Thursday, March 31, 2005

First, he has not been to Iraq

Headline of the day, Thank-You-For-Sharing division: “Pope Has Urinary Infection.”

Kevin Moley, US ambassador to UN organizations, denies the report of UN food expert Jean Ziegler that children in Iraq are starving and that malnutrition rates have doubled under the American occupation. Said Moley, “First, he has not been to Iraq, and second, he is wrong.” Ooo, so sure of himself, but he then insisted that malnutrition data is “difficult to validate,” meaning he has no actual data to rebut Ziegler’s, and that even if malnutrition was increasing, it started when Saddam was still in power. Yes, let’s blame Saddam Hussein for starvation occurring two years after he was forced out of power. Also, why is it relevant that Ziegler hasn’t been to Iraq; how would that in any way help him correlate data? When they throw in that sort of thing as a refutation, you know they don’t have a leg to stand on.

The time will come

Every blog is quoting Tom DeLay on Schiavo: “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today.” They’re assuming he meant some sort of secular retribution, but when I first read it I thought he meant they would all go to hell. Really, it could be read either way, and isn’t it frightening that when he speaks you can no longer tell if it’s in his capacity as House Majority Leader or his capacity as Spokesman for the Wrath of God.

(Afterthought:) and how stupid a politician do you have to be to leave that sort of hostage to fate? If someone attacks the husband or the judge, that comment will be tattooed across DeLay’s forehead forever.

Playing and/or attacking God

Bush commends the Schindler and Schiavo families for “the example of grace and dignity they have displayed at a difficult time.” Yeah, grace, dignity, just the words I would have used.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Catholic Church’s office for sainthood (now there’s a weird job to put on your resume) says that letting Terri Schiavo die is “an attack against God.” Dude, we totally kicked God’s ass.

That army captain, Rogelio Maynulet, has been convicted for shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner. The court martial judge says he “played God” in shooting rather than treating him. Whereas deciding to invade a country, bomb its cities and depose its leader, that’s not playing God at all.

The intelligence commission says that the spy agencies were “dead wrong in almost all of [their] pre-war judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” and still know jack shit about WMDs. Scotty McClellan says they’ll get right on that “in a fairly quick period of time.”

Of course, as Left I points out, intel had little to do with the decision to invade Iraq. I’m agnostic on Eli’s contention that the Bushies never believed there were WMDs. I would guess they expected there to be something, a few anthrax samples, a centrifuge or two, that they could claim was a WMD program, but that they knew there was nothing that was a threat to anyone, no imminent “smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud.” Eli uses as evidence the “decidedly lackadaisical search for WMD after U.S. troops had taken control of the country,” but that could just be incompetence. When you are both evil and stupid, it’s hard to differentiate which characteristic is behind any given action.

(Update: Eli responds here and I respond to his response in his comments section.)

Misery for everyone

Eyeglasses that play DVDs. Civilization is officially at an end.

Some of the Save Terri people have taken to making mock-feminist arguments, saying that Mrs. Schavio is being treated like property by her husband. Where were these people a couple of weeks ago when some businessman actually tried to buy her from her husband for $1 million?

If you look at a newspaper, it’s all medical ethics, all the time. Here’s Tom DeLay, defending taking his father off life support: “My father was in a coma. Schiavo is a living person. My father was on life support and dying. Schiavo is living and wants to live. There is no similarity at all and to even suggest so is pretty sad.” So there you have it, from one of the Every Sperm is Sacred Brigade: people in comas are not living people. I’m not clear what they actually are. And there’s the pope’s nasal-gastric feeding tube. And there’s the US tank commander who told a court martial that he shot a wounded Iraqi prisoner to “put him out of his misery”. Guess he hasn’t understand that America’s rulers are firmly pro-misery. “Misery is on the march!” they proclaim proudly. His lawyer is evidently arguing that mercy killing is allowed under the Geneva Conventions.

Laura Bush in Afghanistan: “As a teacher, I know how important teaching is.” I think she means that as a former teacher, she knows how important teaching was.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Thanks to you, millions of little girls are going to school

Although she spent less than 6 hours in Afghanistan, Laura Bush evidently ran out of Afghans worth speaking with, and decided to hang out with American troops instead. She told them, “Thanks to you, millions of little girls are going to school in this country.” Great, they’re like the world’s most heavily armed school crossing guards.

Follow-up: Juan Cole says that the reason Allawi stalked out of the National Assembly after the cameras were turned off and the press expelled was that his choice for Speaker was rejected for having been too close to Saddam.

The NYT has a story, “U.S. Helped to Prepare the Way for Kyrgyzstan’s Uprising.” The US supplied paper and a printing press and money to an opposition newspaper, and broadcast its stories on the local Radio Free Europe. All relatively mild activities, and Akayev was certainly on my list of Top 40 Dictators Who Need to Be Sent Into Exile, but it still amounts to the US considering it its right to undermine willy nilly any government it dislikes. The difference between this and the covert actions which overthrew the governments of Arbenz, Mossadegh and Allende is one of degree only. It will also give other dictators the ability to paint their oppositions as American puppets, in much the same way that Robert Mugabe is currently campaigning in Zimbabwe’s fake elections as if Tony Blair were running against him.

Also, the NYT puff piece on these activities was pretty obviously spoon-fed to the Paper of Record by someone in State or the CIA.

We want them to develop their education that works for them

Laura Bush is going to Afghanistan to demonstrate America’s deep commitment to women’s education there. She will spend a total of 5 hours in the country, but they will be a deeply committed 5 hours. She had this to say: “We want them to develop their education that works for them, just like we do the same thing in our country.” They say married couples begin to look alike, but hanging around with George has obviously done horrible things to her verbal skills. Also, she says she plans to tell Karzai “how moved we are by their efforts, by the big huge vote that turned out earlier this year”. Actually, that was October of last year. Hopefully she’ll demonstrate her deep commitment to Afghanistan by figuring out the difference between it and Iraq before she touches down.

Evidently there will be an “American University in Afghanistan,” which sounds like a really bad idea, and why have I not heard of this before? A cursory googling doesn’t really say who’s behind this, although the US military is currently building it a $370,000 wall (it has to be of good quality because of all the student-hostages who will be shot in front of it)(graduates wear a mortar board and blindfold).

Laura says that Georgie was right to intervene in the Schiavo affair — “It is a life issue that really does require government to be involved” — but also told reporters that she and George both have living wills, presumably so that the government isn’t involved. Aren’t you curious about the details of Chimpy’s living will?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Standing on the side of those who defend life

Headline in The Onion: “History Sighs, Repeats Itself.”

The Iraqi parliament met today and, as predicted, accomplished nothing. In fact, it descended into chaos and the acting Speaker (they can’t agree on a Speaker) ordered the tv cameras turned off. Iraqi viewers were then treated to an orchestra playing the national anthem. Disharmony followed by harmony. So they missed “Comical” Allawi storming out and the acting Speaker (chosen because he’s the oldest man there) telling everyone to go home.

Asked about Terri Schiavo, Scotty McClellan said no fewer than six times that Bush is “standing on the side of those who defend life.” I suppose it’s better than standing on their foot.

I don’t know if that joke means I’ve taken too many Vicodin (back trouble) or not enough.

One thing about Bush’s repeated claim that he is “erring on the side of life”: at least he’s finally admitting that he is capable of error.

Bring out your dea... uh, people in a persistent vegetative state

Not to suggest that the Terri Schiavo protesters are becoming Pythonesque, but I couldn’t help noticing in yesterday’s NYT that some of them were disabled people holding signs saying “Not dead yet,” while elsewhere in the paper the same phrase appears in an article on Spamalot, the theatrical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which has a song of the same name.

Another juxtaposition that might or might not mean anything: yesterday there was a segment on McNeil-Lehrer on the attempt to insert “intelligent design” into school curricula. The sorts of people who were insisting that they could discern an intelligence behind the development of human life are the same sorts who persist in discerning an intelligence in the living corpse of Terri Schiavo.

