Saturday, April 30, 2005

Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh

Go to any British Sunday newspaper site, especially the Independent or the Observer, for new details fleshing out what we already knew: Bush determined on invading Iraq many months before he said so in public (I don’t think anyone now remembers how often and over how long a period of time Bush claimed that he had taken no such decision and that Saddam could avoid it if he just complied with international blah blah blah), that Tony Blair signed up immediately, and that the British attorney general believed the war would be illegal, until he was sent to Washington to be pummeled into agreeing with the American view, presented to him by, among others, Alberto Gonzales.

So let’s move on to pictures of the commemorations in Vietnam of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. There may or may not be something comforting in the thought that the war, and all its horror and devastation, has been transmuted, like every other war 30 years after its finish, into scruffy old veterans, bored students enduring yet another assembly, hot chicks dressed up as Viet Cong, Uncle Ho waving at tourists, and a fat American veteran happily taking pictures.


Insurgents greet the formation of an Iraqi semi-government (is this one provisional or interim, I’ve forgotten) with the traditional 21-car-bomb salute. Imagine for a moment what it must have been like for those insurgents waiting for that government: they’ve worked themselves up into a proper jihadist state of mind, made out their wills, they’re all ready to blow themselves up for the greater glory of Allah and ascend to heaven etc etc... and then have to wait for more than three months of squabbling and back-room intrigue by pettifogging politicians. Must be frustrating. Must be darned frustrating.

Speaking of frustrated people, I’ve been reading the London Review of Books personals for as many issues as I’ve been able to find online. Over the last few years it’s become an odd little writing phenomenon. Some examples:
Ordinary woman seeks ordinary man for the usual. Box no. 01/01

LRB? Never read it... hoping for a better class of tottie. F, 35. Eric Morecambe, dogs, spring, crispy duck, good dialogue (written and oral), tea, slapstick, Thatcher’s death, vodka, cheek muscles.

Toilet duties. That’s where you come in – buxom, 22-year-old blonde stereotype not shy of adjusting the surgical stockings of 73-year-old misanthrope with poor bladder control. Failing that, just send care home brochures to Box no. 08/05

Woman, 43, would like to meet a man – any man – whose evolutionary path isn’t that of Homer Simpson. Suspecting that’s too difficult, I may go lesbian. Box no. 08/10

I’ve committed every decorating sin listed in the March edition of Elle Decoration and I’m proud. M., 41, with carpeted bathroom, artex ceilings and a wealth of porcelain shepherdesses seeks laminate-crazy woman to 45 for nights of painting the hallway magnolia. And after that, insane sex in front of my MDF mock-Victorian TV cabinet (I’ll polish the brass handles just for you). Box no. 07/05

Ploughing the loneliest furrow. 19 LRB personals and counting. Only one reply. It was my mother telling me not to forget the bread on my way home from B&Q. Man., 51. Box no. 07/06

This is as gay as I get. Man, 37. Box no. 07/07

There’s enough lithium in my medicine cabinet to power three electric cars across a sizeable desert. I’m more than aware that this isn’t actually a selling point, but nonetheless it’s my favourite statistic about me. Man, 33 – officially Three Cars Crazy. Box no. 07/10

Every woman I’ve ever met is painted with unnerving accuracy by the ads placed in this column. You’re all my mother, aren’t you? M., 37, Worcs. Box no. 07/11

... Can’t say I’m choosy. You’re a biker, or worse.

‘Guilty, your Honour.’ Don’t let these be my last words ever spoken to a UK resident female. Long distance offers of love (one letter per month, weight-restricted, and all contents vetted) to Box no. 21/13

Angry trollop, 37. Offers? Box no. 21/14

Man, 46. Appears quite normal, but probably best avoided. What do the doctors know? Box no. 21/15

Easily, but rarely, led forties M post-graduate gooseberry, London/SE, seeks beautiful twenty-year old snake for fun evenings/engagement/crushing disappointment.

My hobbies include crying and hating men. F., 29. Box no. 14/10

Like I’ve said so many times before here, ‘desperate’. Do I have to spell it out? D-E-S-P-E-R-A-T-E. Jeez, what does it take to catch a 20-year old athletic male in this magazine? F., 67. Box no. 14/08

It only takes a minute girl. Not to fall in love, but to realise how futile it is to expect a normal relationship from these ads. With that in mind I’m after a juggling, trombone blowing F. in the finest gold lame this side of Elvis (you’re not a day older than 97). Box no. 22/05

Baste me in butter and call me Slappy. No, really. M. 35. Box no. 20/09

I’m a Pisces – which makes you and I a bad match, but how about your good-looking friend? Non-committal, easily-distracted, fly-by-night F (35). Sorry, I think I just heard my phone ring. Box no. 0222

Meet the new me. Like the old me only less nice after three ads without any sexual intercourse. 42-year old fruitcake (F.). Box no. 17/06

I’ve thought long and hard about all the things I look for in a woman and I’ve condensed their essence into a single word: clankerstanchion. If you are a London-based F with clankerstanchion to spare, please contact man with lashings of wumpflapsy. You will not be disappointed. Often scared, yes. Disappointed, never. Box no. 23/09

[More of my LRB favorites here.]

Here I am, brain the size of a planet...

C-SPAN will indeed be broadcasting the program I mentioned yesterday, in which the 3 British party leaders are questioned by a studio audience, Sunday 6 & 9 PM, PST. Its 1 1/2 hours.

Putin, not satisfied with having taken back into state control most tv & radio, now plans to register mobile phones and control the internet, giving the KGB access to records of which sites people view.

Speaking of unstoppable behemoths capturing medium after medium, I saw the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie today. Although the credits insisted it was adopted from Douglas Adams’s book, for me the definitive H2G2 will always be the original radio series, which I first heard in 1980 (the next sequel of which will begin to be available on within a couple of days after it airs on the radio May 3rd. Remember, each episode is online for a week and then disappears forever.)

My review of the movie: mostly harmless. It has more plot and less digression than I’d have liked, but less damage was done in accommodating it to the Procrustean bed of the film format than I expected. A lot of the best material was in the narrative by the Book, and a lot of that is lost. Marvin never complains about having a terrible pain in all the diodes down his left side. Some of the comedic timing is off. And here’s my last caveat: while the sets, the visual effects and puppets are very good (even Marvin the Paranoid Android, who looked so different from how I visualized him, but somehow it worked) the sound effects aren’t much of anything. I wouldn’t even have noticed, except that those in the BBC radio series, more than 25 years ago, were so good. As for casting, Martin Freeman as Arthur and Stephen Fry as the Book were inspired choices and so, surprisingly was Mos Def, who is evidently a musician of the sort the kids like (shows how with-it I am, when I saw the name I thought Albanian, not American rapper). On a second or third viewing, it might be wise to focus on his performance. Of all the actors, he seems to have thought the most about his acting choices (Bill Nighy just did Bill Nighy), about how to portray an alien posing not very well as human, as shown by his choice of a name, “Ford Prefect,” which he thought would be “nicely inconspicuous.” Sam Rockwell, perhaps inevitably, portrays Zaphod Beeblebrox, the fugitive Galactic President, as a parody of George W. Bush, and why not? Anyway, I liked the movie more than I expected to, and you all have my permission to see it, but if you’ve just read the books and never heard the original series (and the less said about the 1980s tv series the better), do yourself a favor and buy the CDs. Update: OK, I’ll admit I had a nefarious plan to get you all to buy those admittedly pricey CDs (12 episodes, 6 hours) through my Amazon link — if 20 of you did, the commission would give me enough money to replace my old, scratchy cassette tapes — but Amazon doesn’t seem to have them in stock. Way to fail to cash in on the movie, BBC!

Friday, April 29, 2005

George Bush and his magic wand

reports that Bush’s decision to hold a pointless press conference in prime time cost the networks $40 million.

The least believable-sounding thing Bush said last night was also the truest: that on gas prices, he “can’t wave a magic wand.” I mean I know he can’t and you know he can’t, but we also know that he neither knows nor believes that. His magic wand has always been privilege. He has never done anything himself, so it’s all magic to him: he speaks commands and they are transformed into reality, he knows not how. His magic wand is his Dick... Cheney, that is. And all his other minions, practicing their pedestrian crafts. During the press conference, he disdainfully swept away the notion that he should have any idea of how things work; “I’m not an economist,” he said at one point, later asserting “I’m not a lawyer.”

