31 December 2004

Four hours in Iraq

I ran into one of my elderly suburbian neighbors the other day. Following an exchange of pleasantries, our conversation turned to the tsunami. My neighbor, after expressing his shock at the extent of the tragedy and the horrific images on TV, criticized Bush for offering excessive aid to the affected countries while other countries "hardly lifted a finger to help." It just so happened that the next day, listening to the radio (NPR?), I heard someone remark that Bush's tsunami aid package, even after he doubled it, is equivalent to the amount the U.S. spends in Iraq every four hours! In other words, we could simply pull out of Iraq one day earlier and triple our aid (which has already been doubled). Of course, Bush and company--being the great geniuses they are--have probably calculated that bombing apartment blocks and shooting wounded old men in mosques is more likely to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world than a massive aid effort to Indonesia, and who am I to disagree with them? And I'm sure that the one extra day in Iraq, if subtracted from the thousands of days the U.S. will occupy the country, might make a huge difference in "bringing democracy to the region." Yet the sight of our "compassionate conversative" leader claiming the moral high ground for throwing a few pennies at the greatest natural disaster in human history does kind of stick in my gullet.

Other blogments:

Daily Kos claims that the tsunami is an indication that the U.S. military is over-extended in Iraq:

The tsunami disaster in fact illustrates the unpredictable consequences of our dangerously high troop-commitment in Iraq. Who knows where troops will be needed next? (This is grimly reinforced by the mounting realization that the tsunami disaster is implicated into the geopolitical terrain of 9/11, as Indonesia is the world's largest muslim nation). I think Bush's delay was in part caused by this sense that "diverting" resources to Asia could reflect badly on, or get entangled in, the Iraq war. But, in this very sense, Bush's delay (with all its terrible consequences) also provides the first evidence that the Iraq war is, in fact, entangled in this disaster.

Ratboy's Anvil posted an excellent NY Times article on his site.

Are We Stingy? Yes

President Bush finally roused himself yesterday from his vacation in Crawford, Tex., to telephone his sympathy to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, and to speak publicly about the devastation of Sunday's tsunamis in Asia. He also hurried to put as much distance as possible between himself and America's initial measly aid offer of $15 million, and he took issue with an earlier statement by the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who had called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations "stingy." "The person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed," the president said.

We beg to differ. Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.

The American aid figure for the current disaster is now $35 million, and we applaud Mr. Bush's turnaround. But $35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.

Bush administration officials help create that perception gap. Fuming at the charge of stinginess, Mr. Powell pointed to disaster relief and said the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." But for development aid, America gave $16.2 billion in 2003; the European Union gave $37.1 billion. In 2002, those numbers were $13.2 billion for America, and $29.9 billion for Europe.

Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged. And back in 2002, Mr. Bush announced his Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year, but the account has yet to disperse a single dollar.

Mr. Bush said yesterday that the $35 million we've now pledged "is only the beginning" of the United States' recovery effort. Let's hope that is true, and that this time, our actions will match our promises.


Also check out Bull Moose, PBA HQ (tsunami pictures), Pinko Feminist Hellcat, Mediacrity (What to do in a tsunami), Gxangalo (Esperanto article), The Command Post (links to relief organizations), and Comments from Left Field (with a $250 donation challenge).

27 December 2004

Xmas no mas

Another xmas gone and I must admit I am one of those who fail to catch the holiday "spirit." For my daughter, I have tried to go through the motions. I have a miniature multi-colored artificial tree that I pull out for my daughter. And at some point, we open presents. Each year, the gift-giving in our family gets reduced by some new condition. First it was towards cheaper gifts and now we've agreed to give only to kids. For some reason, I find the whole ordeal of buying gifts and sending them off troublesome and I get little joy from opening boxes of clothes that don't fit and gadgets that I'll have to sell at the next yard sale.

Last year I went hiking for xmas--a great way to spend the holidays. The more I think about it, I can't figure out why in the hell I'm even pretending to celebrate xmas anymore. I'm not a Christist (i.e., Christian). I have no problem with people believing in Christism but after years of being subjected to right-wingers' rant on about how they will run around the world and teach everyone how to be decent folk, I'm fed up.

The crass commercialism of the holiday also turns me off. Do Americans really need an excuse to blow money on worthless crap? When I wander around Walmarts and other massive outlets, I can't believe that all those bright plastic doodads are really necessary for us to live quality lives.

I've decided to create a new holiday. It'll be called To The Mountains Day. Everyone will climb a mountain or a hill, look out from a snowy pass, or canoe around a misty bayou. The sacred food will be chilly cooked over a camp fire with coffee boiled from the same pot.

P.S. Pharyngula and No Religion Now have some nice posts on xmas in the proper humbug spirit.

23 December 2004

Focking lame movie

Old Hollywood actors never die. They're simply recycled.

Yesterday I watched the Fockers. I was looking forward to this movie. It had some great actors. Ben Stiller, who was brilliant in There's Something Special About Mary, Barbara Streisand, Robert DeNiro, and the immortal Dustin Hoffman. The movie had perennially funny scenario--the clash between a right wing stiff and some elderly hippies. There was, in other words, plenty of grist for the comical mill; yet somehow, the whole thing just didn't fly. Making a good comedy is like telling a good joke: No matter how good the material is, the humor relies on subtle pauses and patient build up of tension; in terms of acting, it requires creative delivery (think of "George" on Seinfeld) and intriguing facial expression. The Fockers forgoes all of this and instead bases the entire movie on a humorous title.

Not that the title isn't funny. The most I laughed was actually before the movie at the ticket office, trying to say "Fockers" with a straight face and then keep a straight face as the ticket agent repeated "two for the Fockers." From that point on, everything went downhill. The sexually liberated hippy couple who spend much of the movie attempting to free the repressed right-wing CIA bloke from his Freudian sexual repression began to grate on my nerves after a while. Whip cream on Barbara's boobs might have been funny in the 60s but we're all grown up now (especially those who aren't yet grown up) and whip cream and sex therapy sessions on yoga pillows fail to have the proper shock value.

The movie might be worth watching on video if you keep low expectations going in. Who knows? After a few drinks, or tokes, or some laughing gas, there might be something comical that I missed.

Dems debate anti-abortion stance

The L.A. Times has an article reporting that the Democratic Party is currently debating whether to oppose abortion. Such a shift would be signficant and might lead to a significant defection to thirds parties--particularly the Greens.

21 December 2004

Mosul bombing

About half an hour ago, a military base in Mosul was bombed, killing dozens of people including U.S. soldier. Jeff Vail has an excellent analysis of the attack. He claims that the attack, particularly if followed by similar attacks, will have a significant psychological impact on troops fighting in Iraq since these troops will no longer feel that their bases represent safe havens. He also remarks that the attack may indicate that the anti-U.S. forces have good intelligence and increased ability to target mortar fire. (This last claim seems a bit speculative. If the anti-U.S. forces have been firing erratically and missing their targets, it seems likely that a mortar would happen to hit its target out of sheer luck at some point). Click here for CBS coverage of the story. Training for Eternity has a Mosul chaplain's blogment about the bombing.


By MICHAEL McDONOUGH, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - An explosion ripped through a mess tent at a military base in Mosul where hundreds of U.S. soldiers had just sat down to lunch Tuesday, and officials said 24 people were killed and more than 60 wounded. A radical Muslim group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack on a U.S. base in Iraq.

The dead included U.S. military personnel, U.S. contractors, foreign national contractors and Iraqi army, said Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia in Mosul. The attack came the same day that British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) made a surprise visit to Baghdad and described the ongoing violence in Iraq as a "battle between democracy and terror."

Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a spokesman for Task Force Olympia, told CNN that the toll was 24 dead. He added that more than 60 were wounded. Jeremy Redmon, a reporter for the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch embedded with the troops in Mosul said the dead included two soldiers from the Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion, which had just sat down to eat at Forward Operating Base Merez. He reported 64 were wounded, and civilians may have been among them, he said.


Officials could not break down the toll of dead or wounded among the groups. Reports also differed as to the cause of the blast at the camp, which is based outside the predominantly Sunni Muslim city about 220 miles north of Baghdad. The base, also known as the al-Ghizlani military camp, is used by both U.S. troops and the interim Iraqi government's security forces.

