Friday, September 28, 2007

Once upon a nightmare

Arrival, originally uploaded by Patrick T Power.

Two PATRIOT act provisions declared unconstitutional

A Jurist article reports that Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon has declared the sneak and peek warrants and electronic eavesdropping under the "primary purpose test" in FISA warrants are unconstitutional.

CNN also has a copy of the opinion available.

The holding of the case appears to be this:

Therefore, I conclude that 50 U.S.C. §§ 1804 and 1823, as amended by the Patriot Act, are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. |Mayfield v. US, D. Or., Civil No. 04-1427-AA, page 44|
But I think this is the money quote:
Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the government has been prohibited from gathering evidence for use in a prosecution against an American citizen in a courtroom unless the government could prove the existence of probable cause that a crime has been committed. The hard won legislative compromise previously embodied in FISA reduced the probable cause requirement only for national security intelligence gathering. The Patriot Act effectively eliminates that compromise by allowing the Executive Branch to bypass the Fourth Amendment in gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution. |Mayfield v. US, D. Or., Civil No. 04-1427-AA, page 30|
More coverage at Concurring Opinions along with a nifty graph showing growth of FISA warrants under Bush administration.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Who needs snappy dialogue anyway?

Rotten Tomatoes has the 100 worst reviewed movies of all time.

These movies are vivid testimonials to the intellectual poverty of Hollywood.

If you want something good to watch, check out their list of the 100 best Sci-Fi movies of all time.

I'm shocked that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome made the list.

Censorship Causes Blindness

The Marketplace of Ideas: untidy, irreverent and indispensable

My friend Jim pointed out a recent post by Professor Geoffrey Stone that draws an interesting parallel between Columbia University's treatment of President Ahmadinejad and the Senate's condemnation of's General Betray Us ad.

[The] fundamental mission as a university... is not to "endorse" particular ideas as "right" or "wrong," but to promote a robust and lively and sometimes controversial exchange of views in order to promote the ultimate goal of education....

[A] university must remain neutral on all matters of public policy that do not directly affect the university itself, it should not have a faculty vote, for example, on whether to condemn the war in Iraq, on whether Mr. Bush is a good president, or on whether Mr. Ahmadinejad violates human rights.

Of course, individual faculty members, students, staff, and alumni may state their own positions on such matters with complete freedom. But the university itself should not take such positions. The responsibility of a university is to facilitate debate and disagreement, not to stifle it by declaring an "official" university position... This should be anathema to any university....

This brings me to the flap over's recent ad about "General Betray Us." The ad suggested that General Petraeus was "cooking the books for the White House" by presenting to the American public and to the Congress a misleading picture of the situation in Iraq. There is absolutely no question but that this statement was fully protected by the First Amendment.

As the Supreme Court has often and clearly explained, the First Amendment embodies "a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." The ad is well within the bounds of this fundamental constitutional protection and well within the long tradition in this nation of challenging our public officials -- military as well as civilian.

Nonetheless, the Senate, with the support of many Democrats, adopted a resolution solely for the purpose of condemning the ad....

Just as it is not the business of Columbia University to declare some views "right" and other views "wrong," it is not the business of the United States Senate to enact resolutions condemning the constitutionally protected expression of private citizens. To be sure, many of us sometimes find the constitutionally protected expression of others offensive.... In this nation, we are all free as individuals to "condemn" the views with which we disagree, and individual senators, acting in their individual capacities, are similarly free to declare their distaste for certain expression.

But it is not a legitimate role for the Senate of the United States to pass formal resolutions condemning the expression of constitutionally protected views...

Such expression, like's attack on General Petraeus, is not only protected by the First Amendment, but is essential to the functioning of a self-governing society. For the very same reasons that Columbia University should not declare particular ideas, perspectives, or positions "out of bounds," so too, the United States Senate should foster "uninhibited, robust, and wide-open" public debate and not attempt to intimidate citizens by irresponsible public declarations of official condemnation. Such a tactic smacks of the excesses of the McCarthy Era.

Justice Louis Brandeis cautioned us exactly 80 years ago that "the freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth," that "it is hazardous" in a self-governing society for the government "to discourage thought" and free expression, and that "the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones."...

