Friday, September 30, 2005

New Pantagruel

I've linked to the site, The New Pantagruel, under the news and commentary section, not knowing where else to put it. It's not news, and only a particular sort of commentary. Close enough. I found it because I love the great French Renaissance writer, monk and physician Francois Rabelais' magnificently funny collection of novels, Gargantua and Pantagruel, and clicked a link somewhere or another.

TNP is a Christian site. Given the state of the religion and its leaders in the US, that's probably enough to quit reading now. But TNP has an interesting project that I agree with in some ways and disagree strongly in others. Personally, I was raised a Christian, but I've never practiced it and have little tolerance for evangelism. And I really don't care much about the reconstruction of the church except that I abhor most of the views of the Christian Right and would like to see them reconstructed. If anything, I suppose I'm a Deweyan liberal-communitarian pragmatist humanist neo-internationalist critical environmentalist Marx-and-critical-theory-influenced social democrat who occasionally flirts with nihilism. That self-description, however, changes over time.

The thing I respect most about religion are those religious people who take an intellectual interest in the meaning of life and cosmos and do it with a sense of humor and fallibilism as well as a commitment to people who may not otherwise have any opportunity to derive any meaning or happiness from life. It's not simply a matter of knowing the stories and names in the Bible and following them, but of the full range of exploration of human and natural life from wherever it comes. For example, Rabelais himself and a few of the medieval thinkers who preceded him. I've known very very few Christians like this, but have had deep respect and often love for those few I have. A good friend of mine, now dead, when I lived in France was the old (nearly 80 at the time) and widely-respected Dominican monk Pere Vallee, who was himself a writer of books on art and the nature of meaning, a supporter of contemporary art (who ran one of the great small galleries of the Rive Gauche), a life-loving man of good humor, and a lover of copious amounts of countryside red wines. He led me, through a stay at his own medieval house in Mezels, to fall in love with the little medieval villages of the Dordogne.

But, I digress. The New Pantagruel is an interesting site. It appears mostly interested in an odd kind of combined medievalist-puritan cleansing of a corrupt church and society. I also, however, clicked some of their links to other sites and was brought to one arguing for "intelligent design" (the ID post argued against ID as "supernaturalist," suggesting that the label reminds one of witches and such. But there's no way around that -- it is supernaturalist. Science is naturalist. Positing a supernatural designer of the universe is not. That's what supernatural means). Not that TNP is held to the views of other sites, but the prominence of the link is disappointing.

But The New Pantagruel makes a fundamental error, one worth learning from on the American political left if not more broadly. Its enemy is modernist "Liberalism" (click on the "Welcome to TNP link") and it blames modern social problems (indeed, social ontology) and the problems of the church on this Liberalism. The reasons are good ones in some ways, but the error is that they take Liberalism in an all-encompassing sense that belies their supposed commitment to speaking to some of the other modern problems they describe below and elsewhere on their site. They take it more in the European sense of liberal (as nihilistic free-marketeer) than the American left-of-center sense of the term. This is misleading or misinformed. What they're arguing against is a "soul-less" materialism run amok, the kind of philosophical and economic liberalism that's summed up in economic globalization's insistence that there is no other vision of the world than the religion of economic growth. They admit this comes from both the "left" and the right in the American political context. On this, I agree. And it should be obvious by now that I don't think morality and religion are coextensive.

But look up Deweyan liberalism, for instance -- you'll find similar arguments, especially those with an ancestry in Emerson and James. Honestly, read Dewey's Art as Experience and tell me that's a work of nihilism. It's a work of modernist liberalism that achieves or at least speaks to some of the things The New Pantagruel itself seeks. Even look at the actions of many idealistic liberals, religious or not, in carrying out the supposed missions of the church that the American Protestant church has largely betrayed.

The point here, however, is not to take or justify one position over another. One of the most interesting aspects of The New Pantagruel is that it seeks to fight against some of the very things that dismay many liberals, and many others regardless of political leanings. It's a mistake for them when they too easily make out a generic liberalism to be the bogeyman and affirm positions of the Christian Right. I hope they don't take that direction.

That's all I have to say on this for now. It's late, I'm tired. But do check out the site. It's at least entertaining and provocative. Here's a bit from their introduction.
...The pre-modern remnant of the Christian tradition reacts against the more obviously exploitative and soul deadening aspects of Liberalism, but the overweening temptation to be immediately relevant, to participate in Western "mass" culture, and to get a seat at the table has inexorably dragged the church forward towards its mass death. The Western church has become, in large part, a walking identity-crisis. Thus, we experience the frustrations of a schizophrenic who desires simultaneously to be the life of the party and to be left completely alone; we are continually demoralized by our failure to find a place where we can experience equally the pride of being different and the happiness of blending in. In essence, this crisis embodies the whole ailing left-right split of our modern era. The recognition must soon dawn on the church that no matter what one’s political persuasion, there is no modern basis for achieving the true wealth that is life; no modern basis for the humane traditions of the Church; no modern basis for a real counterweight to the forces of the age. There is, then, both a historic need and moment for prophetic voices that treat the modernity-induced crisis of church and culture effectively.

The New Pantagruel
aspires to do just that, on whatever scale, large or small, is given us. It is namesake to the satirical, irreverent, jocular, and committed anti-materialist work of the 16th Century French Christian Humanist Francois Rabelais. Rabelais's time was much like our own: revolution and unparalleled expansion; avarice turned nearly into an art; soul deadening materialism; stifling political centralization; easy corruption in churches and governments; gross societal inequities; and tradition either ghettoized or seeking accomodation. In Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, Pantagruel trips through life in the French countryside with his loyal but rascally companion, Panurge. Along the way, they drink deeply of the "triumphal, earthly life" (Erich Auerbach) and the "wild enormities of ancient magnanimity" (Thomas Browne). With this mirthful temperament towards all that is humane and with frightful anger directed against the forces that would squash such things, Rabelais used laughter, parody, and what the Russian Literary Critic Mikhail Bakhtin called "grotesque realism" as a means of subverting the pillars of official culture and the proto-totalitarian orders of society. Pantagruelism is, according to Rabelais, "a certain jollity of mind pickled in the scorn of fortune." It is that odd cast of mind which allows one to see the corruption everywhere, including in oneself, while still loving the world.

Official word that the administration is propagandist

In the NY Times. Jeez, it all collapses at the same time, doesn't it? Wish this could have happened in October 2004.
Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

Reviews you need

It might have been someone different, but I recall two or three years ago, maybe more, reading a hilarious review of a water-pic-type item. Ablogistan gets ahold of J. E. Swearingen's probably incomplete collection of Amazon reviews. Here's a sample:

Standard Computer Armoire 53"hx42.5"w Dark Cherry
Offered by Home Decorators Collection
Price: $399.00
Availability: Usually ships in 1-2 business days

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

Where's da computah?, September 29, 2005
Hey where da computah at?

Hey! Dere it is!

Was hidden in da wood! Haw!

Hey where da computah at?

Dere it is!

Hiding in the wood again! Crazy computah!

Hey! Where da computah now?!?!

Friedman, ethnic cleanser

Add to The Poorman's rant on Thomas Friedman the new Shiite vs. Shiite conflict, 250,00 American bullets per "kill," and you've got a barrel of brilliant strategy.

But... a new discovery

But there's always a new discovery in blogland. Take a look at Neil Shakespeare, a really great blog (found via By Neddie Jingo!).

Newtopia folds

Just as I link to him, he decides to close up shop. Please give Newtopia a farewell read.

Insurgency count

Global Guerillas says 184,000 (via Norwegianity).
  • Saddam Fedayeen.
  • Senior and mid-level Republican Guard and Army officers.
  • Secret police and other agencies.
  • Foreign Jihadis.
  • Senior Baathists.
See also the previous post on Sic Semper Tyrannis' Sunni who's who, and also take a look at the articles mentioned here on the brewing Shiite-on-Shiite civil war.

Abu Ghraib photos to be released?

A federal judge ruled today that graphic pictures of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison must be released over government claims that they could damage America's image. Last year a Republican senator conceded that they contained scenes of "rape and murder" and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said they included acts that were "blatantly sadistic."

