Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Misleading headline of the hour

First, before we get to the headlines, are the first two paragraphs for an AP story on President Bush:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President George W. Bush, working to recraft his stratgegy in Iraq, said Tuesday that he plans to increase the size of the U.S. military so it can fight a long-term war against terrorism.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Bush said he has asked his new defense chief, Robert Gates, to report back to him with a plan to increase ground forces. The president did not say how many troops might be added, but said he agreed with officials in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill that the current military is being stretched too thin to deal with demands of fighting terrorism.

Here's the NY Times headline:

Bush Plans to Increase Size of U.S. Military

Here's the Washington Post version (far punchier than the NY Times):

Bush to Expand Size of Military

Now here's the headling from Yahoo! News:

Bush plans to put more troops in Iraq

Huh? Bush hasn't said anything about putting more troops in Iraq. He continues to play coy about "the new way forward." He instead is talking about increasing the size of the U.S. Army. Whether the new SuperSized army will be deployed in Iraq is entirely separate question -- one that is so obvious, it's hard to imagine what the Yahoo! News editors are thinking.

Worth remembering

As Iraq slides further into the abyss, it's worth remembering that life under Saddam Hussein was equally horrific, but in a very different way. Saddam systematically slaughtered both Shiites and Kurds, but he was particularly fond of using chemical weapons on the Kurdish civilians. From the AP story today:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Prosecutors in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial showed chilling videos of gassed children lying in a field and villagers fleeing clouds of white smoke, arguing Tuesday that the former president and his regime used chemical weapons against the Kurds of northern

"These children are the saboteurs that the defendants talk about," prosecutor Munqith al-Faroon said sarcastically as the footage showed scores of dead children on the ground, partially covered by blankets.

Defense attorneys had argued that Saddam and his co-defendants were fighting Kurdish insurgents during the 1987-88 military offensive that was code named Operation Anfal.

The prosecution estimates that 180,000 Kurds were killed when Saddam's army waged a scorched-earth campaign against separatist guerrillas, allegedly destroying hundreds of villages, killing or forcing their residents to flee.

* * *

One video showed a thick white smoke cloud that emerged after a loud explosion as warplanes bombed a green mountainous region. The camera then showed villagers fleeing with their donkeys as houses in the background went up in flames.

One of the tragedies of our Iraq invasion is that the humanitarian suffering inflicted by Saddam is obscured by the humanitarian suffering resulting from sectarian violence. One of the many, many tragedies.

Monday, December 18, 2006

NY Times Asks Marriage Questions -- TPV Translates!

From the current #1 story on NY Times:

Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying

Relationship experts report that too many couples fail to ask each other critical questions before marrying. Here are a few key ones that couples should consider asking:

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

[I really think you are better with kids.]

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

[Let's talk prenup.]

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

[Can we afford an illegal domestic worker?]

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

[What are those pills you take when you think I'm not looking?]

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

[Will you give me foot rubs?]

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

[Just how kinky are you? Can you be kinkier?]

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

[That might be kinky, if used properly.]

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

[Do I have to stop paying attention to Monday Night Football when you are yammering on the couch?]

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

[Wait, I thought we decided you will take care of the kids.]

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

[Remember when we had friends, before we had the kids?]

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

[Will you be able to put my parents in the home?]

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

[Please limit your answer to the first 500 complaints you can think of.]

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

[Apart from freedom, of course.]

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

[One day, or would we need at least a week?]

15) Do each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

[Who will get the television when we split up?]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The best article I have read all year...

...is here, by James Woods, examining the philosophical problems contained within the standard atheistic critiques of organized religion. Here's a sample:

The model is Bertrand Russell's "celestial teapot," gleefully quoted by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. If, says Russell, I told you that a celestial teapot was orbiting the sun but that you could not see it, nobody would be able to disprove me; "but if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense." God is like the teapot, we are supposed to infer. Dawkins uses Russell to argue that we cannot prove God's non-existence, but then we cannot prove anything's non-existence. "What matters," writes Dawkins, "is not whether God is disprovable (he isn't), but whether his existence is probable.... Some undisprovable things are sensibly judged far less probable than other undisprovable things."

