Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Bitter Orange of Sweet Jesus: A Brief Parable on Giving

'Twas the late 1980s in Paris, the plaza at Beaubourg facing the Centre Pompidou. I was hanging out, crowd-watching; people relaxing on a sunny day in Paris. My shoes were worn. I suppose I was scribbling in my journal as any proper moveable feast American in Paris does. Jugglers, tourists, painters, punks.

And Jesus, sweet Jesus, walked among the crowd, silently blessing the masses. He is American, it turns out after all. Dressed in a white robe and sandals with a rope for a belt. He looked just like his pictures - a ruggedly handsome white man with long hair and a beard. No halo, but his steps were light, his compassion visible.

I watched Jesus. He slowly moved towards a couple of German tourists, two girls in hiking boots having their lunch while seated on the cobblestones of the plaza. Some quiet words were exchanged and one of the girls reached up to Jesus and handed him one of their oranges. Jesus accepted the fruit delicately, as if taking an infant into his arms.

Now the white-robed figure glided patiently through the crowd with the bright orange in his hands. He approached two punks clad in official leather, chains, and torn jeans outstretched on the ground in heroin-induced spittle-bliss. These were the days in Europe when public displays of heroin use were treated like one would treat urban pigeons.

Jesus stood over the two punks, the sun glowing at his back. He reached out his hand to the punks, holding the orange as an offering and said, "please accept this fruit." They responded slowly, bewildered at the unusually life-like divine productions of the smack, and squinted up at Jesus. Jesus looked down upon his children, "please accept this fruit."

One of the punks managed with great effort to raise an arm more naturally attached to the ground. He gave the arm a small wave, a "go away" movement. The arm relayed the message to Jesus. Jesus responded, the golden manna in his palm, "please accept this fruit."

The other punk became angry, but couldn't stand up. He tried. But there was great difficulty raising his head. He uttered a word or two, which can be translated here roughly as, " no... ungh...."

"Please accept this fruit," Jesus again asked from his place in the infinite stream of cosmic time.

"Uungh! Blrrp...."

"Please accept this fruit."

"Noooooo...." And the angry punk tried clumsily to swing at Jesus. Neither of the punks could get off the ground. But their will not to accept the bright fruit remained impressive.

"Please accept this fruit."

Frustrated by the divine presence's eternal patience and their inability to move, the punks began to cry. They tried covering their ears. They tried rolling away. They tried to give each other comfort. All failed. They were left with crying.

"Please accept this fruit...."

Needing to move on to a rare appointment, I left Jesus, the orange, and the two punks, a crèche-like scene of Jesus and his lambs that grew smaller as I walked on. As I turned the corner out of sight, the drama was still playing out.

What was the outcome, I do not know. I suppose that Jesus broke the punks' will and ultimately gave the gift he sought to give.

Black Sites

A decent article today in the WaPo providing an insider's account of the CIA's "black sites" and the practice of disappearing in the US "war on terror."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sun City Girls

Charles Gocher, the drummer of a great, wild, and relatively unsung band, Sun City Girls, died last week. Treat yourself to some pre-post-avant-rock here at The Record Robot.

Snow Melt DC

Photo with the cellphone camera by Helmut


A little weary of blogging recently, I'm thinking of lighting the place on fire with a name change. What do you think about "Phronesisaicalitidiousnessolation"?

I'll also consider "Phronelope Cruz."

Monday, February 26, 2007


Our blogger-pal Lindsay Beyerstein at Salon, explaining why she turned down an offer to work for the Edwards campaign. Read on.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A bunch of Internet staffers with private blogs sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.

Whose DNA matches Jesus'?

Quote of the day:

...The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have had a son called Judah, it said on its website -- claims that Kloner ridiculed as impossible to prove.

"You would have to do DNA checks and see if the DNA of the bones found in the cave, which allegedly belong to the son of Jesus, match with God's DNA!" he said, referring to the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bogus Intelligence

Once again.
Although international concern is growing about Iran's nuclear program and its regional ambitions, diplomats here say most U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran...

"Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us has proved to be wrong," a senior diplomat at the IAEA said. Another official here described the agency's intelligence stream as "very cold now" because "so little panned out."...

American officials privately acknowledge that much of their evidence on Iran's nuclear plans and programs remains ambiguous, fragmented and difficult to prove.

Colombia Scandal

This is not really news if you're in Colombia, but it has finally dribbled out into the US press.
The widening probe linking dozens of political allies of Colombia's president, Álvaro Uribe, to the country's right-wing death squads and drug traffickers has started to erode support on Capitol Hill for Colombia, the biggest recipient of US aid outside the Middle East and Afghanistan...

"Who have we staked all of our political capital on in Latin America? Uribe," said Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy, a think tank in Washington. "If this scandal engulfs him or his armed forces, it will be a devastating blow to the whole design of US policy."

The "para-political" scandal burst open last fall, when a computer seized from paramilitary leader "Jorge 40" revealed the names of dozens of politicians who supposedly collaborated with paramilitaries in intimidating voters, seizing land, and kidnapping or killing labor unionists and political rivals. Other revelations followed, including secret documents signed by officials pledging moral support or kickbacks to the illegal militias.

