28 July 2004

Homer, a minister?

According to the Guardian, Springfield is going to start allowing gay marriages and one of the characters will soon be coming out! Homer, they say, will become a minister. The Simpsons need to do something. After Bart stooped so low as to appear with that low-life Tony Blair, I thought I'd have to stop watching the show.

27 July 2004

North Korean refugees

Over 200 North Korean refugees, said to have fled due to food shortages and famine, have recently entered South Korea (Donga News) and a couple hundred more are set to arrive. The flood of NK refugees has risen yearly since '94 with 312 entering South Korea in 2000, 583 in 2001, 1140 in 2002 and 1281 last year (Mainichi Shimbun). Far East (Japanese) has a detailed discussion of this news.

E-voting

BlogWood and other blogophiles have expressed concern over tinkering with vote counts in electronic balloting. On the other hand, some point to the tremendous reliability of electronic tallies used in commerce (e-banking, etc.) and insist that e-voting will be just as reliable. How do you out there feel about this?

P.S. Common Dreams recently published an article on this issue.

26 July 2004

Playing curve ball

The Washington Post has an eye-opening article on intel gathering prior to the current US war in Iraq.

The article discusses an email sent to Powell several days prior to his U.N. address stating that "all those sources are suspect or unreliable." The analyst received a dismissive response: "This war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say, and . . . the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curve Ball [the code name for the source] knows what he's talking about." This doesn't jibe too well with Powell's assertion, before the U.N., that "every statement I make today is backed by sources, solid sources."

Thanks to Last Day of My Life for bringing this to our attention.

More systemic deception

According to The Washington Post (7/23), the Army's IG claims denies that there were systemic abuses in US prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, we are told that there were 20 deaths considered to be due to confirmed or possible abuse (The Washington Post, July 23rd). I figure that if there were 20 cases that we know about, there must be numerous cases that were off the books. Military personnel, after all, aren't idiots: they know enough to keep things off the records whenever they decide to take the law into their own hands. Clearly, the abuse is systemic and therefore requires more than tossing a few enlisted scapegoats in the pokey.


The Sun (7/26) quotes the following from pp. 38-39 of the IG report:

"In a high-stress, high-pressure combat environment, soldiers and subordinate leaders require clear, unabmiguous guidance well within established parameters that they did not have in the policies we reviewed."

And in another passage:

"Tolerance of behavior by any level of the chain of command, even if minor, led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of abuse."

Perhaps the IG needs to read its own report!

Lies of mass destruction

Yesterday, I skimmed through Pitt's book (written with help from Scott Ritter) on the Iraqi War. With its clear analysis of the weapons inspections, this is a must-read for anyone hoping to understand the lead-up to the war. This book, along with testimony from other weapons inspectors and scholars, clearly proves that the US administration LIED about the facts on the ground in the run-up to the war.

For analysis of the US attacks in the Middle East, I recommend Stand Down.

Alive in the Bitter Sea

I recently skimmed through parts of Fox Butterfield's book China: Alive in the Bitter Sea. Butterfield was a New York Times reporter who lived in China after it first opened up. The book is an interesting read, but suffers from a number of serious defects. The major fault is in the author's basic attitude. Butterfield has a very patronizing negative view of the Chinese revolution and everything that followed. He constantly discusses the everyday difficulties of Chinese trying to "survive" (as he puts in) Chinese society. One gets the feeling that Butterfield has never visited another third-world country (although he in fact has) or that he is unfamiliar with the realities of poverty and life in the third world. Living in poverty is difficult and involves endless sacrifices.

The hidden implication of the book seems to be that China would be a giant Taiwan had it not become Communist (an idea that is constantly parotted by many right-wing true-believers). I have a hard time believing this. It is my understanding that the so-called Asian tigers actually got their start from war-profiteering (does this sound familiar?) during the Korean and Vietnamese Wars--it's unlikely that a large country like China would have enjoyed the same cozy status as supplier for the US war machine. What's far more likely is that a capitalist China would have gone the way of many South American countries with a huge gap between the rich and poor and an economy vulnerable to outside interference and manipulation. Such an economy may have produced more in the long run, but the benefits would probably not trickle down to the average Chinese citizen. As it worked out, the Chinese, under communism, were autonomous and able to develop a sense of self-confidence. This is not to say that Chinese communism did not have its problems, but any critique of it should fully acknowledge the backwards state of the country when the communists took over.