I agree with Dawkins's conclusion, and consider God highly improbable, but I dislike the way he gets there. It seems to occur neither to him nor to Russell that belief in God is not like belief in a teapot. The referent--the content of the belief--matters here. God may be just as undisprovable as the teapot, but belief in God is a good deal more reasonable than belief in the teapot, precisely because God cannot be reified, cannot be turned into a mere thing, and thus entices our approximations. There is a reason, after all, that no one has ever worshiped a teapot: it does not allow enough room to pour the fluid of our incomprehension into it.

In high school, I used to love challenging Christians by claiming to worship my cat, and then asking them to disprove that my cat was God. It was fun and provocative, but I never persuaded anyone to actually rethink their beliefs. To truly do so, atheists will have to respond and treat fairly the human quest for answers to "our incomprehension." I believe they can -- but not by appealing to celestial teapots or omnipotent felines.

Harry Reid channels Bill Frist

So in case you haven't heard, Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson had to have emergency brain surgery the other day. Best wishes, Senator. Turning now to the morbidly political, if Johnson dies, there is a very good chance the GOP will regain control of the Senate, because the governor of South Dakota is a Republican, and he's the one who will appoint Johnson's replacement.

All of which would suck for the Dems. Perhaps that's why Maybe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems to be in a state of self delusion (from the AP):

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid visited Johnson in the hospital Thursday morning and said afterward he was confident the senator would recover fully.

Asked about whether Democratic control of the Senate might be jeopardized, Reid said, "There isn't a thing that's changed."

Reid refused to comment on Johnson's medical condition, declining to even answer a question on whether the senator was conscious. "To me he looked very good," Reid said.

Hmm, remember when Sen. Bill Frist was able to diagnose Terri Schiavo by watching 20 minutes of video? At least in that case, Frist could claim some medical training to support his lunacy. Here, Reid seems both (a) in political denial about the very-real possibility that the Dems will lose Senate control and (b) making medical declarations he's completely unqualified to make.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ian McEwan -- plagiarist?

Over on Volokh.com, Eugene Volokh has posted an editorial on the flap over whether Ian McEwan plagiarized portions of Lucilla Andrews' autobiography for his novel "Atonement." Nut grafs:

A historical novel, to be accurate, must borrow those words needed to accurately reproduce the historical facts, even when the facts were uncovered by others. If nurses treated ringworm by dabbing gentian violet on it, that’s what they did, and novelists must be able to say so. Nor can a novelist note the borrowing using quotation marks and footnotes, as they would interrupt the novel’s flow. Writers who strive for factual accuracy must thus remain free to closely paraphrase the factual accounts of others.

On the other hand, when the historian or memoirist depicted the facts in a colorful way that she herself created, the particular words shouldn’t be copied, at least without express acknowledgment. A historical novelist is responsible for creating his own colorful descriptions.

So where does this leave Mr. McEwan? Likely not guilty on any of the counts, if the account in the newspaper that first broke the story (the Nov. 26 Daily Mail) is thorough. Mr. McEwan borrowed facts, and those words that accurately described the facts. He is not guilty of copyright infringement, or of taking another’s original expression without specific notation. And while he did rely on Andrews’s autobiography, his acknowledgments page noted being “indebted” to Andrews and her book. Any such acknowledgment could always be made more prominent; but it appears to have been prominent enough.

I agree with Volokh's analysis, but his "not guilty" verdict confuses me. Here's one brief overlap that I cribbed from Slate's Jack Shafer, who himself cribbed from the UK paper:

Lucilla Andrews: "The right half of his face and some of his head was missing. I had consciously to fight down waves of nausea and swallow bile, wait until my hands stopped shaking and dry them on my back before I could retie the bow... [After he dies in her arms, a Sister says to her] 'Go and wash that blood off your face and neck, at once, girl! It'll upset the patients.'"