Although military officials initially said rockets or mortar rounds struck the camp, Hastings said it was still under investigation. "We do not know if it was a mortar or a place explosive," he said, describing it as a "single explosion." The force knocked soldiers off their feet and out of their seats as a fireball enveloped the top of the tent and shrapnel sprayed into the area, Redmon said.

Amid the screaming and thick smoke in the tent, soldiers turned their tables upside down, placed the wounded on them and gently carried them into the parking lot, Redmon said. Scores of troops crammed into concrete bomb shelters, while others wandered around in a daze and collapsed, he said.


"I can't hear! I can't hear!" one female soldier cried as a friend hugged her. A huge hole was blown in the roof of the tent, and puddles of blood, lunch trays and overturned tables and chairs covered the floor, Redmon reported. Near the front entrance, troops tended a soldier with a serious head wound, but within minutes, they zipped him into a black body bag, he said. Three more bodies were in the parking lot.


"It is indeed a very, very sad day," Ham said. It made no difference whether the casualties were soldiers or civilians, Americans or Iraqis, Ham said. "They were all brothers in arms taking care of one another," he said.

Redmon and photographer Dean Hoffmeyer are embedded with the 276th Engineer Battalion, a Richmond, Va., unit that can trace its lineage to the First Virginia Regiment of Volunteers formed in 1652. George Washington and Patrick Henry were two of its early commanders. Henry created the unit's motto, "Liberty or Death."

The Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on the Internet. It said the attack was a "martyrdom operation" targeting a mess hall in the al-Ghizlani camp.

Ansar al-Sunna is believed to be a fundamentalist group that wants to turn Iraq into an Islamic state like Afghanistan's former Taliban regime. The Sunni Muslim group claimed responsibility for beheading 12 Nepalese hostages and other recent attacks in Mosul.

Mosul was the scene of the deadliest single incident for U.S. troops in Iraq. On Nov. 15, 2003, two Black Hawk helicopters collided over the city, killing 17 soldiers and injuring five. The crash occurred as the two choppers maneuvered to avoid ground fire from insurgents.

Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, was relatively peaceful in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime last year. But insurgent attacks in the largely Sunni Arab area have increased dramatically in the past year and particularly since the U.S.-led military operation in November to retake the restive city of Fallujah from militants.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of students demonstrated in the center of the city, demanding that U.S. troops cease breaking into homes and mosques there. Also Tuesday, Iraqi security forces repelled another attack by insurgents trying to seize a police station in the center of the city, the U.S. military said.

On Sunday, insurgents detonated two roadside bombs and a car bomb targeting U.S. forces in Mosul in three separate attacks. Other car bombs Sunday killed 67 people in the Shiite holy cites of Najaf and Karbala. Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, warned Monday that insurgents are trying to foment sectarian civil war as well as derail the Jan. 30 elections.

During his visit, Blair held talks with Allawi and Iraqi election officials, whom he called heroes for carrying out their work despite attacks. Three members of Iraq's election commission were dragged from the car and killed this week in Baghdad.

"I said to them that I thought they were the heroes of the new Iraq that's being created, because here are people who are risking their lives every day to make sure that the people of Iraq get a chance to decide their own destiny," Blair said at a joint news conference with Allawi.

Blair, who has paid a political price for going to war in Iraq, defended the role of Britain's 8,000 troops by referring to terrorism.

"If we defeat it here, we deal it a blow worldwide," he said. "If Iraq is a stable and democratic country, that is good for the Middle East, and what is good for the Middle East, is actually good for the world, including Britain.

Blair, whose trip to Iraq hadn't been disclosed for security reasons, urged Iraqis to back next month's elections.

"Whatever people's feelings and beliefs about the removal of Saddam Hussein, and the wisdom of that, there surely is only one side to be on in what is now very clearly a battle between democracy and terror," he said.

Allawi said his government was committed to holding the elections as scheduled, despite calls for their postponement owing to the violence.

"We have always expected that the violence would increase as we approach the elections," Allawi said. "We now are on the verge, for the first time in history, of having democracy in action in this country."

Blair flew into the Iraqi capital about 11 a.m. aboard a British military transport aircraft from Jordan. A Royal Air Force Puma helicopter flew from Baghdad airport to the city center, escorted by U.S. Black Hawk helicopters.

It was Blair's first visit to Baghdad and his third to Iraq since the dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in April 2003. Blair visited British troops stationed around the southern Iraqi city of Basra in mid-2003 and in January. President Bush had paid a surprise visit to U.S. troops in Baghdad at Thanksgiving in 2003.

Blair flew to Basra later Tuesday. The British leader was a key supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam. His decision to back the U.S. offensive angered many lawmakers in his governing Labour Party and a large portion of the British public.

In other violence Tuesday, a U.S. jet bombed a suspected insurgent target west of Baghdad. Hamdi Al-Alosi, a doctor in a hospital in the city of Hit, said four people were killed and seven injured in the strike. He said the attack damaged several cars and two buildings. A U.S. military spokesman could not confirm the casualties.

Elsewhere, five American soldiers and an Iraqi civilian were wounded when the Humvee they were traveling in was hit by a car bomb near Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

In Baqouba, a city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, unidentified assailants shot and killed an Iraqi nuclear scientist as he was on his way to work, witnesses said. Taleb Ibrahim al-Daher, a professor at Diyala University, was killed as he drove over a bridge on the Khrisan river. His car swerved and plummeted into the water.

In northern Iraq, insurgents set ablaze a major pipeline used to ship oil to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, a principal export route for Iraqi oil, an official with the North Oil CO. said. Firefighters were on the scene, 70 miles southwest of Kirkuk.

Insurgents have often targeted Iraq's oil infrastructure, repeatedly cutting exports and denying the country much-needed reconstruction money.

20 December 2004

In praise of simple living

I recently spent about 6 months living with little more than a sleeping bag and a few clothes since my luggage was in storage until I had a permanent place. At first, living without basic household articles was a hassle. I did eventually buy a few essentials, such as a cooking pot, a spoon and a broom. When the six months was up and my goods finally arrived, I was surprised at how little it really takes me to live. Many of the luxuries I was used to were in fact still available, of course. Instead of watching TV at home, I went to daytime movies at the theater. And I ate out a little more often.

After my boxes finally arrived, I couldn't believe how much useless stuff I've acquired. Countless books that have now been through several moves without once being opened. Clothes that fit thinner versions of myself. Keepsakes that are kept stored in boxes everywhere I go. I'm determined that this will be the last time I cart this junk around. Every chance I get, I'm going to take boxes to the Goodwill and try to get free of this crap cluttering up my closets.

This experience makes me wonder--Am I so different from others in my material needs? Do large houses and garages full of trinkets really make people happier? In my own case, I find that material goods bring incremental happiness only to a certain point, after which the work required to buy them and the hassle of maintaining them offsets any convenience they could bring.

For this reason, I love the idea of a library--a communal area where people can borrow things without having to buy them. I don't know why we don't have more places that function like libraries. It seems to me that every town should have a public TV watching place where anyone can come in, sit on a couch together, and watch TV or play a game of chess. And there should also be public gyms and public places that lend power tools--there's really no point in every person on the block owning something they only use a couple times a year. I also don't see why houses are built so large. I don't want or need a $300,000 house. A small house with two bedrooms would do just fine. But everything in my neighborhood is huge. Sometimes I get the feeling that our whole economy is supersized. Myself, I'd like the lite version, the bare wooden floor with a small tatami mat, a pot to boil water, and a tiny shelf of books.

18 December 2004

Bouncing about the blogosphere

Lenin's Tomb has an interesting post on multiculturalism. Om Malik has an interesting piece on the end of the indie-blogger (found via the PBA HQ). Last but not least, Ratboy's Anvil has an excellent post attacking the notion that markets are somehow sacrosant.

17 December 2004

Pursuing happiness the Republican way

Mr. du Pont (former governor of Delaware) had this to say in a recent opinion piece (pointed out by Hispanic Pundit).

Rather than applauding Hillary Clinton's telling them last summer that their taxes must be raised because "we're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good," they [=the American demos] prefer Newt Gingrich's observation that the Declaration of Independence's Pursuit of Happiness includes an active verb: "Not happiness stamps; not a department of happiness; not therapy for happiness. Pursuit."

