31 May 2005

The expendable class

The juxtaposition of Bush's denial of human rights abuses with a criticism of Putin in a single news story is too good to resist. On the one hand, we have the American president who has instituted a system by which anyone anywhere can be arrested, held, and even killed without a trial and without anyone finding out about it. On the other hand, we have the arrest of the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And which of these situations does Bush find offensive? Well of course, the arrest of a wealthy tycoon!

To understand this, we have to know something about class consciousness. For the wealthy elites, the ragtag bands of mercenaries and minor characters held in Guantanamo and similar sites around the world are viewed as members of another class and are therefore non-people. If some mistakes were made and someone who was actually an aid worker was picked up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, then so be it. It's all just a small price to pay for maintaining the current order.

But when a rich cat's arrested, we hear a wholly different tune. Suddenly, the U.S. president is moved to compassion for this single Soviet citizen who (perhaps) was wronged by a justice system motivated (gasp!) by political ends! How Shrubby-boy keeps a straight face through all these histrionics, I know not. Hell, we've got an entire foreign policy that's been hijacked by political ends (i.e., elite interests)! And we're supposed to worry about the fortunes of Russian tycoons. I say, let the Russian tycoons defend themselves. They've got their armies of mafia toughs and high-paid attorneys. I'd rather worry about kids with their arms blown off in the name of oil profits. For some reason, when I draw up my list of people to be concerned about, the top-ten list isn't occupied by Russian tycoons. But then I'm not of the same class as Shrub. And just as he sees me and my class as so much cannon fodder, I feel that he and his fellow oil men and Russian tycoons are quite expendable. If that's what it takes to make the world safe for democracy.

Kunstler's take on the peak-oil crisis

Grist magazine has published an interesting interview with James Kunstler , the author of the book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century. Kunstler is a petro-pessimist who predicts economic, social, and environmental decline due to the end of the cheap-oil era. I've read The Party's Over by Heinberg, and generally agree with the disturbing predictions of the petro-pessimists . Cheap oil is clearly running out, and coal, the other major fossil fuel, will not fill the gap. (Of course, the Shrubs of the world will still tear down every mountain in sight trying to get at it.)

The current oil wars are a sign of things to come: instead of working towards a more sustainable (albeit, initially somewhat austere) future, current leaders are going to fight to the finish for every last drop of petroleum. It's sad. Right now we could be working together, employing massive amounts of people, to build an energy infrastructure that would last as long as the Earth itself. With good leadership and planning, we could be creating the world of tomorrow. Instead, we're fighting over the decayed remnants of yesterday.


For an alternative view, take a look at Crumb Trail and the Ergosphere.

29 May 2005

Understanding bosses

Talking Points Memo has a post that should be required reading for all who aspire to responsible citizenship. The post discusses Walter Pincus's WaPo article detailing how two intelligence analysts "responsible for what is probably the single greatest screw-up about Iraqi WMD (the aluminum tubes issue) have received job performance awards in each of the last three years." I wish all the rest of us had such understanding bosses. We'd all be CEOs by now.

27 May 2005

Schapelle Corby

Indonesia has sentenced Schapelle Corby, an Australian woman, to 20 years in prison for possession of marijuana. Now I can understand that nations want to establish their own laws in keeping with their culture and that sentences can be harsh to discourage certain behaviors. But I've been to Indonesia, and I hardly found the country a pristine paradise ruled by the iron rule of law. Everywhere I went, I saw thugs harrassing people within sight of police stations. At virtually every store (and once, even in a bank), I had to remain constantly watchful as people tried to rip me off. Indonesia is probably one of the seediest nations on the face of the earth, a place where officially-sanctioned crime is rampant. It's clearly ruining this lady's life as a way to thumb its nose at the West. It should adopt more rational methods like flag-burning.

I found this article on Indonesian corruption on STL Today:

INDONESIA, it is said, is a place so corrupt that would-be police officers have to bribe their way into the police academy. Bribery is so common that it even has an informal price list - so much for a drivers license, so much for a deed, etc. At the average business, 10 percent of costs go to buying off government officials, according to a 2002 survey by the University of Indonesia. As The New York Times reported in January: "It is taken for granted that no one does business in Indonesia without paying bribes, routinely disguised as 'consultants' fees,' to government ministers and heads of agencies, many of whom have retired with hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed in accounts in Singapore and elsewhere." The nation is a kleptocracy - a government by thievery. So it's not very surprising that minions for Monsanto spread more than $700,000 around the greedy hands of Indonesian officials. The surprising thing would be to find a major business that succeeds in Indonesia without greasing the bureaucrats.

Other blogments can be found at: GuruAnn, Australia Blog, and Johnnie Moore's blog.