As long as we’re talking about intelligent design, here’s today’s Tom Toles:

The Supreme Court let stand a state supreme court ruling allowing newspapers to be sued for accurately reporting false statements made by politicians. This is extremely dangerous. It would be nice if it made them fact-check politicians more, but more likely it will make them even more timid than they already are.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Dude, no one even heard of Kyrgyzstan before last week, they still can’t find it on a map, so I wouldn’t get too worked up over its street cred

Kyrgyz politicians, in a backroom deal, have agreed to retain the newly, but fraudulently, elected parliament, although presumably without the two offspring of Akayev who were elected it. No one seems to be talking about holding new elections, maybe free and fair ones this time. Akayev fired off another email saying the “revolutionaries” have “ruined our nation’s reputation for the entire world.” Yes, Kyrgyzstan’s... reputation.

The Iraqi parliament is due to meet again Tuesday, and then to adjourn again, having again accomplished nothing. 8 weeks since the election and they haven’t agreed on the shape of the conference table yet. And remember, this is the body that’s supposed to write an entire constitution. I think it’s obvious that’s not going to happen; not these people, not in less than 20 years. So what now?

RX: obnoxious paternalistic moralism

How far has Russia come since the days of repressive godless communism. The organizers of an art exhibition at the Andrei Sakharov Museum which was attacked by Russian Orthodox thugs have been fined for blasphemy (the thugs were not charged). The exhibit included an icon with a hole for the face where visitors could put their own faces, a Coca Cola logo next to Jesus’s face with the words “This is my blood,” and so on. So the proper charge should not have been blasphemy but first degree triteness.

Speaking of religious zealots, there have been several articles recently about pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions they morally disagree with, like contraception, or contraception for unmarried women. No word on pharmacists who refuse to sell Viagra to unmarried men.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

And verily the Lord said, “There’s Oil in them thar hills. Black gold, Texas tea...”

An Evangelical businessman from Michigan has started a company, Zion Oil and Gas, to drill in the spot in Israel where he thinks the Old Testament says oil is located.

Kyrgyzstan now has two parliaments, with different members and government declaring allegiance to one or the other, and the electoral commission and supreme court on opposite sides. Felix Kulov, who would not have his current job as security chief (and indeed would still be in prison) if not for the protests against the patently rigged elections, says the parliament “elected” in those elections is the legitimate one and threatens to arrest any member of the old parliament who protests (and no, I don’t know how much overlap there is, because no reporter has thought to ask that question). The 2000 parliamentary elections were actually probably not much fairer than this month’s.

Dresden city council wants to require dog owners to register their dogs’ DNA so that any poop not picked up by the owners can be tested.
The notion that this might infringe “canine rights” has been dismissed by Saxony's data protection commissioner, Andreas Schurig, who ruled that as dogs were not human they had no rights over their data and could not object to the compulsory tests.
Michael Jackson explained why he showed up at court in pajamas in an interview with Jesse Jackson. No, I won’t tell you why, I didn’t read the article because I don’t care (and neither should you), but I did want to point out that Jesse Jackson interviewed Michael Jackson about why he wore his jammies to court.

If you haven’t seen this comparison of Tom DeLay and Jesus, run click, do not walk.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Old World Order

Rumsfeld can’t imagine what Venezuela wants with automatic weapons. And Cheney says “Nobody can figure why [the Iranians] need nuclear as well to generate energy.” Yes, it’s all part of a new strategy to preserve American security by making the entire rest of the world... Amish. From Timbuktu to Riyadh to Machu Picchu, it’ll be all buggies and barn-raisings. And quilts, lots of quilts.

The Culture of Life

Egypt announced that it would allow more than one candidate for president run in the September elections. It made this announcement after the deadline for voter registration. Subtle, huh?

Bush finally spoke about the Minnesota school massacre today, in his weekly radio address, after he spent several minutes somehow linking Easter and Christ rising from the dead with the US military. It wasn’t too bad, if a bit generic and a lot late. But what to make of this: “To keep our children safe and protected, we must continue to foster a culture that affirms life and provides love”. Ah yes, the “culture of life,” that term which covers a range of issues from abortion to Terri Schiavo and creates linkages between them, performing the same function for cultural conservatives that the “right to privacy” performs for those who oppose them on these same issues. So in Bush’s latest presentation of the culture of life, the banning of abortion would, presumably, stop future school shootings. Or something. (Actually, it would make the schools more crowded, and crowded with unwanted children at that).

Back to Terri. While some people have doubtless truly deluded themselves into believing she is other than vegetable matter, or that Jesus or Elian Gonzales will come riding in on the back of his magic dolphins and restore her to sentience, I suspect that a great many of the politicians bloviating about this case don’t really want what they say they want. If they “win,” all they’ve got is a brain-dead woman with a feeding tube, not much of a victory prize. If they lose, they’ve got an issue and an icon, poor martyred St. Terri. The fact that this proved not to be a particularly popular issue with the general public may have been a miscalculation, or it may not, because the faithful, for whom this was a crusade, will remember it long after the general public, for whom it was an entertainment, like the Michael Jackson trial, will have forgotten.


Condi Rice tells the WaPo that “It’s very important that Russia not get isolated.” Isolation is something with which she often threatens nations. Last month I was startled by her warning to North Korea that it was isolating itself further, when any intelligent observer of the Hermit Kingdom would see a country not eager to be anything other than very isolated indeed. The Russia quote impelled me to search Rice’s speeches on the State Dept website, which brings up such remarks as:
  • “It’s the North Koreans who are isolated, not the United States. It’s North Korea that is isolated.”
  • “It’s the Iranians that are isolated, not the United States.”
  • “we need to remember that the Iranians are the ones who are isolated.” “the Syrians, who I do not believe want to be as isolated as they are now. They are very isolated.”
Etc, etc, etc.

So evidently for this black woman, feeling isolated is the worst possible thing, and can be avoided by conforming to the values of the big boys. Poor Condi, she just needs a hug. Not that I’m offering; that woman scares me.

Friday, March 25, 2005


NRA vice president Sandra Froman responds to the school shooting in Minnesota by suggesting that teachers be armed. Gee, why didn’t I think of that.

80% of the tsunami fatalities were women.

Kyrgyzstan’s ousted president Akayev insisted he was still president because he hadn’t resigned and that he will return from wherever he’s hiding. In a nicely modern touch, this message came by email. No word on whether Akayev used any emoticons.

Putin denounces the change in government as illegitimate and says in the next breath that he can work with the new illegitimate government. The man who turned Chechnya into a charnel house then denounced the violence in Kyrgyzstan, which so far has mostly consisted of looting and is on a smaller scale than, say, the Rodney King riots.

Rummy’s imagination

Kyrgyz dictator Akayev has been forced to flee by a popular uprising which still hasn’t settled on a name, although it seems now to be more tulip than lemon. He has been replaced by former-cronies-turned-opponents as prime minister and president, so look for the authoritarianism to be dialed back a notch, not for actual democracy. Street protests can create a power vacuum, but that’s it.

Secretary of War Rumsfeld speaks in ominous tones about Venezuela’s efforts to purchase assault rifles. “I can’t imagine what’s going to happen to 100,000 AK-47s,” he said. And then resumed military aid to Guatemala, proclaiming its army a lot less death-squad-y now. I don’t know if this means Rummy can’t imagine what the Guatemalan military will do with its weapons... or that he can.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Terri Schiavo: a modest proposal

I haven’t followed the Robert Blake trial, but I do know that LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley should be forced to resign for saying that the jurors were “incredibly stupid” and the Blake is “guilty as sin.” While both may very well be true, a district attorney doesn’t get to say so. He either believes in the principle that only juries get to decide who is guilty, or he shouldn’t be in the job. His remarks are as unprofessional as Dr. Bill “Kitty Killer” Frist’s video diagnosis of Terri Schiavo.

The LA Times comments that in flying to Washington to sign the Terri Schiavo bill in his jammies, but not saying a word about the Minnesota school massacre, Bush is responding to the demands of his core constituencies: “Conservative Christians pressed Bush to intervene for Schiavo, while the National Rifle Assn. and other gun-owner groups generally look to minimize the relevance of political responses to mass shootings.” So there could be a compromise here. If Terri is as functional as Frist says she is, and if she were to “accidentally” shoot herself while cleaning her gun....

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The future

The Pentagon website is particularly grotesque at the moment. The picture they thought appropriate for a story on the “Faces of the Fallen” exhibition at Arlington is this one, because children in camouflage ARE the future.

