December 31, 2006

Speak No Ill of the Dead (except Saddam)

I know we all want to feel good about Gerald Ford, especially now that he has died. And why not? He was a war hero, a reliable legislator, an athlete, an Ivy Leaguer, a steadying influence for a nervous and unsettled nation, a loyal and devoted husband, and by all accounts a really nice guy.

Let's go ahead and feel good about him.

But why does this preclude, seemingly, any widespread questioning of his decision to pardon Richard Nixon? Especially in light of the fact that the imperial administration of George W. Bush has been presiding over an unprecedented usurpation of power for the executive branch, championed in large part by none other than Dick Cheney, Ford's Chief of Staff at the time.

So far, the prevailing winds blowing in from the punditry sound like mere variations on the theme of Ford's own view that the pardon meant, simply, that "our long national nightmare is over."

But really, couldn't it be that the nightmare was just beginning?

If there is a major current of opinion in the popular press that has mounted an argument against the pardon, I have missed it. Jake Tapper said something in his blog, "Political Punch", on, but where is the widespread analysis that might serve to better elucidate the national sentiment regarding the limits of Presidential power, at a time when this issue is of historically consequential relevance?

As Vladimir Nabokov said, "at every moment there is a thus and otherwise." No one really knows where "otherwise" leads. It might have turned out that a trial and perhaps eventual imprisonment of Richard Nixon would have made the nation not weaker, but stronger, both by meting out justice, and thereby lending some credence to the maxim that "in America, no one is above the law," and also by firming-up some of the mushier questions regarding our Constitutional separation of powers. The question can't be answered definitively, but why isn't it being asked?

November 29, 2006

Apocalypse Soon: The Trouble With Space

The feat of knocking a golf ball into orbit got me reminiscing about a joke I tried out a few months ago. Nobody thought it was funny, and because I couldn't figure out why, I decided to provide a detailed explanation to go along with it. Here's what I came up with-

JOKE: now with ion-propulsion!

The first European lunar mission, SMART-1, ended today in a dazzling success when it crashed into the moon’s surface after a three-year journey.

Leading European space scientists hope to crash men into the moon in a future mission. 


Forty years ago the US landed Surveyor 1 on the moon and it didn't crash. It made a soft landing and sent back data, and that, justifiably, was considered to be a success. Could it be that the European Space Agency set their sites a bit low?  Was a crash landing the only successful outcome they could guarantee? Has some cabalistic recalibration brought about a situation where zero is the new +1? Maybe they are so SMART they will crash spacemen into the moon next. Keep in mind this is supposed to be a joke.


The billion-dollar "International Space Station", which seems primarily to have served as a research platform for determining the best ways to ferry garbage back to Mother Earth, has now become the ultimate 18th hole. Slice it to Venus or hook it to Mars. If you've got the twenty million, you've got your tee time. A new crop of space-golf tourists is certain to pump up the flagging space exploration coffers.

Think of the payoff to Mankind. Maybe we'll find a cheaper way to  produce Polonium-210. Who knows when the possibilities are endless?

Perhaps the notion of "technology transfer", which had previously found its most perfect expression in the form of Tang, the powdered orange breakfast drink, could now be applied to the thorny problem of, say, trash removal in New York City, which has vexed mayors from Thomas Willett to Michael Bloomberg.

 This latest development comes on the heels of a giant copper spheroid hurled at a comet, the meanest beebee ever, the high aspiration of the pocket-protector set: the World-Crushing BeeBee. I know there is a compelling need to study the ensuing dust plumes, but the resemblance to conceptual art is hard to efface.

The Fading Rubric of Mankind's Curiosity

Meanwhile back on Earth, ideologies grate on one another, producing conflict with no apparent end.  Among the greater community of faith, the transcendent belief that God has divinely authorized the destruction of non-believers has served to perpetuate war, even as the means for nuclear devastation proliferate.

Here all paths cross. The scientific method perfects ever-deadlier weapons of war faster than blind Nature can raise a pond full of amoebas. From brilliant pebbles to smart bombs, proof of innovative prowess is proudly stenciled on ordinance to be lobbed amongst the seamy nests of the enemy.

Neo-apoclayptists are lapping it up. Milleniallists transform themselves effortlessly into peri-milleniallsts and wait fretting for the next significant date. Could it be 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar? What about the Doomsday Clock, which stands at 17 minutes before midnight and keeps on ticking, hastening forward and falling back ever more infrequently?

Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believe he can hasten the coming of God's dominion on Earth by obliterating Israel with a freshly-minted Islamic bomb? Does President Bush study the Book of Revelations? We shall see.

Recall that science too has its myth of an end time, expressed in the avatar of the Doomsday Asteroid, aloof now and roaming the Kuiper belt with impunity, but always on the look-out for that one perfect trajectory which leads imperturbably to Earth and the subsequent annihilation of all of its living inhabitants. Anyone doubting this proposition need only examine the fossil record.

November 12, 2006

So I Lied?

"What's the big deal?
There was a campaign going on."

That's how I read the president's testy answer during questioning at his post-election press conference. When asked "why did you tell us just last week that Rumsfeld would stay on?," his rambling reply included this: "the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer."

The subtext, and in large part, the theme of the press conference, was basically "hey, everyone knows that campaign messages are a pack of lies, but now the campaign is finished, so just get over it."

This is not new, of course. Aside from the practice of doing one thing and calling it another, which has been a hallmark of the Bush administration, there is also a marked tendency to lie outright, even when the lie will surely be discovered.

Twice the President has slipped surreptitiously out of the country for visits to Iraq. The second, his secret departure to meet with Prime Minister al-Maliki came complete with a false press release. As quoted in the Washington Post, White House communications director Nicolle Wallace said: "Nothing was done with the goal of duping anyone. The purpose of the secrecy was security." Plausible, but still, we were duped.

Lies by omission are one thing, and certainly there are circumstances that may require the president not to 'show all of his cards,' but to issue a statement that is exactly the opposite of the true situation seems a notch or two worse to me. As a matter of fact, I am greatly understating my abhorrence, so as not to undermine my credibity by seeming to be radically liberal. At any rate, you get the drift.

So is this the pragmatism required of realpolitik, or is it rather a pathological reliance on the lie as but one more tool in the political toolkit, fully equal to the practice of telling the truth?

November 3, 2006

Nuclear Weapons For Dummies

Classified information suddenly has nowhere to hide. It's out on the web, unchaperoned by any net nanny. Now the nation-state has become just one more player in the marketplace of ideas.

The unimpeded flow of information, and its evil twin disinformation, comes with unforeseeable consequences. Imperfect security, indigestible lumps of data in the form of large electronic documents, compounded with the inherent perfect nature of the digital copy mean that there will be a continuing trickle of sensitive and accurate information bleeding out of all but the most well-bandaged regimes. Will those seeking perfect protection only serve to insure their own mummification?

Here is an example of a waveform representation of an audio file that has been sanitized by the US government:

In this case the excision of information was well done. I put it to test and there is no intelligible sound to be recovered from the official silence. But what about the image below? Does this tell us nothing about that old stand-by of the US nuclear arsenal, the B-61?

Don't ask me. I don't want one.

The examples of the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs show that there remain prominent barriers to the creation of nuclear weapons. Metallurgy, precision machining, and acquisition of fissile materials all involve complex processes that take time and lots of money to master, even when the textbooks are at hand, even if you have blueprints from A.Q. Khan.

Nuclear weapons for dummies? Buy a suitcase nuke and don't waste your time on a nuclear program. After all, even if you are an army of one, you can still capitalize on all of the hard work done by big-budget governments.

Whether you're looking to hasten end-times, or simply to annihilate an enemy, this little baby will make the perfect traveling companion.

October 29, 2006

Identity Theft and the Meta-You

For many years I have wrestled with the central conundrum of identity theft: how can you steal something that can’t be given away?

My attempt to limn an answer has brought me to advocate the legal construction of a new business entity. This entity would be established with the creation of a publicly-disclosed contract stipulating the details of a temporary transferal of identity from one person to another. (Prize for a name! Golem is taken.)

Think of the practical utility of, say, conferring your identity upon a tax expert with great bone structure and glowing skin to argue the merits of your defense to an IRS agent, appearing, not merely as your representative, but with the full legal and emotional impact of the actual you, as decreed by statute.

To put this idea into practice in advance of its widespread acceptance, I have resorted to a logical artifice that I call “James A. Friendly.” James A. Friendly shares every trait with me except one: James A. Friendly is not me. Ask him and he will assuredly agree, “I am most certainly NOT him!”, for this too is a trait we share.

