"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Friday, April 30, 2004

Nausea and Heartache 

Obviously, I haven't had a chance to write much today, and by the time this evening came along, I simply didn't feel up to it. I am so utterly disgusted by the story of the torture chamber operated by American service men and women at Abu Ghraib, and I need to work through some of this before I say my piece. (By the way, in case you hadn't seen it yet, the British army is facing a similar controversy — readers of the Daily Mirror wil be waking up tomorrow to a front page photograph of one of their soldiers urinating on a hooded prisoner.) All I want to write now are my simplest initial reactions, without even the benefit of links. Sorry, I'll do a better job later. In the meanwhile, click almost any link in my blogroll for more and better news and commentary (in particular, Riverbend is, as always, required reading).

First, the stories of mistreatment of prisoners have been floating around for so long, and have been so consistent in their details, it is not terribly surprising for me to learn that it is happening. However, it is surprising (and disgusting) to learn that these folks were stupid enough to document their crimes; after all, what did they ever intend to do with these photos? Share them with friends and family? Second, a huge issue lurking here is the role of mercenaries in the operation of Abu Ghraib. In particular, it is deeply troubling to learn that these folks are apparently not under the jurisdiction of any military or civilian court. Finally, my thoughts go to those young men and women who will suffer, and perhaps die, directly because of the additional hatred and violence these war criminals have sown in Iraq and throughout the Third World. America's already shaky reputation has taken a body blow, and the effects will be felt in unimaginable ways, both big and small, but none of them good.

Again, I apologize for the sketchy nature of this post, and for my weak production todau (and probably most of tomorrow — family obligations call). I look forward to getting back into the swing in the next couple of days.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Fun With Translation 

Years ago, I heard a hilarious (if offensive, and probably racist) story which may or may not have been true. It seems that the hero of the tale had been commissioned to teach English to Filipinos shortly after World War II, and hit upon this excercise: Half of the class was to collaborate in an effort to translate a well-known phrase from English to Tagalog, and the other half of the class was to translate the result from Tagalog to English. The phrase in question was Gen. Douglas MacArthur's promise, "I shall return." So, the class got to work. And, after two translations, the result was this:

"I'll be right back."

I was reminded of this story by a recent entry over at Happy Furry Puppy Story Time. The host there, Norbizness, has a fun game he likes to play in which rap lyrics are translated by pasty white boys such as myself into language appropriate for the country club. Of course, I had to try it out. I started with my favorite rap lyric ever, from Public Enemy's "Fight the Power:"
Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant sh*t to me,
you see, a straight up racist, simple and plain--
motherf*ck him and John Wayne.

And this is what I came up with (as usefully edited by Norbizness himself):
Mr. Presley is well regarded by a broad majority, but I hold him in low esteem. He did not hide his tendency to judge people on the basis of inappropriate and offensive criteria, clearly. Indeed, I sincerely wish ill will upon both him and the so-called "Duke."

Okay, moderately amusing, perhaps. But then, a reader named don had a truly inspired idea — take the white boy translations, and run them back through the Snoop Dogg Shizzolator! As promised, Snoop did, indeed, "traaanslate it from tha shizzle to da shiznit, know what I'm sayin?" Here it is:
"Mr." Presley is well regarded by a broad majority, but I hold tha dude's ass in low esteem, know what I'm sayin'? Tha dude did not hide tha dude's tendency judge muthas on da basis of inappropriate 'n offensive criteria, clearly. Indeed, I sincerely wish ill will upon both tha dude's ass 'n da so-called 'Duke', know what I'm sayin'?

And, boys and girls, what's the lesson here?

Simply this — no punk ass Shizzolator will ever replace my homeboy Chuck D., know what I'm sayin'?

By the way, if you ever attempt to write a post such as this one, don't even try to use the spell check. Word.

Saturday, In The Park — Every Day's The Fourth of July 

My reaction to this might surprise you:
No permit for anti-war rally at convention

An anti-war group planning a massive demonstration at the start of the Republican National Convention in Manhattan has been denied a permit to rally in Central Park because the crowd would be too large.

The parks department denied the request by United for Peace and Justice organizers, who applied last June for a permit to rally in the park's Great Lawn after marching from 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue. The march permit request, submitted separately to the police department, is pending....

The permit denial letter said the Aug. 29 event, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of protesters, would exceed the 13-acre Great Lawn's capacity of 80,000 people; only 10 acres of the space is usable because of trees, benches and walkways. United for Peace and Justice indicated on its permit that it expected 250,000 demonstrators.

"In the view of the parks department, an event attended by 250,000 people would cause enormous damage to the lawn," the letter said.

The group plans to state in its appeal that numerous events with more than 80,000 people have taken place on the lawn, including a 1981 Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel concert that drew at least 400,000 fans and a 1982 anti-nuclear demonstration attended by more than 750,000 people, considered the largest protest in the city's history.

The Department of Parks and Recreation maintains that no gatherings of that magnitude have taken place on the Great Lawn since the area was restored in 1996. Organizers of a free Dave Matthews concert last September controlled crowd size by issuing 70,000 tickets, although about 15,000 additional people attended, parks officials said at the time.

"The Great Lawn itself cannot hold more than 80,000 people, and the overflow would be forced onto the adjacent landscape, causing damage to those areas of the park as well," the permit denial said.

Parks department spokeswoman Megan Sheekey said the city has offered to help the group find another location....

I hate the idea of protestors being excluded from the park, but it sounds as though there may be a truly content-neutral reason for the decision. If the Department is convinced that 80,000 people is the functional limit of the available space, they may well be right. I think it is significant that no event since the 1996 restoration of the Great Lawn has been approved for more than that number of participants, and I doubt that the New York City Parks Department is a Republican Party sleeper cell. I would welcome comments from anyone who knows more about these issues than I do (which is a pretty large sample), but my immediate reaction is that this might be legit.

Having said that, however, the same article includes (almost as a postscript) some truly outrageous stuff:

In a separate development, a coalition of unions representing police officers and firefighters has requested permits to demonstrate during the convention. Union members claim they are underpaid compared with their counterparts in other cities and are underfunded for fighting terrorism — complaints they plan to voice when the Republicans come to town.

No decision has been made on those permits, but "the rules of protest will apply to them like everybody else," Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"I don't know that I think protesting at the Republican convention is a very intelligent way of getting a better contract," he said.

Subtle, very very subtle. Our "first responders" are heroes, of course, but that's no reason why Mayor Bloomberg shouldn't hold a gun to their collective heads. Say it with me: One, two, three, ASSHOLE!

Do You Suppose They're Telling The Truth This Time? Me Either. 

A friend of mine offered this suggestion: He likes my writing here, he said, and he reads it regularly, but what it lacks is solutions. Don't just describe the problem, offer a solution. After all (we agreed), this is Rush Limbaugh's genius — he doesn't just talk about what's wrong, he tells us how he thinks we ought to fix it. Agree with him or not, but realize that the reason why the Dittoheads keep coming back is that Rush gives them an answer. It may be a stupid answer — just as the sun may rise tomorrow — but it's an answer.

Fair enough. Here's my proposed solution to almost every problem I have ever mentioned on this page:

Stop lying to me.

"Saddam has WMD's, and that's a slam dunk." "Saddam is in league with al Qaeda." "The President's tax cuts will benefit the middle class." "When all the votes are counted, we won Florida." "It's Clinton's fault." "They'll welcome us as liberators." "Oil revenues will be more than sufficient to pay for reconstruction." "It's all about protecting us from another 9/11." "Major combat operations have ended." "I'm a uniter, not a divider."

Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, let me check — oh, yeah; lie.

So the solution to the problem is (wait for it) tell me the truth:

"We're pretty sure that Saddam had WMD's, and we kept our half of the receipts just in case, but honestly, Blix may be right when he says that they may have destroyed them." "Saddam never had anything to do with al Qaeda — they hated him almost as much as they hated us — but we just don't like him." "The President's tax cuts will cost middle class Americans more in the long run than the pittance they will save, but rich folks will do real well." "'Fat Tony' Scalia saved our bacon in that last election, after Jeb screwed up." "Clinton has been out of office for almost four years; frankly, his remaining influence is minimal to nonexistent, but our wingnut base goes all loopy whenever we mention his name,so we keep doing it." "The Iraqi people will appreciate us for about twenty minutes after Saddam is gone, then they'll want us to get the Hell out. Of course, we'll stay." "The infrastructure is so severly screwed up after a decade of sanctions, even though Halliburton (through its French subsidiary, under Dick Cheney's direction) tried valiantly to keep it together, that Iraqi oil revenue will be basically nada for the foreseeable future." "Going after al Qaeda is really hard, because they're not really a 'country,' per se, but we will take advantage of this opportunity to take Saddam out, because we can." "We took Baghdad pretty quickly, as everyone knew we would, but holding it will be a real bear." "My political future depends on playing the red states against the blue states."

There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

The fact is, this approach would probably work. If the Junta adopted this tactic, Bush's poll numbers would probably remain steady, or even improve. Maybe they should give it a try.

