Friday, October 12, 2007

Our tax dollars at work

From a UN report on our Democracy project in Iraq:

The agency said it "remained gravely concerned at continuing reports of the widespread and routine torture or ill-treatment of detainees."

"In addition to routine beatings with hosepipes, cables and other implements, the methods cited included prolonged suspension from the limbs in contorted and painful positions for extended periods, sometimes resulting in dislocation of the joints; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body; the breaking of limbs; forcing detainees to sit on sharp objects, causing serious injury and heightening the risk of infection; and severe burns to parts of the body through the application of heated implements," the report said.

We get a bit of burn for our bucks, too.
The U.N. report warned of an increased rate of violence against women, particularly "honor" killings, in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. In the first half of the year, regional government statistics counted 23 women killed by "blunt objects," 195 by burning and 37 by gunfire.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Meanwhile, obama is doomed

In contrast to the stories that praise Fred Thompson (see post immediately below) for managing not to fart loudly during debates and interviews, all the stories about Barak OBama detail his many failures (in the eyes of journalists) despite being so incredibly smart and visionary.

David Ignaius types the script in this morning's Washington Post. Witness these tidbits:

"He may be the smartest candidate in either party this year, and also the most visionary... Obama is certainly charismatic, so much so that people often describe him as a rock star... the man gives a good speech... Nobody tells the story of the American dream better than Obama..."

You'd think an article with those quotes would be about what a formidable candidate he is? No. In media world, intelligence, charisma, and vision are horrible handicaps to the presidency, especially when there are so many rivals who got nothin.

There is clearly no way Obama can win. Going up against less intelligent, wooden candidates with no vision beyond their own greed and ambition, he is sure to be slaughtered in any debate. Hillary will be able to read Bush speeches in a robo-voice and the press will praise her seriousness and criticize Obama for making her look dull. And if Obama has a really good day, Fred Thompson could pick his nose and do nothing but grunt and all we'd hear is about how he didn't disgrace himself while that meanie Obama is just too smart to be president.

Yea, if we've learned nothing in the past eight years it's that you don't have to be smart or eloquent to be president. And the media thinks intelligence and the ability to express oneself well are outright handicaps. If Barak is to stand a chance, he'd better learn to pick his nose, fart, drool, and make indecipherable grunting noises soon, or it'll be too late.

The next president of the united states

Of course I haven't been paying much attention to the presidential debates (I have whadayacallit?, a life). But I read the headlines and maybe the first paragraph or two, and maybe skim a little deeper on occasion. Apparently, they can all be summed up as either "Republicans show themselves to be morons without an ounce of morality and promise violent, psychotic acts when elected," or "Democrats emphasize that they are not Bush while promising to continue his policies."

So it's hard to pick a winner among so many losers, but I think I may have decoded the signs and am now able to identify the next president of the United States.

Every blurb I read about Fred Thompson trumpets the news that he did not disgrace himself, that he did not fail miserably, that he managed to get through a debate without blowing snot bubbles or eating wax out of his ear.

Sound familiar? Remind you of how the press treated anyone currently in the white house in recent presidential elections?

Next steps? We'll know for sure when they start criticizing his opponents for stomping him so thoroughly on the issues.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lathe of hell

Michael Gerson provides us with another one of those “what Conservatism means” pieces that are becoming increasingly popular as everything self-described conservatives passionately believe in changes, often diametrically, from one day to the next. From the party-like-it’s-1999-government giveaways to special interests by their fiscally restrained leaders, to their poorly planned wars to bring utopia to historically disadvantaged foreigners, to the bathroom sex addictions of their moral leaders, it’s no wonder the poor saps have trouble distinguishing up from down these days.

On one hand, Gerson’s article is illuminating in that it shows just how effectively the term “conservative” has been shorn of all rational meaning. On another, it shows how conservatives minds have effectively been shorn of all rational perspective.

