Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Virgin stewardess

I've been on a flight similar to this and it was no fun at all. But at least it wasn't with this stewardess.
A man was hurled to the top of the cabin and others clung to seats from the aisle because of the violent swaying of the plane. But passengers became more alarmed when an attendant at the rear of the Boeing 747 began screaming....

...one of 451 people on board, hoped the crew would calm her nerves. "I turned round to look at our hostess for reassurance and she screamed: 'We're crashing, we're crashing, we're crashing'....

..."She screamed every time the plane dropped and when she screamed the whole of the back of the plane screamed. It was terrifying. I was almost hyperventilating. I was sobbing - I thought we weren't going to make it."

It's over - seppuku, dude

This just confuses me:
"The people of Iraq and their leaders must make a choice," Bush said after a White House meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "The choice is a free society, or a society dictated ... by evil people who will kill innocents."
And by the way, this confuses me too:
The Italian premier speaks before a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, then heads to New York City to receive an award for promoting freedom and democracy.

Aaarrr, doh

Ned's got a little joke over at his place. It's funny because it's true.

The American foreign legion

Wow. I don't know what to say about this "good news" proposal in an op-ed to the Herald-Tribune, but note that it follows on the boot-heels of this previous post on a "civilian reserve corps" to be deployed around the world. Jeez....
...The good news is that there is a large untapped resource of potential manpower that has not ever been considered by the army: huge numbers of young foreign military age males who have green cards and are eagerly seeking U.S. citizenship, or are awaiting visas in their homelands.

In exchange for U.S. citizenship at end of enlistment, these young men could be vetted and recruited by the army on five-year terms at recruiting stations in the United States and around the world. Placed in their own infantry units, and led by seasoned U.S. citizen officers and noncommissioned officers, they could be trained in the latest techniques of light infantry tactics and counterinsurgent warfare, and appropriately equipped for that mission - forming, in essence, an American Foreign Legion...

...All superpowers, from ancient times to the modern era, have seen their civilian populations grow more and more disinclined to serve in their national defense forces. Inevitably they have all turned to mercenaries to defend their interests, thereby extending their national integrity, their ways of life and their unchallenged supremacy. It is America's turn, and we need to get on with putting such a program in place - now.

Circus trial

The nation's largest circus went on trial Monday on allegations that it ran an extensive corporate espionage campaign against an animal-rights group and hired a former CIA operative to help conduct the operation.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued Vienna, Va.-based Feld Entertainment, which produces the Ringling Bros. circus, more than four years ago, claiming the company's president supervised the spying efforts.

PETA claims circus operatives stole sensitive documents such as donor lists. It is seeking $1.8 million in legal fees and damages, as well as full disclosure of the alleged spying activities.

Pompeii of the East

Fascinating discovery in Indonesia.

One of history's most violent volcanic eruptions blasted the island of Sumbawa in the East Indies in 1815. The sulfurous gases and fiery ashes from Mount Tambora cast a pall over the entire world, causing the global cooling of 1816, known as the "year without a summer."

The explosions killed 117,000 people on the island, now part of Indonesia, and wiped out the tiny kingdom of Tambora, on the volcano's western flank. The fast-moving avalanche of pumice and ash buried the town under 10 feet of debris, with only 4 of its estimated 10,000 residents surviving.

A team of American and Indonesian scientists has now found remains of what it says is the "lost kingdom of Tambora."


Nice series of articles on the various periods in the career of Serge Gainsbourg. This is from Radio France Internationale,... for the French speakers.

Life During Wartime

I was a kid, early April or late March, 1975. My family was moving to Bangkok where dad had a position with the UN. On the way, we stopped in Saigon. We had friends there from a few years earlier when we had lived in Taiwan. The husband was a "businessman" and former Flying Tiger in SE Asia. It had never been clear what he did for a living, nor why they were now living in Vietnam. His wife was a beautiful and sophisticated Greek woman. Despite the shakiness of the American hold on South Vietnam - the war was essentially lost - my father thought we should see the friends anyway.

We arrived in a commercial airliner at the Saigon airport. The plane landed and taxied to the end of the runway without going to the airport terminal. It stopped. A stewardess came to us and asked "are you the [X] family?" My dad said yes. She said, "please come with me." We gathered our bags and walked down the aisle past everyone else on the commercial plane, who looked at us with curiosity and slight apprehension.

The door to the plane was opened and the ladder-stairs attached. There was a black limousine at the bottom of the stairs. One of the doors opened and a man stepped out smiling. It was the friend of my parents. He laughed and raised his arms. "Welcome to Saigon."


We drove to the friend's home through the streets of Saigon. I watched out the back window of the black car while my parents and the friends had their lively reacquaintances. The streets were quiet. Stores had boarded up their vitrines and the city appeared in disrepair, as if it was being built but construction had been halted. There were very few people on the streets. I remember now that it looked like one of the thousands of dead or dying towns you find across the American midwest - barely inhabited, closed, but somehow reflecting a former existence of vitality and activity perhaps in the colonial and traditional architecture, like an Atget photo of empty Paris streets.

We came to a long line of military dumptrucks on a road pointing north (maybe Newport Bridge). The friend explained that the trucks were full of rice, heading to the fighting taking place to the north. A propaganda billboard next to the trucks said something to the effect of "we will never surrender our freedom."

We had dinner that night in the home of our friends and then my parents and the friends had drinks in the living room until late. The friend said he had bought a new record and that we ought to hear it. It was Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. He put it on the stereo. My parents and the friends continued to talk, mostly ignoring the record. I remember lying on the floor on something like a sheepskin rug next to the coffee table with the weird record gradually drowning out the adults' discussion. I listened to the whole thing. I didn't really know this kind of music - I was all "Let It Be" and "A-B-C" at the time. But it somehow fit the little trip we had had through the streets of Saigon.

That night, sleep was difficult to come by for my family. Jet-lag and time differences. We had flown from California. Lying in bed, I felt a kind of dull erratic heartbeat. Not sound exactly. More like sound that hadn't yet congealed. Primal, thumping sound. The space between compressional soundwaves and the sound they produce, but somehow coming through the ground. Like pounding the muscle side of a fist lightly on the desk so that you feel the sound but can't yet hear it. In the morning, the friend asked, "did you hear it?" There was a slight smile on his face that barely masked worry.

The Americans left Saigon during a week of chaos about three or four weeks later as the North Vietnamese came rushing into the city, promptly "liberating" it and renaming it Ho Chi Minh City. This was the event Americans call "the Fall of Saigon."

By this time, the end of April, 1975, my family was already settled into a beautiful traditional Thai home in Bangkok, Soi Ekamai. I already had friends - two British brothers who spoke fluent Thai and two Thai boys. We played on the klongs, the canals that used to run throughout the city of Bangkok, many of which are today filled and used as streets. The klongs were full of fish, snakes, lily pads. We imagined "the Communists" coming into Bangkok and what acts of heroism we would have to resort to. I learned martial arts moves from the Thai kids and how to climb coconut trees, we all played soccer, and I learned a gambling game with little plastic superhero figurines we called in English, simply, "men."

The Greek woman had come to live with us in Bangkok towards the end of April. Her husband had stayed behind in Saigon in order to wrap up "business." Saigon "fell," or was "liberated," depending on your point of view. For us at the time it was the Fall of Saigon. There was no word from the friend who had remained in Saigon. One week turned into two turned into three. My father would call the embassy almost every day asking for news about the friend, whether he "got out." No word. The Greek wife would sit outside in the hot sun and simply stare, while smoking one cigarette after another. As time went on, she was convinced her husband was dead, and she slowly receded into an incommunicative despair.

We were at a restaurant, I remember vaguely. My father received a phone call and went to another room to take it. It was someone from the US Navy, I believe, or perhaps the embassy. They had picked up the friend, the Greek woman's husband. He had left Vietnam after The Fall on a fishing boat and it had taken time to get out of the country and down the coast. He was fine.

Our friends eventually retired and bought a house in Southern France. We eventually moved on from Thailand. And life continues at the periphery of wars.

