in malpractice lawsuits limited to $250,000. That last sentence was of course fallacious. Bush couldn’t give a shit about limiting pain and suffering, he wants to limit compensation for doctors whose incompetence inflicts pain and suffering, or perhaps more importantly, for their insurance companies. Those insurance companies have, like everyone else who invests heavily in the market, not been doing that well, but they expect their other investments, in campaign donations to Republicans, to perform rather better. Naturally the insurance companies want to shift their losses from having bought stock in Enron to those who most deserve to bear them: those scheming bastards who have been crippled and tormented by the mistakes of their doctors. Bush of course said nothing about doing anything to reduce malpractice, which you might have expected at the same time as he was proposing to reduce the costs to doctors of malpracticing. Maybe this is because gross incompetence is a way of life for GeeDubya, taken for granted like the air he breathes.

Any comments he might have made about doing this to ensure continued access to doctors (didn’t read the whole speech) were made nonsense of by his plans to cut payments to Medicare doctors yet again, announced last month, or by the plan announced on the very same day as his malpractice speech to let states restrict the access of Medicare patients to emergency medical services.

But that isn’t the real addition of insult to injury. No, the real jaw dropping, you gotta be shitting me insult is the provision that got almost no attention: he wants any money plaintiffs receive from their own insurance companies to be deducted from awards. In other words, he wants to shift penalties awarded against doctors guilty of medical malpractice from the guilty doctors to the insurance companies of their innocent victims.

So the inspectors found some empty warheads in Iraq. I guess that means the warhawks will stop attacking the inspectors as incompetent, huh? I’ve heard conflicting opinions from Iraq and from the empty war-heads in charge of US foreign policy as to whether Iraq accounted for them, but nothing from the UN inspectors yet. Of course anything that the US says about the content of the Iraqi submission is automatically suspicious given the 8,000 pages the US decided to censor before handing it to anyone else. In further sloppy reporting, I haven’t heard what happened to the warheads: did the inspectors remove them for destruction, or what? Also, I take it warhead means the part of a rocket that doesn’t contain the engine and propellant, which makes it pretty much just an empty metal container. OK, they may be more sophisticated than that, but it would have been nice if one of the many fine news sources I patronize had looked into this. One quick and dirty guide to their sophistication or lack of it might be the price.

Thursday, January 16, 2003


I bought shoes today. I hate buying shoes. Fortunately, the shoe store was near a Krispy Kreme, and I don’t so much mind buying donuts.

North Korea’s website. Probably its only website.

It is now legal to have unmarried sex in Georgia. Plan your vacations accordingly. In the case involved, a 16-year old boy was ordered by the court to write an essay on why he shouldn’t have sex (in Georgia the age of consent is 16, although I guess only if you’re married; however, asking a 16-year old student of the Georgia education system to write an essay is just plain cruel). He wrote that it was none of their business. Unmarried sex is still illegal in 9 states and the District of Columbia.

News from the exciting world of cock fighting: in the Philippines, a fighting cock with razors attached accidentally kills, heh heh, his owner, after hitting him in the groin.

In his speech attacking affirmative action at the U of Michigan, Bush attacked “racial prejudice” at length. It’s just discrimination he doesn’t mind too much. Or at any rate, he’s willing for it to end, but only if it happens accidentally, as some commentators have said. Actually, though, what he really wants is for the issue of race to just go away. This is why he talks about prejudice, which doesn’t directly hurt anyone, and why he attacks affirmative action as “divisive,” as if rocking the boat is the worst thing he can accuse it of. Compare this to his preemptive claims that critics of his tax cuts for the rich were engaged in “class warfare.” Remember, it’s not racial and class inequality that are the problem, as far as he is concerned, but people bringing those inequalities to our attention.

In place of “quotas,” he approves the humbug plan adopted in California, and elsewhere, after affirmative action was banned in the university system, of taking the top, what is it, 5%?, of students at each high school, in effect replacing racial quotas with the divergent standards of schools in different neighborhoods. Elsewhere, he has criticized these differing standards as the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” but here he actually makes them the basis of his policy (or “basics of his policy,” as GeeDubya would say).

I was gonna say that “divisive” is what Trent Lott would mean when he used the words “stirring up the niggras,” but I decided that was too crude.