If the Democratic Party allows itself to be defined by Ted Kennedy, Michael Moore and the editorial page of the New York Times, while Republicans, their president and their strengthened congressional majorities encourage the pursuit of happiness in an opportunity and ownership society, then Mr. and Mrs. America will make sure conservatives are in power for a great many years to come.


I recently read that the US is going into the red the equivalent to $5500 per household per year ! Instead of the “pursuit of happiness,” it sounds to me like the Republican plan should be called “Pursuit of a Free Lunch.” (Later it can be renamed “Pursued by Creditors.")

16 December 2004

Old Europe rising to new heights

France has now erected the highest bridge in the world standing 270 meters above ground! I wonder how old europe got out of the stone age so fast. It must be from eating all those freedom fries.

Buying ourselves outta trouble

The following post from The Poor Man tickled my funnybone:

Hey! Who Ever Said That This Presidenting Stuff Is Hard Work?
Bush noted that in addition to the budget deficit, America suffers from a huge trade deficit. "That's easy to resolve," Bush said. "People can buy more United States products if they're worried about the trade deficit."

Bush's comments came a day after the government reported that America's trade deficit hit a monthly record of $55.5 billion in October.

Also easy to resolve: homelessness (people can buy more homes), sickness (people can buy more medicines), shortage of seats to popular sporting events (people can just buy more tickets), and countless others. With this sort of bold, effective leadership, the next four years should see a drastic decline in problems caused by people not buying enough of things.

New home for Bobby?

Bobby Fischer has been granted residency in Iceland. Since he's still in Japan without a valid passport, it's to be seen if he'll ever make it there. I've always found Fischer a completely unlikeable personality. Still, I have to confess a love of his chess. I recently went through one of his old games against Spassky, and couldn't help admiring the novelty and daring of his ideas.

15 December 2004

More stories of prisoner abuse

Accounts of prisoner abuse keep proliferating, like sand-fleas in the desert. What will the administration's reaction be this time?

Documents Show String of Iraq Abuse Claims

By PAISLEY DODDS, Associated Press Writer

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Newly released U.S. Navy documents portray a series of abuse cases stretching beyond Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison where photos surfaced this year of U.S. troops forcing prisoners — often naked — to pose in humiliating positions.

The files released Tuesday document a crush of abuse allegations, most from the early months of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, including U.S. Marines forcing Iraqi juveniles to kneel while troops discharge a weapon in a mock execution and the use of an electric shock on a prisoner. The approximately 10,000 files include investigation reports from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and witness interviews.

All names have been blacked out in the documents, which were released after a federal court ordered the government to comply with a Freedom of Information Act petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other organizations.


"This kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.

The Pentagon says cases of abuse are taken seriously and investigated.

"The fact that these cases have been investigated underscores the point that we've been making, which is when we have credible allegations of abuse we take them seriously and investigate them," said Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman.

Some of the documents include the alleged executions of Iraqis. The Navy found the allegations to be "unsubstantiated" and closed the investigation. It remains unclear whether any other military branches are investigating.

In one of the reports, a Marine said he and two others were ordered to kill three Iraqis.

"The executions allegedly took place in early April 2003 while the unit was temporarily based at an abandoned Iraqi pharmaceutical factory south of Baghdad," according to the NCIS document, dated June 26, 2003.

The Marine said he was threatened with death if he did not carry out the order. The bodies of the dead Iraqis were allegedly dumped in a hole, the document said.

After the incident was reported, the Marines were interviewed. One, who was interviewed and advised of his rights, retracted his previous statements, saying the executions never took place.

He said he "made up the story to tell his friends ... unlike his colleagues, he didn't have good stories to tell about his deployment to Iraq," the report said. It added that the Marine said he was drunk and made up the story while at a party.

The suspect, whose name along with others allegedly involved was blacked out, was given a polygraph test, "an evaluation of the examination indicated (he) was being truthful in his responses."

Troops have said many of them are trained in ways to trick polygraph examiners. It was unclear whether the Marine was disciplined for the alleged fabrication.

At least 19 prisoner deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have been investigated by the military; eight were determined to be justified killings of an escaping or dangerously violent prisoner.

Several Marines have been charged in connection with the treatment of a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party who died of strangulation after a Marine grabbed him by the neck at a holding facility. Investigators ruled that the death was accidental, but other investigations are pending.

In another of the documents, a Navy corpsman is quoted as saying, "there was a lot of peer pressure to keep one's mouth shut."

In yet another, a Navy investigator describes his Iraq caseload as "exploding" with "high visibility cases."

One case occurred on April 13 in al-Mahmudiya, Iraq, where a witness — whose name has been blacked out — saw a Marine "shock an Iraqi detainee with an electric transformer," holding "wires against the shoulder area of the detainee (who) danced as he was shocked."

Five suspects were involved in the case, according to the documents. One of them was found guilty of assault, cruelty and maltreatment, among other charges, and was sentenced to a year in the brig. A second suspect was found guilty of cruelty and maltreatment, and was sentenced to eight months.

The cases of the three others in the case are pending, according to the documents.

In a case from June 2003, Marines in Adiwaniyah ordered "four juvenile Iraqi looters to kneel beside a shallow fighting hole and a pistol was discharged to conduct a mock execution."

It was unclear from the redacted documents whether anyone was disciplined.

13 December 2004

Where We're Bound

I'd like to recommend the blog Where We're Bound and especially the excellent post Without a Nation (partially quoted below):

I'll just say this plainly: I do not belong to a nation. I claim no national allegiance. I want to write about this because I'm tired of people assuming that we must all have such an allegiance. I was born in the U.S. but don't expect me to support the government that attempts to control it. Regarding the "War on Terror" or any other conflict, I've been asked here and elsewhere: "Don't you want your country to win?" My answer, derived from the above: I do not have a country. I do not want the U.S. to win because winning is an illusion just as the conflict is an illusion. In fact, the nations are becoming illusions, the lines blurred by the power and operations of multinational corporations.

Balking at BALCO

Drug use by athletes has hit the headlines again. This time its steroid-use in baseball. I must confess at the outset that I hate professional sports and find baseball one of the dullest sports in the world, right up there with cricket and turtle racing. But I'd like to think that my status as a disinterested outsider gives me some clarity when looking at the issue.

The continuous doping scandals should make us stop and consider what sports are supposed to be versus what they've become. Sports, after all, are a game--something people do for fun. The sporting aspect of "sports" seems to have been completely lost nowadays amidst the million-dollar salaries and exotic elixirs of performance-enhancing drugs. The typical reaction to drugs in sports has been a push for stricter testing of athletes. While this might serve as a band-aide to stop the bleeding, I think the current crisis requires an operation. Instead of limping along in the same fashion, we need to simply de-professionalize sports. Sporting games should never become the basis of professional careers. And we should never have become idle spectators. Instead of eating chips and watching steroid-enhanced millionaires run around on a flat screen, we should all get off our potato-chip-enhanced asses and play the sports ourselves. Our preoccupation with sports should be over our local teams--whether our company's baseball team will defeat the one across town.

These days, the voyeuristic nature of entertainment has hit Schwarzeneggerian proportions. We watch athletes with completely unnatural (= drug-enhanced) abilities play completely unnatural sports (like football) while the greatest exercise we get is the long walk to the fridge to grab another beer. Americans' sex-life is likewise reduced to sitting around watching impossibly proportioned silicone-enhanced women perform routines as rigid as an aerobic dance at the local Y.

Americans need to wander forth into wetspace. Turn off the boobtube. Forgo buying tickets to the Red Socks game. Toss the porn. Life is to be lived, not watched.

For info on the Balco scandal, check out the SF Chronicle article and the Slate article "Cheating Athletes." Bloggers on the issue include Batter's Box, Brother's Judd, Off Wing Opinion, and A Perfectly Cromulent Blog.

10 December 2004

Connecting the wires less

An article on Alternet discusses the movement by local municipalities to provide community-owned wireless access. Pennsylvania has now passed a law, backed by cut-throat corporations like Verizon, that heavily restricts cities in the state from providing Internet access. This anachronistic law is interesting in light of recent studies showing America's broadband access falling behind that of other countries. In the U.S., there is an idealized myth that the country is a "democracy" made up of strong "communities," but the Pennsylvania law essentially demonstrates that communities aren't deemed worthy of trust whenever their democratic desires run counter to corporate interests. Having lived in Asia, I know through firsthand experience that U.S. DSL and cable services are grossly overpriced. To make matters worse, the companies that monopolize these services limit consumer choice by requiring senseless one-year contracts.

