Wednesday, October 31, 2007


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Update on Mukasey's Tortured Response

With his once sure nomination as attorney general possibly hanging in the balance, Michael Mukasey has responded to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee about his equivocating on whether waterboarding is torture with further equivocating.

Mukasey declared Tuesday in a four-page letter that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques "seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me" and promised to review the legality of such methods if confirmed.

But he told the Democrats that he still could not say whether waterboarding, which simulates drowning, was illegal torture because he had not been briefed on the details of the classified technique and did not want to suggest that CIA officers who had used such techniques might be in "personal legal jeopardy."

The Dems did not appear to be assuaged and a vote on the once slam-dunk nomination still has not been scheduled.

The White House has whined that Mukasey has been put in an untenable position, and there indeed is some political grandstanding going on here. But as I said yesterday, I also would say that a long overdue day of reckoning has arrived.

When the Coltrane Left the Station

I suppose that it's human nature to feel bewildered when you get into a groove with a musician you love and then realize one day that his train has left the station, leaving you standing on the platform.

That happened to me in 1965 when saxophone virtuoso John Coltrane moved on from the harmonies that had rightfully elevated him into the pantheon of jazz greats and set out on an exploration of atonal Western music, Indian ragas and other eclectic musical forms that would end with his death at age 40 in 1967.

It was a period of enormous growth for Coltrane and difficulty for this fan. On the one hand, I felt that one of my main men had abandoned me by going off into some kind of a musicial trance consisting of honks and yowls, as opposed to his more static harmonies, but on the other hand I was mature enough musically even as a yon teen to know that his creative blast furnace had to be stoked and he most certainly did not need my approval to change course.

I eventually caught back up to Coltrane and today consider the final phase of his musical life to be every bit as extraordinary as the earlier phases. This phase included "Ascension," a 40-minute long piece with extended solos by Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and Freddie Hubbard that I could not stand to listen to when it was released but I adore today.

This brings us to a new book -- Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff, the great New York Times music writer -- who discards the notions that Coltrane lapsed into preteniousness by "going modern" and that his later music was a reflection of black rage and explains why in the 40 years since his death he perhaps is more widely imitated than any other jazz figure.

Excerpts from the opening chapter:
From the outside, one keeps wondering which musician will take the next decisively evolutionary step, as all those who seem to be candidates repeat themselves, become hermetic or obvious, fail to write compelling original material, sell out in some form, or begin to bore their audiences. And then one wonders whether evolutionary models should be applied to jazz at all. It seems to be the case that jazz loops around, retrenches, makes tiny adjustments that don't alter the basic language. The problem, though, is that Coltrane certainly made it seem as if jazz were evolving. He barreled ahead, and others followed. Some are still following.

His career, especially the last ten years of it, was so unreasonably exceptional that when he became seen as the representative jazz musician, the general comprehension of how and why jazz works became changed; it also became jagged and dangerous with half-truths. Every half-truth needs a full explanation.

* * * * *
Coltrane loved structure in music, and the science and theory of harmony; one of the ways he is remembered is as the champion student of jazz. But insofar as Coltrane's music has some extraordinary properties — the power to make you change your consciousness a little bit — we ought to widen the focus beyond the constructs of his music, his compositions, and his intellectual conceits. Eventually we can come around to the music's overall sound: first how it feels in the ear and later how it feels in the memory, as mass and as metaphor. Musical structure, for instance, can't contain morality. But sound, somehow, can. Coltrane's large, direct, vibratoless sound transmitted his basic desire: "that I'm supposed to grow to the best good that I can get to."

What Coltrane accomplished, and how he connected with audiences for jazz around the world, seems to elude any possible career plan, and is remarkably separate from what we have come to understand as European-based, Western-culture artistic consciousness.

* * * * *
His work became unofficially annexed by the civil rights movement: its sound alone has become a metaphor for dignified perseverance. His art, nearly up to the end, was not insular, and kept signifying different things for different people of different cultures and races. His ugliest music (to a certain way of thinking) is widely suspected of possessing beauty beyond the listener's grasp, and the reverse goes for his prettiest music — that it is more properly understood as an expression of grave seriousness. There is more poetry written about him, I would guess, than about any other jazz musician. And his religious quests through Christianity, Buddhism, Kabbalah, and Sufism are now embedded, ex post facto, in his music. In pluralistic America, it has become hard not to hear Coltrane's modal music — in which an improviser, freed from chordal movement, becomes free to explore — as a metaphor for a personal religious search.
I can only add that John Coltrane has made a more honest listener out of me. What I mean by that is he forced me to reevaluate my own parochial approach to the most free of free-form music -- and music in general, as well.

A Gift & President That Keep on Giving

With gift-giving season approaching, fuggedabout buying your conservative Republican father-in-law yet another necktie. This beauty, offered as both a sticker and magnet, is just the ticket.

Order them here.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Two galaxies swing past each other in a cosmic dance photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope and choreographed by gravity 300 million light years from Earth in the constellation of Leo. More here.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

HAVILAND, Kansas -- Steve Arnold is driving the yellow Hummer in circles around a Kiowa County wheat field, towing an 18-foot-wide metal detector. For an hour, nothing but silence.

Finally, the detector whines and Arnold slams the brakes. "That is so good," he says.

