May 30, 2009

This Comedy Brought To You By SCIENCE!

Nicholas Kristof says:

...conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.

One of my favorite things Mike Gerber and I ever wrote was called "Why the _______s Hate the _______s: A Guide to Ethnic and Religious Strife Through All Human History." It's a list of fifteen reasons, including:

5. They smell weird.

8. Can you believe they eat _______? Think about that for a second—they actually put _______ in their MOUTHS.

9. They want to sully our women.

Next up: jokes based on how frequently pulsars emit electromagnetic radiation.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:49 PM | Comments (21)

People: Are They Crazy?


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:06 PM | Comments (4)

May 28, 2009


Bill Clinton on George W. Bush, New York Times, May 28, 2009:

Clinton's relationship with the younger Bush evolved over the years...Clinton and George W. Bush agreed to appear onstage together in Toronto on May 29 for a 90-minute discussion of current events.

"You know, I'm a Baptist," Clinton explained. "We don't give up on anybody. We believe in deathbed conversions."

Bill Clinton on Saddam Hussein, New York Times, January 14, 1993:

Mr. Clinton made clear that he certainly did not view Mr. Hussein as the ideal ruler of Iraq, but that he also did not see him as a irredeemable foe of the United States, who had to be destroyed no matter what...

"I always tell everybody I am a Baptist. I believe in death-bed conversions."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:25 AM | Comments (20)

May 26, 2009

The Tomb Of The Unfortunate Civilian

By: John Caruso

Here's an excerpt from Obama's Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery:

...I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle.  I'm the father of two young girls -- but I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child.  These are things I cannot know.

But I do know this: I am humbled to be the Commander-in-Chief of the finest fighting force in the history of the world. [...]

With each death, we are heartbroken.  With each death, we grow more determined.

Now here it is with all the callous irony replaced by straightforward honesty:

...I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle.  I'm the father of two young girls -- but I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child.  These are things I cannot know.

But I do know what it's like to kill a child.  I killed a few the first week I took office, and I've killed and maimed dozens more since then.  But despite the glaring contradiction between talking lovingly about my two young girls and simultaneously being responsible for killing young girls just like them in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the only thing I care to say to you at this moment is that I am humbled to be the Commander-in-Chief of the biggest war machine in the history of the world. [...]

With each American death, we are heartbroken.  With each death that matters, we grow more determined to destroy lives that don't.

Honestly, I'd be much happier if politicians would just come right out and say things like this.

Here's a modest proposal: Obama made a point of honoring a previously-ignored group by becoming the first president to send a wreath to the African-American Civil War Memorial.  How about establishing a memorial to another ignored group—namely, the innocent people who've lost their lives as part of America's efforts to militarily spread freedom, democracy, and prosperity around the world?  I can't see how any patriotic and principled American could possibly object to this; after all, since one of the main purposes of American war-making is to help (say) Iraqis and Afghans, surely we should honor all the innocents who pay the ultimate price while we're liberating them and therefore never get to enjoy the fruits of the selfless sacrifices we make on their behalf?  It's the least a nation with such high ideals and morals (expressed through the use of such high explosives) can do.

Someday, I'm sure.  But until then we'll have to make do with our own personal remembrances of the millions of innocent people whose deaths have somehow—in the words of our maximum leader—allowed us to "know freedom."

— John Caruso

Posted at 03:38 PM | Comments (22)

New Tomdispatch


The Greatest Swindle Ever Sold
How the Financial Bailout Scams Taxpayers, Subsidizes Wall Street, and Props Up Our Broken Financial System

By Andy Kroll

On October 3rd, as the spreading economic meltdown threatened to topple financial behemoths like American International Group (AIG) and Bank of America and plunged global markets into freefall, the U.S. government responded with the largest bailout in American history. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, better known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), authorized the use of $700 billion to stabilize the nation's failing financial systems and restore the flow of credit in the economy.

The legislation's guidelines for crafting the rescue plan were clear: the TARP should protect home values and consumer savings, help citizens keep their homes, and create jobs. Above all, with the government poised to invest hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in various financial institutions, the legislation urged the bailout's architects to maximize returns to the American people.

That $700 billion bailout has since grown into a more than $12 trillion commitment by the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve. About $1.1 trillion of that is taxpayer money -- the TARP money and an additional $400 billion rescue of mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The TARP now includes 12 separate programs, and recipients range from megabanks like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase to automakers Chrysler and General Motors.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 12:16 PM | Comments (2)

May 25, 2009

To Know and Not To Know

By: Bernard Chazelle

Heard on NPR (paraphrased):

You expressed your disappointment with the Iraqis. Can you say more?

We'd give candy to this boy, and return to our vehicles. And then he'd throw stones at us.

OK, we killed his mom, humiliated his dad, detained his brother, and crippled his uncle. But what about those delicious Mars bars! Doesn't that count for something?

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 07:45 PM | Comments (12)

Memorial Day

By: Bernard Chazelle

At first we may not feel a visceral connection to those somber gravesides or the people standing there. But their loss is ours, and always will be. That is the meaning of Memorial Day.

No. Their loss is not ours. Sorry, New York Times editor, but the loss of Cindy Sheehan's son is not yours: it is hers.

No. The meaning of Memorial Day is not the sharing of loss. If Memorial Day had any meaning, we'd been spending it rolling a huge boulder up the hill, Sisyphus-like, let it roll down, and repeat till we drop. It would be painful and pointless, much like the wars to which we send our young to die.

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

Wilfred Owen

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:42 PM | Comments (9)

Colin Powell Still World's Biggest Asshole

As someone who has picked meticulously through Colin Powell's lies during his UN address, and is also familiar with the grim history of his climb to power, I didn't think Powell had any tricks left in his Giant Bag of Sleaze that would surprise me.

Oh, how wrong I was!

Check out this amazing exchange yesterday between Sam Husseini and Powell. As you'll see, Powell denies knowing anything whatsoever about the torture of Ibn al-Libi, which elicited one of Powell's claims in his UN address about connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and thus has generated screaming international headlines for several years:

Sam Husseini: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?

Colin Powell: I don’t have any details on the al-Libi case.

SH: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the UN was based on torture? When did you learn that?

CP: I don’t know that. I don’t know what information you’re referring to. So I can’t answer.

SH: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.

CP: So what? [inaudible]

SH: So you’d think you’d know about it.

CP: The information I presented to the UN was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA and they stood behind all that information. I don’t know that any of them believe that torture was involved. I don’t know that in fact. A lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings, but I’m not aware of it.

It's a veritable 9th Symphony of Lies. Colin Powell, I will never underestimate you and your scumminess again.

ALSO: Powell has used the "you have to understand, I'm an incredibly incurious moron" defense before, although not with such panache.

AND: Here's what Powell said referencing al-Libi in his UN presentation:

I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al Qaeda.

Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story. I will relate it to you now as he, himself, described it.

This senior al Qaeda terrorist was responsible for one of al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan.

His information comes firsthand from his personal involvement at senior levels of al Qaeda. He says bin Laden and his top deputy in Afghanistan, deceased al Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, did not believe that al Qaeda labs in Afghanistan were capable enough to manufacture these chemical or biological agents. They needed to go somewhere else. They had to look outside of Afghanistan for help. Where did they go? Where did they look? They went to Iraq.

