Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Conservative Thinktank declares that the occupation of Iraq has been a major bonus for Al-Queda

You know it's bad when even the conservatives are bagging on Bush. Not only Richard Lugar and John McCain, but now the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is adding its voice to the chorus of conservatives who think Bush has strengthened America's enemies more than he has hurt them.

Selected quote:

The earlier invasion of Afghanistan forced al-Qaida to change its tactics, said the IISS. "While al-Qaida lost a recruiting magnet and a training, command and operations base, it was compelled to disperse and become even more decentralised, 'virtual', and invisible".

It delegated more responsibility to "local talent," with recruits becoming "less religiously absolute in mindset [and] closer to their enemies in background". This could make them more open to penetration by western security and intelligence agencies, the thinktank suggested.

Any security offensive against al-Qaida must be accompanied by political developments, such as the democratisation of Iraq and the resolution of conflict in Israel, it said.

In a report uncharacteristically critical of America, the IISS warned that Iraq is facing a "security vacuum".

Middle-ranking members of the Saddam regime have been able to deploy their weapons, "gain ideological purchase and resonance with a new brand of Islamic nationalism, and to mobilise Sunni fears of Shi'ite and Kurdish domination and a growing resentment at foreign occupation. It is unlikely that there has been a 'hidden hand' centrally coordinating and funding the insurgency".

Damn it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

To hell with your degree

Vine Deloria, Jr. is a scholar and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux nation. He has written books such as Custer Died for Your Sins and God is Red.

According to Diane Carman, the University of Colorado recently offered Deloria an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

He turned it down because he was ashamed of the way CU recently covered up and ignored the rape and recruiting scandal involving the CU football team. The CU Coach reportedly pressured women to not pursue rape charges against players. One advocate describes the program as having a rape culture.

Vine Deloria, Jr. is my new hero. A scholar and a man of principle.

May we all have his courage to speak truth to power.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Some good news for a change...

Martin Kettle declares that Bush cannot win the next election. Only John Kerry can lose this election now.

He also offers an explanation as to why the Democratic party was missing in action in 2001.

Selected quote:

Back in September 2001, Kerry was one of the Senate Democrats who supported his majority leader Tom Daschle in the hard but uninspiring decision to keep the party's head down on the war on terror. America's mood was such, they argued, that to attack Bush over Afghanistan, civil liberties or Iraq was to walk into the trap that Karl Rove, the president's strategist, was setting for the 2004 campaign. Rove's strategy was and is to present Bush as a strong and successful wartime leader. Daschle's wily response was to lie low. If the war on terror went brilliantly, Bush would win anyway. If it went badly, Daschle and Kerry were determined not to allow Bush to blame it on the Democrats.

It was a huge gamble. Yet if it looked craven in 2001, it begins to look a lot smarter today. As Bush began his fightback strategy on Iraq last night in Pennsylvania, opening a crucial phase of what the distinguished writer Elizabeth Drew this week rightly called America's "most consequential election in decades", it is Kerry, not Bush, who is now the man to beat.

I like reading foreign press reviews of the US. I think their distance from the entire circus often gives them some a worthwhile perspective.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Bar in Spain implants RFID chips in patrons...

Patrick Barkham's article in the Guardian reports on a nightclub in Barcelona that uses sub-dermal RFID chips. The chips give patrons access to members only areas and allow them to pay for drinks.

Not only are some patrons agreeing to be tagged like sheep, they are even paying for it!

Friday, May 21, 2004

What is your terrorist quotient?

This article by Brian Bergstein discusses some of the privacy concerns associated with the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX).

Selected quote:

Bill Shrewsbury, a Seisint executive and former federal drug agent, said the terrorism scoring algorithm that produced the list of 120,000 names was "put on the shelf" after it was demonstrated immediately following Sept. 11, 2001.

He said the scoring system requires intelligence data that was fed into the software for the initial demonstration but is not commonly available. "Nor are we interested in pursuing that," he said.

The Utah documents included a Seisint presentation saying the scoring system was developed by the company and law enforcement officials by reverse engineering an unnamed "Terrorist Handbook" that reveals how terrorists "penetrate and live in our society."

The scoring incorporated such factors as age, gender, ethnicity, credit history, "investigational data," information about pilot and driver licenses, and connections to "dirty" addresses known to have been used by other suspects.

According to Seisint's presentation, dated January 2003 and marked confidential, the 120,000 names with the highest scores were given to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FBI, Secret Service and Florida state police. (Later, those agencies would help craft the software that queries Matrix.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Neal's Safety Tip of the Month

Buy baking soda and keep it keep it in the kitchen by the stove to use to put out oil fires.

Water will only spread an oil fire, but baking soda will put it out.

If you use baking soda in the fridge to keep things fresh, it's only good for 3 months or so. After it's done its job absorbing odors, it is still effective in putting out oil fires.