It is not a coincidence that the great movements of conscience have generally come not from skeptical traditionalists but from men and women of faith and conviction who taught that loving your neighbor is inconsistent with enslaving him; who rescued children from the nightmare factories of the Industrial Revolution; who asserted that the long tradition of racial segregation created 10,000 petty tyrants; and who believed that the Declaration of Independence is actually true, for us and for all.

Traditionalism can save moralists from a foolish utopianism. But a moral vision is equally necessary to save traditional conservatism from its worst instincts.

Right, Mike. Conservatives have been wrong about almost everything throughout all of history. So what can you do? Re-write history so that conservatives wrote the declaration of Independence, freed the slaves, created the social safety net, bravely forced us into World War II, proudly led the civil rights marches, and now fight mightily to protect us from intrusive government here at home?

Yes, of course, that’s the ticket, but what about when your core values must change from one day to the next, as has happened so often in recent years. Can’t have a commander in chief who dodged the draft, now can we? Criticize the military during a time of war? Forfend!

For the poor conservative, the 21st century is like something out of Ursula K. Leguin’s Lathe of Heaven They never know what kind of new reality they will wake up to.

What these soul searching articles by folk like Michael Gerson teach us is that being a conservative these days is no different than being a Dallas Cowboy fan. Once a person has chosen a team, he will stick with that team no matter what. Maybe he liked the Cowboys because of their old school three yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense and hated players like Terrell Owens who were loud braggarts lacking all class. Yet when the Cowboys fired the old coach, became a run and shoot team and overpaid Terrell Owens, that was all okay. No, it was better than okay. It was good. It was the right thing to do. It was the way they had always believed the game should be played. It’s not the style of play that matters. It’s the allegiance to the team. Winning is all that matters.

The owners, of course, have somewhat different goals, or at least different definitions of “winning,” but that’s a different story. One tools like Gerson are only dimly aware of, at best.

Schizo nomos disorder

First we learn that we can’t return this guy to his country because he might be imprisoned and tortured:

A federal district judge has ordered the government not to transfer a Tunisian detainee held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to his home country, over fears that he would be tortured or killed.

Then we’re told that we can kidnap and torture people just for the fun of it:
The Supreme Court declined yesterday to open U.S. courts to a German citizen who said he was abducted, imprisoned and tortured by the CIA because he was mistakenly identified as a terrorist.

Damn, I guess it just goes to show that once your government has abandoned all morality and respect for basic human rights, the slope gets awful slippery. What's that red stuff we keep slipping on?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

White chalk

I've been listening to PJ Harvey's new disc, White Chalk for the past few days and have now added the rest of her music to the playlist. You can hear a good song here, just click on the audio/video button.

Unfortunately, my verbal skills have been on the decline lately. As regular readers know, I've always been ambivalent about reviewing other people's artistic output. Lately, I can't even think of anything to say beyond I liked it or I didn't, it was technically well-done or it wasn't, the story was well-told or otherwise.

Fortunately, when my verbal skills fail me, sometimes I can fall back on visual story telling, so the above image is my review of White Chalk.

Do androids dream of big screen beauty?

Yesterday I saw Blade Runner: the Final Cut on the big screen. I trust you all have seen Blade Runner and probably even the director’s cut. Final Cut doesn’t add all that much to Director’s Cut--a little more gore, a little more skin, a little more face time for Sean Young,--but the opportunity to see this film on the big screen should not be missed. It’s a great narrative and the visual story telling remains incredible.

If you’re here in New York, or looking for a good excuse to visit, go see it at the Ziegfeld theater. It’s as beautiful a theater as you will ever see, the screen is as big as they come and the sound is excellent. Wherever you are, try to see it on the best screen possible. This is one movie where it really makes a difference.

Monkey Tales (10.9.07) Columbus Day Hangover Edition

In a rare bout of self-examination, the NYT reports on the latest studies on the behavior of major media folk and their relationship with politicians.