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered the release of certain pictures in a 50-page decision that said terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven they "do not need pretexts for their barbarism."

The ACLU has sought the release of 87 photographs and four videotapes taken at the prison as part of an October 2003 lawsuit demanding information on the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and the transfer of prisoners to countries known to use torture.


For those of you who missed it, here's what Mr. Virtue himself is genuflecting for:
"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," said Bennett, author of "The Book of Virtues."

Dragon fruit

Photo: Dave

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Everyone in Al Qaeda is "Number 2"

Yep (via The War in Context). 'Round and 'round and 'round and 'round the corner... the monkey chased the weasel.
U.S. intelligence officials and counterterrorism analysts are questioning whether a slain terrorist - described by President Bush today as the "second-most-wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq" - was as significant a figure as the Bush administration is claiming....

"If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and No. 3 they've arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd be a millionaire," says Kohlmann, a New York-based analyst who tracks the Iraq insurgency and who first expressed skepticism about the Azzam claims in a posting on The Counterterrorism Blog.

I wasn't thinking straight when I posted this -- of course, if you kill a Number 2 then, presumably, a Number 3 steps in to take Number 2's place, and so on. Therefore, you can kill a Number 2 into infinity.

Otherwise known as quagmire.

NYC event -- Take Back the News

If you're in the NYC area this weekend and want to hang around with some good and smart people who do good and smart things, check out this event below. I can't vouch for the music personally, but I know my dear Julia B. has good punk and other music tastes. Please also consider a donation -- they're doing a lot of free-time work using a budget that mostly comes from their own pockets. Please also feel free to distribute widely....

Take Back The News Art Sale THIS SATURDAY!

6-10PM at Stain Bar
766 Grand Street at Humbolt (L train to Grand), Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Come have a drink, eat BBQ, make friends, take a chance in our crafts raffle

Featured Artists include:
Dan Albanese
Zeina Assaf
JoAnn Brandt
Rachelle Cohen
Ron Davis
Bari DeJaynes
Jason Estrin
Nicole Heffron
Haley Mattox
Dan O'Shea
Jason Paradis
Maggie Puckett
Trish Solsaa
Eileen Wold
and more!

All proceeds go to Take Back The News, an organization run by four sisters that confronts the misrepresentation and underrepresentation of rape in mainstream media. We are launching exciting new projects, including:
- Media Response Project
- College Creative Writing Program
- Book Print Project
- Community Newprint Project Kits

THERE'S MORE: After the benefit, stick around for a live performance by The Elliot Tree!

If you are unable to come to the event, but would like to make a donation to our continuing work, please send donations (checks made out to Take Back The News, Inc) to this address:

Take Back The News
PO Box 110-945
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Thank you for all of your support!

Emily Brandt, Julia Brandt, Laura Blasberg, and Maria Brandt
Take Back The News

Balkin torture blogging

If you like James Balkin and Marty Lederman and you like reading about torture, this is the link for you.

New Orleans prisoners left in cells...

Human Rights Watch (also via Majikthise). Folks, we can be really awful people.

Utter bullshit

Michael Crichton, Senate witness on global warming. An article in the NY Times (via Majikthise).

I, I.... Oh, this is such fucking bullshit. Things like this are a sign that there's no way back from the abyss.

Another fake threat

Nick Schwellenbach on the next fake threat: Electromagnetic Pulse Attack [from Outer Space - please go away, Bush regime].

Meanwhile, here's what's happening in New Zealand

Cricket: Updated bowling rules almost beg to be exploited

Oh, see this too:

Unravelling the Ganguly enigma: aloof, arrogant, gentle and gracious

But only if cricket is your thing. I can hardly understand a word these articles say except the articles. I even played cricket once in my colonial orientalism youth in SE Asia, but didn't understand it then either.

Vietnam typhoon

If you dig a hole all the way through the planet to the other side, you come up into a typhoon.

BBC -- US press critical of Tom Delay

They may be farty little turdpeople living most of their snorting lives rooting around in the carpet at the feet of their masters. But when they smell blood, it's a pig-pickin.' I'm surprised that the BBC nostril-people have bothered. But it's really more like delicately placing the kerchief in the collar.

Shiite vs. Shiite - a very bad problem for the US

James Wolcott on the looming Badr Shiite vs. Mahdi Shiite civil war in Iraq, as well as impending crisis in the US itself over the war. Make sure to click the links and read those linked articles. I would have gone straight to them, but Wolcott does a nice summary. More on this later.

Iran showdown

From the Asia Times:
The European Three (EU-3 - France, Germany and Britain) have by all indications prioritized their transatlantic ties with the US over their relations with Iran, trying to outdo each other in appeasing the US in its unilateral march toward anti-Iran sanctions at the UN.

This is precisely where the word "multilateralism" begins to lose some of its luster, seeing how the collapse of European diplomacy in the cesspool of unilateralism is nicely covered by the make-believe concerns of top European diplomats over the fate of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)...

The stakes are getting increasingly high, with Iran now contemplating exiting the NPT and stopping all cooperation with the IAEA.

Well, if the Europeans' real concern is to keep the IAEA intact, their action is hardly going to have the desired result, as the North-South divide within the IAEA will sharpen dramatically and qualitatively, as explicitly feared by IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei.

In his latest report, ElBaradei cited good progress in Iran's cooperation with the IAEA and stated that Iran's nuclear program would be subjected from now on to routine inspections. How will he react a few weeks or months from now when Iran is no longer a part of the IAEA and the whole Muslim world is blaming the IAEA of indiscrete double standards?

Not exactly bright prospects for the IAEA and its Western composition, and all the more reason for the IAEA to amend itself and step back from the confrontational path it has chosen in regard to Iran.
Read the rest....

Japanese political changes - a new Britain?

Margarita Estevez-Abe in the IHT:
Internationally, Japan has to redefine its role in the world. Japan's so-called Peace Constitution has prevented the country from deploying its troops abroad for military purposes. Koizumi wants to change Article 9 of the Constitution in order to legitimate the Self Defense Forces as a "military" and to facilitate future deployments outside Japanese territories.

With only one year of his term remaining, Koizumi may not deliver all these reforms himself. But the "new party" that he brought to power is likely to carry forward this agenda.

The end result is likely to be a Japan that looks very much like Britain both domestically and internationally. Japan will develop a more pro-market face and be ready to take on a more active role in the U.S. global security strategy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New Europe loses brains to Old Europe

A special issue at Cafe Babel on the Eastern European "brain drain."


A bit of personal blogvibing here, as if by saying "GO [your favorite team here]," especially in virtual-land, that they actually do "go":

I am, by birth, a San Diego Padres fan. This means that I am a member of a select group of about 173. "Padres,... posh," you say. But apart from its corrupt politics and Republican retirees, San Diego has the most laid-back baseball team in the country. They're doing what they need to do. No Boston fans that would break a bottle over your head for liking the Yankees. No dirty-hands Braves fans.

And, finally, no injuries. Classes to prep for tomorrow, but ESPN2 is actually showing a Pads game. A long night ahead.

Tonight the Padres can wrap up their division title by beating San Francisco. Go Pads.

UPDATE (1:10am, 29th September):

Padres 9, Giants 1

And the sound of a lone "woo hoo!" echoes around blogland.

Living the high life in Iraq

That is, the Greenzone, Iraq. This is posted by Baghdad Treasure, an Iraqi blogger who lives in Baghdad:
While I was going over the local newspapers this morning, I read a shocking headline: "A 23-floor, 5-star hotel to be built inside the Green Zone". I read the whole article and I wished I did not. The article says "The Minister of reconstruction announced the approval of the Prime minister to build a 5-star hotel inside the Green Zone." Also, the article said the government is committed to rebuild the country to stop the deprivation that was done under the former regime.

Long parade of disturbing incidents

Good for Reuters. Remember, more journalists have been killed in the Iraq War thus far than the entire Vietnam War (or "The American War," as Vietnamese call it).
The conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq, including increasing detention and accidental shootings of journalists, is preventing full coverage of the war reaching the American public, Reuters said on Wednesday.

In a letter to Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Reuters said U.S. forces were limiting the ability of independent journalists to operate. The letter from Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger called on Warner to raise widespread media concerns about the conduct of U.S. troops with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is due to testify to the committee on Thursday.