Strange Sea Creatures

Including a "psychedelic octopus," they say. There was a 1960s Brazilian band with a similar name. This has definitely got to be territory, however, for coming up with environmentally-conscious indie band names. I'm fond of the The New Crustacean.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

It is a strange world in which the conception of the real has to be corroborated by reference to that the reality of which is made dubious by the conception.
- John Dewey, The Quest for Certainty

Thursday, February 22, 2007

They're Not Going to Take It Any More

You knew it would come to this.
Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning deadly spears from sticks and using the hand-crafted tools to hunt small mammals -- the first routine production of deadly weapons ever observed in animals other than humans...

Using their hands and teeth, the chimpanzees were repeatedly seen tearing the side branches off long straight sticks, peeling back the bark and sharpening one end, the researchers report in today's on-line issue of the journal Current Biology. Then, grasping the weapon in a "power grip," they jabbed into tree-branch hollows where bush babies -- small monkey-like mammals -- sleep during the day.

After stabbing their prey repeatedly, they removed the injured or dead animal and ate it.

This is really quite astonishing. Simple tool-use has long been documented among nonhuman species. But we're talking about quite complex tool-use here involving fashioning found objects into a more workable form.

Young Jackfruit

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


A day late, but worth it. From Balkinization:
"Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause... for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country."

- George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775

And What's Al Qaeda Up To?

Global Guerillas has some thoughts on the matter:
In leaks to reporters, intelligence officers voiced concern that al Qaeda's leadership has reconstituted in Pakistan's Waziristan tribal areas. This area is now considered a temporary autonomous zone (TAZ) due to a truce that Pakistan signed with local leaders (and by extension the Taliban) last year (see "Our Man in Pakistan" for more on the details).

The development of the TAZ in Waziristan and the reconstitution of a semblance of al Qaeda's previous organization means that larger attacks can and will be launched. These attacks will come in two forms, based on an analysis of al Qaeda's evolving strategy. The first type, reflects the recognition by al Qaeda that systems disruption has been extremely effective in Iraq. These attacks will likely be against the global oil system -- although rather than take the many small attacks approach used so successfully over the last three years, it will probably be focused on large events like the attempt on Abqaiq in early 2006. The second type might be another symbolic attack against the US like 9/11. With all indications that the US is in withdrawal, a new attack is likely needed to propel the US back into aggressive action (see "Al Qaeda's Grand Strategy: Superpower Baiting" for more on why).

See: "Al Qaeda Chiefs Are Seen to Regain Power" Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde, The New York Times, February 18. 2007 for the original leaked information.

Monday, February 19, 2007


...Tony Blankley let the cat out of the bag, however, when he said that the US will be in Iraq for 20 years. When challenged about the difference between American combat troops on the ground an an American "presence" he (angrily) said this:
The fact is that when the oil is challenged in the Saudi oil fields and the Straights of Hormuz are closed, we'll be fighting even by your definition.
Right. They aren't even pretending anymore.

I think the great public intellectual and conservative philosopher Ann Coulter said it best:
"Liberals are always talking about why we shouldn't go to war for oil. But why not go to war for oil? We need oil.

Two Can Play That Game

The official invited representatives of the United Nations, Human Rights watch and other international bodies to dispatch envoys to Iran to observe the available documents and proofs substantiating involvement of the Untied States and Britain in the recent terrorist attacks, including the blast and shootout on Wednesday.

"The US and Britain, which allege to be pioneers in the campaign against terrorism, are themselves actually defending the terrorists, training them and providing them with the needed media and financial supports and facilities," he added.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Message from Jürgen Habermas

Just a little reminder:
The universal validity claim which binds the West to its 'basic political values,' that is, to the procedure of democratic self-determination and the vocabulary of human rights, must not be confused with the imperialist claim that the political form of life and the culture of a particular democracy - even the oldest one - is exemplary for all societies...

It was precisely American pragmatism that made insight into what is in each case equally good for all parties contingent on reciprocal perspective taking. The 'reason' of modern rational natural law is not instantiated by universal 'values' that one can own like goods, and distribute and export throughout the world. 'Values' - including those that can count on winning global recognition - do not float in mid-air, but acquire binding force only within the normative orders and practices of particular cultural forms of life.

The Divided West, 2006

Torture Collection

Paula Luttringer, photographer.

“I went down about twenty or thirty steps and I heard big iron doors being shut. I imagined that the place was underground, that it was big, because you could hear people’s voices echoing and the airplanes taxiing overhead or nearby. The noise drove you mad. One of the men said to me: so you’re a psychologist? Well, bitch, like all the psychologists, here you’re really going to find out what’s good. And he began to punch me in the stomach. MARTA CANDELORO WAS ABDUCTED ON JUNE 7, 1977 IN NEUQUEN. SHE WAS THEN TAKEN TO THE DETENTION CENTER, ‘LA CUEVA’.” From the series, El Lamento de los Muros, 2000-2005. Digital print on fine arts paper.

I've just finished editing the proofs on the torture collection (thus, the low level of posting recently). It's first being published as a special issue of the very fine journal, South Central Review. It'll soon afterwards come out as a book. The journal will be out by March, I believe, while the book will be somewhere around late spring or early summer.

