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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

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Location: Oxfordshire, United Kingdom

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Saturday, October 28, 2006


Anyone who reads this blog knows I go googly-eyed around good dogs. Hard to know which one of these two characters is more endearing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Making her wishes unmistakably clear

A healthy, active octogenarian has had the words "Do Not Resuscitate" tattooed on her chest.

My favorite bit of this story:

Her daughter, an Assistant Dean at a medical school, "failed to talk her mother out of getting the tattoo."

"[Mom] said, 'Remember all those times when you were a teenager, and I said don't do this, that or the other thing? Paybacks are tough, aren't they?'"

Story and pic from Des Moines Register, with hat-tip to Miss Cellania.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Finally: Sane public policy in United States

Finally, the government has gotten something right.

US Govt Bans Vegemite


Just another trip

I have been before to Milan, and I have seen Lake Como in autumn. This weekend was just another trip.

But there are places you go that have nothing to do with the destination on your boarding pass. Even as it is handed to you by the (you hope) smiling woman behind the check-in counter -- the one who is at first grumpy because you haven't used the touch-screen kiosk, but who you then charm with your unintentionally, but unavoidably, self-effacing French -- your boarding pass is only a minor promissory note drawn on the potential of a journey: a flight and a landing. That is all.

It would be reassuring if the rest were up to you. It isn't. We know this, all of us, somewhere in us, but comfort ourselves nevertheless with self-deceiving optimism that intent is nine tenths of destiny, that the journey is mostly known in advance, and only the linear unspooling of a pre-written narrative remains to be lived. The perfect trip is one on which everything flows uneventfully from the plan, and nothing goes awry. The blessings of on-time percentages, uncongested roads, and luggage that magically appears on a conveyor belt are what we unthinkingly beseech of our silent, secular St Christophers.

So focused have we become on eliminating the unpredictable, in travel, that we often misplace the essential joy of journeys: the unexpected. We plan to within an inch of our lives, yet we still hope -- don't we? -- to experience something more than the self-fulfilling prophecy of a perfectly executed itinerary.

As in our travels, so it is in our relationships. What we cherish in finding love, of all kinds, is the unexpected: a profound connection with another human being; the initial shock of mutual embrace having entered our lives in an unanticipated moment and place. Settling into a friendship over time, however, discovery wanes. We begin to value what is already known, exalting established intimacy and all the assumptions that sustain it. We hope our friends don't surprise us too much, too often. The unexpected is no longer the currency that draws us, nor what defines the mutuality. That coin is exchanged for constancy, which is but a loverly word for predictability.

This is right and good. As love matures, novelty ripens into faithfulness: a fidelity to what we know of each other's hearts and minds, and a devotion to protecting our most cherished friendships from the calamities that befall those fashioned from more ephemeral material.

But it is at our own risk that we, with careful engineering, attempt to excise surprise from our journeys, be they across the map or into the hearts of friends. Missed connections lay bare the assumptive fiction that an itinerary should be destiny, and our arrogance of will that we wish it to be; that a travel plan is little better at predicting the future than any more arcane alchemical device. You want to believe you know where you are going, and how, and when. And why. But you can't. None of us do.

It was an old maxim of nineteenth century European explorers that adventures only occur as a result of poor planning. Perhaps. I'd rather think of them as catalysts to our humility and wonder. We cannot know our path, and what's possible is always greater than our imagination. Life is easier without incident. It is also not life.

We all, in travel, in friendship, in love, have different tolerances for risk -- which is another way of saying we all have different appetites for adventure. And we all choose carefully, if sometimes only semi-consciously, the spheres of our lives in which we tolerate the unexpected, and those in which we build vain bulwarks against chance. Some risk their hearts but protect their bodies. Others safeguard their careers while gambling their marriages. And on and on.

If you had asked me, on Friday morning, to predict my weekend, I would have given you a prescient sketch. The outline of anticipated events would have matched well the tracings that the passage of time has since overlaid. Yet these things -- the bullet points of the Monday morning how-was-your-weekend workplace rundown -- do not tell the story of my journey: adventures into the hearts of unexpected, extraordinary people; a ride across mountains in the boot of a car; simulated sex on the floor of one of the world's most celebrated rooms.