Schlesinger referred to "a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by U.S. forces in Iraq."

He urged Warner to demand that Rumsfeld resolve these issues "in a way that best balances the legitimate security interests of the U.S. forces in Iraq and the equally legitimate rights of journalists in conflict zones under international law".

At least 66 journalists and media workers, most of them Iraqis, have been killed in the Iraq conflict since March 2003.

Delay indicted

It was just a rumor this morning, but now we can say "yea" or "yay."
A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing the House majority leader to temporarily relinquish his post.

DeLay was accused of a criminal conspiracy along with two associates, John Colyandro, former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay's national political committee.

"I have notified the speaker that I will temporarily step aside from my position as majority leader pursuant to rules of the House Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County district attorney today," DeLay said.

Socialist states most competitive

I just heard on NPR that a new report has been released showing Finland to be the "most competitive country" in the world. The US came in second with its big-old whopping economy. All the other Scandinavian countries were in the upper end of the top ten. Fast-growing China and India were around 49th and 50th place. Remember, Norway is also the best place in the world to live.

Now, isn't it curious that one of America's biggest fears is how decent healthcare, education, and welfare systems, and higher taxes (that actually do something) would make the US less competitive? And that slower economic growth is the orthodox economist's nightmare?

Nearly all economic and political signs point in the direction of reforms and policies Scandinavian countries have made for years -- higher taxes, cleaner environment, better basic capabilities due to good and accessible healthcare and education, investment in high-tech, investment in its citizenry. Now they're also more competitive? Ouch.

I'll have to find the report for details -- such is listening to the radio with one ear.

The Abramoff plot thickens

Norwegianity caught this in the WaPo:

Fort Lauderdale police said yesterday that they charged three men in the 2001 gangland-style slaying of a Florida businessman who was gunned down in his car months after selling a casino cruise line to a group that included Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis was killed on a Fort Lauderdale street on Feb. 6, 2001. Two of the three men charged had been hired as consultants by Adam Kidan, one of Abramoff's partners in the SunCruz Casinos venture.

La nueva New Orleans

An article in the LA Times by Gregory Rodriguez.
NO MATTER WHAT ALL the politicians and activists want, African Americans and impoverished white Cajuns will not be first in line to rebuild the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast and New Orleans. Latino immigrants, many of them undocumented, will. And when they're done, they're going to stay, making New Orleans look like Los Angeles. It's the federal government that will have made the transformation possible, further exposing the hollowness of the immigration debate.

President Bush has promised that Washington will pick up the greater part of the cost for "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen." To that end, he suspended provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act that would have required government contractors to pay prevailing wages in Louisiana and devastated parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. And the Department of Homeland Security has temporarily suspended sanctioning employers who hire workers who cannot document their citizenship. The idea is to benefit Americans who may have lost everything in the hurricane, but the main effect will be to let contractors hire illegal immigrants.

Detainees and detainers

Dahr Jamail on dissent and censorship in Electronic Iraq.
"I do sick-call for the detainees. Right now, I think they have mechanics guarding the detainees. I've talked to them a couple of times and they've made comments like "if they were detained, they are probably bad..." A couple of times I've pointed out that: 1) they might very well be innocent and 2) that they are still human. The guards seemed to really acknowledge that. But it's almost like everyone knows the emperor is naked, but are trying to cling to the idea that he is wearing new clothes. When someone points out that he might be naked, it gives them the freedom to acknowledge that as well. The real travesty, I think, is the American people. With no exposure to Iraqis, all they see on the news is that we are killing the bad guys, and they don't see the refugee camps, or how we trash cities (collateral damage seems a nice phrase, because it's not their homes which are being destroyed. Not the sons and daughters of their friends who are being killed.) They don't see the casual way most soldiers feel about destroying property. All they see is what they are told, and unless it's stamped with a corporations seal, it lacks legitimacy in their eyes and it gets relegated to an "extremist position.""
Remember also, 250,000 bullets per insurgent "kill."


Parents in federal court Tuesday described an atmosphere of intimidation and anger when school board members in Dover, Pa., last year decided to require high school biology teachers to read a statement that casts doubt on the theory of evolution.

Bryan Rehm, a parent who also taught physics at Dover High School, testified of continual pressure from board members not to "teach monkeys-to-man evolution." He said that the board required teachers to watch a film critical of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and that board members talked openly of teaching creationism alongside evolution.

Karen Hughes' goodwill trip

Plus some more stuff on Chavez, by Jefferson Morley in the WaPo.

Refugee cruise

No comment, except that for the first time Tom Coburn is showing slight signs of sanity.

On Sept. 1, as tens of thousands of desperate Louisianans packed the New Orleans Superdome and convention center, the Federal Emergency Management Agency pleaded with the U.S. Military Sealift Command: The government needed 10,000 berths on full-service cruise ships, FEMA said, and it needed the deal done by noon the next day.

The hasty appeal yielded one of the most controversial contracts of the Hurricane Katrina relief operation, a $236 million agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines for three ships that now bob more than half empty in the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay. The six-month contract -- staunchly defended by Carnival but castigated by politicians from both parties -- has come to exemplify the cost of haste that followed Katrina's strike and FEMA's lack of preparation.

To critics, the price is exorbitant. If the ships were at capacity, with 7,116 evacuees, for six months, the price per evacuee would total $1,275 a week, according to calculations by aides to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). A seven-day western Caribbean cruise out of Galveston can be had for $599 a person -- and that would include entertainment and the cost of actually making the ship move.

"When the federal government would actually save millions of dollars by forgoing the status quo and actually sending evacuees on a luxurious six-month cruise it is time to rethink how we are conducting oversight. A short-term temporary solution has turned into a long-term, grossly overpriced sweetheart deal for a cruise line," said Coburn and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a joint statement yesterday calling for a chief financial officer to oversee Katrina spending.

Forget conservatism, time to loot

Josh Marshall:

And all out in the open (from the Post) ...

As fiscal hawks surrendered, would-be government contractors were meeting in the Hart Senate Office Building to figure out how to get a share of the money. A "Katrina Reconstruction Summit," hosted by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and sponsored by Halliburton, among others, brought some 200 lobbyists, corporate representatives and government staffers to a room overlooking the Capitol for a five-hour conference that included time for a "networking break" and advice on "opportunities for private sector involvement."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) sent his budget director, Bill Hoagland, who cautioned that federal Katrina spending might not exceed $100 billion. But John Clerici, from a law firm that helped sponsor the event, told the group that spending would "probably be larger" than $200 billion. "It's going to be spent in a fast and furious way," Clerici said.

Straight up looting.

Maybe a National Guard "shoot-to-kill" policy is in order?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Three biological threats

Monster Mold Threatens Health in the South

Rita May Worsen Red Tide in South Texas

Braves clinch 14th Straight Division
(With all the hand-shaking, hugs, high-fives and war whoops in Braves stadium tonight, we should be reminded of this earlier post).

Who's who among Sunni insurgents

An excellent post in Sic Semper Tyrannis on the various parties and composition of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq along with an estimate of the real numbers of Sunni insurgents.

Post-Katrina EPA soil samples

Cheryl of Whirled View was on top of this link.

Meyer lemon

Photo: Selvin Chance

Darn it, it is flat after all

But I wonder if they understand each other.
NEW DELHI - It is the kind of crisis management only possible in an era of perfect connectivity in a global world. Call center executives based in the Indian state of Gujarat are guiding residents of Texas afflicted by Hurricane Rita.

The call center located in the city of Gandhinagar is run by Effective Tele Services and is informing affected Texas residents about safer locations, evacuation and relief operations.

The Indian arm of the US-based firm came into play when its two call centers in Texas were temporarily shut down due to fear that they could suffer damage from Hurricane Rita. "I received a frantic call from Robert Hurst, a senior judge in Texas on Friday night," said Jim Iyoob, the center's director in Gujarat and a resident of Texas. "He requested me to set up a helpline at the business process outsourcing [BPO] center to help evacuees in Texas find a temporary shelter from the hurricane," he said.

