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Friday, November 28, 2003
 
Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm going to be using this extended weekend to catch up on a few other projects of mine, so the weblogging will be sporadic at best until Monday.


In the meantime, don't forget to buy lots of stuff this weekend. Remember, your country is depending on you.


Thursday, November 27, 2003
 
The Night The Americans Came

We've all heard this story a depressing number of times before.


It begins with a dissident (or a “terrorist,” depending on the perspective). The government soldiers can't reach him, so they round up his loved ones instead. It's just “questioning,” they say. But the dissident knows better, and we do, too. It's really just him the soldiers want — the family is merely the bargaining chip.


For many Americans, it's that kind of abuse of power that ultimately drove us to the shelter of this free country. How many of us have heard it said, in the recitation of our family's refugee histories, of the night when the Cossacks came?... or the Gestapo?... or the Vietcong?...


That was the day, our family histories often note, that we left our burning homelands and set out for America. Taking hostages isn't right at all, and no reason on earth is good enough to justify it. In fact, it's just plain un-American.


Well, I guess CNN doesn't have any refugees in its family tree, because its correspondents clearly didn't get the memo. They've been practically crowing all day about this little coup:


“... hardball tactics in Iraq against a former regime official suspected of leading insurgents. Try as they might, U.S. forces have come up blank in efforts to find Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, but now they have two of his loved ones.”

Wow. We got his wife and daughter. They must have been some pretty tough cookies. After all, being Americans, we would never round up a dissident's family just for the sake of forcing his hand, right?


Well ...


“So when the U.S. Army arrested his wife, Janar, and his daughter, Alba, there are two reasons for that. One, of course they hope that by arresting them and questioning them they might get some answers as to al-Duri's whereabouts. And the other possibility, of course, is that al-Duri is a sick man and if you arrest his loved ones, perhaps he'll give himself in.”

But then, one anchor at CNN had a slight moment of hesitation. Perhaps, it occured to him, this whole “kidnapping” strategy might have a down side to it?


“Well, Walter, it may make logic or make good sense as far as grabbing family members, but PR wise, how does it play out in the Arab world when this tactic is used?”

Well, yes. Generally speaking, war crimes make for very bad PR. As Article 3 of Section I of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War points out, kidnapping noncombatants for any reason is strictly forbidden. It doesn't matter if they are married to bad guys or not.


The reason behind this is simple: no matter who their relatives are, they haven't done anything wrong!


The kidnapping of al-Duri's family is nothing new, by the way. This has been a strategy of the US government in Iraq for quite some time now. We walk in, grab a hadji's wife (or daughter ... or mother), and leave a little note with the neighbors letting him know where he has to go if he ever wants to see them again. Al-Duri is just the biggest fish they've been able to use it against.


Of course, if al-Duri is as big a psychopath as they say he is, how much of a threat is holding his family going to be to the guy, anyway? For that matter, what do we do if he never shows? Kill our hostages? Hold a public torture session? Let them go?


Do you see the problem? This is the Devil's game we're playing here. Sure, it may look like it's all “logic” and “good sense,” but at the end of the day we can't keep this up and still come out of it with our souls intact.


Wednesday, November 26, 2003
 
From Superspy To Plain 'Ol Perv

This is what it has come down to? After all the folderol bounced around by the government over the Guantanamo “spy ring,” and Captain James (Yousef) Yee's role in it ... all they've really got on him is that he is an adulterer who likes to keep porn on his computer? Maybe he is (heck, I don't know the guy), but it's hard not to see this as a pre-emptive character assassination on the part of an increasingly desperate and defensive military establishment.


Captain Yee was released from the brig on Tuesday, and told to report to the Chaplain at Fort Denning, Georgia in order to “resume his religious duties.” That's right: the guy we were once told was an al Qaeda superspy — but who we're now assured is merely a standard-issue porn fiend — is going back to being a regular old chaplain, at least for now.


As a result of this whole mess, Captain Yee has spent the last three months in the brig. They were not pleasant ones, either. On monday, Captain Yee's lawyer wrote President Bush a letter detailing some of the abuses he has endured:


Yee was in solitary confinement 23 hours a day with only one hour of solitary exercise ... He was required to wear hand and leg irons when leaving the cell.


Brig personnel refused to recognize his status as an officer. They also would not provide him with a liturgical calendar or prayer rug and refused to tell him the time of day or the direction of Mecca, “thereby needlessly interfering with his daily prayers and religious practices ...&rdquo


Yeah, well ... I suppose if they'd told him where Mecca was, it would have been that much easier for him to contact his fundamentalist cronies, right?


 
Fear And Loathing At CNBC

What the Hell just happened on CNBC this morning? Are a few of their economic cheerleaders finding their rhetorical straightjackets a bit too tight for comfort these days?


About 7:30 this morning (CDT), I was watching CNBC when a whole passel of economic numbers came out. Most were fairly good, though not great. Some things (like durable goods orders) were up better than expected, while others (consumer spending) didn't move at all. Overall, it was a mixed report, leaning on the positive side.


As anyone who's watched CNBC for any length of time knows, it's a network that follows the dictum of “if you can't say anything good about business, don't say anything at all.&rdquo Predictably, this was borne out in today's programming. When the weekday morning show (“Squawk Box”) was given the honors of presenting the new data, it was as if they were reporting on the Second Coming of the go-go 90's.


This was too much for CNBC Senior Economics Reporter (and Wall Street Journal veteran) Steven Liesman. After all the guest pundits and brokers were allowed their say (including more than one Dubyanomics plug), Liesman jumped in and irritatedly asked if he could inject the actual economic numbers into this love-fest.


From the reactions of the other reporters in the room, it was clear that Liesman had just committed some kind of heresy. Host Mark Haines countered affably that they were discussing the numbers, while Joe Kernan simply accused Liesman of “taking over” the show. The others just stood by in stupefied silence.


Liesman countered by immediately bringing up the weak consumer spending numbers (which he claimed had been ignored), upon which Joe Kernan simply got up without a word and briskly marched out of the room! Liesman then proceeded to grill one of the guest pundits about the consumer sector of the economy, and what it might mean to the upcoming Christmas shopping season.


Testosterone-charged edginess is sort of a trademark of this network. As such, I've witnessed a lot of toothy give-and-take between the CNBC personalities over the years — but never an exchange as overtly hostile as this. For guys who have to put on suits and ties every day for work, this was quite the donnybrook.


Monday, November 24, 2003
 
Jonesing For That E-Vote Nirvana

So, there are a few bright bulbs in California after all! The
Sunday issue of the Sacramento Bee has an extremely
comprehensive (albeit oddly breezy) article on the issues currently
swirling around the nation's headlong rush into paperless voting
systems, and California's recent efforts to stall it. It's so thorough,
there's little I can add, except to say ... read it: It's
right here
.


Well, I can't resist commenting on some things — in
particular, this juicy tidbit:


As the Los Angeles Times reported on Nov. 10, former
California Secretary of State Bill Jones is now a paid consultant to
Sequoia. As secretary of state until 2003, he regulated the company's
voting related services; now he works for them.

Bill
Jones
, California's former Secretary of State, is a
Republican; in fact, I gather that he is a very
conservative
one. He was replaced in 2002 by Kevin
Shelley
, a liberal Democrat.


Suddenly, California's dramatic
shift on the issue of touchscreen voting becomes completely
comprehensible to those of us who are blessedly distant from the Left
Coast. I imagine Shelley had been receiving increasingly specific
warnings on this issue for some time, but found it hard to move
against the lobbying pressure and momentum that Jones's crew had left
in place; thankfully, those crafty folks at Diebold came through, and
gave him the opening to make his move.