Reading through it again I've realized just how good it is. Each author did something terrific, thoughtful, difficult. And the cover photo is by the great Argentinean photographer, Paula Luttringer, who was herself "disappeared" during Argentina's dirty war. She kindly allowed me to borrow it for the collection.

I'll be shamelessly promoting it once the collection appears in print, but for now here's the lineup of contributors and Paula's cover photo.

Stephanie Athey
Christopher Britt Arredondo
Pilar Calveiro
Carlos Castresana
Ariel Dorfman
Barbara Ehrenreich
Michael Hatfield
Thomas C. Hilde
Alphonso Lingis
Adi Ophir
Darius Rejali
Margarita Serje
Eduardo Subirats
Tzvetan Todorov
Rebecca Wittmann

Saint-Simonian Utopian Socialists Invent the Sports Jersey

At Print Culture:
...thanks to a splendid four-room exhibit in the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal (to which Prosper Enfantin, “father” of the religion after Saint-Simon’s death, donated all his papers), I was able to clamp my eyes on one of the famous Saint-Simonian shirts this afternoon. They buttoned up in the back, so as to ensure that every disciple, when he put on his shirt in the morning and when he took it off at night, was reminded of the need we all have to help and be helped—since you couldn’t reach the buttons yourself. The collared jersey (“gilet,” in the language of the time) went with a short blue frock coat, a belt, tight white cotton pants, and a red beret. The women’s version was more or less identical.

So in addition to inventing utopian socialism, the Saint-Simonians created the team jersey. And as far as I know, when “Le Père” went to jail in 1832 on a vaguely-worded charge of endangering public order, they retired his number too.

Forty disciples, most of them graduates of the super-élite Ecole Polytechnique, accompanied Prosper Enfantin on his retreat from Paris in 1831. On the heights of Ménilmontant, now part of Paris but then out in the country, they provided much amusement for the town as they took turns washing dishes, digging in the garden, polishing boots and making beds—all tasks that would have been handled by servants, but they had sworn to leave behind them the “exploitation of man by man.” And exploitation of woman they had taken off the table too, for the time being, for all these young men had sworn to remain celibate and bearded until “Le Père” had found the woman of his dreams, “La Mère,” who in her dealings with the Père would show the world how to run a household of equals.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

We Don't Need No Stinking Proof

"President Bush said Wednesday he's convinced that the Iranian government is supplying deadly weapons to fighters in Iraq, even if he can't prove the orders came from the highest levels in Tehran," the Associated Press is reporting.
Sure, whatever. Just don't start another war. That kills people. But feel free to let conjecture bounce around the corners of your cranium.

Plus, Spencer Ackerman:

Bush declares himself deliberately agnostic as to why these Iranian munitions are in Iraq and who the Iranians may be giving them to. This is, however, the central issue at hand: not whether the al Quds force is operating with or without the approval of the Iranian government, but whether the al Quds force itself is actually responsible for arming fighters using the weapons against American soldiers and marines.

At stake is whether or not the Iranian government is pursuing what amounts to an act of war against U.S. troops.

Any number of alternative explanations are possible: renegade Qods Forces could be trying to make money on the lucrative Iraqi black market for weapons. Iran could simply be arming its Shiite proxies in the civil war as opposed to seeking attacks on U.S. forces. And those proxies could in turn be unloading some of the weapons on the very active black market. (Remember, some of them were discovered in December at a compound belonging to U.S. "partner" SCIRI.) An element of the Qods Forces could be attempting to attack U.S. forces without the knowledge of their leadership. And so on. These are contending theories that require additional information to be compelling. And there should be some explanation of why most of the deaths of US forces from these IEDs are coming from Sunni insurgents who are opposed to the people Iran supports -- a fact that some believe points to the black market.

Three things are significant about this. First, it's deliberately an argument by innuendo. Without specifying even what the U.S. is alleging about Iran, viewers (and journalists) are invited to draw their own inferences -- inferences understandably likely to be alarming. Second, we've been here before. It's exactly the sort of innuendo put forward by the administration before the Iraq war, when officials endlessly told us that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was "in Baghdad" -- and so we were to believe that al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein had the sort of operational relationship they never had.

Plus, Pat Lang on "Late Edition":
Well, anyone who has been studying this knows that the Iranians are playing a significant role in Iraq, because they are interested in the political outcome there. And the combat situation, of course, directly effects what the political outcome will be.

I think there is not much doubt that they probably have been supplying materiel of one kind of another to the Iraqi Shia. I don't have a problem with believing that.

What I have difficulty understanding, and maybe Ray does, too -- I don't know -- is the idea that all of a sudden, things which have probably been going on for months and months and months have taken on a whole new significance and now we are beating the drum over and over again about the degree of Iranian participation in the war and combat casualties amongst our troops when, in fact, the Iranians have been an ever-present factor from the beginning.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The North Korean Nukes Deal

Total WonKerr has the links and excerpts of the Six Party Joint Statement. I have a question: isn't this basically the situation we had under Clinton, minus North Korean nukes (and thus a hefty bargaining chip)? While I'm pleased there's a deal, and perhaps even the rhetoric can stand down for a bit, I wonder whether it can be called a "success" when the Bush administration again had dug the very hole out of which it has now apparently extricated itself.