The support that (inaudible) describes included Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two al Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000. He says that a militant known as Abu Abdula Al-Iraqi (ph) had been sent to Iraq several times between 1997 and 2000 for help in acquiring poisons and gases. Abdula Al-Iraqi (ph) characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:02 PM | Comments (13)

May 24, 2009

U.S.-Israeli Comedy Week

By: John Caruso

It's been a week of high comedy for watchers of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.  First, in perhaps the most epic instance of nose-thumbing since Bill Clinton started bombing Iraq just as the Security Council was convening an emergency session on the issue, Israel began constructing the first new settlement in the Jordan Valley in 26 years—the day before Netanyahu's meeting with Obama:

Israel has moved ahead with a plan to build a new settlement in the northern West Bank for the first time in 26 years, pursuing a project the United States has already condemned as an obstacle to peace efforts.

The move comes on the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, despite Western calls for Israel to halt its settlement activity.

Tenders have been issued for 20 housing units in the new Maskiot settlement and contractors have arrived on site to begin foundation work.

Then, in response to Obama's pro forma plea to stop settlement expansion, Netanyahu knocked down a few lean-tos on a hill, in what is quite possibly the most perfunctory example of shack-smacking I've ever seen from an Israeli prime minister in this oft-repeated bit of kabuki theater:

Israeli police said they razed a tiny Jewish settlement outpost in the West Bank on Thursday in what media called a gesture to US President Barack Obama after his talks with Israel's prime minister.

"We dismantled seven tin huts," said police spokesman Danny Peleg, specifying that the outpost had been built without government authorisation.

"Seven tin huts"?  Stop, my sides, you're killing me.  You have to appreciate the attention to detail Peleg showed by specifying "tin" explicitly here—really draws a mental picture, doesn't it?  And I suppose they'd already blown down the houses of straw and sticks (oops, sorry, "huts") earlier, so he didn't even bother mentioning those.

And in case these examples of Israel's remarkable commitment to peace weren't a clear enough illustration of who typically calls the shots in this relationship, take a look at this Reuters article from yesterday:

The U.S. administration of President Barack Obama will not force Israel to state publicly whether it has nuclear weapons, an Israeli official said on Thursday. [...]  A senior Israeli diplomat, speaking after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held his first summit with Obama in Washington this week, said: "This has never happened, nor will it happen with this administration."

Don't you just love that tone of command?  Like a drill sergeant assessing his latest batch of recruits.  Exactly like a drill sergeant assessing his latest batch of recruits.  I'm not sure what's funnier here: that, or Reuters dutifully shoveling Ehud Olmert's explicit admission that Israel is a nuclear power down the memory hole.

I also found this bit particularly interesting: "That U.S. message had been conveyed, the diplomat said, 'on the various levels of our bilateral talks'."  See, I knew there was an agreement between the United States and Israel that the U.S. would never admit the existence of Israel's 200-400 nukes, but until now I'd never seen evidence that it was anything but tacit.  But there you have it: Israeli officials make a point of extracting promises from U.S. administrations to lie about Israel's ability to destroy the world.

You can usually count on one good laugh a week from the U.S.-Israeli relationship, but three?  Outstanding!

— John Caruso

Posted at 11:18 PM | Comments (1)


By: Bernard Chazelle

Patience with the vid: annoying noise disappears after a minute or so.

Like "Round Midnight," "Django" is one of those jazz standards that have gotten everything right: composition, harmonic structure, melody, motives, swing, etc. The tune was composed by John Lewis to honor the memory of his good friend Django Reinhardt. The two became acquainted during Django's disastrous New York tour with Duke Ellington. Why disastrous? Because Ellington hated the guitar and Django hated Carnegie Hall -- he spent all of his time hiding on 52nd St. with John Lewis. As much as I like Milt Jackson, I believe that John Lewis was the heart of the MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet; formerly Milt Jackson Quartet). The jazz world is very divided about him. Being an unconditional fan of any human being who can hold his/her own in a bebop ensemble, I may not be a good judge. But there is a certain snobbery in jazz -- it can be cliquish -- and amazing musicians like John Lewis and Oscar Peterson were never fully accepted in the top-tier "community." Don't get me wrong: those guys played with everybody! But both were on the receiving end of the worst insult in jazz: "Can't play the blues." I think the charge is laughably unfair.

"Django" is Lewis's most famous composition. I think it is a gem of American music. People claim to see in it a lot of Gypsy music. I don't. Gypsy music has attitude (see 2nd vid in post). "Django" is funeral music in the best New Orleans tradition. It's really a blues piece phrased within a Bach framework (I don't use the word Baroque music, which I find meaningless). The inspiration is undeniably Bach. It's what Gunther Schuller termed "third stream."

The tune begins with a dirge on the vibes (0:28-1:10) in the expert hands of Milt "Bags" Jackson. His bluesy solo (no one ever accused Bags of not "getting" the blues) takes us to a big slowdown at 1:51, when Connie Kay drops his brushes and rides his cymbal. The vibes go heavy into bop territory while Kay drops his Kenny Clarke "bombs," uses the snare for accents and all that good beboppy stuff. (Note: most of these guys paid their dues with Dizzy Gillespie.) Then John Lewis takes over at 3:05. It's like a classical music recital. (Lewis replaced Monk with Diz and you can also spot his influence in the hesitant, angular playing.) Finally, Percy Heath on bass slows it down again and brings it all back home to the head. The circle is complete. Bach would understand, and love, every nanonote of this beautiful music.

Now if you want Gypsy attitude with your Bach, check this out. It's great fun!

Taro Hakase and Iwao Furusawa in "Bach's Concerto for two violins"

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:48 PM | Comments (11)

May 23, 2009

That's How It Goes, Everybody Knows

By: Bernard Chazelle

Everybody knows. By now everybody knows we're slaughtering women and children in Afghanistan. We even worry about it. No, not worry in the sense, "OMG we're slaughtering women and children! How evil can we be?" Worry in the sense "How can we win that thing if we piss off the natives?" The Times explains

the trade-off between the short-term gain of eliminating enemy fighters and the larger danger of alienating the general population.

That's Jack the Ripper wondering if bumping off all those prostitutes might not end up hurting his popularity in London. Note how the Times's quote strips our "knowledge" of the slaughter of all morality. It's a chess game, really, with its "gains" and "dangers." In a poignant op-ed today, the Irish writer John Banville wonders what it means "to know."

If children were sent to orphanages, industrial schools and reformatories, it must be because they were destined for it, and must belong there. What happened to them within those unscalable walls was no concern of ours. We knew, and did not know. That is our shame today.

The rationalization is the same. The shame is not. In fact a whole academic field was created for the specific purpose of "deshaming" our imperial conquests. It's called "International Relations." Read Banville's piece. (For the writing alone, and for the rest, it's worth it.)

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 11:02 AM | Comments (37)

May 22, 2009

All State Propaganda Boiled Down Into Five Words

Dick Cheney did a good job yesterday at distilling all state propaganda throughout human history down to its essence:

Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a "recruitment tool" for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values. This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It's another version of that same old refrain from the Left, "We brought it on ourselves."