Jones's gig at Sequoia is clearly just a private-sector lark, by
the way — one of those paycheck-cashing gigs entrenched
insiders latch onto while they're adrift between public-sector
assignments. He'd almost
landed himself some swell new office space with the Schwarzenegger
administration as the Head of the California
Resources Agency
, until those goody-goody
environmentalists
squawked about the whole fox/henhouse
thing that would imply. For now, he appears content to let rumors
of a 2004 Senate run
against Democrat Diane Feinstein twirl and
eddy around his political carcass.


One other trivia note about Jones: he made an unsuccessful
bid to be the Republican nominee for Governor of California in 2002,
a run which was notable mainly for its pioneering attempt to merge
the questionable world of public
sector franking
with the sleazeball
world
of corporate
spamming
. All this from a guy who's supposed to be tech-savvy.


And speaking of tech-savvy politicians, it's a bit surprising that
the Bee article mentioned above doesn't go into Nebraska
Senator Chuck Hagel's very
deep and personal connections
with the voting machine company
ES&S – that's “deep” as in having the head of
ES&S's holding company
for your campaign treasurer, and “personal” as in having
been (until just a few months prior to his election) the chairman of
the company itself, as well as president of the holding company.


Hagel's first election in '96 was widely considered
to be
quite the “upset
victory
” for the Republican party, a phenomenon which has
become increasingly
recurrent
as we delve deeper into this gaudily corrupt new
century. Can you guess who built all the voting machines in Nebraska?


Sunday, November 23, 2003
 
You Break It ... You Bought It

Diebold Election Systems is finding out that pissing off 10% of the nation's electorate makes for poor business strategy.


The state of California has become decidedly unamused with Diebold's lackadaisical attitude towards the security of its high-tech voting machines. A few weeks ago, the state abruptly cancelled its plans to certify the company's AccuVote TSx touchscreen voting machines, after discovering that their technicians had a “disconcerting” habit of secretly installing uncertified software into the equipment in question.


Last week, California decided to go a little easier on Diebold, and offered to take the company back into the fold. There were a few conditions, however ...


The certification is contingent on Diebold paying for an independent audit of all its hardware and software used in 13 other California counties to determine if uncertified components have been installed elsewhere.


Diebold must also cooperate fully with the independent auditors and with the secretary of state's office during its investigation of the certification violation, and attend a voting system panel meeting in mid-December, when the state will review the results of the audit and determine what, if any, sanctions may be appropriate.


The cost of the audit probably won't set Diebold back too much. The company does, however, stand to lose quite a lot of California's business — at least temporarily — while it waits for the state certification to be granted (and assuming it does). There are thousands of TSx machines that have been ordered but not paid for by individual California counties, and they don't need to be paid for until the certification is authorized. At a couple of thousand dollars per machine, that can add up to a pretty large unpaid invoice.


And that's not nearly the end of it. There's a whole trail of new measures in the works. On Friday California announced that, starting in 2004, they will be requiring the CEO's of any voting companies operating in the state to certify that their techs haven't been messing with the equipment, and will be conducting random audits just to keep them honest.


By 2005, any new voting equipment purchased in the state must be able to provide an auditable paper trail. Finally, by 2006, all machines must be able to provide a paper trail, even if it requires retrofitting.


A big part of the problem with the move towards e-voting is the perception of thoughtless speed and lack of accountability behind the movement. Companies such as Diebold and ES&S have stonewalled on the issue of auditability for their equipment, arguing that there has been simply no market demand for this option. The tectonic shifts on the ground in California clearly put the lie to this idea.


Stanford Professor David Dill, who served on California's Ad Hoc Task Force on Touch Screen Voting (as well as the founder and force behind VerifiedVoting.org, one of the legions of vote-fraud websites that have sprung up of late) points out exactly what a sea-change California's recent deliberations could bring:


“This breaks the vicious circle where the vendors say they're not producing printers because they say there's no demand for them. Now vendors are going to be required to produce these machines and everybody else will be able to buy them, too.”

It's a nice dream. It may even come true.


Saturday, November 22, 2003
 
Kentucky Fried Crow

Have you seen KFC's most recent ads? They are jaw-dropping in
their audacity.


Picture this: Guy 1 walks up to Guy 2, whose back is to the
camera. Guy 1, an expression of shocked admiration beaming across his
face, looks at Guy 2 and says something to the effect of, “Holy
crap, Guy 2, you look great! What the heck have you been doing?”


Switch cameras to Guy 2, who is busy slobbering over an oily,
batter-oozed chicken breast. Guy 2 looks up, and through his grease-slicked mouth (really!) simply answers: “Eatin'
chicken.”


Another ad shows a woman announcing to her husband that she was
going to hold him to his promise of “eating better.” When
hubby looks momentarily concerned, she chases his clouds away by
presenting him with a big ol' fat bucket of KFC as a sign of her
commitment to his health. Yeesh.


It's a riff on the Atkins thing,
see. The Einsteins at KFC's new ad agency (Chicago-based Foote
Cone & Belding
) figured out what every carb-counter already
knows: that chicken is a zero carbohydrate food. Since the Atkins
diet is centered around limiting carbohydrates, it must've seemed
reasonable to these plant-like intelligences to argue that KFC's
fried chicken is a health food.


Yes, chicken is good for you, and low
in net carbohydrates
. So is fish, broccoli, almonds, spinach,
eggs, turkey ... well, you get the picture. Slathered in batter,
lard, and salt, however, then immersed in searing oil
for several
minutes, and suddenly the nutritional balance is ... umm ... altered.
You eat that crap every day, and no amount of recuperative
powers inherent in those foods will save you from a horrible dietary
fate once you're passed, say, forty-something.


Yeah, that's
what the Center for Science in the Public Interest thought
, too.
It steamed them up enough that they filed a deceptive advertising
complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the ads. The FTC, in
a startling development for a Bush-era federal agency, actually sided
with the consumer for once, and has launched
an investigation
of the whole oily mess.


... to which KFC announced that — whaddaya know
— it didn't matter anyway, because they
were finished with those ads
. They had reached the completion of
their normal ad cycle, and it was simply time for the company to take
a new tack with its quality line of products.


It's not gonna stop the investigation, mind you; although it may
give the FTC an excuse to go easy on them.


Friday, November 21, 2003
 
Excuse Me Sir, Your Cog Is Showing

Here's the problem: astroturfing
itself is a sordid, scandalous business. After all, how else can you
describe the practice but as a systematic distortion of the
grassroots process (the very heart of democracy) in favor of the
entrenched interests of the anti-democratic elites? It's hard to
uncover any revelation that would make that look any worse.
It's very existence is a scandal.


That said, Josh Marshall's particular revelation is an article
coming out in this month's Washington Monthly. Entitled “Meet
the Press
,” it's an exposé detailing the
relationship between an outfit called Tech Central Station (a web-based information
vetting house for the right wing) and The DCI Group, a Washington
(DC)-based PR firm whose specialty is astroturfing.


Well, actually, the relationship between them is that TCS is a
wholly-owned subsidiary of DCI ... and DCI is to astroturfing what
the Pope is to Catholicism. Of course, they astroturf exclusively in
the interest of gigantic corporate behemoths (such as AT&T,
Microsoft, et al.) and, by default, mostly Republican interests.


According to the article, TCS's main purpose is to serve as an
originating point for much of the Corporate/Republican media echo
chamber. That is, someone at TCS will write an article (the Kyoto
Protocols
are bad, say ... or Microsoft
isn't a dangerously abusive monopoly
), a bunch of right wing
hacks will take the handoff, and soon talking points lifted from the
article are bouncing all over the info-sphere masquerading as
fully-sourced “facts.”