Arnold jumps out, pinpoints the location with a smaller detector and starts digging. The world-renowned meteorite hunter is hoping for a big score. He has had three false hits today, unearthing a bit of barbed wire, a fragment of a plow, a squashed Dr Pepper can.

"What's the definition of insanity?" Arnold asks. "Doing the same thing over and over again."

All over the world.

He has dodged police in Oman, had his truck break down in a desert in Chile, and bicycled the streets of suburban Chicago holding a broomstick with a magnet tied to its end -- searching for space rock.

But it was here in Kansas that he found the meteorite that would make him famous.


Two of the world's most famous meteorites failed to attract buyers at an auction Sunday, while an ordinary metal mailbox zapped by a falling space rock in 1984 was sold for the unearthly price of almost $83,000.

A 30-pound chunk of the Willamette Meteorite, which was found in Oregon in 1902 and has been steeped in ownership controversies for more than a century, was offered by Bonhams auction house at an estimated value of $1.3 million but was withdrawn from sale after bidding ended at $300,000.

Similarly, the 1,410-pound Brenham Main Mass, dug out of a Kansas farm field in 2005, was withdrawn by Bonhams CEO and auctioneer Malcolm Barber after it drew a top bid of only $200,000 -- well short of the pre-sale estimate of $630,000 to $700,000.

The entire 15.5-ton Willamette Meteorite has been owned by the American Museum of Natural History since 1908, with pieces loaned or given to other collectors from time to time.


A panel of the National Academy of Sciences urged President George W. Bush on Monday to abandon a plan to resume nuclear waste reprocessing that is the heart of the administration's push to expand civilian use of nuclear power.

The 17-member panel said the proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP, hasn't been adequately reviewed and is banking on reprocessing technology that hasn't been proved, or isn't expected to be ready in the time the administration envisions.


Whether it turns out to be He-3, solar energy, or some as yet unknown technology that draws humanity back to the moon, there's an irony here. In 1968, Apollo 8 brought back the first shimmering image of an "Earthrise" as seen from the moon. Four years later, Apollo 17 came home with the famous whole Earth picture. These new views of our fragile, heartbreakingly isolated planet are often credited with having helped to kickstart the environmental movement - even with having changed the way we see ourselves as a species.

At present, nations are forbidden under international treaty from making territorial claims to the moon, but the same has hitherto been true of Antarctica, of which the UK government is trying to claim a chunk. Earth's sister has played a role in teaching us to value our environment: how extraordinary to think that the next giant leap for the environmental movement might be a campaign to stop state-sponsored mining companies chomping her up in glorious privacy, a quarter of a million miles from our ravaged home.


Photograph by Jeff Cooper for the L.A. Times

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Torture: The Day of Reckoning At Hand?

With the drip, drip, drip subtlety and perhaps even some of the pain of waterboarding, a growing number of politicians seem to be finally realizing that the use of torture is not only thoroughly un-American, it is morally abhorrent, and are speaking out about it.

Can there be any doubt, as I wrote not long ago, that there is no darker stain on the Bush presidency -- and on America at the start of the new millennium -- than the top-down approval of the use of torture and this secrecy-obsessed administration's systematic efforts to justify its use on the one hand while denying that it approved its use on the other?

Actually, yes.

With too few exceptions, the silence inside the Beltway during years of torture revelations from Abu Ghraib to the Rumsfeld Gulag to Afghanistan has been one giant silent scream and has compounded the shame that I have felt over a country that I bleed red, white and blue for.

So what has now changed?

* The drumbeat in the American town square against torture has grown louder.

Credit is due blogger Andrew Sullivan, who has written about the horrifying similarities between the Gestapo's use of Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced torture techniques that would leave no visible marks, and the CIA's embrace of these techniques, as well as the tortured Nazi-like explanations of the White House and Justice Department in trying to justify their use.

* The administration's Orwellian parsing has collapsed under its own weight.

The proverbial straw that broke this camel's back was an October 4 New York Times investigative report that found while the Justice Department publicly declared torture to be "abhorrent" in a 2004 legal opinion, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez then issued a secret opinion that endorsed the CIA's use of hard-core techniques like waterboarding that the agency had cherrypicked from the cookbooks of Soviet and Saudi dungeon masters.

* Discomfort over the refusal of Gonzalez' designated replacement to say whether he believes that waterboarding constitutes torture.

What looked like a slam-dunk nomination has instead become a long overdue moment of moral clarity as a small but growing number of senators say they are troubled by Michael Mukasey's equivocating over a technique condemned by U.S. military leaders, human rights organizations and prominent Republicans including Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Mukasey's waffling before the Senate Judiciary Committee came in response to a question from Dick Durbin, who then sent the nominee a follow-up letter with the signatures of all his fellow committee Democrats. Republican Arlen Specter then asked Mukasey to clarify his position, as did presidential candidate McCain and Graham, himself an Army lawyer.

Now other Democratic presidential wannabes -- Senators Clinton, Obama, Biden and Dodd -- say they will vote against Mukasey if he doesn't denounce waterboarding, and no amount of Rovian parsing on the part of the White House is going to bail out the nominee.

Congressional Democrats already have blocked confirmation of two other nominees to lesser posts -- John Rizzo, who had endorsed torture, as general counsel of the CIA, and Steven Bradbury, author of secret legal opinions on interrogation, as head of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel.