Next to that is this logo, which evidently depicts a heart with dog tags, not an open zipper and really patriotic genitalia, as I first thought.

If you click on that logo at the DOD site, you go here where there’s a picture of Jamie Farr, MASH’s Corporal Klinger, because men wearing dresses to escape the military ARE the future.

Below that is a link to this story, about 48 new military recruits being publicly sworn in before a crowd of 43,000 at the... wait for it ... Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show. How... appropriate.

And a bit below that is this inanity:
People who have hope plant flowers. And Kabul, Afghanistan, will be blooming this spring, according to Mary Jo Myers, wife of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Afghan women are planting flowers and enjoying the rain that seems to have finally broken the decade-long drought in the country. “Given the importance of flowers in the country, the actions of these women show they have hope for the future of the country,” Mrs. Myers said.
Because these flowers ARE the future of Afghanistan:

Big border

Recently I’ve been seeing these stories about how Bush actually reads books, and does not amuse himself in his off-hours, as most of us had thought, with a ball of string. George, these stories try to convince us, is smarter than we think. But if he’s reading all these big-boy books, why is most of his vocabulary still that of a 3-year old? Today, for example, in a news conference with the heads of Canada and Mexico, Bush kept saying that the US has a “big border” with those countries. Long, you moron, the word is long.

Jeb Bush trotted out a “renowned” neurologist to claim that Terri Schiavo was not without brain function but had “minimal consciousness.” At this precise moment I’m suffering from a surfeit of consciousness, as five million Florida jokes all seek to emerge at once. The doctor himself suffers from false consciousness, telling anyone who will listen that he was a nominee for the Nobel Prize, which he was not.

There’s one significant datum in the Terri Schiavo affair I haven’t seen: the cost of sustaining her vegetable existence year in and year out.

The British elections are moving along nicely, with Michael Howard running a campaign that’s a never-ending quest to find people to attack who are more repugnant to the British public than he is. I check in on the Tory website every few days to see who’s on the menu of hate, and yesterday it was “travellers,” aka gypsies, people who have caravans. Mark Steel of the Indy comments:
Having got through burglars and asylum-seekers, he’s running out and has had to go back to historical groups such as Gypsies, with six weeks still to go. Soon he’ll tell us that decent people are having their lives ruined by hordes of Huguenots. He’ll hold a press conference to say: “I was speaking yesterday to an old-age pensioner who can no longer hear her pet cat crying to come in because of the noise of all the Huguenots in her street speaking Flemish and making cloth. The time has come to say Enough is Enough. If you want to weave - you’ll have to leave’.”

This picture of Blair comes from the Tory website: is an Englishman

In a great victory for evil drug companies, India’s parliament, under severe pressure, has passed a drug patent law that will result in the deaths of millions of people not only in India but in places like Africa that relied on cheap Indian generic drugs.

To prove how modern and yet traditional he is, Tony Blair spoke at a church today. Well, a “” webcast. With the Catholic church urging Catholics to vote Tory, and Michael Howard advocating reducing the cut-off date for legal abortions from 24 to 20 weeks, Labour had been trying to keep religion out of politics — “We don’t do God,” said Blair’s spin doctor — but evidently is another matter.

After writing that, I checked. There actually is a website, where you can download the New Testament in MP3 format.

Eric Umansky asks if the use of a .gov url makes this propaganda site illegal. If it makes him feel any better, there’s also, heh heh, a

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A certain investor class

First Draft points out that Bush, so successful in branding critics of No Child Left Behind as racists harboring the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and branding the opponents of the “liberation” of Iraq and the whole Middle East as racists who don’t believe Muslims capable of democracy, is now branding those who oppose “personal” retirement accounts as racists who think “there’s only a certain investor class in America.” So the new motto is “Investment Accounts: Not Just for Jews Anymore.”

The tulip/lemon/kalpak revolution

Dick Cheney thinks this is a reassuring thing to say about Social Security: “In effect, what we are saying is we are going to tie your future as you retire to the overall health and function of the American economy.” I so look forward to spending my retirement checking the stock market prices every morning to see if I get to have the good cat food for dinner.

Kyrgyzstan’s lemon revolution — or possibly tulip revolution, they still haven’t made up their minds, which probably does not bode well for the future — continues. Or, if you listen to the government, “a putsch and a coup” organized by “criminal elements connected to the drug mafia,” which doesn’t sound very tulipy to me.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I am now an expert on Kyrgyzstan. I know that Kyrgyzstan women are “diligent, faithful, good-natured, loyal, responsible, stable, traditional, understanding, intelligent.” And I know that in Kyrgyzstan it’s all about the hats:

The protester in the center is wearing a seized soldier’s helmet, the guy on the right isn’t actually wearing a hat, that’s his real hair, while the guy at the left is wearing what news stories refer to as Kyrgyzstan’s “traditional felt hats,” which are called kalpak. They account for, oh let’s say 98% of the Kyrgyz economy, so the Kyrguys and Kyrgals get very upset if you don’t look good in one:

Other ways

Crowds protesting the, shall we say, flawed elections in Kyrgyzstan (Motto: It’s Pronounced Just like It’s Spelled!), elections backed, naturally, by Vladimir Putin, the patron saint of stolen elections, have taken over the country’s second city, which even they were surprised to find out is named Osh.

Condi Rice says if North Korea doesn’t return to talks, we will have to find “other ways” of making it comply with our wishes. No, I don’t see any reason they’d feel a need to arm themselves with nukes for self-protection, no reason at all.

The Republicans are finally advocating universal health care. In the future, everyone in the country will have a doctor. Unfortunately, they’ll all have the same doctor, Bill Frist, who will glance at a video of them and make an instant diagnosis. Neurology, gastroenterology, opthamology, podiatry (but not gynecology, he’s a good Christian man and not into that sort of thing), you name it and he’ll issue a pompous, ill-informed pronouncement.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Darned careful

Secretary of War Rumsfeld says Iraqis should “be darned careful about making a lot of changes just to be putting in their friend or to be putting in someone else from their tribe or from their ethnic group.” That describes how George Bush got every job he’s ever had.

Rummy also blames Turkey for the current insurgency, because its refusal to be used as a springboard for the invasion of Iraq slowed us down, allowing “regime elements” to disperse and live to fight another day. The Road to Surfdom points out that this directly contradicts Bush’s “catastrophic success” theory.

Watched a bit of the Terri Schiavo coverage on Fox and it wasn’t too bad, although not terribly competent, saying that the judge in the case was appointed by “President Clinton in 1990.”

A healthy thing

Secretary of War Rumsfeld on why Iraq’s failure to form a government, 7 weeks after the elections, is actually a good thing: “I think all of the debate, discussion and politics is a healthy thing.” Sure wasn’t what the Republicans told Al Gore in 2000.

Outside help

The WaPo is calling for the US to provide “outside help” to preserve democracy in Bolivia, although, as with its editorials attacking Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, you could be forgiven for thinking the Post was more concerned with energy exports to the US than with democracy. Mr. Chávez makes an appearance here too, accused of “meddling” in Bolivia (as opposed to “outside help”). Evidently Chávez, “along with Cuba’s Fidel Castro dreams of a new bloc of Latin ‘socialist’ (i.e., undemocratic) regimes that will join with like-minded states such as Iran, Libya and China to oppose the United States.”

Like-minded? Libya and China? Iran and Cuba?

The funny thing is that the Post news section has an article on John Negroponte’s stint as ambassador to Honduras, providing “outside help” by running interference for its death squads. The article is better than the editorial, although you have to wonder about their choice of words in saying that he “is still being hounded by human rights activists,” such as a woman whose brother was disappeared. Hounded indeed, like Inspector Javert chasing Jean Valjean.

Given that Bush saw fit to promote a man with that record to Intelligence Tsar, it’s hard to imagine why the Post thinks any “outside help” provided by the US to Bolivia would be in the direction of “head[ing] off the breakdown of democracy in Latin America”. Also, we have some idea of the Bushies’ commitment to Bolivian democracy from its past record, which the Post doesn’t see fit to mention: during the 2002 Bolivian presidential elections, the American ambassador and Otto Reich of the State Department issued repeated blunt threats about cutting aid — and worse — if the country elected the wrong candidate. They took the hint and our candidate won.

