Friday, April 28, 2006

This week in schadenfreude (updated)

It has been a really bad week for the Mayberry Machiavellis, hence a really entertaining week for the rest of us.
  • The Crawford Caligula, to use Chris Floyd's apt epithet for him, decided to cut out the middle man, and merge the office of press secretary with Fox news in a pathetic attempt to staunch plummeting ratings in opinion polls. The incoming press secretary, who is by the way an avowed creationist, is blessed with a name unusually suited to his job.*
  • They did it in the Watergate with the whores. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, or better "Randy" Duke Cunningham, the former California congressman enmeshed in a bribery investigation, apparently didn't stick to monetary bribes, and is the unlikely centerpiece of the most amusing Washington sex scandal in decades. The Wall Street Journal, of all places, broke the story and details keep spilling out as the press enters into a feeding frenzy. Half a dozen other congressmen may be involved, as well as the head of the CIA and various other officials at the agency. The head of the CIA has specifically denied involvement, and one can only hope that he continues to deny it as frequently and as publicly as possible. The latest juicy details on "Hookergate" are here and here.
  • Ann Coulter is publishing a new book wherein it is revealed that, although she may have fantasies about being Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, she is really just a country bumpkin who resents liberals because of their education.
  • Karl Rove had a bad day in court amid rumors that he will be indicted in the next few weeks.
  • Rush Limbaugh was back in court and has to face the prospect of many months of peeing in jars on command, like the trained monkey he is.
  • The bumpkin-in-chief had to sit through Steven Colbert's "blistering comedy tribute" to his incompetence at the White House Correspondents dinner. Apparently the president was not amused. The video footage of the event available at One Good Move is not to be missed.
  • After some posturing about energy efficiency and posing with a Hydrogen Alternative Fueled automobile, House Speaker Dennis Hastert was photographed getting back into his SUV to drive the few blocks back to the US Capitol.
  • During a court hearing in a lawsuit over the F.D.A. failure to approve the emergency contraceptive Plan B, which included some amusing antics I noted earlier, the former head of the FDA under Bush took the fifth ammendment and refused to testify, indirectly revealing that he was under criminal investigation.
  • Ohio Rep. Robert W. Ney is now facing a wider than expected range of criminal allegations for his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The story hints at connections to "a gangland-style hit in early 2001" and "the Gambino crime family" without making the exact nature of Ney's involvement (if any) terribly clear. Tantalizing.
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* This happened a lot in Homeric literature, not so often today. Ganymede, a love interest of Zeus, remains my favorite example. His name means "shiny testicles," hence the lord of gods' interest.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On the credibility of the FDA

A New York women's group is trying to force approval of over the counter sales of Plan B, an emergency contraceptive pill over FDA objections. In an FDA memo, uncovered during the discovery process, an agency official raises the following objection to approval:
"we could not anticipate, or prevent extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on an 'urban legend' status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B."
The FDA only has a legal mandate to consider the safety and efficacy of the drugs it evaluates.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Texas Tea

"However much they built one day the earth swallowed up the next, in such a way that they had no idea where their work had vanished to." --Geoffery of Monmouth History of the Kings of Britain
The New York Times today has a perhaps unintentionally humorous article about the neverending disaster attending the attempted rebuilding of Iraqi oil pipelines.

When Robert Sanders was sent by the Army to inspect the construction work an American company was doing on the banks of the Tigris River, 130 miles north of Baghdad, he expected to see workers drilling holes beneath the riverbed to restore a crucial set of large oil pipelines, which had been bombed during the invasion of Iraq. What he found instead that day in July 2004 looked like some gargantuan heart-bypass operation gone nightmarishly bad. A crew had bulldozed a 300-foot-long trench along a giant drill bit in their desperate attempt to yank it loose from the riverbed. A supervisor later told him that the project's crews knew that drilling the holes was not possible, but that they had been instructed by the company in charge of the project to continue anyway.

A few weeks later, after the project had burned up all of the $75.7 million allocated to it, the work came to a halt.