The White House whines that Mukasey has been put in an untenable position, and there indeed is some political grandstanding going on here. But I also would say that a long overdue day of reckoning has arrived.

Iraq: Charge of the Lightweight Brigade, A Gift That Keeps on Giving & Other News

Warrior armored vehicles on a rare foray from British base
In what the Daily Telegraph describes as "a spectacular U-turn" but I would call just plain pathetic, the British Army has figured out how to keep its soldiers from getting killed in Basra, a once relatively peaceful southern Iraqi city hard by the porous border with Iran that is now considered to be more dangerous than Baghdad.
In a solution that should send the Duke of Wellington spinning in his grave, the British have promised to stay out of the city in return for assurances that its forces won't be attacked by Shiite militias.
Telegraph correspondent Gethin Chamberlain says that:
"Since withdrawing, the British have not set foot in the city and even have to ask for permission if they want to skirt the edges to get to the Iranian border on the other side. . . .

"The British appear to base their new strategy on an almost total faith in one man, Gen Mohan al-Furayji, who came down from Baghdad to take over responsibility for security, promising to sort out the city. The general, a Shia in his early fifties who spent time in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad after falling out with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, is answerable only to Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister."

The Brits have had a rough year with 44 troopers killed to date, and at this point are pretty much confined to base. They long have said that they would hand over control of Basra province to the Iraqis when their forces are capable of taking control, but it is going to take more than some sorting out before that happens.

Chamberlain reports that those Iraqi forces are unwilling to take on Shiite militias, let alone the death squads that roam Basra that often are indistinguishable from the militias because they include militiamen.

The stakes are huge because of the oil riches in the region and its proximity to Iran, which probably is arming the death squads, among perpetrating other mischief.
But a larger question looms:

Is Basra a template for what will happen when American forces are eventually withdrawn from other hot spots?

Will the transitory military progress in Basra, which has been undermined because there has not been a concomitant political progress, be replicated elsewhere?

Does this spell doom for the much-vaunted Surge?

Yes. Yes. Yes.
Think of Ahmad Chalabi as a gift that keeps on giving.

In the run-up to the March 2003 invasion, Chalabi provided U.S. officials with a stream of reliably inaccurate or exaggerated intelligence about Iraq's WMD program and ties to terrorism.

Not bothering to find out for themselves, it was pretty much because of the say-so of this discredited Iraqi pol that the Bush administration declared that everyday Iraqis would greet American troops as liberators and those troops would be home by Christmas.

Despite Chalabi having made a mess of pretty much everything he has gotten his clammy hands on, his deep White House and Pentagon ties have landed him yet another assignment.

McClatchy Newspapers reports that his latest job is:
"To press Iraq's central government to use early security gains from the surge to deliver better electricity, health, education and local security services to Baghdad neighborhoods. That's the next phase of the surge plan. Until now, the U.S. military, various militias, insurgents and some U.S. backed groups have provided those services without great success."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has named the resilient Chalabi as head of the Services Committee, a consortium of eight service ministries and two Baghdad municipal posts, that is tasked with bringing services to Baghdad.

Chalabi "is an important part of the process," said Colonel Steven Boylan, a spokesman for General David Petraeus. "He has a lot of energy."

(Yes, that Steven Boylan.)

One of the bitter ironies of the Iraq war is that introducing a Western-style democracy to a once subservient people would have been a good thing. But then it turned out that the American teachers scorned the rule of law.

In yet another example of this perverse dynamic, State Department investigators looking into the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad last month offered immunity deals to Blackwater USA security guards.

The New York Times reports that the investigators did not have the authority to offer such grants, which represent a potentially serious investigative misstep that could complicate efforts to prosecute Blackwater employees involved in the incident.

I wondered the other day what will happen in Fallujah, a once bustling city that is now more locked down than Ft. Knox, after U.S. troops depart. I suggested that although there are many uncertainties and the Bush administration has tried to suspend belief for the past four and a half years, it has been unable to suspend the laws of nature.

And that it is no secret that nature abhors a vacuum.

General David Petraeus, noting that Al Qaeda in Iraq has been severely crippled because of the Surge, offers a sneak peek of one vacuum filler:
Criminals have established an "almost mafia-like presence" in some areas and pose a dangerous new threat.
Iraq war veterans from the 10th Mountain Division, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting, say that morale in-country is so poor that many soldiers are simply parking their Humvees and pretending to be on patrol, a practice dubbed "search and avoid" missions.

Phil Aliff, now back at Ft. Drum, New York, says that his unit’s mission was to help the Iraqi Army "stand up" in the Abu Ghraib area of western Baghdad, but in fact his platoon was doing all the fighting without support from the Iraqis they were supposedly preparing to take over.

Aliff said he participated in roughly 300 patrols:

"We were hit by so many roadside bombs we became incredibly demoralised, so we decided the only way we wouldn't be blown up was to avoid driving around all the time.

"So we would go find an open field and park, and call our base every hour to tell them we were searching for weapons caches in the fields and doing weapons patrols and everything was going fine. All our enlisted people became very disenchanted with our chain of command."

For the past year, Kiko's House has run a monthly recap of Iraq war casualty figures.

No more. This is because, to a welcome extent, some of those once awful figures have dropped precipitously, but to a greater extent because the U.S. and Iraqi governments have clamped down so completely on the dissemination of combat-related stats that reliable ones are pretty much impossible to come by.

