Sunday, October 31, 2004

I saw, well, Saw last night. Now, there's a wickedly fucked-up movie. A taut, sort of smart thriller, almost ruined by Cary Elwes' (Dr. Lawrence Gordon) terrible acting, but largely offset by Leigh Whannell's (Adam) fairly good acting. Some parts were pretty disturbing, no doubt, but in all a very good Halloween movie ... and kinda cheesy, but that's okay. New York Times film critic Stephen Holden called it in his review a "sadistic, Halloween-ready gore fest". A gore 'fest'? Not really. Well, yeah, I guess so. And, according to Holden, the setting of the film - described as "a filthy subterranean bathroom"* - "bear[s] an uncomfortable resemblance to the infamous Iraqi prison photos." Personally, the thought never crossed my mind, but whatever.** Holden writes that the film "does a better-than-average job of conveying the panic and helplessness of men terrorized by a sadist in a degrading environment, but it is still not especially scary. [True; I didn't think it was all that scary at all ...] What sets its demon apart from run-of-the-mill movie serial killers is his impulse to humiliate and torture his victims and justify it with some twisted morality." And that's where it's most fucked-up, just so you know. In short, the perfect Halloween movie: wigged-out, sort of cheesy and stupid, and surprisingly funny (at times the entire audience burst into laughter, mostly directed at Mr. Elwes and his humorously bad acting, of course).

*True dat.

**After all, the review is titled "A Gore Fest, With Overtones of Iraq and TV" ...

Friday, October 29, 2004

The Washington Post* reports that an "international team of public health researchers" estimated in a report published by The Lancet** that "at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians may have died because of the U.S. invasion" in March 2003. The study is reported to have been "based on a door-to-door survey conducted September of 988 Iraqi households - containing 7,868 people in 33 neighborhoods - selected to provide a representative sampling."

However, a Pentagon 'spokesman' is cited as saying on October 28 that "there is no way to validate estimates" by independent groups, as the Defense Department does "not keep tallies of civilian casualties, ..."

Furthermore, "other experts immediately challenged" the report, in light of the fact that "previous independent estimates of civilian deaths in Iraq"*** "... never exceed[ed] 16,000."

According to Human Rights Watch 'senior military analyst' Marc Garlasco, "'The methods that [the researchers] used are certainly prone to inflation due to overcounting.'" He added that "'these numbers seem to be inflated,'" and "said it is extremely different to estimate civilian casualties, especially based on relatively small numbers," stating that "'100,000 is a reach.'"

Nonetheless, the group "called their estimate conservative because they excluded deaths in Fallujah," lately the target of continued US bombing - in hopes of eliminating a base for Jordanian-born jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has recently sworn his alliegance to the perenially elusive Osama bin Laden.

Les Roberts, one of the chief architects of the study, said that he and his group "'are quite confident that there's been somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 deaths, but it could be much higher.'"

*Rob Stein, "100,000 Civilians Deaths Estimated in Iraq," 29 October 2004, A16.

**It is described as a British-based medical journal; L. Roberts, et. al., "Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq," 30 October 2004, Vol. 364, No. 9445.

***Such as the Iraq Body Count (IBC) Database, which currently has the tally of Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of the war in Iraq (based upon wire reports from 38 independent sources and filtered via a stringent set of criteria) from a minimum reported figure of 14,181 to a maximum of 16,312. (The IBC's background information, including their rationale and methodology, can be found here.)