It is only in departures from what we know that we learn, and departures from the expected in which we thrill. Craving peaceful contentment, I forget too often that it is in extending myself into the unknown that I experience the full fascination of living, and the encompassing joy of loving. The expected is refuge and solace. The unexpected, the accidental, always holds the potential to be a prat-fall into wonder.

* * *

Happy birthday, Sean.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Afraid of the wrong thing

"We have lived as if in a trance. We have lived as people in fear. And now, our rights and our freedoms in peril, we slowly awaken to learn that we have been afraid of the wrong thing."

For more on why Olberman is so exercised, here's a link to another video: a discussion with a professor of US constitutional law on the profound implications of the President's signing the Military Commissions Act into law.

The most alarming thing in the latter video is the accurate read on America's collective yawn about its freedoms being signed away.

As covered in this space previously, the passage of such laws is only made possible by Congress's assumption that the Supreme Court will eventually strike them down as unconstitutional. (Congress can pass laws that win political points unworried by their negative consequences if they have faith that the courts will invalidate them. This allows Congress to pander, while leaving the hard work of defending freedom to the judiciary.

It's lazy and it's dangerous, as detailed in this article, "Pass the Buck", co-authored by my beloved Dahlia.

It also violates elected officials' oath to protect and uphold the constitution.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Clouding a stormy issue

An issue like climate change (or global warming) is hard enough to get your head around without obfuscation. Turns out the Bush Jr White House has been trying to make it even harder.

There is genuine debate, in the scientific community, about whether climate change is making hurricanes bigger, stronger and more damaging. The idea that global warming and hurricane damage could be tied together poses an uncomfortable question to the Bush Jr White House. If there's a potential link, then given the administration's failings in response to Katrina, and the ongoing economic cost of devastating hurricanes, why is the Bush Jr White House so inactive on climate crisis issues?

The Bush Jr White House reaction? Gag government scientists to keep them from speaking to the public.

From Slate:

Nature magazine recently reported that when a panel of NOAA scientists drafted a consensus statement on the issue suggesting that warming might be affecting hurricanes, administrators quashed it.

The same story was also reported by the Associated Press (link goes to CBS news, which ran the AP story), and over at Salon.com, they found the evidence: e-mails from administration officials in the Department of Commerce, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and at the National Hurricane Center.

If you were a government scientist whose research suggested a link between climate change and hurricanes, you weren't allowed to tell the public -- the same public that paid for the research via their taxes.


Is there a right approach to "rough treatment"?

In his article "The Right Approach to Rough Treatment", from the National Journal, Jonathan Rauch writes in favor of using torture in some circumstances.

His piece is so well reasoned and balanced in its articulation of the issue, I thought I'd link to it, here, to provide a counterpoint to my strident anti-torture stance.

He doesn't come down in favor of the unlimited executive power ensconced in the Military Commissions Act; he makes a case for torture in extreme cases, but with complete transparency and accountability to Congress and to the American public.

Coercive interrogation is a form of deliberate abuse that treats human beings not as ends in themselves but as means to an end. For a democracy founded on the promise of equal and unalienable human rights, there is no graver compromise. If the country needs to make this compromise—as I and, apparently, most Americans think it does—it needs to look its behavior squarely in the eye.

In the end, I don't agree with his conclusion, but I wish there were more reasoned voices like his in the debate.

Unfortunately, the first important round of the "debate", such as it was, is now over. Bush Jr signed the act into law this week.


Monday, October 16, 2006

After a weekend in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of those cities in which it appears about half the people walking the streets must be getting paid by the tourist board to make the place look picturesque: old men with flowing white hair and tiny wire-rimmed spectacles; rosy-cheeked, young blonde mothers peddling bicycles with even blonder, rosier cheeked children balanced, singing, on handlebars; young couples hanging out the washing on the roofs of their houseboats.

The very first time I visited Europe -- with my parents, when I was thirteen -- Amsterdam charmed me. This weekend was my first occasion back with time to wander, and the city swayed me even more. What was novel and beautiful to the thirteen year-old, seems now an almost impossible admixture of city-living on an intimate, unrushed, gentle human scale. It's just welcoming and gorgeous and full of people who live like they've got nothing to prove. As urban centers go, it's almost an idyll.

