31 July 2005

Anti-Americanism and disrespect

Former President Jimmy Carter said today, while in Birmingham, England, that the detention of terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay Naval base was an embarrassment and had given extremists an excuse to attack the U.S. Carter also criticized Shrub's War as “unnecessary and unjust.” Here are some reactions from across the blogosphere:

From On the Stump (who apparently hasn't seen a poll for the last couple years) we have the following:

Well, thank you Mistah Cahtare (if you’re in your 30’s or older you might get that humor). If the terrorists weren’t already using Guantanamo Bay as justification for terrorism, they certainly will now. I think the last election proved that “the will of the American people” is strongly with the President, NOT with the liberal anti-war protesters and the “blame America first” crowd. The anti-American crowd is the minority in this country, as evidenced by a Republican president and a Republican majority in both the house and Senate. Therefore THEY are outside the mainstream. They are the extremists.

Evidently, criticizing official policy is "anti-American" and "extreme."

At the Sandwich Shop, we're told that former presidents and other sheeple should remain silent out of "respect" for the office:

Carter has been described as "the best former president America has ever had." In fact, Carter is a stellar example of why presidents should be euthanized as soon as they leave office. From the earliest days of the Republic, it has been the tradition that former presidents stay silent about their successors, out of respect for the office.

And you always wondered what happened to those people who slept through Civics class . . .

The lies don't mellow with age

Riverbend talks about listening to a recent Bush speech on Iraqi TV:

E., a younger cousin, and I were sitting around in the living room, sprawled on the relatively cool tiled floor. . . . 9/11 and the dubious connection with Iraq came up within less than a minute of the beginning of the speech. The cousin wondered whether anyone in America still believed Iraq had anything to do with September 11.

Bush said: “The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September 11, 2001.”

Do people really still believe this? In spite of that fact that no WMD were found in Iraq, in spite of the fact that prior to the war, no American was ever killed in Iraq and now almost 2000 are dead on Iraqi soil? It’s difficult to comprehend that rational people, after all of this, still actually accept the claims of a link between 9/11 and Iraq. Or that they could actually believe Iraq is less of a threat today than it was in 2003.

We did not have Al-Qaeda in Iraq prior to the war. We didn’t know that sort of extremism. We didn’t have beheadings or the abduction of foreigners or religious intolerance. We actually pitied America and Americans when the Twin Towers went down and when news began leaking out about it being Muslim fundamentalists- possibly Arabs- we were outraged.

Now 9/11 is getting old. Now, 100,000+ Iraqi lives and 1700+ American lives later, it’s becoming difficult to summon up the same sort of sympathy as before. How does the death of 3,000 Americans and the fall of two towers somehow justify the horrors in Iraq when not one of the people involved with the attack was Iraqi?


The same speech is discussed on Informed Comment.

30 July 2005

This perfect day

There's a lot of interesting news lately on the technology front. The Japanese have developed an android that looks like a full-grown woman. (It's time to sell those stocks in the blow-up doll company, folks!) The robot, Ms. Repliee Q1 has flexible silicone for skin rather than hard plastic, and a number of sensors and motors to allow her to turn and react in a human-like manner. She can even flutter her eyelids, move her hands and breathe. Will some company soon be selling a colony of to well-heeled lonely men?

Then there's a new device called a PSP browser that can be used to watch downloaded movies, surf the internet, or play games. The new device will make it easier to fill those few empty minutes away from the tube with worthwhile activities such as TV watching or video-games (or blogging).

The path to fascism

Cut to the Chase mentions an important article that recently appeared in the Star Tribune. It appears that the FBI has been building massive files on Greenpeace, the American Civil Liberties Union and other law-abiding critics of administration policy. The FBI has declined to state its reasons for gathering some 3,500 pages of documents and when asked to provide copies, says that it would take too long (evidently, DC has yet to get a Kinkos).

So why should we care?

For one thing, this subversion of government entities for purely political ends is one of the first steps on the road to fascism. The Bush administration has started us down this road in a number of ways: (1) the subversion of the CIA's mission to serve administration ends, to include creating small working groups within the CIA to tailor intelligence; (2) the use of the FBI to monitor, infiltrate, and intimidate protestors and administration opponents--even when these groups are small and peaceful; (3) the creation of vague legal loopholes and precedents that undermine domestic and international law and make it possible for the president to rule by fiat--for example, the open-ended "war on terror" which eliminates Constitutional limits on the president's power to make war and the ability to arrest "enemy combatants" which makes it possible for the president and his agents to arrest anybody anywhere in the world without providing justification or a trial; (4) the use of obvious deception accompanied by a wink, which the rightwing goes along with under the assumption that these lies are essential to a robust foreign policy that would otherwise be easily thwarted by liberal passivity; (5) use of pre-emption as a standard policy with the Orwellian rhetoric of offensive military campaigns actually being defensive; (6) a rhetoric that stresses fascist notions of patriotism, exceptionalism, morality, and revenge against "barbaric" acts over the notions of legality, fairness, and due process (concepts that form the basis for democracy).

One aspect of Nazism's history that should be kept in mind by the rightwing (as well as those working in the FBI, CIA, U.S. military, and so on) is that the early supporters of Hitler (even the Wermacht itself) were ultimately undermined by the Nazi regime. (Everyone should read a copy of Bessel's Nazism and War.) We should never assume that it can't happen here. The men in brown shirts (people like Tancredo, Bush, and Cheney) are always waiting in the wings until the next terrorist attack or other event provides an opportunity.

29 July 2005

Super-hunks and uber-chicks

A European dating service, BeautifulPeople.net, is launching in the U.S. The new dating community will allow members to vote on whether to let in people based on how they look. You can also be accepted if you have "professional qualities" that "stand out" (wealth). An applicant's photo and profile is posted for three days during which time it's graded by members of the opposite sex on a four-point attractiveness scale that ends with "No! Not at all!" (About 14 out of 15 people are rejected). The idea of creating a dating superior race of super-hunks and uber-chicks was apparently pioneered by HotOrNot.com, where visitors scroll through photos assign scores of 1 to a perfect 10.


(P.S. The irony of this post following a post on intentional communities isn't intentional.)

28 July 2005

Eco-communities

One fantasy I've had is to live in an "intentional community." I'm fully aware that living with others is often a hassle and communities often break down for various reasons, but I still feel that strong communities (planned or otherwise) bestow enormous advantages. I recently came across (via Where We've Bound) the website for the Dancing Rabbit Eco-Community, which is attempting to develop a more sustainable model for living in what seems like a low-key, balanced way. Their website lists links to other such communities throughout the world. Does anyone out there have any personal experience they'd like to share about living in such a community?

The Poor Rich Man: A tragedy made for Hollywood

The wealth lobby is in a frenzy again, in its attempt to rid the nation of the oh-so-burdensome estate tax. We are given images of small-time farmers, hoe in hand and sweat on brow, having to sell the family farm to pay the evil IRS. It's a story made for Hollywood. When the movie's made, however, the producer should add the caveat--"any resemblance to real events completely coincidental."

A new study by the Congressional Budget Office recently examined estate tax returns filed by farmers and owners of small businesses in 1999 and 2000. The numbers that will owe estate tax with the generous exemption scheduled to take effect in 2009 will have dwindled to 65 farm estates (yes, 6 tens 5 ones) and only 13 would not have enough cash to cover the bill.

Factcheck.org points out that the amount of extra taxes paid out on the small number of estates that are elligible is actually much smaller than ads suggest. Unrealized capital gains (being subject to capital gains taxes) are not taxed again, for example. And as with other tax codes, the wealthy do a pretty good job of hiding their income from the taxman anyway.

Of course, some might ask why we'd want to tax the wealthiest more anyway. Shouldn't the wealthy be able to keep their hard-earned money? Putting aside for the moment the question of whether it's "hard-earned" or not (owning a hotel chain or making money on rent of assets hardly strikes me as "hard-earned"), there's the question of who has contributed what to create wealth. When someone owns a hotel chain or a transport company, they "consume" publicly funded resources at a much greater rate than does the average person. The local police in many cities log many hours protecting the hotel, answering calls there, guarding the bank holding the hotel's deposits, and so on. The roads, traffic cops, snow-removal tractors and so on that make the transport company possible also come from public funds. So in a sense, the creation of wealth is never due to the actions of a single individual. So is it too much to ask that those who have benefitted most from the existence and maintenance of the country's infrastructure and other networks give back some of this money? In place of the 13 poverty-stricken farmers, the ads should feature the millions of poverty-stricken workers who contribute so much and get so little in return.