Remembering the unremembered and dismembered

Daily Kos has an excellent Memorial Day post providing the names and stories of the fallen. In this case, the fallen are innocent Iraqis. Also check out The CIA's advice to the Iraqi resistence on Lenin's Tomb and the Memorial Weekend edition atNews for Real.

26 May 2005

Koran desecration revisited

Those "idiots" at Newsweek had their story about Koran desecration all wrong, I'm sure. But now we just happen to find out about five cases (substantiated by U.S. officials) in which military guards or interrogators mishandled the Korans of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. We are assured however that there was "no credible evidence" to confirm a prisoner's report that a holy book was flushed in a toilet. In three of the five cases cited, the mishandling appears to have been deliberate.

Why isn't the military able to prevent these incidents from occurring? One reason is the deep racism and prejudice against Muslims that is found virtually everywhere nowdays. The other contributing cause is the tremendous secrecy and wide latitude provided by the administration.

We're now in a situation where people in charge can do anything anywhere without oversight. The past practice of fabricating incidents to justify war is evidently too time consuming. We've entered the bizarro era of "the war on terror", a war conducted against an indefinite enemy for an indefinite time. Does anyone envision a day in the future when some U.S. president will declare this "war" over? Will desecrating enough Korans make fundamentalist terrorists stop? Will it reduce their recruitment abilities? I'm quite certain that those pulling the strings couldn't give a damn. For them, terrorism is actually welcome as it provides an excuse for any action at any time--actions that have nothing to do with Saudis carrying pepper spray onto aircraft and everything to do with some rich people's bank accounts.

What to do about Bolton?

Poll
Bolton in 2008! (We need kick-ass leaders to punish brown heathen)
Who cares! (The UN's a rubber-stamp organization anyway)
It's all right with me! (We need further material for Leno)
No on Bolton! (At least, not until he gets his hair styled)
Hell no! (Send him to international cell at Abu Ghraib)
Free polls from Pollhost.com



P.S. Well the votes are in. Nine say send Bolton to Abu Ghraib and one wants to see him in power in 2008.

A real-life Jurassic Park?

How would you like to run into one of these on your next alpine hike?




Live Science: Scientists with the Mammoth Creation Project hope to find a frozen woolly mammoth specimen with sperm DNA. The sperm DNA would then be injected into a female elephant; by repeating the procedure with offspring, a creature 88 percent mammoth could be produced within fifty years.

"This is possible with modern technology we already have," said Akira Iritani, who is chairman of the genetic engineering department at Kinki University in Japan and a member of the Mammoth Creation Project. However, the DNA in mammoth remains found to date has been unusable, damaged by time and climate changes. "From a geologist's point of view, the preservation of viable sperm is very unlikely, and this is so far confirmed by the poor condition of cells in the mammoth carcasses," said Andrei Sher, Russian paleontologist and mammoth expert.

Woolly mammoths became extinct about 10,000 years ago as warming weather reduced their food sources. Although only about a hundred specimens have been found, as many as ten million mammoths are believed buried in permanently frozen Russian soil.

Irtani has already picked out a preserve for living mammoths in northern Siberia; this "Pleistocene Park" would feature extinct species of deer, woolly rhinoceroses and maybe even saber-toothed cats, along with the mammoths.

In his novel Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton popularized the idea of using dinosaur DNA taken from mosquito-like insects trapped in amber to create a Jurassic Park of recreated dinosaurs. Unhappily for the Pleistocene Park planners, both books and all three movies ended badly for most of the participants, including the investors. Also, astute scientists are already pointing out that these experiments would merely create mammoth-like creatures, not mammoths themselves. This wasn't pointed out until the third movie in the Jurassic Park series.
Read more at
Woolly Mammoth Resurrection.

25 May 2005

Here comes the Sun

I've never been a fan of The Sun. Even so, I must support their current suit against the Maryland Governor (Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.), who has banned two Sun journalists. In the end, this is a fight over principle. Those in the media are also beginning to realize what's at stake: a coalition of the nation's leading news organizations (the New York Times Co., The Washington Post, the Associated Press, Time Inc., CNN, the E.W. Scripps Co. and Advance Publications Inc.) have thus decided to support The Sun with a 27-page amicus brief stating that "the First Amendment is designed to protect the press and the public against governmental attempts to restrict speech disapproved of by those in power," and "yet the Governor's order, by his own admission, seeks to do precisely that: he seeks to coerce journalists into providing coverage that is pleasing to him on pain of being subject to an official boycott if they do not." The brief goes on to state the implications of the governor's ban: "In short, the retaliation against The Sun's reporter and columnist has an undeniable chilling effect on all those who report on the affairs of Maryland state government."

Thanks to Cut to the Chase for pointing to this story.

Other blogments...