Ian McEwan: "The side of Luc's head was missing ... She caught the towel before it slipped to the floor, and she held it while she waited for her nausea to pass ... fixed the gauze and retied the bows ... The Sister straightened Briony's collar. 'There's a good girl. Now go and wash the blood from your face. We don't want the other patients upset.'"

This is not description of facts of the same sort as, say, the procedure of dabbing gentian violet on ringworm (an example cited by Volokh in defense of McEwan). Instead, McEwan is simply reusing a historical scene described by Andrews, using words that are remarkably similar to Andrews' own. The dialogue is made more effective because it actually happened. Now, you could argue that such paraphrasing-slash-plagiarizing should be allowed because we want more Ian McEwan novels (I like 'em too). You could also argue that McEwan's acknowledgments suffice to justify his liberal reliance on Andrews' memoir (though it seems like cheating to me, once the two are compared side-by-side). But I think Volokh's uses far too broad a brush stroke in calling these merely "facts," rather than evocative non-fiction prose that describes Andrews' work experience.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Diana-Hillary conspiracy

The British tabloids are going bonkers over rumors that U.S. intelligence may have tapped Princess Diana's phones on the night of her death (hat tip: Kausfiles). Here's the Evening Standard:

American intelligence agencies were bugging Princess Diana's telephone over her relationship with a US billionaire, the Evening Standard has learned.

She was even forced to abandon a planned holiday with her sons in the US with tycoon Teddy Forstmann on advice from secret services, who passed on their concerns to their British counterparts.

Both US and British intelligence then forced Diana to change her plans to stay with Mr Forstmann in the summer of 1997, saying it was too "dangerous" to take her sons there.

Instead the princess took the fateful decision to take a summer break with Harrods owner Mohamed Fayed. This ultimately led to her going to Paris with his son Dodi, where they died in a car crash.

In response, the US has issued what sure sounds like a non-denial denial (via MSNBC):

However, a Homeland Security official told NBC News it is untrue that the Secret Service ever gathered intelligence information on Diana.

“The Secret Service had nothing to do with it,” the official said.

Separately, a former senior U.S. intelligence official said Diana was never targeted for intelligence gathering in any way. But, the former official said, her voice may have been picked up while others were targeted. Even so, he said that as far as he knows, there were no intercepts of her in Paris the night she died, contrary to British reports.

Hmm, the Secret Service had nothing to do with it, eh? What about the CIA, or the FBI, or the NSA, or the DIA?

One theory, gleefully advanced by Mickey Kaus on Slate, is that Bill Clinton wanted to gather information on billionare banker Ted Forstmann -- who Princess Di apparently had a crush on-- because Forstmann was a potential Republican rival to Hillary in the 2000 NY Senate race. But what about the other person in the car that night, Dodi Fayed? It's not like Dodi was the son of an Egyptian billionare who made his fortune by marrying into a family of international arms dealers, right? Right?

The other political angle to justify this completely irrelevant posting: if US intelligence was spying on Diana, it almost certainly was without a warrant from FISA -- get ready for some uncomfortable Democratic wiggling if that's the case!

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Apocalypto" (Minor spoiler alert)

So I saw "Apocalypto" this weekend -- or perhaps more accurately, "Mel Gibson's Apocalypto," to quote the name used in Disney's television promotional campaign. I pulled the same trick I did with "Passion of the Christ," buying tickets for another movie -- in this case, "Borat" -- and sneaking into the theater, to avoid paying Mel Gibson an anti-Semitic royalty.

My quick take on the movie? (1) Yes, it's really, really violent, so much so that it overwhelms the movie watching experience. By the final scene, however, when blood is spurting from someone's head in Monty Pythonesque fashion, the audience was laughing. So you get sort of numb. (2) It's also a waste of talent. I have to admit, I really like Mel Gibson's approach to this film (and "Passion"), using native languages and local actors. The opening scenes are terrific, and feel like an authentic representation of life in a Mayan jungle village circa 1500. Unfortunately, Gibson spends about 15 minutes exploring this angle before the splatterfest begins.