The editorial also defends the opening of Bolivian infrastructure to outside (i.e., American) investment, so that provision of water is run on a for-profit basis. I don’t know much about the specific situation in Bolivia, but that usually means a whopping increase in water bills, and aggressive disconnection of those who can’t afford it.

This looks like a good place to find out more about Bolivia. (Update: and here. Thanks to Josh Narins of Remain Calm for the link.)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

And that’s not the point

This week the Daily Show unfairly made fun of talk show hosts who questioned Condi Rice over and over last Sunday about whether she would run for president, but the reason they did so was that it took several rounds to get her to give an answer not containing weasel words like “I have no intention of running.” So North Korea can take her assertion that the US has “no intention” of attacking it and “no desire” to do so for what it’s worth.

And this doesn’t help either:
In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.
If we didn’t already have the leaked memo about what a great issue Terri Schiavo’s brain-dead body was for the R’s, we might wonder why Congressional intervention took the form of a law moving the case to the federal courts, which just drags the whole thing out, when the law could just as easily have ordered that she be kept alive forever and ever. Tom DeLay even says that permanently preventing her feeding tube being removed is “not the point.” No, you bottom-feeding demagogic blowhard, it surely isn’t. GeeDubya will fly back to Washington specifically to sign the bill.

Favorite headline: “Boston Archbishop Will Wash Women’s Feet.” I’m sure he will.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Rehabilitation, American style

I’m not sure which was the slimiest thing done by a politician this week, Gerry Adams warning the family of murdered Belfast man Robert McCartney not to be “manipulated” for political gain, or Bill “I’m a doctor you know” Frist proclaiming that he’d watched videotapes of Terri Schiavo for an hour and is convinced that the people who have observed her vegetating for the past 15 years have it wrong.

The Sindy reports that the US military routinely orders the release of Iraqi common criminals, including kidnappers, if they promise to spy on the insurgents. Nice.

Speaking of common criminals, does it worry anyone that Wolfowitz is going to the World Bank even though he based his understanding of Iraq on the word of Achmad Chalabi, a man convicted of bank fraud?

Real men don’t need a strategy of the weak

The idiots at the LA Times just scared the crap out of me with this misleading headline: “Policy OKs First Strike to Protect U.S.” They mean that the Pentagon’s new strategic plans codify Bush’s policy of preemption. This does not mean nuclear attack, which the term “first strike” usually means in a military context, as the headline-writer evidently does not know; thus the crap-scaring-out effect of that headline.

JARGON ALERT: This policy is known by the euphemism “active deterrence.”

My favorite sentence from the report: “Our strength as a nation-state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak, using international fora, judicial processes and terrorism.” I love how those three are just lumped together. The World Court, 9/11, pretty much the same thing. Strategies of the weak. The LA Times, by the way, so careless in its use of “first strike,” saw fit to replace the word fora with forums, in brackets, like there’s something wrong with Latin plurals.

Friday, March 18, 2005

No better story

Condolencia Rice (as Hugo Chávez calls her) in Afghanistan: “There could be no better story than the story of Afghanistan in the last several years”. I dunno, the one about the priest, the rabbi and the talking dog was a pretty good story too. She kept talking about the Afghans’ “commitment” to democracy, which remains as unfulfilled as my commitment to drop a few pounds. Condi explained the latest postponement of parliamentary elections (now 15 months behind schedule) as being because Afghanistan is a large and complicated country. Has it grown in size and complexity since it somehow managed to hold presidential elections? In the absence of a parliament, there is no democracy; without checks on his power, Karzai is by definition a dictator.

Incidentally, as an example of the State Dept’s competence and professionalism in dealing with and understanding this part of the world, note the blank spots in the transcript on the State Dept website (link in previous paragraph) whenever a reporter or Karzai spoke in their native language. Just as our new goodwill ambassador to the Muslim world, Karen Hughes, doesn’t need to know Arabic to perform that job, no one at State needs to know Pashto. If it was important, they’d say it in English.

Speaking of professionalism, Porter Goss told a Senate committee yesterday that the US doesn’t use torture because torture is not “professional interrogation.” Like not wearing a tie to work. Nice that he takes such a principled stand. Actually, what he said is that there is no torture “at this time.” Which could just refer to the time zone difference.

And just to combine the topics of Afghanistan and torture, here’s a (long) Guardian investigation of the many American detention centers/concentration camps in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

According to the London Times, Fidel Castro recently gave a “generally upbeat 5¾ hour speech, two hours of which he devoted to the merits of the pressure cooker which he is distributing cut-price to all Cuban households.”

Speaking of cut-price pressure cookers, Congress really did subpoena the late Terri Schiavo, they really really did. At least she’d be the smartest person in the room.

Speaking of the culture of life, when the Argentinian health minister recently said that he supported legalizing abortion, the Catholic bishop to the armed forces said he should have a millstone hung around his neck and be thrown from a helicopter. In the 1970s, this was a favorite method of the military in killing left-wingers in Argentina.

George shows where Dick Cheney touched him.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A whole, separate, unique, living human being

South Dakota has a new law requiring that, before an abortion, the doctor must tell the woman that abortion ends the life of a “whole, separate, unique, living human being.” Also that she could die or get really depressed afterwards, and that “the pregnant woman has an existing relationship with that unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota,” whatever that means.

The London Times claims to have “clear evidence” that Syria was behind the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, although there is nothing resembling evidence in its story. And Robert Fisk in the Indy, who has in recent days been rather more convincing on the subject, reports that Syria’s top Lebanese intelligence guy announced that he would sue himself, presumably in Syrian court, to prove his own innocence in the assassination. Looking forward to that one.

From the Press Association: “A businesswoman paid £2,500 to fly five invisible mermaids from London to Harare to help her recover a stolen car and cash.”

Will Durst suggests some slogans for Karen Hughes in improving the US’s image (edited slightly down):
  • When Democracy Reigns, It Pours.
  • America: Just a Big Red White and Blue Teddy Bear With a Whole Lot of Guns.
  • Snap. Crackle. Pow. Thud.
  • Be All We Think You Should Be.
  • Tastes Great. Less Torture.
  • They Don’t Call Us The GREAT Satan For Nothing.
  • America 2.0. Now With Improved Press Suppression.
  • What’s So Bad About Bread And Circuses Anyway?
  • John Wayne: Not Just an Actor. A Way Of Life.
  • Don’t Like Us? Get In Line.
  • Wouldn’t You Really Rather Have A Republic?
  • Badges, We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges.
  • Friendly Fire ‘R Us.
  • Democracy: Just Do It.
  • You Keep the Sand, We’ll Take the Oil.
  • Sometimes You Feel Like a Crazed Tyrannical Despot, Sometimes You Don’t.
  • We’re Everywhere You Want To Be. Deal With It.
  • The New Improved Low-Carb, Atkins-Friendly America.
  • Got Grenades?
  • I Can’t Believe I Invaded The Whole Peninsula.
  • Nobody Doesn’t Like Britney Spears.

The values of St. Patrick

Just caught the end of Bush, resplendent in ugly green tie, giving his annual St Patrick’s Day speech. I could swear he said that the US and Ireland share a common commitment to the values of St. Patrick. A dislike of snakes? (See, you thought I would go with the drinking thing, but I went another way.) I watched on Fox, whose anchor dutifully repeated O’Chimpy’s mispronunciation of Irish PM Ahern’s name.

An old vehicle

From the Daily Telegraph: “A robber who held up a bookmaker’s shop with a banana was jailed for six years yesterday.” I’ve provided a link, but do you really want to use it? I say leave that sentence to stand there in all its perfection.

LAT columnist George Skelton says of Governor Terminator, “When a governor claims he’s not a politician, it’s time to get him a civics book or a good shrink.” That’s not quite fair. He’s also been in lots of movies, but no one would ever call him an actor.

In a ham-handed piece of agitprop, House Republicans drove a 1935 Ford Coupe, manufactured the same year as Social Security was inaugurated, to the Capitol to provide an image so compelling that I can’t actually find it online to steal in order to illustrate this post, to illustrate, in Denny Hastert’s words, “that the Social Security system is an old vehicle for retirement security.” The owner of the car was pretty annoyed at the insult to his lovingly restored vehicle.