The project, called the Fatah pipeline crossing, had been a critical element of a $2.4 billion no-bid reconstruction contract that a Halliburton subsidiary had won from the Army in 2003. The spot where about 15 pipelines crossed the Tigris had been the main link between Iraq's rich northern oil fields and the export terminals and refineries that could generate much-needed gasoline, heating fuel and revenue for Iraqis.

For all those reasons, the project's demise would seriously damage the American-led effort to restore Iraq's oil system and enable the country to pay for its own reconstruction. Exactly what portion of Iraq's lost oil revenue can be attributed to one failed project, no matter how critical, is impossible to calculate. But the pipeline at Al Fatah has a wider significance as a metaphor for the entire $45 billion rebuilding effort in Iraq. Although the failures of that effort are routinely attributed to insurgent attacks, an examination of this project shows that troubled decision-making and execution have played equally important roles.

The Fatah project went ahead despite warnings from experts that it could not succeed because the underground terrain was shattered and unstable.

It continued chewing up astonishing amounts of cash when the predicted problems bogged the work down, with a contract that allowed crews to charge as much as $100,000 a day as they waited on standby.

The company in charge engaged in what some American officials saw as a self-serving attempt to limit communications with the government until all the money was gone...

And Dick Cheney's company keeps raking in the contracts, and his heart keeps on beating too. It doesn't take a Merlin to figure out what's wrong with these foundations.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The atheists under the bed

In a rather juvenile and loosely reasoned diatribe "The left's own religious whackjobs," Raw Story columnist Melinda Barton marshals a series of straw man arguments against the threat of what she terms "secular whackjobs."

As far as I can determine, her basic point is that secular extremists pose a danger to "the integrity and success of progressive movements" in America. Curiously, the only two examples of "whackjob" atheism she cites are rather obscure [The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.?], not American and not political.

It is not as if militant atheists are that hard to find, unless you use the peculiar definitional criteria she proposes. Some of us have even produced documentaries or written books or run popular websites.

Rather than go to the effort of reading what atheists have written, or even watching a documentary or two, she seems to have come up with most of the following tenets of "whackjob atheism" based on things she has "heard most often in conversations with friends and readers of the atheist persuasion."
Outrageous claim number 1: Atheism is based on evidence and reason and is philosophically provable or proven. Atheism is a matter of though,t [sic] not belief. In other words, atheism is true; religion is false.

Outrageous claim number 2: Since the natural is all that we have or can scientifically observe and/or measure, it is all that exists. [She actually quotes Rumsfeld in her struggle to refute this: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." As for her forray into quantum physics, the less said the better. ]

Outrageous claim number 3: All religion is oppressive.

Outrageous claim number 4: The eradication of religion in favor of secularism will bring about utopia.

Outrageous claim number 5: All religious people want to force you or convince you or coerce you to believe as they do.
She has trouble arguing coherently even against this cartoon opponent she has assembled, and by the end of the article, she is forced to confront the fact that the "whackjob" atheists she has gotten so worked up about are not present in noticeable numbers and have no power.
In modern America, secular extremists as a group don't have the wealth, influence, numbers or power to affect the way most of us live our lives. However, we should learn from what has happened elsewhere and be prepared to meet them if or when they do.
And so we see that in the end the threat she envisions is as much a product of fantasy as Zeus or Thor. The only mystery remaining is why Raw Story would be willing to publish this crap.

-----------
Several UPDATES: Other responses to Melinda Barton's article from

Pharyngula--now updated with a crisp response to non-apology apology from the editors of Raw Story
Neural Gourmet--updated with the full text of some of the editors "replies." To channel Ms. Barton for a moment: "all answers are replies, but not all replies are answers."
And now Atrios has named her "wanker of the day."
And a very thorough response from Austin Cline, including an updated list of other responses to her bigotry.

Hah! The editors have "temporarily" taken the link to the article off Raw Story's main site (the link above still works though). No apology, just cowardice. It has begun to dawn on them that this story is going to hurt them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Emotional Correctness

Writing in American Prospect about "enlightened pro-war liberal" Paul Berman's response to Francis Fukayama's change of heart on Iraq, Jim Sleeper digresses to gratuitously kick the unpatriotic left.