Of course, we always have John Bolton to piss on everything:

BOLTON: This is a very bad deal. And I’m hoping that the president has not been fully briefed on it and he still has time to reject it.

It’s bad for two reasons. First, it contradicts fundamental premises of the president’s policy he’s been following for the past six years. And second, it makes the administration look very weak at a time in Iraq and dealing with Iran it needs to look strong. So I hope with few hours yet to go the president might yet reject it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


US accuses Iran over Iraq bombs

U.S. Launches Artillery Into Pakistan

Para City

Why not build between buildings, in the air, as high-rise barnacles? Somnath Ray's Para-city. Via BLDGBLOG.

Iraq Myths

Gen. William Odom, in the Post:
...Too many lawmakers have fallen for the myths that are invoked to try to sell the president's new war aims. Let us consider the most pernicious of them.

1) We must continue the war to prevent the terrible aftermath that will occur if our forces are withdrawn soon. Reflect on the double-think of this formulation. We are now fighting to prevent what our invasion made inevitable! Undoubtedly we will leave a mess -- the mess we created, which has become worse each year we have remained. Lawmakers gravely proclaim their opposition to the war, but in the next breath express fear that quitting it will leave a blood bath, a civil war, a terrorist haven, a "failed state," or some other horror. But this "aftermath" is already upon us; a prolonged U.S. occupation cannot prevent what already exists.

2) We must continue the war to prevent Iran's influence from growing in Iraq. This is another absurd notion. One of the president's initial war aims, the creation of a democracy in Iraq, ensured increased Iranian influence, both in Iraq and the region. Electoral democracy, predictably, would put Shiite groups in power -- groups supported by Iran since Saddam Hussein repressed them in 1991. Why are so many members of Congress swallowing the claim that prolonging the war is now supposed to prevent precisely what starting the war inexorably and predictably caused? Fear that Congress will confront this contradiction helps explain the administration and neocon drumbeat we now hear for expanding the war to Iran.

Here we see shades of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy in Vietnam: widen the war into Cambodia and Laos. Only this time, the adverse consequences would be far greater. Iran's ability to hurt U.S. forces in Iraq are not trivial. And the anti-American backlash in the region would be larger, and have more lasting consequences.

3) We must prevent the emergence of a new haven for al-Qaeda in Iraq. But it was the U.S. invasion that opened Iraq's doors to al-Qaeda. The longer U.S. forces have remained there, the stronger al-Qaeda has become. Yet its strength within the Kurdish and Shiite areas is trivial. After a U.S. withdrawal, it will probably play a continuing role in helping the Sunni groups against the Shiites and the Kurds. Whether such foreign elements could remain or thrive in Iraq after the resolution of civil war is open to question. Meanwhile, continuing the war will not push al-Qaeda outside Iraq. On the contrary, the American presence is the glue that holds al-Qaeda there now.

4) We must continue to fight in order to "support the troops." This argument effectively paralyzes almost all members of Congress. Lawmakers proclaim in grave tones a litany of problems in Iraq sufficient to justify a rapid pullout. Then they reject that logical conclusion, insisting we cannot do so because we must support the troops. Has anybody asked the troops?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Some Perfectly Innocent Melon Shoppers

"Ripe Melons," courtesy of WFMU's Beware of the Blog: download MP3.

Saturday Morning Links

Some nice links to start your day:

Norwegianity has a nice set of Brazilian mp3s.

New book on torture, American Torture (thanks to anonymous Phron visitor).

Funnies, at The Cleverest.

"The Uncontainable Kurds,"
at the New York Book Review.

Mice on drugs game
(via GrrlScientist).

Helena Cobban
on the War on Terror vs. the War on Iran.

Postcard and pronouns
from Iran.

Ambroise Paré and phantom limbs

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bad Apple Tree

An opinion piece at the WaPo. This is the one paragraph I wish to emphasize.
American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq, all in the name of acquiring the intelligence necessary to bring an end to the insurgency. The violence raging there today is evidence that those tactics never worked. My memories are evidence that those tactics were terribly wrong.

Embedded Multi-tasking Television Programming

I wrapped up a bit of late-night work and clicked on the television. There's an ad for the show "Heroes." Like the short-lived "crossover event," if you watch the show that comes before "Heroes "- "Deal or No Deal" - you'll get to see a new hero to be introduced on the "Heroes" program. That way you end up watching two of their programs. Hey!

Now, consider: we tend to flip through channels anyway, right? Sometimes I'll flip for a couple of hours and never see an entire show, not even half of one. More like five-minute spurts of programming in between commercials. Network executives are apparently fighting back by trying to make us maintain a storyline and become faithful to a show or two. When one returns to the US after being abroad for a while, it's startling how staccato the editing cuts are on American TV shows. This is part of the attempt to attract, I suppose. Anyway, if I'm already hooked on "Heroes," I just might end up watching "Deal or No Deal" so that I can have a 15-minute head start on the world of fairweather "Heroes" fans. Ha!

