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.

The Most Important War You’ve Never Heard About

March 7, 2007

For a conflict that killed around 3.5 million civilians, give or take, the Second Congo War is remarkably unknown to the world. Chris Clarke has a good post about the coltan angle of the conflict, which is basically Johann Hari’s report with less fluff; it’s riddled with standard issue guilt-based arguments, but there are enough gems in the post that any sane person should be able to focus on its important parts.

The Second Congo War is basically what happens when you have an area whose political stability matches the geological stability of San Francisco. That Congo has ample supplies of coltan, which is used to produce tantalum, which is important in electronics, certainly didn’t help. It transformed an already brewing civil war into a painful resource extraction exercise. Nonetheless, it’s important to note that Congo wouldn’t have been much better off without coltan.

Congo-Kinshasa had never been blessed with good leadership. It used to be a colony of Belgium, possibly the worst colonial ruler any country could have in the imperial age; the King who at one point owned it personally, Leopold II, was especially ruthless. When it became independent, a Cold War conflict in southern Africa involving Angola’s communist government, Che Guevara, and CIA-backed Cuban exiles caused the US to unconditionally back an authoritarian Congolese ruler named Mobutu.

Fast forward to 1996, when Mobutu had ruled for 31 years without holding a single free election and failed to engage in any kind of economic development. Mobutu’s grip on power was finally weakening, after running out of money to pay salaries to public officials. A rebel leader named Kabila who had the army and the backing of several surrounding African countries managed to overthrow Mobutu and establish himself as the President of Zaire, renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By 1998, Kabila found himself in opposition to the countries that had put him in power. Rwanda’s Tutsi-dominated government had persistent troubles with the fact that the Interhamwe, the Hutu group that committed the Rwandan genocide back in 1994, was now based in the Congo. When Kabila replaced his Rwandan chief of staff with a Congolese one and booted Rwandan and Ugandan advisors from the country, things started deteriorating.

Ethnic Tutsis living in eastern Congo were alarmed, and Rwanda and Uganda used a mutiny as a pretext for an invasion. It was supposed to be a blitzkrieg, but turned into a protracted war. Kabila had his own backers: the Angolan government believed Kabila would be better for its own internal power struggles with rebels than a new President, while Zimbabwe’s Mugabe and Namibia’s Nujoma had personal stakes in Congolese mining operations. The US supported him for various business-related reasons, most of which boil down to diamonds.

What followed was five years of war that quickly became all-against-all. The factions’ interests ranged from cracking down on some rebel group (Kabile) to natural resources (Rwanda) to genocide (Interhamwe). Due to both the factions’ control of coltan mining operations and the government’s abject weakness, militia groups were and still are able to pay workers far better than any legitimate group.

Officially, the war is over. People are certainly not being killed or raped at the same rate they were six years ago. But the Transitional Government established in 2003 is closer to a darker version of the Palestinian government, complete with violent clashes between parties, than to a stable government. As late as 9/2004, a thousand civilians were killed in clashes every day. And the rapes still continue, though the main problem has become what to do about the hundreds of thousands of rape victims, whose families shun them.

Oh, Crap

March 2, 2007

Hat-tip to SLC in the comments: Obama is discovering his hawkish side when it comes to Iran. He’s slightly less militant in rhetoric than Clinton and Edwards, but he more than makes up for that in inexperience, which may lead him to foreign policy blunders (to be honest, that also holds for Edwards, though less so for Clinton).

The world must work to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. And while we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Here goes another candidate who’s practically begging for Ahmadinejad to stay in power. 6 down, 0 to go. I don’t mind much that Obama says Bush’s Iraq policy is bad for Israel; that’s true, and completely relevant given that he was speaking to AIPAC. In fact, it’s possible he’s just lying to Asher Levy et al to get their money and will screw them once in office. But, you know, he had the opportunity to talk about the potential for a democratic Iran without military action, and still chose to not only use the words “take no option off the table” but also especially mention “military action.”

SLC likes to ask me why I don’t support Hagel, who’s not into any of those stupidities. That’s because he’s decidedly conservative on all other issues, including civil liberties. In addition, Hagel is very pro-life, with a 0% rating from NARAL. I don’t know what kind of justice Giuliani will replace Stevens with – I’m guessing Gonzales, who’s suitably authoritarian – but I know Hagel will nominate a Scalia.

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.

Iran Has Secret Plans to Take Over the World

February 23, 2007

Michele Bachmann said that Iran has a plan in the works to split Iraq with another entity, in which it will take over the northern half of Iraq and turn it into a terrorist breeding ground. She refused to source that statement; my guess is that she knows that if she tells people God whispered it in her ear, people will realize how batshit insane she is.

Of course, there’s a broader principle here. Even a lunatic like Bachmann doesn’t make things up unless they’re part of radical right-wing dogma. She’s hardly the only creationist in Minnesota. There is a real Iran, and there’s the Iran various ideologues want there to be. For the extreme left, it’s thriving and governed by a popular regime. For the extreme right, it’s an omnipotent terrorist state preoccupied with nothing but killing Americans and spreading Jihadism.

For people like Bachmann, it’s self-evident that Iran is and has always been this sinister enemy. In the real world, Iran was part of the USA’s war on terror until Bush wrote it off as a member of the Axis of Evil; but in American right-wing fantasies, it’s always supported every Jihadist organization, even Sunni ones like Al Qaida. In the real world, Iran is plagued by a looming oil peak and rock-bottom regime support; in American right-wing fantasies, it’s capable of taking control of the northern and western half of Iraq – i.e. the Sunni and Kurdish parts, where it’s even more hated than the US.

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.

A Reminder About Radicals

February 20, 2007

I keep procrastinating my post about extremism, so in lieu of sitting down and writing about how radicals make an effort to be more extreme than their already off-center peer group, I’ll just quote a practical example of parallels between radicals in from The Politburo Diktat:

The parallels between neoconservative arguments, either in the form The Commissar is rebutting or in the form David is advancing, and annoying left-wing radicalisms, are glaring. Consider the following:

1. Both disdain traditional politics. A realist interested in democracy promotion in the Middle East would focus on building local democratic movements, which would defeat the Islamists politically rather than inflame them militarily. Likewise, a realist interested in civil rights would focus on building a longlasting political movement using legal and political action, and only occasionally nonviolent direct action. In contrast, both neoconservatives and radical leftists prefer the methods that don’t involve dirty politics.

2. Both view blatancy as a good in itself. Radical leftists judge people by how much they piss people off rather than by how much they achieve. Neoconservatives judge leaders by how many people they’re willing to kill rather than by how much positive influence they yield. In both cases, the emphasis is on trashing the Winter Palace rather than on administering Russia.

3. Both use the same old historical analogy even when it fails to work in other circumstances. Radical leftists point to the success of Martin Luther King, failing to mention that he had a huge amount of moderate infrastructure behind him, and that even then he couldn’t expand his tactics to anti-war and anti-poverty activism. Neoconservatives analogize every struggle to World War Two, even when it’s a war of choice against a population that hasn’t undergone German-style discombobulation and even when they don’t offer anything approaching the Marshall Plan.

4. Both tend to draw from the same pool of people. The leading intellectual neoconservatives used to be radical leftists holed in City College. David Horowitz’s politics were once left of Noam Chomsky’s. The focus is not so much on a specific cause as on general platitudes – freedom, democracy, equality, peace – combined with horrific methods of achieving them.

David is a commenter who complained that the Commissar’s “The war only creates more terrorists” argument was not sufficiently neoconservative; David responded to the above comment by denying that he’s a neoconservative, but even if that’s true, the argument he advanced was very pro-neocon.