According to recent news reports, some communities in Pennsylvania have voiced strong opposition to the new law.

Israel a European satellite?

The Jerusalem Post has an interesting story detailing the possible integration of Israel into a European sphere of influence:

The European Union said Thursday Israel is among seven nations who will be part of its new European Neighborhood policy, even though the Foreign Ministry said Israel has not yet formally agreed to the EU's "action plan" for membership.

This program offers free access to goods, services, people and capital to countries neighboring the European Union in exchange for economic and political reform on a country-by-country basis.

Israel has been negotiating its terms of entrance for months, with the talks stuck for weeks on one section dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said at a press conference in Brussels launching the new program that through this agreement Israel acknowledges "the need to take into account the viability of a future Palestinian state in counter-terrorist activities."

A Foreign Minister spokesman said that Israel will finally have to decide on whether to accept the plan before Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom attends the Israel-EU Association Council meeting Monday where the plan will be brought for approval.

The EU-Israel neighborhood agreement also means that "Israel clearly acknowledges the role of the EU in the Quartet" that has written the "road map" to a peace plan that is to lead to a Palestinian state. Initially, the Israelis balked at references to the role of the so-called Quartet of Mideast peacemakers.

"Israel has never been willing to make such commitments in writing to any other partner. The same applies to the commitments Israel has entered into concerning" the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Ferrero-Waldner added.

The "European Neighborhood" accords with Moldova, Ukraine, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are aimed at making Europe more secure by bringing stability and prosperity to volatile regions.

The Ukraine accord is to be implemented once it is clear a presidential election to be rerun December 26 are free and fair, putting an end to the country's political crisis, said Ferrero-Waldner.

She said she planned to visit Kiev after the vote to see "how we can work together" to put Ukraine's neighborhood accord into effect. The EU plans to have "neighborhood" accords next year with Egypt, Lebanon, Armenia, Azerbaij and Georgia.

Ferrero-Waldner told reporters the agreements will create "a ring of friends around the borders of our enlarged EU" that took in Cyprus, Malta and eight ex-communist East European nations on May 1.

She said the neighbors will qualify for easy access to the EU's 450 million consumers, "the biggest single market in the world," if they bring their laws in line with EU rules and regulations.


Does the plan forshadow bolder initiatives by a more unified Europe? Will Uncle Sam have to start eating his freedom fries sans bagels?

9 December 2004

Left2Right

A group of philosophers and academics have set up an interesting blog titled Left2Right. The blog takes on the post-election koan of how the left can better communicate to the right.

The way we were

Moriji has a good post titled Taking Our Country Back dealing with the way that conservatives have hijacked the term liberal, making it into a term of abuse.

"To be American is to be free. Every American should be entitled to a life free of discrimination. Every American should be free to decide whom they should marry and whether to have children. Every American should be free to express their views without being intimidated. And every American should be free to participate in our great democracy.

Which begs the question: what in the world does conservatism have to do with freedom? Despite all this talk about “defending our freedom,” don’t conservatives really want to restrain it? After all, they are the party opposed to progress. They are the ones who represent the forces of retreat. If they had their way, America would still be caught in a 1950s style “conservative paradise” where crimes are kept hidden inside the home and apartheid is used to instill hatred towards those with darker skin.
"

It seems to me that conservatism, like all movements seeking a utopia in the past, encounter some real problems when their ideology rams into the hard wall of historical facts. Christist right-wingers constantly harp on returning the country to its "Christian roots," back to the golden values of yesteryear. What in the hell are they talking about? Do they want a return to slavery, to an era when local government administrators offered a couple dollars for an Indian scalp? To a period when people were burnt on the stake for having an epileptic fit? Who knows? Maybe in their heart of hearts, this is the world they covet.

8 December 2004

Sympathy for the devil

Winds of Change has a post bemoaning the dominance of liberals in education. I've always found this particular meme fascinating. The right-wing currently monopolizes the U.S. government and receives a steady stream of funding via corporate right-wing sponsors and yet we're supposed to somehow believe that the dwindling oasis of academia is a terrible threat to all red-blooded Americans. Of course, a parallel meme can be found in Christianity's sense of being under threat by Paganism, New Age ideologies, and other statistically small movements. And last but not least, there's the wholly absurd notion that the U.S. is one air-craft carrier away from being over-run by Iranian Shiites or Columbian Marxists.

In short, the idea of the bully-as-the-victim, a theme underlying so much of American exceptionalism, evinces a criminal mindset. And this attitude has worked as a corrupting influence at the core of the national psyche. U.S. right-wingers have become the swaggering macho thug with a chip (or a clip) on his shoulder. Don't mess with us. If you flip us off, we'll bomb your village. For their part, academics aren't supposed to think for themselves or expound ideas that challenge the status quo. The message is follow the cue cards or lose corporate and government funding.

When trying to explain the pronderance of "liberals" and "lefties" in academia, why doesn't anyone consider a more obvious conclusion--a thorough acquaintance with facts combined with a dedication to the truth (versus dedication to the corporate bottom line) makes it virtually impossible to support the right-wing agenda.

7 December 2004

Swerving upward

The EPA has found rocket fuel (perchlorate) in the nation's milk. "The FDA investigation found the toxic additive in 217 of 232 samples of lettuce and milk from 15 states, including areas not
previously known for perchlorate contamination." In an investigation of this find, Swerve Left reporters recently interviewed the Bush administration's Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, James L. Connaughton.

Swerve Left: So James. It would seem that the Bush administration's promise to make our "air, water, and land cleaner" has not been entirely successful.

Chairman Connaughton: Well, actually, this is the problem with the liberal media. There's a tendency to take a myopic and negative view of every news story without looking at the big picture. The U.S. has set high goals for the next decades. There are even plans at this point to put a man on Mars. None of this will be possible if we wallow in negativity and fail to line up behind the president.

Swerve Left: Sir, what exactly does Mars have to do with perchlorate.

Chairman Connaughton: Like I've always said before, our nation's policies need to be integrated, whether it be the war on Iraq, our efforts to help our big businesses grow, our space program, or our environmental program. Now Karlo, I don't need to tell you that the effort to put men on Mars is no easy task. If we're really going to go forward and get the job done, we need men who are self-directed, and even self-propelled. In other words, men who are able to leap forth from the limitations of a space capsule and propel themselves using internal fuel sources. Milk spiked with rocket fuel is just one of the ideas we're working on.

Swerve Left: Uhm. I see. Is there uh any science to back up such an innovative approach?

Chairman Connaughton: We have our teams of creationists working on it as we speak. These dedicated and devout individuals tell us that there is ample precedent for men flying through the air unassisted. It's simply a matter of hushing the negative liberal naysayers, quieting their hateful ideas and homicidal tendencies. As George always tells me, "Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat."

6 December 2004

Sexual misedjumication

Pinko Feminist Hellcat discusses the recent abstinence-only sex education, criticizing moronic memes such as the idea that abortion can lead to suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals can result in pregnancy. She especially lambasts the materials that contrast male need for sexual fulfillment with women's need for financial support.

Beyond the sheer idiocy of the abstinence-only program, there's the simple fact that it doesn't work. According to Advocates for Youth, "A review of ten state evaluations of these abstinence-only programs, which teach teens only to “say no,” finds no long-term success in delaying sexual initiation or reducing sexual risk-taking behaviors. An independent analysis of recent federal data also shows little reduction in teens’ sexual risk behavior nationwide since the federal abstinence-only initiative began."

Then there's this from Planned Parenthood: "Abstinence-only sexuality education doesn't work. There is little evidence that teens who participate in abstinence-only programs abstain from intercourse longer than others. When they do become sexually active, though, they often fail to use condoms or other contraceptives. Meanwhile, students in comprehensive sexuality education classes do not engage in sexual activity more often or earlier, but do use contraception and practice safer sex more consistently when they become sexually active (AGI, 2003, Jemmott, et al., 1998; Kirby, 1999; Kirby, 2000; NARAL, 1998)."

Planned parenthood is to be commended for connecting the current abstinece-only program with the right-wing attack on constitutional rights and the religious right's agenda. Also check out the Washington Post article and the post on At Ease.