Before James A. Friendly applies for a Discover card, I am issuing an open call to anyone with any special creative prowess in the areas of contract law or the establishment of offshore companies, in the interest of canonizing this most important tenet of the Information Age, won’t YOU step forward and BE the next James A. Friendly?

We both thank you.

October 28, 2006

Bodies In Motion

In another time, Micheal J. Fox is Terri Schiavo, Rush Limbaugh is Bill Frist, and Washington is where God does His work. So again we're shown the body politic. Only this time it's the left asking us to look at this body, interpret its movements, and take a position.

The media have long been a branch of government, and nothing heals better than television, but these phenomena make way for new versions, inversions, and perversions of politics, celebrity, religion, and medicine. The Great Mashup continues. Get ready for more celebrity victims, suffering sinners, pundit policy makers, and global baby snatching.

Electrons for Jesus

An old friend recently marshaled untold billions of electrons for the purpose of delivering this chain email:

[begin inane block-headed chain email]

Do you believe in God?

NBC this morning had a poll on this question. …
86% to keep the words, “In God We Trust” and “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
14% against.

That is a pretty 'commanding' public response. …

Therefore, I have a very hard time understanding why there is such
a mess about having "In God We Trust" on our money and having
God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Why is the world catering to this 14%?

If you agree pass this on, if not, simply delete.

-In God We Trust

[end inane block-headed chain email]

I was shocked and dismayed. It used to be that, in America, there was the notion that God created all people equally. Even the people that don’t believe in Him. He’s God, He doesn’t need to have an ego trip about having everyone believe in Him. So here is a chain email that characterizes the belief that God endowed each of us with the unalienable right to believe in His non-existence as something they can’t condescend to.

“Cater to”? Oh please! The Constitution protects the rights of the minority because God gave the minority the same rights as the majority and it’s not for the majority to say what those rights are. It is up to God. If you trust God you simply must not force others to proclaim the same, because that is tantamount to trying to take away a right granted by the Creator.

OK, Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. IN GOD WE TRUST. Are you telling me you are a better judge of rights than God? I don’t think so.

This is the kind of thing that really gets my hackles up. Maybe the person who created it was being deliberately provocative and scored a point on my naïveté, but I know for certain that lots of people pollute their minds with these ideas, which amount to false maxims signifying intolerance and which cannot withstand even the most casual scrutiny.

Please see US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s moving explication of the tyranny of the minority at in an interview with CNN correspondent Jeffrey Toobin at this link:

October 25, 2006

Upload and Downsize

The recently announced layoff's at NBC Universal make it clear that TV content from now on, has got to come cheap. We've seen this coming for a while, but for people making television, we must stop talking about the future of media, and accept that the future has arrived.

By "doing away with scripted programming" in prime time (8-11 pm), NBC sends a message to all of those who produce that old media. If you are among those who write it, light it, act in it, or make any kind of money from it, your jig is up.

NBC will put 700 employes on the street, and they'll be joining 400 axed by Warner Bros.,150 by Paramount, 1100 by MGM, and 650 by Disney, all within the past year. Since Disney reported a 40% jump in quarterly profits after cutting personnel, its hard to argue this is merely a lean time bound to cycle back.

I'm all for studying film history in film schools, but looking backwards is only half the picture. After screening Citizen Kane, let's take a look at some webisodes, mobisodes, and then upload to YouTube.

October 10, 2006

Empowered Thumb for Suckers

They have interactive television in the UK. Audiences send text messages (SMS) to support contestants, request music videos, express an opinion, or test their quiz smarts. This audience participation also allows a show's presenters to collect money from viewers directly, as opposed to relying solely on commercials.

While multiple time zones make it harder for this trend to fly in the US, more than 500,000 txts, at 49 cents each, were sent to "Big Brother" in a two day period last summer. NBC's "Deal or No Deal" earned enough via SMS to cover the more than $1 million prize money it offers. While voting on the internet is often free of charge, txting via phone means a participant need not leave the couch.

The strangest part of this is that many of those who text message TV shows don't even believe their messages are being counted or read by anybody. There's no verification or regulation, and some I spoke to say the videos they request never come on. It's all just a thumb charade, another illusion of the digital utopia.

October 9, 2006

Melts in Your Mouth

The most exquisite part of the Mark Foley/Dennis Hastert Sex Scandal is the way it has held the front page like a serial drama. Because House Speaker Hastert reacted with as much courage and honor as can be expected of the Republican leadership — he lied, denied it, tried to cover it up — the truth is dissolving his party like so much cotton candy on a lustful tongue.

