Consonant-Level Links

March 10, 2007

See the above post (soon) for an explanation of the motivation of this roundup’s theme. But for now, suffice is to say that people with 500 hits a day need links more than people with 5,000.

Kristjan Wager delves into John Hawkins’ dishonest column in greater detail than I did; he not only looks at the study in question and shows how the numbers compare with Hawkins’ point, but also proposes a hypothesis explaining the observation.

Jessica Dreadul links to two reproductive rights-themed news pieces, one about Chile’s lowering of the age barrier to parental consent to emergency contraception and another about an attempt to prevent pharmacists from arbitrarily denying women in Georgia EC.

On The Politburo Diktat, there’s a long, engaging thread about the war on Iraq and whether the US is irrevocably doomed and has nothing better to do than cut and run.

Shelley reports a breakthrough in research into curing hearing loss. While her lab is trying to cure deafness by infecting ear cells with benign viruses, another lab has achieved results by directly compensating for a deficient protein.

Bean notes that one group of people in the US who are especially impacted by the nastiness of the prison system are the mentally ill, who are often tortured with solitary confinement.


Georgia Violates Separation of Church and State

March 10, 2007

The Georgia Board of Education approved a new slate of classes, which purport to teach the Bible as literature and as a historical source, but will almost certainly become state-funded sermons.

Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, the Republican who sponsored the plan, said the Bible plays a major role in history and is important in understanding many classic literary works.

“It’s not just ‘The Good Book,’” Williams said. “It’s a good book.”

Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan civil liberties group, has said the Georgia policy is the nation’s first to endorse and fund Bible classes on a statewide level.

The bill approved overwhelmingly in the Legislature was tailored to make it clear the courses would not stray into religious teaching, Williams said.

The measure calls for the courses to be taught “in an objective and nondevotional manner with no attempt made to indoctrinate students.”

In theory, it’s a good idea. There are a lot of works with obvious ideological tones that should still be taught for their historical value; in the West, they include the Bible, the Qur’an, the Communist Manifesto, and the two Treatises of Government. But teaching just the Bible smacks of religious favoritism, since other scriptures, even those that are very relevant to a modern American, are excluded.

And further, in practice, classes will invariably become sermons. Even assuming that most Christian teachers can teach the Bible impartially, which is doubtful, there will be immense pressure on them to preach. Georgia has a large contingent of fundamentalists, who make a ruckus every time someone offends them by teaching evolution. In the land of anti-evolution stickers, I don’t expect Bible classes to remain impartial for more than a day.


I Suppose for Bush, Death is Progress

March 6, 2007

Bush is saying that US and allied forces are making progress in Iraq; the same day, a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up at a procession of Shi’a pilgrims, killing at least 106 people. It gets worse:

The Hillah strike came after gunmen and bombers hit group after group of Shiite pilgrims elsewhere — some in buses and others making the traditional trek on foot to the shrine city of Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad. At least 24 were killed in those attacks, including four relatives of a prominent Shiite lawmaker, Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati.

This weekend, huge crowds of Shiite worshippers will gather for rites marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Hussein died near Karbala in a 7th-century battle.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “We never promised immediate results.” She’s right insofar as Bush has never promised results that could be falsified. He’s never promised immediate results, or for that matter given a specific timeframe and stuck to it. Instead, he keeps urging people to have faith in his judgment, which has time and time again proven to be faulty.


Bush Admits the Failure of Bushism

March 5, 2007

The North Korean deal has a very Clintonian character to it; I wish I were the first person to note that, but Ice Weasel beat me to it. Nonetheless, the fact that Bush is engaging in serious diplomacy, consisting of negotiating a food for nukes program, suggests that he’s not so reckless as he seems when one looks only at Iraq.

Iraq is a spectacular occupation that the global media can’t get enough of. If he changes anything in it, even by commissioning an Iraq Study Group report that he has no intention of following the recommendations of, the media will notice and write about Bush’s admission of failure.

Bush is a politician. He wants to do good, subject to the constraint that what he thinks is good for the country and the world is slanted by what he thinks is good for himself and his wing of the Republican Party. He also wants to accumulate kudos, and that means getting the 30-35% of Americans who still approve of his performance to keep approving him. This means that while he can admit failure in private and change course in places where he can do so safely, he won’t do that in public.

In situations like this, it’s therefore a great boon for the relations with a country to be relatively out of the media spotlight. That way, politicians can learn from experience in dealing with it, leading to more Clintonian deals that emphasize pragmatism and fewer Bushite threats that emphasize grandstanding and self-righteousness.


Once Fascist, Always Fascist

March 4, 2007

Lindsay has an important story about how Iraq’s trade unions, a secular democratic interest group that was against Saddam Hussein back in the day, are under attack from both insurgents and the US. The immediate cause of this is a straightforward power struggle involving privatization; Lindsay says,

It is not surprising that Iraqi trade unions leaders have been targeted by both insurgents and occupying forces. Iraqi unions have undergone a resurgence since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, union power is a potential threat to both fundamentalist clerics and the international corporations seeking to privatize Iraq’s oil industry.