The helpline was immediately started, with executives providing information sourced from the Internet by monitoring websites and maps. "All calls from our Texas office are being diverted to India," said Iyoob.

The Environmental Prez'dint

WASHINGTON - President Bush yesterday urged Americans to cut back on car trips amid warnings that the energy disruption from Hurricane Rita could be worse than initially thought...

"If it makes sense for the citizen out there to curtail nonessential travel, it darn sure makes sense for federal employees," Bush said. "We can encourage employees to car-pool or use mass transit, and we can shift peak electricity use to off-peak hours. There's ways for the federal government to lead when it comes to conservation."

The White House also will be looking at ways to conserve, press secretary Scott McClellan said, although that doesn't include a change in the president's plans to return to the region this week....

And the weapons go on and on...

Tony Blair and John Reid, the defence secretary, have been holding secret talks with Saudi Arabia in pursuit of a huge arms deal worth up to 40bn pounds, according to diplomatic sources.

Mr Blair went to Riyadh on July 2, en route to Singapore, where Britain was bidding for the 2012 Olympics. Three weeks later, Mr Reid made a two-day visit, when he sought to persuade Prince Sultan, the crown prince, to re-equip his air force with the Typhoon, the European fighter plane of which the British arms company BAE has the lion's share of manufacturing.

Defence, diplomatic and legal sources say negotiations are stalling because the Saudis are demanding three favours. These are that Britain should expel two anti-Saudi dissidents, Saad al-Faqih and Mohammed al-Masari; that British Airways should resume flights to Riyadh, currently cancelled through terrorism fears; and that a corruption investigation implicating the Saudi ruling family and BAE should be dropped. Crown prince Sultan's son-in-law, Prince Turki bin Nasr, is at the centre of a "slush fund" investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

The scandalaciousness goes on and on...

Washington - The Justice Department's inspector general and the F.B.I. are looking into the demotion of a veteran federal prosecutor whose reassignment nearly three years ago shut down a criminal investigation of the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, current and former department officials report....

Phils and pols

Good new issue of Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly. Free to download (.pdf).

A bit more on Katrina and long-term risks

Since the hurricane landed, I've been trying to keep up with reports on Katrina's actual and potential consequences in terms of environmental damage, toxics, health risks, and so on. "Keep up" is actually the wrong expression -- more like "find reports" or studies or anything at all. Cheryl at Whirled View has been looking into this too. And I've received some good help from Paul Fagiolo especially on procedural aspects. To date, there has really been very little on this. Here's something at least from Knight Ridder.

WaPo story on chimps and humans - we are nearly one

Pharyngula thinks this the best news article on evolution that he's seen. That assessment itself makes it worth reading. Recommended reading.

Monday, September 26, 2005

World Bank 2006 development report

The 2006 World Bank Development Report has been relesed and its title is "Equity Enhances the Power of Growth to Reduce Poverty."

"Equity is complementary to the pursuit of long-term prosperity," said Francois Bourguignon, the Bank's Chief Economist and Senior Vice President for Development Economics, who guided the team that produced the report. "Greater equity is doubly good for poverty reduction. It tends to favor sustained overall development, and it delivers increased opportunities to the poorest groups in a society."

Equity and Development, produced by an eight-member team of authors led by economists Francisco Ferreira and Michael Walton, makes the case for equity, not just as an end in itself, but because it often stimulates greater and more productive investment, which leads to faster growth. The report shows how wide gulfs of inequality in wealth and opportunity, both within and among nations, contribute to the persistence of extreme deprivation, often for a large proportion of the population. This wastes human potential and, in many cases, can slow the pace of sustained economic growth.

Pro-equity policies can bridge these gulfs, the authors conclude. The objective is not equality of incomes, but rather to expand access by the poor to health care, education, jobs, capital, and secure land rights. Crucially, equity requires greater equality of access to political freedoms and political power. It also means breaking down stereotyping and discrimination, and improving access to justice systems and infrastructure.

"Public action should seek to expand the set of opportunities of those who have the least voice and fewest resources and capabilities," World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz says in the foreword to the report. "It should do so in a manner that respects and enhances individual freedoms, as well as the role of markets in allocating resources."

To increase equity within developing countries, the report calls specifically for policies that correct for persistent inequalities in opportunity, by leveling the economic and political playing fields. Many such policies will also increase economic efficiency and correct market failures. These policies include:

  • Investing in people, by expanding access to quality health and education services, and providing safety nets for vulnerable groups;
  • Expanding access to justice, land, and economic infrastructure such as roads, power, water, sanitation and telecommunications;
  • Promoting fairness in financial, labor, and product markets, so that poor people have easier access to credit and jobs, and are not discriminated against in any market.

Examples of pro-equity policy changes include land reform. In the Indian state of West Bengal, for example, a land tenancy reform increased security of tenure for sharecroppers, while also guaranteeing them at least 75 percent of output. Land productivity rose by 62 percent as a result. Increasing poor people's access to credit and insurance has proven to be another effective way of leveling opportunities to increase prosperity. Studies in India, Kenya and Zimbabwe, among other developing countries, show that the poor must pay much higher interest rates than the rich. "We would thus expect the poor to under-invest, certainly relative to the rich, but also relative to what would happen if markets functioned properly," the report concludes.

In addition to domestic reforms, the report also calls on nations to promote greater equity in the global arena, notably in the international markets for labor, goods, ideas and capital. To achieve this, it urges rich countries to allow greater migration for unskilled workers from developing countries, to press ahead with trade liberalization under the Doha Round at the WTO, to allow poor countries to use generic drugs, and to develop financial standards appropriate to developing countries. It also reiterates the importance of increased and more effective development aid.

And so on.... Reports can be downloaded by following the links.


From Kevin Sites' series "Hotzone." Kind of silly-sounding, reality-showish. But this is a good article and shows real promise for the series. Click on the homepage to see more.

Don Adams dies

There probably won't be many of you who think this important. But, man, "Get Smart" was probably my favorite show ever when I was a little kid and first into TV. It occurs to me that there may be some long lineage between how I think about politics now and what I thought about the Cold War and James Bond vs. "Get Smart" then. A funny man, Don Adams. Plus, it was either Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), or Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) of "The Avengers" that was my first great love....

A loss today.

I snatched this photo from AP:

Helplessly hopeful

Via Ablogistan, a quote for the day:

"Religion. It's given people hope in a world torn apart by religion."

-- Jon Stewart

Blair change

I just don't get this. Is it an exchange with W for pulling out of Iraq? What is the meaning of this? Blair says that it's because he now believes (though he didn't earlier this year) countries in general won't sign agreements that "harm" economic benefits or create further costs. Anyone have a good explanation? I mean, this sort of "harm" is W's argument about Kyoto. Whatever one thinks about the Kyoto Protocol, it does have 156 countries who have ratified, approved, or acceded to it. That seems like pretty good global agreement.

Tony Blair has admitted that he is changing his views on combating global warming to mirror those of President Bush - and oppose negotiating international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol.

His admission, which has outraged environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic, flies in the face of his promises made in the past two years and undermines the agreement he masterminded at this summer's Gleneagles Summit. And it endangers talks that opened in Ottawa this weekend on a new treaty to combat climate change.

Science vs. politics in the MDGs

From an article originally in SciDevNet, Yale Global posts this assessment below of the science vs. politics debate over the Millennium Development Goals. I've posted the MDGs at the bottom of the article (click the list for the larger image).

The question has larger implications. I've been doing some work on the case of bioprospecting as a mechanism for conserving biodiversity and have found that scientists have created quite a mess of the original schemes that led to access and benefit-sharing agreements between drug and biotech companies and researchers on one hand and biodiverse nations, local groups, and indigenous peoples on the other. The mess stems from faulty utilitarian logic on the part of scientists in making various moral assessments about the economic value of both bioprospecting and biodiversity itself. These assessments have been followed largely due to overly broad, nearly mythical, assumptions about the boundaries and merits of scientific authority, and we've seen faulty assumptions and arguments turn into a morass of political, economic, legal, and ethical problems.

But, of course, politics can run afoul of good science. We're seeing this played out in the inane national debate over intelligent design. "Inane" may be too strong a word, but I make this caveat only in the sense that we're potentially dealing with nutty and harmful educational policy. The science is really no question here. Thus, it's ostensively a political debate over "science" and how it should be taught in American schools, while it is actually a political debate over ideology and religious belief with serious consequences.