Jiddah

Looking at the news this morning, I came across the story of an attack on the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia.

Abuse redux

Pictures of Navy Seals abusing Iraqi prisoners.

2 December 2004

Torture chambers a "godsend"

The U.S. military has apparently discovered an Iraqi torture chamber. Needless to say, the U.S. military command is elated at this discovery. In a press conference held especially for Swerve Left reporters, the spokesman for the chief military commander explained the significance of this discovery:

"The discovery of Iraqi torture chambers will undoubtedly sap the morale of the insurgent forces while alleviating the financial burdens that the U.S. military faces as it seeks to build its own torture chambers throughout the region. Once the chambers have been adapted to U.S. specs, they will also prevent the military from expending funds that could be otherwise diverted to Halliburton and other corporate sponsors of the war. From the perspective of traditional religious values, the newly acquired torture chambers are nothing short of a godsend. Last but not least, I'd like to point out that the find affirms the fundamental fact, so often denied by the liberal media, that the core values underlying American democracy have already begun to take root in the Middle East."

30 November 2004

Alexander: The Movie

Before I discuss Oliver Stone's new movie Alexander, I must confess a personal bias--I have a soft heart for any attempt to make a grand historical or sci-fi epic. I was therefore able to overlook Brad Pitt's narrow range of emotion and the clumsy Hollywood flourishes of Pertersen's Troy and I wasn't one of the those who walked out of the third Matrix movie. For this reason, I was one of the rare movie-goers who didn't demand my money back after watching Alexander. In spite of the movie's obvious failings, I took pleasure in the vast battle scenes and the seductive yet spiteful Angelina Jolie. But in the end, even I must admit that if someone is handed $155 million and given four years to make a movie, it's hard to see how they could do much worse that Stone did with Alexander.

Oddly enough, Anthony Hopkins (usually a great actor) plays one of the dullest and most artificial parts in the movie as an older Ptolemy giving away each part of the movie before we watch it. When I'd heard that Hopkins was in the movie, I had automatically assumed that he must be playing the part of Aristotle. Which brings up another point: Why was the meeting with Aristotle played down? It is true that historians, while convinced that Aristotle tutored the young Alexander, generally feel that he didn't have a great influence on the child. Even so, it seems to me that this meeting between the world's greatest thinker with its greatest military figure surely deserves more than a dull scene (with a very mundane Aristotle as the clumsy lecturer).

One gets the feeling that this movie was really beyond the intellectual ken of the director. Stone wastes invaluable minutes of the movie's beginning with scenes of Angelina Jolie nuzzling snakes and mundane shots of Alexander wrestling--time that could have been used providing some background for Alexander's ambitions (the amazing unification of the Greek states, traditional stories of Greek mercenaries returning through Persia).

The early battle scenes on the Persian plains are not all that interesting--although the general feel of the battle is probably the most realistic element of the entire movie. Countless chariots and foot soldiers move confusedly through large clouds of dust in chaos. The movie viewers find it almost impossible to distinguish between the two sides (a problem the two sides may have actually had at the time!) The problem with the scene is that the director seems to have had some other point (beyond the chaos of war) in mind. After this one battle, Alexander is instantly transported to greatness with his band of Irish uhm . . . I mean Macedonian soldiers (I have a hard time hearing the Irish or Scottish accents of the actors and thinking of the person as Greek).

The idea of Alexander as the first great multiculturalist is interesting--I'll leave the more historically proficient bloggers to debate its historical accuracy. But I must say that I had the uncontrollable urge to guffaw loudly when I heard Alexander claim that he was fighting "for freedom." Are we to assume that any ancient leader of one of the most heavily slave-owning states in history, where entire tribes and populations were enslaved and where masculine virtues implied an absolute overpowering of one's opponents' will, was somehow inspired by the idea of freedom! Of course, if Bush can say the Iraqi War is for "freedom" perhaps anything is possible--I guess I have sentimental hopes that the conquerers of the past were a bit less hypocritical.

The gay sexuality in the movie was its most daring feature. I heard some gasps and ah-hems in the movie from some of the more right-wing viewers who had been enjoying, up until the gay scenes, the unadultered idolization of war. Indeed, the open acceptance of gay sex is one of the only aspects of the movie that gave viewers the sense that they were looking at a foreign culture. As with so many Hollywood films, many clips were simply fight scenes from other war movies with the addition of a few Greek looking shields and armor, the swagger and bravado all looking like it came out of a Western or a WWII movie.

In the end, we must appreciate the movie's ambitions. It tried to provide a unifying theme (Alexander's attempt to create a large multicultural Hellenic empire) with laudable disregard for America's Puritan sensibilities. Yet it failed in some very basic ways.

Still, I recommend that you all go see the movie. Regard it as a donation to those who make historical dramas. It's alway fun to see large groups of horses and chariots shuffle around a desert or elephants attacking through the jungle--anything is to be preferred over another Hollywood movie filled with siliconed-plated blondes and slo-mo car crashes.

    Other blogments on the movie:
  • A Perfectly Cromulent Blog: "The historians Plutarch, Curtius, and Diodorus all agree that, at the very least, Alexander preferred men to women. So does Peter Green, author of Alexander of Macedon, and the majority of modern-day Alexander scholars."
  • Feministing:
  • Beautiful Atrocities
  • Belmont Club (an excellent post and discussion of the film's historicity)
  • Roger Simon: "The only interest in this obvious yawner of a movie has been dredged up by the minor controversy over its protagonist's sexuality."
  • Pothos (academic discussion of Alexander's sexuality)
  • The Bad Hair Blog: "Alexander's a dud."
You might also check out the reviews of Bruce Kirkland, Gary Arnold, Roger Ebert, Jessica Su (discussing the Greek suit), Victor Hanson, Terry Lawson, L J Worldand, Shawn Levy, and The Arizona Republic. I'm now tempted to go find the 1956 Movie "Alexander" to see its take on the mad Macedonian.

29 November 2004

Polymath titans in our midst

FLASH! Our very own Nick Lewis has "released" an MP3 version of Sergei Rachmaninoff: Ossia Cadenza from Piano Concerto No. 3 in d-minor Op. 30! Head over to Net Politik to download a copy before the other netizen riff-raff discover the free music and the site crashes!

Wonkette on C-Span

Last night, I listened to Wonkette on C-Span. I thought she did well, offering many humorous one-liners. She had the sense to simply confess ignorance when she didn't know something. Some of the reporters came up with good questions about how they should regard bloggers, this new intermediate form between readers and writers of the news.

28 November 2004

Monopoly and information

On C-Span today, there was an interesting debate over reporters' right to maintain source confidentiality. The debate follows several high-profile arrests of reporters for refusing to divulge confidential sources to prosecutors, in particular the 18-month sentence handed down to New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In response to the sentence for contempt, Miller said, "This is about all journalists and about all government officials who provide information on the promise of confidentiality. Without that, they won't come forward, and the public won't be informed" (The Washington Post).

In the C-Span debates, those who approved of the arrest cited a number of worst-case scenarios and legal issues, such as the question of who should be included as a journalist (pejorative and comical images of bloggers wearing pajamas came up repeatedly).

As one of those pajama-clad bloggers, I think a larger issue lurks behind this debate. Democracy, if it is to work at all, is driven by people who have access to information. It is, of course, difficult for citizens to learn enough to make educated decisions, but democracy becomes impossible if the people have no idea what the government is doing.

For this reason, the current administration is clearly heading in the wrong direction. The U.S. government has become so secretive that it now insists on keep ing even Vietnam-era decision-making under wraps in many cases. We have CIA files that are decades old that are still classified--even though the countries these files refer to no longer even exist and the agents refered to are all dead. The reason for this is that these files often show the government's deception of the U.S. people. The shroud of secrecy is therefore more often to protect the government from public scrutiny than it is to protect it from its so-called enemies.

Of course, the argument can be made that the government is stronger if it can operate in secret. This is true. Fascist governments are strong. Democracy is messy, time-consuming, and less efficient. But a fascist government isn't our government. A government operating in secret isn't informed by our opinion, but rather by the opinion of those who are in on the secret (corporations, etc.) Investigative reporting (with confidential sources and leaks such as those that led to Watergate) are thus essential to make government more transparent.