On a more minor note, I could point out the author's odd rendering of the original Buddhist meaning of the four-character phrase that forms the book's title. Butterfield says it means something like surviving the bitter viscissitudes of life (I can't find his actual words). I can't think of a less Buddhist sentiment. Does anyone know the originally meaning? (I think the Chinese would read something like Ku Hai Ju Sheng).

I, Robot gets a thumbs up

I recently saw I, Robot. For sci-fi fans like myself, the movie will be highly entertaining. The robot who is the lead character exhibits a subtle range of emotion and the plot is intriguing. The action scenes involving hundreds of robots are also very impressive.

24 July 2004

Sad numbers

A July 22 article by Kristin Roberts mentions that the income gap between rich and poor in Washington, D.C., is significantly wider than nearly every other large city in the United (based on a report from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute). In other words, the economic growth of the last 15 years has benefited the top fifth of the city's population, while doing nothing for the poor.

The sad numbers:
"The average income of the richest 20 percent of
Washington, D.C., households grew by 35.7 percent
during the last decade, while the average income
of the bottom 20 percent rose 3.3 percent."

"The average income of the city's richest residents
was almost 31 times higher, at $186,830, than that
of the poorest, at $6,126."

Greenspan, voicing the sentiments of his class, blames the poor for their lack of education and job skills (See Neil Henderson's article in the Washington Post). Schmuck's like Greenspan would have us believe that everyone in the US could be a CEO if they would just work a little harder and try to educate themselves. This is, of course, a completely ridiculous notion. A large, technologically advanced economy will always require people to fill labor and service positions. The issue here is not education but distribution. In our current economy, a large number of workers--people who spend their lives doing their part for the common good--aren't given their portion of the wealth that they help create. Most of the wealthy, on the other hand, do not work but live instead from "capital gains" (essentially, a tax on the poorer classes to support their lavish lifestyle.) The Republicans claim that their party represents the interests of those red-blooded Americans who work for a living. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, they represent the interests of lazy, non-productive segments of the population and are clearly against the people who actually work for a living. The numbers are deeply disturbing and U.S. leaders' failure to deal with this issue is reprehensible.

22 July 2004

Black holes

In the news, Hawkings has conceded his loss on a wager about black holes. He now admits that all information is not lost when matter gets sucked into a black hole. Does this new finding have implications for the Big Bang and theories of a cyclical universe?

Lunatics

Barking Lunatic has some funny quotes from those august figures on the right.

19 July 2004

American-style democracy in Iraq

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi shot dead as many as six suspected insurgents at a jail before the U.S.-led occupation coalition transferred political control to his government. Counterpunch has a good article on this as well. (Thanks to Orcinus and Abbas Kadhim for their mentions of this.)

An idiot's guide to starting your own prison

The New York Times today reports that 3 people from the US (Jack Idema, Ed Caravallo and Brent Bennett) are accused of running their own private jail in Afghanistan. In addition, the court accuses them of "robbing, beating and torturing their detainees." Some news writers (e.g., Nick Meo) have cast Idema as a soldier of fortune. For his part, Idema claims that he was in fact working with "a secret counterterrorist unit directly responsible to the Pentagon"--although this is denied by Afghan and American officials. 
 
When I read this, I'm trying my best to imagine any possible scenario in which a small group of Americans would decide that they had nothing better to do than head over to some dangerous area and open their own private jail. I mean, I'm just as much of an adventurer as the next bloke, and I can imagine tossing a knapsack on and heading off into the sunset for freewheeling fun, but would I go to Afghanistan to start my own jail. Is it just me, or is there something terribly fishy about this story? My guess is that the trio is, in fact, a CIA-backed group that has been formed to get beyond the scrutiny of governmental and civilian oversight (particularly, in the wake of Abu Ghraib), but that the group's secrecy ended up getting them in trouble since the local authorities had no idea who they were.  The lesson I think is that powerful intelligence agencies like the CIA that operate in the black are intrinsically inimical to democracy. The People, after all, cannot evaluate government actions and choose whether or not to support such actions if these actions are secret.
 
