29 November, 2006

Well, do you?

I've desperately been in need of a laugh, and this column by Jonathan Chait in the LA Times gave it to me! The article is titled "Bring Back Saddam Hussein", with the tag: "Restoring the dictator to power may give Iraqis the jolt of authority they need. Have a better solution?"

I find this astoundingly funny. What can we do with it? Let's try our best:
  • "Euthanizing cancer patients may help reduce our bloated health-care budget. Have a better solution?"
  • "Exterminating the Kulaks might allow me to get some sleep at night. Have a better solution?"
  • "Keying my boss's car may compensate in some small way for my years of useless busywork in this dead-end corporate job. Have a better solution?"
  • "Punching that fucking rhinoceros in the jaw may make him stop charging our car. Have a better solution?"
  • "Bubble gum might be just the thing to stop up the six-foot long tear in our silk hot-air balloon. Have a better solution?"
  • "Stapling my car-keys directly to my wrist may prevent me from misplacing them so often. Have a better solution?"
  • "Wearing these spandex shorts might get that girl to notice how big my johnson is. Have a better solution?"
  • "Opening the pressurized door above the wing might allow some fresh air into this stuffy airplane cabin. Have a better solution?"
I could do this all day.

Cool cash

The U.S. treasury lost a court case to a group of blind petitioners who want bills to look more different from one another. While the mint protested that redesigning money would cost too much, it has had great fun redesigning the U.S. 25-cent piece every 10 weeks since 1999. What's your favorite? While I love all the horses and buffalo, this one takes the cake. Not because of the cheesy "courage" slogan, nor because the mint pressed this coin even as it defended itself against the court case decided yesterday. Rather, I like that it's the first time I'm aware of that a Socialist has shown up on U.S. currency.

28 November, 2006


A beast is congealing from the clouds of acrid smoke in Iraq. It is the automaton horror-baby of American policy. Before March 19, 2003, no one was sure which badness would be conjured when the U.S. destroyed Iraq. Now, if the reporters on the ground are to be believed, we can see its shape: Religion-based genocide.

"There are already signs of what technically could be declared ethnic cleansing." -CNN

"Iraq's Sunni minority [is] "embroiled in a daily fight for survival," fearful of "pogroms" by the Shiite majority." -Washington Post, citing a Marine Corps memo

"These are electric drill-holes... Those accused of supporting this daily carnage are the same people America has put in power to shape the future of Iraq... A group of MPs showed up at one of Saddam's prisons that should have been closed. But the police had taken it over unofficially. Inside they found several hundred men, all Sunnis. Almost none of them had ever been charged with any crime." -U.K. Channel 4 (Link to the full video killed by Mr. Google.)

"M., a childhood friend, came to say goodbye before leaving the country. She walked into the house, complaining of the heat and the roads, her brother following closely behind. It took me to the end of the visit for the peculiarity of the situation to hit me. She was getting ready to leave before the sun set, and she picked up the beige headscarf folded neatly by her side. As she told me about one of her neighbors being shot, she opened up the scarf with a flourish, set it on her head like a pro, and pinned it snuggly under her chin with the precision of a seasoned hijab-wearer. All this without a mirror- like she had done it a hundred times over… Which would be fine, except that M. is Christian." -Riverbend

"In some mixed neighborhoods, Shiites provided shelter to Sunnis targeted by Shiite militiamen, even though they risked being branded as collaborators. Others took care of Sunni children or bought groceries for Sunni neighbors who feared walking to the local market.

Outside their houses, the revenge attacks raged on. Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms rounded up 21 men, including a 12-year-old boy, from two Shiite homes in the village of Balad Ruz, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province. On Saturday morning, their bodies were found, all handcuffed, blindfolded and shot to death, said Bahaa al-Sodani, a provincial police official. The attacks were in apparent retaliation for assaults by Shiite militiamen on Sunni mosques in Baghdad and Baqubah the previous day...