I'm inspired to comment on the effects of lying versus telling the truth by this story from the New York Times:
Hussein's Agents Are Behind Attacks in Iraq, Pentagon Finds

A Pentagon intelligence report has concluded that many bombings against Americans and their allies in Iraq, and the more sophisticated of the guerrilla attacks in Falluja, are organized and often carried out by members of Saddam Hussein's secret service, who planned for the insurgency even before the fall of Baghdad.

The report states that Iraqi officers of the "Special Operations and Antiterrorism Branch," known within Mr. Hussein's government as M-14, are responsible for planning roadway improvised explosive devices and some of the larger car bombs that have killed Iraqis, Americans and other foreigners. The attacks have sown chaos and fear across Iraq.

In addition, suicide bombers have worn explosives-laden vests made before the war under the direction of of M-14 officers, according to the report, prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The report also cites evidence that one such suicide attack last April, which killed three Americans, was carried out by a pregnant woman who was an M-14 colonel.

Its findings were based on interrogations with high-ranking M-14 members who are now in American custody, as well as on documents uncovered and translated by the Iraq Survey Group. While the report cites specific evidence, other important assessments of American intelligence on Iraq have been challenged and even proven wrong....

Oh, my goodness! A potentially groundbreaking story like this, apparently well-sourced, and even the Times (home of Judith Miller, AKA "Chalabi's Bitch") feels compelled to point out that similar stories in the past have been utter bunk? Sounds to me like someone's cried "wolf" a few too many times!

Once bitten, twice shy. Thus, it follows: Covered with bites, a thousand times shy. Too bad, so sad.

Why Do The Parents Of Our Dead Soldiers Hate America? 

You know who really loves America? The Sinclair Broadcast Group, that's who. They love America so much that they are willing to go to the mat to assure that Americans are not bothered by reminders of our war dead:
NewsBlues.com is reporting [no free link] that Sinclair Broadcast Group has ordered its ABC-affiliated stations not to carry tomorrow's "Nightline," which will air the names and photos of soldiers who have been killed in combat in Iraq.

Sinclair General Counsel Barry Faber tells the site: "We find it to be contrary to the public interest."

The boycott will affect eight ABC-affiliated Sinclair stations.

Now, then, contrast Sinclair Broadcasting's fine display of patriotism with this treasonous behavior:
The father of a U.S. Army soldier killed in Iraq earlier this month, who believes his son was in one of the caskets shown in the now famous Tami Silicio photograph, has written a letter to The Seattle Times thanking the newspaper for publishing the picture that broke a Pentagon ban.

"Hiding the death and destruction of this war does not make it easier on anyone except those who want to keep the truth away from the people," the father, Bill Mitchell, wrote yesterday. The letter has not yet been published.

In a postcript to the letter, he added: "I would be willing to help that poor woman in Kuwait [Silicio] who lost her job over the picture which she felt needed to be seen. Possibly even with enough press coverage, the other parents who lost children on the same day as my son would also feel that she did a service for us."

Good Lord, man, what are you thinking? Don't you realize that there's a war on? Maybe you should talk to Sinclair Broadcasting's Barry Faber. I'm sure he would welcome the opportunity to explain to you the sacrifices we must all make in the furtherance of our Boy King's grand vision. Maybe, Mr. Mitchell, you should give Mr. Faber a call at (410)568-1500, and ask him to set you straight.

Colin Powell Is Off His Meds... 

...or, maybe, he has been replaced by his evil twin from the Bizarro World. Which would explain a lot. From Reuters:
Powell Says Support for Iraq War Will Revive

Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Thursday waning support among Americans for the occupation of Iraq would revive once U.S. forces there stamped out a surge of armed resistance.

In the most intense battles since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, U.S. forces have launched an air and ground offensive aimed at defeating anti-American fighters in the city of Falluja and are locked in a standoff around the holy city of Najaf.

With fewer than half of Americans now telling pollsters they believe invading Iraq was the right thing to do, Powell acknowledged that "determined resistance" had given the military "tough" weeks.

"Obviously when casualties are going up, and April has been a particularly bad month for casualties...this causes people to stop and think and reflect, 'What are we doing?' and you can expect this to be reflected in the polls," Powell said during a news conference in Denmark.

"But I am also convinced that once we deal with this current difficult situation in Falluja and down in Najaf in that area, people will recognize we are on top of it and the polls will reflect that," Powell told reporters.

For once, I'm speechless.

Cutting The Gordian Knot, or Cutting and Running? 

Just last night, I found this story from the Washington Post (all emphasis supplied):
In Two Sieges, U.S. Finds Itself Shut Out: Officials Find No Good Options for Ending Fallujah, Najaf Standoffs

Perched atop sandbags and peering through powerful binoculars, Marine officers manning front-line positions around this tense city can see the problem clearly enough, even through the swirling dust that gives Fallujah the sepia hue of a Wild West town: Military-age men in white robes swagger about with impunity, they say, hardening their defenses and resupplying their encampments.

The Marines say the men are Sunni Muslim guerrillas who have taken over this Euphrates River city and transformed it into a stronghold of resistance to the American occupation of Iraq.

But neither here, nor in the Baghdad palace that serves as the headquarters of the U.S. occupation administration, nor in the corridors of official Washington, is the solution to the Fallujah problem clear. Although American officials and Iraq's U.S.-backed leaders agree that the insurgents should be captured or killed, preferably before the Americans hand over limited sovereignty on June 30, no good options exist to accomplish that goal, according to U.S. officials familiar with the issue....

Military officials estimate there are between several hundred and a few thousand armed insurgents in Fallujah. Speaking to reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon, Marine Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, head of operations for U.S. Central Command, put the number at about 1,500....

On the Marine front lines, as snipers peer into the city through their scopes and infantrymen fortify their positions, there is an almost universal belief that offensive operations -- suspended in early April after just a few days of intense combat -- need to resume.

"Every one of them has a hunger deep down inside to finish the job," said Lt. Karl Blanke, a platoon leader with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. "We've now shed our blood in the city. The last thing we want to do is walk away from it...."

With persuasion and safe passage deemed unacceptable by the Americans, Iraqi officials have advocated another strategy: Let Iraqi security forces tackle the militants. The Marines have been ordered to conduct joint patrols in the city with Iraqi policemen and civil defense troops, but after three days of training conducted by Marine instructors, military officials said it was clear that the Iraqis did not have the skills to fight the insurgents on their own.

Plans to commence joint patrols on Thursday were postponed until at least Friday, Marine officials said. No reason was given, but intense clashes between insurgents and Marines on Wednesday have elevated tensions in Fallujah. The postponement also would give the Iraqis additional time for training.

So I go to sleep for six lousy hours, and everything's changed:
U.S. Marines announced Thursday an agreement to end a bloody, nearly monthlong siege of Fallujah, saying American forces will pull back and allow an all-Iraqi force commanded by one of Saddam Hussein's generals to take over security.

After the agreement was announced, explosions and shooting were heard in the city in new skirmishes, and warplanes circled overhead. The blasts went off in the Golan neighborhood on Fallujah's north side, a bastion of insurgents, and there were sporadic bursts of gunfire....

The Fallujah deal came after intense international pressure on the United States to find a peaceful solution to the standoff that killed hundreds of Iraqis and became a symbol of anti-U.S. resistance in Iraq, fueling violence that made April the deadliest month for American forces.

Pentagon officials confirmed an agreement has been reached to put Iraqi security forces in charge of Fallujah, allowing the Marines to withdraw....

The agreement was reached late Wednesday night between U.S. forces and Fallujah representatives, including four Iraqi generals.

It provides for a new force, known as the Fallujah Protective Army, to enter the city Friday and provide security. It will consist of up to 1,100 Iraqi soldiers led by a former general from Saddam's military, said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne.

Marine forces will gradually pull back from their positions in and around Fallujah to allow FPA forces to take positions enforcing the cordon of the city and move into some neighborhoods on Friday, Byrne said.

''The plan is that the whole of Fallujah will be under the control of the FPA,'' Byrne said, calling the deal ''an Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem.''

He identified the commander of the FPA only as Gen. Salah, a former division commander under Saddam. Many of the guerrillas in Fallujah are believed to be former members of Saddam's regime or military.

Byrne did not know the general's full name. But a Lt. Gen. Salah Abboud al-Jabouri, a native of the Fallujah region, was governor of Anbar province under Saddam and was a senior commander in Saddam's military....

Marine Capt. James Edge said that if the FPA entry is successful, the Marines may later go into the city in joint patrols with Iraqis.

It seems likely that some of the insurgents in the city though not ''hard-liners or criminals'' will end up as part of the security force, a Marine officer said on condition of anonymity....

Tactically, this is probably a good idea; strategically, it looks like a disaster. First, there is little doubt in my mind that the citizens of Fallujah will see this as a more or less total capitulation by the Americans. Second, I am deeply concerned by the notion of a Ba'athist general taking charge of such a symbolically important operation, and most particularly so if former "insurgents" actually join the FPA. Third, I predict that this will deal a major blow to the already crippled morale of the American Marines.