October 5, 2006

Poor Little Predator

It doesn't get more cynical then Mark Foley playing the victim role.

We've seen since 9/11 how victimhood has become extra special in our society. Before 9/11, the only similar status was that of those who exited Nazi death camps. But in the postmodern era, (not like when those "displaced persons" became "survivors") victim is a new sort of star. Whether you're voted off the cast of a realityTV show, or preying on those over whom you lord power, victimhood is far from your last gasp.

To PLAY the victim has little to do with actually BEING a victim, however. The sympathy that Foley hopes to elicit is nothing like that hoped for by an actual victim, like say a dead Iraqi's family, a nomadic New Orleanean, or a disfigured or dismembered, or brain-damaged soldier.

But there's something about this Republican ploy that just may work. If you've never been in a war zone, nor hurricane, nor paid for supper with food stamps, but you have had lust for someone a mere internet connection away, you may just find it in your heart to forgive someone like Mark Foley.

September 23, 2006

Torture: What Not to Say

The question of torture, an absurd discussion through most of the 20th century, has become a mainstream debate. The reason for this, like so many other reprehensible things, is that the morally hollow White House is framing the issue.

Everyone seems to accept this frame. When Bush says Common Article 3 of the Geneva Accords contains vague wording, no one points out that those words are a legal standard, and that they have never been challenged by anyone else in the world. Or maybe you've heard the "ticking time bomb argument," a hypothetical that's so full of fantasy and presumption that it wouldn't make the grade of a high school debate team.

The preferred argument against defining ourselves as torturers is one based on American self-centeredness: If we do it to others, others will do it to us. When the pundits talk of this angle, they often get even more parochial by pointing out that anti-torture White House-hopeful, John McCain was tortured himself as a POW in Vietnam. This bit of trivia diminishes McCain's opposition, as if it's just his personal peeve, something for which he must be indulged because of his status as a victim.

Completely absent in the discussion are two important elements. First one is that torture does not yield quality intelligence, according to military interrogators. Even the info beaten out of Al Qaeda figure, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was untrue, and that coerced testimony became the centerpiece of Colin Powell's lies to the UN that ginned up the invasion of Iraq.

A second vital, but missing element is the presumption of innocence. To be innocent until proven guilty has been the bedrock of our justice system for centuries. But in this debate it's often said, 'these guys are terrorists, they aren't really human beings.' To say this is to ignore the fact that the vast majority of those held at Gitmo, rendered to and tortured at secret CIA prisons (and Abu Ghraib before that) are guilty of nothing.

September 16, 2006

Making (Up) History

There are many ways to make up truth. The most effective technique requires multiple sources that reference and reinforce each other. For this to work, disparate authorities make seemingly small contortions of fact, and then others refer to these aggregated authorities to make the case that a falsehood is true.

This is what a Committee of the US House of Rep's was doing when the UN's Atomic Energy Agency (IAEC) busted their work. The House committee wrote a report exaggerating the nuclear threat posed by Iran, but the IAEC called that report, "incorrect and misleading," as well as "outrageous and dishonest."

The intended purpose of the report was to give the White House and other war mongers an illusion of evidence to support an attack on Iran. Once the lies had the imprimatur of a "government study," they could then be used as a tool of persuasion. The task of anyone disagreeing with the report would then be to disprove the multiple inaccuracies. In this way the debate becomes a level removed from the question at hand. This technique puts layers of questions into the discussion, making it more difficult for facts to separate themselves from the fiction.

The full effect can be seen by reviewing the work of the White House Iraq Group, and Judith Miller, former "journalist" for the New York Times. In this scam, White House officials led Miller to sources for stories that made their case for the invasion of Iraq, and then those same officials would refer to the New York Times to support their arguments. Much of that reporting was later discredited by the NYT editors, but long after the war had started, and with little public notice.

This technique is tried and true. We've seen it used effectively to cast doubt on the existence of global climate change, the probability of evolution, and the hazards of smoking.

It can also be employed locally as well. To dismiss an employee, for example, supervisors might place small and questionable concerns into an employee's file. When these one-sided anecdotes are taken together, they seem to add up to a larger issue. The employee, to defend herself, must then pick apart and dispute all the smaller complaints. These layers of fallacy are usually too much to overcome.