It occurs to me that the network isn't going far enough with this "embedded previews" idea. It's already done with placement advertising. I say push it even farther. If people watch TV in five- or ten-minute spurts, and network executives are trying to draw in more loyal audiences, why not embed entire shows within each other? Show five minutes of "Heroes," arrive at a cliffhanger moment, then cut to "Deal or No Deal" for five minutes. Then cut back to "Heroes" to dribble out a little more of the excitement. Repeat.

In fact, why not do several shows at a time, thus reflecting actual TV viewing habits? Five or six or eight shows at a time. Forget plot development - just do what's needed to arrive at the cliffhanger, then cut to the game show, then cut to the reality show, then cut to the CSI show, then cut to the doctor show, then cut to the housewives show, then show a commercial, then repeat. Mix up the order so that viewers can't get up to go to the bathroom or make popcorn.

As our feedloop American brains adapt to increasing pace and increasing "TV multi-tasking," the potential for accelerating programming cuts becomes endless. In 20 years time, we could be watching the programming of thousands of shows at one viewing, all chopped together in .25-second flashes like subliminal advertising. And we wouldn't be able to get up at all - we would finally be loyal to TV.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Miracle Fruit

“What’s Miracle Fruit?” people asked, reading the white paper sign affixed to a bulletin board next to the table. Najafi handed out cellophane wrapped berries the size of lima beans. Kircher Society meeting participants ate the fruit as Najafi cut the limes into quarters. “Don’t eat the pits,” he told them. “Just chew and coat your tongue with the fruit.” Moments later, people were biting into limes as if they were apples. Everybody started to smile. Eating Miracle Fruit somehow makes sour food taste incredibly sweet.

Miracle Fruit (Sideroxylon dulcificum) was documented by an explorer named Des Marchais during an 1725 excursion to West Africa, according to Sina Najafi’s interview with Adam Leith Gollner, which can be found in the current issue of Cabinet. Marchais noticed that local tribes picked the berry off shrubs and chewed it before meals. From there, the amazing Miracle Fruit was seemingly lost in the shuffle of colonialism, and was later tested by the U.S. Army and several pharmaceutical giants before being rejected suddenly by the FDA in 1974, under mysterious, X-Files type circumstances (a “high speed car chase;” “men in sunglasses”). Gollner is working on a book examining the “fruit underworld,” including the sad odyssey of the Miracle Fruit, which is legal in many other countries. In Japan, some Weight Watchers-style meals revolve around it, and miraculin can be purchased in tablet form.

It is thought that the active ingredient in Miracle Fruit, or miraculin, is an ordinary glycoprotein molecule with some trailing carbohydrate chains which somehow change the way our tongue perceives taste. The effect, which wears off in a few hours, “isn’t like sugar, because [miraculin] isn’t exactly a sweetener,” Gollner says in the Cabinet interview. “It’s an elusive, illusory effect that depends on what you eat afterwards. With lemons, it has a kind of deep sweetness.” While some dismiss the berry’s properties as a useless food gimmick, a Mentos and Coke sort of thing, consider that chemotherapy patients in Florida currently have limited access to the fruit, because it restores appetite for some whose palettes have been destroyed by massive doses of radiation. Because the fruit has a more prominent effect, than, say Splenda, it also has implications for diabetics. It doesn’t matter if one can bake with it- Miracle Fruit changes the way that people eat to begin with. Gollner cites the results of a pre-FDA ban focus group in the 1970’s: “Miralin placed ads in diabetes periodicals and offered free samples to diabetics. They scored an enormous success rate; 85% of people who received the free samples wanted to order more.”

Article here (via Decorabilia)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Who's the Kook?

One gets a certain amount of respect on the international stage if one goes kooky. Look at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, look at Moammar Qaddafi, look at Kim Jong-Il, look at George W. Bush. Don't get me wrong. Respect and admiration aren't the same thing. But if you act in such a way that the rest of the world thinks you're irrational and dangerous (and maybe you just are), then the rest of the world pays you lots of attention. The Cold War - at least the cold war over nukes - was fought as a hyper-rational war game. I think it's a mistake to think of it as having been irrational. The rationality of the game was bred by nuclear warhead technology less than any particularly rational leader. What caused alarm were odd things like Kruschev banging his shoe on a desk, Reagan saying that the bombing would start in five minutes. They were odd because they betrayed the hyper-rationality and showed that just maybe the guy with the finger on the button was insane and wouldn't play the war game properly.

As I've said elsewhere, there's a strong case for viewing Ahmadinejad's handling of Iran's nuclear development and US war-grumblings as quite rational, even if he nurtures an international image of the nutcase by making absurd comments about the Holocaust or writing schoolchild letters about religion. (And we know that typical Bush policy - both internationally and domestically - is to demonize its supposed enemies first of all). In fact, the latter may help preserve concerns that Ahmadinejad is dangerously unstable and capable of who knows what. This has a certain rationality to it. Ahmadinejad recognizes that anything other than a very limited attack on Iran by the US would be a disaster for the US. Iran might well be able to withstand various increasing degrees of attack well up the scale of proliferation. But the extent to which those attacks would rise in degree of intensity is the extent to which US foreign policy would itself be increasingly suicidal.