The Hedgehog (regarding those who submitted the amicus brief): Cripes, I don’t think I could have put together a group of news orgainzations more liberal than this group if I tried. The only thing you could do is add CBS and Newsweek into the mix and you would have a clean sweep of every liberal news orgainzation in the country. Seriously, is it really any surprise that a cabal of liberal news orgainzations is backing The Baltimore Sun in their fight with with a Republican Governor?

Isikoff

Michael Isikoff (who allong with John Barry wrote the recently retracted Newseek story) appeared in an interview on MPS yesterday. While acknowledging a "mistake," he basically made the case that the tremendous secrecy surrounding Abu Ghraib and other prisons makes it virtually impossible for the public to get any information about what its government is doing. This is an excellent point. Future history books will marvel at the U.S. public's willingness to give its government a carte blanche to set up secret incarceration centers around the world where people are held incognito.

As for blaming Isikoff for the riots, it's ridiculous. Why not blame the administration responsible for setting up the situation (Abu Ghraib and the nebulous "war on terror")?

Whirled View has good analysis of the political machinations behind the Pakistani riots.

24 May 2005

Them halliburton blues

Eight U.S. soldiers have been killed in the last 2 days, thirteen since Sunday. In the last month, over 600 Iraqis have died. Democracy Now has a good article on how the administration has kept the grisly reality of war from the public eye.

Ransomware

As if spam, spyware, and worms weren't enough, hackers have now developed a new class of crime involving "ransomware." Hackers surreptitiously lock up the files on your computer and then demand money to get the electronic key required to convert the files back to their original state. In a recent ransomware attack, the hacker demanded $200 for the electronic key. ($200! Some pimply teen with a video arcade addiction is clearly behind this.)

A poor player

. . . that struts and frets his hour upon the stage . . .
Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Perhaps I should ask the government to send me some of those blue pills. I simply can't get excited listening to the recent durm and strang over the filibluster rule. I must confess: the filibuster has always struck me as an odd relic of representative democracy. And if the tables were turned, and the Green Party were suddenly in power facing a straggling group of unpopular Republicons that were "abusing" the filibuster to thwart the progressive legislation that the Greens were "ramming" through the legislature, I'd be hopping up'n'down with true moral indignation.

Even so, I can't help but chuckle, watching the conservatives get all bent out of shape over this issue. Just a few years back, they were great fans of the filibuster, causing dems like Lieberman to threaten legislation to do away with the rule. So it's really hard to take any of these people seriously. And now there's talk of a compromise! I think the best solution is to pass a law getting rid of the filibuster. (To hell with Senate traditions!) But let's have the law take effect one or two decades from now. Hopefully, the Greens will be in power by then.

I enjoyed reading this post at A Freethinker's Paradise: Frist's solution to the current stalemate on judicial nominations is a "simple return to the 200-year of tradition on judges." Frist's memory and history are obviously selective. It was just five years ago, in March 2000, that Frist himself participated in the filibuster against Paez after Lott finally overrode the Smith hold. In light of the ferocity with which Republicans stonewalled Clinton's nominees, Frist's entire case folds; the 10 nominees filibustered by Democrats hardly compare to the 65 Clinton nominees denied a vote by the Republicans' under-the-radar procedural maneuvers.

Other blogments: Peter Levine, American Street, Nashville Truth, Slate, Rambling Taoist, and Teddy Carroll

23 May 2005

Balance as bias

Think Progress has an excellent example of the media's use of "balance" to create bias:

The media - desperate not to appear biased - tries to create balance between competing points of view in each story. This kind of artificial balancing act is, of course, it’s own type of bias. But people tend to get less upset about it, so the media is less concerned.

A perfect example is the coverage of Sen. Rick Santorum’s remarks Thursday night, when he compared opponents of the nuclear option to Hitler. The media couldn’t allow itself to report Santorum’s comments in isolation. Rather, reporters paired Santorum’s comments with those of Frank Lautenberg, who compared filibuster proponents to a Star Wars character named Palpatine.

Click here to read full article.

20 May 2005

Central-Union of International-Terrorists Associated

King Bush has stated flatly that you're either with us or against us. Evidently, this standard applies to terrorists as well. Recently, we learned that Luis Posada Carriles, a 77-year-old "anti-communist" known for his plots to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro, was actually living in the U.S. Our amigo Posada, a former CIA operative and Venezuelan security official, is wanted for the 1976 bombing of a civilian airliner that killed 73 people. The response of U.S. authorities? They want him to be deported to another country!

Isn't this a bit harsh? I mean, this poor hombre has probably just purchased a nice suburban home and pool. His kids are probably just getting settled into life at their private school. Undoubtedly, Luis has already made a large number of friends in this country. Que triste es decir adiós! The government should be a little more understanding, don't you think? Is this anyway to treat a loyal employee?