There's a sticky attack goin' on 'round here

I suspect that Karl Rove, deep down, begrudgingly admired Hillary Clinton’s swipe at him yesterday. It was so simple and yet so effective – it had to remind him of his own handiwork. For those who haven’t heard, Clinton said yesterday that Rove “spends a lot of time obsessing about me.” I know this is Beltway junkie stuff that the public doesn’t care about. But as a Beltway junkie, I loved it. And at the risk of reading way way too much into a single line, I want to deconstruct Clinton’s one-liner to show why it was so effective and so deliciously Rovian.

One of Rove’s (and by “Rove,” I also mean the national GOP media strategists’) signature tactics is what I’ll call the “sticky attack.” The goal of the sticky attack isn’t really to draw blood immediately, it’s to undermine, re-define and ultimately discredit future attacks against you. The sticky attack is Lakoffian in that it attempts to create a “frame” that acts like conceptual quicksand or a spider’s web to bog down future attacks. In short, it gums up the works. It doesn’t cause direct harm, but it hinders opponents’ ability to go on offense by framing their attacks and arguments before they can make them and by forcing them to second-guess themselves.

Bush's India trip

Peace Action today denounced the plan for President George Bush to lay a memorial wreath in honor of Mohandas K. Gandhi when visiting India this week. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley announced the plan at a White House press briefing Friday.

“Mahatma Gandhi was a man of non-violence and peace, and is a hero to people all over the world. As his war-strewn presidency shows, George Bush knows nothing about non-violence. Gandhi would in no way condone his actions. Bush should reconsider this cynical, disrespectful display of symbolism,” said Kevin Martin, Executive Director of Peace Action.

The plan for Bush to “honor” Gandhi is even more astonishing given one of the main purposes of Bush’s trip -- to cement a deal for US nuclear aid to India, which would violate current US non-proliferation law and has drawn criticism from a host of peace, disarmament and non-proliferation groups. The deal will also be a tough sell to a skeptical Congress, which would need to amend US law to create a “loophole” to give nuclear technology to India because of its nuclear weapons arsenal....

See also Cheryl's discussion at Whirled View.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Pig eaters

Frankly, I think this is on a par with the Muhammad cartoons published in the rightwing Danish press (see also the comments to my earlier post at Majikthise).
More than 200 political activists defied a police ban to demonstrate here last week, scurrying across the Boulevard Saint Germain and under the plane trees of Place Maubert to engage in their forbidden action: eating "pig soup" in public.

With steaming bowls of the fragrant broth soon passing through the crowd, Odile Bonnivard, a secretary turned far-right firebrand, climbed atop a dark sedan with a megaphone in hand and led the crowd in a raucous chant: "We are all pig eaters! We are all pig eaters!"

"Identity soup," as the broth has come to be called, is one of the stranger manifestations of a grass-roots backlash against the multiculturalism that has spread through Europe over the past 20 years....

No kidding

This is the kind of study that makes your tax dollars groan since you could have simply paid the kid at the lemonade stand to come up with this conclusion.

Poor prewar planning left the United States without enough skilled workers to efficiently rebuild Iraq's economy and public works, according to a report issued Monday.

The study by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction provided a new explanation for the lagging reconstruction effort. Surveys by the Bush administration and congressional auditors have blamed insurgent attacks and the high cost of security.

But then note this:
It recommended the government establish a "civilian reserve corps" to deploy around the world for postwar rebuilding.
What? First, don't we have embassy staff for this kind of thing? Second, is the US planning on invading the planet? This sounds to me like another Halliburton recipe.


Nuclear policy is hard! Especially when you want others to do as you say rather than as you do. Rodger Payne:
Apparently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows hypocrisy when he sees it. From an AP story:
Iran's president said Monday that his country supports calls for making the Middle East a nuclear arms-free zone, but he also urged the United States and Russia to give up all their atomic weapons as a threat to the region's stability.
I've mentioned this before, but this is Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
How's that working out?

Cheney on the go

Insight Magazine says Cheney is leaving after the 2006 elections because he is increasingly a "liability" to Bush. Here's to making the next seven months the most miserable of this man's life. (via Huffington Post).


While we're at it, let's see how Bush is doing...mmm, hmm, mmm, tap, tap, click:
The latest CBS News poll finds President Bush's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent, while pessimism about the Iraq war has risen to a new high.

But the big-headed insiders know all - Wonkette is taking bets, in fact - here's the take from New York: Bush takes loyalty over political gain. So, what do you call this?

...Another explanation comes from a longtime friend and political adjutant to Bush, whom I e-mailed the other day. Wouldn’t the administration be better served politically, I asked, if Cheney were to be replaced?

“I hear you,” replied this person. “The answer is maybe, but it will never, ever, happen. In Bush World, loyalty trumps political gain every time.”

...George W. Bush may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he’s not, you know, an idiot. So let us postulate that there might be something deeper, even Machiavellian, at work should he decide to stick with Cheney. Perhaps Bush sees no mileage in anointing a front-runner for the Republican nomination. Perhaps he prefers to keep the field jumbled, on the chance that a contender he likes better than anyone in the current crop were suddenly to enter the fray. Perhaps he thinks (or even knows) that the contender might be his brother Jeb.

Grover Norquist, among other Republican pros, doesn’t discount the possibility. “If Jeb Bush stepped into the race, I believe it would clear the field; it would be all over,” he says. “He’s the best governor in the country. And the argument against him running is that you can’t have a dynasty. But the one year when Jeb Bush can run and no one can seriously raise that argument is the year we’re running against Hillary Clinton.”
I can't stand Dick. But I can't stand moralists who turn loyalty into a political game - many people can't. It may very well be worth the Dems' time to tweak this loyalty theme.

Musing on identity theft

Read. Funny, eerie. From The Morning News.


3 Quarks Daily reminds us of Borges' wee story, Borges and I.


Photo: Selvin Chance

Bode Hamas

Mark connects Bode Miller and Hamas in one essay at 3 Quarks Daily. The "Bode Miller Problem":
Consider Condoleezza Rice and Hamas’ electoral victory. The Secretary of State noted after Hamas’ victory at the polls that “I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas's strong showing.” In fact, me, my wife, my cat, and The Economist Newspaper all knew this was coming down the track. Why then didn’t the Secretary of State, with all the resources at her disposal, not have an inkling that such a thing was going on? Perhaps what might be called ‘the Bode Miller problem’ was at work here too?...

...Filtering the data to see only one trend negates potential futures. Seeing Hamas as a trend that cannot be stopped inevitably leads one to conclude that isolation and punishment is the only way forward. But Hamas has only ever known isolation and punishment. As such, proposals to cut-off aid in order to encourage capitulation is to fundamentally misread the data. True, there has been no IRA-like change yet, but to address the situation as an inevitable conflict preordained in the data will surely bring about such a conflict since we are blind to other possibilities.

So is expecting Bode Miller to win five gold medals the same as expecting Hamas to never change? Yes, but with one difference. Whereas Miller ‘failed’ on his own terms given the competition and the randomness of the day (after all, he might win six world cup races in a row in 2007), Hamas may only really ‘fail’ in the eyes of the Palestinians if the West and Israel are seen to make them fail. Key to the West and Israel doing this is to pick the data points they want to see (Hamas as unchanging and violent due to the trend line of the data) and project it forward.

I've thought about this a wee bit further, and I'm not sure how much explanatory force it has. It does if we assume Rice and the administration are entirely cherry-pickingly clueless. Clearly, the administration is incompetent. I've said over and over on this blog that there was good analysis and good evidence prior to the war (and most administration policies) that predicted precisely how the war has unfolded, contrary to Bush administration rose-petal and candycane rhetoric. But can they be this incompetent? The appearance-reality distinction may be metaphysically and epistemically problematic, but it's ubiquitous in politics.

Maybe if we read this a bit differently it makes more sense. That is, what appears more to be the case is that the administration began with a set of assumptions that proved to be false. The overarching assumption was that post-Cold War US power had no constraints on it. You can see this in the cowboy rhetoric about mandates, with-us-or-against-us, etc. The threats underlying this rhetoric appear to have been quite real and based in a genuine assumption about the strength, extent, and role of American power.

But I've been also been pretty shrill about the question of legitimacy (and here and here). Though legitimacy isn't the central issue here, the related element of empirically discovering the limits of power is. This administration has lost the backbone of power: credibility, legitimacy, and finding that they have very little control over events unfolding in Iraq and elsewhere.