Actually, the "Left" believes YOU brought it on US, you vicious, vile old man. (This angry response also applicable to responses by the "Left" throughout human history.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 05:44 PM | Comments (59)

May 21, 2009

New Tomdispatch


Going for Broke
Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding

By Tom Engelhardt

Yes, Stanley McChrystal is the general from the dark side (and proud of it). So the recent sacking of Afghan commander General David McKiernan after less than a year in the field and McChrystal's appointment as the man to run the Afghan War seems to signal that the Obama administration is going for broke. It's heading straight into what, in the Vietnam era, was known as "the big muddy."

General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon's super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which, among other things, ran what Seymour Hersh has described as an "executive assassination wing" out of Vice President Cheney's office. (Cheney just returned the favor by giving the newly appointed general a ringing endorsement: "I think you'd be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.")

McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of "manhunters" he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there, Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." Since some of the task force's men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn't avoided.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:40 AM | Comments (5)

Their Cozy Little Village

I don't think there's anything wrong with the Washington Post publishing op-eds by Bob Graham. But it does seem like they might mention that he's a member of the family that owns the Post, and the great-uncle of the current publisher.

I guess they figure everyone who deserves to know already does, so why bother? It would just make the peasants upset and confused, and set a bad precedent.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:54 AM | Comments (4)

May 20, 2009

69% Of Israelis Are Clinically Insane

By: John Caruso

At least according to this article:

Only 31 percent of Israelis consider the views of American president Barack Obama's administration pro-Israel, according to a Smith Research poll released Sunday, on the eve of the meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House.

Yes...yes, I suppose Barack Obama's pro-Israel credentials could reasonably be questioned.  Much like, say, Santa Claus's pro-Christmas credentials.  Why does he only wear red and no green?  I'm telling you, something's fishy about that bearded freak.

PREVIOUSLY: 77% of Americans are total goobs.   And golly, it sure is tough being an Israel-first voter!

— John Caruso

Posted at 08:35 PM | Comments (25)

May 19, 2009

China's Greatest Living Playwright Should Stop Stealing From Me

Me, last year:

Power makes human beings stupid.

Now here's Sha Yexin, who frankly I hadn't heard of until today, but who is apparently a big deal in China:

[P]ower makes people stupid.

I don't think the fact that this observation has been made thousands of times in human history should affect my lawsuit against Mr. Yexin for one trillion dollars.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 04:11 PM | Comments (22)

New Tomdispatch


Why We Can't See the Trees or the Forest
The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia
By Noam Chomsky

The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation, and surprise. The shock and indignation are understandable. The surprise, less so.

For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law -- a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously. The same expectations held for the Bush administration's "black sites," or secret prisons, and for extraordinary rendition, and they were fulfilled.

More importantly, torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire" -- as George Washington called the new republic -- extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:43 AM | Comments (32)

May 18, 2009

Fathers, Daughters, And The Rules

This is part of a Los Angeles Times story on the recent U.S. bombing in Afghanistan that killed about 140 people:

Piercing wails rose into the antiseptic-scented air where four blistered and bandaged little girls lay in side-by-side hospital beds. One of them, 5-year-old Ferishteh, writhed and cried almost continuously, unable to find a position that did not cause her pain from the burns that covered her arms, legs and torso.

On the night of May 4, the girls' families, frightened by hours of fierce fighting between insurgents and Afghan and Western troops in and around Garani, had sought shelter, together with dozens of neighbors, in a pair of sprawling compounds belonging to the village's most powerful tribal clans.

After the clashes subsided in the early evening, residents said, many were bedding down by about 8:30, still huddled together in hope of safety.

That, they say, is when the bombs fell...

Nurses and doctors said Nazbibi's father, Saeed Malham, rarely left her bedside...

"When they told me what had happened, I fainted under a tree," he said. Then he rushed home, returning to a village marked by destroyed homes and fresh graves.

The father of the other three girls in the burn unit, Saeed Barakat, was also separated from his wife and children at the time of the bombardment. He had gone to the mosque in the early evening, and then to the home of an elder married daughter to spend the night.

When the alarm was raised, he hurried to the compound where his family had been sleeping. There he encountered a nightmarish landscape of blood-covered rubble and severed limbs. A hand was found in a nearby tree. Only seven of more than 70 people inside were alive, according to Barakat and others interviewed.

And here's Barack Obama, in Sderot, Israel in July, 2008

"If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that."

How many people have the rockets from Gaza killed? Let's say ten. How many people were killed as Israel did everything in its power to stop that? At least 100 times as many. Thus, according to the rules as articulated by the current president, Afghans may now kill 14,000 Americans.

That may seem like a lot, but fair's fair.


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 11:45 AM | Comments (80)

May 17, 2009

Sympathy Barf

By: John Caruso

Dennis Perrin suggests projectile vomiting as a reasonable response to some of The Nation's recent Obama-related output, like Katrina vanden Heuvel's ode to the alpha Democrat:

In a recent summation of Obama's first 100 days, KVH recites the standard litany, by now a staple to anyone familiar with Obamaspeak. But amid the apologetics stands this revolting sentence:

"But there are two areas which I fear could endanger the Obama Presidency: military escalation in Afghanistan and the bank bailout."

Note where KVH's concern lies -- with the Obama Presidency. That the man is incinerating poor people in Afghanistan while allowing prisoners held without charge to rot in Bagram cages, and is paying back his wealthy benefactors with more state assistance while millions of Americans struggle to meet basic needs doesn't seem to seriously concern KVH. It's how all this might "endanger" Obama's rule that moves her to write.

I agree with Dennis that her framing deserves special attention; just read that one sentence over and over, and let it sink in.  It's also worth noting the deference to power represented by the erroneous capital at the beginning of "presidency"—which makes it clear that she's not talking merely about the period of time that will pass while Obama is president, but rather Obama's exalted reign itself.

Believe it or not, Dennis is actually too kind to KVH in this instance.  Here's how she explained her concern about the way that military escalation in Afghanistan might "endanger the Obama Presidency": 

On Afghanistan, I am concerned that it will bleed us of the resources needed for economic recovery, further destabilize Pakistan, open a rift with our European allies, and negate the positive effects of withdrawing from Iraq on our image in the Muslim world.

Got that?  Incinerating poor people in Afghanistan is bad because it might cost too much money to allow us to prop up the economy—among other similarly weighty and pressing concerns.

Note in particular the lack of any moral basis for rejecting a massive increase in the level of death and destruction inflicted by the American military in Afghanistan.  This is par for the course for liberals these days; piffling considerations like human life or international law are discounted for them in the age of Obama, in which the golden calf of Pragmatism is worshiped with single-minded devotion.  No, such outmoded concerns are the sole provenance of fuzzy-headed idealists who haven't managed to grasp that all the fundamental equations of moral calculus changed the instant a Democrat started doing the killing.

This is not to say these liberals don't care about human life, of course, even deeply; they just keep it in its proper perspective, as political expediency and U.S. exceptionalism demand.  KVH demonstrated this careful balancing act a month earlier when she wrote that "Escalation will not increase US security or secure a better future for the Afghan people--indeed, more troops will certainly mean more dead civilians."  So she did express some (muted) concern for the lives of Afghan civilians, but also made a point of properly subordinating it to "U.S. security"—thus maintaining her credentials as a serious mainstream commentator.  And she prefaced this sentence with the same list of "pragmatic" considerations I already quoted above, putting concern for the lives of Afghan civilians sixth in a list of six reasons, where it belongs.