Other blogments on the issue include those of Loaded Mouth, Hypocrites.com, Say Anything, and Beldar Blog, Talk Left, and Slate. Many of these bloggers laud the arrest of Miller and even those who don't, rightfully point out that Miller is poorly casted as a rebel leading the righteous cause. She was the conduit for much of the Chalabi misinformation that has come to haunt the current administration. Even so, I feel that WE THE PEOPLE need access to all the information we can get our hands on. I would like to see the day when it was virtually impossible to make any information confidential.

27 November 2004

Cheney's old company in news again

According to a recent audit of Halliburton, the company has somehow misplaced a third of the government property that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq paid it to manage. This comes on the tail of a criminal investigation into alleged fuel price gouging by the company and an FBI inquiry into possible favoritism from the Bush administration.

"The Associated Press reported Wednesday that FBI agents have extensively interviewed an Army contracting officer who last month went public with allegations that the Bush administration was improperly awarding contracts to Halliburton without competitive bidding."

On the Net, check out the latest inspector general report. Excellent information on the company's shenanigans can be found at Halliburton Watch.

26 November 2004

Today's class

Okay students. Stop slouching. That's better. Today, I'd like to review what we've learned from Donald Trump in the Apprentice. First all maybe we should go over what we covered in our previous classes.
  • $1.3 billion in debt, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts is going bankrupt, this being the second time that Trump has guided his casino businesses to bankruptcy.
  • Under bankruptcy, Trump will see his stake in the company shrink from 56 percent to 25 percent. (Many of his investors, on the other hand, will end up with less than a penny per dollar of original investment).
  • While the company's tanking, Trump's company will still pay him 2 million each year for his management expertise.
  • For the first season of The Apprentice, Trump made $50,000 per episode for his appearance in each of the show’s 15 episodes, or $750,000 total. His salary for this last season increased ($1 million per episode?) making him the highest paid actor ever!
  • Trump made the best-seller list this spring with Trump: How to Get Rich.

So what are the lessons you apprentices take home from this?
  • Capitalism is about making profit for numero uno. When the ship starts sinking, the captain should jump ship, taking the only lifeboat.
  • The escape in the lifeboat works best if done in the middle of the night when the crew is all sleeping. (For details on this, review Enron's recent history).
  • When profits are rolling in, it's time to play Who Wants to Be a Billionaire. When the company bleeds red, it's time to play Let's Make a Deal with creditors. If offered a penny to the dollar, they'll take it if it's all they can get.
  • Let's cut all this crap about "corporate responsibility" and other such nonsense. The bottom line is always greed.

Very good class. Now everyone repeat after me. Greed is good. Greed is good. Greed is God.


Recent Trump news stories include these from CBS News, the National and Hotel Online. Blogs on Trump include Blog Maverick, The Warrior Class blog, Paul Katcher, Talk Left, Stormy's Corner, and last but not least, the Apprentice Blog.
And on Jay Leno: “After pressure from the United States, it looks like 80% of Iraq's debt will be forgiven by creditors. 80%. And our latest story, today Donald Trump said to Bush, ‘Hey, could you invade my casino?’”

Making the world safe from 3-year-olds

I found the following article via Lenin's Tomb. I think the article illustrates the reality of Isreali apartheid justice.

Israeli officer: I was right to shoot 13-year-old child

Radio exchange contradicts army version of Gaza killing

Chris McGreal in Jerusalem, November 24, 2004, The Guardian

An Israeli army officer who repeatedly shot a 13-year-old Palestinian girl in Gaza dismissed a warning from another soldier that she was a child by saying he would have killed her even if she was three years old. The officer, identified by the army only as Captain R, was charged this week with illegal use of his weapon, conduct unbecoming an officer and other relatively minor infractions after emptying all 10 bullets from his gun's magazine into Iman al-Hams when she walked into a "security area" on the edge of Rafah refugee camp last month.

A tape recording of radio exchanges between soldiers involved in the incident, played on Israeli television, contradicts the army's account of the events and appears to show that the captain shot the girl in cold blood.

The official account claimed that Iman was shot as she walked towards an army post with her schoolbag because soldiers feared she was carrying a bomb.

But the tape recording of the radio conversation between soldiers at the scene reveals that, from the beginning, she was identified as a child and at no point was a bomb spoken about nor was she described as a threat. Iman was also at least 100 yards from any soldier.

Instead, the tape shows that the soldiers swiftly identified her as a "girl of about 10" who was "scared to death".

The tape also reveals that the soldiers said Iman was headed eastwards, away from the army post and back into the refugee camp, when she was shot. At that point, Captain R took the unusual decision to leave the post in pursuit of the girl. He shot her dead and then "confirmed the kill" by emptying his magazine into her body.

The tape recording is of a three-way conversation between the army watchtower, the army post's operations room and the captain, who was a company commander.

The soldier in the watchtower radioed his colleagues after he saw Iman:

"It's a little girl. She's running defensively eastward."

Operations room: "Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?"

Watchtower: "A girl of about 10, she's behind the embankment, scared to death."

A few minutes later, Iman is shot in the leg from one of the army posts.

The watchtower: "I think that one of the positions took her out."

The company commander then moves in as Iman lies wounded and helpless.

Captain R: "I and another soldier ... are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill ... Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her ... I also confirmed the kill. Over."


Witnesses described how the captain shot Iman twice in the head, walked away, turned back and fired a stream of bullets into her body. Doctors at Rafah's hospital said she had been shot at least 17 times.

On the tape, the company commander then "clarifies" why he killed Iman:
"This is commander. Anything that's mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over."

The army's original account of the killing said that the soldiers only identified Iman as a child after she was first shot. But the tape shows that they were aware just how young the small, slight girl was before any shots were fired.

The case came to light after soldiers under the command of Captain R went to an Israeli newspaper to accuse the army of covering up the circumstances of the killing.

A subsequent investigation by the officer responsible for the Gaza strip, Major General Dan Harel, concluded that the captain had "not acted unethically".

However, the military police launched an investigation, which resulted in charges against the unit commander.

Iman's parents have accused the army of whitewashing the affair by filing minor charges against Captain R. They want him prosecuted for murder.

25 November 2004

Internment camps for U.S. soldiers

The L.A. Times has an interesting article on the low morale of some of the National Guard troops heading to Iraq. The article reports on the 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment who are preparing for deployment at Doña Ana, a former World War II prisoner-of-war camp 20 miles west of its large parent base, Ft. Bliss, Texas. The months of training prior to the mission are evidently being spent under strict lockdown, evidently to prevent mass desertions. (Is this part of a game of follow the leader?) In spite of these precautions, some members of the unit have evidently escaped through the wire around the base. There are also numerous reports of poor training and a severe lack of equipment. Anyone thinking about joining the Reserves or National Guard should definitely read this article and think long and hard about whether they want to be treated like a prisoner in their own country in order to go fight a pre-emptive war has turned out to be a fiasco.

22 November 2004

An Army of One

The Power and Interest Report has an interesting article on Rice and the U.S. drift towards isolationism.

November 16

Direland and Writer, Bowler, Revolutionary have interesting posts on the recent November 16th Incident in which the Phillipines' Army and Police massacred striking sugar workers. The following exerpt was taken from the Labour Start site:

In a violent strike dispersal in Hacienda Luisita in the Philippines on November 16, 2004, 14 people were killed, including two children aged 2 and 5 years old who died from suffocation from teargas lobbed by the police and army dispersal teams. One of the victims was allegedly strangled after being shot and his dead body hanged by the factory gate. At least 35 people were reported to have sustained gunshot wounds, 133 were arrested and detained, hundreds were wounded and another hundred still missing. The trade unions in the Philippines are calling for a strong international protest, demanding a full investigation of what happened, the rehiring of illegally dismissed workers, and withdrawal of criminal charges brought against the strikers.

Further coverage of the event can be found at: MQ7.net (Filipino News Site), Philstar, and Tarlac News.

21 November 2004

Reality TV

Last night, I was talking about the video-taped killing of the injured man in the mosque with my mother. She was disturbed by the image of two nearby men lying nearby on the floor with clasped hands--perhaps friends grasping each other's hands as they took their last breaths. Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) has an excellent post on the incident:

It's typical American technique- every single atrocity is lost and covered up by blaming a specific person and getting it over with. What people don't understand is that the whole military is infested with these psychopaths. In this last year we've seen murderers, torturers and xenophobes running around in tanks and guns. I don't care what does it: I don't care if it's the tension, the fear, the 'enemy'… it's murder. We are occupied by murderers. We're under the same pressure, as Iraqis, except that we weren't trained for this situation, and yet we're all expected to be benevolent and understanding and, above all, grateful. I'm feeling sick, depressed and frightened. I don't know what to say anymore… they aren't humans and they don't deserve any compassion.