When Condi Rice says the administration didn't see Hamas coming, I find it hard to believe that is truly the case. That would be omnincompetence, to coin an ugly term. I don't put this past them. But I'm sure someone somewhere in the administration saw it. "Caught off-guard" suggests, rather, that the administration has taken on the role of covering its tracks in order not to appear as weak as it really is. They're now in a reactionary position praying for any spinnable little thing on the positive side that comes their way. When it doesn't - and it usually doesn't - they resort to the language of either blame ("caught off-guard" - you mean you, Condi, or some poor staff member?) or ignorance. Pleading ignorance has had some purchase thus far with the American public because it plays into the public's own confusion about what to do in Iraq. But it no longer plays with the international audience. They have read this administration correctly.

To flesh out the Bode Miller analogy further, then, is to view Miller as a commercial product that was hyped, failed, and got recalled. Miller and NBC didn't get the return on their investment, so it's time for excuses; either that or repackaging the product (partyboy Miller - plays well with the frat crowd). Hamas is going to win democratically, the US can't do anything to stop it - not least of all because their sole remaining justification for the Iraq adventure is democratization - and then comes the reactionary reaction. "We didn't see this coming." What else could they say? Admit their impotence? "We saw it coming but were powerless to do anything about it"?

Mark is right in his criticism of what comes next. Isolating and punishing Hamas is based on an overly narrow view. The administration is in no position to carry this out anyway and there is too much uncertainty involved in terms of what isolation/punishment might mean in terms of longer-term policy in the region. If the administration has a last remaining grain of intelligence, they'll realize that aggressive tactics have made one giant long-term mess of Bush 2 Middle East policy. One important problem is that the administration's policies are likely no longer marketable, just like Bode Miller's previously alleged heroism.

Send a real president

I'm with Andy too, and Ezra:
So here's a thought: why not send Bill Clinton? For some reason that eludes my own judgment, Clinton has a great deal of cachet in the Middle East, and could defuse the anti-Bush and thereby anti-American obstackes to success. He was, by all accounts, superb at the Doha/Brookings/Saban summit in 2003. He would bring the Democratic party into a much more constructive role in trying to bring about a serious step forward for Iraq, and help unite the country at home. If Bush were to ask him, it would send a very powerful message of seriousness to the Middle East, put more of America's prestige and effort behind the Iraq project, at exactly the time some in the country are doubting our fortitude.

Drive friendly

The Internal Revenue Service recently audited the books of a Texas nonprofit group that was critical of campaign spending by former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) after receiving a request for the audit from one of DeLay's political allies in the House.

The lawmaker, House Ways and Means Committee member Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), was in turn responding to a complaint about the group, Texans for Public Justice, from Barnaby W. Zall, a Washington lawyer close to DeLay and his fundraising apparatus, according to IRS documents.


Josh Marshall has some interesting follow-up speculation on this story.

Mediocrity with consequences

Just do it really half-assedly.

The Army has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq, even though the Pentagon's own auditors had identified more than $250 million in charges as potentially excessive or unjustified.

The Army said in response to questions on Friday that questionable business practices by the subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, had in some cases driven up the company's costs. But in the haste and peril of war, it had largely done as well as could be expected, the Army said, and aside from a few penalties, the government was compelled to reimburse the company for its costs.

Musical war

A National Guard member in Iraq composes while there and writes a bit about the experience. From Perfect Sound Forever:

...Having no audience to play for, I made my audience using technology. The Internet allowed for something that had never happened in music, the communication with an audience by an individual employed in war, while that very employment is taking place. However, as far as I could tell, this music was something so personal and while intended for the worlds ears, too private.

In retrospect, it seems that my having to go to war is far overshadowed by the absurdities of returning. It is odd that we can all feel so safe. A peaceful environment is the most stressful place for some one who is used to a more real presence of fear. Life and music seem so real when you are close to losing them. After writing music that attempts to say something about war, it can be hard to find a new worthy topic of inspiration....

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hitting for the cycle

Peter Daou at Huffington Post:
Ceasefires are punctuated by artillery battles punctuated by peace summits punctuated by assassinations punctuated by more ceasefires punctuated by car bombs, and on and on...

...The violence ebbs and flows, but for ordinary citizens - the lucky ones who survive - what remains is the misery and uncertainty, the demoralization and despair. With regional forces acting as puppet-masters, the victims are the people, the residents of the bombed out and burning cities and towns and villages. And the hatred cuts deep. Village pitted against village, cousin pitted against cousin, friend pitted against friend, neighbor pitted against neighbor, the wounds, physical and emotional, will last long after the violence ends.

So to the cheerleaders of this tragedy, I wish you could have lived it before you so glibly inflicted it on others.


Look at this video. Really nice, and it'll make your Sunday. (Via Science and Politics).


"The same people who recognize I came out with no medals should recognize I could have won three." - Bode Miller, skier

Hedrick said. "I never said, 'Hey, I'm going to be the next Eric Heiden.' To say I was going to win five gold medals would have just been blowing smoke."- Chad Hedrick, smoke-blowing speedskater

After the ladies' free skate, word was going around that Irina Slutskaya was so angry about her placement that she ended up throwing her bronze medal in the trash.

Scherr cited freestyle skier Jeret Peterson, who was ordered to return home early after getting into a fight.

Cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen, 25, was pictured in tears after being knocked out in the quarter-finals of the women's cross-country sprint. "Get me out of this hole," she was quoted as saying in the daily Dagbladet.

"I'm eating," Bode Miller said after opening the door. He was holding up a sandwich. "Gimme five minutes." - Bode Miller

Jubilee beach

State and local wildlife experts are trying to figure out what led more than a thousand flounder, spot and pin fish to beach themselves at the Marine Corps' New River air base — and then swim away.

They believe it may be related to a popular phenomenon known in coastal Alabama as "jubilee."

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sex Pistols: we're not your monkey

The Sex Pistols have opted out on appearing at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...

..."Next to the SEX PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain," the statement read. "Your museum. Urine in wine. Were (sic) not coming. Were (sic) not your monkey and so what?"

The statement slammed Hall of Fame voters as "music industry people," and excoriated the high price of attending the exclusive event -- $25,000 for a table, "or $15,000 to squeak up in the gallery."

It concluded, "Your (sic) not paying attention. Outside the shit-stem is a real SEX PISTOL."

Other 2006 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame include Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd and industry executives Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.
Oh, so now the most manufactured McLarenized bunch of monkeys in the history of punk is not an industry monkey and outside the "shit-stem" [though I like that one - very 70s]? Fuck you, you fucking toothless rotters!!

Hanging Buckley and Dean

Glenn Greenwald compares/contrasts winger reactions to Buckley's and Dean's awareness that the Iraq War is a lost cause.

More on unknown unknowns

Also via 3 Quarks Daily, this is really really kooky.

Via Crooked Timber, which in turn via boingboing, comes this:

By combining quantum computation and quantum interrogation, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found an exotic way of determining an answer to an algorithm – without ever running the algorithm.

Using an optical-based quantum computer, a research team led by physicist Paul Kwiat has presented the first demonstration of "counterfactual computation," inferring information about an answer, even though the computer did not run. The researchers report their work in the Feb. 23 issue of Nature.

Quantum computers have the potential for solving certain types of problems much faster than classical computers. Speed and efficiency are gained because quantum bits can be placed in superpositions of one and zero, as opposed to classical bits, which are either one or zero. Moreover, the logic behind the coherent nature of quantum information processing often deviates from intuitive reasoning, leading to some surprising effects.

"It seems absolutely bizarre that counterfactual computation – using information that is counter to what must have actually happened – could find an answer without running the entire quantum computer," said Kwiat, a John Bardeen Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at Illinois. "But the nature of quantum interrogation makes this amazing feat possible."

Welcome, Number 6.5 billion!

(Via 3 Quarks Daily):
A population milestone is about to be set on this jam-packed planet.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, at 7:16 p.m. ET, the population here on this good Earth is projected to hit 6.5 billion people.