The US-backed Iraqi government approved a sweeping new privatization package for Iraq’s oil industry last Monday. Labor leaders were shut out of the negotiations leading up to the new hydrocarbon law.

One of the characteristics of totalitarianism is its destruction of every civil society structure that could make an alternative to the state and the one party. Authoritarianism tends to leave a few allied structures in place, such as a properly conservative church or mosque, but unions are always targeted for liquidation.

This holds even in authoritarian socialist states. There were no independent trade unions in the Soviet Union. Even Hugo Chavez, a budding authoritarian socialist leader, has had power struggles with the unions, which he’s trying to coopt despite their constituting allies in his fight for a more socialist Venezuela. It goes without saying then that non-socialist forms of authoritarianism, including the religious one that’s building up in Iraq, will be anti-union.

On May 1st, 1933*, Nazi Germany celebrated Labor Day and Hitler promised the workers he’d be their ally. The next day he raided their offices, destroyed them, and established in their stead a single employer-side trade union.

This goes beyond things like whether unions should be established by a secret ballot or by a card check. The freedom of association is a civil liberty that is really on a par with free speech and privacy in being one of the few that enable all the others. It’s what underpins civil society and much of free enterprise. It’s also a very unglamorous civil liberty, since the union raider appears to affect far fewer and less public people than the censor or the eavesdropper.

The US can’t even keep up the act that Iraq is a democracy. Forget insurgents, who are upfront about wanting to establish a Shi’a theocracy (let’s face it, the Sunnis aren’t winning the civil war). The US itself is actively trying to dedemocratize Iraq, just like it has so many other third-world countries over the years.


The Globe and Mail: McCain is a Mustelid

March 1, 2007

The Globe and Mail has a delightful takedown of McCain’s announcement that he’ll run for President. Just as many American news outlets wrote about how Romney’s positions on the issues were prone to mutation under the pressure of political expediency, so does the Globe and Mail note how McCain is hardly the straight-talker people say he is.

Mr. McCain has changed his stripes in other ways that have alienated the independent voters and right-wing Democrats who used to adore him.

He opposed Mr. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and now vows to extend them. Once supportive of abortion rights, he now states that Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, should be overturned.

And he is courting the Christian right wing of the Republican Party after dubbing evangelicals Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance” in 2000.

Despite his support for the war, Mr. McCain has parted ways with Mr. Bush and has condemned the use of torture by U.S. forces.

He also recently said that former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld “will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defence in history.”

Asked in a recent interview whether the Iraq war would be the major issue of the 2008 campaign, Mr. McCain engaged in what was probably a bit of wishful thinking, responding, “If things got under control in Iraq, if we are showing success, I’m not sure that it will be the biggest issue.”


My Take on the Latest Anti-War Bill

March 1, 2007

I’m not sure whether the Democrats’ latest attempt to remind Bush they won the election will do any good.

House Democratic leaders are developing an anti-war proposal that wouldn’t cut off money for U.S. troops in Iraq but would require President Bush to acknowledge problems with an overburdened military.

(…)

In the Senate, a group of senior Democrats wants to repeal the 2002 measure authorizing the war and write a new resolution restricting the mission and ordering troop withdrawals to begin by this summer. But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Iraq would have to wait until the Senate finishes work to improve homeland security.

The latter resolution looks like something real, but the idea of requiring Bush to “acknowledge problems” sounds more like noise than like real action. It’s not something totally new to politics; the Republicans are only pro-life on election years, having a federal abortion law more liberal than Roe requires even though they have nearly veto-proof majorities for at least restricting it to what Anthony Kennedy will accept.

The Commissar is a lot less ambivalent than I am. He says, “I propose a nonbinding resolution suggesting that President Bush admit he has been a bad boy, and (per John the Marine) he should be politely requested to write on the blackboard 500 times, ‘I will not invade Middle Eastern countries based on weak intelligence ever again!’”

I still think it’s a buildup for a real bill, but, honestly, it’s more an issue of cowardice now than of political capital. The Democrats have proven that they possess the political capital for real action. Dragging the issue further just to be sure it’s safe makes no sense except when the party is as spineless as a flatworm. The Republicans have been reduced to using shoddy polls to get even small majorities on Iraq; there’s no need to delay action any further.


Israel and Apartheid

February 24, 2007

I don’t think I’ve ever referred to the Israeli occupation as apartheid. But now that a UN envoy who’s a South African professor of international law is saying that the Palestinians’ situation is the same as this of black South Africans in the 1970s, I’m starting to warm up to the comparison. What’s more, the envoy suggests that “Israel is imposing a policy of ‘controlled strangulation’ that is helping to give rise to a failed state on its doorstep” – in other words, that Israel is deliberately screwing Palestine’s economy to make it ungovernable.