Around the blogosphere

  • Frog in a Well and Crooked Timber have a good discussion of Jared Diamond and his seminal work Guns, Germs, and Steel.
  • The Old Revolution has an interesting post on neo-McCarthyism in Pennsylvania universities. (Perhaps Zinn has it right when he claims that the ghost of McCarthy has always haunted this country.)
  • Long Sunday advocates reading Virginia Wolf (perhaps my favorite author) in order to understand the distraction of the modern mind.

In praise of Greek democracy

The latest cast of the usual suspects (Bayh, Hagel, Kerry, Frist, etc.) are already gearing up for a presidential bid. In other words, they're already sending out the cards asking what kinds of gifts they'd like for their birthday from their corporate sponsors. I say we scrap the whole process and revert to an ancient Greek form of democracy. Let's simply draw lots representing citizens throughout the realm and select whoever's name is picked to lead the country. Then we could enjoy the novelty of free leadership that hasn't been bought and paid for at our expense.

Reflections on the latest poll numbers

Public disillusionment with the Shrub and Shrub's War continues to climb. According to USA Today, 51% now agree that Bush misled the public on WMDs. (The other 49% didn't respond since they thought the term WMD was an abbreviation for the new MacDonald's happy meal.) Americans (58% to 37%) feel that the U.S. won't be able to establish democracy in Iraq. In other words, the current occupation will lead to a situation similar to when the war began--except that weapons inspectors won't have secure access to sites, the country will be in shambles, and terrorists recruitors will be having a flood of applicants (in inverse proportion to the dismal recruiting picture in the U.S.) In spite of these results, over half of respondants (53%) still believe it wasn't a mistake to send troops to Iraq. Does this make sense? The war won't create democracy and was based on massive deception yet is good?! Maybe the poll takers need to give Americans a reading and attention test before taking the poll to make sure they're able to ponder more than two facts at a time.

27 July 2005

Wayback machine

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal has an article about Google archives and the Wayback Machine. The latter allows people (for example, attorneys and so on) to search an archive of snapshots of the internet at different points. While useful, one problem I see with such a technology is the ability it gives people to delve into others' past in order to dig up dirt about what they said years ago. At some point, there should be a statute of limitations on our condemnation of people for prior beliefs or statements. (It's awful to think that I might be held accountable for what I say here, on my blog, decades from now when I become president.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I recently took my nephew to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The film wasn't my choice (it's one of those plots I never cared for) and in this case, my expectations were spot on. The film is extremely obnoxious and disturbing with a completely forgettable music score. Depp (Charlie) delivered a bizarre performance. I think this is the first time I've seen him in such a bad film.

Only the lonely

Have you ever looked at the plastic gizmos sold in those in-flight magazines on the airplanes. I still can't quite figure out the demographic being targetted--those in economy-class who still feel they have a few more splurges left on their credit card before declaring bankruptcy? But then I came across some items by Noam Toran designed for lonely men (no, not a doll) that recreate some of the memorable aspects of romantic relationships. My favorite one is the Sheet Stealer which winds the bedclothes up into a tube attached to the side of the bed. Once woken by the cold, the sleeper can curse and then pull the sheet out again so as to reclaim it. And what would bachelor life be without a rapid-fire Plate Thrower for those who miss the excitement and passion of those late night romantic discussions. Then there's a chest-hair curler as well as an alarm clock that awakens you by flicking a strand of hair across your face. And you thought that all they made were floating beer holders for your pool.

26 July 2005

Praise for Aahnold

I always like to kick sand in the face of poor Aahnold, so I suppose I should give him credit when credit's due. The governator is promoting legislation that would encourage healthier food and drinks in California schools, including a bill that would extend a statewide ban on soft drinks from lower grades to high schools. I'm all for this. The second schools start taking in corporate money, they get addicted to it and soon find it impossible to operate without it.

Opening doors for the memory-challenged

Evidently, being in a leadership role is not a very memorable experience. Or maybe Shrub felt that it was important to open up positions to those with disabilities such as being memory-challenged. Because it seems that Mr. "I-can't-remember" John G. Roberts Jr. not only belonged to the Federalist Society, but was in the conservative legal organization's 1997-1998 leadership directory (WaPo). Now I know nothing about this secretive organization, but doesn't it count as a strike against the nominee's character that he use such a lame fib when asked about it? Is this the type of person who will uphold the Constitution with integrity, unaffected by his personal views? Or will he also find it difficult to remember certain passages of the Constitution and other legal precedents as he hears cases?

24 July 2005

Tancredo vs. the girly men

A few days ago, I discussed the remarks of Tancredo, a Colorado congressman, who told a radio show host that the U.S. could "take out" Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalist terrorists attacked the country with nuclear weapons. Most bloggers on the left rightly condemned the remarks, whereas the right-hand sector of the blogosphere was, for the most part, silent, treating Tancredo like a slobbering drunk uncle at a family reunion. But sure enough, the remark did find its fans among its intended audience. Thus The Anti-idiotarian Rottweiler, in a post titled Killing Them Softly With Hugs and Bunny Rabbits, argues that this kind of balzy comment is just what our wimpy nation needs. Let's take a look at this morsel of rightwing wisdom:

It looks like Tom Tancredo's remarks about keeping Mecca and Medina on the list of targets we just might decide to turn into dust in response to a massive terrorist attack (radioactive or otherwise, it doesn't really matter, we can do both without breaking a sweat) . . .

I guess real men do it with plutonium--gives the gals that nice glow the next morning. (And if any of the radiation ends up in our wheat fields, we'll just wolf it on down with our Wheaties).

. . . has turned a bunch of otherwise sensible bloggers into shrinking violets embracing the philosophy of "can't we all just get along" that has served us so well in the past (just don't tell that to the ghosts of the 3,000 victims of 9/11. They might get upset, the bloody unnuanced primitives).

I guess all who oppose attacks on religious sites are hippy flower children (I keep hoping to meet some of that lost tribe). I suppose the Muslims living in the U.S. should get with the program. Either embrace bombing your religion's most sacred site or switch religions to something more Amerikan. (And we ain't talking about Hopi kachinas).

Of course, it's most likely because it's been so long since we conservatives had somebody we could offer up as a sacrificial lamb proving our "fair" bona fides.

What??? Offer up Bush. Or Cheney. Or Rummsfeld.

We'd hate to think that it was because our fellow conservatives knew less about fighting a war to win it than your average jelly fish knows about nuclear physics.

I'd agree with you on this one. Of course, the librals are even less capable of winning wars. But you're right. The Republicans, while willing to raze cities, torture prisoners, pre-emptively attack countries, cook intelligence, rig elections, enfeof excons, and engage in all sorts of other nasty Republican dirty tricks, haven't completely mastered the art of war. So where should they turn for the ultimate strategy? How about Hitler? He wasn't a girly man. He was quite willing to give an order to obliterate entire peoples (the Jews) and political groups (the communists and socialists). He even foresaw the mass murder and removal of entire nations (the Russians) until he was stopped by sheer Russian tenacity. Hitler, Tancredo--these people aren't jellyfish. On the other hand, there are a few of us who wonder what in the hell has been "won" after a certain line has been crossed. When we start targetting entire peoples or religions, the current democratic experiment (or more accurately, the illusion of attempting such an experiment) is gone.

Someone quoted on the above-mentioned site wrote the obvious sane response:

The idea that the US would retaliate in such a manner should be repulsive to any rational person, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.

To which the manly Rottweiler replies:

Why? You throw out the rules, we throw out the rules as well. I've said it a million times before, but let me say it again: I'm not in favor of initiating brutal measures, but I sure as Hell won't hamstring myself by voluntarily stating that I won't respond in kind, no matter what the enemy decides to do.