As Sammaraie watched from his front gate, two militiamen stopped a Sunni man who worked in an electrical shop. A local informant looked at him and nodded. One of the gunmen shot him dead and left. Two weeks ago, the electrician had complained loudly when Shiite gunmen attacked a nearby Sunni mosque." -Washington Post

"Sheathed in powder-blue body bags are the remains of 72 men, many of them bearing signs of terrible torture--holes in the skull made by power drills, mutilated genitals, burns. They are the signature of the shadowy Shi'ite groups that have been kidnapping and murdering hundreds of men and boys, most of them Sunnis, in a campaign that has terrorized Baghdad's neighborhoods." -Time

(Later) I was about to update with this word of hope from Nir Rosen:
The only source of hope is that both the Shia militia members and the indigenous Sunni, who constitute the majority of the resistance, are fierce Iraqi nationalists. They have come together before to assert their Iraqi identity, and their leaders are sure to rein their forces in eventually. The best way for the Americans to support this constructive outcome is to withdraw quickly-even to begin the withdrawal now. It is encouragng that the Sunni resistance has shown an increased willingness to negotiate, and former Sunni and Shia rejectionist leaders, observing the government's composition and the drafting of the new constitution and feeling left out, have decided to participate in politics and the government, even if they have not relinquished their arms. Once the Americans leave and Sunnis are taking part in the government, which they will no longer view as collaborationist, they will have no common cause with foreign mujahideen, only a conflict of interests that will be quickly and violent solved, resulting in no more foreign fighters enjoying Iraqi hospitality.

Then I noticed it was dated from this time last year. His latest interview shows a bit less hope:
AMY GOODMAN: And what would happen if the US just withdrew troops?

NIR ROSEN: The same thing happening now, the civil war would continue. At some point Shias will make a move, a large move against the Sunnis in Baghdad. You’ll find a day when there are no Sunnis left in Baghdad. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are of course panicking about this, and they are hoping that the US will in some way arm or support Sunni militias. It’s hard for me to imagine that Sunni nations in the region will stand by and watch Sunnis pushed out of Baghdad. And Baghdad becoming really a Shia city. Because there is this Sunni terror of the Shia threat. So you'll see greater support from Saudi Arabia, from Jordan, perhaps from Yemin, from Egypt, for Sunni militias. Funding, things like that. And the civil war will spread and become a regional one. And I think Jordan will cease to exist as it does now. Eventually, because you'll have the Anbar Province of Iraq joining somehow--you already have one million Iraqi’s in Jordan at least. You walk down the streets of Jordan, you hear Iraqi Arabic as much as any other kind.

A million tiny items

Fortunately, more like 3.
- The Conservative Party in the U.K. is promoting an Al Gore-style carbon tax as a centrepiece (not centerpiece) of its bid to reclaim power, while the EU is calling for region-wide uniform carbon taxes.
- An article about NBC's decision to call the Iraq civil war a "civil war" includes this line from the Bushites: "What you do have is sectarian violence that seems to be less aimed at gaining full control over an area than expressing differences, and also trying to destabilize a democracy — which is different than a civil war..." Now we know how we are supposed to "express differences." Wasn't the Nicaraguan civil war more about "destabilizing a democracy" than "gaining full control over an area"?
- Newt Gingrich, asshole, says the U.S. in Iraq should revive George Washington's old slogan: "Victory or death." It would seem that the decision has been made.

21 November, 2006

19 November, 2006

Keep penetrating the enemy positions

After all,
a rapid withdrawal could have “disastrous consequences.”
Instead, we should all keep going until Dec. 22.
Anti-war activists Donna Sheehan and her partner, Paul Reffel ... want everyone to have an orgasm on the same day. On Dec. 22, they're asking the world to contribute to the Global Orgasm for Peace....

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Maj. Dave Smith said he has never heard of coordinated global energy affecting the battleship movements before.

"But I've only been here since June," Smith said. "I've been told that there are no absolutes about anything."

14 November, 2006

Oh, a calamity!

Brass band with tubas! Silly parade float. Tumblers! Clowns! Tumbling clowns! Tumbling clowns with tubas! Hooray! The Democrats have saved us from... err.. wait, what's that? Is that a cloud? Is someone raining on my parade? No! Nooo!! Quick! Cover the crepe-paper flowers decorating the giant bust of Richard Helms! Secure those blue-liveried donkeys! Cover those color guard girls with a plastic tarp! For the love of god, someone get John Kerry off the mic before something terrible happens!