It doesn't matter if the original article was well-researched, or
even true. Once enough people are saying it to each other, it becomes
accepted as fact. That's
Propaganda 101
, my friends; and it happens all the time.


Just like a gangster (or terrorist) might use legitimate
businesses to engage in money
laundering
, The DCI Group is using TCS to commit acts of
information
laundering
for its clients.


Therein lies the scandal, though I confess to having a hard time
getting that worked up over it. As ugly as this story is, it only
details one cog inside the gigantic, infernal political machine the
Republicans have been constructing for themselves over the past 20
years, and which now looms before us nearly perfected. There's much,
much more
than this – some of it even
more sinister
in its implications for our
Republic's future
than these guys.


 
Mysterious Mystery Woman Mysteriously Saves The Day

Remember Bush's wacky statement yesterday about increasing the US troop commitment to Iraq — you know, the one which flew in the face of everything everyone else in the administration has been saying on the subject since this war began? Well, as promised, a shadowy “someone” did step forward soon afterward to issue a “clarification” of what he had just said:


A top aide to Bush, who briefed reporters after the news conference on condition that she not be identified, said that Bush was not announcing a change in policy and that expectations remained that troop levels would be reduced. “There is simply nothing to suggest that the number of American forces would need to increase,” the official said. “In fact, the conversations with the commanders have gone the other way.”

Y'know, Condi, just because everyone in comic book land is fooled by Superman whenever he puts on his eyeglasses, that doesn't mean it works in real life.


 
It Depends On What “Ouch” Is

US government officials have officially admitted that they shipped Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar off to Syria last year ... but only after extracting “assurances” from the Syrians that he would not be tortured.


Boy, I'm glad we got that all cleared up. For a minute there, I was afraid that US government officialdom had become riddled with duplicity. Now I know this to be untrue; the US government has become riddled with officials who are duplicitous and stupid.


Of course the Syrians didn't torture Arar — at least under their definition of the term. True, they may have gotten a little ... aggressive ... with their guest; but it's not the US government's fault if those Ba'athist bastards are working off of a different page than us.


The important thing is, they're aware of the problem now — and it'll never happen again.


Thursday, November 20, 2003
 
The MSTK President

At least Ronald Reagan stayed on script. Our current president is
becoming so dimly out of touch with political reality that his off
the cuff statements require active clarification by his own staff
even as they are coming out of his mouth.


Today, he shocked
the world (and his own advisors) by declaring that the US may decide
to increase its troop presence in Iraq. The Washington Post
describes what
happened then
:


His comment appeared to take top aides by surprise. As
the president spoke, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice simultaneoulsy [sic] glanced
pointedly toward the press corps assembled inside Britain's foreign
office as if to suggest that there might be some clarification
coming
.

C'mon now, America — we all know exactly what
kind of meaningful glance
it is the Post is describing
here. We've all seen it a million times before, if not participated
in it. It's that sharp look subordinates give each other (at a
meeting, say ... or a press event) that lets everyone present confirm
with each other that what the lead speaker just said is so clueless,
idiotic, or just batshit crazy that nobody is expected to actually
act on it.


It's really too bad that Dubya refused
the “invitation”
to speak
at a joint session
of the British Parliament. While the reasoning
behind the denial is obvious (i.e. the Brit MP's would quickly,
publicly, and mercilessly bludgeon him into babbling incoherence),
watching Colin and Condi gyrate their increasingly exasperated
clarifications behind him while he was speaking would no doubt be one
of the high comedic moments of the 21st century. Consider this
possibility:



  • Minute 1: Colin & Condi deliver their patented “stare”
    (see above).


  • Minute 4: Colin rolls his eyes. Condi sighs and glares
    blankly ahead.


  • Minute 7: Colin shakes his head rapidly, while Condi briskly
    waves her hands, palms out, in front of her chest.


  • Minute 13: Colin makes a little twirling gesture around his
    head with his finger. Condi suppresses a snort.


  • Minute 15: Dubya says something actually cogent and true,
    causing Colin & Condi to look at each other with a shocked
    start.


  • Minute 18: Back to business as usual: Colin & Condi
    simultaneously slap their foreheads, glance over at each other, then
    giggle nervously while slowly shaking their heads.


  • Minute 23: By this point Condi has clearly given up, and is
    apparently entertaining herself by replaying old Stanford lectures
    in her head. In the meantime, Colin has developed a noticeable
    twitch.


  • Minute 27: Colin joins Condi in La-La Land, where they act
    out Dubya's speech in shadow puppet form while the MP's look on in
    glazed derision.



Of course, back in the states, where Dubya's “minute-15”
soundbite is all over the news, the event is hailed as a triumph of
cross-Atlantic diplomacy. Inexplicably (to the American audience),
the Tony Blair government collapses soon after, and an
Anglo-Teuto-French task force is spotted amassing just off the coast
of Massachussetts.


Wednesday, November 19, 2003
 
Stupid Racists

This just in: Racism isn't just stupid; it actually makes you stupid as well. Check this out, courtesy of the keen, unbiased brainiacs of Dartmouth College:


According to the findings, the more biased people are, the more their brain power is taxed by contact with someone of another race, as they struggle not to say or do anything offensive. The effect is so strong, the team found, that even a five-minute conversation with a black person left some of the white subjects unable to perform well on a test of cognitive ability.


Just having a prejudice makes you stupider,” said John Gabrieli, a professor of psychology at Stanford University who was not involved in the research. “It is really interesting.”


Let me get this straight: in order to get a racist smart enough to realize that racism is a stupid notion, we have to remove them from the presence of any members of the offending race in the first place?


Well, now at least I understand why Idaho exists.


 
Melting The Astroturf

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall is getting all sweaty about something political. He just can't tell us what it is ... yet:


“Oh Boy ... Something pretty big is coming down the pike tomorrow apparently. The world of Astroturf organizing may be shaken all the way down to its phony-baloney roots.”

Stay tuned, folks!


 
Schadenfreude

Hey there, Fellow Traveler! Got any “Red
Dawn
” skeletons squirreled away in the back of your closet?
Germany wants to know; and, through the miracle of modern technology,
they
might just find out
:


German scientists have developed a computerised
scanning system to help reconstruct — within years rather than
centuries — millions of files on informants torn up by the
Stasi, East Germany's secret police.

After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Stasi tore
into jigsaw-puzzle-sized pieces documents on their huge network. If
sorted by hand, the 16,000 sackloads of documents, above, would take
about 400 years to reconstruct.



“No,
not David Hasselhoff! And Debbie Gibson, too? What the ... ALF?!
NOOOOOOOOO!”





Incidentally, the Germans are quite familiar with such projects.
They took on a very similar one just a few years ago, one which
hearkened back to that awful, seminal day in modern US history:
September 11.


You may have heard the stories
and rumors
of financial
manipulations
going on in
the days leading up to
the Trade Center attacks, but did you know
about the last-minute fiscal skullduggery that was allegedly going on even as the doomed flights were zeroing in on their respective targets?


It's
true
. According to an old (archived) Reuters story, computers at
the World Trade Center were hit with a deluge of bogus credit card
transactions on the very morning of September 11, 2001, beginning
just hours prior to the attacks. By the time it was over (i.e. when
the towers collapsed), something in the neighborhood of $100
million
— or more — was spirited away into accounts
unknown, lost forever in a mass of busted up and contaminated hard
disc drives.


Well, at least that's how those who hit on the scheme thought it
would go down. Unfortunately for them, they forgot to account for the
existence
of Germans
; specifically, that time-tested teutonic compulsion to
uncover,
sort, and classify
every bit of information they
can get their hands on
.