Secretary of War Rummy Rumsfeld again (see mine of 11/18/02) says that it doesn’t matter what the UN inspectors say about Iraq having WMDs (there, I’ve finally given in to the acronym). In fact, if they find no weapons, it just shows how sneaky the Iraqis are. On 11/18/02 I called this the heads I win tails you lose approach (in case you haven’t committed all my emails to memory)(and if not, why not?). Actually Rumsfeld has never been a big fan of having proof for the assumptions behind his policies (like GeeDubya with tax cuts). Bob Woodward reports that Rummy was calling for war with Iraq on 9/12/01, with, obviously, no proof of Iraqi involvement. To be fair, recent polls suggest that Americans think that some or most of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis, which is further evidence that in a democracy you get the government you deserve (or, to roughly quote H L Mencken, democracy is the theory that the people know what they want and deserve to get it--good and hard).

The Supreme Court decided 5-4 that it wasn’t double jeopardy to give a death sentence to someone in his second trial after the jury in his first trial found him guilty but deadlocked over the sentence, which in Pennsylvania law meant he automatically got a sentence of life rather than death. I guess it comes down to how you define “jeopardy.” Since he was found guilty the first time, and the second trial was on his own appeal, then yes a second *verdict* of guilty doesn’t count as double jeopardy. But the second trial certainly put him in jeopardy of a *sentence* of death for a second time, and the 5th Amendment reads that no one shall be “subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”--the wording doesn’t confine jeopardy to the verdict. Either way, to create the possibility that challenging your conviction, as in this case, would put you in danger of the death penalty, is to pervert the course of justice. Even if it weren’t unconstitutional, it would be wrong and dangerous. In fact, I may be wrong, but I see nothing in the ruling that stops prosecutors who didn’t go for the death penalty in the first trial doing so for the second, purely as a way of punishing prisoners who dared challenge their conviction.

The NY Times didn’t like the $41 hamburger at all.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Bored as dead rats

In another display of arrogance, the Bush admin decided that Tom Ridge didn’t have to show up for a confirmation hearing chaired by Joe Lieberman. In another display of Democratic cravenness, Lieberman has caved in, and even given up his chairmanship a few days early, showing the leadership style that makes him totally unsuited for the office he announced he was running for the same day.

You know that new car smell, the real one, not the one in the spray cans? It’s poisonous, can give you sick building syndrome. It takes 3 years for the level to drop into the safe range.

The biggest split over what to replace the World Trade Center with is between the sexes. Naturally, men want really tall, thrusting, throbbing towers at least the height of the original. Women are more concerned about safety. Actually, whose stupid idea was it to exempt the towers from fire department regulations anyway? Just don’t do that again, and we’ll keep the replacements below 50 stories.

The French minister of education (I’ll give the URL for the educationalists on the list), says what no other minister of education has ever said--school is boring, and by god it’s supposed to be boring. Why when he was in school, “80 per cent of us were as bored as dead rats”.

Turkmenistan’s loony leader, Sapamurad Niyazov, who renamed the months, has announced that later this week (in the month of Turkmenbashi) 32 people allegedly involved in a plot to assassinate him will go on trial. He also announced what their sentences will be.

In different parts of today’s NY Times, it is reported that Cal. Governor Gray Davis plans to cut 500,000 people from Medicaid, and that he will spend $220,000,000 on a spanking new death row for San Quentin, capacity of 1,000.

The world’s stupidest kidnappers released their victim, a former Goldman Sachs exec, after he promised to pay them $5 million. They actually got caught, just after that, because they ordered a pizza using his credit card.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Do you want fries with that?

I talked a while back the growing partisanship in Congress, in the sense of increasing intolerance of independence by rank & file Congresscritters. For more evidence of this, see this story

on changes in Congressional rules to tighten control by the leadership over the committees. This is important.

New Senate majority leader Bill “Kitty Killer” Frist says that critics of his civil rights record ignores “the fact I go to Africa once a year or twice a year to work with the African American community.” Um, I think those people are the African AFRICAN community.

CIA black propaganda alert: the sudden reports in several sources that Saddam Hussein might fake a coup, even fake an assassination using one of his doubles, before or during a US invasion. The hawks must be very worried about their war being taken away from them. Fake coup indeed.

In NY, a restaurant is offering a $41 hamburger. The meat is Japanese kobe beef, whatever that means. Evidently the cows are fed beer and get massages. Oh, and the restaurant is one of those that charge a service charge (20%), rather than have tipping. The Times reporter enjoyed it.

Damn, now I'm hungry again.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Drawing ridicule, scorn and anger

The government of Greenland has collapsed, after 37 days, in a controversy over a healer being brought in to drive evil spirits out of the government’s offices. The government resigned. So it worked.