We've had the case of Noriega and Saddam. And now this relatively minor character appears in the cast of terrorists hired and fired. Clearly, something's wrong with the system. I think the only way these foreign CIA operatives are ever going to get any respect is to organize. In other words, they need to come together collectively into a union. The recent spate of hirings, firings, and dilatory deportations are the sounds of an industry crying out for regulation. How are any of these hirelings to plan for old age and retirement if they are subject to deportation simply for offing a bunch of innocent civilians? I therefore propose the founding of a well-funded union, which could be called something like Central-Union of International-Terrorists Associated. The union could be well-funded by government coffers and operate in secrecy to prevent encroachments into the terrorism subcontracting industry by foreign ne'er-do-wells or fly-by-night operations.

Other blogments (many from the right): Babalu, Rocinante, Derek Rose, The Common Ills, Anything that defies my sense of reason, Sed Contra and Majority Report Radio.

And then there was this excellent post on Wizzlhead (posted below with my comments in black):

Luis Posada, Terrorism and America

"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." -- George W. Bush, 9/20/01

There is an interesting test of character brewing somewhere between South Florida and Washington, DC right now. As reported in
this morning's NY Times, "Luis Posada Carriles has spent 45 years fighting a violent, losing battle to overthrow Fidel Castro." Emphasis on the violent. Posada has snuck into the US and is seeking asylum. And it seems to me that this serves as a time to pause and consider American involvement in the world over the last forty years.

An excellent time indeed. This happens as so-called "pundits" keep suggesting publicly that the American people need to be willing to "get their hands dirty." Try telling that to the bereaved families.

The Times article discusses a bombing in Havana that killed an Italian visitor, a bombing to which Posada has admitted. It also mentioned that he "remains a prime suspect in the bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner that killed 73 people in 1976" and was convicted in Panama in 2000 of a bomb plot against Fidel Castro. He has been shunned by all of his other bad guys friends, and snuck into the US about six weeks ago. He is now seeking asylum. This will be an interesting time to test the Administration's understanding of the words "terrorist" and "harbor".

Confucius wisely claimed that benign government begins through the rectification of words. How can we have a war on an enemy when the definition depends on the decade and which corporate interests are under consideration?

Posada is a relic of a bygone era. Like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, he was on the CIA payroll for years, mostly during the Cold War. In the name of freedom the American government sponsored and encouraged Posada, Hussein and bin Laden. There were times when they were our allies. We liked them, we called their activities "freedom fighting" and we provided them with significant financial and military resources.

A bygone era? Oh, if only.

bin Laden was fighting the Soviets. We propped him up with cash and weapons. Similarly Hussein hated the same people we did. First it was the Qassim government and a small communist party in Iraq. So we propped him up with money and watched as he slaughtered 800 political activists. Then, in the 1980's, when he was willing to invade our enemy Iran, we provided Hussein with cash, as well as
chemical and biological weapons. (Don't miss the irony).

I'm afraid this analysis refers to events more than a year old and is thus no longer valid. If I could just get the government to reinsert those old memories back into my brain...

Unfortunately, these guys don't just go away. As is most often the case, the reason they are willing to commit acts of terror against the people we don't like is because, well, because they are terrorists. And when they stop being our allies we must figure out what to do with them. bin Laden was easy - he stepped out of line when he started killing "us" instead of "them". Very bad. Must stop him. Saddam Hussein...well, apparently he just stopped being of use or Donald Rumsfeld changed his mind or something. Still trying to figure that one out.

Or perhaps it simply becomes convenient to attack another country in which case past virtues suddenly become vices.

The Posada case is a little more unusual. He is more old school. Posada is the kind of terrorist they made movies about in the 1970's. Maybe 73 people died in that plane crash. We know that one foreigner died in the Havana bombing, but that seems small now compared to events like 9/11 and Madrid. Plus, he still doesn't like Fidel Castro, and we still don't like him, do we?

18 May 2005

Is the film "gone" or "dead"?

Today I went out and saw The Interpreter. In spite of my low-brow plebian taste in film, I can't say that I was overly impressed. The movie is, for the most part, standard Hollywood fare: stereotypical plotlines about African violence and pop-psychology served up on standard-sized plates. Nicole Kidman, as pretty professional blessed with a good heart and head, looks like she's got one or two more plastic surgeries left before she's forced to accept the realities of aging. Sean Penn, normally brilliant, seems a bit miscast. Fortunately, the movie's creators had the sense to avoid tossing too much romance into the mix. I suppose the film is watchable--if you go with low expectations, have seen the other films currently offered, have an attractive date, and an afternoon to kill.




The film's most memorable line: "Vengeance is a lazy form of grief."