Israel’s response is predictable: “You’re one-sided.” Israel can’t justify the occupation itself in terms that won’t make people so angry that they’ll demand sanctions. It can much less justify the specific details of the occupation – the roadblocks, the protection of settlers’ lynches of Palestinian civilians, the fence, and so on.

So, instead, when people criticize it, its best shot is to make shrill accusations of anti-Semitism, and to try delegitimizing the notion that Palestinians should have rights. The Israeli government isn’t the only organization that believes certain people’s rights depend on sufficient obsequity, but it’s the one that defends this notion the most blatantly.

Look, what Bismarck said about laws and sausages applies to liberation movements, too. Everyone likes a liberation movement, after (or right before) it achieves its goals. When it’s still not painfully obvious it’s won, it gets demonized, regardless of what tactics it uses. Even Martin Luther King was billed as a dangerous radical into the early 1960s. It then goes without saying that any political movement that isn’t blessed with fighting a relatively non-violent establishment, which can be fought non-violently, faces even greater delegitimization, regardless of whether its causes or methods are justified.

So comparisons between modern Israel and apartheid South Africa are complicated by the fact that Nelson Mandela’s success made it impolitic to defend apartheid South Africa. But in fact, once one gets over that differential, the comparison still holds. Olmert isn’t Assad or King Hussein, who slaughtered Palestinians by the thousands and myriads. South Africa wasn’t Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, either; it had no arbitrary pogroms.

Almost every regime can point to a worse regime. It’s somewhat analogous to pathological extremism, where the subsitute for radicalism is nationalism. Killing people is certainly a way of showing one’s authentic patriotism. That way, Palestinian terrorists can say they’re better than the IDF, and the IDF can say it’s better than Syria, and Syria can say it’s better than Pinochet, and Latin American fascists can say Pinochet’s better than Mussolini, and Italian fascists can say Mussolini’s better than Hitler. Nazis are sufficiently vilified that no political force needs to ever invoke them positively.

Israel isn’t Britain. The British Empire was the sort that stopped its trains when Indian independence activists lay on the railroad tracks. As Orwell noted, Gandhi could only use non-violent tactics because Britain had a conscience. Israel has no conscience; its military whitewashes its bulldozer drivers’ running over activists who stand in front of buildings that are scheduled for demolition. As such, denying human rights to all Palestinians because a small group of them commit terrorism against Israeli civilians isn’t an especially rational thing to do. And, while we’re at it, India had its terrorists, too – Subhash Chandra Bose went as far as allying himself with the Axis against Britain in World War Two.

It’s possible to typify most countries as stereotypes of people. The US used to be Vito Corleone, until Bush turned it into Sonny Corleone. In that paradigm, Israel is the annoying kid who murders someone, gets caught, and then complains to the judge, “But the terrorists are killing more people and you haven’t caught them yet!”. Yes, kid, brag about your incompetence at hiding your atrocities. When you do that, you deserve to do hard time just for stupidity.


Saturday Science Links

February 24, 2007

I think it was Squashed who was enamored enough with my science-themed link posts on Appletree that he suggested making it a regular weekend feature. Always happy to oblige, here’s what my net has come up with:

Shelley notes that scrub jays plan ahead, a cognitive trait previously thought to be unique to humans. In one experiment, the birds were conditioned to expect food in the morning in one room but not in another; those in the breakfast-less room then stored food each night. In another, each room had a different kind of food; the birds then stored each kind of food in the room filled with the other kind.

She also links to a study that shows that children of alcoholics have reduced mental development. Now, you’d think it’s because women who consume alcohol during pregnancy ruin their fetuses’ brains. But in fact, it’s both genetic and environmental, with no gender component; the senior author explicitly says that “There were no differences between the effects of maternal and paternal drinking.” My guess is that the groups that treat all women as pre-pregnant are not going to issue gender-neutral warnings to individuals not to become alcohol-dependent.

Tara writes about the gloriously pro-science President of Gambia, who is trying to use prayer to cure AIDS. The good news is that people must see the President in person to get prayed for, limiting the scope of the pseudo-treatment somewhat. The bad news is that the President demands they stop taking anti-retroviral drugs.

Mark at Cosmic Variance explains the equation e = mc^2 using a thought experiment. The basic point of the thought experiment is that since light is a wave, it imparts momentum, so conservation of momentum eventually implies mass-energy equivalence.

Orac’s Friday Dose of Woo features biodynamics, a pseudoscience that emphasizes the need for not only organic farming but also various processes that are supposed to make crops spiritually healthy. Biodynamic requires farmers to apply eight specific substances to the soil, all of which take me back to the days when I read the AD&D Dungeon Master Guide‘s section on magical items.

GrrlScientist writes about the sea changes in the continental shelf waters of the northwest Atlantic. What had been previously attributed to overfishing of cod is now recognized to be primarily the result of climate change. The main change is reduced salinity, caused by a) greater snowmelts in the Arctic, and b) climate-driven shifts in wind patterns that alter ocean currents.


Withdrawal, Finally!