Ultimately, though, I suppose there was really no other acceptable option. A major assault on Fallujah would have created more problems (in terms of the campaign for "hearts and minds") than it ever could have solved. We really had no choice other than to withdraw. The only question was how to withdraw without an utter loss of face, and this plan was probably the least of all available evils. Still, let's be clear — on some level, to some degree, this was a defeat.

And everyone in Fallujah, Iraqi or American, must know it.

"You may have heard of jalopies..." 

A little bit of America dies today. From the Detroit Free Press (of course):
It's the end of the line for the oldest automotive brand name in the United States.

The last Oldsmobile rolled off the line Thursday morning at the Lansing Car Assembly plant, which has produced the venerable vehicles for nearly a century.

The car, an Alero that will have signatures of plant employees inside the hood, will be displayed at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing for about four months, said Rebecca Harris, a spokeswoman for General Motors Corp.

"It really has been fun. We've had great products," said Doug Stott, a production manager for Oldsmobile who has owned more than 30 Oldsmobiles himself. "Phasing it out was sad. At the same time, it's like a graduation."

Oldsmobile pioneered chrome-plated trim and gave drivers the Eighty Eight series, the front-wheel-drive Toronado and the Cutlass, while inspiring songs like "In My Merry Oldsmobile" and "Rocket 88." It was named for Ransom E. Olds, who started the Olds Motor Vehicle Co. in Lansing in 1897.

The company became part of GM in 1908, and soon assumed its place as the middle-class, middle-age cars in the conglomerate's lineup -- more expensive than Chevrolet and Pontiac, just a step below Buick and Cadillac.

In the mid-1980s, however, however, buyers began moving from midsize cars that Oldsmobile was known for to minivans and sport utility vehicles. Imports and "transplants," cars from import automakers built in the United States, took larger shares of the midsize market.

The nameplate developed a stodgy reputation, which the company tried to shed with an ad campaign saying the make was "not your father's Oldsmobile."

The gambit fell short, and GM announced in December 2000 it would end production of the struggling line with the 2004 model year. The Alero is the only model remaining in the brand's once-diverse lineup.

Of the 35.2 million Oldsmobiles ever made, more than 14 million were built in Lansing, and for more than a century, Oldsmobile meant steady jobs and decent paychecks in the state's capital city.

I will call upon that great poet, Bill Haley, to provide the appropriate postscript as we ease her out onto Route 66, and into the sunset:
You may have heard of jalopies,
You heard the noise they make,
Let me introduce you to my Rocket '88.
Yes it's great, just won't wait,
Everybody likes my Rocket '88.
Gals will ride in style,
Movin' all along.

V-8 motor and this modern design,
My convertible top and the gals don't mind
Sportin' with me, ridin' all around town for joy.
Blow your horn, Rocket, blow your horn!

Step in my Rocket and-a don't be late,
We're pullin' out about a half-past-eight.
Goin' on the corner and-a havin' some fun,
Takin' my Rocket on a long, hot run.
Ooh, goin' out,
Oozin' and cruisin' along.

Now that you've ridden in my Rocket '88,
I'll be around every night about eight.
You know it's great, don't be late,
Everybody likes my Rocket '88.
Gals will ride in style,
Movin' all along.

Update: Added Detroit Free Press link, which was negligently omitted from the original.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Doubleplusungood 

You are no doubt aware of this story concerning a doctoral candidate at the University of Idaho:
Webmaster's prosecution tests reach of terrorism law: U.S. says technical help is same as 'expert guidance' for militants

Not long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, a group of Muslim students led by a Saudi Arabian doctoral candidate held a candlelight vigil in the small college town of Moscow, Idaho, and condemned the attacks as an affront to Islam.

Today, that graduate student, Sami Omar al-Hussayen, is standing trial in a heavily guarded courtroom in Boise, accused of plotting to aid and maintain Islamic Web sites that promote jihad.

As a Webmaster for several Islamic organizations, Hussayen helped to maintain Internet sites with links to groups that praised suicide bombings in Chechnya and Israel. But he himself does not hold those views, his lawyers said. His role was like that of a technical editor, they said, arguing that he cannot be held criminally liable for what others wrote.

Note that, according to this account, at least, the offending material is several steps removed from al Hussayen personally: "Hussayen helped to maintain Internet sites with links to groups that praised suicide bombings in Chechnya and Israel." I mean, jeez, I once helped to change the oil in a car that belonged to a guy who new someone who advocated voting for Bush — does that make me a Republican?

You are probably also aware of this story about a high school art student:
Secret Service confiscates anti-Bush drawings by 15-year-old at Prosser High

A few political sketches took a 15-year-old Prosser boy from his art class to questioning by the Secret Service -- and thrust him into a debate over free speech.

On Friday, the boy was questioned by the Secret Service after his art teacher turned in sketches by the boy featuring President Bush. In one, Bush's head was on a stake. In another, he was dressed as the devil, firing off rockets. The caption on one sketch read, "End the War -- on errorism."

There were more sketches, including one of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution in flames. A family friend says the sketchbook has not been returned to the boy. His mother, who refused to comment yesterday, was given photocopies.

"Ridiculous and kind of embarrassing," is how Tom Smith describes the situation at Prosser High School, where he attends school with the 15-year-old.

"That was a constitutionally protected opinion, and I realize that schools do have to turn in kids that may be a threat, but he's not a threat," says Smith, 17, a junior at the Central Washington school. "He's friendly. I think he's like me; I try to be nice to everyone who's nice to me."

But Prosser police Chief Win Taylor says the boy and his sketches were seen as "a threat against the president of the United States. And we notified the Secret Service because that's their bailiwick."

He sees the situation as a clear-cut case.

In Prosser, the 17-year-olds are smarter than the Chief of Police.

I hesitate to argue on the basis of anecdotes, because in a country of a quarter billion people, you can find an example of almost any idiocy. But these stories, I think, point to an actual trend. The thought police are getting gaining influence and, as the Prosser art student so graphically put it, the result is a Constitution in flames.

One of my pet peeves is the word "technicality," as in "he was obviously guilty, but he got off on a technicality." In this context, "technicality" is almost always synonymous with "Constitutionally protected right." The Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure is probably the most commonly invoked "technicality," but more and more, the First Amendment guarantees of free expression, thought, religion, and assembly are rapidly gaining "technicality" status.

The problem is that most people have little or no objection to this development. The First Amendment is often unpopular, precisely because it works in favor of unpopular people. As Mike Godwin once observed, the First Amendment especially protects offensive speech, because no one ever tries to ban inoffensive speech. So the citizenry sees people they don't like, even people they fear, protected by the First Amendment. And often they don't get it.

I once worked in a record store in Seattle's University District, where I became acquainted with some of the street kids in the neighborhood. One of them was a young man, at heart quite decent and quite smart, but who had unfortunately fallen under the influences of heroin and White Supremacist skinhead culture. He came into the store one day, bragging that he and his friends had trashed the Communist bookstore up the street the night before. I asked him why, and he said it was because they were proud American patriots, with no use for the un-American activities the bookstore represented in their minds. I then had a long, patient talk with him about what "American" meant, as enshrined in the Constitution, and asked him if, in some sense, he wasn't the one behaving in an un-American manner. I'm not sure that he completely got it — he never mentioned any such vandalism to me again, but I don't know if that was because he saw the light or simply because he knew I didn't approve — but the thing that shocked me was how obvious it was that he had never heard such a philosophy expressed anywhere before.

I don't know if the UI doctoral candidate is an al Qaeda stooge, or if the Prosser sophomore is a danger to the life of the President. But I do know that I'm deeply uncomfortable with the facts of their cases, as I have read them, and by the lack of public outcry or even curiosity. I fear that the Republic is in grave danger if the public remains unconcerned. In the meanwhile, I will continue to read and write about these issues, so long as I am permitted to do so by a lucky "technicality."

Weird Stuff In the News 

I haven't seen much about this:
Former president Bill Clinton's office was briefly evacuated after a worker opened a package containing a suspicious powder, police said.

A Secret Service agent assigned to the Harlem office opened the package at about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, police said. A letter and a vial of powder were inside.

Preliminary tests were negative for anthrax. The city Department of Health would conduct further tests, said Detective Bernard Gifford, a police spokesman.

Clinton was not in the office when the package was opened. The building was evacuated for two hours while police investigated....

It should be fun watching Coulter, Limbaugh, and the rest of the usual suspects find a way to blame this on Clinton. Of course, they could blame it on Hillary, which would actually make sense, sort of.

Revisit With Me That Central Asian Oasis, Uzbekistan! 

Old obsessions die hard. All I need is to see the word "Uzbekistan" appear in a headline or abstract, and I go all Pavlovian. You know — salivate, type, repeat. Today's item comes from the Asia Times:
Uzbekistan's femmes fatales

Almost a month after a series of bomb attacks and shootings rocked the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, the question of who masterminded the attacks is still unclear. While the government blames international terrorists and Islamic radicals, others are pointing to domestic opponents to the iron rule of President Islam Karimov. Complicating the various theories is the fact that at least two or three of those who participated in the suicide attacks were women from backgrounds that are quite different from that of most Islamic militants....