In that same article she offered this plaintive cry, which goes back to Dennis's point:

Up to this point, the Afghan war belonged to George W. Bush, but Obama's escalation threatens to make it his own. There's still time to change direction. President Obama, don't make this your war!

Again, see how she focuses on her beloved President rather than distractions like the war itself or its innocent victims.  In her frame, war is not "the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole," but just another personality-driven/partisan policy issue, to be judged in terms of how it might "endanger the Obama Presidency" or undermine "U.S. security".

Finally, note the hilarious conceit of addressing Obama directly—as though he might actually be reading and carefully considering her words for himself.  This is the fatal flaw of liberals, which comes screaming to the fore whenever the Democrats they revere are in power: they genuinely believe they have an ally in the White House who shares their concerns and cares about what they have to say.  The fact that in Obama's case we already have mountains of evidence to dispel that fantasy—even after so little time—matters not at all; like all dogmatic beliefs, this one is proof against reason.  And the fact that people who labor under such a towering delusion also spend so much of their time accusing others of political naivete is just one of the many brain-numbing ironies we get to enjoy whenever a Democrat becomes president.

— John Caruso

Posted at 11:11 PM | Comments (40)

May 14, 2009

Pull The Other One

Guest post by Nell of A Lovely Promise

Pres. Obama's decision to resist the release of long-withheld images of U.S. torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo is yet another self-inflicted injury to the idea that his administration is willing to be "transparent". The excuse offered adds insult -- an insult to the intelligence:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters yesterday that President Obama has "great concern" about the impact that releasing the photos would have on soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Puhleeze. His great concern is about the impact on the U.S. public, half of which is already far more interested in accountability for torture than he is, and the other half unwilling or unable to conceive of U.S. torture unless shown pictures.

The Iraqi and Afghan public don't need five-year-old pictures of torture to loathe and wish harm to U.S. troops: they've lived it, they've heard the survivors' accounts, and they're still experiencing massacres by air strikes, house raids, checkpoints, lawless detention, and the multiple humiliations of occupation. The only things that could dampen their anger are the departure of U.S. troops and trials, conviction and long sentences for higher-ups responsible for the crimes committed against their peoples.

Obama's greatest concern is that another burst of revulsion about torture will gum up the Senate confirmation of his pick to command U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lt.Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who led a network of torture and assassination squads in Iraq until last year. Many members of McChrystal's dirty-war task forces are still in the field in both countries, and probably Pakistan. They were told by Army JAGs that the abuse and torture of prisoners was legal, informed of a written directive authorizing them to use torture techniques forbidden to regular soldiers, assured repeatedly that they'd be protected by higher-ups from being held responsible for their actions, and, when a little investigative heat was applied, were allowed to scuttle it by the convenient destruction of computer files.

Since earlier appeals on the release of the torture images went against the government, and a court order already exists to produce them, the administration's only real chance of preventing release is for the Supreme Court to agree to hear the case. This is a long shot, making it likely that what Obama is really going for is a delay -- to cool things out for the confirmation of his horrific pick to command the metastasizing mess in Afghanistan (and Pakistan).

It's sickening to see Obama try to justify illegal secrecy by hiding behind the troops in just the way Bush used to do. It's even more appalling to see him not only do nothing to hold torture commanders accountable, but promote them.

Good luck with that, Mr. President. The Tillmans are unwilling to sit quietly and let pass McChrystal's part in the propaganda disgrace and coverup of their son's death by 'friendly fire'. Sy Hersh has tied McChrystal to Cheney's assassination squads. And, if the principle of command responsibility had any force at all in the U.S. military, McChrystal would have to answer for the pervasive, routine use of torture by his dirty-war task forces in Iraq. Late last year, confirmation hearings for his last post were held up by concerns about the torture under his command, but a private chat with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee appears to have given everyone involved the cover sought. Photos or no photos, the upcoming confirmation hearings are going to be an occasion for looking back.

Of course, liberals unwilling to call for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan are reduced to hoping that Obama's people know what they're doing, while barely suppressing their inner conviction that, as in Iraq, there's no way to 'win'. That produces this kind of characterization of McChrystal from people who should know better: "a new commander in Afghanistan who is steeped in counterinsurgency doctrine and [has] devoted considerable resources and political capital to a new strategy there". He's steeped in something, all right, and it isn't just doctrine.

—Nell Lancaster

Posted at 10:56 AM | Comments (154)

May 12, 2009

I'm Gonna Run fer Congress!

By: Aaron Datesman

If economists had groupies, I’d be a Dean Baker groupie. I’m sure I’m not the only one reading this web site, either. It’s probably my inner physics teacher, but his frequent lectures on innumeracy really, uh, turn me on. Unfortunately, since I actually was a physics teacher for several years, I find it no surprise that 17-year-olds who can’t really grasp the difference between a million, a billion, and a trillion grow into adults who still have no idea.

On the other hand, I have a proposal to turn our culture’s rampaging incompetence with numbers to my advantage! I’m gonna run fer Congress! And I’m going to win, too. This is how.

I have a simple platform, which I will scream loudly from every conceivable location until I turn red in the face. This will continue until I am elected. My message is this: “America’s military is worn down, and we’re practically defenseless! When I’m elected, I promise to spend $200 billion per year on the Department of Defense! That’s more than Russia and China put together!”

That sure is a lot of money! I think that there is no way this approach could fail. Once elected, I will then ensure my enduring popularity by spending the leftover $500-600 billion we were formerly wasting on “defense” to buy a puppy for every American. Also, guaranteed single-payer health care. And a free college education.

I honestly wonder whether anyone at all would be the wiser.

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at 10:57 PM | Comments (25)

May 11, 2009

Our Awesomeness in Numbers

By: Bernard Chazelle

The OECD report is out. Like a pack of hungry wallabies, the media pounced immediately on the only item worth reporting: the French eat and sleep longer hours than anyone, and yet they're among the thinnest. The Americans work the longest hours, spend half as much time eating as the French, and they're the fattest! No wonder everybody hates the French. Oh, and something the wallabies missed. The French (like most Europeans) are now taller than the Americans. No doubt the nativists will blame short immigrants, except that science has conclusively debunked that myth. Americans are shrinking (in height, not width) because of poor diet and lousy prenatal/infant care.

If you prefer, you can quit reading right here, and surf on to other sites that will tell you how the US is number 1 in all sorts of important things, like arms sales; bank transactions; billionaires; etc. GDP is high, too, and by the measures of classical economics, we're not doing too bad.

The difference with the OECD report is that it gives you numbers that actually matter to living human beings. You may choose to be shocked, shocked that such things happen in our advanced society. But when a rule has more exceptions than instances in which it holds, it's helpful to change the rule. Once you think that we live in a third-world plutocracy, then all of a sudden everything begins to make sense.

Also, after you read and weep, ask yourself why the only item that made the headlines was about the sleeping habits of the French. Maybe the French always sleep but the American propaganda machine surely never does.