“Monkey society is governed by the same two general rules that governed the behavior of women in so many 19th-century novels,” Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth write. “Stay loyal to your relatives (though perhaps at a distance, if they are an impediment), but also try to ingratiate yourself with the members of high-ranking families.”

Good to see that scientific method is finally catching up with journalism.


The New York Times once again shows their liberal bias by spinning for Democrats:
Democratic Concessions Are Expected on Wiretapping

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 — Two months after vowing to roll back broad new wiretapping powers won by the Bush administration, Congressional Democrats appear ready to make concessions that could extend some of the key powers granted to the National Security Agency.

“Some” of the key powers? Could grant? Some? Yea, right. If we had an objective press, the headline would read something more like this:
Democrats pull down their pants, lay down in the road, and yell, “fuck us up the as Georgie boy, fuck us hard.”
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 --Two months after making lame noises about doing their constitutional duty, Congressional Democrats appear ready to wipe Bush’s ass with it and do what they’re told.

What’s more is there to say? So much, unfortunately.


The WaPo reports on another triumph for the Bush administration in their continuing struggle to protect al-Queda. A private company that has had great success providing intelligence on the terrorist group gave the Bushies a heads up on a bin Laden video on the promise they would keep it quiet.
Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company's Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide.

The founder of the company, the SITE Intelligence Group, says this premature disclosure tipped al-Qaeda to a security breach and destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist group's communications network.

"Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless,"

Yep, as a super enemy, al-Queda’s not much, but from the Republican perspective it’s a lot better than nothing. Without it, they’d have to find a new public enemy number one to justify looting our economy at home and their insane murder spree abroad. Atta boy George!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Monkey Tales (10.8.07) Columbus Day Edition

I’d be curious to see the Associated Press stylebook entry for torture. It must distinguish between foreign and domestic. Witness this headline and lede:

China Land Activist Tortured in Prison

BEIJING (AP) -- A Chinese land rights activist imprisoned after circulating a letter rejecting the Olympics has been chained for days in the same position and forced to clean up the waste of other inmates...

In the U.S. version, “chained in the same position for days” is nothing more than a “stress position,” at worst a harsh interrogation method. In China, it’s torture. You can see the difference. We are good. Foreigners are evil. The Associated Press and other news organizations must respect that basic difference. Of course it would be better if they didn't report the details of another country's torture if it is similar to our not unduly harsh interrogation tactics. As long as the Chinese stop short of dumping people in vats of boiling oil, the press should just call it harsh interrogations and leave the details to the imagination. That's my recommendation. At least until we learn that the US boils people alive. Then we'd have to find a new terminology. We would never commit torture, obviously. Heated interrogations perhaps?


In other news concerning heated interrogations, tired of nuisances like unions, environmental concerns, and those pesky laws against dumping their employees in vats of boiling oil, General Motors is opening a factory in Uzbekistan.

But first they had to consider the human rights situation (via
Who is more brutal, Saddam Hussein or (Uzbekistan dictator) Islam Karimov ? Reasonable victims disagree. Saddam's goons electrocuted his political dissidents. Karimov, on the other hand, loots so much of his country's oil wealth that his state torturers don't have an electrical grid to draw upon. So his police torturers are forced to resort to medieval methods. They boil their "terrorist extremists"--businessmen who refuse to pay bribes--to death.

Well, a lot of people agree he’s better than Saddam, so I guess it's okay. Let’s hope none of those GM executives become “terrorist extremists.” I’m sure they won’t. They’ll be good corporate citizens and pay their bribes in full and on time.


Meanwhile, Paul Krugman, usually a reliable human, gives conservatives way more credit than they deserve:
Now, as they survey the wreckage of their cause, conservatives may ask themselves: “Well, how did we get here?” They may tell themselves: “This is not my beautiful Right.” They may ask themselves: “My God, what have we done?”

But their movement is the same as it ever was.

Sad, Mr. Krugman. Sad and naive. If conservatives were the types who questioned themselves to the tune of Talking Heads masterpieces, we probably wouldn’t be in such a mess in the first place. Come to terms with reality sir.