So when he says he can’t bring gas prices down, it sounds like he’s lying, and he is, because he is not telling the truth as he (mis)understands it. He said, as he often does, “I’m an optimistic fellow.” Even if Americans understand that that optimism is grounded in self-delusion, they also realize that when he says he can’t wave a magic wand and reduce oil prices, what he means is that he is unwilling to exercise the magical powers he thinks he possesses on behalf of his less magically gifted subjects.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Making the unemployed run on time

Blogger generates the URL for my posts out of the first words of my post title, or the first line if there is no title. For my last post, entitled “Bush press conference: how can I live-blog if they start it early?,” the URL turned out to be

I missed a detail of the bill passed yesterday against helping a minor cross state lines to get an abortion, and it’s a detail that refutes the R line that this is about “dodging” parental-notification laws or helping sexual predators: even if the minor female is accompanied by her parents, this bill adds a 24-hour waiting period. It’s about creating more hoops for pregnant women to jump through (and yes, that is a problematic metaphor).

Britain just opened a Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire. Motto: “Your Luggage Isn’t Lost, We Gave It to the Poor.”

Israel refuses an American proposal to give the Palestinian police actual weapons. Israel’s response: “Let them first take the weapons from the terrorists.” Yeah, that’s a plan.

The Christian Democratic justice minister of the German state of Hesse (who is neither Christian, democratic nor just) suggested that the unemployed be fitted with electronic tagging ankle bracelets to give them “the chance to return to a regulated daily schedule”.

You go to war with the superheroes you have... Captain America strategically deploys his shield because he caught Rummy looking at Spiderman’s package earlier.

Bush press conference: how can I live-blog if they start it early?

My apologies to anyone who listened to me and tuned in to Bush’s press conference late. 5:30 was the announced time, really it was. And no thanks to McNeil-Lehrer, which two hours beforehand said that there would be a press conference without giving the time. (Update: they moved it up because the networks would otherwise have gone with their regular crap, on the first day of sweeps. I suspect the White House knew about sweeps, figuring the networks would have to carry Bush but have no time for analysis afterwards.)

Bush doesn’t often address the nation in prime time, and hasn’t held a prime-time press conference in over a year. Since they aren’t routine, you’d expect him to come to one with an agenda. But he didn’t. And with major partisan firefights in Congress, I was wondering if he would come in order to 1) attack the D’s, or 2) offer compromises. He did neither (although he did say he wouldn’t resort to name-calling, in response to a question about partisanship, possibly from “Stretch”). Evidently (and thankfully) he has no plan for getting his agenda passed, and tonight he used one of the great weapons of the presidency, the ability to commandeer the airwaves, for no particular purpose, except that it was the 100th day of his second term. He didn’t help any of his positions (Social Security, Bolton, judges), he didn’t hurt them.

Why does Shrub “Southern up” his pronunciation of Yoownited Nations in a way he doesn’t for United States?

He said his administration is “doing everything we can to make gasoline more affordable”, and said that there was nothing it could do. Guess they can all go home early then.

He said America will stand by its commitment to Iraq, but that its commitment to pay Social Security was “file cabinets full of IOUs.” Commitments he does believe are real: on rendition, “we send people to countries where they say they’re not going to torture the people”; on Vladimir Putin, “he stood up and said he strongly supports democracy. I take him for his word.”

By Bush standards, it was a superficially good performance, meaning he didn’t step on his own tongue much. He accomplished this by saying nothing he hasn’t said ten or more times before, and saying it at length, which ensured that few actual questions were asked over the course of an hour, and none of those questions were unexpected.

Nightline tonight will compare this press conference with a BBC program in which the British party leaders were fiercely questioned by members of the public (I saw excerpts on the World News; hopefully C-SPAN will show it Sunday night). Might be fun.

And you think the DMV has long lines

Bush press conference tonight, 5:30 pm PST.

The Road to Surfdom notes that religious groups will oppose a new vaccine against cervical cancer, a sexually transmitted virus, being given to under-age girls because, says a rep of Tony Perkin’s Family Research Council, “they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex.” Are a lot of teenage girls waiting to be issued with a sex license before having premarital sex?

Follow-up: as promised, Ramune Gele gave birth in an art gallery in Berlin. Audra, in case you were wondering. Also, and I say this for the benefit of certain users of Google, and you know who you are: there are no pictures. Live with it.

In the new Iraqi cabinet, Achmad Chalabi will be acting oil minister. I hope somebody checks before he leaves work every day that he isn’t smuggling oil out in his pants.

The National Security Archive has pictures of dead soldiers’ coffins that the Pentagon stalled releasing (the pictures, not the coffins) for over a year. Note that the DOD dirtbags blacked out the faces and insignia of the honor guard.

Nothing can go wrong can go wrong can go wrong can go

Part of the R’s argument for killing the filibuster is that the Constitution requires that the Senate vote on every judicial nominee. It doesn’t, I’ve read it, there’s no way to squeeze that interpretation out of it. But in the spirit of compromise, I say fine, let’s have a vote on all the judicial nominees who haven’t had one. Chronologically. We don’t get to Priscilla Owen until the last remaining Clinton nominee has been voted on. In fact, I think it’s long past time Abe Fortas got a vote, I don’t care if he is dead, he’s not a lot more dead than Rehnquist, and he doesn’t have those stupid stripes on his sleeve.

The Daily Show had a clip from CNN of GeeDubya talking about how we gotta build more nukyular power plants, and how today’s technology makes them so much safer... and then CNN lost its feed from the speech. Also, he gave this speech just over three hours after spending part of his morning in the White House bunker because a cloud passed before the sun.

The more significant coincidence is the claim today that Chernobyl’s containment sarcophagus is falling apart. There was supposed to be a new one built, but a lot of that money, Ukraine being Ukraine, has vanished.

Most of us don’t have so much blind faith in technology — especially those of us who rely on Blogger — but Bush is in awe of what he can’t understand, which is almost everything.

George Bush and friends place their faith in technology.

Bush’s answer, by the way, is to reduce regulation on nuke plants and give them federal insurance against delays. “A secure energy future for America must include more nuclear power.” Yes, secure... nuclear... secure...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

“I have never told a lie,” Tony Blair lies

Michael Howard has been on the attack against Blair’s character, which rather awkwardly requires him to say simultaneously that Blair lied about the case for war in Iraq but that he, Howard, supports the war anyway. Here’s the new Tory poster:

Subtle, huh?

Blair responds, “I have never told a lie. No. I don’t intend to go telling lies to people. I did not lie over Iraq.” So that settles that.

I have too many remote controls, with too many buttons. But I don’t think any of them do this:
The BBC this summer will try to persuade viewers to donate a kidney by pressing the red interactive button on their remote controls.
Iraq’s National Security Adviser shows the savvy that won him that position by announcing of the assassination of MP Lameah Abed Khadouri al-Sakri, “We believe it is politically motivated.”

The House voted to make it illegal for anyone to transport a minor across state lines to have an abortion. You’ve probably heard about R’s rewriting the official description of D amendments to exempt grandparents, siblings (or innocent participants like bus drivers) etc from the law to make it look like D’s were trying to protect “sexual predators.” But some of the purpose of this bill is lost in the focus on abortion rights rather than abortion availability. The AP story, for example, describes this bill as intended to “make it illegal to dodge [!] parental-consent laws”. Actually, with fewer and fewer counties in which abortion services are available, and more women farther from abortion providers than before, for many of them this bill would cut off the use of the nearest provider.

Speaking of the culture of life, Florida’s Department of Children & Families decided to make a child have a family, getting a court order to block a 13-year old in a shelter from getting an abortion.

Their capacity is still pretty much what it is

The Putin Youth movement, the Nashis, of whom I have written before, will start drawing up lists of people they consider to be “fascists” and their liberal sympathisizers. It must nearly be time for a purge of the kulaks again. Doesn’t look good.