Another household tip, you can use baking soda and vinegar to help keep your kitchen pipes clean and avoid plumber visits.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Seattle's New Library

The NY Times (reg'n req'd) has an article praising Seattle's new library. It looks pretty snazzy to me.

Torture scandal spreads to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

New allegations are being raised that the abuse in Iraq is part of a systemic policy of abuse of prisoners. Read this article by David Rose and Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian and this article by Brian Knowlton in the NY Times (reg'n req'd) if you want to know more.

As I've already said, I think the practices in Guantanamo Bay will show what this administration thinks is an appropriate level of coercion for prisoners.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

The importance of life's little pleasures

I'm certainly guilty of getting too caught up in the "never-ending fire hose of chaos and destruction and wanton human corruption streaming in like a nasty fever dream from the global atrocity machine (a.k.a., the news wires)", as Mark Morford puts it.

Mark's recent column in the SF Gate about keeping your perspective and sanity in these challenging times is worth a read, so I'm reproducing it here. Mark is a much better writer than I am....if I could say it this well myself, I would.

I get this a lot: Mark, how can you write about light fluffy inconsequential things like dogs or yoga or car design or sex or music when there's so many vile gut-wrenching soul-curdling life-threatening atrocities and gang rapes and beheadings and Rumsfelds happening in the world right now that deserve immediate attention?

How the hell can you possibly write a whole column extolling, say, the virtues of single-malt scotch or of having sex in the backseat of small luscious European cars, when BushCo is right this moment ravaging the planet and eviscerating the human spirit and the environment is teetering on the edge and women's rights are being gouged and McDonald's is poisoning our youth and Dick Cheney is still upright, barely?

This is what they say. The world is a ticking powder keg of nails and fear. Please write about this, all the time, every time. Give it voice and shape and insight. Every column should be furious and polemic. Fight the good fight! Tackle the tough snarly issues head on, nonstop, never failing to take those corrupt mother--s who are ruining our planet to the mat!

And they are so right. Painfully so. But it's also impossible. The short answer as to why I don't is, of course: To avoid utter spiritual meltdown and ideological wrist slitting and savage karmic pain.

But it's more than that. And the reason I don't is very much the same reason you should avoid imbibing too much fiery swill from this media void, too. Do you already know? Is this already a given? Open wide and say, ahh yes, I remember now.

If there is one serious peril of a media gig, it is excess white noise. A never-ending fire hose of chaos and destruction and wanton human corruption streaming in like a nasty fever dream from the global atrocity machine (a.k.a., the news wires) straight into the retina of the spirit, ever threatening my sanity and your will to get out of bed and our ability to lick the giant cherry Popsicle of joy. Hey, it's the news. It ain't supposed to be moist and blissful.

Like most paid media observers/culture sluts, I must scan the news wires constantly. I have developed a bizarre sixth sense for insinuative headlines and mutant irony. I have an RSS reader live at all times, culling dozens of different info sites, ever scouring and ever regurgitating and ever tossing up an eternally fascinating but always semirancid salad of curious stories and grisly tidbits and potential column fodder.

And I'm here to tell you, if you let it take over, if you allow the blood and guts and train derailments, the bile and the groped altar boys and the Dick Cheneys, their way, if this is the only place you focus and the only place you dedicate your energies and the only lens through which you choose to view the world, well, it is death. Slow, gnarled, quivering, depressive, genital-shriveling death, with zero naked beatific harp-strumming afterlife.

Humor, by the way, is a salvation. Forget Chris Rock or the Farrelly Brothers. You want to hear the finest in morbid jokes? You want to hear some of the sickest, funniest, most well-informed, most deeply twisted wisecracks to ever make you spray coffee through your nose? Hang around a newsroom for half an hour.

When you're inundated with a nonstop barrage of inhuman tales of excess and misery and schlock, from priests molesting 10,000 boys to sneering senators openly bashing gays to the one millionth disgruntled dad who whips out a shotgun and blows away his four kids along with ex-wife in a Wal-Mart in Amarillo "before turning the gun on himself," why, the humor is a balm, a release valve, a necessary and mandatory pain-management mechanism. Humor helps. A little.

Another angle: I recently received a raft of heartfelt, angry e-mail from a number of people who do beautiful and necessary and often truly heartbreaking work at animal shelters and pet rescues and vet clinics who all fumed at me, no, no freaking way is that Ford SportKa commercial depicting the (fake) cat decapitation you wrote about the slightest bit funny, goddammit.

No way is any depiction of any animal abuse anywhere ever amusing and you should be ashamed and how could you ever suggest such a thing and you have had all rights to call yourself an animal lover permanently revoked, and I pity the dog you finally adopt and by the way I'm never reading you again even though I've loved your column for years.