As his example, he takes Daniel Lazare's unflattering review of Todd Gitlin's ode to patriotism.
Berman has a point in lampooning people who write as if terrorists were just anti-imperialists in a hurry. For example, when Nation reviewer Daniel Lazare excoriated even the anti-war left-liberal Todd Gitlin, calling him an apologist for "belligerent nationalism" just because he'd affirmed American patriotism in voicing his dissent, the review set that magazine's recently improved book-review section back several years. Gitlin's The Intellectuals and the Flag explains why and how he is a patriot after the fashion of the socialist leader Norman Thomas, who cautioned fellow anti-Vietnam War radicals not to burn the flag but to wash it. Lazare's hatchet job on such a civic-republican stance against the Iraq War is a chilling reminder of the old Daily Worker.
An amazing combination of bad writing, poor fact checking, and baseless innuendo, all in a single paragraph.

First, he gives no evidence that Lazare, or anyone else, "writes as if terrorists were just anti-imperialists in a hurry." On the contrary, the "example" he cites is all about patriotism, not about anyone's view of terrorists.

Worse still, Lazare's objection is not at all that Gitlin "affirmed American patriotism in voicing his dissent." After all, who could possibly care whether Gitlin is patriotic or not. The problem, as Lazare rightly notes, is that Gitlin has been viscously attacking any leftist who wasn't trumpeting their patriotism in the wake of 9/11. Here is a bit of what Lazare actually said,
When Katha Pollitt published a column in [The Nation] saying she would not fly the flag because it "stands for jingoism and vengeance and war," [Gitlin] was incensed. He fired back with an article in Mother Jones accusing certain unnamed leftists of "smugness, acrimony, even schadenfreude"--an especially incendiary charge in those super-heated times, since it implied that Pollitt and her co-thinkers derived pleasure from the suffering around them. After finishing with them, Gitlin attacked Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said for statements he regarded as foolish or disloyal, and then rounded on Indian novelist Arundhati Roy for daring to suggest that Osama bin Laden was Bush's "dark doppelganger" and that "the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable." Today, with postinvasion deaths in Iraq outnumbering those in Lower Manhattan by better than thirty to one, Roy's sentiments seem positively mild. Yet for Gitlin they were indicative of "a prejudice invulnerable to moral distinctions"....
So, it all starts with Gitlin's, in my view quite despicable, attacks on people like Pollitt and Chomsky for what amounts to emotional incorrectness. It is not that they did anything wrong, or that they advocated anything wrong, it's just that they were insuffuciently enthusiastic about flag and country. Not a whole lot better than Hitchens' hysterical flag-waving denunciations of Chomsky and others after 9/11.

Thus the "Daily Worker" slur, echoing Berman's description of the Nation as "The Weekly Purge" and implying an attempt at enforced ideological conformity, turns out to be a much better description of Gitlin's politics than Lazare's.

And as Lazare goes on to point out both in the review and in his response to Gitlin's furious attack on the review, Gitlin has always been a tactical, rather than a principled opponent of the war. For more on the significance of this distinction, check out this excellent recent interview with Scott Ritter.

Also worth checking out is Michael J. Smith's response to a similar attack on Lazare's review by Giltin's friend, Eric Alterman.

Or maybe try some Camus.

American Ethnic Geography

Map of religious adherents as a percentage of all residents (2000)
Click on the image to enlarge


As we continue graphics week here at Secular Front, American Ethnic Geography has a very informative series of maps of the US by ethnic group, cultural region, religion, language, politics and socio-economics. Notice in the map of religious adherents above, Oregon is the only state lacking even a light red area. That would seem to back up this claim in the amazingly unbroken front window of a local atheist group's headquarters.

500,000 Oregonians agree, "Religion is Bunk."
Click on the image to enlarge

Graphing the apocalypse

Click on image to enlarge.
From a series of apocalyptic graphics in the new issue of Seed.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Yojimbo in Iraq

Like the frontier town in Yojimbo, Iraq still has one major growth industry.

Democracy grows out of the barrel of a gun

From Kirk Anderson's Busheviks

And while we are on the topic of social realist aesthetics, this month's Prospect has a fun piece on the culture and politics of humor under communism: 'Hammer and Tickle.'