16 May 2005

Raking through the muck

Newseek has retracted its May 9th story (penned by Michael Isikoff and John Barry) on the abuse of prisoners through desecration of the Koran. The story is purportedly responsible for riots in the Muslim world that resulted in numerous deaths.

Unfortunately, much of this muckraking story remains mired in muck. Even after the apology, I'm still a tad confuzzled regarding the exact object of the magazine's contrition.

There's been a great brouhaha over the fact that the almightly Newsweek published a story on the basis of a single source. Get real folks. The U.S. administration started an entire war without even a single source and never suffered from pangs of conscience. (An excon with an axe to grind, Chalabi, can't really be called a "source" by any measure.) So the paucity of sources clearly can't be the problem.

Did the source lie? This is possible. In this case, the magazine should clearly be penitent. It exercised somewhat poor judgment. Of course, other similar news stories, along with numerous nitwit natter heard among servicemen decrying the Muslim heathen, would give us every reason to believe that such things happen. People shoving baseball bats up teenagers' butts or piling prisoners into naked piles may (just perhaps maybe) lack a certain sensitivity to religious diversity. But rumors, and rumors of rumors, do not a good story make.

Do the Newsweek people still believe their story? This is perhaps the most damning alternative. In this case, they are simply knuckling under because some sensational news--designed to stimulate their sales--may in fact hurt their sales. If this is true, the reporters and editor deserve condemnation from both the left and the right.

Was the Newsweek article the chief cause of rioting and deaths in the Muslim world? Those who believe this need to lay off the Afghan poppies. The Muslim world's distrusts and hatred of the West has long been a-simmering. Those seeking to focus this resentment, transforming thoughts into deeds, grab onto any incident that comes their way as the latest cause cé·lè·bre. Decades of local corruption and Western collusion have created a vast stretch of political oil slicks just waiting for some sparks to ignite them. The Newsweek article is simply the latest spark. There will be more to come.

Other blogments:

Vox Popoli: Isikoff's decision to risk inspiring this level of violence over something that may never have happened is irresponsibility of a shocking degree.
Ace of Spades: If Newsweek can shoot from the lip and run a thinly, anonymously sourced story just because it "feels right" to them-- then why the f*** can't I?
Paul Marshall: Even if Newsweek publishes a full retraction, the damage is done. Much of the Muslim world will regard it merely as a cover-up and feel reconfirmed in the view that America is at war with Islam. It will undercut the U.S., including in Afghanistan and Iraq, far more than Abu Ghraib did.
Scared Monkeys: I think that Isikoff and Barry should sent over to the areas that are rebelling and see the results of their work. Maybe personal interviews with the families that lost loved ones because they rushed a story.
Emigre with Digital Cluebat: "Newsweek Lied--People Died" is not just a catchy slogan, it's a truism.They did not hold to the basic journalistic standards, and as a result, at least 15 people have DIED, hundreds more have been injured, and international relations have been set back at least a year.
Gateway Pundit: This sloppy news service has spat on the beautiful land that Timothy John Clifford, my Great Grandfather escaped to back in the late nineteenth century from Ireland, so that he wouldn't starve.
The Poor Man: There is little reason to doubt the substance of Newsweek’s story (the US is fine with torturing suspects to death - why wouldn’t they mess with a book?), and Newsweek hasn’t admitted any significant error.
Larry J.: Bush may not be Jewish but the man and his minions have taken Chutzpah to new heights.

The sanest response I came across was that of Cul over on Ratboy's Anvil:

I say to the Muslims who would kill people over such a thing...f*** you, you morons...you're as bad as the xtian monsters who kill abortionists thinking they are doing God a favor. Its a f**king book! Grow up!

And last but not least, there's an article on The Raw Story (via Cut to the Chase) that begins:

Contrary to White House assertions, the allegations of religious desecration at Guantanamo published by Newsweek May 6 are common among ex-prisoners and have been widely reported outside the United States, Raw Story has learned.

Several former detainees at the Guantanamo and Bagram airbase prisons have reported instances of their handlers sitting or standing on the Quran, throwing or kicking it in toilets, and urinating on it.


Where the Newsweek report likely erred was in saying that the U.S. was slated to acknowledge desecrating the Quran in internal investigations, and in relying on a single anonymous source to make grave allegations. But reports of desecration are manifold.

The article ends with numerous links to overseas articles reporting desecration of the Koran.

15 May 2005

Uzbekistan

America's former coddling the the Uzbek dictator provides yet another clear example of the true nature of American hegemony. Don't get me wrong. Unlike many on the left, I don't see American diplomatic decisions as being primary immoral but rather as amoral. In other words, as guided by concerns (corporate interests, etc.) that don't have the slightest connection with oft-cited ideals such as democracy or human rights.

