Saturday, April 30, 2005
Greens closing on Liberals in Quebec
Bloc -- 55%
Liberals -- 16%
Greens!! -- 12%
Conservative -- 9%
NDP -- 8%
This suggests that the mantle of federalism is up for grabs in Quebec. For that reason a clear and effective unity policy could enable a Green breakthrough in Quebec. I wouldn't have thought this possible six months ago, that the Greens would have a shot at Quebec but I think we do now.
The national results are better then the last election:
Liberal -- 38%
Conservative -- 30%
NDP -- 23%
Greens -- 10%
with a 2% margin of error. (Link)
Do you speak Globish?
It happens all the time: during an airport delay the man to the left, a Korean perhaps, starts talking to the man opposite, who might be Colombian, and soon they are chatting away in what seems to be English. But the native English speaker sitting between them cannot understand a word.
They don't know it, but the Korean and the Colombian are speaking Globish, the latest addition to the 6,800 languages that are said to be spoken across the world. Not that its inventor, Jean-Paul Nerriere, considers it a proper language.
"It is not a language, it is a tool," he says. "A language is the vehicle of a culture. Globish doesn't want to be that at all. It is a means of communication.". . .
A retired IBM marketing executive, Nerriere speaks excellent English but switches to Globish if he is not getting through. "I look at their faces. Lack of understanding is very easy to decipher."
The main principles of Globish are a vocabulary of only 1,500 words in English (the OED lists 615,000), gestures and repetition. Grammar will be dealt with in the next volume, "Decouvrez le Globish," due next month.
The Web site also includes song lyrics because Nerriere reckons this is an excellent way to learn words, even if they are not on the Globish 1,500. (Link)
If you want to know more, try here.
Leo Strauss and the Neo Cons
I decided to step away from my computer for a few days and catch up on
my reading – I’m getting tired of looking at the same set of book
covers on the left side of my page, and figured I should either read a
couple of them or stop pretending and take them down.
So I spent the better part of last weekend working my way through
Shadia Drury’s book: Leo Strauss and the American Right -- a project I
should have tackled several years ago, before the neocons re-emerged as such
a public menace.
Know thy enemy is always good advice, and while I had some minor
dealings with a few of the neocon leading lights during my days as a
reporter, I’ve never really taken the time to study their philosophy, or to
learn more about Strauss, their intellectual capo di tutti capo.
Drury, on the other hand, appears to have made an academic career out
of it. What’s more, she has the distinct advantage of being able to
argue Plato and Aristotle with the best of them, while most of what I know
about the classics comes from watching old Ray Harryhausen movies.
Seriously, though, moral philosophy wasn’t one of my academic strong suits,
and while I’m a little better versed in the political dead white guys
that mattered to Strauss (such as Hobbes, Rousseau and Machiavelli) I’d
never try to play the expert -- not in front of a live audience anyway.
But I am, for obvious reasons, intensely interested in the political
ideas that have influenced the neocon cadres -- which is to say, I’d
really like to know how the bastards think.
Drury is a liberal, and, being a Canadian, doesn’t have to pretend to
be something else, as American liberals have felt compelled to do since
about 1968. So she’s hardly an objective source. However, since I’m a
“progressive” (i.e. a post-1968 American liberal) it seems reasonable to
assume my interpretation of Strauss, and of the neocons, would be
roughly comparable with hers if I had spent the better part of my adult
years studying their moral philosophy.
And if that seems like a blatant example of wanting to have my existing
prejudices reinforced, sue me. This is a blog post, not a dissertation.
Watch on the Rhine
What strikes me most about the Straussians – and by extension, the
neocons – is that they’ve pushed the traditional liberal/conservative
dichotomy of American politics back about 150 years, and moved it roughly
4,000 miles to the east, to the far side of the Rhine River. Their grand
existential struggle isn’t with the likes of Teddy Kennedy or even
Franklin D. Roosevelt, it’s with the liberalism of Voltaire, John Locke and
John Stuart Mill – not to mention the author of the Declaration of the
Strauss, in other words, wasn’t a neo anything. He was a conservative
in the original European sense – fond of hierarchy, tradition and
religious orthodoxy; deeply suspicious of newfangled ideas like
egalitarianism, rationalism and a political theory based on enlightened self
interest and the social contract. Nor was he impressed by Mill’s utilitarian
adding machine – constantly calculating the greatest good for the
To the Straussians, rationality does not provide an adequate basis for
a stable social order. To the contrary, the Age of Enlightenment has
ushered in the crisis of modernity, in which nihilism – the moral vacuum
left behind by the death of God – inevitably leads to decadence,
decline and, ultimately, genocide.
That logical leap from Jefferson to Hitler might seem like the
intellectual equivalent of Evel Knieval’s outlandish attempt to jump the Snake
River canyon on a rocket-powered motorcycle. But it’s essential to the
Straussian world view – just as it provides the crucial angst that
gives neo-conservatism such sharp political edges.
When Newt Gingrich equated feminism with the destruction of Western
civ, he was echoing (in his dumbed-down way) Strauss’s lurking fear that
the liberal American state would steer the same course as the Weimar
Republic – a political Titanic on a collision course with a totalitarian
iceberg. Deprived of the moral certainty provided by religion and
tradition, the masses are vulnerable to crazed political adventurers who
would fill the nihilistic void with their own crackpot ideas – like, say,
the international conspiracy of Communists and Freemasons. They might
even be worse than Tom DeLay. Or, as Drury laconically puts it:
Strauss . . . does not disagree with Marx that religion is the
opium of the masses, he just thinks that people need their opium.
What gives Straussian thought its special flavor – a bitter blend of
hypocrisy and cynicism – is the fact that Strauss himself didn’t believe
in the eternal “truths” he championed. He was a nihilist, in other
words – but one who believed only the philosophical elite could be trusted
to indulge in such a dangerous vice. In exchange for this privilege,
the elite has a special obligation to uphold the “noble lies” the
ignorant masses must live by if society is to survive.