Papa UAE

The Wege:
I'm sure this has absolutely nothing to do with anything.
HOUSTON -- A sheik from the United Arab Emirates contributed at least $1 million to the Bush Library Foundation, which established the George Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in College Station.

The UAE owns Dubai Ports World, which is taking operations from London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., which operates six U.S. ports.

A political uproar has ensued over the deal, which the White House approved without congressional oversight. Dubai Ports World offered Thursday night to delay part of the takeover to give the Bush administration more time to convince lawmakers the deal poses no security risks.

The donations were made in the early 1990s for the library, which houses the papers of former President George Bush, the current president's father.

The list of donors names Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan and the people of the United Arab Emirates as one donor in the $1 million or more category.

[Channel 2 Houston]
Seriously, I doubt this had anything to do with the ports deal. After all, President Bush didn't even know about this deal until after the deal was cut, right?

BTW, the ports deal was/is apparently for control over 21 ports, not six.

Unknown unknowns: guest post by George Bush

[Edited for grammar, spelling, and punctuation - Helmut]

As Rummy says, there are known knowns and there are known unknowns. There are unknown knowns too. But are there unknown unknowns? Yes! The unknown unknown is that which, like the squirrel running around the other side of the tree so that you can't see it, is beyond the perceptual. The unknown unknown is also that which, like the squirrel that isn't there and never existed, is the blind concept. But isn't it that a nonexistent thing, which is unknowable, is still a knowable nonexistent thing, like a unicorn? Can't I know about unicorns, but just not know them personally since they don't exist?

How do I explain, then, my thesis that there are unknown unknowns? From a subjectivist position, clearly. In my head, at least, there are lots of unknown unknowns. There are things that don't exist and I don't know them either. I've got lots of these. But how do I know they're there when I don't know them? Because they itch. I scratch my head and still can't get rid of the itch. I scratch under my arms and the itch doesn't go away. I raise one eyebrow to try nail down that itch and wash that itch right out of my head. None of this works.

The unknown unknown is only indirectly perceived inside my itchy head, where it hangs out in the dark corners - you know, those hollow spaces that Uncle Dick calls my "romper rooms." It is directly perceived when Karl or Scott or someone like that comes to me and says that the unknown thing is known - Karl calls these sessions "de-unknownings." Or is that the known thing is unknown? I can't keep these straight. My boys know this - a known known! - so they avoid explaining unknown unknowns to me. Unless they do; then it's a known unknown until they leave the room, when it becomes an unknown unknown again. A re-unknowning! I sometimes wonder if I'm still here when Karl leaves the room, or even when I cover my eyes with my hands. Can other people see me? Or am I an ununknown?

Anywho, I'll defend these unknown unknowns all the way because I'm a man of principle and honesty. That is, unless everybody gets angry. Then I'll say that I never defended them since they're unknown unknowns. And who can know an unknown unknown unless you get the itches like me? This is why I'm such a good president: I'm full of the unknown unknowns, and that's just like my favorite philosopher, Jesus, but without the known part.

Photo: Michel-Jean Dupierris

Friday, February 24, 2006


Tom Engelhardt, writing in Le Monde Diplomatique:
So no one should have been surprised that when President George Bush declared his global war on terror he also swore to get Osama bin Laden in this fashion : “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out west I recall, that said, ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive.’” Of course, that “poster” came not from any real experience he had in the west, but directly from the thrilling cowboy films of his childhood. So did his John Wayne-like urge to “hunt” the terrorists down, or “smoke ’em out,” or “bring ’em on”. From that same childhood undoubtedly came the president’s repeated urge to dress up in an assortment of commander-in-chief military outfits, much in the style of a GI Joe action figure.” (Think: doll.) It’s visibly clear that the president has long found delight, actual pleasure, in his war-making role, as he did in his Top Gun, “mission accomplished” landing on that aircraft carrier back in 2003.

It’s not surprising either that a critic who spent real time up close and personal with top Bush administration figures, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, would accuse the president of “cowboyism”. Nor should it be strange that neocon writers close to this administration and in thrall to the same spirit should lovingly quote American military men who also believe themselves out on some western frontier. Robert Kaplan, for instance, cites one officer as saying, “The red Indian metaphor is one with which a liberal policy nomenklatura may be uncomfortable, but army and marine field officers have embraced it because it captures perfectly the combat challenge of the early 21st century.”...

...And yet the paradigm of the frontier and of the Indian wars settled deep into the American soul. So again, it should not be surprising that the now officially grown up boys who never left those movie theatres and have the power to make war on the world should still imagine themselves at the beloved movies of long ago and that the framework of the Indian wars, however suppressed and transformed, remains in some fashion deeply with us. This is the secret frontier dreamland of our rulers, with nightmarish consequences for us all.

Meanwhile, during the Fallujah assault...

While Captain Obvious and his fearless forces were wearing multi-pocket khakis, bullet proof vests, and pith helmets, embedded with the Movie Stage A-24th and surrounded by Marlboro men and women, this is what Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Mansur and his cameraman Laith Mushtaq were up to.
...I kept taking photographs and pictures. After that, immediately, the wall in front of me, which I was taking protection with, it was fired upon extensively. That is, very highly intense, so I took refuge, and I laid down on the ground holding my camera and looking, and then I saw Rashid smoldered in blood, and there was extensive firing. I could not even shout and call the rest of the crew, our team, and for a moment, I felt I cannot do anything. I tried to advance, then I go back because of the firing. Red firing on the roof. And after that was lightened a little bit, I held his leg, and I shook it, and I said, “Rashid! Rashid!” And he did not answer me, so I went toward his face and saw three bullets in his head in those areas. He had five kids. The older is nine years old, the eldest...

...The bombing in that area or this area, even some people started saying, “Ahmed, do not move. You are being targeted. Anyone can kill you.” In the city there's no protection for anyone. And whenever somebody meets me, he says, “Why you walk in the street?” Some of those who were afraid for our lives saying, “They will kill you. Anyone who has a gun can shoot you. There's no protection here for anybody.” Despite all that, we were not thinking but about reporting the truth to people. Despite that, they accused us of lying, only because they don't want to see the truth. They don't want the world to see the truth and the reality.

Bye to Ward Harkavy's blog

I'm sad to see his Bushbeat rants go.

Neil's oily crucifixion redux

"It's about the oil." -Ted Koppel

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Have to kill you

Jeff Drake at McSweeney's:

What did I do over the weekend? Well, Chip, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

I know a lot of people say that as sort of a weak attempt at humor, but I'm being serious: I would really have to kill you. I'd have to make you disappear—permanently. You might think of me as Les, the good-natured new guy in data processing, but I am a deadly killer, indoctrinated in the ways of the assassin, a cunning student of the 834 Fatal Ways. You need an example? I could come silently at night. Your wife and your children wouldn't hear a sound. Your dog wouldn't even stir. You would just be gone—as if you never existed. No trace, no clues. The local authorities would scratch their heads in puzzlement. "We don't even know where to start!" they would exclaim. "It's as if he disappeared into thin air!"

I am not joking.

Unlike the "hilarious" IT guy who says, "I could tell you how to turn your Out of Office Assistant on, but then I'd have to kill you," I've actually watched the life fade from a man's eyes. Not once, but many, many times. Your IT friend thinks he knows what this is like, but the 1,000-plus hours he has invested in Halo don't even compare.

Also, after that IT guy ends up telling you how to operate your Out of Office Assistant, you probably exchange pleasantries and then go your separate ways. This is not how it will go down if I tell you how I spent my weekend. Because, as I mentioned before: if I were to do that, I would have to kill you. For real. And forever.

It wouldn't be a choice. It would be an automatic reaction, like pulling your hand back from a hot stove. It could be that quick, too. It might involve something as ordinary as a shoehorn.

Continue reading...

Friday bananatecture

First image: Loren Supp, Shanghai Vertical Marketplace (via BLDGBLOG)

Second image: praying hands bananas by Ian Maguire

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A little meditation on schizophrenic sports fandom

It's not easy being a sports fan. What a luxury... but it's not easy. It's part autobiography, part resentment, part disdain, part joy, part where one lives at present, part pure bastard, and part complicated route through various chains of fandom.