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Thus passeth Piggy

"He's Piggy in Lord of the Flies: a living victim,
whose reason for being is, apparently, to shoulder public ridicule and pain."
-- Michael Wolff, "Words Fail Him" Vanity Fair

Monday, April 17, 2006

The revolt of the generals

Ruchira Paul has a good, concise overview of the generals' revolt (now including Wesley Clark).

Rootless Cosmopolitan speculates about the reasons for doing it now and why Rumsfeld is the target:

Rumsfeld is, in some ways, low hanging fruit for the generals. After all, he's the civilian political appointee who translates administration policy into the military, and as such is the obvious target of a backlash by the uniformed professional military against the administration. If the generals were going on Sunday talk shows calling for President Bush to resign, they'd be deemed to be part of a coup. The generals' grievances over Iraq, and the no-win situation in which it has placed the U.S. military (and the epic weakening of the U.S. strategic position more generally it has occasioned) obviously extends to President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others. But to avoid appearing insubordinate, the generals are couching their criticism in terms of policy choices made in the Pentagon, their immediate overseers. (In corporate culture, disgruntled employees are permitted to complain to Human Resources about their immediate managers, but nobody in the company is going to hear out any complaints they may have about the strategic choices made by the CEO -- thus the generals targeting Rumsfeld, rather than Bush.)

***

There's no obvious reason by the logic of the current situation in Iraq, or decisions that may be made shortly, for the generals to choose this moment to launch their offensive. They all believe that the U.S. needs to remain in Iraq as long as it takes to stabilize it in some way (although they may well differ with the administration on what that might involve).

But given what Seymour Hersh's sources in the military and intelligence communities are telling him about plans for military action against Iran, there's certainly a clear motive for those seeking to save the U.S. military from further calamitous misadventures to pick a very public battle with the administration over its handling of strategic matters.

***

So why go after Rummy if the goal is to stop another bout of reckless adventurism for which the men and women in uniform pay the price? Well, it's a key battle in pursuit of that goal, because by publicly challenging Rummy's handling of Iraq, the generals send a none-too-subtle signal to the U.S. public, in an election year, that the Bush administration is strategically incompetent. And that would make it harder for Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld and co. to open a second front in Iran.

Failure

Alas, despite the valiant efforts of the troops, the war on Easter has failed. FOX news reports.

Up Next: The war on the American flag--sadly, not a joke. And it's as bipartisan in its detachment from reality as support for the Iraq war.
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Update 4/17: 'Easter Bunny Busted in Mall Attack.'

Friday, April 14, 2006

Guilty Pleasures

I

"It make my day," Mr. Moussaoui said several times when asked about one witness or another.

In his heavy French accent, he ridiculed the tearful testimony of several family members who told the jury how profoundly the attacks had affected their lives.

"I find it disgusting that some people will come here to share their grief," he said. Americans should know, he said, that grief is precisely what he and fellow fighters in Al Qaeda want to achieve. "We want to inflict pain on your country," he testified.

Asked by the prosecution about the account of a witness who had crawled to safety from a Pentagon corridor demolished on Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Moussaoui replied, "I was sorry that he survived."

--'Moussaoui, Testifying Again, Voices Glee Over Witnesses' Accounts of Sept. 11 Grief' New York Times April 14, 2006
II

Spc. Sabrina Harman with the corpse of Iraqi detainee Manadel al-Jamadi
Abu Ghraib November 4-5, 2003

III

In the week before [Karla Faye Tucker's] execution, Bush says, Bianca Jagger and a number of other protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Tucker. "Did you meet with any of them?" I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. "No, I didn't meet with any of them," he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. "I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with [Tucker], though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' "

"What was her answer?" I wonder.

"Please," Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "don't kill me."

--'Devil May Care,' Talk Magazine, September 1999 p. 106, quoted in Slate

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Participatory democracy


In September 2005, Tom Hayden wrote a new preface and introduction to The Port Huron Statement, the founding manifesto of the SDS. These are now available on Truthdig, with some additional, more recent reflections on Rachel Corrie and Israel.