[N]either President Bollinger nor the members of the Senate acted wisely or properly in conscripting the official voices of Columbia University and the United States Senate to declare a "politically correct" position for their university or their nation. |Columbia University, the U.S. Senate, and General Betray Us - Geoffrey R. Stone at Huffington Post|
A parallel could also be drawn to the politicization of the Justice Department. While the Senate and the Justice Department are political bodies, that does not mean that everything they do should be about pandering to one interest group or another.

Quite the contrary, for our Republic to flourish, they must take prinicipled positions on difficult issues and provide opportunities for citizens to live together in tolerance despite our disagreements.

Anarchists are so photogenic

Keep them stupid and happy; religious censorship in prison libraries

The New York Times' Neela Banerjee covers the recent machinations at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in their drive to create a safe-list of reading resources.

[A]fter a 2004 Department of Justice report mentioned that religious books that incite violence could infiltrate chapel libraries[, the Federal Bureau of Prisons began pulling religious books that were not pre-approved off the shelves of prison libraries].

After the details of the removal became widely known this month, Republican lawmakers, liberal Christians and evangelical talk shows all criticized the government for creating a list of acceptable religious books.

The bureau has not abandoned the idea of creating such lists... But rather than packing away everything while those lists were compiled, the religious materials will remain on the shelves [until a final decision is reached]....

“The bureau will begin immediately to return to chapel libraries materials that were removed in June 2007, with the exception of any publications that have been found to be inappropriate, such as material that could be radicalizing or incite violence. The review of all materials in chapel libraries will be completed by the end of January 2008.”...

The bureau originally set out to take an inventory of all materials in its chapel libraries to weed out books that might incite violence. But the list grew to the tens of thousands, and the bureau decided instead to compile lists of acceptable materials in a plan called the Standardized Chapel Library Project. The plan identifies about 150 items for each of 20 religions or religious categories. |Prisons to Restore Purged Religious Books - NYT|
This article brings several issues to mind immediately.

First, I understand the mission of the Bureau of Prisons (BoP) to defuse violence and anarchy whenever possible. The BoP did, at least, make an attempt to provide some coverage of approved religions and 150 books is not an unreasonable number.

But they had to know that this entire project would be controversial and any list of approved texts is going to meet with acrimony. The Old Testament, for instance, is not a mild-mannered book... but I presume that it is allowed to stay.

Second, I wonder about the very premise that inmates are made violent by what they read. Knowledge often has a profound effect on people and it is certainly true that books could cause people to react violently... but my suspicion is that most people get to prison by having violent tendencies and not being hard-core readers.

Since religious thought is so fundamental to how people live their lives, anytime a government tries to restrict religious freedom, they are treading on thin ice.

As a librarian, I don't generally support censorship, but there are some items that I feel ought to be restricted because the items are strictly instrumental in committing criminal activities.

The most clear-cut cases (to my mind) are items like the Anarchist's Cookbook with instructions for pipe-bombs and home-made napalm.

Those are the easy cases, so I am not totally opposed to all censorship. But I think there must be a compelling reason to invoke the draconian remedy of censorship and the censorship should be narrowly tailored to meet the objectives of the government or institution imposing the ban.

As my friend Ayne frequently reminds me:

A circulating library in a town is an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge.

-Richard Brinsley Sherrian

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bush Urges UN to Spread Freedom; US at top of UN's list

In the midst of all the hysteria about Ahmadinejad's visit to the US, Juan Cole keeps his eye focused on the bottom line. War with Iran "will not advance any of America's four interests in the Middle East: petroleum, markets, Israel and hegemony."

[Ahmadinejad] has been depicted as a Hitler figure intent on killing Israeli Jews, even though he is not commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces, has never invaded any other country, denies he is an anti-Semite, has never called for any Israeli civilians to be killed, and allows Iran's 20,000 Jews to have representation in Parliament....

The neoconservatives are even claiming that the United States has been at war with Iran since 1979.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, this assertion is absurd. In the '80s, the Reagan administration sold substantial numbers of arms to Iran. Some of those beating the war drums most loudly now, like think-tank rat Michael Ledeen, were middlemen in the Reagan administration's unconstitutional weapons sales to Tehran. The sales would have been a form of treason if in fact the United States had been at war with Iran at that time, so Ledeen is apparently accusing himself [and much of the Reagan administration] of treason. |Turning Ahmadinejad into public enemy No. 1 - Salon|

Talk about chutzpah! The neo-cons are masters of revisionist history as well as only seeing the reality they want to see.