Here, it was all about numbers yesterday. Gen. Richard Myers (at the press conference I mentioned in my last post, before I had the full transcript) had to admit that the number of attacks in Iraq was about the same as a year ago, adding about the insurgents, “I think their capacity is still pretty much what it is,” which may be the only thing Myers said that I can’t disagree with, but then inexplicably said, “Almost any indicator you look at, the trends are up. So we’re definitely winning.”

Rumsfeld, who tried to intervene to stop reporters nailing Myers down on whether “their capacity is still pretty much what it is” means that we’ve made no progress at all against them in one year, clarified:
what you have is a relatively small number of people who have weapons and who have money and who are determined to try to prevent democracy from going forward. And it does not take a genius to go out and kill innocent men, women and children. That’s a perfectly doable thing in a society.
And “the Zarqawi thing, numerically, is relatively small. It just happens to be the most lethal element.”

Also, it doesn’t necessarily matter if one or more rises to replace every insurgent we kill or capture: “You can have – the insurgency could be actually increasing and our capability to deal with it increasing, in which case the level stays about the same.” So that’s ok, then.

Honestly, I’d make fun of these comments, but it would be so redundant, gilding the lily as it were.

Also, and this should get more critical attention than it will, Rumsfeld insists that Zarqawi is now in Al Qaida. His proof? Well, he says, they are “connected in a variety of different ways.” Asked if he means they are in communication, he sez, “Well, maybe other things. Maybe people. Maybe money. Maybe communications. Maybe an oath of allegiance. Who knows?” Well, I’m convinced. Actually, his ideas of what constitute evidence and logical argument show less engagement with the real world every day. Watch the slippage, answering a question about where Zarqawi’s resources and recruits are coming from, from supposition to absolute conviction:
I’m going to speculate here that a non-trivial portion of his finances and his recruits come from outside the country. And they undoubtedly come through Syria, and they come through Iran, probably, and through other countries
See how that happened? Just by having a thought, he convinced himself that it was true. If he can think it, it must be so.

Rummy, of course, agrees with Myers that we’re winning: “And the more [our folks] scoop them up and the more they visit with them, the more they learn. And the more they learn, they more -- go out and scoop up others.” Visit with them? Has there ever been a blander euphemism for torture?

Meanwhile, the State Department has decided not to release figures showing the number of terrorist attacks in 2004 was way up over 2003. Here’s my favorite part: State’s acting counterterrorism chief, one Karen Aguilar, explained, according to the WaPo, “that the statistics are not relevant to the required report on trends in global terrorism.” In another humorous, “Yes, Minister” touch, Aguilar said that the National Counterterrorism Center would release the figures, but that if it didn’t (and it won’t), State wouldn’t release them either.

Also, less entertainingly and more shamefully, State is low-balling figures on deaths in Sudan.

To conclude this post, the Bushies are doing great damage to political discourse by their cavalier attitude towards facts and evidence, by their belief that they generate reality through their rhetoric, that if they say something often enough it becomes true. They weren’t kidding about deriding the “reality-based community.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

But will a piece of paper protect them from being terrorized by solar panels or the Bee Gees?

Greenpeace members climbed on to the roof of British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, and, in a protest action that Prescott claimed “terrorized” his wife, installed solar panels.

From the Daily Telegraph: “Australians expressed their outrage yesterday at the playing of the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive at this week’s anniversary of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.”

The Syrian occupation troops are out of Lebanon (as are some of Syria’s puppets, like the head of Lebanese military intelligence). According to Robert Fisk, “They even took their statues with them.” You’d think that would have been a bigger news story today.

Secretary of War Rumsfeld says Iraq will be won by “giving the Iraqi people a sense... that they’re going to be protected by a piece of paper called a constitution, for the first time in their lives; and that that paper will protect them”.

That sound you hear is 25 million Iraqis guffawing.

And in yet another of Rummy’s patented pot-calling-the-kettle-black moments, he adds, “The Iraqis will prevail in the insurgency also because over time, it will become clearer and clearer that the insurgents have no plan; they have nothing other than killing people.” Like his boss, Rummy is not over-endowed with self-awareness.

It’s not a shooting war, but it is a war

Janice Rogers Brown, one of the Bush judicial nominees there’s been all the fussin’ and the feudin’ about (my cat just received an email from RNC chair Ken Mehlman about Brown’s general wonderfulness, which mistakenly called her the first African-American on the California Supreme Court, an honor belonging to Jerry Brown appointee Wiley W. Manuel [1977-81]), told a group of Catholic lawyers that “There seems to have been no time since the Civil War that this country was so bitterly divided. It’s not a shooting war, but it is a war.” Wait, it’s not a shooting war? But I was nearly finished sewing my 101st Fighting Secular Humanists uniform (the epaulets are the tricky part).

Evidently considering “bitterly divided” to be a good thing, Brown then enlisted on the side of “people of faith” against the secular humanists and says that, without God, “Freedom... becomes willfulness.” In other words, freedom is only a good thing for Christians. If she winds up on the circuit court after this little performance, something will be seriously wrong with this country.

It’s funny Bush insisting that it’s not good enough that only 95% of his nominees are confirmed. Most of his life, he considered a “gentleman’s C” to be a sufficient rate of success. Now all of a sudden his standards go up.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century

The US military has completely exonerated the soldiers who shot at the car of Italian journalist/hostage Giuliana Sgrena, killing the secret service agent. The army says that they were only acting according to the procedures for checkpoints, which evidently involve shooting anything that moves several hundred times. Anyway, this report was conveniently released (but not to the public yet) while Berlusconi was busy putting together a new government.

The last nail in John Bolton’s coffin: last summer the British foreign secretary complained to Colin Powell that Bolton was sabotaging European negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. And Newsweek says that two years ago Britain demanded that Bolton be kept off the team negotiating with Libya over its nuclear program. In both cases (and North Korea) Bolton preferred regime change to nuclear non-proliferation, which was supposed to be his job. Actually, the person I really blame is Colin Powell, who let Cheney & the neo-Cons foist this turd on him, and didn’t insist that he be fired when he proved so wholly incapable of doing his job.

On the front page of the NYT this morning was this headline: “Rice and Cheney Are Said to Push Iraqi Politicians on Stalemate.” Rice and Cheney, not exactly the poster children for compromise themselves, are they? The interesting question is who leaked this and why. If a deal is suddenly made tomorrow, it will look like it was done in response to American pressure, which will just undercut the legitimacy of the government. So now they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. If it was leaked from the American side, possibly the idea was to show that the US still calls the shots, given that any deal will probably leave former American golden boy Iyad Allawi out in the cold.

Putin today called the collapse of the Soviet Union a catastrophe, but doesn’t say what should have been done to keep it together. Possibly the sorts of things he does in Chechnya to keep it within what remains of the Russian Empire.

Cardboard Marines

The NYT reports that severe equipment and manpower shortages continue to plague the US military in Iraq and that a Marine unit “resorted to making dummy marines from cardboard cutouts and camouflage shirts to place in observation posts on the highway when it ran out of men.” Well, as Secretary of War Rummy Rumsfeld would say, you go with the cardboard army you have, not with the cardboard army you’d like.

No, seriously, I’m sure Rummy is working to protect our troops night and day.

The first rule of Safari Club is, do not talk about Safari Club

The Navajo Tribal Council voted unanimously to ban same-sex marriage (as the Cherokee did last year). One delegate abstained, asking the question I think we’re all asking, “Is there now today a long line of Navajos who want same-sex unions?” On the other side, the amusingly named Lorenzo Curley said that they were sending a message to young Navajoovians to “Hold fast to your society, your roots...”

You’re all way ahead of me, aren’t you?

Al Kamen notes that the Humane Society doesn’t appreciate Interior Secretary Gail Norton choosing Matthew Hogan, lobbyist for something called Safari Club International, as acting director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The head of Safari Club International, which I’d never heard of but which I hate already, calls the Humane Society “animal extremists.” Safari Club International’s approach to fish and wildlife involves hunting and eating it.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Yes, this will be on the final

The Japanese foreign minister has hit back against China, saying that Chinese high school history textbooks are even more biased than Japanese high school history textbooks. Suddenly, the casus belli of the War of Jenkin’s Ear seems like the height of reasonableness. Guys, a little perspective: everyone’s high school history texts suck.