I can guarantee that right now, some Muslim fundamentalist is sitting in a Mosque before a crowd of young men saying, "The Westerners came to the Middle East and occupied our countries, stole our resources, bombed our cities and mosques, and are now attempting to destroy our way of life. I've said it a million times before, but let me say it again, I'm not in favor of initiating brutal measures, but . . . "

The same logic is being used: There is a vague "they" out there called the West and everyone who is part of "they" and not part of "us" is collectively guilty.

Racism and nationalism have fueled the establishment of "great" empires (that is, mass-murder campaigns), whether it be the Mongol Hordes or the Europeans slaughtering native Americans as they crossed the plains. The vitriolic nonsense spouted forth from some rightwing blogs shows that old ideas truly die hard.

Lest I make it sound like all conservatives have swerved off the road into the ditch, take a look at Blundapundit's well-reasoned post (final excerpt below):
Congressman Tancredo repeat these three easy words ... "I was wrong." Consider this an intervention. I'm taking away your shovel so you can't dig any deeper! I'm going to help you remove your foot from your mouth ASAP! Believe me I'm an expert at the latter! Apologize and move on to more credible theories or be marginalized as one of the right-wing nut jobs that should be run out of Washington at the next election. I know if I was a Republican Coloradan from your district I would be working against such a foolish man. A "leader" who cannot see the error of tying retribution on a faith's holy sites to the actions of nut job factions of that faith should not even be leading a Boy Scout troop let alone be a representative in the Congress of this great country.

Conyers press release

Congressman Conyers (Michigan) has put out a press release on the Downing Street memos and Rove leak. The end of the PDF file lists some of the administration’s engagement in harsh retaliation tactics when confronted with the slightest criticism or inconvenient facts:

February 25, 2003
Former General Eric Shinseki told Congress the DefenseDepartment’s troop estimate for occupying Iraq was too low. He said that "several hundred thousand troops" would be needed. Rumsfeld responded that Shinseki’s comments were"wildly off the mark."Rumsfeld then named Shinseki’s successor one year before the end of his term, making the general a lame duck commander.


July 14,2003: When Ambassador Joe Wilson told the truth about the Administration’smisleading claims about Iraq, Niger, and uranium, the Bush Administration did notrespond with facts. Instead, they publicly disclosed that Ambassador Wilson’s wife was a deep-cover CIA agent. Leaking her identity was in apparent retaliation for her husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s New York Times op-ed detailing Bush’s fraudulent claims about Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium in Niger.

January 13,2004: Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill releases his book The Price of Loyalty, where he charges that plans for going to war by the Administration in Iraq were discussed in the earliest days of Bush’s presidency. A formal investigation is immediately launched in an attempt to charge O’Neill with wrongdoing in the use of classified documents. O’Neill is subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

March 21,2004: Richard Clarke (a 30 year civil servant whose career spanned Republican and Democratic administrations) releases his book Against All Enemies, in which he asserts that the Bush Administration was overly fixated on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. A propaganda campaign is subsequently launched in an attempt to retaliate and discredit him. Mr. Clarke is accused of "profiteering" and "perjury." Vice President Dick Cheney states, "[Clarke] was moved out of the counter-terrorism business over to the cybersecurity side of things" and "Well, [Clarke] wasn’t in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff.

In addition to the brief, a number of Townhall meetings are being called across the U.S. to discuss the Downing Street memo and the blogging community is getting together at http://www.afterdowningstreet.org.

On the Iraqi elections and being "just a little bit pregnant"

When a delicate child forms in the womb, a woman isn't just a little pregnant. By its very nature, pregnancy is an all-or-nothing sort of thing. Likewise, commitment to democracy is either complete or non-existent. You can't support democracy only if people elect the candidates you prefer. But the Bush administration would like to have it both ways in Iraq. According to an article in The New Yorker by Seymour Hersh, Bush approved a covert plan to channel funds to Iraqi candidates in the run-up to the January elections. A State Department official confirmed that there was an effort to provide direct funding to certain candidates. We've now learned that the issue went to high levels and was approved by high officials in the State Department and by others in the Bush Administration, in the late spring of 2004.

For people familiar with U.S. history and the CIA's activities, this condition of "being just a little bit pregnant" with democratic zeal should come as no surprise. The CIA has been fixing elections all over the globe. In Iraq, a country infected with suspicion and cynicism, this hardly seems like an auspicious beginning for the birth of democracy. But putting Iraq aside for the moment, Americans need to look deeply into their red-white-and-blue hearts and decide if their commitments are to democracy or to the maintenance of an international empire. Or are we all just a little bit pregnant with our ideals?

23 July 2005

Is Iraq really improving?

CNN just ran an in-depth special on Iraq. I can't say the program really offered any great insights. Experts basically all came on to say that things might get better or might not. I'm sure they're right. As Aristotle would concede, X will either equal Y or not equal Y. (Will our weathermen now start telling us that it will rain or not rain tomorrow?) The program did manage to find two Arabic speakers who interviewed families and average middle class people about the country's prospects. The male reporter, discussing his experience, did say at one point that he didn't talk to a single Iraqi who felt the situation was getting better. The remark sort of stood out. Sites such as Chrenkoff keep running these long list of statistics and firsthand reports suggesting that Iraq is rapidly becoming some sort of economic and democratic wonderland. The stats cited by CNN, on the other hand, all claimed that unemployment was up and electricity availability was down, and that the insurgency was still very strong. Something's amiss.

Looking for life in all the wrong places

SETI was set up in order to look for extraterrestrial life. In my view, the questions that this organization are asking and the work they're doing are more fascinating that the grandstanding designed for television direction that NASA's taking under Bush. The question of life out there is interesting no matter what answer we find. If there's really other intelligent life, it would offer us a glimpse into another culture that developed independently from our history and natural environment. And it would quite possible offer technical knowledge as well as spiritual wisdom necessary for the longterm maintenance of life on Earth. If the rest of the universe is void of life, it raises tantalizing questions about what would make our planet unique among so many. The people at SETI have always assumed that life would be found around a star like our sun. Recently, however, there's been speculation that life might form around a long-lived (and dim) M-star, in spite of the fact that planets circling such stars are tidally locked (always have one hot side facing the sun and a cold side facing away).

From space.com:

With the latest discovery of a "Super-Earth" around a dim, red star 15 light years from Earth, SETI scientists have been pondering the implications for their search for intelligence on other worlds. "This planet answers an ancient question," said Geoffrey Marcy, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and leader of the team that discovered the planet, which is seven to eight times the mass of Earth. "Over 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Epicurus argued about whether there were other Earth-like planets. Now, for the first time, we have evidence for a rocky planet around a normal star." Team member Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington emphasized the similarity between this most recently detected planet, located around an M star called Gliese 876, and our own world. "This is the smallest extrasolar planet yet detected and the first of a new class of rocky terrestrial planets," he explained. "It's like Earth's bigger cousin."

A Second Chance

For astronomers pondering the possibility of life outside our solar system, the discovery is especially promising due to the sheer number of M stars in our galaxy. "The overwhelming majority of stars are M dwarfs--hundreds of billions in our galaxy alone. This suggests that there could be enormous numbers of planetary habitats capable of sustaining life," said Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute.
But the mere existence of rocky planets isn't enough to ensure the evolution of life. One critical requirement, according to Shostak, is having enough time for life to get underway and then develop into something interesting. "Unlike Sun-like stars, which burn for 10 billion years and then die, M dwarfs live much longer -- as long as 100 billion years," he noted. "So if such stellar runts can occasionally spawn life, the majority of that life will be far older than the biology of our own planet. The most ancient, and potentially most interesting life might be found in the neighborhoods of M stars."

Long-lived planets may be especially important for the evolution of life, given the devastating effects of periodic asteroid and meteor impacts. For example, many scientists believe that the massive asteroid that hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago was responsible for the wholesale extinction of dinosaurs. That catastrophe opened the way for the proliferation of mammals on Earth, eventually resulting in humankind. But on other worlds, such chance events might have obliterated an even greater variety of complex life, perhaps effectively stopping the evolution of intelligenc, at least on planets with only modest lifetimes.

Given the longevity of M stars, however, complex life on worlds circling such stars might get a second chance. "If evolution happens at a very slow pace, or if many times evolution gets started and gets truncated, because of some extinction events," explained
Jill Tarter, Director of SETI Research at the SETI Institute, "planets around M stars may get more than one chance, and they may be able to accommodate a slower evolutionary mode and still end up with telescope builders."