What’s more, Strauss not only thought this – he believed the ancient
philosophers agreed with him, which is why their texts shouldn’t be read
literally – at least not by the privileged elite. It seems that
Strauss, like Madonna, had a thing for Kabbalism. He believed his Greek role
models had endowed their Great Books with two very different meanings:
one for the elect and one for the masses (like first class and coach, in
other words, but with extra frequent flyer miles for the PhDs.) But
these secret meanings had been carefully concealed, so as not to scare the
children with the awful truth – or, more accurately, the awful lack of
truth. They could, however, be deciphered by wise and virtuous
philosophers who understood and shared the classical world view – by Leo
Strauss, in other words.
As Drury points out, people who go looking for hidden meanings usually
find them. And everywhere Strauss looked – in the works of Plato,
Aristotle and Nietzsche – he found . . . Leo Strauss, staring back up at him
from the page. A philosophical case of “incestuous amplification,” in
other words, a tendency the Straussians have emulated unto the present
day, and not just in the Pentagon’s E ring.
The ridicule of the Straussians in the academy is connected to
their unquestioning devotion to a set of ideas that they cannot or will not
defend except to those who are already converted . . . For they do not
want their ideas discussed openly or even known to anyone outside the
charmed circle of initiates.
The Populist Ploy
All this would be just another academic exercise – so to speak – if
some of the Straussians hadn’t turned his philosophical fixations into a
political crusade to “save” America from the horrors of modernity.
Whether this was originally Strauss’s project or something his followers
dreamed up later isn’t clear, at least not from Drury’s book. What is
clear is that Strauss took great pains to recruit disciples who could
transmit his ideas to future generations of impressionable young
philosophers. And some of these apostles, such as political scientist Willmoore
Kendall, sought to extend his influence to the political as well as the
intellectual elite – positioning Strauss as the philosopher behind the
Through these channels, Straussian ideas have thoroughly penetrated the
modern GOP – and not only its avowedly neocon wing. Kendall was William
F. Buckley Jr.’s mentor at Yale; Irving Kristol has cited Strauss as a
primary influence; Newt Gingrich cribbed heavily from Straussian theory
(and tactics) in drafting the Contract On America. Rove and his crew
are born Straussians – even if they can’t spell the word philosophy, much
less pronounce it.
One of the Straussians’ most important innovations has been to
reconcile their brand of elite conservatism with Southern fried demagogic
populism ala Huey Long and George Wallace. That’s a pretty radical
concession for a movement with its mind (or at least its heart) planted firmly
in the fifth century BC. But it's solved the traditional dilemma of
old-style conservatives in America: How to win power in a society that has
no landed gentry, no nobility, no established church – none of Europe’s
archaic feudal institutions and loyalties.
The rationale – or rationalization – for the populist ploy is that the
common folk are a hell of a lot less liberal (again, using the
Enlightenment definition of the word) than what the Straussians like to call
America’s “parchment regime” – that is, the ideas and principles
enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The
masses want their opium, in other words, and with the right guidance, will
happily sweep away the liberal elites who have been denying it to them.
This, in turn, will set the stage for a golden (or at least silver) age
of religious orthodoxy, patriarchal values and a hierarchical corporate
capitalism stripped of its original libertarian feistiness – all of it
supervised by a moral nanny state freed from the confines of all that
National Greatness, indeed.
The Death of the Death of God
There are so many problems with this political vision (insane,
potentially catastrophic problems) that it’s hard to know where to begin. I can
start, I suppose, by attacking the notion that liberalism or secularism
– or even nihilism, for that matter – is the royal road to
Leaving aside the fact that most totalitarian movements are simply
imitation religions that feed off the same irrational emotions as the
established name brands, there’s the rather obvious empirical example of
modern Europe – about as secular and cosmopolitan a society as ever has
existed. Europe has its social problems just as America has hers, but
it’s not obvious they’re any worse – in fact, on many indicators (teen
pregnancy, drug abuse, violent crime, election turnout, public civility)
they’re clearly better. Likewise, back at the ranch, the Godless blue
states rank, on average, ahead of the Bible-thumping red states on such
hot-button morality indicators as divorce, unwed mothers and domestic
So perhaps the masses don't need to be spoon fed their religious opium
in order to have a reasonably decent society. The death of God may have
left the neocon elites trembling with existential dread, but it’s
possible that everyman and everywoman can go right on loving their children,
obeying the laws and finding meaning in life even without the old
The nihilist threat, in other words, may be the Straussian version of
an “inside the beltway” issue – one which paralyzes the philosophical
elite but which the rest of the Western world is increasingly inclined to
ignore as it tries to get on with daily life. The horrors of the 20th
century were unquestionably real, and even more terrible ones may well
await us in the 21st. But the horrors of the Thirty Years War, the Holy
Inquisition and the Russian pogroms were also real – and it’s pretty
hard to blame them on the death of God.
If there is a crisis of modernity, it appears to be more a function of
the faithful – some whom are getting awfully violent for a bunch of
opium addicts. When the 9/11 terrorists flew their planes into the World
Trade Center, I can guarantee you they weren’t reciting passages from
Mill’s On Liberty. The real crisis may be the lack of modernity, not a
surplus of the stuff – an argument the neocons themselves are now making,
at least about the religious fanatics in the Middle East.
The ones in Midwest, on the other hand, are another story. To the
Straussians, it apparently doesn’t matter what kind of religious orthodoxy
America has – as long as it has one. And so the highly educated
followers of a Jewish refugee from demented old Europe have allied themselves
with some of the most ignorant, racist and xenophobic people in modern
There’s a certain irony to this, because it seems Strauss himself had a
somewhat ambiguous relationship with fascism. Like many German
conservatives, his contempt for Enlightenment values was influenced by the
“organic” and “volkish” sensibilities of German Romanticism – the same
ideological compost heap that eventually sprouted National Socialism.
It’s surely no coincidence that Strauss’s two leading intellectual
mentors – the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger and the legal
theorist Carl Schmitt – both ended up playing patty cake with the Nazis.