Schizophrenic Exhibit A: I am a San Diego Padres fan by birth, painful as that is year in and year out. I am not a Chargers fan. I live in DC now and, if anything, am a Redskins fan, but the NFL doesn't thrill me, so this is subject to change pretty easily next time I move. But I also like the Yankees because my grandfather was a minor league manager in Minnesota and a Yankees fan. I can't stand the Red Sox because of the so-called "Red Sox Nation" routine that people obey like zombies, which I equate with another team I can't stand, the Dallas Cowboys and their "America's Team" bit. When I first moved to Texas in high school from Thailand, I saw one kid beat another kid to a pulp for saying the Cowboys sucked. I'm a San Antonio Spurs fan in basketball, however, partially because of the years in Texas and partly because I also lived for years in France and I want to see the French guard for SA, Tony Parker, do well. Plus, I like Popovich and think he's the best coach in the league. I can't stand the Lakers, partly because of my San Diego heritage and partly because Kobe Bryant is a pompous ass. I'm an Arsenal fan in soccer because of the French crew - Henry, Pires, and Vieira - but now Vieira is gone and this fandom is slowly diminishing. I can't stand any of the Italian players because of their drama and spitting, but if faced with a choice I'd go with Juventus for Trezeguet, the French striker. I detest that American cliché about French losers when the US depended from the outset on French support, and especially when the French are some of the best sportsmen/sportwomen in the world, devoted to the "fair play" of sports. You want primadonnas, they're not going to come from the French. They're American and Russian.

I should be a US fan during the Olympics, but the great majority of the American athletes are so expectant of the gold medal or nothing else matters and it means so much in terms of endorsements that I have a difficult time reconciling the business-sports, especially at the competition that is supposed to be about sheer athleticism and healthy competition. I usually just like to see them lose. So I root for Italian policemen who ski, Georgian figure skaters, the Norwegians because I like their economy and have some Norwegian in me, and the prettiest girls - which made curling a really tough choice this year. I love to see Kenyan domination in long-distance running. I root for the University of Maryland basketball team, where I teach now, and would for NYU, where I used to teach, if they had a team in anything. I like Princeton in basketball because good friends are there or from there and the team often overachieves. I root for Penn State in college football, where I did graduate studies. I once cared about hockey when San Diego briefly had a team (the Mariners) and it was a decent team and tickets cost about five bucks and the San Diego Chicken (used to be the KGB Chicken after the local radio station, KGB, that sponsored him) would come and sit next to you. Sometimes I like to see Japanese lose in sports; sometimes I like to see them win against the odds because I lived there for a couple of years and have personal attachments but as a gaijin always struggled to be a part of the place, as all gaijin do. I like to go for the underdogs and the supposedly working class teams. I like to see hard-working athletes compensated - especially when they've trained without the vast resources of the American or Russian stars - come in eigth and be overjoyed with that finish. I like to see primadonnas embarrassed.

It would be so easy to be from NYC and be a Yankees-or-Mets/Jets-or-Giants/Knicks fan. Or from Chicago.... But I'm not, so it's all cobbled together in some convoluted and schizophrenic algorithm of sports fandom. There's actually an argument to be made for the whole thing. Like Kantian system-building philosophy. But I'd have to have several pints in me to do that, and then it would take too much effort.

Citgo and the the oil barons

The Washington Post reported on 31 January that, "Exxon Mobil Corp. yesterday reported the highest profit in U.S. history: $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter of 2005 and $36.13 billion for the year." Another report noted that "Chevron's earnings rose twenty percent to a record high in the fourth quarter on the strength of high fuel prices." "Soaring oil prices in 2005 have helped Royal Dutch Shell report a record annual profit for a UK-listed company," the BBC reported on 2 February. On 8 February, BP "reported a 26% rise in annual profit to $16.2bn (£8.7bn) after benefiting from high oil prices."

Congress acted with predictable impotence, refusing to endorse any measures aimed at addressing the industry-wide conspiracy to inflate oil prices while camouflaging their utterly disgraceful inaction with hyperbole, lectures, and rhetoric.

Called before Congress to testify, the leaders of each of the main oil companies - save one - refused to concede anything to a desperate, oil-dependent nation strangled by high oil prices. The one company who took another course was CITGO, the wholly-owned American subsidiary of Venezuela's nationalized oil company, PDVSA. For months, CITGO has provided low-cost heating oil to poor families - most recently in Delaware but in Boston, New York City and elsewhere, too - living on Sam's plantation.

Uncle Sam responded by defending ExxonMobil and reacting with indignant outrage to CITGO's gesture! Representative Joe Barton (R-Texaco) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Chevron) shrieked, calling the move to discount oil "part of an unfriendly government's increasingly belligerent and hostile foreign policy toward the United States."

Hope for the best

Photo: Christopher Wray-McCann

Invisible Palestinians

This is right on the mark.
Don Wycliff has been a member of the Tribune's editorial staff since 1990 and its public editor since 2000, positions that have given Wycliff, a former New York Times journalist, considerable clout at the paper.

Seeking to analyze the recent Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, and the terrorism case against Bridgeview resident Mohammed Salah, Wycliff pulled no punches, in a Feb. 2 column. He candidly acknowledged something that is rarely admitted in public journalism circles about the reality of the American media and the Palestine-Israel conflict: "Part of the reason we felt blindsided by Hamas' victory is that we don't see or hear things from the Palestinian perspective very often," Wycliff wrote.

"On Sunday [Jan. 29], for example, the Tribune's Commentary page carried two articles on Hamas' victory. One was by 'an American-Israeli peace activist' from Oak Park, the other by the executive director of the publication of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

"Our Commentary page features no columnist who can be depended upon to routinely explain and defend Palestinian actions and attitudes as, say, Charles Krauthammer defends Israel's. So on probably the most enduring and insistent foreign policy issue of our time, we routinely do not hear from one side."
It appears worse to me, though. Note how in the press causality of tit-for-tats is usually put in terms of Israelis striking back in response to Palestinian attacks. It's not as easy as that. But the US will never get it if there are only invisible Palestinians or ones filtered through Ha'aretz, the NY Times or WaPo. The frame is Palestinian attack, Israeli reprisal. You simply can't understand Israel-Palestine if it's seen in those terms. Look at the language as well - Palestinians are "terrorists" and Israelis are responding to terrorist attacks. While we may find Hamas' platform of the ultimate disappearance of Israel execrable, we don't find many similar claims regarding Israeli land-grabs, displacements, and supposed agreements that end up leaving an autonomous Palestine with waterless land and no military of its own.

In the end, Palestinian voices simply have to be heard and discussed on their own terms in the American media. That is, if we give a damn at all about finding a way out of this historical debacle.

Of mosques and tragedy

I'm late to post on this because I didn't know what to say that had not already been said elsewhere. But this particular quote struck me:
The highest spiritual leaders of Iraq's Shiite majority simultaneously rallied and restrained the outrage of their followers after the attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad. Though no casualties were reported, the bombing was the most destructive attack on a major shrine since the U.S. invasion, and Iraqi leaders said it was meant to draw Shiites and Sunnis into war. "This is as 9/11 in the United States," said Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite and one of Iraq's two vice presidents.

Clashnovsky of civilizationsky

An interesting discussion by Andrei Tsyganov at Asia Times about Russia taking its piece of the "clash of civilizations" pie.
...Implications of the "war of civilizations" for Russia's well-being are fundamental. For a country with 20 million to 25 million Muslims, an involvement in such a war would mean inviting fire to its own home. Russia's domestic intercultural ties are far from balanced. A growing influence of radical Islamist ideologies, rising immigration from Muslim ex-Soviet republics, and poorly conceived actions of some of Russia's local authorities in failing to build ties with Muslims create politically an explosive environment. Although the situation in Chechnya is much more stable today, Islamic radicals are succeeding in spreading violence and extremist ideology across the larger North Caucasus.

It is in this context that one should try to make sense of Russia's Eastern initiatives. They are not anti-Western and do not signal the Kremlin's return to the rhetoric of Eurasianist multipolarity and containment of the West. However, these initiatives do indicate appreciation that the "war of civilizations" between Western nations and Islam is intensifying, as well as understanding that Russia has no business participating in that war. Just as it was a tragic mistake to get involved in World War I in 1914, it would be a tragedy to have a fully hardened Western-Islamic front today and to see Russia joining it.