Lenin's Tomb weighs in on the latest crisis:

The uprising in Uzbekistan is one revolution that won't be branded. The State Department has no word for the protesters, about 500 of whom were murdered by the government led by Islam Karimov. This is the very same regime ex-diplomat Craig Murray accused of boiling dissidents to death and torturing thousands of people each year - the regime is much more cruel and vicious than the former Soviet one.

P.S. And then there's this from The Observer (link via Loaded Mouth):

America gives $10 million a year in aid to the Uzbek security services and police, agencies which it says indulge in torture as a 'routine investigation technique'. Murray said: 'The US will claim that they are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation techniques, but that is basically not true.

'They help fund the Uzbek security services and give tens of millions of dollars in military support as well.' He said the money was a 'sweetener' in return for the Uzbeks allowing the US to have an airbase in the southern town of Khanabad, vital for operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

13 May 2005

The bottom line

A research report by EMarketer Inc. claims that "the economic impact of blogging is minimal" and thus warns companies to be wary of investing resources and time in producing blogs. This makes perfect sense to me. Why should businesses have blogs? The appeal of blogs, after all, is precisely the fact that they aren't commercial, that they represent people's thoughts, unfiltered by concern for profit.

Curves, swerves, and nerves

Curves

Its always fun to watch the class smart-aleck get egg on his face. Especially, if its a high-calorie fried egg with maple syrup dripping off it. It's therefore no surprise to see a number of bloggers (e.g., Dr. Sanity) gleefully note the backpedaling of the CDC in its anti-obesity efforts. The CDC has recently acknowledged that their numbers linking obesity and premature death were grossly mis-stated and that being overweight was "associated with a slight reduction in mortality relative to the normal weight category."

Nerves

So the message we are supposed to take home between our big mac buns is that the scientists, as always, have got it wrong once again. Fat is good. Skinny bad. Or translated into more abstract economic terms: the privileged elites are virtuous; the poor are boneheads. This is, of course, good news for me. I like to eat just as much as my conservative brethren.

Even so, I have a hard time believing that these revised numbers really represent a revelation. There is, after all, a helluva lot of good science that shows a connection between obesity and a number of diseases. Diabetes and heart disease are good examples. And I'm not so sure that someone's ability to survive their youth or middle age necessarily means they are healthy.

And if we turn from examining early death and look at longevity, the revised numbers seem pretty meaningless. The best way discovered so far to prolong one's life is to have good living habits (not smoking, etc.) and to eat an extremely limited diet. (We're talking about a calorie intake that most Americans probably consume during a single meal.) Studies on rats show that this significantly extends the animals' life spans. Evidence (albeit largely anecdotal) from people who have adopted this diet show that the diet also works for human beings. Dietary traditions from around the world also support this. One of the most common themes of Asian dietary health regimes is an extremely sparse diet (in Korean, soshik).

Swerves

So what's behind the sudden media blitz claiming that fat is where it's at? If we look into the matter, we find (surprise, surprise) that the pro-fat stories have actually been backed by the U.S. food and restaurant industries! The recent full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers were paid for by the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is predominantly funded by restaurant chains. The group recently spent about $600,000 on ads, which appeared in the New York Times, WaPo, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune.

Ad campaigns may influence the Fox crowd, but they won't alter basic human physiology. The CDC spokesman Tom Skinner continues to insist (rightly) that the CDC was not wrong in its earlier opinion regarding the general dangers of obesity. Skinner has pointed out that it is a "well-known fact that obesity is also contributing to other well-known leading causes of death including cancer and diabetes."

11 May 2005

Rycroft memo

The press has uncovered yet another smoking gun. (Of course, the discharge from smoking guns is so heavy at this point that it wouldn't even pass muster under Shrub's environmental initiatives.) The latest revelations come from a memo written by Matthew Rycroft, a Downing Street foreign policy aide, and is dated July 23, 2002. The memo includes the following gems of forthrightness of which we are so unaccustomed:

Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

This "fixing of the facts around policy" bears on odd resemblance to the ubiquitous criticisms of Bolton. But back to the memo:

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the U.N. weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

Like most of my fellow plebes, I don't like to be lied to. Especially when it results in needless deaths and a huge drain on my pocketbook. On the other hand, we may want to simply ignore this latest smoking gun. After all, the initial portion of the memo informs us that "this record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made." So I guess we should be loyal citizens and turn our eyes away. We wouldn't want to stare at our revered leaders as they piss on the bushes.