A full-stop war with Iran is nuts. Ahmadinejad knows this, and also sees that the Bush administration has placed the US in a very precarious position, economically and politically. There's some talk of Iran moving equipment and soldiers on the ground to make it appear that they're hiding their nuclear activity. They might be betting that by seeming to confirm the Bush administration's publicly stated concerns about Iran, there's a fair amount of international capital to be earned. That is, in one scenario the Bush administration goes out on a limb by making the case that Iran is a nuclear state and then doesn't act ( a case which is heavily disputed, as we know). What would this say for the truth of the Bush story about Iran, the capabilities of the US, and US political clout? Pretty damaging. On the other hand, if the US/Israel attacked Natanz in a limited strike, say, there could be serious international and domestic political fallout. Any escalation beyond the limited attack and the limited stated objective of halting Iran's nuclear program would be politically suicidal for the US (and potentially suicidal for American troops in Iraq). Talk about "nuking Iran" is insanely stupid. But even an attack on Natanz could have serious repercussions, especially now that nobody trusts the Bush administration's intentions. All Ahmadinejad would have to do is not respond (by bombing Israel, etc.) - which would be irrational after all because it would provoke a much more damaging attack - take it, and let international opinion wreak havoc on the US. Remember, Persians and Arabs are apparently much better political strategists than the Bush administration.

Yet, despite all the concerns and the idiocy of the prospect, this is precisely where the Bush administration appears to be going: war with Iran. So, here's a hypothesis: Bush is now playing the kook. Hear me out. I know that Bush policy, the Iraq War, torture, domestic spying, his general stupidity as a human being, are all very serious cause for concern. I actually think, and readers know this is true, that this administration has been so damaging for the US that it will take decades to recover. The American place in the world is changed perhaps forever, and almost exclusively negatively. After a while, the world stops viewing the Bush administration has simply incompetent and starts viewing them as dangerously irrational (or perhaps rational, but directed at goals of economic and political domination and even oppression) as well as vile.

But what if, in a stroke of genius of which we've previously had no intimation of its presence, the Bush administration is going Mr. Furious on the world? What if Ahmadinejad and others around the world, believing they can no longer count on the American administration to behave rationally, are genuinely worried about being "nuked"? That would be a coup for the Bush administration in that it would finally find its international leverage, and this would be borrowed from the precedent set by Qaddafi, Khomeini, Kim, et al. The leverage would be that nobody knows what Bush will do next - it could be highly irrational and thus unpredictable, it could be criminal, it could be anything. Granted, we have to be a long way down the road towards having a foreign policy in tatters before the kook card would actually work. But isn't there a case to be made that we're at that point?

Now, let's turn back the other way. Let's say that there's some truth to the kook approach to international affairs - it's a sophisticated one, no doubt, what with Condi Rice's elegant outfits and all. Now, isn't it interesting that the US fits into the same group as those international pariahs it supposedly seeks to uproot?

I keep finding that, in whatever actual or hypothetical sphere we play out the logic, the Bush administration turns out looking tyrannical.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Operation Soccer Ball

...It seemed crazy. "We were so pissed," said Reppenhagen. But orders are orders. When you are told to hand out flat soccer balls, you hand out flat soccer balls. So the soldiers who served in 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment piled the flat soccer balls into their Humvees. Driving through the Sunni Triangle's war-torn towns, they tossed the deflated balls to children, who crowded the sides of the roads, running beside the canals and lush greenery that lined the banks of the Diyala River. "Kids were swarming us," Reppenhagen said. "We went to a couple of schools and delivered stacks of them. Everybody we saw got a flat soccer ball."

Which, of course, the kids quickly figured out. Pretty soon, Reppenhagen recalled, "They were like, 'What are you doing? What are we supposed to do with this?" When the Humvees began to retrace their route back to the base, the futility of the operation was becoming painfully clear. "Kids were wearing these soccer balls as hats," Reppenhagen said. "They were kicking them around. They were in trees. They were floating in canals. They were everywhere. There were so many soccer balls."...

A spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, Lt. Col. Christian T. Kubik, said Reppenhagen's battalion commander does not recall the soccer ball operation. In an e-mail, he took issue with the characterization of soldiers blindly following orders when they handed out the deflated balls.

"America is filled with veterans who know that this comic view of soldiers dumbly following orders is completely without basis and almost laughable in its propagation of stereotype," Kubik wrote. "Soldiers are Americans, not automatons." He added: "To focus on the air in the balls, or lack thereof, undermines the American spirit of generosity and completely misses the point of giving."

Reppenhagen said he certainly knows what he and his platoon got when they drove to the base: The Iraqi kids were expressing their hearts and minds with rocks and stones. "On the way back, kids were throwing rocks at us," he said. "I assumed it was because we gave them deflated soccer balls. Maybe if we had given them inflated soccer balls, they would have been out playing soccer."

Your CPA Budget Director at Work

What happened to billions in Iraqi funds that were overseen by the Coalition Provisional Authority? That's not "important," according to David Oliver, the former Director of Management and Budget of the agency.