Hey, it happens. I understand the sentiment. I know its impetus. It all follows the same rule: If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If all you have is a narrow media-saturated tragedy-thick anger-ravaged abuse-drenched worldview, everything looks like a crime against the spirit and everything is something meant to induce peril and everything is something that will completely piss you off, somehow.

Or, to put it more gently, if you saturate yourself with only one perspective, or you choose a path wherein you are blasted to the core every moment with the worst humanity has to offer, well, the world responds in kind and is nothing but bleak and sad and torturous, full of little tiny leeches with sharp jagged teeth and Lynne Cheney's face that devour your large intestine while you sleep.

But most of all, the reason I don't write about immigrant abuse or prison rape or abortion rights or the stench of BushCo every column and the reason you don't read it every time is the exact same reason you do not right this minute see the world outside your window running through a giant storm of hellfire with its hands slapped to its screaming face as the buildings explode and the children melt into goo. It's because that vile dark matter is not all there is.

Not only is there is more to life than politics and murder and mayhem and BushCo running around like he's the whiniest king of the sandbox, it's also that those other elements, those seemingly insignificant, fluffy, pointless divine things like sex and design and books and the color of your lover's eyes actually, if you pay full attention, turn out to be far more vital to the planet and to your spiritual health than any toxic abuse BushCo could ever smirk out to the world.

Sure columns like this one don't get me as many clicks as the pointed outraged double-barreled criticisms. Sure they don't inspire as much hate mail and love mail and wonderful supportive replies and offers to come on slightly snide conservative radio shows to debate angry talking heads on the finer points of whether Bush is a corrupt malevolent demon or just a hollow sad imbecile.

No matter. For better or worse, I refuse to wallow. My job is to offer perspective. Your job is to take that perspective and balance it with your own and read your ass off and get as informed as possible and filter and digest as best you can.

The world's tragedies absolutely deserve our immediate attention. And our hope. And our divine raw funky sexed-up intellectual perspective. This is not a question.

But what it needs even more is the counter-energy. For us all to remember to shut it all off and get the hell away from the computer and go have a glass of wine and a deep tongue kiss and a romp and a an intense book and a hot sweaty yoga class and a soft swoon to an incredible blues singer. This fuels the resistance. Rekindles meaning. Steals life back from those who would deign to devour it with pitchforks and judiciary committees and heavy artillery.

After all, real life is not in the dour headlines. You know this. Real life is not in BushCo's blank confused smirk. Real life is where you launch forth, right now, just after this period coming up, this one right here. [Link]

You can view Mark's archives here. I'm going to go play with my dog....

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Developing an Exit Strategy for Iraq

Since the Bush administration is unable to formulate a plausible exit strategy from Iraq, the Guardian has kindly asked some notable individuals to supply suggestions.

Jonathan Schell, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and William Polk responded to the call. I think Polk and Schell's suggestions are well worth reading.

Selected quote from Jonathan Schell's essay:

Senator Richard Lugar has said, "We are in Iraq and so we're going to have to bring stability." Or, as Senator Joseph Biden, among so many others, has said, as if to put an end to all discussion, "Failure is not an option."

* * *

"Failure" is, in truth, never an "option". The exercise of an option is a voluntary act; but failure is forced upon you by events. It is what happens when your options run out. To rule out failure is not a policy but a wish - and a wish, indeed, for omnipotence.

* * *

Under these circumstances, staying the course cannot benefit Iraq. On the contrary, each additional day that American troops continue to fight in Iraq can only compound the eventual price of the original mistake. More lives, American and Iraqi, will be lost; the society will be disorganised and pulverised; and any chances for a better future will be reduced, not fostered.

There are still many things the US can do for the people of Iraq. Continued economic assistance is one. Another is to help international organisations assist (but only to whatever degree is wanted by the local people) in the transition to a new political order.

But all combat operations should cease immediately, and then, on a fixed and announced timetable, the American forces should withdraw from the country. In short, the US, working with others, should give Iraqis their best chance to succeed in their own efforts to create their own future. (emphasis mine)

I'm not sure that peace with honor is an option now. I don't know that it ever was. The US is, and will continue to be, in an asymmetrical battle with terrorists, guerillas and other insurgents both at home and abroad.

This does not mean we should surrender all of our civil liberties to the government for the illusion of safety. Nor should we stay in Iraq. At this point, we are throwing good money after bad.

I am not a pacifist. I believe that this country needs a strong military and that there are times when the military can actually do some good, if deployed wisely, both for the US and for the world community.

Iraq is no longer one of those instances (if it ever was).

Mr. Bush, if you're reading this:

Bring our troops home now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Living in a nightmare...

First, a humorous story:

The military contractor Blackwater tried to hire a Greenpeace activist according to this story.

How about a political cartoon now from Steven Bell, as well.

Now, for some more on the torture scandal.