Most life is probably lived in bland suburbs and office parks outside the center of the city. That is so often the case with historic European cities, the charm of whose old town centers necessarily fails to extend with modern sprawl. So long as one can sustain the fantasy of living along the canals of old Amterdam, however, thoughts of blandness are a world away.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Deliberative Tony

I've been posting so damn much about US politics, here's a little anti-venom from the Brits, courtesy of ThePartyParty.


Supreme Court says no to vibrators and at least one Kiss

Had a bit of fun, the other day, reading a short NY Times article on the list of cases the US Supreme Court has declined to hear in its upcoming session. The full list of declined cases was 86 pages long, but the Times piece helpfully summarized.

Two items stood out.

First, it appears that, in Texas, while handguns are legal, weapons of mass orgasm will remain against the law.

The court declined to hear a challenge brought by a worker at a pornographic bookstore in El Paso who was arrested for violating a state law against promoting sex toys shaped like sex organs. The employee called the law unconstitutional. Courts in three states have tossed out such laws, but Texas is one of three others where judges have upheld them.

Second, it just tickles me that the following item came so close to making it onto the Supreme Court's docket. For my personal history with the defendants, click here.

The former Kiss guitarist Vinnie Vincent lost a royalties battle against other members of the rock group. The justices will not consider lower court rulings that dismissed a claim by the plaintiff, whose real name is Vincent Cusano, that he was owed money for his contributions to the band’s album “Lick It Up.”

Clearly, Scalia and the Black Robe 9 knew that Ace Frehley was the only KISS guitarist that ever mattered. I mean, come on: he was from space.


Habeas Corpus isn't a heavy metal band

I went on quite a bit, the other day, about Habeas Corpus, and why we should care that Bush Jr and the Republican-controlled congress have just stripped it from US law. The legislation they used to do it was called the Military Commissions Act.

I might have saved my breath and just pointed you in the direction of the following two articles, both of which make the point far more clearly than I did. If you doubt whether, under the new law, you can actually be imprisoned without cause and imprisoned without end -- with torture, besides -- these articles make the answer plain:

The Best for the Worst

Pushing Back on Detainee Act, authored by human rights lawyer Michael Ratner.

* * *

In my last post I expressed doubts about the wisdom of some of Keith Olbermann's recent comments. Below, as counterpoint, is a wonderful, tongue-in-cheek Olbermann report on the implications of the Military Commissions Act for the US Constitution.

Following that, have a look at the second clip: a YouTube video response to Olbermann's Habeas piece. If you think the average American isn't noticing what their country is becoming, this piece is reassuring. Let's just hope he's representative.


Losing his show, or just losing his way?

I have celebrated both the mouth and the guts of Keith Olbermann a few times here, recently. He's spoken elequently in closing editorials on his MSNBC program The Countdown, one of the only major media personalities to call the Bush administration out in the kind of frank terms that our spiral downward requires.

I have no doubt that right-wingers decry Olbermann in the same terms that I would trash wing-nut partisan hack blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, but there are few Bush administration critics with either the platform or the skill of Olbermann.

Recently, he's been using both. Which makes Jeff Cohen worried for him, as he details in his article "Is Olbermann on Thin Ice?".

The only fear I really have for Keith is that his polemics have been getting increasingly personalized to Bush Jr. Edward R Murrow, Olbermann's journalistic hero, was at his best when he used a person's behaviour -- notably Joseph McCarthy's -- as the example of an evil, rather than naming the person's behaviour as the evil, itself.

When Olbermann villainizes Bush the man, he provides a too-easy chicken exit, which is to debate Bush's personal words and behaviour, rather to engage with the ideology and policies Bush represents. Focusing on the wrongs, themselves, at the root of the entire administration's behaviour -- not restricting the attack to one bone-head -- but using the bone-head as the illustration, strikes me as more intellectually honest, and a more effective way of engaging a broader crowd in the debate. It is too easy to be dismissed as a simple Bush-basher, otherwise.

In the end, however, this is a rhetorical choice, and perhaps a nuanced one. That choice makes the importance of Olbermann's voice on the air no less significant.

Long may it rant.

* * *

Below is a recent Olbermann polemic: too personally villainizing for my tastes, even if I back the sentiment.


A culture of life? Only in the petri dish.

