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.