Using a pioneering laser scanning technology to find
data on damaged computer hard drives and main frames found in the
rubble of the World Trade Center and other nearby collapsed
buildings, [German-based firm] Convar
has recovered information from 32 computers that support assumptions
of dirty doomsday dealings.

The suspicion is that inside information about
the attack was used to send financial transaction commands and
authorizations in the belief that amid all the chaos the criminals
would have, at the very least, a good head start,” said Convar
director Peter Henschel.

Not wishing to come off as too much of a paranoid, Herr Henschel
goes on to point out that, as unlikely as it may sound, there could
be perfectly legitimate reasons for all this unusual activity:


It could turn out that Americans went on an
absolute shopping binge on that Tuesday morning. But at this point
there are many transactions that cannot be accounted for,”
Henschel said.

Ha ha. Sehr lustig, Peter. Seriously, though: it's been nearly two
years — what've you got for us?


Tuesday, November 18, 2003
 
Shaken

Boy, the Italians are taking their loss hard. The President of Italy cried in public, for Pete's sake! And we're just not talking about some lame, stiff-upper-lip, misting over either; but a full-bore, hold-me-close, bawling fit.


Good for him, by the way, for showing some humanity. But can you imagine something like that happening in this country? Not that what happened to Italy's troops wasn't an unmitigated tragedy; but the amount of hair-tearing and keening going on down there in the Boot of Europe must seriously lead any reasonable observer to conclude that this is a country that is not going to be on this adventure with us for the long haul:


The sight was extraordinary, but less so than the sound, or rather the lack of it. Although thousands upon thousands of people filled one of this city's most chaotic squares during the evening rush hour on Monday, the decibel level seldom rose above a whisper's.


Silence was just one way in which those people sought to show their respect for 19 Italians killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq last week. Another was to wait two to three hours, in the drizzle and dark, for a chance to walk past the victims' coffins, arrayed inside a palace that towers over the square, Piazza Venezia.


The line went on and on, just like Italy's mourning.


And who could blame them if they did back out? The Iraqi operation has never been even remotely popular with the Italian people. The entire Italian commitment seems to be the personal crusade of the country's eerily entrenched Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (whose barely-concealed oil slick of corruption and hard-right political slant make him Bush's closest ideological ally in Europe). Yet, even he is suddenly taking a suspiciously ambidextrous rhetorical tack:


“I tried to convince the US government not to embark on military action, but once that such action was taken and once I realised it wasn't possible to convince them otherwise, I think that Italy did the right thing in continuing to be a loyal ally to the USA and in supporting this initiative.”


Let me get this straight, Silvio. You were the voice of reason in this debate?


 
Triumph Of The Will, Redux

“When a short clip was aired showing US soldiers being greeted by waving children, a journalist from Chinese state television sitting next to me snorted, ‘What propaganda!’ (And he should know.)”


• Michael Massing “The Doha Follies


With less than nine months to go until the House of Bush holds its Quadrennial Coronation Ceremony, operatives have already been dispatched to New York to prepare for the big show. Chief among them is Jim Wilkinson, the recently-appointed Director of Communications for the event. You may have heard of him before, if only peripherally; last spring, Wilkinson was the man in charge of the Bush Administration's Gulf War II media control campaign in Qatar. Prior to that, his most notorious gig was as media spokesman for the crowd of pro-Bush “rioters” that successfully hectored Miami-Dade County unto aborting its recount effort during the 2000 Florida election fiasco.


The Republicans hope to make Bush Initiation II as successful a media event as (pre-banner) Gulf War II was, and they have a whole passel of neat-o ideas coming down the pike for just that purpose:


... the R.N.C. convention planners are, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, willing to break the rules. They’re contemplating setting the stage in the center of the Garden rather than against a backdrop, which could offer 360-degree camera angles. They’re also considering staging events at Yankee Stadium, Mr. Wilkinson said.


“What’s clear is, it won’t look like any other convention we’ve ever seen. We’re looking to provide as much access to reporters as possible,” Mr. Wilkinson said, taking the war’s key lesson to the convention.


Oh, by all means, Republicans: Please feel free to use Donald Rumsfeld as a template on how to organize any complicated and involved operation you want to try. In fact, why don't you invite him in on the whole thing? You know — have him over for dinner, or invite him to a few BS sessions; I'm sure all your in-boxes will be packed tight with pithy suggestions in less than a day.


More importantly: With Rummy in charge, half the conventioneers should be knocked dead with Salmonella poisoning by the second day, while the other half will finish up by deliriously approving an Ahmed Chalabi/Jesus Christ dream ticket in front of an incredulous national audience.


Soooo ... the Republicans are turning there little elephant parade into a WWF-style arena event, huh? If they actually go with the centrally-located, 360° perspective, we're no doubt going to be treated to huge numbers of high aerial shots; panoramic vistas; and low swooping, crowd-to-candidate crane shots. Sweet.


But why stop there? Who says you can't have smoke and glitter? Or maybe a laser show? You guys like lasers, right? Or, since the whole thing is going to be on television, you could throw in cute little visual tricks like planting a halo over Dubya's head, or even a smiling Jesus hovering incorporeally in his background.


Ooh! Ooh!! Don't forget the slow-mo, backlit, trenchcoat group walk-on. You guys'll totally blow it if you set off the whole show without that ... and “bullet time,” too! Not even a pencil-necked, Kucinich-whipped, girlie-man, Blue Stater can resist the dazzle of bullet time!


Too bad Leni Riefenstahl just passed away. She would have been, like, totally in with what y'all are planning.


Then again. I'm sure FOX already has her brain wired up in a vat somewhere. So just call them.


Monday, November 17, 2003
 
Syria: Our Secret Crush

The Moscow Times (a rather good English-language newspaper out of Russia) points us to a particularly egregious piece of hypocrisy in President Bush's recent pro-democracy manifesto for the middle east. While the speech in question is certainly replete with all the same high-minded rhetorical glop we've come to expect from Dear Leader these days, the Times chooses to single out this particular line for contempt:


“Dictators in Iraq and Syria promised the restoration of national honor, a return to ancient glories. They've left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin.”

Well, now ... what could possibly be wrong with that statement? Ba'athist states like Syria and (late) Iraq obviously are oppressive, torture-addicted regimes, right? Has the editorial board of the Moscow Times gone pro-torture? Pro-oppression? Or is it just that they — like a couple of other “Old Europe” codger-states we could (but won't) mention — merely engaging in a bout of knee-jerk anti-Americanism?


Let's just have the well-spoken folks at the Times take it from here:


... there's certainly some inconsistency in scolding, for example, Syria for engaging in torture. A day before Bush's speech, The Washington Post reported on our “secret rendition policy,” which is our new practice of shipping “suspects” to Syria for torture-driven interrogations.

In other words, while Bush condemns Syria's use of torture as an interrogation practice, he's not above letting the US actively benefit from it. This begs the question: If Syria decided to up and stop torturing people for us, would we have to take it up ourselves just to fill in the slack?


The Washington Post article referenced above does indeed mention this “rendition” policy, but that's not the major point of the story. It's actually about a much darker little piece of post 9/11 American history, one which is more illustrative of the substantive decline of civil liberties in this country, as well as an illumination of the profound lack of respect US authorities seem to have for a certain sovereign nation that lies to our immediate north.