The Goldilocks Zone

For life to evolve on another world, time alone isn't enough. The planet must circle its star within a "habitable zone," orbiting close enough to gather the life-giving light from its star, but far enough away to avoid the scorching temperatures that would obliterate life.

Because M stars are so dim compared to stars like the Sun, an M star's habitable zone is quite close to the star itself. Simply put, the planets around M stars need to lie in orbits that circle close to the stars if they are to have any chance for gathering enough energy to bear life.

But the tight orbits that would be needed to host life around an M star come at a cost. When a planet orbits its star so closely, one side of the planet always faces the star, while the other side is always hidden. The same phenomenon, called "tidal locking," is evident when we look at the Moon, which always has its same side facing the Earth. The result? When a planet is tidally locked in orbit around its star, the temperatures on the sunny side would be scorching, while the dark side would be a frozen wasteland. "On the star-facing side, you pump a lot of energy in and heat up the atmospheric gas, and in the shadow on the other side it's dark and cold," said Tarter. As a consequence, the difference in temperatures whips up "enormous wind velocities." Or so scientists have thought until recently.

But that may all be changing. "
New models indicate that perhaps you can, with greenhouse gases, get a less dramatic energy distribution that you can in fact circulate the energy that's being put in on one side from the star without totally tearing apart the atmosphere," explained Tarter.

"The planet's mass could easily hold onto an atmosphere," noted Gregory Laughlin, speaking about the newly discovered planet around Gliese 876. "It would still be considered a rocky planet, probably with an iron core and a silicon mantle. It could even have a dense steamy water layer," said Laughlin, an assistant professor of astronomy at UC Santa Cruz and a member of the discovery team. Along with 40 other scientists, he will be attending a workshop at the
SETI Institute from July 18-20, 2005, with the mandate to consider whether M stars might provide suitable conditions to sustain life on circling planets's an idea previously dismissed because of tidal locking and the intense radiation that life on closely orbiting worlds would have to endure. In ButlerÂ’s view, the latest planet detection is likely to be the first of many similar discoveries. "So far we find almost no Jupiter-mass planets among the M dwarf stars we've been observing," he noted, "which suggests that, instead, there is going to be a large population of smaller mass planets." And depending on the results of next monthÂ’s meeting at the SETI Institute, this may result in a much long list of target stars for the search for civilizations beyond Earth.

STG

The suggestion was recently made that bloggers should be designated the woman/man of the year. In response to this meme, I'd like to point out a site that is trying to make a difference. STG is a blogging network that is promoting micro-charity. As an old-fashioned lefty, I like the idea of micro anything (in other words, non-corporate, non-government action at the local level).

22 July 2005

Windows Vista: Another step forward in the wrong direction?

Window's upcoming OS finally has a name--"Windows Vista." The test release is slated for August third and the final shipment for 2007. The new system is supposed to offer better security, seamless connectivity, and new ways to organize information.

I shudder to think about the organizational scheme they're cooking up. As far as I can tell, each new versions of Windows programming, in an attempt to make things more accessible to neophytes, has created an illogical maze of windows that you have to wade through to find anything. It's as if we've gone from the simple layout of a mom-and-pop store into a giant octogonal mall. MS Money's a great example of this. I've tried to use it to budget and track finances, and it's impossible to find anything. When you do, it often doesn't allow you to enter information with certain cells empty. It's actually simpler and faster for me to simply create everything myself on an Excel Spread Sheet.

The attempt to improve security is laudable, although Microsoft's past attempts to do this don't exactly inspire a great deal of confidence. Explorer has especially been vulnerable to adware and other attacks.

Basically, I think Windows has been moving in the wrong direction ever since its launch. With all the money and hours put into developing the software, I expect a much more powerful and hasslefree OS. I think too much time has gone into developing frills while neglecting the more functional aspects of the program's architecture.

When frills are ignored, it's amazing what some programmers are able to do. I have a tiny freeware Japanese language processer called JWPCe. The program runs completely out of its own directory and offers wonderful search capabilities for kanji and Japanese vocabulary. Users have provided a large repertoire of specialist dictionaries as well, which can all be accessed together or in any combination. The program also allows a person to take Japanese texts from any formatting system and convert to any other. In short, the program's quick, highly functional, adaptable to individual needs, and very easy to learn. (In other words, everything that MS Word isn't, and yet it was created by an individual--Glen Rosenthal--for free!)

21 July 2005

Korean netizens on the latest London bombing

The conservative Korean paper Chosun Ilbo ran a story about the latest London bombings. Korean viewers have posted comments at the end of the story. I've translated most of them below:

  • Anyong Song: These attacks show how vicious these terrorists really are.
  • Jeongheui Han: I can't understand what the bombing in a British subway and the many people who have died in Iraq have to do with us. Whether these people want to fight it out or not, we should just work to maintain our authenticity. In this world, money's everything. We should just side with the side with more money. The way to distinguish friend from foe is to determine whether they bring advantage or not.
  • Hongil Bak: We watched 9/11 happen to the U.S. with sadness. Am I the only one who fails to feel the slightest sympathy when it comes to the London bombing?
  • Junghwan Jo: Islam was born from the sword. Mohammed took up the sword with his followers, conquering Mecca in 624 on his way to starting countless wars. Among religions, there aren't any others with a founder who picked up the sword so as to wreak havoc. Outwardly, Muslims shout about peace, but then then murder the "infidels who oppose Islam" without the slightest remorse. . . .
  • Hongil Bak: Putting aside the issue of the U.S., I recall that during the Asian economic crisis, Britain's curses and disdain drove the Korean economy into an evil pit. And I still remember hearing after Queen Elizabeth's visit to Andong [a traditional village in SK] that they would "have to look into adding South Korea to the British Commonwealth." To put it simply, I grate my teeth everytime I think of the tremendous arrogance of those blokes.

More bombs go off in London

There has just been another set of bombings in London. Four small explosions have hit three London subway stations and a bus.

The Herald Sun has an article on the blast and the Mercury News another. Another blogment on the can be found at Bob from Brockley.

The Roberts nomination

The debate over the Roberts nomination is heating up. Moveon.org criticizes Roberts for his stance on the following points (among others):


  • Environment: Opposition to clear air rules. Assistance to coal companies stip-mining mountaintops.
  • Labor: Work to prevent workers from receiving disability.
  • Voters' Rights: Work to prevent Congress from strengthening the voting act.

I'd like to get more facts before making up my mind, but I would be vehemently opposed if he has supported loose regulations for mining. I was surprised to learn recently that the pollution from mine run-off isn't a short-term problem but frequently goes on indefinitely. Eventually, the companies go out of business and the tax payers (and people who catch cancer and other diseases) end up picking up the tab. The point about hard work to prevent those who work hard from receiving disability fits in well with Shrub's unique brand of "compassion."

20 July 2005

Blogosphere highlights

Blogger Radio, always trying to outshine the rest of us, has a fresh article on stickerless fruit.
Economics with a Face has an excellent series of post about a recent trip to Cuba.
Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey discusses internet troll personality disorder (and you thought those people were just idiots).

Us and them

Soumayya Ghannoushi wrote an excellent article in Aljazeera titled Al-Qaida: Wrong answers to real problems. I particularly like her observation, found in the following excerpt, that the different brands of extremism both here and over there tend to feed each other.

The terrible irony is that Muslims currently find themselves helplessly trapped between two fundamentalisms, between Bush's hammer and Bin Laden's anvil, hostages to an extreme right wing American administration, aggressively seeking to impose its expansionist and hegemonic will over the region at gunpoint, and to a cluster of violent, wild fringe groups, lacking in political experience or sound religious understanding.

'Us' and 'them'

Although the two claim to be combating each other, the reality is that they are working in unison, one providing the justifications the other desperately needs for its fanaticism, ferocity and savagery. No wonder, it didn't take the neo-conservative world supremacists long to spot the immense opportunities 11 September handed them. Their puritanical missionary belief in being God's instruments on earth and grand imperial ambitions could now be realised through shameless emotional blackmail and bogus moral claims. The two share a shallow, myopic, dualistic conception of the world populated by 'us' and 'them' in Bush's language, 'believers' and 'non-believers' in Bin Laden's. Al-Zarqawi and his fellows then brandish the sword of excommunication (takfir) against the Muslim body itself in an endless orgy of maiming and mutilation.