Why does anyone listen to these morons any more? They should all be fired from any governmental position so they can all go back to working as lobbyists (not that they ever changed their allegiances...)

Title derived from bildungblog post.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

21st century navies, fraught with danger

Robert Kaplan describes a scenario where the U.S. continues guarantee open access to the sea lanes through cooperation more than intimidation.
[The] twin trends of a rising Asia and a politically crumbling Middle East will most likely lead to a naval emphasis on the Indian Ocean and its surrounding seas, the sites of the “brown water” choke points of world commerce — the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the Bab el Mandeb at the mouth of the Red Sea, and Malacca.

These narrow bodies of water will become increasingly susceptible to terrorism, even as they become more and more clogged with tankers bringing Middle Eastern oil to the growing middle classes of India and China.
The surrounding seas will then become home territory to Indian and Chinese warships, protecting their own tanker routes...

[The U.S.] should take advantage of the rising risk of terrorism and piracy in order to draw the Chinese and Indian Navies into joint patrols of choke points and tanker routes...

Because we remain the only major player in the Pacific and Indian Oceans without territorial ambitions or disputes with its neighbors, indispensability, rather than dominance, must be our goal. That, continuing deep into the 21st century, would be a stirring achievement. |Lost at Sea - NY Times| (emphasis added)

For nearly a century, surface navies have been branded obsolete and the arrival of the submarine was declared the death knell of the surface navy. Yet, ships endure...

World War II submarines were actually diesel boats that had the ability to submerge to attack or flee and run on batteries, but weren't full time submersibles. It's only with the advent of nuclear submarines that the navy has realized true submarines, boats that can stay underwater almost indefinitely.

It is certainly true that surface navies are vulnerable to a wide range of threats. A recent article at Defense Review suggests that the u.S. should not be building bigger carriers due to the difficult of protecting them.

Bottom line, if we get into any kind of serious beef with ANY country that has a decent arsenal of these weapons, our aircraft carriers will most likely be destroyed and sunk within minutes. They're just too big, too slow, and too visible to survive, even with all their onboard and offboard networked defenses. The fact is that high-speed, sophisticated precision anti-ship weapons technology is cheaper and can therefore outpace our ability to protect our big, slow carriers. In the end, war is a financial transaction. Russian helicopters cost a lot more to produce, field and replace than Stinger missiles, and U.S. Aircraft carriers cost A LOT more to produce, field and replace than even the most sophisticated anti-ship weapons.

But, here's the kicker: The enemy might not even have to rely on the above-discussed weapons to sink our carriers. Back in 2002, the U.S. Navy conducted a training exercise called "Millenium Challenge 02", which was designed to showcase high-tech joint-force doctrine. Instead, it ended up showcasing the ability of the Opposing Force (OPFOR) Commander, Gen. Paul Van Riper, to sink two-thirds of the U.S. fleet with "nothing more than a few small boats (fishing boats, patrol boats, etc.) and aircraft." Here's how Gary Brecher a.k.a. "War Nerd" described Gen. Van Riper's naval combat tactics, and the ramifications (i.e. big-picture significance) of the resulting carnage to our warships:

"He kept them circling around the edges of the Persian Gulf aimlessly, driving the Navy crazy trying to keep track of them. When the Admirals finally lost patience and ordered all planes and ships to leave, van Ripen had them all attack at once. And they sank two-thirds of the US fleet.

That should scare the hell out of everybody who cares about how well the US is prepared to fight its next war. It means that a bunch of Cessnas, fishing boats and assorted private craft, crewed by good soldiers and armed with anti-ship missiles, can destroy a US aircraft carrier. That means that the hundreds of trillions (yeah, trillions) of dollars we've invested in shipbuilding is wasted, worthless." |U.S. Aircraft Carriers Vulnerable to Attack?: The Ticking Time Bomb - Defense Review|
I think surface navies will always be important to a nation's ability to extend its power throughout the world.

But the world is becoming a more dangerous place and it will be increasingly risky for any nation to interfere with the affairs of others.

Impacts of global warming on agriculture being realized now according to UN body

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) was created by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to address the dangers presented by climate change.