More deep thoughts on historiography, from one Adolf Hitler: “After all, who remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The US has pressured the UN Commission on Human Rights into firing its investigator in Afghanistan after he reported that the US military holds Afghans in secret prisons without trial, just in case you didn’t know that already.

I didn’t see the “Justice Sunday” telecast, but I have read Bill “Kitty Killer” Frist’s speech, which is clearly toned down from the speech he originally planned to give when he agreed to join the event, before all the backlash. Suddenly, the issue isn’t that D’s are opposing judicial nominees because they’re good Christians, the issue is good manners. They deserve “the courtesy and respect of a vote.” And, he adds, in the biggest climbdown, “the balance of power among all three branches requires respect – not retaliation.” He does not, however, climb down from the threat of “what opponents call the ‘nuclear option,’” so there’s room enough for three branches of government (for now) but not for more than one party.

(Update: Athenae at First Draft live-blogged Justice Sunday, and has a good time with it. I hope to see a transcript at some point, because while Frist dialed it back, no one else did, and when Frist runs for president, it would be helpful to be able to do the guilt-by-association thing to him.)

Genocide, quote-unquote

The LA Times has the ultimate man-bites-dog headline: “Afghan Says He Wasn’t Tortured at Guantanamo.” Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Still, I’m not sure it’s not something I would be pointing out, if I were him. They did question him for three years, but had only one question: “Do you know Osama?” We really must have the least sophisticated interrogators in the world. The not-very-thorough AP story (which, for example, mentions that he was arrested along with his brother but doesn’t say what became of the brother) says that he was released in Afghanistan. As with a lot of these guys, he was dumped in a country other than the one he was arrested/captured in. A few days ago, someone who had been taken in Bulgaria was deposited on a mountain road in Albania. We’re like the world’s worst travel agent.

When I wrote the last post, about unacknowledged past bad behaviour, I can’t believe I forgot to mention the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, which is today; I had even spotted a quote in the NYT I meant to use: a rep from the Turkish embassy in the US said, “We don’t see what happened as genocide, quote-unquote.” Quote unquote, indeed.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Hurt feelings, and other atrocities

By the luck of the draw, every item in this post is about the success or failure of a nation or institution to acknowledge and correct problems in its past behaviour.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has ordered Japan to go to its room and “seriously reflect” on what it did in the 1930s and ‘40s. Also, in the future it “should never do anything again that would hurt the feelings of the Chinese people or the people of other Asian countries”. You mean the Nanking Massacre hurt your feelings, Mr. Sensitive?

There’s a steaming turd at the top of the Friday Afternoon Info Dump: the Army, in a no-holds-barred investigation of...itself, has cleared all its high-ranking officers, including Ricardo Sanchez, of any responsibility for Abu Ghraib torture.

Neither the Post nor the AP story the NYT runs use the word torture.

As of next year, Romanian men won’t be allowed to marry unless they take a three-day anti-wife-beating course.

The Observer (London) has a memo issued by Pope Benny in 2001 ordering bishops to keep abuse evidence secret, or to put it another way, to obstruct justice. Asked for a comment, the Vatican press office says, without a hint of irony or shame, “This is not a public document, so we would not talk about it.”

Friday, April 22, 2005

Which is more awkward? Bush celebrating Earth Day, or Passover?

GeeDubya celebrated Earth Day, saying he likes the Earth because “that’s where I keep my stuff.” He added that he wants to pass the Earth on to his children; Jenna wants to make it into a bong.

He was supposed to hold his photo op in a national park, but it was raining, and he can barely tolerate nature when it’s dry (also, he has a Wicked Witch of the West-type problem), so instead he celebrated Earth Day in a Tennessee Air National Guard base, because when you think conservation and environmentalism, you think Tennessee Air National Guard. Naturally, he took energy-efficient public transportation.


Follow-up: The Vatican responds to Spain’s homosexual marriage bill by calling it “iniquitous.” You say iniquitous, I say Inquisition, let’s call the whole thing off. The word iniquitous means “not equal or just,” and this bill is about nothing if not equality and justice, so I can’t imagine what the guys in the funny hats are on about. The cardinal who is the head of the Pontifical Council on the Family (which I’m gonna make a guess has no women on it and not a lot of married men) said that Spanish Catholics in government should refuse to implement the law, even if they lose their jobs: “A law as profoundly iniquitous as this one is not an obligation, it cannot be an obligation. One cannot say that a law is right simply because it is law.” Four words: Pope Benny, Hitler Youth.

Nobody expects the Spanish... gay marriage

WaPo headline: “State of Hibernation Is Induced in Mice.” Subhead: “Process Would Have Many Medical Uses.” Really, it’s not like we spend our whole working day trying to get mice to sleep for our own amusement you know, say scientists. Although they do look so darling when they’re asleep, and we do dress them up in little costumes.

As a little house-warming gift to Pope Benny, former head of the (Spanish) Inquisition, a bill legalizing gay marriage passed the Spanish National Assembly’s lower or, ahem, “bottom” house, and is expected to pass easily in its Senate, or “top,” house.

Yeah, the bottom/top thing was a little belabored.

John Bolton’s nomination seems to be going down in flames. One thing about him: given his past record of distorting intel on Cuba, he’d have little credibility when trying to use the UN as a blunt instrument to beat Cuba about the head and shoulders, which is just about the only thing the Bushies think the UN is good for.

On the other hand, John Negroponte’s past relationship with Contra terrorists and Honduran death squads evidently didn’t disqualify him from the job of True Tsar of All the Intelligence in the eyes of 98 US senators (Tom Harkin and Ron Wyden being the honorable exceptions). Neither the Senate Intelligence Committee, nor any news sources that I’ve seen, interviewed any Central American victims of his past actions to get their opinions on his nomination.

A new “Get Your War On” (click on image or better yet go to the cartoon’s site to avoid eye strain):

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Desperate Insurgents

Molly Ivins on John Bolton: “Good news! If there is a distinct possibility a Bush nominee is a vile-tempered, lying, ineffective bully, the U.S. Senate is willing to hold off on the vote for two weeks.”

As I write, I’m watching Tony Blair being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on the BBC, broadcast here on C-SPAN. The first question is whether Blair wants to apologize for anything. If you want to see what tough questioning of a politician looks like, it repeats at 8:30 pm PT and Sunday night 6 & 9.

Waiting for that to come on, I caught some of a briefing by Pentagon spokesmodel Larry DiRita. He explained that “spectacular” Iraqi insurgent attacks were a sign of “desperation,” in much the same way that Teri Hatcher’s breasts on Desperate Housewives are spectacular. OK, he didn’t say that, but it would have made more sense than what he did say.

Also from that briefing, our Jargon Alert of the Week: Iraqi military and governmental types are “Iraqi elements of progress.”

Burma evidently used chemical weapons against the Karen rebels. Now watch the world spring into action. Really, just watch, it’ll spring into action any... minute... now...

From the AP: “Two Norwegians who thought a rowing boat was the perfect getaway vehicle after robbing an ambulance boat were foiled because they could not row. Police who arrested the men near the town of Askvoll said they were rowing in opposite directions.”

A Japanese company is producing a ghost detector. I want one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Da means nyet

Scotty McClellan on the Bolton nomination (via Gaggle-obsessed Holden): “I think what you’re seeing is some Democrats on the committee trumping up allegations and making unsubstantiated accusations against someone the President believes will do an outstanding job at the United Nations.” Why are tax dollars paying for this man to call elected representatives liars?

And then a bit later he accused the D’s of “lower[ing] the discourse”.

Hugo Chavez is distributing 1 million copies of Don Quixote free to Venezuelans.

In Russia, Condi Rice gave another of her lectures on democracy, saying that Putin should have less control over the media. Her speech was not covered by any of the national tv networks. So that would be a no. (She spoke in a live radio interview.)

Speaking of “no,” although some media keep calling Rice a Russia expert, when she tried speaking Russian during the interview she several times said Da when she meant Nyet (when asked if she would be running for president).

Her mouth says da, da, but her eyes say nyet, nyet.

Oh, and she also called for regime change in Belarus.