February 21, 2007

Tony Blair has finally gotten off his high horse and announced a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Initially Britain will withdraw 1,600 troops out of 7,100 currently stationed, ostensibly on the grounds that the British area of control, Basra and the surrounding area, is remarkably stable.

Bush is of course calling it a vindication of his policies. That’s not surprising; for Bush, every event in the world is a vindication of every single policy of his.

Earlier, the White House called the British announcement a sign of success.

“We’re pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that [British forces] are able to transition more control to the Iraqis,” said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe in a statement.

Even if Blair’s excuse is correct and the conditions in Basra are good, it doesn’t say good things about the American mission in Iraq. In that case, all the withdrawal shows is that the British government was competent enough to stabilize Iraq while the American one wasn’t. In the unlikely case it’s not just a political capitulation to majority opinion in Britain, it means that as usual, Blair is a better neoconservative than Bush: more domestically progressive, smarter, more competent, and more realistic.


More Fascism

February 20, 2007

Two important pieces of news, one about civil liberties in the US and one about the impending war on Iran, juxtapose nicely with one I said earlier about the two characteristics of fascism.

First, the DC Court of Appeals ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not allowed to challenge their detention, and that in general the right to challenge any detention doesn’t extend to anyone who’s not a US citizen. If I stop posting for a few days straight, you know where to find me.

The 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismisses hundreds of cases filed by foreign-born detainees in federal court and also threatens to strip away court access to millions of lawful permanent residents currently in the United States.

It upholds a key provision of the Military Commissions Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a Defense Department system to prosecute terrorism suspects. Now, detainees must prove to three-officer military panels that they don’t pose a terror threat.

And second, the US is expanding the circumstances in which it will bomb Iran. In principle, the circumstances are very limited – if Iran is proven to produce a nuclear weapon, or if it is proven to directly cause a massive attack on US troops in Iraq. In practice, the circumstances for the war on Iraq were proof that Saddam had WMD…

[Link] The BBC’s Tehran correspondent France Harrison said the news that there are now two possible triggers for an attack was a concern to Iranians. She added that authorities insisted there was no cause for alarm but ordinary people were now becoming a little worried.

Earlier this month, US officials said they had evidence Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi Shia militias. At the time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the accusations were “excuses to prolong the stay” of US forces in Iraq, the BBC reported.


McCain Tries to Become Older Version of Brownback

February 19, 2007

ABCNews profiles McCain’s religious conservative credentials. Ordinarily I’d call it pandering, but McCain has a long history of being in bed with the religious fundamentalists; in 2000 he promised Gary Bauer pro-life judges, while Bush contented himself with general nonsense about constructionist judges in the mold of Scalia. Still, his style is that of long-term pandering rather than flip-flopping.

The Arizona lawmaker is scheduled to speak Sunday night to about 1,500 middle and high school students about abstaining from premarital sex. Abstinence and abortion loom large as issues in this first-in-the-South primary state in the heart of the Bible Belt.

“Senator McCain has a long legislative record of supporting abstinence-based initiatives in his record in the U.S. Senate,” said Trey Walker, McCain’s South Carolina campaign director. “He thinks that abstinence is healthier and should be promoted in our society for young people.”

McCain obviously has a lot to teach those students about abstinence. As he keeps emphasizing in the canned speech, young people should shut up and listen to their elders. And indeed, McCain’s generation did those things right. In McCain’s teenage years, that is the 1950s, whenever a teenager got pregnant, she either aborted and died due to unsafe conditions, or gave birth and forced the father into marriage. Nobody worried about teen pregnancy then because it was so ubiquitous that acknowledging teens had sex would be too embarrassing. Almost every other American girl had given birth by the time she was 20, and including abortions would likely make it a clear majority. Apparently, walking ten miles to school in five feet of snow uphill both ways makes boys exceptionally horny.

McCain’s antics include supporting the local crisis pregnancy center. I have no data on the particular CPC he’s supporting, but in general they are hornets’ nests of misinformation, intimidation, and outright lies. Furthermore, he’s come out publicly in support of overturning Roe vs. Wade.

On the other hand, the last linked story says,

McCain’s campaign also announced early Sunday that he had been endorsed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who had been considering his own bid for the White House, and former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, who failed in his bid for the Republican nomination in 1996.

Keating told the crowd that McCain is the “only candidate who is a true-blue, Ronald Reagan conservative.”

Leaving aside the appropriateness of calling a Republican “true-blue,” Ronald Reagan wasn’t that good to religious conservatives. He took their money for sure and used their politics as an excuse to cut US foreign aid, but his four Supreme Court nominations include two pro-choicers (O’Connor and Kennedy) and two pro-lifers (Scalia and Bork). Bush has a more conservative track record, with two pro-lifers to one wildcard; but, of course, Reagan was insanely popular, whereas Bush is a lame duck with an approval rate that gets leaders in less stable countries assassinated.


Carnival of the Godless #60 is Up

February 18, 2007

Manifold Fates is still down, so Brent posted the 60th edition of COTG on UTI, including my own post about freedom from religion, which I don’t remember submitting to the carnival.