A question of values

California is suing the Bush administration for its attempts to expand logging in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Lately, California seems to be in the forefront in taking on Bush and his band of corporate cronies. The Bush environmental plan is, like his tax cut, a huge give-away to the wealthy. As citizens, we need to remember that WE own those mountains--not some corporation that will build roads and drag logs out and then leave the forces of erosion to carve out huge scars throughout the park area.

The Sierra Nevada is a great example of a poorly managed wild area. The park has leased land in the eastern and other areas of the park to cattle ranchers. As a result, the park land is criss-crossed with barbed-wire, rusting ranch equipment, and millions of cow pies. Because of the cows, ticks (and Lyme disease) are everywhere, making much of the park inaccessible to hikers. In order to protect their herds, the ranchers frequently kill mountain lions and bobcats that are native to the area. At some point, we really need to make a decision: Are we going to continue to have wild places or should we just bulldoze these areas and create ranches and strip-malls.

20 November 2004

Swerving into the ditch

Swerve Left is having technical problems lately. Blogspot half-saved my template, erasing my links. I hope to have everything back up in the next few days.

18 November 2004

Capturing terrorists in Iraq

I was going to maintain my silence over the recent video clips showing U.S. Marines killing unarmed civilians in Iraq (at least one, in a Mosque). Not that this isn't upsetting--it certainly is--but to focus on such incidents can, I think, trivialize the destruction and tragedy of war. In addition to this killing of several innocent people caught on camera, there were, after all, countless murders of young children as housing complexes and "hot" areas of Falluja were targeted and bombed.

The killings do, however, bring up an interesting question regarding the term "terrorism." We have been told that the current occupation of Iraq is part of a more general "War on Terrorism." And we are told that we shouldn't mince words: those who kill innocent people, even if they do so for the sake of some coherent political or religious objective, are "terrorists." My question is this: Will any news organization in the West ever refer to the Marine in the video as a "terrorist"? If he is arrested, will a news organization say that the U.S. has "arrested a terrorist" in Falluja?

Of course, we all know such a question is ridiculous. No U.S. person fighting for U.S. hegemony could ever be a terrorist under any possible scenario imaginable. Evidence might conclusively establish that innocent people have been tortured or killed, but such actions are always justifiable under the notion of American exceptionalism. Americans are intrinsically moral, ipso facto any perceived wrong-doing is a mistake--a momentary lapse in discipline. Of course, the whole argument breaks down if we simply remove a few adjectives and replace a few nouns with their equivalents. Can you imagine, for example, an news article reading, "Today a group of Iraqis stormed into a U.S. town in their drive to prevent the U.S. from developing more WMDs. Occupying a church, soldiers began executing unarmed civilians, including an unarmed elderly man who was lying down in the sanctuary of a church."

The Arab press is fuming over the incident. (The Bush administration seems to publish another Al Qaeda recruitment poster on a monthly basis.) What would our reaction be if the tables were turned?

A Relative Path has a good write up on this with links and there's also an article on this over on Al Jazeera. Truth Out informs us that "Top United Nations human rights official Louise Arbour has called for an investigation of alleged abuses in Falluja including disproportionate use of force and the targeting of civilians." See also Tom Dispatch's post on the "Carthaginian solution," a call to wait for the facts before commenting on this issue at A Texas Native, and a defensive apologia via Power Line.

17 November 2004

Misguided attempts to rescue Powell's legacy

The Bush administration has been so extreme in its disregard for quaint ideals such as justice and truth that any tactical aberration is immediately seized upon as a moderating force. We therefore have the spectacle of Powell being lauded for his efforts to talk sense to a power-drunk president. While it would be comforting to believe that there are powerful forces in the U.S. government working to bring the Bush attack dogs to heal, nothing changes the fact that government officials must be accountable for their actions. Powell lied. And he did so knowingly. After his U.N. speech, numerous inspectors (one of whom I personally heard speak at a conference) emphatically said that Powell made statements that everyone on the ground knew were false. Non-administration experts who weren't on a government paycheck pretty much unanimously agreed. So why should we let Powell off the hook? Do we let a drug dealer go if we learn that he urged his boss to reduce the shipment in order to avoid the danger of getting caught? Do we let the mafia thug off if we learn that he convinced his boss to break someone's legs instead of murdering them? Hell no. Powell actually deserves to be in a jail somewhere, but if that isn't possible, we sure as hell shouldn't honor the bastard as a "moderate." For this reason, I would disagree with the position put forth by bloggers such as Julie Saltman and Juan Cole. Julie said that while "it might have seemed like he [Powell] was just bowing to Dear Leader's every whim, but behind the scenes he played an important role in curbing wingnuttery and moderating the extreme policy coming out of the DOD." My position is that if you get in bed with the corporate-driven right-wing mafia running this country, you should have to pay the price when the posse comes knocking. Powell's opportunity to change his mind was before he accepted the job. Of course Rice will be much worse. But we shouldn't be reduced to simply choosing between the various shades of evil from among the latest gang of hucksters and sycophants.

16 November 2004

What else should I be...

In response to the Sorry Everybody website, an Apologies Accepted website has been launched.

War

Falluja in Pictures via DFC.

15 November 2004

Don't Axe the tree! Axe the Bush!

I'm alarmed by the plans that the corporate fat-boys have for some of the most pristine areas on the left coast. I know from my own travels along the Pacific Coast that the Siskiyou Wild Rivers Area and Smith River are paradise. The Smith River in particular is unbelievably picturesque with crystal clear pools flowing through very rugged country. The idea, constantly put forth by the big logging companies, that it's possible to cut roads and harvest trees without fundamentally changing an area is complete garbage. Areas that are logged never look the same. Even decades after the last logging trucks leave, logged out areas are marred by giant upturned stumps, dusty Cat trails, and heavy erosion.

Green Watch has the following report on upcoming Congressional attempts to further gut environmental provisions. Please write your congressman and help us oppose such schemes.

Ancient Forests, Salmon, Endangered Species Act Face Congressional Threat Next Week

When Congress returns next Monday, there is a strong chance that the Interior Department appropriations bill will be rolled into a huge omnibus spending bill.

There is an equally strong chance that an unprecedented logging provision will be included in that bill--a provision which will override a current judicial proceeding and give the green light to the largest timber sale on America's public lands in modern history.

Senator Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, has announced plans to attach a rider to the omnibus bill that will override all environmental laws and prohibit any judicial review for a post-fire logging project on the Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon. [1]

This would allow logging on ancient forest and roadless areas of up to 370,000,000 board feet of timber in a 20,000-acre area--enough trees to fill 74,000 log trucks. Citizens would have no right to appeal through the courts.

Also known as the Biscuit Project, such logging would endanger roadless areas, ancient forest reserves, wild and scenic rivers and salmon runs in the Siskiyou Wild and Scenic Rivers Area.

Federal agencies such as the EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as independent scientific experts, have said Sen. Smith's rider will likely increase fire risks in the area for up to 30 years. It would also retard the regeneration of old-growth forests. Sediment flowing into streams will choke fish spawning areas.

As much as 40 percent of the units mapped for logging contain live trees. Independent analysts have found that the logging project would cost taxpayers over $40 million, mainly on roadbuilding for timber industry trucks.

The Siskiyou Wild Rivers Area is one of the best remaining refuges for wild native salmon and steelhead left on the Pacific coast. The rivers and streams at risk support 27 runs for Coho salmon, spring and fall Chinook salmon, winter and summer steelhead, coastal cutthroat trout, green sturgeon, white sturgeon and Pacific lamprey.

The Smith rider, and the omnibus bill, appear likely to face Senate action next week. There are also reports that California developers are working to sneak in a rider that would seriously weaken the Endangered Species Act.


Don Knotts is Dubya

They've finally found an actor who can capture Bush's patriotic spirit and enlightened leadership! Check out Don Knotts is Dubya.

New Blog

I'd like to recommend Kevid Sites blog. Kevin is apparently a journalist in Iraq. His blog has a large number of pictures that really help one get a sense of what's going on there.