Schmitt, in particular, was the parent of a rather chilling political
theory in which the struggle against the “other” (whether external or
internal) was held to exist outside any moral or ethical constraints. The
result was supposed to be the creation of a “pure enemy,” one who could
not be demonized as evil or immoral even as he was “existentially
negated.” But Drury points out that in the real world, Schmitt’s “negation”
could just as easily be interpreted as permission for total war against
the enemies of the volk – a war of annihilation.
Drury speculates that Schmitt’s theories may have influenced Strauss’s
belief that an external enemy – the “other” – is as necessary as public
religion for the health of the state. By derivation, this may also be
the source of the neocon fascination with militarism as a sign of
national vitality. One can only wonder where Strauss’s philosophical journey
might have taken him if his Jewishness hadn’t made him one of the “pure
enemies” to be “existentially negated.” It seems the whiff of fascism
that surrounds the neocons has real historical antecedents.
The Little Curs
The real threat, however, isn’t that the neocons are fascists, but that
their cynicism and egoism could open the door to something more like
the genuine article.
The Straussians see themselves as the new elite, leading the
opium-eating masses back to the Zion of moral certainty and public virtue. But
it’s a ridiculous fantasy to think the social clock can be turned back by
political means – or that the kind of society they desire can be
maintained in a highly advanced post-industrial country at the center of
rapidly globalizing economy. America isn’t Athens. It isn’t even Sparta.
And it also isn’t John Winthrop’s “city on the hill, raised up.” The old
Puritan tradition may still be powerful, but isn’t nearly strong enough
to serve as the organizing principle for a new/old social order – at
least, not without banging a hell of lot of skulls together. As Drury
The strategy relies on America’s puritanical longing for virtue – a
longing that is ultimately incompatible with the love of freedom. The
political success of neoconservatism depends on the capacity for the
desire for virtue to triumph over the love of freedom.
But love of freedom may not have the edge in that battle. Maybe
modernity isn’t in crisis, but classic liberalism – and the political
institutions it created – is trapped in a dire one. It, too, seems increasingly
incompatible with the demands of imperial globalization. And the
“parchment regime” that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison gave us is being
subverted by the very forces – the executive branch, the corporate
media, one and a half of the two major political parties – that are supposed
to defend it.
As I’ve said before, the American constitutional edifice reminds me of
a house riddled by termites – it looks solid enough from the outside,
but lean too hard against a wall and big pieces might start toppling
over. And right now, the neocons and their Bible Belt allies are leaning
pretty damned hard. There are days (like “Justice Sunday”) when the
Weimar analogy no longer seems so far fetched.
If we’re fortunate – as fortunate as America has been through most of
its history – the center will hold. Things won’t fall apart. The
neocons, having overreached, will be thrown for a big loss and forced to punt.
But I’m not as confident as I used to be that the game still works that
What’s more, if the neocons did succeed in tearing up the liberal
parchment regime, I seriously doubt they could control the forces they’ve
helped unleash. The Bible fedayeen aren’t exactly yearning for a little
recycled Plato from the philosophical elite. Their version of the city
on the hill might not have room for a philosophical elite – not unless
it’s a fundamentalist Protestant one, which is a contradiction in terms.
The risk, then, is that by unleashing the forces of religious populism
to save America from the inevitable consequences of liberal nihilism,
the Straussians conceivably could end up assisting the very catastrophe
they claim they’re trying to avoid.
And wouldn’t that be ironic.(Link)
Book commentary: The Pagan Chirst
Jean Francois just sent me this book review/commentary on The Pagan Christ. Since it sounded interesting I have posted it for everyone.
I have just started reading "The Pagan Christ" by Tom Harpur. This is a
scholarly book that apparently (I haven't finished yet) demonstrates
that all the stories and symbols of christianity (including the cross and
the word christ) in fact originates 4000 years ago in egypt with Isis
as Mary and Horus as Jesus. I knew about the recuperation of "pagan"
rituals such as the solstice etc. but it looks like the whole thing is a
Anyhow, here is what the author has to say about the name Jesus. "...
the name Jesus did not exist, and would have not been spelled with the
letter J, until about 600 years ago. There was no J in any language
prior to the fourteenth century [...] In Hebrew we know there was no J
either, so Jesus was originally spelled Yeshua. But the ua ending ... when
transliterated into Greek, is feminine singular, which presents a
problem. The church simply changed ua to u; Thus Jesus became a male
saviour. What most people don't understand is that the us ending to Jesus'
name was set up to denote male gender ... Where did the name Jesus
originate? Simply put it was derived from the Latin Iesus, which was derived
from the Greek Iesous, which in turn was derived from the Egyptian
By the Godess! I'm turning more pagan at every page! Expect to see me
show up naked, painted in blue, slaughtering repressed paternalistic
primitive bible worshippers. @#$@#%, @$%.
Friday, April 29, 2005
Hypocrisy rears its head
In his videotaped statement for Justice Sunday, Senate Majority leader Bill Frist "singled out Judge Priscilla Owen, one of the blocked appeals court nominees, for praise in the telecast." Many believe that Frist's specific mention of Owen suggests "she may become the contested nominee at the focus of the looming showdown." For all the conservative talk against judicial activism, Frist and other conservatives should know that Owen has a long record of extremist decisions; her own hometown paper described her as "all too willing to bend the law to fit her views, rather than the reverse." In fact, in reference to one of Owen's dissents, then colleague and fellow Texas Supreme Court Justice Alberto Gonzales went so far as to describe the decision's proposed interpretation of the law as "an unconscionable act of judicial activism." Indeed, in critiquing her nomination, The Houston Chronicle took issue not with her being "too conservative" but with the fact that "she too often contorts rulings to conform to her particular conservative outlook." As the San Antonio Express stated, "The Senate should not block a judicial nominee simply because he or she is more conservative or more liberal than the Senate's majority party.â€¦ But concerns about Owen go to the heart of what makes a good judge."