Grease Monkey

Everyone with the GreaseMonkey extension to Firefox needs to uninstall it. Word on the net is that it has a major security flaw.

19 July 2005

J. R. Jr.

Bush will nominate John Roberts Jr.

The Wikipedia article on Roberts as the following:

John Glover Roberts, Jr. (born January 27, 1955) is an American attorney, jurist, and political figure. He is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
On
July 19, 2005, Roberts was nominated by President George W. Bush to replace Sandra Day O'Connor as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, who retired pending the nomination and confirmation of a replacement on July 1. Roberts was originally intended to be named by Bush in a live, nationwide television broadcast at 9 p.m. EST, but the choice was reported by the Associated Press at 7:47 p.m. EST, 73 minutes before the official announcment. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he will take office for a lifetime term.
Roberts is 50 years old and the first Supreme Court nominee in 11 years. He is a practicing
Catholic. He and his wife Jane have two children.

His Roe vs. Wade position will create political fireworks:

In a brief before the Supreme Court (Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173, (1991)), Roberts wrote:
"We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled. As more fully explained in our briefs, filed as
amicus curiæ, in Hodgson v. Minnesota, 110 S. Ct. 2926 (1990); Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 109 S. Ct. 3040 (1989); Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 476 U.S. 747 (1986); and City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, 462 U.S. 416 (1983), the Court's conclusions in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion and that government has no compelling interest in protecting prenatal human life throughout pregnancy find no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution."

Fire the SOB

Sensible people everywhere are calling for Tancredo to apologize for his remarks about possible bombing Islamic holy sites. To put Tancredo's remarks in some context, the U.S. often tried to avoid bombing churches or holy sites in Germany and Japan during WWII--this in an all-out world war where everything was at stake. Fortunately, there are at least a few sensible voices in the current era.

E-Liberal puts it very well:

. . . if the United States were to attack Mecca, we would quickly have on our hands a crime to fit our punishment. All over the world, Muslims would be united against America, and we would truly have a holy war on our hands, and this time it may even be on legitimate grounds. If the war on terrorism became a war on Islam, as the bombing of Mecca would indicate, then we would be justifying Osama Bin Laden, and the September 11 attacks, as well as this theoretical future attack, would look like a small riot in comparison with the world-wide bloodshed that would follow.

Congressman Tancredo tried to walk back his comments, saying he was speaking hypothetically, but a four-term Congressman should know better. His words mean something, not only to his district in Colorado, but to the entire country and the world at large. Words like these seem to justify the very hate that brings about the terrorism we are trying to fight. Congressman Tancredo should be ashamed of what he has said. His so-called explanation has left a lot wanting. His words portray him as an out-of-touch extremist filled with hate.

The President of The Interfaith Alliance has asked for an apology:

Today, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy . . . called on Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) to apologize to all Muslims and all Americans and emphatically retract his recent radio remarks suggesting that the United States should consider a nuclear strike against Mecca, Islam’s most holy site, as a possible response to a hypothetical attack on American cities by radical fundamentalists. Gaddy also called on President Bush to assure the world that Congressman Tancredo does not speak for the United States government or for the American people, and that the United States will never consider using nuclear weapons on a holy site.

My feeling is that we don't need an apology as much as we need to fire this SOB during the next round of elections. In short, we need to send an unambiguous message that U.S. citizens demand proper representation. If we wanted an idiotic hate-monger to represent us, we would have simply cloned Shrub.

Tancredo suggests targeting Muslim holy sites!

From time to time, I come across a story that is so bizarre I'm sure it's a spoof. But then I check the the URL, the header, the source, and am forced to conclude that we're living in bizarre times. The story I'm referring to appeared on CNN's Inside Story yesterday. A U.S. congressman (not Limbaugh, not Savage, but an elected official) suggested bombing Islamic holy sites as a possible retaliation for a terrorist attack against the U.S. One interesting aspect of the exchange is the almost tribal mentality that comes out in the language. There's talk about "we" and "them" as if every American were a fundamentalist Christian ready to attack the Muslim holy sites to destroy the Muslim foe who are all terrorists. I always thought that the Crusades or the Taliban's destruction of Buddhist holy sites were historical events far from the well-swept streets of the Land of the Free, but evidently it just takes a couple bombs going off somewhere, and Americans devolve into a tight-knit fascist tribe willing to offend millions simply to get at a dozen criminals.

Fucking wake up people. If we ever go down this road of attacking large groups of people for being of a particular social or cultural group, all is lost. At that point, there's really nothing to save, win or protect. The people who would consider such attacks are actually just as much our enemies as the people over in Pakistan and Iraq who are blowing up churches. And from a more practical point of view, Osama bin Laden and other terrorists couldn't have ever dreamed of a more powerful recruiting tool than George Bush or Tom Tancredo. If any of you want to march off on the current crusade to protect God and Country, you'll have to do it without my blessing. My idealism for such ventures has been jaded by the lessons of history.






The original article:

DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- A Colorado congressman told a radio show host that the U.S. could "take out" Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalist terrorists attacked the country with nuclear weapons.
Rep. Tom Tancredo made his remarks Friday on WFLA-AM in Orlando, Florida. His spokesman stressed he was only speaking hypothetically. Talk show host Pat Campbell asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons. "Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered. "You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said. "Yeah," Tancredo responded.


The congressman later said he was "just throwing out some ideas" and that an "ultimate threat" might have to be met with an "ultimate response." Spokesman Will Adams said Sunday the four-term congressman doesn't support threatening holy Islamic sites but that Tancredo was grappling with the hypothetical situation of a terrorist strike deadlier than the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"We have an enemy with no uniform, no state, who looks like you and me and only emerges right before an attack. How do we go after someone like that?" Adams said. "What is near and dear to them? They're willing to sacrifice everything in this world for the next one. What is the pressure point that would deter them from their murderous impulses?" he said.

Tancredo is known in the House for his tough stand on immigration. Mohammad Noorzai, coordinator of the Colorado Muslim Council and a native of Afghanistan, said Tancredo's remarks were radical and unrepresentative but that people in Tancredo's position need to watch their words when it comes to sacred religious sites and texts.

Other blogments...

Washington and the West has a follow-up news article saying that Tancredo "won't back down" and apologize for his statement.

From Liberty Just in Case: Good Lord. What a stupid thing to say. I could care less if he's a Republican, or what conservative credentials he may have, this needs to be withdrawn, and an abject apology made immediately.
We ARE NOT at war with Islam. We are at war with a radical sect of Islam. As Hugh Hewitt says, saying we'll bomb Mecca if we suffer a nuke strike is like the British saying they will bomb the Vatican because of IRA terrorists.

One Hand Clapping and Kokstra's Blog (Dutch) also discuss Tancredo's comment.

18 July 2005

Blogs entering the limelight

Are blogs taking over "legitimate" media? The NY Times included two separate blog-related articles in its Sunday edition.

Praise for public transportation

The U.S. debate on the merits of public trans generally revolves around the train system's failure to turn a profit as it competes against the heavily subsidized automobile infrastructure system. Elimoore, on her blog, reminds us that there's another aspect of public transportation--it brings people into contact with each other:

maybe i am all hippy-fied from my time in europe, but i felt like this before, so who knows where it came from, but i love public transportation. it is not just how it helps cities to grow that draws me to it, or how i don’t have to pay car insurance, or buy gasoline. but i think what is most interesting to me about public transportation is how is connects people.

Elimoore goes on to praise the public culture of Europe (which is found virtually everywhere except for the U.S. where we sit in front of our TV sets like mindless monads).

i love meeting people, and collecting their stories. this was fairly easy to do in europe, as there, you are allowed to drink outside. this allows for people to congregate in places for the purpose of relaxing without having to pay $5 - 7 for a beer. in spain, i was able to buy a liter (basically a 40) of beer, and go to the plaza and mingle with anyone else who could afford this location - and possibly the $1 beer as well. this is a great social mixer, as people of all classes would gather in the plazas and squares, to talk, laugh, and just have a good time.