In related news, accidental blogger Ruchira Paul writes about the Texas legislator who said the theory of evolution was a Kabbalistic conspiracy and therefore unconstitutional to teach in public schools. She concludes, “Texas Governor Rick Perry recently issued an executive order to make vaccination of pre-teen girls with Gardasil mandatory in order to protect them from the Human Papilloma Virus.  Alas, no vaccine, mandatory or optional, exists to protect the children from the willful ignorance of their elders.”

Ann’s Weekly Feminist Reader has two stories about fundamentalist outrage. First, in Israel, certain ultra-Orthodox Jews are working hard to dispel the notion that Islam is uniquely abusive toward women. In Haredi areas, such as the entire city of Bnei Brak, buses are de facto gender segregated, with women sitting in the back. Now a woman who was harassed for not going to the back of the bus is launching a class action lawsuit aiming to break the gender-segregated buses.

And second, the Catholic Church is ranting about Portugal’s referendum. The national conference of bishops whined, “The favorable result for the ‘yes’ is a sign of accentuated cultural mutation by the Portuguese people.” I’m glad the bishops are coming to understand they’re behind the times. The Catholic Church has only itself to blame; it doomed itself to irrelevance when it elected Ratzinger Pope.


Europe is Getting Tough on American Abuse

February 16, 2007

Update: I forgot to link to the relevant story.
In the wake of the release of a European Parliament report about the CIA’s use of European territory for illegal operations including kidnapping of innocent civilians, an Italian court has just indicted 26 CIA agents in an ongoing investigation of a kidnapping that occurred on Italian soil. The New York Times reports,

Despite the indictment, issued by a judge in Milan, it is unlikely that any of the Americans will ever stand trial here.

All the operatives, which included the top two C.I.A. officials in Italy at the time, have left the country. Moreover, Italy has not requested their extradition, and if it did, there seems little chance the Bush administration would agree.

But the indictment nonetheless marked a turning point in Europe, where anger is high at the secret American program of “extraordinary renditions” that whisked away terror suspects in contravention of the law after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The Italian investigation is less solid than the German one for several reasons. First, Prodi is under fire for not requesting extradition; such a request would be purely symbolic because no US President, much less Bush, would approve it. Second, the Italian justice system’s reputation could be better. And third, there are specific reports of irregularities in the investigation, including wiretapping Italian agents.

But still, despite the natural slowness of such investigations, the message is clear: the United States is not above international human rights laws.

What Clinton understood and Bush doesn’t understand is that American power isn’t monolithic; the US needs the cooperation of its allies to be able to achieve anything. Under Clinton, the CIA would have found ways of kidnapping those people that wouldn’t trigger a counterreaction from Germany and Italy. Bush would have none of that, because of his notion that his power shouldn’t be limited by anything, up to and including political reality.

Bush’s blatancy is as always his downfall. The CIA breaks the law countless times every day, but only when it does so in such a blatant way do local governments take enough of an interest to derail it. And only when the US has already squandered its support in the world do those governments take the step of indicting CIA agents.

In a way, Bush is the quintessential American. The American view of international politics is that respect for human rights is for lesser nations; Bush’s view of national politics is that respect for the Constitution is for lesser people. Where Clinton minimized the American proclivity for hotheadedness in policy, Bush exaggerates it.

I’m not naive enough to think American abuse is going to end just because Europe is starting to indict CIA agents. CIA abuse has a long history that includes openly flouting US law, to say nothing of foreign laws. And saying “I think the US should be limited by international law” in the US is like saying “I’m pro-American” in any other country. However, this investigation helps things a little bit if only because it creates a link between committing atrocities and losing the world’s goodwill.


Iran War Links

February 16, 2007

6:29 am isn’t the most fruitful time for another lengthy post about the war on Iran, so instead, I’m doing a link post.

First, the Commissar has a beautiful piece of snark about the American allegations that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents. “Bush to Bomb Washington,” his mock headline exclaims. Stephen has the courage to say what I didn’t dare: the US is supplying the insurgents via its criminal incompetence, so why not bomb Washington?

On top of that, Saudi Arabia is promising to arm the Sunni insurgents if the US withdraws. Ostensibly it wants to “prevent them being massacred by Shia militias,” but as always, “prevent us from being massacred by group Y” is code for “massacre group Y.”

Brock of Battlepanda notes that the standoff is increasing oil prices, which funnels money into the coffers of the Iranian government. Since much of Ahmadinejad’s weakness comes from his inability to make good on any of his economic promises, it follows that the saber-rattling alone strengthens the regime.

Publius of Obsidian Wings, which I should really start reading and add to my blogroll, writes about how procedure isn’t enough. Clinton’s response to Bush’s latest attempt to bomb a random third-world country is to demand that he submit to Congressional authorization. Publius reminds everyone that the Democrats said the same thing in 2002, and then rubber-stamped the Iraq attack.