September 11, 2006

Remem Boring

Five years on, it's time to remember the 9/11 victims. These memories have filled columns, airwaves, and moments of silence all this past week, but starting tomorrow, for the next 364 days we can return to forgetting.

Remembering the victims of 9/11 is often a way to make a point, like when we disagree about art, history, or real estate. The victims also come in handy for sentencing convicted terrorists.

In time, perhaps September 11 will become a day like Memorial Day, which means more about barbecues than dead veterans.

September 5, 2006

Fear Campaign, Once Again

When two news items showed up next to each other on my Google News, I thought, 'hey, maybe these stories are related …' -duh.

But, talk about a desperately slow news day, or the lame state of our passive journalism. I guess we're all tired of that same old Death-in-Iraq-Rising-Poverty-Corrupt-Government-Katrina-Anniversary story. These were Google's top stories:

September 3, 2006

The Few, The Proud… Homeless and Handicapped

Maybe it's not so new, but if the US didn't invade Iraq, a new category of American would not be appearing on our streets. Vets of the Iraq war are more wounded than ever due to the advanced state of weapons (RPG's, IED's, etc.) and business-as-usual DoD. In a previous conflict, like Vietnam, Central America, or Somalia, there might have been some shrapnel in a leg, but in this war, that leg is blown clear off. Less obvious are the brain injuries.

While the brain is still a part of the body, soldiers with mental and emotional damage are also returning to a home incapable of dealing with them.

It is our inability to deal with these messed up heroes that will put many of them on the street. And the free market is stepping in to capitalize on America's bravest.

How does the White House support the troops? By cutting $910 million from the Veterans Administration budget.

ps - Speaking of the VA, that's an organization that works well, and proves single-payer healthcare can work in America.

August 30, 2006

Illegal TV

There's something contradictory about outlawing a TV channel in America. Last week a guy was arrested for hooking up a satellite to receive Hezbollah's Al-Manar. Of course, we have laws against providing support to terrorist organizations, but outlawing the reception of a TV signal feels a lot like a limit on freedom of speech.

The whole thing gets a bit Byzantine with the details. Hezbollah is categorized as a terrorist organization, but that started in 1997, before stateless rogues added political party to their business plans (like IRA, PLO, EZLN, and most recently Muqtada Al-Sadr). Hezbollah politically controls 21% of the municipalities of Lebanon. They understand Tip O'Neill's aphorism that "all politics is local."

(Political states have been using terrorism to execute foreign policy for years; it's reasonable to expect that terrorist groups would eventually take up politics to effact their domestic agendas.)

On top of all this, the federal law forbidding support for terrorists has an explicit exemption for news and media. So it turns out, the guy wasn't charged with breaking that law, but rather for conspiracy to break that law. Conspiracy to do something that isn't illegal, however, seems like a pretty weak charge to me.

He's a regular guy trying to make a living in Brooklyn. I expect they'll soon realize this is a lame case with nothing to prosecute, but they will be too embarrassed to drop it. It'll be the sequel to the Jose Padilla case.

August 28, 2006

Working Poor

I don't really mind Bill Clinton congratulating himself for the welfare reform of 1996 as long we recognize that Clinton's law only ended the Federal government's involvement with poverty. It didn't end poverty, as we can see from this PBS documentary, (Tuesday Night!).

ps - Here's a nice Q and A from Newsday about the current state of American workers' wages.

pps - Did you know that 1 in EIGHT Americans lives below the poverty line? (1 in FOUR African-Americans!) There's a new census report.

August 26, 2006

Not Solvable

I met a guy who told me about a member of his family he described as a "little crazy." He told me of all the shenanigans that seemed typical of a person suffering from bipolar disorder (or whatever – I'm no expert).

Exasperated, he said through a heavy sigh that if the crazy guy would only do this or that, then the problem would be solved and the grief would end. But it seemed more likely to me that this problem is one for which a solution may not exist. Theirs may not be a problem per se, but a problematic and chronic condition. With this interpretation, the situation might be approached with a different frame of mind. The question is how to cope, rather than how to solve. And for some people, at some times, grief may never completely go away.

August 25, 2006

Racism and What Makes It OK

If you are irrefutably exposed as a racist, some people feel an apology will make it all better. So I don't blame George Allen, Mel Gibson, Andrew Young, or any other public bigot for trying that. The truth is however, that these guys are racists. Their words were spoken sincerely and reflect their true nature.