Of course, the MDGs are indeed vague. They were intended that way -- as "ends-in-view," as John Dewey might have put it (ideals that may never be achieved and may themselves be constantly transformed as we do attempt to achieve them in practice -- but the point is in the achieving, the attempting, and not the final achievement. There is no way of knowing in genuine inquiry at this point what any "final" achievement would even look like). Perhaps they're overly idealistic. Certainly, they serve as political goals. But some of them -- not all of them by any means (see for yourself) -- require good scientific data to get us on the route towards these ends-in-view. And there is debate within the scientific community over the merits of much of the data with which we presently have to work. As I noted in an earlier post somewhere, there is even a significant dispute over how to measure poverty itself.

But caution should be taken not to collapse the debate over the MDGs into a dualistic one of taking positions on one side (the science community) or the other (the politics and ethics) regarding their overall merits. This is a multi-faceted, multi-leveled discussion that needs hammering out in the process of developing real responses to the ideals the MDGs represent. It involves various sciences, social sciences, ethicists, political leaders and governments, local peoples, economic good sense, and the understanding that it matters.

Here are some excerpts from the SciDev article:

...In his discussion of the malaria targets, for example, Attaran points out that difficulties in obtaining reliable data on the current extent of the disease is such that even official agencies such as the World Health Organization admit that they cannot be confident about any particular set of figures. Despite this, the MDGs continue to list a reduction in malaria incidence as one of the top health targets.

By placing such emphasis on dubious figures, Attaran argues, the UN is building its MDG house on sand. He castigates UN officials who appear to argue that the robustness of the figures is not particularly important, as they are only intended to be indicative. And he even suggests that the UN itself is in danger of destroying its credibility by placing too much faith in statistics that may later prove to be bogus....

Not surprisingly, Attaran's critique has generated a strong response from some of those who have helped to turn the MDGs into an article of faith within the development community. In comments posted on this website, the economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute in New York, and two of his colleagues on the UN Millennium Project, John McArthur and Guido Schmidt-Traub, provide a vigorous response.

While acknowledging that some of Attaran's criticisms are valid – for example, they accept that data for some of the goals are poor – they also suggest that he has overstated his case. Furthermore, they argue that, by focusing on the scientific uncertainties that surround the way that the MDGs are expressed, Attaran is underestimating their political value.

Implicit in this argument is the suggestion that, whether or not they are scientifically valid, the MDGs have already proved their worth as a way of helping to increasing both the amount and the effectiveness of international development assistance.

As in most such instances, however, there are merits in both sets of arguments. Sachs and colleagues are correct to suggest that there are times when political action is appropriate even in the absence of scientific certainty. After all, what matters is not the precise figure reached; even reducing the incidence of infant mortality in Africa by half, rather than two-thirds, by 2015 would be a major achievement.

In other words, it is important not to become obsessed with quantifiable targets. As development expert Calestous Juma has pointed out, the physicist Albert Einstein once said: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted".

Overemphasising scientific accuracy can have the same dampening effect on political initiatives as dressing up development goals in jargon that means little to non-specialists.

But Attaran makes an important point when he warns that a lack of robustness could be storing up problems for the future. Too often a lack of scientific clarity reflects a lack of scientific understanding. And this in turn can encourage short-term solutions to problems that could persist if insufficient attention is paid to their root cause....

Chavez the Demagogue

In the interests of my ongoing attempt to decipher the true nature of Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, here's an opinion piece by Jackson Diehl from today's WaPo. Diehl's answer: Chavez, bad guy. But Colombia's Uribe and Peru's Toledo are good guys.

Pat Tillman, Chomskyan NFLer

Norwegianity picks this up from the SF Chronicle:
Interviews also show a side of Pat Tillman not widely known -- a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author....

Ignatieff on the broken contract Katrina represents

I'm not a big fan of Michael Ignatieff's work, although I've tried. His book, Blood and Belonging, though initially promising, ends up resting on a rather loopy Freudian argument. Same goes for The Warrior's Honor. His book on Human Rights -- his essays and responses by other thinkers -- is most interesting for the commentary by the other writers in the book. And his media arguments regarding the Iraq War and the GWOT (or its latest manifestation - I like GCAVE for its humor value) have simply been wrong. His earlier book, The Needs of Strangers, however, is worth a read for its learnedness and historical sources even if his own arguments are often derivative and sometimes unacknowledgedly so.

This article from the NY Times (here in Truthout) is worth a read -- it follows a similar trajectory to the Strangers book. Although we may come from different theoretical and political perspectives (for instance, he uses the language of social contract), this is a nice article.

Samurai movies -- Hideo Gosha

This is really kind of a local -- DC-area -- article in the sense that the writer is referring to DC theaters. But there may be something to be had here for other readers too, the point being that the great Kurosawa isn't the end-all of great samurai movie-makers. Anyone who at least followed "Samurai Saturdays" on tv (where was that, AMC?) should be aware of that.

Agriculture as environmental problem

Yup. A good article, but the authors could have interviewed many other experts on the matter who have been either researching the problem or working to ameliorate it or even providing lived alternatives for decades. It's not just California either....

Agriculture does not occupy a prominent place in America's environmental policy debates, but farming has arguably more of an impact on the land, air and water than any other sector in the U.S. economy, environmental and industry experts say. In addition to producing airborne emissions, farms take up nearly half of the nation's land, and nutrient-laden runoff from farms affects such waterways as local streams and the Gulf of Mexico.

"The sheer scope of farmland means that unless it is extremely well-managed, it's going to create serious problems," said Tim Searchinger, an agricultural policy specialist at the advocacy group Environmental Defense. "But with some tweaks and a few bold approaches, farmers and ranchers could do a lot of good."

Some more on the torture memos

At Balkinization, Marty Lederman writes on the torture memos in the capacity of law prof, and sees a potential "silver lining" to the memos. It requires real interest in the various memos that came from this administration, but worth a scan at the very least.
Fortunately, a recent document disclosure provides an opportunity to break on a positive note. Those documents provide reason to think that perhaps OLC's institutional reversal began one year earlier than the December 2004 Levin torture memo -- in December 2003, even prior to the revelation of the Abu Ghraib photos -- when OLC repudiated yet another, even more far-reaching, memo in which the office had authorized legally dubious forms of interrogation. Moreover, the new documents suggest that the repudiation of OLC's conclusions might have been triggered by something as simple as a change in personnel at OLC -- namely, the October 2003 confirmation of Jack Goldsmith to be the head of the office.

Global governance

The big question dominating discussion among political philosophers/theorists working on globalization and global justice issues.... There is a lot of work out there that you can go to, most of the best of it in print rather than online (articles sometimes accessible via JStor, if your institution has a subscription).

Here's a note by John Ikenberry (at TPM Cafe), via Duck of Minerva. There's also some response here. I would at least start to answer along the lines of the legitimacy issue -- see here.

Frozen mangosteens

Frozen mangosteens, it turns out, aren't very good, at least not ours. They might have been frozen too young, though, since the fruit inside wasn't very well-developed. Certainly mushy and bitter. Maybe I can make a juice or something out of them.


From the comments.... Thanks, Mylias:
I have never had frozen mangosteen, but the fruit when stored in a fridge tastes very nice. Cool.

Mangosteen tends to damage easily. If not plucked properly, and if dropped, the latex (yellowish in colour) or one can call it the fruit sap may get into the whitish flesh and will make the fruit taste bitter and inedible. Of course the fruit must be about brownish black before you can open it and eat the whitish flesh.

In my country [Malaysia] there are two types of mangosteen. One is the one that many people often see, roundish fruit and when placed on its bottom will sit nicely. The other type is the heart shaped, and will never ever sit when placed on its bottom. And this type of mangosteen is sweeter, and it may drop to the ground when ripe and you can still pick it up, open it and eat the flesh. Or you may use a pole, to pick the fruit and if fallen on the ground will not have its sap (latex) enter the whitish flesh and the fruit is still edible, and not bitter.