A recording of the unfortunately candid remarks, previously made by Oliver to the BBC, were played during this morning's oversight hearing by Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA). The hearing has focused on the CPA's administration of nearly $9 billion in Iraqi funds in 2003 and 2004 -- money that Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, has said was inadequately accounted for.

"I have no idea, I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't - nor do I actually think it is important," Oliver says on the tape . "Billions of dollars of their money disappeared, yes I understand, I'm saying what difference does it make?"

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Pro-War Brave

Here are your Warner resolution filibusterers, those brave men (notice they're all men) seeking to maintain the death rate in Iraq.

Senator John Warner (R-VA)
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR)
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MI)
Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM)
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO)
Senator David Vitter (R-LA)
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Senator Larry Craig (R-IO)
Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK)

Mexican Immigration Tourism

It had to happen, what with the various brands of misery tourism going around. After all, there's nothing like dying from heat exposure and thirst in the back of a truck in the desert. American-style voyeurism at a Mexican price...
For about $18, you get to cross deserts, hills, brambles and riverbeds, and have men playing Border Patrol guards chase after you and taunt you from somewhere in the dark: “Ya sé que están escondidos. We know you’re hiding. We’re going to send you back to Mexico.”

Sunday, February 04, 2007


The Iraq Migration

One of the important untold stories of the Iraq War finally finds a place in the big US press: the Iraqi diaspora. There is very little that can be called heartening about the story.

Nearly 2 million Iraqis -- about 8 percent of the prewar population -- have embarked on a desperate migration, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugees include large numbers of doctors, academics and other professionals vital for Iraq's recovery. Another 1.7 million have been forced to move to safer towns and villages inside Iraq, and as many as 50,000 Iraqis a month flee their homes, the U.N. agency said in January.

The rich began trickling out of Iraq as conditions deteriorated under U.N. sanctions in the 1990s, their flight growing in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Now, as the violence worsens, increasing numbers of poor Iraqis are on the move, aid officials say. To flee, Iraqis sell their possessions, raid their savings and borrow money from relatives. They ride buses or walk across terrain riddled with criminals and Sunni insurgents, preferring to risk death over remaining in Iraq.

The United Nations is struggling to find funding to assist Iraqi refugees. Fewer than 500 have been resettled in the United States since the invasion. Aid officials and human rights activists say the United States and other Western nations are focused on reconstructing Iraq while ignoring the war's human fallout...

When the story is told in the US, it's usually put in terms of what this means for the reconstruction of Iraq, for the American project. "Success" at this point, after all, means at least the illusion of reconstruction. That illusion is difficult to sustain when the educated middle class has vanished. As I've noted earlier, this leaves a yawning space for a radical transformation of the country in the opposite direction from what the US supposedly desires.

But the migration - or, rather, refugee crisis - has more dire consequences, which are only now rising to the surface of global understanding of the profound tragedy of the war.
Now, the exodus is generating friction and anger across the region, while straining basic services in already poor countries. Iraqis are blamed for driving up prices and taking away scarce jobs. Iraq's neighbors worry the new refugees will carry in Iraq's sectarian strife...

Into their new havens, Iraqis are bringing their culture and way of life, gradually reshaping the face of the Arab world. But the cost of escape is high. Feeding the bitterness of exile is a sense that outside forces created their plight. Many Iraqis here view the U.S.-led invasion that ousted President Saddam Hussein as the root of their woes.

"We were promised a kind of heaven on earth," said Rabab Haider, who fled Baghdad last year. "But we've been given a real hell."
Displacement creates its own problems, and they sneak up on policy after it's too late. For one thing, displacement is the counterweight of permanence and stability. Note that these are the objectives of those prosecuting the war and trying to get out of it. What tragic symmetry.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The IPCC Report

There's only a summary at this point, but here's the link for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the report released today. Thus far, I don't see anything new in the summary. Climate change is indeed anthropogenic and the globe faces very serious changes. But this should have more political impact (although here's the American Enterprise Institute / Exxon's counteroffer).

Plus, here's one step the UK is taking:

Children will be put on the front line of the battle to save the planet under radical proposals to shake up the way that geography is taught in schools.

The plans, to be published on Monday, will ensure that, for the first time, issues such as climate change and global warming are at the heart of the school timetable. Pupils will also be taught to understand their responsibilities as consumers - and weigh up whether they should avoid travel by air to reduce CO2 emissions and shun food produce imported from the other side of the world because of its impact on pollution.

RealClimate notices something curious:
...there are some curious patterns in the search engine. It turns out that it has been blocked from returning most results if the search phrase includes "global warming" - even if it's from the President himself. For instance, searching for "issue of global" gives as top result the President's Rose Garden speech in June 2001 on Global Climate Change, but searching for "issue of global warming" (which of course is the full phrase used) returns nothing.
On a different weather note, Siberia received orange snow. Don't eat it.
An orange-coloured snowfall in Russia’ s Siberian Omsk region on Wednesday was not radioactive, the Itar-Tass news agency reports quoting the results of the first lab tests made by Emergencies’ Ministry experts.

“At the present moment, we cannot give explanations to the snow which is oily to the touch and has a pronounced rotten smell, and we are waiting for the results of a thorough test on samples,” the environmental prosecutor of the Omsk region, Anton German, said.