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

TREES AND DREAMS (Catskill Mountains)
Hat tip to Woods' Lot

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

He had a job to do, and he did it supremely well, under threat of death, within earshot of screams of torture: methodically photographing Khmer Rouge prisoners and producing a haunting collection of mug shots that has become the visual symbol of Cambodia’s mass killings.

"I’m just a photographer; I don’t know anything," he said he told the newly arrived prisoners as he removed their blindfolds and adjusted the angles of their heads. But he knew, as they did not, that every one of them would be killed.

"I had my job, and I had to take care of my job," he said in a recent interview. "Each of us had our own responsibilities. I wasn’t allowed to speak with prisoners."

That was three decades ago, when the photographer, Nhem En, now 47, was on the staff of Tuol Sleng prison, the most notorious torture house of the Khmer Rouge regime, which caused the deaths of 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979.

This week he was called to be a witness at a coming trial of Khmer Rouge leaders, including his commandant at the prison, Kaing Geuk Eav, known as Duch, who has been arrested and charged with crimes against humanity.

The trial is still months away, but prosecutors are interviewing witnesses, reviewing tens of thousands of pages of documents and making arrests.

As a lower-ranking cadre at the time, Mr. Nhem En is not in jeopardy of arrest. But he is in a position to offer some of the most personal testimony at the trial about the man he worked under for three years.


[I]s it the remote villagers of southeastern Afghanistan that pose a grave security threat to those of us living in the West? Is the perennial weaning away of Pashtun tribes from neo-Taliban influences a vital national security interest of Washington’s? Or getting Sunni tribes in Anbar Province to work with the central Shi’a led government in Iraq? Or propping up Dawa or SCIRI in Iraq, against Sadr’s men? Put differently, how did the attack on downtown Manhattan lead us to become involved in ostensibly decades long nation building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and perhaps to come, a bombing campaign that would likely lead to a full-blown conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

In my view, the greatest threat we face in the post 9/11 era are radicalized Islamists of mostly lower to middle class background who have grown up or emigrated to cities like Madrid, London, Paris, Hamburg, Milan. Don’t get me wrong. The comical shrieking about "Eurabia" and such is but thinly veiled Islam-bashing by primitives in the U.S. know-nothing media. But this moronic hyperbole aside, the radical Islamists who threaten us the most are those who have become technologically sophisticated, who perhaps speak our language, who can more easily appear "Westernized", and meantime have become highly alienated by the West, basically the Mohammed Atta type. Which is to say, not rural peasants in the environs of Kandahar or impoverished Shi'a slum-dwellers south of Baghdad (nation-building efforts are not required to destroy any potential al-Qaeda sanctuaries, rather targeted military and intelligence efforts, and regardless the biggest such sanctuary is currently located within our ally Pakistan's territory).


We're not about to be pushed around by just anybody. Oh sure, we'll let the Chinese get away with economic, environmental and human rights violations (after all, what's shoddy merchandise, massive pollution and slave labor in exchange for ... I forget, what do we get out of this) without doing much more than chiding them from afar or meeting with the Dalai Lama. But when it comes to the dreaded presence of a Communist state that is smaller than China's pinky toe, and which has the international reach of a Tic-Tac, we stand firm!

So it's with relief I heard that Bush has reaffirmed our embargo against Cuba.


For the Bush Doctrine to survive Bush, it will have to incorporate all we have learned since he formulated it. Much of it comes down to this: the Middle East is not Europe, Iraq is not Germany, and Afghanistan is not Japan. (They are not Vietnam either.) The road to hell is paved with bad analogies, which are no substitute for lived experience and specific knowledge. According to the Greek poet Archilochus, "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." The hedgehogs have taken the Bush Doctrine as far as they can. Now it is the turn of the foxes.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Why Is Gay Hating James Dobson Still Licensed As a Therapist in Colorado?

The Reverend James Dobson, full to overflowing with the ego-tripping insouciance of a man of the cloth who is doing God's bidding, is used to getting his way. And being downright un-Christian when it comes to gays.

The 71-year-old evangelical minister, radio host and author is founder of the hydra-headed Focus on the Family organization. With Jerry Falwell dead and Pat Robertson acting more the fool with every passing month, Dobson is the only evangelical of the three who came on the scene during the Reagan administration with the avowed purpose of imposing their dogma on the Republican Party who remains truly influential.

This "emperor of morality," as New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich calls Dobson, probably has done more than anyone to tear down the wall between church and political party, which is to say church and state in an era when the White House and Republican Party have embraced Dobson and his fellow faith-based right wingers with a fake piety.

In this context, Dobson is a serial malcontent who former Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner says has been "crying wolf ever since Moby Dick was a minnow," but believes himself to be enormously influential because he wields great power over his far-flung flock from his home base in Colorado Springs and can deliver votes and money for his favorite GOP candidates and causes.

And still has time left over to try to save lost souls like fellow preacher, colleague and Colorado neighbor Ted Haggard from the evils of homosexuality. Until he suddenly finds that he can't help "cure" Haggard of his gayness because it would take years. Meanwhile, we know where Dobson stands on SpongeBob SquarePants, but no word on his view of Republican Senator Larry Craig's toe tapping.