My only complain about mangosteen is that its seasonal.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Mangosteens full stop

Today was a glorious day. For the first time ever I found mangosteens in the US -- at a Thai market in Silver Spring. And not the syrupy canned ones that taste like generic canned fruit. But they're frozen and thawing for tomorrow morning's taste test. So... we'll see. Still, a glorious moment. Enough for a mangosteen party.

Although I've found overripe mangosteen in Montreal, I've had two explanations for why they can't be found in the US (or at least not by me): 1. they spoil easily (they ship from SE Asia); and even when I bought them in Japan they were overripe. 2. US agricultural regulations won't allow their importation. I've heard tell, however, of mangosteens appearing in San Francisco's Chinatown markets.

First photo is by an unknown photographer. Second is by Jim Richter. Third is by Dave.

Georgia George

Cali Ruchala tells us that Georgia has named a street after George W. in honor of his funding of the Georgian military.
Despite the fact that most of his electorate wouldn't be able to find Georgia on a globe, George W. Bush has been honored with a newly paved road in Tbilisi which now bears his name... and picture....

In what is most likely the only country in the world to openly "love" Bush, one must realize that Georgia is practically entirely subsidized by the United States. Between 1992 and 2000, The US dumped $778 million directly into the pockets of those disposed in the Rose Revolution. For a while, Georgia was Uncle Sam's second largest per capita aid recipient, following only Israel....

Unlike the Shevardnadze era, results can be seen: Tbilisi buildings are being repainted and roads resurfaced. The most profound result of US aid however is evident in Georgia's military build up. The largest U.S. military aid program, Foreign Military Financing (FMF) began doling out cash to Georgia in 1997 with a measly $700,000. But by the next year that number increased 7 times over, to $5.3 million. Since 1997, Georgia has received $79,390,000 million in FMF grants and Bush has requested $12 million more to the 2006 budget. Additionally, Georgia has received over $7 million from the International Military Education and Training fund....

George W Bush, honorary Georgian, fit for an avenue; now as immortalized as Davit Agmashenebeli, Ilia Chavchavadze and Shota Rustaveli. President Misha said, "Mr. Bush is a man of great principle, a man of great understanding of the complicated issues in our region, and the personality without whom the fight against terrorism would hardly have been possible."

Take that, Democrats. Georgia loves George and you're soooo jealous. Their Atlanta Braves will probably also make the playoffs and get to shake the hand of W in victory. Salt in the wounds, morons. Ha ha.

Debt-relief for poor nations

The IMF and World Bank had their mega-meeting this weekend in DC. Here's an article in the Post on the agreement and caution on eliminating poor-nation debt. There really is good news here, but it remains to be seen how this all plays out. Regardless, debt relief is crucial in so many ways. See my earlier post on the relation to the global weapons market that draws upon some of the reasons why debt relief is crucial for democratic development.

Q and A with Hugo Chavez

I've been talking with several people, Venezuelans or those who have experience in Venezuela, and am told Chavez is more demagogue than savior, some hedge it a bit and call him a mixed bag. But, of course, I'm not talking with the poor and dowtrodden of Venezuela. And yet, and yet, he's an impressive and clever guy whichever way things are truly going. That's why I keep wishing for a non-partisan Chavez blog or maybe a Sobaka-type analysis. The Washington Post has a Q&A with Chavez. Here are some tidbits:

Why did you call the United States a terrorist state?

The country is one thing -- we have lovely relations with the people -- like in the Bronx [where Chavez paid a visit]. We have economic relations. We have a company [Citgo, owned by the Venezuelan state oil company] that refines 800,000 barrels of oil [daily]... We have 14,000 gas stations in this country. We have sent Major League Baseball players here. We have many ties between Venezuela and the United States -- economic and social.

What I said is that this U.S. administration -- the current government -- is a terrorist administration, not all U.S. governments. I entertained the best of relations with the Clinton administration, and I consider myself a good friend of former President Carter.

So what's wrong with President Bush?

This administration invaded Iraq. According to Pope John Paul II, it is an illegal war, an immoral war, a terrorist war. The U.S. has bombarded entire cities, used chemical weapons and napalm, killed women, children and thousands of soldiers. That's terrorism.

In Venezuela they fostered a coup d'etat [in 2002] manufactured by the CIA... Recently, Reverend Robertson called for my assassination. This is a terrorist attack, according to international law. In Miami, on a daily basis, people on TV shows are calling for my assassination. This is terrorism.

This [present U.S.] government is a threat to humanity. I have confidence that the American people will save humanity from this government -- they will not allow it to [continue to] violate human rights and to invade countries.

Reportedly, one of your best friends is Cuba's Fidel Castro. Is that true?

He is one of my best friends.

Why do you admire him?

I admire many things about Fidel. I think the world admires Fidel for many reasons. His valor, his courage, the way he has led the revolution for more than 40 years -- in spite of a blockade and an embargo. Fidel is going be 80 very soon, but this guy is filled with vitality. I have never met a leader who is so well informed about what is going on in the world as well as in his own country as is Fidel. He is totally devoted to solving people's problems: health, education and work...

For me, he is an exemplary friend, filled with a lot of solidarity. Do you know how many Cuban doctors we have in Venezuela today? We have 20,000 Cuban doctors. In Africa there are thousands of Cuban doctors and more in Central America, Asia and India.

Now we are conducting Operation Miracle, saving the eyesight of thousands of Latin Americans through eye surgery. I call upon all U.S. citizens -- especially the poor -- who happen to have eye problems that require surgery. Cuba and Venezuela are offering to pay all expenses so anyone can undergo surgery for eye diseases. Today, we signed an agreement to train 200,000 doctors in the next 10 years. This information is denied to U.S. citizens.


Interesting note on lynching and capital punishment in the WaPo (via Norwegianity).

Fisk on British Basra

Robert Fisk yesterday in the Independent (from Truthout):
What we were actually doing to "keep the peace" in Basra was to turn a Nelsonian "blind eye" on the abuse, murder and anarchy of Basra since 2003 (including, it turns out, quite a bit of abuse by our very own squaddies). When Christian alcohol sellers were murdered, we remained silent. When ex-Baathists were slaughtered in the streets - including women and their children, a civil war if ever there was one - our British officers somehow forgot to tell the press. Anything to keep our boys out of harm's way.

But this is what has been happening in Basra. As the locally recruited police force (paid by the occupation authorities) sucked into its ranks the riff-raff of every local militia - as it did in Sunni areas to the north - we ignored this. Even when an American reporter investigating this extraordinary phenomenon was murdered - almost certainly by these same policemen - the British remained silent. We were "controlling" the streets. In Amara - by awful coincidence, the very same Kut al-Amara with whose name, I'm sure, my favourite prime minister will soon be ennobled - British soldiers now operate just one heavily armed convoy patrol a day. That is the extent of our "control" over Amara. Now we are reducing our patrols in Basra. You bet we are.

And a familiar bleat is rising from the sheep pen. "Outside powers" are interfering in southern Iraq. Thirty-five years ago, it was the Irish Republic that was assisting Britain's IRA enemies. Now it is Iran that is supposedly urging the Shia of Basra to revolt. In other words, it's not our fault - yet again, it's the bloody foreigners what's to blame.

Alas, it is not. Iraqis do not need Iranian weapons or military expertise. Their country is afloat with weapons and they learned how to make bombs - in their millions - during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Half the Iraqi cabinet are linked to Iran - have the British forgotten that their honourable Dawa party government officials in Baghdad worked for the very same Dawa party that blew up the US and French embassies in Kuwait, and tried to kill the emir in the late 1980s? That these same gentlemen belong to a party which was effectively controlling the western hostages in Beirut during this same period?

The British are leaving

British troops will start a major withdrawal from Iraq next May under detailed plans on military disengagement to be published next month, The Observer can reveal.

The document being drawn up by the British government and the US will be presented to the Iraqi parliament in October and will spark fresh controversy over how long British troops will stay in the country. Tony Blair hopes that, despite continuing and widespread violence in Iraq, the move will show that there is progress following the conflict of 2003.

Britain has already privately informed Japan - which also has troops in Iraq - of its plans to begin withdrawing from southern Iraq in May, a move that officials in Tokyo say would make it impossible for their own 550 soldiers to remain.