The Guardian has a press review from the Arab world here.

Selected quote:

You see, revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Our friends and allies the Americans have a saying, which I believe we should make our motto: 'Don't get mad. Get even.' - Amr Mohammed Al-Faisal, Arab News, Saudi Arabia, May 9, 2004

I think we could easily see another Arab oil embargo coming out of this along with a more robust terrorist network. And oil already hit $40 per barrel last Friday.

Here's a study that finds that world consumers are increasingly not buying American products because they don't like the US anymore. Bush has been poisoning the well of world opinion for three years now, and the toxic effects are starting to be felt by all Americans.

For a little historical perspective, Dorreen Yellow Bird has a column reminding us that the US Army has long used murder, torture and mutilation to oppress people.

Selected quote:

As pictures of the Iraqi prisoners unfolded across the nation like some salacious sex or sadomasochism magazine, the public is appalled and dumbfounded.

Not in America or by Americans, people say. But that's not true. We, in this country, have a history of killing for selfish and misguided reasons. A few days ago in heated conversation about the Iraqi prisoner abuses, I couldn't help but drift to an image of the massacre at Sand Creek on Nov. 29, 1864. Five hundred to 600 Cheyenne and Arapaho were killed by U.S. soldiers. Many of the victims were children or women. The soldiers scalped some of the victims. The men knocked the brains out of babies, and many women were cut into pieces and their bodies mutilated.

Correspondence from the massacre report that women's private parts were taken from dead bodies and carried into Denver for a gory "show and tell." The trophies were greeted with cheers and praise by the community.

Col. John M. Chivington, commander of the unit that attacked the Cheyenne and Arapaho, said this was an act of duty to themselves and to civilization. Chivington and his troops felt justified in killing innocent woman and children because the community thought of Native people as savages - people who stood in the way of their way of life. So renegade warriors in that region retaliated by attacking settlers, killing and scalping them.

I think this historical incident exemplifies the sort of tit for tat revenge killings that September 11th started.

I think the Reservist Lt. General in charge of Abu Grope should also be court-martialed. It's her command. How can she just let military intelligence tell her not to go in there?

The military also resents these chickenhawks that Rumsfeld and Bush installed. These chickenhawks who never served in the military.

I think we should bring the troops home and Rumsfeld should resign.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Is Torture ever Justified?

This question is being discussed quite a bit right now. I think the answer is no. Torture is never justified. This makes me more of Kantian than I'd imagined.

I am opposed to capital punishment as well, because I think our justice system is too flawed to kill people is a fair and relatively just way.

Torture, of course, has no procedural safeguards, and is carried out in secret usually. How thoughtful of the US Army to videotape all of the torture for us.

Ariel Dorfman discusses this question in the Guardian.

I think Dorfman frames the utilitarian arguments for torture quite well when he asks if it would be acceptable to torture one child to make the rest of the human race happy. I think not.

I don't want to live in a world where millions or people are tortured to protect me. I would rather die with some semblance of honor.

This Dorfman quote is long, but I couldn't say it nearly this well myself.

Selected quote:

Make no mistake: every regime that tortures does so in the name of salvation, some superior goal, some promise of paradise. Call it communism, call it the free market, call it the free world, call it the national interest, call it fascism, call it the leader, call it civilisation, call it the service of God, call it the need for information; call it what you will, the cost of paradise, the promise of some sort of paradise, Ivan Karamazov continues to whisper to us, will always be hell for at least one person somewhere, sometime.

An uncomfortable truth: the American and British soldiers in Iraq, like torturers everywhere, do not think of themselves as evil, but rather as guardians of the common good, dedicated patriots who get their hands soiled and endure perhaps some sleepless nights in order to deliver the blind ignorant majority from violence and anxiety. Nor are the motives of the demonised enemy significant, not even the fact that they are naked and under the boot because they dared to resist a foreign power occupying their land.

And if it turns out - a statistical certainty - that at least one of the victims is innocent of what he is accused, as blameless as the children mentioned by Ivan Karamazov, that does not matter either. He must suffer the fate of the supposedly guilty: everything justified in the name of a higher mission, state stability in the time of Saddam, and now, in the post-Saddam era, making the same country and the whole region stable for democracy. So those who support the present operations in Iraq are no different from citizens in all those other lands where torture is a tedious fact of life, all of them needing to face Ivan's question, whether they would consciously be able to accept that their dreams of heaven depend on an eternal inferno of distress for one innocent human being; or whether, like Alyosha, they would softly reply: "No, I do not consent."