Black Coffee blogs the following:
 
Last December I wrote a very complimentary review of a book called 'Task Force Dagger: The Hunt For Bin Laden." It followed the war against the Taliban as led by several small groups of Green Berets.
It's principal author was Robin Moore, but he had two other contributors, including J.K. Idema who "is a Green Beret who fought with the Northern Alliance for ten months in Afghanistan and had extensive experience with the British SAS in the 1970s and 80s."
 
JB's Sanctuary provides some info on Idema's background:
 
According to some in SF he was never SF Qualified but was a Rigger in 11th group (A national guard SF unit that was deactivated in the early 90s). He was also involved in some shady things that got him thrown in jail. His claim to fame is finding videos by Al Qeada.

A Special Forces website also recounts some rumors, etc., about Idema.

There are related articles in the Khaleej Times Online and Aljazeera. The Liberty Forum has both an article and extensive reader comment.

15 July 2004

Will we have another rigged election?

As Kamikaze Kumquat mentioned, there has recently been a discussion about suspension of the US elections in case of a terrorist attack. This is chilling talk, considering the administration's past record on attacking democratic freedoms.

13 July 2004

Causes and conditions

Flogging the Simian has an interesting set of links to "dictators and butchers who have been financed and supported by the United States in the last 60 years." Those in the US should try a few of these links. After all, Americans need to develop a sense of history that goes beyond the previous 2 or 3 years. While everyone rings their hands over the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, this begs the question: The fact is, the US supported that damn Saddam for years because he was willing to attack Iran who was angry with the US because the US supported the tyrannical regime of the Shah who... The chain of karmic cause and effect goes on ad infinitum. The point is America isn't the great moral power that's going to make the world "safe" for anything. The same laws of class conflict that have been in play throughout history did not suddenly disappear in 1776. To get beyond the harrowing horrors of history we need to have a proper analysis of history--where we are, how we got here, and where to now. No rich Texan's going to ride in on his horsey and save us.

12 July 2004

Wolves in fox clothing

Peking Duck blogged that there's a new documentary called Outfoxed ($10) about the Fox "News" Network. It's about time. I occasionally watch Fox as entertainment when I'm at the gym and I'm both amazed and saddened that there are enough ignorami in America to keep the network going. And even though this purported "news" show runs an endless editorial without a single objective fact offered in support, Joe Five-pack somehow thinks he's getting informed about the world. Actually, one could get much more objective reporting by walking down to the local barbershop or bar and listening to the twaddle and chitchat.

10 July 2004

The Clearing

Today I watched The Clearing, and I must say it's right up there as one of the worst films I have ever seen. I almost went up to the theater manager and asked for my money back--it was really that bad. The film never introduces the characters. At the end, one still is left wondering who the members of the family are and why they're included in the film. The plot is so banal and trite without a single scene of even the slightest interest. I kept thinking, okay, something interesting's going to start happening now--it never did.

I suppose a more superior movie reviewer might mention the film's nicely Republican subtext: A rich guy gets kidnapped by a poor guy. The poor guy wants to be like the rich guy and doesn't realize that he needs to stay in his place (Redford's character actually says something like this at some point). Perhaps the bad guy is supposed to be like Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita and simply wake up to the fact that being a poor schmuck in the divine play is the best he can hope for as this represents his dharma.

At the end of the film, my wife and I tried to figure out why it was called "The Clearing." I think they might show a clearing for a few seconds, but beyond that, I don't think there's any connection. "The Clearing" is clearly crap.
.

They're a bringing it on...

Judging from the high casualty count (see Informed Comment), the situation in Iraq seems to be unraveling as the insurgents continue to "bring it on." Incidently, the US press keeps referring to these fighters as "terrorists." Does this word really have any meaning anymore? Does anyone have a definition that consistently explains its usage? Is anyone fighting the US ipso facto a "terrorist"? Has there been, or will there ever be, an anti-US "freedom fighter" or a pro-US "terrorist"?

9 July 2004

Edwards

I'm glad to see Edwards on the Democratic ticket. Edwards talk of the "two Americas" reflects an economic reality supported by a helluva ladda hard data. I don't know if Edwards and Kerry can come up with anything to solve the widening gap between the haves and the working poor, but they can't do any worse than Bush--the frontman for wealthy interests. And of course Edwards can help compensate for Kerry's milquetoast persona.