Bush report card

The following has been brazenly plagiarized from Cut to the Chase:

The center for american progress issued a report card for president bush. The numbers below are for 2000-2004.

the financial markets
s&p 500 -15%
nasdaq -36%
dow jones -5.3%

consumer income and expenses and standard of living
price of a gallon of gas +46%
real value of the minimum wage -7%
median household income -4%
average cost of 4-year public college +24%
poverty rate +11%
americans filing for bankruptcy +33%
annual increase in prescription drug prices (from 4.1% t0 6.8%) +68%
number of americans without health insurance +18%

federal finances
federal debt +39%
monthly trade deficit +75%
annual trade deficit +53%

the dollar
dollar versus euro -30%
dollar versus yen -11%

consumer debt
home mortgage borrowing +100%
total outstanding consumer debt +28%
household debt as a percentage of assets: +20%
household debt as a percentage of gdp +21%

According to the Financial Times, real wages in the US are falling at their fastest rate in 14 years.

We could of course add to this that this last year saw more terrorist attacks worldwide than we've had in the last two decades. And then there's today's news about Shrub's success at establishing stability in the Middle East. "Insurgents are averaging about 70 attacks a day this month, up from 30-40 in February and March, said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq."

New Addition to the Blogroll

I've added Blogger Radio to the Swerve Left blogroll. This site has excellent commentary on important issues and legislation affecting the country. I especially like how the writers provide links in their stories to actual house vote counts, and so on.

10 May 2005

New news blog

The Huffington Post has finally been launched.

5 May 2005

Bush goes to hell

In the future, Bush goes to hell. When he gets to the check-in desk, he finds the devil staring at a computer screen with a look of consternation. "You've definitely been sent to the right place," the devil says in a professional tone, "but I'm afraid we don't have any room at the moment." Clicking out of the current window, the devil rubs his goatee. "I'll tell you what I'll do. At the moment, we have quite a few residents who really didn't do much wrong. I'll send one of them out to free up a space just for you." Bush shifts to the right nervously. "And to make up for the inconvenience, I'll let you decide who gets to go."

So the two wind down a narrow passageway filled with bitter smoke, until they come to a room. Inside, Richard Nixon can be seen flashing a peace sign. Just as he does so, he's engulfed by the flames of a napalm explosion. As he dissolves to ash, his body is resurrected only to suffer the same fate. Over and over and over. But that's just the way hell is, you know.

Bush turns to the devil. "I like the being born again part, but I've never been much for peace signs. I think I'll have to pass this one up."

The devil bruskly turns away and the two wind down a smoke-filled passageway to the next room. Inside, they see Ronald Reagan hiding behind a small shrub with a tiny stick. Before long, a monkey sneaks up behind him and bites him on the butt. Reagan runs after the monkey only to be bit by another one. And the cycle repeats itself. But that's just the way hell is, after all.

Bush shakes his head. "Being kind-of from Texas, I like small shrubs. But I've never much cared for nature or wild animals. I think I'd like to look at another room."

The devil, clearly growing impatient, motions for Bush to leave the room. The two wind down a long smoky passage until they come to a large room filled with rat feces. Inside the room, Bush sees Noriega, Chalabi, and Allawi standing still with rat feces up to their necks. The three slowly sip cups of coffee as they nibble on small pretzels. Bush scratches his head as the devil impatiently taps his hoof against the stone floor. At last, Bush turns to the devil and boldly tells him, "Well, it ain't the type of high-class living I'm accustomed to. But I do like pretzels and an occasional cup of coffee. And my companions, although they're criminals, were all former friends of the American administration. I think I'll take Chalabi's place."

Chalabi happily jumps out and washes off as Bush wades in up to his neck. He's soon brought a small cup of coffee with a pretzel, which he carefully starts munching on. The devil then locks the door and starts heading up the stairs. Before the two are fully out of sight, Bush hears an announcement over hell's loud-speakers. "Coffee break is now over. Back on your heads."

Mission accomplished

Recruitment's down; high-ranking military officers themselves admit that American military readiness has been compromised; worldwide terrorist incidents are the highest they've been in two decades; Iraq once more has convicted felons and known killers occupying key government posts; prospects for Middle East peace are now more remote than they have ever been; nations are rushing to get their hands on nukes as quickly as possible; U.S. debt, according to Greenspan, is getting out of control; U.S. conservatives are fondly reminiscing about the McCarthy era and the Salem witch-hunts; the U.S. has now set up secret concentration camps around the world where people are taken without trial to be sodomized, tortured, and killed; and the internets are humming with the drone of domino theories (never a good sign) .



Yet rest assured that victory's right around the corner.

4 May 2005

The plot thickens

According to an AP article by Badger, a judge has thrown out England's guilty plea, eliminated her plea bargain in the process. The decision was evidently made due to inconsistencies in her story and the testimony of Graner (the reputed ringleader of the abuse). The case will now be sent back to the grand jury.



A military judge on Wednesday threw out Pfc. Lynndie England's guilty plea to prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, saying he was not convinced that she knew her actions were wrong at the time.

Col. James Pohl entered a plea of not guilty for England to a charge of conspiring with Pvt. Charles Graner Jr. to maltreat detainees at the Baghdad-area prison.