Police officials are said to have found a woman's shoe and pieces of blank chador cloth among the mangled remains of bodies at the blast site in Tashkent. On March 29, 19-year-old Dilnoza Holmuradova detonated explosives strapped to her body at Tashkent's Chorsu market. The explosion left two policemen and Dilnoza dead. The suicide blast was the first ever in Uzbekistan. A series of blasts had rocked Tashkent in 1999, but they did not involve human beings strapping themselves with explosives and blowing themselves up....

Dilnoza was a devout Muslim. She is said to have started studying the religion in 2002. The religious leaders she encountered at a meeting appear to have left a deep impression on the teenager.

According to a report in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) website, Dilnoza was a computer programmer, and enrolled at the Tashkent police academy in 2001. Besides her native Uzbek and Russian, Dilnoza also spoke English, Turkish and Arabic.

Dilnoza's 22-year old sister, Shahnoza, is said to have gone missing the day of the suicide attacks. Police are said to have launched a hunt for Shahnoza. Posters describing her as an "Islamic fanatic" warn that she could carry out a suicide attack.

"The central police department in Tashkent says Dilnoza and Shahnoza were active members of a radical Islamic group and that both had received training in some unspecified foreign country. It is not clear what group they are believed to have joined, or what the nature of the training was," reports IWPR.

Another woman who is said to have blown herself up is 26-year old Zahro Turaeva - again a woman with "good prospects", who had graduated from the university of technology and was employed in a government office for architecture and construction. She, too, came from a well-educated family. Another woman who figures among those who participated in the recent suicide bombings in Uzbekistan is 21-year old Shahnoza Inoyatova.

It is hard to understand what might have prompted Dilnoza, Zahro and Shahnoza to blow themselves up. Uzbek government officials blame radical Islam. But Islam forbids suicide and several religious leaders in Uzbekistan, as in other parts of the world, have condemned suicide attacks as unIslamic.

Some have pointed to a tradition rooted in Zoroastrianism - a religion practiced in the region before the advent of Islam - that dates back several centuries as providing legitimacy to women suicide bombers. It is said that women used self-immolation as a weapon of last resort to protest against domestic violence and harassment in male-dominated Uzbek society....

Prior to the recent violence, women, especially relatives of those in custody, were harassed by the police. Now, the Uzbek security forces are targeting women more directly and ruthlessly.

Since females were involved in the suicide attacks, women, especially religious ones and those wearing headscarves, are suspect in the eyes of the security forces. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of women have been rounded up, beaten, harassed and intimidated, and even raped. The whereabouts of several women is not known. Many of the women that are being held in custody following the suicide attacks are those whose husbands or brothers are in jail....

More suicide attacks can be expected in Uzbekistan in the coming months, and in all likelihood, the bombers will be women. Women suicide bombers are less likely to be detected, and therefore the chances of a successful operation are higher when the bomber is a woman. Besides, a woman suicide bomber - especially one who has a future to look forward to or who can be projected as someone who put the cause above family ties - makes for great propaganda material for the militant outfits and is sure to receive maximum media attention....

Well, we'll see about that last bit. It's hard to imagine Uzbekistan's femmes fatales capturing the attention of the American press, unless one of them exposes her breast during halftime at the Super Bowl.

Probably Not Good News 

From the Christian Science Monitor, another must-read:
Insurgents in Iraq show signs of acting as a network

Far from limited to a small group of "dead-enders" and Saddam "thugs" as Pentagon officials claim, the armed opposition to the US occupation in Iraq has reached the point where some experts say it threatens to become a full-fledged nationalist insurgency.

Bolstered by former Iraqi military and security personnel, today's insurgents are at the least conducting increasingly sophisticated coordinated attacks. In addition, they have built networks to recruit fighters, make weapons, and funnel funds from Iraqi businesses and charitable groups, military experts say.

Perhaps most important, insurgents are now motivated primarily by nationalism and Islam, rather than by loyalty to Saddam Hussein, they say.

US commanders are weighing moving tens of thousands more US troops into Iraq - as well as additional tanks and other armor - in an effort to curb unrest expected to surround the planned June 30 transfer of power to Iraqi authorities.

"The insurgency has worsened immeasurably," says Ahmed Hashim, an Iraq expert and professor of strategic studies at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. For example, "the new insurgents showed a dramatic improvement in small-unit fighting skills" during recent violence in Sunni towns such as Fallujah, he said, testifying before Congress as a private citizen.

Coordinated attacks on convoys and troops, such as a devastating ambush in Ramadi this month that killed 12 US Marines, show insurgents in some areas are striking virtually as military units and withdrawing under covering fire, he says. "They have shown an ability to stand and fight, rather than merely to 'shoot and scoot' or 'pray and spray' as in the past...."

Well, I don't think that anyone with half a clue ever bought that whole "thugs, terrorists, and dead-enders" line of crazy talk. Frankly, I'm not sure how the Coalition® military spokespeople were ever able to recite that particular talking point without spontaneously bursting into flame. (Of course, the civilian spokespeople — Bremer, McClellan, Wolfowitz, etc. — are accomplished liars of the Orwellian type, and were never in any real danger of igniting.)

But, if there has been any bright spot in the progress of the occupation to date, it has been that various factions have apparently not been strongly allied with each other. This article seems to imply that this good fortune may not last. A united nationalist movement would leave us with two unattractive options: Level the country, or leave with our tails between our legs. The last vestiges of "liberation," already tattered, would simply dissolve. This would become, explicitly, a war of conquest and subjugation, or else we would just have to give up entirely.

"Dick & Dubya's Excellent Invasion: A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed"

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Was It Really A Ceasefire If Everyone Kept Firing? 

It doesn't matter anymore; it's over:
Fallujah Truce Ends; U.S. Pounds Insurgent Targets: U.S. Gunship Hammers Targets As Fighting Rages For 2nd Straight Night

Explosions and showers of sparks lit up the sky in Fallujah on Tuesday night in a battle that appeared much heavier than the previous night's clashes -- evidence that U.S. forces may be trying to wear down a bastion of gunmen in the tense city.

U.S. aircraft and artillery put on a show of force against Sunni insurgents in Fallujah, the focal point of the anti-coalition insurgency, as a fragile cease fire came to an end after two extensions.

An AC-130 gunship and artillery opened up on the Jolan district in northern Fallujah -- a poor neighborhood where many insurgents have gathered -- as gunfire flashed for nearly two hours. The region is where a Marine was killed in fighting Monday night.

Fires were visible in the district, and mosque loudspeakers elsewhere in the city called on firefighters to mobilize.

Marines are preparing to begin patrols in the city, and on Tuesday started training Iraqi security forces to join them....

Real Journalism 

His hair sucks, but Ted Koppel's heart and mind are perfect:
"Nightline" devotes show to reading war dead names

A U.S. television news program is to dedicate an entire broadcast to a reading of the names of American servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq.

Ted Koppel will read aloud the names of those killed since the March 2003 start of the Iraq war on the Friday edition of ABC News "Nightline", the network said on Tuesday. The reading will be accompanied by a photograph of each person named....

Due to time constraints in the 30-minute program, "Nightline" will limit its reading to the approximately 523 U.S. troops killed in combat since the start of the war. Another 201 have died as a result of accidents, friendly fire or suicide....

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree 

By all means, read this important article from the Christian Science Monitor:
Sadr the agitator: like father, like son

Sadr enters the mosque at Kufa where he's led Friday prayers for nearly a year denouncing the authorities and warning of an "imperialist" conspiracy against Iraq's majority Shiites.

The thousands fill the vast open courtyard, chanting the name of their hero when he strides through the gate, and they take up his call during the sermon. "No, no to America! No, no to Israel! No, no to imperialism!" In Baghdad, the authorities worry about how to handle this militant cleric, his rising profile and his willingness to flex the street muscle he's built up in Iraq's slums.

But the Sadr in question is not Moqtada, the young cleric whose gunmen now occupy Kufa and the neighboring shrine city of Najaf. Instead, the year is 1998 and the man leading the prayers is Ayatollah Mohammed Sadek Al-Sadr, Moqtada's father.

While Moqtada's religious credentials are weak, his family's political standing is as deep as the modern history of Iraq. His grandfather was the prime minister in 1932. And this young, militant cleric didn't spontaneously emerge after the fall of Saddam Hussein. US forces now entering the city of Najaf, are up against a man who has donned the well-cultivated mantle of his father, the leading Shiite thorn in the side of the Hussein regime in the 1990s....

It's easy to think that we made al Sadr what he is today, and, in fact, we have certainly played into his hands. But this article leads me to think that maybe the Qur'an isn't the only thing he learned at his father's knee. Read the rest.

Did Karen Hughes Ghostwrite This, Too? 

Neal Pollack has managed to obtain the exact text of the very letter that the Boy King sends out to the families of our war dead:
Dear Grieving Parent:

I’m sending this personal letter to express my extreme sorrow at the loss of your son/daughter, who was recently killed while bringing freedom to the Iraqi people. As my dear friend and adviser Karen Hughes has said, the difference between our terrorist enemies and us is that we value every human life, which is why it’s vital that we ban abortion in this country. But no lives, even those of unborn innocents, are more valuable than the ones that have been lost while trying to keep us safe from evil.