There has been a good deal of coverage of Owen's anti-choice stance but her pro-business leanings may be as disturbing. In 2003, the Austin-American Statesman declared that Owen could "usually be counted upon in any important case that pitted an individual or group of individuals against business interests to side with business." Furthermore, she had a questionably ethical tendency to take "campaign contributions from law firms and corporations . . . and then, without recusing herself, [rule] in their favor when their cases came before her." Owen's rulings are considered so business-friendly and tainted that a member of the National Employment Lawyers Association once quipped, "In my more cynical moments, I suggest that, just as sports stadiums are now named after corporations, judicial seats are soon to follow. In that vein, I believe that Justice Owen could well fill the Exxon/Mobil or Wal-Mart seat on the Fifth Circuit."
Two notable past corporate-friendly cases ruled on by Owen involve very publicly known corporations - Halliburton and Enron - both of which had donated to Owen's judicial campaign. In the case of Sanchez v. Halliburton, a Halliburton field worker "won a $2.6 million verdict after the jury found that a company supervisor had framed him to test positive for cocaine." After an appeals court ruling overturned the verdict, Sanchez tried to bring the case to the Texas Supreme Court. In the months during which the case was before the Court, Halliburton made its only campaign donations to Texas Supreme Court justices that year, giving thousands of dollars to three justices: Priscilla Owen, Nathan Hect, and Alberto Gonzales. Result: the court declined to hear the case and the ruling overturning Sanchez's case stood. In Enron Corp. v. Spring Independent School District, Owen "authored the opinion for a unanimous court [decision] that . . . saved Enron $225,000 and resulted in lost revenue for the school district."
Priscilla Owen had a "reputation for slowness in handling her caseload." There were times she got so behind that court clerks tell of "other justices [ordering] opinions to be taken from her chambers." In the case of Willie Searcy, Owen stands accused of contributing to his death with her dalliance. After a defective seat belt left the teenaged Searcy paralyzed, a jury awarded his family millions of dollars in damages. Attorneys on both sides of the case asked for an expedited ruling but the family especially needed the money as they did not have the funds "to provide the medical care he needed." The case languished for years. When Owen finally got around to writing the opinion, she took issue with a question that was not even raised, "left the family with nothing and ordered a new trial."(When the court issued its ruling, it included an "odd" addendum paragraph that somewhat apologized for the delay.) Searcy died while awaiting the Owen-ordered new trial. The family attorney declared, "There's no question, absolutely no question, that the delay contributed to causing Willie's death. We could have saved his life if we'd had the funds to do it."
The nonpartisan watchdog group Texans for Public Justice spoke of Owen's nomination as Karl Rove's "favor to the right wing because she is the darling of the right wing." Rove's friendship with Owen dates back years. In 1994, Rove received hundreds of thousands of dollars for his work as a consultant on Owen's judicial campaign. (Link)
Some people just don't learn
Seven men of Middle Eastern descent have sued a South Florida Denny's restaurant franchisee and one of its managers for $28 million, saying they were kicked out because of their ancestry and compared to Osama Bin Laden. . . The seven men are of Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian descent and include a doctor, a real estate agent, an insurance broker and a restaurant owner. They live in Broward and Palm Beach counties. They filed suit last week in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. . .
Denny's restaurants have long been the targets of discrimination lawsuits across the country. The 1,600-restaurant chain, which has annual sales that exceed $2 billion, settled a 1994 lawsuit for $54.4 million that accused the chain of asking blacks to prepay for meals. Since then, it has faced at least six more discrimination lawsuits filed by African-Americans and Hispanics and has been investigated in at least two cases involving discrimination against people of Middle Eastern descent. (Link)
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Chavez and American Strategy
[In] recent months, U.S. officials have found themselves facing an escalating confrontation with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and have discovered that neighboring countries are largely unwilling to join efforts to isolate him.
U.S. officials believe the best way to deal with Chavez is the way they are trying to get North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il to give up his nuclear ambitions — by working with neighbors to apply collective pressure.
But neighbors, including the United States' close ally Colombia, are unwilling to press Chavez too hard because doing so might increase instability along expansive borders. Neighboring states also fear that siding with the U.S. against Chavez might alienate leftist groups at home. (Link)
A victory for Italy in the Calipari/Sgrena case
The Italian's finally have the car that was targeted in the shooting. This means that they will be able to do their own forensic analysis. My bet is that it will prove inconclusive.
The car in which an Italian secret agent died shielding a hostage from US "friendly fire" in Iraq has arrived in Italy for investigators to inspect.
An Italian air force cargo plane delivered the Toyota Corolla to a base near Rome days after reports suggested America had cleared its soldiers.
Rome is still investigating the death of agent Nicola Calipari, who died as his car approached a US checkpoint.
Ex-hostage Giuliana Sgrena called the reported findings a "slap in the face".
Prosecutors are due to examine the car at the Practica di Mare air base, the Associated Press news agency reports.
Testimony from Ms Sgrena, a journalist for communist newspaper Il Manifesto, and a second intelligence agent who also survived, appears to conflict with what US soldiers said about the shooting.
Analysis of bullet damage to the vehicle is expected to provide key data on how close the soldiers were to the car and from what angle they fired.
The Italians had been heading for Baghdad airport after Ms Sgrena's liberation. (Link)
Pictures from the North
Armenia and Turkey look to their bitter past
"Who now remembers the Armenians?"
- Adolf Hitler
The monster said this when asked about a potential international uproar over the killing of the Jews. Ottoman Empire had not felt any reprecussions of its genocide against the Armenians, and so he believed that he could get away with his planned genocide.
This story is a product of European pressure. There is no way that Turkey would directly acknowledge the genocide after 90 years of harsh denials. Instead the Turkish president is pushing as far as he is able. He has proposed a joint, independent historical investigation, that will either exonerate Turkey, or more likely provide him with the context that will allow him to apologize for the atrocity and thereby meet one of Europe's unofficial preconditions for entry into the union.
Armenian President Robert Kocharian responded with "let us meet without any pre-conditions" to the suggestion of "establishing a joint commission of historians and other experts" made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the so-called Armenian allegations.