The Bush administration's stem cell research policy has always bothered me. There are a raft of reasons. The pragmatic one is that it prevents good science -- potentially life-saving science -- from getting done.

But the larger reason is that it is both morally and logically hypocritical.

The article "War and Embryos", by Michael Kinsley, nails why: life that motivates your political base appears to be the only life that's precious.

Kinsley's take on "collateral damage" is bang on.


'Scuse me while I switch the CD

With deference to Jimi H.

"Hip hop music fans have more sex", from Scientific American.

Anyone like to join me for a little Snoop Dogg?

Your birth control as a threat to potential life

...or, at least, as a political football.

A fascinating analysis of where the abortion debate is, today.

"Where the Rubber Meets Roe", from the Washington Post.


Taking the measure of the measuredness of Richard Clarke

Perhaps the most articulate and credible critic of "the war on terror" is Richard Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism at the United States' National Security Agency. He worked for Reagan, George Bush Sr, Clinton and then Bush Jr, after which the Bush Jr administration tried to discredit him because of his views on their failings in "the war on terror".

In the article "Blinded by Hindsight", his prose is so measured, it's almost maddening. But it's also right. Everything I've ever read by him has held forth with with reason and level-headedness. Given what he's been through, professionally, I can't imagine maintaining anything like this level of reasonableness, as a critic.

If you haven't seen the Clinton interview Clarke mentions in the article, I've linked to it, below. It's in two parts.


Why talking torture helps W

I referred obliquely to this analysis a few posts ago. I found it again at the bottom of my briefcase.

"The Uses of Scare-Talk", from the Economist.

The point of the article is that the more we rail about torture, the more we help George Bush. On "the war on terror", he's popular, and torture is, in the minds of the general public, all about "the war on terror". So, the more we talk about torture, the more we focus attention on an issue that helps Bush: terror.

The politically astute response is not to talk about terror, but to talk about the war in Iraq, on which Bush is simply not credible in the eyes of most Americans.

Yet, somehow, I can't bring myself to stay quiet about torture, about becoming a nation that actually sanctions torturing people with no recourse to the courts.


Maybe they didn't jump over the moooon after all

Finally, serious reporting of this unheralded epidemic:

Cow abduction.

(Mouse-over the grazing cow.)

Hat-tip to Lawrence Wilkinson.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How much of my adolescence can destroy itself in 2 minutes 30 seconds?

Considering current events in light of Arendt

I have never read the work of Hannah Arendt, but this article at The Picket Line makes me want to.

Quoting the article quoting Arendt:

She was a refugee from, and a student of, a time and place in which:

…the few rules and standards according to which men used to tell right from wrong, and which were invoked to judge or justify others and themselves, and whose validity were supposed to be self-evident to every sane person either as a part of divine or of natural law.… without much notice… collapsed almost overnight, and then it was as though morality suddenly stood revealed in the original meaning of the word, as a set of mores, customs and manners, which could be exchanged for another set with hardly more trouble than it would take to change the table manners of an individual or a people.

Quoting from later in the article, as the author reflects on the implications of Arendt:

This love of truth and this need to live in harmony with yourself also seem so rare to me that the question of how to encourage them seems no easier than the question we started with — how to discourage people from participating in bureaucratic massacre and the like. How do you encourage people to love truth or to strive for integrity?

For that matter, where did I get the crazy idea that it is wrong to torture someone? Is such a notion even really part of my character, or is it some custom that I have rootlessly blown up against and that I am vulnerable to being swept away from in a change of wind?


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Spiderman and the Death of Gwen Stacy

(Hat tip to Aberrant News.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fox "News" blatantly changes scandal facts to mislead viewers

Last week, a scandal exploded in the face of US Replublicans when one of their Congressmen, Mark Foley (R-FL), was exposed as having sexually pursued a number of underage male congressional pages (ie, high-school-aged interns in congress). The e-mails and instant messages he sent them were so damning that he resigned immediately when they were revealed by a news organization.

The scandal continued when it was further revealed that the Republican congressional leadership had known about Foley's "problem" for a long time and had done nothing about it. The Republican speaker of the House is now fighting to save his job. This from the "anti-gay Christian family values" party.

All this comes just weeks before the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election. One Republican disgraced for pursuing underage boys is a problem, but an entire leadership morality scandal in the runup to an election is a huge problem.