What Alyosha is telling Ivan, in the name of humanity, is that he will not accept responsibility for someone else torturing in his name. He is telling us that torture is not a crime committed only against a body, but also a crime committed against the imagination. It presupposes, it requires, it craves the abrogation of our capacity to imagine someone else's suffering, to dehumanise him or her so much that their pain is not our pain. It demands this of the torturer, placing the victim outside and beyond any form of compassion or empathy, but also demands of everyone else the same distancing, the same numbness, those who know and close their eyes, those who do not want to know and close their eyes, those who close their eyes and ears and hearts.
Alyosha knows, as we should, that torture does not, therefore, only corrupt those directly involved in the terrible contact between two bodies, one that has all the power and the other that has all the pain, one that can do what it wants and the other that cannot do anything except wait and pray and resist. Torture also corrupts the whole social fabric because it prescribes a silencing of what has been happening between those two bodies; it forces people to make believe that nothing, in fact, has been happening; it necessitates that we lie to ourselves about what is being done not that far, after all, from where we talk, while we munch chocolate, smile at a lover, read a book, listen to a concerto, exercise in the morning. Torture obliges us to be deaf and blind and mute - and that is what Alyosha cannot consent to.

There is, however, a further question, even more troubling, that Ivan does not ask his brother or us: what if the person being endlessly tortured for our wellbeing is guilty?

What if we could erect a future of love and harmony on the everlasting pain of someone who had himself committed mass murder, who had tortured those children; what if we were invited to enjoy Eden all over again while one despicable human being was incessantly receiving the horrors he imposed upon others? And more urgently: what if the person whose genitals are being crushed and skin is being burnt knows the whereabouts of a bomb that is about to explode and kill millions?

Would we answer: yes, I do consent? That under certain very limited circumstances, torture is acceptable?

That is the real question to humanity thrown up by the photos of those suffering bodies in the stark rooms of Iraq, an agony - let us not forget - about to be perpetrated again today and tomorrow in so many prisons everywhere else on our sad, anonymous planet as one man with the power of life and death in his godlike hands approaches another who is totally defenceless. Are we that scared? Are we so scared that we are willing to knowingly let others perpetrate, in the dark and in our name, acts of terror that will eternally corrode and corrupt us?

Email Congress

I wrote my representatives today. Representative Waxman and Senators Boxer and Feinstein.

[Title and name of representative]:

I am writing to express my shock and dismay over the torture and maltreatment of foreign nationals at the hands of the United States military.

I urge you and your colleagues to determine the origin of the orders of this torture and the origins of the practices.

As a citizen I want to know this:

Has the United States been torturing people in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo, Cuba?

Thank you for your attention.

Neal R. Axton, Esq.
Member of the Kansas Bar, # 18933
Former Federal Employee

* * * * *

I cannot believe that Bush is standing by Rumsfeld. Every time I think this administration could not get any worse, they surprise me again.

I think if Congress investigates Camp X-Ray, Congress will learn that the US has been torturing prisoners from Afghanistan since before the invasion of Iraq.

I think this will prove that Rumsfeld ordered it and Bush damn well knew about it.

I think Rumsfeld should resign and Bush should be impeached.

These are war crimes. This is so much more serious than lying about a blowjob in the White House.

Good advice

Change everything, except your loves. - Voltaire

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Happy Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day. Let us honor mothers today.

Torture emerges as an allied military policy called R2I: Resistance to Interrogation

The Guardian is running this story by Peter Beaumont, Paul Harris and Jason Burke that is the most comprehensive thing I've yet to read on the systemic use of torture in the war on terrorism. There is a timeline at the end of the article.

Selected quote:

That it has been a catastrophe for US foreign policy is asserted by usually robust senior Pentagon officials who claim privately that Iraq policy is now '97 per cent disaster' and the war is no longer being planned but crisis-managed from day-to-day. And catastrophe was the word used by the beleaguered Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during his humiliating appearance before Congress.

* * * * *

But as the week has worn on, the Pentagon's strategy to concentrate the story on a few 'bad apples' - including Sabrina Harman - has begun to seriously unravel, not only because of Harman's own evidence but because of the leaked Red Cross report and evidence of returning special forces soldiers to the UK.

According to one officer recently returned from Iraq, sexual humiliation of prisoners in Abu Ghraib was not an invention of 'maverick guards' but part of a system of degradation developed for use by British and US troops called R2I - resistance to interrogation - which uses sexual jibes and stripping prisoners to prolong 'the shock of capture' when detainees are at their most vulnerable.

In an interview with the Guardian yesterday, the officer said: 'It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn't know what they were doing.'

What has also emerged is the role that US military intelligence officers - and private intelligence contractors - have played in directing the abuse with most of the reservists involved alleging that they thought their duty was to 'soften up' the prisoners for questioning.

Indeed, Taguba's leaked confidential report identifies at least three contractors as being potentially to blame for the problems - contractors who are neither subject to Iraqi law, military discipline or the Geneva Conventions. Yet even as the scandal has boiled over, according to at least one of the companies named in Taguba's report, CACI International, the Pentagon has yet to contact it.