In the last part of her post, Elimoore mentions another point: public trans brings people of different backgrounds and socio-economic classes together. (Isn't this a healthy thing in democracies?)

here in order to find a similar environment, i have to go to a bar. and not that i have a problem with bars, but they segregate. i won’t even begin to get into how the non-smoking law in new york has furthered the segregation by creating what are basically “smoke-easies”, but even down here in dc, people go to bars that have the music they like, or the bar that their peers go to. this creates social segregation. not that i propose taking this right away from anyone, as sometime i want to go to a bar with my peers as well, but where can i go to meet people of all classes, races, and socio/ecomonic background?, no where else but public transportation. and even in this environment people are always coming or going somewhere, so there is little chance for interaction.

In spite of the healthy interaction that public trans and public places promote, these are in rapid decline in the U.S., where public policy is determined by private (in other words, corporate) instead of public interests.

17 July 2005

Old wine in new bottles

You'd think if you hired an ex-Mr. Universe as governor that you'd at least be getting a fresh new approach, but Ahnold is evidently cut from the same cloth as his other Republican brethren (not that the Dems are squeaky clean on this issue either). Our freund Ahnold was recently forced to defend his contract with body-building magazines after a securities disclosure filed this week showed he would be paid at least $1 million a year for five years as a consultant. What in the hell does being a "consultant" mean if someone's the governor? Are we really supposed to believe that Ahnold has so much time between goobernatorial tasks and weight-lifting sessions that he can sit around with magazine editors and give them expert advice on how to run a magazine? I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "consultant" used in a collocation with "politician," bright red neurons in my brain start firing in random sequences. The governor, the great ubermensch himself, took the time to educate the electorate, telling us "sometimes there's two different things — there's reality and there's perception, and perception is very powerful." (Perhaps Bush should have used this as the motto on the ship banner instead of "mission accomplished" but that's another issue...)



Other bloggers have weighed in on Ahnold...

The California Conservative, discussing Ahnold's poll numbers, insists that only a real man can ignore the will of the electorate. When I read such drivel, I feel like telling everyone to simply adopt the system they want. We basically need to return to a monarchy so these people will find the eternal action-daddy figure they require. We'd basically have the same system--grants and favors to and from property-owning aristocracy, a leadership not dependent on the fickle will of the people, manly leaders who do mysterious things in mysterious far-off places and only inform us when it's time to grab a sword and rush some fortresss. But we'd get a helluva lot more paegantry for our buck.

Moral equivalence and fascism

Harry's Place has an excellent post looking at moral equivalence and fascism, two issues that should always be forefront in our minds as we deal with fanaticism.

Nickel and Dimed

I recently read part of Nickel and Dimed. In the book, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich takes on a series of service jobs in order to see if it's possible to live on the low wages paid to unskilled labor. She begins with the assumption that there must be some secret to living well on little but eventually concludes that there isn't. One experience she frequently reports throughout the book is the demeaning nature of being a poor worker. Bosses constantly force her to have drug-test; she's regularly treated like a delinquent kid; and employers in their job training drive in the lesson that the individual should always be cowed by the mighty corporation.

Our lack of appreciation for the contributions of poor workers bothers me. Our prejudice is ubiquitous, at this point, and has even invaded common parlance, left and right. We now talk of "trailer trash" and "white trash," as if being poor was due to some terrible moral failing. At the same time, we benefit from living in an economy where services (a few of them, at least) are still affordable, precisely because of cheap labor.

The working poor are ignored in conservative circles. They're the ugly step-child that no one wants to talk about. When Bush provides taxcuts for the wealthy, conservatives mumble about how lazy welfare mothers need to pay their own way, how the slackers should be weaned off state support. But little is said about the people who make our comfortable lives possible.



Other blogments on the book can be found at: Eszter's Blog and Liloia.

Yubnub

Recent blogtok has centered around yubnub, an internet tool that allows shortcuts to be created to any number of internet services such as Wikipedia and so on. (For example, the command gim karlo will perform a Google Image search for Karlo's handsome visage.) The service also facilitates the use of other people's usernames and password to access sites such as the NY Times. What can i say? The internet is just so kewl.

Enough of these scoundrels

Recent polls show a steady decline in public support for Shrub, Shrub's War, the U.S. and Osama bin Laden. People are evidently waking up.

Around the blogosphere

Lover's War has an excellent discussion of a recent NY Times article on a father who's son died fighting in Shrub's War. In a lighter vein, Myers takes on the latest creationist tirade on Pharyngula.

Some other mojoful bloggers include: Myriad of Jens and Just a Bump in the Beltway.

15 July 2005

Living in a nukyular world

Chinese Major General Zhu Chenghu, speaking at an official briefing, recently warned that, “If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.”

The craven mavens of the blogosphere have weighed in on the issue with knee-jerk nationalist reactions. The typical Chinese reaction can be found at GongGong Stupid: "I have been to America. They have tons of issues on racism, sex, political, economic and social issues. They could not even manage their own problem and they are trying to stick their small head into every hole they find." This post's mirror image can be found at JunkYard Blog: "Texas cowboys and countries run by Texas cowboys don't take kindly to threats."



I don't quite get what the suggestion is here. Are we to "nuke 'em" till they cry uncle? Yeah, right. But apart from the bravado, the threat brings up something that I've never quite understood. We've been told that the U.S. military is by far the mightiest in the world, that it could kick butt on anybody. But I don't get what this means in a nuclear world. If we killed ever single person in Russia but allowed a single Russian nuclear submarine to survive, wouldn't it virtually destroy the U.S. as we know it? I realize that 's nuclear arsenal is considerably smaller, but is there any scenario in which we'd come out of a battle without all our major cities bombed?

Of course, leaders on both side realize this and thus we have the nuclear "deterrent." In spite of this, I'm sure that at some point, the major powers will use nukes. Probably not on each other but rather on some country that doesn't have them. Hopefully, I'm wrong. Such a weapon would kill so many innocent people that I think its use is difficult to justify in any scenario.

Is intelligence intelligent?

In response to some of the comments, I'd like to say a few words about intelligence to clarify my assertion that it isn't necessary to have intelligence agencies carrying out secret activities. I believe that intel agencies (and the CIA in particular) are harmful to our interests for the following reasons:

  1. In democracies (or for that matter, in any government), there are always situations in which certain individuals or cliques within the government wish to carry out activities that support their own selfish interests. These individuals and groups normally find it politically costly to do this when such activities are carried out in the open. Covert activities provide an important means of subverting the democratic will.
  2. Covert groups such as the CIA can also work to subvert democratic activities in other countries. Thus we have the CIA in the business of funding parties in foreign elections (in post-Noriega Panama for example), killing candidates, or engaging in smear campaigns. It's hypocritical to strictly forbid foreign interference in U.S. elections while funding the same sort of activities abroad. Especially when the overt justification for American intervention abroad is to "promote democracy."
  3. States are always threatened by the formation of governments within governments. While some might dismiss such concerns as the paranoid fears of conspiracy theorists, there are clear historical precendents demonstrating that such organizations can form. As one example, in the early days of the Soviet Union, we have the will of the people with their democratic soviets subverted through the activities of a small clique led by Lenin. In South Korea, Chun Doo Hwan--prior to the coup that brought him to power--went so far as to form a secret government in which people even had secret ranks. (Where, for example, a lowly Army captain in the Army might be a general within the covert organization.) In the U.S., Nixon famously used intel agencies for his own purposes. And now we have the case of Bush doing so. Unfortunately, we can only talk about unsuccessful instances of intel agencies forming the muscle for secret governments. Successful instances, by definition, will go undetected.
  4. Covert activities aren't necessary. In terms of intelligence, it's possible to collect enough intelligence using open source materials.
  5. Anti-terrorist activities will always be an issue, but it's possible for the police to deal with the occasional terrorist. The strongest safeguard against terrorism is a strong democratic society and covert activities are inimical to such a society.
  6. Secretive activities are extremely ineffecient. There are a couple reasons for this. First, there's the cost of operating in the dark. This cost is one of the reasons cited for the Soviet Union's demise in the face of competition by America's more open society. Second, secrecy provides enormous opportunity for bureaucratic corruption. Right now in D.C., there are massive buildings filled with secretaries making a hundred-grand a year who work next to covert operatives who fly out to Hawaii every other month in order to give a PowerPoint presentation that looks like something plariarized from Wikipedia. The "intelligence" created by a hundred of such people funded through enormous public expenditure could just as easily be gained by funding a single posting for a doctoral student at a university.