Having never sent my children to war and having never been to war myself, I cannot begin to imagine what you’re experiencing right now. Still, I know that war making, for the cause of good, is the noblest purpose of humankind. The Almighty is with us in our quest. I pray that, through your tears, you’ve retained faith both in God and in the rightness of our mission.

However, I must urge you to ignore news reports that indicate a lack of planning on my part or on the part of the Administration as regards our mission in Iraq. Such information is false, because I can in no way be held culpable for the deaths of any Americans. It’s important for you to know that after a lone rocket-wielding insurgent thug attacked your son’s/daughter’s patrol unit, the surviving soldiers didn’t fire randomly into a crowd. I can only repeat our military spokesmen’s subsequent denial. Our soldiers are incapable of shooting one Iraqi child, much less four.

The United States Of America does not traffic in the killing of children. Our army is one of liberation, not occupation. This war has absolutely nothing to do with the high-profit business of a small cadre of international businessmen and the narrow ideological obsessions of pseudo-intellectual armchair generals. We are engaged in a mighty struggle for the future of civilization. The evildoers, thugs, and terrorists who oppose us will surrender or perish, and those who do nothing to stop them are implicated in their crimes. It's our duty to free the Iraqi people if we have to kill every last one of them. Your deceased child knew that well.

And you no longer have to worry about pictures of your child’s coffin or funeral being shown on television or in the newspaper. We listened to your pleas and nipped that in the bud. From now on, our departed soldiers will be remembered, per their families’ wishes, as anonymous cannon fodder.

Well, that’s about all I wanted to say. May the Almighty bless you and keep you in these days of epic battle. Please feel free to drop by any time if you want to talk.

Your President,

George W. Bush

(Note to the irony impaired: This copy may not be completely accurate in every detail.)

Word Of the Day: "Zugzwang" 

From the American Heritage® Dictionary, Fourth Edition (2000):
zug·zwang n. A situation in a chess game in which a player is forced to make an undesirable or disadvantageous move.

With a tip o' the hat to Cosmic Iguana, I find this piece from the Moscow Times, via the International Herald Tribune:
The doomsayers' gloomiest predictions of a "new Vietnam" in Iraq are coming true. Critics of U.S. muscle-flexing, shamed into silence last spring, are once more taking heart. The process of forming an "Iraqi" government, more than anything else, has revealed George W. Bush's statements about bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East to be empty rhetoric. Most Iraqis now clearly see that an occupying army is creating a new government as a prerequisite to a prolonged stay in the country, not to withdrawal.

The White House faces an insoluble dilemma: It cannot leave Iraq and it cannot stay. In chess this quandary is called "zugzwang," when it is your turn to move, but all possible moves will weaken your position. U.S. interests would be best served by admitting defeat and getting out now. For Bush and his clan this would be political suicide, however, and they don't seem like the kind of people who are willing to sacrifice their own ambitions for the common good. Bush will drag out the war, increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq. This will lead to even greater loss of life on both sides, to animosity and the growth of Muslim radicalism. If Bush wins a second term in November, he will spend the next four years helplessly trying to cope with the problems he has created, and in the end his attempts will lead to catastrophe.

Should the Democrat John Kerry prevail, he will face a no-win situation. If he sticks to Bush's policy in Iraq, he will rouse the ire of many of his core supporters. If he decides to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, he will be blamed for defeat. Whatever happens, the outcome will have serious domestic political consequences for the United States. As for Iraq, a U.S. withdrawal will quite possibly usher in a period of chaos. This is not an argument in favor of prolonging the occupation, however. The United States must withdraw in any case. The longer the war lasts, the harder it will be for everyone involved to deal with its consequences.

This addresses a question which has been much on my mind for a while now: Simply put, what the Hell are we going to do?

The same idea is expressed by the old expression (and accompanying Buck Owens tune) about having a tiger by the tail. The dilemma is easily described — you can't hold on, but you can't let go, either. And that's a pretty good description of our situation in Iraq. Anything we do, or fail to do, will necessarily make things worse.

If we stay in Iraq, more Americans and Iraqis will die. Worse yet, nothing good will come of their sacrifices. The Iraqi people hate our soldiers, and our soldiers increasingly hate the Iraqis. Atrocities will be committed by parties on both sides, and the purpose for the war will become even blurrier than it is today (if you can imagine). Meanwhile, the cost of the war becomes an increasing drain on our economy, as well as what's left of our national unity. The endgame looks a lot like the last helicopter leaving Saigon in 1975.

But if we leave, the result is no better. Iraqi nationalism is probably a stronger force than we have been led to believe, and the sectarian divisions are probably not as pronounced as we have been led to fear. Iraq once had a functional (if warped) civil society under the Hussein regime, but it is fragile. A committed minority of agitators among the Kurds, the fundamentalist minority within the Shi'a majority, and the disenfranchised Sunni (at least, compared to their previous privileged status) will no doubt seize upon the opportunity to create dissent and conflict, with potentially explosive results. Should the worst occur — not an unlikely scenario — the results would be catastrophic. From our selfish perspective, the worst aspects of this approach would be an increase in Islamic fundamentalism, and the loss of access to Iraq's enormous oil resources.

So, then — what are the other available options? Perhaps the most obvious one — and the notion apparently favored by John Kerry — is to internationalize the conflict. Let the UN (or NATO, or whoever) carry most of the burden, both with respect to decision making and to security. This is not a terrible idea on its face. The immediate problem with it is the clear hostility expressed by the Junta toward any such solution; as long as the Empty (Flight) Suit is in office, it just ain't gonna happen. But assume that Bush loses in November — could Kerry make good on his intentions to move in this direction? It's not clear that he could. There are two problems: First, while the Iraqis currently hate only us, and at least claim to welcome international security, they may well change their tune once the promise becomes a reality. Occupiers are occupiers, whether their helmets are olive drab or baby blue. Second, and more problematic from our perspective (since, frankly, we wouldn't really care if the Iraqis turned against the international forces, as long as we had already made our sort-of-graceful exit), it is increasingly unlikely that the international community is willing to step out on this particular limb. It would really suck if we offered to turn the problem over to the UN, and the UN said "no, thanks."

Which leads to what is, in my opinion, the most promising option: Find the Iraqi George Washington, and let him (or her) deal with the problem. The obvious model here is Nelson Mandela (by the way, congratulations to the South African people on the tenth anniversary of their democracy!). A less obvious, but perhaps more realistic, model is Hamid Karzai. Sure, Afghanistan is nowhere near peaceful, and nowhere near being a functional state, but Karzai seems to have his heart in the right place, and (more importantly) seems to be capable of appealing himself to the international community for security assistance. We're carrying most of the water there, but we're usefully insulated from the office of Head of State. Something along these lines would be ideal.

But, who's the Iraqi Karzai? I have no idea. I know it isn't Chalabi and, amazingly, the Junta now seems to know that, too. Bremer (who needs to be furloughed, and soon, for his own health and safety) ought to make it his top priority to find such a person. Again, Mandela and Karzai are the models: It must be someone with legitimacy among the Iraqi people, ideally someone who has stayed in Iraq over the years or, at least, kept deep roots there, and someone who can span the cultural gap between Iraq's history on the one hand, and genuine representative government on the other.

I don't know who this mystery leader is — but I know we had better find out, and soon. The only other option is checkmate.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Coalition of the Wobbly 

Tony "Poodle" Blair is encountering a bit of resistance from those who ought to know what's going on (all emphasis supplied):

More than 50 former British diplomats have blasted Tony Blair, saying the prime minister must either influence America's "doomed" policy in the Middle East, or stop backing it.

In an unprecedented letter published on Monday by 52 former ambassadors, high commissioners and governors - the top ranks of British diplomacy - Blair was urged to sway US policy in the region as "a matter of the highest urgency".

The diplomats, among them former ambassadors to Iraq and Israel, told Blair they had "watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close cooperation with the United States.

"We feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment," said the letter, sent to Blair and made available to the media....

The protest letter comes as Blair faces deep discontent among voters for backing a US-led war that most Britons had opposed and for endorsing a Washington-driven policy that has put London on a collision course with allies in Europe.

The diplomatic swipe is bound to be seized upon by Blair critics as fresh evidence that British interests come second to America's because of Blair's zealous alliance with President George Bush and his neo-conservative agenda....

The career diplomats urged Blair to use his alliance with Bush to exert "real influence as a loyal ally... If that is unacceptable or unwelcome, there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure...."

"The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total between 10,000 and 15,000," they said, estimating the number killed in the last month in Falluja alone at several hundred.

"There was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement...To describe the resistance as led by terrorists,
fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful
...."

Now, if I'm not mistaken, Blair faces a re-election battle in the next year or so.

Without the British, our "coalition" loses all claim to a multinational base. Sure, Mongolia, Rwanda, etc. may stay on board, but (with all due respect to the Mongolian and Rwandan nationals who are risking their lives today for Dick & Dubya's Excellent Invasion), who cares? The "coalition," such as it is, consists of the Brits, a bunch of mercenaries, The United States, and everyone else. The Naked Emperor cannot afford to lose his poodle.