Here are the US rankings out of the 30 OECD countries (1 is best; 30 is worst -- worst as in Somalia-like). The names of the countries even more Somalian than the US appear in parens.

Infant Deaths: 28 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey).

Life Expectancy: 24 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Czech & Slovak Republics).

Health Expenditures: 1 out of 30.

Poverty Rates: 28 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey).

Child Poverty: 27 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Poland).

Income Inequality: 27 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Portugal).

Obesity: 30 out of 30.

Incarceration: 30 out of 30.

Work Hours (ranked in ascending order): 30 out of 30.

Height (women): 25 out of 30 (Mexico, Turkey, Korea, Portugal, Japan).

Height (men): 24 out of 30 (Italy, Spain, Mexico, Portugal, Korea, Japan).

OECD countries: Turkey, Mexico, Poland, USA, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Greece, Luxemburg, Australia, Netherlands, Slovakia, Korea, Czech Republic, UK, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Iceland, France, Austria, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 11:06 AM | Comments (44)

May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

By: Bernard Chazelle

Bach wrote this cantata (BWV 51) to be sung by a boy. Except there is not a boy in the world with the technical ability to sing it. Even among professional sopranos, this cantata inspires absolute terror. In this meditative aria, it's the contrast between the simplicity of the accompaniment and the power of the melody that's striking. And, my god, what a voice! When it comes to voice, let's face it, men can't compete. Of course it's totally unfair. Women are born with a stradivarius in their throat and we are born with a coffee grinder. That's life.

So, here's to the glorious female voice and happy mother's day to all the moms out there!

PS: Notice, once again, the gentle lilt of a dance.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 04:13 PM | Comments (22)

May 08, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

By: Bernard Chazelle

About 60,000 Americans died in Vietnam. No one knows exactly how many Vietnamese civilians died, but there is good reason to believe the number exceeds 3 million. And that would not count the destruction in Cambodia and Laos or the half-million children born with deformities caused by defoliants. Robert McNamara believes 3.4 million Vietnamese were slaughtered. Even an ardent supporter of the war like Michael Lind concedes that the number is in excess of 2 million -- or, to go by a familiar metric, one third of the Holocaust.

So let's check the chapter on the Vietnam War in one of the leading textbooks used in US colleges, "American Foreign Policy," authored by Bruce Jentleson, a Duke University professor of political science and former Al Gore advisor:

American casualties in Vietnam numbered more than two hundred thousand, including almost sixty thousand deaths. Vietnamese casualties numbered in the hundreds of thousands as well.

That's it for the whole book. It's not that Jentleson is math-averse. The book gives you the precise body count for the Holocaust, Darfur, etc. The author only wants every American college student to know that the Vietnamese suffered almost as much as the Americans. Maybe some even died. There's no way to know. But this is only the 3rd edition of the textbook, so perhaps new research will inform future editions about this matter.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 06:37 PM | Comments (34)

Cheney Confirms Iran-Contra Cover-Up

In a new article by Stephen "W.W. Beauchamp" Hayes, former Vice President Cheney gripes extensively about the Obama administration. It's exactly what you'd expect. But what you might not expect is that Cheney (seemingly inadvertently) confirms that there was a massive cover-up of the Iran-Contra scandal by the Reagan administration:

"I went through the Iran-contra hearings and watched the way administration officials ran for cover and left the little guys out to dry. And I was bound and determined that wasn't going to happen this time."

Considering that two national security advisers (Robert McFarlane and John Poindexter) and the Secretary of Defense (Caspar Weinberger) were some of the "little guys" who were prosecuted for Iran-Contra, it's obvious who Cheney is talking about as hanging them out to dry: President Reagan and Vice President Bush.

Here's how Robert Parry describes the conclusions of Iran-Contra Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh:

According to Firewall, the cover-up conspiracy took formal shape at a meeting of Reagan and his top advisers in the Situation Room at the White House on Nov. 24, 1986. The meeting's principal point of concern was how to handle the troublesome fact that Reagan had approved illegal arms sales to Iran in fall 1985, before any covert-action finding had been signed. The act was a clear felony -- a violation of the Arms Export Control Act -- and possibly an impeachable offense.

Though virtually everyone at the meeting knew that Reagan had approved those shipments through Israel, Attorney General Edwin Meese announced what would become the cover story. According to Walsh's narrative, Meese "told the group that although [NSC adviser Robert] McFarlane had informed [Secretary of State George] Shultz of the planned shipment, McFarlane had not informed the president. ...

"[White House chief of staff Don] Regan, who had heard McFarlane inform the president and who had heard the president admit to Shultz that he knew of the shipment of Hawk [anti-aircraft] missiles, said nothing. Shultz and [Defense Secretary Caspar] Weinberger, who had protested the shipment before it took place, said nothing. [Vice President George] Bush, who had been told of the shipment in advance by McFarlane, said nothing. Casey, who [had] requested that the president sign the retroactive finding to authorize the CIA-facilitated delivery, said nothing. [NSC adviser John] Poindexter, who had torn up the finding, said nothing. Meese asked whether anyone knew anything else that hadn't been revealed. No one spoke."

When Shultz returned to the State Department, he dictated a note to his aide, Charles Hill, who wrote down that Reagan's men were "rearranging the record." They were trying to protect the president through a "carefully thought out strategy" that would "blame it on Bud" McFarlane.

It really is considerate of Cheney to tell the truth about this. Here's an interesting story from Parry's book Lost History about how he saw firsthand the kind of thing Cheney may be reacting to:

How quickly the investigative space was closing down hit home to me on March 10, 1987. I had been asked to attend a dinner at the home of bureau chief Evan Thomas in an exclusive neighborhood in northwest Washington. The guests that night were retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was one of three members of the Tower Commission [set up by Reagan to investigate Iran-contra], and Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyo., who was the ranking House Republican on the congressional Iran-contra committee.

At the table also were some of Newsweek's top executives and a few of us lowly correspondents. As the catered dinner progressed and a tuxedoed waiter kept the wine glasses full, the guests were politely questioned. Scowcroft, a studious-looking man, fidgeted as if he wanted to get something off his chest. "Maybe I shouldn't say this but," he began with a slight hesitation. He then continued, "If I were advising Admiral Poindexter and he had told the president about the diversion, I would advise him to say that he hadn't."

It's nice when people at the highest levels of government confirm what everyone already knew, even if it takes a few decades.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 07:37 AM | Comments (22)

May 07, 2009

My Torture Memo

By: Bernard Chazelle

No sentence should end with the words, "therefore, torture is wrong." Rather, it should read, "Torture is wrong; therefore..." The purpose of this post is to explain why.

One could burn many pixels over the precise definition of the word torture. But let's simply agree that the CIA, indeed, tortured, and skip the formalism. Rough agreement with common intuition will do. One crucial distinction we must keep in mind, however, is that a psychopath who tortures for pleasure is not evil: he is mad. I will, therefore, restrict torture to the coerced exchange of unbearable pain for information, the key point here being that torture is a forced trade, very much like slavery. I'll get back to that. My argument weaves 5 threads together:

1. Torture sometimes succeeds in accomplishing its immediate, narrow objectives.

2. If torture is ever preferable to all feasible alternatives, it can only be so within the confines of the following scenario or its equivalents:

Cops spot man buring live child in large forest. Cops email headquarters photo of man with note that child will suffocate and die in 2 hours. Man kills cops before they can communicate location or switch on GPS. Man gets caught an hour later with ransom note. Man refuses to talk under standard interrogation techniques.