Thursday, October 28, 2004


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

With just one week remaining until Election Day, here are my official predictions as to how things may go down ... ready? It will be close. Very close. In fact, tighter than 2000. Yeah. It's going to make that whole Florida fiasco look like a petty squabble ... and Bush will win. So, uh, go out and vote, I guess. And this ain't defeatism, either; it's acknowledgment of reality. I believe Dubya will find a way to get the second term his father never had. I wish it not happen, as I do not wish to see the prospect of another four years of this guy. I don't like his policies. I have made that plain. And I do not oppose them on ideological grounds, but on practical grounds. For instance, how exactly is a $400 billion deficit indicative of a 'fiscal conservative'? Never having vetoed a single spending bill? Or having removed millions of acres of forest from federal protection and opening them up to logging and development in the name of helping business? How is any of this conservative? Or take this one: unilaterally declaring and waging an allegedly illegal war of aggression against a nation that had no operational connection with the transnational terrorist organization (al Qaeda) that did attack us, resulting in the deaths of over 1,100 US G.I.s and up to 15,000 Iraqi civilians? How about radical, not in the sense of extreme left-wing radical, but in the general definition of the term? How about irresponsible? (Joining this chorus of detractors are actual conservatives, such as Pat Buchanan, who established The American Conservative in late 2002 as war plans against Iraq began to brew, a magazine that is decidedly against what they perceive as the President's neo-imperialist agenda; their latest issue features a leading article that endorses Kerry's presidency out of default, as I do.) Well, anyway, I don't really know, but I can guess that it may well be a chaotic mess again ...

Sunday, October 24, 2004

One week after the New York Times editorial page "enthusiastically" endorsed Senator Kerry's candidacy for President of the United States, The Washington Post's editorial page followed suit today ("Kerry for President"), though not quite to the same degree. However, the Post's editorial staff believes that "Kerry is the better bet" than Bush "to fight in Iraq and to reach out to allies; to hunt down terrorists, and to engage without arrogance the Islamic world," while earlier conceding that it did in fact support the war against Iraq. So, kudos to both of the papers: neither will be able to erase that 'liberal media' label any time soon ...

Did this *look* like a surprise ...?

Saturday, October 23, 2004

With a scant ten days remaining until the election, it's time now to support in earnest our World Savior, the Protector of Our Freedom and a Light unto a troubled Age ...

Thursday, October 21, 2004

[And now, a so-called 'Blast from the Past' (from August 29, 2004) ...]

To answer those who may claim my ideology [or party affiliation, either], I say that I do not think in terms of ideology [or partisanship]. I am an independent thinker [at least I strive to be one], free of the spectrum of 'liberal' or 'conservative' or whatever may fall in-between. Liberalism and conservatism are equally good doctrines (at least according to their dictionary definitions), but I reject both, because ideology is a filter of truth, and if there is an ideology with which I think it is this: common sense. I attempt wherever I can to use reason, and logic, both of which are products of the Enlightenment, as is Liberalism; and so, if this is 'liberal', so be it. And as for the extremes, I am absolutely opposed to them: extremism is extremism, and so 'ultra' liberalism is just as corrosive as 'ultra' conservatism, or 'ultra' anything. I do not think in terms of extremes, at least rationally; it follows that I also do not try to think in terms where anything is unconditional, for that is just as malignant as an extreme. And then there is absolutism, which I also vehemently reject: so, in conclusion, I try not to adhere to any ideology and only think in terms of what makes sense to me, and that is all.

Got it?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Why must both of the candidates exploit the tragedy (highlighted)?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Ah, shit: the prediction I made two days ago came true today. Over 1,100 American dead ...

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Here ya go.
The New York Times editorial staff has officially endorsed the candidacy of John F. Kerry for President of the United States in a revealing, well, editorial ("John Kerry for President," 17 October 2004). Man, the right-wing's gonna have a fuckin' field day with this ...

What, don't believe me? Take a look.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

To make a somber prediction, my guess is that at this rate the toll of Americans dead in Iraq may pass 1,100 by the end of the month, if not earlier ...

Friday, October 15, 2004

Team America: World Police was one of the funniest movies I've seen in a very long time. As much of the mainstream media has concluded in its reviews of the film, including a very positive assessment from the New York Times' movie critic A.O. Scott, it is exactly the sort of film that this country needs right now, one that makes fun of the sorry state of affairs the world is in. Again, side-splitting funny. Unbelievable. And, lest you not know, with puppets ... yup, puppets, strings and all. (The film's protagonist, above, is the diminutive North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il, whose mission in the film is to sell weapons of mass destruction all around the world to Arab terrorists [of course] and set them off simultaneously as he entertains a delegation of Hollywood actors.) Brilliant, I say.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Remember this ...? (This is Mr. Rumsfeld and Hussein in 1983, when Rummy was President Reagan's envoy to Iraq)