Of particular interest is the discussion throughout of the lasting legacy of participatory democracy, both in terms of the sources and affinities of these ideas and in regard to its continuing contemporary relevance.

There are problems with his account of course, of which the refusal to fully abandon the myth of Camelot is a notable example, but overall a thoughtful discussion of some of the challenges raised by the Port Huron Statement and a solid rebuttal of the now standard critique of sixties activism for "choosing to become more violent."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Is this really happening?

This is no dream! This is really happening! --Rosemary

Jorge Hirsch, a physicist and frequent commentator on Iraq and nuclear weapons has even more dire predictions about Bush Administration plans than Seymour Hersh.
If there is an aerial bombing of Iran, I believe it is inevitable it will go nuclear. The intention is there, the advisors are there, the nuclear policies and the weapons are there. The excuses to make it "acceptable" to the American public are there. The President has sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons, Congress has no say. The chain of command doesn't go through the Joint Chiefs of Staff that may oppose it as Hersh mentions: it goes directly from Bush and Rumsfeld to commanders of the Unified Combatant Commands such as Gen. Abizaid and Gen. Cartwright. Unless those individuals disobey orders, there is no way to stop it.

I believe there is a high probability of war with Iran because key people in the administration desperately want it, but I don't believe it is inevitable. I hope there will be a sufficiently large public outburst of opposition, eg thanks to Hersh's and other's revelations, to make it impossible. The dire situation in Iraq of course is making it more difficult, and I hope there will be strong voices in the administration and influential Republicans that will recognize the likely disastrous consequences and oppose it. Or perhaps influential old-timers like Bush Sr. and Scowcroft will be able to dissuade President Bush.

However I believe there is very little time: an attack may well happen within the next 2 weeks, while Congress is in recess. There is no advantage to those that want it to happen in waiting.

I realize that this is likely overly panicked--I certainly hope it is--and my sense of normality says it couldn't really be happening, but then again the sabers are clearly rattling and the limits of what Bush is willing to do have not yet been fully tested. The media have of course decided that the possibility of nuclear war is not worth disrupting the normal schedule for.

Reality check: here is a report on the nuclear bunker buster B61-11 currently deployed for use in such situations.

Yuri's Night

Jon Langford: Sputnik 57 from All the Fame of Lofty Deeds

45 Years ago today, on April 12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space. Tonight there is a worldwide celebration of his achievement--on all 7 continents. The site has a nice video with some old footage of Gagarin set to music plus a few tunes. I thought I might suggest some more appropriate music.
  1. Sputnik 57--Jon Langford
  2. Space Oddity--David Bowie
  3. Mr. Spaceman--Holy Modal Rounders
  4. Space Monkey--Patti Smith
  5. Moon Rocks--Talking Heads
  6. Satellite of Love--Lou Reed
  7. Meet Space Pilot Jones--The Satellite Singers
  8. Whitey on the Moon--Gil Scott Heron
  9. UFO Attack--Asylum Street Spankers
  10. UFOs Big Rigs and BBQ--Mojo Nixon
  11. Mayan Saucers--El Vez
  12. When You See Those Saucers--The Georgia Catamounts and The Buchanan Brothers
  13. Sputnik--Roky Erickson and the Aliens

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

End of the line for the godfather

An inspired headline mashup from The Independent.

Complaints from strange quarters

So it appears that Romano Prodi has won both houses of the Italian parliament in Sunday's tight election. Berlusconi, who personally controls the bulk of the Italian media, including all 7 television networks, and whose party changed the election law at the last minute in what his own Interior Minister has admitted was a "dirty trick," is complaining about voting irregularities and refusing to admit defeat.

Meanwhile, Karl Rove gave a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, thanking them for their work on "clean elections."
We have, as you know, an enormous and growing problem with elections in certain parts of America today," Rove said. "We are, in some parts of the country, I'm afraid to say, beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where they guys in charge are, you know, colonels in mirrored sunglasses. I mean, it's a real problem, and I appreciate that all that you're doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the ballot -- the integrity of the ballot is protected, because it's important to our democracy.
Utterly amazing chutzpah, but vintage Rove. Find your own weakest point, and that is where you attack your enemy. Looks like we have a strategy for the midterm elections and a distraction from Diebold.