A new report by the IPCC on Mitigating Climate Change is slated to be published in October of 2007 by Cambridge University Press, prior to publication, the IPCC has released a great deal of the report's information on the report's homepage.

The report provides mitigation strategies for the energy sector, transportation, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, and waste disposal industries.

The summary for policy-makers is available as a PDF. The entire report is available online in a pre-print version.

The Guardian's David Adam reports on the disquieting news being issued by the panel on how fast the impacts of global warming are coming upon society.
Speaking at a meeting to launch the full report on the impacts of global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Professor Parry, co-chairman of the IPCC working group that wrote the report, said: "We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it's us."

He added politicians had wasted a decade by focusing only on ways to cut emissions, and had only recently woken up to the need to adapt. "Mitigation has got all the attention, but we cannot mitigate out of this problem. We now have a choice between a future with a damaged world or a severely damaged world."

The international response to the problem has failed to grasp that serious consequences such as reduced crop yields and water shortages are now inevitable...

"Wheat production in India is already in decline, for no other reason than climate change. Everyone thought we didn't have to worry about Indian agriculture for several decades. Now we know it's being affected now." There are signs a similar shift is under way in China, he added....

[The IPCC report] says extreme weather events are likely to become more intense and more frequent, and the effect on ecosystems could be severe, with up to 30% of plant and animal species at risk of extinction if the average rise in global temperatures exceeds 1.5C-2.5C. The consequences of rising temperatures are already being felt on every continent, it adds.|How climate change will affect the world - Guardian|

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Democracies and Difficult Decisions

While in America we are struggling to decide when law enforcement should be allowed to tase non-threatening students on campus, in Germany the citizenry is grappling with the legality of the government shooting down hijacked planes.

Germany's defence minister faced calls for his resignation today after he signalled his readiness to shoot down hijacked aircraft at the risk of killing innocent civilians in order to avert a wider disaster....

Germany has been debating the issue for six years, since the attacks of September 11 2001 in the United States. While other countries have formed concrete strategies - in Britain the prime minister has to give his backing to any order to shoot, while in France fighter pilots are able to intervene at short notice without government approval once they have been given an order - Germany has yet to come up with a plan.

The debate has intensified since the arrest on September 4 of three alleged Islamic radicals accused of plotting car bomb attacks at US military bases in Germany. The incident has made many Germans feel that the threat of terrorism is closer to home than they had previously thought and that more specific anti-terrorism laws are needed. |German minister backs downing hijacked planes - Guardian|
Welcome to life in the age of terrorism. There are no easy answers anymore.

It's easy to make the wrong decision without having all the necessary information, but events move too quickly sometimes to wait for more info to arrive.

I often think of a scenario that William Gibson hypothesized in the novel Nueromancer where an installation has a hallucinogenic substance piped into the air supply that makes people act crazy, but doesn't actually make them violent. The terrorist organization, however, calls the police and tells them that the drug they put into the building does make people violent, something like PCP.

The police would really be damned no matter how they handled that situation, but that's why law enforcement is such an exciting job. Unfortunately, in all positions of great power there are grave consequences for making mistakes.

Monday, September 17, 2007

How quickly things change

The election of a conservative president in France has led to a harder line on Iran.
Bernard Kouchner said in an interview broadcast on French television and radio: "We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war."

He also said France wanted the European Union to back new sanctions against Iran, outside of the UN Security Council, to pressure Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.|France: Prepare for war with Iran - Al-Jazeera|

I must admit that I still don't understand all of the brinkmanship over the Iranian bomb.

Israel has the bomb and Pakistan already has the bomb. The nuclear cat is out of the bag and sooner or later all of the Arab countries will obtain a bomb.

The Iranians are trying to act nonchalant about this turn of events, but I do think it signals that the crisis is deepening.
Sayed Mohammed Mirandi, a political analyst at Tehran university, told Al Jazeera: "Most doubt that there will be any military conflict because the US is in enough trouble as it is in Iraq."

"The new French government seems to be taking the place of the former British government ... acting as Bush's poodle. |Id.|
If I were the Iranians I would not underestimate how untethered Bush is from the moral condemnation of others. As his administration winds down, he'll be sorely tempted to bomb them back into the Stone Age.