Kocharian made it clear in his remarks "We cannot debate without taking the past, today, and tomorrow into account" and that he wants to build a relationship with Turkey. The letter, which revealed the comments suggesting that it would open to a new period in the relations of the countries, reached Ankara from Tbilisi. Kocharian did not use the word "genocide" in the letter and brought alternative suggestion that the issues should be debated on an inter-governmental platform contrary to Turkey's suggestion.As Ankara positively accepts the written response from Armenian to Erdogan's letter dated April 13, it is avoiding making any early declarations regarding the letter. Foreign Minister Gul confirming the letter said: "We will investigate, and respond." The Armenian administration had previously not even been willing to agree on discussions about the so-called genocide allegations with Turkey. Yerevan reflected that it now wants to conduct diplomatic relations with Ankara. Kocharian said, "We cannot debate the issue without taking the past, today and tomorrow into account." The expression "negotiation without pre-condition" has not been met positively in the initial assessments. Ankara wants concrete steps to be taken in order to conduct official contacts. Therefore, some expressions in the Armenian Constitution and the Declaration of Independence need to be extracted. Erdogan's letter to Kocharian, which reminded that their people have been living together for a long time, read: "We invite historians from both our countries' to investigate the events in 1915 by researching into all the archives of the related third-party countries and reveal them to the public." (Link)
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Fuck Star Wars
European values and faith
What place for God in Europe?
Torture the TV show
I just finished watching Torture: The Guantanamo Guidebook on our History channel.
I wonder if there is an American network which would dare to broadcast this show.
It made me sick.
This show was one of a series produced by Britain's Channel 4. It showed seven British volunteers who tried to withstand 48 hours with ex-Army interrogators giving them the kind of treatment that the hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo have been subjected to for the last three years.
Four of the "prisoners" actually lasted for the full two days. One older man, 49 years old, was pulled out after 10 hours by a doctor because his body temperature was dropping too low. Two others asked to get out early -- they just couldn't stand it.
Here is what happened to them:
At the beginning of the show, when the volunteers showed up at the studio thinking they were just supposed to fill out some forms, the Army people grabbed them, hooded, stipped and shackled them, and took them to the cells. The Army interrogators had been told that one of the prisoners actually did have some terrorist connections, and their goal was to find out which one it was. So they were pretty motivated.
The "officially approved" tortures they used were all of these --
Environmental manipulation: Subjecting prisoners to extremes of hot and cold.They did not use "waterboarding" (in which the victim is smothered with a wet cloth, creating the sensation of drowning) nor "TheVietnam" (in which electrodes (real or fake) are attached to the victim's body.)
Sensory deprivation: Depriving prisoners of both sight and hearing, for example, by hooding combined with white noise.
Sleep adjustment: Repeatedly interrupting a prisoner’s sleep, while allowing them inadequate sleep overall.
Stress positions: Position which a prisoner is ordered to maintain, causing discomfort or pain without physical contact.
Forced grooming: Forcible shaving. Deeply humiliating for some Muslims. (in the show, they shaved the hair from a non-Muslim "prisoner", but with the Muslim "prisoners" watching)
Pride and ego down: Label for techniques used to undermine prisoners’ self-esteem and dignity.
But seeing what they did do made me sick. Not only was it upsetting to watch these men being treated this way, it was the look of despair in their eyes that was most disturbing. Its not surprising that the real Guantanamo prisoners have attempted suicide in substantial numbers.
Or, at least, it used to be called suicide.
There is a frighteningly Orwellian approach to language here. I've been reading recently about how the Bush administration is now using the term "constitutional option" instead of "nuclear option" to describe the Republican attempt to end the judicial fillibuster, just like they tried to change the term "private" accounts to "personal" accounts to describe Bush's attempt to destroy Social Security. And I was thinking that all this arguing over terminology wasn't really very important.
But as this show pointed out, the Pentagon has a new name for it when a prisoner attempts suicide. It is now called "manipulative self-injurious behaviour". And after they started using this terminology, they could report that the number of "suicide" attempts had declined substantially.
Is there a euphemism for "totally disgusting"?
A woman becomes govenor in Afganistan
High in the snow-capped Hindu Kush, visitors stream in to see the new governor. A huddle of turbaned men carry plastic sunflowers in a gold vase, nodding respectfully. Mountain farmers come wrapped in wool blankets. The British ambassador flies in from Kabul.
By the morning's end the office is filled with 25 bouquets of fake flowers and a calf is tethered outside; nothing unusual in a culture that prizes deference to authority, save for one difference: the new boss is a woman.
Habiba Sarobi is Afghanistan's first female governor, a major advance in a society where, only four years ago under the Taliban, women were denied everything from lessons to lipstick and forced to wear the all-covering burka.
It is not a job for the faint hearted. Afghan governors are stereotypically gruff, bearded men with a penchant for fighting, sweet tea and smoke-filled-room politics. Ms Sarobi, a mild-mannered mother, comes to work with a suitcase and her secretary.
Formerly the minister for women's affairs, she said she had turned down an ambassadorial job to demand the governor's post from President Hamid Karzai.
"He was surprised," she said.
"His first question was, 'Do you think the people will accept you?' I said, 'Definitely, yes'."
After an uncertain start, she seems to be right. Before she arrived, 300 local men staged a noisy protest in the town centre, bussed in by the disgruntled outgoing governor, according to coalition officials.
A snowstorm foiled her first attempt to reach Bamiyan; the plane circled overhead before returning to Kabul. When she finally landed a week later, a male interior ministry official marched out first and took the official salute.
"You might have thought he was the new governor," said an aid worker who was there. "It didn't sound a good note."
But since then, support has grown rapidly. A thousand men gave her a standing ovation at a game of buzkashi, Afghanistan's perilous national sport. In the following days, delegations of wellwishers flooded in from around the province, including 50 villagers from Shaidan, a five-hour walk away.
"Women have a long history as leaders in Islam," declared the villagers' spokesman, Niamatullah Siddiqi. "We are proud to have you overseeing our community."
Nobody expects an overnight revolution. The obscurantist edicts of the Taliban are an unhappy memory: Afghan women can vote, work and go to school; a quarter of all seats in next September's parliamentary vote are reserved for women; in Kabul, increasing numbers are shedding their burkas.
But civil rights do not necessarily mean human rights. Despite billions of dollars in aid, health and education facilities remain dire.