I guess, then, that this wouldn't be the first time Mr. Rumsfeld went to Iraq to meet with a dictator ...
Yesterday, the first ever direct national election in Afghanistan took place, a remarkable achievement for a country wracked by decades of civil war, brutal repression, and foreign invasion. It was reported that turnout was 'high', although the election was "marred by 15 candidates' declaring the election illegitimate because of what they said was widespread cheating and fraud," according to a front-page lead story in The New York Times. The opponents to Hamid Karzai "asked for a new vote. But United Nations and Afghan officials overseeing the voting largely dismissed their concerns, saying they believed any problems had been corrected during the day." Aside from the "unexpectedly peaceful" nature of the national 'poll', "the election did encounter trouble from an unexpected source: the ink placed on each voter's thumb to prevent multiple votes." According to objections from "United Nations officials", "many voters found they could erase it minutes after voting simply with water, and, if they had an extra card, vote again."* Frankly, if the election wasn't exactly fair and square, I wouldn't be surprised, it being Afghanistan's first ever conducted, from what we've heard. Hey, Ngo Dinh Diem was 'elected,' too ... in what is now known to most likely have been a rigged election, that is.

[*Amy Waldman, "Afghan Poll Is Mostly Calm, But Challengers Cry Foul; Turnout Is High as Karzai and His Rivals Debate Integrity of Presidential Vote," 10 October 2004, A1]

Saturday, October 09, 2004

On October 6, the definitive report from the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) was released, which concluded that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in 2003 and, in fact, all had been dismantled and destroyed since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, during the following decade of U.N. inspections and sanctions. According to The Washington Post, these inspections (which, apparently, have in fact worked, no doubt much to the chagrin of the administration) "destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it," citing the report, which "contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq. ... [Mr. Duelfer] said Hussein's ability to produce nuclear weapons had 'progressively decayed' since 1991. Inspectors, he said, found no evidence of 'concerted efforts to restart the program.'"

In addition, Hussein's chemical and biological weapons "stockpiles" -- sold to him by the United States under the Reagan administration -- "had been destroyed and research stopped years before the United States led the invasion of Iraq in March 2003."* (Dana Priest & Walter Pincus, "U.S. 'Almost All Wrong' on Weapons," 7 October 2004, A1) This deals a devastating blow to the primary justification of the war, and, I believe, proves that there was no actual threat emanating from Iraq. The
Post that day also ran an analytical article written by Glenn Kessler on how this new report "is only the latest in a series of damaging blows to the White House's strategy of portraying the war in Iraq as being on the cusp of success. ..." ("War's Rationales Are Undermined One More Time," A35) Moreover, on page A34, The Post ran a "chart ... compar[ing] findings from the Iraq Survey Group's investigation into Iraqi weapons programs and claims made by Bush administration officials before U.S. troops invaded Iraq" 19 months ago, demonstrating wholly divergent views of reality.

The Post's lead editorial ("Weapons That Weren't There," 7 October 2004, A38) reads that "the estimates by the CIA and most other Western intelligence agencies that Iraq held large stockpiles of dangerous weapons were wrong, as was much of what President Bush said about the threat. ..." The day's New York Times lead editorial declared: "Sanctions worked. Weapons inspectors worked. That is the bottom line
of the long-awaited report on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, written by President Bush's handpicked investigator. ... The authoritative findings of [Duelfer's] Iraq Survey Group have now left the administration's rationale for war more tattered than ever. It turns out that Iraq destroyed all stockpiles of illicit weapons more than a decade ago and had no large-scale production facilities left after 1996, seven years before the invasion. ... Even after U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998, a period when Western intelligence experts assumed the worst might be happening, the Hussein regime made no active efforts to produce new weapons of mass destruction. The much-feared nuclear threat - that looming mushroom cloud conjured by the administration to stampede Congress into authorizing an invasion - was a phantom. ... Since any objective observer should by now have digested the idea that Iraq posed no imminent threat to anyone, let alone the United States, it was disturbing to hear President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney continue to try to justify the invasion this week on the grounds that after Sept. 11, 2001, Iraq was clearly the most likely place for terrorists to get illicit weapons. Even if Mr. Hussein had wanted to arm groups he could not control - a very dubious notion - he had nothing to give them. ..."