Dobson has been much in the news because of his declaration from the pulpit of the Times op-ed page that he will take his votes elsewhere – possibly to a third party -- if the GOP does not nominate a presidential candidate to his liking. Which is to say a true believer with impeccable pro-life and anti-gay credentials.

* * * * *

There may be no aspect of Dobson's career where he has wanted and gotten it both ways more than in blurring the lines between his roles as a minister and licensed marriage and family therapist.

Dobson believes that the gay rights movement has "sought to implement a master plan that has had as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family." He depicts gays as amoral, polygamous, disease prone and emotionally troubled. Despite his equivocating when it came to Haggard, he claims that he can "cure" gayness through "reparative therapy."

Such declarations put him at odds with national marriage and family therapy organizations, as well as the American Psychological Association, which states unequivocally in its Diagnostic Statistical Manual that homosexuality is not an illness, mental disorder or emotional problem. The APA has not viewed being gay to be an abnormality since 1973.

Despite being totally out of step with his own profession regarding homosexuality, Dobson remains a licensed marriage and family therapist in Colorado.

Two former members of that state's Board of Marriage and Family Therapists, speaking anonymously, said that Dobson’s dual role is improper and demeans the profession, but the board's hands are tied because of a waiver in state law.

"He can't have it both ways," said one of the former board members of Dobson's dual role as a gay-bashing preacher who claims he can cure homosexuality and a licensed therapist. "Is he dealing with someone as a therapist or as a minister? There has to be a distinction."

Patients treated by therapists "with beliefs rather than nationally accepted principles and standards of diagnoses, prognoses, and treatment can be harmed by the very person they trust to help them," said the other board member.

"We professionals in psychology and psychotherapy are often the ones who have to fix the breakage done by other psychotherapists. A therapist who tells patients that homosexuality is merely an act of will and as such can be subverted or reverted to something else works in the world of beliefs and not the world of professional standards and accepted practices."

The former board members said that the board has received several grievances against Dobson over the years.

Some grievances, they said, were from licensed therapists who objected to Dobson’s dual role and others from former patients who felt that they had been harmed and not helped by his therapies. The former board members said the board could not investigate complaints against Dobson because of the waiver, which states that "religious counseling" does not come under the legal definition of psychotherapy. Dobson himself has used tortured logic in claiming that he is only a religious counselor and therefore beyond the reach of the board.

Gayle Fidler, director of the Colorado board, said that it is not uncommon for therapists to also be ministers. Fidler would not address Dobson’s gay bashing or comment on complaints received by the board regarding him.

David Bergman, a spokesman for the American Association For Marriage and Family Therapy, said many association members also are ministers.

"Obviously it is not where our organization is on those issues," he said of Dobson's fire-and-brimstone views about homosexuality. "Those views aren't necessarily consistent with our members. We have lots of (clergy) members who are good, helping people and there is not a conflict based on their dual roles."

Bergman said Dobson dropped his association membership sometime in the last several years, but did not know why.

Calls to Dobson's spokesmen for comment were not returned.

A therapist who turns a critical diagnostic issue into one of his or her own beliefs in ways that their professional group does not agree with has to make a hard choice," one of the former board members said. "Are you true to your beliefs or to professional standards? A therapist cannot have it both ways and be faithful to both."

Unless they are the Reverend James Dobson.

Movies About Americans Acting Badly

Coming to a theater near you just in time for the holidays: Movies about Americans acting badly.

Film makers are on a roll these days with movies like Taxi to the Dark Side, Rendition and Redacted. All have gotten generally good reviews at screenings but won't compete with forthcoming biggies like a remake of Revenge of the Nerds and will raise the usual howls of protest that Hollyweird is run by America-loathing liberals, Clint Eastwood excepted, of course.

The story of a young taxi driver in Afghanistan falsely accused of being a terrorist provides the framework for Taxi to the Dark Side, a documentary examination of U.S. torture policies.

Rendition is the story of an Egyptian born terrorism suspect who disappears on a flight from South Africa to Washington and CIA a analyst who is forced to question his assignment in an attempt to save thousands as he becomes a party to the torture of the Egyptian.

And veteran director Brian De Palma offers a montage of stories about U.S. soldiers in Iraq in Redacted, a docudrama that focuses on the gang rape-murder of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi and killing of her family in Mahmoudiyah in March 2006, an outrage that I have blogged about at length.

With the Bush administration providing a steady supply of grist, expect more movies about Americans acting badly.

Is Obsession Nine-Tenths of the Law?

Why do you think that conservative and right-wing bloggers have been so obsessed with the Scott Beaucamp Affair?
Because then they don't have to blog about what's really going on in Iraq.

The Drug Police Are Smiling

Robin Prosser, a Montana woman who struggled for a quarter century to live with the pain of an immunosuppressive disorder, tried to kill herself several years ago. Last week, she tried again and succeeded.
After her earlier attempt failed, Prosser wound up in even more trouble after investigating police found marijuana in her home. She used the marijuana to help cope with pain.
That marijuana charge was eventually dropped in an agreement with the city of Missoula, and Prosser had reason to rejoice in 2004 when Montanans passed a law allowing medical use of the drug.

More here.

