31 December 2004

Four hours in Iraq

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

Other blogments:

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

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

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

Are We Stingy? Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 December 2004

Xmas no mas

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

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

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

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

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

23 December 2004

Focking lame movie

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

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

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

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

Dems debate anti-abortion stance

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

21 December 2004

Mosul bombing

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

By MICHAEL McDONOUGH, Associated Press Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 December 2004

In praise of simple living

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

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

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

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

18 December 2004

Bouncing about the blogosphere

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

17 December 2004

Pursuing happiness the Republican way

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

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

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

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

16 December 2004

Old Europe rising to new heights

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

Buying ourselves outta trouble

The following post from The Poor Man tickled my funnybone:

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

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

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

New home for Bobby?

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

15 December 2004

More stories of prisoner abuse

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

Documents Show String of Iraq Abuse Claims

By PAISLEY DODDS, Associated Press Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 December 2004

Where We're Bound

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

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

Balking at BALCO

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

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

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

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

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

10 December 2004

Connecting the wires less

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

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

Israel a European satellite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 December 2004


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

The way we were

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

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

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

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

8 December 2004

Sympathy for the devil

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

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

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

7 December 2004

Swerving upward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 December 2004

Sexual misedjumication

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

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

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

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


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

Abuse redux

Pictures of Navy Seals abusing Iraqi prisoners.

2 December 2004

Torture chambers a "godsend"

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

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