For example, giving birth in Badakhshan province claims the life of one in every 15 mothers. This is the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
In the deeply conservative south, most women spend their lives hemmed in by high walls and overprotective men. Forced marriages and domestic violence are rife across the country. Last week a woman in Badakhshan was stoned to death for adultery, the second such killing since the Taliban's overthrow in 2001.
Ms Sarobi, more no-nonsense manager than fiery feminist, did little to shift attitudes during her two-year ministerial stint, according to several aid workers and diplomats. "Her tenure was more about implementing aid projects than making policies," said one British official.
Ms Sarobi says she was scuppered by conservative cabinet colleagues, who even blocked a decree condemning forced marriage. "I tried my best, but it was not enough for the women of Afghanistan," she admitted. "They said it was our culture and tradition."
In Bamiyan, Ms Sarobi's popularity stems from a solid political pedigree (her uncle is a former vice-president) and partly from the liberalism of her fellow Hazara, one of Afghanistan's more tolerant tribes.
After the Taliban seized power in 1996, she fled to Pakistan so her daughter could continue school. She also detested the obligatory burka, but found the ankle-length cloak a useful disguise when, years later, she slipped back across the border to establish a clandestine network of girls' schools. "It was a necessary precaution. That way, nobody could recognise me," she said.
Afghanistan's most spectacular memorial to the Taliban's crude fanaticism lies etched into a sandstone cliff across the valley from her office: two empty chambers where giant Buddha statues stood until the Islamists blew them up in 2001.
Bamiyan lies in a sweeping valley along the Silk Route, so harnessing its vast tourist potential is one of Ms Sarobi's main projects for reconstruction. But the challenge is great.
Some of the main tourist sites - particularly the forbidden City of Screams, an ancient citadel sacked by Genghis Khan - are littered with mines. There is no electricity, no proper hotels, and the 150-mile drive from Kabul takes eight hours on a good day.
Education levels are low in Bamiyan and poverty is high. The evidence can be found by the feet of the fallen Buddhas, where the town's poor live in a network of caves that dot the cliff face.
On her first day in work, Ms Sarobi says, she found that 95% of her staff were "not professionally capable". There were no women.
Ms Sarobi recently toured Europe to rally sympathetic ears and deep pockets to her cause. She needs much of both. But she will also benefit from the considerable political capital invested by President Karzai.
Even the former governor, Muhammad Rahim Aliyaar, has lent his support, at least for now."It's too early to judge whether a woman can succeed. That will take six months or a year," he said. "But I believe that most people are behind her, and so am I." (Link)
New union to not block Russia by blocking it
Bad foreign policy makes your neighbours team up against you.
Russia's residual neighbourhood watch scheme in what was once the Soviet Union's tightly policed backyard took another knock last week when Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova joined forces in a new "union of democratic states".
Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian president who has been a thorn in Moscow's side since Tbilisi's 2003 "rose revolution", said the grouping would "not act as a counter-balance or a reproach to anyone".
But then he offered a reproach anyway. Friendship based on independence and freedom, he said, was very different from belonging to "an alliance like the Warsaw Pact or an empire like the Soviet Union". (More)
Weird... Death to Toads
This is one of those stories that just leaves me speechless.
Hundreds of toads have met an unexplained, explosive demise in Germany in recent days, it was reported on Saturday.
According to reports from animal welfare workers and veterinarians as many as a thousand of the amphibians have perished after their bodies swelled to bursting point and their entrails were propelled for up to a metre.
It is like "a science fiction film", according to Werner Smolnik of a nature protection society in the northern city of Hamburg, where the phenomenon of the exploding toad has been observed.
"You see the animals crawling on the ground, swelling and then exploding," he said.
He said the bodies of the toads expanded to three-and-a-half times their normal size.
"I have never seen such a thing," said veterinarian Otto Horst.
So bad has the death toll been that the lake in the Altona district of Hamburg has been dubbed "the pond of death".
Access to it has been sealed off and every night a biologist visits it between 2:00am and 3:00am, which appears to be peak time for batrachians to go bang.
Explanations include an unknown virus, a fungus that has infected the water, or crows, which in an echo of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds, attack the toads, literally scaring them to death. (Link)
I saw this comment to this story elsewhere:
The toads are engaged in a burning-south-vietnamese-monk-style protest at the bloated consumer society around them. They are literally venting their spleen.
Words, words, words
the Urban Dictionary
The Nuclear Debate
Should we use nuclear power to replace fossil fuels?
Here are a few articles to whet you debating skills:
Wired, Nuclear Now!
Wired, Green vs Green
James Lovelock, Nuclear Power is the Only Green Solution
Common Dreams, Nuclear Power is the Porblem, Noth the Solution
Opinion Online, Why nuclear power is not the answer to global warming
Calipari/Sgrena: The soldiers are cleared
US military investigators have cleared American soldiers of any wrongdoing over the killing of an Italian agent at a Baghdad checkpoint, an official says.
Nicola Calipari was killed by US forces as he travelled in a car near Baghdad airport after securing the release of Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena.
Ms Sgrena, who had been held by Iraqi kidnappers, was hurt in the incident.
The US soldiers were "not culpable" according to the US military report, which Italy has refused to endorse.
"The United States is ready to release the report but Italy has more questions," the official said.
Pentagon openly creates propaganda channel
The anchors and reporters wear uniforms instead of neckties and suits, and the commercials promote the military, not laundry soap and cutlery sets. But otherwise, the Pentagon Channel - which is on the cusp of its first anniversary - looks and sounds a lot like CNN and C-SPAN. . . What makes the Pentagon Channel different is that the public is getting a look at it through cable systems, ostensibly so reservists and military families can watch it more easily. The channel, which was launched last May, is broadcast at many military bases and on public cable in major cities. It also streams live on the Internet. There are no numbers on how many civilians may watch. (Link)
Sunday, April 24, 2005
The liberation of Lebanon
Democracy will not be imposed but must rather be seized by the people themselves. This is why Japan ia a quasi-one party state (The liberal democratic party has lost two elections in 50 years), whereas Germany has a vibrant democracy. The Germans demanded democracy from the occupying powers (and got it from three of them), and Japan had it imposed upon them. If you want to know more about the reformation of German government after World War II, I'd recommend From Yalta to Berlin which chronicles the history of Germany through the period of division. A good read for Cold War history. Unfortunately I have no book that I can recommend about the occupation of Japan.