'I Am The Eye In The Sky Looking At You'


Don't think sorrys easily said
Don't try turning tables instead
Youve taken lots of chances before
But I'm not gonna give anymore
Don't ask me
Thats how it goes
Cause part of me knows what youre thinkin

Don't say words you're gonna regret
Don't let the fire rush to your head
I've heard the accusation before
And I ain’t gonna take any more
Believe me
The sun in your eyes
Made some of the lies worth believing


I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I don't need to see any more
To know that
I can read your mind, I can read your mind

Don't leave false illusions behind
Don't cry cause I ain't changing my mind
So find another fool like before
Cause I ain't gonna live anymore believing
Some of the lies while all of the signs are deceiving


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Kent Barker

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Elephants smell better by pointing trunks toward possible foes

Elephants can apparently smell and see which humans might be out to get them, research now suggests.

As elephants roam Amboseli National Park in Kenya within sight of famed Mt. Kilimanjaro, they may run afoul of members of the Maasai or Kamba tribes. While the Kamba nowadays threaten only elephants that invade their farmland, Maasai warriors occasionally show off their virility by spearing elephants.

Since elephants face different levels of peril from people depending on their tribe, scientists reasoned elephants might use their senses to distinguish who might be dangerous. For instance, the pachyderms might rely on their eyesight—Maasai traditionally wear red shawls.

The scientists also deduced that elephants might employ their keen sense of smell to distinguish Maasai from Kamba. Their body odors likely differ because Maasai eat substantial amounts of milk and occasionally cattle blood and beef while the Kamba diet consists of vegetables and maize, along with some meat. Also, unlike the Kamba, the Maasai use ochre and sheep fat in body decorations.

The researchers had heard of several instances of elephants reacting "to even faint signals of Maasai, with elephants running away from Maasai men that were several kilometers away," said cognitive psychologist Lucy Bates at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The pachyderms even stayed away from a vehicle "for several days after Maasai men had been carried in it."


Oscar Wilde did not say, on his deathbed, "Either those curtains go or I do." He is reported to have said something along the lines of "this wallpaper will be the death of me - one of us will have to go", but not on his deathbed.


Grandpas are easy to explain; they can potentially propagate their genes until they fall out of their rocking chairs. It's those fit-as-a-fiddle but infertile grandmas who are the evolutionary riddle.

And human grandmothers are apparently unique.

This idea that natural selection might favor a group rather than individuals is controversial in biology. So too is the idea that human evolution should be dramatically different from that of our close mammalian and primate relations.

So a bit of mystery remains. Is the gap between menopause and senescence an adaption of natural selection, perhaps because it favors the group? Or do women in human populations simply survive longer than female primates and lions because they are better able to avoid predators and other premature causes of death?


A man has been placed on the sex offenders’ register after being caught trying to have sex with a bicycle.


"You ignore your partner's sexual fantasies at your own peril."

Yes I wrote that in last week's post on 'How to keep your woman' but as I typed it, I realised that it was a subject which demanded further exploration.

Sexual fantasies: we all have 'em, some of them are weird, some of them are plain scary, some are so damn hot they haunt you on your way to work because they involve ferries and honey-skinned, brunette office girls in sharply-pressed white cotton shirts with long smooth . . . ahem.

The best part about fantasies is they are your own; you don't have to share them with other people, you can involve celebrities, historical figures, heavy machinery, even family pets if you're so inclined.

However, fantasies can cause couples trouble - they have a monotonous habit of luring men and women into infidelity because of the powerful urge to see them realised and a partner's refusal to come to the party (with the gaffa-taped guinea pig).


Photograph by K. Slocombe

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Stoopid Political Cat Blogging

Remember Socks, the White House cat during the Clinton administration? Well, the critter's "fate" will become a campaign issue if people like Sarah Baxter, the author of this cat piss at The Times of London, has her way:
"As the 'first pet' of the Clinton era, Socks, the White House cat, allowed 'chilly' Hillary Clinton to show a caring, maternal side as well as bringing joy to her daughter Chelsea. So where is Socks today?

"Once the presidency was over, there was no room for Socks any more. After years of loyal service at the White House, the black and white cat was dumped on Betty Currie, Bill Clinton’s personal secretary, who also had an embarrassing clean-up role in the saga of his relationship with the intern Monica Lewinsky.

"Some believe the abandoned pet could now come between Hillary Clinton and her ambition to return to the White House as America’s first woman president. . . .

"Clinton’s treatment of Socks cuts to the heart of the questions about her candidacy. Is she too cold and calculating to win the presidency? Or does it signify political invincibility by showing she is willing to deploy every weapon to get what she wants?"

And what about Buddy, the Clinton's chocolate lab, who bought the ranch in 2002 after wandering out onto a road from the family's home in Chappaqua, New York, and getting run over by an SUV? Why didn't Hillary make sure he was tied up or kept in the house?

The questions just keep coming, don't they?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

GOP Prez Wannabes Tack to the Right

I have puzzled over why almost all of the Republican presidential wannabes are avidly embracing a president who is one of the worst in history and has almost single-handedly marginalized their party, and a war that only a small number of voters support.

Even the party's own pollsters say that it will take a miracle for the GOP to keep the White House, let alone regain control of Congress, in 2008.

It has been noted by pundits far more sage than I am that this situation is a result of the candidates needing to play to the party's base in a campaign that, after all, has a year left to go. But the last time I looked at the GOP base it resembled a prune.
Has the GOP simply become so ossified and out of touch that it's fallen and just can't get up? Or in terms that the older gents who comprise most of this demographically challenged field might understand, can't get it up?