3. Torture is always wrong. In fact, being one of the most serious affronts to the humanity of the tortured (and the torturer), it counts as one of the worst forms of evil.

4. Torture should be legally banned without exceptions. All violators should be prosecuted.

5. There will, indeed, be instances -- so rare as to be virtually nonexistent -- where torture is the lesser evil. People will be ethically -- but not legally -- entitled to engage in it. If they do so, whether ordered or not, they should be prosecuted. Application of Point 4 should not be dependent on any life-saving benefit derived from torture.


Point 1 states a known fact. Gestapo torturing was highly effective in dismantling resistance cells all across Europe. Torture was crucial in winning the Battle of Algiers, even if the blowback was ultimately fatal. Most security experts say that torture is a poor method for extracting information. I agree. But this in no way contradicts Point 1. As an aside, arguing against torture on the grounds that "it never works" is a dreadful idea for 3 reasons: (i) it's false; (ii) even if it were true, it would be unprovable; (iii) it concedes the moral argument by implying that, if torture could be made to work, then it might be OK. (It's not unlike arguing against prostitution by saying that a woman is worth more than $200, which suggests that it's just a matter of finding the right price.)

Point 2 is a conditional statement: it says nothing about the acceptability of torture. It only sets the parameters for civilized discourse. Of course, the word "equivalent" is open to abuse. My kidnapping story is realistic--something similar has in fact happened--yet almost too perfect. To kill a child for money meets a standard of universally recognized evil that the ticking-bomb scenario does not. I don't mean to help our patriotic torture lovers out here, but I want to point out that the ticking-bomb scenario suffers from a weakness stemming from people's willful acceptance of Kant's categorical imperative in theory but not in practice. If you endorse ticking-bomb torture, then you must agree with its application when it's one of your guys who is captured with knowledge of a forthcoming bombing raid on a civilian population. If you don't, Mr Dershowitz, you are -- what's new?-- a fraud.

Point 3 appeals to a moral imperative. It is not the slightest bit consequentialist or utilitarian. Torture is not wrong because of its ineffectiveness or its politically-motivated abuse. It's not wrong because it makes us look as bad as the other side. Being the most dehumanizing instance of using man as a means to an end, torture is wrong in and of itself. Therefore, rejecting torture should not be a calculus. It should not lie at the end of a logical chain of inferences, but at its very beginning. The condemnation of torture must be an a priori judgment. The best answer to the question: "Why is torture evil?" is "Because it feels evil."

But why does torture feel evil? The infamous torture memos call it self-defense, and no one would reasonably call for criminalizing self-defense. Perhaps the most obvious refutation to this astonishingly flawed piece of legal thinking is that the ticking-bomb terrorist is not about to commit a crime. How can you call self-defense an attack against someone who is not about to cause you any harm? He may be guilty as hell, but (collective) self-defense does not allow you to attack people simply because they are guilty: they must be threatening you (or society). The captured terrorist is not: he only knows of someone/something else that is. Some have drawn the distinction between active and passive to separate torture from self-defense. It is intellectually dubious. Suppose the child's kidnapper fell into quicksand before getting caught by the police. The cops decide to throw him a rope only if he tells them the location of the car; else they'll let him suffocate and die an excruciating death. Is that torture? Yes, it is. And yet the torture involves inaction rather than action. One could counter-argue that it's not torture because the kidnapper fell into the quicksand on his own and was not pushed by the cops. That is missing the point entirely: the issue with torture is not the origin of the process but the process itself, ie, coerced trade. The police decide to engage in trading pain & death for information. That is the definition of torture.

Points 4 and 5 are the crux of the matter. My starting point is that the occasional necessity of torture cannot be denied. The kidnapped-child scenario has, indeed, happened -- though no national-security equivalent ever has (as far as I know). But that's no reason to discount its possibility. Philosophically, one cannot ignore the moral ramifications of a situation just because it is exceedingly rare. If you wonder why, consider the following argument: "The kidnapped-child scenario happens only in the movies, so let's declare torture universally unacceptable." The trouble is that I can use the same argument to reach the opposite conclusion: "If I say torture is acceptable in the kidnapped-child scenario, what do you care anyway? Remember, it just happens in the movies!"

Note that I said "acceptable," not "legal." Torture should be banned unconditionally, though the possibility that it might be sometimes necessary should not be ruled out. The apparent contradiction between law and morals should come as no surprise. Legality is much coarser than morality --that's not a flaw-- and the two will inevitably clash on occasion. Here the point is that torture is always evil but it cannot be ruled out categorically that it is always more evil than all feasible alternatives. Sometimes, the best solution available can still be evil (eg, Sophie's Choice.) In fact, I can't imagine anyone among us who would not seriously consider torturing the kidnapper: (i) it is morally the best course of action; (ii) yet it is deeply evil. I want to argue now why it is crucial that the law reflect (ii) and ignore (i). This is where the coarseness of legality compared with morality is a strength and not a weakness. Point 5 is not an acknowledgment that we all do bad things sometimes: it's an acknowledgment that torturing might be the heroic thing to do. Why do I use this word? Because of this:

If you're so damn sure that torturing someone will save innocent lives, then you'd better be willing to go to prison for it. But why? Why prosecute you if, indeed, you followed the least evil course of action under the circumstances? Isn't the law always supposed to steer you toward the least immoral outcome? But if here the law punishes you for doing the "right thing," won't it entice you to do wrong the next time? Yes, it will and that's unfortunate. But it's a price worth paying. In this case the law serves a higher purpose than keeping people on the straight and narrow. Anti-torture laws are necessary because the rare necessity of torture (outlined in Point 2) should never be elevated into a principle. The best can still be bad. The only way society can affirm the evilness of torture is to punish the torturer -- no matter how well-intentioned he was. That's the tragedy of torture. To make any exception for the "good" torturers, who did the right thing to save the child, would imply that torture can sometimes be less than evil. It never is. (But is it realistic? Which court will convict a hero? Being realistic is ethically irrelevant. Ending slavery was once viewed as unrealistic. So what?)

To summarize, torture, though, sadly, it cannot be ruled out as always unnecessary, should be legally banned unconditionally. Violators should be prosecuted, even if they acted in the least evil way possible. The attendant disincentive is the price to pay for the higher good of enshrining torture as an evil society rejects categorically. Torture is evil because it violates a moral imperative that finds its source deep in humanity's moral intuition, rather than at the end of a chain of deductions. "Torture is wrong; therefore..."