13 July 2005

Swerve right

While working out in the gym the other day I ended up watching Fox News. In one of the station's characteristic tirades, an announcer claimed that deserved a medal for outing Plame. I couldn't believe my ears. At long last, I actually agree with someone on Fox! (Hopefully, this doesn't mean I'll have to change my blog's moniker to Swerve Right.) I also think Rove deserves a medal. (He's got a cool first name after all.) And while we're at it, we should give all who identify CIA agents medals. We can then compile the names and place them in a large file under the heading Active CIA Agents on Google, along with a list of the CIA's current activities. Because when all is said and done, we don't need CIA agents or secrets. Covert activities are for police states like China or tiny Orwellian states like North Korea. The U.S., which is the most armed state on the globe and which is purportedly a democracy, doesn't need to carry out activities away from the watchful eyes of its citizenry. Perhaps with better supervision, we can prevent idiots from supporting the likes of Noriega, the Taliban, or Saddam. So all you on the left, you need to swerve right a bit and give this Rove fellow a gold medal!

12 July 2005

More on Leonard Clark

Yesterday, I discussed the case of Specialist , a member of the Arizona Army National Guard 806th Military Police Brigade stationed in Iraq who seems to have been arrested for expressing the "wrong" political views. In a comment, someone justifiably said that they needed "more information" prior to making a decision on the matter so I figured I'd see what I could find.

There's been speculation that he's being held for a UCMJ offense such as those found in U.S. Code Title 10, Chapter 47. But since the more draconian aspects of this code are directed solely at commission officers, it's hard to see how this could justify arresting someone opposing (via emails and blogging) the President and current administration policies.

Clark's friend Kevin Spidel says that Clark was "arrested due to his 'campaign efforts.'" (Is this Regulation 1344.10?) Steven D on Daily Kos points out that a number of soldiers (who all happen to be conservatives) have been allowed to campaign for office while in the military (even with direct administration consent), so if this is really the reason, there's definitely a double-standard here. In Clark's case, he hadn't even filed papers and merely mentioned his intention to run, so his arrest has a certain Shrubian quality to it. (We must arrest him since he has the potential of having the potential of breaking the law.) Technorati showed a post http://leonardclark.com/blog/?p=30 saying that Clark hadn't campaigned, but the post was deleted before I could get to it. The Google cache didn't have much more but it did contain this comment (emphasis added): "He has been called in and threatened in a way that not only worried him about a court martial at this time - he also is fearful of his personal safety. Thus I will begin to take down this site per his ranking officer's request."

Steven has information for a letter-writing campaign to force the government to get to the bottom of this.

11 July 2005

Follywood

Mamie at Inside Out has an excellent screed on Hollywood:

"The least surprising bit of news in the last week was that movie boxoffice receipts are slumping. Holy shit, Batman, who would've thought it? You would have to long long and hard for an industry more creatively bankrupt than today's Hollywood movie mill. The constant recycling of ideas by prequeling sequels, sequeling sequels, and remaking remakes or witless teevee shows--feeding on the carcasses of questionable successes--has spawned the artistic equivalent of mad cow disease . . . "

Perhaps the dimwitted public's to blame for watching all the crap Follywood churns out. Couldn't a movie company make a killing by simply telling good stories with great (but not famous) actors and medium-sized budgets?

Making the world safe for . . . censorship

Daily Kos has a post that's right on the mark regarding soldiers' right to express their views. The administration and political right loves to parade soldiers in front of the American public, allowing them to tell us how wonderful the current war is. But the second these soldiers depart from the script, they are censored, or in some cases, arrested! I couldn't agree more with Armando: If soldiers are allowed to speak to the public at all, they should be allowed to say whatever they want to say--even if it isn't something Bush would like us to hear. Otherwise they should be forbidden from saying anything (as they work to make the world safe for democracy and freedom of speech and so on. Uh um. No irony here.) Daily Kos discusses the case of Leonard Clark, who was arrested and whose blog has been shut down.




The Views of Soldiers In Iraq

by Armando Mon Jul 11th, 2005

Today in his speech at the FBI training academy in Quantico, Virginia, President George W. Bush quoted from several soldiers serving in Iraq. The soldiers quoted by President Bush expressed support for the Iraq War, stated that the situation was improving, that the security situation was under control, and that, implicitly, President Bush was doing a fine job as President with regards to Iraq.

I fully support the right of our troops to express their views of the situation fully and frankly if ALL may do so, regardless of their views. I would oppose any attempt to censor the expression of these views in support of the Iraq War and the performance of President Bush regarding Iraq as LONG as views opposing the President and the Iraq War are not censored.

Unfortunately this is not the case There is a U.S. soldier in Iraq that President Bush did not quote. His name is Leonard Clark. Clark has stated, in part, the following regarding the Iraq War:

Now, fellow activists, let us keep up the non-violent fight against the terrorists and the tyrants at home who are needlessly endangering my fellow soldiers and causing many of them to die needless deaths in this lie we call the Occupation of Iraq. We need to let the three-piece-suited politicians and their crooked lackeys know that we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore! . . . I'm damn tired of my Democratic leadership in Washington D.C. that refuses to publicly call for an immediate timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq. . . . [O]ur American soldiers are dying needless deaths over here and dammit, you've got to take a stand or we'll vote somebody else in your place! Not One More American Soldier Should Die Over Here in this Lie We Call the Occupation of Iraq!
N.O. M.A.S. !

Written by Leonard Clark (the damn liberal who patrols the mean streets of Iraq everyday)and Kindergarten teacher in the public schools of America Candidate for the U.S. Senate against John Kyl in Arizona

Apparently, Leonard Clark is now under arrest for expressing such views.

Many commenters point out that Clark has likely violated Army regulations. That may well be so. Running for office seems a clear violation. Clark has criticized the Commander in Chief, which also appears to be a clear violation.

But what of the President's use of the views of soldiers who support his view? What if Clark dropped his candidacy and did not expressly criticize the President, as the soldiers cited by the President implicitly endorse his performance?

See, there is the disconnect for me. If Leonard Clark must be muzzled, should not the President also refrain from use of soldiers' expressions in support of him and his policies? The President's use of these expressions is more than the equivalent of Leonard Clark's dissent. It transforms the views of soldiers who support the Iraq War into partisan speech, supporting President Bush.

It is the President's cynical politicization of our soldiers in Iraq that is the travesty here. The arrest of the soldier Leonard Clark is part of the resulting damage. It is wrong of the President to do this. And it is wrong that Leonard Clark has been arrested.

Do not politicize our troops. Let us ban all public (as opposed to private) expressions on politics and the war by our soldiers. They should not become pawns in a political war. They are our soldiers. All of us. Democrats and Republicans. Left and Right. All Americans. The President should be ashamed of trying to make them part of his political game.
And then there was this from Kevin Spidel's blog:
You could tell he was in a room with people in the background and he was reading text that they asked him to convey to me. His text was this:

Kevin, this is Leonard Clark I have been ordered by my commander Captain Munch to ask you to not publish anymore material at all on the web specifically any pending voice mails you may have that I have sent you. The reason I have been told to tell you to do this is because he states that he believes operational security may be compromised.
Hmm. Why all the concern over operation security when anti-war sentiments are expressed yet no concern when pro-war bloggers fill their blogs with pictures of soldiers tossing candy to kids from tanks. Evidently, some bloggers are more equal than others.

Kyrgyzstan

Honestly now, how many of us could find Kyrgyzstan on a map? Even so, we should know something about the place. Kyrgyzstan, after all, hosts both a Russian and a US military base. (Somebody needs to buy these people a copy of Dylan's Serve Somebody.) Kyrgyzstan has been in political upheaval as of late. Bakiyev, the acting president since demonstrators stormed former President Askar Akayev's offices and sent him into exile, recently won in a landslide after promising that he would give the premiership to the man who was expected to have been his main rival, Felix Kulov. The elections, which had foreign observers, were said to be fair.