Gosh, isn't that just awful? Even AFTER losing their majority in the Senate and the House, the Bush Administration has the gall, the nerve, the gumption to refuse the right of Guantanamo prisoners to challenge their detention? And on top of that to further claim that they can arbitrarily detain any non-citizen in the United States without the right to a hearing? Those rat bastards! How do they think they can get away with this? Rubbing their lawlessness in our faces!

Wait... what? What's that you say, small boy?
[Puts hand to ear.]
You say this is all on the legal-up-and-up? They passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 just at the end of October, stripping away habeas corpus rights for non-citizens and legalizing the detention process? What, even creating legal means for allowing torture to be used as testimony?? Oooh, the nerve! The sheer nerve! Well, their last-minute-Charleying won't save them, this time! The new Democratic majority will overturn that law, lickety-split. We'll show them to mess with the will of the American People!

What is it now? Be quiet, small boy, be quiet! No one wants to hear from you. Wait... say that again... are you certain? It passed both the Senate and the House with substantial support from the Democrats? They sold us out? Even when electoral victory was imminent? Why? Why, small boy, why would they do such a thing?

Now what do we do? Who shall save us when our saviors themselves have left us in the mud? Leave me alone, small boy. I'm going to sit in this puddle and weep.

Please excuse me for not making this a Seussian jingle, as it deserves to be. Busy week.

09 November, 2006

I am SAD.

I've been battling depression again for the past few months. Actually, I haven't been "battling" so much as "surrendering faster than Vichy France". For those of you who have never been depressed, in my case this mostly consists of:
  • Not doing much.
  • Not thinking much.
  • Sleeping a lot.
E.g., this morning I woke up, in a technical sense, at around 8:20, but for some reason felt the need to lie around listlessly in bed until about 11 before I actually dragged myself up and about. Also I've noticed that there's a lot of dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying that needs to be done around my house lately.

I don't ordinarily write about stuff like this, because it's frankly boring and uninteresting, and I'm already boring and uninteresting at this point; so why compound it?

However: my roommate suggested to me recently that I might suffer from such a thing as "seasonal affective disorder". This is basically shorthand for: "Gets sad in the wintertime." It even has a reflexive acronym. Neat!

Normally I am prone to scoffing at spuriously labeled diseases (e.g., "ADD", "IBS", etc.), many of which I think are overdiagnosed or fictitious. I don't have a good reason for these beliefs; I am merely a cantankerous and unreasonably contrary type of person in this regard. But I like the idea that I suffer from SAD. The short summary of the "disease" is that it's a product of shorter daylight hours*, which has some sort of unknown physiological effect (depressed serotonin or melatonin levels being a couple of hypotheses). Estimates of prevalence are as high as 10% of the population. This fits in with a lot of other genetic pre-determinisms I've formulated with regard to myself, including propensity to thinness, high metabolism, poor performance in cold weather, etc., reflecting my clear adaptation to warm, lower-lattitude climates.

The logical course of action is thus to move to Arizona. It has warm weather, much longer days in winter, no mosquitos (I think), lots of stars, and probably has a reasonable supply of peyote for producing mescaline. I intend to get right on this, as soon as I finish this damn PhD.

* Thank you, Daylight Savings Time.

08 November, 2006


Echoing the tentative celebratory note sounded by Hedgehog, new poll on the right.


I just got home from the victory party of one of the few true liberals who took or kept office tonight. This was Chris Daly, a supervisor here in San Francisco, who uses hardball methods to keep business in check to labor and developers in check to those they could displace. He's a capitalist who applies basic humanism to the process of wealth creation -- something that has been lacking on the national stage for decades.

Meanwhile, on the cable teevee, liberals across the country are dancing to "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones, blogging furiously and generally over-enthusing for the marginal victory by the less reactionary party in our national electoral contests.

Personally, I am thrilled to see that dirty tricks and November surprises didn't break up all the Democrats' momentum (though they might have wiped out a few house and senate seats). I am a partisan for fair play. But I'm not going to wet myself over the success of a bunch of imperialists over the more-ignorant-and rapacious imperialists to their right. Hell, I'm not even wetting myself over the victory of an avowed leftist just to the south. (You don't think that's close? Don't forget that Nicaragua is closer to Texas than Texas is to Washington, DC.)