So, assume that Blair is toast. Who takes his place? Does he lose to the Tories, who will grumble and moan but ultimately Stay the Course®, or does he lose to another Labour candidate? This is the question that ought to be keeping President Cheney awake nights, if the undead had to sleep.

Meanwhile, the bleeding continues:
The US Foreign Secretary, Colin Powell, has asked Norway not to pull its troops out of Iraq.

However, Foreign Minister Jan Petersen says this is not possible, since the troops are already committed to NATO operations in Afghanistan....

"I hope Norway will consider extending the contribution the country has made to the forces in Iraq, either by extending the term for the present units, or by exchanging it with a new contingent," Powell said.

Powell also thanked Norway for its contributions both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

And according to Foreign Minister Petersen, the engagement in Afghanistan is precisely the main reason why it is not possible for Norway to extend its contribution in Iraq as well.

"Norway announced at the outset that the Norwegian contingent in Iraq would be withdrawn this summer," Petersen says. He says Afghanistan is NATO's main priority, and that Norway does not have the resources needed to remain in Iraq as well.

In a way, this is good news. The mission in Afghanistan, despite Shrub's fever dreams to the contrary, is clearly the highest priority (assuming that the goal is actually to defeat al Qaeda). But, jeez, dissed by Norway? Will Powell's humiliation never end?

Who Is Sibel Edmonds? And Where's My Tinfoil Hat? 

Do you recognize the name Sibel Edmonds? Probably not. I wrote about her once before, briefly, but without any great understanding of who she is and what she has to say. Frankly, I took her for a loon, and that hunch may yet play out. But today I'm not so sure.

Sibel Edmonds is a former FBI translator with a great deal on her mind. According to this article from Andrew Buncombe, she claims to have "seen information that proved there was considerable evidence prior to September 2001 that al Qaeda was planning to strike the US with aircraft." In particular:
Mrs Edmonds, 33, a Turkish-American who had top secret security clearance, claimed this month that while working in the FBI's Washington headquarters, she saw information proving senior officials knew of al-Qa'ida plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes. She has provided sworn testimony to the independent panel appointed by President George Bush to investigate the circumstances surrounding 11 September.

Furthermore, she insists that "the claim by the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no such information was 'an outrageous lie',"according to a different version of Buncombe's piece.

So, probably a crackpot, right? Don't give her a second thought.

Except — if Sibel Edmonds is such a nutbar, why is the Junta so damned afraid of letting her talk?

You see, Sibel Edmonds has been subpoenaed to testify in a civil case brought by hundreds of families of 911 victims (remember them?) against several banks and the Saudi royal family. However, the Junta is working overtime to see that she does not get a chance to talk:
[T]he US Justice Department is seeking to stop Mrs Edmonds from testifying, citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege".

Today in a federal court in Washington, senior government lawyers will try and gag Mrs Edmonds, claiming that disclosure of her evidence "would cause serious damage to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States".

Hmmm. Just who's the nutbar here? (Yes? Condi? Why is it I always see the same hands?)

First of all, the United States is not a party to this suit. I wonder, therefore, why the flying monkeys should have standing to bring such a motion at all. My federal civil procedure is perhaps not as strong as it should be, but I know of no provision which permits a disinterested party to bring a claim of privilege. On a purely technical level, this should be interesting.

But more to the point — do we suppose that the Cheney administration really thinks that Ms. Edmonds will, in the course of her testimony, "damage [...] the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States?" If so, then I, for one, definitely want to hear what she has to say. Of course, as you may know, I am not inclined to buy into conspiracy theories (as I've said before, it's not that I would put such antics past this bunch, I just don't believe that they're disciplined enough to keep so big a secret). But then why work so hard at looking guilty?

My guess is this: Ms. Edmonds' testimony would probably be embarrassing, but no more embarrassing than what we've already heard. My guess is that this is just another heavy-handed, counterproductive effort on behalf of secrecy for its own sake.

But maybe not. In any case, let Sibel Edmonds testify, and we'll soon know whether there's a real smoking gun, or just more blue smoke and mirrors.

By the way — why is the US press so oblivious to this story? If you search for "Sibel Edmonds" on Google News, you will get (as of this writing) 64 hits: A couple from the Washington Times and similar Moonie/fringe outlets, a couple from the Village Voice (which has tried to carry the torch), a few from alternative sources like Common Dreams and Axis of Logic, but mostly from the foreign press. Papers and broadcasters in Canada, the UK, South Africa, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, etc., have followed the story closely. Here? Almost nothing.

The Land of the Schwag, And the Home of the Licensed Merchandise 

I have some stuff for sale at Cafe Press. If you enjoy this blog, and/or you like the new logo (to your left, my right), then check it out.

Of course, you're always free to drop some coin in the Tip Jar instead.

On the Turntable 

Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (2004)

I'm trying really, really hard to come to terms with a simple, immutable fact: I'm getting old.

From the time I picked up my first copy of Rolling Stone in 1973, until I started law school twenty years later, I lived for my radio, and the sounds and stories it brought me every night at the flick of a switch. I knew it all. If you wanted to know who produced Shaun Cassidy's Wasp album, or who played bass on Eric Clapton's "Let it Rain," or who wrote "Heartbreak Hotel," I could tell you off the top of my head. (Todd Rundgren, Carl Radle, and Hoyt Axton's mom, Mae Axton, respectively.) They called me "the walking Phonolog" — and, if you understand the reference, you're probably getting old, too.

The first sign that I was losing touch was when Nirvana's Nevermind was released. It sounded to me then — and it still sounds to me — like one great song and a lot of filler. And I've only gotten worse. My Lovely Bride, who is much hipper than I, tries heroically to school me, but when she plays stuff like Reindeer Section or (God forbid!) Belle & Sebastian, my eyes glaze over. Every now and then I'll hear something recent that grabs me (e.g., the New Pornographers), but in general I just don't get the music that these kids today are listening to.

And so I come to the White Stripes. I can't say that I know their stuff well; I've only heard bits and pieces here and there. And, by and large, I didn't get it. Jack White always struck me as a marginally interesting guitarist, but his voice grated on me. And, as for Meg White — well, let me just say, if I want to hear someone who wants to be Moe Tucker, I'll listen to my old Velvets' records.

But then, a couple weeks ago, I heard the White Stripes on World Cafe on my local NPR station. And I was floored. I still don't like Jack White's voice (with an important caveat, below), and I still don't understand what Meg White brings to the party, and I still don't like bands without bass players, but still, I was blown away. I hadn't realized what an accomplished musician Jack White really was until I heard him play old blues tunes on the electric guitar, the acoustic guitar, and the piano. I also hadn't realized the extent to which he consciously works within the traditional blues form until I heard him play his own compositions back-to-back with some of the classics.

And then, he started talking about his work with Loretta Lynn.

Now, country music is something I have only recently (that is, the last twenty years) learned to appreciate. It's easy to think of country music as three chords and a lot of twang, and it's even easier to listen to some of the most bloodless contemporary country artists (yes, Toby Keith, I'm talking about you) and write the genre off in its entirety. Easy, but wrong. The great country artists bring an understanding of storytelling and songwriting that is at least the equal of rock's best (there's a reason why Pete Towshend covered Don Williams). And I had to get old — or, at least, older — before I realized it.

Jack White, however, seems to have figured it all out much earlier than I did. And so, he convinced his friend Loretta Lynn to come out of retirement to make this record, and we are lucky that he did. It's wonderful from beginning to end.

Every song here is a winner. This record should find an easy audience with both Loretta's traditional country base and White's raunchy roots-rock crowd. The writing is outstanding, the recording is raw but scintillating, and the performances are unimaginably good. It's hard to pick a high point out of the mix (although it would be much harder to pick out a low point), but my favorite is probably "Portland, Oregon," the second track on the record and the only one on which Jack White sings. Imagine the courage that implies: Singing a duet with Loretta Freakin' Lynn! And then, imagine my surprise to hear that White holds his own. His voice, which always struck me as thin and affected, blends beautifully with hers. Meanwhile, the guitars are churning and blistering, mixed higher than one might expect but to great effect. This, in a nutshell, describes the production philosophy of the album: The bitter quality of White's arrangements and performances, against the sweetness of Lynn's voice. And there are another twelve tracks, nearly as good.

I think the word I'm looking for is "inspired." This record comes out tomorrow. Buy it today.

Update 4/27/2004: Corrected an embarrassing error. (Mae Axton wrote "Heartbreak Hotel," not "Blue Suede Shoes." Carl Perkins, of course, wrote "Blue Suede Shoes.")

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Beer Goggles (Major Remodel Edition) 

Beer Me, Baby!As you can see, I've done a bit of redesigning. I would love to hear any feedback (except, of course, for comments that are likely to make me cry), but unless I get a mess of complaints that I have broken your browsers, crashed your computers, and curdled your milk, I don't anticipate making any major changes for a while. I've spent so much time on this that I have neglected writing new posts and reading what's going on in the news and in the blogosphere. In other words, it's time to focus on content for a while.
In the fridge...

...is Bridgeport Brewing Company's Pintail Copper Ale. Or, rather, that's what was in the fridge — I just finished the last one.