But here's what I find most interesting about the movie (warning: minor spoiler coming). As you probably know by now, the movie contains a scene involving graphic human sacrifice in a Mayan city. The local villagers have been captured by warriors from a nearby city. The villagers, including the movie's protaganist, Jaguar Paw, are led to the top of a Mayan temple, where the city's priest cuts them open and rips their hearts out in front of them. The priest then holds the still-beating heart up to the sun as an offering to their god, Kalkulkata (spelling not guaranteed). The head of the villagers are then cut off and hurled down the side of the temple, where the locals bathe their babies in the dead villagers blood.

Here's what I can't figure out. This scene is supposed represent the religious fantacism that gripped Mayan civilization in its final days, a civilization that was suffering from famine, disease and -- according to Gibson, anyway -- an insatiable blood lust. My reaction, and I'm sure the reaction of most viewers, is complete revulsion to this ritual involving a religious blood sacrifice to appease a god figure. But that got me thinking: what other Mel Gibson movie can you think of that involves a brutally violent religious blood sacrifice to appease a God figure?

So what's the deal? Is Gibson endorsing the Mayan ritual of human sacrifice? Does he admire, or at the very least, respect their attempts to preserve their way of life by means of crucifixion, er, I mean, disembowelment?

In the end, I don't really care. "Apocalypto" isn't that good a movie, and Mel Gibson isn't smart enough to warrant all this attention he draws to himself. Do yourself a favor and go see "The Fountain," which is less violent (though it too contains scenes of horrible religious brutality), more interesting and more thoughtful.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Iraq Study Group: TPV analysis, Part II

Yesterday, I explained why the ISG Report's recommendations on Iran, even if implemented (which they won't be, given President Bush's disdain), were unlikely to affect the sectarian violence in Iraq, and in fact would likely make things worse. Today, I want to note, briefly, the ISG's conclusions on the Iraq War budget.

It is somewhat amazing to think that most Americans, myself included (until recently), have no idea what this war costs ($8 billion a month, incidentally). That's in part due to President Bush's misguided notion that taxes should be cut, rather than raised, during a time of war. But it's also because the government itself doesn't know how much the war costs. Here, in the ISG Report's own words:

"The public interest is not well served by the government's preparation, presentation and review of the budget for the war in Iraq."

"First, most of the costs of the war show up not in the normal budget request but in requests for emergency supplemental appropriations . . . . Bypassing the normal review process erodes budget discipline and accountability."

[You can bet Bush will ignore this proposal, given the new Democratic Congressional leadership. Will the Dems fight back? Don't bet on it.]

"Second, the executive branck presents budget requests in a confusing manner, making it difficult for both the general public and members of Congress to understand the request or to differentiate it from counterterrorism operations around the world or Afghanistan."

[The reasons for this are obvious: Bush continues to conflate the Iraq War with "counterterrorism." The entire U.S. military apparatus is viewed as a counterrorist measure. Again, don't expect this to change -- Bush is fundamentally incapable of segregating the two conflicts, as is Cheney.]

"Finally, circumvention of the budget process by the executive branch erodes oversight and review by Congress."

[Remember, the ISQ prepared its finding when the GOP was still in charge. Bush was thus evading oversight by his own party. Once again, don't expect anything to change.]


I'm not sure there are words to describe how excited I am to see this movie. The acting looks a little sketchy, but who cares?


Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Bush delusions

I'm reading the transcrip of President Bush's press conference with Tony Blair this morning. If you held out any hope that the President might be removing himself from the fog of delusion that's surrounded him since, well, forever, you can put those to rest. Here's a portion of his response to the question, "Are you capable of admitting your failures in the past?":

You want frankness: I thought we would succeed quicker than we did. And I am disappointed by the pace of success.