Weapons of Mass Irritation: the US has been spamming Iraqi military and other leaders with emails suggesting that they not use their weapons against the US invasion, or face “personal consequences.” Also that if they help the US defeat Saddam, their credit will improve, penises grow larger, and watch women have sex with donkeys (I’m guessing. Actually, I’d like to see the exact text of these emails, if anyone runs across them).

In Britain, someone posted in the website Friends United that he’d become a great success since high school, selling cocaine. He’s now in prison.

I guess relating to Iraq, John Bolton, #3 man in the State Dept: “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.”

When the ex-boyfriend of a Portland, Ore. cop was arrested for drugs, the cops went through her garbage cans and had her used tampons tested for drugs. (The story I read doesn’t say what the results were, but I think negative). She sued. A newspaper decided to go through the police chief’s garbage and list its contents in the paper. That would be one response. The other, I humbly submit, is for everyone in Portland to send their used tampons to the police or DA.

Ill. Governor George Ryan has pardoned or commuted all 150, 156, or 167 (how hard a fact was this for the newspapers to check, really?) people on death row. Here’s the response of the brother of one homicide victim: "How can one person have all of this authority and power?" As opposed to the power to decide that someone else’s life should be snuffed out. I can’t even imagine thinking that way, where a commutation is some awesome tyrannical use of absolute power, while signing a warrant of execution is nothing. Another relative of a victim (or maybe the same one) says "It's like we were murdered again." We? Ryan rightly says that his decision "will draw ridicule, scorn and anger."

Thursday, January 09, 2003

The protean meaning of the phenomenon of the fart

The NY Times is not paying enough attention to prepositions. On its front page Wednesday, this headline: “US, in a Shift, Is Willing to Talk With North Korea About A-Arms.” Actually, though, that’s not the case. The US statement is that it has decided to speak to North Korea. Not with North Korea, but to North Korea. The distinction will not have eluded the North Koreans.

I haven’t noticed the FBI showing any embarrassment over last week’s fallacious warning about 5 Middle Easterners infiltrating the country from Canada. It’s not just that they went into full panic mode over a tip from one guy, but that they failed to notice that the pictures and names they had were of Pakistanis, not Arabs.

There are 54 Mexican nationals in US death rows. According to Mexico, which has gone to the World Court, all of them have been denied consular access.

Speaking of lack of evidence, there’s a cute piece in Salon by William Saletan comparing the press’s reporting of unsubstantiated claims that a clone has been born to reporting of unsubstantiated claims by the US that Iraq has weapons.

The Israeli Supreme Court allows the 2 Arab MPs to run for re-election. Which is fine as far as it goes, but the willingness of Jewish politicians to jettison the democratic rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to have someone to vote for remains disturbing. The Court also allowed the candidacy of Meir Kahane’s racist successor. Meanwhile, the corruption scandal in Likud reaches Sharon. He went on tv today to denounce any suggestion that he would ever break election rules, only to have the broadcast ended in the middle by order of the election commission because it, well, broke election rules. The rules he had broken were that he illegally borrowed money after Likud was ordered to repay election contributions that had also broken the rules. Oh, and then he lied about the source of the borrowed money. Another infinite regression loop, just like the never-ending exchange of “reprisals.” Even his broadcast today wasn’t an explanation, but a series of accusations against his accusers and the Labor party--libel, perjury, etc.

WARNING: JOKE IN EXTREME POOR TASTE COMING UP. The UN reports that rebels in the Congo are eating pygmies. This is what happens when cannibals go on a diet.

Publisher’s blurb for On Farting: Bodily Wind in the Middle Ages by Valerie Allen and John Thompson: "The study of the fart in medieval culture participates in the widespread and productive contemporary study of the body, its practices and its hermeneutics. As a consequence of the cultural materialist interest in the quotidian, recent criticism has moved away from an abstracted conception of selfhood toward an appreciation of how the concrete daily regimens of bodily habits, generally taken for granted, shape the horizon of our cultural and individual consciousness. The fart, in its parodying of language and its logic of affinity, leads us ultimately to the problem of interpretation itself. ... A multifarious typology of the fart will permit a better understanding of the phenomenon's protean wealth of meaning.”

It takes years of grad school before you can write a boring book about farting.

Which leads us to another book, “Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis.” According to the review, ancient Hebrews used to swear oaths with their hands on their testicles, which is the origin of the word testify. My Oxford Concise says it’s the other way around, that the word testicles comes from the Latin testis (witness), suggesting that testicles are a witness to virility. There will be a short quiz on all this later.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Suicide kindergarten camps, he averred

In the middle of one of his rants, Netanyahu said the Palestinian gov should close “suicide kindergarten camps”. Say what?