“We have requested information about analogous phenomena across Russia. There have been similar cases, but only one of them was man-caused. In all other cases there were natural reasons behind coloured snowfalls: seaweeds, sand, etc.,” he stressed.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Military Intelligence

You know, when I read this sort of thing I think that the US military, in all its bloat, should be taking military lessons from Arab and Persian fighters. They seem to be the real masters at turning your enemy's supposed strength into your own strength. For all the US debate about the "surge" and about numbers of troops (once again, stupid numbers), the Mahdi Army simply says "bring it on." If it weren't so murderously tragic, this war could be called "The Dumb War."
The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it.

U.S. Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad, which is home to more than half the city's population and the front line of al-Sadr's campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods, said al-Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that they've trained and armed.

"Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night," said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory."

The Bush administration's plan to secure Baghdad rests on a "surge" of some 17,000 more U.S. troops to the city, many of whom will operate from small bases throughout Baghdad. Those soldiers will work to improve Iraqi security units so that American forces can hand over control of the area and withdraw to the outskirts of the city.

The problem, many soldiers said, is that the approach has been tried before and resulted only in strengthening al-Sadr and his militia.

Shitty Batter

Here's one for you baseball factoid fanatics, sent in by our pal Flaco:
...the old St. Louis Browns shortstop Walter "Shitty Batter" Dugan. They called him that because he was a real shitty batter. He'd swing at anything, Dugan would. I swear, I once saw him swing at a throw the pitcher made to first base.
In this case, could the ump call a strike?


This is where Americans in general - not simply the president, his advisers, and other politicians - are to blame for the bloody mess in Iraq. It apparently takes Scott Ritter to say it in a more public forum than this blog and many others:
"Doing the right thing" is a thing of the past, it seems. "Doing the politically expedient thing" is the current trend. The American public may have articulated frustration with the course of events in Iraq, but this feeling is derived more from a frustration at being defeated than from any moral outrage over getting involved in a war that didn't need to be fought in the first place. Congress takes its cues from the American people, and until the American people are as outraged over the mere fact we are in Iraq as they are over the rising costs of the conflict--human, moral and financial--then Congress will continue to dither.

Teaching I.D.

I agree with this. We shouldn't have to teach Intelligent Design in schools. It's a worthless theory whose sole point is to bolster a priori belief. The Flying Spaghetti Monster underscores the point. Why not, if you're religious, simply say you have faith and call it a day? The answer, of course, is that any knowledge and understanding that challenges the a priori belief becomes an enemy. It's not enough to provide one's own explanations and understandings; one has to defeat one's opponents. ID sets up a new and rather ludicrous battleground.

But the way to teach a richer understanding of evolution is to engage history and that history involves religion and the role the method of authority has played in contrast to the developing method of science. Unlike the Richard Dawkins-es of the world, I don't fly off the handle when it comes to religion. It seems to me a bit like homophobes or former cigarette smokers - those who deny the practice the loudest are often the ones who most desire the satiated orifice. Perhaps Dawkins is a closet supernaturalist.

One of the problems is a latent positivism running through criticisms of Intelligent Design. Look, ID is unimportant. It's not science, and its proponents are disingenuous. It'll pass. But the fact that people hold onto very powerful values won't. This includes people like Dawkins. Positivism still reigns among scientists. Among philosophers, it has long been viewed as untenable. It suggests a strong distinction between fact and value, denying value questions a serious place at the table of inquiry by arguing that there's nothing true or false we can say about them, and that that's of the essence of saying anything important. Objectivity is defined in the sphere of "fact," and value simply, categorically, doesn't belong in that realm.

The history of thought, however, is a history of the interrelatedness of fact and value. When one examines evolution as a theoretical explanation of empirical reality part of its potency derives from this history, from what came before and how revolutionary the evolutionary viewpoint really is. ID proponents, bless their hearts, want to use that understanding of the world - an understanding that imbues all modern science - in the service of old-timey values. Dawkins, et al., want to use it in the service of a different set of values (let's say scientism). Neither lives up to the revolutionary potential of evolution, which is still, in many ways, in its infancy.

Why not explore that history?

Molly Ivins

I would be remiss not to mention the passing of Molly Ivins. I'll miss her and we're a worse-off place for not having her presence.

Among other things, among various places I call home, I'm part Texan. It's a difficult heritage to admit to oneself. Texas is a place of bigotry and blustering ignorance combined with a pomposity that is entirely unrelated to merit. The place inflicts people like George Bush on the world.

But... it's also a place with a rich and wonderful Mexican heritage, black heritage, more recently Vietnamese and Hmong, German, Czech. One of the things I've always appreciated most about the place is that part of the Texas constellation that produces people like Molly Ivins. Or Ann Richards. Or Willy Nelson, Ornette Coleman, The Butthole Surfers, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Wills, Lightnin' Hopkins, Buddy Holly, Quanah Parker, Barbara Jordan,.... All idiosyncratic. All original. All iconoclasts. And a dying part of Texas.

Iconoclastic, wise, unmoved by power, and decent, Molly Ivins fits neatly in that lineage, the one to be proud of. Sad to see you go, Molly.