Not, "We are losing in Iraq." Not, "We are not winning." No, we are succeeding, but just not fast enough.

He's become a parody of himself at this point.

The Iraq Study Group: TPV analysis, Part I

I have made my way through approximately 2/3 of the Iraq Study Group Report, and I am overflowing with ideas, thoughts, and commentary, which I plan to post intermittently over the next couple of days. I'll begin, however, with what thus far seems to be the most important proposal in the Report.

The ISG, unlike the President, correctly identifies the central problem in Iraq: sectarian Sunni-Shiite violence stemming from the failure of "national reconciliation." (Incidentally, Al Qaeda is relegated to a bit player in the Iraqi drama -- I'll have more to say about this later.) The Report's primary recommendation -- "the new way forward" or the "new approach" -- is that the U.S. should initiate a "New Diplomatic Offensive" to promote reconciliation and stem the violence withing Iraq. Although the details are somewhat murky, the NDO essentially consists of a coalition of key regional players -- more, much more, on this momentarily -- who will provide "regional and international initiatives and steps to assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political and economic milestones."

Now, TPV readers, I ask you to make what I will call Wildly Optimistic Assumption #1: Even though the Bush Administration has shown an incredible hostility toward international diplomacy, and seems uniquely incompetent at forging international consensus, I want you to assume that the US will embrace and pursue the New Diplomatic Offensive. (Leave aside, if you will, whether a diplomatic effort should use military jingoistic terms like "offensive.)

Wait, I'm not finished. I will now ask that you make Wildly Optimistic Assumption #2: We are going to assume, going forward, that the NDO, if properly implemented, will actually work. In reality, of course, we have no idea if the Sunnis and Shiites will respond to external pressure by regional players -- they may want their civil war regardless -- but we will assume, optimistically, that this is not the case, and that if properly implemented, the NDO will significantly reduce the ongoing bloodshed.

Back to the Report: the second critical recommendation, closely related to the first, is that the United States should spearhead an effort to create an Iraqi International Support Group to support the NDO. Despite its name, the IISG is not in fact a coalition of psychologists and faith healers. Instead, I can only describe it as a "Middle Eastern United Nations," consisting of (and here I'll quote the report directly): "Iraq and all the states bordering Iraq, including Iran and Syria; the key regional states, including Egypt and the Gulf States; the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; the European Union; and, of course, Iraq itself." (p. 49)

Yes, Iraq is so important, its mentioned twice! Typos aside, however, the critical -- and controversial -- proposal buried withing the IISG recommendation is to include Iran (and to a slightly lesser extent Syria), our least favorite countries at the moment. The ISG recognizes that dealing with these countries is "controversial," but adopts the Kissinger-realistic school approach of "engaging adverseries and enemies to try to resolve conflicts . . . consistent with [U.S.] interests." As a result, Iran and Syria should be engaged in diplomatic dialogue "without preconditions."(p. 50)

Right now, let's focus on Iran (more on Syria tomorrow). According to the ISG, Iran is the primary player in the conflict, and one that has the "most leverage" in Iraq. Participation of the neighboring Sunni states in the IISG , such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, is tied largely into their concerns about Iran's growing influence in the region. Thus, while acknowledging that Iran is a "problematic" state to engage with, the importance of their participation in the IISG seems critical to the success of the New Diplomatic Offensive. This is why the Report emphasizes the need to engage "without preconditions," i.e., without requiring Iran to give up its nuclear program as a condition of participating in the Support Group.

The realists within the ISG know, of course, that this is an anathema to Bush and the neocons. Indeed, Bush has already signalled he's not interested in engaging Iran, thus (implicitly if not explicitly) undercutting a key component -- perhaps the key component -- to the NDO recommendation. Nonetheless, I am going to ask the heroic of TPV readers, and ask that you make Wildly Optimistic Assumption #3: Bush changes his mind. (I know, you just dropped your coffee. I'll wait a moment.) I want you to assume that Bush decides that, just mayber, he doesn't have all the answers, and thus he decides to follow the Report's recommendation and invite Iran into the Support Group without preconditions. Iran's nuclear program is left for a later to day to discuss.