I am all for forgiveness, but apologies like the ones of these ignoramuses are so disingenuous. It all just seems like a public relations process that makes racism an accepted practice in public life.

ps - Jeffrey Feldman discusses George Allen's true nature and public verbiage vis-à-vis a wink on Daily Kos

August 22, 2006

Fear Thy Neighbor

By living in, and becoming acclimated to a State of Fear, fear has become the imperative. To be without fear is to misunderstand the world, if you were to take the current president's view.

In the past, to fear thy neighbor manifested itself in familiar ways: racism, homophobia, disdain for the poor. But what is new now is the overt allowance for the actions from that fear - often resulting in shameful scenes at airports (embarrassing in that they are usually simply panic with severely unjust results).

So to the question posed by the BBC journalist Sean Coughlan, (as part of their discussion of the English tourist flight from Spain on which some passengers demanded that their own suspicion of their fellow travelers must be addressed by the airline) "Is this an understandable response or paranoia and prejudice?"

The answer is YES, because both side of this false dichotomy are true, and the freak-out may be forgivable, but it is also unacceptable. Turning on your neighbors in this sort of vigilante style cannot become common.

PS - One can re-brand racism as profiling (without the 'racial' prefix), but there will always be less reprehensible ways to provide sercurity.

August 19, 2006

The Fable of the Few Bad Apples

These are the sorts of headlines that make us feel good about the system, like the guilty are being punished, and justice is running her course:

Ex-Contractor Guilty of Assaulting Detainee (Washington Post)

and …

Ex-C.I.A. Employee Guilty in Assault of Afghan (NYT)

But the story of David Passaro is not so great news, but rather more myth.

Even though he killed a man, Passaro was only convicted of assault. This easy treatment is consistent with other prisoner abuse cases where only 1 in 8 convictions has resulted in jail time of more than a year. Passaro's case was the only civilian case prosecuted by the Justice Department even though 20 were recommended for prosecution by the Pentagon.

So there are many more cases that will never see a courtroom. Like all the other defendants in trials like this, Passaro claims that his superiors knew what was happening and encouraged it. He says this sort of harsh abuse was going on all the time, everyone was doing it, and I believe him.

August 17, 2006

Still Waiting

A week after their arrests, we still have no charges for the allegedly flammable liquid-wielding Brits.

In fact, the story is barely even news anymore. Today, the major papers buried it beyond page 10 (but it's tough to compete with a break in the JonBenet case).

Security guards watched these guys for months, but when they finally arrest them for a plot akin to 9/11, they don't even have enough to make a charge?!

What they have done is get a court to extend the time allowed to hold a person without charge, and if they were as smart as Americans, they would start to figure out how to get a court to allow as evidence the affidavit of a torture victim.

So in the end, there may be no convictions, and maybe no plot (and definitely no more hair gel in your carry-on) but did George Bush get a bounce in the polls? Newsweek says … maybe, but US News … maybe not.

August 15, 2006

Crime of Looking

Many reports of the cell phone terror hysteria explained that possessing pictures of a pretty bridge, and purchasing prepaid cell phones were reasons enough to require arrest. These descriptions of suspicious behavior leave something out, but we can all fill in the omission: the arrested men looked liked Arabs.

So the crime here is the crime of looking. Looking at the Mackinac bridge while also looking Arabic.

It is polite (and crappy) journalism to leave out questions of racism. We all pretend to live in a so-called color-blind society, as if racism is a dichotomy without middle ground, as if no good people are capable of seeing or reacting to a person's race.

Let us accept that this is folly. And accept that racism in the main, exists as a matter of degrees, neither purely evil nor holy. And that bridges between peoples shall be beautiful enough to make images of them worth possessing.

PS - Even though the FBI and Michigan State police have cleared the men of connections to terrorism, county authorities in Michigan have their pride to consider.

August 13, 2006

Don't Be Afraid

Are you ready for the storm of terrorism hysteria? The big alleged British bust has yet to charge anybody with a crime, and now, in the midwest US, selling cell phones on the street is the occupation of terrorists.

It simply feels very thin to me.

August 11, 2006

One Side of the Story

Regarding the new alleged terrorist attack allegedly foiled by the British and/or American security forces: An important thing to keep in mind is that these same security forces, MI5 and Homeland Security, have consistently arrested innocent people, gone public with false charges, exaggerated threats and their own capabilities, bungled investigations, lied to the public, and even killed and imprisoned harmless citizens.