So, Fox news, always willing to lend a hand to Republicans in need, simply changed the story. No "shades of meaning" stuff, here. Fox's reporting simply labeled the disgraced Republican Foley as a Democrat. Not just on one broadcast, but several times.

Then, figuring they could help a little more, Fox later attributed the entire leadership scandal to the Democrats.

Anyone remember the tactics of the news organization in Orwell's 1984?

Trying to see some humor in the whole thing, a couple of Boing Boing readers figured they'd save the Fox graphics department a little time, and they donated the following:



The recent "detainee legislation" passed by the US government legalizes all the things you saw in the photos from Abu Ghraib. According to definitions in those laws, those things simply aren't torture, anymore.

(Hat tip to Boing Boing for the graphic.)


Friday, October 06, 2006

Orwell's Credibility Fouls My Mood

On the phone, last night, Flame-Haired Angel asked me a question I've been trying to come to terms with, myself.

If you visit here regularly, it's likely you've noticed, as she had, a decline in mirth, and an unusual current of fury.

I haven't kept quiet how I feel about the paths the current US government is clearing into the future. Still, recent events have dominated my thoughts more than usual, and my reaction is beyond head-shaking. It is beyond indignation. It is fury, rage and not a little fear mixed with bitter sadness.

The recent hit parade of US government assaults on freedom include warrantless wire-tapping of its citizens, the legalization of torture, the suspension of habeas corpus, and the granting of unprecedented authority to the President by stripping it from the courts.

I know these sound like abstract things, far removed from your life. They aren't. They are the opposite of esoteric. They are the foundation of your life. They underpin your assumptions about everything. You assume that you must have done something wrong in order to be arrested. You assume that if a mistake is made, and you are wrongly arrested, it will eventually be addressed by the justice system. You assume that, while in prison for not doing anything wrong, you will be treated humanely.

Laws passed in the last 10 days, by the Bush administration and a complicit congress, have made all of these assumptions wrong. For detail:

The Blind Leading the Willing

Photo Finish

Habeas Corpus, R.I.P.

The vilest of the assaults on our freedom is the deletion of habeas corpus. This hasn't gotten as much press as the fine points of torture. Understandably, most people see the term "habeas corpus" and tune out because it's Latin legalese. Don't.

Habeas is the most basic right of an imprisoned citizen. It forces the government to either charge you with a crime or release you.

When habeas is taken away, the government can imprison anyone they want to for as long as they want, without charging them. Laws pushed through the United States congress in the last two weeks delete habeas for anyone the US wants to imprison, unless they are a US citizen.

Fancy a vacation in the US?

For those of you who, knowing all this, still feel comfortable that *you* would never be detained, recognize that the US military and the CIA have released numerous prisoners who, they admit, never did anything wrong. They make no comment about the guilt or innocence of the prisoners they continue to hold. Only 10 prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay have ever been charged with anything.

The CIA shipped a Canadian man to a secret prison in Syria. He was tortured for ten months. Never charged with anything. He turns out not even to have been worthy of suspicion, much less guilty of anything.

Tortured for ten months. No reason to suspect him of anything.

The law in civilized nations has always been pretty clear about this kind of thing. Since the Magna Carta in 1215. But not any more. The law just passed in the United States makes all of this perfectly okay.

If you are kind enough to read my stuff, here, but don't zoom off to read the bleak-sounding articles I link to on topics like this, allow me to just briefly summarize what these new laws do:
  • The President -- solo -- gets to decide who is and who isn't an "enemy combatant". No court has the power to question his judgment.

  • The definition of "enemy combatant" is now so broad that countless non-terrorists -- indeed countless non-law-breakers -- can be included.

  • Those imprisoned as enemy combatants may be kept in prison as long as is deemed necessary -- indefinitely -- without being charged.

  • Torture is legal. You can mince definitions of the word, but the stuff at Abu Ghraib is now legal.

  • Those held as enemy combatants can never bring a case to court based on their rights being violated.

  • If there ever is a trial, it will be held before a hand-picked military commission, not an open court.

  • If there ever is a trial, the defendant will not be able to examine the evidence against him.

  • There is no longer a requirement for a search warrant to gather evidence in cases involving enemy combatants.
America: Land of the free. But free from what? How is the above so different from the "evil" Soviet regime the US vilified for decades?