Ron Brownstein, one of the finest political analysts of our time, says that in word and deed the Republican candidates are going for solidarity over outreach and the same old-same old over new ideas:

"After being routed in 2006, many Republican leaders argued that the party lost voters in the middle because it had not been conservative enough, particularly on spending. That's the view the presidential candidates are now reflecting. [Rudy] Giuliani, even with his recent concessions to party conventions on such issues as taxes and guns, pushed against that consensus by stressing national unity and inclusion in his riveting speech to the social conservatives last weekend. But he is a (qualified) exception in a party that seems committed to betting 2008 on the high-risk proposition that the way to recapture the center is to turn further to the right."
Is this totally nuts or what?

Colbert Should Drop Out of the Race

What do Pat Buchanan, Donald Trump, Jesse Ventura, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Beatty and Cybill Shepherd have in common with Steven Colbert? All have been touted, to one degree or another, as celebrity presidential candidates.

Colbert, of course, tossed his satirical hat into the ring on his popular Comedy Central show as red, white and blue balloons fell around him, and claims that he will enter the primary in his native South Carolina. As both a Democrat and Republican.
A lot of bloggers already are saying that they'll vote for Colbert if given a chance, and in one recent Democratic poll that included his name he was ahead of Bill Richardson and was closing in on Joe Biden.

Me? I'm gonna to be a party pooper and suggest that we don't need no stinkin' distractions, no matter how antic Colbert is, in this most important presidential race.

Besides which, Colbert pronounces his name coal-behr, as in camembert cheese. That's way too French for my American tastes.

Why Not Steve Martin For President?

The letter X: "Ambidextrous Alex was actually axed
for waxing,
then faxing, his boss's new slacks."
Comedian Steve Martin and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast have collaborated on a new children's book called The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z. It's a riot.

More here.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

The party that could win the White House and extend its majorities in both houses of Congress next year is in disarray.

In confronting a President with abysmal approval ratings, Democrats have managed to lose every major battle this year--over the war in Iraq, children's health insurance and illegal wiretapping--and dissipate the mandate that gave them legislative control last November.

. . . On the surface, Bush's intransigence and their narrow margins in both houses have tied their hands, but no more so than the failure of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to get beyond playing it politically safe. . . . What's the point of winning it all in '08 if Democrats don't show the will and courage to change course between now and then?


A lot of people are holding out hope that if Rudy wins the GOP nomination social conservatives will organize a third party challenge from the right that will split the Republican Party. Prominent social conservative leaders have been suggesting as much lately in various forums.

Well, this isn't going to give people holding out for this very much hope.


If media muscle is any measure of a candidate, Representative Ron Paul of Texas is getting ready to flex his.

In the last two weeks, Mr. Paul — a Republican presidential candidate — has spent nearly a half-million dollars on radio advertisements in four early primary states, the first major media investment of his campaign. On Tuesday night, he will take a seat opposite Jay Leno.

And on Monday, a campaign spokesman said, he will roll out his first major television advertising campaign . . . Mr. Paul’s commercials are intended to introduce him to voters in New Hampshire, where independents can vote in either primary and where a libertarian streak could give Mr. Paul a chance to translate his quirky popularity into votes.


National polls have turned out to be pretty much useless as a predictor in Democratic races.


Quietly but systematically, Hillary Clinton is building a firewall in New Hampshire. She can afford to lose the Iowa caucuses as long as she can win here. She can't afford to lose both states.

As a result, say Democrats with long experience in state politics, Clinton has been doing everything "the New Hampshire way." She has carefully cultivated strong personal ties that go back to her husband's 1992 campaign and has built an organization with deep local roots. Although a victory by Barack Obama in Iowa could still propel him to triumph here, Clinton is setting herself up to withstand an Obama surge by using New Hampshire to become, if necessary, the second Comeback Kid.

-- E. J. DIONNE Jr.

Fourteen times, the state ethics commission -- a respected body, not a partisan witch-hunt group -- investigated claims against [Mike] Huckabee. Five of those times, it officially reprimanded him. And, as only MSNBC among the big national media has reported at any real length, there were lots of other mini-scandals and embarrassments along the way.

He used public money for family restaurant meals, boat expenses, and other personal uses. He tried to claim as his own some $70,000 of furniture donated to the governor's mansion. He repeatedly, and obstinately, against the pleadings even from conservative columnists and editorials, refused to divulge the names of donors to a "charitable" organization he set up while lieutenant governor -- an outfit whose main charitable purpose seemed to be to pay Huckabee to make speeches. Then, as a kicker, he misreported the income itself from the suspicious "charity."


The state of Pennsylvania has decided not to release a list of state polling places to prevent terrorists from disrupting the state's elections.

Just glad we have our priorities straight.

Sure, the cottage industry of bogus rightwing emails seems like an underrated cog in the overall noise machine. The general outline works as follows: elected officials, Fox and the thinktanks put out borderline credible ideas, gasbags like Rush and the blogosphere right take care of stuff that won’t stand up to scrutiny and the email forward campaign handles stuff so ludicrous that nobody else will touch it. Into this bin go the fabricated stories about Al Gore John Kerry dressing down Ollie North for warning about bin Laden, Bush/Quayle malapropisms rebranded as Kerry gaffes (I got that one a few times), fabricated leftard-spits-on-soldier anecdotes, etc. For the average right-leaning media consumer who doesn’t spend much time checking stuff on Google it all builds an indestructable sense of belonging to a small righteous minority besieged by an inchoate Other consisting of atheists, muslim terrosists, liberals, communists, fascists, Hollywood and the ACLU.