The Iraq war is now officially a clusterfuck. The Pentagon may as well just print up recruiting brochures for Al Queda. Anthony Sampson has some historical lessons about how torture affects the oppressed and the oppressors.

I think it's clear that these documented cases of torture will ultimately cause the occupation of Iraq to spin out of control and only worsen our position in the "war" on terrorism.

Blair is now trying to get a new UN resolution that will encourage Pakistan to commit troops to Iraq in order to save the occupation according to this article by Kamal Ahmed and Jason Burke.

I'm not sure that even Pakistani troops can save the occupation at this point. This thing is spinning out of control. I think if Pakistan did commit troops to shore up the anglo-alliance, it might spell the end for Musharraf. He has survived several assassination attempts already this year. Committing troops to Iraq to support the US might be the last nail in his coffin.

I think we need to get our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.

And we ought to bulldoze Abu Ghraib. It is now an enduring monument to the hubris of the Bush administration.

I think Arkangel summed it up when he wrote:

In the end, the only thing we have in this life, as people and as a nation, is our honor. This Administration has grieviously tarnished our national honor, by their deeds and their attitudes. What the sergeants and privates did at Abu Ghraib--and, it must be mentioned, other places and other times, from the beginning of this war till now--wasn't done in a vacuum. It was done because people from the bottom all the way to the top didn't think it was a matter worthy of condemnation until the whole world knew about it.

That's why there is no honor. And that's why tonight, I weep silent tears of shame and rage at what was done in my name.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Using Maps to show Historical Eras

I ran across this site called HyperHistory.

If you click on the maps button on the left, it has a very interesting graphical display of the changes in nations and empires over time (from early civilization through 1800).

Friday, May 07, 2004

Neal's Safety Tip of the Month: A mnemonic for first-aid patient assessment

A is for Airway

B is for Breathing

C is for Circulation

D is for Damage


Disclaimer: This isn't a substitute for medical training. Buy a good first aid manual. I have several. The Red Cross offers first aid training.

Caveat: Inspect the location before beginning first aid. Is there an obvious danger than needs to be managed? Is the mechanism of injury to the patient still in play (such as a running chain saw)?

A is for Airway

If patient is unconscious or a spine injury is suspected use the jaw thrust. Otherwise tilt the head back and the chin forward. If the person still doesn't breathe, sweep the mouth with your finger.

B is for Breathing

Listen and feel for breath. Is the patient breathing?

C is for Circulation

Feel their pulse. How is it? If it's not normal, keep checking them out.

If the person doesn't have a pulse and isn't breathing, summon an ambulance and begin CPR. Hopefully CPR can revive the person or prevent permanent damage before EMTs arrive and the EMTs will be able to revive. The person is dead at this point in some ways, so you can't make it that much worse for him or her. Doing nothing ensures brain damage within minutes.

A note on bacteria and CPR:

I would be hesitant to give CPR to a complete stranger without a mask of some sort. Antibiotic-resistant Tuberculosis is something to consider.

I carry a disposable breathing mask on my backpack. EMTs and firefighters carry the small hard masks. You can get both here.

D is for Damage

If the person is breathing but unconscious? Has the patient passed out from drugs or alcohol? If so, consider putting him or her in the recovery position. If a fall or spinal injury is suspected, don't move the patient except to remove them from a dangerous situation.

Turn the person over (careful with the neck) to see if they have any other injuries. Does he or she have bleeding under their clothes? Does he or she have an internal injury (especially a head or neck injury)?

In a medical emergency, it's important to stay calm. Take a deep breath and remember the ABCD's of patient assessment.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

What's Kansas like?

Recently my friend Candace asked me about Kansas. In responding to her, I realized just how much I miss Kansas. So here are my thoughts on the Great State of Kansas.

I'll start with an overview, then provide a thumbnail sketch of some of the bigger cities and then I'll give you my pro's and con's.

Let's start with Kansas' top level domain.

I like eastern Kansas a lot, that's where I grew up. The Flint hills region between Lawrence and Wichita along I-335 in the Spring is one of the prettiest places on Earth in my opinion. The state is mainly grassland, which is good for grazing cattle and raising wheat, corn, soybeans, milo etc.

Kansas doesn't have many people, the entire state has only 2.6-2.8 million people. By comparison, the city of LA has over 3 million alone. Orange county has about 3 million people. LA county has about 10 million people. Kansas is a rural state, which I like.

Kansas has some hills, but no mountains. Kansas is pretty flat, flatter than a pancake. See the Annals of Improbable Research

Western Kansas is particularly flat. It's a long, boring drive to Colorado to go skiing from anywhere in Eastern Kansas. They are also draining the acquifer under Western Kansas slowly and in about 40 years it will turn into a virtual desert. I would not move to western Kansas for just that reason.