Actually, I like the idea of using cars to represent policies. Here’s an automotive symbol of the new bankruptcy bill:

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Maybe some will run office, say, Vote for me -- I look forward to blowing up America

Favorite Reuters headline of the day: “Zambia: Investigators Seize Ex-President’s Shoes.” 100 pairs of them. Also 300 shirts and 150 suits. It has something to do with a corruption investigation. Says Chiluba: “What they have done is to bring my underpants out to the general public.”

Speaking of bringing his underpants out to the general public, Bush has appointed Paul Wolfowitz to be president of the World Bank. While his thrift in regard to hair care products is well known, even legendary, I see nothing in his resumé that hints at a qualification. (Later: ok, at the press conference GeeDubya explains it: “He helped manage a large organization. The World Bank’s a large organization; the Pentagon’s a large organization.” Sure, practically the same thing.) This continues the Bush fad of appointing fierce unilateralists to multinational organizations, because you can never start celebrating April Fools Day too early. Bush described Wolfy as a “compassionate, decent man,” so possibly he just mistook him for someone else.

On Social Security: “First of all, Dave, let me, if I might, correct you -- be so bold as to correct you. I have not laid out a plan yet -- intentionally.”
Q But, sir, but Democrats have made it pretty clear that they’re not interested in that. They want you to lay it out.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well -- (chuckles) -- I’m sure they do!
Don’t you love how he makes it sound like a sneaky ploy by the D’s, but he was just too clever for them?

On “extraordinary rendition,” the first time he’s been asked this if I’m not mistaken, he just said that we receive promises from Syria, Jordan, Morocco and the like that no one will be tortured. Also, “This country does not believe in torture. We do believe in protecting ourselves. We don’t believe in torture,” adding, “Or is it elves we don’t believe in? I always get those two confused.”

On the march of democracy in Lebanon:
I like the idea of people running for office -- a positive effect when you run for office, you know? Maybe some will run office, say, Vote for me -- I look forward to blowing up America -- I don’t know. I don’t know if that’ll be their platform or not. But it’s -- I don’t think so. I think people generally run for office say, Vote for me -- I’m looking forward to fixing your potholes or making sure you’ve got bread on the table.
On the march of democracy in Iraq:
First of all, obviously there will be a government formed, but I think it is interesting and to watch the process of people negotiating... It’s a wholesome process, and it’s being done in a transparent way.
Transparent? Six weeks of closed-door negotiations? Also, Juan Cole pointed out that we still haven’t seen a list of the elected representatives.

On the march of democracy in Iran: “I believe Iran should adopt democracy, that’s what I believe.” But not in elves.

A plea for less bullshit

Bush has been talking about Iran breaking their obligations by enriching uranium. Except there is no such obligation. So, says a David Sanger NYT article Tuesday, “Mr. Bush now argues that there is a new class of nations that simply cannot be trusted with the technology to produce nuclear material even if the treaty itself makes no such distinction.”

No country on earth is going to accept such a designation voluntarily. Still less will any nation accept that it is a “failed state,” another term that’s been bandied about lately. Nor will they accept that it is the United States which has the authority to award states passing or failing grades.

And looked at from the ground, it hardly matters. You can use the language of international legality, talk about making Iran (or Iraq) live up to its obligations or bringing Saddam, Osama, et al to “justice,” but the people on whom the bombs drop will always recognize it for the naked assertion of power that it is. The United States is not the armed wing of the IAEA, it simply wants Iran incapable of defending itself. Iranians know that and will not be fooled by the language Americans use among themselves to cloak their actions, any more than Iraqis believe that the US invaded their country for the purpose of “liberating” them or the Cambodians believed in the “secret bombing of Cambodia.” At ground zero, those things are always much clearer.

A case can be made for Iran not being a state you’d like to see with nukes, not only because of its current rulers, but because of who its rulers might be five, ten, or fifteen years from now. And we can debate the validity of that case, but let’s stop doing violence to the language and to the concept of the rule of law by pretending to be acting under any other rule than the one which states that the country with the most expensive military hardware makes the rules, including what military hardware other nations are allowed. Really, I’m just sick of the bullshit, which only Americans and maybe Tony Blair actually believe.

At the same time as Bush tries to impose obligations on “nations that simply cannot be trusted,” the number restrictions he is willing to accept on America’s freedom of action grows smaller by the day. This week alone, it repudiated its obligation to allow consular services to foreign nationals accused of crimes in the US, and made clear it intends to torpedo an international agreement to reduce illegal logging in rainforests.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


In a speech, part of his campaign for chief justice, “Fat Tony” Scalia has said that unelected judges have no business deciding issues like abortion and the death penalty. I assume this means he will no longer cast a vote in cases affecting those issues.

Guardian headline: “Man Who Ate Friend’s Brain Jailed for Life.” Just as well Britain doesn’t have the death penalty anymore, because his request for his last meal but pose a bit of a problem.

Sorry, I can’t leave the cannibal story without another tasteless joke: But it was still better than most British cuisine.

And to answer the obvious question: fried in butter.

Speaking of brains fried in butter, George Bush made a slightly off-kilter statement at a joint appearance today with the tiny king of Jordan, presented without comment: “We view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and I would hope that Hezbollah would prove that they’re not by laying down arms and not threatening peace.”

Bush also said how “heartened” he was that 2/3 of Americans think there is a problem with Social Security. Yeah, we’re all fucking heartened by that. “And I am mindful that when the public says there’s a problem, we’ve got to work to solve it.” Scare the public and when they’re scared, claim a mandate; circular logic at its finest. “I’m just getting started on this issue, Steve, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. I like to take big issues to the American people.” Should he really be enjoying this quite so much?

What turns the story about Halliburton charging $27.5m to ship $82,100 worth of heating and cooking fuel to Iraq turns from a smallish scandal into a big one, is that the Pentagon audit showing this came out in October, before the election, and was suppressed, even kept secret from Congress, which asked 12 times to see the audit. Oh, and speaking of UN oil-for-fuel scandals, more than 60% of Halliburton’s Iraq bills are paid by the UN, using Iraqi oil revenues, and the US withheld the audit from the UN too.

A new Holocaust museum opened in Israel today. After initial plans not to even mention that homosexuals were put in concentration camps, they reversed themselves a couple of months ago (too-little-known Holocaust fact: when the camps were liberated, the homosexuals were not released, but transferred into prisons; the Allies considered them not to have been put in the camps because of their identities, like the Jews and Gypsies, but because they were criminals, having broken the law — by being homosexual). Possibly this is why Elie Wiesel insisted on saying at the dedication that the Holocaust wasn’t man’s inhumanity to man, but man’s inhumanity to Jews.

(Update: just did a search at the museum’s website for “homosexual.” Nada.)

The president of Malawi insists that he is not afraid of ghosts, has never seen a ghost, and it’s all lies spread by his opponents, 3 of whom, a government official and two journalists, have been arrested.

The Tory candidate for Parliament for Slough, yes the place “The Office” is set in, has been forced out for saying the European Union is a big “Papist plot.”

Dereliction of duty

The US army platoon leader, Lieutenant Jack Saville, who ordered his men to throw two Iraqi prisoners into the Tigris in January 2004 (one is presumed dead) was given a stiff sentence of 45 days for “dereliction of duty.” Saville apologized because his actions “adversely affected U.S.-Iraqi trust during critical times of reconstruction.” Ya think? And he asked to be allowed to remain in the army (it’s unclear if he will be discharged or not), and said God had forgiven him and he hopes “to use these experiences for greater good.” How one uses the experience of drowning a prisoner for greater good is beyond me.

And since this story (and a couple of other sources’ reports on this) seriously buries the lead, I’m gonna put it in red:
Lt Saville agreed to testify against his captain, who had given him a hit list of five Iraqis who were to be executed on the spot if they were captured in a raid.
Matthew Cunningham is the captain’s name (it’s not mentioned in the Guardian, AP or BBC reports).

The two guys thrown into the river were not on the hit list. Rather, two platoons had a bet (the stakes are not specified in any news report) over which one would throw an Iraqi into the river first.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Today the Bolshoi, tomorrow the world

Putin’s little youth movement, less than a month old, has already taken to book-burning. They are protesting a new opera being performed at the Bolshoi. Yes the whole thing is silly (including the opera itself, from the description), but the danger lies in the fact that while Putin created this organization to prevent a Borscht Revolution, in the meantime they have to be given things to do, to maintain their enthusiasm and involvement. Today they’re protesting opera. What’s next?