The mystery of Madaen (also spelled Madain, I note for Google purposes) continues. 57 bodies (other reports give other figures) were pulled out of the Tigris. President Talabani insisted they were some of those hostages he still claims were taken by Sunnis — in fact, he claimed to know the names of all the victims and all the kidnappers. So the high standards of veracity and, dare I say it, comicality set by Iyad Allawi will remain intact.

Anyway, here’s a sentence about the bodies from the London Times; it contains three verbs — see if you can spot which verb is missing: “Police identified and photographed them before burying them.” That’s right: they seem to have been buried without being autopsied. There isn’t any mention of a proper forensic investigation in any other report I’ve seen either.

Most unnecessary article of the day, from the Times: “Analysis: Why Iraqis Fear Militias.”

Tom DeLay says scrutiny of his ethical shortcomings “certainly has gotten me closer to God.”

Poor God.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Habemus papam

Isn’t it nice to see the papacy return, if not to Italy, at least to another member of the Axis Powers?

I thought about staying away from this pope thing, not being Catholic. I thought I didn’t have a dog in this fight, and then “God’s rottweiler” won. A member of both the Inquisition and the Hitler Youth. And yes, I know he was a youth (14) when he was in the Hitler Youth, but I’m not willing to write it off as a Hitler Youthful indiscretion, not when he’s supposed to be a spiritual leader of a billion people. The fact that membership was compulsory is neither here nor there. The Catholic church has saints who were boiled or stoned or impaled to death for maintaining their beliefs when they were younger than he was when he joined. Is the position of the church now that no one has to behave morally until they reach at least 14? And as far as I know, he’s never apologized. There were no good choices in Nazi Germany, but he followed the easiest path, the path of — dare we say it? — moral relativism.

And he’s done a lot of unpleasant things — a whole lot — in his clerical career as well, but the Hitler Youth thing alone is disqualifying.

BREAKING NEWS: Condoleezza Rice turns against her master, saying that she was worried by “the centralisation of state power in the presidency.”

Oh, sorry, she meant in Russia.

The Tom DeLay Defense: Their Only Agenda Is the Politics of Personal Destruction

Tom DeLay sends out an email to his dwindling, but fanatical, fan base.
It should come as no surprise that following the 2004 election-year attacks on the President
That’s called an election campaign, moron.
that the Democrats, their syndicate of third party organizations (Common Cause, Public Citizen, Move-On, etc.)
Oo, syndicate, that’s a really scary word, Tom. Very Murder Incorporated. Very machine-guns-in-violin-cases.
and the legion of Democrat-friendly press would turn their attention to trying to retake Congress.
Democrat-friendly. You make it sound so... dirty.
It would be quite easy to write an entire book about how Democrats, and many in the press, have chosen to selectively report and strategically ignore many FACTS about me and my work as Congressman for the 22nd District.
Yeah, go write a book, Tom, that should keep you out of mischief. Although watch how many WORDS you CAPITALIZE, it tends to make you look like a NUT.
Tom DeLay does not stand accused of any violation of any law or rule in any forum and has never been found to have violated any law or rule by anyone.
He prefers to remain seated. If he stands up too quickly, his toupee goes all askew.
Democrats and their Outside Front Groups are Colluding to Target DeLay
Very 1950s. I like how “outside front groups” combines McCarthyite rhetoric about front groups with Southern racist rhetoric about outside agitators.
Democrats have made clear that their only agenda is the politics of personal destruction, and the criminalization of politics.
Oh, and universal health care, some of them want universal health care.
They hate Ronald Reagan conservatives like DeLay and they hate that he is an effective leader who succeeds in passing the Republican agenda.
Bringing in the big guns. Really envy Ronnie’s teflon, don’t ya, Tommie boy?

He follows by listing the various ethics complaints he claims to have been exonerated on, although that “exoneration” tends to take convoluted, legalistic forms such as this (about his attempt to bribe Nick Smith into voting for the Medicare drug bill in exchange for DeLay supporting Smith’s run for Congress):
The issues raised by the conduct of the Majority Leader in this matter are novel in that conduct of this nature and the implications of such conduct have never before been addressed or resolved by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Indeed, the Majority Leader’s testimony indicates that he did not believe he acted improperly under House rules during his encounter with Representative Nick Smith. In addition, the Investigative Subcommittee believes that the relevant facts related to the Majority Leader’s conduct — described in detail in this Report - already have been fully developed. In the view of the Investigative Subcommittee, these factors mitigate against further investigation and proceedings in this matter.
See, wasn’t that a clear exoneration? Or maybe they called him a douchebag, I’m not fluent in gibberish. And if he didn’t believe he was acting improperly, well, ignorance of the law (or the ethics rules) is always a defense, isn’t it? Anyway, having defined exoneration to his own satisfaction, if no one else’s, he moves on to more Dictionary Fun:
An “Admonishment” is Not a Sanction ... The verb “admonished” was used and is now exploited to mean some sort of sanction.
Writing about this in October, I said that admonishment was “from the Latin word admonere, meaning to moderately chide someone with no sense of shame.”
The Democrats refuse to let the [Ethics] Committee meet because they are still trying to politicize the ethics process and block the Committee from doing its work.
How can they politicize a process they’re preventing from occurring?

Next, DeLay again falsely accuses D.A. Ronnie Earle of partisanship.
Texas has only recently become a Republican state, so Earle’s claim that he prosecuted Democrats too is a red herring.
Read that again; try to follow the logic. Warning: don’t read it a third time, as your head will explode.
The trip DeLay to Russia [sic] in 1997 and the United Kingdom in 2000 were proper.
Here I agree wholeheartedly: it
’s the fact that he returned to the United States that I object to.

Tom DeLay, and friend


In Russia today, Condi Rice says, “One can’t imagine reverting back to Soviet times”.

And Condi, 4/8/04: “No one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon”

Monday, April 18, 2005

Recycling racist propaganda for grins and giggles

This picture of an anti-Japanese protest in Hong Kong appeared in today’s NYT:

The poster is adapted from a 1942 American poster. In the original, the words on the arm read “American labor.” In this version, they read People's Republic of China. A little odd to see Chinese using this poster.

Talabani: We are independent now

So that whole story about Sunnis taking hostages in Madaen and ordering all Shiites out of a town was a fake. The government that the US planted in power after a war justified by false rumor and innuendo is now governing by false rumor and innuendo, quel surprise. The story was evidently planted in order to foment sectarian discord and discredit the army, which Rumsfeld told the Iraqi government, just last week, that it shouldn’t (read: couldn’t) purge of Baathists (read: Sunnis). Today Talabani says that he favors such a purge, but if not, he’ll be happy to use Shiite and Kurdish militias — “popular forces,” he calls them — instead. “We cannot wait for years and years of terrorist activity because we haven’t enough government forces,” he says, although the two months it took after the elections before he was selected for his current post doesn’t indicate any great sense of urgency up until now. He dismisses American opposition to the use of militias by saying “But we are independent now.” Funny, wasn’t he the guy just a few days ago saying how American troops would need to stay for some time yet? Being independent would entail, sort of as a minimum, his government being able to survive five minutes without Americans keeping him alive.

Talabani also repeats his opposition to the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, but says he might just happen to be out of the room when that decision gets made. A man of strong principle... but weak bladder.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Remain calm

From the Daily Telegraph’s contents page:
Shias asked to flee

Sunni Arabs who seized control of a town near Baghdad threaten to kill hostages
unless the Shias in the area flee, Iraqi officials have said.


The town, by the way, named Madaen, is only 20 miles from Baghdad, in case you were taken in by all the happy talk about the insurgency declining. It’s hard to tell how big a deal this particular event is, but given all the stories today in the NYT & elsewhere marking the 30th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge ordering everyone out of the cities, this tactic of the "Sunni Arabs" (!) is a little worrying.

Fortunately we have Iyad ("Comical") Allawi, who somehow is still interim prime minister, to reassure us. This sentence is from the Reuters report:
He said some people were trying to implement "wicked plans of extremist terror"
and urged Iraqis to remain calm.
Not exactly a lullabies and sweet dreams kind of guy.

A gift to humanity

Follow-up: West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has vetoed the Hillbilly English-only bill.