It concerns the case of one Maher Arar, a long-time naturalized Canadian citizen of Syrian origin. On September 26, 2002, Arar was returning to his home in Montreal after visiting relatives in Tunisia. Unfortunately, his flight required a layover at JFK International Airport in New York City:


“This is when my nightmare began,” he said. “I was pulled aside by immigration and taken [away]. The police came and searched my bags. I asked to make a phone call and they would not let me.” He said an FBI agent and a New York City police officer questioned him. “I was so scared,” he said. “They told me I had no right to a lawyer because I was not an American citizen.”

The US government's justification for detaining Arar was that he “knew a man in Ottawa” who was somehow connected to al Qaeda. After a bit of wrangling (during which the Canadian government was never consulted), Arar was hog-tied and deported to Syria. It wasn't until three days later that the US informed Canadian authorities about what it had done.


Arar then spent the next year imprisoned in Syria, during which time it was reported that he was subjected to such tried-and-true interrogation techniques as “being beaten with sticks and cables on the soles of his feet, electric schocks, and being squeezed into a car tire for hours.”


Syria, of course, denies this. But who you gonna believe ... a bunch of Ba'athist drones or The Post?


Syria, where use of torture during imprisonment has been documented by the State Department, maintains a secret but growing intelligence relationship with the CIA, according to intelligence experts.


“The Syrian government has provided some very useful assistance on al Qaeda in the past,” said Cofer Black, former director of counterterrorism at the CIA who is now the counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department.


The article then goes on to state that the CIA still believes Arar has al Qaeda “connections” — despite the fact that the Canadian foreign affairs office has stated it's belief in his innocence, and he is no longer even being held by the Syrians. But after all, what would anyone expect the US to say after having grabbed the guy, locked him up, and shipped him off to a third world hellhole for 374 days of extensive and painful “debriefing” sessions?


“Oops?”


Saturday, November 15, 2003
 
Supply & Demand

War can have unexpected consequences, particularly on an economy. For the past several months, US businesses and industry have been seeing modest economic benefits from our Iraqi adventure (not counting, of course, the human costs) — due largely to military spending.


This time-honored technique will work for a while, of course, but such massive injections of government money into the economy cannot be sustained without causing significant distortions as well. Consider the case of plywood.


My uncle, who is a contractor, casually mentioned at a recent family gathering that the price of plywood had skyrocketed — to more than double what it was just a few months ago. According to his suppliers, the government bought up pretty much all the plywood it could get its hands on last summer, and promptly shipped it to Iraq. As a result, my uncle's building costs had gone up considerably.


It's all true. The shortage began last spring, when plywood manufacturers reduced production in the face of predicted slacking in demand for their product, which never really came. Home construction had been predicted to cool off a bit, but instead has continued on its tear, enhanced by those great low interest rates, and exacerbated by fears that those same rates are not going to last.


Things really came to a head last August, when the military did indeed buy up over half a million sheets of plywood, for troop barracks and the like in Iraq. As a result, the price of plywood has been reported at anywhere from $24 per sheet, to nearly $30. That's more than double what it was selling for a few months back.


The cheaper (and usually more plentiful) OSB plywood, which used to sell for just under $7 per sheet, is currently going for almost $20 per sheet. While that's down a bit from the recent high of $23, it's still almost a 300% leap in price.


Assuming the government doesn't need any more plywood in the immediate future, the market will eventually correct this distortion. In the meantime, however, home building costs have risen an average of $5,000 as a result.


I guess the old truism is true, after all. War really is inflationary.


Friday, November 14, 2003
 
Almost Got Another One

Is this some kind of US-sponsored retirement program for the Iraqis? I realize that we're not terribly happy with the state of local civilian puppet government in Iraq, but is it actually that wise to keep shooting at them?


BAGHDAD: US forces accidentally opened fire on Wednesday on the car of a member of the interim Governing Council at the entrance of the US-led coalition's compound in Baghdad, an official said.


Lt Col Mark Yanaway, in charge of the security for the Governing Council, said Sayed Mohammed Bahr al-Ulum, a prominent Shia politician, was not himself hurt. “His driver was accidentally shot in the ankle when US troops opened fire. There was just one shot,” said Yanaway.


“The incident occurred near the 14th of July bridge, at the entrance of the Green Zone,” he said, referring to the heavily fortified compound housing the Coalition Provisional Authority in central Baghdad.


Yanaway said an investigation had been launched. A Governing Council statement later said US forces “opened fire on the convoy ... by mistake, injuring his driver.”


By the way, that's Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Bahr al-Ulum, guys. I just thought you should know. Local Baghdad weblogger Riverbend (who's just been added to the links section) points out that the mandarin-esque al-Ulum is unlikely to blame the Americans for this snafu:


“Also, Mohammed Bahr Ul Iloom was shot at today. Bahr Ul Iloom is one of the Shia clerics (a 'rotating president') and the father of the Minister of Oil. He was unharmed, it seems, but his driver is wounded. While I'm sure Bahr Ul Iloom would love to blame it on loyalists, Ba'athists and Al-Qaeda, the shots actually came from American troops- it was a 'mistake'. Oops.”

All this comes at a time when the local Baghdad Shi'ite population is still all stirred up by the recent “accidental” killing of Sadr City mayor Muhammed Kaadi by US troops last weekend. Here's a bit more added detail about the ugly little incident, courtesy of some nearby Iraqi witnesses:


Iraqi guards, who patrol the entrance with US forces, denied that Mr Kaabi reached for the soldier's gun or tackled him. Several guards who claimed to have witnessed the incident said Mr Kaabi yelled in English at the soldiers as they tried to search his car. One of the soldiers bumped him with his chest, then pushed him and a shoving match ensued.


“They fired the second bullet deliberately, 100 per cent,” Mr Abboud said. “It was killing for the sake of killing. It was not self-defence.”


 
Say It Ain't So, Joe

After work, I went down the street to the local bookstore for a little creative browsing. In the middle of the store is a central gathering location, suitable for readings, discussions, musicians and the like.


Walking by it on my way to the history section, I notice that the person leading the current discussion looks awfully familiar — almost familiar enough to get me to take my headphones off and hear what he had to say. Almost, but not quite.


Turns out I should have. On my way back, I happen to get a look at the stack of books he's standing next to; it's Big Lies, Joe Conason's best-seller about the excesses of the Right Wing propaganda machine. Naturally, this means that the guy I recognized (and ignored) was none other than Joe Conason himself.


I pull off the headphones just in time to hear him say that he enjoyed the discussion, but it was time for him to go. Damn. Well, at least I could get an autographed copy of his book.


Of course, everyone had a question for Joe. He must have touched on the Diebold situation during his talk, because the silver-haired little lady in front of me drew close to him during her turn and asked earnestly if she should really be that afraid of “these electronic voting machines.”


“Oh yes,” Joe replied, without a hint of irony in his voice. “We all should be very afraid.”


 
Jenny Got Her Gun

Last week, some began to take note of evidence that the US
government was beginning to ramp
up its long-dormant military induction program
. Although all the
mechanisms for a draft are still in place in this country (including
the registration system, a fact which all young American men have
long been painfully aware), much of it has been allowed to atrophy.
The actual Draft Boards are a good example of this — after all,
why would anyone bother to maintain staff and office space for an
organization that hasn't had to actually do anything since
1973?


Which is exactly why last week's reports of moves by the
federal government to restaff those very boards jolted the 'net with
such electricity. The government's advertisement was taken down as
soon as it was squawked about
; but through the magic of Google's
caching system, interested viewers can look at it here.


Coupled with reports that Representative Charles Rangel's draft
reinstatement bill is just starting to gain
some traction in Congress
, it's beginning to dawn upon the youth
of America that their government may be screwing itself up to inject
a very ugly reality into their pop culture fantasy lives very soon.