Bombing Iran strikes me as a bad idea, but the odds that Bush will send in the bombers are excellent.

Friday, September 14, 2007

If you're very careful, absolute power corrupts only a little bit...

In this YouTube video, a police officer explicitly threatens to arrest a youth on trumped-up charges.

Certainly not a heinous abuse of power, but it’s amazing to me that the cop’s so brazen about it.

CNN's news coverage is also available in this 4 minute video.

Via Concurring Opinions.

Title dervied from Harlan Ellison's Chocolate Alphabet stories.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

As if speaking the Devil's name summons her...

Ying Yang, originally uploaded by ~*~ Kouse ~*~.

Even after six years of this demented administration, it's still shocking how phony the Republicans arguments are decrying debate on their Orwellian surveillance programs.
[National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell] charged that as a result of press reports and Congressional debates regarding surveillance activities, "some Americans are going to die." That's because disclosures about surveillance activities will tip off terrorists to the existence of American surveillance programs and prompt them to use alternate communication methods, making it more difficult for the authorities to stop terrorist attacks before they occur.

McConnell didn't elaborate on which specific revelations undermined anti-terrorism efforts. It can hardly have been a surprise to Al Qaeda that the U.S. government was spying on them or that they were using American voice and data networks to do it.

Still, fear of terrorism is a potent force in American politics, and so McConnell's charges, however dubious, may persuade some members of Congress to support the administration's position. |What state secrets? National Intelligence Director cops to spying program - Ars Technica|
I'm going to beat the Christmas rush by calling McConnel a fear-mongerer right now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

FUD in bite-sized pieces

I'll be the first to admit that I consume huge quantities of doomsday scenarios, conspiracy theories, political diatribes, and Snickers bars.

Which is why it's so great for me that Bush is still President.

His antics in the Middle East and the anniversary of 9-11 have resulted in a veritable orgy of negativism. His inability to address the causes of terrorism while bogging us down in Iraq makes for some nail-biting worst-case scenarios.

This administration has turned the marketing of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) into an art form and I love to sit by the TV and absorb their modern-day fairy tales.

My favorite reporter is currently Michael Ware. |Wikipedia| CNN bio| He has a great way of cutting through the administration's crapola to let you know that we're well and truly fucked.

But, no worries. All American movies have a happy endings, I'm sure this will all turn out fine in the end.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The road to Hell is paved with exceptions

In interviews with The Associated Press, some experts warned that the practice of issuing state permits that allow trucks to exceed the usual weight limits can weaken steel and concrete, something that investigators say may have contributed to the Minneapolis bridge collapse Aug. 1 that killed 13 people.

"We talk about this all the time and the fear that we have is that we're going to have the same sort of disaster here that happened in Minnesota," said Don Lee, executive director of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties....

The danger is magnified by a recent federal finding that 18 percent of the nation's bridges either do not have weight limits posted or incorrectly calculated the weight limits that are posted. Also, a federal study last year classified 26 percent of the nation's bridges as either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete....

"It's one of the most befuddling policies we deal with, that we spend millions of dollars to build roads ... and the state comes along and for a pittance gives out a permit to allow trucks to destroy those roads in a matter of months or years," said Lee, the Texas official. |Overweight Trucks Damage Infrastructure - My Way News|
Ah, the beauty of local politics and industry campaign contributions.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Self-Hatred is an Ugly Thing

Israeli police recently busted a gang of neo-nazi who were living in Israel.

Boanitov, who was known as "Eli the Nazi", told police: "I won't ever give up. I was a Nazi and I will stay a Nazi, until we kill them all I will not rest."

In one conversation recorded by the police, Boanitov tells one of his fellow gang members: "My grandfather was a half-Jewboy. I will not have children so that this trash will not be born with even a tiny per cent of Jewboy blood." |Israeli neo-Nazi ring caught after attacks on synagogues - Guardian| (emphasis added)
Too bad this guy didn't just commit suicide...

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Archer 773's photo above cracks me up. I think the photo's title sums up his views.

Retaliation, oil, money and religion strikes me as a pretty comprehensive list of Bush's true rationale for going to war in Iraq.

Bush probably would send his family to fight for those things.

The question is should he be allowed to send other people's family members to fight for those things. Oil and money are certainly within the ambit of the President. Retaliation and religion are less appropriate rationales for government action, in my view.