Flatbed trucks hauled tanks toward the border on Sunday while soldiers loaded ammunition, burned documents and knocked down the walls of an old base in eastern Lebanon, effectively ending Syria's 29-year military domination of its smaller neighbor.
Most of the last 1,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon have withdrawn in the past few days. A senior Lebanese military officer said only 300 will remain behind until Tuesday for a ceremony marking the formal end of Syria's military presence.
``All Syrian troops will leave Lebanon by Tuesday,'' the officer told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity, which is typical for Lebanese military officials.
The pullout marks a dramatic shift in relations between the two countries and caps two months of intensive international and domestic pressure on Damascus to get out of Lebanon, triggered by the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria had about 14,000 troops in the country around the time of Hariri's killing, which the opposition blamed on Damascus and its allies in the Lebanese government. Both denied any involvement.
Syrian intelligence agents vacated their headquarters in the city of Baalbek in the eastern Bekaa Valley at noon Sunday and later the Lebanese army moved in and took over the position. Lebanese soldiers also hoisted their nation's flag at a vacated Syrian checkpoint in Deir el-Ahmar. A Lebanese bulldozer filled holes and trenches used by retreating Syrian soldiers in Baalbek.
An Associated Press reporter in Baalbek saw a convoy of 200 armored vehicles towing cannons and rocket launchers, T-52 and T72 tanks, military trucks in pouring rain and buses carrying more than 500 soldiers heading to the border.
At their last major garrison in Lebanon, the Bekaa town of Deir el-Ahmar, Syrian soldiers burned documents, dismantled military posts and loaded ammunition on to trucks.
The Bekaa Valley, which was a strategically important region for Syria's own security, particularly in facing arch-foe Israel, is now almost entirely clear of Syrian troops and military intelligence, witnesses said.
The exception is the border town of Anjar, home of Syria's chief of military intelligence in Lebanon, where Syrian officials appeared to be going about their business as usual Sunday.
Syrian and Lebanese officials said Sunday that Syria was withdrawing all but a token force that will remain for a farewell ceremony Tuesday that the Lebanese Army is planning in a town near the border.
``Within the next few hours, all the troops will be out of Lebanon,'' a Syrian government official said in Damascus. ``What will be left are those who will take part in the official farewell'' on Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Lebanese officer said some 300 Syrian officers and soldiers will attend Tuesday's ceremony at a base in Rayak, a few miles from the Syrian border, to pay tribute to the Syrian Army's role in Lebanon. Afterward, the token Syrian force will leave and there will not be a single Syrian soldier left in Lebanon. (Link)
An articulate presentation of an incorrect argument
We know it is not the source because there is a handy example to the north of the U.S. where abortion rights were also one in the courts but the body politic has not been envenomed.
The symptoms of this poisoning can be traced to the republican revolution of 1994 when the republicans gain control of congress for the first time in forty years. During the following year Bill Clinton was largely sidelined by Newt Gingrich's well disciplined congress. This came to a head in the budget battle in 95 (or 96, I can't quite remember) when Bill Clinton stole the republican agenda, reversed it and used it to break Gingrich. The budget battle made Clinton public enemy number one in the eyes of the congressional republicans, so when they had the chance they seized on the Monica Lewinsky scandal and used to try to crush Clinton.
At this point point in the story both the Democrats and Republicans have been wounded by each other, but a new president would normally have washed this malaise away. Instead we saw the Florida recount which left the new president as tainted as the old one and left the democrats up in arms over the criminalish way the Bushites go the presidency.
Add then the rise of Fox news and the other barking mad "news" sources, stir in the Iraq war and the rise of crypo-fascism and the religous right and you have the makings of a poisoned political establishment.
On to the article.
Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Roe v. Wade decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.
When Blackmun wrote the Roe decision, it took the abortion issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that's always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn't have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate.
Instead, Blackmun and his concurring colleagues invented a right to abortion, and imposed a solution more extreme than the policies of just about any other comparable nation.
Religious conservatives became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.
Unable to lobby for their pro-life or pro-choice views in normal ways, abortion activists focused their attention on judicial nominations. Dozens of groups on the right and left have been created to destroy nominees who might oppose their side of the fight. But abortion is never the explicit subject of these confirmation battles. Instead, the groups try to find some other pretext to destroy their foes.
Each nomination battle is more vicious than the last as the methodologies of personal destruction are perfected. You get a tit-for-tat escalation as each side points to the other's outrages to justify its own methods.
At first the Senate Judiciary Committee was chiefly infected by this way of doing business, but now the entire body - in fact, the entire capital - has caught the abortion fight fever.
Every few years another civilizing custom is breached. Over the past four years Democrats have resorted to the filibuster again and again to prevent votes on judicial nominees they oppose. Up until now, minorities have generally not used the filibuster to defeat nominees that have majority support. They have allowed nominees to have an up or down vote. But this tradition has been washed away.
In response, Republicans now threaten to change the Senate rules and end the filibuster on judicial nominees. That they have a right to do this is certain. That doing this would destroy the culture of the Senate and damage the cause of limited government is also certain.
The Senate operates by precedent, trust and unanimous consent. Changing the rules by raw majority power would rip the fabric of Senate life. Once the filibuster was barred from judicial nomination fights, it would be barred entirely. Every time the majority felt passionately about an issue, it would rewrite the rules to make its legislation easier to pass. Before long, the Senate would be just like the House. The culture of deliberation would be voided. Minority rights would be unprotected.
Those who believe in smaller government would suffer most. Minority rights have been used frequently to stop expansions of federal power, but if those minority rights were weakened, the federal role would grow and grow - especially when Democrats regained the majority.
Majority parties have often contemplated changing the filibuster rules, but they have always turned back because the costs are so high. But, fired by passions over abortion, Republican leaders have subordinated every other consideration to the need to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Democrats, meanwhile, threaten to shut down the Senate.