Ok, to recap our asumptions: (1) We believe the New Diplomatic Offensive will work. (2) We expect the Bush Administration will form the Iraqi International Support Group. (3) Iran will be invited to join the IISG without preconditions.

Now, assuming all that, what does the Report tell us will likely happen? "Our limited contacts with Iran's government lead us to believe that its leaders are likely to say they will not participate in diplomatic efforts to support stability in Iraq. They attribute this reluctance to their belief that the United States seeks regime change in Iran. Nevertheless, as one of Iraq's neighbors Iran should be asked to assume its responsibility to participate in the Support Group. An Iranian refusal to do so would demonstrate to Iraq and the rest of the world Iran's rejectionist attitude and approach, which could lead to its isolation." (p. 52)

In other words, even if we make three wildly unrealistic assumptions, it won't matter because Iran won't participate anyway. Because of its refusal, Iran will be further diplomatically isolated, and as a result, will continue to fund Shiite militias and stir the Sunni insurgency -- surprise! Bet you didn't know they were funding both sides! -- because "Iran sees it in its interest to have the United State bogged down in Iraq . . . " (p. 52) And without Iran's participation, of course, the other regional states will have little to no interest in participating in a one-sided diplomatic offensive that asks them to make great sacrifices while requiring nothing of the largest regional power.

Or, to put it succinctly, we're fucked.


Well, didn't take long for WOA #3 to get shot down. President Bush, moments ago:

“If people come to the table to discuss Iraq they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country.

“And if people are not committed,” the president added, “if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up.”


Let me talk about engaging Iran.

We have made it clear to the Iranians that there is a possible change in U.S. policy, a policy that's been in place for 27 years. And that is that, if they would like to engage the United States, that they've got to verifiably suspend their enrichment program.

We've made our choice. Iran now has an opportunity to make its choice.

In other words, we aren't going to engage without preconditions. Up yours, Iraq Study Group!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iraq Study Group report

I just downloaded it, and plan to read it soon, and then just maybe will have something original to say about it. For now, I'd read this provocative article on Slate that raises an interesting question: what happens if Iran and Syria aren't interested in getting involved? Then what?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Every baby is little miracle

From the AP wire earlier today:

NEW YORK - Eddie Murphy and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown may have dated earlier this year, but the actor-comedian is making it cler that he's not sure if he's the father of her unborn child. Murphy, who stars in the upcoming "Dreamgirls" film, was recently asked if he was excited that Brown — known as Scary Spice when she was in the megahit group of the '90s — was pregnant. She has been photographed recently with an expanding belly.

"So are you happy with her because she's pregnant with your child?" asks the TV interviewer, apparently referring to Brown.

"Now you're being presumptuous because we're not together anymore," Murphy replies. "And I don't know whose child that is until it comes out and has a blood test. You shouldn't jump to conclusions, sir."

Someday, little baby Scary Murphy will be able to read his/her/its father's first adoring words,"I don't know whose child that is until it comes out and has a blood test." How adorable.

Quick quiz: do you know Barack Obama's middle name?

(Answer: Hussein)

Apparently Maureen Dowd has a column in the NY Times today criticizing the GOP's newly emerging strategy of referring to Obama by his full name. I'd link to it, except of course the NY Times prefers to keep its columnists inside a bubble. You can read the National Review's response here.

If this is the best the GOP can do to smear Obama, he's going to win the Presidency. In a landslide.

The end of Iraqi delusions

Moments ago, Robert Gates, Bush's nominee to replace Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, said that:

(1) We are not winning the war in Iraq.

(2) We invaded with too few troops.

Could it be we finally will have senior leadership in the Pentagon that isn't self-delusional? I'm trying to stay calm here, but maybe the grownups are back in charge.