I read the list above, and reminisce. It takes me back to highschool, reading George Orwell's 1984, straining for credulity.

The publicity around the new laws strains to point out that the suspension of habeas corpus only applies to non-citizens. As a citizen, you can still be run through the ringer, as above, but you do at least have to be charged with something. That is, assuming the government doesn't just "disappear" you off to one of its foreign prisons, as it has done with several thousand people in recent years.

Being a citizen doesn't buy you much these days, anyway. Two US citizens found that out recently when they tried to return to the US. They were stopped at the airport and prevented from boarding the plane home. The would continue to be barred from going home unless they submitted to an FBI interrogation under polygraph. Citizens not charged with any crime were barred from going home unless they submitted to questioning by government agents.

All the talk of citizens and non-citizens, however, leaves me cold. It's okay to imprison them without trial, but not us? It's okay to torture them without evidence, but not us? What makes us different? Why does an innocent foreigner have fewer rights than a guilty American? And how do you know? By torturing them first?

But the publicity about this citizen/non-citizen differentiation has been a palliative. In these new laws, the cancer on US Citizens is almost as bad.

One article I read earlier in the week makes the connection clearly:

...the President [can] round-up both aliens and U.S. citizens he determines have given material support to terrorists. ...

In his 1928 dissent in Olmstead v. United States, Justice Louis Brandeis cautioned, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding." Seventy-three years later, former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, speaking for a zealous President, warned Americans "they need to watch what they say, watch what they do." ...

Our constitutional right to dissent is in serious jeopardy. Benjamin Franklin's prescient warning should give us pause: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

It is all of this that made Flame-Haired Angel ask the question. She has watched my mood turn with the same trend as the content of this blog. Why, she asked, after all the other malignancies this government has introduced on the notions of freedom and justice, should I be so exercised now? Aren't we beyond shock at what the Republican congress and President will do in the name of "the war on terror"?

She's right that my reaction, now, is far more extreme than my plain opposition of the past. The Bush era has, in addition to incompetence (Katrina) and wishful thinking (greeted as liberators; insurgency in its last throes), delivered bad policy (invade Iraq), broken the law (wiretaps without warrants) and lied (Saddam's nuclear program). Throughout, I have been incensed over the work of a bunch of assholes who have kept themselves in power by feeding the citizenry fear and fabrication.

What they have done in the last ten days, however, is far worse. They have offered us a new norm for what the United States stands for, and they have done it by making the illegal legal: by legislating exactly the kind of authoritarian blackness that characterizes totalitarian regimes.

These are not simple changes in law. The rights they have ripped away are the foundations of a free society, without which there can be no democracy.

They have, in short, started un-making the foundations of the longest-surviving democracy in history.

For when freedom goes, so goes democracy. Because democracy isn't just about voting. Voting is predicated on a free society: free to think and speak and act in ways that the government of the day may not condone. Otherwise, voting -- something done in the former Soviet Union and in Communist China -- is meaningless. It is window dressing.

I have always cleaved to the US Constitution. It is a nearly religious document to me. Its goals and its doctrine are radical: define a government by restricting its power to only that which the people allow it.

These new laws tell you, as an individual, that you only have the rights the goverment allows you. They can legally throw you in prison, keep you there forever, and torture you.

My lefty American friends tend to fall into one of two camps: those who think the US is becoming a police state, and those who think the Republic is essentially fine but just happens to be going through a period of being governed by a pack of whack jobs.

Each thinks the other is a little pixelated. The first group calls the second camp "naive", and the latter folks call the former "alarmist". Normally, I side with the folks who say that assholes may be in charge, but the Republic has solid foundations.

In the last week and a half, however, I've begun to change sides.

That is why, as I told my Flame-Haired Angel, I am depressed.

Only two things gives me hope. First, the majority of Americans are increasingly sceptical of the Republican administration's spin. They aren't yet rejecting it outright, unfortunately, but they also aren't so easily accepting the "just trust me" rhetoric of the President. The November elections are a test of what the American people want America to be.

The second thing that gives me hope is that the Constitution is not arbitrated by the President or the congress, but by the Supreme Court. The process is slow, and the Court has a conservative majority, but challenges to the new laws will come and the Court does tend to take offence at attempts to strip judicial review, as some of these new laws do.