Compare and contrast the Chinese National People’s Congress

and the Taiwanese legislature.

Just sayin’.

I have a lot of pictures of dead Iraqis — everybody does

The LA Times has a must-read about US soldiers in Iraq making music videos featuring pictures of dead Iraqis, with appropriate musical soundtracks. “I have a lot of pictures of dead Iraqis — everybody does,” said Spc. Jack Benson, 22. The Times actually went to a film studies professor for a review. He liked it, so at least the soldiers aren’t the only sociopaths in the article. Says a 30-year old sergeant, “It’s no more graphic than ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ To us, it’s no different than watching a movie.”

I’ve been reading Joanna Bourke’s An Intimate History of Killing, on the psychology of war, but I think the veterans of this war are going to have a collection of psychoses absolutely without precedent.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

No strategy designed from the pits of hell will prosper against the President

Condoleezza Rice went on three Sunday talk shows to say that she won’t run for president. Imagine my disappointment. Really, go on: imagine it.

She says that instead of running for the presidency, she wants to “get back to ... the world of ideas.” The two are, of course, mutually exclusive. Actually, my ellipsis hides that she actually said she wants to “get back to the California life and to the world of ideas,” and those are also mutually exclusive.

I guess if she’s not running, we’ll never know what being “mildly pro-choice” means.

The ghost mice problem in Malawi’s presidential palace is being taken care of. President Mutharika’s aide on Christian affairs says “No strategy designed from the pits of hell will prosper against the President because we have asked for divine intervention to cast the blood of Jesus against any evil plots against the President.” So that’s ok then.

The Israeli Cabinet decided to postpone taking any actions against 24 settlements in the West Bank that even they acknowledge are illegal (105 were listed in a recent gov report). They will wait until after the Gaza evacuation, because while the Israeli Defense Force can defeat the combined militaries of all the Arab nations in less than a week, it can’t cope with evacuating the West Bank and Gaza settlers at the same time.

The Taiwanese government has called for demonstrations to protest the Chinese law just passed allowing China to invade -- sorry, to use “non-peaceful and other necessary measures” -- if Taiwan declares independence. It doesn’t plan to declare independence, it just doesn’t like being told what to do by “the man.”

To demonstrate that Taiwan should have no fears about reunification because China is now a free, liberal, pluralistic, tolerant country, the vote in the National People’s Congress was 2,896 to 0, with 2 abstentions. Huh, huh, two abstentions, how ‘bout that?

Taiwan plans to mobilize a million demonstrators. Yeah, like a million is really going to impress China, where that many people show up for a 10%-off shoe sale.

Something only just occurred to me: if the US doesn’t recognize Taiwan, what entity is it we sell all those arms to?

You’re still imagining my disappointment that Condi isn’t running for president, aren’t you?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Who ya gonna call?

The president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, who a few months ago kicked the parliament out of its offices because he really needed a 300-room mansion, no longer lives there because of ghosts. Say what you will about imperialism but when the British ran the place, the ghost problem was kept pretty much under control.

A new version of the Bible will use the phrase “stoned to death” to describe the punishment popularized by Monty Python’s Life of Brian rather than “stoned,” because of fears that people will become confused and take it as an endorsement of drug use. Also, “foreigners” replaces “aliens,” in case people think the Bible is referring to bug-eyed monsters from Alpha Centauri.

Reality tv

The repulsive 15-year-long battle over the brain-dead body of Terri Schiavo continues. Just when you think it can’t get any more distasteful, a businessman has offered her husband $1 million not to pull the plug.

State-run Iraqi tv has a daily program featuring the confessions of captured insurgents. Some of them show signs of having been beaten up, and this week one died after his 15 minutes were up.

Tax collectors in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, in an interesting variation on the old Indian custom of “sitting dharna,” have hired drummers to play, constantly, outside the homes of tax-defaulters. Don’t tell the Republicans, or they’ll stick a provision in the bankruptcy bill letting credit card companies do that to debtors too.

A tiny unregarded AP story Friday reported that 37 people killed themselves in 2004 under Oregon’s assisted-suicide law, which is a drop from the previous year. The average age of the... customers was 64. I support assisted suicide, but I hope someone is properly monitoring this program because the possibilities for abuse are so great.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Why they hate us

The United States military, under the peculiar impression that it was Michael Jackson, kept children as young as 11 locked up in Abu Ghraib. Still does, for all we know.

The real Michael Jackson (which may be the first time that adjective has been attached to that person) appeared in court in pajamas. Who does he think he is, a blogger?

Core dump

It has been suggested to me that my last post made unfair sport of Kofi Annan’s wish to outlaw terrorism. Actually, the early reports spun Annan’s remarks (transcript here) rather differently than the Guardian, which describes them as an attack on countries which undermine “core values” in their fight on terrorism, and (and this detail was definitely left out) called for a UN special envoy to monitor whether countries’ counter-terrorism measures -- Patriot Acts, detention without trial, etc -- violate international law.

That said, my problem with the UN addressing terrorism is that it involves defining certain people, groups, organizations as terrorists, which is an inherently political act which the UN is simply not up to.

Blair is still in the process of ramming his terrorism bill through Parliament, removing the right to a trial, the presumption of innocence, and habeas corpus all in one go, on the grounds that 9/11 trumps 1215. The Tories have been fighting for an 8-month sunset clause, but Blair insisted during Prime Minister’s Questions that Al Qaida is more likely to attack Britain if the provisions are not permanent. Comments Simon Carr in the Indy, “You didn’t think the terror situation was so finely poised, perhaps?”

Blair has steadfastly refused to release to Parliament the full legal advice he was given about whether going to war in Iraq was legal under international law. This week it turned out that even the Cabinet wasn’t shown it, and today it has come out that there was none. All there ever was was a single page.

Still, it’s better than the guide which the Labour Party is giving MPs and campaigners on how to answer questions about the war. If asked about the legality of the war, they are advised to respond, “We are where we are,” which seems a little Zen for Eastbourne, somehow.

British satellite tv service Sky is introducing a Bad Movie channel. I’m so jealous.

A federal district court judge has thrown out a civil case brought by Vietnamese harmed by the use of Agent Orange against its manufacturers. Actually, I can see the legal point that they acted according to lawful government orders, but if you know that your product is being misused, in ways that harm innocent civilians, I don’t think the “just following orders” defense is really good enough. (Update: Simon Tisdall points out that Zyklon B manufacturers were executed after World War II).

Similarly, the Pakistani government today admitted that A.Q. Khan aided the Iranian nuclear program, but will not allow him to be prosecuted. Also, according to the misinformation minister, he was acting “in his personal capacity,” and the government had no idea that several centrifuges had found their way onto a ship bound for Iran.

Looking back over this post, every item is about -- as Annan put it -- compromising core values, assuming those core values aren’t a myth. Actually, every item but one: the Bad Movie channel doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

There will be much less evil now

Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian Duma, on the death/assassination of former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov: “The elimination of a terrorist of international standing only means that there will be much less evil now.” Something to look forward to then, the less evil I mean. Less evil would be nice.

Speaking of less evil, Kofi Annan has proposed an international treaty to outlaw terrorism, which will surprise everyone who thought terrorism was already illegal.

Cars and bullets, bullets and cars

It’s, what, 6 days after the attack Giuliana Sgrena’s car, and we still have no real answers. Pictures of that car suggest that if 300 to 400 bullets were fired, as she said, then somebody needs to get some more rifle practice. The US military has admitted that the blockade was a “temporary blockade,” but won’t say what that consists of. One detail in the NYT Wednesday: “As they rounded a curve, the car was illuminated by a bright light...” What sort of idiot puts a blockade around a curve?

Speaking of the traffic hazards of Baghdad, the convoy of the Iraqi minister of planning came under gunfire today. If the route chosen by the minister of planning includes an ambush, maybe he’s in the wrong job. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

There will not be any debate about civil liberties

Sorry for the multiple appearances of my last post. Blogger is really weird. To compound the weirdness, you saw 4 versions if using Internet Explorer or Firefox, but only 1 in Opera.