But I'm sure there are plenty of Americans who probably consider those within the ambit of the President as well.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Men at Arms

I took a mental health break today and went out for three rounds of sporting clays.

I haven't been doing it very long, but it's quite addictive. It's expensive and time-consuming... but life is short and shotguns are so much fun.

Thinking about the gun control debate in this country, I've been reflecting on the fact that the second amendment right of a well-organized militia to keep and bear arms is strictly a product of the U.S. Constitution and does not apply to anyone other than me and my fellow citizens.

If there are any de minimis "universal human rights" (a proposition I'm not entirely sure of) I think a right to self defense is certainly one of those rights.

Self defense can manifest itself in many ways, but to be effective it requires cunning, intensity and the right tools.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The wheels of justice grind ever so slowly

Seven years into the most disastrous Presidency in American history, the federal judiciary has finally determined that vote-trading is acceptable.

[Before the 2000 election] two sites were created, and, which urged people to swap their votes and provided e-mail means for accomplishing this objective....

The true point of the swaps, when agreed to by Gore and Nader supporters, was to improve Gore's chances of winning the Democratic-pledged electors in the swing states without diminishing Nader's percent of the national popular vote (which had to exceed 5 percent to qualify Nader's party for federal funding in future elections).

Just four days after the vote-swapping sites were launched, the then California secretary of state threatened criminal prosecution, alleging a variety of state election and penal code violations. Immediately thereafter, the sites were disabled. The people behind the sites filed a federal lawsuit, asserting, in addition to other arguments, that the threatened criminal prosecution violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Not a testament to the speed of the legal system, it took until August of this year--2007, many years after 2000--for the case to progress to the point of the decision by the federal appellate court. But at least for the vote-swapping advocates, the result was worth the wait. |Perspective: A judicial blessing for vote-swapping sites - c|net| (emphasis added)
Worth the wait?


Who cares if vote trading is legal now?

What's matters to me is that in an historic election, one attorney general managed to destroy both Nader and Gore's chances of succeeding in the election, thereby dooming this country (and the rest of the world) to suffer incalculable damage at the hands of our traitor-in-chief and setting back the cause of third parties.

Talk about too little, too late.

Now I don't know who to be more pissed at: Ralph Nader for staying in the 2000 race, Gore for being more wooden than Pinocchio, the federal judiciary for being slower than molasses, or George Bush for being pure fucking evil.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Cult of Personality Assassination

Sociologist Amitai Etizioni suggests that Americans tend to obsess about personalities of leaders which leads us to ignore the more complex dynamics involved in politics (and the required complexity of political solutions).

Blaming a single person allows one to avoid the difficult task of understanding the often-complex underlying factors that caused the mess, as well as the even more challenging task of figuring out ways to change these factors. It is much easier to just call for replacing the non-leading leader. It fits well into the American predisposition to psychologize everything and sociologize nothing.

Take Iraq. It is a territory that was occupied by the Brits after WWI, who took a bunch of tribes that had little in common and boxed them into one state. It took a brutal dictator to hold them together. Saddam oppressed the two major tribes (Kurds and Shia) by drawing on the smallest of the lot (Sunni), who knew damn well that they would lose everything if they did not support him. The US came in and kicked over this structure, but failed to replace it with any viable alternative. It does not side with the Shia majority, because it tends to ally itself with Iran, and might impose a theocracy and kill many thousands of Sunnis. Nor does the US ally itself with the Sunnis, because they are a minority, and many Sunnis are former supporters of the Saddam regime. Instead, the US clings to a fantasy in which Shia, Sunni and Kurdish militias become loyal national forces, and a Shia leader acts as if he was a national one. Fat chance.

In contrast, if the US forces allowed each tribe to rule itself in its own territory, and the tribal chiefs to negotiate with one another as representatives of semi-independent states, effective leaders might emerge.

Alternatively, take the matter of oil revenues, the number one source of income for the Iraqi government. Most of the oil is in the Shia areas. The Sunnis have a thirty-year history of siphoning off major portions of these revenues. In the new Iraq, they will have to do with much less. Surprise, surprise: they're having a hard time accepting their much-impoverished lot. If, instead of blaming Maliki for not working out a deal with the Sunnis, the US would get the oil companies or Saudi Arabia to step in to make up for the Sunni shortfall, Maliki would suddenly shine (at least for a while)....