If you take the Gingrich revolution in political discourse as a done deal, the scheme makes perfect sense. It’s good psychology and good politics. I guess that Democratic campaigns can freak out about countering the moronic emails, but that just serves whoever wrote the things. The whole point of a whispering campaign is to get the candidate to deny that he had sex with the pig. My reaction is that if the Dems don’t do this, and apparently we don’t, why not? The answer, I think, cuts more deeply to the core of Democratic politics than most people realize.

Think about what makes these email campaigns painfully effective. In the short time that most spend skimming our email, few of us would bother annoying our email circle with a statistic or the latest thinktank report unless we felt something when we read it. We pass on things that grab us at a sub-conscious level and we expect will grab everybody else as well. Conservatives pass on emails to their liberal brothers-in-law because they know that more or less everybody gets the underlying point – liberals hate America and the troops, don’t have the balls to protect the country, etc. Muslims and really any Enemy Other du jour are crazy, incomprehensible manimals to be suppressed, threatened, beaten into submission.

Don’t even think of laughing. These moronic principles won elections in 2002 and 2004 and still terrify Democrats into voting ludicrously against their own interests.

-- TIM F.

Cartoon by Ben Sargent/Universal Press Syndicate

Friday, October 26, 2007

Iraq & The Dirty Secret of the Surge

The self congratulation over the ongoing success of the Surge strategy – resulting in a welcome plunge in U.S. and Iraqi civilian deaths – has reached bacchanalian proportions with conservative commentators (and some moderate and left-of-center types, as well) high fiving like so many drunken frat boys dancing around a keg of beer on a college homecoming weekend.

But a Google search using the keywords surge, success and Iraq shows that these revelers are going to have a bummer of a hangover: This is because of the 30 pieces that I read using those keywords, only three noted that the very purpose of the Surge has been fatally undermined, which puts its "success" in an entirely different light. (Incidentally, one of those three pieces was by Yours Truly.)

The Surge was initiated to give various factions breathing room to work out their differences and move toward an Iraq unified enough and stable enough that U.S. troops could leave in substantial numbers.

But that will not be happening because of a tin-horn, reconciliation-averse central government in Baghdad that exists in name only, a U.S. occupation leadership that has been unable to grasp the social, economic and cultural barriers standing in the way of democratizing Iraq in any real sense of that word, and a White House that has come very late to the realization that politics are no substitute for policy.

Not to get all nit-picky, but the military success itself is qualified. This is because of:

* A sharp increase in air strikes that have resulted in fewer U.S. casualties but more collateral Iraqi civilian casualties. In the first nine months of 2007, American planes hit targets more times than in the previous three years combined, and the ill will that the one-time liberators sew each time innocents are blown to smithereens by fire from helicopter gunships is not supposed a part of the counterinsurgency playbook.

* A sharp increase in curfews that limit civilian movement. Haven't heard any bad stuff out of Falluja lately, have you? Could this be because the one-time hotspot is under virtual lockdown with a ban on private vehicles?

* A failure to train up the Iraqi army sufficiently and the continuing dismal state of national police forces means that they cannot be relied on to replace U.S. forces and not merely supplement them.

Of all of the lies that President Bush has told regarding his war, the claim that the "success" of the Surge might allow him to begin drawing down the number of troops in Iraq is the most obscene and dishonors the memory of the nearly 4,000 American men and women who have died as well as the thousands more mouldering in hospitals and rehab centers with grave physical and psychological wounds.

This is because present troop levels will be unsustainable after next April because the 15-month tours of duty for the five combat brigades that were sent to Iraq for the Surge will begin to expire and there are no units in the president's exhausted and depleted Army to replace them.

What will happen when that forced drawdown commences puts the ultimate lie to the frat boys frolicking around the keg: The splintering of Iraq will accelerate as various groups -- militias, insurgents and criminal gangs -- rush in to fill the resulting void.

What, for example, will happen in Fallujah, a once bustling city that is now surrounded by concertina wire and where unemployment stands at 80 percent?

There are indeed many uncertainties. But while the Bush administration has tried to suspend belief for the past four and a half years it has been unable to suspend the laws of nature. And it is no secret that nature abhors a vacuum.

Chart du Jour on the War

This chart shows funding provided through fiscal year 2007 for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities associated with the war on terrorism, as well as related costs incurred by the VA for medical care, disability compensation and survivors’ benefits.

What is so striking is that the 2001 and 2002 expenditures were to fight the 9/11 perpetrators, as well as the Taliban. Then came the Iraq war. Just imagine if all of that money had gone into the real war and not the wrong war.

From Mark Thoma via Ezra Klein

Heroic Comeback du Jour on the War

In a miracle of sorts, ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff is back on the air a year and a half after he nearly died when a roadside explosion in Iraq littered his brain with shrapnel and other debris.

Woodruff still isn’t doing live reports because he sometimes confuses or struggles to find words. But in addition to his comeback he has embarked on a second career of a sort as a spokesman and fundraiser for soldiers with severe injuries, especially head traumas like his own.

More here.