The thing is, revolution doesn't happen because a few new faces sit in leather chairs in Washington. Revolution is inside each of us. And as long as 100 to 200 million people in the world's richest nation think that money is the ultimate goal in life, that force solves problems and that the eternal salvation awaits those who impose the "Good" Book on others, I don't think this country has much chance of becoming a force for good.

And changing those attitudes requires going out and talking -- and more importantly, listening -- to people. Something that the Democrats, to their credit, did some of in this campaign. I would like to be able to say the same of us bloggers.

update after a bit of sleep: Does this election validate the Naderite line from 2000, that having George Bush in office will take down the U.S. empire? Latin America, the Arab world and BRIC are all rebelling, and now there's a Socialist in the Senate. Interesting.

06 November, 2006

All things are possible with... hey, what are you doing back there?

More proof that the Internet is awesome can be found on this site. Also I didn't realize that Jesus looks like the lead singer for Celtic Frost.

05 November, 2006

Fun for all involved!

Check out this bizarre segment on Fox News, where a reporter has himself waterboarded in order to, essentially, redeem the technique. His report concludes that, since he was "feeling fine" moments after his "torture", waterboarding was really "an efficient mechanism to get someone to talk and still have them alive and healthy".

This should go without saying, but judging from the comments on the linked thread, it needs to be said: this is deeply fucked up. Let's first briefly mention the fact that there really is no way to properly simulate torture in this situation - the victim is a volunteer, his interrogators* are merely demonstrating, and he is free to tap out if he feels uncomfortable. Needless to say, this bears little resemblance to actual torture. Other accounts of waterboarding I have read emphasize that the purpose is to convince the subject that they are going to die; that this is an execution.

Now, what is apparently being proposed is that torture (as the reporter candidly calls it) is fine so long as it doesn't do physical damage to the subject, or cause excrutiating pain. I'm appalled that this is being discussed. We are not seeking the most efficient and least physically invasive mechanism of information-extraction, here. The reason torture is unacceptable is not because it merely leaves scars on the victims (although, obviously, mental scars do not fade as quickly as physical ones), but because it makes a beast of both the torturer and the tortured, both of whom must lose a part of their humanity in the process. Cruelty should not be held as a virtue by civilized people. And I think civilization (in the sense of civility) is something we should still be aspiring towards.

But it seems I am wrong. I simply don't comprehend how we've lost our way so thoroughly. This flies in the face of the most basic principles of freedom, which we allegedly prize so highly that we fight and die in wars around the world to preserve. We're off the slippery slope. We're in freefall down a sheer rock face. And there's broken glass at the bottom.

* Who are apparently active duty soldiers, and quite gleeful that they know not only how to perform these torture techniques, but lots more. Presumably this story was reported with the eager cooperation of the Pentagon. I don't know what to make of their desire to advertise their prowess in this odious field, especially since the "reporter" neglected to clarify where or whence this training came from.

Thus falls the argument that because some US Marines underwent waterboarding and other non-injurious torture techniques as part of POW resistance training during the 1990s, it is surely not too much for those we interrogate. But the situations are not analogous. This is not a clinical exercise; we are not merely monitoring resting heart rate, galvanic skin potential, blood pressure, etc. There are human actors involved. They know what they do, and to whom. And that's far more important than the mere biology of it.

E.g., due process, presumption of innocence, and the basic right not to be subjected to barbaric punishments.

03 November, 2006


You should all check out what Razib the AtheistYazd Ibn Hanaf has been up to over at his blog gnxp; apparently he's given up his ridda and returned to a righteous path. Funny stuff.

(loud retching noise)

Someone on Wikipedia kicked my memory on this: last we heard, back in 2003, the CIA had Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's kids in custody, and according to this article in The Age were using them to gain leverage on their father. There's mention of the ambiguity of their status in this Amnesty International letter to Pervez Musharraf, but there's nothing since then in LexisNexis. One assumes they remain in custody.

02 November, 2006

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