To help you follow along and visualize the state, here's an interactive map of Kansas. If you click on the county, it will bring up a page for it with information on the biggest city in the county. I'll tell you what counties the cities are in as I go.

1. Wichita in Sedgwick County
Wichita is definitely the largest town in Kansas and the one where a person could most easily find a job, I'd guess. To be honest, my wife hates Wichita, but she grew up there, so it's an emotionally charged place for her. I've spent some time there, but not enough to really form an opinion. But I don't really like it. It seems to have a lot of vicious crime. Which is unusual for Kansas.

Sarah's family has lived there a long time and they have a very nice house, although they're moving to Oklahoma actually.

Wichita is big enough to have it's own airport, which is convenient. It's only a regional airport, but having an airport is town is always handy.

2. Hutchinson in Reno County
Hutchinson is pretty small, but it's nicer in my opinion. Most people refer to it as Hutch.

Hutchison had a lot of oil money in the 70's and that helped set up the economy. Dillons, an upscale supermarket chain in Kansas, is based in Hutchinson now. I won Hutchison's debate tournament one year, so I've always been well-disposed towards Hutchison. They do have a nice high school and I think the tax base is pretty good. My supervisor at the Legal Aid Society was from Hutchinson, and he was one of the most honorable men I've ever met. So personally, I like Hutchinson. My wife doesn't care for it.

3. Salina in Saline county
Salina is a sleepy town in the middle of Kansas...railroad tracks run through the middle of town, which I always hated. It is far away from anything. I've visited Salina several times. It's far from Kansas City and even farther from Colorado and there's nothing to do there. I wouldn't ever live there.

4. Lawrence in Douglas County
If I were to move back to Kansas, I'd move close to Lawrence, Kansas. That's where I went to law school at KU. KU is online at

I once heard someone say that Austin is an oasis in the middle of Texas, in much the same way that Lawrence is an oasis in the middle of the desert that is the entire Midwest.

Lawrence has a decent live music scene for its size. The Bottleneck in Lawrence attracts some national bands. Lawrence has an interesting vibe. There are lots of young punks with piercings in town along with your usual retinue of college students. KU is the flagship university in Kansas, so it is the nicest in many ways. Most of the graduate programs in the state are located at KU.

KU has about 30,000 students and there are 80,000 people in Douglas county. Lawrence is a college town mainly and a bedroom community for the Kansas City metro area. Lawrence probably has the highest density of libraries in the entire state.

This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but anyone in Kansas who has a single liberal bone in his or her body eventually moves to Lawrence or leaves the state entirely.

Don't get me wrong, Lawrence has its own share of problems. That's where I practiced law, so I could tell you about the deadbeats and drunks and wife-beaters. No place is perfect. But Lawrence is better than many. I really liked Lawrence.

Another nice thing about Lawrence is that it is about 30-45 minutes from Kansas City, so the amenities of the big city are close at hand for shopping or a night out on the town. Kansas City also has an international airport. KCI is a well-designed airport that is north of Kansas City, Missouri.

The Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri is a nice place. Next door is Westport, which is a popular bar district. Johnson county, Kansas is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Johnson county and Douglas county are growing closer together.

Land in most of Kansas is REALLY cheap compared to anywhere in California. Kansas land is cheap compared to anywhere on either coast, I think. There's a lot more land than people.

5. Holton in Jackson county
If you really wanted a really small town, I'd suggest Holton, near Lawrence.

My wife had an internship there one summer and lived in a renovated barn in Holton. I really liked Holton. It's a tiny, tiny town, tho.

Jefferson county is between Douglas (Lawrence) and Jackson (Holton). My grandparents used to own a farm in Jefferson county near Perry Lake.

Advantages of Kansas:
Cost of living is cheap. Land is cheap. Food is cheap. Plenty of clean water. Lots of clean air. Little crime.

Disadvantages of Kansas:
Jobs are scarce. Not a lot of industry or high paying jobs. Flat. Boring. Conservative. I'm ashamed to admit that when I left Kansas one of the school boards had just voted to ban the teaching of evolution. It was overturned the next year, but it's still hard to believe there are people that ignorant out there. There are lots of Christians in Kansas. Kansas is also very white bread. Not many minorities, especially in the rural areas. But lots of rednecks.

The brain drain is a very real thing in places like Kansas. The best and the brightest find better paying jobs in big cities around the country and leave forever. Most of my friends from college now live in Austin, Texas and will probably never move back to Kansas.

The pace is of life is definitely slower in Kansas.

And perhaps the biggest downside:
You can only get country music on the radio away from the big towns. ;-)

So, I hope this gives you a better idea about Kansas.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Hyperpower rather than Superpower

I read in the Guardian that the French use the phrase Hyperpower rather than Superpower. Those French, always having to be different... But I do like the phrase Hyperpower, I think it is much more apt than Superpower. Superpower makes me think of Superman. But Hyperpower makes me think of that kid in my 4th grade math class before they gave him the Ritalin.