But is it art? From the Observer: “A Berlin couple plan to have their first baby at an art gallery on 24 April. Winifried Witt and Ramune Gele described their decision to have their child at the DNA-Galerie in central Berlin as ‘a gift to humanity’. About 30 people are expected to attend the birth.” I’ve heard of an art opening, but this is ridiculous.

A WaPo exclusive contains the stunning news that the American military commander in Afghanistan claims to be winning. Lt. Gen. David Barno went on to assert that any really spectacular military action by the Taliban will just show their desperation. Heard that one before. Barno says that Talibani are giving up because “they don’t want to be in this fight that goes against the tide of history here in Afghanistan any longer.” Yes, Talibani hate going against the tide of history, they positively pride themselves on their trendiness.

California prison guards, who have a ridiculously powerful union, have been getting training credits for finding words in jumbles, you know the sort of thing. For example at Pelican Bay last December, guards found words like candycane, elf, Frosty, and Santa Claus for one hour’s credit. Guards are of course supposed to be finding actual elf and frosty, which are I believe street slang for amphetamines and cocaine respectively, up prisoners’ asses, at least I assume that must be the rationale.

An LA Times article gives the D’s their strongest approach to combating Bush’s judicial nominees. It points out the existing strong R majority on most federal circuit courts, with only the currently evenly divided 6th Circuit due to change hands. So it’s not, can’t be, about fighting R domination of the judiciary; rather, the article says, it’s about “the kind of Republican who joins the courts”. That’s what the D’s should be saying. And oh look, here’s Rick Santorum writing an op-ed piece in the WaPo, paving the way for the nuclear option by pretending that Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown (she’s the daughter of a sharecropper, you know) are middle-of-the-road jurists unfairly hurt by an “unprecedented campaign of obstruction.” He uses the word “extreme” two times in as many sentences. Rick Santorum does. Rick fucking Santorum. And then accuses the D’s not only of dissing the American people by their stalling of Bush nominees, but of threatening the separation of powers.

A NYT article Saturday about the US cancelling water projects in Iraq and shifting the money to the military contains this killer quote from a civil engineer: “If the Americans think that training the Iraqi Army comes before clean drinking water for the people of Halabja, then we can’t expect anything from them.” And of course Halabja is a Kurdish town, so a stronger Iraqi army doesn’t protect it but actually threatens Kurdish autonomy.

The Sindy reports that the US has been selling arms to the Haitian coup government in violation of its own supposed arms embargo.

Friday, April 15, 2005

At long last, someone has developed a methodology for the typical unification of access points and redundancy

The Pentagon website appends this helpful datum at the very bottom of an article on Rumsfeld’s triumphal tour of the colonies (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kyrgystan): “He also made an overnight stop and met with local leaders in Baku, Azerbaijan.” Yes, it’s the local color that makes travel writing come alive. I’m sure he couldn’t be up to anything clandestine and unsavory in Azerbaijan.

Here is the ad for the Bill Frist anti-filibuster telecast, called “Justice Sunday,” which won’t be available on tv but will be streamed on the internet.

The choice would probably be more equal if the gavel were a bit bigger, if you know what I mean. The words, too small to read, are “The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and now it is being used against people of faith.” Of course, if they’re saying that the D’s oppose Bush’s judicial nominees because of their overt religiosity, the corollary is Bush chose them precisely for that religiosity. They’re delusional if they believe that that’s an argument that will appeal to, instead of frighten, the public at large. Equating attempts to preserve the separation of church and state with Southern opposition to racial integration, which the American Talibani have decided is their best line of attack, requires portraying the nominees as part of a specific, identifiable class of people which can be discriminated against. I say, if they want to depict the nominees as Evangelical Christian activists rather than as qualified jurists, let them.

What’s curious is that the same people who are so politically tone-deaf about how Americans view the role of the judiciary, do understand that their real agenda, which is of course overturning Roe v. Wade, is unpopular, which is why you never hear them use the word abortion when attacking judicial filibustering.

A chimney is being erected at the Sistine Chapel, to indicate when a new pope is chosen. It’s all about the phallic symbols today, isn’t it? Also, the body that will choose the next pope is called a conclave, the device that is supposed to be used to destroy the flu strain accidentally mailed out is an autoclave. It would probably be bad to reverse the two.

I rather like that the legislative calendar has put the permanent repeal of the estate tax adjacent to the bankruptcy bill. Shows the war against the poor in all its glory. Honestly, they should just pass a bill to require families bankrupted by illness to hand over their cars and houses directly to the ne’er-do-well offspring of plutocrats; call it the Capitalism Simplification Act of 2005.

Bush depicted the bankruptcy bill as making credit more available to the poor. Three hundred years ago people made the same argument about the poor financing their emigration to America through indentured servitude.

Nine years after the journal Social Text printed a deliberately meaningless paper entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” gibberish has gone high-tech. Three MIT students programmed a computer to generate a paper, “Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy,” which was accepted for an academic conference.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Being tough when it comes to running down people in caves that are trying to do harm to free people

Entomologists have named newly discovered species of slime-mold beetles after Bush (Agathidium bushi), Cheney and Rumsfeld. Being entomologists, they thought that was a compliment. Guardian headline: the axis of weevils. I can’t find a picture, and you know I tried.

Fun with abstinence. I think it was on Atrios where I found this link; I pretty much figured out it was a parody when I saw the phrase “faith-fucking.” It includes a section, “Ask Dr. Frist,” in which he gives such advice as “whenever you masturbate, God kills a kitten.”

A study in the Lancet says that executions performed in the US are incompetently done and therefore painful. The executioners are supposed to administer anesthesia but have no training in it, and in 21 of 49 bodies autopsied, didn’t administer enough to render the prisoner unaware of pain, much less unconscious. 43 received less anesthetic than the standard for surgery. Since they were also given a paralytic, any pain would have been invisible to observers.

One thing that should reduce the number of executions: the Texas legislature has voted to allow juries to give sentences of life without parole. Faced with the possibility that a killer could be released one day, juries have often preferred to execute. Of death-penalty states, now only New Mexico lacks the no-parole option. When Bush was governor, I believe he was a strong opponent of the culture of life-without-the-possibility-of-parole.

He was asked today how he reconciled his support of the death penalty with the culture of life. Of course, Bush being Bush, the amazing thing wasn’t that he kept two contradictory ideas in his head, but how he kept two ideas in his head, period. He said that the difference between Terri Schiavo and a convicted killer is “the difference between guilt and innocence”. And the death penalty saves lives.

That was Bush talking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors today. Talked down to them, in fact:
Today I was with the Indian Foreign Minister, and we were talking about the neighborhood. [what’s with the thing he’s been doing lately where he says “neighborhood” instinstead of “region”?] And I reminded him that I was appreciative of the efforts of President Musharraf and his efforts in fighting al Qaeda. I thought it was in the best interests of the United States and India that President Musharraf be tough when it comes to running down people in caves that are trying to do harm to free people. After all, India is a free country. It made sense to encourage a leader like President Musharraf.
And when asked about his failure to give the details of his Social Security plan, he slipped into an Edward G. Robinson impersonation:
we have been talking about it for a while, but it’s going to take a while more to continue making clear to people in Congress that we got a problem, see.
None of the editors asked him how he felt about the slime-mold beetle. But then again, no one asked the slime-mold beetle how it felt about being named after Bush.

Outlawing nuclear terrorism. And Swahili

The West Virginia legislature has made Hillbilly English the state’s official language. There’s a bit of a fuss because many legislators voted on the bill (regulating the size of park and recreation boards) without knowing the provision had been added on, because they had not read the bill, which was written in Swahili, just proving how necessary the whole thing is.

The UN General Assembly has voted in favor of a treaty outlawing the use of nuclear weapons by terrorists, and about time because there was this big legal loophole just waiting for terrorists to walk right through it. As we know, terrorists are very concerned with legal niceties.

The treaty doesn’t apply to nuclear war conducted by nation-states; it would hardly be worth the bother to establish a state, write a constitution, blah blah blah, and then not be able to nuke another country).

Oh, and if the terrorists use nuclear weapons within the countries of which they are citizens, that’s also kosher. That should increase the chances of it being ratified in the US, where the NRA supports the right to keep and bear nuclear arms for, say, hunting purposes. If nuclear terrorism were outlawed, only outlaws would... you get the idea.