So, the American people and the Supreme Court may prove my foul mood hasty. If they do, I will celebrate having been too knee-jerk, too melodramatic in fearing the un-making of American ideals. I will blissfully retract. It's an increasingly long road to get there, however: the un-Partriot Act repealed, torture abandoned, and habeas corpus applied to anyone we arrest.

Until then, we will be listening to rhetoric about freedom in a land that isn't free.

For under the law in today's "land of the free", freedom means imprisoning the innocent without charge and torturing them.

Orwell's not straining for credibility anymore.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Self-inflicted Wounds May Be The Worst Of All"

I am posting the following piece in full because it calmly professes so much of what I am currently feeling not-so-calmly.


International Herald Tribune
Published: October 4, 2006

NEW YORK There are moments when you think they've won. When even the toothpaste is suspect at airports, and the sixth hand luggage check is being done, and an opera gets canceled, and the pope has to apologize, and a French teacher has to go into hiding for suggesting violence is inherent to Islam.

You think they've done it, they've actually done it, a small group of fanatics prepared to use unspeakable violence in the name of a nihilist ambition has managed to generate enough fear to change our way of life. That's what they want to do after all - remake the world, like all revolutionaries - and that's where we seem to be headed.

And then you think, no, the life we want is still intact, with its pleasures and its freedom and its openness, and there's no way these guys, some of whom may actually live in caves, can muster the strength to take the world backward into a throat-slitting, thought-policing state of perpetual terror they like to call the Caliphate.

Five years after the 9/11 attack on the United States, we tend to live with this quotidian back-and-forth between defeatism and hope, between fear and confidence. Recalling the time before September 2001 has become as hard as recalling the time before cellphones and e-mail.

You know you actually lived back then and you probably lived better, but how did it actually feel and how did things work in that dizzying dozen-year interlude between the Cold War and the war on terror?

I know this much: It was a more civil time, when people had not yet forgotten that reasonable disagreement is the mark of any healthy society, and people had more time for each other, and the political manipulation of fear and anger had not yet turned political discourse into a sterile shouting match.

If these musings seem bleak, that's because the United States has just lived through a particularly bleak political season in which the fear- filled condition that might be called war-on-terroritis has appeared to reach epic proportions, leading Congress to vote measures that belittle America in the name of defending it.

The first of these was the so-called Military Commissions Act of 2006, which opens the way for military trials of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists and others who "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States," while strictly limiting the defendants' traditional courtroom rights.

The bill says in part that: "No court, justice or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination."

Bye-bye habeas corpus, long a by- word for America's rule of law. And note the last vague phrase - "awaiting such determination." The wait, as Guantánamo Bay has shown, can be long. The disappearance of people was one of the hallmarks of the societies the United States spent much of the 20th century fighting.

With Congress's imprimatur now given to the executive's push under President George W. Bush to imprison terrorist suspects indefinitely and interrogate them beyond full court review, America appears to have concocted a legal avenue into the faceless limbo that totalitarian dictators decreed with a wave of the hand.

I know - these people blow up women and children and have no compunction in seeking to annihilate liberal democracies. Why should we afford them any customary legal protection when their goal is nothing less than the destruction of societies built around such norms?

Because when we diminish our civilization in the name of protecting it we weaken ourselves in the long run. Instead of "You shall not pass," we seem to say, "You'll pass unless we compromise ourselves."

As one Democratic senator, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, put it: "Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?" For that, he and other Democrats in Congress were dismissed by the House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, as voting "in favor of more rights for terrorists." The tone and terms of the run-up to the November midterm elections are now clear. "Ugly" would be a kind description of the climate.

Which brings us to the second measure given final approval by the Senate last week: legislation authorizing the construction by 2008 of a $6-billion, 700-mile, or 1,100 kilometer, fence equipped with all sorts of electronic wizardry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The decision reflects Republican sentiment that the best way of shoring up support for the Nov. 7 election is to get tough on security and immigration and so show up the "Defeatocrat Democrats." As Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, put it: "Fortifying our borders is an integral part of national security. We can't afford to wait."