Reading bird entrails in Iran

Using reason to try to figure out what the Bush regime is likely to do in Iran is about as reliable as trying to divine the future in bird entrails. This is after all a regime that proudly rejects the reality based approach to the world.

Nuking Iran would be "completely nuts," says British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Well yes, of course it would, but what does that really tell us about how likely Bush is to do it? Many things he has done--the Iraq war, ignoring the environmental crisis, failing to respond to New Orleans etc, etc.-- have been quite mad.

Of course we could try and predict what he might do based on narrow self interest, but even that is hard to judge given the indeterminacy of the time horizon and the terms in which he calculates self-interest. The long term future clearly just doesn't much matter to him. And nobody seems confident of what his real goals are.

Would he do it to expand the empire? To defeat "the new Hitler?" To fulfill some messianic vision? Seymour Hersh thinks so. Would he attack Iran simply to improve Republican chances in the next election? Paul Krugman thinks he might. Or is it more Machiavellian? Is he using talk of nuclear attacks to make the idea of conventional attacks more acceptable? Or does he share the apocalyptic fantasies of some of his followers? Or is it all just bluster and macho posturing?

If the past record of the administration is any guide, the one thing we do know for certain is that realistic assessments of the long term good of the country, much less the world, are not even a consideration.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The will to believe

My UFO sighting in SE Portland yesterday after seeing
The God Who Wasn't There at the Longbaugh film festival.
click on image to enlarge

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Averting nuclear war in Iran

I imagine most people have read Seymour Hersh's new piece on current plans for a war on Iran, including possible use of nuclear weapons. The claims have of course been denied, anonymously, of course, but the Washington Post offers some confirmation. And Hersh appeared on CNN today to discuss the article. Video and transcript are at Think Progress.

The War in Context has an interesting take on the Hersh article:
It's possible that Seymour Hersh's latest article amounts to a kind of journalistic pre-emptive attack on the Bush administration's Iran planning. In other words, making public the grave misgivings that Pentagon planners have about the recklessness of a bombing campaign against Iran -- even using tactical nuclear weapons -- might serve to diminish the chance of that happening as the administration gets an earful of editorial outrage. At the same time, the press is treading a fine line as it reports the current "attack Iran" planning. Willingly or not, the media is making itself part of the administration's propaganda campaign intended to make the Iranians believe that the mess in Iraq won't inhibit this administration from military action against Iran. Perhaps the White House really doesn't feel constrained, but it's hard right now to tell whether the media is functioning as a watchdog alerting the public to the administration's wild ambitions or as an attack dog under the administration's command. It seems like a bit of both.

Let's say that this media-enabled saber rattling has the desired effect and the Iranians back down on their nuclear ambitions. All's well that ends well? Not exactly, because the hidden partnership between journalists and government officials will have become that much cozzier, and a willingness from either side to reveal the relationship's inner workings that much less likely. Just imagine reading an article in which a reporter said, "A senior administration official who called me..." -- but of course, no one will ever spill the beans like that and reveal that "information" is actively been shunted in their direction. If they did, that'd be the last call they got!

As for the likelihood of an attack on Iran, it's tempting to say that the more we hear about it, the less likely it is that its about to happen. At the same time, it's very easy for rational observers to underestimate the Bush administration's capacity for irrational behaviour.
All legitimate concerns I think. Still, the story has to go out if there is any chance at all that it may help derail the insanity that the administration is planning in Iraq.
---

UPDATE 4/10: The Poor Man expresses some similar concerns.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Twilight of the neocons


Perry Anderson has a very interesting piece on neocon Francis Fukuyama in the latest issue of the Nation. Fukuyama, once the herald of post-cold war capitalist triumphalism and prominent member of the Project for a New American Century, has garnered a lot of attention lately on the left because of his well publicized break with his fellow neo-cons. An advertisement for his new book America at the Crossroads, is even running on the Daily Kos website.