The mistrial for the 22-year-old reservist, who appeared in some of the most notorious photographs from the 2003 abuse scandal, kicks the case back to the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding.

The action came after Graner, the reputed ringleader of the abuse, testified as a defense witness at England's sentencing hearing that pictures he took of England holding a naked prisoner on a leash at Abu Ghraib were meant to be used as a legitimate training aid for other guards.
Other photos showed England standing next to nude prisoners stacked in a pyramid and pointing at a prisoner's genitals.


When England pleaded guilty Monday, she told the judge she knew that the pictures were being taken purely for the amusement of the guards.

Pohl said the two statements could not be reconciled.

"You can't have a one-person conspiracy," the judge said before he declared the mistrial and dismissed the sentencing jury.

Under military law, the judge could formally accept her guilty plea only if he was convinced that she knew at the time that what she was doing was illegal.

By rejecting the plea to the conspiracy charge, Pohl canceled the entire plea agreement. During defense questioning, Graner said he looped the leash around the prisoner's shoulders as a way to coax him out of a cell, and that it slipped up around his neck. He said he asked England to hold the strap while he took photos that he could show to other guards later to teach them this prisoner-handling technique. At that point Pohl halted Graner's testimony and admonished the defense for admitting evidence that ran counter to England's plea on the conspiracy charge and one count of maltreating detainees.

The judge did not discuss the other five counts to which England had pleaded guilty. Graner, who is said to be the father of England's infant son, was found guilty in January and is serving a 10-year prison term for his role in the scandal. In a handwritten note given to reporters Tuesday, Graner had said he wanted England to fight the charges.

"Knowing what happened in it was very upsetting to see Lynn plead guilty to her charges," he wrote. "I would hope that by doing so she will have a better chance at a good sentence."

Graner maintains that he and the other Abu Ghraib guards were following orders from higher-ranking interrogators when they abused the detainees.

Got gas?



A picture's worth a thousand words.

3 May 2005

Decry corporate censorship

Evidently, Amazon has been censoring reviews of the childrens' topselling book "My Pet Goat." But don't worry. Some of the reviews can be found here. As a rabid conservative, I think it's simpy unacceptable that the liberal geeks at Amazon are practicing this terrible treading on our Constitutional rights. My Pet Goat is, after all, a great read, which has been an intellectual staple of great leaders past and present.

Bad news is no news...

Back in the day, my mamma always used to tell me, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." I guess the U.S. government has taken this maternal advice to heart. As mentioned by Sick of Bush, the State Department has decided to stop publishing an annual report of terrorism incidents. Of course, this decision just happens (wink, wink) to coincide with an increase in terrorist attacts to the highest level since the report began (1985)! Don't worry though. I'm sure Big Brother B will start sharing documents with us again eventually as soon as there's some more positive news to report.

2 May 2005

Wit vs. halfwit

CNN reporters recently fell over one another in praising the mirthful exuberance of the wife of our great leader. Mahself, I don't get it. I keep looking through my copy of the Constitution and have yet to find mention of the post of "First Lady." Not that the First Lady doesn't serve a function. I suppose the conservatives have to pretend to give the womenfolk some power to keep them from gettin' too uppity.

This being the case, I think we'd do a lot better to simply bring back the position of Queen. We could, from the outset, simply select a family with good genetics (Britney Spears and her uberfrau progeny come to mind) that has the requisite washed-out blonde look and comforting heartland smirk. We could then call off the war in Iraq for an hour and use those millions to send the new Queen Britney around the country on a whirlwind tour, to charm the plebes and woo those worrisome workingclass wankers that are drifting away from the rightwing fold. After a short time, the proceeds from fan magazines and tabloid interviews would probably pay for the new position, and we could blow the whistles and return to war in Iraq--but with a renewed sense of purpose and a helluva lot more glamour.

In the news...



American woman arrested by Department of Religious Security for wearing excessively colorful burka. (Or something like that.)

Brain pills

The debate over drugs in sports is a common one. But recently we're hearing more speculation over drugs being used to enhance mental prowess in games such as chess. Of course we all do this to some extent already with our super-caffeinated Lattes on the way to work. But the idea of drugs becoming common for cognitive enhancement is a bit scary. Will high school kids soon have to be tested prior to taking their SAT tests? Will Ph.D. degrees be revoked after discovering that the person was shooting up modafinil prior to the oral defense?

Lynndie

Lynndie England, our pranksterish little homegrown torturer of the infidels, is expected to plead guilty today to four counts of maltreating prisoners and one count of dereliction of duty in a plea bargain. If we could now just get the prosecution to follow their investigation up the chain of command, we could get to the real culprits--Rummy and Shrub.



(Lynndie, burkaless.)