They’ve been working on this treaty since 1996.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Labour Party manifesto: banishing the demons of outside toilets

Britain’s Labour party issues its election manifesto.

Tony Blair says he has proven his party’s competence; they “banished the demons of ten per cent interest rates, mass unemployment, wages of £1.50 an hour, and outside toilets in our schools.” Outside-toilet demons? Someone call Stephen King. “I have heard teachers in Bexley, Middlesbrough and Sheffield tell me how they no longer have to work in crumbling classrooms without books and computers – and pupils show me, with pride, round their sparkling new school.” Sparkling schools? Someone call J. K. Rowling.

Tony says, “we refuse to accept false choices. The British people never wanted to choose between wealth creation and social justice. They never wanted to choose between national security and overseas aid. They never wanted to choose between equal rights and protection from crime.” The false choices thing might seem a touch more sincere if he hadn’t said the page before, “Now we have to decide whether to go forward or back.”

Interestingly, Blair implicitly acknowledges his personal unpopularity by including a promise that this is his “last election as Leader of my party and Prime Minister”. In other words, he will step down in favor of Gordon Brown sometime in the next 4 years.

Mostly it’s detailed and wonkish and not really meant to be read; you’re meant to turn the pages rapidly and receive the reassuring impression of solidity and competence without actually absorbing any details (pretty much what I did, but then I’m not British and if I were I’d be voting LibDem or Green or Monster Raving Loony). It doesn’t have any of the space-filling tricks of the Tory manifesto, those pages of scrawled slogans and pictures (my favorite was the stills from CCTV footage of a woman’s handbag being stolen). Labour’s 112 pages includes 1 picture — Tony, of course.

I’m expecting the LibDem manifesto to consist entirely of pictures of Charles Kennedy and his newborn son. The kid was born yesterday, just after midnight, and some time before the sun went down, he and his mother were out of the hospital for a photo op across from the Houses of Parliament.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy

To keep their deliberations on the next pope secret, the Vatican will use an “electromagnetic force field,” and the cardinals will be frisked to ensure that they don’t sneak in cell phones, laptops, Gameboys and suchlike. And speaking of people who should never speak in public, I’d have more sympathy (well, no I wouldn’t, but play along) for the Vatican decision to give Cardinal Bernard Law, the enabler of so much child sexual abuse, an honored speaking role if these were not the same people who ordered all those Liberation Theologians to repent their views or shut up.

A former subordinate suggested that John Bolton does not play well with others and is a “a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.” Precisely the character traits which the Bushies consider make him perfect for the job of ambassador to the UN.

You’d think the WaPo would have put this paragraph higher up:
Negroponte was unable to answer some of the panel’s questions. He did not know what his authority is under the USA Patriot Act, was not conversant in the difference between clandestine and covert military operations, and believed that the government is classifying fewer documents than it had previously. That interpretation is at odds with the findings of numerous government commissions.
Actually, the first of those is a little unfair: he said he didn’t know what his authority was in relation to wiretaps under the Patriot Act. (Transcript). What he was, though, was legalistic: he said that as ambassador to Honduras, “my comportment was always in an absolutely legal and entirely professional manner.” On torture he said he would try “to make sure that all practices of the intelligence community are in full compliance with the law” and on rendition that “the law will be obeyed”. “Not quite breaking the law” is a pretty low standard to set. If the best thing you can say about a doctor is that her practice of medicine always stayed within the boundaries of the law — or a plumber, or a checkout clerk, if it comes to that — it wouldn’t be a ringing endorsement.


When I quoted Rummy in my last post warning Iraqi leaders about being “attentive to the competence of the people in the ministries,” I should have made it clear that he was telling them not to purge Baathists. He said a purge would make it difficult to “defeat a doggone insurgency.”

The Emperor Chimpy inspects the troops at Fort Hood. From the transcript:
Many of you have recently returned from Iraq. (Hoo-ah!) Welcome home -- and thank you for a job well-done. (Hoo-ah!) Others are preparing to head out this fall -- (Hoo-ah!) -- some for a second tour of duty. (Hoo-ah!)
I think that’s the soldiers doing the hoo-ah’ing, unless Shrub has come down with Tourette’s. He went on:
Whether you’re coming or going, you are making an enormous difference for the security of our nation and for the peace of the world.
It’s official: he doesn’t know whether we’re coming or going in Iraq.
When Ironhorse soldiers left for Iraq, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator sitting in a palace, and by the time you came home, he was sitting in a prison cell.
What I’m saying is, he sits down a lot. Not a lot of standing.
In Baghdad, soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division launched Operation Adam Smith, and the new generation of Iraqi entrepreneurs you helped nurture will create jobs and opportunities for millions of their fellow citizens.
Operation Adam Smith? Does the military enforce the division of labor in pin manufacture by force of arms? Somehow I think the 1st Cavalry Division is a rather more visible hand than the Scottish philosopher envisioned.

Donald “Unnecessary Turbulence” Rumsfeld speaks

Secretary of War Rumsfeld issues a warning to Iraqis: “It’s important that the new government be attentive to the competence of the people in the ministries and that they avoid unnecessary turbulence.” Sage advice from a man who eats, drinks, breathes and craps unnecessary turbulence. You want less unnecessary turbulence, you warmongering idiot? Stop invading shit!

I’ve been meaning to write a little about the British elections, although they haven’t yet become as interesting as in years past.

In fact, LibDem leader Charles Kennedy’s wife gave birth today and he took parental leave from the campaign.

I’ve skimmed the Tory Party election manifesto, which was issued yesterday. It’s always amusing to see policy wonks trying to sound like loudmouths at the local pub. It’s full of such clever policy pronouncements as “I mean, how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?”, “What’s wrong with a little discipline in schools?”, “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration”, “Put more police on the streets and they’ll catch more criminals. It’s not rocket science, is it?” Still, Michael Howard is most persuasive (which isn’t saying much) when he attacks Tony Blair personally, threatening that Labour’s (near-inevitable) victory will mean “five more years of smirking.” The Tory campaign slogan is, for fuck’s sake, “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Settling on the settlements

Chimpy met Ariel Sharon today.

Bush went out of his way to be vague about settlements. His handlers had given him a really short mantra from which he did not stray: “the road map says no expansion of settlements.” Also, “road map road map road map.” At no point did he say that Sharon’s plans for major expansions of the settlements contravened the road map, although he said it in such a way that you might think he had, which was the point. But when Sharon stood up and insisted that Israel will “meet all its obligations under the road map” but that he intends to build new housing to make the settlements contiguous with Jerusalem, Bush didn’t object. Clearly, Sharon will be allowed to interpret the road map to mean the exact opposite of what it says. In fact Bush said that “the United States will not prejudice the outcome of final status negotiations” and went on to do just that: “changes on the ground, including existing major Israeli population centers, must be taken into account in any final status negotiations.”

Sharon kept talking about an “opportunity” that shouldn’t be missed. By which he means the death of Yasar Arafat. A little hint: when you’re making nice with people, you don’t usually refer to the death of their leader as an opportunity.

When talking about the settlements, Sharon slipped in some wording as carefully chosen as Bush’s: Judea and Samaria.

And we’ll make Mahmoud Abbas jump this high.

Speaking of unnecessary expansion, here George offers Ariel cookies in the shape of the Israeli flag.

Accountability and the bull in the China shop

USA Today reports that the State Dept is trying to spend $3m on “educational institutions, humanitarian groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals inside Iran to support the advancement of democracy and human rights.” Interestingly, the US is prohibited from interfering in Iran’s internal affairs by the 1981 agreement under which Iran released the 52 hostages. The State Dept website describes this project as seeking “to raise public awareness of accountability and rule of law as an important aspect of the democratization process in Iran.” So Iranians taking money secretly from a foreign government will explain the importance of accountability? We’re like those American tourists in Europe complaining about all the tourists: we just don’t see our interventions into the politics of other countries as peculiar, alien, foreign in any way. We expect the governments of every other country to consist of four branches: the executive, the legislative, the judiciary, and the CIA.

Speaking of accountability, John Bolton was evidently questioned so harshly at his confirmation hearings that his mustache turned white.