In other pundit news, Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post’s media lap, err I mean watch, dog digs deep to find a new class of victims of our war in Iraq--major network anchor millionaires!!! Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Charles Gibson. Oh how they suffer the tortures of the damned as they read their teleprompters. It’s tragic. Tragic, I tells ya.


In other breaking news, the WaPo reports that those crafty Real Estate companies have come up with ingeniously innovative ways to sell houses:
New Tactics in New-Home Market

In order to sell in a slow housing market, builders are slashing prices and offering financing deals.

Slashing prices and offering deals!!! Quelle innovation!!! In tomorrow’s paper, the same reporter will discover that innovative fireman have begun using water to put out fires!!!


In local news, the Post reports that Maryland’s Prince William County has learned important lessons about governing from the Republicans in the federal government next door, but are still a bit too squeamish for the big time.
PRINCE WILLIAM County's elected leaders have balked, for the moment, at implementing what would be one of the nation's more pernicious, unenforceable and legally dubious local crackdowns on illegal immigrants. Facing elections next month and political heat generated in no small part by their own rhetoric, they may still decide to go ahead. If they do, they will fan the flames of xenophobia in Prince William, squander the time and energy of police officers and other agencies' employees, and, we now know, burden county taxpayers with millions of dollars in spending that will achieve very little.

Would the Bush administration or congressional Republicans ever balk at something that was pernicious, unenforceable and legally dubious? These Maryland weenies might as well be Democrats.

Actually, they might be Democrats, but I doubt it. The article doesn’t say which party is so monumentally incompetent. Granted, it could be both, but generally the Post is more likely to cover for Republicans.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A one, a two, a three... a what?

Via TBogg

David Freddoso:

But what about ordinary people of good faith, who love their country, simply expressing an opinion that a particular war is not worth the loss of life? I thought that the soldiers were fighting precisely for our freedom to express that opinion.

As as a quipster, I’m tempted to say that I thought or soldiers were fighting to rid the world of Saddam Hussein’s apocalyptical weapons of mass destruction that were going to have us spending our last precious moments of life squatting under a mushroom cloud waiting for our skin to melt.

No? Scratch that. Our blessed troops were heroically giving their lives to bring to justice the monster who unleashed 9/11 on us by crashing thousands of airplanes into thousands of twin towers.

No? Wrong guy? Well then, our patriotic warriors are selflessly fighting to bring Democracy to the middle east, giving their own lives so that Muslims of all sects can live and vote in paragons of participatory good government from West Africa all the way to Islamabad and beyond, a cause so noble it brings tears of gratitude to the eyes of anyone with an ounce of humanity.

The Democracy project not working out either? Damn.

At least they are nobly sacrificing all they have to give to secure our access to cheap middle eastern oil. Fill up the ol’ SUV? That’ll be $75 bub.

Any other ideas?

Ok, let’s try a new one! Freddoso suggests that our brave and sacred troops are fighting precisely for the right of ordinary people of good faith to criticize the war they are fighting in, precisely so that good people can criticize them. With great precision, the troops realize that if they were not fighting in this war, good people of good faith would have no war to criticize, thus there would be nothing to fight about and good people of faith would lose their constitutional right to free speech.

I admit that makes sense on a certain intellectual level, but my own experience suggests that the troops, many of them at least, are fighting for a variety of reasons.

Here I must confessed that I am a bit embarassed. I say my experience “suggests” because I don’t actually know the motivations of hundreds of thousands of individuals and, given my sad lack of all-knowingness, hesitate to speculate that they all fight for the same reason, even if it would conveniently support whatever point I’m trying to make. I'm so weak on mind reading that I can’t even say for certain why even one single person is fighting.

But I do actually know one person who joined the army and got sent to Iraq, and I can at least make an educated guess about why he is fighting. And I'm pretty sure he's not unique. His reasons are no doubt representative of a lot of the troops.