The Israeli army decides not to prosecute a soldier for the murder of a British cameraman two years ago, but impose “minor disciplinary charges.” The army gave 3 patently false versions of the incident at the time, and allowed the cover-up to continue. They are now saying they can’t prosecute for lack of ballistics evidence, but they waited more than a month before asking the soldiers’ for their guns. The cameraman’s widow points out that an entire unit knew the truth.

Seumas Milne has an interesting op-ed piece in the Guardian about the “fairy tale” of a democratic revolution in the Middle East. Milne points out that the anti-Syrian protesters Bush praised were actually calling for elections under a system weighted in favor of Christians (there hasn’t been a census since something like 1958, but the demographics have changed since then, one reason the Christian minority has blocked any new census).

Today’s Prime Minister’s Questions demonstrated just how much emphasis Tony Blair intends to put on looking tough on terrorism during the British elections. PMQ will only get more entertaining as the elections get closer; today’s will repeat Sunday night, 6 & 9 pm PT; new ones Wednesdays 4 am PT. The Times’s sketchwriter says of the exchanges between Blair & Michael Howard, “The relationship between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition has gone into the crockery-throwing stage. They are now saying what they really mean. It was like watching a fight on a busy train between a couple on the brink of divorce.” Click on the link to see how the issues of terrorism versus civil rights play out in British political culture.

My question is, when did being tough on terrorism consist entirely of destroying civil rights? Blair said to the Liberal Democratic leader, “Should any terrorist act occur there will not be any debate about civil liberties.” The government is rushing through Parliament a bill that includes house arrest for people suspected but not charged with anything, although after resistance from the supporters of freedom in the, um, House of Lords they have agreed to allow judges into the act, rather than leaving the issuing of “control orders” entirely to the home office. The Lords also wanted to raise the test for the issuing of such orders from “reasonable suspicion” to “the balance of probabilities.” The government rejected this, which means, literally, that it is happy to put under house arrest people who are probably not guilty of anything. Here’s a picture of a protestor from Liberty, the British ACLU, who has set up this lovely fake prison cell on a sidewalk, but honestly, what’s up with that lamp?

Dude, sometimes a rainbow is just a rainbow

George Bush meets the president of Romania. “We discussed the Black Sea.” The mind boggles.

And he tells how he once went to Bucharest, got really stoned and, well, I’ll let him tell it: “It was a mystical experience for me. It was one of the most amazing moments of my presidency, to be speaking in the square, the very square where Ceausescu gave his last speech. And the rainbow that I saw in the midst of the rainstorm ended right behind the balcony from my point of view. It’s a clear signal that, as far as I was concerned, that freedom is powerful”. So at the end of every rainbow, there’s a pot of gold and a dead dictator?

You go with the cannon fodder you have, not the cannon fodder you’d like

It was all smiles until he told them he was sending them to Iraq.

What, all of them?

The 9th Circuit rules that a man whose wife had been forcibly sterilized in China was entitled to political asylum (the wife is still in China). The federal immigration judge who had denied asylum did so because after all his wife can hardly be sterilized again, now can she?

Your vocabulary word of the day, from the Maori: whakaphone = “Raise your grass skirt and show them your bum.” (To really insult someone, the bum in question must be tattooed).

Speaking of whakaphoning it in, a common sign at the pro-Syrian demonstration in Lebanon:

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A glimpse of the future of this country

From a Bush speech at the National Defense University:
Last month, when soldiers of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment were on combat patrol north of Baghdad, one of their Humvees fell into a canal, and Iraqi troops came to their rescue -- plunging into the water again and again, until the last American was recovered. The Army colonel in charge of the unit said, “When I saw those Iraqis in the water, fighting to save their American brothers, I saw a glimpse of the future of this country.”
Fortunately the American Humvee falling into a canal had no symbolic meaning whatsoever.

Names against Turkey’s unity

The Turkish government has identified three dangers to the unity of Turkey: the red fox, roe deer and wild sheep, whose very names demonstrate an invidious intent to divide the country. The Turkish Environment Ministry has renamed them, removing all reference to Kurdistan and Armenia. Says the Ministry, these dangerous and treacherous beasts “were named this way with ill intentions. This ill intent is so obvious that even species only found in our country were given names against Turkey’s unity.”

Approach these separatist agitators only with extreme caution:

Vulpes Vulpes Kurdistanica, now Vulpes Vulpes

Capreolus Capreolus Armenus, now Capreolus Cuprelus Capreolus

Ovis Armeniana, now Ovis Orientalis Anatolicus. This sheep, while too cagey for us even to be sure quite which picture of wild sheep is the right one (hey, the CIA put out a wanted picture of Mullah Omar that was actually some other guy who didn’t even have the right number of eyes, and their budget is much larger than mine, so give me a break), is believed to be extremely “wild,” a really.. quite... wild... sheep.

Bad choices

Today, George and Laura Bush went to the Providence Family Support Center in Pittsburgh, as part Laura wants to help steer children away from “bad choices.” Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach.

Laura said, “Statistics show boys are having a particularly tough time growing up.” She added, “For example, George here still has the reading ability and maturity of a six-year old.”

(Update: the LA Times writes about this under the headline “First Lady Takes Stage With Her No. 2.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.)

“Say Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

Monday, March 07, 2005

Showing your stomach is both a provocation and a dramatic symbol of emancipation

Today’s NYT’s front page has, side by side, 1) a story about the Pentagon’s slowness in provided armor for troops in Iraq, which says “the Army’s equipment manager effectively reduced the armor’s priority to the status of socks” -- actually, one might argue, the Army reduced soldiers’ priority to the status of socks, and 2) “US Checkpoints a Deadly Gantlet: Iraqis Killed or Injured in Troops’ Security Effort.” These stories are of course linked: in the absence of proper defensive self-protection, soldiers have resorted to offensive self-protection, i.e., shooting anything that moves. In a classic case of shit rolling downhill, Washington demonstrated a clear lack of interest in the lives of American soldiers, who evinced the same lack of interest in preserving the lives of Iraqi civilians.

Also, note to the NYT: gauntlet, not gantlet. The London Times also uses the word, but correctly, in a story on the same subject tomorrow.

Today, Kuwaiti women demonstrated for women’s suffrage, while in Germany, Free Democratic MEP, Silvana Koch-Mehrin shows off her naked, very pregnant stomach in glamor photos in this week’s Stern, because “showing your stomach is both a provocation and a dramatic symbol of emancipation”. The Christian Democrats respond by officially denying that pregnancy is political. The London Times story on this little piece of self-promotion promotes her age, which is actually 34, to 44. But they did get the gauntlet/gantlet thing right.

The Thai government, worrying about the effects of the tsunami on tourism, has come up with an answer, albeit the wrong answer: a tsunami museum, complete with “a Universal Studios-style simulated tidal wave”.

Bolton for the exits

John Bolton, new American ambassador-designate to the UN, today: “my record over many years demonstrates clear support for effective multilateral diplomacy”. And two years ago: “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.” A couple of months later he threatened Iran, Syria and North Korea with war, suggesting they “draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq”. (I’ve also mentioned Bolton here and here.). (Annoyingly, while I have 4 posts on Bolton, the Google search box only brings up 2, the Pico box 3. Blogger has a perfectly good search function available to me but not to you, that even returns results in chronological order.)

More on Bolton here.

Does anyone know who the reporter was who kept asking Scottie McClellan why, if rendition wasn’t about torture, we would need to send prisoners to Uzbekistan? Scottie’s answer: a) that’s classified, b) “The war on terrorism is a different kind of war.” c) the Uzbeks are better at rendering: they use every part of the prisoner.

I don’t think all the talk about the FEC regulating blogs will come to anything, but you never know. My question is, if I link to a campaign website in order to make fun of it, does that count as a contribution?

My new motto: “Sometimes Esoteric, Never Equivocal”

The New Scientist reports on the military’s attempts to use research designed to eliminate pain in order to create a weapon Pulsed Energy Projectiles which can generate pain within the brain without doing actual physical harm -- immaculate torture, if you will. As every blogger in the universe has noted, this can be used against protests. And once it’s possible, it’s only a matter of time. In my 1971 edition of the Yale student paper-produced “Insiders’ Guide to the Colleges” (which is a lot of fun, by the way, and well worth the 25¢ I paid on impulse for it some years ago), it warns, “A gas mask is a must at Berkeley, because no matter what your political shade, you are likely to be tear gassed during your stay.”