We should stop blindly pinning the tail on whoever is the current head of state and instead try to expose the underlying forces at work. We should see if we can work with others to support or even fashion new historical forces that will make it possible for those who are supposed to lead us to do their jobs right. |Pin the Tail - Huffington Post|
I think Etizioni makes some good points, however if our leaders refuse to live in reality and acknowledge the complexities of the situation and instead insist on a simplistic good versus evil scenario, then the first step (of many) in making progress is to replace the buffoons with serious leaders.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Lest we Grow too Fond of War

A five part series on YouTube introducing a new documentary titled War Made Easy, based on Norman Solomon's book by the same name.

The Primacy of Profanity

Harvard Professor Steven Pinker in his new book discusses how language provides insights into the mechanics of thought.

Pinker believes cursing is rooted in a primordial part of our brains... the same parts of the brain are involved when you bump your head and yell, ‘Oh fuck!' as when you step on a dog's tail and get a very sudden howl." ...

He points to the fact that brain-damaged patients who lose the power of articulate speech often retain the ability to curse like a sailor. "Since swearing involves clearly more ancient parts of the brain," Pinker says, "it could be a missing link between animal vocalization and human language."

"Cathartic swearing," ... is part of a primal, embedded rage circuit, and likely evolved to startle and unnerve an attacker.

The advent of language only added nuance. "If you want to intimidate someone," Pinker says, "then talking about sexual acts he does with his mother and advising him to engage in various other undignified or sexual activities is certainly one of the techniques that we use: ‘Go fuck yourself, you motherfucker. Eat shit.'" Hell yeah! |Holy @&%*! Author Steven Pinker Thinks We're Hardwired to Curse - Wired| (emphasis added)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

War with Iran, coming to a theater of war near you

Iran has appointed a new commander for its Revolutionary Guard. This is the paramilitary organization the U.S. is threatening to label as a terrorist organization to curtail its business wing.

Debka suggests that the announcement of the new commander of the Revolutionary Guards is a signal that Iran is preparing for war with the U.S.

Stratfor, a international policy think tank, provides analysis supporting this conclusion:
The background of the new IRGC commander, and the timing of his appointment, indicates that the Iranians are preparing to fill the vacuum in Iraq once the U.S. military effects a drawdown/pullout.

That the Iranians have placed their top Iraq hand in charge of the elite corps shows that Tehran is planning for operations in Iraq. It also should be seen as diplomatic move to convince the United States that they are serious -- they want Washington to know that if the United States conducts airstrikes against Iran, they are prepared to unleash havoc in Iraq. |Iran: New IRGC Chief - Stratfor|

According to Barnett Rubin (a Professor at NYU), the Bushies are going to start an anti-Iran PR offensive after Labor Day.

Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects.

It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for [war with Iran] -- they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty."
Of course I cannot verify this report.

But besides all the other pieces of information about this circulating, I heard last week from a former U.S. government contractor. According to this friend, someone in the Department of Defense called, asking for cost estimates for a model for reconstruction in Asia. The former contractor finally concluded that the model was intended for Iran. This anecdote is also inconclusive, but it is consistent with the depth of planning that went into the reconstruction effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I hesitated before posting this. I don't want to spread alarmist rumors. I don't want to lessen the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government in Tehran.

But there are too many signs of another irresponsible military adventure from the Cheney-Bush administration for me just to dismiss these reports. |Post Labor Day Product Rollout: War with Iran - Informed Comment Global Affairs| (emphasis added)

Check out Rubin's update as well.

I'm not sure what (if anything) can be done to stop this debacle in the making. Bush is still the commander-in-chief and he can do any damn stupid thing that comes into his head at the moment. He's totally isolated from the electorate and good counsel.

As a student of military history, I think there are times when the use of force is necessary and justified, but bombing Iran with our military stretched to the breaking point in Iraq strikes me as incredibly foolish.

The rationale of stopping Iran from getting the bomb is laughable since the Pakistanis have the bomb and it's no secret that their intelligence services have worked closely with Al-Qaeda in the past. If anything, bombing Iran makes it more likely that the Pakistanis would give Al-Qaeda the bomb.