4 July 2004

Too much shrubbery

In the news today, we learn that Shrub wants to build more roads through wilderness. As someone who hikes, I know for a fact that there is a clear correlation between access to an area by car or boat and the amount of trash. If someone has to backpack into an area, there's only so much they can carry, but once cars can come in, you get everyone with their 4X4s, 6-packs and Fritos, and the wilderness starts looking like the back lot of a MacDonalds. On the other hand, roads do help large corporations extract the wealth off of public lands. Perhaps the wealthy folk will toss a few Frito crumbs and empty beer cans from their limos to us poor backpacking folk as they drive by.

2 July 2004

Paul Bremer in the Emerald City

A recent article by Daniel Sneider discusses the extent to which Paul Bremer has been out of touch with what's going on in Iraq. Bremer claims, in the New York Times, that less than 2 percent of Iraqis think it would have been better had the US never invaded. A recent poll, however, puts the number at almost 60%. Let's see...that's just a 58% (or a 30-fold) difference. The math ain't too good. Perhaps when our buddy Paul was a little tyke, he was one of those unfortunate children who was "left behind." Or perhaps he spent all his time talking to wealthy Iraqi exiles over there in the Green Zone. (The name Green Zone is a bit reminiscent of the Emerald City, don't you think? The logic of the Bush folk's war-talk also has a certain Oz-like quality to it as well.)

War talk

Today I read Robin Lakoff's article --"War Talk" (in The Iraq War and Its Consequences, 2003). Lakoff looks at Bush's rhetoric in terms of the Aristotelian categories of ethos, pathos, and logos.

1. Ethos
In her discussion of ethos (i.e., efforts to convince listeners that one is trustworthy, etc.), Lakoff claims that Bush's speech is designed to appeal to a constituency that is uncomfortable with gender indeterminancy (a constituency that has grown due to the post-9/11 yearning for the good ol' days when men were men and sheep were afraid). Bush's malaproprism, use of nicknames, and informal posture are all designed to project "manly" qualities; whereas the informality also serves to ensure people that the Bush folks have got things under control.

2. Pathos
Discussing pathos (the sense of I'm one of you and we ain't like them), Lakoff talks about the frequent identification of disagreement with disloyalty (a good example given is the ACTA pamphlet). Needless to say, such an identification is meant to discourage dissent.

3. Logos
Under logos (rational discourse), Lakoff discusses the famous 16 words ("the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."). Lakoff points out that Bush did not express his assertion as "the British claim" or "the British say." Use of the term "learned" implied that the U.S. knew this to be true (underlying truth being part of the semantics of the word "learn.") A particularly interesting part of Lakoff's article is her discussion of the shift in meaning of the terms "Free World" and "revisionist history" as used by Bush. Lakoff points out that the former originally meant countries opposing the Soviet block while the latter meant those who denied the Holocaust. Bush now uses "Free World" in a completely vague and meaningless way. (Is Saudi Arabia part of the Free World? Is Pakistan?) Revisionist politics is now being used to mean anyone opposing Bush's view of things. This is a particularly interesting use of language since it effectively denies the very possibility of debate with the insinuation that the Bush view of the world is somehow unquestionable by all but those who wish to "deny history." Along these lines, Lakoff also discusses the odd mismatch of speech acts that gives us Wolfowitz telling us that the reason given for the war was the only one that members of the administration could agree on (Since when are justifications created by being stated?) Another example is the administration claim that hostilities are over (How can one announce one's opponent's surrender?)

Lakoff's sociolinguistic analysis of the Bush war-talk is interesting, particularly in light of all the Republic handwringing over Fahrenheit 9/11. We are told that it is unpatriotic and that it does not "support the president" but isn't the fundamental idea of a democracy that people debate and discuss issues.

A final quote from Lakoff:

"In a simple definition, patriotism is supporting your country; treason is undermining it. But who decides what 'support' and 'undermining' mean?"

1 July 2004

Iraq blogs

I ran across Nabil's blog today. It has a good list of Iraq-based blogs.