If Publius plays good cop with Clinton, Avedon plays bad cop. Blunt and hard-hitting as always, she says,

The reason Clinton is getting the emphasis wrong is that she’s trying to be really macho about Iran and doesn’t dare say that there are worse things than Iran getting nuclear power, and one of those things would be using military force against Iran. And she apparently does not understand that nothing makes Iran want nuclear power like the constant belligerence from the United States against Iran. So just shut up about Iran and tell Bush flat out that he can’t go there.

Kenneth Baer says on TPMCafe that Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are right to engage in waffling rhetoric about keeping all options on the table because that’s what the experts recommend. Ezra retorts by showing that Baer is just wrong. While Baer’s article is filled with his own speculations, Ezra sticks to quoting the experts, who are far less pro-war than Baer says they are.

Dan Froomkin shows how in the absence of concrete evidence Iran is supplying Shi’a extremists, Bush is resorting to florid demagogy.


Fatah and Hamas Form a Unity Government

February 15, 2007

Despite my low expectations, Hamas and Fatah did agree on a unity government. Prime Minister Haniyeh submitted his resignation to President Abbas, and a new unity government is expected soon.

The problem, of course, is that the Palestinians are still worried that Western governments will shun them because of Hamas. If they will then they’ll be worse than the EU is when it comes to accession criteria, considering that the main reason Hamas is forming a unity government with Fatah is international pressure.

There’s a fundamental hypocrisy involved with the treatment of Hamas. The New York Times calls it a radical group, on account of its lack of recognition of Israel. It’s certainly not a pacifist party, nor even a terribly good one, but “radical” is somewhat over the top.

Likud and Israel Beitenu, the latter of which is part of the Israeli government, don’t recognize a Palestinian state. Sharon was compelled to leave Likud for Kadima because the Likud’s core members would not accept his withdrawal from Gaza Strip, which paved the way for an Israeli recognition of Palestine. Israel Beitenu’s leader has gone so far as calling Arabs traitors and pushing for retaliatory attacks on civilian targets.


The Commissar May Get His Wish

February 13, 2007

The Commissar has just complained that the Democrats don’t do enough to stop the war on Iraq. Pelosi listened and made it clear that there would be “No more blank checks.” The resolution that’s about to pass Congress is non-binding, but Pelosi’s hinting that more substantial resolutions will follow.

“A vote of disapproval will set the stage for additional Iraq legislation, which will be coming to the House floor,” said Speaker Pelosi of California, who underscored the significance of the debate by delivering the first speech.

“In a few weeks, the war in Iraq will enter its fifth year, causing thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of casualties, costing hundreds of billions of dollars and damaging the standing of the United States in the international community. And there is no end in sight,” she said.

The Republican response is the standard “Support the troops” trope, which holds that exercising any kind of dissenting speech in wartime is hurtful. Four years ago, the Republicans could at least boldly accuse people of treason; today, the best they can do is have a Vietnam vet cry in front of a camera when talking about how he first learned of anti-war protests while in captivity.

The Feingold resolution cutting off funding for the war is not gaining any traction yet, but it may once the Democrats pass their non-binding resolution and start looking for real action. This resolution is very much like the Portuguese abortion referendum: while not legally binding, it will provide the Democrats with the political capital necessary to block the surge more vigorously.

Meanwhile, the occupation of Iraq is becoming increasingly desperate. The latest gambit is a 72-hour border closure with Syria and Iran, whose primary purpose is probably letting Bush segue to an attack on Syria and Iran. Ostensibly it’s supposed to provide the extra 20,000 troops with breathing room, but if the US were serious about it, it would close the border indefinitely.


Iran Won’t Know What Hit It

February 13, 2007

Via Eurotrib: Iran’s net oil exports are shrinking so much that the government is engaging in desperate measures that will probably cause it to fall. The New York Times has the story:

Some analysts say that if this acute imbalance between stagnant production and rising demand at home continues unchecked, Iran will have no oil left over to export within a decade. Its oil exports, totaling $47 billion last year, account for half the government’s revenue.

(…)

To curb demand, which has been driven in part by subsidies that keep the domestic pump price at a mere 35 cents a gallon, the government plans to begin rationing gasoline in March, a measure so unpopular, and potentially explosive, that rationing plans have been put off several times in the past.

If Ahmadinejad were serious about staying in power, he’d put off the plan for a year, and rely on overproduction, just like the Shah did in the 1970s. In such a situation, a smart US President would wait for Iran’s oil production to plummet and then engage in minor diplomatic action to ensure that the post-revolutionary government would be pro-American. However, Bush isn’t a smart President, and his advisors are not a smart administration; they’re likely to bomb either way.

It seems almost as if Ahmadinejad is trying to ensure the regime collapses before the US has any time to bomb. If he can wait it out two more years, Bush’s hotheadedness and Congress’s spinelessness will secure his regime indefinitely. The US can’t execute an invasion, or at least not a successful one; all it can do is aerially strike, giving just enough impetus to preserve the regime.