Russia's willingness to engage Iran and Hamas seeks to compensate for blunders of Western policies in the region, such as calls to boycott elections in Iran or clumsy attempts to pressure Palestinian voters, and to find a way out of a developing inter-civilizational confrontation. Implicitly, the new Kremlin initiatives also fully recognize that the threat of Islamic radicalism in Russia cannot be successfully confronted without reaching out to the Muslim world. Whether or not reports of Hamas' financial support for Chechen radicals are true, it is overdue for Russia to issue a clear statement that it has no plans to be a part of a new world war, but that it is willing to do everything in its power to negotiate the war's end....

Dust storm

Wanna see what a dust-storm in Iraq looks like? (via BLDGBLOG).

Today in Iraq

Riverbend (via Wampum):
...We woke up this morning to news that men wearing Iraqi security uniforms walked in and detonated explosives, damaging the mosque almost beyond repair. It’s heart-breaking and terrifying. There has been gunfire all over Baghdad since morning. The streets near our neighborhood were eerily empty and calm but there was a tension that had us all sitting on edge. We heard about problems in areas like Baladiyat where there was some rioting and vandalism, etc. and several mosques in Baghdad were attacked. I think what has everyone most disturbed is the fact that the reaction was so swift, like it was just waiting to happen.

All morning we’ve been hearing/watching both Shia and Sunni religious figures speak out against the explosions and emphasise that this is what is wanted by the enemies of Iraq- this is what they would like to achieve- divide and conquer. Extreme Shia are blaming extreme Sunnis and Iraq seems to be falling apart at the seams under foreign occupiers and local fanatics.

No one went to work today as the streets were mostly closed. The situation isn’t good at all. I don’t think I remember things being this tense- everyone is just watching and waiting quietly. There’s so much talk of civil war and yet, with the people I know- Sunnis and Shia alike- I can hardly believe it is a possibility. Educated, sophisticated Iraqis are horrified with the idea of turning against each other, and even not-so-educated Iraqis seem very aware that this is a small part of a bigger, more ominous plan…

Several mosques have been taken over by the Mahdi militia and the Badir people seem to be everywhere. Tomorrow no one is going to work or college or anywhere.
People are scared and watchful. We can only pray.

Quote of the day

War is God's way of teaching Americans geography.

- Ambrose Bierce

Looking for a stiff port

I'm not terribly concerned about the ports issue. The US sells off chunks of itself to foreign investors every year. Many of these foreign investors are seeking to become transnational companies beholden to no one state in particular. This is the American way. That this particular company is from Dubai (based in London) and is owned by the United Arab Emirates smacks of political impropriety, but that's not unexpected from the current American government. There is a certain amount of xenophobia at play here, and the Republicans who are critical of the agreement are playing as much to xenophobic domestic audiences during an election year as anything else. Such is the state of affairs in the world. "Strictly business," as Digby says sardonically.

There are good "meta" reasons all around for resisting the move - regarding the significant role of transnational corporations in governing various aspects of our lives and economic conditions, the degree to which the agreement was secret, the close ties between members of the administration and the UAE, and even that the US wouldn't attack Bin Laden at one point for fear of killing UAE royal family members.

What's bothersome for me are two things, which are not unexpected. First is that the president has been clueless about the deal, and now defends it wholeheartedly. This underscores once again the extent to which this president is unable to run a presidency. This is one incompetent boob. But, like I said, we've known this for some time now - say, about six years (and for you Texas followers, longer than that). Second, the ports don't have much security in the first place.

Now, I'm not a security (or, rather "s'cur'ty") freak. I live in DC and worked in NYC during 9-11, and went through the experience of that date. Like many New Yorkers and DCers, I have a certain amount of fatalism on the issue that I'm simply not willing to let collapse into fear and trembling. The security fetish in this country does lots of direct and indirect damage to who Americans are and how Americans live, from gated communities to the erosion of civil liberties.

But there's a necessary modicum of security if the US is indeed concerned about terrorist WMDs entering the country (not to mention all the WMDs we already have here - biggest WMD-owning country in the world, after all). And these things can be done more or less well. But this obviously isn't the government to do it since there is not one single thing they can do well except line the pockets of their portfolios.
"The real issues are funding, threat intelligence and dissemination, and improved security at (foreign) ports of origin," said Kim Petersen, the president of SeaSecure, the oldest port security consulting firm in the United States. "There really isn't a lot of funding when you consider the magnitude of what's needed to support our ports. ... If al-Qaida can disrupt the flow of container shipments going into and out of the United States, we're talking about tens of billions of dollars."

In the past 4 { years, the Bush administration has installed more than 1,200 large or hand-held radiation detectors to scan for nuclear materials being smuggled into the nation's ports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, inspects and boards ships at 42 foreign ports before they send goods to America.

Still, only 5 percent of the 8.6 million shipping containers that flow into U.S. ports every year are opened and inspected, and a 2005 DHS inspector general's report concluded that nearly 80 percent of the port security grant money isn't being spent.

The DHS on Tuesday issued a fact sheet that brags about how it uses "a risk-based strategy to review information on 100 percent of all cargo information entering U.S. ports."

But the artful wording obscures the fact that paperwork, not containers, is being inspected, said Randolph Hall, the co-director of the CREATE Homeland Security Center at the University of Southern California.


See Publius' excellent post on this.

See, also, Gordo's take.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

But of course they will

The far-right British National Party (BNP) said on Wednesday it would distribute leaflets showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, a move Muslim groups said would provoke protests and was "playing with fire."

Chimp implants

I am often wondering where my favorite philosophers are....

What do you think about this? I can guess at the responses. But is there any good reason at all for chip implants? George Monbiot in The Guardian:
It received just a few column inches in a couple of papers, but the story I read last week looks to me like a glimpse of the future. A company in Ohio called City-Watcher has implanted radio transmitters into the arms of two of its workers. The implants ensure that only they can enter the strongroom. Apparently it is "the first known case in which US workers have been tagged electronically as a way of identifying them".

The transmitters are tiny (about the size of a grain of rice), cheap (£85 and falling fast), safe and stable. Without being maintained or replaced, they can identify someone for many years. They are injected, with a local anaesthetic, into the upper arm. They require no power source, as they become active only when scanned. There are no technical barriers to their wider deployment...

...There will be no dramatic developments. We will not step out of our homes one morning to discover that the state, or our boss, or our insurance company, knows everything about us. But, if the muted response to the ID card is anything to go by, we will gradually submit, in the name of our own protection, to the demands of the machine. And it will not then require a tyrannical new government to deprive us of our freedom. Step by voluntary step, we will have given it up already.

Holy cellphone!

Bobby Lightfoot reviews the new line of cellphones so that we don't have to. I'll stick with a soupcan and ball of string.

Kaffir limes

Photo: Dave

God takes a break

God apparently wasn't looking when the Iraq War came down. Maybe taking a break from Bush's constant questions about why trees change their colors from season to season, and why the moon doesn't actually have a large man on it. It's hard being a God communicating directly with the US president.

Check out this zaniness for more on the contours of the new pathology. It's the new black!
William Tierney, the former United Nations weapons inspector who unveiled the so-called “Saddam Tapes” at a conference in Arlington, Virginia, Saturday, told National Review Online that God directed him to weapons sites in Iraq and that his belief in the importance of one particular site was strengthened when a friend told him that she had a vision of the site in a dream.

Port surprise

I had to catch myself this morning, upon reading this, from having a "Gilligan!" moment. I had to remind myself, almost tempted by the banality, that the pathological is the new normal.
The Dubai firm that won Bush administration backing to run six U.S. ports has at least two ties to the White House.

One is Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose agency heads the federal panel that signed off on the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port.

Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Country Update: Turkmenistan

If you're unfamiliar with Turkmenistan, you could go to the CIA World Factbook, or you could just read this piece from MosNews.
Turkmenistan’s president, Saparmurat Niyazov, has celebrated his 66th birthday by creating new gold and silver coins in honor of his books.

Those books are four collections of Niyazov’s poetry and two volumes of his Book of the Soul, or Rukhnama.

For his last birthday, Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi, issued coins with his family tree on them.