I know of many senators who love their institution, and long for a compromise that will forestall this nuclear exchange. But they feel trapped. If they turn back now, their abortion activists will destroy them.
The fact is, the entire country is trapped. Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better. (Link)
Digisphere and newsmedia
Quote and context
Bolton is Bush's nominie for the position of ambassador to the U.N. who is being grilled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At the time of this quote Bolton was the Undersecretary of State for Disarmament. Fleitz was his's assistant.
Why am I highlighting this quote? Because it shows the flaws of the Bush administration in a single sentence. It is not a political judgement how to interpret intelligence data, it is a technical judgement. If you make it political then you loose the value of the intelligence. It becomes an excuse for action instead of light it the dark. Excuses are cheap, you don't need to spend billions to come up with excuses. On the other hand good intelligence that is well analyzed is nearly priceless. It is like playing poker while knowing the opponent's hand.
If you are following the Bolton affair, this article will be of interest.
Cheap shot: How to make enemies
New York The Inter-American Telecommunication Commission meets three times a year in various cities across the Americas to discuss such dry-but-important issues as telecommunications standards and spectrum regulations. But for this week’s meeting in Guatemala City, politics has barged onto the agenda, TIME’s Viveca Novak and John Dickerson report.
At least four of the two dozen or so U.S. delegates selected for the meeting, sources tell TIME, have been bumped by the White House because they supported John Kerry’s 2004 campaign. The State Department has traditionally put together a list of industry representatives for these meetings, and anyone in the U.S. telecom industry who had the requisite expertise and wanted to go was generally given a slot, say past participants, TIME reports.
Only since the start of Bush’s second term did a political litmus test emerge, industry sources say. The White House admits as much: “We wanted people who would represent the Administration positively, and—call us nutty—it seemed like those who wanted to kick this Administration out of town last November would have some difficulty doing that,” says White House spokesman Trent Duffy. Those barred from the trip include employees of Qualcomm and Nokia, two of the largest telecom firms operating in the U.S., as well as Ibiquity, a digital-radio-technology company in Columbia, MD, TIME reports.
One nixed participant, who has been to many of these telecom meetings and who wants to remain anonymous, gave just $250 to a Democratic account supporting Kerry. Says Nokia vice president Bill Plummer: “We do not view sending experts to international meetings on telecom issues to be a partisan matter. We would welcome clarification from the White House.” (Link)
A modern martyr-hero's epic
She was the young American with blond hair whose death became an unlikely but powerful political symbol for the troubles of Palestine.
Now Rachel Corrie, crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip two years ago, has caught the imagination of a fresh audience as her life story emerges as one of the most sought-after theatre tickets in the country.
The Royal Court in London announced yesterday that My Name is Rachel Corrie had become one the fastest sell-outs in its 50-year history. Tickets for the play's 24 performances sold out in less than two days, the majority of them bought by one of the youngest audiences the theatre can recall. Actor and director Alan Rickman, whose idea it was to transform Corrie's life into drama, is already looking at taking the play to the US where, unlike in Europe, the 23-year-old's death has generated modest media coverage.
In Britain in particular, the woman from Olympia, Washington, has become an aspirational figure for young people often seen as apathetic and uninterested in international issues.
Katharine Viner, editor of the Guardian Weekend magazine, co-edited Corrie's writings with Rickman. The diaries form the entire script. Viner said: 'What's been so exciting is how young people have been responding to it. It's not just that they are moved by Rachel's death, but also that they are inspired by her words and actions, that she found a way to be political in a depoliticised age.'
In contrast to the young people who have seen the play and the number of leading literary stars who are expected to attend this week, not a single politician from any of the major parties has watched the production, which began on 7 April.
Ewen Thomson of the Royal Court added: 'It's great that so many young people are coming to the theatre; that is quite rare.'
Rachel's parents, Craig and Cindy, who last week flew to London to watch the play, said: 'It is absolutely fantastic that she has inspired so many young people. The play was wonderful.'
The play's script draws wholly on letters Corrie wrote from as young as nine along with the emails she sent home from Gaza while working for the International Solidarity Movement. Before her death, Corrie had successfully prevented the demolition of Palestinian homes by standing in front them as bulldozers approached.
Her family is attempting to sue Caterpillar for supplying dozens of bulldozers to the Israeli government, which uses them to destroy Palestinian property. Corrie was killed on 16 March 2003 by a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer. Her father, Craig, said that Caterpillar has contravened US torture laws by allowing its equipment to be used against the Palestinian people and their homes.'It's immoral but also more to the point it is illegal. They continue to sell bulldozers knowing how they have been used in the past,' Craig said. (Link)
Alternative housing for the elderly
At the Cedars Health Center, a traditional 140-bed nursing home [in Tupelo MS], meals are delivered on trays, hospital style. Hallways floored with linoleum extend in every direction. The smell is sterile and sour. Cynthia Dunn, 82, lived there until she moved into a Green House, two streets away. Ms. Dunn's new home, a carpeted ranch-style house that she shares with nine others, has a communal dining table and an open kitchen. Emergency call lights are disguised by decorative stencils. The two staff members who care for the residents answer beepers, not bells, to reduce the institutional cacophony. On a recent visit, the smell at the door was of corn bread baking. . .
The Green House Project, comprising 10 new suburban houses here, is an experiment in reinventing the nursing home. Its creators hope it will herald a new age for old age, although its advantages to residents are yet unproved in health care studies.
Green Houses are part of a broadening movement to humanize care for elderly people with smaller, more domestic settings and a closer sense of community among residents and staff members. And they are an effort to address the fears of being institutionalized, among them anxieties about the loss of independence and the potential for abuse. . .
As the nation ages, nursing homes are aging, too. Some 16,080 nursing homes house 1.6 million people, and many of the homes are outdated, built in the 1960's, when Medicaid was introduced. Proponents for change say that "deinstitutionalized" models like the Green Houses might help the industry compete with popular alternatives like assisted living, which offers a limited amount of nursing, and home health care. But critics say potentially higher costs of operation could keep them from being widely available and impede their ability to win support from state and federal government. (Link)