Responding to a question about how much respect he had for the UN.

Joe Biden: “Some have said that sending you to New York would be like sending Nixon to China. I’m concerned it will be more like sending the bull into a China shop.” (Most of the news stories mutilate this bon mot by only giving the second sentence.)

Bolton explained that he didn’t really hate the UN, just the fact that it was run by all those foreigners, saying “for the UN to be effective, it requires US leadership. I deeply believe that.” So he sees his role less as ambassador, and more as King of the World.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Under strain

Iraqi President Talibani is opposed to the death penalty! Even for Saddam Hussein.

Guardian headline about the Israeli shooting of 3 Palestinians involved in soccer, or gun-smuggling, or possibly soccer-ball smuggling, depending on who you listen to: “Killing Puts Ceasefire under Strain.” Ya think?

The tool was there to be picked up

Just ran across a 4-month old post in a blog hitherto unknown to me, Apostate Windbag, on the Orange Revolution and all the other “cookie-cutter uprisings,” those media-friendly, focus-grouped, pro-democracy movements in former Soviet republics and elsewhere, and the American role in creating or assisting them, and a follow-up which extends the discussion to Venezuela, Bolivia and Mexico. Mr. Windbag argues that resistance to tyranny is still resistance to tyranny, even if Americans in trenchcoats are wandering around the periphery, and should be supported as such. The US, he argues, is amoral rather than immoral and is
“as happy with Stalinoid dictators who boil people alive - as in Uzbekistan - as it is with bourgeois democrats such as the Ukraine’s Yushenko - it doesn’t matter which form of government, so long as it suits its needs. ... at least in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the US has decided to exploit the strategy of popular ‘revolution’. They would not be able to if the land were not fertile for the planting of such geopolitical seeds in the first place. They have used this tool because the tool was there to be picked up.”
Both posts are quite long, but are full of good information, clear-headed analysis and good writing. And he attacks the same WaPo editorial I eviscerated last month.

Rather less believable “spontaneous” demonstrations have been popping up in oh-so-spontaneous China, to protest “Japanese militarism.” Just as despots in Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe feel obligated to uphold their credentials with rigged elections, China is creating this simulacrum of popular outrage to justify vetoing Japan’s attempt to gain a seat in the UN Security Council. To be fair, Japan has once again put out school textbooks that whitewash the Nanjing Massacre, just to see if there’d be less outrage this time around.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Show of force

The American Street points out that CNN low-balled today’s Baghdad demonstration (the one I posted the pictures of two posts ago) by describing it as “several thousand protesters.”

Well, the WaPo not only gives it more accurate number, “tens of thousands”, but is somehow magically able to determine that they are all “Shiite Muslims loyal to militant cleric Moqtada Sadr”. The Post characterizes the entirely peaceful demonstration as “a show of force” and “as much a show of strength as a declaration of grievances”. What force? What strength? It takes a certain amount of nerve to describe the inhabitants of a country which was bombed, invaded, and occupied for two years, with tens of thousands killed, as conducting a show of “force” when they wave banners and chant slogans to protest that occupation. Hell, they didn’t even so much as pull down a statue.

Friends to whoever wants to be a friend

Prince Charles’ wedding (Indy headline: Charles Makes an Honest Duchess of Camilla) was postponed so he could go to the pope’s funeral (and set off a minor furore by shaking Robert Mugabe’s hand), but that made it conflict with the Grand National — that’s a horsie race. So the queen began her speech at the reception by announcing that Hedgehunter had won.

So how scared should we be of this Marburg virus?

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani: “We will be friends to whoever wants to be a friend, and enemy to whoever wants to be an enemy.” And friends “with benefits” to whoever wants....

In an attempt to humanize Michael Howard, the leader of the Tories (who have announced that they’d really rather not be called Tories anymore), his wife has informed the world that he always cries at the end of Sleepless in Seattle.

The ruling apartheid party of South Africa for so many decades, the National Party, later called the New National Party, has dissolved itself. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, now that you no longer have a black guy in livery to hold the door to prevent it hitting you in the ass.

No, no to the occupiers

Many thousands of Iraqis, after reading my previous post, took to Firdos Square to protest that the sculpture which replaced Saddam Hussein’s statue doesn’t really look much like an abstract representation of freedom to them. They take the plastic arts very seriously in Iraq.

Evidently in Iraqi culture it is customary to thank a country for liberating it by burning its flag in homage.

From left to right, Blair, Hussein, Bush (or the “triangle of death,” as they are known).

The traditional re-enactment of Abu Ghraib torture.

There were no such scenes last year because the Americans sealed off the square with razor wire.

Happy anniversary, toppled statue!

Two years ago today, American troops completed the winning of Iraqi hearts and minds by staging the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in what they tried to tell us was a spontaneous act by jubilant, liberated Iraqis.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Dancing and behaving like women

The Greeks are still bitching about the nation of Macedonia being called Macedonia, as they have been bitching about it for something like 12 years now. Greece wants them to use the name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” held up EU recognition of the country for years, etc etc. Now a UN envoy is suggesting as a compromise the “Republic of Makedonia-Skopje.”

Speaking about thuggish behavior.. well, hell, this whole post is going to be about various forms of thuggish behaviour:

A WaPo article on something I wrote about in late February, the creation by Putin of a youth movement to fight any attempt at an Orange Revolution in the streets.

Another WaPo piece about a prisoner beaten to death by the shiny new Iraqi police force. His family complained to the American military, which told them they should complain to the police. Evidently the Americans respect Iraqi “sovereignty” too much to intervene. I suspect that before too long, Iraqis will spit whenever they hear an American talk about Iraqi sovereignty.

Saudi authorities have sentenced 105 men who attended a gay wedding to sentences ranging from 6 to 24 months and 200 to 2,000 lashes. Their crime: “dancing and behaving like women.”

No doubt in my mind about that

On the plane home, Chimpy spoke to reporters. Because he’s not a big “reader.” Although he did say he was reading Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great, so if next year’s budget includes a beard tax, you’ll know who to blame.

Shrub doesn’t realize that the government of Palestine extends to Gaza: “We need to have institution-building, and there needs to be an international effort that encourages and fosters economic vitality so that a government which does emerge in Gaza will be able to better speak to the hopes of those who live in the Gaza.” Someone explain to the moron that a government doesn’t need to “emerge” in Gaza.

He also never heard that Italy announced it was going to pull its troops out of Iraq, after we shot up that hostage/reporter’s car. “I don’t know why you say that. I’m not sure why you said what you just said.”

He also says (asked about Saudi Arabia and Egypt), something he’s said repeatedly: “we shouldn’t try to impose our democracy on other nations. What we should say is, we’ll work with you to develop a democracy which adapts to your own cultures and your own religions and your own habits.” Never does anybody follow up and ask in what ways democracy should be adapted to the culture and religion of the Middle East.

On the pope: “at the end of his life he made his points to me with his eyes” and “a lot of Christians gain great strength and confidence from seeing His Holiness in the last stages of life.” That could be taken more than one way.

On the next pope: “I’m not going to pre-judge the selection process.”

On why we need to “fix” Social Security now: “Every year we wait costs billions of dollars more.” How so?

And then he plays Freaky Friday: “Now, I was born prior to 1950. But if I were my daughter hearing somebody predict that at some point in time she’s paying an 18 percent payroll tax, I’d be suggesting to the old man -- me -- that I get something done.” Also, if he were his daughter, he’d be drinking even more heavily and doing more butt-dancing. Actually there’s a $10 billion item in the Pentagon budget for “paper clips” which is actually a program to create a device that would allow him to switch bodies with his daughter. Some people say it has already been created. Which would explain a great deal.

And there was one thing he wanted to make perfectly clear, just in case we might get it wrong:
By the way, I think when you discuss religion -- on doubt --there is no doubt in my mind there is a living God. And no doubt in my mind that the Lord, Christ, was sent by the Almighty. No doubt in my mind about that. When I’m talking about doubts, I’m talking about the doubts that an individual struggles with in his or her life. That’s important for you to make sure you get that part of the dialogue correct, if you don’t mind.

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Got it? Everybody got it correct? All right.

Q Thank you.