250K bullets per rebel "kill"

I'm a-bettin' that they're better shots than that. They just make up rebel numbers out of civilian numbers.

US forces have fired so many bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan - an estimated 250,000 for every insurgent killed - that American ammunition-makers cannot keep up with demand. As a result the US is having to import supplies from Israel.

A government report says that US forces are now using 1.8 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition a year. The total has more than doubled in five years, largely as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as changes in military doctrine.

"The Department of Defense's increased requirements for small- and medium-calibre ammunitions have largely been driven by increased weapons training requirements, dictated by the army's transformation to a more self-sustaining and lethal force - which was accelerated after the attacks of 11 September, 2001 - and by the deployment of forces to conduct recent US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq," said the report by the General Accounting Office (GAO).

Jonesing for Frank Rich

NY Times, you bastards!


Somebody [stop] please [stop] help [stop].


It was big. From the Washington Post:

Tens of thousands of people packed downtown Washington yesterday and marched past the White House in the largest show of antiwar sentiment in the nation's capital since the conflict in Iraq began.

The demonstration drew grandmothers in wheelchairs and babies in strollers, military veterans in fatigues and protest veterans in tie-dye. It was the first time in a decade that protest groups had a permit to march in front of the executive mansion, and, even though President Bush was not there, the setting seemed to electrify the crowd....

Protest organizers estimated that 300,000 people participated, triple their original target. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, "That's as good a guess as any.


(Via Dadahead via Democratic Underground) -- Other WaPo headline. Nice.

Smaller but Spirited Crowd Protests Antiwar March:
More Than 200 Say They Represent Majority

Cindy Sheehan on yesterday's march

From Truthout:
Last weekend, Karl Rove said that I was a clown and the anti-war movement was "non-existent." I wonder if the hundreds of thousands of people who showed up today to protest this war and George's failed policies know that they don't exist. It is also so incredible to me that Karl thinks that he can wish us away by saying we aren't real. Well, Karl and Co., we are real, we do exist and we are not going away until this illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq is over and you are sent back to the depths of whatever slimy, dark, and loathsome place you came from. I may be a clown, Karl, but you are about to be indicted. You also preside over one of the biggest three-ring, malevolent circuses of all time: the Bush administration.

The rally today was overwhelming and powerful. The reports that I was arrested today were obviously false. The peace rally was mostly very peaceful. Washington, DC was filled with energetic and proud Americans who came from all over to raise their voices in unison against the criminals who run our government and their disastrous policies that are making our nation more vulnerable to all kinds of attacks (natural and "Bush"-made disasters)...

...Darkness can NEVER overcome the light, ever. As long as there is one spark, the darkness has lost. We will prevail, we will be victorious. The darkness has lost because our beacons of peace and truth are shining for the entire world to see. And it is a very pretty sight. Take that Karl.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Nice addition to the links -- James Kunstler

Clusterfuck Nation Chronicles

Thanks, Catherine.

The good Beach Boy

"Iowa Jim" was suspicious. Was Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson really putting messages on his official Web site urging people to contribute to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts?

The Web surfer using that screen name e-mailed a challenge: If Wilson called and proved it was really him, Jim would gladly donate $100.

"So I called him up!" a jovial Wilson told The Associated Press. "I was surprised that he said he didn't think I was involved because I really was. So I called him up."

Then Wilson and his wife, Melinda, got another brainstorm. Why not have the legend behind such musical standards as "Good Vibrations," "California Girls" and "Surfin'" call everyone who donates $100 or more? And he decided to match any contribution of $100 or more posted through his Web site by Oct. 1.

"If we get $10,000, we'll match $10,000," Wilson said by phone Friday night.

The musician recalled being warmly welcomed when he performed at the New Orleans JazzFest earlier this year, and said it was heartbreaking to see what Katrina has done to the city....

A few bad apples... no... a few bad apple orchards?

Navy Secretly Contracted Jets Used by CIA

A branch of the U.S. Navy secretly contracted a 33-plane fleet that included two Gulfstream jets reportedly used to fly terror suspects to countries known to practice torture, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

At least 10 U.S. aviation companies were issued classified contracts in 2001 and 2002 by the obscure Navy Engineering Logistics Office for the "occasional airlift of USN (Navy) cargo worldwide," according to Defense Department documents the AP obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Two of the companies -- Richmor Aviation Inc. and Premier Executive Transport Services Inc. -- chartered luxury Gulfstreams that flew terror suspects captured in Europe to Egypt, according to U.S. and European media reports. Once there, the men told family members, they were tortured. Authorities in Italy and Sweden have expressed outrage over flights they say were illegal and orchestrated by the U.S. government.

While the Gulfstreams came under scrutiny in 2001, what hasn't been disclosed is the Navy's role in contracting planes involved in operations the CIA terms "rendition" and what Italian prosecutors call kidnapping....

Ownership of the planes is shielded behind a maze of paperwork and elusive executives.

James J. Kershaw is listed as president of three of the companies, located in Massachusetts, Tennessee and North Carolina. Two other companies share the same vice president, Colleen Bornt. Extensive public record searches could not locate either of them.

Record searches also failed to turn up information on Leonard T. Bayard, whose firm bought Premier Executive Transport Services' Gulfstream. The address of Bayard's firm is the Portland, Ore., office of attorney Scott Caplan.

Asked if his client is a real person, Caplan replied: "No comment."


Or maybe the farmer (Timothy at Easily Distracted). Nice. But one more up? The Department of Agriculture? Nope, we all need to keep going on this one....

More Katrina info

Thanks to Paul. Some sites to check out for further information on the consequences of Katrina.

EPA Hurricane Katrina Response

And this MSNBC article: 44 oil spills found in southeast Louisiana

Naked women, naked men doing naughty sex things

Naked women, naked men doing naughty sex things....

Just a test. It's a slow visitorship day today. It's difficult to predict these things and I still don't know how to have more readers. I've also kind of quit worrying about it. The average is probably about 200 or so per day. Not bad. And good enough for me, although I wish we would have more comments.

Norwegianity has been very helpful in many ways -- a good guy and a good blog. Selves and Others has reposted many of my longer essays under my real name. And there have been a couple of big days -- the Daou Report linked for a week and the readership was in the thousands. Majikthise welcomed Phronesisaical and that brought in several hundred readers. MaxSpeaks (Max Sawicky) did the same and that also brought in several hundred readers. Pharyngula "blog of the week" did the same. So did my odd exchanges with good-guy Neddie Jingo (two odd guys being odd at the same time). Links from several other sites have also brought in readers. Many of you have stuck around. Thanks. Loyalty is a dying virtue. I hope Phronesisaical provides some interesting information and essays, good links, and the occasional laugh. I know the photos are really nice, and I'm continually thankful for the photographers' permission to use them.

But I'm not fond of the methods of blog colonization and imperialism. It was all supposed to be so open and democratic. But blogland is actually dominated by a handful of sites that have hundreds of thousands of readers. Not to mention porn sites on the web -- thus, the test. Check out the Truth Laid Bear "ecosystem" for numbers, rankings, and stuff like that about blogs. Instapundit and Michelle Malkin are usually at the very top, as are Kos and Powerline. I go back and forth on Truth Laid Bear from being categorized as a "flippery fish" to a "slithering reptile" and I think I even once evolved to a "marauding marsupial." Not bad from having started as an "insignificant microbe."

The reality is that blogs get bigger by linking to more and more sites. But I don't like a lot of those sites. I want to link to sites that are interesting and/or genuinely entertaining. Another blogger trick is to keep commenting on the big sites, but I've done that a couple of times -- not to get visitors, but for the hell of it -- and ended up being called "asshole," "troll," "douchebag," etc. from people on sites that are self-proclaimed exchanges of ideas. So, comments are also tricky. Apart from some spam comments on Phronesisaical -- a problem I fixed by requiring the simple word verification system -- the comments have all been helpful, interesting, and sometimes really funny. So far, no name-calling. Except for Neddie calling me a "French gink" on his own site -- I'm still not sure what the gink part means nor how he got from "Helmut" to French, but I like the ring of it. Anyway, thanks.