What Frist didn't say is that the fence will still leave 1,300 miles of border uncovered; that there aren't enough border patrol agents, even with new hires, to police the fence; that fences at best palliate problems but never resolve them, as Israel's recent experience suggests; that the fence is an offense to America's Nafta partner, Mexico (imagine one between Germany and Poland); and that the fence is also an offense to the very idea of America.

Perhaps Emma Lazarus's words on the Statue of Liberty should be rephrased as follows: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free - so long as they can scale a double-layered, high- tech fence designed to keep them out."

Of course, the Supreme Court may yet overturn aspects of the Military Commissions Act, including the denial of habeas corpus, and the loony fence may never get built. Between despair and hope we veer, asking: Are they winning or are we defeating ourselves?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

TEDTalks is treasure

For a break from the news of torture and the suspension of habeas corpus and the child-molesting conservative Republican and the terrorist-strengthening war and warrantless wiretaps, and...

You can go here and be inspired.


It is the collected lectures at the exclusive Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference. It's an extraodinary collection.

No need for DVDs for me for a while.

Watch an on-line stream, or even download all the audio and video. Just magic.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Newsweek's cover, last week, in different regions of the world

This is old news, now, having been all over the net last week. Still worth posting, though:

If you have a reaction to this -- especially an explanation for why it should be so -- I'd appreciate hearing about it, either in comments or by e-mail.

Hat tip to Shannon.

Original source is here: ThinkProgress.org

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On a Tear

I'm running through a bunch of articles, tonight, that I'd printed out over the last week or so. Catching up on my reading, this time, feels like being repeatedly beaten over the head.

Some of the articles are actually about that: beating people over the head.

I don't feel I have the energy, just now, to do personal justice in prose to any of these topics, so I'll just pass a few of the articles along. They're all from Slate, and they cover what has recently been the unintentional running theme of this blog: the injustice of United States policy as set by the Bush administration with regard to civil liberties.

Of the dozens of pieces read in the last little while, these few have really stuck out.

Forget Nuremberg

Tortured Logic

Bad Party Line

The Courtroom Slam

Stream of Conscience

...no one can sue to enforce the protections of the Geneva Conventions or any other international protocol. And the detainees' first layer of appeal is not a standard military court—the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces—but instead a panel hand-picked by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Last summer, even prosecutors complained that the Rumsfeld gang initially selected to try the detainees would ensure that convictions were upheld.

And, yes, the pun in the title of this post is very deeply intended.


Short hot flame

I finally saw pictures of Flame-Haired Angel's newly shorn head, today.

Rather than post the pics, I'm gonna wait 'til she gets home and take some myself.

It is remarkably Natalie Portman, though. She wasn't fibbing about that.


Win by losing?

The link below will zoom you to an interesting analysis, from Slate, of why the best thing for either party, in the upcoming "mid-term elections" may be to lose.

May the Best Man Lose

For my non-American friends, the "mid-terms" are elections in which the Presidency isn't up for grabs, but the House of Representatives (the lower house) is, and so is one third of the Senate.

The one thing the article ignores, however, is what I consider to be the biggest reason why Democrats can't afford to lose: They don't have a candidate who can win the next Presidential election, which is two years away. In my estimation, no-one can touch John McCain in 2008. So, unless we want another six years of imbalanced government, the Democrats better show well in November.


Military lawyers are pinko commies who are soft on terrorists

My moral outrage over the United States government's shameful attempts to legitimize torture only serves to help the Bush administration. Politically, it is to W's advantage that I focus my attention on the "war on terror", on which he's popular, and not on the war in Iraq, on which he's not. It's brilliant. I disagree with the war in Iraq, but I'm really pissed off by the thing he'd rather people were talking about. So, of course, because I'm pissed off, I can't help talking about it.

Nevertheless, it is the thing that moves me from opinion to outrage. What kind of country are we that seeks to legitimize torture?

The analysis in the article below is striking: Why do military lawyers, of all people, want the President to shut up about torture and back down? The answer offers a ray of hope, even if the political process does not.

The article: "Cooler Heads", from Slate.

The illustration above is a totally irrelevant picture of hottie Catherine Bell, just because the article linked above is about military lawyers, and Bell just happened to play a military lawyer on the TV show, JAG. Hey, when you're wife's away and the country you always thought was a bastion of freedom tries to legislate torture, you gotta turn to some kind of solace.