And I can't wait to hear Bush's reaction. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Remember Jose Padilla

The NY Times has a tragic, fascinating story on the ongoing prosecution of Jose Padilla by the US federal government. Padilla, you may remember, is the US citizen accused of being an "enemy combatant" who was held for 21 months without being charged with a crime or being allowed to see an attorney. Our government accused him of being an al-Qaeda operative with designs toward fashioning a radioactive "dirty bomb" that would be exploded in a major US city. The government has since abandoned this charge -- because it was patently untrue -- and instead has trumped up some vague claims of aiding and abetting a sleeper cell. Not only that, but Padilla himself seems to be going insane from the years of secret isolation and interrogation.

I don't have much to add to this horror show, except for this: when asked whether Padilla had been mistreated by his captors, our government responded:

“His basic needs were met in a conscientious manner, including Halal (Muslim acceptable) food, clothing, sleep and daily medical assessment and treatment when necessary,” the government stated. “While in the brig, Padilla never reported any abusive treatment to the staff or medical personnel.”

How hollow does this ring? He didn't complain about his abuse to the very officals who were abusing him? Is this the best our government can come up with?

Goodbye, Ambassador Brimley, er, Bolton

John Bolton just announced he's resigning as the US ambassador to the UN. I have to say, he did a pretty good job, all things considered -- there was a certain refreshing quality to his skeptical stance toward UN effectiveness, and he was a better negotiator than I anticipated. Still, once the Democrats regained control of Congress, his days were numbered. (Bush, of course, blamed the Democrats for "obstructionism" even though Bolton was a recess appointment that Bush failed to push through even when his party controlled Washington.)

Bolton said he looked forward to his new job as pitchman for Quaker Oats.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mass delusions on Iraq spread to Slate

I'm a regular reader of "Kausfiles," Mickey Kaus's blog on Slate.com. He's kind of annoying, since he pretends to be a liberal when, in fact, he's more of the homophobic nativist type who agrees with Pat Buchanan and Bill O'Reilly. Plus, there are rumors he's dating Ann Coulter -- yikes. Nonetheless, he's funny, and he's often insightful, and---best of all---he's a great source for interesting sites to peruse.

Anyway, here's a post from Mickey late last night:

P.P.S.: For an account of what it's like living in Baghdad these days, I once again recommend Iraq the Model, specifically this post. It's clear the recent violence has been terrifying and demoralizing. It's also clear that things are far from being as bad as they could be. ...

Well, first thing I did was click on the post Mickey recommends. You should too, but in case you are feeling lazy, let me give you the general gist:

The past four days during which we were under siege were long and rough for Baghdadis. Anxiety and fear haunted us at our homes and a flow of horrible news made the prison feel even tighter…it was a material and psychological siege that will not be easy to forget.

The situation was terrifying and the rattle of machineguns broke through the tense quiet of the night several times every night but perhaps the star of the latest show was the mortar—there has been a frenzy of mortar fire, gladly none struck our neighborhood but we could hear the stupid death packages pass by each other in the air across our neighborhood.

Some news were really bad though, my uncle called on Friday to tell me that he and his family of eight were being forced to leave their neighborhood.My Sunni uncle, his Shia wife and their children were told to leave because the head of the household is Sunni. His voice was filled with pain as he talked to me, I asked him who made the threat and he said ten cars filled with armed men came to our street shooting their guns in the air and announcing through a loudspeaker that all Sunni people must leave within 24 hours, then they went to the mosque and murdered the preacher's son.

As usual during times of crisis, people's morale takes a steep slide down and my friends who used to say they expected Iraq to stabilize within a maximum of 5 years are now talking about 10-15 years and some have reached total frustration and are comparing Iraq's future with Somalia's present.

"Things are far from as bad as they could be?" When you are comparing Iraq to Somalia---the most depraved place on the planet---how much worse can things get? Nazi Germany circa 1945?