Two days later, during the 2nd Presidential debate - in St. Louis, MO - President Bush declared, "Sanctions [against Iraq] were not working.
The United Nations was not effective at removing Saddam Hussein." To which, at the prompting of moderator Charles Gibson, Senator Kerry responded: "Mr. president, just yesterday the Duelfer report told you and the whole world, they worked. He didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Mr. president. That was the objective. ..." (The transcript of the debate can be found here.) So, in light of all of this, the question must be: Where the does the buck stop? Why is no one responsible for sending our soldiers into an unnecessary war, one which was 'justified' on a premise that now is known to have not existed? At present, 1,061 of our GIs have died and thousands are wounded. Where is the accountability? It's sickening, it really is.

*Just to add, the following correction was later appended: "An Oct. 7 article and the lead Page One headline incorrectly attributed a quotation to Charles A. Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq. The statement, 'We were almost all wrong,' was made by Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Jan. 28 [2004]."

[The 'key findings' of the ISG report can be found here; as well, here the respective links to Volume 1, 2, and 3 of the report.]

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

In tonight's first and only Vice Presidential debate, held in Cleveland, OH, it appeared to me that Mr. Cheney made the better argument, although (as in the first Presidential debate) there seemed to be no decisive victor. For his first televised one-on-one debate, Mr. Edwards did very well, but Cheney possessed a certain mastery of conviction. Again, you don't have to be right to have conviction. All that I'm saying is that he made his case better than his opponent, who, it was said, would be at a disadvantage from the format of the debate, which did not involve two podiums but rather a table. I can predict how the respective sides will spin the outcome, but the video and transcript of tonight's event (as in any debate, of course) will always speak for itself; no post-debate spin can ever change that, only the electorate's perception, which unfortunately is just as if not more important. Tomorrow we will hear from the opinion pages of elite journalistic opinion (e.g. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal), and our memories of the debate the night before will once again be spinned out of proportion, our original thoughts on it lost forever. (How else to explain the legion of television commentators who immediately grabble our perception of the preceding events already out of our immediate consciousness and morph it into whatever shape or form they devise?)

Friday, October 01, 2004

Due to be released on October 5, Michael Moore's new book, a compilation of letters allegedly sent to him personally from soldiers on the front lines in Iraq, entitled Will They Ever Trust Us Again? looks like another success for Mr. Moore, but it is not him talking. The voices come from our fighting men and women, stuck in the middle of a civil war, under attack from an indigenous and, apparently, 'international' insurgency and betrayed by a President who claims to be 'supporting' them but seems not to, if the public record is any guide. According to the 'Editorial Reviews' page for the book, it is "a provocative collection for anyone who truly supports our troops," and is expected to be "the most talked-about publication of the year."
Last night's debate in Coral Gables, Florida -- a state devastated by four hurricanes in several weeks -- pitted the realist and the radical; respectively, Senator John F. Kerry and President George W. Bush. For ninety minutes they indirectly debated on the war in Iraq, principally, as well as the general 'War on Terror'. Jim Lehrer moderated what sometimes became a heated discussion but never came to fisticuffs. All in all, a draw; Kerry won in terms of substance, Bush somewhat in style, who occassionally stammered and hesitated. Kerry, expected to meander and wander, did none of the sort. He, for the most part, albeit a few generalizations and factual errors, was on target. Bush deliberately avoided the target altogether, repeatedly sticking with his talking points and appearing to not want to face reality and confront it. Kerry appears to want to, however. Will this be decisive? Too soon to say, perhaps, but after the next two the minds of most of the electorate should be set, and we will have a good ol' 'spirited contest,' in the words of the incumbent.