Photo of Ariel Sharon peering through binoculars--whose lens cap is on.

The BBC reports that Britain has finally been proven still to be the force in the world it likes to think itself. All right, they didn’t put it in those terms, but for months you could see how dispirited Tony Blair was by the fact that there hasn’t been a single terrorist attack, even an abortive one, on Britain, despite his many warnings that Britain was a prime target. The BBC said that a raid on a home has uncovered a “deadly toxin.” Let the flood of jokes about British cuisine begin.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided that potential terrorist threats cannot be considered when licensing nuclear reactors, not because there is no threat, but because they can’t put a number to it. “We have no way to calculate the probability portion of the equation [risk = probability times consequences], except in such general terms as to be nearly meaningless.” Well, no, we don’t know the number, but I’m sure if you ask Tom Ridge, he’ll come up with a nice color for you. Jesus Christ, our entire foreign and military policy, the suspension of major civil rights and so forth are all predicated on risks expressed in such general terms as to be nearly meaningless.

Republicans have suddenly discovered that “double taxation” is immoral, at least when it’s in the form of dividends (of course it’s not double taxation for the many corporations that escape paying corporate income tax). The fact that they’d even say this in public suggests a total contempt for the intelligence of the American people (the thing nobody ever went broke underestimating, as the Bard of Baltimore averred). The sales tax is a double tax. Paying state as well as federal income taxes is a double tax. I could go on.

But if you’re going to be double taxed, at least you shouldn’t have to work hard to earn your money. Just received a box of things my mother taped off HBO for me, and I’ve been somewhat befuddled by the credits. Someone is employed on The Sopranos as a dialogue coach for James Gandolfini. First, imagine your job being to teach someone to talk like a New Jerseyan. Second, Gandolfini is a native of New Jersey. I was very disappointed by the fact that not once in the 4th season is someone described as a “motherless motherfuck.” Also, in a Robin Williams special, someone had responsibility for Mr. Williams’s hair and makeup. OK, any makeup was washed away in a flood of sweat within the first twelve seconds, so that part’s kind of pointless, but my god, his hair--that should be a team effort. I’d expect to see one person credited with responsibility just for the hair on his left arm above the elbow. The man is quite hairy, is the point I’m trying to make here.

Do you think “averred” is the most pompous word I’ve ever used? Do you think I made up for it with “motherless motherfuck”?

Monday, January 06, 2003

Is Oxford ready for Chancellor Billy Bob?

Another Republican, the current vice-chairman of the California party, running for the top job, has befouled his career by expressing the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, that of white Republicans for the Confederacy. Bush’s people refuse to comment, saying it’s a local matter. These are the people who keep telling Venezuela and the EU and everyone else how to handle their local matters.

I mentioned that Roy Jenkins died without mentioning that he was chancellor of Oxford. There is a move afoot to have Bill Clinton replace him.

I also mentioned that Israel banned Palestinian delegates to a conference in London. What’s interesting is how Israel took the opportunity to spit at the British gov, which it didn’t actually forewarn of the move. And when Jack Straw called about it, they published a transcript, which is a serious breach of diplomatic protocol.

The US continues to refuse to talk to North Korea, saying that that would be to reward blackmail. So the US has cut off food aid. Denying food to a starving nation can of course in no way be construed as blackmail.

Speaking of nuclear blackmail, during the Gulf War, Colin Powell was asked, and then ordered, to draw up contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against Iraq. Ordered by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

A hot tip on the Iraq war

Roy Jenkins, Britain’s home secretary and chancellor and nearly prime minister in the 1960s, has died, rather disconcertingly while I was in the middle of reading his biography of Churchill.

Britain was supposed to have a conference on Middle East peace next week, but Israel has banned the Palestinian delegates from traveling.

Cute story in the NY Times Sunday about a New Orleans prosecutor in a capital case who wears ties with nooses & the Grim Reaper on them.

Brits and gambling. Foreign sec Jack Straw says that the odds of war in Iraq are 60-40 against (the last figure on Slate’s Saddameter was 68% for). And Ladbrokes lowers the payoff for bets that Iain Duncan Smith won’t last out the year (as head of the Tory party, if you didn’t know, and if you didn’t, that’s just one reason he’s probably going) from 3:1 to evens. But if you’re planning a flutter, my handicapping is in favor of war and against IDS leaving that soon, simply because of lack of alternatives.