And now, if you'll allow me, I'll return to my current research topic: bird flocking.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 11:48 AM | Comments (77)

May 06, 2009

Obama Administration Demands A Halt To Reckless Honesty By Israel

By: John Caruso

For years now (and with the full support of the United States), the Israeli government has been stealing as much Palestinian land as it can in every way it can, while simultaneously pretending to negotiate seriously with whatever co-opted entity happens to be claiming to represent Palestinian interests at the moment.  The technical term for this is the "peace process".  The goal has always been 1) to delay a final settlement as long as possible, thus allowing for the theft of the maximum amount of territory, or failing that, 2) to leave the Palestinians with meaningless administrative responsibility for the tiniest and most worthless possible parcels of land.  The technical term for this highly undesirable but increasingly unavoidable latter outcome is the "two-state solution".  And continuing the "peace process" in pursuit of a "two-state solution" is critical to keeping international criticism and public pressure for a genuine resolution of the issue at manageable levels.

Key to all of this is constant lying, of course, and Israeli governments have generally understood this necessity and deployed the proper euphemisms.  But like frothing right-wingers everywhere, the Netanyahu government (and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in particular) has shown a distressing tendency to just blurt out the unvarnished truth.  And the U.S., in its role as the "honest broker" (another technical term), has finally had enough of this irresponsible behavior:

The Obama Administration has signalled a tougher approach towards Israel ahead of fresh talks on the Middle East peace process by insisting it must endorse the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

"Israel has to work toward a two-state solution," declared Vice-President Joe Biden today in a speech to the annual conference of a powerful pro-Israel lobby group in Washington.

And it appears that the message is getting through:

Less than a month after Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman publicly declared all peace talks with the Palestinians were dead, the controversial Yisraeli Beiteinu head used a visit to Rome to insist that the government was dedicated to producing a peace deal with the Palestinians, and said he was confident that the Netanyahu government would "reach a secure and definitive peace" with not just the Palestinians, but all the Arab nations as well.

Further pointing to a dramatic shift in the hawkish government’s official position, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon says that, despite Lieberman’s previous claims to the contrary, the government would abide by the commitments of previous governments and would pursue a two-state solution.

Which is a shame, since I was enjoying this rare truth opening and hoped it might continue for a few more months.  But to the relief of the "honest broker", it looks like the "peace process" towards a "two-state solution" will soon be back in full swing.

— John Caruso

Posted at 04:08 PM | Comments (4)

First Naked President

1992 gave us the first American president to (kind of) admit taking drugs. Then in 1998 the same president survived having an affair in office and lying about it. Then 2008 gave us the first president to admit having used cocaine.

I predict that in 2040 we will see a president elected even though naked pictures of them and/or sex tapes in which they participate are available online. Of course, by that point that will be true of 74% of all Americans.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 08:53 AM | Comments (12)

May 05, 2009

"Old Man"

By: Bernard Chazelle

I've always loved Neil Young's voice. It's just perfect for the kind of music he sings.

Sorry to go technical on you so fast, but the first thing to understand is why this is such a "guitar" song (ie, why Billy Joel could not possibly have composed it). "Old Man" begins with the open chord of FM7 on the 5th fret. Being so way up, the open form gives you the notes in the "wrong" order: same idea in Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond". Here, the dissonance E, F gets full play (which it won't in standard major 7th forms). Meanwhile, that 3rd string gets hammered on to produce a G-C effect. That chord form sets the "mood" of the song. On the guitar, you couldn't play it in another key. That's the sound you heard in every coffee house in the 70s.

Then we go to D with the (inevitable) sus 4 -- the bane or genius of rock 'n' roll depending on your tastes. It's all very old-fashioned guitar playing. Too much of it gets quickly tiresome. But Neil Young likes to surprise, and so he quickly throws in a dominant sound. In fact the magic of the whole song is this transition at (1:13), when he takes us through the same folk/rock progression as Hendrix's "Hey Joe". It's a standard cycle of 5ths, but in rock the inverted cycle is much more common so it's not the kind of sound you'll hear every day on your top-40 channel.

Some will call the major-seventh open chord folk guitar sound painfully dated. Maybe. But it will bring poignant memories to others, which is what it's all about in the end. Truly a lovely song!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 08:24 PM | Comments (12)

May 04, 2009

Simple Math

By: Bernard Chazelle

By switching parties, Arlen Specter, one of the most moderate Republicans, has effectively moved both parties to the right. That's elementary math. Which is why The Economist wrote:

Arlen Specter has shifted the balance of power in Washington yet farther to the left.

... yet farther to the Democratic side would have been more accurate. But who cares about accuracy when you have a chance to scare everyone with the horrifying phrase "yet farther to the left."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:15 PM | Comments (18)

May 03, 2009

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches Into My Head

Am I the only person on earth who's watched the documentary The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On? I ask because it's the most profound indictment of our species I've ever seen, and I'd like to find another viewer and discuss our mutual pain.

It's horrifying not just because it's about various atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in the waning days of World War II. What's even more upsetting is that the man trying to bring the perpetrators to some sort of justice is teetering on the edge of insanity and so personally unpleasant you often hope he'll fail.

But worst of all is how it portrays human attempts at communicating. The movie is essentially nothing but conversations. And every single one exposes each person involved as lost in an impenetrable fog of confusion, fear, irrationality and self-delusion.

The only film I've ever seen that compares is The Titicut Follies, about the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. But at least with that you knew the insane asylum had an outside.

(Interesting fact: years after the Bridgewater asylum closed, my cousin's national guard unit underwent training on its grounds. Make of that what you will.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at 03:34 PM | Comments (9)

Tomb of the Unknown Commenter

By: Bernard Chazelle

I've had flu-like symptoms and a sore throat for the past few days. I think I have PIGGY FLU! (I look at the adorable creature below, and seeing a bit of my soul in that sweet face, I can't get myself to call it swine.) But before I die of asphyxiation (I have my entire scuba diving equipment on -- a clever bit of advice I got from Joe Biden), I regret to inform you that, most likely, you're contaminated, too. Sorry about that. But a new CDC study funded by stimulus money reveals that viruses are transmitted by blogs (especially leftwing blogs). The details are still murky but it appears that piggy viruses piggyback (hence the name) on computer viruses and then transmutate in ways that develop not necessarily to a leftwinger's advantage. They hypercrossmutate, too. I don't know what that means but I've been told by a kind woman with a white coat and a reassuring smile that it's just as well that I don't. Anyway, done with the bad news.

Now, for the truly horrible news. As one would expect, the piggy flu virus slithers its way downwards from the main post to infect the first comments. I truly fear the loss of a whole generation of first-commenters: those unsung heroes battling evil from the frontline trenches. Also, it's now official: trolls have been identified as swine flu victims -- the clue was that their comments match the IQ level of the swine perfectly. The CDC recommends the following course of action. Memo to all trolls: Please add "Little Green Footballs" to your RSS feed and expectorate all future comments their way. That's why they chose the color green -- so it matches your output.

Sadly, my temperature is rising and this could be my @(#&* last @)(#&p(o)@#st. (Sorry, typing with two pairs of mittens on is not easy). Now listen up! Come closer to the screen. No, not that close. Just remember this: to survive this pandemic, all you have to do is stHizis^@&#secr*t*$($#@#$$))aNdtaaarrgghhhhhhhhheN*#lY$%)!!zzzzzzzzzzz___________


— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 03:08 PM | Comments (17)

May 02, 2009

The Big Lie About Torture

By: Bernard Chazelle

The story goes like this: The US didn't torture until the Bush gang came to power. Some say we're a nation of laws and criminal investigations are the only way to return to our virginal past; others share the same objective but reject prosecutions as needlessly divisive; a third group advocates torture as the new post 9/11 norm. A running theme in the liberal commentariat is that things have gotten much worse. But have they? Glenn Greenwald reminds us that even Reagan opposed torture, so see how low we've fallen.