Oh, that's right: we're talkin' about all the “youth”
of America, by the way — as in boys and girls. You see,
Representative Rangel's little bill is currently worded to make sure
that his draft is an explicitly
Title IX affair
(a fact which has been largely ignored by all
media accounts).


Suddenly it's not such an academic issue to you anymore, is it
ladies?


 
Chaos Theory And Cable Guys, Part II

“You look up and down the bench and you have to say to yourself, 'Can't anybody here play this game?'”


Casey Stengel


After a relatively uneventful weekend on my couch taking in an unhealthy dosage of plastic surgery documentaries, British reality shows, and long-unseen '80's rock videos, I woke up on Tuesday morning to discover that my television had reverted to an all-snow format. Meanwhile, out in the living room, the cable modem was sitting sullenly on my desk, its “status” light delivering nothing but a steadily blinking orange light, over and over again.


Yep. This time everything's down. The whole house of cards. Caput.


Naturally, I suspect my recent digital upgrade to be the problem. Not wanting to wait for the requisite half-hour to talk to someone at the Comcast broadband help desk (this happened right before work ... again), I take a chance that someone at the cable side of things might be able to help me.


No dice. The cable people's idea of diagnostics is to “send a signal” through the line. In fact, this is the only immediate solution they ever know. They do this so often that I've come to the conclusion that each help desk must just have a big, fat, red “signal” button that they hammer on with their fists every time someone calls up with a cable problem:


“Just a minute, sir”


[BONK]


“Did that do it? Well, let's try again ...”


After this naturally failed to work, she decided that it must be a hardware problem. The dreaded cable company service call was set up for two days later, between 3-5 pm. In the meantime I had no cable and, more importantly, no internet.


After two days of waiting, the problem is discovered. It wasn't the digital upgrade at all this time, but rather a whole new act of incompetence on Comcast's part.


On Tuesday morning, my upstairs neighbors had had their cable TV yanked. Since we live in a duplex together, Comcast apparently lacked the technological savvy to cut them off without punishing me as well.


Comcast software is sophisticated enough to provide us with two separate bills, but not smart enough to think of us as two different customers.


... and, it took two days for them to figure this out.


Tuesday, November 11, 2003
 
An Accidental Assassination

A local Iraqi council leader by the name of Muhammed Kaadi was shot to death in the street yesterday by US troops during an altercation of some sort. This being Iraq, there are of course two conflicting versions of how it went down — the American version, and the Iraqi one:


A U.S. spokesman here said the victim went for the weapon of one of the American guards and was shot by a second soldier in response.


“The driver continued to fight and wrestled the soldier to the ground while still attempting to pull the weapon from the soldier,” a military statement reported by the Associated Press said.


“The other soldier shot the driver in the upper leg. The driver was evacuated to a nearby military hospital where he died of his wounds. The incident is under investigation.”


Local witnesses said there was indeed a warning shot but reported no attempt by the leader to seize a weapon from the soldier.


Muhammed Kaadi, it turns out, wasn't just any local council flunky; he was the head of a US-appointed council that had been set up to administer Sadr City. In other words, he was the intended American counterweight to the ever-nascent, rogue regime of radical Shi'ite cleric (and powermonger) Muqtada al-Sadr.


Al-Sadr's source of power, you may recall, is directly related to his stature within his sprawling Shi'ite slum of two million desperate souls. Fortunately for US interests, he seems to have recently been cowed by threats of incarceration into playing ball with us. Kaadi's “assassination,” however, clearly serves al-Sadr's cause in two ways: it permanently removes a potential local rival (Kaadi), while simultaneously fixing the blame for it on the very people (the US) who are his most powerful enemies.


Before the recent loss of his political spine, al-Sadr clearly had visions of riding a crest of mob violence into the receivership of Saddam's old palaces. If he still secretly holds those visions, and can recover the credibility he's lost from his recent bootlicking exposition, he may have just been granted a lot more recruits for his mob.


Monday, November 10, 2003
 
Iranians Riot Over Tiger-Woman

Boy, Iranians must be one bored, isolated group of people. It's hard to believe they would actually be credulous enough to swallow this:


A riot broke out after police tried to disperse a crowd gathered to watch the rumoured hanging of a “woman-tigress,” Iran's Jomhuri-Eslami paper reports.


Some 50 people were arrested after the would-be spectators turned on police who tried to disperse them in the city of Qom, said the hardline daily.


It was rumoured a woman had "insulted religious values" during Ramadan.


According to local folklore, anyone who commits such a crime risks having their head turned into that of an animal.


 
Chaos Theory And Cable Guys

This weblog isn't meant to be one of those personal-angst ones, but in case you've been wondering about where I've been the last couple of days ... here goes:


Well, a Comcast technician visited my house on Saturday and, after a little bit of fiddling and twiddling, got me upgraded into the futuristic world of digital cable. It probably took less than twenty minutes — which was good, because I had to get ready for work practically right after he left. Plus, he was a little creepy (although we did have an unpleasantly stilted conversation about my antique map collection).


When I get back from work several hours later, I discover a huge string of disconnect messages on my computer. After an hour or so of geeky fiddling on my part, I confirm what I had initially expected: the Creepy Cable Guy had somehow managed to break my broadband.


After about a 25-minute wait on the telephone, I tell the help desk my situation, taking care to point out that I had just been “upgraded” to digital cable the very day. She agreed, with a practically audible eye-roll, that this was in all likelyhood my problem.


We spend the next ten minutes mucking around with both our computer systems, then I get a few more minutes on hold, until she isolates the problem: Creepy Cable Guy had forgotten to “close” his session with me. That's a Big Deal with computers, you know.


She issues a few commands on her side of the line and I'm on the net again — except that she's afraid that it might only be a temporary fix, and I may experience some outages over the weekend.


Yup. Sunday was pretty spotty. Plus, it took until Sunday night for my e-mail account to believe that I was actually me. But now all my TV channels have three digits, plus I have an entire channel which I think is devoted entirely to before/after plastic surgery documentaries, so I guess it's all worth it.


It's a Brave New World I've discovered, fellow citizens. Come join me on the couch.



 
Is This Guy Ever Aware Of What It Is He's Actually Saying When He Says It?

“This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government because it does not come from government — it comes from The Creator of life.”


President George W. Bush, after signing the late-term abortion law



As governor of Texas, George W. Bush authorized the execution of 152 human beings. While it's true that they were all (probably) among the worst examples of us, it was still the state that decided to kill them, not God. If Bush honestly believes that it is only the province of The Creator to decide who lives and dies, then he must know that he is dwelling, unrepentant, in a grievious state of sin.


Of course, he could just be doing his usual spiel of barfing out mindlessly pleasant rhetorical pap — in which case he is merely lying for the sake of mass appeal. Or maybe he believes the pap for himself, in which case he is exposing his intellectual laziness to the world once again.


Friday, November 07, 2003
 
1980 Independent Presidential Candidates For O'Reilly

It's been a long workweek, so we're taking the lazy route here today. Here's a repro of part of an e-mail sent to me by a friend of mine who works over at MPR (and no, the “M” is not a misprint), reprinted with his permission:


We had Al Franken on the noon hour yesterday, and I got a kind of surreal call from a woman who claimed to be an MPR member.  She said she was not going to renew her membership because of Al Franken.  She said, “if any of you people at MPR listened to Bill O'Reilly for ten days STRAIGHT you would see that he makes a lot of SENSE.”


The woman said Franken's tone is corrosive and O'Reilly is actually working to improve the tone of political discourse in the country.  She said, “WHY doesn't Al Franken understand the difference between calling someone a LIAR and telling someone they're LYING?”