The extent of the break has, of course, been exaggerated as Anderson points out. Despite the book's commendable rejection of American exceptionalism, Fukuyama continues to promote a policy of "Realistic Wilsonianism."
Fukuyama remains fully committed to the American mission of spreading democracy round the world, and the use of all effective means at the disposal of Washington to do so. His criticism of the Bush Administration is that its policies in the Middle East have been not only ineffective but counterproductive. The promotion of internal regime change by the right mixture of economic and political pressures is one thing. Military action to enforce it externally is another, conducive to misfortune.
For "democracy" read "capitalism" and the picture becomes pretty clear. Indeed, Fukuyama has become skeptical about the universality of democracy and the goal has thus been reduced to promoting strong states capable of "good governance."
There is not the faintest suggestion in these pages of any basic change in the staggering accumulation of military bases around the world, or the grip of the United States on the Middle East, let alone symbiosis with Israel. Everything that brought the country to 9/11 remains in place.
The desperation of the left in the face of the ongoing horrors of the imperium makes it all too easy to exaggerate the degree to which the growing chorus of right wing defectors like Fukuyama and Phillips have really changed.

Anderson also usefully reminds us that Fukuyama's account of the origins of the war as a neocon mistake is a self-aggrandizing misinterpretation. Many of the promoters of the war were not neocons and many were not even Republicans.
Everything happens as if neoconservatives were the basic driving force behind the march to Baghdad, and it is their ideas that must be cured if America is to get back on track. In reality, the front of opinion that pressed for an assault on Iraq was far broader than a particular Republican faction. It included many a liberal and Democrat. Not merely was the most detailed case for attacking Saddam Hussein made by Kenneth Pollack, a functionary of the Clinton Administration. What remains by a long way the most sweeping theorization of a program for American military intervention to destroy rogue regimes and uphold human rights round the world is the work of Philip Bobbitt, nephew of Lyndon Johnson and another and more senior ornament of the national security apparatus under Clinton.
Even today, the vast majority of the Democrats remain supporters of the war in some form or another. So delegitimizing the neocons, and getting them out of their positions of power is a worthwhile goal, but hardly the end of the struggle.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A new irregular verb

The current state of the Plame affair, reconjugated.

I declassify
You leak
He spins
She betrays
It blows
We stonewall
Y'all distract
They forget

With a little inspiration from Yes, Prime Minister.

In the footsteps of Dr. Doom

The Ebola virus
"He praised diseases such as Ebola for being efficient killers, and he showed a slide of rows of skulls to drive home his point," Mims wrote in one of three petition letters to TAS. "I recall that one skull had flashing red eyes and that [Pianka] expressed his views about mass death and disease in good humor."

***
The very same day TAS declared its stance, Kathy Walt, press secretary for Gov. Rick Perry, expressed disdain over what Pianka calls his "doomsday talk." Walt called the scientist's viewpoints "abhorrent" and likened them to Hitler's hate-filled Third Reich. Seguin Gazette Enterprise 4/5/06**
Creationist and self-styled "citizen scientist" Forrest Mims has managed to stir up quite a bit of controversy over what appears to have been a completely reasonable and reality-based talk by Eric Pianka, an ecologist at the University of Texas. Pianka argued that
  • a population crash is coming
  • a disease (not Ebola) is likely to do it
  • if Ebola became an airborne virus, it could kill 9 out of 10 people
  • outside a human perspective, this would be a good thing for natural ecosystems around the world
  • organized religion was the underlying cause of the problem because our anthropocentric lens is what allows us (and even encourages us) to abuse the world around us, and this anthropocentrism comes from organized religion.
Hearing this, and misunderstanding (willfully in my view) the difference between prediction and prescription, Mims accused Pianka of advocating genocide. The hyperbole got ratcheted up in the strangest corners of cyberspace. Another creationist reported Pianka to Homeland Security, Pianka and the Texas Academy of Sciences started getting death threats, and then the antediluvian behemoths of Texas politics, unwilling to pass up any opportunity to pander to the ignorant, took up the wailing. To top it all off, Mims, Mims is now threatening to sue the Texas Academy of Sciences for slander.