Iran’s government is repeating the same mistakes the United States’ did, which led to the crash in Bush’s approval rate. The correct way to wean a gasoline-addicted population is gradually, via either slowly increasing taxes or investing in public transportation. The incorrect way is to ration gas. Peacetime rations have never been conducive to regime support. Regimes that the people are overall satisfied with can get away with it; regimes that have a five-year shelf life can’t.

Iran won’t know what hit it. For a government that got installed when angry mobs threw out the despised, authoritarian Shah who was keeping them in poverty, it has an awfully short memory. It has an authoritarian, despised President who can’t deliver on his economic promises, who’s propped up by an equally authoritarian Supreme Leader who’d be even more despised if he were more public.

I’m willing to stake my entire corpus of posts about the Middle East on this: barring an American or Israeli attack on Iranian soil, the current regime isn’t going to survive into the 2010s. Far stronger regimes have fallen before the might of popular discontent. A year ago, Ahmadinejad could cover up his unpopularity by clamping down on opposition newspapers. Today, he could just as well jail two thirds of the Iranian population.


Tuesday Small Hours Links

February 13, 2007

There are so many good links from the last day or two.

Jessica Dreadful breaks another abortion ban story from South Dakota, this time with exceptions for rape and incest in order to make the bill more palatable. But even then, the rape and incest exceptions are created with the most draconian restrictions possible.

[Link] The bill would allow rape victims to get abortions if they report the rapes to police within 50 days. Doctors would have to confirm those reports with police; doctors also would have to give blood from aborted fetuses to police for DNA testing in rape and incest cases.

The Commissar explains exactly what is wrong with the Bush administration’s accusations of Iranian support for Iraqi militants. Instead of trying to doubt the intelligence that was used to gather the conclusions, he shows why the conclusions themselves are implausible.

At the recent US military briefing about the Iranian mortar shells given to Iraqi Shiite militias, it was reported that these super-bombs have killed 170 US troops since June, 2004. I’m sure that Shiite IED’s have killed American troops in Iraq. How many overall? If the Iranian EFP’s have killed 170 Americans, what fraction is that of the total.

(…)

Of the 553 (82+471) where the sect of the attacker can be reliably inferred, 15% of these deadly IED attacks were committed by Shiites. Extrapolated to the full set, that would be 144 overall. That’s right. Only 144 Shiite-IED related deaths since June 2004.

Ezra has a three part series on the horrors of prison rape. While he doesn’t use the wonky style we all know and love, his posts still come off as very strong. He notes,

According to the Justice Department, “[in] 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.” This is important. The relative infrequency with which white Americans enter prison, particularly for extended periods of time, surely effects the political urgency of prison reform. Indeed, it’s likely the reason overall legislation pushes in the other direction — towards overcrowding and longer sentences and less rehabilitation.

Brent reproduces a letter about the invisibility of atheists in the US. Since atheists are impossible to immediately discern from theists, bigoted Christians can get away with assuming that everyone in their lives who is a good person shares their religion. Based on that, he urges atheists to come out publicly.

First, misconceptions about us abound because of this invisibility. People don’t realize that we are their doctor, their teacher, their spouse or the nice guy that just held the door for them. The only face of naturalism a person is likely to see is a militant one. Is there any doubt that the image of naturalists would improve overnight if politicians, stars and athletes would come out?

d of Lawyers, Guns and Money comments on a statement by Bill Kristol about Obama that makes Joe Biden look like the second coming of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, W. E. B. DuBois, and Frederick Douglass all rolled into one. Kristol says Obama would’ve supported pro-slavery politicians in the 1850s. d notes,

When Kristol suggests — wearing his arrogant smirk like a badge of honor — that Barack Obama “would have been for Douglas in 1858,” he seems not to know one important historical fact. According to the laws of Illinois in 1858, Barack Obama would not only have been incapable of voting for Stephen Douglas, but he also would not have been allowed to enter the state in the first place. In 1853, Illinois passed one of the most restrictive black codes in the so-called “free north.” Blacks from other states were permitted to remain in the state for ten days; if they did not leave, they were subject to arrest and temporary enslavement — they would be sold to bidders who would be entitled to their labor until the mandatory $50 fine had been worked off. If the offending individual remained in Illinois after his or her release, the fines increased by $50 increments for each subsequent offense.

In her latest basic concepts post, Shelley turns to prions, the proteins that cause mad cow disease. Although they are proteins rather than organisms, they have the capability to mess with existing proteins in a way that makes them infectious in a way.

The protein that prions are made of is found throughout the body normally(called PrPc), although what their non-disease function is is not yet known. These proteins are encoded by the PRNP gene, and mutations in this gene are responsibly for inherited prion diseases. The disease-state prion protein is called (PrPSc) and is resistant to proteases which would normally denature a protein and render it harmless. The theory of how prions become infectious to other proteins is detailed below.