Strategies for a Small Planet: Hemp as an Earth-Friendly Building Material

There is a cannabis decriminalization march taking place in South Africa. (Link goes to Al Jazeera)

I already knew that hemp had a lot of uses, but I wasn't aware of its utility as a construction material. Hemp is a hardy renewable resource, like bamboo. I'm all in favor of earth-friendly building techniques. More things should be built out of bamboo and hemp.

Here's a site listing 101 uses for hemp.

Disney forbids distribution of Michael Moore's new film by subsidiary

Disney doesn't want Moore's film (Fahrenheit 911) distributed by their subsidiary, Mirimax. The ostensible reason is preserving Disney's family values image, but the rumor being reported by the press is that Disney is afraid Governor Jeb Bush will revoke some of the tax credits that Disney is getting. See the NY Times article here. (reg'n req'd)

Selected quote:
Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.

Michael Eisner must really be a moron. All he's managed to do is give Moore a ton of free publicity. Did he think this wouldn't blow up in his face?

This is about as stupid as Fox suing Al Franken.

You can read Michael Moore's response on his homepage. Go Michael Moore!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Safety Net

The Safety Net is another group working to end men's sexual violence.

Also check out Men Can Stop Rape.

A good use of cell phones

As I biker, I see lots of stupid cell phone use by drivers in LA. But cell phones are a pretty cool technology.

MoveOn PAC is helping organize cell phone parties to collect information on voters. You can put a lot of people at a party with cell phones as a mobile phone bank. MoveOn provides the script and the data entry sheets.

This Saturday, May 8th is the target date. You can use the linked page to search for parties near your zip code.

Some radical librarians are putting one on here at UCLA. Maybe I'll make it over. A few phone calls to help mobilize people in the 18 battleground states against this administration!

Monday, May 03, 2004

Hotter than Heck

LA, like much of the West, is experiencing a heat wave. It's like biking in a hair dryer.

Bush and the Culture of the Rapture

The Bellman posted this succinct note titled Bush and the Cult of the Rapture that is worth reading.

This opinion piece from the Guardian asks God to Save America from the fundagelicals.

Should Kerry court the Southern vote?

Fran Marscher thinks so. Read about it in the Christian Science Monitor.

Living in a Rape Culture and the War in Iraq

The rape and sexual abuse of Iraqis in the American-run prison Abu Ghraib saddens me immensely.

You know, most of the time I can almost forget about the fact that I live in a rape culture where a large portion of the population (men and women) will be victims of sexual battery and sexual assault during their lifetime. Although every time I hear a prosecutor brag about how some individual is going to get raped in prison with that special smug grin, I realize that rape really is a state-sanctioned penalty in our society. But these news stories remind me anew that I live in a prison-oriented, rape culture.

The high prevalence of rape on our society is a real problem. What can we do about the fact that we live in a rape culture? What can we do about the military-industrial-infotainment-prison complex?

Robert Jensen of the UT School of Journalism, wrote an interesting piece called A cruel edge: The painful truth about today's pornography -- and what men can do about it. Give it a read if you've a few minutes.

Someone suggested to me that once you send men off to war, all sorts of tragic and violent consequences must be expected. I think there is a lot of truth to that. General Sherman, who burned much of the South on his march to the sea, commented that war is cruelty and you cannot refine it. The US civil war was a very cruel war, fratricidal as it was. I don't endorse Sherman's statement, but I am also suspicious of anyone who thinks war is civilized. War is about killing people.

I think there is a thin red line in human affairs. When you send men and women to war, they cross that line and begin to wantonly take human life to accomplish their objectives. Is it forseeable that they will be changed by the experience and may become even more cruel? Of course it is. Many of our soldiers have committed suicide in Iraq, and I am sure some others have been driven mad by the experience.

Bush launched this war on bogus WMD claims and then when those were proven unfounded, this administration moved to the moral high ground and claimed that the war evicted a cruel tyrant in Saddam Hussein and the world was better for the war. Now to find out that US military intelligence has been torturing people in Saddam Hussein's cruelest prison leaves the taste of ash in my mouth.

The Iraq War is proving to be brutal in ways I had not expected. But I should have known what military intelligence would do to try to make people reveal their most closely-held secrets. Torture and sexual assault were the result in this case. I wonder if any of this had (at least tacit) approval from the White House.

This was an unnecessary war in my view and we're really making things worse the longer we stay. Leaving by June 30th will set loose chaos in Iraq, but I think the longer we stay, the worse it will be in the end for everyone. We should move our troops to Qatar or Kuwait or some hospitable Arab country...if there are any left.

Tom Maertens also calls for a US withdrawal from Iraq in this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune republished by Common Dreams.