Powell

Powell resigned today. One lying SOB down and only a couple hundred more to go. Powell's career as a lackey and a liar began in Vietnam where he was probably complicit in the Mai Lai cover-up. As a major tasked with looking into the incident, Powell conducted only a cursory investigation and drafted a response on Dec. 13, 1968. He admitted to no pattern of wrongdoing. "Powell claimed that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were taught to treat Vietnamese courteously and respectfully. The Americal troops also had gone through an hour-long course on how to treat prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions." (Does this have a familiar ring to it?) Hopefully, we'll see his face again someday in front of a war crimes tribunal.



Other blogments can be found at Suzy's Blog,

Divorcees for Bush

The Veg Blog has an amusing post discussing the odd correlation between states with a high divorce rates and states voting for Bush. D.C. evidently has the lowest divorce rate and likewise the highest support for Kerry. Maybe the conservatives' enthusiasm for "family values" is because they have a greater need for them.

14 November 2004

Fallujah

At least 31 U.S. troops are dead in the Fallujah fighting. How many more are blind for life or paralyzed? And of course, for each dead American, there are about a hundred dead Iraqis, many of them innocent women and children, with thousands of others maimed for life. Other bloggers discussing the fighting include A Relative Path and Democracy for California. The Iraq Occupation Watch also has some good information.

10 November 2004

Attention Shoppers: Fig Leaves 50% Off

Many of you were perhaps looking askance at poor Karlo a few days back when I posted my comic on evolution. You were dismissing this as just one more derisive diatribe poking fun at ol' Joe 5-pack and his church-going friends. But give me some credit cuz I've been trying my darndest to keep an open mind about all this creationist biznus. In fact, I was surfin' the bloggysphere this mornin' when I comes across the following juicy morsel from yonder across the river. It seems there was recently a Creationist "Science" Fair that even gave out prizes. Its coveted second prize went to none other than the "scientist" who proved that women were made for homemaking! (Finally, proof to present to the womanfolks when they start gettin' uppity and refuse to do the dishes!) I quothe from yonder website :

2nd Place: "Women Were Designed For Homemaking"

Jonathan Goode (grade 7) applied findings from many fields of science to support his conclusion that God designed women for homemaking: physics shows that women have a lower center of gravity than men, making them more suited to carrying groceries and laundry baskets; biology shows that women were designed to carry un-born babies in their wombs and to feed born babies milk, making them the natural choice for child rearing; social sciences show that the wages for women workers are lower than for normal workers, meaning that they are unable to work as well and thus earn equal pay; and exegetics shows that God created Eve as a companion for Adam, not as a co-worker.

Do you remember the passage in Genesis when Adam asks Eve whether she really paid for that basket of apples from the local Wisdom Tree Quickie Mart? Well now we have some empirical data to back the biblikal view of thangs! Brilliant research, covering all the humanities, whether it be biology, or exegetics! Of course, by showing our appreciation for the 2nd prize winner and these new creationist insights into the purposes of the female physique, we shouldn't belittle other ground-breaking research, such as the discovery of sweet little Patricia who proved that wet charcoal briquettes don't come to life in three weeks (I guess that pretty well disproves Aristotles theory of autogenesis!)



So all of ya, put down those old Darwinian tracts you keep readin' and head on over to the Creationist Science Fair! For those who can't squeeze time away from your pagan rituals, you might want to get the documentary of a team of scientists who demonstrate that dinosaurs are just a few thousand years old. (Come to think of it, I think I do remember an Old Testament passage talking about how Noah had one hell of a time trying to get that pair of Allosaurs and T-Rexes on the ark.)



Also check out the Xtian application of Game Theory to Pascal's Wager. If God doesn't exist, the Xtian get infinity minus 1 whereas the athiest gets 1 minus infinity. (Please don't ask me to explain this. If I think about this again, I think my head will explode.)

Just like witches at black masses...

Hoorah! We're finally safe from terror and crime. Johnny D. Asscroft says so! And here I was thinking it would take Shrub 4 years to accomplish this. Does this mean the war on terror's over? Hmmm. I wonder what we should make the object of our next war . . . Now that we've already fought the war on poverty (Johnson), the war on drugs (Reagan), and the war on librarians (Asscroft), what's left? What's LEFT?



For other blogments on this, see Michelle Malkin, John P. Hoke's Asylum, and Cut to the Chase.

9 November 2004

Magic numbers

At Ease has an excellent post on what appears to be either numerous technical glitches, Republican duplicity, or a conspiracy of computers attempting to take over the earth. Quantum Philosophy and Pinko Feminist Hellcat also have postings on this along with relevant links.

8 November 2004

In fact . . .

According to today's news, Cobb County's school board has placed, on biology books, stickers that read, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." (Bold-face added). The school board is being sued by a group of parents who believe the disclaimers push the teaching of creationism and discriminate against non-Christians and followers of a number of other religions.

I don't know what everyone's so upset over. I think we should have these stickers on all our books. On astronomy books, we can place a sticker reading, "The idea that the earth goes around the sun is merely a theory, not a fact," (the Bible disagrees with this, after all). On journals describing the fundamental laws of physics, we can warn our youth that electricity is a theory, not a fact. (Isn't it God that said, "Let there be light"?) When students answer role call, they can qualify the statement, saying they are present only in theory, not in fact. (How do we know, for sure, if they're really there?) In fact, we should start a completely theoretical society, where we humor these Xtian fundamentalists in theory (but not in fact).

Other blogments on the Christists include: Arran's Alley, The Revealer, Democracy for California, Scrutiny Hooligans, Hot Acrombie Chick, The Blur Belt, and Cosa Nostradamus.

Spam Scams

Halifax Live reports that one of the top 10 spammers in the US has been sentenced to nine years in prison for illegal spam activities under Virginia's anti-spam law, while his sister Jessica DeGroot received a fine of $7500. The brother and sister team sent out thousands of unsolicited emails to AOL users. They were convicted for sending unsolicited junk email and forging their IP address. Reports indicate the pair earned around $24 million from their email scams. I think the stiff sentences are needed to send a message. Spamming may seem fairly innocuous stuff, but one has to wonder how much time is lost trying to deal with overstuffed email boxes full of ads for Viagra, and how many real emails are lost in the deluge.

Proposal for New Amendment

Instead of passing an amendment to allow foreign-born nationals like Arnold (who retains his Austrian citizenship, incidently) to run for president, I propose that we throw the electoral process open to everyone in the world. The world is, after all, often affected more by U.S. decisions than the U.S. citizenry is. Of course, such a move might mark a decided shift in American politics. Check out the map at Echidne of the Snakes.

Alas, 4 more years . . .

Kelly Kramer has a good post critiquing the latest attempts to explain away the U.S. torture of prisoners.

7 November 2004

Dealing with the Corporate Mafia

I recently attempted to quit my subscription to Audible.com. So I went to the website and after spending 30 minutes going through every link on their site, found out that there was no way to quit my subscription. But they did have two phone numbers, so I called these repeatedly during the middle of a weekday and later the next day but of course no one answered. The company also leaves no address or other means to quit their service. So I had to call up my bank and go through their long list of computer options in order to quit my automated payment to Audible. It's likely that the company will probably still bill me and perhaps even threaten to report me to a collector. Last month, I had the same experience when trying to quit Verizon. I sent them two letters saying that I wanted to quit, called them repeatedly (getting no answer) and finally, after spending many hours of hassle, managed to get through to someone who finally processed my cancellation after I threatened to sue. I don't know if I'm just having bad luck, but it seems like corporations are reaching new lows these days in their attempts to take our dollars. I can imagine some young overpaid kid with a Ph.D. in marketing standing in some boardroom somewhere next to a graph saying, "If you make it impossible for people to cancel, you will, on average, receive an extra two weeks in payments as they go through the hassle of trying to quit their service. This translates into an extra 2% return per annum." I can imagine the fat CEO clapping before he gets up to go on his golfing vacation in the Bahamas. My solution is to disengage from the U.S. corporate economy as much as possible. This kind of thing really pisses me off and shows me that there's really something wrong with our current economic system. The free-market response is that I should vote with my dollar but I simply don't have enough time in my life to spend weeks investigating consumer reports everytime I subscribe to some monthly service.