I run hot and cold on this Portland, Oregon, brewery's products. The Ebenezer Ale (a winter offering) is pretty good, and I don't mind the Blue Heron Pale Ale at all. On the other hand, I've always found the Bridgeport ESB rather underwhelming. The Pintail Copper Ale has been a nice surprise. It is very hoppy, with a pronounced bitterness, but the aftertaste is well balanced and it feels smooth and refreshing in the mouth. This would be a good beer to go with a strongly flavored barbecue or old-fashioned meat loaf. I think it would overpower most fish or chicken dishes, except for something like Buffalo Wings or halibut fish & chips. Give it a try, if you like amber or copper ales.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Erratum 

The New York Times was called upon to issue this rather embarrassing retraction (from the Rocky Mountain News, via Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, with a tip o' the pointy white hood to Pandagon):
Thursday's New York Times misidentified GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors as a Ku Klux Klan member who murdered a black sharecropper....

The Times story concerned a federal court decision upholding Louisiana resident Ernest Avants' 2003 conviction in the slaying.

The story indicated the accompanying photo was of Avants. But the picture actually was of Coors on the day the Golden beer baron announced he was running in Colorado's open Senate race.

Coors' picture ran on page 21 of the A section in the Times' national briefs package....

The Times did not return a call from the News.

I wonder why.

But — never one to be caught sans le bon mot (that's supposed to be French, by the way), Coors' campaign spokesperson Cinamon [sic] Watson responded thusly:
"It could have been worse. Pete could have been identified as John Kerry."

I mean, after all, there are insults, and then there are insults. And so the tone of the political debate is elevated once again.

Juan Cole Gets His Knickers In a Righteous Twist (And That's a Good Thing) 

If you want to understand what's going on in Iraq in particular and the Middle East in general, and you only have time to read one blog per day (other than PTTN, of course), then you should be reading Juan Cole's Informed Comment. Today he rips the appalling Christopher Hitchens a new one, while maintaining an appropriately academic level of decorum. As they say, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

What Makes a Hero? 

You are no doubt aware that Pat Tillman, former strong safety for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, was killed in action in Afghanistan. Please join me in expressing my condolences to his family and colleagues.

The death of any American service man or woman is a tragedy, and one might reasonably wonder why this particular tragedy warrants special mention. I heard about Pat Tillman's death this morning on the radio as my Lovely Bride and I were driving to work, and her reaction was interesting. She noted that we don't hear very much these days about soldiers dying in Afghanistan, and she wondered if maybe he wasn't getting some special attention just because he had been a football player. The implication, as I took it (and I may not be expressing her thoughts accurately, so I apologize for any misrepresentation), was that some heroes are more equal than others.

I am a fairly rabid football fan, so maybe I'm not the right person to respond to this news if one is looking for evenhanded analysis. However, I understand that NFL players are a generally privileged lot in our culture, and it is not a privilege that they always earn by their sterling behavior. (By the way, PTTN is an official "No O.J. Zone," so we won't refer to that particular data point.) Certainly, a man's life is worth no more than the lives of his comrades at arms simply because he has an extraordinary ability to intercept passes or rush a quarterback.

But I think there is a very good reason why Pat Tillman's death deserves special reflection. More to the point, there are 3.6 million good reasons: When Pat Tillman volunteered to serve in the Army, he traded a $3.6 million contract for an $18,000 annual salary. He traded the glory of sold out stadiums for the grit of the Central Asian mountains. He was already a "hero," by some measure. Kids would have asked him for his autograph; advertisers would have paid for his endorsement; ESPN's SportsCenter would have documented his professional acheivements (and, of course, his failures) for an adoring audience of millions. And he gave that up for MRE's and nights spent bivouacked thousands of miles from home and family.

Argue with the war if you like — God knows that I do — and the wisdom of sending young men and women to kill or be killed. The men who founded our nation were careful to place the military under civilian control, which means (I think) that we who sit in the warmth and comfort of our own homes have a profound responsibility to ask whether we are justified in asking our soldiers, sailors, and airmen to risk their lives on this battlefield, in this campaign, or whether that blood and treasure ought to be reserved for another time and place. That's our duty.

But Pat Tillman saw his own duty — a duty to leave money and fame behind, and answer the call of his country — and for that he gave his life. Would you have done as much? I can tell you, I'm sure I would not have. And, today, I feel a little smaller for it.

Proconsul Bremer Speaks Out Against No-Bid Contracts 

Well, sort of. Not a word about Halliburton or Bechtel, but some things are simply beyond the pale:
Analysis: Iraqis claim graft probe slowed

The U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, deliberately put the brakes on an investigation by the Iraqi Governing Council into allegations of $10 billion in bribes, kickbacks and smuggling at the U.N. oil-for-food program, lawmakers were told.

The 2-month delay caused by needlessly putting the audit contract out for tender may have allowed the loss of vital evidence, Claude Hankes-Drielsma, an adviser to the U.S.-appointed council told the House National Security Subcommittee, led by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

Bremer told the Iraqis "he would not release funds ... to meet the cost of the investigation unless the work was put out to tender," Hankes-Drielsma said Wednesday, despite the fact that KPMG -- the firm selected by the council's finance committee -- was acknowledged world leaders in forensic auditing and had sent a team to Baghdad.

"The lack of respect we are giving this council is troubling to me," said Shays, pressing U.S. diplomats and State Department officials to ensure that "there'll be no more procedural delays" imposed by Bremer.

At the United Nations Wednesday, a separate three-member panel headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker opened its own investigation following a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote to authorize the probe.

But unlike their counterparts in New York, the KPMG investigators in Baghdad have access to financial and other records from the files of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. They hope to trace more than $10 billion believed misappropriated from the program, which had been established to allow Iraq to sell oil for humanitarian supplies such as food and medicine for its people....

Oddly enough, I have only seen this story mentioned in two places — the UPI analysis quoted above, and a similar piece in the Washington Times. Is there a reason why only the Moonie press seems to be covering this?

DARE To Hold Big Pharma Accountable 

No one would knowingly endanger the lives of millions of sick children in order to make a few bucks, right?

Wrong. Lots of people would do just that. And, apparently, many of them work for multinational pharmaceutical concerns. From Reuters:
Drug Firms Withheld Negative Data -Study

Drug companies withheld information showing antidepressants were ineffective and could be harmful to children and should have issued warnings on their products, researchers said on Friday.

Health authorities in Britain and the United States have voiced concern or advised doctors not to prescribe the drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to children under 18 because of a potential suicide risk.

Scientists who conducted a review of six published and six unpublished trials about their use in children say companies had been aware of problems but did not reveal them.

"They have this data sitting in front of them (showing) that the drugs don't work and there is some risk that they will increase suicidality in children. Why didn't they just put a health warning saying 'don't use in children"' asked Dr Tim Kendall, of the National Collaborating Center for Mental Health (NCCMH) in Britain which produces guidelines to improve patient care.

"It is morally their responsibility, especially when it comes to children, that if they have data to show their own drugs don't work and/or are dangerous they should make that public," Kendall added.

Most SSRIs are not specifically licensed for use by under-18s but are still prescribed off-label.

The drugs in the review included GlaxoSmithKline Plc's Seroxat/Paxil. In a memo from GlaxoSmithKline, leaked last month and published in a Canadian medical journal, the company said negative trial results could not be released because it would damage the profile of the drug.

There was no immediate comment from GlaxoSmithKline but in the past the company has said it believes its drug is safe and effective....

The analysis of both sets of data, published in The Lancet medical journal, found the risks exceeded the benefits in all the drugs except Eli Lilly and Co's Prozac....

So, let's review: "Damag[ing] the profile of the drug" is not acceptable, but being complicit in the deaths of children is acceptable.

It's good to know where the lines are drawn.

Do You Remember When Conservatives Used To Complain About the "Nanny State?" 

Meet the new nanny — same as the old nanny.

With thanks to one of Hesiod's commentors, I found this piece from the Denver Post:
FCC eyes role as cop of cable

Grab a shovel. Both sides are digging in for what promises to be a long fight.

In Las Vegas this week, Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told a convention of broadcasters that he would like to extend his regulatory powers to cover cable as well as broadcast TV. What he sees as indecency, that variable offense that shifts over time and refuses to be pinned down, keeps popping up on cable these days. He's determined to stamp it out.

Powell acknowledged that he doesn't have the authority to tackle cable but expects to ask Congress to give him the muscle....

The government will now restrict "profanity" among other types of speech, the FCC announced in March. The regulators define profanity to include "blasphemous" speech. You can imagine how that sits with First Amendment advocates.

"It is astonishing that a federal agency would take unto itself the authority to punish speech it considers blasphemous," said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph Neas. "What does the First Amendment mean if federal bureaucrats can decide which public discussions are too irreverent? Which religious authorities will the FCC consult in deciding how big the fines should be for comments that offend someone's religious sensibilities...?"

Broadcasters have tried to pin down the FCC regarding its definition of indecency/profanity, to no avail. When a radio station planned a live, round-the-clock reading of James Joyce's "Ulysses," the programmers asked the FCC to rule on whether the broadcast would violate the indecency standard. The FCC declined to issue a ruling....