Six new coins have books, one different book each, on one side. On the other, resides the presidential emblem, The Guardian wrote.

Niyazov’s Rukhnama gives spiritual guidance to Turkmen citizens, of whom he sees himself as the figurative father, the literal translation of “Turkmenbashi”. The book, which is studied in schools and to which convicts must swear their allegiance upon release from jail, provides moral guidance, including respecting your elders, and giving lots of jewellery to women. Last year, a copy was blasted into space on a Russian rocket, inside a container bedecked with the national flag. It is hoped that it will return to earth in 150 years.

Turkmenbashi’s birthday, February 19, is also the state flag day in Turkmenistan.

Remembering Larry

On the occasion of Lawrence Summers stepping down from the Harvard presidency, I thought it appropriate to recall some of the wit and wisdom of his earlier years:

"I've always thought that countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City."

Fukuyama's revisionism

Francis Fukuyama reassesses neoconservatism, distancing himself from the tragedies and grand fiasco that is Bush Administration foreign policy. He does so by repeating neoconservative revisionist mythology. Neoconservatism is not idealism. Strauss was indeed a serious scholar of Greek texts, but his anti-democratic, elitist Platonist and Machiavellian conclusions underride all neocon thought. What we have here is an apologetics where the main figure, Fukuyama himself, reimplicates himself by showing he still doesn't get it. Indeed, this is a piece of revisionism itself - same old necon approach - since there's little argument to be made. Let's take a look at his piece from the NY Times Sunday Magazine:

...The reaction against democracy promotion and an activist foreign policy may not end there. Those whom Walter Russell Mead labels Jacksonian conservatives — red-state Americans whose sons and daughters are fighting and dying in the Middle East — supported the Iraq war because they believed that their children were fighting to defend the United States against nuclear terrorism, not to promote democracy. They don't want to abandon the president in the middle of a vicious war, but down the road the perceived failure of the Iraq intervention may push them to favor a more isolationist foreign policy, which is a more natural political position for them. A recent Pew poll indicates a swing in public opinion toward isolationism; the percentage of Americans saying that the United States "should mind its own business" has never been higher since the end of the Vietnam War.

More than any other group, it was the neoconservatives both inside and outside the Bush administration who pushed for democratizing Iraq and the broader Middle East. They are widely credited (or blamed) for being the decisive voices promoting regime change in Iraq, and yet it is their idealistic agenda that in the coming months and years will be the most directly threatened. Were the United States to retreat from the world stage, following a drawdown in Iraq, it would in my view be a huge tragedy, because American power and influence have been critical to the maintenance of an open and increasingly democratic order around the world. The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them. What American foreign policy needs is not a return to a narrow and cynical realism, but rather the formulation of a "realistic Wilsonianism" that better matches means to ends....

First, I know the term "idealism" has been tossed around as a summary for Bush's foreign policy, but we have to remember an important point: human rights play a very minor role among Bush administration concerns, and the pro-democratic reconstruction justification for the Iraq War was ex post facto or at least played way down the list of justifications for the war. The war was, we were told, about WMDs. Fukuyama makes the point, but then whitewashes it by calling for a "realistic Wilsonianism" in the face of what turns out to be "cynical realism" on the part of the neocons. See, it's all in the means. The goals were noble. Fukuyama's delusions notwithstanding, we have to remember that the US public was given a packet of lies pre-war. "Idealism" is a complete backtrack on all that the neocons stand for, which just is standard old Cold War realism in which the most powerful states get to carve up the global pie. The "end of history" thesis suggests that there is a final victor and it is us. That fits the realist paradigm a whole lot better than it does any idealist notion of foreign affairs.

Second, the options are not realism (or even cynical realism) vs. isolationism. The polls Fukuyama cites do not make distinctions between types of international engagement. If anything, they express mistrust of the administration's and its ideologues' competence to deal with anything on the world stage. Yes, the war is a disaster. But there are other options than war in international relations. The US pushed for war, cajoled while it worked, and lied and cheated and spied when it didn't. Fukuyama didn't have much to say then other than expressions of support for the war.

In fact, Fukuyama suggests that Americans are self-centered when it seems more accurate at this point to say that they are not concerned only about themselves nor only about isolationism, but about a competent foreign policy. Fukuyama is one of the masters of this incompetent foreign policy. He shouldn't be allowed off the hook here now. Too late. And there were plenty of smart people he and the other neocon ideologues could have listened to before it was too late and indeed before the war even started. They didn't. Ignorance and arrogance don't count as excuses. Americans know that, and they don't like to be deluded. But Americans, at rare times, can be pretty generous too - such as after the Indian Ocean tsunami - and that had nothing to do with the Bush administration laggard approach to helping people in need. This administration has done about the very minimum possible to help anyone other than its cronies. Many citizens, however, are more than willing to give money and volunteer for causes that actually do help people. The latter is idealism. The former is a crock.

...How did the neoconservatives end up overreaching to such an extent that they risk undermining their own goals? The Bush administration's first-term foreign policy did not flow ineluctably from the views of earlier generations of people who considered themselves neoconservatives, since those views were themselves complex and subject to differing interpretations. Four common principles or threads ran through much of this thought up through the end of the cold war: a concern with democracy, human rights and, more generally, the internal politics of states; a belief that American power can be used for moral purposes; a skepticism about the ability of international law and institutions to solve serious security problems; and finally, a view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and thereby undermines its own ends.

The problem was that two of these principles were in potential collision. The skeptical stance toward ambitious social engineering — which in earlier years had been applied mostly to domestic policies like affirmative action, busing and welfare — suggested a cautious approach toward remaking the world and an awareness that ambitious initiatives always have unanticipated consequences. The belief in the potential moral uses of American power, on the other hand, implied that American activism could reshape the structure of global politics. By the time of the Iraq war, the belief in the transformational uses of power had prevailed over the doubts about social engineering....

That's a delightfully sunny protrayal of neoconservatism and even its alleged internal conflict. No, wait, it's tragic. The neocons are tragic über-democrats faced with the difficult existential choice of furthering democratic and human rights goals but knowing that such projects amount to doomed "social engineering." Alas, the bitter angst of noble imperium! Engineer Iraq, engineer public opinion in the US and abroad in order to engage in the engineering in Iraq.... What's the goal here? Oppression, occupation, propaganda, and lies with what end? Freedom? Human rights? Democracy?

Let's take a further look at how Fukuyama twists his way through this one.
...If there was a single overarching theme to the domestic social policy critiques issued by those who wrote for the neoconservative journal The Public Interest, founded by Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell in 1965, it was the limits of social engineering. Writers like Glazer, Moynihan and, later, Glenn Loury argued that ambitious efforts to seek social justice often left societies worse off than before because they either required massive state intervention that disrupted pre-existing social relations (for example, forced busing) or else produced unanticipated consequences (like an increase in single-parent families as a result of welfare). A major theme running through James Q. Wilson's extensive writings on crime was the idea that you could not lower crime rates by trying to solve deep underlying problems like poverty and racism; effective policies needed to focus on shorter-term measures that went after symptoms of social distress (like subway graffiti or panhandling) rather than root causes.

How, then, did a group with such a pedigree come to decide that the "root cause" of terrorism lay in the Middle East's lack of democracy, that the United States had both the wisdom and the ability to fix this problem and that democracy would come quickly and painlessly to Iraq? Neoconservatives would not have taken this turn but for the peculiar way that the cold war ended....

One: "root causes" are important. You can't change anything by treating symptoms. The US doesn't resolve its high rate of gun (or any) crime, it turns out, by incarcerating at a rate higher than any other developed nation. So, that's wrong. What "pedigree"? Democratization doesn't take place at the end of a gun barrel and through the gratuitous use of torture (also with its attempted justifications, human rights watchers). Poverty, it is known among development practitioners, is best tackled through social and educational reforms.
...By the 1990's, neoconservatism had been fed by several other intellectual streams. One came from the students of the German Jewish political theorist Leo Strauss, who, contrary to much of the nonsense written about him by people like Anne Norton and Shadia Drury, was a serious reader of philosophical texts who did not express opinions on contemporary politics or policy issues. Rather, he was concerned with the "crisis of modernity" brought on by the relativism of Nietzsche and Heidegger, as well as the fact that neither the claims of religion nor deeply-held opinions about the nature of the good life could be banished from politics, as the thinkers of the European Enlightenment had hoped. Another stream came from Albert Wohlstetter, a Rand Corporation strategist who was the teacher of Richard Perle, Zalmay Khalilzad (the current American ambassador to Iraq) and Paul Wolfowitz (the former deputy secretary of defense), among other people. Wohlstetter was intensely concerned with the problem of nuclear proliferation and the way that the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty left loopholes, in its support for "peaceful" nuclear energy, large enough for countries like Iraq and Iran to walk through.