Personally, I can't see what all the fuss is about. Anyone who wants to get a sample of Ebola can easily order it over the internet. And Ebola is hardly the only thing that could do us all in.
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**UPDATE 4/8: I noticed that the link to the Seguin Gazette Enterprise has stopped working.
The Questionable Authority points out that all stories in the paper related to Pianka have been disappeared from the website. There is more good analysis of the SGE stories and the continuing attacks on Pianka here.

S
ome overly credulous reporters at Prison Planet have tried to link Mims to a vast Illuminati-like eugenics conspiracy. As part of the evidence for his depravity they point to the fact that Pianka has a cute plush ebola, failing to see that this is in fact much better evidence of their own lack of a sense of humor.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Jesus on assisted suicide

Gospel truth ... depends very much on what book you consult.
Caravaggio's take on Judas's betrayal, left, and the recently discovered Gospel of Judas.

This is not a joke. They really did discover the long lost manuscript. And according to the Gospel of Judas, the crucifixion was an assisted suicide. Weird.
An early Christian manuscript, including the only known text of what is known as the Gospel of Judas, has surfaced after 1,700 years. The text gives new insights into the relationship of Jesus and the disciple who betrayed him, scholars reported today. In this version, Jesus asked Judas, as a close friend, to sell him out to the authorities, telling Judas he will "exceed" the other disciples by doing so.

***
The account goes on to relate that Jesus refers to the other disciples, telling Judas "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." By that, scholars familiar with Gnostic thinking said, Jesus meant that by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus. -- New York Times 4/6/06
Another recent study, published by the Journal of Paleolimnology (the study of prehistoric lakes), suggests that Jesus may have been on thin ice when he walked on water. So Elvis was right, "walking on the water don't make you a miracle man."

Visions of torture and disappearance

To supplement their new report Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and 'disappearance,' Amnesty International has put up an animated map of the secret rendition flights that by the CIA that it has records of. Amnesty has linked more than 1000 flight directly to the CIA and has records of "600 other flights made by planes confirmed as having been used at least temporarily by the CIA." It was impossible to get a precise estimate of the number of persons who have been "arrested or abducted, transferred across borders, held in secret detention or tortured" because of the extraordinary secrecy surrounding such operations. Amnesty believes the numbers to be in the hundreds.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Red state values

A panel from Slowpoke's Abortion Ban Exceptions

South Dakota state senator Bill Napoli is one of the most vocal supporters of one of most restrictive abortion laws in the country. His lurid and weirdly enthusiastic description of exactly what kind of rape might merit an exemption to this ban has made him notorious.

Now in an interview with Nancy Goldstein, he deploys a bit more ignorance, some bald-faced lies and utter lack of respect for information to buttress his views. His reflexive contempt for the Native American population in his state is also fully on display.

The tension between the large Native American population in the state and the purveyors of red state values has erupted a number of times in recent weeks.

Indian Country Today has an editorial supporting Cecilia Fire Thunder's offer to circumvent South Dakota law by opening a Planned Parenthood clinic on native land.

The ACLU has just filed a lawsuit against the Winner school district in South Dakota, alleging "district maintains an environment hostile to Native Americans by giving Native American students harsher discipline and by forcing them to sign confessions for minor rule-breaking." This is part of a nationwide trend the ACLU calls "the school to prison pipeline."

Last week's Unwelcome Guests podcast draws some interesting connections between sadism and empire in an informative and disturbing discussion of the use of sexual violence in the ongoing colonization of Native American communities. The discussion begins with some choice clips from Bill Napoli's infamous interview and continues with a talk by Andrea Smith, the author of Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Disinformation day roundup

Logo via Source Watch

Today is national disinformation day, so it appears that rumors of Bush prepping a historic third term are a bit premature.

The rumors about Condoleeza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw are also not true, well at least not literally true. However, she really did say: "We do not tolerate either at home or abroad engagement in acts of torture. We also have no desire to be the world's jailer." And she really was forced to sit though a rendition of Give Peace a Chance at Liverpool's Philharmonic Concert Hall. According to The Scotsman, the impromptu rendition turned her escort Mr. Straw, "as red as the balloons carried by the protesters."

Meanwhile, the flying spaghetti monster makes its debut on Aljazeera.