I think the U.S. can learn something from Kyrgyzstan's democratic zeal, its clean elections, and most importantly, beautiful women in red dresses dancing at polling stations.

PSOTD posting

I just posted a long article title North Korea and the Bomb over on PSOTD.

10 July 2005

Troop reductions in Iraq?

According to a recently leaked British memo, there are plans to bring more than half of U.S. troops home from Iraq within a year. Some people might see this as a sign that the U.S. is gradually leaving Iraq. I very much doubt it. I think the U.S. planners are merely trying to get the numbers down to a more sustainable force. I'm sure the long-term plan is to have troops in Iraq as long as possible--much like the continuous troop presence in South Korea. The U.S. doesn't build bases simply to hand them over a year or two later.

Independent World Television

I found the following interesting post over at Ratboy's Anvil. I think this is something we should all take a look at and consider supporting.


This is a great idea; IWT an international television news network supported by viewer donations...kind of an international PBS with teeth which actually does its job without partisan, political or corporate interference.

What we think is, if you don't do it on TV, it doesn't break through. But if we break through with it on television, then it makes it much more difficult for the rest of the television media to simply ignore these stories.
What television is doing, and to some extent the big-media print press -- is they're treating propaganda as news. They're allowing political forces and corporate forces to create a façade of how the world looks. And they're reporting on the façade as if it's real. I liken it to professional wrestling, about which I made a film. Wrestling press can talk about wrestling theater as if it's something real, even though everybody knows it's theater. Well, the same thing's happening here. If you try to step outside that as a journalist, they call you partisan. -- Paul Jay, Creator of Independent World Television


The Problem

Serious news and full-spectrum debate -- on which democracy depends -- are disappearing from television. Across the globe, news media are concentrated in the hands of a few entertainment conglomerates whose interests determine news coverage. They promote superficial "infotainment" over tough investigation, context and holding authority accountable. Public broadcasters face shrinking budgets and growing political and commercial pressures.

The Solution

We need a news and current affairs network that defends the public interest and the highest standards of journalism. Independent World Television will be such a network, a non-profit broadcast service financed by viewers across the globe -- independent of corporate or government funding and commercial advertising.

The Launch Plan
The network is raising a $7 million start-up budget from individual donors and foundations. The MacArthur, Ford and Phoebe Haas Trust foundations and the Canadian Auto Workers Union have contributed to a planning study. In its next phase, IWTnews will build the online community necessary for an international mass fundraising campaign launching in early 2006. The campaign will use concerts and media events headlined by socially-conscious celebrities to drive the internet fundraising. If half a million people in the entire world contribute just $50, IWTnews will secure
the $25 million it needs to fund its first year of broadcasting, in 2007.

9 July 2005

Movie

Today I watched The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D. While definitely rough in spots (the zippers on Sharkboy and Lavagirl's suits show at points), the film was a fun romp. (How can you go wrong with 3D?)

NK

North Korea has announced that it will return to the 6-nation talks. Any comments?

8 July 2005

Stopping terrorism

I watched the talking heads discuss the terrorist incidents yesterday. Each of the news interviews would end with the question of what to do to prevent more attacks. The various experts offered general solutions such as putting more police in key areas or encouraging people to spy on one another and report suspicious activities. These measures might have some effect but probably wouldn't do much.

The bad news is that terrorism like that in London is very difficult to stop in an open society. I don't see how the police can prevent someone from carrying a bomb the size of a backpack onto a bus or a train track. Anyone with a smidgeon of creativity can think of a million ways to destroy things or kill people. But before we conclude that the sky is falling, we need to also look at the good news: There aren't very many people trying to carry out such acts...yet.

Hopefully, this won't change. It's said that violence is practiced because it works. But in case of the London terrorism, I can't see it accomplishing much. If intensified over time, it would, in the worst case, merely lead to the creation of strong police states in the West (such as that of China). While that would make me miserable, I don't see how it would help some small group achieve its geopolitical objectives.

So to return to the original question of what can be done, I'd offer the following steps:


  1. As a stop-gap measure, governments need to limit immigration (legal and illegal) from areas that export terrorism.
  2. Citizens need to retake control of government activities to prevent small elite cliques from funding terrorists for their own objectives (i.e., economic and geopolitical ends). A modern example is the funding of the Taliban in Afghanistan or the support of Saddam (which started way back in the Kennedy administration). When I brought this up before elsewhere, the example of funding Stalin against Hitler was brought up, but the comparison is outlandish. Some third-world government not willing to do business with a U.S. oil company is hardly a "Hitler."
  3. In order for citizens to retake control of government activities, secret operations conducted by the CIA and other intelligence groups should be eliminated. To have a democracy, we have to know what the U.S. government is doing.
  4. U.S. policy needs to be consistent and moral. In order for this to happen, the U.S. population needs to educate itself about the world and retake power from large corporations and wealthy, elite individuals. Corporations aren't moral--they exist solely to make a buck. In many cases, the interests of people around the world and large corporations diverge.
  5. Nationalism should be abandoned. The biggest blow to terrorism is the creation of a world in which people look at each other as people like themselves. Flag-waving simply stresses divisions.
  6. Citizens of the world need to create a collective will that exist apart from national interests (which are primarily determined by corporate interests). They need to collectively exert pressure on all governments to move towards long-term solutions that promote fairness and justice in place of narrow policy objectives based on gaining competitive advantage.

7 July 2005

London attacks



In a senseless act of wanton violence, some idiots have bombed four sites in London.

6 July 2005

Impeachment: The real news story

With increasing evidence of lies to the American people, there are increasing calls for Bush's impeachment. The corporate news stations can talk about Aruba and lost cub scouts all they want: the countless voices calling for impeachment constitute the real news story of today.

McGovern, a former high-ranking CIA official, had this to say:

Wouldn’t it be better if rather than making $30,000 speeches, George Tenent came before Congress and the American people and told us about the conversation he had, or didn’t have, with the head of British intelligence regarding the WMD issue," said McGovern this week in a lengthy telephone conversation regarding a wide variety of subjects, including the infamous Downing Street Memo, a document which has even been authenticated by Prime Minister Tony Blair."Other people ask me, well, maybe President Bush wasn’t aware of Iraqi intelligence. What a question! To those critics I simply ask: What’s worse, I ask you? A President who lied to the American people about what he knew or a President who made a decision to send innocent Americans to war without knowing or even bothering to uncover the truth? This is why we need to know the truth and set the record straight and nothing less is acceptable.

Logical Purgatory has a detailed post on impeachment, which includes the following nugget:

The people of America have been categorically lied to. The lies of our administration have resulted in the death of 1600 hundred American soldiers, a large hit to our economy, and over a billion dollars a week worth of national debt. It rallied the terrorists against us, raised oil prices, and squandered the diplomatic good will created toward us after 9/11, we are now placed lower the North Korea in international opinion polls. However, this is not what angers me; a president is free to make unpopular decisions. However, when our president lied to us, he directly and purposely lied about making these unpopular decisions. George Bush is no different from Richard Nixon and far worse then Bill Clinton. When those people lied, there were not any long-term negative geopolitical consequences.

Corrente argues for impeachment, saying that Republicans "lowered the bar" for Clinton, so why not Bush?

And if lying about a blowjob is an impeachable offense, why isn't lying about the casus belli for a war that cost thousands of American dead, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead?

This and That agrees:

But the fact that closer to 10,000 dead American soldiers have died in an illegal war, should be enough to force Bush's resignation, and probable impeachment. My God, Clinton had sex in the White House and did not kill a soul in the White House, and was impeached. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Cut to the Chase asks people to take a long, honest look at what's been happening:

I'm not telling you to believe me when I say I think Mr. Bush's actions should have removed him from office years ago, despite the outcome of another cooked election in 2004. Instead, I'm asking you to do your own research, search your own mind and soul, talk with your friends and family members, and reach your own conclusions. If you find, like me, that Mr. Bush has committed high crimes, then you have the responsibility given to all of us 229 years ago by our founders to demand an inquiry and impeachment proceedings.

Other bloggers calling for impeachment include: Peter Westre, Difference of Opinion, and From Where I Sit.