Okay — when you mess with my boy James Joyce, you're messing with me.

And what's up with the rumblings about regulation of "blasphemy?" I don't want to overreact here, because so far we're dealing with a lot of hypotheticals and "what-if's," but if the FCC is going to start fining broadcasters for "blasphemy," however that term may be defined in practice, then I think we've left the realm of the slippery slopes and entered the kingdom of the brick walls. (Good thing for me that no one regulates tortured metaphors, eh?) I'm reminded of Aretha Franklin (fuzzy pink slippers and all) in The Blues Brothers: "Don't you blaspheme in here!" Good Lord, I can hardly go three sentences without blasphemy! (See? I just did it, without even trying!)

Bottom line: Michael Powell is a zit on humanity's ass. Oh, shit, I said "ass...."

Sovereign Inanity 

Could someone please tell me what kind of "sovereign" government lacks the power to enact laws?

From the New York Times (all emphasis supplied):
White House Says Iraq Sovereignty Could Be Limited

The Bush administration's plans for a new caretaker government in Iraq would place severe limits on its sovereignty, including only partial command over its armed forces and no authority to enact new laws, administration officials said Thursday....

Only 10 weeks from the scheduled transfer of sovereignty, the administration is still not sure exactly who will govern in Baghdad, or precisely how they will be selected. A week ago, President Bush agreed to a recommendation by Mr. Brahimi to dismantle the existing Iraqi Governing Council, which was handpicked by the United States, and to replace it with a caretaker government whose makeup is to be decided next month....

The administration's plans seem likely to face objections on several fronts. Several European and United Nations diplomats have said in interviews that they do not think the United Nations will approve a Security Council resolution sought by Washington that handcuffs the new Iraq government in its authority over its own armed forces, let alone foreign forces on its soil.

These diplomats, and some American officials, said that if the American military command ordered a siege of an Iraqi city, for example, and there was no language calling for an Iraqi government to participate in the decision, the government might not be able to survive protests that could follow.

The diplomats added that it might be unrealistic to expect the new Iraqi government not to demand the right to change Iraqi laws put in place by the American occupation under L. Paul Bremer III, including provisions limiting the influence of Islamic religious law....

"The arrangement would be, I think as we are doing today, that we would do our very best to consult with that interim government and take their views into account," said Marc Grossman, under secretary of state for political affairs. But he added that American commanders will "have the right, and the power, and the obligation" to decide....

In another sphere, Mr. Grossman said there would be curbs on the powers of the National Conference of Iraqis that Mr. Brahimi envisions as a consultative body. The conference, he said, is not expected to pass new laws or revise the laws adopted under the American occupation.

"We don't believe that the period between the 1st of July and the end of December should be a time for making new laws," Mr. Grossman said....

Since last November, when the June 30 transfer of sovereignty was approved by President Bush and decreed by Mr. Bremer in Iraq, the United States has insisted that Iraq would have a full transfer of sovereignty on that date.

Mr. Grossman, however, referred in testimony on Wednesday to what he said would be "limited sovereignty," a phrase he did not repeat on Thursday, apparently because it raised eyebrows among those not expecting the administration to acknowledge that the sovereignty would be less than full-fledged.

Here's where it all starts to get a little weird:
The problem of limiting Iraq's sovereignty is more than one of terminology, several administration officials said in interviews this week....

"Clearly you can't have a sovereign government speaking for Iraq in international forums, and yet leave open this possibility that we'll do something they won't particularly like or disagree with," said an administration official. "There's got to be something to be set up to deal with that possibility...."

European and United Nations diplomats said that because the main task of the caretaker government would be to try to secure the support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iraqi Shiite leader whose supporters are unhappy with some of the laws enacted by the Iraqi Governing Council, there may have to be a change in these laws....

A European official familiar with Mr. Brahimi's thinking said the envoy wants the caretaker government and its consultative body "to find a consensus on the fundamental law to make sure Sistani is invested."

"Everybody wants to have Sistani on board," said this diplomat. "For that you'll have to pay a price...."

Mr. Grossman was also asked what would happen if the new government wanted to adopt a foreign policy opposed by the United States, such as forging close relations with two neighbors, Iran and Syria.

The United States, he replied, would have to use the kind of persuasion used by any American ambassador in any country.

...whatever the Hell that means.

So we see, boys and girls, that it doesn't really matter who we hand "sovereignty" to on June 30. All that really matters is (a) we get to keep calling the shots, particularly with respect to any military activity (whether on the part of the occupying troops or the Iraqi military itself), and (b) Sistani is "on board." Let's just keep our eyes on the prize, and Stay the Course®. President Cheney knows what he's doing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

1,000 Words 

Murderer!In the foreground is John Negroponte, newly-installed Ambassador to Iraq, and documented enabler of murderers and war criminals.

In the background is Picasso's immortal Guernica.

Discuss.

(Via Atrios.)

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I've Heard Two Great Jokes In The Last 24 Hours 

From corrente, with further attributions cited there:
An Israeli doctor says "Medicine in my country is so advanced that we can take a kidney out of one man, put it in another, and have him looking for work in six weeks."

A German doctor says "That is nothing, we can take a lung out of one person, put it in another, and have him looking for work in four weeks."

A Russian doctor says "In my country, medicine is so advanced that we can take half a heart out of one person, put it in another, and have them both looking for work in two weeks."

The Texas doctor, not to be outdone, says "You guys are way behind, we recently took a man with no brain out of Texas, put him in the White House, and now half the country is looking for work."

And now, from my cousin Ed, who's quite funny and quite smart:
Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for the night

Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life

Raw Data 

I was surfing along — surf, surf, surf — when I encountered this. I will leave it to your imagination who might purchase such a product, and why:
The ID SNIPERTM rifle designed by EMPIRE NORTH

What is the ID SNIPERTM rifle?

It is used to implant a GPS-microchip in the body of a human being, using a high powered sniper rifle as the long distance injector. The microchip will enter the body and stay there, causing no internal damage, and only a very small amount of physical pain to the target. It will feel like a mosquito-bite lasting a fraction of a second. At the same time a digital camcorder with a zoom-lense fitted within the scope will take a high-resolution picture of the target. This picture will be stored on a memory card for later image-analysis.

Why use the ID SNIPERTM rifle?

As the urban battlefield grows more complex and intense, new ways of managing and controlling crowds are needed. The attention of the media changes the rules of the game. Sometimes it is difficult to engage the enemy in the streets without causing damage to the all important image of the state. Instead EMPIRE NORTH suggests to mark and identify a suspicious subject on a safe distance, enabeling the national law enforcement agency to keep track on the target through a satellite in the weeks to come.


The ID SNIPERTM rifle was presented by Empire North in Beijing at the China Police 2002 exhibition.

Two Sides to Every Story 

Here's how the Western press is reporting it:
Iraqi insurgents attack Marines in northern Falluja

U.S Marines backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships battled insurgents in Falluja today, killing 20, as a day-old attempt to bring peace to the besieged city faltered.

Marine commanders said guerrillas were not abiding by a call to turn in heavy weapons that is central to an agreement on scaling back the confrontation. A number of weapons were turned in today, but 95 percent were already unusable, commanders said on condition of anonymity.

Explosions were heard coming from the scene of the fighting, and Cobra helicopter gunships were blasting from the air. Tanks moved into the Julan neighbourhood from which Marines said insurgents their positions.

Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said high-level commanders viewed the battle as a "major breach" of the agreement. "The implication of that I don't know yet," he said.

In response to what the Marines called a disappointing disarmament showing, the Marines halted a key commitment on their side in the deal — the return of Falluja residents to the city. The Marine commanders would not say how many weapons had been turned in.

And this is what the rest of the world is hearing:
US destroying Falluja homes

Ferocious fighting in the Iraqi town of Falluja has grown so intense that US occupation forces have begun destroying buildings and homes.

Aljazeera's correspondent in Falluja, Abd Al-Adhim Muhammad, said exchange of fire in the Golan quarter grew so fierce that troops had to call in helicopter support on Wednesday.

Muhammad said he personally witnessed two US air gunships destroy four homes in al-Mutasim quarter, adding many resistance fighters were now taking cover in the ruined buildings.

Under siege by US marines for more than two weeks, and after 600 Iraqi civilian fatalities, one fighter told Aljazeera some tanks and armoured vehicles had been forced to leave the Golan quarter.

Sunni Muslim clerics who fled the bloody fighting in urged insurgents to hold on to their weapons and vowed revenge against the US at a gathering of dozens of people in Baghdad on Wednesday.

"We beg God that he will avenge us and foil the plans" of the Americans, said Shaikh Muhammad Abd al-Aziz al-Ani, an imam at a Falluja mosque, who was greeted by shouts of "Allah Akbar (God is Great)".

"They killed all that moved, even the animals. These people are the enemies of mankind," he added, calling on people of "good conscience to act to stop" the bloodshed.

Of course, I have no way of knowing which version of events is more accurate (I take it as given that no one can report a story such as this one "objectively," whatever that might mean). I will note, however, that al Jazeera has reporters on the scene, and the Toronto Star does not. Take from that what you will.