Abbas reproduces a letter by Waleed Hazbun, a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut. Hazbun describes the city,

Walking down the streets of the Hamra district of Beirut I think to myself that more cities across the Arab world should feel this way. Even as the city is re-dividing itself politically and police and security forces stand watch over public spaces, key buildings, and the residences of leading politicians, Beirut remains a urban, cosmopolitan environment. By invoking this term I do not refer to the fancy shopping districts with Euro-American name brand shops, the haut-hipsters hanging out a Starbucks (or even the much cooler De Prague), or the late night dancing parties going on at the trendy clubs. Beirut is a costal Levantine city that has never been cut off from other Mediterranean cities and trade routes nor fully isolated from its Arab/Islamic hinterland. It is not a show case ‘modern’ city built next to a museumfied medieval era ‘madina,’ like Tunis nor an artificial metropolis emerging out of a desert landscape due to royal patronage or the flows of petrodollars. It is more like Istanbul and how cities on coast of Mandate Palestine might have developed in some alterative reality.

Also on 3QD, Dhiraj Nayyar writes about the parallels between India and the US. India is aspiring to global superpower status, complete with economic domination and massive exportation of culture. But the social problems of the US pale in comparison with those of India.

Can India possibly claim to be superpower, the new emperor, just because some of it’s corporates are taking over firms abroad. Corporate might hasn’t turned into well-being for the majority of the people who still languish in poverty, illiteracy, hunger: basically dismal human conditions. Even possessing a few nuclear weapons doesn’t change this fact. And if half a country’s population cannot read, feed or cloth itself, what does that say about the empire? Even the American empire seems hollow when it is estimated that one in six people in the US is functionally illiterate, a large number of them live in poverty, where poverty is often a function of race, and where hurricanes like Katrina leave the mighty government fumbling for solutions.

Tyler expresses skepticism of much-hyped developments in quantum computing. In principle, quantum computers can factor integers in polynomial time, compared with exponential time for normal computers. In practice, constructing a quantum computer is about as feasible as fusion power at this stage. Tyler explains,

An actual working 16-qubit quantum superconductor that can overcome decoherence and the ubiquitous errors that plague any effort to build a computing device on quantum principles would be quite an achievement. It would indeed be interesting to do a full scale quantum computation, perhaps actually executing the Shor factoring algorithm. But A.) 16-qubits isn’t going to cut it and B.) they’ve been ominously reserved about releasing any results for professionals and academics to evaluate. And needless to say, with the grandiose proclamations the folks at the company have made, I’m skeptical.

Zuzu rips into the third chapter of Dawn Eden’s book, The Thrill of the Chaste (the parts Zuzu quotes sound as unintelligent as the title).

The chapter opens with a description of a continuing education course on “Living Single.” Dawn reads the description — which is all about helping people confidently navigate the single world, whether they’ve never left it or are re-entering it — and all she sees is “lack.”

She would, wouldn’t she?

I mean, her whole life, she’s felt lacking, and though she’s changed her strategy, her goal is the same: get married. Thing is, as she does so many times, she breezes right by the point. The course is designed to alleviate some of the social pressure that single adults feel to be in a couple, that they are in fact lacking something. It’s designed to help people understand that they don’t need to be in a couple to have fulfilling lives. But Dawn just sees the course as evidence that women are mired in a pathetic, pop-culturally-dictated “single lifestyle” that is all about lack — that lack being, of course, lack of a man and lack of God.

Finally, Bora collects all Darwin Day posts in one big link post. I haven’t had time to look at them yet, but you should.


Bush is Trying to Make the Contenders’ Positions on Iran Irrelevant

February 12, 2007

More and more it seems as if February 2007 to Iran is like September 2002 to Iraq. Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post is talking about the Bush administration’s attempt to convince people Iran’s a grave threat to American interests (hat-tip to Lindsay).

For a long time now, Bush admininstration officials have been promising reporters proof that the Iranian government is supplying deadly weaponry to Iraqi militants.

The administration finally unveiled its case this weekend, first in coordinated and anonymous leaks to a trusting New York Times reporter, then in an extraordinarily secretive military briefing at which no one would speak on the record, journalists weren’t allowed to photograph the so-called evidence, and nothing even remotely like proof of direct Iranian government involvement was presented.

To be honest, I’m not sure how the administration is planning to go to war based on that. Most Americans don’t even want the troops in Iraq anymore; they don’t tolerate attacks on them, of course, but to me, “Iran is supplying weapons to Shi’a militias” sounds awfully weak compared to “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud over New York.”

On the other hand, it’s possible the administration is trying to get around its unpopularity by phasing in the lies. In Iraq, it started from an imminent nuclear threats and then went down to “WMD-related activities.” It’s possible that now it’s doing the opposite: first introduce Iran as a possibly hostile force, then accuse it of orchestrating the entire civil war, and then talk about its nuclear program…

Krugman’s apparently saying that there’s no way Congress will approve another war resolution. I disagree: no serious Presidential candidate has made any statement opposing a war on Iran, and all but one either have made pro-war statements or have a general pro-war disposition. The Democrats are less spineless than they were in 2002, but not by much.


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