As long as I’ve got the book out, here’s a bit from the entry for USC: “The typical SC student reads Mad magazine and Superboy comics and suffers from megalomania (otherwise known as the SC syndrome), rich parents, and general illiteracy. It has often been rumored that reading is a prerequisite for some SC classes, but this is vehemently denied by the administration”.

Speaking of literacy, I’ve been sort of following the SAT’s addition of an essay-writing segment. The WaPo has an article about the test prep classes, and evidently you’d all be more impressed if I wrote larger and used words like esoteric and equivocal. I’ll get right on that.

Speaking of crappy writing, here’s an AP headline: “South Florida to Vote on Slot Machines.” Turns out, they’ll be voting on whether to legalize slot machines, they’re not actually using slot machines AS voting machines, appropriate as that might be in Florida.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Rendition extraordinaire

Not much to say about the NYT story on extraordinary rendition not already well said by Rising Hegemon and LeftI. The official spin is hilariously incompetent and uncredible: it was done to save the American taxpayers the cost of housing these people; it had nothing to do with torture, even though prisoners were sent only to countries which routinely practice torture like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc and not, say, Denmark.

The key detail, which I think is new, in the NYT is that the CIA was given blanket permission to transfer anyone they want anywhere they want, without individual review by the White House, the Justice Department or the State Department. Remember, the CIA is not a law enforcement agency. Its employees don’t, for example, have the (legal) power to arrest anybody or charge them in a court of law. Giving them this sort of power is therefore an admission that America is no longer a nation of laws.

So when Alberto Gonzales testified to Congress in January that he was “not aware of anyone in the executive branch authorizing any transfer of a detainee in violation of” the policy against transferring people to countries where it’s more likely than not (!) that they’ll be tortured, the weasel word wasn’t “aware,” it was “a.” Bush didn’t authorize a detainee -- one specific named human being -- being rendered for the purposes of torture, but any detainee.

I choose to see the withdrawal as half full

The White House says that Syria’s plans for a gradual withdrawal from Lebanon, as opposed to beaming all their troops back to their starship simultaneously, are “half measures” which are “not enough.” About one-half of enough, right? The spokesmodel quoted by the WaPo adds, “The United States and the world stand with the people of Lebanon at this critical moment.” Gee, isn’t Lebanon already part of “the world”? I know the United States isn’t.

Responding to recent allegations by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that the US planned to assassinate him, the American ambassador says, “That would be a violation of our federal law.” Phew, and I was worried for a minute there.

Speaking of reassuring statements, the WaPo says that the Bush admin is adopting a “preemptive counterintelligence strategy.” I’m pretty sure that phrase has no meaning in the English language and if it does, shouldn’t. Here’s another great quote from the article: “we need strategically orchestrated operations directed against prioritized foreign intelligence threats”. This is a strategically orchestrated preemptive strategy to keep America’s secrets safe by speaking in complete gibberish.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

What if you gave a manumission and no one came?

From the BBC:
The government of Niger has cancelled at the last minute a special ceremony during which at least 7,000 slaves were to be granted their freedom.

A spokesman for the government’s human rights commission, which had helped to organise the event, said this was because slavery did not exist.
It’s still unclear whether released hostage Giuliana Sgrena’s car was shot at by US soldiers at a checkpoint, as the US claimed, or a patrol, as Sgrena says. The US has been rather slow in responding to her refutation of their original story. The car seems to have been close enough to the airport to have passed through all the checkpoints. But 300 to 400 bullets were shot at the car, which I dunno to me supports the trigger-happy-cowboy theory of the event rather than the justifiable-concern-about-car-bombs theory. Sgrena’s boyfriend told reporters “either it was an ambush or those soldiers were complete idiots.” I don’t see it as either/or.

The Sunday Times of London says that the queen has to approve the design of a stamp for the marriage of Charles & Camilla. Given her attitude to the marriage, we cannot entirely rule out it being this one (from the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras):

Time flies when you’re enjoying yourself

Bush, talking in New Joisey about Social Security: “Well, I'm going to keep telling people we've got a problem until it sinks in... I like going around the country saying, folks, we have got a problem.”

Spreading freedom’s blessings

So American soldiers shot up a car carrying released Italian journalist hostage Giuliana Sgrena to Baghdad Airport, killing an Italian secret service agent. The Americans claim it approached their checkpoint too fast. Really, an Italian driving too fast. What’re the odds.

See how many religious terms you can spot in this single sentence from Bush’s weekly radio address: “Freedom is the birthright and deep desire of every human soul, and spreading freedom’s blessings is the calling of our time.”

Friday, March 04, 2005

We are not a sandwich. We are a country.

From the London Times:
WHEN an international news agency referred to Moldova as being “sandwiched” between Romania and Ukraine, a Moldovan official called to complain. “We are not a sandwich. We are a country,” he said.
I think they should put that on the flag and the money and every public building.

The Times notes that all the front-runners in Sunday’s parliamentary elections want to withdraw Moldova from the Commonwealth of Independent States (remember that?) and join NATO. This is the, sigh, “grape revolution,” because Moldova produces cheap wine. Also illegal migrants in the building and prostitution sectors elsewhere in Europe, so I guess grape revolution isn’t the worst of the available options.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Mississippi may soon be the first state in which abortion is not available, as its last remaining clinic is being severely harassed by protesters and the state.

This week Bush and Rice have been making a big deal of emphasizing that Syria “needs to” remove not only its troops from Lebanon, but also its intelligence agents. While I can see the logic of that, I can’t help thinking that this is a way of keeping America’s options open by allowing the Bushies to accuse Syria of doing something which is not easily disprovable, just as Iraq couldn’t prove that it was not making nuclear weapons. Hard to prove a negative.

When Bush says that Syrian troops need to pull out before the next scheduled elections in Lebanon, only two months away, because “I don’t think you can have fair elections with Syrian troops there,” I just don’t know what to call it, because “irony” usually implies some degree of subtlety. As someone recently said when Tom DeLay accused the prosecutors of his associates as being partisan, that’s like a frog calling someone ugly. The problem is that Bush’s case for Syria not having a right to occupy another country, but we do, and for Iran and North Korea not having a right to nuclear weapons, but we do, rests purely on those countries being bad guys and the US being good guys, which means that to comply with our demands, those countries must also tacitly admit to being bad guys. This is also behind the Bushies’ attempts to scuttle any efforts to reward Iran and North Korea for complying, as if they’d rather have those two countries nuclear than give them the tiniest of figleaves. Like all classical bullies, the Bushies want their opponents not only to lose, but to be seen to lose, to be humiliated.

Ground zero in the war of historical analogies

Sen. Robert Byrd defended the practice of filibusters, saying, “We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men.” The predictable shitstorm arose. Thing is, should people advocating the “nuclear option” to silence their enemies actually be complaining about the analogies other people use?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

What makes you think it’s not corporate America modeling itself on Al Qaeda?

Correction: yesterday I described a lawyer in the Ten Commandments case as an ACLU lawyer. He is not, but a Duke Law professor.

The House voted to allow “faith-based” groups using federal job-training money to discriminate on the basis of religion in their own hiring. They can still take the tainted tax money of heathens, who would just spend it in heathenish ways.

The granddaughter of Rev. Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps has entered politics, ran for Topeka City Council against a lesbian incumbent, and lost big time. The man-bites-dog aspect of this story: a relative of a prominent gay-basher does not, repeat NOT, turn out to be gay.

Bush on the failure to capture bin Laden: “We’re keeping the pressure on him, keeping him in hiding.” Way to lower the bar. And demonstrating his unique grasp of how terrorist organizations operate, he said, “If al Qaeda was structured like corporate America, you’d have a chairman of the board still in office, but many of the key operators would no longer be around -- in other words, the executive vice presidents, the operating officers, the people responsible for certain aspects of the organization have been brought to justice. A lot of them have been.” You know, the kid who gets the coffee, the toner guy...

The California Supreme Court overturns the death sentence of a man convicted of a murder. Two men were convicted in separate trials, and at both trials the same prosecutor presented conflicting versions of the facts, in each case claiming that that defendant had delivered the fatal ax blow.