More often than not, these are the things that have been happening. Let us remember the so-called terror plots from Forest Gate, Portland, Miami, Buffalo, and Detroit. Let us remember Jean Charles de Menezes, and Rigoberto Alpizar, and Jose Padilla.

We cannot trust these so-called security forces to tell us the truth.

PS: As we read the names of the alleged terrorists this morning, we should ask why these names are released before there have been any formal charges made. And to understand how justice works in the war on terror, consider the role of public humiliation and the plea bargain as techniques to avoid embarrassing the state.

PPS - Why is 'conspiracy' is a weak charge and not even considered a crime of International Law?

August 10, 2006

Justice Is as Justice Does

Clearly the Bush Administration condones torture, and when they say they do not, they are lying. As Alberto Gonzales continues to convince congress to make Americans exempt from international law, (easy explainer here), it's clear that this is what they want to do. They think it is OK to do what the entire rest of the world has rejected, and has done so for 500 years.

Because it should be obvious to everyone, the moral argument against cruel and degrading treatment usually goes unstated. But in section 28 of his first encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of something:

"The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves. … Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. "

August 8, 2006

To See and Be Seen

It should not be a crime to be poor, and it should not be a crime to feed the poor. So it's curious that Las Vegas and Orlando have passed laws against feeding the poor in public parks.

The side in favor of these ordinances claim that 'mobile soup kitchens', render the park "impossible for others to use."

It sounds to me like some folks more fortunate than others may get the heebie-jeebies when folks of lesser means start to appear in plain sight.

It's understandable that people don't want to see things that displease them, but some things we are better for seeing. Poverty is one of these things, and so too are the fallen men and women of Bush's folly (and LATimes had the story, too).

PS - The Memory has some of the unseeable Americans.

August 6, 2006

Brutal History Evermore

Extraordinary levels of brutality are what we see in the declassified files of B Company. The LATimes has printed (and Truthout has posted) horrifying and sad accounts of violence against Vietnamese civilians by American GI's. This archive of war files is a crystal ball that reflects our current quagmire in Iraq. We see the torture, orders to murder civilians, and the rape of young girls.

Like the current war, very few were held accountable. This is part of a system that is out of control, one that makes it impossible for mere men be truly responsible for what happens in a state of hellish war. It is a system of legal absolution, and it is best described by former investigators who said:

"We could have court-martialed them but didn't."
"I don't remember why it didn't go anywhere."
"Everyone wanted Vietnam to go away."

By virtue of being part of the system of war, crimes against humanity are only punishable if the criminals are of the losing side in conflict (as in Nuremberg.) Today, as exactly 62 years ago, victors can do what they please, and for whatever reason.

August 5, 2006

Systems: Blaming and Gaming

The military gang rape of a 14 year old girl in Mahmudiya, Iraq, had systemic causes. The NYTimes elaborated on this today. The defense strategy for the trials will be based on blaming the system.

It's a desperate, but fascinating approach because, to the degree it's effective at all, we'll have a system that continually and automatically absolves itself. In other words, we'll have created a system that can now be blamed for our sins.

This seems a bit more elegant than say, clunkily working with Congress to turn the heretofore illegal into the new legal. (like this, and this.)

But, for the simplest circumnavigation of law, nothing beats the presidential signing statement.

PS - more on beating the legal system.

August 3, 2006

Oscar-Winning Racist

Movie stars have screwed up and been arrested before, but Mel Gibson's bust is different. This is no run-of-the-mill celebrity gossip. We can forgive and forget the alcoholic, sexual, and angry improprieties of our icons as indications that they are just like the rest of us (drunk, horny, and pissed). But Gibson is not like us, and we don't want him to be. He hates Jews.

This used to be a debatable question, but now the matter is settled. He's neither the first, nor only anti-Semite, and he's certainly one of many who learned to hate from his dad. (… like these kids here.)

To Gibson, racism is the privilege of the Oscar-winning rich. After asking the arresting officer if he was a Jew, Gibson claimed he "owns Malibu", and vowed to "spend all his money to get even.”

In a ploy to prove some of his best friends are Jewish, Gibson planned to produce a Holocaust miniseries. But that was just a hollow sham: he didn’t want his own name publicly associated with the project, and then took two years to deliver a first draft of the script. ABC got off that train.