A friend of my family, we’ll call him Joe Bob for the purposes of the internets, recently enlisted in the army and after several weeks of basic training was sent to Iraq. I can’t say that I’ve known the kid his whole life, but I’ve known of him. My mother, I’m pretty sure, thinks of him as the good son she never had. When he came home for a few days leave between basic training and Iraq, he bought mom a fancy new tv. Me? Not in a million years would it cross my mind to buy her a television. It’s not that I’m evil. Just thoughtless. A television means nothing to me. It surprises me when I realize that it can mean so much to someone else. Point is, Joe Bob's a great kid.

Anyway, Joe Bob, like many young recruits, is from a small town. For you, reader, to best comprehend this story, it is crucial to understand that we cannot believe a word that anybody in a small town says. All of the characters lie. They lie to each other. They lie to themselves. And they certainly lie to poor chuckling, intentionally and otherwise. So we will never know for sure about college scholarships and the like, but still, the stories tell a tale that illuminates some larger truths.

Joe Bob’s mother is one of my sister’s best friends. She’s been hanging around our house for just about as long as I remember. According to her, Joe Bob was offered a scholarship to play football at a small, division III college somewhere south of Bumfuck, Tennessee. He lettered in high school but his prospective college coach warned him that he’d spend a couple years on the bench. Next thing anyone knew was that he had joined the army. He didn't want to sit on no bench for two years. The recruiter had promised him an exiting career in electronics! But when the papers arrived he had been assigned to the infantry. Damn the bad luck! But he would get some training in electronics. He would be a radio operator for a convoy in Iraq. The technical term for that assignment is, I believe, “I.E.D. fodder”.

What were Joe Bob’s motives for joining the glorious war against whatchamacallit? According to his mother, he did it solely for that career in electronics. That and because he is a total idiot. Understand reader, please, it is not me, chuckling, calling this fine young man an idiot for joining the army and getting sent off to Iraq. His immediate family and wide circle of friends are the ones calling him an idiot, usually prefixed with something along the lines of "stupid fucking." To a person they were mortified and repeatedly call both him and his decision stupid and every synonym they know that conveys the same concept. They hold no belief that he will be risking his life for anything the least bit noble. More than one person made the comment about the high price of gas.

Understand also that these people are not upper west side liberals. They are small town folk, the heart and soul of middle America. They have no college education, no trust fund. They work hard at low-skilled jobs that may or may not be low-paying. They are the Joe Sixpacks, the Reagan revolutionaries, the people who fought to be first in line to by the 9/11 commemorative magnets for their automobiles, the people who cursed Osama bin Laden and said “fuck yea” when George W. Bush said “bring em on.” The fact that these people think that a good kid is a total moron for joining the army is all the evidence anyone should need to know this stupid war is lost.

But back to speculating about Joe Bob’s motives, or in the bigger picture--what the fuck are we fighting for?-- I can say with near certainty that it never crossed his mind to join the army and risk his life precisely so Americans could criticize the war and his own participation in it. And this is just me speculating, but knowing the state of education where he’s from, I’d be shocked if he gave any thought whatsoever to protecting any constitutional rights. Fuck, I’d be surprised if he can name three, and that's giving one free cause I'm sure he's heard of the second amendment.

And it would be less shocking, but I’d still be very surprised if he gave much, if any, thought to the idea of defending America from our enemies. I’d bet the farm his thought processes had more to do with getting out of that soul-sucking small town in which decent job opportunities are few and dwindling, making some money, seeing the world, and having a few adventures. Defending the constitution? The American way of life? Oh, right, yea, that too.

Is Joe Bob representative of all the troops? No, of course not, but odds are good that he is representative of a hell of a lot of them.

On the flip side, is there a single soldier out there who is fighting precisely for our right to criticize the Iraq war? My guess would be no. The only thing Freddoso's opinion is representative of is the ridiculous extremes that pro-war morons who have been catastrophically wrong about everything will go to justify the continuation of the damage they are doing to our national security, economy, and the lives of millions.