So, the goal here, as I've mentioned before, is to keep up with the occasional essay, some new ideas, news and other information links that you might have missed, commentary on news of the day (trying to stay away from what we all already know or from platitudes or from punditry truisms), fruit photos, the occasional attempt at humor, and generally a mix of what the subtitle says: politics, philosophy, international affairs, and fruit. I'm also interested in the huge range of issues involved in globalization, so we'll have a lot of that, and any recommendations, comments, new information, new links, etc. are welcome.

I'm finishing off a book on globalization that will appear early to mid- next year, and I'm working on another on torture, which will be published probably in early 2007. There are two more in the earlier stages. But this is to say that globalization and the very difficult question of torture (why torture, especially a policy of torture, when it's beyond the bounds of morality, justification, reason, and even practical benefit?) play a role in this blog too.

Anyway, some meandering thoughts on the blog business.... Let's see what the title of this post brings. Probably the wrong kind of customer, but I'm interested in seeing the numbers. My apologies to those of you in search of a spanking.


Oh, I forgot to mention a curious item. There are a number of Google searches that bring people to this site. I haven't counted up which are more common than others. But it appears the most common Google search that brings visitors here is "Lleyton Hewitt penis."


Also, here's today's percentage of visitors by country. I enjoy these things as much as Mark at Norwegianity.

Quran and Democracy

A discussion by Muhammed Asadi.
The framework under which decisions are to be made would be the Quran (see 6:114 etc), and specifically its "mohkam" (or standard setting) statements (see Quran 3:7). These standard setting statements are called the "mother of the book" (Ummul Kitaab) in the Quran (Quran 3:7). Based upon these verses not only are our new laws going to be interpreted but also the other verses of the Quran itself, "the motashabey" (the allegorical or consimilar). The "mohkam" verses number a lot less than the entire Quran, therefore the amount of freedom that the Quran grants us is much greater than any that is granted by a bureaucratized society, where laws govern every aspect of life. What traditionalists have done is to canonize their own (extra Quranic) laws as a bureaucratized form of "Islam", this is exactly what the Quran warns against (Quran 42:21), because this not only stifles reason but prevents freedom in that it reduces the "consultation" part of governance and does not take into consideration the historical era and the social structure that exists in that era.
Sounds like John Dewey's concern about the direction of American democracy....

Bush delays trip to Texas

He was only going to San Antonio anyway! Wimpiness runs in the family.
President Bush, determined to show a vigorous role in hurricane response management, monitored Rita from a military command center here Friday and planned a visit today to related sites in Texas.

White House officials scuttled plans at the last minute for a Friday stop in San Antonio for Bush to meet with emergency response personnel. Officials said the workers already were deploying closer to Rita's eastward-shifted path and that the president did not want to slow their progress.

El Alto, Bolivia

An article from Upside-Down World on El Alto, Bolivia -- worth reading for further context on the recent and ongoing (perhaps accelerating) Bolivian strife.

DC events today -- protest, books, Segways, IMF/WB, and the Nats

And I'm sitting in front of a computer catching up on work and posting on the blog....

Downtown Washington will be a busy and eclectically populated piece of American turf this weekend, with protesters, counter-protesters, international bankers, bookworms, baseball fans and enthusiasts of the odd-looking, two-wheeled human transporters known as Segways descending on the nation's capital.

In addition to today's antiwar rally, march and concert near the White House and Washington Monument, expected to draw about 100,000 people, the Mall will be the site of the National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress every year.

Nearby, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund will hold their fall meetings, and in the Hotel Washington, SegwayFest will draw dozens of the gyroscopic devices and their proud owners for a national convention. At Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, the Washington Nationals will play the New York Mets tonight and tomorrow afternoon.


I once taught a public policy seminar in Swagger 778. Bush should have signed up (don't worry, I'm a pretty easy grader). Swagger is everything in good policy-making, after all. Or he might now take a somewhat similar seminar by Prof. Powers called Mojo 765.

A president who roamed across the national and world stages with an unshakable self-assurance that comforted Republicans and confounded critics since 2001 suddenly finds himself struggling to reclaim his swagger. Bush's standing with the public -- and within the Republican Party -- has been battered by a failed Social Security campaign, violence in Iraq, and most recently Hurricane Katrina. His approval ratings, 42 percent in the most recent Washington Post-ABC poll, have never been lower.

A president who normally thrives on tough talk and self-assurance finds himself at what aides privately describe as a low point in office, one that is changing the psychic and political aura of the White House, as well as its distinctive political approach.

Schwarzenegger Meets Counterpart in Mexico

Just a nice title for an article. I'll leave you to fill in the mental imagery.

More Iraq abuse claims

From a newly released Human Rights Watch Report. Here's the summary version.

"Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it... We heard rumors of (prisoners) dying so we were careful. We kept it to broken arms and legs...."

"In retrospect what we did was wrong, but at the time we did what we had to do. Everything we did was accepted, everyone turned their heads," the sergeant said.

And a lot more....

Friday, September 23, 2005

Peanut butter fruit

Photo: Oscar Jaitt

How to do as little as possible for Katrina victims

From the LA Times (via Josh Marshall):

Bush says do as little as possible. And even Newt sees another disaster in the making. We need a new motto for this presidency -- something along the lines of the Screw Up Everything Possibly Screwupable Presidency, but a tad more catchy than that.
WASHINGTON -- Two days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced plans to issue emergency vouchers aimed at helping poor storm victims find new housing quickly by covering as much as $10,000 of their rent.

But the department suddenly backed away from the idea after White House aides met with senior HUD officials. Although emergency vouchers had been successfully used after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the administration focused instead on a plan for government-built trailer parks, an approach that even many Republicans say would concentrate poverty in the very fashion the government has long sought to avoid.

A similar struggle has occurred over how to provide healthcare to storm victims. White House officials are quietly working to derail a proposal by leading Republican and Democratic senators to temporarily expand Medicaid. Instead, the administration is pushing a narrower plan that would not commit the government to covering certain groups of evacuees.

As President Bush tackles the monumental task of easing the social problems wrought by Katrina, he is proving deeply reluctant to use some of the big-government tools at his disposal, apparently out of fear of permanently enlarging programs that he opposes or has sought to cut.

Instead of depending on long-running programs for such services as housing and healthcare, the president has generally tried to create new, one-shot efforts that the administration apparently hopes will more easily disappear after the crisis passes. That has meant relying on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has run virtually all of the recovery effort.

"FEMA can help fill some immediate needs after a disaster, like giving grants to help people repair their roofs or pay for temporary housing," said John P. Sucich, a former senior FEMA official who oversaw the recovery from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. "But it is not the agency to turn to to ensure the kinds of continuing help that families need to begin putting their lives back together.

"That's what the rest of government is for," Sucich said.

At least in the case of housing, critics say that the president's unwillingness to rely on existing programs could raise costs. Instead of offering $10,000 vouchers, FEMA is paying an average of $16,000 for each trailer in the new parks it is contemplating. Even many Republicans wonder why the government would want to build trailer parks when many evacuees are now living in communities with plenty of vacant, privately owned apartments.

"The idea that -- in a community where we could place people in the private housing market to reintegrate them into society -- we would put them in [trailer] ghettos with no jobs, no community, no future, strikes me as extraordinarily bad public policy, and violates every conservative principle that I'm aware of," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.

"If they do it," Gingrich said of administration officials, "they will look back on it six months from now as the greatest disaster of this administration."

Iraq foreign fighters aren't really foreign

(Via Norwegianity)
The myth of Iraq's foreign fighters

The US and Iraqi governments have vastly overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, and most of them don't come from Saudi Arabia, according to a new report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). According to a piece in The Guardian, this means the US and Iraq "feed the myth" that foreign fighters are the backbone of the insurgency. While the foreign fighters may stoke the incurgency flames, they only comprise only about 4 to 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 insurgents.

The CSIS study also disputes media reports that Saudis comprise the largest group of foreign fighters. CSIS says "Algerians are the largest group (20 percent), followed by Syrians (18 percent), Yemenis (17 percent), Sudanese (15 percent), Egyptians (13 percent), Saudis (12 percent) and those from other states (5 percent)." CSIS gathered the information for its study from intelligence services in the Gulf region.