It's certainly true that Reagan, like most leaders, regularly violated the principles he espoused [eg, opposition to torture] and sought to impose on others, but still, there is an important difference between (a) affirming core principles of the civilized world but then violating them and (b) explicitly rejecting those principles. Doing (a) makes you a hypocrite; doing (b) makes you a morally depraved barbarian.

Greenwald implies that it's better to be a hypocrite. But it's not an either/or proposition. By choosing to be a hypocrite, Reagan only managed to be both a hypocrite and a morally depraved barbarian. Those things are additive, not exclusive. Reagan was a scumbag who tried to look like Mother Teresa. Krauthammer is a scumbag who tries to look like a scumbag. Something refreshing about it. If Harvard had always been at the forefront of the fight against torture, then Dershowitz's hysterics would be annoying. But Harvard built a whole center to legitimize human rights violations. And of course it called it, what else, "The Carr Center for Human Rights." That great center for human rights supported every American war throughout its existence. They even advised General Petraeus on counter-insurgency strategy. When you advocate for mass killing, you might as well stick the words "human rights" in your title.

Greenwald's point is that hypocrisy is better because it keeps the debate more civilized, less "right-wing." At least Reagan pretended to support human rights -- as though there's anything redeeming about this. Ignatieff and Dershowitz are the two sides of the same coin. Both are liberals and both advocate human rights abuses. The only difference is that Ignatieff wants to look pretty while Dershowitz enjoys being ugly.

It's been amply documented that the US has condoned, taught, and practiced torture since WWII. The military created a whole university to teach such things as electrocution, confining detaines in coffin-like boxes, kidnapping their parents, etc. The Phoenix program institutionalized torture in Vietnam. So what's all the current commotion about? Why are we so shocked, shocked? ATR will tell you why.

1. Throughout the Cold War, torture was built around the doctrine of plausible deniability. We never did it: the Vietnamese did it; the Greeks did it; the Guatemalans did it; the Nicaraguans did it; etc. We never stopped torturing, of course -- not for a minute -- but we always made sure we could blame a nonwhite guy with a funny accent. Whenever the truth came out (eg, Dana Priest's "revelation" about SOA), the "rotten apple" theory would kick in, followed by cosmetic changes, and then a swift return to the good old days.

2. On 9/11, for the first time in 60 years, foreigners attacked the US. The response was immediate and popular: Screw the doctrine of plausible deniability! As the attack chihuahuas from the Washington Post reminded us, real men torture and brag about it. Post 9/11, hypocrisy became an unnecessary burden. No time for bullshit excuses any more, gang. This time we'll do it ourselves! The shock was that we decided to take responsibility for our torture. Cheney would even boast about it.

3. Trouble is, torturers tend to be the cowardly type. They needed the backing of Papa Bear at DOJ. That's how Berkeley prof John Yoo and his inquisition crew got into the picture. Just so torturers with no one else to blame could sleep better at night. They are very sensitive souls who tremble at the sight of a special prosecutor. The torture memos were simply the price to pay for shedding the doctrine of plausible deniability.

4. Every liberal who opposes investigations today supported torture when torture was cool. Why are they begging us to move on? Because they know an investigation would show they were always John Yoo's ugly siblings. And remember that a liberal's only passion is not to do good but to look good.

When Obama says no to torture and adds "We must adhere to our values," we should ask "What values?" So Tom Brokaw can tell us again about the Greatest Generation, when America did not torture. Or as the New York Review of Books tells us:

"The Americans had used methods similar to those employed by the SS in Dachau." When abuse of German prisoners was investigated in the US-run Schwaebisch Hall prison near Stuttgart in 1945, " of the 139 cases examined, 137 had had their testicles permanently destroyed."

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 12:51 PM | Comments (65)

May 01, 2009

"Historic Suspicions"

By: John Caruso

Here's Barack Obama speaking at the recent Summit of the Americas:

I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere.

"Historic suspicions"?  Yes, I imagine the International Court of Justice decision condemning the United States for its covert war against Nicaragua might have raised Nicaraguan suspicions of U.S. interference.  And I guess the report of the UN's Historical Clarification Commission for Guatemala, documenting U.S. backing of the genocidal forces the U.S. had installed in the 1954 coup, might have made the Guatemalans suspicious as well.  And I suppose watching U.S. planes, helicopter gunships, and warships destroying the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama during the 1989 invasion might also have given the Panamians some suspicions about U.S. interference.

(For just one second, imagine the U.S. reaction if Germany's Angela Merkel gave a speech in Israel calling out the "historic suspicions" of Jews regarding past German "interference" in their affairs.  In fairness to Obama, he did subsequently refer to "past errors, where those errors have been made," though he also said that discussion of those purported errors only rises to the level of "stale debates"; I'll leave the analogy to you.)

By contrast, here's how Obama characterized Venezuela:

You take a country like Venezuela -- I have great differences with Hugo Chavez on matters of economic policy and matters of foreign policy. His rhetoric directed at the United States has been inflammatory. There have been instances in which we've seen Venezuela interfere with some of the -- some of the countries that surround Venezuela in ways that I think are a source of concern.

So centuries of extensively-documented U.S. intervention in Latin America can be dismissed as "historic suspicions"—but when we're talking about allegations pulled out of the collective ass of the U.S. government and leveled at an official enemy, there's no longer any need to qualify this "interference" (which any reasonable person should agree is rightly a "source of concern" to us, though Obama tried to keep this menacing threat in perspective by noting that "Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is probably 1/600th of the United States").

And this was Obama's laugh line in response to Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega's account of just a fraction of the vicious U.S. interference that produced these historic suspicions:

"I am very grateful that President Ortega didn’t blame me for things that happened when I was three months old," Obama said in his only direct reference to the Nicaraguan leader.

("I am very glad that Prime Minister Netanyahu didn't blame me for things that happened before I was born," Merkel said in her only direct reference to the Israeli leader.)  The article also notes that Ortega "prompted a smirk from Obama when he referred to 'Yankee troops.'"  Yes, what a hilarious anachronism!  How amusing our victims can sometimes be!  Like when the U.S.-backed Contras in Nicaragua would cut off men's testicles and leave them in their mouths?  Hey, what's the matter, cat got your tongue?  Oh, no, my mistake, you've got a mouthful of balls!  Ha ha ha!  Maybe Obama should have quipped, "I am very grateful that President Ortega didn't blame me for the U.S.-sponsored castrations and nun-raping that happened when I was still snorting cocaine in my youth."  The laughs just never stop, do they?

The smirk in question—which, as this small survey of his comments indicates, was only the most visible sign of Obama's paternalistic contempt for the banana republicans all around him and their petty obsession with the hundreds of thousands of their citizens killed by direct and indirect U.S. intervention over the years—looked something like this:

All of which illustrates why Obama truly is a perfect representative for the U.S.A., since he is, without a doubt, one of the most unbelievably sanctimonious assholes I've ever heard.

— John Caruso

Posted at 07:33 PM | Comments (52)