Britain is planning to ban replicas of guns: when fake guns are banned, only fake criminals will have fake guns. If there’s ever a ban on replicas of crime policies, Blair would be in trouble.

Still no word on exactly what the “hot pursuit” policy re American troops really is on the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Baby Jesus butt plugs

John Edwards announces he is running for president. This may be the last you ever hear from him. He says he wants to be a “champion for regular people.” So I guess none of us will be voting for him. Guardian headline: “Millionaire Lawyer Aims to be President for ‘Regular Folks’.”

See the 1/3/03 Doonesbury for a useful concept: “comfort arrests.”

The body of a murdered prostitute in Britain is identified through her breast and butt implants. You don’t want to know why fingerprints and dental records were no help.

Butt implants was a new concept to me. But see

The US military claims it can pursue people from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Pakistan says like hell.

Didn’t the Bay Guardian’s “Offies” used to be funnier? Well, here’s a link anyway.

And 3 stories from it, below, so you don’t have to bother.

Oh, there’s also an article on dildos with religious themes, such as the one I couldn’t resist using in my subject line.

Excerpts from Offies:

And while we're at it, I'm not a crook, so let's stop all this impeachment crap

Recently released tapes from the Nixon archives provided even further insight into the former president's beliefs: After Nixon's ambassador to France got badly drunk on an airplane and began groping flight attendants, Nixon declared at a staff meeting, "Look, people get drunk. People chase girls. And the point is, it's a hell of a lot better to get drunk than take drugs. It's better to chase girls than boys. That's my position, and let's stop this crap."

Coming soon to Abercrombie and Fitch

The leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, set off a new fashion trend in that country with his trademark hat made out of the fur of aborted lamb fetuses.

And next, the happy cows will be promoting McDonald's

An ad campaign for Denny's featured Miss Piggy, the Muppet, hawking a sausage- and-bacon combo breakfast. "I think people understand that it's the Muppets," a Denny's spokesperson said. "If we had a real pig in here eating bacon, then there would be issues."

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

A diplomatic showdown

Israel bans another Arab MP and his party from the elections (a story yet to appear in either the NY Times or the WashPost, although everyone carried the court ruling that military reservists can’t resist illegal orders but must be good little Germans). Won’t stop them calling themselves a democracy, I imagine, although 20% of the population is now effectively disenfranchised. But I guess the Palestinians can always vote for the Zionist of their choice.

The US has finally snuck genetically modified crops into Europe in a rather odd place: its money. The euro is printed on cotton, which is imported from Turkey or the US. In the US, cotton is often GM, and no records are kept.

Speaking of funny money, the parents of a Vermont girl arrested for marijuana possession showed up with her $50,000 bail money, which the police promptly confiscated because it smelled like marijuana. The money came from their daughter’s friends.

Today was the annual release of British records under the 30 Years’ Rule. In 1972, the year of Bloody Sunday, the Heath gov considered repartitioning the province and expelling the Catholics. The 2001 census shows the Catholics are gaining fast. The census people refuse to take no religion for an answer. Even if you’re an atheist, they ask what your parents were and where you went to school so they can decide what religion you should be.

The Texas Supreme Court rules 8-0 that the state doesn’t have to pay for abortions in cases where the mother’s health is at risk. That’s eight to zero. The state is required to pay for all medically necessary procedures for men, of course.

This is a British story, or it might result in some very silly warning labels: A 12-year-old girl died after hitting her head during a pillow fight with her best friend. Jessica Smith made a playful lunge with the pillow but missed and banged her head on a bedstead. ....

Speaking of dead girls (because I always enjoy starting out the year on a light note), that Russian colonel, the only person in the military ever charged with one of the many, many atrocities committed in Chechnya, was acquitted for raping and strangling a teenage girl because he was crazy at the time. Well, drunk, anyway. The rape part wasn’t mentioned in court.

Shrub is twisting himself into humorous knots trying to describe why North Korea is not like Iraq. He again tries to claim that Iraq might have nukes, which it does not. He says, “I believe this is not a military showdown, this is a diplomatic showdown.” The word showdown is a sure sign that he was in Texas at the time; the military/diplomatic distinction, if it means anything, means that the American response in one case is military, in the other diplomatic, or in other words, his explanation for why he’s responding to the two situations differently is that it’s because he’s responding to them differently. So that clears that up. Come to think of it, I know what a military showdown is, but what the heck is a diplomatic showdown? Start back to back, walk ten paces, then turn around and exercise diplomacy? Dooooo not forsaaake me, o my daaarlin’....