Since his first apology was a ham-fisted dud, what sort of cynical acts will Gibson use to buy our forgiveness this time? Disney plans to make serious gelt on Mel's next flick (slated for a Hanukkah release) so expect to see the heads of the Mouse House lining up to tell us what a mensch he is.

July 31, 2006

Discouragement + Self-doubt = Hope

A friend told me recently of a project about which he'd become discouraged. At the end of his crestfallen lament he said, "... but maybe I'm wrong."

It was a curious moment in which self-doubt became a force to propel him.

July 29, 2006

Impossible to Believe?!!

The US army continues to amaze. But amazement comes from having our expectations of an honorable military repeatedly dashed to bits. The latest is an order for soldiers to "kill all military-age males".

Such an order, we are told by a military expert for the New York Times is "clearly unlawful."

But what is truly remarkable, and very telling about our culture of obeisance is that despite the fact that commanders "acknowledged that they gave that order," this same expert says he finds it "impossible to believe such an order was given."

Why is it so difficult to believe, after all we've come to know of this military, this war, this Bush administration, that theirs is a moral vacuum.

No longer is there reason for any benefit of doubt. It's safe now to assume that they are always lying, always covering up, always breaking the law, completely barbaric, and without regard for common decency. No evidence exists to counter this assertion.

PS - If you didn't hear about the order to 'kill all military-age men', perhaps it was because the major papers, if they carried the story at all, buried it deep inside.

July 27, 2006

No Blood, No Foul

Human Rights Watch recently issued a gory report about Camp Nama, the sequel to Abu Ghraib. The report is chocked full of firsthand accounts by the torturing soldiers. It's a disgusting page turner and perfect beach reading.

The story of Camp Nama, located at the Baghdad airport, was first reported by the New York Times on March 19, 2006, but the Charleston Gazette was the only other paper to run the story. It seems torture by the US is just not newsworthy even though the story proved that abuse continued after the images of Abu Ghraib were made public.

Where the new report differs from the NYT version in March is that the testimony of soldiers makes absolutely clear that torture was not the work of a few bad apples, but sanctioned Pentagon policy. But this too, seems not worth telling people about, as only one paper, the Washington Times, reported it.

PS - If you prefer your torture porn in magazine form, Esquire has the story.

July 25, 2006

oops, Your Dead

Last week, English authorities announced that the cops who killed an innocent man in the London subway will not be charged with any crime. On July 22, 2005, gunslinging officers of an anti-terrorism unit shot a Brazilian man 7 times in the head. The world was told the victim resembled a suicide bomber in all sorts of ways that turned out to be untrue.

The men who carried out this execution could not be held responsible because they "genuinely believed" that the victim, Jean Charles de Menezes, was a suicide bomber — an honest mistake, they said. It seems such genuine belief is a vital part of a system of authoritative murder.

We saw this in the Amadou Diallo case when the jury acquitted the officers who shot the unarmed man because they genuinely believed at the time that their own lives were in danger.

In this system, if a police officer is sincere when he testifies, 'oops, I made a mistake,' then killing innocent people appears to be OK.

July 22, 2006

Sending a Message

This image of Israeli children writing messages on missiles destined for Lebanon creates a distinct queasiness. At first, there is disgust, but it's laced with ambiguity. Are we to think that hatred is so rife in Israel that even children thirst for the blood of Arabs? Some say yes.

For children to hate, it must be learned, so who has done the teaching here? Although a bunker-bound Israeli's blog suggested this picture was set up by the press, Columbia Journalism Review tells another version in which the children were just copying their parents who had just emerged from a 5 day stay in a bomb shelter.

Corrupted innocence is disturbing, but a greater burden lies in knowing that hatred and war are the lessons we teach our children.

It may be a comfort to consider that these girls passing notes on missiles are merely playing. Like George W. Bush playing soldier on an aircraft carrier, playing war has little to do with real war. So, like the Commander and Chief, these girls have very little understanding that the missiles with which they play, are the same missiles that destroy the children of Lebanon.

July 20, 2006

Tunnelling to the White House

Mitt Romney's Giuliani moment came when a slab of concrete killed a woman in a Boston tunnel. On 9/11, Rudy Giuliani showed that a tragedy is also an opportunity to create a hero out of one's self, a chance to become an adored legend, a moment that can erase all previous doubt.

And Romney's doing his best sort of off-Broadway version. My favorite pictures are the ones where this presidential hopeful looks like he's going to do the repairs himself.