I have numerous affiliations with the different strands of the neoconservative movement. I was a student of Strauss's protégé Allan Bloom, who wrote the bestseller "The Closing of the American Mind"; worked at Rand and with Wohlstetter on Persian Gulf issues; and worked also on two occasions for Wolfowitz. Many people have also interpreted my book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) as a neoconservative tract, one that argued in favor of the view that there is a universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy, and that we are living in the midst of an accelerating, transnational movement in favor of that liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. "The End of History" is in the end an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.

Strauss was a pretty good scholar of Greek texts. His edited volume, History of Political Philosophy, is terrific. But he wasn't some benign communitarian, as Fukuyama appears to suggest. He also left an elitist school of thought that says that the ancient texts carry within them a message only accessible by an intellectual elite of elites. Think: Platonic philosopher-king or the guardians. The guardians, in Plato's account in The Republic, would find it necessary to create a mythology of class and social status in order that the elite could govern effectively by keeping everyone else in society in their natural place. Strauss taught a similar idea, and left a style of inquiry among his acolytes. Close readings of the Greeks and other texts could yield an understanding of the world inaccessible to the ordinary person. This understanding of the world would yield a capacity to govern like no other, to see what's really real. But this enlightenment could only be the domain of the exceptional few. Potential dissenters, by implication, could be dealt with through a parallel story about philosophical thought and governance. Thus, the typical Machiavellianism. Strauss writes of Machiavelli, "He was a generous man, while knowing very well that what passes for generosity in political life is most of the time nothing but shrewd calculation, which as such deserves to be commended." Yes, tragically, the great thinkers would need to calculate and conceal behind a curtain in order to save the world from its darkest impulses.

"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support....

There's one of the main punchlines. Fukuyama has been a Marxist all along, while Kristol and Kagan went a step too far in becoming insouciant Leninists. A problem here is that communism, for Marx, was a dream. Marx himself said that he didn't know what communism would look like, and merely speculated in the Manifesto. As such, it was difficult to make any claim about the "end of history." Marx, thinking of himself as a social scientist, simply claimed that internal contradictions to various modes of production (feudalism, capitalism, socialism, etc.) give rise to the overthrow of those modes of production and yield a further, different form of production and moment in history. Marx speculated about communism as a historically logical progression from capitalism-dictatorship of the proletariat-socialism, each containing their own contradictions. Marx, living in a period of inhumane industrialization, wanted further to push capitalism's contradictions to their limits. Thus, the clarion call for proletarian revolution in the Manifesto; and thus the call for philosophers to change history, not merely recount it. Fukuyama, by contrast, saw a fixed end to history in - surprise - his preferred form of governance that just happened to be the tradition of his own country. The logic or illogic of the present, in other words, entails a final outcome of the logic of history. Either way, history runs a linear course ending in liberal democracy. It's largely - with some tweaks here and there - my preferred form too, but it would be illiberal and undemocratic of me to maintain that the logic of history has resulted in my own wise choice.

Where Marx and Lenin, Fukuyama and Kristol are all wrong is in the characterization of history as a linear project of modernization accompanied by the mutually facilitating political form of liberal democracy. This takes us to another long discussion best left for another time, but I'll say for now that we're probably better off looking at history as evolutionary than anything else. As such, as Darwinians observing history, there is no final end. On another note, and another topic for further discussion, we can view "development" and its implicit - when not explicit - linear notion of history (look at the terms: "developed nations" and "undeveloped nations") as a byproduct of this notion of modernity and fixed historical ends. The claim is that the resting point for developmental processes is in the form that America best exemplifies.

...After the fall of the Soviet Union, various neoconservative authors like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol and Robert Kagan suggested that the United States would use its margin of power to exert a kind of "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world, fixing problems like rogue states with W.M.D., human rights abuses and terrorist threats as they came up. Writing before the Iraq war, Kristol and Kagan considered whether this posture would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, and concluded, "It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power."

It is hard to read these lines without irony in the wake of the global reaction to the Iraq war, which succeeded in uniting much of the world in a frenzy of anti-Americanism. The idea that the United States is a hegemon more benevolent than most is not an absurd one, but there were warning signs that things had changed in America's relationship to the world long before the start of the Iraq war. The structural imbalance in global power had grown enormous. America surpassed the rest of the world in every dimension of power by an unprecedented margin, with its defense spending nearly equal to that of the rest of the world combined. Already during the Clinton years, American economic hegemony had generated enormous hostility to an American-dominated process of globalization, frequently on the part of close democratic allies who thought the United States was seeking to impose its antistatist social model on them....
Yes, this is right. But it should have been foreseen by Fukuyama as well as by the other neocons. They do, after all, come from the realist school of international relations. This school - perhaps best exemplified for our purposes here by Kissinger - understands the significance of legitimacy in the international sphere. Legitimacy of behavior in the international sphere requires that others, even those who may have something to lose in a given action, view the action as nonetheless right or appropriate or at least understandable. Fukuyama is correct if he means that the US overlooked the legitimacy of its own actions - both regarding the near-religious faith in economic globalization with its concomitant sects of economic growth and liberalization, and regarding the extension of its military power. The Bush administration gave a nod to the issue of legitimacy but only through duplicitousness. The entire world figured it out quickly because they had seen it before by the same people. Yes, doubts about "benevolent hegemony." The Cold War was simple - the Stalinist Soviet Union in particular provided a clear example of who the bad guys were. The default "good" position was the US. But this allowed the US to engage in its own abuses in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. Even if most Americans don't know the dark underside to the story of the US role in the Cold War, the rest of the world does. When we're talking about legitimacy, we're talking about international perceptions. The Iraq War is one big lesson in the importance of legitimacy in a world that isn't stupid. (For more on international legitimacy, see here.)

There's also an important side-note here: international legitimacy itself doesn't follow the old realist formula. A byproduct of economic globalization and cause of broader political and cultural globalization is the propagation of different social and political forces - NGOs, the anti-globalization movement, the internet, and such - that transect the realist's traditional conceptualization of state power. Legitimacy is no longer a question of force and forcefulness. It is one giant global question-mark, and well worth rethinking (see Ian Clark's recent book).
...If we are serious about the good governance agenda, we have to shift our focus to the reform, reorganization and proper financing of those institutions of the United States government that actually promote democracy, development and the rule of law around the world, organizations like the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like. The United States has played an often decisive role in helping along many recent democratic transitions, including in the Philippines in 1986; South Korea and Taiwan in 1987; Chile in 1988; Poland and Hungary in 1989; Serbia in 2000; Georgia in 2003; and Ukraine in 2004-5. But the overarching lesson that emerges from these cases is that the United States does not get to decide when and where democracy comes about. By definition, outsiders can't "impose" democracy on a country that doesn't want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective....
This is a highly selective reading of history, first of all, and oblivious to a more pragmatic approach to helping other countries in need. Take Latin America, for instance. There is little trust in Latin America for the NED, especially given that it played the front role for the CIA in the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002, not to mention a whole string of other shenanigans. How are such institutions going to rebuild good faith and actual good works? "Outsiders can't 'impose' democracy..." but we should use instruments with well-known pedigrees in promoting precisely America's preferred forms of government as the new reformed tools?
...Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony. What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world — ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.
Well, he got that right....

(cross-posted at Majikthise)


There's what I think is a good exchange going on about this post between me and Rob at Lawyers, Guns and Money about the relations, or lack thereof, between realists and neocons. Alas, I'm afraid Rob has the upper hand. But I'm trying to hold the line.

See also Lance Mannion's discussion.

And the one by Publius that Rob thinks is better than my assessment above.