“I didn't know there was a difference,” I said.


“There IS a difference,” the woman said.  “There's a BIG difference.  Bill O'Reilly TELLS them that they can't lie in the No-Spin Zone, and when they lie he TELLS them.  He doesn't tell them they're LIARS, though.  That's what people like AL FRANKEN do. You shouldn't have people like him ON.  So I'm NOT going to renew my membership.”


So I said, “Well, I can cancel your membership right now, if you like.”


I usually say that when I suspect they aren't really members.  Her voice got just a little bit higher and more constricted.  “No, no, my husband LIKES public radio and he wants to keep the membership for now, he said, they're really LIBERAL but let's give them a CHANCE.”


“Well,” I said, feeling the way cats must feel when they see flailing, wounded birds in the yard, “I'd at least like to log your concerns in your membership record.  What's the name, please?”


“Uh,” she said.  “The account is in my HUSBAND'S name.  It's....uh....” and she started stammering and gave me a very generic name, like “John Anderson.”  When I asked for the address, she started fumbling with the phone and said “Just a second, I have to do something... over here... with my dogs....”


Then the line went dead.


So, the dogs were barking, and then the line went dead?


Yess ... Yesssss ... Good work, Liberal Media Minion. You clearly kept her on the telephone just long enough for one of us to get a trace on her number — thus silencing yet one more voice of reason ... forever!


You followed your Public Radio training very well.


In related news, one of the hottest street tips bopping around the brain-damaged side of the internet these days is that uttering the phrase “I think I heard that on NPR today” can actually serve as a powerful female aphrodesiac. Who knew? Clearly, confirmation of this hypothesis will require a strenuous application of the Scientific Method.


Thank you, MPR Friend of Mine Who Shall Remain Anonymous, for all the inside info. Now I must go.


... to the focus groups, men!



Thursday, November 06, 2003
 
A Winter Offensive?

No, not us. And not Iraq, either.


In Afghanistan, it appears that our other unfinished business is becoming even less complete by the fortnight. It's unclear, for instance, whether the government of Hamid Karzai is getting any traction outside of Kabul — unless its ultimate goal is the recreation of 1920's pre-Kuomintang China in miniature — in which case its doing a real bang-up, crackerjack of a job over there. In the meantime, our nominally-allied warlords in the north of the country are opening fire on each other with gusto, and the Taliban are actually gaining strength in the face of our neglect:


Meanwhile, thousands of young men are said to be swelling the ranks of the Taliban. According to Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani specialist on Afghan affairs, around 2,500 Taliban fighters are waiting in Balochistan (Pakistan) to cross into Afghanistan before the onset of winter. The Taliban are said to have bought 900 motorcycles in the past three months in the Quetta region, and another 250 in Loralai.

The firefight where those two CIA “contractors” (yes, it's that mercenary thing again) were recently killed occurred just a few miles north of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Clearly, the US has an active concern over what is going down over there on the Pakistani side.


Motorcycle couriers, of course, are the communication system of choice for groups seeking strategic cohesion in the age of the all-hearing electronic ear of Echelon. While a little slow compared to a walkie-talkie or satellite phone, your average Minion of Evil can at least be reasonably assured that his inter-henchman directives are being securely transmitted and received with this system.


Two men on a cycle also make a pretty effective and speedy light urban assault unit. Forgive the macabre nature of this thought ... but a motorcycle might also be a pretty effective suicide bomber insertion device as well, don't you think?


Another article suggests that the Taliban are planning to hole up in their mountain stronghold/hovels for the winter, after which they expect to have enough men, material, and money to launch a major combined urban/rural offensive by the summer. By then, the demoralized “loyalist” forces may not be willing to put up too much of a fight, leaving us with little allies of value but a handfull of NATO troops — and, of course, our “contractors.”


 
Evil Omens Aplenty

Since the sun has now rotated its Evil Eye away from our general direction for the next couple of weeks, you might think we mortals would be spared heaven's wrath for a while, eh? Well, don't stop your quaking yet, fellow sinners; shadowy forces are lining up to insure an even more sinister sky drama for the days ahead. This Saturday, the sun will reconfirm its ire with us by casting our own gentle Earth's umbra over the moon.


Yes, that's right. Weather permitting this weekend, mortals all over the North American continent will be able to glance up from their evening affairs and witness a blood red moon hovering balefully over their unbelieving heads. Lordy, what's next: fire raining down from the sky?


Oh. Yeah, right.


Dammit, we can't be having The Apocalypse this weekend. I'm scheduled to have my digital cable installed then.


Oh, well. At least I'll be able to watch it all on the BBC.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003
 
More Virgins, Stat!

Whatever has the sun so riled up of late is not showing any signs of abating. Yesterday afternoon it erupted with the biggest solar flare ever recorded. This comes on the heels of multiple flare activity — some of which have been nearly as spectacular as this one — making this the stormiest solar session ever witnessed by modern man.





“Sun God grow angry. Demand maaaany virgins. No want to know what Sun God do next if not fully satisfied.”




Admittedly, our records don't go back very far on this subject, but when anything astronomical is given a classification of “X20,” you know it's one honking big ball of plasma. The energy pulse associated with it was strong enough to blank out the observational satellites reporting on it for a full eleven minutes, and radio broadcasts all across North America were momentarily disrupted, as well.


No word yet on whether the accompanying ball of solar gasses will be enveloping us again this time, though.


The scientists observing this are actually classifying it as at least an X20 — mainly because prior to this event they had no reason to invent any rating higher than that.


Imagine what the sun could do if it really got stewed up over something.


 
The Ministry Of Culture Does Not Approve

“You've got to be careful quoting Ronald Reagan, because when you quote him accurately it's called mudslinging.”


Walter Mondale


“Facts are stupid things.”


Ronald Reagan


CBS cried uncle yesterday, and announced that it was not going to show its much-hyped miniseries “The Reagans” on The Eye. Instead, the story will probably be shown on Showtime, a sister network (and premium-channel cable ghetto) — although it's possible that the show won't be aired at all. In a further admission of political guilt (or rather, sheer spinelessness), executives at CBS made sure to let the American people know that the offending show did not represent “a balanced portrayal” of the former first family.


Sheesh. It's a work of historical literature, guys. Admittedly, its not gonna give Tolstoy a run for his money, but anything written by an author (or in CBS's case, a chain-gang of skinner-boxed chimps) is going to be subject to shades of interpretation.


If it hadn't been for the fact that the show was so effectively memory-holed, it wouldn't even merit discussion here. But, really, the Republican National Committee actively bullied CBS into exiling the project — even going so far as to insist on reviewing the script for approval.


Remember this piece of revisionist trash? I don't recall anyone at the RNC shaking their little anal-retentive fists about its numerous and laughable innacuracies when it oozed its steaming way out of our televisions last September. I doubt anyone at the DNC could have done anything about it either, even with an army of genetically-enhanced Susan Sarandon/Barbara Streisand hybrids to back it up.


Imagine, a political party allowed to control the flow of a nation's media content ... aren't we supposed to be past all of this 20th-century style apparatchik garbage?


Tuesday, November 04, 2003
 
A Prophecy Comes True!

Nearly a month ago, on the eve of the California recall election, this weblog posted a prediction that any electoral shenanigans would be centered around the 1.5 million-voter Democratic stronghold of Alameda county. Via a link provided by the indefatigable Atrios, we learn that this prophecy has now been fulfilled:

Marc Carrel, assistant secretary of state for policy and planning, told attendees Thursday at a panel on voting systems that California was halting the certification process for new voting machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems.


The reason, Carrel said, was that his office had recently received "disconcerting information" that Diebold may have installed uncertified software on its touch-screen machines used in one county.


He did not say which county was involved. However, secretary of state spokesman Douglas Stone later told Wired News that the county in question is Alameda.


Installing unauthorized software into a voting machine is a pretty serious matter. It is, frankly, an unsupervised compromise of the entire voting system, by the very company that the citizenry have entrusted to maintain it. The worst part is that this isn't even the first time Diebold's pulled this hack on us.


Prior to the election, the entire state of California was preparing to switch over to the Diebold “paperless” touch-screen voting system. Diebold had clearly expected this meeting to be a simple rubber-stamping process, as it has been in other (ahem ... Republican-controlled) parts of the country.


Until very recently, voting machine companies such as Diebold and ES&S have been able to smother any concerns about these emerging technologies under big, fat pillowcases of money. They obviously assumed they had payed off enough people to gain the upper hand here, as well.


The terrain is changing under their feet, however. Anti-Diebold guerrilla activity is springing up all over the internet, centered around blackboxvoting.com, the white-hot center of the entire movement. The company is attempting a series of snarling counterattacks through anti-speech provisions buried inside the execrable Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), but is rapidly finding these brushfires as difficult to root out as a Sunni Triangle mortar squad.


In the meantime, more traditional political forces (i.e. the Democrats) are starting to build up a good head of steam on this; even CNN has been forced to stand up and take notice.


Even so — corporations of Diebold's size being the unwieldy, dimwitted dinosaurs that they are — her executives were caught flat-footed by California's abrupt announcement. They were obviously unamused:


Diebold officials, who were attending the meeting, seemed surprised by the announcement and expressed displeasure to several panelists afterward that it had been introduced in a public forum.

... and then, with a puff of acrid smoke and a twirling of capes, they were gone.


Oh, but they'll be back, all right. They'll be back ...


 
Shi'ite Follies

Well, life in the Shi'ite sections of Iraq is not so placid after all. There was a car-bombing in Karbala today, about a hundred yards down the street from the Imam Hussein shrine.


No one has claimed responsibility for it yet — nor will anyone, likely. The blast occurred at a vacant hotel that was just behind a mosque currently occupied by members of Muqtada al-Sadr's ad hoc Islamic militia. It could be an act against al-Sadr's group; then again, his men aren't exactly the Einsteins of the Shi'ite world, if you get my drift.


In the meantime, a bizarre statement attributed to al-Sadr is currently circulating throughout the city of Najaf. In it, al-Sadr reportedly refers to Americans as a “peace-loving people” who are to be treated as “guests” during their stay in Iraq.


This does not sound like the belligerently frothy, Mussolini-wannabe al-Sadr we have all come to know and love. Either he has lost his mind, or the threat of American action has him so spooked that he has decided to knuckle under to them in the most kowtowing, humiliating words he could imagine ... or they aren't his words at all.


Option three is most likely, although option two shouldn't be ruled out. Al-Sadr has proven a willingness to stage even an awkward retreat from his stated positions in times past, though never this dramatically.


Monday, November 03, 2003
 
Sadr City Crackdown?

Earlier this
weekend, it appeared as though the US had finally come to a decision
about Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi'ite cleric who holds so much sway over
the bedraggled and desperate poor of the sprawling Baghdad suburb
known as Sadr City. The Coalition Provisional Authority had
apparently decided that al-Sadr was just too dangerous to be allowed
to roam the streets essentially unfettered; a
good, old-fashioned crackdown was in order
:


A
decision was made to move against Sadr head-on because he crossed a
red line. The US military believes he is responsible for the deaths
of Americans and Iraqis and is actively hostile to the American
presence,” explained Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer
and now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


Another factor in
the decision was the reality that although al-Sadr has some clout at
the street level, he is distinctly unpopular with most other powerful
(and higher-ranking) Shi'ite clerics – particularly Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leader of Iraqi Shi'ites. Al-Sadr is
widely regarded as being the central figure behind the brutish
assassination of the liberal cleric Abdel-Magid al-Khoei
last
spring (he was stabbed in a holy shrine, dragged 500 meters, then
finished off with a shot to the head).


As a result, any
move against al-Sadr has the blessing of the Shi'ite establishment
(as long as it looks like an Iraqi-led operation). The Shia
population has been relatively calm of late, even in the face of
cautious
moves by Coalition forces
against the periphery of al-Sadr's
power structure. This is extremely important to the CPA, since their
main concern was with the amount of trouble that rounding up al-Sadr
would bring down upon their already deeply-furrowed brows.


Of course, that
was before the reports of insurgent activity began rolling in this
weekend. The downing
of the Chinook helicopter
, the day-long
firefight in Abu Gharib
, and the usual parade of “improvised
explosive devices
” may have convinced the US leadership
that adding any risk to their mission may not be advisable at
this time.


Or
maybe they'll find out that al-Sadr was behind some of it.

While the attacks all took place within the “Sunni Triangle,”
al-Sadr is geographically and ideologically well-positioned to
negotiate an alliance of convenience with the local Sunnis, and some
are afraid that exactly
such an alliance is beginning to gel
.


 
An Episcopalian Lunch
We must not proceed with
this terrible and unbiblical mistake which will not only rupture the
Anglican Communion, it will break God's heart.”



Oh, cry me a river, Ms.
Harwood. Who
died
and made you the intermediary between God and mankind?


It's really
hard to fathom
why this is so difficult for some
people
to understand.
For Christians, it's really very plain; one might even go so far as
to call it a fundamental part of the religion.


Acts
– Chapter 10, Verses 9-16 (KJV):


On the morrow, as they went on
their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the
housetop to pray about the sixth hour:


And he became very hungry, and
would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,


And saw heaven opened, and a
certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit
at the four corners, and let down to the earth:


Wherein were all manner of
fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things,
and fowls of the air.


And there came a voice to him,
Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.


But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I
have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.


And the voice [spake] unto him
again the second time, What God hath cleansed, [that] call not
thou common
.


This was done thrice: and the
vessel was received up again into heaven.


Most Christians are content to assume
that God and Peter were simply discussing brunch. Peter was a little
hungry ... God offered up some nosh. Then Peter went and got all
high-and-mighty kosher, and God told him to get off his friggin' high
horse and just eat, dammit.


In fact, this is the primary verse
cited by Christians when they want to enjoy a nice ham & cheese
on rye with their friends. Other than that, its granted little social
impact on their lives. It's much easier, after all, to assume that
the verse only applies to what yummy foods we can eat now, rather
than what we have to tolerate in the disgusting, alien, and “unclean”
practices of people who are not at all like us.


But being a Christian isn't meant to be
that easy. Acceptance of others is exactly what God meant, and Peter
knew it. A few lines later, in Acts 10:28, he proves it:


And he (Peter) said unto them, Ye
know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep
company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed
me that I should not call any man common or unclean.


If God intended
for there to be any exceptions to this rule, Peter didn't bother to
write it down. If God had meant for this rule to be anything other
than ironclad, then God would have let the Apostles hash it out in
committee, rather than pronounce it unequivocally from on high. The
reactionaries at the American Anglican Council obviously think they
know God better than Peter did, and are willing to break
an entire church
over their conviction.


In this, they
presume to explain to the rest of the Episcopalians what the inner
workings of the mind of God are like. Sadly, it's far more likely
that what we are witnessing from them are the torturous thrashings of
their own inner demons at work, rather than any illuminations of
immutable Scriptural realities.


Until God grants
them an “amendment vision” to base their arguments on,
they should just lower their guns and let another human being obey
the Calling that has been prepared for him
. They are standing in
God's way.



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